I don’t know whether the New York Times is trying to shed light on the growing unemployment situation or to poke fun at job hunters and employers. In a story yesterday ($13 an Hour? 500 Sign Up, 1 Wins a Job) the Times tells about a trucking company that ran a job posting on CareerBuilder… and what happened.

Turns out this company is afraid to hire people more skilled than it’s accustomed to — even if the price is right. If this isn’t proof the world has gone nuts, I don’t know what is.

The head of corporate recruiting was apparently stunned at all the resumes she received via CareerBuilder. How’d she decide on the finalists out of the 500 applicants?

She dropped significantly overqualified candidates right away, reasoning that they would leave when the economy improved. Among them was a former I.B.M. business analyst with 18 years experience; a former director of human resources; and someone with a master’s degree and 12 years at Deloitte & Touche, the accounting firm.

Imagine that: The economy has put some incredibly talented and skilled people on the market at a steep discount. These are smart people willing to take less money to do a lower-level job than they’re accustomed to. Buy low. Does this goofus know what that means? No, she’s worried that an “overqualified” hire will leave when the economy gets better.

Yo, Mamma! Anyone you hire is gonna leave for a better opportunity when the economy improves! Time to fire the HR lady.

But it gets better. Trucking companies are not immune to staggering incompetence at any management level — any more than any other industry is. One of the applicants rejected by the HR lady gets passed on to another manager. What does he do to assess this candidate and make a hiring decision?

Mr. Kelsey marched through many of his questions again. Then, trying to gauge her ability to be assertive among truck drivers, he added a new hypothetical: if she were in the stands at a baseball game and a foul ball came her way, would she stand up to try to catch it, or wait in her seat and hope it fell her way?

The other finalist had said she would wait. But Ms. Block said immediately that she would jump up to grab it.

Mr. Kelsey decided he had found his hire.

Managers can ask job candidates anything they want in an interview. Why didn’t Mr. Kelsey ask the applicant what she’d do if, when that foul ball came her way, a truck driver seated beside her elbowed her in the face so he could catch the ball instead? Would she:

  1. Deck him?
  2. Thank him for saving her face from the incoming projectile?
  3. Wipe her bloody nose and scream for a cop?
  4. Ask him whether Mr. Kelsey is hiring?

(Just kidding.)

My compliments to whoever hired that IBM business analyst. You got a bargain. If you treat him well and make good use of his skills (which you’d never get a shot at in a good economy), my guess is he might not even quit when the economy gets better… because you found good ways to capitalize on skills you couldn’t afford in a better economy… and maybe you were astute enough to create something better for him at your company so he’d stay. And even if he leaves, if you were smart you made profitable use of the time he was working for you. Nobody stays at your company forever, assuming your company is still in business in a coupla years…

I’d like a count, please: How many managers or HR people out there would pass on an “overqualified” applicant willing to work for less money because they don’t know how the hell to capitalize on a windfall of unexpectedly superior skills?

(Thanks to Steve Amoia for sending me the NY Times article.)


  1. Back in May I wrote an article on this subject: “How to hire and KEEP overqualified people” http://leanstartups.com/2009/05/how-to-hire-and-keep-overqualified-people.html You made some nice comments on it.

    Sadly, I think, we will continue writing these articles with suggestions on how to overcome this issue… but I doubt much will change until old crop of HRs get retired or fired. The problem is that many HRs are still stuck in the mentality of the 70s and 80s. And hell will freeze over before they realize things have changed, needs of people have changed, and even the most experienced people sometimes want to scale back on responsibility etc. and have a life.

  2. @Apolinaris: Yah, but screaming bloody murder from the rooftops has an effect if enough people get up on the rooftops and scream. Keep it up.

  3. As a sometimes-overqualified job seeker, so many things in the NYT article make me angry. “We like to get the fair and middling talent that will work for the wages and groom them from within”? Good thing you and I are bloggers so we can scream from the rooftops: http://jessified.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/fair-and-middling-talent-only-please/

  4. Apolinaras “Apollo” Sinkevicius
    “The problem is that many HRs are still stuck in the mentality of the 70s and 80s. And hell will freeze over before they realize things have changed, needs of people have changed, and even the most experienced people sometimes want to scale back on responsibility etc. and have a life.”

    I’m sorry to add that back in the 70’s & 80’s the same things were happening with HR’s who were stuck in the 50’s & 60’s. The same thing was going on in the recessions of 74-75, the 80’s the early 90’s. Nothing changed when the current crop of HR’s retired or got fired. I have heard the same stories for over 35 years. He/she is going to leave when things get better – he/she is going to be bored – yada, yada, yada.

    I’m afraid I’ve lost hope that there will every be a large scale change.

  5. Nice story however, believe it or not, there already are and have been before the recession, business analysts, computer programmers, stock traders, lawyers (well you get the point) who are out here driving trucks for various reasons. So fed up with the four walls and high stress, others just to see the country still others simply to pursue a childhood desire.

    The trucking industry is far more colorful with people of all backgrounds and education levels driving trucks.

    People’s perception of truck drivers are stuck with what they see in the movies, mostly from Smokey and the Bandit and the newer movies are no more positive than the old ones as it reflects on truck drivers.

    For these reasons, I am working a documentary to educate the public about who are trucker and life as a trucker. It will kind of pick up where my website http://www.lifeasatrucker.com drops off.

  6. Fran,
    Maybe the issue is what kind of people we hire as HRs. I haven’t had a chance to hire too many HRs, but those who we did (I am no longer with those companies) are giddy with joy. They have gotten hold of some talent they never dreamed of being able to afford. I doubt anyone will be able to hire away that talent, because I know those companies are treating their people well.

    For the rest of the HRs, folks, there is a reason so many of you are unemployed. It is called KARMA!

  7. One of my clients recently had a telephone interview in which the first question was ‘How much did you make in your last job?’ He tried all the techniques to dodge it, but the interviewer kept coming back with the same question. When my client answered $85,000…click.

    The hiring ‘process’ is really an elimination process. One job, 500 applicants means 499 times more eliminating than hiring. Are we surprised that HR is much better at and more focused on elimination?

  8. My question for all these HR folks is, “when EXACTLY do they think the economy is going to get better?” With all the news out there that we are will not see a return of 50% of the jobs lost today, or that it will be 2014 before we see any real job gains again, how can they think that this person is going to go any where? In the interim, they could have a talented, probably hardworking, realistic person working for them with a wealth of talent that would, hopefully benefit the company and mostly likely have them for a number of years at the least given the news we read today.

    It seems incredibly short sited……

  9. Are we still in the mindset that people are assets when things are good and liabilities when there are challenges?

    One problem with hiring is that many ‘managers’ making these decisions have never been trained on how to interview or their criteria is flawed.

  10. Serge Lescouarnec writes:
    “Are we still in the mindset that people are assets when things are good and liabilities when there are challenges?”

    Interesting observation, I wish I had it in front of me, but I came across an HR article back in 2001 that alluded that tighter job markets were good because recruiting is easier and there was no need to “pander” to candidate demands.

    I don’t remeber the exact title but it could have been called “HR: no vision and proud of it!”

  11. @Suzanne: Ha ha! Serge’s comment takes me back to the early up/down job markets in Silicon Valley. Companies would do wholesale terminations of engineers. 6 months later, the industry would turn back up and the same companies would go begging… Engineers eventually figured it out. Salaries and perks would go through the ceiling in up times; engineers would live in their cars in down times. It was pure insanity. The reality was that headhunters made out like bandits.

  12. [Heavy sigh …] It seems up to me to make the dumb comment. Fair value is fair value. If I needed a BA as a manager, I would offer BA salary. I would NOT hire a BA to work as a trucker — BAs do not have the skills and experience required. I would not pay a trucker minimum wage (or, less)

    People are Hell-bent on creating Chaos. I want to know that my employee isn’t starving and distracted from work by not being able to feed and clothe and have healthcare for immediate needs and those of the family if there is one.

    This is what has been called “the working poor” …I am distressed to hear about this 13/hr worker. There might be a stigma toward truckers (which is unfortunate). Something has to change — worldwide, to get us out of (I will go even farther back), the unskilled factory worker mentality which is the urban equivalent of the field hand.

    I want everyone to live with the same dignity that I want for myself. IF that is the “dumb” mentality — I embrace my stupidity.

    What is the point of going to “Sunday school” if we have no intention to live on the “do unto others ideal?

    It isn’t okay with me …how can these people get by in life for $13.00 an hour, when will they retire?

    Did I hear, “Not our problem” coming from cyberspace? This is the same person without healthcare or laying in the street dying …connect the dots, please.

  13. As a jobseeker I have had to dumb it down on the resume far too often over the years.
    I came to the realization that in my own life if I go to an auto mechanic–I seek one that 1) I can TRUST 2) Has the skills & training to troubleshoot in 1-2 days my trouble, not 6 months & five trips later! 3)Reputation-consistent satisfaction with the finished job.
    If I want to have a built-in cabinet made for my home–who am I going to select??–Handyman Joe who drove by my house in a 10 year old pick-up with a hand-lettered sign and left a hand written flyer in my door–Or, will a hire a master craftsmen that owns a custom furniture/cabinetry business, and knows how to use all the tools? A true craftsmen is NOT OVERQUALIFIED–he or she has simply learned to use the tools of their trade and knows when and how to apply the appropriate tool in a given situation. Too bad that managers don’t apply that in their workplace hiring! -dt

  14. VK,

    Please come down off of your socialist soapbox, for a moment? It’s a bit presumptuous of you to think someone having a BA can’t drive a truck. Your job as a hiring manager needs to be hiring people that can add value to your organization at the most optimal price, and not to worry about the individual’s outside concerns. If $13/hr doesn’t cut it for them, they can pursue other oppotunities to fortify themselves and their families. That’s called DEMOCRACY, and capitalism is the engine that creates opportunity to achieve personal wealth and the happiness derived from it.

    (political rant over)

    Nick is right. The organization that can be proactive and take advantage of a multi-talented, highly skilled individual at a “bargain” rate won’t have to worry about them leaving when the economy improves and more opportunities open up-the energy spent on retention and proactive engagement of the current employee will be far, far less than the need to rehire/retrain a new person.

  15. I frequently apply for jobs for which I’m grossly overqualified for. I was a chemist at a Fortune 500 company until my husband encountered health problems. Other than caring for him, I hate office politics, and I was fed up with full-time equaling 50-60 hrs per week and getting only 2 paltry weeks off per year. I love traveling internationally, so that doesn’t cut it. I have quit jobs to go traveling for a few months and then I just get another job elsewhere at a different Fortune 500 co. I have lived in Europe where vacation policies and family time-off are MUCH more generous. I want to stay in control of the trajectory of my life and my work-life balance. There are many, many people like me out there. It is time for employers to adjust jobs to accommodate people who have lives outside of work. Pro-rate pay for people who want up to 12 weeks of vacation per year and limit work weeks to 40 hrs max. If it isn’t done in 40 hrs, what is the employee doing all day? If I apply to a lesser job, I leave a degree off and downplay my salary (never giving a figure, it’s confidential.) Wake up folks! Life is short! It isn’t ALL about money and work!

  16. Well they do not say: “We are terrified of you”, but I can only agree – we – who are” overqualified” we fill it around.

    And since we are “overqualified” – we feel what to do with such Company who has problems to get better employees we can do it better and we do.

    As the result – I create same competition to one of those Companies that did not accept me (at least in profesional expertise I can do that)and – why not – that is probably just one more way how to be hired!

  17. Nick,

    There is also another side to hiring “over qualified” candidates. This is getting rid of the higher talent employees when the economy slows down. I’ve noticed this started in the early 90s. Many of the talented employees are usually more highly paid and often were not directly tied to a profit center having “graduated” from the profit centers and occupy jobs devoted to expansion into other businesses. These folks are more likely to get hacked during a downturn when the prospects that they were working on are not going to happen in the time frame desired by upper management who fears they would not be happy going back a step to work in a job that they previously had. Getting rid of them offers more immediate short term cost savings compared to a less experienced employee.
    This thinking looks good in short term accounting, but does not address the long term costs of losing talent that may come back as an employee of a competitor or as a new competitior. I’ve had friends who were fired in the 2001 recession that formed a start up that succeded in depriving their old employer of millions in profits by allowing the old company’s customers to bypasss them.
    The cost to keep these people on the payroll would have been far less.
    Another example of Karma.

  18. Right, right …caring about people isn’t only “Sunday school” … now (despite being a Veteran), I must be a Socialist.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb


  19. How many folks from HR became CEO or Chairman? Do these folks think the “fair and middling talent” won’t leave? ALL boats rise with the tide.

    If I was leading the trucking company I’d have to assume that Ms. Block and Mr. Kelsey were “fair and middling talent” (that’s the skill they target) and be on the search for their replacements. I can’t believe they even allowed for the interview and article! Why didn’t Mr. Kelsey just ask “When the economy picks up will you stay here?”.

    Question is; in a recovered economy, will Block and Kelsey raise their talent expectations and pay more money?

  20. @John Zabrenski: That’s a very telling story. In the mid-90’s I was hired as a consultant by AT&T, which was laying off thousands. They wanted me to coach the Career Development team of the HR Dept – to help them find jobs elsewhere. (Go figure. The CD team hired the big outplacement firms to “process” the thousands; but they wanted me.)

    AT&T offered huge severance pkgs to those who volunteered to leave without being laid off. Guess what? Some of the cream of the crop – viewing this as a windfall because they didn’t fear looking for a new job – quickly took the deal and left.

    The frightened middling performers hid in the corner and either “survived” or got smaller severances after several layoff iterations.

    What was AT&T left with? Certainly not its best.

    One of the best, who was by herself generating millions in subsidy payments from an obscure federal program, took the pkg. “No, we don’t want YOU to leave! You add $$ to the bottom line!” She took the cash, left, started a consulting biz with her son and contracted to AT&T competitors, doing the same work for more money.

    And the beat goes on…

  21. @Nick Re:AT&T

    I was at AT&T (then Pacific Bell, acquired by SBC) and can emphasize with your comments. Many of the most savvy left on packages with the plan to return in consulting.

    In fact, 3 weeks after the acquisition was final, I was in a status meeting and one of the people (20+ years t the company) on the team said that SBC had told him to leave. I challenged him on it and he pulled out the letter which said, “It is time for you to go.” I was speechless.

    The company (in California) had been using 1100 or more BIG 6 consultants. Between the package lay-offs and the consultants it was stifling, the drain of knowledge. They were pressed to get things done.

    Furthermore, I apologize for any outbreaks or emotional or cynical remarks … after 11 M&As, I might put everything into a Lemonade stand — it is the best idea I have for stability.

  22. Great post, Nick! Pure absurdity. By the time these HR gatekeepers wake up, get out of their send-in-your-resume-online autopilot, snap out of the power trip of rejecting those who come with TOO MANY qualifications, and come to their senses they will have missed one of the best talent “buying opportunities” in ages. So down the road those companies will have to do more cuts of existing employees, when business does not improve enough, all because the HR managers are operating in fear of hiring up.

  23. @Corinne
    The funny thing is that HR tells applicants to apply online, yet most of them feel that their corporate applicant database “doesn’t have the people that they need.” I have been FOUND online by HR folks where I have applied directly to the company. Sometimes, (if I’m not interested in the position), I point it out to them …”WHERE did you find me? ” Monster, LinkedIn, etc… “Hmmm, I regularly apply to the company …I am in your database.”

    I have this conversation, sometimes …

  24. @Bill:

    If paying people a salary from which they can make a living is socialism, then I support socialism.

    As a European, I think many Americans tend to automatically scream “BING! Socialism!” when the hear any suggestion of regulating the economy, unionization etc., instead of discussing the real issue. Fact is that because employers mostly often have the power edge on salary/working conditions issues, workers often are forced to work more for less (while the increased profits go to shareholders who often do nothing but collecting dividends). The solution to this increasingly skewed distribution of income, which is the result of differentiating power, is to level the power field – through unionization of workers.

    You call capitalism equivalent to democreacy. The comparison has some merit, but if it was to be correct, it would have to be a democracy where some people had millions of votens in the elections, while others had only a few. Democracy?

    I do not suggest that you should try the over-regulated job market of my Scandinavian home country, where bureauctratic inertia may be troublesome. A large market element is necessary to direct the workforce where it is necessary, to attract people where they are needed, and to ensure that an education pays out, and profits to shareholders are necessary for investment in new companies who provide new jobs. However, a middle road may be useful.

  25. @Corinne: But there is a silver lining here. Smart managers in savvy companies today have a golden opportunity to snatch up some of the best talent. The manager who takes your call and knows how to deal with you is perhaps the best manager who will ever hire you…

  26. @VK Xavier-Freyr: Want me to tell you how many times I’ve placed people in companies – and earned a fee – while their resumes were buried in HR’s files, never to be found?

  27. @Nick: Keep going … placements by TRUE HEADHUNTERS I can live with! If I could get near the manager, I could do it for myself.

    These 3rd/4th party agencies (which are engaged through the company HR’s by the way) make it next to impossible to get a word in with a manager …unless you “stalk” the managers (read that “gorilla networking”) to find out where they shop or go to church.

    I will gladly work with a top-notch headhunter, charge me even: the worst part is all of the churning and back-and-forth emails or not knowing which company has the jobs.

    There is a solution and I am working on it as fast as I can …

  28. @Karsten: Yes, I understand and agree with your comments. As a 8-year former resident in Scandinavia (Iceland, Denmark, Norway), my friends and co-workers shared with me their thoughts, ups-and-downs, on their governments, taxes, healthcare, etc. I particularly enjoy being told to be quiet by a doctor who wondered why I was frantically fixated on money when he was trying to get me to the emergency room. [I lived in Germany for awhile, too. Many people don’t know that in-patient care is at no cost in many countries.] When I was in Iceland, I had absolutely insisted to pay for a 4-day hospital stay that included surgery. The doctor gave in finally and consulted with the nurse on how much to charge. They decided on less than $300 for the whole thing.

    The thing that I miss most is being free to think and share an opinion without bullying or retribution. Openness was a way of life at work and socially. The other thing was the consensus approach and way less hierarchy.

    Thanks for chiming in. Hils!

  29. Nick- thanks for your efforts.

    One element no-one has really mentioned–the general assumptions made by HR types on what is important to “me” as the applicant. Recruiters judge our success by job title and salary. How far that can be from the truth! (Here in MI, crossing one county line adds $15,000 to your salary–immediately. Cross two & the differential is more). That’s why it can be worthwhile to commute.

    This is the other side of the issue on “fear” of hiring low-paid talent and having them leave later. As the interviewee– 1) Why should I EVER want to work for your company or client? 2) Why would I ever WANT to stay? Salary alone doesn’t do it for me. For six years I have commuted 140 miles a day–I trusted, respected and enjoyed working with the team I was on. I could commute cheaper than relocating and paying more for a home. I had opportunities during that time. None better than what I already enjoyed. How do HR people put a price on that? The recession altered that in January. Our company had to make drastic cuts over 5 months. The firm is getting by, and will survive—I had a hand in their contingency plans-so I know.

    I am currently unemployed, but don’t consider myself a victim. It’s but another opportunity set before me, to grow and stretch again. So what if I never have had a salary over a certain level? I made choices like ERIKA. That was my business. Offer me a reasonable wage for what you need or expect me to do now! When companies downsized they forced those remaining, to pick up the slack and do more with less. The survivors had no choice. Maybe you need to re-think your postings & criteria. Let Me decide–if the price is right. I might surprise you, and knock your socks off, with what I am capable of. . .and willing to do, if you just turn me loose. I “chose” to apply for your job posting if you have my resume. Maybe I can do with my skills, what two of the people you let go were doing before. . . food for thought–win-win?

    Don’t “assume” I will waste your time and mine, by walking away from a job offer. My time is worth something too! Remember–I am interviewing you and your client as well. If my perception of the management team or “you” as an interviewer is poor or negative, I’d turn an offer down regardless of the salary!

    It’s a negotiation. Why should I be ashamed of, or fear my talent so much, that I coast into an interview running on 4 cylinders when I can roar on 8? Such a waste! But that’s what you’ve created.

    There are thousands of others like me. Vast assets and talents going unused based on incorrect assumptions, prejudices about age, salaries and our usefulness or fit to the criteria. Is this just another form of “death panels”?

    Remember what ass-u-me means! dt 10-28-09

  30. @David Taylor: The classic interview question HR and managers are taught to ask the “overqualified” candidate:

    Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

    A: Uh, what evidence can you provide that your company will still BE IN BUSINESS in 5 years?

  31. @Nick -right on. All it takes is one person to have an impact on a company and make a difference. You choose to accept the status quo. I choose not to. I leave my imprint on co-workers and my company by my example. If I cannot do my part to help them be better managed, run smarter, and out perform their competition, I don’t deserve to be on their team. One of my mentors proved one person can make a difference by example. -dt

  32. Nick – Great post and exposure on the issue. I think there is also a huge cultural dimension to this issue. Americana is about youth. It is about promoting the vigorous youthful experience – whether it is extreme skateboarding, or your favorite TV show, America’s corporations spend their marketing dollars on youthful images. Some industries are more blatant than others, but putting a high value on the older generation is a foreign concept in this country.

  33. David-

    Yes, that drives me crazy too: ‘the general assumptions made by HR types on what is important to “me” as the applicant’.

    That’s why they always want to know your current salary, so they can decide if they would like the new salary compared to your current salary. Of course my criteria for what is a good job or a good salary are bound to be completely different.

    This is illustrated by many of the messages in this thread which describe the different criteria of different people on what is a good job TO THEM. For example, I would never in a million years commute 140 miles a day but you were happy with it. Many HR people, and some managers, are determined to apply their own standards to everyone. They are missing out on the good applicants by concentrating on the conventional applicants.

  34. I, too, read the NYT article — and one of the first things I noticed was the photo. They went with cleavage.

  35. Maybe what these HR types are REALLY worried about is having their own mediocrity shown up by the “over-qualified” candidate.

  36. @Xavier-Freyr:

    May be a bit off topic, but it would be interesting to probe a bit more into this statement: “The thing that I miss most is being free to think and share an opinion without bullying or retribution. Openness was a way of life at work and socially.”

  37. @karsten follow me @twitter/planetnetwork

  38. @ALL

    Don’t all through shoes at once, ok?

    It might be that we are overqualified and unemployable.

    First, when did I become an hourly wage earner — are these HR people trained at all? We are not hired hands, and yet …

    A lot of companies are still thinking of their employees as hired hands that NEED to be spoon fed what to do.

    With the comments that I see on this board …we not what the corporates seem to want anymore: we’re trained, experienced professionals who are self-motivated and resourceful enough to get a job done without constant prompting.

    They don’t want initiative
    They don’t want adaptability

    They say that they want it: only if it can be controlled within hierarchy and HIGH politics.

    It’s almost a “trick” question: “Can you take the reigns and drive?” Think twice before you say ‘yes’ because then they think … Hmm this one is going to take over, possibly be a threat to my job.

    Is it my imagination?

    So, they under pay you — I think that I am saying — on purpose, so that you will leave.

  39. Some years ago, interviewing for a job, I aced it. Talking with the engineers I’d be working alongside, I showed them I knew my stuff COLD. They even said so.

    Talking with my potential boss, I showed that I had vision and cross-functional competencies that could be a tremendous asset in designing products to be manufacturable.

    Talking with HIS boss, I showed that I understood the materials with which I’d be working, to the point where he said that it was clear I “knew more about plastics than they did.”

    Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I think I terrified them. Which, incidentally, is something that was said about me when two people in another interview situation were talking about me (I happened to overhear them). One, the leader of a company who wore “hundred league boots” and was a true visionary, talking with his operations director, and the OD said “Arnold, no wonder people are terrified of him – he’s just like you!” (Negotiations fell apart, I think, when I wanted to know the scope of the job – not just accepting a paycheck.)

    Most companies don’t want stars; most managers don’t want people with initiative and excellence, because that person might outshine their accomplishments back when they had the position. My desire to move into management got thoroughly squashed when I made a deliberate attempt to show the very behaviors they OFFICIALLY said they wanted, but in reality were only for the pre-chosen Golden Children to exhibit.

  40. Having gone through a long period of unemployment and having often been the OQ’d candidate I completely understand where many of you are coming from. I have sympathy for you and your plight. Please understand, however, that the HR Practioner has a responsibility to his or her organization… and that responsibility includes hiring the MOST SUITABLE candidate for the job.
    It costs a significant amount of money to recruit and train new employees. If you would please take into consideration the fact that high turnover equals more costs to the company,(not to mention lower productivity), and that those funds could be used to grow the business…and in doing so could create new opportunities, thereby growing the economy and creating a better situation for everyone…you might be able to better understand the logic in hiring the MOST SUITABLE candidate.

  41. PS….I’m one of those HR types and now I have all of your names’! ;-)

  42. Nick,

    Just listened to your Execunet webinar – thank you! I’ve been a VP of Sales and Marketing, a COO, and a CEO – I”m currently a CEO of a startup, but need to make a move quickly and want to “go back” to being a VP of Sales and Marketing (it’s really where my talents lie)- how can I address the issue of “you were a CEO and if I give you the VP level job you will only want to move as soon as a new CEO/COO opportunity is offered to you” – Thanks, Tom

  43. @Tom: Thanks for joining us on the call. This is where “interview psychology” can really screw you and the employer you’re talking to. It all seems to be a question of how do you cleverly answer the questions, but it’s not.

    It’s about a candid discussion. It’s about you being able to present a believable business plan for the job you’re asking for. So address it head on, the way you’d address the head of a company that’s looking at acquiring your startup. The first thing he’s worried about is, if we buy you and you become one of our divisions, then you lose the very “startup” edge that we like about you. So maybe we shouldn’t buy you after all.

    Think about it that way. How would you respond? Odds are, you’d show a plan for how the exec could integrate your startup in a way that ensures the best payoff. And you have to show that your startup culture won’t get in the way of the acquiring company’s way of doing business.

    Same deal with the job you want. “Look, if I were you, the first thing I’d want to ensure is that a CEO hire to be my VP Sales and Marketing isn’t going to jump when a good CEO job comes along. So let’s talk about that.”

    I’d start by first outlining briefly your plan for doing the job effectively. A biz plan, complete with challenges, obstacles, resources needed, ROI, etc. Then look the guy in the eye and say, “This is what I love doing. I enjoyed being a CEO. But I don’t want to be a CEO. I want to do what I just showed you — that’s what motivates me. And having tried my hand at CEO, I learned something important about my career. I’m going to work in Sales & Marketing. And I’d like to do it here, not with one of your competitors, where I’ll be kicking your ass.”

    Well, maybe leave out that last bit. ;-) But you get the point. Head-on. Stay away from the “psychology” and what sounds good. Focus on the work you want to do — and explain it in those terms. You need not get into which “weaknesses” make you unhappy as a CEO. Stick to showing how you’ll deliver in S&M, and make a commitment.

    Hope that helps. Most of this is about perspective.

  44. @Nick – thank you for the response and for all you do on behalf of all of us.