Overqualified!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s posting, Miguel from Madrid asked me to write on the topic of culture.  He also asked me about how to deal with the charge that a candidate is overqualified for a position.

This, of course, is usually an issue with older employees.  As I told Lee Miller of New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger,

If age is going to be viewed as a positive by a prospective employer, the candidate needs to view it that way. He or she has to confidently present the reasons why his or her experience is valuable to the employer. Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, warns that “older candidates all tend to say the same thing — ‘I have the experience. I have the maturity. Been there, done that!’ The problem is they sound like they are defending themselves.

The more effective way to get the message across is to deal with the issue from the employer’s perspective, not the candidate’s. For example, Hurwitz suggests an older worker could say, “With me there will be a smaller learning curve. You are not going to have to make a serious investment. I have been doing this for a long time. What I need to learn is how you do it. You’re not hiring me to change your procedures; I have to learn how to do things your way.”

I really have nothing to add if “overqualified” actually means “old.”  But thinking about the topic anew, I realized that someone who is young can also be overqualified.

For example, fresh out of college Jane started her own business.  It was highly successful and she sold it.  She signed a non-compete and is now looking for a job with an established company.  HR’s reaction: “Well, you were owner of your own business.  How are you going to feel having a boss and having to report to someone else?”

My reaction would be, “I wish you were right.  It would have been great not having to report to anyone.  But, in truth, the reason I was able to build a successful business was that I realized that I had multiple bosses to whom I had to report.  Every customer was a boss.  I had to keep them all happy.  Just having one boss to report to will be a breeze by comparison.  The important thing to note is that having had all of those bosses the one thing I know is customer service.”

Another example.  John has applied for an IT position with a small firm.  Presently he is a small fish in a big pool.  He wants to be a big fish in a small pool.  HR’s comment:  “Look.  You’re coming from a huge company.  You had things we don’t have here: budgets, infrastructure, staff.  We’re a little guy.  How are you going to feel working at a place with limited resources?”

My reply:  “First, because I have been with the big boys, so to speak, I know what it takes to get there.  I can assure you that you will have no infrastructure surprises as you grow.  But that’s besides the point.  Working here will feed the two needs I cannot get with my present company, the challenge of having to deal with limited budgets while achieving the same goals and my entrepreneurial nature.  Big companies are pretty set in their ways.  I want to be innovative.”

Once upon a time there was an overqualified clerk in a Swiss patent office…

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Good Racists

Readers of this blog know two things:  First, the purpose of the title is to get people to read the article and, more likely than not, if the title is provocative, any connection between it and the actual contents of the posting is purely coincidental.  Not in this case.

But first, I must thank Miguel in Madrid for having suggested the topic of “culture.”

Good racists are racists who are proud of their racism.  They literally wear it on their sleeves.  We can spot them and avoid them.  It’s the racists who hide behind political correctness or feigned caring who are the real threat.

Racism – and here’s the link to the topic – is not a problem of education, it’s a problem of culture.  Our culture comes from how we are raised.  In the animal kingdom, puppies and kittens raised together don’t know that they are supposed to be natural enemies.  So when they mature, those puppies, now dogs, don’t attack cats and the kittens, as cats, don’t run away when they see a dog.

The same is true in the human kingdom.  Put children of different races together from birth, cut them off from the world-at-large, and they will be shocked to discover that they are supposed to believe that their differences are in some way negatives.

While our differences are not negatives, they are real.  One (for a very short time) prospective client told me that she did not want me to submit any candidates who were “minorities” because “they would not fit in here.”  That’s racism of the worst kind.  No question about it.  Nothing to discuss.  Nothing to debate.

However, making culture an issue in the hiring process is not racism.  Culture is something that has interested me for some time.  I even have been published on the subject.

I have conducted two searches in what is usually referred to in the US as “the deep South,” but as I like to refer to simply as “the Confederacy.”  In both cases the clients were the nicest people you would ever want to meet.  In both cases, after obtaining the contracts to conduct the searches, I had a 20 minute conversation with the HR directors.  For the first minute or so we discussed the normal pleasantries.  The second and third minutes were devoted to any questions I had about the job descriptions.  The fourth and fifth minutes were spent on reviewing the job qualifications.  The remaining 15 minutes consisted of their telling me about their culture, both institutional and geographical.

This wasn’t the above mentioned bigot’s “they won’t be comfortable here.”  Far from it.  They didn’t care who the candidates were.  What they cared about was their actually fitting in.  For example, “Someone from New York may not get it.  In New York everything is fast.  If you don’t get an answer within a few minutes, not to mention by the end of the day, you get upset.  Here, it’s a slower pace.”  “Look.   We don’t were suits and ties to work.  The woman don’t wear business suits.  We’re laid back.  If you are the old IBM-type, blue suit, white shirt, red tie, you won’t last long.”

I could never work in the South.  I want the answer right away and I wear a suit and tie almost every day.  It’s who I am.  It’s my uniform.  It makes me comfortable.

On the other hand, I would love to bring a little of the Confederacy to the Union.  People are polite.  They actually say “please” and “thank you.”  This past Sunday I gave a presentation at The Learning Annex.  I arrived in Manhattan early and had enough time to go to my office to pick up some business cards.  I had remembered to bring pens with me (with my contact information on them) but I didn’t think I had enough cards.  When I arrived at the building the alarm in the fire box (not the fire alarm itself) was ringing and the bell in one of the elevators was going off.  I could not open the elevator door and no one responded when I knocked on the door and yelled.  Of course, that did not mean anything.  So I called the Fire Department.  It only took them a few minutes to arrive, and the Police a few minutes after them.  They turned off the alarms and pried open the elevator door.  (No one was inside.)  I asked if I could go or if they needed me to sign anything.  They told me I could leave.  As I was walking to the hotel to give my talk, it dawned on me that no one hand thanked me.  Just as quickly as the thought entered my mind I forgot about it, until now.

Here’s some racism for you.  Maybe common politeness is important to me because I grew up in Canada.  Maybe my fellow Americans just don’t get it.  And getting it is what is important.  An employer has to be confident that a new hire, in addition to being able to do the job, is going to fit into the corporate culture.  A workplace is a living, breathing social organism.  It moves in a certain way.  It reacts in a certain way.   Employers do not want to go through all the cost and trouble of hiring someone just to have them leave because they feel uncomfortable with the way things are accomplished.

I once left a job because I was very uncomfortable with the corporate culture.  Education was not seen as important because, apparently, the executive director never graduated high school.  The assistant executive director told me, with pride, that he had left medical school to become a race car driver.  When mail was delivered it would only be distributed after it had been opened by one of them.  (The exceptions were bills and my mail.  I made it clear that when they were on vacation I needed to get my mail just in case it dealt with a grant request that required an immediate response.)  The executive was very political – on the verge of inappropriate.  And, to put it kindly, they did not always check their facts before they spoke.  I left, not because of religion or race  or anything else of that ilk, but because I just was not comfortable with the way they operated.  It wasn’t racism, it was culture.  (And it was also a felony.  A few years later they plead guilty to grand larceny.  Don’t ask!)

So, to answer Miguel’s question, How do you deal with “culture” as a reason for not getting a job?  First, you’ll never know it.  No one in their right mind is going to tell a candidate that they have been rejected because the boss does not think they will fit in to the corporate culture.  Even if totally justified, it’s an invitation to a law suit.  Second, confront it up front.  I always raise culture in an interview.  “I’ve worked with colleagues from all races, religions and cultures.  I’m comfortable in that environment.”  Or, “I want to make something clear.  I believe I will have a very small learning curve when it comes to what I have to do if you hire me.  However, I always recognize that you have a corporate culture and I have to learn how to do things your way.  You are not hiring me to do things my way only to get for you the results I have gotten for others.  And I can assure you that I learned my lesson years ago, you have to do things the company way or it won’t work.”

“You’re a Stupid Son of a Bitch!”

I believe in customer service.  When a customer asks for something, as long as it is lawful and within your abilities, grant it!  It’s as simple as that.

Many years ago I had an interview for a fundraising position with a non-profit.  I was feeling very proud of myself as I had just been informed that one of my grant requests had been approved.

As I entered the non-profit’s offices and approached the receptionist I heard someone yell out, “I just wish someone would call me a ‘stupid son of a bitch!”  So I did.  And then I introduced myself to the receptionist who was in shock.

A few seconds latter an older gentleman appeared.  “Who the hell are you?”  “I’m someone who believes in customer service and when a volunteer, donor, or board member makes a request, if I can, I grant it!”

Turned out he was the chairman of the Board.  While I was supposed to meet with the HR director, he immediately took me to meet the executive director.  I told them that the HR director was probably waiting for me.  They didn’t care, so neither did I.

We had a very good meeting.  Obviously, they liked my sense of humor.  That’s what got me straight to them.  But, with all due modesty, I also had an impressive record of achievement.  The clincher was my approach to customer service.  While I had made my aforementioned comment humorously, I was also very serious about my beliefs about the importance of serving one’s customers.

After about 10 minutes the HR director came in.  She was clearly unhappy that she had not had the opportunity to screen me first.  Naturally, I immediately apologized (even though it was not my fault) and told her that I had, in fact, told them that I was supposed to meet with her.   When I finally met with her in private, I was sitting across from her at her desk.  Her computer monitor was clearly visible to me.  The executive director sent her an e-mail.  As soon as she heard the “ping” that an e-mail had arrived she turned around and opened it.  It said, “We want him!”

I put on my best poker face.  One of the things that I have been trained to do is to “read a room.”  The HR director had an office that was cold and impersonal.  The only thing on the walls was a poster of an event that the charity had had years before.  No diplomas.  No awards.  No family photos.  No photos with staff.  The fact that she jumped and immediately read the e-mail showed that she lacked self-confidence.  It was as though she thought she would be fired if she did not respond immediately to him.  (Her response, by the way, was “Received.”)  But the clincher was what happened on my way out.  The receptionist came over to me, put out her hand, and asked me, “How did it go with Mary?”  When she said “Mary,” the HR director’s name, she squeezed my hand.

When I got back to my office I did a little more research.  This was before LinkedIn – when dinosaurs roamed the streets! – so it took a while.  But I found a former employee of the non-profit.  After I told him what happened with the Board chair, I asked him about Mary.  He said she was the reason most people left.

Two questions that I always ask employers are, What is your turnover rate? and What is the average length of time an employee remains?  (I also ask if they promote from within, but that’s another matter.)  The turnover rate was rather high, and the average length of employment was usually no more than 3 years.  She explained the bad numbers as policy: “We like to be seen as a non-profit from which larger non-profits like to find employees.”  When she told me that I knew I would never get along with her.  No employer wants to lose employees after 3 years.  It’s bad business.  She was covering up and doing it poorly…very poorly.

The executive director called me to offer me the job.  I declined.   I told him that I did not think that I would work well with the HR director.  He asked me why and I told him that I did not like her response to my questions about turnover and tenure.  (I did not mention the receptionist or his former employee.)  A few months later she was gone and he called to see if I was interested in working for him.  I thanked him but, as I had already started a new job, I declined.

Three lessons:  First, you only have a few seconds to make an initial impression.  Don’t do it by telling the interviewer about yourself.  Tell them what you can do for them.  (“I focus on customer service” means, and subsequently I made this clear, “I’ll keep your donors and volunteers happy and out of your hair.”)  Second, check out the key people with whom you will be working.  And third, be polite but honest.  I may have actually done the exec a favor by telling him about his HR director.  He obviously appreciated it…

How to Have a Productive Relationship with an Executive Recruiter

The following posting is based on a presentation I made on December 5, 2010 at The Learning Annex Career Day.

The dark secret about everything that anyone ever tells you about a job search or career advancement is that it is all art, not science.  Sometimes so-called “experts” will contradict each other.  If their way gets you the job, great.  If I suggest the exact opposite and you get the job, even better.  The important thing is for you to do what is comfortable for you.  It’s your job search.  You get all the credit when it’s successful and all the blame when it fails.

I’m an executive recruiter.  But in order to emphasize what that means let me take a minute to tell you what happens if you come to me for career counseling.

The first thing you do is to pay me $50.  I hand you a receipt and ask you one question:  What needs to happen at the end of our hour for you to feel that your time and money were well spent?  Why do I ask that question?  Because you are paying me for my time and expertise.  It’s your meeting.  I care what you care about.

Now, if you come to me in my capacity as an executive recruiter, you are not paying me.  I don’t care what you want.  I care what I need and what I need is to make my client, the employer looking to hire someone with your qualifications, happy.  It’s your role to put my mind at ease that I don’t have to worry about you as a candidate.  That is what the relationship is all about.

Obviously, you come to me as a recruiter because you want a job.  A recruiter can find you a job only if he has a client looking for someone with your qualifications.

Who are our clients?  Employers looking to fill mid- senior- and executive-level positions.  Rarely do we get entry level positions simply because it is not worth it for the employer to pay us to fill a position with a salary under $30,000 – although it does happen.

If the recruiter has a client looking for someone with your qualifications, he can do a lot for you:

  1. He can review your resume and suggest changes.
  2. He can invite you in for an interview and work with you on your presentation skills.
  3. Most importantly, he can advocate on your behalf so that, unlike someone who is responding to a classified ad, he can set you apart from the other candidates.
  4. He can smooth over any small problems that might have raised some minor concerns during an interview.
  5. He can assist with negotiations.

But remember one thing, you are the candidate, not the client.  It is the recruiter’s job to represent the client’s best interest, not yours.  Except for confidentiality and acting in accordance with relevant laws, recruiters have absolutely no fiduciary or any other kind of responsibility toward you.

So why would you want to work with a recruiter?  Because we have clients looking to hire people.  Moreover, by and large, if the employer is using a recruiter that means they are probably not advertising which means the candidate pool may be lower, which means your odds may be better of getting an interview.  After all, if they could fill the position by placing an ad, they would place an ad.

How do you find a recruiter?  My background is in non-profits.  Years ago I spent a long time Googling “non-profit executive recruiters” and eventually had a mailing list of close to 900 firms.  I sent my resume to all of them.  Was it worthwhile?  Let me put it to you this way, since I created the list the longest I have ever been unemployed is six weeks.

Google “executive recruiters” in quotation marks, within your profession.  Go to their websites.  The vast majority will only accept resumes via e-mail or their websites.  Google may have it wrong, so it is important to confirm that they do represent persons in your profession.  The only way to do so, is to look at their websites and see what searches they are working on or have completed.

Once you have found recruiters, how to have a productive relationship with them?

Simple:  Don’t waste our time and don’t insult our intelligence.

If you see that a recruiter has posted a job, don’t submit your resume if you do not meet the minimum requirements.  We have to work quickly to close searches.  We don’t like to waste time.  If you submit your resume for something for which you are unqualified you have informed us that you either can’t read or you think we won’t realize that you would make a lousy candidate!  Not a good way to start a relationship…

But we do like to get resumes because that’s how we build up our resume data bases.  So what can you do?  Just send a cover letter saying that while you are not qualified for the position you would like to submit your resume so that we have it in case something comes in.  No time wasted.  You come across as a professional.  Everyone is happy.

If you do any of the following, even if you are qualified for the position, I know that you are an amateur, not a professional, and I will not risk submitting you to one of my clients:

Do not use a form cover letter.

Do not send me a cover letter that begins, “Dear Sir or Madam.”  In my case “Bruce” is fine, but formal is always better.  “Mr. Hurwitz” is OK.  “Dr. Hurwitz” is OK.  But while I am a Canadian citizen, the Queen has not knighted me and I assure you that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a madam.  Get the name or gender of the person to whom you are writing and address them professionally.  If you can’t bother to do a little research to better market yourself as a candidate, why would I think you would take the initiative for my client?

Don’t send a cover letter that refers to “the advertised position.”  I may have a few and even if I know perfectly well which job you are interested in, if you can’t bother to include the proper title, why should I bother calling you in for an interview?

The point is this:  Everything you do reflects on your professionalism.  Take the time to write a proper business letter.  Make life easy for the recruiter:  Tell him what position you are applying for, what you are, why you should be considered, and answer any questions he asks in his job posting.  He’s not looking for poetry, just answers.

You have to frame the discussion about your candidacy the best way you can.  You are marketing you.  Do you buy a product because of its ingredients or because of the promises that the manufacturer makes and that you can confirm?  You’re the product!  Market yourself the way the manufacturer of your soap convince you to buy their product.

So that we are all on the same page understand the following:  The purpose of the cover letter is to get the recipient to read the resume.  The purpose of the resume is to get the recipient to invite you in for an interview.  And the purpose of the interview is to get the job offer.  If you don’t grab the recipient’s attention in the first paragraph he will not finish reading the cover letter.  Moreover, if you are lucky, you have 10 seconds to convince the recipient to read your entire resume.  In other words, you have to get it right from the beginning.

Both in the cover letter and the resume the greatest mistake you can make is to insult the intelligence of the recruiter or, for that matter, anyone else seeing the resume.  Do not praise yourself.  We don’t care if you think you are the best ever at what you do.  You are not!  But by providing us with facts you can convince us in a few seconds, which is all the time you have, that you may be one of the best.  We don’t submit people who do not fall into the category of “one of the best.”

Let me give you a couple examples from the introductory paragraphs of resumes of actual marketing professionals:

My intuitive business acumen and transferable skill sets have enabled me to make insightful sales and marketing decisions across a variety of industries. Leveraging highly creative marketing techniques have played a pivotal role in the sustained success I’ve enjoyed as both a mentor and as an individual contributor in start-up, mid-size and Fortune 50 companies. As a “strategic” tactician, my ability to identify specific customer needs and deliver compelling well-targeted solutions has repeatedly helped these companies achieve notable market share gains and impressive ROI’s. – But not enough to give any numbers!

Now compare that with this one:

  • 40 New Product Introductions and $25 Million in New Revenues for XYZ International
  • $40 Million Increase in Product Sales Volume with Line Extensions within 1st Year with XYZ, Inc.
  • Key Catalyst in XYZ’s $910 Million Revenue Growth and #4 Ranking in Toy Manufacturing Industry
  • $50 Million in New Revenues for XYZ with New Product Introductions and Creative Promotions

See the difference?

I was conducting a search for an HR Director for a chain of nursing homes.  Nursing homes want two things: well-cared for residents and no unions.  The HR director I submitted did not say in his cover letter, or begin his resume with a paragraph, “A consummate professional, with over 20 years human resources experience, who always exceeds his employers’ expectations, surpasses all goals, and…”  What he did was to state the following:

“Successfully fought 15 union elections and lowered union grievances from an average of 50 per year to zero.”

When the client read that line she picked up the phone, called me, said that was all she had read and that she wanted to meet him.

In the cover letter provide the recruiter with that one reason why he should look at your resume.  Make it factual and meaningful.  Don’t tell him that you “increased sales by 500%.”  That means nothing.  Tell him that you “increased sales by 500% to $2.5 million.”  That means something.

We’re tired, bored, and have been reading cover letters and resumes all day from individuals who never should have graduated high school let alone college.  We’re going to miss something.  Don’t let us miss you.  Hit us over the head with a baseball bat.  Wow us!

The good news is that, as I just alluded to, far too many people can’t write to save their lives.  If you can, you’ll grab our attention just by your writing skills.

So forget what I call, the “My mother loves me” paragraph, and think of the old Dragnet television series, “Just the facts!”  That’s all a recruiter wants.

Alright, you have written a good cover letter, submitted a resume that begins with a section, I call it “Selected Accomplishments,” you can call it anything you want, but a section with a few bullet points that truly highlight your career.  Now you have my attention because you have differentiated yourself from your competition.  Put differently, you have professionally framed the discussion around your candidacy.

Next we look at your dates of employment.  The weekly jobless claims just rose by 26,000 to 436,000, only 39,000 jobs were added in November, and the unemployment rate rose from 9.6% to 9.8%.

The only good thing about this is that employers are no longer turned off by unemployed candidates.  There was a time that they simply would not consider them.  Today, unemployment is almost expected.  So don’t worry about being unemployed.  Worry about not having kept your jobs long enough.

Employers, and keep this in mind when preparing your bullet points, are all looking for the same individuals:  Leaders, decision makers, decision implementers, team players, and persons who are loyal.  Loyalty means that you stay on the job for at least three years.  It’s the most important thing.  Employers are not going to invest in a new employee who is likely to leave before they get a reasonable return on their investment.

Everyone, myself included, has a few short stints on their resumes.  There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it is not the norm.  I worked for two non-profits for about six months each.  But I also worked for six and half years, 4 and half years and six years for other employers.  That means, I am not a jumper.

One of the advantages of working with a recruiter is that we can explain to an employer things that may appear to be problems but are not.  For example, I had one candidate for a property manager position who apparently had 5 employers over a 10 year period.  Not good.  What was not clear from his resume was that the 5 employers all owned the same building.  When the new owners bought the property they wanted my candidate as part of the sale.  Five employers in 10 years bad; five owners in 10 years, very good.

I mentioned differentiation.  You have a lot of competitors.  On way to think about how many is to consider your level of education.  Last month, 15.7% of high school dropouts were unemployed, 10.0% of high school graduates with no college were unemployed, 8.7% of persons with some college or an associates degree were unemployed, but only 5.1% of college graduates were unemployed.  That 5.1% is for me the most troubling.  It is the first time since I have been tracking these numbers, almost three years, that the rate for college graduates was over 5.0%.  Up until now, it had only been 5% twice, last December and this February.

How can you differentiate yourself?  The best praise is praise that comes from someone who can’t afford to consider you as anything other than a professional.  For example, an editor or a producer.  I suggest two websites.  The first is http://www.helpareporter.com.  HARO, as it is called, puts reporters in touch with experts.  It’s free.  Go to the website and register as a “Source.”  Every day I receive hundreds of questions from reporters.  Since May of this year I have been in the press, on websites, and interviewed on the radio almost 100 times.  If you can say in your cover letter, and on your resume, something like, “Having been quoted as a source in such publications as USA Today, US News and World Report, the New York Post, and The Star-Ledger, not to mention such websites as AOL, Yahoo! Hot Jobs, and Career Builder, I am a recognized expert in…,” that will grab the reader’s attention.  And that’s what you have to do.

Another website is http://www.blogtalkradio.com.  It’s internet radio and there are probably thousands of shows.  Do a search for your profession or area of expertise.  Set up an account, it’s free, and then you will be able to contact the hosts of the programs.  Introduce yourself and offer to be a guest.  You can then differentiate yourself by saying that you have been interviewed on radio, numerous times, on whatever the topic.  If you really want to go all out, for free, you can host your own 15 or 30 minute program.

Another way to differentiate yourself is by what you are doing while you are unemployed.  If all you are doing is focusing on networking and submitting your resume to employers, that’s OK, but who would you rather hire, you or the person who says when asked what he’s being doing since he was laid off, “I went to school to upgrade my computer skills, took a couple of courses to broaden my horizons, and had a couple of temporary positions to help pay the bills?”  And, yes, you should mention those positions on your resume under the heading, “Temporary Assignments” or “Consulting Assignments.”

One other point to consider.  You know about your employers, but the recruiter may not and probably will not, even if it is a large, well-known company.  So include a short blurb, 2 or 3 lines, saying what the company does, the number of customers, number of products, number of staff, size of budget.  That way the recruiter will know where you fit in the scheme of things.  If you are a small fish in a big pool, you may be the perfect candidate to be a big fish in a small pool.

Let’s review.  You contact a recruiter by submitting your resume for a position for which you are qualified, or just so he will have the resume on file, but in your cover letter you say which.

The cover letter is professional, short, sweet and to the point.

Both the cover letter and resume highlight objective facts, without any superlatives.

The next step is for the recruiter to call you up, confirm some facts, and invite you in for an interview.  Remember, everything you do is aimed at putting the recruiter’s mind at ease that you are a great candidate and he has nothing to worry about if he submits you.

Be a few minutes early.  Dress conservatively.  No perfume or cologne.  If you are covered in tattoos, don’t bother to show up!  Shake hands firmly, look the recruiter straight in the eyes, smile and thank him for meeting with you.

During the actual interview, be animated, be appropriate, be honest, and perhaps most importantly, be short, sweet and to the point.  Answer the questions that you are asked.  A good recruiter will coach you about how to approach difficult issues.  And what you think is difficult, what you are worried about, more times than not, is not actually a big deal.

If there is a serious problem, let the recruiter know.  For example, a criminal record, an awful credit score, an upcoming operation, or even a planned vacation.  The recruiter can only help you if he is aware of the situation.  If you surprise the employer, the recruiter is not going to advocate on your behalf because you made him look like a fool.

Finally, the recruiter submits you.  The client likes what he reads and hears and you get the interview.  Same rules as just mentioned apply.  There is no difference in interviewing with a client or a recruiter except, once you meet with the recruiter you will know who the client is.  That means you have to do your homework and know everything about them before you arrive.  It is imperative that you ask good questions during the interview and the only way to do so is by doing your homework.         We’ll assume all goes well and they want to hire you.  The employer now asks the recruiter to check references.  The best reference is a former supervisor.  Second best is a former colleague.  Third best is a former supervisee.  Make certain they know that they are going to be contacted.

Prepare a short blurb on each reference.  How long you worked with them, where, the nature of the relationship, what their title was, their present position, contact numbers and their location (just in case it’s a different time zone).

Today, hand-in-hand with references is what I like to refer to as “Internet presence.”  Sometime in the process someone is going to Google you.  I have had a client, desperate to fill a position, reject a person from consideration because her Facebook profile photo showed her sticking her tongue out at the camera.  I have heard of people not being considered for positions because they sent out Tweets that, to be kind, were invitations to burglars to visit their homes while they were out having dinner.  I have had a candidate rejected because of her blog and another candidate because of the postings he had left on other people’s blogs.  Set up a Google Alert at alerts.google.com and track your name.  If there is anything out there that makes you look foolish, take it down, block it from public view, close the account.  Like they tell children, “If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it on line.”

After the interview with the employer, send a thank you e-mail.  Based on past experience, if there are any typos, missing words, or grammatical or spelling errors, it will cost you the offer.  In addition to the e-mail, which is expected, send a hand-written note.  It’s unexpected and a nice touch.  If the employer asked for information, get it to them as soon as possible.  Copy the recruiter on all e-mails.

All goes well and the employer makes a job offer.  Always, throughout the process, keep the recruiter in the loop.  I said it before and I will say it again, we can only advocate on your behalf if we know what is happening.  Sometimes, we’ll make the offer.  Sometimes the employer will.

If you are asked what salary you are looking for, discuss “needs” not “wants.”  If you are presently employed, say that in order to make the move you need an increase of a certain percentage.  That’s reasonable.  Once a firm offer is made, you can make one counter offer.  But make certain it’s logical.  For example, I had two candidates who both were offered $10,000 increases.  They both asked for another $5,000.  The first pointed out that he would have an increased commute which meant paying two tolls.  The $5,000 would cover the tolls so he would still have a net increase of $10,000.  Same story for the other candidate, but instead of tolls it was increased health insurance costs.  Both clients agreed because, as they said, the requests were reasonable.

Just remember one thing.  Recruiters don’t work for you, we work for the employer.  When we submit a candidate we are putting our reputations on the line.  We are risk adverse, so make our lives as easy as possible so that we don’t consider you to be a risk in any way, shape or form.

Thank you very much.

Reagan, Follow-Up and My First Disinvitation

Here’s the story…with the names changed to protect the guilty!

Earlier this year I was working on a search for the chief US economist for a Canadian bank.  The position was located in Manhattan.  I contacted academics and Federal Reserve economists to see if anyone had any nominations.  One of the persons whom I contacted at City University of New York, Annie, wrote to me some time later inviting me to participate in a conference in the spring of 2011 and to be “one of our speakers, hosting the workshop on the ‘State of the job market in NYC.'”  I thanked her and accepted.  Ten days later she wrote that they, the planners, were in “intense planning stages” and that she would not be able to call me for a few days.  A few days later she sent me an e-mail giving me the name of the event planning company and informing me that the website would be up in “a week or two with all the details.”

That was the last time I heard from her.  I thought it strange.  Two months with no communications.  Just before Thanksgiving I sent her an e-mail, wishing her a happy holiday and asking for an update on the conference.  I received no reply.  On Wednesday, two days ago, I sent her another e-mail asking for an update.  When I did not hear back from her, Thursday morning I decided to call the hotel where she said the event would take place.  I left a message with the director responsible for reserving rooms for events.  She called me back.  No doubt she has scores, if not hundreds, of bookings past, present and future to remember.  She remembered Annie.  She told me that Annie was supposed to have gotten back to her with a signed contract, but never did.  There was no event booked at the hotel.  When you disappoint, you become memorable!

Later on I did receive an e-mail from Annie.  While she did not make any mention of a change in venue, she did say that the panel I was supposed to be on had been changed to “Working with headhunters.”  I responded by asking her to clear up my confusion.  Her response to my having contacted the hotel was to rebuke me for having done so, and to tell me that she was “going to tell me that we were negotiating a much larger venue.”  Because “I am not very trusting of our structure,” she then disinvited me which, despite what Spell Check says, is a word!

To summarize, she did not follow-up as promised with a phone call, did not send me the website, did not return my e-mails in a timely fashion, did not keep me updated on events and, as I have subsequently discovered, was not being totally honest when she wrote that she was going to tell me about the negotiations for a larger venue.  They have the venue and the website is up.  She chose not to tell me.  She did not follow-up with me, and she did not follow-up with the hotel events director.  When it happens to one person it is an incident.  When the behavior is repeated, it’s a pattern.

Now juxtapose this situation with my experiences with The Learning Annex.  This Sunday I will be participating in a panel for their “Career Day.”  Since first contacted I have been regularly informed, via timely e-mails, of the details of the event.  They were even kind enough to offer anyone who registers through my website a $10 discount.  (You can still register.  Use coupon code ANNEXWINTER to receive the discount.  The program is from 10 AM to 1 PM at the Hilton Manhattan East, 304 East 42nd Street.) The organizers followed-up on all promises and anticipated my questions.  Truly a professional operation.

But what of Annie?   Follow-up is perhaps the most important value a professional can have.  There is nothing worse, short of lying or committing an actual crime, than creating an anticipation and not seeing it through.  I can remember, as a fundraiser, telling some volunteers or donors that I would do something for them.  When it became clear that I would not succeed, I called them, told them and apologized.  They were always appreciative and understanding.  No one is perfect and no one can deliver all the time.  But when you don’t communicate on a regular basis with persons with whom you are involved, and when you don’t follow-up with them, they may, as I did, get suspicious and follow President Reagan’s advice, “Trust but verify.”  Or worse, they may just dismiss you out of hand.

Why You Should Never Attend an Out of Office Holiday Party

I only once adamantly refused an assignment given to me by an employer.  In fact, I refused four times!  Every year there was an office party held after hours at a restaurant.  Guests were invited.  Alcohol was served.  There was dancing.

I was responsible for fundraising, PR and marketing.  It was my job to get any event into the press.  I made it clear that under no circumstances whatsoever would I attend.  My colleagues wanted to know why.

First, I told them that I would be happy to attend an office party, at work, even if it was right after hours, although I would prefer a staff luncheon.  In fact, that is exactly what one of our subsidiaries had for their staff.  I was pleased to attend and delighted to get some press coverage for them.

Then I told them that based on my experience of listening to colleagues and friends who had attended after hours off-site parties that someone always does something stupid.  “Did you see what she was wearing?”  “Did you hear what he said?”  “Can you believe how much he drank?”  “Did you see who she was dancing with?”  “Frankly,” I told them, “it’s my job to promote all staff as consummate professionals.  I don’t want to see you acting like a bunch of damn fools!”

In the first year, some were offended…until the morning after the party.  It became an annual ritual.  “Bruce, I’ve got to admit it.  You were right.  Did you hear what happened?”  Every year I would receive the request to attend, would decline, would explain why, would be ridiculed, and then apologized to.

My colleagues were good, decent, hardworking people.  But put them in a party situation, even one for work, and they forget where they are.  I honestly believe that some employers hold office parties as a way to see whether or not they can trust some staff – the one’s they are thinking of promoting – to behave.  In fact, I know of two cases where employers told me that as a result of their behavior at an office party two employees who were being considered (without their knowledge) for promotion were no longer considered.

If it is work related you are always “on.”  Would you drink alcohol at your desk?  Would you dance with a co-worker at work?  Would you dress provocatively on the job?  Would you invite your spouse, fiance, or friend to the office?  Of course not.  Why?  Because it’s stupid.

Yes, there are times when it is important for the boss to meet the significant people in an employee’s life.  That is why God invented restaurants with tables with four chairs.  And I am willing to bet that at the restaurant there will be minimal drinking, conservative dress, and absolutely nothing to inspire gossip the morning after.

Why Women Should Lose the Right to Vote

And you are reading this why, exactly?  Because you believe that I am going to write in favor of the repeal of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution? Or, am I making (and proving) a point?

We all know that in advertising, “sex sells.”  We also know that once upon a time the saying went “All press is good press.”  In the 24-hour news cycle, that’s no longer always true.  But an attention-grabbing headline, no matter how stupid, will grab attention and then the writer, or speaker, has about 10 seconds to convince his or her audience that they actually have something to say.

Recently it was reported on the news that the owner of an eye glasses Internet supply store harassed a customer to the extent that she had to file a complaint with both the police and the attorney general.  He actually photographed her home.  She was so scared that she changed the locks on her doors.  His excuse: he was overworked.  Now his lawyers are overworked.

What was interesting about the news item was that the customer found him on Google.  She did a simple Google search and he was one of the first to appear.   As she began to investigate him, she found out why.  There were literally hundreds of blog postings warning customers to avoid him at all costs.   The more Internet mentions a website gets, the higher it appears on a Google search.  Google does not say that the first companies to appear in a search are good companies, only that they are the most mentioned.

This got me thinking about the Search Engine Optimization business.  I used to get calls regularly from SEO consultants promising me that they could guarantee me a place on the first page of a Google search.  I immediately agreed to meet each and every one of them.  But I told them to think about it first.  “When you come in,” I told them, “I will Google ‘search engine optimization consultant’ and if you are not at or near the top of the list, the meeting won’t last long.  After all, if you can’t get you to the top of the list, how will you be able to get me there?”  For some reason, they never call back to set up an appointment…

A British SEO consultant contacted me through LinkedIn.  I replied that I Googled him and that since he did not appear on the top of the search results, why, I asked him, should I think that he could get me to the top?  His reply was brilliant.  After telling me that he liked my sense of humor, he told me that if I Googled “writing articles” I would see that they were at the top of the search results.  Brilliant!  So that’s how they do it.  Find something that no one would ever Google, make it a company’s keyword(s), and sure enough, they’ll be at the top of the results.  Amazing!

If you do a Google search for “executive recruiters” you will get 224,000 results.  “Workforce optimization” results in 384,000 hits.  And “career counselor” brings in 547,000.  Those are the three services which I provide.  I am certain the results will be similar for your profession, service, or product.

Apparently, you either have to be loved or hated by the masses to make it to the top.  But, as the harassed customer of the eye glasses store owner found out, you have to do your homework to find out if the reason is the former or the latter.