Want to Advance to the Top in the Staffing Industry? Stop Moving Around!

It may seem a little strange for someone in executive search to advise ambitious staffing professionals to slow down and stop moving jobs so frequently. After all, we are in the age of frequent job-hopping and the free agent marketplace. Switching organizations every three years is commonplace and can be an effective way to accelerate career advancement and salary growth. Not to mention that executive search organizations like mine benefit from having strong, motivated candidates who are willing to move companies. Why would I suggest staying put to focus and increase your tenure?

My years of work in senior executive search for the staffing and human capital management industry have taught me that there are positives and negatives to every career path. The down side to serial job-hopping across the staffing industry is a ceiling that limits executive career advancement. This may not be true for senior leadership roles in all industries, but it remains true in staffing. Go-getters who want to rise all the way to the top — to be part of a staffing company’s executive suite — cannot continue to move in and out of organizations every few years without limiting how high they can rise in the industry. Just as there is knowledge and experience to be gained from moving to new employers, executives also gain valuable, sought-after skills when they commit to an organization and its goals for a longer stretch. Let’s explore what there is to be gained by staffing executives who play the long (at least the longer-term) game.

Big deal making & growth: Sell, close, deliver and grow. National account, MSP and outsourcing deals in the staffing industry take many years to plan, sell, close, execute and grow. It usually takes between six and nine months just to cultivate a big account and often a year until a project is off the ground and running. If an executive is packing up and moving on just two to three years into an account, they are missing the critical opportunity to truly impact the growth and health of the deal.

Business leaders need to know how to manage the success and growth of a large deal over the long term. Recurring client revenue and high client satisfaction are two of the highest priority goals for any staffing firm and its leaders. Executives who stay longer are able to cultivate the skills and demonstrate their experience in both closing big deals and managing their long-term growth and success.

Communicating vision and brand: Ambassadorship. Business leaders are often the most important and visible brand ambassadors a company has. These leaders help shape the vision of an organization and their actions and words are reflections of the company’s brand. To know and shape a company vision and brand takes time. It’s not something a staffing enterprise will trust to executives known for moving in and out of jobs at a quick pace. Instead, brands are trusted to executives who are willing to commit their time and talents in the company. The reward for that commitment is often opportunities to hone their own skills in sharing, shaping and communicating that vision with customers, employees and colleagues. It is a critical leadership skill and one that is hard to develop when you don’t stay for long at any one firm.

Team building: Hiring, training, mentoring. Good leaders know how to hire, build and cultivate strong teams. They also know it takes time to recruit, train and fine tune a top-performing team. Executives that leave after a short while are not investing enough time developing their teams and improving their own team building skills.  In fact, those that leave around the two-to-three year mark are exiting at the time when a team begins to hit its stride. By extending their tenure by just a few years, executives have the opportunity to thrive alongside the teams they have hired and built while creating a new generation of leaders and doers for the business.

Confronting adversity: The tough stay put. Here’s a question that crosses the mind of executive boards and search consultants when they see resumes from executives who move around a lot, “Are they running away when things get tough?” Businesses want to hire leaders that can endure both the high and low times at a company. A staffing leader today should have a resume that demonstrates the ability to navigate business changes, such as mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, major technology integrations, re-brandings, etc.

If you find yourself itching to leave a role when major change or challenge arises, consider what you would learn by staying put. Could supporting the company in a time of adversity help you strengthen your leadership and change management skills? In most cases, it will and the skills you hone will catch the eye of future employers looking to find staffing leaders who have endured the tougher challenges the marketplace has to offer.

Stay to grow, leave to lead. When it comes to leadership roles across the staffing industry, what you have accomplished matters most. Sometimes it takes a move or two to get the opportunities and responsibilities needed to rise up in the ranks. But a leadership candidate who is always on the market is not a captivating one. The best advice I can give to staffing executives hoping to advance to the very top of the industry is to take a bit more time if you are in a strong role. Don’t be afraid of staying in the right place for a while. Look at the career paths of the senior executives running today’s leading staffing firms and you will see that they stay with a business long enough to make their mark. Fighting the urge to hop around can also open up new windows of opportunity and important chances to stretch your leadership skills along with your team and business-building capacity. And nothing is more attractive in a leadership candidate than proven, substantial experience.


Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell
Lisa Maxwell is managing partner at Gerard Stewart, a global executive search firm.

Lisa Maxwell

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