Sunday, December 26, 2010

Following your leaders; when your former boss or colleague calls to recruit you.

For many employees there is nothing more flattering than a call from a former boss or colleague with an offer to join them at their current company. These calls often come at a time when you least expect it. Perhaps you were not actively looking but opportunistically keeping an ear to the ground? Or, maybe the call comes at the perfect moment, right after revamping your resume and just starting to surf the job boards. In these moments, it seems like timing and fate just met up with curiosity and ego, shook hands and went into the bar for a drink.

It's true, the best leads will always come through your professional network, and it is not unusual for those leads to be a former manager or colleague who thinks the world of you. But ask yourself, and your boss, a few questions before you jump ship from a current job that may seem a bit lackluster, but is still a very good fit for you.

You need to know a lot more than whether "Susan" or "Bill" are well-respected, happy, productive and fairly compensated in their new role. Regardless of your respect, loyalty and genuine admiration for this person, you need to treat this like any other interview process. You want to know why your old/new boss selected this company over another, and why they think you are the perfect fit for this opportunity. Ask the tougher questions. They won't be easy to ask, but the answers are critical to your career.

First, what does your old/new boss's career pattern say about their decision-making? Do they demonstrate consistency in always moving forward in their career? Or, do you see repeated cycles of industry, title and level? Does he/she have a habit of job hopping, or have they shown longevity throughout their professional life? Does their position at the new company offer them visibility to the strategic and operational decisions made by the board or executive management team? How close are they to the decision-makers? What goals have they been tasked with over the next two to five years? Are you an integral or peripheral aspect of those plans? Are they on a similar functional path as you? Or are they a CFO and you are an HR or IT professional? Will your job be stationed in another location or area of the company and report to a different supervisor? What is the new company's financial position? Is this a successful, growing public company or closely held and privately funded? Have they struggled financially or have PR issues, or do they pass the sniff test on stability and reputation? Are you comfortable knowing that you may not have a job there if your boss leaves or is let go? And, if you decide not to join them, how do you turn him/her down without compromising the relationship?

It is easy to believe that the former boss hiring you to the new company has the best intentions for you, and they may even want to groom you for a major career jump! But hiring a former employee is as much about being a proven entity as it is about saving time and money. Recruiting a former employee is often the safest way to hire an immediate "plug n' play" solution. While your former boss likely has the greatest respect for you, AND your best interests in mind, you also owe it to yourself to question the longer term impact of the decision to follow your leader.

Additionally, when you are brought into a new company by a former leader to work directly for them, there is an implication that success is almost guaranteed. The expectation is that you will solve his/her problem(s), be the ideal culture fit and build a thriving career all while under the very close, personal supervision of your manager and mentor. Failure is not an option.

If the job is not well aligned to your skill set, or the cultural chemistry is poor, you will face additional challenges that are outside your control. The potential for failure not only causes you professional pain, but your boss as well. After all, s/he vouched for you. Credibility and confidence in you and your old/new leader will be hard won in the future.

It is very tempting to take an opportunity presented by a trusted colleague at face value, but cautious optimism should be exercised throughout the vetting process. Realize that your name will be closely associated with that person throughout the first several years in the new company, and if they leave on their own or by termination, it is likely to have an impact on your relationship to the company or the former boss. Don't follow the leader blindly, make sure you have a good reason for leaving your current job in the first place. Resigning from a company that has treated you well, where you have been happy and successful, simply because someone has offered you their coattails to ride can come back to bite you in the end...literally.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hiring the Remote Employee

If you hire and manage salespeople, consultants or on-the-road technical people, then you already know how to manage remote employees. Many global companies regularly take advantage of a larger talent pool by hiring mobile employees. In order to compete globally, those companies who have not yet embraced the virtual employee may be missing out on hiring top talent because they haven't set up a virtual work-from-anywhere infrastructure.

Offering a work-from-home option to employees certainly makes your company a much more attractive place to work, but how will you know whether they'll be happy and successful as a remote employee? And, how do you measure productivity if you aren't able to manage, monitor and mentor them in-person? One of the first considerations is how to set and manage everyone's expectations.

One way to know whether there are realistic expectations on both ends depends on the experience of the employer and their employee(s). Have they worked from home before? Are you the kind of manager who needs a lot of face-time or do you feel confident that your employee is 100% invested? Do they have a set up at home that is conducive to the kind focus and production you require of them? Will you need to spend a lot of money on technology or other resources to support connectivity? In the case of a new employee, or one who has never worked from home before, do you offer a trial period to see if it's working? How do you coach them back into the office if it's not working out?

One of the first things to consider is how much travel is required in the role. If your employee is a Senior Sales Executive or Sales Manager, and air travel is less than 50%, then hiring someone locally who can split their time between the physical and virtual office might make sense. If they have a reporting team working primarily in-house, this might become a bit more difficult to justify. If the person would be spending more than 50% of their time on the road, then you might find it easier to budget company money by hiring someone who lives close to your primary client base, or an airport in a major city so that travel expenses are more easily controlled. For the most part, any experienced bag-carrying executive is already accustomed to working from home 100%. The best ones are usually quite adept at not only having consistent virtual connection, but can often plan and schedule their client visits in a way that maximizes their effectiveness and minimizes financial impact to their company, and clients as well.

There are many roles within organizations that are operational or administrative in nature and can be effectively managed by a virtual executive. Though this might require purchasing technology (laptop, Blackberry or iPhone, etc) and software to support their at-home work activities, you may find overall employee productivity does their loyalty. Often times, a dedicated and appreciative employee will actually put in 12-20% more time virtually than their in-office counterparts. One of the reasons is they may feel compelled to be at their desk earlier, they are not dealing with commuting or social distractions that occur during the work day, and they tend to check their emails/voice-mails more often throughout the day and evening. Many will even responding to requests/inquiries and demands of deliverables/requirements late into the evening. Another benefit is they may be a bit harder to recruit by competitors because they know they've got a trusting employer who has given them the flexibility and freedom to make their work-life work for them. This can be even more attractive to the working moms and dads.

Though working from home can be the ideal situation for a busy mom or dad of school-aged kids, giving them the option to spend time in the office can be a nice break from the home and all it's distractions. Knowing whether your employee can balance both may take time to prove out. So monitoring progress and having regular interaction over the phone will help to reinforce your connection to them. It's all too easy to get disconnected from a virtual employee who feels as though their contributions are going unnoticed. Another concern to keep in mind is the sense of isolation that often accompanies working remotely. A highly socialized person may not benefit from a work-from-home situation on a full-time or long-term basis. If you have a long-term employee, you'll be able to figure this out in advance, and discuss the pros/cons of their working from home. It might make sense to work with your new employees full-time in the office for three months or so before offering a work from home scenario. If you feel they may suffer from a lack of regular social interaction, or perhaps their interpersonal skills are weak, they may benefit from being in-house more often to develop these professional skills. Finding a balance between virtual and in-office presence may make more sense for that person down the road.

Your company may consider working-at-home as not so much a right but a privilege offered to longer-term, proven employees whose work can be performed virtually. A company policy on virtual employees may need to be established so as to provide interested parties with guidelines on how this is earned, which positions in the company are qualifying positions, and whether this option is offered after a specific employment period, and code of conduct required to work virtually. If you know you may have a trust issue with an employee, there are a number of tracking/reporting software options designed specifically for measuring productivity of virtual employees. Of course, if you have a trust issue at all, you might want to look at the reasons why first, and then decide whether a virtual situation is even feasible.

Lastly, the virtues of virtual for the global company can also benefit the employer when negotiating an offer to a potential employee. Once you have determined that a virtual employee is best suited for a role, consider the amount of money that person will save in commuting costs, meals, childcare, and tax write-offs (though be careful here as the tax implications for declaring an in-home office varies from state-to-state relative to capital gains, etc), and what they will gain in personal/professional flexibility, lowered stress, and increased family time. These factors can be attractive to a potential employee relative to how they value the overall compensation and benefits package your company offers. Cost of living also varies from state to state, country to country, and can also drive down operational costs and impact compensation without throwing your internal equity off balance.

There's a lot to think about here, but it seems that the pro's outweigh the con's in the virtual vs. physically present employee. Would love to hear comments/feedback on this piece!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Job Search Write-Offs

For my devoted Whole Person Hire followers, I thought you might find this article very helpful.

How To Write Off Job Hunting Expenses

by Ned Berke on Sep 21st, 2010

Believe it or not, the IRS wants you to know that you may be able to deduct some of your job search expenses on your tax return!

Many taxpayers spent time over the summer months updating their résumé and attending career fairs. If you are one of them, you may be able to deduct some of your expenses on your tax return.

First, the no-nos. You cannot deduct job search expenses if:

1. You are looking for a job in a new occupation, or
2. If there was a substantial break between the end of your last job and the time you begin looking for a new one, or
3. If you are looking for a job for the first time. However, if you held a college internship or valid job while in college and your search is for a job in the same trade or business, you will be able to deduct job search expenses.

If you pass the no-nos, then you can deduct:

1. You can deduct employment agency and recruiters’ fees you pay while looking for a job in your present occupation. (If your employer pays you back in a later year for employment agency fees, you must include the amount you receive in your gross income up to the amount of your tax benefit in the earlier year.)
2. You can deduct amounts you spend for résumé preparation as long as you are looking for a new job in your present occupation. These expenses include the cost of drafting, typing, printing, mailing, and faxing.
3. If you travel to an area to look for a new job in your present occupation, you may be able to deduct travel expenses to and from the area. You can only deduct the travel expenses if the trip is primarily to look for a new job. For example, an unemployed electrician was permitted to deduct the cost of traveling to a union hall to seek job opportunities within the trade union. The amount of time you spend on personal activity compared to the amount of time you spend looking for work is important in determining whether the trip is primarily personal or is primarily to look for a new job.
4. Looking to start a business as a self-employed individual is also deductible. These must be in the same field as your current employment.
5. If you land a job, the cost for child and dependent care in order to go on job interviews is allowed as a credit on the ‘Child and Dependent Care Expenses’ form.
6. Other deductions include:

* Portfolio preparation costs.
* Career counseling.
* Legal and accounting fees for employment negotiations and contracts.
* Advertising.
* Local transportation to job interviews.
* Phone calls to prospective employers.
* Newspapers, etc for employment ads.
* Half the cost of meals which are directly related to job searching.
* Books to help you prepare a better resume, etc.

I cannot stress strongly enough, that you must save all your substantiation, including receipts, interview letters, transportation costs, etc.

These expenses are not an automatic deduction from your income. You have to be able to itemize. To do this, for 2010 returns, you have to exceed the standard amounts of $5,700 for single filers; $8,400 for heads of households; and $11,400 for married couples filing jointly. Included in these amounts is the two percent miscellaneous expense hurdle. If you don’t itemize, these tax breaks won’t work for you.

Please note that going to the Bahamas to read employment ads in the Times while on the beach will not pass an audit.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Best Pre-Offer Practices

In the job search process, getting an offer is probably the most anxiety provoking time in the candidate/client relationship. It's positively unnerving to think about all the change that comes with a simple "yes", so I try to offer my candidates an opportunity to internalize what that moment will bring well in advance of the formal offer. It's what you do BEFORE the offer that can help set you apart from other candidates, provides crucial insight and prevents acceptance mistakes. For the hiring manager, getting buy-in from your colleagues and clients can take a lot of the burden off you, and validate your decision-making capabilities.

If you are a candidate in the final stage of the interview process, put yourself in your own shoes when the big moment comes; how will you feel? Will you experience elation? Sorrow? Anxiety? Relief? Ambiguity? Despite the dollars, will it feel like you might be settling for a role that will under-utilize your total skill set? Or can you honestly say it's the best, most natural fit for you? If the new job requires it, can you make the case to your spouse for relocation? How about your kids, will they be on-board with a move? Did you ask all the right questions? Did you get answers to your toughest questions? How comfortable are you working with your new boss? Any concerns there? Truth is, most people will have one or two lingering questions about their new job that can not be addressed until they are sitting in the seat. But, if these one or two concerns could impact your future very negatively, better to exercise a healthy dose of cautious optimism. Get to the bottom of it...before the offer letter hits your in-box.

My advice? Try to internalize the reality of an offer as much as you can before the company makes one and figure out what you need to know before you say yes or no. Chances are, if you have underlying concerns or big blank spaces in your data, then you haven't got enough information to make a sound decision. Suggest a lunch meeting with your would-be boss, or a final round with the President or CEO. This might give you an opportunity to ask the big picture questions about growth, stability and overall direction of the company. Talk to someone who has been with the company for more than a year, but not more than five. Ask them why they came on board. The information they have to share will be recent and relevant enough to the company's current status in the marketplace. And, their decision-making process may be more recent and relevant to yours, too.

The three to four hours you have invested in "getting to know you" interviews may all have happened in the confines of a board room. This is often where hiring managers can portray a sense of confidence and control, where distractions are minimized. A setting, such as a restaurant, outside the formal office environment may also give each person a chance to observe basic social, focus and communication skills in a situation where distraction is unavoidable. If you're going for the deep dive on the company but there is little data available on overall employee or client satisfaction, consider doing references on the company. That might sound a little overly analytical, even paranoid, but why not? Your potential employer will be exercising every opportunity to uncover information about you before asking you to join the company, why shouldn't you?

Hiring mistakes happen every day, but the ones that can be easily prevented by a little due-diligence are the hardest to justify. Same thing holds true for you, the employee. Finding out in advance that you are about to be the fifth person hired in four years for the same role ought to be a sign that something is amiss here. While it's nice to be considered the potential magic bullet...the problem is likely outside your sphere of control. And why would you want to be in the set-up-for-failure seat anyway?

At the C-Level (CEO, CFO, CTO, CMO) it's completely normal to ask for a professional reference from the hiring manager. Assure them you are not looking to validate a concern, but that you want to be sure you know from someone with experience exactly what you need to be successful in the role. Addressing areas such as communication skills, strategic alignment, specific knowledge gaps and conflict resolution can go a long way to preventing major road bumps in the near term and into the future.

For the hiring manager, it's just as anxiety provoking to put your stamp of approval on a candidate. It's not only you and your team that will triumph or suffer with the next hire, it's your competence as a decision maker that will be in question if you hire the wrong person. A lot of questions about your process, the primary criteria and how you prioritized it, your interview skills, your due diligence process, your instincts and ability gauge a person's capabilities and character will all be under review. And, guess what happens if you really screw up? That's right, your team will also have a hard time trusting your judgment in the future. So don't count on them to back up your assessments if you have a track record of misfire hires.

What to do if you're not sure whether your top candidate is the best person for the company? Ask for additional interviews with the top 2 to 3 candidates and begin a pro and con list. Request that others on your team take part in the interview process and have each interviewer meet and rank the candidates based on top criteria including education, experience, current and future expectations of the role, image and presentation, communication skills, cultural fit, rapport with the team, and any other areas that will help determine that candidate's potential success in the role. A skills or personality assessment may also be employed as a way to validate or rule-out concerns about the candidate(s) in question. Ask the members of your team who worked closely with the last person in the role about what capabilities that person lacked, and whether they have targeted the right level professional to replace them.

If you are adding to your sales team, ask your top client's opinion(s) about what they look for in a salesperson. This demonstrates not only that you value their opinion, but that you're open and willing to listen to their needs. They may offer valuable insights you and your team hadn't thought about....they may also offer referrals to other candidates who could make a more compelling fit.

When it comes to making an offer, much like with a sales deal, time is the killer. It is critical to set expectations between receipt and acceptance of an offer. Adding an expiration date to the offer letter is a great way to reinforce your expectations. Neither party wants to be kept waiting for a number of reasons. As a candidate, if you need more time than two weeks to make a decision, it's time to go back to square one and ask whether this is really the right job for you. As a company, if you have identified a great candidate but can't get closure within two weeks, that's usually a sign that the feeling isn't mutual. Best to keep the interview process going until you close a candidate who both wow's and woo's you, too.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

First Impressions - Trust your Instincts

"When I walked into her office, I thought almost instantly that she reminded me of my fifth grade teacher. I hated my fifth grade teacher. Of course, I know that sounds silly because I realized consciously she is a completely different person. But the rest of the interview was a struggle for me because I couldn't get past her glasses and turtleneck. Well, I accepted the offer because all of the other factors...great opportunity, company, salary and location...lined up with my expectations. Despite the nagging feeling that I was missing something, I thought I'd made the right choice. Until the third week in and she called me into her office. It was like being transported back through time to my former 11 year old self, and Mrs. Walsh was humiliating me for being overwhelmed as she called me out in front of the class, and I was unable to give her the correct answer. It was in that moment I regretted not listening to my gut instinct. This was just bad chemistry and I wished I'd paid attention to the red flag waving boldly in my face two weeks before."

How many times have you received a very strong sense of someone from the moment you met them and had the undeniable feeling you'd met them before? Something about them seemed familiar and brought up a variety of feelings, positive or negative, that made you very comfortable or very uneasy. Some may describe this as an inner voice, a subconscious guide, a miraculous little memory keeper or advanced warning system. Whatever its name, this utility exists within all of us. Tapping into it during your interview process and using it to either confirm or contradict your decision-making could be the one tool that makes the critical difference.

Many times when I hear from a candidate after a few months in their new role I like to ask them whether their original perception of their boss, or their team mates, held true and aligned with reality. Of course it did! Then I remind them of how attuned they were to their instincts, and to always rely on their gut. It's incredibly validating to know that, while your brain is doing it's own thing forming opinions, decisions, and calculating risk using vast amounts of data consciously collected in the interview process, you've also got a wizard in the works developing impressions, collecting visual and auditory cues, and shaping them into conscious meaning. Whether you want to believe it or not, using content coming in from different sensors, such as memory, olfactory, tactile and behavioral observations, can help you make a much better decision on whether or not this is the right boss, office and company for you. Just pay attention to the sign posts, red flags and intuitive insights your "wizard" is collecting for you.

One of the best ways to reach this collective insight is to sit down with a pen and paper and write free flow with one or two word observations that come to mind right after an interview. Describe the way you felt meeting each person...words like 'at ease', 'intimidated', 'engaged', 'anxious', 'bored', 'distracted' or even 'thirsty', to describe the way you felt. Then observe the feelings that came up, even if they make no sense to you. Include people you were reminded of, sights and sounds that connected you to another time in your life. Were there were any physical clues your body was transmitting? Perhaps a headache, numbness in your toes, a tremor in your eyebrow, even a sense that you were really thirsty or desperately craving a cup of coffee? All of these sensations are clues to how your whole person is perceiving that interview experience. Write them all down, then allow yourself to explore their meaning. Some of the meanings may be very self evident and need no further exploration. But if you talk to your spouse, close friend or even your therapist about your observations...and let the feelings associated come to the surface, this "research" will truly help you tap into your gut instincts, developing into a much clearer picture of what this opportunity means to you.

At the end of the day, it's still a roll of the dice. But the odds are more likely to be in your favor if you've done the internal work first.

Interviews are a two way exchange and the energy in that exchange is typically perceived very accurately by both parties involved when the interview goes well. While you felt 'at ease', your interviewer may have described you as open or relaxed. When an interview hasn't gone well, it's typical to hear both parties reflect a very different exchange. If you felt 'anxious' or 'distracted', the interviewer may have perceived a lack of engagement or overall disinterest in the job. The reason you felt this way, however, is not always a true reflection of your interest in the job, but more so the energy between you and that person. Something put you in a funk, and that can set off a chain reaction that can't be easily curtailed. Getting to the bottom of these exchanges, understanding what it was about that interview, and why it stood out as the game-changing moment, can help you determine whether this opportunity is really all it seems to be. It can also serve to manage your expectations relative to your candidacy for that particular company overall.

There are no "do-overs" in the interview process. First impressions are indelible and not usually easy to overcome when they're negative. While it's ideal to win every one over in the interview process, it's not realistic to expect to have excellent chemistry with everyone you work with. You can start out on a positive track with a new company if you know how to navigate successfully around challenging internal alliances. More on that later...

For now, the best due diligence practices will help you avoid stumbling blindly through the job interview process, and land the best job for you, the Whole Person.

Hiring Managers: Acting Human and Giving Feedback

"Officially I don't think I'm supposed to discuss it, but I'm willing to share some thoughts with you because I empathize with your situation and you seem like a nice guy. It's been a long time since I was in the job market, but I remember wishing that people would act a little more human after receiving resumes, and especially after conducting interviews. I think that after someone gives up their time to interview, they deserve the courtesy of a personal response instead of just a form letter."

Quote from a Hiring Manager to a candidate for a position within a local Engineering Firm

We can blame it on being busy, overwhelmed, understaffed, or just plain inconsideration, but companies by and large no longer take time to properly "let go" of their candidates. The quote above is directly from a hiring manager to a candidate of mine who went through a recent interview process. He was one of two final candidates out of a field of 100 resumes. And the offer went to the other person.

When it gets this close, the pain of loss feels intensely personal and the sense of defeat is devastating. Sometimes a little insight as to what you did wrong can help manage the pain and provide a valuable lesson on what to do differently next time. But how a company and it's representatives handle their communications with candidates can make a long term impact on how those one-time candidate's value that company and their people in the future.

Companies develop job description based on specific criteria relative to how that role serves the company and it's internal and external clients overall. Obviously they start with the key skill sets for the functional role, how the role interacts internally and supports the company's products/services, and determine the best fit for the team and corporate culture. Often companies will primarily seek expertise in the industry over core competencies. It makes sense that those meeting both the skill sets and industry experience will get first consideration.

A strong candidate will possess not only the core competencies, but also demonstrates deep industry knowledge and experience, will have similar philosophies and maybe even come from a similar corporate culture. Hiring someone with industry experience is just about the shortest and fastest path to success, including the time it takes to get them up and running in the position. So it also makes sense that these folks will command more attention from competing companies in your industry when they are in the job market.

So, what do you think happens when, for whatever reason, that individual failed to check all the boxes in the interview process and is left languishing for days, weeks or months while you, the interviewer, are moving forward in your interview process without communicating feedback on whether they're still in the running? Well, they've probably moved on or found another job. Maybe with a competitor. Maybe with a service provider to your shared industry
...or, maybe they are now one of your clients
...and they are a decision maker.

I can hear the phone ringing now...

"Hey there, Sally hiring manager, I just wanted to reach out and say hi...let you know I've landed at ABC Company. Yes, that's right, Head of Purchasing. Well, we've had to make a few changes over here and, well, this might hurt a little but..."

You get the picture. So we know what this kind of psychology is designed to engineer: As hiring manager you now solemnly promise that every candidate you meet has prompt and courteous feedback so as to avoid the inevitable "you reap what you sow" scenario outlined above. Granted this sounds more like an episode of the reality show, The Office, than the reality we all live in. But, it has happened.

As illustrated by the quote above from a conscientious hiring manager, acting a little more human can go a long way to creating the kind of long-term impact and word-of-mouth PR and Marketing that most CMO's dream about. I know my candidate has already contacted his brother, a client of the company he didn't get the job with, and told him their vendor was a highly ethical firm and that he would still consider working there should the right opportunity surface.

For my candidate, understanding what the defining issue was that lead to the company's final decision might make the critical difference in the next interview process. In this case, it was salary alignment and concern over flight risk. In hindsight, providing more detail as to what he believed would be a reasonable salary range relative to this role may have been the only thing he could have done differently. But that doesn't necessarily mean it would have tamped down internal concerns about whether he would stay on-board as the market begins to pick up.

But the lesson here is not so much why he didn't get the job as how the company managed his expectations. Further on in the hiring manager's feedback note he mentioned how he'd done everything right. The hiring manager was impressed with his qualifications and even noted that he thought they could have worked well together. He complimented his style saying "you presented yourself well, you have lots of knowledge, you followed up....there was nothing out of place. Candidates bring different experiences to potential employers....not only work experience from an ability perspective, but also from a progression perspective. Bottom line is that they hired someone with similar skills, but with salary expectations that were much lower."

In closing, the hiring manager reflected "I wish I could give you some advice that would guarantee getting a great job right away, but unfortunately, as we all know, the competition is tough out there these days. Many contributing factors that play into employer decisions are out of your control. I know it's a tough line to walk when you are forced to throw out a salary "requirement" - because, of course, you want to make as much as you can (especially when you are legitimately good at what you do), but are willing to work for less based on economic conditions. It's not easy."

My candidate was relieved to know salary was the defining factor, and not something like personal chemistry, lack of skills or experience, or worse, a bad professional reference that stood in the way of an offer. Yes, he could have played it differently on the salary question, but at the end of the day, would it have been enough to keep him feeling whole and happy in the job? We'll never know, but we do know it just wasn't meant to be. So the search continues, as does the hope that more hiring managers will behave like the one featured in this blog. Act a little human, it can go a long way to building a stronger brand in business, and in life.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hiring the Whole Person,

If your company has been growing steadily, and hiring at your company is standard fare, than chances are you know how to develop a candidate pipeline, conduct in-depth interviews, and selectively hire the best person for the job. Most companies have had to back-burner their hiring plans for the past three years regardless of their unquestionable need to add or replace essential people. Hiring managers given the green light to fill a role are typically left to their own devices to find and vet candidates while HR struggles to manage the overwhelming resume flow from a single job posting. With all the available talent on the market, this would seem to be the ideal time to be recruiting top talent. However, an abundance of candidates means sifting through hundreds of resumes and imposing a tremendous burn on time and resources. You may need more than just one HR person to source, interview, calibrate and vet the best of the respondents. You may need a whole team. With a resume you get a one dimensional view of an individual that doesn't yield enough detail. Making an educated decision on a candidates’ relevancy to the role becomes a rather impractical process when you don’t know them beyond the piece of paper. Once you get beyond the resume and have that candidate in front of you, the lens through which you see them offers a little bit more clarity but not the kind that will ever make you feel 100% certain they are the best person for the job. Getting to know a candidate takes time and effort. Did you know that average company invests only about six to eight hours interviewing a single individual before making a decision? When you consider how much time you and the company will be spending with that person, and the amount of money your company will invest in training, outfitting (technology) and scaling up that individual, making a hiring mistake is an investment of time and money that some companies just can’t afford.
So, how do you vet an individual and really get to know them without having experience working directly with them, or someone you know? Its part assessment, part instinct, and part gamble. The first two are the most critical, and in some cases, I’d put more weight on instinct than assessment. The idea is to reduce the gamble to less than 10% of your overall decision making process. The instinct part is something we all have, just how finely tuned our instincts are though makes the critical difference. If you are someone who relies heavily on data points (technical, behavioral or personality assessments, and skill-based testing) because perhaps you are not sure you can do the “deep dive” for practical reasons, or you have made hiring mistakes in the past and don’t want to repeat history, then using a technical or skill-based assessment test may offer the raw data you need to make an objective decision about one’s capabilities. The rest is a gamble. And that’s a little scary for everyone.
How do you close the gap between 90% and 100% certainty? Well, there’s no such thing as 100%, but we can do better than 90% in most cases. There are ways to get to know people without violating any company, State of Federal employment laws. And this is where hiring a good recruiter is a sound investment, particularly for the most challenging hiring needs.
A strong Search Consultant can make an immediate impact on your overall candidate sourcing process too. They can manage a recruiting process in a way that your HR team doesn't have the experience or time to do. They can also pinpoint certain qualifying factors of their own candidates by both first-hand knowledge of those individuals and experience working with them on other searches. A talented Search Consultant will often be able to fill a position in less than half the time of your HR team. Perhaps not in all cases, but HR typically has their hands full with highly critical compliance and personnel issues and it is a full-time job in and of itself, never mind adding the recruiting for the company on top of that. A well-educated, dedicated and focused recruiter will take the time to understand the exact criteria and requirements of your open requisition(s), both the tangible and intangible, and calibrate to specifications of the role.
A great Search Consultant will already have a solid mix of both industry and functional experience to be able to gain traction quickly within their network and bring the best available talent to the table. Your recruiter or search consultant should also have vetted candidates to such an extent that, by the time they're at your door, the only thing you need to be concerned about is whether they fit your team and your corporate culture. A recruiter can take the guess work out of the offer scenario too, by providing facts around the figures. The salary data they put in front of you should include base, bonus, recent or upcoming raises, equity (if any), paid vacation time, retention bonuses, and any other financial component that may be important to the candidate. While these components may not factor into your negotiation process, it will almost certainly always factor into the candidates.
Surfacing and overcoming concerns or objections is also something your recruiter should have demonstrated mastery with. No one likes surprises "at the altar", and once you've come this far, a good offer can get undermined with last minute concerns that erode trust and deteriorate the offer process into something that looks like waffling, or worse, a power play. Companies and candidates alike enjoy playing a little ball at the end...but when/if the offer becomes a game of hard-ball, your Consultant should be incorporated to help mitigate the risk of losing your top candidate to another company.
Alas, not every hiring manager has the financial carte blanche to hire a full-time Search Consultant to manage their hiring process. However, some Consultants are open to a contract where they spend just a few hours a week consulting with the hiring manager and assist on the selection and offer process with an existing pool of candidates. This is where objectivity is critical to the decision-making process! It’s difficult to be extremely objective when one works for the company, so an outside resource can assess a candidate through a different type of lens…and one that isn’t likely to become blurred by internal politics.
If the final hiring decision is yours to reap or bear, make sure you have the right tools in the toolbox. Having to live with a hiring mistake is one of the most difficult professional and personal challenges for you, the employee and the whole company. After all, you are not just hiring an employee. You are hiring their competencies, skills, personality, personal life, habits, ethics, and internal compass. You are hiring the Whole Person.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Green Search Partner - Pod Cast on Green Collar Research

It's a little scratchy in places, but the theme is relevant and helpful to those in the midst of a search in clean technology. We don't get into the interview process or hiring of the whole person, but you can hear me speak about the where/what the green jobs are (a few more ummm's than I would like...but Kevin Gulley sounds great!)



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Job Seekers: Manage your expectations

For those of you new to the job market, welcome! Now put on your party hat, go mix yourself a drink, and relax. We're going to be here for awhile.

Leveraging your network:

Even the best recruiter(s) won't be able to help you as often as you can help yourself in surfacing the best leads. While we often have strong working relationships directly with the hiring manager, this market has put a severe financial strain on most hiring budgets. Using a recruiter requires an additional booster shot in the budgetary arm, and some companies just can't afford it. So expect to do more personal and professional networking than usual to get traction in this job market.

If you have a strong, up-to-date CRM system on which you track your personal and professional network, including former bosses, colleagues, college friends, professors, running partners, yoga class mates, every business card from every networking event you've ever attended, the barista at your local Starbucks, and your best friends stylist and her dog-walker, then you should be on the market no longer than three weeks. You're a natural business development/networking expert and you are way more organized than Martha Stewart.

But, if you're like the rest of us, it's a constant battle to get/stay organized and on top of your network. People move a lot these days. They change residences, change jobs, change states, change countries and it becomes a full-time job staying in touch with everyone with whom you had, at one point or another, a good relationship. The good news is the internet has been working hard on our behalf to keep us somewhat attached to one another, for better or worse, and with varying degrees of success. Use your network to every extent reasonable to get your best leads. Your next door neighbor, your ex-boyfriend's sister (if she's still speaking with you), even your minister may know someone who is looking for a candidate just like you. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and let your world know you're looking.

One might ask whether there is a line that should be drawn on networking for jobs relative to, well, friends and relatives. I believe the more family and friends you have, the better your potential in sourcing strong job leads. Who knows you better than they do? Who knows more about the corporate culture you would best thrive in than they would? Well, you do, of course. But your reach and insight into these companies is limited by a multitude of factors. Start by letting your network know that you are on the market and looking selectively. You don't need to blast it on Facebook, but a well-crafted mass email would be effective and you can have reasonable control over who learns about your search. Do not attach your resume unless your circle of friends and family is very tight, and you're not concerned about your confidential information landing in the wrong hands. If someone does have a job lead, they'll prompt you for the document. As an extra measure of your selectivity, ask for a job description. That can be a good indication of how viable the lead is, and whether you want to spend time updating your resume to make it a more relevant fit to the role.

Keeping a strong tether to your network means daily effort. If you are not currently on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or any of these other social networks, don't expect everyone in your life to know your employment status. People are busy, busier than they've ever been. It's not that they don't care, it's just they don't have time to think about how they can help you find a job, even when asked directly, because they're very busy holding onto theirs. You may find even after months of being unemployed that your brother-in-law or former colleague is astounded to hear you're still looking. Don't take it personally. Several months of unemployment feels like forever, but for the gainfully employed, it's a stitch in time. Those who have been seemingly unaffected by the deteriorating job market these past four years are in a bubble; they have very little idea how bad it is out there.

A word about the role of recruiters;

As a search consultant, I'm often asked by candidates to help them network into a company for a particular job. Unfortunately, marketing a candidate in this employer-driven environment does not result in the same type of success as it would in an employee-driven market. And for some companies, the practice is completely frowned upon. Instead of relying solely on recruiters or job boards, I will often recommend to candidates a "wide net" approach. Begin by targeting industries and specific companies you have a strong interest in whose product, service or philosophies align with yours on both the personal and professional level. Research their website for roles that may be open. If no relevant jobs are posted, craft a short, purpose-driven cover letter and send your resume anyway. It can't hurt. Keep your expectations low. The days of formal "resume received" emails are over. Companies just don't have the time or resources to respond to every single solicited resume they receive, never mind the ones sent by enthusiastic, enterprising job seekers. Better to continue working through your targeted companies and keep a running list of those you have approached on your own. This will help you and your recruiter avoid duplicate referrals.

If you do have a recruiter working hard on your behalf, make sure you stay in frequent touch. Often times, if a recruiter knows your actively looking but hasn't heard from you in awhile, it's natural to assume you found something and are off the market. Active recruiters tend to work with blinders it occupational hazard. A typical book of business for a contingency recruiting firm can include as many as 50 or more positions at a time. Good recruiting agencies are usually highly collaborative and competitive environments, and each recruiter is playing beat the clock every day to fill those roles in the shortest time span imaginable. It is as much your responsibility to stay in touch and keep them posted on your status. If a recruiter does not return your phone call, a polite email advising them where you are in your search will suffice.

If they never return any of your calls, don't work with them.

While they have a fiduciary responsibility to their client, they have a professional responsibility to you. But don't take it personally, they are trying to stay employed too.

Once you do land an interview, thorough pre-interview due diligence is your responsibility. When working with a recruiter, be aware they may have as little or as much insight to a company as you do. Though having a track record of working with a client company for a few years, a recruiter can offer a well educated perspective on the company's history, its culture and search process. Additionally, as an intermediary, a recruiter can help a candidate to get greater visibility and generate a high level of interest in the client on their behalf. Again, this comes down to the relevancy and strength of the relationship the recruiter has with the client. It is good to know whether the recruiter has a relationship with the direct hiring manager or is restricted to dealing with the H.R. Department. This could factor tremendously into the odds of getting an interview.

The challenge for recruiters these days is the same challenge candidate's face. Too much talent on the market creates in imbalance of interest in any one job. Human resources and hiring managers are wading through hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of resumes to find the best available athletes on the market. Do you know how to compete?

Best Job Leads: Why who you know trumps what you know

I often advise candidates that 85% of their best job leads come through their own personal network, not through recruiters. Maybe this information is bad for business (mine in particular) but I can't change the fact that most hiring managers will try to save time (and money) by finding candidates through their own network. When replacing someone on their team, the comfort of hiring a "known entity" vs. a complete unknown can make a critical difference. When someone else who is credible to the hiring manager can attest to the credibility of a potential employee, calibrating on the skill set and overall fit to the company becomes the primary focus. As the hiring manager already believes the referrer to be of good quality and caliber, it makes sense to think the referred candidate is, too. The hiring manager is more likely to hire that person based on "testimony" from the referrer that s/he is an excellent employee and well suited to the hiring company's environment. But that's not to say they are the best person for the job. While the hiring manager may have just saved themselves weeks or months in what could have been an exhausting, protracted and time consuming search, they may also have cost themselves more in the long run.

A strong referral is worth their weight in gold, but you could also be hiring a liability. Is it realistic to think that an employee can offer the same high level of performance across industry or company? Probably not. Calibrating on experience, skill set, level/fit to the role, education, flexibility, temperament, and cultural fit should be a part of every interview process...regardless of that candidate's performance in another company. Meeting comparative candidates in any search process can offer a dynamic perspective on what the market has to offer, and provides you choices. If your ideal candidate does come through your network, and an offer seems imminent, most candidates will understand that a company must honor their candidate calibration system in order to choose the best possible person. No one wants to make or become a hiring mistake. Exercising a thorough search also demonstrates the hiring manager's strategic sensibilities, thoughtful judgment and selectivity relative to all of their hires. Do you really want to work for someone who hires quickly and without a lot of due diligence? Can you imagine the sort of nightmare situations this could cause for you as an employee?

Experienced hiring managers know that due diligence on candidates must be performed to every extent prior to, or contingent with, an offer. That means interviews with their colleagues, peers, senior peers and other impartial/objective parties are to be given as much, if not more weight and consideration, than those who may be a bit biased as a result of the referral. Another critical aspect of the search relative to checks/balances are references and background checks as a requirement of employment. I have seen a few hiring managers make gut level decisions on candidates, and even extend an offer, without any intention of checking references. About 60-75% of these managers have a track record of making poor hiring decisions. They should have followed the reference process even if it did mean a risk of losing their candidate of choice because of timing or inconvenience. Ultimately, the employee was a spectacularly bad fit, and created headaches (including legal ones) that could have been easily avoided.

Monday, September 20, 2010

In Praise of the Curriculum Vitae

In the U.S., a one to two page resume is still widely considered the ideal length for any professional below the Executive level. But I have challenged this practice many times and advised even staff and junior management candidates to be aware that less is not more, it is opportunity lost. You have less than a minute to grab your reader, why not start with your strengths? Adding a “Professional Highlights” or “Skills & Strengths” section to the top of your resume, using bullets and bold type face, can actually aid the reader by drawing their attention to these criteria and help them to focus. Avoid lengthy and overly descriptive sentences to describe your key strengths. These highlights and details should be bold, clear and customized for each position a candidate is pursuing as it can both direct the reader’s attention and state loudly you have the core requirements for the role. Learning that a candidate enjoys competitive biking or amateur photography, is a semi-professional hockey player or chess master can go a long way to help the candidate connect with the potential hiring manager in advance of the first meeting. More often than not, if a potential employer reading the resume graduated from the same University, or participates in the same recreational pursuits as the resume’s owner, they will be getting a phone call for an interview.

The Curriculum Vitae offers a more detailed and insightful glimpse into the person on the paper. It doesn't hurt to provide a few personal details as long as it puts you in a position of strength. If you're in doubt, here is a recent quote from a client of a local clean tech start-up.

“My former CEO gave me a piece of advice when I began hiring for my start-up. If given the choice between the hungry, accomplished and single young executive, or the married person with two kids, a house and a mortgage, go with the latter. S/he will work that much harder for you because there’s a lot more risk in it for them if it doesn’t work out.” Founder of an early stage clean tech company.

Granted, if you have an opportunity to interview, you'll be able to share a bit more about yourself. But getting the interview is the first challenge. So, how do you offer more information about yourself without looking as though you are padding your resume (adding text but not relevant content, such as networking groups you are no longer an active part of, or your one year of study abroad that is a required part of a degree program). Adding hobbies, interests, or relevant personal trivia to the bottom of your resume tells the reader that you like to keep busy, active and get involved in pursuits outside of work. It can tell them a little bit about your character, too. For example, do you participate competitively in triathlons? Do you skydive on a regular basis? Are you an equestrian and ride fox hunts or cross-country? Great! You are competitive, driven, and you can manage fear while mitigating high risk situations. This would make you a great asset to an early stage company with a controversial new technology, or to an established firm with an aggressive growth plan. What if your interests reflect a more deeply intellectual or creative side, such as founding or participating in an incubator for early stage technologies, or growing rare orchid plants from seed through bloom? The personal traits required to be successful in these endeavors would include strategic planning, long-term commitment and a tremendous amount of patience. These are key attributes for a VP level executive to be successful in any company.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Love what you do what you love what you do what you love....

When you spend 40-60 hours a week in a place that is not your home, and doesn't involve nurturing your relationships with friends and family, hobbies and interests, feeding your soul, sleeping in or taking in all of world’s delights, you better love what you do. If you don’t absolutely love what you do, then a paycheck becomes one of the only consolations you have for working at all. At the same time, don’t ever allow satisfying work get in the way of a satisfying life, that’s a slippery slope that will only let you down in the end. Ok, I’ll carefully step down off my soap box now and tell you a few more misnomers about work:

Myth: You should be 100% certain that this is the right job and offer before accepting.

Fact: You can never be 100% certain that it is the right job until you’ve worked for the company in the role for at least six months. If you’re 100% certain, then either you have on a big pair of rose colored glasses, or you didn’t do your homework on the company or the job. No job is perfect.

Myth: You should have at least two written offers in hand before making a decision

Fact: The offer process rarely works in our favor relative to timing. Some companies take hours to make a decision, others take weeks or months. You need to work with what is real and in hand. Get comfortable with pro and con lists, and use past positions and offers as a comparison to the offer in hand. If you are still uncertain after 24 hours whether this is the offer for you, ask for more time. A week is considered generous. Anything more than that, they may start having doubts about you.

Myth: You need to take 24 hours to think about the offer before making a decision

Fact: If you need to sit down and talk about it with your spouse, friend, adviser, then by all means take the time you need. However, nothing says “I’m sure” like a well-timed phone call to the hiring manager within 12 hours to say “I accept”. If you are hoping to use this time to leverage your other offers, then go back to whether or not you really want the job.

Myth: You need to commit yourself for at least one year to the new employer

Fact: If by the time you have accepted and started the new job, a counter-offer or other offer has been received and it’s the one you really want, better to cut the cord quickly. The reasons have more to do with your new employer than you;

a) There’s a good possibility there were two likely candidates for the position, and the other candidate could have been a great fit and the better match for position, but the hiring manager chose you first because of chemistry or salary fit. Give the company an opportunity to re-fill the position quickly so that they don't have to start the search from scratch.

b) The company can't get back the time and money invested in both the search and training of a new employee. You could save them a little of both by letting them know early that you made a mistake. They’ll likely be unhappy, but at the end of the day, you’re doing everyone (including yourself) a favor. You can also avoid having to put the company/position on your resume if you’ve stayed less than three months, and no need to concern yourself with asking for references either.