Archive for the ‘Hiring Market’ Category

The Competition We Neglect

April 27, 2011

In the gym at 5:00am, I look around and wonder about people’s sense of competition.  Is it me or did that guy with the red trunks and shaved head add an extra 10 pounds to the barbell the other guy just finished lifting in order to outlift his competition?  Did that woman with the iPod strapped to her arm increase her pace on the elliptical now that another equally fit woman got on the machine next to her?  It is a natural part of the human condition to compare oneself to others.  But to what extent and at what cost?

For a hiring manager in this rapidly changing talent market, I can assure you that it’s wise to remain acutely aware of your competition.  That goes without saying.  Sure, there are those head-to-head competitors that play in your space.  But I’m referring to the many other companies that aim to hire the same kinds of individuals you seek.

Granted, you may be a high growth company that’s taking on more new customers than you can count.  And your environment fosters a “do what it takes” mentality, embracing perpetual change (mainly because you haven’t had the time to enact a tangible plan).  The entire management team consists of straight-shooters and they don’t care how long employees work each day, as long as the job gets done.  Then again, each individual is taking on a workload big enough for two.  Candidates are lucky just to gain an interview with you, waiting endlessly for you to come up for air long enough to move forward with a delay-ridden hiring cycle.  Do you really think you can outlift (read outhire) your competitors?

Meanwhile, your most formidable competition boasts of a high growth track as well, but has a balanced, committed plan to help mentor new employees as they get ramped up.  They execute their hiring process with responsiveness, clear communications, and minimal delays – ready to attract and move quickly to hire talented candidates.  They offer a distinct and time-bound career advancement path.  They offer strong benefits combined with a compensation plan that is truly commensurate with the market demands.  They haven’t deluded themselves into believing they’re the only enticing high growth game in town.

In this portrayal, you are your own worst competition.  To be fair, you will attract some candidates.  If you’re lucky, you may even hire a few in spite of yourself.  But what can you do to outhire competing companies?  First, let’s get introspective and think about the candidate experience with your company.  They may see a high flying company, but it’s coming in the context of a scatterbrain dysfunctional hiring process that doesn’t seem to prioritize candidates first…or even pretend to!  And this is just the interviewing phase.  It doesn’t take much forethought for a candidate to extrapolate this out to their potential life as a full-time employee.

When you finally manage to interview a candidate, are you selling them on the opportunity or are you taking a holier-than-thou attitude, in which candidates are expected do all the selling on why they should have the privilege to work for your esteemed company?  A little humility and self-actualization can go a long way to make your company more competitive in a tight hiring market.

Second, let’s compare your offering with that of other companies seeking similar talent.  How does your compensation plan stack up?  Benefits?  Culture?  Advancement opportunities?  Understandably, you may not have your finger on the pulse.  Yet, there are resources available to help gain insight, including recruiters, peer groups, trusted networking contacts, and perhaps your own recent hires.

Candidates are certainly no exception to this competition blind spot.  I’m amazed by the number of candidates that ask me questions ad nauseum about the other candidates interviewing for the same position.  In my book, they don’t lose points for asking such questions.  But if these same candidates put as much concern into the health and well-being of their resumes, grammar in their follow-up thank you emails, quality of their references, and knowledge of interviewing best practices (along with the desire to improve), they wouldn’t need to be so obsessed with other candidates.

My competition at the gym comes in the form of a worn out rotator cuff, bone chips in the elbow, and lifelong asthma.  It reminds me of an adage:  “You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.”  I’ll take it one step further.  Since we tend to be our own worst enemies, there’s no better sparring partner than ourselves.  Whether a hiring executive or candidate, the next time you experience an unfavorable interview result, take a closer look at your most nightmarish competitor.  Hold up a mirror.

Action Items:

1.  We are our own worst enemies.  This applies to companies as well – in particular their challenge to attract and hire top talent.  Improvement starts by looking inward and seeking counsel from those who have their finger on the talent market pulse.

2.  Competition comes in many forms.  Become aware of them all.

3.  Don’t start by trying to outdo others at the gym.  After all, there will always be someone who is stronger or faster.  Sure, you can become aware of those around you for comparative purposes.  But focus on yourself first.  You are your own best sparring partner.

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Where Have All the Good Candidates Gone?

January 26, 2011

While 2011 holds promise for an economic engine that has largely sputtered and stalled, a noteworthy oddity has taken shape.  Granted, the job market’s temperature has inched up a few degrees.  The number of open positions has slowly increased over the past year.  Both recruiters and candidates have noted the recent pick-up in activity.  Green lights down the boulevard, right?

Not quite.  We seem to have arrived at an inflection point.  Hiring companies still operate under the belief it is their hiring world to rule.  In a job description, if there are ten check boxes to be checked off, they will only consider candidates with eleven.  Either that or they are seeking the proverbial “purple squirrel,” a candidate with a highly specific (and unrealistic) combination of credentials that very few individuals, if any, fully embody.  Searches that should take 8 weeks are taking 6 months.  This leads to many hiring companies getting frustrated and falling behind on their hiring objectives, which in turn, adversely affects their business results.

Meanwhile, many top candidates have taken themselves off the market.  Either they recently changed positions and won’t consider new opportunities so soon afterward, or they’ve continued to hunker down with their current employer and partake in that devil-you-know dance craze that has taken the world by storm during this economic downturn.  Perhaps candidates are feeling jaded with the relentless onslaught of less than qualified job opportunities – “We’ve been looking for entrepreneurial people just like you to come join the exciting world of franchise operations.”

There certainly are good quality candidates on the market.  Some may not have been discovered quite yet.  Perhaps their networks aren’t well-established enough to work in their favor.  Others are good candidates hiding behind deplorable resumes, minimal online information, and interview skills that elicit from the interviewer an unspoken, “They didn’t just say that, did they?”

That brings us to this inflection point.  Hiring companies continue to set the prerequisites bar astronomically high and because they believe they’re in the driver’s seat, aren’t doing enough to attract top talent.  Candidates either don’t want to entertain a move at this time or don’t know how to effectively present themselves for a successful move.  Never the twain shall meet.

Then again, something’s got to give.  Who blinks first?  Growing companies, whose primary bottleneck is the lack of headcount horsepower needed to fuel their next growth phase?  Candidates, who get fed up with mediocrity – either with their current employer or their own interviewing prowess?

Why wait for the other side to do something?  That sputtering economic engine needs some higher octane now.  Where have all the good candidates gone?  Thanks to both sides of the fence, not very far.

Action Items:

1.  As a hiring company, your competition isn’t just the companies that play in your space.  It’s every company that finds ways to make their open positions more attractive to the candidates you seek.

2.  Naturally, a company can hold out for the “perfect” candidate.  But given the inherent delays, at what opportunity cost?

3.  Candidates shouldn’t downplay the importance of their own brand and all the elements that make up and support that brand.  Your resume, LinkedIn presence, network’s health and well-being, and interviewing skills all play a monumental role in your brand’s strength and attractiveness.

4.  Everyone, candidates and hiring companies alike, should always be selling.

A Deceptive Pendulum

July 28, 2010

I’m asked about the state of the job market on a regular basis.  The Great Carnac I am not.  However, as we embark upon the second half of 2010, I have witnessed several common themes that merit reflection.  And while it’s premature to call these themes a trend, there certainly have been several noticeable undercurrents worthy of discussion.

Hiring companies continue to believe that it’s their market.  Given the “jobless recovery,” with millions of unemployed candidates and even more underemployed, many employers continue to act with an air of control and superiority.  They compile prerequisite intensive job specifications that reduce the potentially qualified talent pool to the population of Antarctica.  They don’t manage their interview cycle with a perpetual sense of urgency, delaying the process unnecessarily while keeping candidates in the dark.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear it was early 2009.

Yes, the job market pendulum did swing to the extreme and clearly, we’re still feeling the fallout.  With the economic downturn came a highly fickle job market.  There are still few quality positions to be had.  But meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, the gainfully employed have taken just as much a hunker down mentality as their squeamish employers.  And to this day, as job openings appear to slowly rebound, both candidates and hiring executives alike are still suffering from their 2009 hangovers.

Fewer candidates are willing to make a move while many long-term unemployed have all but given up hope in continuing with their interrupted career path.  Meanwhile, hiring companies continue to function as though they can have the pick of the litter, only to be gravely disappointed to find fewer qualified candidates willing to engage with them.  As these hiring organizations act with such hubris, their over-the-top pickiness and lack of expediency throughout the interview cycle is coming back to bite them.

Anecdotally, I’m seeing a pick-up in competition for qualified candidates.  Thus, those hiring companies whose openings are weighed down with endless candidate qualifications combined with hiring processes that run counter to the agile and high growth entities they proclaim to be, lose.  And they’re not just losing out on quality candidates.  They’re losing out on meeting their business objectives because now their hiring plan is falling behind.

Of course, each person’s perception of the current job market will differ widely.  Even in a strong economic climate, there are many struggling unemployed individuals.  On the other hand, even in the worst of times, you’ll find candidates who get scooped up like ice cream on a 100-degree day.  It may depend on the domain, discipline, geography, and position level.

Pendulums never stop.  And it’s virtually impossible to see the change in direction as it’s happening.  Momentum is ever-changing.  My take is that we’re caught in a transitional state, where both candidates and hiring executives are acting with apprehension and dysfunction.  How do we all move beyond this state of betwixt and between?  Both sides of the fence must strive for momentum, open-mindedness, and clear rational thinking.  Where is the pendulum?  Not sure.  Yet, one thing is for sure:  it’s moving.

Action items:

1.  As a hiring executive, it behooves you to run your hiring practice consistently, with the understanding that holding out for the elusive perfect candidate carries a discernible opportunity cost.

2.  By the time you react to the market conditions, it may be too late as the pendulum is constantly moving.

3.  The job market can be similar to the stock market in that those involved tend to act on emotions and market sentiment rather than with clear pragmatic thinking.

Transitions in an Unforgiving Climate

April 22, 2010

Combined with recruitment, I also provide candidates with professional resume writing services and career coaching.  More than ever, I’m finding that candidates are facing the prospects of career transition head on.  As you can imagine, this challenging economic period has a way of encouraging many folks to do some serious soul searching.  Whether by our own volition or a compelling event, introspection is not something we engage in regularly.  After all, we’re just too busy.

This go-around, however, seems different.  I’m coming across many good talented people with solid career track records who are considering this period as a necessary (albeit rude) awakening.  We’re not getting any younger and life’s not getting any longer.  Almost suddenly, we’re stopped in our tracks to ponder the possibility of other more fulfilling roads to take.  Just as some theologians have stated over the past decade that we as a society are spiritually bankrupt, perhaps the current economic storm has for some, brought to light an unavoidable sense of career fulfillment insolvency.

Granted, we all need to make money and provide for ourselves and our loved ones.  Yet, in doing so, our careers become inextricably intertwined with our identities and sense of purpose.  Such a time as this, a great many of us are assessing the road we’ve walked and asking ourselves, “Is this really the best road for me, and if not, what are my plausible options?”  People are questioning their presumed priorities and recalibrating what’s truly important to them.

To be certain, talented individuals are lacking in career passion and purpose.  For a number of reasons, priorities are shifting – perhaps a little less about materials and a bit more on personal fulfillment.  People want more out of life and this economic downturn has demonstrated that all the things we thought we needed are nice to have, but not necessarily sources of sustained gratification.  As Coco Chanel put it, “There are people who have money people who are rich.”

With this in mind, a number of people are now yearning for a career transition.  It’s been a long standing belief that a downturn is the opportune time to start up a new business.  But what if you’re looking to work for another company AND in a different capacity?  No doubt, this current market presents several significant obstacles to overcome.

First, there continues to be a dearth of viable full-time positions available.  Secondly, the positions that are available are being pursued by multitudes of others who already have domain experience in that field.  To make matters worse, employers are capitalizing on this unbalanced market by pumping up job descriptions with a bevy of qualifications, some of which are completely unnecessary to be successful in the role.  If there are ten check boxes under requirements, eleven must be checked off just to be considered for the role.  Joe Keohane’s recent article humorously depicts this absurd phenomenon:   http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/04/21/wanted_employee_with_ridiculously_high_qualifications/

With this uphill battle ahead, how do you move forward with a successful career transition?  To begin with, your brand’s messaging needs to be tweaked.  You have a great story to tell, yet it has to make sense to a hiring executive.  For example, you’re an attorney who wants to go into sales.  Great!  Now what?  Submit your resume for every sales position out there until someone gives you a shot?  Instead, let’s put some focus into the process and at the same time, craft the messaging to better position you for such a career shift.

Your story needs to substantiate your readiness for a sales position.  As an attorney, you were solely responsible for business development.  You successfully brought on more new clients than anyone else in the firm.  At the same time, you love technology and have been an avid user and early adopter of time and billing software, legal research software, document management software, and other technology solutions.  In fact, based on your real world expertise, you have even influenced other law firms in their technology purchasing decisions.

Combining your firsthand knowledge of law and how law firms function, with your proven ability to acquire new business, and a thirst for technology enabled solutions, you could make a case for a sales career in a software company that targets the legal vertical.  Next step, research software companies that play in the legal vertical and leverage your network to gain informational meetings with C- and VP-level contacts.

All of this is well and good, provided that hiring executives are open to hiring “non-traditional” candidates.  Again, making a career transition will not be a walk in the park.  It involves research, positioning, and networking.  But the more compelling your brand and story, the more doors will open for you.

Action Items

1.  Map out your strengths/interests and try to dovetail some or all of them together to formulate potential new career directions.

2.  The story behind your proposed career transition has to make sense.  Back it up with compelling examples and enthusiasm.

3.  Emphasize specifically how your differentiation as a candidate will lead to a positive business impact with your prospective employer.

It’s a Wonderful Career

December 25, 2008

In my first job out of college, my boss stated emphatically that only under adverse conditions do we see what people are made of.  We’ve all heard some variation on this theme before.  In this light, what decisions do we make when times are tough?  How do we persevere and keep life’s unexpected twists and turns, downfalls, and seemingly insurmountable challenges from getting the best of us?

At this time of the year, I always watch the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Though dated and hokey at times, this movie contains some timeless pearls of wisdom about taking on life’s trials and tribulations.  Whether you’re a struggling business leader, a resource constrained hiring manager, or a relentlessly searching candidate, there’s a bit of George Bailey in all of us.  I believe there are many insights that can be gleaned from this character.

For starters, there’s much that’s beyond our control.  In the movie, there is the unexpected death of George’s father, a run on his savings and loan, a heartless nemesis in the form of Mr. Potter, and Uncle Billy’s carelessly misplaced bank deposit.  All of these challenges happen despite George’s best laid plans.  If I had to sum up George’s life, and for that matter, life in general, in one word, it would be “Circuitous.”  In difficult times, a sense of losing control of matters can become far more pervasive and overwhelming.  We certainly witness that downward spiral with George Bailey, culminating with an all-consuming embittered feeling of life gone astray combined with utter hopelessness.

Despite the lack of full control over our endeavors, in times of adversity, we simply cannot afford to lose hope.  I met a consultant last week who, in the context of discussing the many socio-economic challenges these unprecedented times bring, viewed these critical days, weeks, and months ahead as an opportunity we must seize to prepare for the next upturn.  So, what can we do to get through these tough times with such a healthy outlook?

This isn’t so much about putting on the rose colored glasses and trying to fool ourselves.  But rather, identify any and all opportunities, however small, and formulate ways to incorporate them in the next steps we take.  It’s maintaining the hope needed to avert a fall into the depths of despair.  And something George Bailey could have done much more of – letting your friends, family, colleagues, and network know what you’re trying to accomplish and ask for help.  Naturally, if people know what you’re trying to do, they’re more likely to help you.  Besides, it doesn’t take a heartwarming holiday to elicit thoughtfulness and help.  Humanity is not just a fair weather friend.  It’s part of the human condition to want to help others, Mr. Potter notwithstanding.

This is also an ideal time to get introspective and put some thought into the path you’re on.  Are there other decisions you can make?  Could trying a new idea on for size help you determine the efficacy of your current direction?  Is there another perspective you can take on your current situation?  And, of course, take a moment to look back at all you’ve accomplished.  After all, we all could use a confidence booster to help us get through tough times.  Don’t forget how you overcame adversity in the past.  As my mother points out, life is like a wheel – at times you’re headed downward, but invariably you’ll turn back up.  I suppose that if a wonderful career were wonderful all the time, perhaps we wouldn’t appreciate all we had to endure, improve, and rectify to get there.

Action Items:

*  Tell people what you’re looking to do – to gain feedback and help

*  Although the paths you take may be a circuitous in nature, if you continue to focus on your high level objectives, they invariably will lead to you to a place that works for you

*  Get introspective and take an honest look at your direction.  Are there opportunities or new paths right in front of you to consider?

*  Don’t forget how far you’ve come.

*  Keep the faith.  Without hope, what’s the point?