We see dozens of coaching clients every month. Our career coaching clients range from CEOs to CFOs to VPs to Directors and Managers. The range of personality types, their personal situations, and the many things that got them to be where they are today range widely, as you might expect. But, having coached executives and professionals for over two decades, I have seen a pattern of commonalities across every career and leadership coaching client that seems worthy of note. If you’re searching for that next great thing in your career or in a candidate, you might take heart from this understanding we’ve gained, simply by talking to people who seek us out and hire us. It’s an eye-opener and will probably burst your bubble of assumptions about other people and yourself.
Assumption #1: C-Suite executives don’t feel the same pain, regret, or fears that ‘lesser mortals’ might. The idea of the bullet-proof, A-type, extraverted CEO or C-Suite executive is an idea that permeates culture and companies. Because they occupy the top spots, and we have this idea of their unassailable abilities to occupy that spot, it’s easy to turn the C-Suite into a cliched type rather than see them as people. We all have insecurities, frailties and doubts, all of which are accentuated when people are between positions or they are dissatisfied with where they are currently. After losing a position as CEO, I know some coaching clients have gone from ‘invincible’ to ‘invisible’ and have lost everything important to them in their work, which amounts to an identity crisis when you’re cast off the island. It’s hard being the boss. It’s even harder being the former boss. We like to think that CEOs occupy some rarified echelon of being that don’t feel the slings and arrows the same as everyone. You need to walk a mile in everyone’s shoes to understand them, but because the C-Suite, and especially the CEO role, is so visible, it might be even harder for those C-Suite executives usually under the public gaze and out front to suddenly be in the shadows. There can be a lot of shame attached to having once been the star starting quarterback to being kicked off the team. It’s not an easy place to be, the C-Suite. And especially if you find yourself between things.
Assumption #2: If you have trouble securing a job, it’s your fault and a reflection of your worthlessness. I’ve seen so many executives and professionals who have been through the gauntlet of applying, being denied, and applying again. It’s not unusual to hear stories of executives and professionals applying for 50 or more jobs. I’ve even seen over 100. It’s shaming and demoralizing to be denied over and over again, especially when most recruiting firms don’t bother to follow up with you when you don’t get the position. Going at it again and again with zeal is a sign of character, but any character can be worn down by what seems to them like a random, arbitrary, and incomplete hiring process. When a person applies for this many positions and gets denied, it not only works on self-esteem, but it can begin to grind down that person’s reputation in the market. Recruiters are possibly the worst culprits. One of the big reasons I started ProFound Talent was to bring back a lost art in the executive and professional level recruitment industry, which is a very simple concept yet unheard of within most search firms today. That lost art of communication, respect and fair evaluation, of not only our clients, but also our candidates. My goal is to treat all clients and candidates with respect, excellence in communication and fair evaluation, looking beyond hard skills to what’s hidden beneath that makes them excellent…the rare and hidden talent that is hard to see and to find, without first taking time to listen, to see, and to weigh against on experience.
Many executive and professional recruiting firms operate using their entry-level staff to source and communicate roles to executives, with little life and career experience. It’s a fact. To me, however, it’s like giving someone a jet who’s never seen a jet and doesn’t have the first clue about how it works. So, they pass on the jet. I’ve seen this time and again in the past, and I vow never to replicate that. It’s easy to lose profound talent and that hidden gem in a process that is reliant on inexperienced individuals just starting their careers. There’s no blame in this. They’re doing what they know. And nothing more. It’s just agonizing to watch happen. If your recruiting staff, or your internal teams, are junior, you’re just going to get a junior result. And it’s not fair to them or you to put them in this position. It’s a kind of madness that not only hurts companies looking to recruit, but it most definitely hurts at least some stellar candidates, and leaves many feeling bitter and resentful at the process they’re engaged in. The common theme I hear from candidates I coach: Executive and professional recruiters don’t get me, they won’t take the time to get me, and they won’t call me back. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard this story, even this week, I’d probably never have to work again.
Assumption #3: Youth trumps age and age is inherently bad. I have and continue to coach executives who are 50-years-old plus, even in their 60s. I also coach people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. It’s the case that some executive recruiters or internal HR teams look at your calendar age as either a positive or a negative. It’s a strange assumption that someone in their 20s or 30s is a better candidate than someone in their 40s or 50s. The assumption is that older people don’t know as much about technology, as an example, as a younger person. The further assumption is that older people will want more money and won’t work as hard as a driven and eager young person. I don’t know about you, but if I’m climbing into an airplane piloted by someone else, I’d like to know that they have some flight hours under their belt. In the industries we all work in, there is this assumption that youth is energy, optimism, the latest technical skills, and, less money. My experience, especially the 40 to 55-year-old crowd, is that they aren’t out of touch with technology at all. These are the people who have lived in both worlds, analogue and digital, and can adapt to new things easily and well, as well as any younger person. And while it can be true that younger people will work for less, my experience in interviewing is younger people often ask for more: more salary, more vacation, more perks. I commonly see ‘older’ candidates who will work for 2/3rds of what their younger counterparts want, with fewer benefits and more incentives for performance. If you think this is desperation on the part of an older candidate, you might be wrong. It might just be how they’re made, and it doesn’t make them less valuable to you. An older person, having been there and done that, might believe in teamwork over individualism, rewards that are earned, and have realistic salary expectations. This isn’t to say younger candidates don’t also think about these things, but, in my experience, older candidates almost always think about the company before they think of themselves. This seems to be purely about experience and having to slug it out longer in tough markets. These are the women and men who might have spent 60% of their time on the road for 20 years and know what it takes to make things happen.
Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list of assumptions, they are just my top three that I hear every week. There are many more. The way I look at it is: If we can understand our assumptions and our biases throughout the recruiting process and address them as real-world things affecting our thinking and behaviour, then there will be many more happy candidates, and many much happier companies.
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