Anyone who has searched for an executive-level position in the local government job market knows that it can be a daunting process. Unlike counterparts in the private and nonprofit sectors, local government managers don’t have the luxury of competing for their next job quietly behind closed doors.
Today’s transparency standard means that at a minimum, the names of finalists will be disclosed. In a few states, just applying will get your name in the paper. The public’s right to know and have confidence in the integrity of the process is certainly important. But every disclosure that you are seeking a position elsewhere has the potential to burn some political capital at the home base.
Then there is the challenge that if you are offered the job, you end up negotiating terms and compensation with an individual who doesn’t have the legal authority to seal the deal. Hiring the manager and approving the employment agreement requires the vote of the full governing body.
And public processes by their very nature are not speedy ones. By the time all this takes place, months have passed. Those actively searching for a new position can find themselves involved in multiple recruitments, each at varying stages of the process.
As you search for your next great position, consider this practical advice to assist in navigating your way to a successful outcome.
Accurate resumés. For evidence of the importance of accuracy in presenting educational credentials, Google “Yahoo CEO Thompson.” Misstating your credentials and employment history—yes, even omitting short tenures—can have serious repercussions for your reputation and future employment.
Complete candor. At times there may be something in a candidate’s record that is best shared early in the process and by the candidate. Better to be forthcoming as a demonstration of honesty than to stay silent and have a matter disclosed in a background check.
Free agency. Just like the sports athlete, a local government professional is a free agent who is free to apply for positions and interview with multiple organizations. The person is not under any ethical obligation to tell his or her current employer about looking elsewhere.
But as with most things in life, timing is important. If you do not wish to burn any bridges, advance notice to the current employer before the news leaks out works well. And of course, if you are relying on certain people for a reference, advance discussions are a must do.
Participating in multiple recruitment processes gets challenging as you progress to the next level. You may find yourself a finalist in two or more recruitments. It’s fine to continue interviewing for any and all jobs as long as you have a serious interest in the position. Don’t waste the recruiter’s or organization’s time if after the first interview you don’t see yourself working in that organization.
If you progress beyond the initial interview, you may want to consider informing the recruiter or organization of your status as a candidate in other places.
Due diligence. Responsibility for thoroughly evaluating the position, organization, and community to determine whether it will be a good fit both personally and professionally rests with you.
Getting to Yes
The offer to join the organization as the next manager is just that: an offer. It’s entirely contingent upon both parties reaching agreement on the compensation and terms. The process of getting from offer to the finish line (i.e., governing body approval) is a tango. Both parties need to be moving in sync.
Assuming that you want to work for the organization, the appropriate response to the offer is “yes, contingent upon reaching agreement with the organization.” Regardless of how much ground was covered during the interview about your terms, do not be surprised if the governing body starts the negotiation from a different position. Or has an issue with a particular requirement. That’s why it’s called a negotiation.
Your verbal acceptance starts the negotiation process and signals your willingness to get to yes. Never start the negotiation process with an organization if you do not intend to work there regardless of how much compensation they are willing to offer.
Once you give your verbal acceptance of the terms outlined in an employment agreement or offer letter, you are committed. Oral acceptance of an employment offer is considered binding unless the employer makes fundamental changes in terms of employment.
At this point, you should cease interviewing with other employers. An interview at this stage is like going out on a date after getting engaged to be married: it sends the wrong message about your level of commitment.
With your commitment in hand, it is up to the governing body to hold up its end of the bargain and approve the agreement.
Unlike the professional athlete who goes to the highest bidder, ICMA members should not entertain a counter offer from their current employer. In a public process, you have given your word.
Withdrawing your acceptance to take more money is bad form and reflects poorly on the profession. Members who accept an appointment to a position should not fail to report for that position.