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Worst Candidate Ever -- Tips for Not Sabotaging Your Career

05/20/2015 02:12 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2016

For the last eleven years I have owned an executive-recruiting firm focused on gaming and high tech. I only represent executives I know personally, or executives that are referred to me...by executives I know personally. I've reviewed 20,000 resumes, represented 1,500 candidates, and placed more than 600 of them. Compensation starts at $100,000, last year I placed eight executives north of a million dollars, and my average placement was $200,000.

This article is about a candidate I represented many years ago during Depression 2.0. We will call him "John." His compensation package was over a million dollars a year, however he was laid off due to the poor economy. John did so many things wrong during his career search that it is a case study in what NOT to do. Here are a few highlights.

Don't Define Your Identity Through Your Job
Never confuse what you do with who you are! If you define yourself through your job, being terminated can be devastating. IT'S JUST A JOB. And there will always be more jobs. John worked a hundred hours a week for 20 years. His reward? He was laid off. Do you think his boss or co-workers will be at his funeral? Do you think anyone at his company really cared, or were they all thinking, "Sure glad it was not me." What about the kids that grew up while John was not around? The number one regret of men in their 50s is that they did not spend enough time with their family. Family and friends are important; life is important. We idolize what we spend the most time on. Don't idolize your job.

YOU are the Architect of Your Destiny
Quit complaining about your boss, your company, your spouse, your kids, the economy...whatever. Your success is 100 percent up to YOU. Take personal responsibility for your situation. John blamed everyone from his boss to the company to Barack Obama for the lousy economy. You know where that attitude gets you? NOWHERE. Hiring companies don't want to hear it. Executive Recruiters don't want to hear it. Here is a huge dose of reality -- companies don't lay off great employees. I'm not judging anyone, however in my 10 years of recruiting, I rarely see an "A" player unemployed. You are responsible for your choices. You are responsible for your situation. Resolve to take responsibility for your life and your choices. There is a reason the windshield is so large and the rear view mirror is so small. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Go write a new ending to your movie!

Relationships... NOT Transactions
Every day I get emails from people that dismissed me, ignored me.... kicked dirt on me. And it starts like this, "I know we have not talked in years, but..." Recruiters get the best jobs and we are focused on long-term relationships, NOT people that call us once every five years for a job. It's just like your Mom said -- play nice. Sure, we are all busy, but how hard is it to return a phone call or email? Unfortunately, John did not have many friends. He treated his peers poorly, so when he was terminated, no one returned his calls. That is a big problem given that 85 percent of senior level jobs come through a professional connection or executive recruiter. Keep your relationships fresh, always return phone calls and emails, and above all, play nice.

Humble and Genuine is Attractive
No one likes a self-absorbed, self-serving elitist. Or as my former boss used to call himself, a narcissistic megalomaniac. For every million dollar search, I will have a hundred volunteers, twenty qualified candidates, and submit the best three. For the record, it is not an honor and privilege to represent you. Companies pay executive recruiters to identify the best candidates. Arrogance, hubris and ego are not high on our list of desired traits. John was the worst! I had to sit him down multiple times and tell him to check his ego at the door. He actually called a hiring company to say, "You are all fouled up. I would never work for you!" Who does that? In the end, his arrogance, more than anything else, was his downfall.

Bitter is Not Attractive
John was just about the most bitter people I ever met. He was totally focused on how his last company, "had done him wrong." He could not get past it. Which was interesting since his last Boss communicated they gave John a huge severance package. A combination of arrogance and bitterness was John's eventual undoing. If your last job was terrible, get over it. Your last boss is certainly not obsessing over you. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. Companies want to hire happy, smiley people. Move on!

Focus on OPPORTUNITY, not Money
Everyone wants to be compensated fairly; I totally get it. And anyone that tells you money is not important...does not have any! But focusing on money during a job interview is NOT attractive. John was obsessed with compensation. When asked his base salary, John gave me eight line items from his last compensation package, including "free dry cleaning." An Executive Recruiter examines your education and skill set, then compares it to market conditions and the hiring barometer. This gives us a "fair market value" - what a company will pay for your talent. In John's case, he was looking at the worst hiring environment of our lifetime, but you guessed it, he wanted a raise! I kid you not. Recruiters are running a for-profit business and focus on candidates that are reasonable about compensation. If you are unrealistic, they will drop you like a hot rock. It's like selling a house, most people have an inflated view of what their house will sell for...and over price it. Same situation with candidates, most are completely detached from reality when it comes to compensation. Let me tell you what IS important. OPPORTUNITY. Is the company financially stable? Are they well managed? Are they growing? These are the important questions, not whether they will cover your dry cleaning.

How John's Story Ends
After having John interview multiple times, I threw in the towel and gracefully bowed out. He was too arrogant and bitter to ever impress a hiring company. John was unemployed for two years, then eventually took a job making 50% of his previous compensation package with a mediocre company in a town with six feet of snow. And I take no pleasure in that. Have compassion for his situation, and hope the lessons outlined above help someone else to not make the same mistakes.

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