Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
September 26, 2019

It's a Candidate's Market Part 7: When Candidate Empowerment Can Be Too Much of a Good Thing

As we’ve explored in this series, it is a candidate’s market. While some clients are leaning in, others are on their heels. Candidates are also knocked off balance by this new norm, as they are unsure how to exercise their newfound empowerment. Some choose wisely. Some do not. 

I originally conceived this piece as a helpful guide to candidates to think about how best to act and behave in a frothy market like this. All markets are temporary, and taking the long view is not just safe, but smart for your career and reputation. However, the past months and a series of experiences with candidates who have over-adapted, has led this piece to evolve from being a guidepost to a warning sign. 

Just because there has been a shift in the executive talent market, integrity, respect and truthfulness are not to be applied situationally. How you handle delicate situations in the hiring process speaks volumes about your personal brand, especially in such a small world. For example:

A. A talented candidate negotiates, comes to terms and enthusiastically accepts his “dream job.” He knows he is “the unicorn” and is thrilled. He has a bit of a garden leave between the acceptance and start date. With a spring in his step, he determines it is OK to continue to engage in discussions with other opportunities and a week before the start date of his dream job, he backs out to accept another offer. 

B. Another candidate receives an offer that not only catapults her into the C-suite, it also escalates her already terrific compensation threefold. The role, the team and the compensation should all be giving her a nosebleed given the altitude. Yet she gets hung up on the cost of living in the specific community and the deal falls apart.

C. Another candidate who has produced and enjoyed outsized economic success agrees to join a new company owned by a blue-chip private equity firm. The process and the negotiations are a bit protracted, but aggressive terms are reached. As the time nears to sign, the candidate has a renewed sense of value given the market and demands to re-open the negotiations.

What pushed these three talented executives to behave in ways that were “out of character” based on extensive assessments and referencing? The market forces and the new reality of candidate empowerment. 

I am not suggesting you not exercise your empowerment. Candidates should feel quite optimistic these days. If you take the long view and manage toward a vision that encompasses professional, personal and whole-life goals, you can reach your potential. But you need to recognize that your behavior leaves a footprint — one that can either leave a positive impression about your talent and character, or cast a deep and dark imprint on your personal brand.  

Art Brown is a member of Spencer Stuart's Board, CEO, Consumer, Private Equity, and Marketing and Sales Officer practices. He concentrates on the consumer sector, advising on talent and leadership. Reach him via email and follow him on LinkedIn.