Managing Your Career – The Cardinal Sin to Avoid

January 24, 2014  |   Blog   |    

During my forty two years of service in my profession of executive search, I have watched executives consistently make the same fatal mistake when it comes to managing their careers. I will tell you what it is, but first, an aside.

We don’t help executives manage their careers for our living – we help companies of all stripes find executives to fill key positions. However, as a byproduct of our work, we are regularly meeting confidentially with senior executives and have an opportunity to be helpful to them in so doing. Here is what I tell them.

Looking for a new position when you are between jobs or are about to be is hard work. It’s particularly hard if you go through executive search firms – our clients aren’t paying us healthy fees to send them job seekers whose CVs might already be sitting on their desks.

All the glamour in my profession is from luring people out of good positions, people who are relatively content in their jobs, and attracting them to consider a position that may better satisfy their long term aspirations. But even in the direct to the employer market, far away from the eyes of a discerning search firm, it is hard to get retained for a senior position when you have lost or are losing your job and you have almost no bargaining power, as the perception is that, rightly or wrongly, someone who is doing well is generally more qualified than someone who is between jobs.

So, the solution for senior executives is not to start looking for a position only when they are coming loose, but to always be looking throughout their careers. This doesn’t mean that they should in any way be disloyal to their employers or distracted from their jobs. Instead, these people should constantly have an eye on the marketplace, ensuring that the intermediaries through whom they deal are always updated as to their status and interests. This can be done extremely confidentially today without their work being disrupted.

For those of you who don’t believe it is ethical to keep abreast of the marketplace for your services while you are employed, I can assure you that your boss is doing exactly that!

Let’s face it. Your bargaining power is highest when you are in a position of strength. So, don’t wait until you lose your job or it is not working out. Instead, consider opportunities elsewhere when things are going well for you – just be very selective and ensure you’re not changing four quarters for a dollar! As well, by systematically monitoring your market value for different roles, even if you don’t make a change, you are putting yourself in a better position with your current employer when it comes to the all-important review of your terms and conditions.

So, don’t wait until the devil drives to consider new opportunities. Instead, keep the devil in hiding and make a change for positive reasons, not because you have to.

Bob Swidler.