3 things I consider before I return the head-hunter’s call

I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in my career.  From my first job, and we’re talking about stuff people don’t put on resumes,  to becoming a trader rep with the bank to becoming the marketing guy at LG to customers that seemed to flow my way when I had my own company to my current engagement with Citrix, I’ve never once had to look for work.  I’ve just always been extraordinarily fortunate to be at the right place, at the right time and spoke with the right people who simply asked “Do you want to work with us?”

I’m not particularly intelligent nor do I hold any advanced degrees in any marketable subjects.  I’m not tall, dark and handsome nor do I have the prosperity paunch of a seasoned salaryman.  I don’t know a ton of influential people and I don’t have decades of experience in anything.  By all accounts, I am extraordinarily average.  But I am able to do one thing well…


I have totally done this – Aldo, Eaton’s Centre, Toronto. Come for the discounts, stay for the flow of phone numbers…

You see, the only thing I’m good at, is making you feel like an awesome buyer.  (…and you are!!  I love all of you.  Keep buying! ).  And when I can systematically teach this skill, I get pulled into a lot of opportunities all the time.

More than ever, because of my blog, LinkedIn and the huge number of terrific people everywhere, I receive a substantial flow of headhunter inquiries, requests to work with young start-up teams and business partnerships with long time friends and past associates.  I’m shown opportunities as far and exciting as Hong Kong, to just 5 minutes from home in Toronto.

However, as humbled and grateful as I am, experience has taught me one key thing: Know what to say ‘No’ to.  A new opportunity only has value if it moves you towards a specific goal you’ve set for yourself.  I generally pass on most inquiries with gratitude and humility but once in a while, something extraordinary pops up and I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least have one coffee to learn more.

Here are the 3 things I think about before I decide to meet a recruiter for coffee.

1. Do I still trust the leadership in my current company?

I don’t work for companies.  I work for the guy who brought me in.  My contract is with the company but my word and promise, is to the guy who risked reputation to sign me.  My job, above all else, is to prove that he made the right buy.  However, the promise goes both ways.  The moment I lose trust in the capabilities of the leadership, I remove my biggest reason to stay.

The most critical factor of a leader’s competency is her vision.  Is it scatter-shot or is it laser focused?  Does she change direction every time her boss blinks or does she see the end-goal in mind regardless of the noise from above.  Does she keep weak players for the sake of harmony or does she cull them quickly for the good of the group?  I’ve long ignored job titles as the barometer of someone’s competence and ability to inspire.  Years-experience and war-stories count for little with today’s younger, faster, more adaptable workforce.  A strong pro doesn’t care about climbing a company’s ladder anymore.  He crafts his own ladder and leans it to wherever he wants.

When I had my own company, I would often go on job interviews just to keep me sharp.  I would ask these 3 questions and based on the answers, I would know whether or not I would want to work with the guy.

a. What makes your weakest guy your weakest guy and why is he still here?

b. Who is your best customer?  And is he your best customer because of your competence or his?

c. Fast forward 3 months and look back.  What needs to have happened for you to say you’ve been successful?  What’s been done so far?

I refer to this checklist in my head every few months when I’m with a company.  If the answers don’t check out, the head-hunter’s call becomes more appealing.

2.  Do I have first hand impact in my current company?

If I can’t hire and fire and ultimately create a self-reliant team that I can unplug from, I lose interest. I don’t create dependent teams that keep me employed.  I create teams that can run themselves to make me more employable.  I’m not interested in drawing a salary without an endgame. Whether I’m an employee or my company is contracted, everybody is a customer to me and I have to earn my next year.  And the only way I can  ensure that my work is up-salable is to ensure that it has direct impact.  This is why I enjoy working with young sales people and young companies.  I want to create leaders, not journeymen.

Work is infinitely more enjoyable when you know exactly where your effort is going.  Once that starts to become muddled with constant random initiatives and corporate make-work projects, a past associate’s call to start a new company becomes infinitely more appealing.

3.  Am I being pitched to join a company in sunrise industry or a sunset  industry?  

Nobody wants to work in a dying industry except undertakers and probate lawyers (Badabing!).  At this point, I can sincerely say that if this is as good as life gets, I’m pretty damned happy.  Everything at this point is gravy to me.  When you work because of a promise and not just an income, work has meaning.  The only reason I would change is to return to the full-time operation of my own company or if I’m pulled away to a company in an industry that’s just made the up-turn on the hockey stick curve.

If you’re being pitched to join a company in a sunset industry, unless you’re being paid ridiculous amounts of money or will be offered equity ownership, steer clear.  The profile for sunset industries is obvious; sell incrementally more units at incrementally lower prices just to stay relevant.  On the flip-side, a sun-rise industry is one where there are still plenty of green-fields and the public at large is just starting to find out what the industry is about. (Think Cloud.)  I’m in the Cloud right now and there are few places more exciting.

I don’t say ‘yes’ to many things anymore because I don’t have the time to waste.  Whatever free I time I have, I’d rather be spending it with my kid, plotting pranks to play on his nanny.  However, once I see the trend of inconsistent growth in the company that I’m with, the recruiter’s call becomes all-the-more appealing.

So why do I write this?  Because somebody said to me “The fewer layers people have to peel away, the faster they get to the real you.”  I prefer not to be one of those guys who hedges their bets with everything.  It’s inevitable that people will leave companies.  Employers who don’t know what their employees are going to say when the head-hunter comes calling will lose their strongest guys.  I spend most of my time trying to figure out what my strongest guys are thinking and what drives them and not surprisingly, the strongest guys have their own reasons for coming and staying.

Don’t be a seagull manager.  Check in with your guys today.