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.