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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.



1. Andrew G. - July 22, 2010

Companies and HR depts can also “make a mess of things”. For example, a former employer of mine’s HR dept would routinely not follow-up after interviews and “go dark” with candidates. I also have had companies not respond to me after interviews. Sometimes I had to call them after several days or even weeks. Other times, I never found out.

2. stanleyreidrecruiting - July 24, 2010

Great point, Andrew! I’ve seen this as well. I heard of one situation recently in which a company sent two emails to a job-seeker on the same day – one was from the HR department saying “we’re sorry, we don’t have a position for you at this time, but we’ll keep your resume on file”, and the other was a message from an internal recruiter at the company trying to recruit the person for the position they’d already applied for…

3. Greg - August 27, 2010

While it is important to not burn bridges behind you it is even more important to not burn them in front of you. It is a small world…

4. no thanks - April 20, 2011

I find your point #1 so infuriating I had to comment. I have specialized skills and honestly and conservatively have had hundreds of phones calls and several dozen interviews where companies volunteer that they will provide at least a modicum of closure for me. My personal experience is that less than 10% of companies ever follow through with even a simple email after I have spent 6+ hours in interviews. Candidates can have an excuse for being unprofessional, they dont “owe” companies that interviewed them anything but companies have exactly no excuse. I would appreciate if you would remove your comment because it is so unbelievably biased and you really do not know the *real* story. People looking for jobs often actually NEED jobs and timing is everything. They should not be expected to be professional candidates, whereas the beltway pimps looking to prey upon the weak get what they pay for in candidates which is nothing. My professionalism restricts me from listing several offending companies here, but trust me you would know them all and some have stellar “reputations”.

stanleyreidrecruiting - April 21, 2011

Thank you for your comments. Unprofessional behavior exists on both sides of the interview process, and we have seen companies treat candidates badly in the same manner you describe. We absolutely do not condone them doing that. Companies should give everyone who interviews a timely response after the interview, even if the answer is ‘no’ or ‘not right now’. Over the years we’ve had a few clients who haven’t understood the need to show courtesy and professionalism to every candidate: in some cases we’ve helped them change, and in other cases we’ve had to terminate our business relationships with them. The best companies (the 10%, as you imply) treat people with respect and professionalism. The challenge for you as a potential employee is the same as the challenge for us as recruiters – find that 10% and do everything we can work work with them. I would encourage you to maintain your professionalism even when it is not always returned, because it DOES matter to that top 10% of companies, and it is the right thing to do.

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