A UNIQUE WEBINAR FOR BUSINESS OWNERS, HR PROFESSIONALS, SUPERVISORS, NON-PROFIT EXECUTIVES, AND IN-HOUSE COUNSEL

YOU ARE INVITED TO A FREE, UNIQUE WEBINAR FOR BUSINESS OWNERS, HR PROFESSIONALS, SUPERVISORS, NON-PROFIT EXECUTIVES & IN-HOUSE COUNSEL
LAW – INSURANCE – STRATEGY

IT’S TIME TO RE-EVALUATE YOUR EMPLOYEE PERFORMANCE EVALUATION PROCESS
Thursday, January 28, 2021 – Noon (EST)

Far too many managers either do not conduct regular employee performance evaluations or conduct them poorly. Either way, they risk putting themselves and their employers in danger of litigation. This, in turn, can lead to employment-related insurance claims if the employee feels their evaluation was excessively negative, unfairly low, or otherwise inaccurate, resulting in an evaluation which does not reflect the employee’s actual level of performance. Legal and insurance issues aside, poor evaluation processes can result in employee turnover, and lost opportunities for employee and corporate growth.

During this one-hour webinar, participants will learn tips to minimize the risk of being sued by disgruntled employees; the advantages of having employment practices liability insurance; and how to make the employee evaluation process beneficial for all concerned.

For information on the panelists and to register visit:

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_0YrIlv3DT3S3TtVtPgXlLA

In a Job Interview EI Trumps IQ

It’s maturity over intelligence. Or, maybe, it’s maturity over knowledge.

Candidate A appears for a job interview for a programmer, an IT software developer. She’s given a puzzle to solve. (Puzzle may be the wrong word, but let’s not quibble.) The interviewers asks her to write on the board (In these politically correct times, I don’t know if I can say whiteboard or blackboard, so I’ll just leave it at “board!”) three three-letter words. Then they ask her to write a program that will automatically rearrange the words in every possible configuration. In other words, A, B, C; B, C, A; C, B, A; etc.

The woman then proceeds to write a program that does not rearrange the words into every possible configuration, but the letters in each word.

They politely thank her and point out her error. She apologizes. She explains that she is nervous. One of her weaknesses is public speaking. An interview is public speaking and she is rather uncomfortable. She says that in order to overcome this deficiency, she has joined Toastmasters. She then offers to write the proper formula.

They tell her it is not necessary and ask her to wait in the Reception area. (For the record, the program she wrote was correct, simple, clean and neat, so they knew she could do the job. She had the hard skills.)

The second candidate enters. After the normal pleasantries, the interviewers give him the same challenge. He makes the same mistake as the previous candidate. Just as before, they point out the error. But his reaction is different. He says:

Of course, you are correct. I did make a mistake. But let’s think about it for a minute. Did I really make a mistake? In a matter of only a few seconds, less than a minute, I wrote for you a clean, neat, simple beautiful program that achieved what you wanted in principle, only it was more complicated. It’s more complicated to rearrange the letters in three words than three words. All I have to do is to make a change here, here and here, and you have the correct answer to your assignment. Since I can accomplish the more complicated, you know I can accomplish the simple one.

They thank him and tell him that they will be in touch.

Now why did the guy get the “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” response, while the gal got called back into the room and offered the job?

She had what he lacked: Emotional Intelligence. It is sometimes referred to as the Emotional Quotient. It’s also known as soft skills. I simply call it “maturity.” The guy is always right, even when he is wrong. The gal knew she was wrong, was self-aware (an important component of EI) about her personal weakness, admitted it and explained what she was doing to improve. The guy did not have a clue.

He will not be, and probably never will be, a team player. He is not self-aware. He probably went home certain that a job offer would be awaiting him in his Inbox. One of the worse colleagues I ever had was a fellow who thought he was always right. He would never admit to making a mistake. I don’t remember his name, but years ago I looked him up on LinkedIn. I was not surprised to see that he was employed at all of his various jobs for only a matter of months. I was also not surprised to see that he listed all those jobs on a public website. And I will guarantee that in a job interview it was always someone else’s fault that he did not last long. After all, when a perfect person is fired it cannot possibly be their fault! (What I don’t understand is why anyone hired the guy after the first few disasters!)

Now our gal friend, she’s a team player. She is someone who is willing to learn. She’ll admit to her errors and stay late to correct them. Metaphorically speaking, she’s the person you want beside you in the foxhole.

Even if the guy was more technically skilled than the gal, you should always go with the candidate with the high EI. It will make your life a lot easier and your work a lot better.

Applying for Jobs for Which You are Unqualified

I recently read Jill Lepore’s book, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future. It provided much food for thought (and a few ideas for articles!).

Years ago I attended a seminar. I don’t remember the subject but I remember how the presenter began. He asked everyone who was in “Sales” to raise their hand. Then he asked everyone to lower their hands and for those who had not raised their hand to stand up.

Personally, I do not appreciate speakers who embarrass their audience. In any event, he said to the people who were standing, “You don’t understand your companies. You don’t understand your role. You don’t understand business. Everyone is in Sales.”

Of course, he was right; everyone is in Sales. He was just wrong in the way he went about making his point. You might not actually sell the product or service offered by your company, but you do impact Customer Service. And if you do not do your job well, the customer, or client, will seek another provider. That is why we are all in Sales.

Which brings me to Lepore’s book. In it she notes that between 1950 and 1955, due to the manufacturing sector, the advertising industry grew from $6 billion to $9 billion. She quoted one manufacturer as saying, “We don’t sell lipstick. We buy customers.”

The same is true for job seekers. They don’t just have to have the attitude and perspective that they are selling themselves, as I have written multiple times previously, but also that they are buying employers, which I am now writing about for the first time.

Many career counseling clients come to me, frustrated, because they are not getting the interviews they want, meaning interviews for their dream jobs. When we review the job descriptions for those dream jobs for which they applied, it becomes clear that they are unqualified for the positions. They may want the jobs, they may honestly believe they can excel at the jobs, but the employers do not want them! If you will, they have not “bought” the employer, they have only sent them Spam, slid a flyer under their door, or mailed them an advertisement postcard!

How do companies buy us? How do they buy you? Why do you purchase their products or services and not those of their competitors’?

Employers, in our present example, do not want you. They don’t consider you qualified. You are not the soap that, as far as they are concerned, is going to clean their hands. So they go with the brand they trust. And why do they trust it? Because on some level – an impactful commercial or ad, a referral from a trusted source – they have established a personal relationship with the brand, product or company. They think they know them. They are comfortable buying them. And, ironically, because you are comfortable buying what they are selling, they have bought you!

When you apply for a job for which you are unqualified, the employer does not know you, trust you or like you. In fact, they are probably asking themselves, “Can’t this idiot read English? The job description clearly states that candidates must have X, and they don’t. And what’s this rubbish in their cover letter about ‘transferrable skills?’ I don’t want “transferrable” skills, I want actual skills!”

And, it’s true. You don’t have what they want. But you have the potential. Problem is, they don’t know that. You are trying to sell yourself when you should be trying to buy them, the employer.

There are three ways. The first is to do what we are doing right now. (I’m writing; you’re reading.) Write on LinkedIn. Don’t be political; be professional. Let potential employers learn about how you think and how well you know your business/industry/profession. Let them see how good you right and prufreed. (Beware: While politics will always be catastrophic, humor can sometimes be dangerous! Test question: Name the 3 errors. The first to respond in the Comment section below wins absolutely nothing! Void where prohibited.) Share your articles in the relevant groups. But not just on LinkedIn, also on Facebook. And share a link to the articles on all your social media platforms. (That is what I do and how I have now built a social media following of 45,000 people!) That way, you will not be “the best kept secret in town.” Employers will know about you and they will run after you, which is much better than the alternative, you running after them!

Second, network. Attend networking meetings. Meet new people. Have “one-on-one”s with them so you can get to know each other. In other words, build a relationship with them. Maybe they will hire you, or, maybe, and this is the third way to buy an employer, they will recommend you to an employer who is looking to fill a position. Put differently, they will become your ad agency.

Through writings, meetings, and recommendations, employers will not care that you have not done everything that they require per the job description, they will care about your potential. And that is the key word for being considered for a job for which you are technically unqualified. By being able to have your potential considered, you change the conversation from what you have done (the safe conversation) to what you can do (the unsafe conversation because it takes the employer outside their comfort zone and necessitates their having to defend to staff why they are even talking to you). Then you will buy the employer, just as the ad agency has bought you for the soap manufacturer.

Procrastination in a Job Interview

A number of years ago a man came to me for interview guidance. We knew his cover letter and resume were fine because he was averaging two interviews a week. But hard as he tried, he could not close the deal. He received no job offers.

My rules are simple: If you are not getting interviews the problem is either with your cover letter, resume or both. And you will never know which. No one is going to call and tell you why they are not calling you! If however, you are getting interviews, but no offers, then the problem is clearly with your interviewing skills. (For those of you who prefer, The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves…)

Some people will rightly point out that people are rejected not because they do not interview well but for any of a dozen perfectly legitimate reasons. But two interviews a week and no offers? Sorry, it’s your interviewing.

Another gentleman had come to me after getting his first interview. He had been laid off after 20 years with the same company. He was perplexed. After all, he had not been interviewed for two decades! But his daughter had. A year earlier she had graduated. In preparation for her job search, she had purchased a number of books. He took them and made a list of all the questions that the “experts” said he could be asked. When he came to my office he had a list of 75 questions, or maybe it was 100! In any event, he had written down answers to each and every one. But at the actual interview, not a single one of the “experts’ ” questions was asked.

The truth of the matter is, the only questions a candidate knows for certain they are going to be asked are those directly related to the job description. Yes, there will be surprise questions. But by their very nature, you can’t know in advance what they will be – that’s why they are surprise questions.

Nevertheless, there are some standard questions that can be anticipated. When the first person I referenced came to me, we sat for two hours doing mock interviews based on the job descriptions he had brought with him. They were all for jobs for which he had interviewed.

He confirmed that the questions I was asking were, in fact, the questions he had been asked. I could find nothing wrong with his answers. The man was professional, articulate, knowledgeable and engaging. It made no sense to me why he was not getting any offers.

So, frustrated, I said, “Let’s go through the standards!”

The first question I asked was, “What is your greatest weakness?” He smiled and said he was always asked that one.

His answer: “I procrastinate.”

I asked him if he said anything else. He said, “Nope, just that I procrastinate.”

“And why,” I asked, “do you think someone would make you a job offer if you announce that you are a procrastinator, period, end of sentence, end of interview?”

I then asked him what he did about his procrastination. He said, “It’s silly.” I told him I did not care. He explained that he likes Snickers bars and whenever he finishes a project early he buys one.

I explained two things to him: First, you never end an answer on a negative note. You can’t get much more negative than admitting you are a procrastinator. Second, it is not what you say that counts, it’s what the interviewers hear. In this case, it was what they did not hear. They did not hear that he had a solution to the problem. And, no, it was not silly. It was effective. It worked. Not silly; good!

Next interview, when he was asked about weaknesses, he again said he was a procrastinator but, he added, that in order to overcome his procrastination he buys himself a Snickers bar whenever he finishes a project early. And, given that he was not overweight, he added, as we had discussed, that he now finishes all of his projects either early or on time, on or under budget, and exercises to “pay” for the Snickers bars.

That was the last time he called me. He got the offer and accepted it. He credited my advice. Now I am not opposed to accepting a compliment or credit but, as I told him, there can be a hundred reasons why a person does not get the offer, and a similar number as to why they do get the offer. But if you leave your interviewers believing that you know you have a problem but don’t do anything about it, that will be the reason why you do not get the offer.

Now go have a Snickers bar!

Teach Your Children to be Good Employees

The inspiration for this article was my reading a few articles about all the problems parents are having with homeschooling. I have no children, but I can sympathize, and maybe, if you permit me, empathize.

Based on my experience helping friends’ young children, and having to work with so-called adults who never grew up, I look at COVID as an opportunity for children to learn the skills necessary for employment success. Five examples should suffice.

Separation of Home and Work

My biggest complaint when I worked for other people was that colleagues would bring their personal lives (read: problems/complaints) into the workplace. I absolutely hated it. Twice, for different employers, it got so bad that I asked permission to put a stop to it, if they, the bosses, couldn’t or wouldn’t. Both bosses told me it was impossible but I had their permission.

Since I know that many of you won’t like this, I will begin with the end. In both cases productivity rose. The atmosphere in the office also improved. It turns out (no surprise and pardon the sarcasm) that while some people like to complain about their spouses, children, and/or parents, few people like to hear about it. So when everyone stopped, everyone benefited. The environment was no longer one of complaint.

In the first case a young woman came to the office and announced that she was engaged. She produced the engagement ring. I looked at the boss. He nodded and in the next 15 minutes I had heard in tears. I was brutal. I peppered her with questions, none of which she could answer. She went to the Ladies Room, washed her face, and left for the day. I was universally (except for the boss) condemned. I made it clear that if you bring your personal life into the workplace, it is a fair topic of discussion. If you don’t want to defend your behavior, don’t talk about it! The next morning the woman returned. She no longer had a ring. She was no longer engaged. And to everyone’s shock, including my own, she not only thanked me but gave me a hug and kiss. (And, no, I did not complain to HR about inappropriate touching!)

The second time, again, with a different employer, was a woman who was constantly complaining about a vacation her husband was planning. I suggested she talk to him about it. She refused. After weeks of having to listen to her whine, the phone rang. We did not have Caller ID. I picked up the phone. It was her husband. We had an open-space office. Everyone heard me. I introduced myself and told him what his wife had been saying. I suggested that he either cancel the vacation or, if he really want to go, he should not bring her because she would probably spoil it for him. He then asked to speak to her. I put him on hold. My colleagues, including his wife, we staring at me in disbelief. She picked up the phone and spoke to him for no more than a few seconds. With the exception of the boss, no one spoke to me for the remainder of the day. The next day the woman came in to the office and was immediately asked what happened. She announced that she would not be accompanying her husband on the trip, the he had made it quite clear that he never wanted to find out that she was discussing their personal life at work, and she should thank me for what I had done. She did. And everyone else also learned the lesson.

Which brings me to homeschooling and the first lesson that children need to learn. Work is work. Home is home. And never the twain shall meet. But how to separate them when they are literally the same place?

Doors. Parents and children should be working in separate rooms. If each child has a bedroom, problem solved. If children share a bedroom, that’s not great, but they will at least learn how to share an office before they actually have to when they are employed. And if they don’t get along, the parents can show them how good bosses deal with inter-employee disputes.

The parents also need to have offices. It can be a bedroom or any room but the kitchen. Why? Because that is a common space and even if you are diligently working you still have the right to get something to drink.

Everyone works on a schedule. You are all “in the office” from nine to five. Children see and hear parents working diligently. No television. No radio. Everyone takes a lunch break together. And if someone is having a problem, just as you would do in the office, you raise it. Let the children feel that they are part of their parents’ work, just as, later in the day, the parents will be part of their children’s work. Which brings me to my next topic.

Prioritization

Now that the work ethic has been established, something practical has to be accomplished. Children may complain at lunchtime that their work is too hard and they need help (our next topic). Totally legitimate. Nothing wrong with that. But mommy and daddy have their own work to do. So they will have to wait until 5:00 when mommy and daddy “get home.”

In the meantime, here is the opportunity to teach them how to multitask. Now I know what you are going to say: “Bruce, you should know better. Human beings cannot multitask. It is impossible. We cannot do two things at once unless they are very simple. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, but we cannot make a business presentation and recited the alphabet backwards, in our minds, at the same time.” And you are, of course, correct. But “multitask” really mean “prioritize” and that is something children need to learn so that they are prepared to successfully complete multiple assignments when they enter the higher grades and, of course, the workforce.

Many decades ago, I don’t remember how or why, friends asked me to take care of their six-year-old daughter for a couple of days. We were friends. I had known her since she was an infant. It was not a problem. She stayed at my place (I don’t remember why). I would pick her up at school, and we would go to my apartment. The instructions from her parents were that, when we got home, she could have a snack, do her homework, eat dinner, finish her homework and only then could she watch television or we could play a game.

The first day she was a bit upset. She had what she considered to be an unfair amount of homework. We discussed it during our snack. I suggested that she first do the easy assignments and then, after dinner, we would work on the more difficult task (there was only one). I explained to her the logic: If you finish a lot of easy things, it will build up your confidence. Then, after dinner, with a full stomach, we could, together, tackle the harder work.

She agreed. Once she finished the easy tasks, we made dinner. While preparing whatever we were going to have to eat, we discussed the remaining assignment.

When we sat down to eat, we discussed what we would do after we finished her work. We did not discuss the assignment. Dinner is for digestion not dissertations. That gave her something to which to look forward. We ate. We did the dishes. We looked at the project. And then she learned the next lesson:

Asking for Help

I read the assignment and did not understand a thing. Neither did she. The problem made no sense to me. Here I am, an already published graduate student and I can’t figure out a first-grader’s homework. So I explained to her that asking for help was not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. I also explained that it was important to know good people who knew things that you didn’t. In other words, I taught her about team building and networking.

I remember that the assignment had something to do with geology. I had a friend who was majoring in rocks! (He hated it when I said that…) So I called him up. When he stopped laughing, I read him the assignment. He said, “You are reading it wrong. That makes no sense.” So I put my guest on the phone and she read it to him. Fifteen minutes later he was knocking on my door.

He sat down, read it, and announced that there was a typographical error. He corrected it and then she was able to complete the assignment. We thanked him. (He got a hug from her and a cookie from me.)

The next day I got a hug and a kiss when I picked her up at school. She was the only student in her class who had completed the assignment. She explained to her teacher what had happened. The teacher was impressed at the life lessons she had been taught.

Finding Something to Do

Of course, not all assignments are difficult. Sometimes we complete our To-Do list early. Then what? Many employers who hire me to find staff for them say that they do not want someone who sits around playing games on their phones when they have finished their work. They want people who take the initiative and find something to do .

In some ways, this may be the most important lesson children can learn. They have finished their school work. It’s not 5:00 yet. So what should they do? Two things: Either read the next chapter of their text book to prepare for the next day or, if that’s not possible, ask their parents what they can do to help. Set the table for dinner? Do some dusting? Wash the car? Clean the gutters? (OK, maybe not that one.) Or, ask their siblings or parents if they can help them complete their work.

Recognition

And if they do that, they should get a figurative pat on the back. But constant praise may be a problem. In today’s workplace, where you can’t even pay someone an innocent compliment (“That’s a nice dress you are wearing,” is a definite no-no in these idiotic times of political correctness), they have to know that people just don’t say “Thank you” any more. Who knows? Someone may go running to HR to complain that a colleague said “Well done” to them. There is a process for everything. There shouldn’t be, but in many places (bad places) there is. And since it is the good boss that recognizes his or her (I can just see the Political Correctness Police coming after me!) employees. teach your children by example. Take this advice with a grain of salt. In fact, ignore it. Offer constant praise. It’s the right thing to do. After all, you are not their colleagues, working with moronic HR policies, you are their parents working at home with entirely different (no doubt, according to your children, moronic) policies! Praise them so they understand the importance of recognition and being acknowledged. One day, their employees may thank you!

Proof Not Praise

It seems that at the dawn of a new year someone always announces that for the coming 365-and-a-quarter-day cycle, there should be a new resume, and not just a new year.

The worst example, which I must admit even I fell for (for a while), was the ridiculous video resume. When first approached to be an (unpaid – that should have been my first clue) advisor to a company whose name I forget, by people whose names I forget, they had a great reply to my comment, “It’s hard enough to get employers to read resumes; do you really think they’ll watch a video?” I forget their reply, but I remember attending a few meetings before regaining my senses. It can happen to anyone. It’s nothing of which to be ashamed, as long as you learn from the experience.

I was recently reading a book that referenced the presidential election of Dwight Eisenhower. His presidential campaign was the first to utilize the services of an ad agency. He apparently did not like the idea, but he gave his approval. He was literally sold to the American people like a box of cereal. And, of course, it worked. General Eisenhower became President Eisenhower.

If you want to get your dream job in the New Year, you need to do the same. Sell yourself like a box of cereal.

When you purchase something, anything, the manufacturer’s marketing department makes certain to let you know about the product’s benefits. They make promises. And the smart ones provide proof. They back up their claims. In clinical studies it was shown that our soap does not dry your skin. Nine out of 10 dentists… You get the idea. And I would hazard to guess that those are the products you buy.

And this brings me to the first paragraph – the so-called “Professional Summary” – of far too many resumes. They begin with adjectives. “Outstanding” is my favorite. It is amazing how many outstanding professionals can’t find a job.

The most valuable “piece of real estate” on a resume is the top of the first page. Resume recipients are usually very tired from reading resumes. They (I admit it, we) are fed up with looking at resumes. We miss things. So for 2021 the new resume should be one which does not require the recipient to work.

In journalism it is called “burying the lead.” It was a cool September night. The wind was blowing gently from the southwest. The moonlight offered a romantic glow to the pedestrians walking on Main Street. It also provided ample light for murder!

That may be how a novel is written, but not a newspaper article. Murder comes first. It also, figuratively speaking, needs to come first on a resume.

Have you ever gone to a networking event and introduced yourself thusly? (Now that is a good word with which to end a year!) Hi. I’m Jane. I’m an outstanding… Of course not. You’d sound like a total fool. So why do it on your resume? It doesn’t read any better than it sounds.

No employer cares what you think about yourself. They want to know what you can do for them. The only way to convince them is by telling them what you have done for your current and past employers. So start your resume with a half dozen bullet points highlighting your accomplishments. Numbers are important. Quantification is important. Reduced employee turnover to record numbers doesn’t mean a thing. Reduced employee turnover to 3% from 12% in one year means a great deal. So don’t bury the lead with nonsense about how great you think you are. Show the resume recipient why others think you are great. Show them why they should interview you. Show them why they can’t afford to let you go and work for their competitor. Don’t praise yourself; prove your worth. That’s the 2021 resume. Everything else stays the same.

Good luck and may 2021 be a year of Good Health, Happiness and Prosperity.

It Takes Experience to Excel

You are salesperson. You sell widgets. When you started your career, you would make a hundred calls a day. Ninety people hung up on you. Ten spoke with you. Five politely turned you down. Five agreed to meet with you. One became a client or customer.

Over time, your numbers got better. Only 80 people hung up on you. Eight agreed to meet with you. Two became clients/customers.

And when you finally got really good, you closed an average of three to five deals a week.

With experience, you got better and excelled. Nothing new here. That’s how it works with everything. It takes time. It takes practice. It takes experience.

Enter the job seeker.

The job seeker is not selling a widget, they are selling themselves. If memory serves, when John Kennedy was running for president, an ad person working on his campaign told him he was a box of cereal. You, my job seeking reader, are a box of cereal. Problem is, you don’t have the experience to sell yourself.

And that it totally logical. For the job seeker, and these are real numbers, applying for hundreds of jobs is par for the course. (Some apply for thousands!) A two to four percent positive response rate is average. (It is true what they say, a job search is a numbers game.) But closing, getting the job offer, only, with few exceptions, happens once.

Think about it. You have five interviews. You get a positive response, a job offer, from one. You can’t afford to wait for the other four, so you accept the job. It does not matter because you actually want that job and, more importantly, you can’t risk losing the job by waiting for the slow-pokes. And you did the logical thing and, in my opinion, all things being equal, the right thing: you accepted the offer. (Better a bird in the hand…)

And now you don’t have to look for another job, hopefully, for years. And maybe never again! It happens. Your next job can be your last job.

And there’s the rub. Once a job seeker closes the “sale,” they stop selling their product – themselves. So they are out of practice and are not as sharp as they would like to be the next time they join the ranks of the job seeker. But there are a couple of things they can do to overcome this deficiency:

The first is to accept an interview for any job which sounds reasonable. I said “accept an interview,” I did not say “accept the job.” The job may not sound perfect, but the experience of interviewing will help the candidate hone their interviewing skills. And, who knows, maybe first impressions are wrong and the job is actually something of interest to the job seeker. The job seeker is not wasting the interviewer’s time; they are giving the interviewer a chance to sell them on the job. Additionally, they are also providing the interviewer with practice. It goes both ways! And, more importantly, after interviewing candidates many employers tweak the job description as a result of what they learn from the candidates. So, again, the interviewer’s time is. not being wasted.

The second is to help ask a friend (here I am shooting myself in my career counselor foot and putting a target on my back as other career counselors won’t like this) to conduct a mock interview so that the job seeker can practice. Just because the friend will be playing “interviewer,” does not mean that the job seeker will not learn from the experience. (Of course, by definition, they will not do as good a job as a professional career counselor – which, hopefully, has now removed the target from my back!)

There is, of course, an exception to the rule. There are some really great interviewers. (Technically, I think that should be “interviewees” since the “interviewer” is the employer and the candidate is the interviewee. But no matter..) They are masters at the art of interviewing. They are modern day “snake oil salesmen,” con artists selling cure-all tonics. Any recruiter who says that they have not been taken in by one is either new to the profession, a fool, or a liar. These people interview very well, but don’t keep their jobs very long, because they cannot deliver on what they are selling. They talk a good talk, but there is nothing to back it up. They are all fluff and no substance.

That is why it is so important for employers to be cautious of candidates whose resumes show that they do not stay long on the job. And that is why before quitting, a job holder most consider the impact of being labeled a “jumper” on their chances of finding new employment. Of course, have one or two “mistakes” on a resume is not uncommon. That is why good employers, and good recruiters, at least give an applicant an opportunity to explain what happened. I know from personal experience that that is how I secured excellent candidates for my recruiting clients that others had missed. That is also why it is a mistake to rely on Applicant Tracking Systems. Computers notoriously miss the gems that humans find.

Employee Evaluations

(The following is based on a presentation I made to the Park Avenue Connections networking group.)

            Dick Cavett once asked Jerry Lewis about critics.  Not including his shtick, he basically said, and this is not an exact quote, but it’s close enough, “People who do, do; people who can’t, teach; people who can’t do either become critics.”  Then he was asked about his reaction to the critiques of the critics.

            (Again, not an exact quote, but close enough.)  “There are two types of critics.  There are those who care nothing about the art or the industry and know little or nothing about them.  Their critiques can be ignored.  But then there are those critics who not only know about the art and the industry, but care about them.  Even if you do not agree with them, even if you don’t like them, you ignore them at your peril.”  In other words, you listen to them because you respect them.

            Employee evaluations are critiques.  They can be positive.  They can also be negative.  If someone responds to one of my books or articles or posts negatively, it means nothing.  If someone responds positively, it also means nothing.  That is, the critiques, positive or negative, mean nothing unless the critic explains why they like or dislike my work.  If you can’t learn from the criticism, it’s meaningless.

            Regardless of whether it is positive or negative, you have to be open to the criticism to hear it.  If you are not willing to listen to the critic, with either your eyes or ears, it’s your loss, it’s your fault.  But it is not meaningless.  If you are not willing to listen to criticism, you won’t know you have a problem.  In that case, ignorance is most definitely not bliss. 

            This was the reason, or the logic, behind the 360-degree evaluation.  As this presentation is focused on employee evaluations, I will touch on this only briefly.

            Basically, someone had the epiphany that supervisors, not just supervisees, needed to be evaluated.  Everyone can benefit from honest feedback.  For reasons I am about to touch upon, these evaluations have fallen out of favor because supervisors were not able to get honest feedback from their supervisees.  It’s a pity.

            When I read about 360-degree evaluations, I liked the idea.  I knew I could not go to my supervisor who I neither liked, nor trusted, nor respected.  But I did have colleagues who I liked, trusted, and respected and I asked them for feedback.  I was shocked but what I heard.  They all said the same thing.  After paying me compliments, they basically said that I was a rash decision maker.  I thanked them, and then called a friend to discuss the criticism.  He knew me well.  He knew that my decision making with not rash, it was fast.  He also knew my process.  He immediately focused in on the problem.  “Do you,” he asked me, “explain your decision or just announce it?”

            Spot on, as the British would say.  So the very next day, when I had a decision to make, I did what I always did: I asked for input from my colleagues.  The only difference was, this time, I immediately explained why I liked or disliked, accepted or rejected, their suggestions.  They all felt that they had been heard.  They all came to me separately and commended me, in fact they thanked me, for having taken their criticism to heart. 

            The truth of the matter was, it took me no longer to make that decision than it had past decisions.  Only now my colleagues felt that they were included in the process and I had listened to them.   That’s the benefit of 360 evaluations and it is a shame that they have fallen out of favor, but I understand why.

            This brings me to the first problem with employee evaluations.  Some employees have no idea how to respond to criticism.  They immediately shut down.  They have no experience with it.  Liberals in universities are taught to be overly sensitive and to, first and foremost, care about a person’s feelings.  They should not be offended.  Problem is, they believe that anything said against someone is to be avoided.  They walk on eggshells.  It happened to me.  I was once criticized by my supervisor at a university where I worked for a very short time, because I mentioned God in a presentation to students on networking.  I said, as many have before me, “God gave us two ears and one mouth.  He was sending a message: Listen twice as much as you speak.”  I was chastised (in writing!) for possibly offending atheists!  The substance of what I said wasn’t a problem, it was invoking God which was, if you will pardon the expression, my sin.

            Then there are the conservatives.  They are taught at universities to keep quiet.  Say nothing.  You’ll get into trouble.  They are there for the framed piece of paper.  Once they get it, they’ll be free to speak their minds.  Problem is, after four years at university, they don’t know how to speak their minds.

            And since neither knows how to give criticism, they also don’t know how to accept it.  (I know this from my career counseling clients and, even in a couple of cases, from employers!)  Thankfully, I do not have this problem because I had great professors who never held back.  They would cut my work to shreds.  The result: Both my master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation were published by leading academic publishers, virtually without any changes, not because I was brilliant, but because my professors taught me how to accept criticism.  I listened.  I asked for explanations.  I didn’t argue.  Their remarks were substantive.  I did what they told me.  That’s also why I have been published in many peer-reviewed publications including the American Journal of International Law, the Israel Law Review,the Jerusalem Journal of International Relations, and the Netherlands International Law Review, to name but a few.  The editors told me what they wanted and what I had to change.  I listened and they accepted my revised articles and reviews.  It was the same with newspaper editors, be they at The Jerusalem Post or The Toronto Star.  I learned how to write works worthy of publication because I learned how to listen to my critics.

            But there is something else all college graduates have in common.  In fact, from Millennials on down, they all have this in common and it results in a lack of understanding about all aspects of criticism.  I call it “The Armor of Anonymity.”  (Consider that copyrighted!)  On social media, people can say whatever they want about someone.  They don’t have to use their real names.  Except on LinkedIn, I am willing to bet that the vast majority of social media accounts have fictious names.  Some people use their first name and last initial.  That’s anonymous.  Some people use their first initial and last name.  That’s anonymous.  Some people use a pet name or a nickname.  That’s anonymous.  And, to be clear, anonymous critiques are meaningless, not worth reading and not worth a response. 

Well, if you learn on social media that you can say anything you want without being held accountable, you are not going to learn anything positive about how to offer or accept criticism.

            (Of course, there are exceptions to the rule.  I don’t remember the names; they are not important.  During President Trump’s first address to Congress, he pointed out a widow of a soldier who had been killed in battle and was his invited guest.  He praised her sacrifice.  The entire Congress of the United States literally stood and applauded her and her family’s sacrifice as should stood and wept in the gallery.  One person did not share their feelings.  He criticized the woman, if I remember correctly, on Twitter.  His Twitter account was under his real name.  Someone looked him up on LinkedIn.  They found his employer.  They asked the employer for their thoughts on the tweet.  He was immediately fired.  Thus, the Armor of Anonymity.)

            The key to a successful critique, or employee evaluation, is respect.  (There’s that word again!)  If the critic is not respected by the target of the criticism, the critique will serve no purpose.  If your supervisees don’t respect you, they won’t care what you have to say.   (This is something else I learned in university.  When doing research, the most important rule is, consider the source!)  They will go through the motions.  They will say all the right things.  But your words will go in one ear and out the other.  They will learn nothing.  They will not change.  So, the first step in a successful evaluation is for the evaluator, the supervisor, to earn the respect of those they evaluate.

            How do you earn a supervisee’s respect?  Don’t be a hypocrite.  “Do what I say, not what I do,” is the road from respect, not to respect.  You must be respectful of everyone.  You must keep your personal life out of the workplace.  Never embarrass a colleague.  Never gossip.  You must work as hard, if not harder, than everyone else.  Never ask someone to do anything you would not do yourself.  Respect is earned, it is never given

            The road to respect is not paved only with don’ts.  There are a few very important dos as well.  First, you have to be moral and ethical.  People notice the little things.  It was around this time of year at one company, after Thanksgiving, that directors, who were responsible for choosing vendors, started to get gifts.  Those who kept them to themselves, for themselves, were noticed.  Those who did not, those who shared, those who turned the gifts into prizes for holiday parties, were also noticed.  Employees notice everything supervisors, bosses and owners do.   Never forget that.

            Most importantly, as a supervisor, you must show appreciation.  This brings me to the evaluation process.

            A gentleman came to me for career counseling.  He felt totally unappreciated.  He had a long list of successes and, after each one…nothing.  No one commended him.  He never received a literal or figurative pat on the back.  He had a great résumé.  He was a consummate professional. He was highly articulate.  It only took him a few weeks to get a job offer.  He was thrilled.

            I helped him write a positive resignation letter and warned him that it is never a good idea to accept a counteroffer. 

            When he resigned he was shocked by the reaction.  His supervisor wanted to know why.  His supervisor’s supervisor wanted to know why.  The owner of the company wanted to know why.  He said what was not included in the letter, “I am unappreciated.  No one has ever commended me for anything I have done.  Why would I stay where I am unappreciated?”

            They begged.  They pleaded.  He refused to remain. 

            Employees need to know that they are doing their job well.  Equally important is that they should know if they are doing poorly.  Which brings me to the story of my first annual review.

            I had worked for a number of companies.  I don’t remember ever having to sign off on a personnel handbook or policy statement.  And I know I never had an annual review prior to joining this new company.  I was always praised or (negatively) criticized on the spot.  So when I was told I was going to have an annual review with my new employer, I had no idea what to expect.

            My boss told me that she would review with me my job description responsibilities.  I would get a score of 1, 2 or 3.  One meant everything was great; 2 meant that there was room for improvement; and 3 meant there was a serious problem.  According to the rules she could not give me all ones.  So I got two 2s.  Then she told me I needed to comment on the review and sign it.

            I totally misunderstood.  On what was I to comment?  I got the highest score possible.  Was I going to complain?  So I asked her if I could take the evaluation home, think about it, and return it the next day.  She had a very confused look on her faced, handed it to me, and we parted company.

            She had asked me to comment on the review.  Since I could not very well write, “I agree.  I am as close to perfect as possible.” I chose to comment on the process.  After all, she asked me to comment.

            I wrote something like this: “I feel the review process is flawed.  If I have done well, I should not hear about it on my annual review.  Everyone likes a pat on the back.  If I have done poorly, I certainly don’t want to hear about it on my annual review.  I want to hear about it immediately so I can rectify the situation and will not repeat the error.  I should, in both cases, receive immediate feedback.  But what I really do not like is that the review is based solely on my job description.  I have been here a year.  I do much more than what is on the job description.  I have expanded it.  I have grown.  My department has grown.  The review does not take any of that into account.  That means that you do not want to encourage growth and, therefore, you are encouraging stagnation.  No company that stagnates survives.  I feel the review should go beyond the job description.  It should be a given that employees are doing what they were hired to do and are doing it well.  It’s the extras that they do that need to be the focus of the review.”

            (For the record, my definition of failure is if when someone leaves a job, and their replacement gets the same job description they received when they first applied for the position, they failed because they did not grow.)

            In any event, getting back to my critique of the evaluation process, boy did I get in trouble (a little).  My boss showed it to her boss, our CEO, who shared it with the HR director.  He was furious.  The CEO wanted to discuss my comments.  My boss was there and so was the HR director.  He was adamantly opposed to any changes in the process.  As we were discussing my comments, the chairman of the Board dropped by.  He asked what was going on.  The CEO handed him my comments.  We had a good relationship.  We would always kid each other.  I’d tease him about his Irish heritage and the fact that on St. Patrick’s Day he wore orange (!) and he’d tease me about being Canadian and cheering for the Blue Jays.  After he read what I wrote he said, “The Canuck is right.”  Never argue with an Irishman who wears orange on St. Patty’s Day!

            (Just as an aside, HR refused to change the review process.  The HR director was gone within the year for reasons unknown…)

            So for a proper evaluation you need respect (which should mean that you will be listened to, a skill you might just have to teach!), to provide immediate feedback, and to see that the employee is growing on the job so that the company can grow with them.  And, just to be on the safe side, that evaluation or review process should be clearly outlined in the employee handbook.   That way the employee will be prepared, will know the process in advance, and will understand the company’s expectations.  And, since the evaluation will focus on professional development, it will be clear to the employee that if they are found lacking in some area, it will be the company’s responsibility to provide the necessary training to eliminate the deficiency.  This will not only help to make the company better but, as importantly, it will improve the hiring process as a key demand of all top-tier candidates is professional development.  Not only that, but employee turnover should drop which will also help with hirings as the turnover rate is the only real proof if a company is truly a good place to work or not.

AFTERWORD TO INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ATTORNEYS: I know my error. I should not have “The Armor of Anonymity” copyrighted, I should have it trademarked. So sue me!

THE IMPORTANCE OF STORYTELLING WHEN PROMOTING YOUR BUSINESS

(The following is a presentation I gave to the Pro-G Networking Group on November 20, 2020.)

           Two people who did not like each other were Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw. Shaw had a play opening in London and as a backhanded compliment he sent the Prime Minister 2 tickets with the following note: “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend…if you have one.”

           A battle of wits with Churchill was never a good idea. His response: “Cannot possibly attend first night; will attend second, if there is one.”

           Churchill’s retort was insightful in that the ruling of an audience is final and, sometimes cruel. Shows close opening night. Movies play to empty theaters. Comedians stare at a sea of blank faces. And it is never the audience’s fault. It is always the fault of the performer. 

           When you meet with a prospect, you are the performer, and they are the audience. It is your job to catch them, hold them and reel them in. If they fall of the hook, it’s on you.

           I am certain that you have all, at one time or another, looked at someone, frustrated, pointed to your head and said, “THINK!” You did not say “STORE!” And that’s the whole story behind storytelling.

           Our brains were never created as data storage devices. They are only supposed to hold vital information: such as how to do what we need to do to stay alive, and to recognize that a rattle snake is not a puppy. Our brains are for survival and the analysis of data, nothing else.

           That is why, almost literally since man started to walk, we have created external storage devices on or in which to store information so that it is not forgotten. That is why there are cave drawings and thumb drives. 

           For present purposes, it’s the cave drawings that are most important. They told stories. See saber-toothed tiger. Take club in hand. Hit tiger over head. We learn from stories. That is what we are wired to do. It’s in our DNA.

           I became interested in this subject when a plurality of career counseling clients came to me with the same question: “How do I respond when they ask in an interview, ‘Tell us about yourself’?”

           My immediate response is always the same, “It is not a question; it’s an opportunity to tell them something about you that is not on the resume, something about you as a person.” I’ll get back to that in a few minutes.

           There is absolutely no difference between someone looking to get a job offer and someone interested in getting a new client or customer. It’s the same thing. They have to like you. For them to like you, they have to listen to you. What you say has to be relevant for them. So you have to listen to them and know what they want. As I said, not rocket science.

           I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how to find out what they want. But once you know, the brain surgery, so to speak, comes into play.

           In order for a story to be effective, it has to be heard. In order for a story to be heard, it has to be interesting. In order for it to be interesting it has to hold the prospect’s attention. And for that to happen you need two hormones and one neurochemical.

           The first hormone is cortisol. Our brains produce cortisol when we are stressed. That’s why we stay focused on the rattle snake and don’t move. Nothing distracts us.  We are panicking. And that is what you want your prospect to do, but in the positive sense. You want the same intensity – they have a problem, you have the solution. If there is no cortisol, there will be no interest. You have to have their undivided attention.

           The story you tell them has to show knowledge. It has to show understanding. You can solve their problem and that’s all they care about. You’re a good rattle snake. You have their undivided attention.

           But the story also has to show empathy. This is where the second hormone comes into play: oxytocin. Stories have characters. The prospect has to relate to the characters in your story.  When you have an emotional response to a story, you have oxytocin. 

           You grab your prospect with cortisol. You keep them in your embrace with oxytocin. Which brings us to our neurochemical: dopamine.

           Dopamine is what makes us feel good. Dopamine (along with norepinephrine) is what is called “love.” You want your prospect to “love” you. If the story you tell ends well, dopamine will give the positive feeling that will result in the prospect wanting to do business with you. And, of course, your story will always end well because you are the solution provider.

           The important thing to remember is that it is dopamine that determines our behavior.

Let me give you three examples:

           The first is the one I use with career counseling clients. Again, their question for me is, “How do I respond when the interviewer asks me to tell them about myself?”  This is what I say:

           It’s an opportunity, not a question. Tell them something about yourself that will differentiate you from your competition, that is personal to you, yet professional. In my case I always say the following:

           I’m going to tell you about the best day I ever had on a job. At the time, I was a fundraiser, marketer, community relations and media relations professional. So the first surprise is my story has nothing to do with the job I had or would be applying for. The second surprise is the ending.

           When I was working at a Jewish Community Center, we wanted to have a community fair for Hanukah. Not a fundraiser, just a fun time. If we made a few bucks – great. If we didn’t – no problem.

           The first year I was volunteered to dress us as Barnie the Purple Dinosaur. He was very popular at the time. We were certain the little children would be thrilled. We were wrong. I was a good 7 feet tall and so fat I had to enter and leave rooms on an angle. They were used to Barnie on the television and the dolls they had at home. They were scared of me.

           It was a good idea; just the wrong character.

           The following year, I was Big Bird. Big Bird is supposed to be big. It’s in his name. Long story short, from the moment I arrived at the gym where we were having the fair, to the moment I left, four hours later, one little girl never left my side.

           At the end of the fair, I asked her father to pick her up so I could give her a hug. (If I had bent over, the head would have fallen off, which would not have been a good thing.) She gave me an intense, passionate hug. It had nothing to do with me; she loved Big Bird. (And I am certain, her brain was full of dopamine. – That’s for your benefit; I have never said that in an interview!)

           Her father pried her off of me. I waved good-bye. She said, “Bye-bye Big Bird.” I waved to everyone else and left.

           I went back to my office, got out of the costume and went into the lobby. I saw the little girl’s mother. I went up to her and said, “No one has ever hugged me the way your daughter did.” She looked at me like I was the biggest pervert on the planet. I assumed everyone knew who I was.

           So, I introduced myself.  I said, “I’m Bruce. I’m the assistant director of the Federation. I was Big Bird.” Her expression totally changed. Then she got misty eyed. She said, “Bruce, my daughter has autistic tendencies. When she said, ‘Bye-bye, Big Bird,’ to you, that was the first time she ever spoke to anyone outside the immediate family or her teacher.”

           And that was my best day on the job.

When I tell that story, I have three-quarters of the women and half of the men in tears. They never forget it and years later people still come over to me and comment on it. It is referred to as “The Big Bird Story.”

           Naturally, I had no idea that the little girl was autistic and had no intention of getting her to speak to me. But the second story was intentional.

           I needed a new computer. I went to Best Buy. The first thing the salesman said was that he does not work on commission. Then he asked me, politely, how he could help me. I told him I had a feeling that my current computer was going to die so I wanted it to become my spare and buy a new one. He then asked me what I did for a living. He immediately said that I basically needed a computer for document creation. I agreed but then I added that I also have a podcast, so the camera, microphone and storage capacity were important to me.

           He then said document creation was not a big deal; all computers are the same. But the podcast was different. He then showed me three computers, explaining the pluses and minuses of each. He ended with a moderately priced computer that has a very good camera and a very good microphone. He said there was no need to waste money on a top-of-the line computer and it wasn’t worthwhile “going cheap.” 

           Then he shared a story with me about how appreciative another podcaster was for the computer he was recommending. That convinced me, along with the service package and the deal on Office 365. I bought it. Happy story. Happy ending. Easy sale.

           Third story: Does not start well.

           The greatest threat all of us face today as business owners is a cyberattack. Small businesses are targeted because they are easy targets. The “It won’t happen to me” mentality is wrong. It can and it does.

           One former client told me the story of how he received a panic call (Remember cortisol?) from a solopreneur who was the victim of a ransomware attack. He did not know what to do. Long story short, he had to pay to get his data back. And then he hired my client to make sure it would never happen to him again by installing the necessary software and protocols such as – don’t click on links from unknown sources! That is the story he tells his prospects who then become his clients.

           These are stories people remember. And that is what makes a story good. You want your stories to be remembered because that will result in a prospect, not just becoming a client, but also becoming an unpaid salesperson. They will repeat your story to friends and strangers who are talking about the situation they had to deal with before they decided to work with you. And that is the ultimate result of a good story.

           So, to summarize, a good story is one that relates to the individual’s needs, has characters with which they can empathize, and solves their problem. 

           Thank you. 

SOURCE: https://meetmaestro.com/insights/how-your-brain-responds-to-great-storytelling/

The Silver Lining in this Very Dark Cloud

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed on the Employment Law Today podcast. At the end of the show, the emphasis was placed on candidates and I discussed some of the positives for candidates in the age of COVID. I’d like to recap them for those who did not see the show.

1) Candidates are concerned about how to explain why they are unemployed. Today, it’s not an issue. It is not the candidate’s fault that they were laid off. Everyone understands what COVID has done to businesses. Candidates do not have to defend themselves. They have done nothing wrong. They are victims and everyone knows it.

2) An ironic concern that job seekers have always had is how they are going to interview if they are employed. It’s ironic because at first they are worried that they are not getting any interviews, and then they are worried that they are getting them! Can they interview doing their lunch hour? Will the employer see them after work? Thanks to COVID, this is no longer an issue. Since most people work from home, candidates can easily schedule a video interview at a mutually beneficial time with the boss being none the wiser.

3) Until they actually meet the employer in-person, the candidate is on their home turf, so to speak. No worries about being late for the interview. No worries about being in a room with other people making them feel like they are being drilled in a legal deposition. The interviewers are just little-bitty pictures on a computer screen. For shy people, this is a huge advantage.

4) Candidates can show off and send subliminal messages. We all know about “virtual backgrounds.” When I am on a Zoom call, some of the participants use them to show off their work. A photographer displays his photos. An architect displays her buildings. But if you have nothing to show that is work-related, if you use a virtual background, people (like me) will immediately think you have something to hide. Usually it it is a messy room. Employers don’t hire messy people.

This means that you can use a real background and display things that may lead to more in-depth conversations that otherwise would not have taken place. For example, I have had numerous veterans as career counseling clients. They had their medals/citations framed. They did not like to talk about them. I told them that modesty was the last quality a job candidate should reveal in a job interview. The compromise was that they hung their framed medals on the wall behind them when they were interviewing. Employers always asked about them and that always led to more in-depth discussions and, in many cases, job offers.

Of course not everyone is a war hero. I certainly am not! But I always do video calls from my home office which is a room lined with books. It is amazing how many people recognize books that they have also read and, as a result of finding that we have something in common, a relationship develops. In my case it may not be getting a job offer, but there’s no real difference between looking for a new employer and looking for a new client. Establish a personal rapport with an employer, and you are more than half way to a job offer.

What if you have nothing to display? Simple. Display a clean, well-organized room. That sends a very positive subliminal message.

To conclude, let’s consider some of the “musts” when it comes to video job interviewing:

Be early.

Make certain your computer is working properly.

Don’t sit too close to the computer. If you talk with your hands, your mannerisms are magnified and that can be a distraction. The same is true for facial quirks. We all have them. There is nothing you can do about them. So don’t obsess over them.

Practice. Use your computer’s video camera. Record yourself so you can see what you do well, what you want to avoid doing, and that the room looks the way you want it.

Make certain there is no bright light behind you. That will cause glare. And if you are sitting in front of windows that look out onto the street, close the blinds so you won’t be distracted.

You need to be dressed professionally, but it is silly to wear a suit and tie when interviewing for a job from home. It may be a nice touch, and the effort may be appreciated, but I doubt it will be held against you if you don’t. (Ladies, sorry, but I can’t think of the female equivalent of a suit and tie. You are on your own!)

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Bruce Hurwitz, the Amazon international best selling author of The 21st Century Job Search and Immigrating to Israel, is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that! A five-star rated speech writer on Fiverr, he is the host and producer of the live-interview podcast, Bruce Hurwitz Presents: MEET THE EXPERTS. He is an honors graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from where he received is doctorate in International Relations majoring in International Law.