We need to talk.” A text message from a friend sets off alarm bells. Soon, we are deep in conversation at AER, the rooftop bar of the Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbai, and the conversation is starting to sound like a clichéd Bollywood plot. “All izz not well”.
Our heroine, the bride (the candidate, a senior investment banker) is signed up to marry (start a new job in another investment bank) next week. Families (both new and ex company) informed, (visiting) cards printed, announcements made and honeymoon (induction) planned. Initially confident and radiant, she is now having second thoughts about the groom (the new employer), there are butterflies in her stomach, last-minute jitters. Besides, her last boyfriend (read ex-employer) is back in the fray, pulling out all the stops, promising her the moon, and his mother (chairman of the bank) has just flown her to Europe, first class, and dangled the crown jewels (you are family, beta). Access to the big job at the old employer, the challenge of adjusting to a new environment, the comfort of the known, the pain of relocating, the new deal on the table, the challenge of the new situation, thoughts of “is this new groom really my prince or was it always the boy next door, after all”—and she is tempted to run for it.
This is going to be a long evening—we order another round. Whatever the reason for the bride wanting to run—whether she was using the groom to make the old boyfriend jealous, whether the prince is actually a frog, whether her family objects or if a new swashbuckling hero on a silver charger has suddenly swept her away—she needs to analyse what her head and heart are saying, and take the call. We walk through the pulls and pushes of why she wanted to leave her old job, what attracted her to the new role, the way situations were likely to play out in either case. We re-evaluate, reanalyse the offer on hand vis-à-vis other options. We examine the fallouts of walking away at the eleventh hour on her reputation and credibility, the hardship caused to the unsuspecting groom, what she could have done differently.
Jittery feeling: Actor Julia Roberts played the bride who couldn’t commit. Are you like her?
Eventually, she decides. Better a jolt upfront than an early divorce. Ethical or not, committed or not, credible or not, she’s decided to bolt. So now what? I urged her not to send the “Dear John” text and switch off her phone, as she is tempted to do. It’s going to be hard for everyone involved and as a senior professional, she has to recognize that breaking an engagement at the eleventh hour is going to create significant embarrassment, and lead to possible financial loss and business delays for the new employer. She needs to be upfront, accept responsibility, provide explanations and do it as soon as possible, and in person, to allow the other party to recoup. Hard to do, but it is the right thing to do. Besides, it may ensure that bridges are not completely burnt, that her credibility is somewhat less tarnished, and some damage control is possible by the jilted party. I head homewards, sighing at the sign of the times—another marriage busted.
A few days later in Hong Kong, I run into the left-at-the-altar hiring manager, who shares his need for a new bride. After the initial remonstrations about the runaway bride, we get into an analysis of why. Was she too good for him to start with? Did his behaviour or reputation scare her off? Was the deal not sweet enough? Did they not anticipate a counter offer? More importantly now, how does he de-risk the next time around?
My advice—deal with and address all concerns. It’s not just about the money. Move fast with the offer process when the endorphins are high—multiple interviews over weeks and painstaking negotiations create negative energy and fatigue. Engage and connect heavily during the “joining period”—this is when candidates could be most vulnerable to other offers. Share information, demonstrate intent, make plans, introduce internally, create traction. Watch carefully for the commitment-phobia signs—delayed joining dates, unwillingness to announce the new job, unanswered calls. Use a reputed search consultant who can act as a proper marriage broker, as the agony aunt who can draw out issues that the bride may not be willing to share otherwise. And above all, much as you love the chosen bride, always have a Plan B.
Ah well, he said. Sometimes, love just ain’t enough.
Sonal Agrawal is chief executive, Accord Group, an executive search firm.
Write to Sonal at email@example.com