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Careful Who You Work for

Careful Who You Work for
by Roger C. Lanctot on 02-02-2023 at 6:00 am

Careful Who You Work for Job

When one is looking for a job and that hunt extends from weeks into months or even years one is inclined to default to an any-port-in-a-storm mindset. Some recent experiences suggest to me that that mentality may need a reevaluation.

I was surprised to learn recently, from conversations with industry acquaintances, that one’s future employment prospects can be colored unpredictably by one’s previous employment – or let’s say one’s previous employer. One acquaintance found that an association with two previous employers – tenures that had been marked by professional success and measurably positive outcomes – had marked this person as unemployable.

The description this person gave me was that employment by one particular company at a senior level had placed this person on a blacklist within a particular industry echelon. A headhunter let this executive know that doors were closed to potential positions merely as a result of having worked for a particular company.

The company in question had engaged in strategies that had led to immense financial losses to investors and created the appearance of fraud. The executive in question, my acquaintance, had nothing to do with strategic or financial decisions at the company, but it didn’t appear to matter. Just having worked for the company at a senior level during the period in question was disqualifying for future employers.

This executive went on to work for a much much larger public company in the IT industry leading a team of dozens of executives in launching a hugely successful business-to-business marketing campaign. Following this campaign, due to unrelated strategic decisions at the company, this executive’s department was massively downsized and the executive was let go.

This experience, too, proved a negative to potential future employers. In this case, it was the renowned toxic culture of the company – a major Fortune 500 IT firm – that tainted this executive’s reputation. It was as if to say that simply having worked at this company – famous for its attention-getting CEO – this executive was now infected and unhire-able.

I am happy to say that this highly talented individual has not been held down by these reputational impediments and has found a new home for their particular set of skills.

Another acquaintance of mine, who I originally met about three years before at CES 2020, recently found a new home and I reconnected. In this case, when I met this executive they were working for a company which had a horrible industry reputation – largely related to the behavior of the company’s CEO, who was verbally abusive to colleagues and customers.

When I first met this executive I was immediately sympathetic to their plight, knowing the company’s and the CEO’s reputation, which were likely unknown to this executive at this early stage of their employment. Having escaped this company and now working elsewhere, the executive had a quite different experience from that of the previously-described executive.

Having left their previously toxic work environment this executive discovered widespread sympathy from the new employer and elsewhere in the industry. Future employers were aware of the dysfunction at the previous employer and were more than happy to rescue a talented individual to join their team.

The bottom line is that most industries are not in fact Industries – with a capital “I.” Most industries are neighborhoods. Everybody knows everybody else. There are few secrets.

Industry colleagues tend to share information as employees migrate from company to company and customers, too, share their impressions of how their suppliers interact. Reputations are formed organically and working for a company can be used against you or can work in your favor and can influence one’s decision to apply for or accept an offer from said company.

It’s often difficult to see this reputational background radiation. It can be hard to understand how your organization or any organization is perceived. But these two experiences suggest that internal corporate culture has external consequences and relevance.

Who you work for matters. I am currently reading Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan’s “Never Ride a Rollercoaster Backwards” in which Smulyan talks about how Emmis’ reputation for being a great place to work contributed to the company’s ability to hire (and sometimes steal) great talent and may have even made acquisitions less expensive, though even Smulyan expresses skepticism on this point.

It is not always possible to choose who we work for. But my recent experiences suggest that it matters a lot. With massive layoffs spreading across the technology industry, plenty of folks will be pondering their next steps. As the weeks and months slide by that any-port-in-a-storm mindset may kick in, but remember that it does matter who you work for and how your organization treats its employees and customers.


For the record, I work for a great organization. No complaints. How about you?

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