Recession Proof Jobs

Crain’s New York Business (July  26 – August 1, 2010 issue) just published a story highlighting the fact that there are more IT jobs in metro-New York than qualified candidates.  IT is a great example of a recession proof job.  Why?

Let’s begin with a definition of “recession proof.”  Don’t worry, I am not going to have a relapse into my former life as an academic and produce a good theoretical definition.  I never was keen on theory!  Here’s my practical definition:  If it’s in demand, it’s recession proof.

So how do we know what’s in demand?  Here’s my test:  If you can’t live without it, it’s in demand and therefore, by definition, recession proof.

Imagine the follow scenario:  The electricity at work goes off at 2 in the afternoon.  For sake of argument, it’s a comfortable weather day outside.  No humidity.  Not very warm.  So no need for the AC.  You open the window, a nice breeze comes in, and plenty of light.  You can see, but that’s about it.  No one is complaining that the phones aren’t ringing.  If it’s really important everyone has a cell.  But there are no computers.  You can’t work.  What’s worse, you didn’t get a chance to save what you were working on before the power went off, so you lost your work.  You’re angry!  And you are frustrated because you can’t send e-mails, can’t shop, and can’t play a game because the Internet is down.  You simply can’t function without your computer.  And that’s why IT is recession proof.

So what else can’t we live without?  No matter how bad the economy is we still need to get things fixed.  In fact, in a recession it’s better to fix than to buy new… thus the recession… So we need the mechanic, the plumber, the electrician.

We also need to just relax for a few hours.  So, as long as the product is good, we’ll go to our favorite restaurant for a nice meal once a week, maybe fortnightly (one of my favorite words!).  And, when push comes to shove, everyone needs to get away.  Granted, it may not be as far and as glamorous as a few years ago, but a short vacation close to home can sometimes suit a person’s needs just as well, if not better, than a long lavish trip.  So food services and the hospitality industries are, to a great extent, recession proof.

Of course, health care is also recession proof and it’s so recession proof that there’s no need to explain why!


“None Are”

People are human.  They make mistakes.  They get tongue-tied.  Their brains sometimes get ahead of their mouths.  As we all know, given the choice, as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, between being in the box or giving the eulogy, most people would prefer to be in the box!

I once produced two television programs and hosted one of them.  The first time I was on live television I looked like a deer caught in headlights.  I was praying for death.  After a few weeks I was no longer nervous.  I was enjoying myself.

Not everyone is good at making speeches.  And even those who are sometimes say the wrong thing – Democrats and Republicans alike!  Sarah Palin says “refudiate” and Barak Obama pronounces “corps,” “corpse.”  Most shockingly of all, when I was interviewing a New York State senator about prescription medication costs for seniors, I asked about pharmaceutical company “copyrights” instead of “patents.”

My pet-peeve is the title of this posting.  “None” means “no one.”  It’s singular, not plural.  It’s “none is” not “none are.”

We all make mistakes.  Those who will never be on camera, those who will never be in the public eye, those who will always be followers and not leaders, and those who make their living criticizing others, will always be happy to point out the faults of others.  It says more about them than their targets.

When a candidate is on a job interview they can relax.  Most employers recognize the fact that interviewees are nervous.  A few grammatical errors will be forgiven – but only a few, and only during the interview.

I have had clients lose job offers because of the errors (spelling and grammatical) in their thank you letters.  I can only assume that some candidates never get called because of mistakes on their resumes and cover letters.   If you remember nothing else remember this: Prufreed!  Prufread!  Proofreed!

Oh, and remember one more thing:  We can’t all be Churchills!

“I Can’t Interview During Work. They’ll Have to See Me After Hours”

Interviewing for a job can be a scary thing.  First, you might have a guilty conscience that you are doing something behind your boss’s back.  You feel disloyal.  News Flash:  You’re Not!  It’s part of life.  Everyone does it.

The second problem, which is more real, is that you are worried you are going to “get caught,” the boss will get angry and fire you.  Maybe, but that’s the life of a job seeker.  You have to go on interviews.

This comes up frequently.  “I can’t take off from work.  They will have to meet me after hours.”  That is a common refrain amongst candidates.  My answer is always the same, “If you want a new job you are going to have to make time for interviews on the employer’s schedule.”  Of course, everyone tries to work something out.  Often the employer will be happy to meet after hours.   In any case, be prepared to take off from work.

Another issue that sometimes comes up is dress code.  Often a candidate will come to my office dressed casually.  He, or she, will immediately apologize and explain that if they had worn a suit, “they would know at the office I’m interviewing.”  But then they immediately add, “Don’t worry.  For an interview I’ll take the day off and dress appropriately.”

And that’s usually how it is done.  Candidates don’t want to feel rushed or stressed before an interview.  You never know what is going to happen at work.  An emergency could come up necessitating having to call me to cancel the appointment.  The solution, albeit not foolproof, is to take the day off.  If it’s an initial phone interview, schedule it around lunchtime and have the employer call you on your cell.  You can either close the door to your office or go outside.  In any case, you can honestly tell your colleagues that you have  personal matter to deal with.

Where Should You Be Looking for Work?

If you are not acquainted with the University of Toronto’s Richard Florida I advise your learning about him.  He’s an economist that regular people, me for instance, can actually understand.  In his new book, The Great Reset: How New Way of Living and Working Drive Post- Crash Prosperity, he writes the following:

The United States will add 15.3 million new jobs between 2008 and 2018, according to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Nearly all of that growth – 13.8 million new jobs – will occur in creative and professional jobs on the one hand, and service, administrative, and clerical jobs on the other, which are projected to add 6.9 million new jobs each.  Working-class jobs will grow by 1.5 million overall, but most of that growth will be concentrated in construction and transportation.  The U.S. economy will shed another 349,000 production jobs, the blue-collar factory jobs that were the mainstay of the industrial economy.  And employment in manufacturing industries broadly will decline by 1.2 million jobs, as the so-called goods-producing sector of the economy continues to fall from 17.3 percent in 1998 to 14.2 percent in 2008 and 23.9 percent by 2018.

He also quotes Mort Zuckerman, the editor in chief of US News and World Report as writing, “If there is any growth in jobs, it will come mostly from healthcare, education, restaurants and hospitality services…. Healthcare alone made up all the net jobs created in the last decade… Such service jobs cannot, however, support growth and innovation.”

So if you are looking for a new career, keep this in mind:  Sometimes statistics don’t lie!

Why Do People Lie and Think They Can Get Away With It?

We were working on a search for an assistant controller.  We found a CPA.  He was hired.  For whatever reason the controller, his boss, decided to check his CPA license.  Turns out, he didn’t have one.  He was immediately fired.  Funny story:  He didn’t need to be a CPA to get the job.  He lied for no reason.  His excuse:  He had taken all the courses but had yet to pass the exams.

Of course our CPA-Want-To-Be is not unique.  One president, who eventually was able to repair his image to some degree, will always be remembered for “I am not a crook!”  Another, who has yet to repair his image, will forever be known for “It all depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is,” and, of course, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky!”

Why do people lie?  Let’s face it, we all do it on occasion.  Usually it is to avoid confrontation.  We don’t want to be blamed when something goes wrong.  We are embarrassed.  Only once since I became an executive recruiter did I really screw up.  Long story short, I sent an e-mail to the accounting department of a client announcing a new position I was looking to fill.  It was for their department!  I got a call from the fellow who was being replaced.  Although the e-mail was very generic, he recognized the position and new it was his job.

This happened late in the afternoon and I was physically ill over it.  The next day I called the HR director.  It was our first conversation.  When she was finished telling me what I needed to know about the search, I told her that I had something to tell her.  I confessed my stupidity, said I would understand if she wanted another recruiter to work on the search, apologized profusely and shut up!  She was silent and then said, “I appreciate your telling me.  I don’t like to be blindsided.  I’m glad you know that it’s never the crime that get’s you, it’s the cover up!

I’m not singing my own praises.  This was a lesson I learned from my first boss.  He always said, “I won’t fire anyone who doesn’t lie to me.  I want to hear the problem from the guy whose responsible, not from the angry customer.”

We all make mistakes.  Why hide them?  As long as you learn from them they are real assets.  My favorite story is from IBM.  They gave someone $1.5 million to start a new business.  A year later the money was gone and the business was a failure.  He went to his supervisor and offered him his resignation.  “Why would we accept your resignation?  We just spent a million and a half dollars educating you!”

One mistake you cannot afford to make is lying during the employment process.  As with the non-CPA, even if it is irrelevant to the job you have been hired to do, if  you lie on your resume you may be fired.  What constitutes a lie?  That’s a tough one.  Here’s my answer:  If you are basically an honest person and would be embarrassed if the employer were to verify statements on your resume, don’t put those statements in your resume.  Said differently, If you don’t want it reported in tomorrow’s newspaper, don’t do it!

You will almost always be caught.  Over time, with all due modesty, I have gotten pretty good at spotting lies and embellishments.  People talk about increasing sales by a certain percentage.  I always ask for the real numbers.  Or, during a face-to-face interview, they stop looking me in the eye or start speaking in a low voice.  Degrees from unaccredited universities now pop off the page when I see them.  And my all time favorite, when someone sends me an updated resume – even though they know I have the old one – which is totally different from the previous one.  I’m not that stupid!

How to Research a Company or Non-Profit

Congratulations!  You have an interview.  You wrote a great cover letter and an even better resume.  The HR Department called and has invited you in for an interview.  Now the work really begins.

Every person who interviews at that company or non-profit goes to their website to learn all they can.  Some may memorize what is written there.  Some may devour their annual reports.  Everything on that website is information you must have.  But that is not enough.  You need more.  The website is the minimum.  You have to differentiate yourself from the competition by knowing the maximum.

The first thing you should do is to make certain that the company/non-profit is duly registered in the State where you are going to interview.  In New York, visit the New York State Secretary of State’s website and do a search.  It’s very easy.  If it is not there, try Delaware.  If nothing comes up you may have a problem.  You definitely have something to ask them about.

There are a few websites you can go to to get information on corporations.  The most known is Hoovers which is a Dunn and Bradstreet company.   You may also want to try Workstreamer.  With Workstreamer you can set up an account, for free (you have to pay for Hoovers) and track the web presence of whatever company you are searching for.  Which brings me to the obvious: Google the company, the key leadership and, if you have them, the names of all the people with whom you will be meeting.  At a minimum use LinkedIn.   Do a company search so you can see who works at the company.  Learn what you can about them.  It will reveal to you a great deal about the corporate culture.

If you are applying for a position at a non-profit you will have an added tool, Guidestar.  Guidestar is a database of all the non-profits in the country.  Most importantly, you can download, in most cases, the organization’s 990.  The 990 is the tax form that all non-profits with annual revenue of over $25,000 must file.  From the 990 you will learn how much the organization raises in private contributions, from the government, and in programming fees.  You’ll also be able to see their budget and find out who their leadership is and what they earn.  That will obviously be very helpful to you in your salary negotiations.  You may also want to visit the Better Business Bureau for both charities and non-profits, and Charity Navigator for an analysis of business practices specifically, what percentage of donations actually goes for services.   A non-profit that spends too much (over 25%) on administrative costs, may not be well-run – although there are exceptions to every rule.

One word of caution: Think twice before you pull out photocopies of the information you have downloaded.  You may actually know more than the person interviewing you about the company.  Wait until you are being interviewed by a decision maker before asking the tough questions.

Good luck!

How to Quit

If you are three and no doubt imitating what you see at home, you might get away with it.  But you’re not three and the way that you quit will be how you will be remembered.  So as much as you would like to act like a three year old, you can’t.

First, you must keep your job search confidential otherwise your employer will start looking for your replacement and if the employer finds the replacement before you secure a new job, you will be unemployed.  Granted, there are rare occasions when an employee can confide in an employer, but they are very rare.

Once you have secured the new job, it all comes down to leaving without burning bridges:

The most asked question concerns how much notice to give.  Acceptable notice is the number of days equal to your annual vacation.  All new employers realize that new employees have to give notice.  They have no problem with that.  No one wants to hire someone who would leave with only a day or two notice.

Write a positive letter of resignation to your immediate supervisor.  Thank her for all she has done for you.  Recollect any successes.  Everything needs to be positive.  Make certain to emphasize that you will be available by phone to provide any assistance and state what you final day will be.

The importance of the letter of resignation is that it will go in your personnel file.  No matter what anyone ever writes about you, the letter will constitute your side of the story, so to speak.  If someone wants to attack you in your absence, your letter will provide the balance.  Basically, let them know what they are losing!

In all likelihood there will be an exit interview.  In an exit interview the key is to be professional and not to criticize.  The HR interviewer is going to be taking notes that the soon-to-be former employee will never see.  Even the slightest criticism can be magnified and taken out of context.  The interviewee is under no obligation to help his or her soon-to-be former employer improve policies and procedures.  Focus on the positive.  Smile.  Be humorous.  Say nothing negative.  Be complimentary and appreciative.  Keep to the high road.  Reminisce about the good times.

That is the best way not to burn bridges on the spot.  However, once you leave, you can (within reason) say whatever you want.  What you do not want to do is to bad-mouth a former employer around the new/present employer because he or she will know you will do it to them.  So, if you must, vent to friends and relatives not to colleagues and associates.  And make certain that your friends and relatives will not repeat what you said.  So, in the end, it may be better to say nothing to anyone.  It comes down to this:  It’s over.  Move on!

Then there is the issue of work finished and yet to be finished.  Work areas must be clean and well-organized.  Most importantly, files have to be filed logically.  Someone has to know where everything is.  Leave a phone number with colleagues (they won’t see the letter of resignation) so that if any problem arises, if there are any questions (and there will be), they can contact you.  You never want to be accused of sabotage.  Explain in detail to whomever is chosen to finish on-going or uncompleted projects what you have done and what needs to be done.  Leave a written report explaining everything.  It makes life easy for those following you, shows you are a team player, and makes it very difficult for the old employer to bad-mouth you – since you will have a copy of the report and the (old) boss will know it!  Burning bridges is a two-way street; the employer can burn them with the employee as well!  Don’t give him, or her, ammunition.

The worst example I can give of someone leaving a job was a past associate who left his desk in a shambles.  He took files with him.  We could not find anything and he rarely returned our calls – and never during regular office hours.   Another individual left, seemingly, the right way.  He offered to finish a project.  The boss agreed and granted him remote access to our computer system.  One afternoon, despite the fact that he had to have known that we were all in the office, he logged on to the system and went into files not related to his work.  He destroyed his reputation in a few mouse clicks.   Learn from their mistakes!

When to Quit

Whenever I receive a resume the first thing I look at is tenure.  How long did the candidate stay at each of his or her jobs?  Jumpers, persons who leave after a relatively short period, are usually rejected.  I say “usually” because sometimes in the cover letter or on the resume itself the candidate explains constant departures.

It’s funny.  Some people think “I was recruited out” is a good thing.  It isn’t.  It means you don’t want to keep a job and will leave anytime you get a better offer.  “My spouse relocated” is a much better explanation – but only if you can honestly say that your spouse is contractually obligated to keep  his or her present job for an extended period.

We all make mistakes.  Most people who have worked for an extended period have a few short term employments on their resumes.  I have two.  But I also have a few six year stays.

Based on experience I will predict that anyone who has had one employer for 20 years or more will not last a year with his or her next employer.  They only know how to do things one way and the change is difficult.  They will, however, do quite well with employer number three!

If you have been at a job for an extended period, at least three years, there is nothing wrong with considering a move.  But what happens if you accept a new job and then realize, after a few weeks, that you have made a mistake?

My advice is to seek employment elsewhere.  I do not believe that it will be held against you if you say on an interview, “This was a mistake.  I learned from it.  Even though I did my homework, I just could not have anticipated the culture.  I’m more ‘old-school.’  I know this will not work out for me and I don’t believe in dragging things out.  It’s not fair to the employer, it’s not fair to my family, it’s not fair to me.”

If it happens once, that’s my advice.  If it happens twice, especially one after the other, then you will have a serious problem and it might be better to grin and bear it.

How to Get a Matchmaker to Shut Up or an HR Director…

I do not like matchmakers.  I consider they busy-bodies who interfere in other people’s lives without being willing to take responsibility for their actions.

I would usually get them to leave me alone by asking them what they would do if the first date did not work out.  “Well, if you’re so certain that we would be ‘a perfect match,’ will you pay for the first date?  Refund the money if the date does not go well?  And if the marriage does not work out what type of liability will you assume?”

To be perfectly honest, they always walked away thinking I was nuts.  I needed to come up with something new.  I did!

The first question I ask now is, “What’s her credit score?”  Almost always the response is, “I don’t know how much she makes.”  I immediately respond that a credit score has nothing to do with wealth but with a person’s financial responsibility.  The second question is, “Whose her physician?”  The response is always a blank look.

I then summarize:  “So you have no idea if she is financially responsible or healthy.  You could be setting me up without someone who would destroy my credit score and who could be dead in six months.  You really don’t know anything important about her, do you?”

And that ends the conversation.   So how do you end a conversation with an HR director, a CEO or an owner who is trying to convince you that their company or organization is the place where you want to work?  (Remember, interviews are two-way streets.  You not only have the right to ask questions, asking good questions can land you the job just as asking poor questions can cost you the job!)  Ask two questions:  What’s your turnover rate and what’s the average tenure of an employee?

If on average 15% or more of employees leave every year, you may want to reconsider working at the company.  Average tenure is a different matter.   Junior staff should leave after a few years.  That shows that the company is a good place to learn.  Middle staff should remain much longer.  That’s a sign that it’s a good place to grow.  Senior staff should stay the longest – over 10 years.  That means the company is stable and a good place from which to retire.

Of course, if they can’t answer the question that means that they don’t care.  It could also mean that they know but don’t want to tell you.  That also tells you everything you need to know…

Answering the Tough Questions

It might sometimes feel this way, but usually there are only one or two persons interviewing a candidate at the same time.  Of course, if the questions are difficult it really does not matter how many people are in the room, you have to have the right answer and the right demeanor.  Here are some suggestions about how to handle tough situations:

Body language is important.  Look your interviewer straight in the eyes.  Sit up straight.  Be animated.  Don’t frown or smirk.  For that matter, if it is a serious issue, don’t smile.  Don’t be afraid to appear nervous.  It’s an interview.  You’re supposed to be nervous!

But here’s the secret: Tell the truth!  Eventually your lies will catch up with you.  And it’s too difficult to remember all the lies, so just tell the truth.

The second and final thing to remember: Don’t badmouth former employers and colleagues.  That always sends the wrong message.  The interviewer will know that if today you are badmouthing your previous employer, if he hires you then tomorrow you’ll be badmouthing him.

So how do you handle actual difficult questions?

Why did you leave your last position? I’ve had to deal with this one myself.  This is how I answer.

I appreciate the question because I do not want to be in a similar situation.   The first job I left after many years because I was concerned about ethical issues.  Suffice it to say that my former exec is now selling real estate.  The next job only lasted six months.  It was a new position and was never filled.  I stayed for a total of over 4 years at my next position, although I left for six months because I wanted new challenges.  While I could not put my finger on it, I suspected that something was not right at the new place.  Suffice it to say that a few years after I left the execs pleaded guilty to grand larceny and the organization no longer exists.  I then got my old job back and, as I became more involved with leadership, had questions about personnel issues which were never dealt with to my satisfaction.  Finally, I left my last position because I did not feel that the company was viable.  It has subsequently been sold.  So now let me ask you a question:  What this all comes down to is ethics and values.  Give me an example of a decision that your company made that was based on values and not necessarily on the bottom line.

This reply serves two purposes: It prepares the interviewer for the fact that I will not have a supervisor as a reference.  More importantly it allows me to frame the discussion.  It is no longer about why I left my previous jobs but rather why I won’t be tempted to leave my next job if the interviewer offers it.   This is truthfully what I said at each job interview and I have never been unemployed for more than a few weeks.

How much are you looking for? This one is actually simple.  If you are interviewing for a job that does not necessitate your moving, ask for a 10% raise plus the cost of any new commute.  If you have to move, ask for 20%.  It’s justifiable because you are leaving your support system and uprooting your family.  That said, do the math.  Benefits are a part of compensation.  I once had a candidate who took a $20,000 cut in salary because the new employer’s health insurance prescription plan was going to save him more than $20,000 on his children’s medication.

When can you start? If the answer is, “Tomorrow,” you won’t get the job.  No one is going to hire someone who would leave his present employer without proper notice.  “Proper notice” is the time equal to your vacation days.  For junior positions it’s usually two weeks; for senior positions it’s usually four.  You should also tell your new employer that you will remain in contact with your colleagues for a transition period.  You do not want projects that you are working on to fall between the cracks.  This shows that you are responsible.  If the new employer has a problem with any of this, you probably don’t want to work for him.

What are your weaknesses? Everyone has a weakness or two.  Be prepared, but turn it around.  Say something like, “My weaknesses are that I sometimes don’t manage my time well resulting in my working late hours.”  The interviewer now knows that you don’t mind working late.  “Also, there are times when I am working on a project that isn’t going anywhere and I feel like if I pull the plug I’ll be letting the team down.”  Now you have shown that you are a team player.  “So when I actually pull the plug, it bothers me.”  In other words, you can make the tough decisions.

(For the record, the answer I always give is that I am terrible at following travel directions – I have literally gotten lost going around the corner – and I don’t tolerate fools well!)

Surprisingly, this appears to be the most difficult question of all:

Why do you want to work here? If you remember nothing else (except for telling the truth!) remember this: DO YOUR HOMEWORK!  Know everything that is possible to know about the company and the persons interviewing you.  Don’t just go to the company’s website.  Google them.  Find press releases and newspaper articles.  This is your one chance to really make an impression.  Tell them what has impressed you and ask pointed questions about their long-term plans.  Show them through your answer and questions that you can investigate, learn and engage.