One of the most valuable pieces of advice I received

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Always take the call.

-a former manager of mine


Today I found myself thinking about guidance I received over the course of my career. I quickly thought of one that has really stuck with me and which I’d like to share. I heard this gem about ten years ago from my then-boss, an executive at a start up company. Quite honestly, I can’t even recall the context under which it was spoken – but that doesn’t matter. The core concept is simple: make sure you pick up the phone, read that email, or have that conversation. About what? That surprise inquiry wondering about your interest in a potential role change, opportunity at a new company, etc. Whether it’s from a former manager, past colleague, or perhaps someone you don’t even know – don’t dismiss it without at least a little detective work. You never know what opportunity might be waiting around the corner!

Yet another cold call from a recruiter

Let’s set the Way Back Machine (remember Mr. Peabody?) to August 25, 2014. I was in a good job, working with fun and talented people, at a company I’d helped grow from a scrappy start-up to a real industry player over the past five years. I knew it was time to start thinking about what might come next for me, but admittedly hadn’t yet done so. Besides, I was busy, I had a great boss from whom I learned much, my role had changed in recent months, and I was enjoying the challenges that came with that. That morning I received yet another recruiter inquiry on LinkedIn, which I read as was my usual practice. It began:

There was a bit more information in the next two paragraphs but not much. It was clearly a cold call based on LinkedIn screening. I replied that I wasn’t presently looking for work, and asked for a few details. Even if the job wasn’t for me I could always refer somebody else for it, right? I learned the company name and a little more about the role. Now I had a choice: accept his offer for a call to learn more or simply pass on the opportunity because on the surface it didn’t seem very interesting? I decided on the former.

Taking the (first and second) call

I took the call and candidly, it was pretty typical recruiter stuff. The guy went over some of the material he’d sent and asked some questions about my background. Based on that, he recommended I speak with the head of the recruiting firm, as that individual was much more familiar with the hiring company. Wait – another call? I was busy after all, and I wasn’t yet very interested in this role. The company seemed to be doing well, but it operated in a technology area not half as “sexy” to me as what I’d been doing for most of my career. I worried it might be a step backwards, potentially boring by comparison, and not somewhere where I could keep learning. He implored me to take the call as he was sure I’d be interested in the posting. Based on his passion, I agreed.

The call with the VP of the recruiting firm was good. He was able to share a lot more details and had some insightful commentary on the business and the executive team. This was really helpful in assessing the potential fit for me, despite my reservations about the attractiveness of the technology area. He was a good salesperson though, and he kept me on the line, wanting to hear more. Once the conversation had run its course he asked about setting up some interviews. Reading my very real hesitation he said: “OK how about just one meeting? I think you’d like the COO (who turned out to be the hiring manager) and I can set up time with him. I know you’ll want to hear more after that”. His confidence definitely piqued my interest, so again I agreed.

Hook, line, and sinker

OK so I once again “took the call” – or meeting in person, this time. Long story, short: it went really well. The COO and I hit it off immediately. The hour in which we talked simply flew by. He shared openly about the company as well as what this role would be about. This guy took the time to answer all of my questions, and spent great effort to ensure I understood why I’d had the wrong read on the opportunity. By the end of that hour, I knew the role could be a good fit, and I could contribute a lot as well as build my own skills further. Quite honestly, my head was chock-full of ideas about the potential of taking it on.

The recruiter magically knew when I was back on the road headed home, as my phone rang minutes after I left. He was pleased that the meeting went as he’d predicted, and I agreed to a slate of interviews with the rest of the leadership team within a few weeks. Those interviews also went well, I got really excited about the job and the company, and they offered me the role. I accepted the job, put in my notice, and I started at the new position by December. I ended up working there for five and a half years, in three different roles.

In conclusion

It’s hard for me to contemplate missing out on those years of exciting and fulfilling work, great friendships, and all the great knowledge I gained. In fact it turned out to be one of my favorite jobs, and it all started by “taking the call”. Do I mean that you need respond to every email or call, and accept every interview request? Of course not. But be wary of dismissing these inquiries without appropriate consideration. I’d suggest the bar is even lower when they come from people whom you know and trust. They’ve likely really thought through the potential fit based on firsthand knowledge of you. Therefore, you should ensure you do the appropriate level of diligence before taking a decision.

Is there only “one best path” for each of us, and should we fear making “the wrong decision”? For me, the answer to both of these is a hard no. That said, reviewing my own career yields numerous examples – I’ve only shared the most recent one here – where “taking the call” has led me to an exciting, productive, and fulfilling unexpected career change. I wholeheartedly endorse that you do the same as well, and embrace the potential for change. Who knows where it might take you?

image credit: “Telephone” by plenty.r. is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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