Abstract: This article is the first in a series that explores why and how finding suitable work, interim or permanent can be so brutally competitive.
On January 16, 2019, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, “Masculinity isn’t a sickness.” The American Psychological Association (APA) has promulgated new guidance in which they deride masculinity. According to this position of the APA, “traditional masculinity marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression is, on the whole, harmful.” I wonder under what rock the scientists that arrived at this opinion are buried? These criteria, in my opinion, happen to concisely define the characteristics necessary for winning in a competitive job search then advancing your position in an organization regardless of your gender. Anyone that takes the APA’s advice seriously is going to doom their chances for success in the real world. If you think for one second that any of your competitors in a cutthroat recruitment situation is consciously avoiding what I would describe as the APA success characteristics, you are delusional. Surviving and thriving in our dog-eat-dog, capitalistic society can be viciously competitive. For those that disagree, I would respectfully ask in what other society or under what other economic system in the history of civilization has so much improvement in the standard of living and national income been achieved? The answer is not one, zero! Sad but true; step up to the demands of a competitive world or pin your hope for the future that increasingly progressive government will excise wealth from the shrinking productive segment of society and give it to you for doing nothing. As they say in Athens, GA the home of the Georgia Bulldogs, “If you can’t run with the big dog, stay on the porch.” One of my mentors liked to say, “If you’re going to run in the tall grass, you’d better be ready to get your nipples wet.” So, if you are up to the challenge of competing in the big league, here are some things that you need to consider as you endeavor to land a gig or advance your career in an organization.
I have discussed price competition in other articles so I will not rehash it again here other than to observe that you have to make a hard decision about what you think you are worth and the degree to which you are willing to stand on your position. Too many decision-makers will choose a course of action based solely on price regardless of what they are buying. My daughter is an attorney that practices third-party healthcare liability. She recently told me that competition based on off-shoring US jobs had resulted in contingency fees being driven down more than 50%. No firm that is not actively engaged in exporting jobs as fast as possible has a prayer of being successful in what has become a brutally price-competitive industry segment. Based on current networking and looking for a gig myself these days, the realization that prices for Interim Executive Services are being driven down is beginning to dawn upon me. Firms that used to compete on the caliber of expertise of their resources are now wallowing in the ditch of the lowest possible price with competing firms that are selling on price alone. Some of these firms achieve their success by taking advantage of executives in transition that are desperate and deploying them at cut-rate fees to buy market share. When a firm can purchase interim services for a lower cost than hiring a permanent executive, something is wrong. As the perceived value of service falls, providers that have other alternatives will move on leaving the rate-cutting firms and the people that are buying from them doomed to an ever-lower caliber of resources.
I stipulate that screening based on culture is not politically correct or even rational and illegal under certain circumstances. However, the perceived fit is a more significant factor in executive searches than candidates probably realize. I was recently told by a personnel director of all people that I was out of a final cut of candidates based on perceived cultural fit following a telephone interview. The opportunity was in Chicago. I have become increasingly proud of my Appalachian heritage and the thick southern accent I inherited from my maternal grandfather.
I recognize that I am a cultural novelty north of the Mason-Dixon Line and it frequently works to my benefit. In some places, people have followed me around waiting to hear me speak. Women that are not used to receiving courtesy and respect from men in the north are delighted by interactions with a southern gentleman. Some people read these characteristics as stereotypical of a redneck that is incapable of performing acceptably in their ‘unique professional’ situation. The fact that your credentials and experience are superior to most competitors in a search means nothing if you are going to be ruled out on a perceived lack of cultural fit. What should you do about this? My advice is that there is nothing you can do. I have been evaluated as a ‘what you see is what you get’ type of person. I refuse to feign being something or someone that I am not to land a gig although I am well aware of the prevalence of such behavior.
You win a gig by being anyone other than who you really are and you and probably your employer will likely be miserable from the outset. I refuse to be disingenuous to myself and in the process commence a relationship with a potential client based upon a dishonest ruse. If they don’t want me because of THEIR cultural prejudices, we are both better off going our separate ways. Has this cost me engagements? Absolutely. Am I ready to start compromising who and what I am? Never!
How well do you know ______ system? This question screams of a lack of sophistication of the decision-maker. Are you kidding me? I cannot remember anyone in any C-Suite I have been in that knew much detail about any system with the possible exception of the email system. Other than facilitating the approval and implementation processes for the system that is judged to meet the needs of the organization best, having technical expertise on a system has no bearing on the continuing qualification of any leader in the organization to continue in their role.
However, when the organization ruins an I/T conversion, they think the problem was that the CFO, CIO or any other O for that matter did not have enough technical skill on the product and that the solution is to find an interim or permanent successor that has much technical expertise on the failing or failed system. If organizations felt this qualification is so important why is it not enumerated in the job description of any of the organization’s leaders and required before implementation of a new system commences? The answer is because high technical system expertise on the part of C-Suite inhabitants is not what guarantees success or prevents an implementation failure. I have not seen organizations weigh technical system expertise in recruitment of permanent candidates because there is a vast difference between having a high level of technical knowledge and having the leadership ability necessary to rescue a failed I/T system implementation. Technical skills are highly unlikely in any C-suite executive with the possible exception of the CIO who is ministering over the failure. As an aside, I have watched CIOs dodge responsibility for system shortcomings with the excuse that their duty is limited to getting the software to run on the organization’s infrastructure. Anything to do with the operation of the system or its cooperation with other systems is ‘above the CIO’s paygrade.’ Nevertheless, decision-makers will take the answer that someone worked in an organization with the XYZ system installed and translate that into perceived expertise that will be used to rule out other potentially better-qualified leaders that might actually achieve progress in overcoming the system failure. I do not believe many decision-makers recognize the risks they are taking in hiring a C-Suite executive for system expertise. If they get it wrong, they subject the entire organization to failure in the worst case and put their job on the line in the best case.
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