It's career suicide to accept a position and continue to shop around

In this installment of Career Compass, headhunter Kevin Rosenberg advises against taking a less-than-satisfactory job and continuing to play the field. He also tackles the problem of limiting a search for CIO candidates to only those with prior industry experience.

Let headhunter Kevin Rosenberg help you set your career compass. He is the managing director and partner of a California-based management search firm. Kevin will be sharing hints and tips on a host of career issues in this biweekly Q & A format.

Q. I was laid off from a high-paying, rewarding position with a large consulting firm in July. I have been interviewing aggressively and have received a very competitive offer from a fast-growth but small solutions firm in e-commerce. Though I feel the position and the offer are good, I am not convinced that joining this firm is in my best interest long-term. Because this is my first offer of employment, I have put off accepting it in the hope of receiving other offers from other firms where I would rather work. My concern is that the company that made the offer is growing impatient. Should I take the offer on the table and continue to look for an ideal situation, or just turn down the offer and risk being unemployed?
Alexandra, Chicago
A. Rosenberg: Alexandra, I think you and every other sophisticated professional knows the right answer, but I will revalidate it. Let’s make it simple. Under no circumstances should you accept a job offer with the intent of continuing to shop around. IT is an incestuous industry where everyone is well networked and connected. Bad news travels much more quickly than good. In the e-commerce space where such rampant growth is part of the furniture, it is very easy for information about your actions to travel from company to company. Burning a company that may be hiring you for a crucial project by resigning when a better offer comes along is tantamount to career suicide.

Be true to your instincts. If in your heart you feel that the company with the offer on the table is not going to add value to your career or be a hospitable place to develop your career, then politely turn them down. Do it in writing and then continue your search. The IT employment market today is exuberant, especially in e-commerce. Set your sights on the right job and commit to finding it.

Q. I am the VP of Human Resources at a restaurant chain. We have had an opening for a CIO for several months and have been conducting our own search. The problem I am encountering is that the president and other members of the executive team are requiring that the ideal candidate be from the restaurant or quick-service food industry. But I've run out of options. What can I do?
Name and address withheld
A. Rosenberg: Your dilemma is not uncommon. Many leaders of niche industry companies believe the only key to a successful hire is prior industry experience. I see this in virtually all industry subgroups, including retail, technology, publishing, entertainment, and financial services. This bias is counterproductive, as well as a staggering statement about management’s perception that today’s knowledge worker is rigid.

As a consultant, I believe my responsibility is to point out the pitfalls to my client of this hiring pattern. As the leader of the HR function at your company, you can coach your executive team to accept that the path of least resistance is not necessarily hiring in its own image. Here are some points to consider:
  • Restricted hiring practices limit the field of viable candidates by shutting off prospective candidates from related industries. In the restaurant business, perhaps people with retail expertise could also be viable.
  • This “only from our industry” mantra also stifles the development of “best practices.” CIOs and other executives who come from within industry groups can easily fall into patterns that replicate the way tasks have always been performed. Bringing in expertise from unrelated industries reinvigorates the executive team and brings a fresh perspective to the organization. Some of the most innovative changes in a business process can come from working with a clean slate.
  • You risk that the right candidates may never throw their hats in the ring based on their perceptions of your company. If your company or its IT function is not perceived in your industry to be among the top 10 percent, the executive who wants to stay “industry-specific” may not view joining your company as a boon for his or her career.

My advice is, challenge your executive team to spread its wings, launch a new search, and hire the best-qualified candidate for the job, regardless of industry. You'll be setting a new course for your company.

As managing director of BridgeGate LLC, Kevin Rosenberg has the primary responsibility for technical operations and training and for managing the firm's finance, MIS, and HR specialty practice areas. Kevin has a decade of experience conducting searches in IT, having placed IT executives for Aetna International, Fujitsu, Aramark, and others. He maintains BridgeGate's long-term relationship with Korn/Ferry, the world's largest executive search firm.