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7 Ways to Make a Mess of Things When Job Searching July 20, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Career Management.

As a search consultant (or recruiter, or headhunter – call me what you will), my job is to help people figure out where they should be professionally, and then help them get there.  Sometimes that means someone should stay put, and sometimes it means he/she should move on and join another organization.  When I introduce someone to a client and broker the first set of conversations, I never know where things will lead, but I’ve learned one thing for sure – there are many opportunities to royally screw things up!

No one wants to burn the proverbial “bridge”, but often people don’t realize the consequences their action or inaction may have on others.  Exploring new job opportunities and potentially making a career transition is delicate.  It involves relationships, expectations, promises, and commitments.   Some people instinctively know how to keep everyone happy, and others unintentionally make a mess of things.  Since I’m not a cynic, I have trouble believing anyone would intentionally burn a bridge. Many times it is just a lack of awareness of how our actions are perceived by others. Here are 7 surefire ways to make a mess of your job search and career transition.

#1 – Go Dark
I’ve worked with some job-seekers over the years who were very professional in their dealing with me and with our clients, and then suddenly, they just disappear.   Sometimes it takes weeks to reach them, and I am usually told, “oh, I got another job” or something similar.  This makes a person look very unprofessional, and most of my clients have a policy of not considering a person in the future if they “go dark” during an interview process.  It’s fine to stop an interview process if you’re no longer interested – just have the courtesy to tell everyone involved.

#2 – Play Companies Against each other to Get More Money
There’s nothing wrong with trying to make as much money as your skills are worth in the market, but there are rights ways and wrong ways of doing this.  It might be flattering to have multiple companies get into a bidding war over you, but when you make this happen, you’re telling everyone that money is your main motivator.  The companies that lose the bidding war will have a bad taste in their mouth, and the one that wins will always wonder if they can trust you because you might leave if someone else comes along and waves more money under your nose.

#3 – Leave Abruptly
No matter what the circumstances, give two weeks notice or more, and do what you can to earn those last few weeks of your paychecks.  When I ran a software engineering consulting group before becoming a recruiter, one of our engineers didn’t show up at the client site one day.  We were all worried, and it took us three days to reach him.  When I finally got him on the phone, I asked him what had happened.  He told me quite matter-of-factly that he decided he didn’t like the project anymore, so he got another job.  He didn’t seem to care about the mess he’d caused.  Don’t be like this guy was – show respect for your employer when you leave a job, even if they haven’t shown it to you.

#4 – Try to Use an Interview to Launch Your Own Business

This is an odd one, but it happens more than you can imagine.  This is where a “job seeker” says he or she is looking for a salaried position, but then during the interview, the person tells the hiring manager they want to be a subcontractor and launch their own business.  I’ve never seen this work – clients eliminate people that do this because they don’t want to hire (or subcontract to) some one who has used deception.

#5 – Be Arrogant
Some types of people are in huge demand and in short supply, like strong software engineers with high clearance.  If you are fortunate enough to be this type of person, you know you can get many interviews and multiple offers.  Don’t let it go to your head.  Prepare for each interview, learn about the company in advance, ask good questions, and be genuinely interested.  If you want to work for the best companies, your attitude and professionalism are as important as your technical skills.

#6 – Become the Evil Short-Timer
I am embarrassed to say that I did this once very early in my career.  The circumstances were rough.  We were working 14-hour days and also working weekends on a death march software development project.  My manager, the person who grossly under-scoped the fixed-price project, publicly questioned my commitment to the project in front of the VP because I wanted to occasionally have dinner with my wife instead of attending mandatory 6:30 PM team dinner meetings. I decided to leave, and I quickly found a new job.  I gave 2 weeks notice, but instead of keeping my head down and leaving gracefully, I was quite an annoyance on my way out the door.  I told everyone I worked with exactly why I was leaving, and I told the other software engineers that they were crazy for putting up with things and staying.  I was very blunt in my exit interview with HR, and I threw my manager under the bus with her superiors as I left.  All of this felt really good at the time, but looking back on it, I embarrassed myself, and I didn’t do anyone any good by my behavior.  Hopefully you can learn from my mistake. Revenge may seem sweet, but leaving gracefully will pay dividends in the future.

#7 – Accept a Counteroffer
This is always a bad idea – you burn a bridge with both your potential new employer, AND with your current company that made you the counteroffer.  I’ve got a lot to say on this topic – see our article on this for more details.  <http://bit.ly/cW8nSH>

If you avoid the above “worst practices”, you are well on your way to smoothly transitioning to a new career opportunity without destroying any relationships along the way.

Ron Stanley

Ron is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, an Intelligence Community search firm.  He has burned only a few bridges in his life and continues to try to keep that number small.