Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nobody Likes To Hear Bad News - Even When It Is Expected

I recently found myself on the receiving end of a tirade from a candidate whom I had given bad news.

 Yelling On Phone

He is someone I have known for many years. He was once one of the highest paid superstars in his specialty.  But now he has actually been out of the business for more than ten years and is well over sixty years old.  I told him that it would be difficult to place him.

Telling him the truth was a conscious decision on my part since I know him well.  I wanted to be honest about his chances for a placement.  And as soon as he started his harangue, I knew I had made an error in judgment.  I could have simply said “yes, I will try” and then done nothing.  But I wanted to be candid and tell him  the issues.  And now he is angry with me for telling him what I know darn well he already knew.

Please don’t shoot the messenger.

In his case it is not a matter of age.  I honestly believe that given his stellar track record, I could have ultimately found something for him.  However, the issue was that he had been out of the business for more than a decade.  During the past ten years there have been so many changes in advertising and communications that I know he will have trouble getting back - everyone who is out that long, no matter what their age, has trouble getting an advertising job.  I did tell him to network because the chances are that someone he knows will hire him; possibly even someone from advertising.

Ad agencies (and I presume other companies) like to see senior executives who have shown a consistent commitment to their business. After all, why should they hire someone who left the business when they can find someone for the same money who has remained committed and never left?

But he didn’t want to hear that from me.  He wanted me to tell him that I could easily place him and was furious when I spoke the truth.  I also know that he does not have a "Plan B".

After all these years, I should know better.  But I don’t like to create false expectations.  Being yelled at is sometimes the price of honesty.


  1. I remember the times someone said to me "this isn't right for you" or "this isn't going to happen for you." However frustrating it is at the time, looking back, they were right.

    Hopefully he will see that eventually - and find the position that he can really thrive in instead. Who was it that told me that "it only takes one yes?" - oh right. You.

  2. I understand you want to be right in this instance and feel superior because you told him "the truth". But what you said was that he was unhirable. Had you said that YOU could not help him because clients are coming to you for people who are currently in the field or had you given him some advice on how he could leverage what he did over the past 10 years to find a job, the news that you could not help might have gone over a bit easier.

    A 60 year old man is hard to place in a new job and yet he still needs to earn a living and is likely healthy enough to be able to give his career another 7 to 10 years.

    He came to you to fix his career. That's not what you do but people are often confused about the role of an executive recruiter. Sounds like he needs a coach.

    1. @anonymous. I told him precisely what you suggested. You do, however, have a good point about a coach, which is not what I do. There are many recruiters who also masquerade as coaches without any training to do so. I have several friends who are trained coaches who are much better than me at helping people who are directionless.

      The problem with the person I wrote about is that he had done something totally unrelated to the business for many years. His business died and he was desperate to work so he was gong back to what he once knew. He was doing so not out of commitment, but rather out of necessity. Sadly, this often happens to people who are out of work.

      Coaching might be a very good solution.

    2. Hi Paul,
      Being out of the industry, at any age, for ten years, makes it difficult to get back in. I sense from your article he may have had expectations to get back into the industry at level similar to where he was in 10 years ago?

      This person would do well with a certified career coach who is trained to work with people in transition.
      To successfully return this candidate would benefit to create a career and life plan; understanding what they really want, setting goals to get there, and be supported to take the consistent actions to accomplish their goals.
      Best Regards,

  3. @Barney: You are dead on. He did expect to be able to get right back in - that was part of what he was yelling at me about and reminding me of what he used to do and what he used to be. My heart goes out to people like this and, unfortunately, I hear from them all the time. I will remind these people about a very qualified and good coach I know. ;-).

  4. Hi Paul,
    I have a lot of respect for your work and writing. However, this post disturbed me a bit. I hope I'm not off-base, but it seems the conversation upset you and you used your blog to vent about it. Being a recruiter, and a great one, I am surprised to see you publicly describe such a contentious situation. You often describe conversations with candidates, but this one seemed to cross a line for me.

    I'm not defending your candidate's reaction or how you handled it. I'm just not sure I should know so many details about it. Or, that I should have read your feelings and judgments about him. If he reads this post, you're essentially delivering him a double-whammy! Yes, he's anonymous, but he's likely to feel shamed.

    It seems to me you could have provided your insight on returning to the business after a hiatus without going into great detail about this person's situation -- and you'd still have a insightful topic to share with all of us.

  5. Fair enough, Tony. I appreciate your comment. I hope you understand that no offense was intended.

  6. No worries -- not offended, just surprised. I remain a loyal reader!

  7. Paul, all I can say is I wish all the other recruiters I've dealt with throughout my career were as professional and "stand up' as you.

  8. Sometime that's the reason why there are people creating a group and protesting against to the management of company.

    1. @Becca: That is an interesting thought. What kind of group and what kind of protest. I would like you to explain so that I can better understand what you are saying.

  9. Dear Paul:

    I have been on non-stop job searching ever since I graduated from college with a Advertising Design BFA degree in May. I also had several creative internship experience. However, I decided to change my mind during my last year in school. I wanted to become a planner instead of an art director.

    Due to my background and experience, I knew it might be difficult for me to find an entry level planner job right after college, but I still tried to pursue my goal. I had been in contact with a few staffing agencies, most of them told me they do not have anything for me and told me to wait patiently. They will let me know when something turns up.

    Then I met one recruiter, he told me straight up. He said my school is not known for advertising, and the degree I just earned is worthless. He suggested me to reach out to as many people as I can in the industry, try to get my foot in the door by being an intern.

    I was defeated by his comments but at the time I was glad he did that. I think you did the right thing Paul.

    1. @ Jin: I feel for you. I understand how difficult it is to find a first job. However, it has absolutely nothing to do with the school you graduated from. Let me explain.

      Given the economy, executive recruiters are not being paid to find entry level people. The issue, honestly, is that most companies are quite able to find an ample supply of recent graduates on their own. Some graduates get their jobs based on who they know, but I want to assure you that that is often not the case. A lot of it is the luck of the draw.

      Recruiters are paid to find people with specific backgrounds Entry level, is not one of those. I have been recruiting for over 25 years and in that time, we have had no more than five or six assignments for recent college graduates - and all of them were more than 10-15 years ago.

      Because we don't get those assignments, I routinely turn down all entry level people who ask to see me or send their resumes.

      By the way, I meet lots of experienced advertising professionals who have gone to schools not known for their advertising departments. You keep at it, do not become disheartened and keep smiling. You will get your job in time. I promise.


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