When to Say Oh-No-Absolutely-Not to Your Dream Job

Dog.MP900448552[1]Have you ever wondered what might have happened in your life if you had chosen one road over another? I mean, what really might have happened?

I don't make a habit of writing about my own experiences but….several years ago while minding my own business (literally). I was approached by a major corporation (big players – cool $5+ billion a year in revenue) to head up their $50 million division.  I was pretty happy doing what I'm doing. I love being an entrepreneur in the legal field.  I have a successful continuing legal education training organization, I’m Prez and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals and in short, I'm my own boss, I really wasn't looking to change.  In fact, I subscribe to the old adage that you work 80 hours a week just so you don't have to work 40 hours a week for someone else. 

The position was in a different state but involved a very comfortable housing situation albeit in the cold, cold outlands of the Hinterlands.  I would have to uproot my home life and sell my business to this company.  Well, shoot.  I've been down that road before.  But the challenge was tempting and frankly, when I weighed the upside, the idea of adding Vice President of Major Corporation to my bio along with the "financial security" and an exciting, challenging scenario, it seemed like a logical step in my otherwise ho-hum 5 year goal plan.  I tell myself that the dollars aren't anything to sneeze at either seeing as how rumors of my wealth have been greatly exaggerated.

I was willing to overlook the fact that I would have to move to a location where there was real snow in the winter.  I'm from Los Angeles.  I have no clue that the stuff actually comes down from the sky.  I was also willing to overlook that a couple of years ago, there was a huge splash in the Wall Street Journal that the person who had the job I'm considering, walked out mumbling something about "irreconcilable differences with top management." I was also going to overlook that I had a fast-track thriving business definitely going places.  Gee, now that I think about, I was actually getting excited.

Could I leave my exquisite view of the mountains and ocean in L.A. for the eerie chill of Eerie Lake? And what about my then boyfriend who obsessed every day about his rapidly decreasing hairline, his hives, and his love handles? Would he go with me? He was having a rough enough time adjusting to sunny suburban California life after the hustle and bustle of New York City where he was a rock and roll journalist.

First, I interviewed via Skype with the headhunter who had somehow convinced me to consider this job heading up a legal division of a service provider. Then, I met with a VP who flies out here to see if my personality fits.  Well, I don't know about my personality, but I sure did like his.  ( I was still very single at the time.) Then, I'm flown across the country, put in a limo with a real-live-limo-driver-with-cap-and-black suit, meet seven top execs one right after the other and hustled back on the plane.  Somehow I pass that round.  A month goes by.  I get a phone call.  I have been summoned by the exec VP, the CFO and the president of this $5+ billion Fortune Something company.  This time, they're waving lots of stock options, a new car and a relocation allowance.  Gulp.  I think they're getting serious.  But was I?

I immediately consult everything that's ever been written about how to handle a third and fourth interview: what to wear, what to say, what not to eat, how to breathe.  I have long involved discussions with my partner, advisors, mentors and oh, yes, my shrink.  I worry once again about being overweight but notice that people in the Midwest seem a little chunkier than Californians, so I stop at the local DQ.  I'm all set.

Then, I get THE CALL and not on my cell, either.  The offer is coming down.  YES!!  I order up the snowmobile. I hop on Realtor.com. I find out that for the price of a garage in L.A., I can have a mansion on a lake with my own personal boat dock.  I realize I'll need floaties. Not a bad deal – even if I don't know how to sail.  One slight inconvenience: Two top execs are on their way out here to give me a final looksee.  Oh, okay.  I can't be bothered right now.  I'm busy looking into designer muckaluks.

So, these major players fly all the way out to L.A. to visit me in my office on a Sunday afternoon.  These two charter members of – I hate to say, "the good old boys network" pay a polite visit.  As Arlo Guthrie once observed, "they were inspecting, dissecting, every single part of me, and they wasn't leaving NO part untouched."

I'm all dressed up in my Sunday best.  My office smells like Pledge all the way down the hall.  I'm ready. I've role-played, studied my answers.  I am sure, confident and meaningful.  I have prepared a vision for them and know how to play this game.  I had written books on it.

Things were going well until the duo decides to play "good cop/bad cop." Badly, I might add.  The little guy was a bit too gleeful.  The inevitable happens.  They gave the what-do-you-do-when-this-happens test.  Apparently, I flunked.

"At BigCorp," says the little guy, "We would have FIRED the person in charge for that! Not tomorrow-today!" Yeah, well, I saw it differently.  I saw a learning curve, not a career buster.  This makes me a bad manager? "What kind of leader you?" Littleguy yells, swatting the table.

My heart suddenly pounded with terror.  Oh, what the heck.  I started to gag.  I can handle anything but yelling and swatting tables.  I slunk back in my chair, stunned.  Was this a proper way to treat a potential VP? Furthermore, was this how I wanted to be treated?

I felt a slight dampness. Oh, Lordy! Sweaty palms.  "Littleguy," I say, "What are you so angry about?" "I AM NOT ANGRY," he spits.  (Angry littleguys tend to spit a lot.)  "Yes," I say quietly, "I can see that." I wipe the spit from my eye and mumble that I need to get a flu shot.  Zoom.  Right over his head.

Realizing this is someone I would have to work with, I asked them to leave.  I withdraw my candidacy. In fact, I write the letter and email it to the headhunter, the president of the company and the VP with the oh-so-fabulous-personality so fast, these two corporate wannabees are still walking down to the elevator.  Would they have wanted me?  I'll never know.  What I do know is where I draw the line.  I always want to be treated with dignity and respect.  On that, I will not compromise.

I have re-evaluated my life several times since then and have reminded myself that I have created my ideal situation.  I have a wonderful husband, a fantastic business, terrific clients, great colleagues and a satisfying life. For me, this was a close call and an excellent reminder that I want to develop what I have.  The "good guy" was kind enough to send a letter of apology.  I learned an excellent lesson.  The grass is not always greener on the other side.  (Thank you, Cliche Lady.)

So now, it's back to the proverbial drawing board.  I cancel the snowmobile.  I put my bio back on the shelf.  I forget about the affordable mansion with the personal boat dock on the lake.  I take the air out of my floaties.  And life is good.  As for the boyfriend, I sent him back to New York to find his hairline, slim his love handles and put salve on his hives.  In the end, it always works out.

Join Chere's LinkedIn group: Legal Careers Rx. Interesting and innovative discussions going on! chere.estrin@theolp.org



One Reply to “When to Say Oh-No-Absolutely-Not to Your Dream Job”

  1. I had a somewhat similar experience as Chere.

    My current job was as a flight instructor and check pilot with a major aviation university. I felt I had done as well as I ever would do with the university and wanted to better myself. I had no hesitation about moving, primarily because aviation rolls that way.

    I had corresponded via letters of interest and resumes with the Chief Pilot (Chief Flight Instructor) of a Fortune 500 flight training organization. The Chief Pilot invited me to interview. It meant traveling 2,000 miles on my own nickel to attend the interview. The Chief Pilot explained the interview process would take four days. He would put me up in a bungalow on campus.

    When I arrived, I reported to the flight dispatch desk. I explained why I was there. The dispatcher’s response was why would I want to work there. Upon reflection, I should have paid more attention to that remark; nonetheless, the outfit rolled out the red carpet for me. It put me up in a bungalow with all the amenities.

    Over the next four days I took exams, a flight simulator check, a flight with an assistant chief pilot, and interviews with the center manager and the chief pilot. The interview process was far more thorough than any airline pilot interview I had attended. I really wasn’t surprised – the Fortune 500 parent is preeminent in the flight training industry.

    The chief pilot explained the outfit had contracted with some foreign airlines to train their pilots. It was looking for “senior” instructors to train these students. Training foreign airline students was congruent with one of my goals. At the end of the interview the chief pilot offered me the job. I accepted. A couple of weeks later I packed up my belongings and cat, and moved 2,000 miles to my new city.

    The first several days of company training were generally easy. Then things changed. I had been assigned students, but the assistant chief pilot with whom I had flown during my interview and who was familiar with me reassigned students without telling me. This assistant chief pilot did so at least two or three times – I would come in after my days off to learn I had no work. At that point I could see the handwriting on the wall. Three weeks with this Fortune 500 company I began looking for another job.

    Eventually I was assigned to a foreign airline program. I did have a good time in that program, despite the bizarre politics therein. During that period I recall arguing with upper management about the pay I was promised versus pay I was actually earning. Even though I enjoyed my foreign airline program, from the outset this Fortune 500 company basically did not keep its promises. This “dream job” fell below my expectations.

    I learned some lessons, not the least of which was be careful what you wish for; you just may get it. Not to mention that the grass is always greener on the other side – it took another couple of experiences and the wisdom of age before that lesson sunk in. Look before you leap. Finally, in the words of the Who: meet the old boss; same as the old boss.

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