Month: May 2018

5 Questions to Ask Yourself before starting a Job Search

alone beach calm dawn

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on

Looking for a new position is one of the most stressful, life changing decisions we embark upon. Some people have jobs longer than they have marriages and it ranks as one of the most pivotal decisions we make due to the stress, opportunity and risk involved. 

Before you embark on a job search- ask yourself 5 Questions.

  1.       Are you a Serious Man? (or Woman?)

To whom much is given much shall be required. And, for executives or new grads seeking a Serious Life; a  life well lived, a career of relevance, worthy compensation and contribution- You need to be a Serious Man. As your career should be planned with the same intent, strategy and desire to add value as you approach your relationships, finances and fitness- Your career needs to be approached from the same level of mindfulness.

So often we encounter candidates who are approaching their job search and their careers with less planning than they would give a holiday weekend. If you desire a Serious Life- Be a Serious Man before starting the pivot to a new position.  

This requires having your Life in Order. Can you afford to relocate, can you sell / rent your house with ease, are you mentally, physically and emotionally ready to throw yourself into professional limbo and rejection? Is your social media and online presence private and pristine? Have you cultivated your references and are you wardrobe ready? Hopefully if you’re a Serious Man leading a Serious Life; all these boxes have been checked. If not, take 30-90 days to get Interview Ready before starting the job search.

  1.       Who are your Stakeholders and Who is Driving the Train?

Every candidate has Stakeholders. Often, they’re a spouse, children in high school, elderly parents, the significant other who won’t move, a disabled child who is receiving great care locally or just the company we keep acting as over-reaching influencers in our lives. Know your stakeholders before starting a job search and only start the job search if you’re driving the train. Do you have the full support of your stakeholders even if it requires your stakeholders to sacrifice? Will your spouse joyfully pack the house up, find a new job and put your career first for the next 12 months to support you through the transition of a new position? Have you considered the contingency plans required for the family members you’re responsible for? Schools, medical care, daycare, rebuilding a social network?

Are you prepared for the probing questions your influencers ask to create doubt or reaffirm your intent during a job search? If you aren’t driving your own train and neither have the support of your stakeholders or can set firm boundaries with your stakeholders- Don’t even start the process.

Launching a job search requires you to be driving your own train and with the support of your stakeholders.

And, if your stakeholders won’t support your job search, take the time to clean up your side of the street, set firm boundaries or find new stakeholders.

  1.       Money, Location or Opportunity?

Now that you’re a Serious Man with your Stakeholders fully supporting your job search- It’s time to ask the fun question- What’s really motivating you?

A job search needs to be prioritized by what you’re after. Is it the money, do you want to live in a certain location or is it the opportunity?

One factor will rise to the top of the decision-making process. For candidates who have been working at a struggling non-profit or have owned their own business for a decade- Quite often they’re ready for a jump in compensation and the money will be the primary factor.

We’ve had candidates who have met the love of their life online and the candidate’s “new friend” lives in Tampa, Florida with aging parents (unmovable stakeholders) and he/she needs to find a job in that city.

And, then there is opportunity. The most desirable candidate for any position is the one seeking a position based on opportunity. The candidate has managed their money and can take a cut in pay if needed. They’ll live anywhere because they are driving the train and their stakeholders are packing up the house, running the relocation and supporting the candidate. The candidate seeking a position based on opportunity is a strategic professional looking for a position, an organization and a team to lead (or contribute to), to add value, to learn from and to ultimately to achieve.

Candidates seeking Opportunity over Money and Location may only stay in a position for 2 years- However, they will consistently be the top performers, most trusted and most valued team members of an organization.

  1.       Do you know what you don’t know?  

Even a lateral move in your career should expand our intellectual and professional horizons. We should consider new positions which will challenge us in new ways to grow, contribute and add value. However, too often candidates through arrogance, low self-esteem and lack of self-reflection interview for positions thinking “they know it all.”

And, even if they’re overqualified for a position the attitude is not lost on the decision makers  the during the interview process. For candidates who think they’re overqualified for a position or have the attitude of, “That’s a perfect position for me.” I offer the following scenario. You get the job. It’s the first week. Through a series of unforeseen yet probable events, (government regulations, the loss of top clients, embezzlement, a strike or loss of your executive team, etc.), what would you do in crisis mode and what would do you 6 months out to ensure the rebuilding/ re-branding/ longevity of the organization?

Candidates who think they’re overqualified for a position need to do the homework required, (often a SWOT analysis of the organization) to have a self-aware moment and create questions to ask during the interview process to better evaluate if they are the right candidate for the position, what will they require from their team to fill in the gaps and what skills will they need to acquire for success.

  1.       Do you have the Grit to say Yes?

I need the weekend to think about it. I need to talk to my lawyer. I want to pray about it for the next week. I want to talk to my spouse about it. These are the phrases I’ve heard a thousand times from candidates who will never have the grit to say yes to the opportunity they’ve finally received after making all the right choices.

Candidates who have successfully worked through 1-4 say yes within the hour. Candidates who are ready to sign when the offer letter is received are the candidates who are our best leaders, best team members and the people I’ll always prefer to work with.

Candidates who make excuses and create barriers and self-doubt after getting exactly what they asked for are the candidates who will refuse to make imperfect decisions in business. They will seek perfection to the determinant of their achievement and overall happiness. And while they may enjoy the process of being courted in a job search, ultimately, they will never commit.

So, when you get the offer, even if it’s not perfect (because it never is)-

Just say Yes. Have the Grit and the courage to say yes to the opportunities that are presented and  the opportunities that will provide you with a seat at the table of a Serious Life.

The Spousal Interview

The Spousal Interview.

The majority of executive’s transition to a new position from May to October. As the job search season heats up, leadership candidates will be traveling for the interview process and over 75% of those candidates will be invited to bring their spouse / partner. While this is commonly perceived as a courtesy; it’s an interview practice essential to hiring the right executive candidate.

My first spousal interview was in 2000. I was 30 years old and at the time married to a man who had built a successful career in the country club business. He had landed a final interview with a country club in the Bay Area that at the time had the most expensive membership in the United States; $750,000.00 for a golf membership. The club was home to the elite athletes of the area, the tech giants of Silicon Valley,  C-Suite’s of Fortune 500 organizations and global titans who perhaps visited the club a few times a year. We had 3 small children and as he was interviewing for the #2 position at the club; we would have social privileges and there were certain social expectations. Thus, the Spousal Interview.

The Spousal Interview can elevate the candidate on the cusp of a hire and at times tank the best of candidates.

Last year we had a candidate who was the “holy grail” of candidates for a CEO position for a non-profit position in Chicago. His credentials were impeccable, his job history layered upon public successes, his challenges translated into whitepapers that other organizations used as gospel. He was charming, genuine, well-read and an exceptional listener. When it came time for the final onsite interview; the Board of Directors requested a weekend interview to include a second panel interview, a dinner at the Board Chair’s home and a brunch with key staff members. And, the spouse was invited.

The problem was that our A candidate was in relationship transition. Post-divorce just 1 year; his most constant companion was a woman 15 year his junior who worked in service industry. It was an accurate assumption she didn’t read the same papers he did, had never had an executive spouse whose time is not his own, and have not interfaced in these types of professional and social circles. In short, she wasn’t on the path to being an executive spouse and didn’t reflect who he was, or who he wanted to become on the next leg of his professional journey. It was a difficult yet honest conversation sharing our concerns about his intention to have her accompany him on this most important meeting.

My spousal interview was interesting…It was a cold, rainy Sunday evening when we arrived for separate tours of the Club. I spent 90 minutes “chatting” with the Director of Sales, Executive Assistant to the General Manager and the Vice Chair of the Board. Over a bottle of Montrachet in the Fireplace Room I quickly understood this was not a Sunday social visit- I was being interviewed. The polite conversation was anything but; what did I read, where did my children attend school, where did I attend school, tell me about your parents, what boards did I serve on, what were my favorite charitable causes, did we have vacation plans abroad that summer.

Every question was the first layer of the more pressing question; did we travel too much, were we living within our means, were my children in private school (because that was going to be impossible on his salary and with the high cost of living), did my political interests align with the community, did I have a life but too not too much of a life, would my ambitions compromise what was needed of my husband at work, and so on.

All of these questions subtly centered around their pain points: Did I understand and was I prepared to have my husband work 6 days a week, 12-14  hours a day? Was my husband’s career the top career in the household, did I have the social experience to attend events on the arm of my husband and did I know my place in this executive world?

In short, was I an asset or a liability?

Who we choose as a partner is a reflection of ourselves.  They are our confidant, who we have constant dinner table conversation with, who we look to for counsel, support and whitespace in our personal and professional lives. When executive candidates interview, and their spouses don’t reflect the candidate; it’s a pause and possible disconnect for stakeholders.

Our C-Suite candidate did the interview solo. He used truthful “anchors” throughout the conversation; his son was attending college locally next year and he was looking forward to spending time with his Mother’s family who lived in an outlying suburb. He portrayed himself as a solid family man, (which he was despite being an emptynester) who would be able to dedicate an 80-work week to his new position. He talked less about himself in the interview process and his graciousness (excellent listening skills) endeared him further to the stakeholders. He was offered the position Sunday post brunch.

My spousal interview was intimidating, nerve wracking and one of the most useful personal experiences that I’ve been able to translate to my professional wheelhouse. My former husband got the job. And 3 years later we repeated the process for a country club home to Presidents and Heads of State in Texas. Knowing board’s talk to board’s I was hesitant if my previous success in California would translate to Texas. When I walked into that spousal interview (disguised as lunch on the terrace)  the Board Chair stood, held out his hand with a wide smile and said, “Nicole. Welcome to Texas. We’ve heard so much about you….”

The company we keep.

A few years ago, I had a coaching client Cynthia who moved from Denver to San Francisco. She was an Ivy League MBA who had worked for a mid-size company the past 10 years. Her colleagues and friends were smart, capable and moderately ambitious. Although, no one in her circle had experienced a notable upward trend in position or income for the past several years. Weekends with her husband centered around lawn mowing, skiing and Sunday dinners with his parents. Cynthia felt extremely comfortable in her current bubble. Life was good, it’s just that Cynthia, her peer group and her husband weren’t on a track for GREAT.

When Cynthia accepted a position with a tech company in San Francisco, her confidence and excitement quickly plummeted and within the first week at her new position she wanted to tuck-tail and go back to Denver. Cynthia’s new colleagues didn’t have lawns to start with…They not only read 2 papers a day, they discussed articles, trends in the market, blogs and fitness goals like our Grandmother’s exchanged recipes. The pace, the level of ambition at which her new group of peers existed was like an alternate universe. While her on-boarding was thorough, extensive and informative she had coasted for so long in Denver, getting up to warp speed in San Francisco  with this new, dynamic peer group was quickly a painful experience. And, not one she was sure she wanted to embrace.

When I interview a C-Suite candidate or have the first session with a coaching client; I ask about their peer group. Who are their most trusted colleagues, who’s in their inner circle, who do they spend the most time with, who do they seek advice from, and who will they call when they get the offer or opportunity they’re looking for? I’m not looking for names of course; rather a glimpse if their inner circle is at their level of accomplishment and ambition, below or are they running to achieve the next level of success? We can be surrounded by good people; but it’s the company we keep that defines who we become tomorrow.

I’ve changed my opinions of candidates and coaching clients by asking this question as it’s provided meaningful insight. One recent coaching client was a successful PI attorney in LA who wanted to completely shift his professional life and start by leaving the practice of law. Questioning his motives and stamina for such a journey; by asking the question I learned that his most trusted confidant was his sister who the COO for a Fortune 1000. And his girlfriend of the past year was the CEO of a tech startup. He was receiving good and unbiased counsel by  people who wanted him to succeed for him; and I immediately trusted his intent and grit to make the transition.

I also worked with a C-Suite candidate who was still young in her career though impeccably credentialed and just shy of 10 years of CFO experience. In asking the question, I learned her husband had the same job for 15 years, they had the same friends since high school and had lived in the same town for most of their marriage. She hadn’t had a significant struggle in 20 years nor did she know anyone who had kicked their own professional ass to strive for something beyond their current community.  This accomplished CFO had surrounded herself with people who had no intention of ever-growing professionally or taking an uncomfortable risk to gain so much more.

In short, she reflected the company she kept while the attorney reflected the company he strived to become. 

The Company we keep reflects who we are and how far we can go. In the best of organizations or social circles; the group moves at a steady pace of collective self-improvement. They get comfortable with the uncomfortable, set bigger goals, learn new skills and refuse to settle for what worked yesterday. They surround themselves with people who tell them the truth, encourage each other to run faster up steeper mountains and support their choices regardless of how it may negatively impact their position / friendship / relationship.

Unfortunately far too many organizations, marriages and relationships favor stagnation and “Saturday lawn mowing” over taking a risk, learning a new skill, moving to a new city or taking that new job. Simply because the company we keep is not supportive or pushing themselves in a similar direction.

As Cynthia was experiencing the  first few weeks of her new position feeling soul-crushed like the rejected kid at a new school; I encouraged her to find a person in the office she wanted to get to know better. Who was she was intrigued by and looking forward to working with.  And, if this person made her feel uncomfortable -Even better! I asked her to observe the behaviors of this person; what did he/she read, what time did he get to work, do for lunch, what skills did he have that she lacked, how did he open meetings and how did his spend his evenings? Cynthia quickly accepted if she was going to be successful in her new position, she was going to have to rise to the level of her new peer group and quite possibly beyond. And, she was going to have to embrace massive change to get there before she failed.

A  year later Cynthia has surrounded herself with colleagues and new friends who challenge her, make her uncomfortable with tough questions and support her through her risk taking and questionable decisions. She’s found more growth in the past year than quite possibly the past 10. Her aperture  has expanded and she embraced it.

Cynthia has become a reflection of the company she keeps and she’ll keep growing as a result.