Sunday, March 19, 2017

Stretch Opportunities - Promise and Peril

Image by Mike Baird under the Creative Commons license

Two years ago I wrote a post entitled "Interviewing for a higher position" where I shared some background and tips for anyone about to undertake that endeavor. An excerpt:

Given this perilous recruiting jungle a hiring manager will want to look for the best path to safety. That means hiring someone who they perceive has done the job already. Why take the risk of bringing on someone who from day one has to catch up in terms of understanding their role? [An aside: those stretch opportunities do exist typically when a company can't afford someone with experience for the role they have to fill. That has its own dangers for everyone involved but that's another posting.]
And with that I'd like to elaborate on the promises and perils of those stretch opportunities as I have experience with them on both sides of the hiring process.  I define a stretch opportunity as a position given to someone which is significantly beyond their current knowledge or skill level.

It's important to recognize that stretch opportunities almost always occur when something negative has happened - a hiring manager has been unable to find a suitable candidate for an open position. Occasionally a hiring manager will create a stretch role for a specific employee that they want to grow. While that's a very positive reason, in those cases you won't be interviewing for those spots because the person has been pre-selected.

There are a myriad of reasons why a company can't find "the right person" including but not limited to, in no particular order:

  • inability to pay market salary
  • lack of talent in the target geography
  • unreasonable expectations (for example, candidate must be awesomely strategic and yet be able to jump in at a moment's notice to be extremely detail oriented, etc. etc.)
  • internal company disagreement on what type of candidate they need or if they even really need the role filled
  • it's a startup and everyone takes on multiple roles

When this situation arises a company decides to compromise on one or more of the attributes they were initially designating as a requirement. The good news for the candidate applying to the job is that this gives them a foot in the door. And this is the first promise of a stretch role - the chance to prove oneself during the interview process.

Of course the greatest promise of such a position is if the candidate wins the role and gets exposed to a new set of responsibilities, challenges and duties. It'll be uncomfortable at first but that's proof that there is space to grow.

So what of the perils?

There are many. For starters when a hiring manager compromises there will be a nagging feeling that the right person is still out there somewhere. The temptation to continue the search could cause the company not to invest in their new hire (you) nearly as much as they should.

Another peril lies in the possibility of lower compensation. Why is the company unable to pay market salary? It could be because they are in financial distress or not optimistic about their future. Or perhaps they don't understand what the market requires to successfully recruit the best individual. All this is bad news. The danger here is that a successful candidate, once proven in the role, will forever be at a salary disadvantage because they started off so low.

If it's unreasonable expectations that caused them to settle it's unlikely the situation will improve. The candidate will be stepping into a role where their leadership will never be happy no matter how much they've hit it out of the park. This is survivable but will it be fun long term?

The bottom line is that it's admirable to go for and accept stretch opportunities. Sometimes it's the only way to grow one's career. Just do so with eyes wide open by asking plenty of questions during and after the interview process. Make sure you understand what they compromised on so you can be alert for it and attempt to mitigate it as you grow into your new role.

Good luck!