Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How To Lose A Job

It is rare as a recruiter to hear how someone screwed up.  99% of my candidates come to me with a story; getting fired is never their fault.  I can't think of anyone who has ever told me that they screwed up.  The reason for termination is generally bad business or account loss, which is mostly true.  And if I check with clients, most companies, in order to protect themselves, rarely tell me the truth about someone leaving, especially if that person is being let go for any kind of cause.

I had a fascinating conversation with a client the other morning. He was totally honest with me and told me about an account person he had the need to replace.  When I asked him why, he said that the person he had  incapable of performing, perhaps because she was too junior for her role.  I asked him to explain more.  His description, which follows, gave rise to this post and my desire to understand what separates successful executives from others.
My client told me a bunch of things about this account person, who happened to be someone I knew.  Among the “for instances” he described was this story.  My jaws dropped when I heard it.  

The client emailed this account person to tell her that a photograph that they (the client) had supplied for incorporation into a trade show display that the agency was creating did not work.  There was no blame on the agency; just a simple statement that it didn’t look right.  There was absolutely no problem.  However, the account person called her manager, who was out of town with a different client to tell him about the problem and ask what to do.


His first question, “Which image did not work?”  The account director actually didn’t know.  “Didn’t you ask the client?”  Again, no. Since the manager was not in the office, he asked the account person what she thought should be done. She actually didn't know. Of course, the answer was simple.  All she had to do was call the client and see what he wanted the agency to do.  This account director, believe it or not, had over 15 year's experience and should have known how to handle the situation.  All the client really wanted was commiseration.  the manager, who was out of town was forced to call the client.  He realized that the account director was clueless as to the real nature of her job.

There is a management principal which says, don’t bring me the problem, bring me the solution.  Some people get it, unfortunately, some don’t.  It isn’t about age or experience.  One does not expect an employee a year or two out of school to simply get it, although many do.  But certainly after fifteen years in business, an executive is expected to know how to handle what is, essentially, an easy, day-to-day situation.  In this case, it wasn't even a problem.  

Last year, in my blog, I wrote about how to get promoted.  In essence, all promotions should be anticlimactic.  Account executives get promoted once they have already assumed the position of account supervisors.  When EVP’s get promoted to president, most people are not surprised because the EVP was already acting the role.  

The secret to success is that one must have confidence enough to take charge.  I am reluctant to use myself as an example, but I was a senior vice president before I was thirty.  I was lucky enough to work with fabulous people who appreciated my talents and pushed me, but I was always able to take the next role long before it was given to me.  I recently looked at my high school yearbook and the quote under my name was, “The most important thing is to know what ought to be done.”  I was fortunate at one point in my early career to work for a man named John deGarmo  who had an agency by that name.  I was having an issue getting started on a project and he gave me this great advice:  “Just start.  Go in a direction.  The knowledge you gain as you progress will enable you to evaluate what you are doing and, if necessary, change direction.”  He went on to tell me a truth about business: There are very few decisions you make which cannot somehow be changed if you discover that they need to be adjusted.

And that is the secret of the take charge account person or any other executive, for that matter. 


  1. Well said, Paul. Completely agree with your points. Interesting to me that this AD got hired or promoted in the first place. Makes a case for better interviewing and more honest performance appraisals.

  2. Agreed. In addition to better interviewing and performance appraisals, I think you make a good case for more thorough reference checking as well.


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