I judge people.

There. I said it. Judge me for it if you wish. As an Executive Recruiter with 26 years in the IT industry, I need to judge where to spend my time and with whom.

Candidates to the left of me! Candidates to the right of me! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead and let’s call them ALL!

As any recruiter will tell you, we are constantly slammed with hundreds of resumes in our Inbox, through our LinkedIn profiles, our career portals and every social media channel in existence and the referral of the nice kid down the street from your Great Aunt Tessie. You know how Great Aunt Tessie is. Better follow that lead up, or you will hear about it at every family Christmas dinner for the next three years. However, I digress.

How many GOOD conversations can a recruiter have daily for the requirements we are working on outside of the client calls, the meetings, the Facebook rants that the use of AI will make us all obsolete? 15? 20? 25, perhaps? 30 if we slam the phones and work into the evening and make every call count as more than just a touch point.

Which gets me to judging. Recruiters get superb at scanning resumes and looking for key phrases, key industries, and brands when deciding how to spend our time on whom to interview. So, what happens when we see a resume from a great candidate, and something pops up that makes us think “hmmm”? An out-of-place role? Is it a role or position outside of the candidate’s clear career path? An employer that seems out of place among the candidate’s previous experience? Perhaps it’s just a short stay at an employer that’s outside the norm of everything else in their career?

As a candidate, you already know it seems out of place. You are uncomfortable with your short time there. Uncomfortable with what they promised it to be and what it ended up being. Perhaps it wasn’t the right fit, and you are looking to correct this decision and move past it into your next role. How do you address it?

 We have now entered Career Mulligan territory.

“There is no great way to explain a bad decision. However, the best way is to share as much truth as possible. Talk about why you took that position, to begin with, the opportunity it represented in the first place and then cover expectations – those fulfilled and unfulfilled. Each position is presented in a way that will either attract us or repel us as a ‘perfect candidate” – sometimes, we forget to really look at all the pieces or perhaps there were pieces hidden from our view that showed the truth about what that employee experience would be like.” Says Rayanne Thorn, an Executive Recruiter and Marketing Executive from California. “Most everyone has had a bad employee experience or made a rash decision to move forward on a role that wasn’t ‘the right one’ – digging in on the truth allows the recruiter or hiring manager to see the human side of you and also your ability to overcome a bad situation.”

Derek Zeller, Author, HR Blogger, Executive Recruiter and Director of Talent Solutions at Engage Talent shared his thoughts. “Simple really, growth. I have been with large companies and small. Some organized, some not so much. That small company needed my experience to help them grow, and I did that for them. Once the project was done, it was time to move on. Sometimes the role is nothing like what they sold me on; thus it’s best to move onto another role. It happens. Own it.”

Derek calls out recruiters and organizations who get hung up on a single career choice in an otherwise strong career; “if a company is hung up on that one small detail in a person’s career, especially a good one, I would question working there.” (Derek will be my spirit animal on this issue)

Amy Miller, former Master of Recruiting Mayhem at Microsoft in Washington and now a Googler specializing in purple squirrels had this to say; “I think honesty/transparency is best here.” “I took this role with high hopes that a change into (whatever was different) would be a learning opportunity, growth, etc. I learned (something positive) and decided to go back to X.” As for the abrupt short-term change? “it could be anything – I wasn’t cut out for a large company, non-tech, 3-hour commute, etc. However, being straightforward about it I think it is admirable.”

Finally, Gareth Callaway, Executive Recruiter extraordinaire (in his mind) takes a different approach to address a perceived career weakness; “If I had a real concern, I wouldn’t rely on the candidate but ask them for a reference from that company to allay any fears by a new employer. The reference has more value than whatever the candidate will have to say on the opinion of many people.” When strong-armed for something a candidate can offer themselves, Gareth relented and said “The candidate should offer something like, ‘it wasn’t the role I thought it was, so I didn’t see a long-term fit for me in the organization. Then this new role came along, and I guess the timing worked out all round in that regard’”.

To summarize. A Career Mulligan is NOT a career killer if addressed directly, honestly, transparently and from my experience, with the least amount of employer bashing as possible. No one likes to hear the gritty details of how awful the experience was or the specifics of the people. Don’t let one bad move turn into a series. Don’t develop a mulligan pattern. Learn from the experience when evaluating your next (and future) moves.

Post Script: Do my distinguished colleagues have career mulligans of their own?

Rayanne Thorn: “I joined a tech start-up based in NYC for great money, but they had no understanding of the industry they were trying to sell into. My advice was not heeded nor was I given a chance to make the necessary changes in correcting course. I was let go after nine weeks – “we are restructuring.” Uh- yeah, I thought I was brought in as part of that re-structure. I jumped at the money instead of doing my due diligence and determining if the company was ready to re-structure or make the necessary changes to re-start. They weren’t.”

Derek Zeller: “I was on contract with X (A Tier 1 Software firm), like most, and had been renewed but they would not take me perm. Another Tier 1 Software firm called and promised a great deal and a perm role but when I started, they changed the role, and it was not what I was initially hired for. I stuck it out for six months but was miserable, so I left. Best choice I have ever made”

Amy Miller: “I was roped into selling for an MLM. I was VERY young, and it was a disaster.”

Gareth Callaway: “PA Advertising in the UK and an Insurance Software firm in Canada. I’m not that good at careers so I gave myself two” (He’s been working for himself ever since).

For myself: I think the quote “Never treat a loyal person to the point they no longer care” applies to 5 years I spent with an organization I gave everything to, was extremely successful at delivering tangible results with but they had such low personal or professional respect to give back. In hindsight, I should not have invested nearly as much time and energy into that organization. I’m not bitter at all…. really. 😉

What was your “Career Mulligan”? What did you learn from it?