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.

The $1,000 Resume

I live about 5 blocks from my pharmacy which is located in a small mall (the word is an exaggeration) which has half a dozen eateries. A couple have now placed chairs and tables outside.

As I was going up the stairs to get meds that are supposed to allow me to pay taxes for an indefinite period, I saw a very attractive young woman seated at a table with her father. He was not attractive but he was very angry.

He screamed, “I paid a thousand dollars for this! You chose her. What do you think, experts on resumes just fall out of the sky?” (That may not be an exact quote…”

He took a drink of coffee. I stopped, took a business card out of my wallet, and then walked to their table. I smiled at the daughter and said to the father, “Experts don’t fall out of the sky but, sometimes, their business cards do.” I dropped the card in front of him and proceeded on my way.

I walked into the pharmacy. Got my fix – I mean – my meds, and left. I walked back to their table and the father said, “I paid a thousand dollars for this. No one is calling my daughter. What’s the problem?”

I looked at the resume. I told him I could tell him what the problem was but he had to promise not to yell. I added, “Your Italian. I’m Jewish. I know that parental screaming is in our DNA but, no screaming.” She laughed. He promised. Then she stopped laughing.

I said, “First, a US telephone number has 10 digits, not nine. That’s why using hyphens is important. You can catch these errors. Second, it’s ‘gmail.com,’ not ‘gmail.co.’ Third, New Jersey is spelled with a capital ‘J.’ Fourth, a lot of major companies use what are called ‘Applicant Tracking Systems.’ They are computers that scan resumes into their data base. A human only sees the resume if it has the necessary keywords. Your daughter’s resume has the necessary keywords but her contact information, for what it’s worth, and the list of her skills, are all in a sidebar, in white font on a black background. Some computers can’t read that. And finally, these infographics – which the Applicant Tracking Systems won’t pick up – look nice but send the clear message that she has not accomplished enough in her career to even fill a single page.” I also pointed out some additional typos and told him that I tell my clients not to include their address, only their city and state of residence. “Do you really want strangers knowing where your daughter lives?” (That actually lowered the shade of red on his face.)

I then continued, “Remember, you promised not to scream. The reason your daughter is not getting any calls is that they either look at the resume and conclude she is sloppy and not detail-oriented or, if they use the Applicant Tracking System, they don’t know about it. That’s why she’s not getting any calls. Remember,” I reminded him, “you promised not to yell.”

He kept his promise, at least to me. He got his money refunded. And I got a new career counseling client.

Lesson for business owners: Always carry a couple of business cards in your wallet. Lesson for job seekers: Don’t pay $1,000 for a resume. There is no resume that is worth a thousand dollars. And, proofread the resume before you send it out. The more eyes, the better. And that is even true for a resume I prepare. I’m also not perfekt.

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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.

Job Alert: Bookkeeper/Office Manager – Livingston, NJ

Full Charge Bookkeeper/Office Manager – Livingston, NJ

My client, a Livingston, New Jersey-based residential property management company, is looking to hire a full charge bookkeeper/office manager.  This family owned business, with family values, in business for 48 years, manages multiple properties in Essex and Hudson Counties, including some 450 multi-family units, along with some commercial tenants.  Additionally, they manage six commercial/multi-family properties throughout New Jersey. The company is looking to grow by acquiring more properties and additional outside management projects.

The company has seven full-time employees, and numerous part-time maintenance workers employed on a daily or weekly basis.

The duties of the bookkeeper/office manager include, but may not be limited to:

  • Year-end closing including accruals, GL account analysis, reconcile loan & property tax statements, post journal entries, prepare comparison financial report reconcile changes, submit yearend paperwork to accountants
  • Post accountant adjusting entries and reconcile any discrepancies
  • Multiple bank, security & mortgage reconciliations
  • Prepare management reports for multiple owners, calculate & pay management fees, pay taxes, payroll & Quarterly tax reports, 1099
  • Post multiple mortgage payments, monthly & quarterly owner distributions & building maintenance fees, tenant direct deposits
  • Maintain tenant records including adding properties, moving tenants in & out, rent increases, subsidy tenant paperwork, open & close security accounts, correct mis postings, tenant billing, commercial escalations, report lease and insurance expirations, order credit checks. Prepare and submit rent increase letters for all tenants, maintain subsidy rent increase data for submission of rent increases to various agencies on required due dates
  • Other responsibilities: WC audits, Tax Accessor Reports’, Cam reconciliations, property tax pass throughs, pay multiple estimated tax payments
  • Prepare legal paperwork, reconcile collateral account – maintain legal calendar and follow up judgements & evictions
  • Maintain and update various reports for owner: Insurance, accounting fees, holiday expenses
  • Office – Pay office bills, management fees order supplies and arrange maintenance of office equipment

Qualifications

Candidates must be high school graduates, have at least 2 years’ residential real estate experience in a bookkeeping/accounting capacity, possess excellent computer skills and be comfortable working alone.  A college degree in Accounting and knowledge of Appfolio or Property Ware are preferred but not required.

Compensation

The salary range for this position is between $60,000 and $70,000, depending on qualifications, plus health insurance.  In addition to all Federal holidays, the candidate will receive two-weeks paid vacation.

To submit your candidacy, send a cover letter, along with your resume, to Bruce Hurwitz at bh@hsstaffing.com.   All submissions will be acknowledged, and qualified candidates will be contacted within 48 hours.  Selected candidates will have a recorded video interview.  No phone calls please.

The Biggest Mistake Job Seekers Make

I once had a boss who called me into his office. He wasn’t upset; he was jealous. One of our competitors had a full page article in the local paper. He asked, “Why aren’t we getting that type of coverage?”

I smiled. I picked up the paper. I walked around his desk. I opened it and said, “Because we are getting this type of coverage…here…and here…and here…and here!”

While our competitor got one page, we had four photos, with stories (captions), on four different pages. In fact, we were averaging 12 media citations a month in the local press, not including television coverage.

The next day, the chairman of the Board was visiting. He called me into the president’s office. The president had just showed him the previous day’s paper. He asked me, “How do you do this?”

Well, the chairman and I got along very well. I said, “In addition to my many positive qualities…” (He interrupted to invoke the Deity.) “…charm, chiseled features, rugged good looks, superior intellect, superlative education, modesty and humility…” (I paused while they discussed the termination of my services…) “I know my audience.”

I then continued in a more serious vein…

“Our competitor wants to please his Board members and wants to attract clients. So he no doubt badgers his contacts at the paper and finally gets them to send a reporter to write a story and take a photo. Who knows if the story is accurate? On the other hand, while I also want to please our Board members and attract clients, my primary audience, the person I care most about, are the editors of the various papers. If I give them what they need, “fillers,” they’ll publish my photos with the captions. I know the stories (captions) are accurate and that people are actually more likely to read captions than long articles. So I focus on the editors. I give them what they want. And we get what we want.”

And, no, I was not fired!

So what is the mistake that job seekers make? They focus on the wrong person. It’s human nature but it’s still a mistake. In other words, instead of focusing on the editors, they focus on the chairman of the Board and clients. They should be focused on the employer not themselves.

First, candidates apply for jobs they want, not jobs for which they are wanted. There’s a huge difference. You see your dream job. You know you can do it. You really, really, really want it! And you apply. And you don’t even get an automated response for their computer system rejecting you. Why? Because they don’t want you. And if you had read the qualifications listed on the job description, through the employer’s eyes and not yours, you would have known you were not going to be considered because they don’t want you. And if they don’t want you, you are wasting your time.

Now, that said, there is nothing wrong with introducing yourself to an employer. Maybe that are thinking about hiring someone for a position that is not yet advertised. And maybe you get lucky. So by all means, send your resume to employers who are hiring, just don’t apply for jobs for which you are unqualified. HR people don’t like that. Some even ask the questions, “Can’t this person read?” “Don’t they know what ‘Required’ means?”

So Rule Number One is, Only apply for jobs for which you are qualified. You will save a lot of frustration.

Now, to continue with our all too real hypothetical scenario, a candidate finds a job for which they are qualified. Now that have to open their tool box. Just as a carpenter, plumber, or electrician needs the right tool for the right job, so does the job seeker.

The first tool in the job seeker’s tool box is the cover letter. The beauty of the cover letter is that, sadly, today, no one knows how to write. So if you write a well-written cover letter, that is short, sweet and to the point, you have already differentiated yourself from your competition in the best possible way.

Now your cover letter needs to answer two questions: What do you want and why should they (the employer) want you? So you clearly state the job for which you are applying and then, in the second paragraph, in one or two sentences, you tell the employer what you have done for your current or previous employer that shows that you can not only fulfill the responsibilities of the job but exceed them. In other words, you don’t tell them why you want the job, you tell them why they should want you. That’s Rule Number Two.

Then you go back to your tool box and remove the other tool you have: Your resume. Rule Number Three is that the resume has to be focused on the employer and not on the candidate. No employer cares what you think about yourself. So a “Personal Statement” or “Personal Philosophy” is simply silly and a waste of valuable real estate. And having an “Objective” is just plain stupid. Your objective should be to get the job for which you are applying. If it is something else, you should not be applying for the job.

So how do you focus your resume on the employer and not on yourself. It’s really quite simple:

Begin with a section titled “Selected Accomplishments.” These are bullet points that, like the second paragraph of the cover letter, tell the employer why they should hire you. It makes you a “safe” hire because they know, or at least they figure, if you did this for others you can do it for them. But it also makes them think: Do we want him/her working for the competition or us?

Also, a good interviewer asks, “Tell me about a failure you had?” It’s a great question. So answer it on the resume. Following “Selected Accomplishments” have a second titled, “Selected Failure.” That’s “failure” singular not plural. Again, as a bullet point, briefly state what the failure was. Then write, in bold What I learned: And then, no surprise, tell them what you learned. This shows that you are self-aware and learn from your failures. Everyone has failed at something. The only time you should be ashamed is if you repeat your failures.

And then there is a third section, “What I want to learn.” This will tell the employer something about you as a professional. It reinforces the fact that you are self-aware and indicates where you want to go with your career. So, for example, if you are in IT, you might include getting certifications. If you are a fundraiser you might want to mention learning planned giving. If you are a teacher, you could mention educational administration. Now with COVID the question will come up, if you have been unemployed for the past three-four months, how have you been spending your time? What have you been doing to achieve these educational goals? If you have not been doing anything to improve professionally, well you have made a very big mistake. I strongly advice that you start correcting it NOW.

So when looking for a job, and applying for a job, keep focused on the employer. Before they will meet your needs, you have to meet theirs. That’s life. That is how the game is played.

Oh, and it’s the same for the interviews. As far as I am concerned, the questions you ask are far more important than the answers you give. But this article is long enough and that’s a topic for another day.

“Tell Us About Yourself”

It is the one constant. It is the one question all career counseling clients ask me. “How do I respond when they ask, ‘Tell me about yourself’?”

Well, my first response is always the same. “It’s not a question, it’s an opportunity. So the real question you should be asking is, ‘What’s the best way to take advantage of the opportunity?”

The mistake most people make is to summarize their resume. The interviewer(s) has/have already seen your resume. They know what’s in it. They like it or they would not be interviewing you. So this is the chance to tell them something about yourself that is not on your resume. Within a professional context, it’s an opportunity to tell them about the person they will be hiring and not just the professional. It’s a chance to focus on what is truly meaningful for you. It is a way to tell them about your character. Here are three examples:

I’ll begin with the story I like to tell about myself. I’ve written about it before so my regular readers know it. For those of you who do not, I’ll keep it short:

Let me tell you about my best day on the job. I was volunteered to dress up for a fair as a cartoon character. My colleagues chose Big Bird. When I entered the gym where the fair was taking place, one little girl came over and grabbed my leg. For four hours she did not leave my side. She was either holding my leg or my hand. At the end of the fair I had her father pick her up so I could give her a hug. She must have been no more than seven-years-old. After the (mutual) hug, I took a few steps back to get a good luck at her. I waved to her. She said, “Bye-bye Big Bird” to me, I waved to everyone else, and went back to my office to get out of the costume.

When I left my office I was covered in perspiration, had a towel around my neck and was drinking from a bottle of water. I saw the girl’s mother. I had thought everyone knew who I was. (Never make assumptions!) I went over to her and said, “No one has ever hugged me the way your daughter hugged me.” She looked at me like I was the biggest pervert on the planet.

I then began anew. I introduced myself and said, “I was Big Bird.” Her expression totally changed and she got all 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.”

That was my best day on the job.

Now when I would tell the story properly, it took a good five minutes. I usually had at least three-quarters of the women and half of the men in tears and I always got the job offer!

Next story:

I once had a veteran come to me. He was in this mid-twenties. He had served one tour of duty in the Infantry. The mission of my company is to promote the hiring of veterans, so I am use to the modesty of veterans. I’ve even had a Silver Star recipient not want to tell me about his honors! (Of course, as soon as he did, and we made them front and center on his resume, his phone started ringing!) So when we got to the “Tell me about yourself” portion of our consultation he was adamant that he had done nothing of any significance during his service.

I wasn’t buying it for a minute. I believed him when he said he simply followed orders, attacked what needed to be attacked, defended what needed to be defended, and did what soldiers do. Well, I happen to know that the thing soldiers do most of their time is wait or guard duty. Being a soldier can be very boring. So I asked him what he had guarded.

Of course, he said, “Nothing important.” But I pushed him and finally he said, “Construction sites.” Turned out, he guarded a site, in Afghanistan, where they were building a school. Not just any school, but a school for girls. Not just any girls, but girls who had never been in a school before.

So I asked him, “Did you see the girls enter the school?” “Yes.” “Were they smiling?” “Yes.” “Did they come back the next day?” “Yes.” “Were they still smiling?” “Yes.” “So you protected girls going to school for the first time in their lives?” “Yes.”

My story has become known as the “Big Bird Story” and I had told him about it. So I said, “That’s your Big Bird Story.”

At his next interview he said,

Let me tell you about my best day in the Army. I was guarding a construction site. They were building a school for girls. Once it was built, we protected the students. I can’t begin to tell you what it meant to me to see the smiling faces of little girls going to school for the first time in their lives.

He got the job.

Third story:

Like the Big Bird story, the next and final example was unintentional. I was being nice to that little girl. I was doing what Big Bird would have done! I was not trying to get an autistic girl to speak to me. It just happened. I would never take credit for an unintentional act. And, in the next example, I did not intend for anything more to happen than for my client to get the job offer.

This client, as they say, “was a woman of a certain age.” She came to me specifically for interviewing assistance. She had a job interview, the next day (!), and wanted to practice. She sent me the job description and her resume, and we got started.

Now let me tell you a little secret. No one but the interviewers know the questions they are going to ask candidates. So-called “experts,” like myself, guess. We don’t know. But it is safe to assume they will review the job description. If they don’t they’re idiots! It is also safe to assume they will offer the “Tell us about yourself” opportunity. And when we got to it, the fun began.

She was applying for a job as an assistant director of purchasing. She was totally qualified. I asked her, because it was not on her resume (which, I hasten to add, it would have been if I had prepared it!), what were here special accomplishments? Of course, she said she had none. She just did like everyone else. She got three bids for all purchases above (I think) $500 and would make a decision or recommendation based on price and quality.

Truth was, she really had done nothing special. She was good at her job and that was it. But That was not good enough.

Then I noticed her left hand. She was wearing a wedding ring, but no engagement ring. I asked her why. She told me she never received one. “We got engaged when we signed our pre-nup. I didn’t want or need jewelry.”

First thing I did was ask her if she was Jewish and had a sister. She laughed. And then I said, “If this is true, here’s your Big Bird Story.”

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I don’t bring my personal life into the workplace but in this case, it’s relevant.

A lot of people have a split personality. They act one way at home and another at work. I don’t. As you may have noticed, I don’t have an engagement ring. What you don’t know is I have a prenuptial agreement. I know it’s technically not a bribe, but morally it is. I don’t accept bribes. And I don’t enter into agreements without knowing exactly what is expected of me and what I can expect from the other person. It’s the same in business. I get everything in writing and I never accept gifts from vendors. I look for the best price and highest quality for my company, not the best restaurant coupons or event tickets for myself.

I told her, “Once you say that, shut up!”

And she did. Now, I had also warned her to include a caveat, “I am not criticizing others, this is just my way,” if there were any women in the room with engagement rings. In this case there were no women at all. That was both a curse and a blessing.

The curse was that the woman she really had to meet was the director of purchasing. She would be working for her and she had called in sick. There was no time to reschedule the appointment so the owner of the company decided to sit in on the meeting. That was the blessing. This was what was unintentional with my advice:

The owner told her that she had to meet with the director but he was extremely impressed and looked forward to welcoming her to “the family.” This was after she had given the above response. As far as he was concerned, he had heard enough and the interview was over.

What happened next was totally unexpected.

The owner realized that the director of purchasing had a very nice engagement ring, along with her wedding ring. She did a good job. He had no complaints. But now he had suspicions. So he took it on himself to spend the day on the phone talking to vendors, none of which had changed since the director started working their five years earlier (thus his suspicions). It turned out that everyone of them had give the director a gift. Some gave gifts for the holidays and a few actually gave them when contracts were signed. And, apparently, these were not simple trinkets, mugs or t-shirts with corporate logos. We are talking dinners-for-two at fancy restaurants and great seats to sporting events. The director had never said a word about them and, of course, had never shared with her colleagues. (Whether they were “gifts” or “bribes,” you can decide for yourself!)

That evening, the owner picked up the phone and called my client. He offered her the directorship, not the assistant position and, as she was unemployed, asked her to start the next morning. He told her what had happened. She accepted the offer. He fired the director.

There are a lot of good reasons to sign pre-nups and some bad reasons not to, but this is one I never saw coming!

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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.

Two New Sections for Your Resume

In graduate school, one of my professors explained the difference between plagiarism and research. “Plagiarism,” he told us, “was when you steal from one author. Research is when you steal from more than one!” (It was his attempt at humor, but the point was well taken!)

Not wanting to be accused of plagiarism (which I can’t even spell without Bill Gates), I got the idea for this article reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s excellent book, The Black Swan, available wherever fine books are sold, etc., etc., etc.

I never make guarantees. If you come to me for career counseling, I can’t guarantee that my advice will get you a job. I can only guarantee that I will keep my promises. But, in this case, I absolutely am almost certain (that’s for the lawyers) that I can pretty much (again, the lawyers) guarantee that if you add the following two sections to your resume, it will be read, noticed and may even get you an interview.

As my readers know, I believe that the first section of a resume, literally front and center, should be “Selected Accomplishments” – bullet points highlighting what you have done for other employers. The idea is to make prospective employers, the recipients of your resume, comfortable, at a minimum, to bring you in for an interview. The logic is, they will think, “If she did it for them, she can do it for us,” or “We better bring him in or our competitors will!”

But what if, following “Selected Accomplishments,” you had a new section? A novel section? An unprecedented section? I have been a recruiter for 17 years and this is something I have never seen.

What if you had a section, “Selected Failures?” It would have two or three bullet points of your failures – we have all had them – and, most importantly, highlight what you learned from them. “Tell me about your failures,” in one form or another, is a common interview request. So why not make it a common section on a resume?

So you begin your resume with your accomplishments, continue with your failures, and now comes the second new section. Admit to your ignorance. As with anything else, knowing you have a problem is the first step in solving it. Admitting ignorance is the first step to knowledge. We all know that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. So here’s the second new section, to follow “Selected Failures:”

“What I Want to Learn.” If you are applying for an entry level IT job, let’s say a Help Desk position, maybe you would list, again as bullet points, Cybersecurity. Perhaps a foreign language. Perhaps learning to play a musical instrument. What does it matter? The important thing is that you want to show the prospective employer that you want to better yourself. What’s not to like about that? And, as with “Failures,” I have never seen this on a resume so it is sure to grab someone’s attention.

So after showing the employer the good you have brought to others and that you admit to and learn from your mistakes, tell them how you want to improve yourself. If a resume like that does not resonate with an employer, my guess is that that is not an employer for whom you want to work.

Good luck, and as this post is being published May 25, have a Meaningful Memorial Day.

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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