Archive for the ‘Job Hunting’ Category

Age Discrimination — Not Part of a Sustainable Growth Strategy

March 31, 2015

Age discrimination is alive and well. There. I said it. Believe it or not, there is a law against this sort of practice. Yet, by and large, it goes undetected and unenforced. It reminds me of that FCC law that went into effect several years ago, prohibiting TV programs from broadcasting commercials at a louder volume than the program itself. A lot of good that did. I’m finding myself doing what my grandpa did when I was a kid – mute the commercials.

I wish I could mute the hiring executives who insist on hiring sales reps or marketing managers younger than 40. What’s the matter with prospective employees who are 40 or older? Is 40 when the warranty expires? Is it akin to pro football or baseball, in which many players over 30 are deemed high-risk damaged goods?

Let’s step back and look at some of the misguided reasons why hiring companies continue to engage in age discrimination.

  1. Concerns over cultural fit — I was told that the average age at my software company client’s headquarters is 29. Well, of course, we all know that it’s impossible for a 48-year-old to fit in, thrive, and interact constructively amongst younger peers. Unbelievable! Every sales organization I’ve ever managed included a healthy mix of twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, forty-somethings, fifty-somethings, and some with sixty-somethings. Not only did they all manage to play nice in the sandbox together, but they all brought to the table a fresh blend of perspectives, insight and recommendations. And yes, they all performed equally well.
  1. Concerns of being overqualified – Oh no, we don’t dare hire people with rich experience and wisdom! This concern is usually code for, “Your 50-year-old candidate may be highly qualified for the role, but he’s bound not to be coachable and will likely bring plenty of baggage, including all his nasty habits ingrained over the years.” It seems as though these hiring executives prefer a subservient, moldable ball of clay over a fine wine. The other reason for this concern stems from hiring executives’ belief that no one in their 40s or 50s would really want to pursue the position and stay in it. Funny thing, though – most 40- and 50-year-old candidates have demonstrated more longevity and loyalty in the roles they’ve taken than their millennial counterparts ever will.
  1. Prefer a high-energy up-and-comer athlete over someone on the downslope of their career – Because as we all know, older professionals are devoid of energy, drive, enthusiasm, and the ability to perform. What are we talking about here…ED? Do we really need to invent Viagra for Salespeople? Well, guess what – the person on the “downslope of their career” has just as much to prove (and gain) as the proverbial up-and-comer.
  1. Older candidates inherently have greater demands both inside (i.e., higher compensation) and outside of the workplace (e.g., caring for an elderly parent as well as kids). Well, actually, we all have demands that pull us in conflicting directions at any given time. That’s life. As for compensation, perhaps older candidates are at a different place in their life. Maybe their kids are done with college and the mortgage has since been paid off. That doesn’t preclude them from wanting to make as much money as possible, but it could mean that their priorities have shifted a bit — more interested in the role, company or industry instead of just focusing on the base and OTE. Last time I checked, this can be a good thing.
  1. Older candidates don’t bring the same level of career focus – In other words, because professionals who have been around the block have ostensibly accumulated a greater breadth of roles or permutations of the role in question, they are deemed less desirable. Granted, some “seasoned” candidates bring this upon themselves by emphasizing how they’ve done this, that, and everything else…for over 20 years. They’re trying to be all things to all people. Yet, hiring managers are equally prone to dinging candidates for keeping to the same kind of role throughout their career. They would be viewed as complacent — not seeking advancement or developing themselves beyond their comfort zone.

The current demographic shift in the U.S. population is quite dramatic. As baby-boomers hit their 50s and 60s, there aren’t as many qualified candidates in the more recent generations to continue fueling the hiring and growth objectives that employers seek to attain. That’s not to say that there aren’t viable candidates in their 20s or 30s. Oh, they’re around, all right. But in this highly candidate-driven talent market, they’ve become a hyper prized and increasingly expensive commodity. They’re expensive in two ways. First, all this attention to younger candidates has driven up their comp levels, in some cases to egregious levels not commensurate with skills, experience, or performance track record. They’re also expensive because as hiring companies hold out for that perfect up-and-comer, there’s an opportunity cost for taking four months to fill the role instead of just one.

Companies whose aim is to build their organizations with younger, mirror-image people of the same ilk are bound to compromise the sustainability of their growth plans. Not only will it take longer achieve their goals, putting them behind on their hiring objectives, but they will end up with homogenous groups of people who could never learn as much from one another as they could from a more diverse grouping of experience and skill sets. Yes, age discrimination is alive and well. Yet, it is the very companies that continue to practice age discrimination that end up suffering as much, if not more than those they discriminate against.

 

Action items:

  1. It’s the same 50- or 60-year-old C-level executives, who would be (justifiably) appalled to be discriminated against for their age, who are leading organizations that routinely engage in discriminatory hiring practices. Stop the hypocrisy!
  1. If you will not hire an older person because of concerns over the cultural fit, then it’s high time to reassess your culture.
  1. Attention older candidates: You’re not doing yourself any favors by using terms such as “seasoned” or “25 years’ experience.” In addition, you may have taken on a wide variety of roles throughout your career, but don’t forget to tailor the resume and your speaking points in an interview to the position you are vying for.
  1. “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln
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What do the New England Patriots Offensive Line, Candidates and Hiring Managers Have in Common?

September 23, 2014

Despite their respectable 2-1 record to start the season, the New England Patriots are struggling. There are several key reasons for their sputtering offense. Some point to Tom Brady’s age and declining abilities. Others point to his less than stellar stable of pass receivers. Many point to the offensive line and their inability to consistently and cohesively provide Brady with adequate protection.

It’s hard not to agree with the offensive line issue, yet there may be a reason behind the reason. Gone are the Patriots’ long-time offensive line guru and coach, Dante Scarnecchia and six-time Pro Bowl veteran lineman Logan Mankins. Granted, Mankins is entering elder-statesman status as a 32-year-old and has likely lost a step or two. However, there’s something both Scarnecchia and Mankins brought to the offensive line that is not easily replaced: mentorship.

Ok, enough with the sports reference as I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The point, however, is there are people in our lives who provide immense inspiration, guidance and influence. One of the strongest, most valuable and often overlooked forces is that of mentors. And sometimes, as in the case of the Patriots’ current plight, we don’t realize the full impact of mentors until they’re gone.

Some of the brightest and most impressive people I’ve met are those who all along, have sought out and continue to seek out mentors. So what does this have to do with candidates, hiring managers and the hiring process? Quite a bit.

Candidates’ motivations for making career moves span across a broad spectrum, from compensation to company culture, and product to profitability. All these impetuses are important and deserve respect and attention. Yet, when a candidate includes the yearning for greater mentorship, my ears perk up. This alone speaks to several important intangible attributes that hiring managers ought to prioritize: coachability, sense of initiative, resourcefulness, self-awareness, and self-development.

These candidates get it. They understand that as people’s careers progress, they themselves need to evolve as well. They appreciate how learning doesn’t stop with school and that the day someone thinks they’ve attained the pinnacle of knowledge and vision, they’ve lost their edge.

For hiring managers, mentorship ought to take on multiple connotations. First, they should tune in to candidates’ interest in and drive for mentoring as it speaks to thought processes, priorities, and a variety of intangible attributes. Secondly, as part of the onboarding process for new hires, some sort of an assigned mentor program would likely produce a number of benefits for all involved. Most notably, it would spark an expedited employee ramp-up period as well as send a strong message to the employee that their new employer truly values them and cares about their behalf. Taking it to the next logical step, ongoing mentoring programs within companies can bolster both job satisfaction and employee retention.

Specific to the job search, interviewing and hiring processes, both candidates and hiring managers can help themselves by seeking out mentors. Candidates can rely on former managers, colleagues, career coaches, and trusted recruiters to provide helpful job hunting, interviewing and career direction guidance. Similarly, hiring managers should turn to other hiring managers, colleagues and trusted recruiters for interviewing, candidate selection and offer negotiations advice.

Just as the Patriots’ offensive line contends with different scenarios and unique challenges on every play, no two hiring processes are the same. There are simply way too many variables involved to make it predictable and cookie cutter. Thus, candidates and hiring managers can greatly benefit from relying on others’ perspectives to help them navigate through the many nuances found in every resume, interview and offer situation.

For multiple reasons and countless circumstances, mentorship should be on the forefront of every candidate and hiring manager. As for the Patriots, perhaps some mentorship from Matt Light and John Hannah couldn’t hurt.

 

Action items:

  1. For candidates, proactively seek out coaches who can help you optimize the development of your career. Be prepared to discuss with hiring managers how you’ve sought out mentoring along the way and how you’ve integrated mentors’ advice into your approach.
  1. If candidates don’t bring it up, hiring managers should ask candidates about mentors and specifically how they benefitted from them.
  1. If anyone knows of a stellar, stout offensive lineman in need of a job, please give Bill Belichick a call.

The Road to Networking Roadblocks

November 27, 2013

Everyone talks about the power of networking.  It’s pervasive in many facets of our society, and with the addition of online resources, has gone into overdrive.  No matter what motivates us to network, we must do it.  Too bad there aren’t college courses on networking as they just might prove to be more relevant to the real working world than “How to Watch Television” (Montclair State University), “Getting Dressed” (Princeton) or “What If Harry Potter Is Real?” (Appalachian State University).

What kind of networker are you?  If Woody Allen is correct, and 80% of life is just showing up, then perhaps you don’t need to be the world’s most prolific networker.  In this Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter riddled world in which we all show up, the real question is to what extent do you enable and promote networking?

Last month, I found a highly qualified candidate for one of my searches.  Looking forward to having a discussion with her regarding this career opportunity, I went to her LinkedIn profile.  Lo and behold, I was dismayed to see that she didn’t allow for any contact.  So I had to some heavier lifting and found other means to reach her.

Sure enough, she was quite interested in new career opportunities.  After conducting a phone interview with this candidate and receiving her updated resume, I moved ahead with presenting her to my client company.  She’s now in the throes of the interview process with them.

Just yesterday, I was contacted by a highly accomplished C-level executive who just left his position and is now actively seeking his next move.  Once again, in perusing his LinkedIn profile, I see that he does not allow for any correspondence.

Similarly, I found what I thought might be a potentially strong candidate on The Ladders.  This candidate didn’t upload his resume or even provide a general overview along with his contact info.  What’s going on here?

One can only surmise that people who go to the trouble of establishing a presence on a business networking site would enable networking opportunities.  Similarly, on a career site, where you’ve already given your name and current position, why would you inhibit potential contact?

On the surface, disabling contact due to concerns over protecting one’s current job may seem plausible.  After all, you don’t want to give your current employer any signs that you’re looking to fly the coop.  Yet, given LinkedIn’s ubiquitous state as the de facto business networking standard, the issue of concealing intentions has all but dissipated.  Even if your employer has too much time on their hands and resorts to scanning employees’ LinkedIn profiles to see what kinds of contact they’re amenable to (the default being all kinds, by the way), what can they prove?  Besides, being contacted by fiendish recruiters like me to discuss career opportunities with arch rivals or companies in tangential spaces can be considered to be pertinent and potentially valuable market intelligence.

At nearly every networking event I attend, I meet handfuls of interesting people.  Invariably, at least one out of ten has mysteriously “run out” of business cards.  How can that be?  Amazing what can happen if you pack three measly business cards to bring with you!  And no, networking neophytes aren’t the primary offenders as this syndrome seems to occur more with seasoned mid-level professionals on up. Perhaps these folks don’t intend to give off an air of networking being beneath them.  But it’s either that or an utter lack of planning, forethought and organization skills.  Whatever the case, it doesn’t reflect favorably.

No matter your impetus for establishing and maintaining a networking presence — online or in person, it behooves you to treat every potential networking opportunity as valuable.  I’ve learned over the years that by taking an extra few minutes to engage with someone new or to introduce people to each other for mutually beneficial purposes, I’ve planted seeds more times than I can account for.  These seeds have sprouted into happenings I never would have anticipated – new business, new friendship, new mentoring, new support…even a new career.  The point is if you’re going to merge onto the networking road, be prepared to drive.  And make networking occur because of your efforts, not in spite of them.

Action items:

1.  Networking is less about being good at it and more about being open to it, committing to it on an ongoing basis and fully enabling it.

2.  Double-check all of your online networking settings and ensure that people can contact you.  Giving the wrong impression about your networking interests, combined with being prone to spam, are fair concerns.  But unless you’re a candidate for the Witness Protection Program, the long term benefits of being an open networker outweigh any potential short term drawbacks.

3.  If you block the road, then you’re blocking everyone, including potential visitors that you would wholeheartedly welcome.  And those visitors just might come bearing gifts.

Averting Risk Can Be a Risky Proposition

May 23, 2013

In just the last month, I’ve heard the word “risk” uttered more times than when years ago, I divulged to my parents my decision to leave a safe and well-respected university to attend music school.  When it comes to risk, some candidates have a visceral response akin to skydiving against their will.  Granted, skydiving isn’t for everyone (although I can’t wait for my next jump), yet when it comes to career and hiring decisions, why the sudden onslaught of gut-rumbling trepidation?

Of course, every situation is different.  People perceive risk in different terms and for different reasons.  However, it may help to list some of the common risk aversion decisions I’ve seen of late.  Although hiring managers are just as likely to fall into this risk aversion trap, let’s focus for the time being on candidates.

  • The company is too small
  • The company hasn’t established a long enough track record
  • Not familiar enough with the company’s space
  • Existing employer is far from perfect, but at least their foibles and shortcomings are well-known
  • With a couple of back-to-back short stints on the résumé, need to remain in current role for awhile

Generally these risk aversion points speak to underlying issues that touch upon people’s deep-rooted insecurities.  For example, a small company can be just as viable and offer greater innovation, agility, growth and advancement prospects.  Yet, a candidate may succumb to the fears associated with entrusting an earlier-stage company to successfully execute on its vision and business plan.

Many of these candidates seek stability — whatever that means in this day and age.  Perhaps they just bought a home, had a baby or got married.  Funny enough, it’s the large stalwart companies that are more apt to eliminate thousands of jobs at the drop of a hat.  It’s the larger companies that are more likely to keep you stuck in the siloed role you’re so good at.  As is so often the case, no good deed goes unpunished.

A Candidate who tells me that they’re not familiar enough with the space in which the company plays, truly mystifies me.  A highly innovative company, which endeavors to carve out a well-differentiated position in the market, is going to appear foreign to nearly everyone.  Are these candidates seeking “safe innovation?”  There’s an oxymoron if I ever saw one!

All innovation carries inherent risk.  All innovation charters a course along uncharted waters.  Yet, without innovation, business (let alone our economy) would become stagnant.  I wonder if some of these candidates question their own ability to understand, embrace, and gain command in a new area.  And besides, what else are these candidates going to do with their career track?  Cross the road just to work for a similar company in a similar space?

In the same vein, many candidates relate all the reasons why they’re fed up with their current employer, only to decide to “stick it out.”   Why?  Because at least they know the problems and idiosyncrasies they must contend with.  It’s the old devil-you-know syndrome.  Once again, when the rubber meets the road, many candidates bag out, opting for the safety of their mediocre familiarity.  But how safe (and fulfilling) is it?  It reminds me of a saying.  To paraphrase:  wherever you currently are, that’s your comfort zone.  Wherever you’re not, that’s where the magic happens.

Understandably, some candidates become queasy over the prospect of adding another short stint to their résumé.  While I appreciate the concern, why let this be the reason to become imprisoned for the next one to two years at a company that’s not providing as much career fulfillment as other exciting companies out there?  Last time I checked, life is way too short for this thought process.  Moreover, given the tumultuous economic environment over the last several years, most candidates have endured at least one, if not several, short stints.  And yes, the fear of joining yet another company that doesn’t work out long term makes candidates think twice.

When considering the risk of making a career move, it is equally important to take into account the risk in not accepting the opportunity.  It is vitally important to ask yourself several key questions:  What am I passing up?  What real safety is there in staying put?  How much safer is it to join a bigger, more established company?

Every move – or non-move for that matter, carries inherent risk.  There are no guarantees.  Despite your best effort to conduct due diligence, you will never know for sure how well you’ll fare in a new company until you’re actually in the role and getting ramped up.

Oh sure.  You think you know what a great car-buying decision you just made.  But you really won’t know if it’s the right car until you’ve driven it for a while.  Same thing with any other life issue – buying a house, getting married, replacing your washer and dryer, going on vacation.  No matter what decisions you make in life, there is an inherent leap of faith.  Thus, if the primary basis for your career decision lies in the extent of perceived risk, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice.  We all make decisions to progress our lives and take that bold step forward.  It takes courage, self-assurance, a yearning for something better, and an understanding that safe choices can be the riskiest of all.

Action items:

1.  If it makes you too squeamish, you certainly don’t have to join a bootstrap start-up with no funding or proven revenue model.  Yet, joining a 4-year-old VC-backed, highly innovative company whose sales are growing shouldn’t present the same level of risk in your eyes.  At the other end of the spectrum, try to ferret out the risk associated with joining a larger, well-established company.  There’s risk everywhere; the challenge is putting it all in perspective.

2.  Deciding not to make a move carries plenty of risk.  Think of the types of risk you’d make by a non-move:  risk of lost opportunity, risk of forcing oneself to tolerate a compromised situation, risk of becoming jaded or disgruntled, risk of going in an undesirable direction or worse, going down with a sinking ship.

3.  Most career moves feel uncomfortable at first.  After all, they’re getting you out of your comfort zone.  Look back at your career history and think about those times when you made a bold move out of your comfort zone.  Did you survive?  What did you learn about your career preferences?  What did you learn about yourself?

Beyond the Money

March 22, 2013

As noted in this blog’s past articles, the market has been swinging back in the favor of candidates.  I’ve seen this manifest itself recently by significantly increased incidences of multiple suitors for a given candidate, resulting in multiple offers.  With all things being equal (which is never the case), candidates typically accept the offer with the highest base salary and total compensation at plan.

This week, however, I witnessed a candidate accept an offer that did not boast of the highest salary and total comp.  Why did he do this?  Because he’s smart.  He did his due diligence on the companies, got introspective to assess his career aspirations and looked well beyond the shiny penny of cash compensation.

When putting aside the money, there is a bevy of variables to consider in assessing opportunities.  It is for this reason that no two opportunities could ever be equal.  Let’s take a moment to venture beyond the blinding flash of the cash and look at the intangible, yet vitally important attributes that must be factored in when making a thoughtful career decision.  For each of the following attributes, consider the list of questions and use them as a template for gaining as many data points as possible to make an intelligent career decision.

Position

  • To what extent does this position draw upon your strengths while offering up new and interesting challenges?
  • Will you be picking up additional skills that could bolster your marketability down the road?
  • Are you genuinely excited about the role and its responsibilities?
  • How will your performance be measured, both in the first several months as you ramp up and then on an ongoing basis?
  • How much latitude would you have in determining the future direction of the role and its day-to-day activities?
  • Who does this position interface with and what are those people like?
  • What are the work arrangements (e.g., cube, office, work from home, travel)?

Company Space and Solutions

  • To what extent is the space the company plays in a growing one?
  • How innovative are their solutions?
  • Are they viewed as the thought leaders in their area of expertise?
  • What is the company’s reputation in the industry?
  • How do they stack up in the competitive landscape?
  • Is the roadmap for the company’s products/services and the application of these products/services pointing to growth in their current market and/or making entry into expansive, new markets?
  • What is their prioritization on R&D and Marketing?
  • What do analyst firms say about the company and the space they play in?
  • Is their solution a vitamin or an aspirin and is it deemed a drop dead, must have or a nice to have?
  • How effectively is the company differentiating itself, communicating a compelling value proposition and establishing brand equity?
  • What do customers have to say about them and what are the metrics around net new logos as well as existing customer retention/expansion?

Leadership Team

  • How battle-tested are the leaders?
  • Have they done this sort of thing before…and with successful results?
  • Do they appear to be in alignment on vision, strategy and tactical execution?
  • How approachable and accessible are they?
  • What do people, who have worked for them, have to say about them?
  • What do your own contacts, who know of the company and its team, have to say about them?
  • What is their philosophy around company culture and how important is it to them?
  • How forthcoming are they about the challenges the company faces?
  • How natural was it to communicate with them in the interview process?
  • How passionate are they about the company and its solutions?
  • Why did they join/form the company?

Culture/Work Environment

  • Aside from how the leadership team describes the culture, what does the general employee base think of it?
  • What kind of vibe do you get when you’re in the office?
  • Is there energy, activity, collaboration, humor, fun, open communications, passion, intelligence, urgency, and overarching sense of purpose?
  • To what extent do you fit in with these attributes or lack thereof?
  • Does the environment fall on the micromanaging or autonomy side of the management spectrum?
  • Are meetings convened purely on an as needed basis or are they held regularly and deeply ingrained in the company’s operations?
  • To what extent is creativity and ideation valued, encouraged and acknowledged and how often are new ideas acted upon?
  • How politically charged is the environment?
  • Does the company appear to fall on the process-oriented or results-oriented end of the bureaucracy/agility spectrum?
  • What is the company’s take on work-life balance and does it align with yours?

Investment in You

  • Is there any equity component to your offer and if so, is it substantial enough to make a material impact on your life down the road or is it more of a token gesture?
  • How discernible and achievable is the career advancement path?
  • Granted, there are no guarantees for promotion, yet is the leadership team committed to rewarding stellar performance with greater responsibility, salary increase or additional equity allotment?
  • Do they have a track record of doing so or can they articulate the specifics of such an advancement?
  • Will they provide or pay for career development programs that are relevant to your role (e.g., certifications, training)?
  • How generous are the benefits – healthcare, vacation, 401K, etc.?

Financials

  • How well capitalized is the company?
  • What is the condition of their cash flow, money in the bank, burn rate, and rate of top line growth?
  • Are they profitable, on a road to profitability, in pure high growth mode, turning things around, or possibly headed for a downturn of fortunes?
  • Who are their investors?
  • How much investment have they taken in and what has been the purpose for each investment round?
  • What is their exit strategy and timeline?

Naturally, the cash component has to make sense for the opportunity to be a viable option.  After all, it’s the primary form of remuneration that fuels our personal lives.  One of the biggest mistakes candidates make is to choose a career opportunity based on tangibles (compensation and benefits), only to leave that company shortly thereafter due to issues associated with intangibles.

When you take a full, holistic view of an opportunity, it’s these intangible attributes that will ultimately determine the viability and longevity of the career move, the degree of gratification, the chance to thrive and achieve sustained passion, the likelihood of success, and the ability to further your career.  If these outcomes align with your career goals, then do yourself a favor and look beyond the money.

 

Action items:

1.  Make a list of all the important attributes in a job and then rank them by importance.  Make sure to include intangible elements.  Don’t just focus on compensation and benefits.

2.  In the interview process, make sure you’re given plenty of time to ask all the questions necessary to help gain insight into the intangible elements of a company’s being.  Outside the interview, ask people in your network about the company, its products and its people.

3.  Money can buy you short term infatuation, but it can’t buy you long term love.

Just Different

February 26, 2013

In assessing a career opportunity, there are seemingly infinite attributes to consider.  The same point can be made for assessing candidates.  And just as no two jobs are the same, no two candidates are cut from the same cloth.

With this in mind, it strikes me as odd when a candidate approaches me with a list of must-haves for their next career move, of which the level of specificity immediately rules out every opening.  Essentially, they’re writing the script to their own fantasy movie.  Naturally though, our lives are not lived in a vacuum.  We are all interrelated and inter-reliant.  Thus, despite our best efforts, the movie scripts to our lives are perpetually penned my multiple authors.  After all, as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Invariably, the candidates who can articulate their career preferences yet maintain an open-minded stance are more likely to enjoy a successful and robust career advancement track.  Along with possessing the self-awareness needed to know both their strengths and vulnerabilities, these individuals have an innate understanding of our dynamic, ever-changing business world.  They have the wherewithal to put aside their biases and try a new career opportunity on for size, giving it full and fair consideration.  In many cases, compared to a given candidate’s preferences, career opportunities are not better or worse – just different.

Hiring managers are best served to invoke the same level of open-mindedness.  It amazes me how often hiring managers dismiss candidates simply because these prospective employees can’t be neatly fit into a box.  There are so many non-traditional candidates out there who bring exceptional intellect, attitude, and multiple skills to the table.  Just because these individuals didn’t follow a typical career path or possess specific domain experience, they are summarily cast away without being given a chance.

As a VP Sales, I made a good living hiring non-traditional candidates because I was focused more on the intangibles (e.g., personal drive, ability to overcome adversity, proclivity for picking up multiple skills, passion, coachability, and positive mental attitude).  And let’s be honest with ourselves.  The arrival of our current career track came via a circuitous path.  I never met a single person in college who said, “I’m studying to go into Sales.”  Yet, look at all the accomplished sales professionals out there.

Ultimately, no one career opportunity or candidate is a perfectly written script.  There are pimples and warts to everything.  But along with those pimples and warts may be diamonds and pearls that initially didn’t cross our radar screens.  The only way to discover these seemingly hidden gems is to be open to considering them and taking the extra step to learn more.  We all need to resist the prevailing thought process ingrained in most all of us that different is bad.  Different is different.  And in many cases, that leads to innovation, fresh perspective, unyielding drive to prove, and success like you’ve never imagined.

 

Action items:

1.  Fantasy career moves and fantasy ideal candidates are akin to movie scripts.  They’re conceptualized in a vacuum without the influences and dynamics of the real world around them.  Discuss your preferences with a search professional or other trusted resources to help gain a reality check.

2.  Always keep an open mind on both career opportunities and prospective candidates.  You don’t want to close any doors until you see what’s behind them.

3.  Different is not better or worse.  Just different.

What Kind of Recruiter Are You Working With?

November 26, 2012

As with real estate agents, there is a wide variety of recruiters out there.  Some have very little experience.  Others have been in the game for years.  Many are client-focused with strong listening skills while others are out to close quick, easy deals.  Some hold ethics next to godliness while many others don’t let that get in their way.

If you’ve ever had the distinct pleasure of dealing with an unscrupulous and/or uncaring real estate agent, then you’re ahead of the game when it comes to sorting out the recruiting wheat from the chaff.  I’ve handled my fair share of unprofessional and incompetent real estate agents, hence the need to draw the analogy.  It’s more perilous in the recruitment world as there is, if you can imagine, an even lower barrier to entry than in real estate.

Anyone can call themselves a recruiter.  They don’t have to be a former hiring executive.  They don’t have to have prior business experience.  And they certainly don’t have to have knowledge of the industries they serve.  The recruitment world is littered with career-long recruiters who have never walked a mile in their client’s shoes.  In addition, any seemingly reputable recruitment firm can hire recent college grads and instantly deem them recruiters.  So what kind of recruiter are you working with and what is their modus operandi?

It seems that the vast majority of recruiters are transactionally fixated.  They find out about a slot that a company needs to fill and, along with several other competing recruiters, make a mad dash to win a chaotic race by throwing as much spaghetti against that hiring wall as quickly as possible.  How do they turn around and present candidates so quickly?  Many simply recycle the same candidates out of their database over and over until they stick.  In addition, they do what companies can do themselves – post jobs online.  Others paint an unrealistic picture of the opportunity or even worse, don’t gain authorization from candidates before presenting them to hiring companies.

Clearly, none of those methods prioritizes quality over quantity, let alone ethics and confidentiality over a quick hit.  In fact, many of these recruiters don’t even take the time to learn about the hiring company, the hiring manager or additional details and nuances of the position not included in the job description.  Multiply that by 3 or 4 crazed recruitment firms frantically trying to fill the same slot (because many hiring companies are under the misguided belief that the more recruiters involved, the better), and you have a cacophony of headhunting noise representing your business with inaccurate information, unprofessional messaging, dodgy actions, and off-putting first impressions.

Granted, there are no guarantees in the business world.  Yet, you can stack the deck in your favor if you engage with a different kind of search professional.  Here is a good working list of characteristics typically found in higher quality recruiters:

  • Prior experience as both a hiring manager and candidate
  • Prior direct experience in or tangential knowledge of your industry
  • Along with conducting research, takes the extra time to learn as much about your company as possible so that they get the messaging and positioning both accurate and compelling (e.g., asks questions about your solution, target market, differentiators, value prop, competitive landscape, financials, recent news, people, culture, history, short and long term business objectives, tangibles and intangibles associated with the hiring manager’s perspective on the role, prior employees’ performance in the role or the impetus if a newly created role, etc.)
  • Exhibits strong listening, written and interpersonal communications skills
  • Treats each search as a new endeavor (i.e., starts each search afresh – no candidate recycling as the default mechanism)
  • Conducts specialized proactive outbound sharpshooting to identify and seek out both passive and active candidates (as opposed to passive, job-posting centric inbound recruiting that only attracts active job seekers)

These points are equally relevant for candidates looking to engage with recruiters.  As a candidate, have you ever experienced a phone call with a recruiter who couldn’t wait to get you off the phone?  That’s because you didn’t fit the specific profiles for the current searches on their desk at that moment.  Many recruiters function in a myopic vacuum, such that anyone who doesn’t fit the job spec isn’t worth their time.

The more professional recruiters understand that networking with intelligent, talented individuals is tantamount to their long term effectiveness in the search business.  Exciting new positions crop up all the time and just because there many not be a fit at any given moment doesn’t mean there won’t be one in the future.  Besides, a candidate one day may soon land as a hiring manager another day.  Ideally, a recruiter who is helpful and makes a favorable impression now may be remembered and rewarded for it down the line.  Yes, the laws of karma are alive and well in the world of recruitment.

Recruiters come in many permutations.  Don’t assume we all have the same background and operate the same way.  Think about what you want in a recruiter and ask questions so that you can truly determine what kind you’re working with.

 

Action Items:

1.  Know the difference between your typical transactional, passive recruiter and one who can bring to the table considerably greater value and quality.

2.  Remember that experience you had with a poor quality real estate agent and the sour taste it left in your mouth?  It’s all too easy to be subjected to the same issues with recruiters.  Ask around for others’ experiences with recruiters.  You may hear about ones to seek out as well as ones to avoid.

3.  Whether you’re a hiring company or candidate, the recruiter is representing you.  How comfortable are you entrusting your brand to this person and counting on them to help you with one of the most important matters:  building your team with top talent / helping you further your career?

Scary Stories from the Dark Side

October 25, 2012

All I need to do is walk down my street to realize it’s that time of year.  As I duck from a low slung gargantuan spider web, my heart skips a beat when I suddenly set off a motion detecting battery powered skeleton, yelling something forewarning yet unintelligible.  Ah yes, Halloween.  The festival of shaving cream, poor manners and noise.  Actually, it’s not that bad.  Besides, the wide-eyed wonderment and innocence emanating from those little kids with their cute costumes more than makes up for any unsavory activity.

Do you like horror shows?  In the spirit of Halloween, let’s review several real world scary stories from the dark side of recruitment.

An ideally suited candidate interviewed at a boutique technology consulting firm.  The fit was quite apparent to everyone.  Indeed, the candidate fared well in the interview process and it was quickly on to the offer stage.  The hiring company was duly prepped on the candidate’s compensation level and what it would take to get him on board.  So what does the hiring company do?  They produce a low-ball offer that not only comes in considerably lower than the candidate’s current comp level, but also lower than the market currently commands for this specialized and in-demand skill set.  Needless to say, the candidate was sufficiently spooked and didn’t even bother coming back with a counteroffer.

Next up, a security company has been trying to hire a pre-sales engineer.  The internal recruiter functions as a gatekeeper, forbidding external recruiters from speaking with the hiring managers.  That’s enough to scare me away from working with them.  One of the recruiters in my network decides to work with them, only to find that the communications between the internal recruiter and the hiring managers is all too lacking.  In terms of the role and its responsibilities, compensation plan, and org structure, they can’t seem to get their story straight.  Thus, the job spec is a moving target.  As a result, several strong candidates were presented and interviewed, only to find that what was initially deemed a fit suddenly morphed into a role with different prerequisites.  Then, three weeks later, they change their tune and the candidates they mishandled and disposed would now make for potentially strong fits again.

Now it gets ugly and frustrating.  Two sales candidates go into the same software company for interviews.  One did all the research and preparation you could imagine.  Yet, for some inexplicable reason, he apparently drank a witch’s brew and transformed from a confident sales professional to a spineless apologist.  The other candidate went into the interview with plenty of confidence, but hardly spent any time researching the company, figuring the topic of discussion would be himself.  I’ll bet he does 10 times the research investigating which front load washer to buy.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!  Put these two candidates into a blender and switch it to high!

Another candidate did very well in the initial interview.  He came off as articulate, professional and engaged.  Unfortunately, he had one too many skeletons in his closet.  The hiring manager called a few contacts in common, including one the candidate brought up.  Unfortunately, these back-channel references painted a Jekyll & Hyde scenario – seemingly impressive on the surface, but with a less than stellar performance, suspect work ethic and negative attitude.

Ready to scream?  The hiring manager of a software company has finally found the right candidate for his team and decides to move forward with reference checks and an offer.  His HR organization denies him the ability to move forward with this hard to find candidate because it was sourced through an external recruiter.  They suddenly institute a new rule, proclaiming that hiring managers can only go with candidates sourced externally after 60 days of working with candidates sourced from the HR team’s internal recruiters.  According to the extremely frustrated hiring manager, this position has already been open for months and none of the candidates presented by the internal team came close to fitting the spec.

Please change the channel.  This show gives me nightmares!

What do all these scary recruitment stories tell us?  Myopic decisions, mixed up priorities and inconsistent approaches aside, the common thread is we’re dealing with human beings.  Qualified candidates are not akin to commodities on the store shelf that are easily replaceable, readily substituted, or able to wait three months for it to go on sale even though it’s needed now.  In a similar light, prioritizing protocol and stringently budgeted headcount over progress does not make for a sustainable growth strategy that centers on building teams with top talent.

These recruitment stories are scary because they’re real.  And what makes matters even more terrifying is the thought that those at the center of these stories will likely repeat their errant ways, producing more tricks than treats.

 

Action items:

1.  As a hiring company, what message are you sending out to the talent pool when you mishandle the interview and offer stages on a regular basis?  What does that say about your company’s communications, organization, priorities, and value placed on people?

2.  It’s true that hiring companies shouldn’t treat candidates as commodities.  Yet, candidates shouldn’t treat themselves as commodities, either.  Your resume is not a soup can label, providing ingredients and nutritional information.  Go into an interview with the mindset that you are special.  And special candidates go the extra mile, such as conducting extensive research about the company and its market, preparing salient questions to ask each interviewer and drawing upon prior experience to demonstrate the fit and value to the organization you’d bring.

3.  Everyone’s their own worst enemy when it comes to both hiring and job hunting.  Take a good introspective look in the mirror and be afraid of what you see.  Be very afraid.  And use that fear to be honest with yourself while seeking input to become better.

Questions about Seasonality

August 20, 2012

On a regular basis, I’m asked by candidates for my take on the current state of the job market.  The second most common question I’m asked is about timing.  When is a good time to search for new positions?  Are summer and Thanksgiving through New Year’s throw-away periods, when job opportunities are sparse?

Keep in mind that my focus is the technology domain.  As such, my take may not apply to other areas that may have quiet periods, such as higher education, government or agriculture.  Within technology, the short answer is “No.”  There is no discernible seasonality to hiring.  In some years, both as a hiring executive and more recently as a search professional, I’ve had wildly busy summer hiring periods, only to be followed by the doldrums the next summer.  The same holds true with the oft dismissed Thanksgiving to New Year’s stretch.

So why do these times of the year carry the stigma of being useless for job seekers?  Starting with the end of most companies’ Q2, summer essentially begins with the 4th of July holiday, in which most everyone piggybacks multiple days off around the holiday itself.  Extending through August, this represents the most popular vacation time for people (i.e., hiring executives) to take.  However, since this time period also represents the midway point in the fiscal year, many companies take this time to assess and readjust their annual business plans.  Such adjustments include terminating non-performing employees, conducting layoffs, starting up new initiatives and teams, and opening up new hiring reqs.

As a result, the summer can be an excellent time to seek new opportunities.  The downside, which many people misinterpret as being a summertime hiring lag, is that many hiring managers and others on the extended interviewing team take vacation time.  Invariably, this leads to recruitment, interviewing and hiring delays.  An open position that should have taken 6-8 weeks to fill is now taking 10-14.

As for the late fall/early winter timeframe, there are similar forces at play.  Many companies are finalizing next year’s business plans and want to get a head start on hiring.  However, there are multiple speed bumps that slow down the hiring process, starting with Thanksgiving and continuing on with multiple holidays parties.  It culminates with that lost week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Once again, there’s the perception of a hiring slowdown, but in reality, it’s purely a logistical issue.

Companies that are growing have an ongoing need to hire.  There is no seasonality.  They hire when they are successful in attracting the right candidates.  That challenge doesn’t ebb.  Just like the stock market, in which experts admonish us not to time the market, the same holds true with job seeking.

More importantly, I believe that candidates should be in a perpetual state of making their own activity.  Seek out companies of interest, regardless of their open positions, and find ways to get in via informational meetings.  It’s amazing what doors can open from this proactive approach.  Interestingly, summer and late in the year can be two of the best times to do this.  Vacations notwithstanding, hiring executives generally appear to be more amenable to meeting people during there periods.

The best time to conduct a career search is when you’re open to a change and willing to commit to it.  Let your network know of your intentions, contact your trusted recruiters, and do your research.  From there, don’t worry about timing.  Anything can happen at any time of the year.

 

Action items:

1.  Don’t let perceived seasonality serve as an excuse not to work on advancing your career.

2.  There’s no reason to wait until the new year, end of summer or months with an “R” in them.  Growing companies are continually challenged with finding good, qualified talent.

3.  Forget about the ebb and flow of the job market.  Create your own momentum by proactively researching companies and working your network to get a foot in the door.

The Not So Secret Ingredient to Sustainable Growth

March 22, 2012

My hiring client gave me the perfunctory checklist of candidate prerequisites for a senior sales search.  It contained many of the typical tangible attributes, such as: a proven history of over-quota achievement, experience selling into a particular vertical, specific type of software sales experience, educational pedigree, and commutable distance from the headquarters.  In prodding for intangibles, I ferreted out the importance of creativity, entrepreneurial mindset, resourcefulness, personal drive, autonomy, and planful nature.

So what happened when I presented a candidate with very strong intangibles, but worked outside their software realm and would need to endure a long commute?  The hiring manager’s knee-jerk reaction was to disqualify the candidate outright without even speaking with him.  In pushing back on this hiring VP, I learned that the commute was important only for the first couple of months during the ramp-up period.  Beyond that, the new hire wouldn’t need to be in the office more than once a week.  In addition, although the candidate hasn’t sold their type of software, he did sell a solution that was tangential to the company’s space.  Upon reviewing these points, the hiring executive changed his mind and agreed to interview this candidate.  Sure enough, the interview went well and the two bonded furiously.

In a similar vein, candidates regularly come to me with their checklists for the ideal next step in their career.  Yet, with few exceptions, they’ll find that no opportunity is a black or white proposition.  When it comes to people, there are numerous variables, making each career opportunity as well as each candidate unique.  I like to give candidates the benefit of the doubt that above anyone else, they know best what their optimal career next step looks like.  How realistic their expectations are, combined with how marketable their candidacy is, usually leaves plenty to interpretation.

Sadly, there is no one secret ingredient to companies achieving sustainable growth.  Similarly, there is no secret ingredient to candidates achieving sustainable career growth.  Despite our human inclination to categorize and itemize nearly every facet of our lives, some things cannot be defined by a list.  There are simply too many dependencies that will sway the direction of one’s company or career.  Having said that, it all starts with a foundationary element: open-mindedness.

Open-mindedness implies truly listening, trying ideas on for size and genuinely considering other perspectives.  Even more critical, open-mindedness is the gateway to seizing opportunistic events that otherwise would have been summarily rejected or gone unseen.  After all, how can we think out of the box when we’re spending so much time reinforcing the boxes that already exist?

What does this have to do with job hunting or hiring?  Everything!

The greatest hiring executives I’ve worked alongside had a penchant for identifying and ultimately hiring top-tier, non-traditional candidates – people who didn’t fit the spec to a T, but came to the table with immense aptitude and attitude.  They tried these candidates on for size, unearthed attributes and capabilities that would have otherwise flown under the job spec radar, and brought them on board.  Often times, non-traditional candidates can bring in fresh ideas, implement new processes, solve longstanding problems, and help perpetuate an innovation mentality throughout the organization.

Non-conforming job opportunities offer similar potential benefits to job seekers.  Perhaps a candidate had it in her mind that a mid-sized, well-established company would provide the necessary level of stability and personal growth.  However, up crops a position with an earlier stage well-capitalized growing company, in which everyone on board wears multiple hats, plays a high impact/high visibility role, and needs to build out teams around them.  Without open-mindedness, this career opportunity would be dismissed due to the mere size and stage of the company.

Two of the greatest determining factors in a company’s ongoing quest for sustained growth are:  1) Ability to innovate, and 2) Ability to attract, retain, and develop talented people.  If I were a candidate, I would give these considerable weight in assessing hiring companies.  As a hiring company, I’d explore ways to invest more in people who can transcend the bounds of status quo thinking and usher in the next wave of innovation and refinement.  Once again, it all centers on people.  And given that all people are uniquely gifted and bring different perspectives, this is where open-mindedness comes into play as an ever-present catalyst for sustained growth.

 

Action items:

1.  Job descriptions, complete with their list of candidate preferences, should serve as an initial guide, not the Ten Commandments.  As a hiring company, you really don’t want everyone cut from the same cloth.

2.  It behooves candidates to seek objective counseling from mentors, trusted colleagues and recruiters on the efficacy of their career preferences.  With most candidates, there are multiple potential career roads to take.  It’s important to identify and consider as many of them as possible – even the ones that initially appear far-fetched.

3.  Both candidates and hiring companies that submit to staying the course, riding past trends and adhering to “safe” decisions, will likely find themselves dangerously behind the curve.  These are highly dynamic, fast-moving times with no let up in sight.  Open-mindedness is one of those magical elixirs that promotes agility, opportunistic events and innovation.