Sunday, December 26, 2010

Following your leaders; when your former boss or colleague calls to recruit you.

For many employees there is nothing more flattering than a call from a former boss or colleague with an offer to join them at their current company. These calls often come at a time when you least expect it. Perhaps you were not actively looking but opportunistically keeping an ear to the ground? Or, maybe the call comes at the perfect moment, right after revamping your resume and just starting to surf the job boards. In these moments, it seems like timing and fate just met up with curiosity and ego, shook hands and went into the bar for a drink.

It's true, the best leads will always come through your professional network, and it is not unusual for those leads to be a former manager or colleague who thinks the world of you. But ask yourself, and your boss, a few questions before you jump ship from a current job that may seem a bit lackluster, but is still a very good fit for you.

You need to know a lot more than whether "Susan" or "Bill" are well-respected, happy, productive and fairly compensated in their new role. Regardless of your respect, loyalty and genuine admiration for this person, you need to treat this like any other interview process. You want to know why your old/new boss selected this company over another, and why they think you are the perfect fit for this opportunity. Ask the tougher questions. They won't be easy to ask, but the answers are critical to your career.

First, what does your old/new boss's career pattern say about their decision-making? Do they demonstrate consistency in always moving forward in their career? Or, do you see repeated cycles of industry, title and level? Does he/she have a habit of job hopping, or have they shown longevity throughout their professional life? Does their position at the new company offer them visibility to the strategic and operational decisions made by the board or executive management team? How close are they to the decision-makers? What goals have they been tasked with over the next two to five years? Are you an integral or peripheral aspect of those plans? Are they on a similar functional path as you? Or are they a CFO and you are an HR or IT professional? Will your job be stationed in another location or area of the company and report to a different supervisor? What is the new company's financial position? Is this a successful, growing public company or closely held and privately funded? Have they struggled financially or have PR issues, or do they pass the sniff test on stability and reputation? Are you comfortable knowing that you may not have a job there if your boss leaves or is let go? And, if you decide not to join them, how do you turn him/her down without compromising the relationship?

It is easy to believe that the former boss hiring you to the new company has the best intentions for you, and they may even want to groom you for a major career jump! But hiring a former employee is as much about being a proven entity as it is about saving time and money. Recruiting a former employee is often the safest way to hire an immediate "plug n' play" solution. While your former boss likely has the greatest respect for you, AND your best interests in mind, you also owe it to yourself to question the longer term impact of the decision to follow your leader.

Additionally, when you are brought into a new company by a former leader to work directly for them, there is an implication that success is almost guaranteed. The expectation is that you will solve his/her problem(s), be the ideal culture fit and build a thriving career all while under the very close, personal supervision of your manager and mentor. Failure is not an option.

If the job is not well aligned to your skill set, or the cultural chemistry is poor, you will face additional challenges that are outside your control. The potential for failure not only causes you professional pain, but your boss as well. After all, s/he vouched for you. Credibility and confidence in you and your old/new leader will be hard won in the future.

It is very tempting to take an opportunity presented by a trusted colleague at face value, but cautious optimism should be exercised throughout the vetting process. Realize that your name will be closely associated with that person throughout the first several years in the new company, and if they leave on their own or by termination, it is likely to have an impact on your relationship to the company or the former boss. Don't follow the leader blindly, make sure you have a good reason for leaving your current job in the first place. Resigning from a company that has treated you well, where you have been happy and successful, simply because someone has offered you their coattails to ride can come back to bite you in the end...literally.