Friday, November 29, 2013
I'll Know What I Want When I See It (Part IV)
After a week off to reflect on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, we are back to thin-slicing. This week we look at it from the candidate’s perspective. When should you pay attention to “thin-slices” and listen to your gut? And when does it lead you astray?
When candidates tell me that they are having “gut-tugs”, I reply that they should always listen to “their gut”. But, then I go on to recommend that they listen closely and determine if it’s a legitimate warning signal or just nerves. I also take into account how motivated the candidate is to make a job change and what is driving that motivation. My experience is that the more motivated a candidate is to make a job change the more they should stop and listen. And if they are considering a new job that specifically meets their needs, it’s time to slowdown and listen even closer. The most common mistake I see is where the candidate is unemployed and just wants to get back to work. Now I understand that when you’re unemployed, getting back to work is a priority. And sometimes you just have to do what you have to do in order to pay the bills. But, don’t ignore what your instincts are telling you about the job. And, if you can afford to turn it down and look for a better opportunity, perhaps that is the best option.
As a general rule, if a candidate’s primary motivation is fear or anger, I advise them to take a deep breath and seriously consider all of their options. (The same is true with employers when it comes to hiring decisions, but we’ll talk about that next time.) The more the candidate’s motivation is emotionally driven, the more they need to listen to their gut. When the emotions take over, the reasons for accepting a new job opportunity nearly always make sense on the surface. I’m unemployed. I need a job. This is a job. I’ll take it. I didn’t get that promotion. I’m pissed. This new job is a big step up. I’ll take it. I can’t stand my new boss. I am miserable. I really like the guy I would be working for at Brand X. I’ll take it.
Sometimes, when emotions are running high you fail to pay attention to your gut and you miss those “thin-slices”. I’m not talking about the obvious things such as the company’s financial performance or management turnover or service reputation. You might be inclined to ignore those as well if you are really motivated to take the job. But, most likely you have factored them into the decision. On the other hand, a thin-slice, intuitive issue might be something as subtle as how the executive offices look relative to the offices and work stations of the other employees. What’s the “vibe” or mood among the rank and file employees? What kind of cars are the executives driving and where do they get to park? I’m not making a judgment one way or the other about these types of observations. But, your personal experiences and “thin slicer” may subconsciously tell you something about this company that you should not ignore. And if you are caught up in the moment and just see this job as an answer to your fear or anger driven job search, you might miss some of those subtle cues which likely point to major issues.
Now the flip-side, when do thin-slices or “gut tugs” tend to work against a candidate? Usually it’s when they perceive that they can afford NOT to make a job change. They may well be motivated to make a change and would not be this far into the decision-making process otherwise. This is most often the candidate who is not all that unhappy in their current job, but simply realizes that they will eventually need to make a change in order to reach their long-term career goals. This is the candidate who will pay too much attention to the “little voices” inside their head. And what they take for “gut tugs’ are often just nerves, fear of change. They will find every excuse in the book to talk themselves out of taking a job which they absolutely should take, saying that it just “doesn’t feel right”. If you are the prospective employer (or the headhunter) who is dealing with this candidate, you have to cut through the bull---- immediately and figure out if the candidate’s “gut tugs” are legitimate red flags which say this candidate is not likely to be successful in this role with this organization; or are they just nerves and this opportunity really does make sense for the candidate; or are they a function of other factors in the candidate’s life which take precedence over their own career plan (i.e. spouse’s job, kids in school, extended family connections/commitments, etc.).
So if the job change is a good career move, and there are no significant family or personal roadblocks, and the “gut-tugs” are really just nerves; what do I tell the candidate? Honestly, I tell them that if the “gut-tugs” are that strong and they absolutely will not go away, even if we both agree it’s just nerves, then don’t do it. Here’s my logic. It may be a good career move. And there may be no good reason not to take the job. And we may agree that the nerves are just related to the normal fear of change. But if the candidate just cannot find a way to get comfortable with the decision to accept the job…there is something else going on.
From personal experience, I’ve faced decisions in my life that seemed to make total sense even though I had serious gut-tugs about them. Sometimes I was able to identify the source of those gut-tugs as legitimate red flag issues and ended up making the right decision. But, there have been situations where I dismissed the gut-tugs as “just nerves”, threw caution to the wind and charged full speed ahead. Occasionally that was the right decision and things worked out. But more often than not, it turned out badly. There were probably legitimate reasons for those nervous gut-tugs and when they would not go away, I should have paid more attention. Before you make that decision ask yourself: what answer will give you the most peace of mind and what answer makes the most sense. If they are not the same, then you need to search for more answers.