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The Ampersand December 2018 – When Grasshoppers Grow Up

December 1, 2018

First off, let me introduce myself – my name’s Kate Spencer, I’m a Research Associate at Pekarsky & Co., I completed my undergrad a mere two years ago, and had not worked in Executive Search before landing here in February 2018. That’s actually an important part of my introduction: start date.


But let’s start at the real beginning – somewhere around 1998, when I was 6 years old.  You see, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing our “work dad” (aka: Adam) for most of my life, as I often relish in reminding him. In Adam’s years practicing law, he worked with my dad. I like to think that my father is one of the reasons Adam wears the title former (or, as he prefers, recovering) lawyer, but that’s just speculation. In fact, Adam and my dad remain close friends to this day. In years past, I was often forwarded this very newsletter if it was especially humorous or thoughtful and had thus developed a vague understanding of what Adam did for a living, to the extent that can be gleaned from his monthly rants and ramblings.


At least, I had enough of an understanding to say, “I know a guy!” when a friend of mine mentioned he had an interest in recruiting and would like to know more about the profession as he made some important decisions concerning the direction of his career. I connected said friend with Adam and in the process visited P&Co’s website. As I perused through the site, I had a couple of takeaways. The first being what I thought recruiting was, and what executive search in fact is, were two very different things. The second being, hey, I think I could do that…


Through a string of events that I won’t bore you with, I ended up coming in to meet with Adam to discuss a potential role at Pekarsky & Co. Although there was a small hiccup in the process (now known to me as my beloved Aussie co-worker Cam McDonald, who jumped the cue and got hired just before me) on February 26, 2018 I walked up the stairs of the Alberta Hotel Building to start my first day as Pekarsky & Co’s Research Associate.


Pekarsky & Co. had never had a Research Associate before and Adam often jokes that I’m the ‘experiment.’ Turns out I don’t mind being the lab rat for it means there is no handbook on what my role is and offers me plausible deniability if ever I screw something up. Adam constantly reminds us that we are Head Office and we can pivot in an instant to keep pace with, no – ahead of – our larger, less nimble competition.  Put another way, when it comes to my role here, we’re making it up on the fly.  And I love that.


In short, it means I get to work with everyone in the office on all of their searches – who knew I could spend my morning researching Angus Beef for our CEO search for the Canadian Angus Association and my afternoon immersing myself in Cloud Architects on a search for one of those?! It also means I have five amazing mentors – five! And, most incredible of all, it would appear I’ve earned the trust and the right to run searches on my own, which is very exciting and entirely terrifying.


Cue the Imposter Syndrome, the “psychological pattern experienced by those who feel like all their accomplishments are undeserved to the point of being crippled by self-doubt.” Doubly crippling is a new profession and working at a firm where, how shall I put it, the standards are, um, high.  Happily, my mother raised me to get the job done, instilling a healthy dose of skepticism towards just relying on my innate abilities and encouraging the notion that hard work will always win the day. It also helps that my work mom and dad believe in me and if they assign me a task, it’s because they know I can do it.


In any event, I found myself recently preparing to head out to a very important client’s office, in Toronto no less, to facilitate a day of candidate interviews for a search I had run entirely solo. No big deal, I’m fine, it’s chill, but also… what? Remember, I had only been doing this for 8 months! In what world would anyone logically consider me an expert? With this crucial road game looming large, I walked into Adam’s office to ask him a question concerning that search. I’m hazarding a guess here, but I imagine he sensed some of my apprehension, saw the Imposter perched upon my shoulder, as he said reassuringly, “remember, even though you’ve only been doing this for a short while, keep in mind you still have been doing this a lot longer than they have – you’re the expert.”


Ah, yes. How wise, Sensei. Fitting that I had become the Grasshopper, a nickname my dad still bestows on Adam (among others).


Sage yet also very obvious. And I think that young professionals need to hear it and seasoned professionals can learn from it. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only junior who feels like sometimes they don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to their job. If not, well, I hope everyone enjoyed the story of how I’ve known Adam since I was six and my apologies for wasting your time – he’ll be back next month.


But, if I am right, then this is important to think about. As juniors we get caught up in looking to our mentors, people in our profession who we aim to emulate one day and as such, it’s easy to feel inadequate – like you can’t do the job you were hired to do, and you’ll never measure up.


For the seasoned professional out there, think about that as you’re training and developing the next generation in your company. Notice if they feel insecure and consider offering a reminder of their abilities. Hesitance and second-guessing oneself doesn’t mean they don’t possess the ability to do the task – they just need a supporting nudge. That’s your job and it can be the smallest detail that accelerates that person to the next level.


At the end of the day this comes down to trust. Juniors, trust the people who you are working with. Trust that they have trained you well and that they know what they’re doing when they throw you off the deep end.


Senior Management, trust that you’ve hired the right people who are capable of doing the job and if you find this hard because you’ve been burned before…well, then, hey! I know a guy!


Kate Spencer is a Research Associate at Pekarsky & Co. who plans on staying with the firm for the rest of her career.