I asked someone I have known for many years to articulate a recent conversation we had for my blog. He was kind enough to oblige and here are his thoughts.
Shoulda been my name
'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there...”
Anyone who has seen the musical Chicago will remember these lyrics and the character of Amos Hart, Roxie’s nebbish husband, who sang the song. You, too, can achieve a Mister Cellophane persona without any substantive action on your part. All it takes is that you get terminated from your job.
Service and product suppliers who used to beg for face time to tell you how they could save you millions and who tried every imaginable trick to get on your calendar now cannot find your number to call you back. They promise to get together for coffee when their “schedule frees up” which, apparently, never happens. I understand that their business is selling and now I have no budget with which to buy, but maintaining the relationship for future business should also be a priority.
Business colleagues who shared professional panels and groups with you now can’t send an email or make an introduction on your behalf.
A colleague was a LinkedIn first connection to the internal recruiter at a company that had posted a position I was interested in pursuing. Now, this guy and I weren’t good friends, but we have worked on a very large project together so I thought that he might be comfortable providing an introduction to the recruiter. I emailed him and asked for assistance and when he replied that he would be glad to help I provided him with an introductory bio to include in his email to the recruiter. At that point, he fell off the face of the earth and was never heard of again. That’s the only possible explanation. Follow up emails to him were ignored.
Recently an opportunity came up at a great company where I had five quality connections to the senior team. FIVE. You know where this is going. Four of the five promised to intercede on my behalf and then went dark. They may have done something; maybe not. I have no way of knowing. The fifth, the CIO of a large corporation who had been in a CIO group with me never responded to my emails. These were all professional colleagues I had worked with and broken bread with and I was sure to provide each one with an out; every email included “if you are comfortable doing so (and it is OK if you are not)…” I would have been fine for them to come back and pass on the request. I’ve done so with others when my connection to the target wasn’t close or recent.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. But the fact that they are exceptions proves the point. I have had some serious above-the-call-of-duty assistance from people – past suppliers, recruiters and colleagues – and I thank them profusely each time. I know how easy it is NOT to help and so appreciate it every time they take their valuable time to try to help.
What turns an unemployed executive into a leper? Are these colleagues simply bottom-dwelling scum-sucking pigs? No. Well, maybe one or two, but the rest are good, well- meaning people who for one reason or another either drop the relationship completely or fail to help after promising to do so. I understand that their job isn’t to find me a job. I understand that some people believe that unemployment is contagious. I understand that unless you have been in my shoes you may not fathom the urgency or importance to me of that meeting or that email.
There is a simple solution to this. Be honest. If you don’t want to help or can’t help on a particular opportunity, say so. If you say that you are going to help, do so. It isn’t complicated. And, as stated earlier, there will be no hard feelings if you are unable to help. However, if you fall into the category of those people to whom I have become Mr. Cellophane, I have a very good and long memory.
My own thoughts are this. I come up short daily with my candidates – as hard as I may try, there aren’t enough hours in the day to follow-up with everyone who needs to be followed up with. There is, however, one discussion that I don’t fear having with people and that goes something like this – “I am not your best resource, but am happy to be here if you have any questions or if you see something out there I might be able to help you with. At this stage, though, I would be wasting your time and mine by saying that I can help you.” We all know people like the gentleman who shared this story with me – we all deserve the respect of knowing where we stand.