Almost everyone has a section of their job history they wish they could erase. Somewhere in a résumé filled with outstanding accomplishments and experience is that one little spot where things just didn’t quite work out. Between long tenures at Company A and Company C is a one-year Company B that you hope no one will question you about.
To use a golf term, you’re looking for a mulligan — a practice among some leisure golfers that allows you to take back one bad shot during the round and replay it as if it hadn’t happened.
Luckily, while such job stumbles usually aren’t the most uplifting experiences, they also tend not to be career-defining. Most employers and executive recruiters will give a senior leader a pass for a one-off, less-than-satisfying employment experience.
But remember, you only get one mulligan. So, how do you avoid putting yourself in a position where you need another? Here are some tips from someone who sees this situation on a regular basis.
Listen to That Little Voice in Your Head
When I ask executives about short tenure with an employer on an interview, they often tell me they had some lingering doubts about taking the job in the first place. Whether it was chemistry with a hiring manager, concerns about the future of the company or industry, or relocating for the position, there was something in the back of their minds that caused them to question whether to take the role.
In these situations, we often rationalize these doubts by accentuating the positive in a new opportunity. My advice is to make your decision with the same rigor as you do with the due diligence process when evaluating an acquisition. Investigate those concerns you have fully, rather than simply believe you can successfully address them after taking the job.
Don’t Just Evaluate a Company’s Results — Go a Step Further
We often get so enamored by a potential employer’s brand or track record of success that we don’t dig deeply enough into the company’s culture or decision-making style that allows it to attain those results. But It’s important to reflect on whether your decision-making style is in line with your potential employer’s.
If you’re coming from an environment where decisions are made and implemented quickly to a more collaborative and process-driven one, you are going to be frustrated. Or, if you’ve been successful in an environment where you do things right the first time and are contemplating moving to a company with a “we’ll get it 80% right and fix the other 20% along the way” philosophy, you may risk your employer dinging you for not being results-oriented.
Beware the CFO-in-Waiting Scenario
One of the most common causes of a short stint is when an executive is hired as the heir apparent to a C-level leader who is approaching retirement.
Executives who take roles under these conditions are often frustrated when their boss’s time horizon is extended. When a one-year window becomes two or three, these executives frequently leave feeling they were sold a bill of goods at the outset. If you are considering taking a role under these circumstances, ask yourself how satisfied you might be if that planned succession doesn’t take place within the predicted timeframe.
I am truly amazed by how few C-level job candidates do any type of meaningful qualitative research on a potential employer. I sincerely advise you to talk to people who have worked for that company at a comparable level (even if it’s a job I’m working on with you and I really, really want you to take it).
If you can’t even do this minimal amount of research, then you don’t deserve a mulligan.
Overall, my hope is that you use your mulligan wisely and learn from this experience when evaluating future career moves. Because, for every CFO candidate I see who has that one short tenure on her resume, there is another with two or three.
And, unfortunately, you can’t just explain those away. They are indicative of an executive who’s unable to effectively manage his career, and that’s something you don’t get a pass on. So, as you move to the back nine of your own career, know that no one is going to give you a do-over on the 10th tee.
John Touey is a principal at executive search firm Salveson Stetson Group with 20 years of experience providing executive search, human resources, and management consulting services to organizations in the healthcare, financial services, utilities, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. Follow him @JohnTouey.