Hired! ‘Don’t Settle’ Works for Manufacturing VP

In what turned out to be a 12-month search for a new job, an OpsLadder member named John did a lot to make things more difficult for himself.


In what turned out to be a 12-month search for a new job, an OpsLadder member named John did a lot to make things more difficult for himself.

He didn’t lower his sights from the vice-president level he lost and wanted to regain; he didn’t go along with the advice of friends and recruiters that he lower his expectations and salary requirements; and he didn’t cut anyone any slack when it became apparent his age could be an issue, even for jobs that typically require decades of experience to qualify.

“I was averaging at least two telecom interviews a week, and maybe a face-to-face interview every three weeks,” he said. “In phone interviews, people are certainly trying to judge your personality by listening to your voice, but they ask you key questions and try to disqualify you that way. Like, ‘So … tell me, what year did you get your MBA?’ My question was, ‘What’s the relevance?'”

Graduation year could be relevant for a school that was going through a particular management philosophy at the time, acknowledges John, 59, who got his at the beginning of the ‘80s. Newer MBAs have more training in Six Sigma and other operational-discipline approaches.

“But were they trying to establish where my school was in that era? Or that I’m an old-timer?” he asked.

“There were times when people would tell me I didn’t put down a year on my form, and they wanted me to do that before they’d talk to me, and I said we should talk first. You have to be nice to all of them, but there’s a point where I get into an honesty thing. What do they want that I don’t have, and what do I have that they don’t value?” he said. “I did talk to some recruiters and said, ‘The hiring company is going to put an investigator out to check my background, and I’m fine with that. Why not wait until then for that particular answer?’ The recruiters worked very well that way, but not so much the internal HR managers.”

John spent more than 28 years in operations. He specialized in supply-chain management; purchasing of raw materials and supplies; and managing vendors, shippers and inventory. John made sure the manufacturers he worked for had the parts they needed when they needed them, didn’t pay too much for them, and didn’t overpay for having too many on hand at any one time.
His new job, which he located through Ladders, is as a vice president, overseeing supply-chain and materials management for a medical equipment manufacturer he prefers not to name.

His last job – a vice president-level job as director of material management, supply chain, purchasing, inventory control and receiving for telecommunications equipment manufacturer JDS Uniface – effectively ended six months before he was actually laid off.

The CEO, looking for fresh blood in top management, laid off seven senior vice presidents in the space of a few weeks, including John’s boss. For six weeks John theoretically reported to the CEO, but he was actually redundant – working for a central corporate group after the rest of the company split into business divisions.

“I could have taken a smaller job working in one of the divisions, but the reality was the people running those divisions wanted to pick their own people,” he said.

He started his job search six months before he actually got his pink slip.

The most amazing thing, aside from the unexpectedly negative reaction to his age, was the assumption on the part of friends, colleagues and recruiters that he would and should take a more junior position than the one he’d been doing.

“I looked at a lot of those jobs, manager and director level rather than vice-president level, and it was stuff I was doing 10 years ago,” he says. “I didn’t want to do that. I’m in it for a career, not just to put in my 40 hours and go home. If a guy came to me at age 59 and said he’d be willing to take a job one or two levels below where he was, I’d think he was just trying to ride out his time until retirement. I wouldn’t be interested in hiring him, and I didn’t want to be that guy.”

He stuck to his guns, refusing one job that offered a vice-president title but $30,000 less per year than he’d been led to expect. He also watched a number of opportunities either evaporate; go to younger, less qualified executives; or devolve into something too junior for him to want.
The job he eventually got – the original contact for which he made after responding to an ad on Ladders.com – took six months from first contact until the actual offer was made. After responding to the ad, he spoke to recruiters and hiring managers, who would then disappear for weeks before surfacing for another round of discussions with John and other final candidates.

The company made a firm offer in September that required John to move 350 miles from San Jose, Calif., to Los Angeles.

“I was willing to move, and I said that up front,” John said. “A lot of people weren’t, so that was one advantage.”

Another was the clear presentation of the value he could offer – a value he defined by showing where and how he’d been able to save money on the purchase, shipment and storage of components in his previous job.

“I’d spent a lot of time the previous four or five years developing cost-reduction roadmaps,” he said. “I listed the things I was able to impact and the cost reductions and eventually the cost of goods sold and gross margins. Bringing that to the table allowed me to talk about the things I can do based on what I’ve done in the past. That made for a very clear picture.”