After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Monday, August 29, 2011

We’re Talkin’ Romance

A job interview is a lot like a first date (minus alcoholic beverages and potential kiss).  Both may cause sweaty palms and rapid heart rate.  Both begin with an exchange of pleasantries that quickly evolves into a revealing conversation.  Both involve making quick judgments. And both end with a decision either to pursue a relationship or to cut one’s losses.

With this in mind, consider the following dating/interviewing tips from one who participates in job interviews regularly and has not dated in 31 years but remembers.

·       Look good.  Do not show up for date/interview looking as though your clothing should have been a part of yesterday’s laundry or your shoes part of yesterday’s garbage pick-up.  An outstanding first impression may balance out a subsequent mistake.
·       Be on your best behavior.  If you swear, don’t.  If you slurp coffee, don’t.  If you interrupt, don’t.  If you tell crude jokes, don’t. Be sure to say thanks.
·       Be cheerful and energetic.  No one wants a second date or a second interview with a drag-me-downer.
·       Exude confidence.  Even if you haven’t had a job interview (or date) in a year, act like the person everyone wants to know.  An aura of desperation will precede you into a room like bad perfume.
·       Appear to be low-maintenance.  Problems with former boyfriends/girlfriends/ bosses/co-workers should be avoided in conversation as much as is possible.  Emotional displays are not recommended.  (Permission to laugh or smile if something funny is said.)
·       Be honest.  There is no point building a relationship/career on a foundation of lies.
·       Have a 2-way conversation.  Do not monopolize; do not sit quietly while the other person does all the talking.
·       Speak positively about yourself.  A little self-deprecation may be a part of who you are, but save the stories about your high school bouts with the law for the seventeenth date or a happy hour with your new co-workers.
·       Be cautious. Make sure that you are gathering, as well as providing information.  If your date has had three spouses or your interviewer has filled the same position three times in as many years, don’t head blindly into a relationship.
·       If you like him/her/the job, say so.  Give your date/interviewer some confidence that you are interested in and/or enthusiastic about pursuing a relationship.
·       Save negative feedback for later.  All is fair in love, but Don’t be cruel.
·       If your date ends with a kiss, all is well.  If your interview ends with a kiss, something has gone very, very wrong.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Moving Forward in a Messed-Up Career

A few years back, you decided take some time off your advancing engineering career to see if you could fulfill a lifelong dream: playing guitar in a rock band.  Unfortunately, after a year of modest success with Four Guys and a Fifth, a newcomer named Jon Bon-Something started getting all the gigs.  Now your resume boasts five years of progressive engineering roles followed by two years playing classic rock at the Miss Lila’s Lounge just off Highway 99.
What to do?
Let me first state that Ward & Associates has nothing but admiration for risk-takers.  As a guy who was a CPA in a Big 8(-6-4) public accounting firm and took the “Road less Traveled” to headhunting, I am one who says Go For It!  when it comes to following your dreams. (Daughters are exclusions.)
But here’s the bad news.
Venturing off the obvious career path carries a risk. Your personal fulfillment may not come with a regular paycheck.   You may not make it in your alternative career.  You may not even like your alternative career.  (Those rockers are CRAZY!)
Getting back on the straight, narrow path will require a healthy helping of humility eaten with a large side of harsh reality.  Employers may raise their eyebrows at your “unique” resume.  Your two years may have taught you a lot of life lessons, but your “growth” will have to be explained to a potential employer.
Here are a few tips from a fellow wanderer:
·         Don’t beat yourself up over a “bad” career move.  No one purposely goes in the wrong direction.  Many employers will be willing to overlook an unconventional career move, particularly in the early years of your career.  (You may run into a former rocker!)
·         Do NOT leave a chronological gap on your resume in an attempt to hide a “break” in your career.  The first thing to attract my notice in a resume is a mysterious gap.
·          Be prepared to explain your career deviation to a potential employer.  Why did you leave your original career?  Why are you returning to your previous field?
·         Describe your temporary detour in a positive light.  What did you learn?  What hardships did you encounter?  How did the experience build you as an individual/ employee?
·          If possible, utilize ALL your experience in your future endeavors.  I was an accountant who belonged in sales.  I used my background and my network to establish a recruitment practice that originally focused on finance positions.
·         Anticipate a challenging job search.  You will have to be more aggressive in your pursuit of a new job than someone who advanced in a straight line. Sending out a ream of resumes may not do it.   Personal networking is crucial.  Contact all your former colleagues about “getting back in.”
·         Expect a pay cut.  You may have to go back to Square 1 or Square 2.  All things considered, it’s a small price to pay for having explored an alternate route. 
·         Consider NOT returning to your original career.  If it made you unhappy then, it may make you unhappy now.   
·         Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect resume.  All resumes are flawed.  Yours will be no exception.
The best advice I can give is to develop a reasonable explanation for all your actions, utilize all of your contacts, speak positively about all your decisions, and MOVE FORWARD without apology or regrets.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hire Education 101

Category: Tips for Hiring Managers
I am frequently asked why I sit in the interviews with my clients and candidates.  Many think it is so that I can hit the candidate in the head when something inappropriate is said.  Though that is a daydream of mine, the primary reason is that many clients do not know how to effectively conduct an interview.  One of the most valuable tools I provide to my clients is moderating the interview process. 
As Cindy and I have noted in our book, during my first ten years in the business, I often sent candidates off to interviews assuming that my client would interview the candidate in a very professional manner.  Over the years, I found that this is not always the case.
My candidates related experiences including the following:  the interviewer had not read the candidate’s resume before the meeting; the interviewer spoke for the majority of the time; the meeting consisted of asking the candidate 30 canned questions unrelated to the position; no questions were asked; and on goes the list.
Interviewers can be executives, business owners, engineers, CPAs, doctors, sales managers, foremen, secretarial barn bosses - or the only person available at the time.  While possibly very good at their responsibilities, they may have no clue how to interview a very important person, that person being you.
From the company side of the interview, it is critical that someone develop a plan for the hiring process.  It’s not hard to do, but this process is often overlooked by smaller, resource-challenged organizations.  Some simple preparation/planning will greatly increase the odds of a successful hire and decrease the likelihood of a bad hire.  The following simplified steps can enhance the benefit of time spent interviewing.
1.      Prepare a position description that covers at least 80 percent of the job. Be as specific as possible. 
2.      Identify a salary range for the position.
3.      Determine who will screen the resume flow and what objective criteria will be used.
4.      Determine the process.  Will there be two face-to-face interviews before a hire is made?  Several?  How many candidates will be invited for a second interview?  When will benefits be discussed?  Who will make the offer?  Are we going to negotiate?
5.      If one person will handle the entire process, that person should be up-to-date on interview basics.  Dozens of resources are available on the internet and in book form.  You do not need a PhD to conduct a good interview, but you do need to prepare some questions that will extract the information you need about the candidate.
6.      If there will be a team of individuals (no more than three, please) initially screening candidates, each member of the team should be assigned a different aspect on which to focus during the conversation.  The company’s selling points and the focus of the questions should be different for each interviewer. For example, “Our training programs are outstanding!” should not be hammered home by four interviewers.  One will do nicely.
7.      Balance the time spent with the candidate among three priorities:  educating the candidate as to the role; selling the opportunity; and allowing the candidate sufficient time to relate his/her qualifications and ask appropriate questions.
8.      Grade each candidate against preplanned objective criteria immediately after parting with the candidate.  Memories begin to get fuzzy almost immediately.  Your instincts are strongest right after the meeting.  Document them.
9.      Provide feedback as soon as possible.  In the case of a negative outcome, a phone call is ideal, but a promptly sent letter or e-mail will suffice. (Wait a day or two.  An e-mail arriving before the person exits the building may be a little too prompt.)

This is a bare-bones listing of what should be considered before initiating the hiring process. 
In today’s economy, it might seem that candidates are plentiful, but finding and attracting the best candidates is still a challenge.  The individuals you want on your team will be making judgments about the company as you are making your judgments about them.  They have choices also.  If your process is organized, informative, crisp and exciting, your chance of landing a significant asset increases significantly.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Personal Networking: Putting Your Team to Work

Category: Tips for Candidates

Many of you who are visiting The Headhunter Files have arrived here by way of one or another social network. Social networking is good, it makes broad communication easier, and it is here to stay…until it becomes as obsolete as the musket. Dedicated online networking is one path to employment. But when it comes to a job search, a face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) encounter may be worth a thousand online contacts.

The natural instinct of someone who has landed involuntarily in the job market is not always the best instinct. Embarrassment, timidity, or a natural desire for privacy may prevent an individual from boldly advertising his or her situation to friends and contacts, which may result in all the privacy a person could desire, but no paycheck.

I recommend, instead, reaching out to every person you know and many whom you do not know. Job hunting is a team sport. Your barber or hairdresser may be the spouse of a CEO. Your daughter's assistant soccer coach may spend her days as a regional sales manager in your industry. Your former college professor may have done some consulting work for a company of interest. Your mother-in-law may have a friend who has a son who is married to…..

Make phone calls. Meet former colleagues for coffee. Attend an unemployment meeting at your church. Tell everyone you know that you are unemployed. Mention your most recent title. Have a conversation about what you have done in the past. Mention companies that are on your target list. Ask for a referral. Ask for HELP.

It has been conjectured that each individual has approximately 100 friends. So each time you reach out to a friend, the effect of that contact may be multiplied many times over. Your team just keeps on growing.

    Of course you should be prepared for some disappointment. Many friends will be unable or unwilling to help you in your job search. Remember that it is not necessary to bat 1000 – a single home run will be sufficient to delight those who depend on you.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Girl With the 4-inch Heels

Category: Tips for Candidates

She was a sharp young woman, on the upside of her bright career. Her personality was attractive; her demeanor confident, yet approachable; her social skills beyond reproach. She had obviously been well-coached in manners and behavior.
She was my daughter.
And she was on the phone asking, "Dad, do you think it's okay to wear really high heels to my job interview tomorrow?"
"How high is really high?" I asked.
"Oh, about 4 inches," she replied.
(Insert sigh.)
"Dad, they're designer shoes. Brand new. And really expensive."
Of course.
"K, you have read my book. You know that conservative is always better when it comes to a job interview. 4-inch heels might not fall into the category of conservative."
Then I took a breath and really thought about her question, always a dangerous idea.
My daughter was interviewing for a position with a company in which she had previously worked, with a hiring manager who knew her well. Her potential managers were well aware of her fashion proclivities when they made the decision to ask her for an interview. Was there really a problem with the 4-inch heels?
No. And so I gave the nod to high fashion and really high heels. IN THIS CASE.
All of which is to say that there are few hard, fast rules when it comes to interview attire. But the fact is, and still remains, conservative is always better when it comes to a job interview. If your shoes draw attention from your brain, ditch the shoes for some plain, black (3-in.heel) pumps."
"Dad, what about perfume?"
READ the book!
 It never ends.