A few years ago, I was approached by a fast-growing startup to come in house to run their as-yet-nonexistent marketing department. The conversations were going so well that, even though I love consulting full time, I found myself drawn to the challenge. And the CEO was interested enough in my background and what I could bring to the table that she was offering to make arrangements that would allow me to continue to service my independent clients. It sounded like my perfect dream job.
But then the unexpected happened.
I’ve always believed in interviewing a potential employer as carefully as they interview me. As a consultant, the “fit” is critical—I want to be certain I can deliver true value, not just close the business. As a potential full-time employee, that fit is even more important. If I’m going to spend most of my waking hours collaborating with a team, I want to be sure there’s synergy on every level, and that I’ll have the support I need to apply my skills, deliver what’s needed and, hopefully, take the challenge beyond what was ever expected.
At this particular company, I thought that’s exactly where I was headed. The CEO seemed to have a strong vision. The executive team was energetic and seemed cohesive in their outlook for the future. But something was amiss. Outside the executive offices, there seemed to be tension.
Thankfully, I didn’t jump right in. I asked if I could meet privately with a few of the employees who would be on my team if I agreed to take the helm. I began to interview the company’s people in earnest. And that’s when the truth came out. The words I heard made me run—not walk—from the building, and never come back.
The words that made me run from the building.
First, I asked the head of development what his biggest challenge was each day. Honestly. Here’s what he said:
“Every day, I come in knowing what I need to accomplish. And every day when I walk in that door, I’m given a completely new task—one that is absolutely impossible. And I’m told it needs to be done by the end of the day.” He stopped for a moment and looked at me. “It’s like being told I need to move this eight-story building four inches to the left. By 6:00 p.m.” He stopped again, and the look on his face was pure frustration. “Four inches to the left. Not only can’t it be done, but the building is fine right where it is.”
With that theme in mind, I talked to four more people. They all had the same story. There was lots of drive, but no consistent vision. Every day, someone would come in with a new idea based on something they’d read in The Wall Street Journal or heard on MSNBC. And every day they were certain this new idea would be the key to making the new company the next Wall Street darling. I ran out the door and never looked back.
When it’s right, you’ll know it.
I made that decision to walk away as easily as I made one to join a little company called Manugistics—back before the company was a Wall Street darling. I had just moved to Washington D.C. from Los Angeles. Accenture wanted to keep me. KPMG was courting me. But I interviewed for a job at this small, 300-employee, family-owned business in Rockville, MD. And the first thing I noticed as I sat in the lobby that morning was that everyone coming in the door looked happy. Excited. Joyful. They were there because they wanted to be. There was vision. There was team collaboration. As a result, I found a dream job, and what followed was great success.
And while this won’t surprise anyone, I haven’t heard a word about that little startup in California since I bolted from the lobby—on Wall Street or otherwise. I can only hope the employees I spoke with ran as fast as I did and, with a little luck and persistence, found shiny new jobs that were, in fact, their dream jobs.
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