Monday, June 22, 2009

Economy's Effect on Your Staffing?

Please take my Linked-In poll on how the economy has effected your staffing:

Job Hunting Tip #5: Explaining Job Changes

Many job seekers make the mistake of talking negatively about a previous employer, and it is very important to be positive on this topic. When I interview people, I ask them in several different ways to tell why they’d be interested in making a change: What is the ideal job for you? What’s missing at your current job? What needs to be different?

Most of the answers I get revolve around new challenges, a company that is positioned better for growth, the usual. BUT, almost every week, I get one or two people who absolutely tear down their current employer, telling me all the things wrong with the environment, why their boss isn’t a good leader; on and on. Interestingly, I also get overly negative explanations about previous job changes.

Since many of these people are actually really good candidates, I end up coaching them on how to better describe why you want to make a change. Here are some rules:

Every negative can be turned into a positive. Think yin /yang. What is the flip side, the reframe of the negative aspect of your employment? If you think your company is moving too slowly, you say you want a faster paced environment. If you think your boss is poor at giving direction, you say you want a leader who makes it clear what your objectives are, so you have a define path to achieving the goal.

Two sentences is enough. One to describe the circumstances (“I’ve decided to move on; there was a 50-person RIF,” etc.), and one sentence that is forward-looking (“I would like ------------- in my next position).

Show Class. If the interviewer hears you saying negative things, he or she can assume that someday you’ll be saying similar things about him or her. Show some class, and model the behavior you want them to expect from you in the future.

Talk about the future. It is human nature to dig in dirt, gossip, look for the sensational aspects that are fun to discuss. Don’t give in to the temptation. Don’t let a skilled interviewer trap you into “dishing” about all the reasons you are unhappy, only to surprise you with a rejection. Move the conversation to how your capabilities are going to add value to the new employer.

An “A” Player just doesn’t have anything bad to say about a current or past employer! Why would they?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gr7 Communication

The majority of high level candidates we talk to these days communicate exclusively by cell phone. With all the advancements in modern technology, I am astonished that so many people rely exclusively on cell phones for communication. The connections can be so poor that it seems like we’ve gone back to tin cups and string.

Dan Neil has a great article in the LA Times Business Section today about cultural language innovations, and how even verbal communication is going away, with people texting each other instead of talking. Try Googling texting dictionary and see the amazing number of responses that can educate you on text shorthand.

UCLA Professor Emeritus Albert Mehrabian did a famous study of communication that revealed 55% of human communication is non-verbal (body language, facial expression), 38% is sound – (tone, inflection, pacing, volume, etc.), and only 7% of in-person communication is content. Extending this theory, when we text, we only send 7% of our communicative ability.

With people getting busier and busier, it is harder to meet people in person, and sometimes even to get people on the phone. I’m a little concerned that over the next generation we will lose some of our abilities to communicate effectively.

Dan Neil points out in his article that Gr8 is texting shorthand for Great, and if something is only pretty good, but not great, people will text “Gr7.” I love that! We are creating word formations that are specifically meant not to ever be spoken, but only texted! That’s so Gr1. In case you didn't get that I am joking, I was only able to send you 7% of my communication!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Overqualified Candidates

Is the term “overqualified” code for too old, or too expensive? Should an employer be wary of hiring overqualified people? The answer to both is sometimes.

Overqualified truly means a person who possesses skills way beyond what is required to do the job, AND the job being considered represents a step down for the person.

There are a few valid reasons why an overqualified person could safely be hired and could do a good job. A lifestyle change could be valid – kids at home (or elderly relative) who need attention; spouse moved for a new job with much higher pay; person is recovering from injury or other trauma. Cash infusion could be another valid reason: a recent cash-out at prior company (stock option redemption or exit package) or even an inheritance, could cause a person to think “I could afford to throttle back a notch for a while.”

If a company simply desires a younger worker, and in comparing skills, rules out a baby boomer in favor of a Gen-Y’er when both are equally qualified and would cost the same, that is simple age discrimination, and I think it is wrong. I’ve seen baby boomers do an outstanding job, leveraging their stronger experience, and yet not demand or expect as much as some of today’s younger workers.

When cost is a factor, a company is justified in hiring the least expensive person they feel can do the job, and that does not represent age discrimination, in my opinion.

The one real issue with overqualified candidates is whether they will stay. When a person steps down a level, and takes less pay, there is a real risk they will be vulnerable to recruiters, or will even seek another opportunity, seeing your position as only a stop-gap, or a way station on the path to something better. We ask candidates directly, “Why wouldn’t you make a move next year if a higher paying more responsible position became available?” If a candidate doesn’t have a really solid answer to this question – they are overqualified, and then I wouldn’t recommend the hire.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hiring Better Than Yourself

Many hiring experts advocate hiring people with greater capability than yourself, as a way of growing your department, company, even yourself. Yet, in 25 years of headhunting, I’ve seen many high level executives be intimidated by the real go-getters. The one word feedback I sometimes get after submitting an “A+” player is “arrogant.” Yet, I have often perceived the candidate as “very confident” a trait you’d expect in a top performer, but not arrogant. Google turns up over 7 million hits to the string “hiring AND ‘better than yourself’”, and one of those is a three-year old piece by Guy Kawasaki. I agree with just about everything Guy says in this piece on recruiting from January, 2006.

To hire below yourself, and/or not hire complementary skill sets to your own – filling in around your shortcomings – immediately positions you to NOT be an “A” player yourself. Leaders know that having the best around them will almost always pay off, and they are willing to take a leap to get the “A+” person. I think this is a critical ingredient to being a good leader.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What I Learned Growing Up in a Bronx Housing Project

One of the great ironies of the last few weeks is that while my Harvard-educated wife (BA and JD) had classmate acquaintances on the short list for the Supreme Court nominees, the ultimate nominee, Yale-educated Sonia Sotomayor was someone with whom I actually had a special connection: she and I both grew up in the same Bronxdale Housing Project at the same time.

At that time, in the 50’s, many of us saw the move to the new “Projects” as a step up. My family came from a tiny 2 room basement flat, and I saw our 6th floor Watson Ave. apartment as heaven! We got to play on new monkey bars and swings on the concrete play area – the grass was chained off - but it was better than playing in the street. Sonia has spoken to the media on how her upbringing informed her adulthood and her court decisions. Here’s a bit of what I learned:

No to Prejudice:
The projects were a melting pot, and at my level (kids), we were indeed all equal. I developed first hand the evidence to reject the shocking and hateful first generation American xenophobia and bigotry that I heard from my parents and their friends. When you are taught “filters”, trying to be completely egalitarian is work, but it is worth it!

No to Elitism: The people I went to school with who dressed better, my cousins whose families owned houses, weren’t better than me. Poor is as poor does (to paraphrase Forrest Gump). We all put our pants on one leg at a time. This has helped me to never be intimidated in business.

Work Pays: People who worked hard moved up. I got my first job at age 11, working in a butcher shop (probably illegal), and the day I turned 12 I signed up to deliver the NY Post, a much classier and cleaner job! I always had money in my pocket that I earned, and the resulting work ethic has served me well.

Direct Communication: In my neighborhood, no one tiptoed around the outside edges; we didn’t invest too much time in “being polite.” We told it like it was; recognizing that there were consequences (but also much value) from being candid. I call the result of this learning “Bullseye Communication.”

Attitude is Everything: I’ve quoted Victor Frankl before, who famously said, “Everything can be taken away from a man except the last of human freedoms, the freedom to chose one’s own attitude.” Thinking As If you will succeed goes a long way to ensuring success. Just from looking around and seeing what worked and what didn’t work, I knew I’d go to college and be a professional, even before I got to the 6th grade.

I’m proud to have grown up in Bronxdale, and in other poor neighborhoods in the Bronx, and to have learned from the experiences. I do think those experiences are valuable in a Supreme Court justice too! Growing up poor, living in a diverse community and having first hand knowledge of the struggles and triumphs of those striving to emerge from poverty is indeed valuable, in any profession or way of life. For me, one significant result is that I can appreciate the little changes that happen for people, in their career especially, that can have a profound impact. Often I have the chance to help those changes along, and I value those contributions all the more.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Needs and Wants

A key hiring goal for most companies is to feel safe and secure that they’ve made a good choice – they’ve selected someone who will fit in, will perform well, and have a positive impact. In order to satisfy the need to feel “safe” about a hire, some employers load up a laundry list of skills and experiences and label them “must have” or “required”. In some cases, these are legitimate, such as an in-the-trenches, hands-on technical hire. But, in many cases, the line is blurred between “needs” and “wants”. These even goes to things like location. We had a client who indicated that the candidate “must” live in a certain city. Yet the new hire would be traveling 80% between 4 cities in the region. We advocated flexibility in location, which more than doubled the pool of talent that could be considered, since many did not want to move to the primary location.

We encourage employers to sharpen the line, to distinguish clearly between required skills and attributes, and those that are desirable or a plus. Then, the key way to feel safe in hiring is to establish clear, precise, specific performance objectives, and screen the candidate to their ability to produce the critical results.

Be careful not to “need” so much that really capable people are ruled out. Establish a better way to feel safe about the hire.
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