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Say It Ain’t So, Joe!

BaseballI know that’s a particularly cryptic title for a blog, but hopefully it makes you want to read more. I do think it’s appropriate for the topic.

I’ve heard this too often lately, and witnessed some of it myself in my interviews with candidates. Brandon Barrett, our Director of Business Development for our MB Interim Leaders business unit, and I recently called on a human resources executive at a major Southern California company (major for SoCal is revenue north of a billion). This particular executive happens to be an old friend – someone I’ve worked with personally and through our firm at 3 different companies over the past 14 years. She’s one of my favorites!

She told us her company had just begun looking for an HR leader for their company as the prior one wasn’t a cultural fit. She mentioned that she was shocked at the lack of appropriate candidates for the role, which honestly shocked me. I know a lot of HR leaders in their market in SoCal that could fit the bill, and she proceeded to mention some of the same ones that she’d already interviewed. When I asked why they didn’t feel there was a fit, she proceeded to shock me – again.

One candidate showed no passion for their business. Basically, they didn’t do any research beyond reviewing their website or other publicly available information. Also, they didn’t get behind the purpose and mission of the company during interviews with the CEO. Out!

One candidate actually came into the interview with the CEO in a golf shirt and slacks. No suit! This CEO happens to be a business dress person so coming in business casual, or even worse, did not make a great impression. Out!

Fingers CrossedAnother candidate mis-represented why they were looking in the first place. They said they were leaving their current position and that it was mutual between them and their employer. Well, it wasn’t and it was pretty easy to find out in the market because the word had gotten out. My friend said they could possibly have overlooked that if the candidate had come clean about why they were leaving and why they might have been less than successful at their current company, necessitating the departure.

As a person that has done a lot of search work for the venture community over the years, VC’s say they like to back CEOs that have had a failure in their past. Failures are inevitable if you try enough things, and to white-wash your background and make it like you never failed is just plain impossible. These CEOs almost wear it as a badge of honor and speak honestly and transparently about what they did wrong. VC’s like this level of honesty and feel that if the CEO learned from their experience, they’ll be better the next time. I happen to know a number of CEOs that have been very successful, and each one has a failure – or two – in their past.

Most non-CEO candidates are reluctant to say they failed however because they think it will disqualify them as an incapable candidate. They feel the need to portray themselves as ever successful in every job they have had, or if they weren’t, they say “it wasn’t a good fit” or “the company wanted to move in a different direction” or, and this is a good one, “the CEO wanted to bring in their own team.”

It was hard for me to believe that HR leader candidates would make such mistakes, but they did. These are easy fixes, people. My advice, if you want to move forward with the opportunity, is go to great lengths to do your homework on:

  • The company
  • Their purpose/mission
  • The culture
  • The CEO’s (or your potential boss) style

…and be prepared. If you’re not interested enough to do that level of homework, pull out of the process. Doing a slack job on these elements of the interview process will only hurt your brand in the marketplace. I know they all would likely say they weren’t that interested in the opportunity anyway, but what they don’t know is that their brands have already been tarnished in a way that they probably didn’t imagine.

Good luck out there!

Email Rod McDermott
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