Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


Q: After looking for a new job, I have finally been offered a great senior position in a marketing firm. But now I've found out that I'm pregnant Should I tell the company before accepting the position (and so give them the chance to withdraw their offer) or keep my mouth shut and just take the job?

A: Project yourself ahead five years. You are now in an even more senior position. You interview a woman applicant, are greatly impressed, offer her a job and welcome her warmly when she joins. A week or two later, you begin to suspect (and she confirms) that she's pregnant. Your colleagues look at you with raised eyebrows: 'Didn't she tell you she was pregnant?'

However able she may be, you will forever feel that this woman has made a bit of a fool of you. Some permanent damage will have been done to your relationship. From now on, trust will always be a tentative affair.

Switch back to today and I hope you find that your decision has now become more or less self-determining. I know you've been out of a job for some time and the real possibility of losing this one must bug you mightily. But of course you should come clean - and the sooner the better. If the offer really is withdrawn, it will tell you something useful about the company's standards. And if it isn't, you've lost nothing - except a slightly tacky sense of shame.


Q: I've just taken a new job where my predecessor was full of bonhomie and always organising office parties, karaoke nights, sponsored events and so on. Now everyone's looking to me to take on that role, but I'm fairly shy and that sort of thing terrifies me. How can I get out of performing a social secretary role without them thinking less of me for it?

A: As I bet you know, your very worst course of action would be to attempt to be the life and soul and yet do it through clenched teeth and with toe-curling ineptitude.

Most jobs can be done equally well in a surprisingly wide range of styles. Your predecessor would obviously have enjoyed being a Butlins redcoat (and I don't mean that disparagingly). You'd hate it. He recognised his own strengths and enthusiasms, built them into the way he did the job, and it worked just fine. But that doesn't mean that his way is the only way - or even the best way.

What you must do, quite consciously, is go through the same thought process that he did instinctively. Identify your own strengths and enthusiasms, see where they match the job you're going to do, and then, finally, identify the bald bits: what needs to be done that you'd rather not do yourself because you'd do it badly.

If it's the social stuff, come clean with your team. Don't knock the parties and the karaoke nights. Recognise that they're fun and useful - just tell them that it's simply not what you're comfortable with. (They'll sense that anyway.) Then pick the most likely candidates and ask them to form an informal committee to take over all that side of it. Give them a budget and a free rein. No-one will think the less of you for that - particularly when they'll see soon enough that you're bringing something else to the job.


Q: Some years ago, I applied for a CEO position through a leading firm of headhunters. Their feedback was that despite an impressive CV, I was not yet even a deputy CE, so would be unlikely to get the job. I've since become a deputy CE, and am using the same headhunters to apply for more CE positions, without success. Their feedback has been fatuous and intermittent, and they have avoided any face-to-face meetings. A friend who knows the headhunters has told me that the firm considers I lack 'gravitas'. Why was I never told this? Are the headhunters acting professionally? And aren't I entitled to frankness from them?

A: If all that you tell me is true, you should ditch these people immediately and sign up with some others. I can't for the life of me think why you haven't done so already: there are enough of them about, for heaven's sake. Let's just go over their achievements again: fatuous and intermittent feedback; refusal to meet you face-to-face; failure to get you into contention for a top job; and they're so unprofessional that they indulge in tittle-tattle about you.

Headhunters, like all agents, will only be really successful on behalf of those people in whom they have genuine and instinctive belief. Your current lot clearly have little belief in you; and you have none at all in them.

I wonder, though. They seem to think that you're lacking in gravitas, and you certainly seem a bit short on decisiveness: after all these years and all these disappointments, you're still with them. Could it just be that your plaintive acceptance of their incompetence has in some way confirmed their iffy opinion of you? CEOs, after all, are supposed to be commanding figures, intolerant of those who fail to deliver and quick to replace them.

So, starting today, demonstrate both gravitas and decisiveness. Behave like a leader. Give the buggers the boot, find a firm that thinks you're terrific, get yourself a top job - and stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Jeremy Bullmore's responses to work dilemmas in MT are collected in his new book Another Bad Day at the Office? (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

Please address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP. Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

How to: Q&A

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime