The Importance of Just Showing Up

You can say no anytime you want—but if you say yes, then mean it

If you don’t show up, you will burn your bridges.

If you don’t show up, you will burn your bridges. Benjamin Child/Unsplash

Over the course of my 15-year recruiting career, I’ve displayed a consistent weakness for occasionally championing two types of candidates who tend not to enhance my personal bottom line. The first type is senior level candidates who find themselves displaced, often for the first time in their careers. These folks are talented, experienced and have a demonstrated record of success. For a variety of reasons, however, they are often difficult to place.

The first candidate I ever worked with was Bob, a 50-something serial entrepreneur winding down his latest successful venture. Bob had executive experience that touched on sales, marketing, business development and a half dozen other functions. He was a bright, personable guy who never fit neatly into any of the positions I was trying to fill for clients. We became friends and stayed in touch over the next decade and a half, but I was never able to place him.

The second type of candidate for whom I have an irrational soft spot for is on the other end of the career spectrum. I’ve often gone out of my way to help junior-level candidates who have energy and enthusiasm but lack the experience necessary to get a first big break. They offer a completely different set of challenges. Stacy fit into this category.

Stacy is not the type of candidate I would normally pursue for any of my clients. She called me because she knew another candidate who I had contacted about a junior-level retail management position. This candidate wasn’t interested but told Stacy what I was working on, and Stacy called me to pitch her services.

As we were talking, I checked out her LinkedIn profile and was not impressed. By the way, you should know that recruiters do that. If you’re talking to somebody on the phone and can hear typing in the background, you’re probably being scooped online. I fear that it’s not just recruiters who engage in this particular form of rudeness.

At any rate, Stacy’s profile page was sketchy. She had no profile picture, very little professional experience, and was only a couple of years out of college. She listed herself as Director of Sales and Marketing for a downtown tavern, but upon questioning she revealed that her main job was server and bartender. The Director of Sales and Marketing portion of her job consisted of part-time management of their social media accounts and maintenance of their web page. She often worked until two in the morning, and when business was slow, she would post on their social media accounts.

Still, as the conversation progressed, Stacy presented herself with professionalism and tenacity. She was looking for a role that would build her career, and my position had everything that she wanted: a large and well-respected employer, regular retail hours, more money, benefits, stability, and the chance to apply her studies in Business Administration. She told me that if she got this position, she would be able to move out of her parents’ home. I still wasn’t sold, but I told her to send her resume to me and that I would get back to her. It wasn’t exactly, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” but it was close.

Her resume was a mess. The formatting and presentation were haphazard and inconsistent. Even so, it demonstrated that Stacy was a hard worker. She had graduated with honors as an all-conference Big Ten track athlete, and she worked her way through school, mostly at various retail and bartending jobs. She also had an impressive internship that would have been directly applicable to my client’s position. I checked out the social media work that she did for the tavern, and it was pretty good. My client could use those skills.

We spoke fairly regularly as I helped her polish her resume. When she called, she wasn’t being a pest; she was selling. There’s a difference, and she was good at it. Most importantly, sales and a sales personality were important parts of my client’s job. Stacy was qualified, and the more I learned about her the more comfortable I felt recommending her. The client had a couple of minor concerns, but they asked me to set up an interview.

When I called to tell Stacy the good news, however, it took her two days to get back to me. She often missed telephone appointments (always with a good excuse) and regularly didn’t follow up in other ways when she said she would. I was developing concerns of my own. After all, if she was hired, my client would literally be turning the keys to one of their stores over to her.

Before setting up the client interview, I wanted to interview Stacy in person. I thought it would be a good chance to address the client’s remaining concerns and would give me an opportunity to review her interview style and offer some last minute pointers before she met the hiring manager.

We arranged to meet at a Starbucks near her parents’ house. I got there early and sent her a text telling her where to find me. Ten minutes after the appointed time, I called her, and she didn’t answer. I sent another text that also went unanswered. Thirty minutes, a grande, and a scone later, I realized that she wasn’t coming.

That was it. I never heard from Stacy again. She never responded to another text, email, or phone call. I never knew what happened or why she changed her mind, but I was able to fill the position with a more traditionally qualified candidate in fairly short order. I checked out her LinkedIn profile and found that she continued to work at the tavern for several months and has stayed in the hospitality industry. She’s now managing a restaurant.

I’ve encountered dozens of Stacys over the years, and they are always the folks at the beginning of their careers. I may have never found a job for Bob, but he wouldn’t have blown off an appointment, interview, or a commitment. If, as Woody Allen is reported to have said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” then millennials have a lot to learn.

Honor your commitments. You can say no anytime you want, but if you say yes, then mean it. Recognize that you are being judged on your actions. Anybody can be late or run into unexpected delays, but when it becomes a habit, it reflects negatively on you. Don’t burn bridges. People have long memories, and you never know when you might need the services of somebody from your past.

Keith Liscio is the president of Patrickson-Hirsch Associates, an Executive Search firm specializing in the placement of marketing executives at consumer-focused organizations.

The Importance of Just Showing Up