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Your Boss is Going - Do You Follow?

Imagine you're working for a high-flying boss who asks you to join her at a new company. Or a former supervisor rings you up to say there's an opportunity at his firm that's too good to pass up. Should you stay or should you go?

According to career consultants, the answer isn't always clear-cut and requires careful consideration. For one thing, "you've got to determine whether the devil you do know is better than the devil you don't know," says Jeremy Garlington, of Point of View, LLC, an executive coach based in Atlanta.

Before hitching your wagon to someone else's star, objectively evaluate whether the opportunity is a good move for you. Figure out how the new position will help you meet your career goals. Don't assume the hot-shot executive will take care of you. Among other things, remember that just because your boss is getting a good deal doesn't mean his subordinates will be treated as well. "Maybe that opportunity for you isn't as shining as it is for them," points out Bill Kahnweiler, an associate professor of human resources at Georgia State University and a career coach. Indeed, "it could be that it's not that great of an opportunity for them," he says.

Proceed with Caution

Indeed, plenty of things can go wrong when your follow someone to a new firm. That's why people need to have a clear understanding of why the boss left her old job and what she's gaining from the new one. How will she fit into the culture of the new company? Is she being groomed for a top position? Remember that a strong-willed executive who butted heads with management at one job may do it at another.

"The more information that you can have upfront, the better decision you will make," Kanweiler says.

Moreover, if the hot shot and the new firm's management have a falling out, the people who came with her may follow her out the door. "If things aren't working out, no matter how well you do the job there's a real added risk," says John Challenger, the head of executive recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Even so, more and more executives may find themselves in this situation.

The boom in private equity deals is fueling turnover in executive suites, Challenger says, as new owners move to restructure companies. When a new chief executive comes in, they often bring teams of lower-level executives - who may be people that the top executive has known and trusted for years.

Team-based recruitment has long been practiced on Wall Street, where hitching your wagon to a star banker or a star trader is a basic principle of career management. In an industry where entire desks often jump ship as a group, even someone at the associate level might get a call from the vice president who moved onward and upward four months earlier.

Walk Softly

So, it's important for a new employer to know you for reasons beyond your relationship with the star they've just hired. Notes Garlington: "You don't want to create a perception of co-dependence."

When people arrive at new jobs, they should avoid the temptation to make dramatic changes immediately and instead get to know their new colleagues and subordinates on a personal level. "Don't show up with a tool box right away," he says. After all, if you develop good relationships at your new workplace, you can protect yourself in the even things go sour for your boss.

Were you ever recruited by a former boss to join them at their new employer? Post a comment below.

AUTHORJonathan Berr Insider Comment
  • Al
    8 June 2007

    The article is very informative..... I am in a bit of a bind right now. The president left and took with her the top performers of the company. She left to join a smaller company as board chair. She has asked that I join her. The plan is to grow the company and eventually sell it in 3-5 years. The prospect of earning more is great but, I wonder what will this do to my career in the long run?

  • To
    9 May 2007

    The bank was merging into another and my boss was not invited to continue with the new organization. She and her boss found good jobs with another bank. I called her to see how things were going. She and her boss began preparing a job offer for me. I did not intend for this. The compensation was better but the opportunity wasn't. It was also a lengthy commute to an economically-depressed area. I will be much more careful next time. This organization has since merged with yet another. I wish I knew where these people are now.

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