Consultant or Employee: When Would You LIke Me to Start?

Author J. Mike Smith is a executive, career, and leadership team coach, helping individuals, start-ups, teams and groups perform significantly better.

I had coffee with a colleague I’ll call Andy; he’s got a problem.

You might have the same problem too.

Subject? How to (finally) get an offer from a firm that’s been courting him for  10 months. Position scope change, multiple lunches and interviews, headcount freezes and freeze liftings have all come and gone without “the offer we’ll be giving you” actually happening.

It’s not uncommon.

The new job has execs who have been reluctant to add senior staff until the recovery feels like it really has taken hold and it sounds like they are a little gun shy about hiring in general.

Andy brings a lot to the role in terms of skills and reputation, so, to put it frankly, it’s not a hire you can bring on board and dump the next day without egg on your face and looking pretty stupid. [See Retail Store head John Browett's termination from Apple as a good example of a bad hire that was handled quickly and smartly rather than letting it drag out.]

There has been considerable back and forth over the last few months as to whether entry to the firm would be on a consulting basis or as an employee, and some prospective possible dates have come and gone.

The big problem? The new boss seems unable to pull the trigger and make an offer; Andy is starting to feel like perhaps the company never will make an offer.

So what was my advice to Andy to say to the firm?

“When would you like me to start?”

Sometimes the most obvious question is the one the cuts to the chase and brings resolution best.

If the firm wants to hire Andy they will put a stake in the ground and commit to a date. Asking this most obvious question cuts over a couple of points (salary, title, offer letter, etc.) and nails down a date that the company wants him to start. Once they’ve committed to a date, the other stuff like title and salary can be worked out, probably to Andy’s advantage now that the firm has directly said they want him on board.

If they’re not able to commit to a date, Andy’s wasting his time with an organization that can’t get its act together.

Andy’s knee jerk thought had been to perhaps sugar coat the question – something along the lines of “would you like to put this in an offer letter” or “who should I talk with about getting signed up.”

A direct question, if anchored in a series of assumptions, will get this ball rolling. And if it doesn’t roll, Andy can direct his considerable talents to other prospects.

Author J. Mike Smith is a executive, career, and leadership team coach, helping individuals, start-ups, teams and groups perform significantly better.

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