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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

All I Want For Christmas

It’s that wondrous time of year when adults like to reminisce about those irresponsible childhood days when the only worry of the season was what gifts Santa would bring.  As an adult, you may now be playing the role of Santa.  If you are both Santa and unemployed, the closest you come to irresponsibility is justifying the postponement of your job search because the holidays are not a productive time.  “After all, what company would be hiring now with all the parties in full swing?  I’m going to sit back and enjoy the holidays and wait until January 1.”

If you are actively pursuing a new opportunity, the above is one bad thought process. (No presents for you!)  I can tell you from personal knowledge that companies are hiring and that there are, in fact, many jobs that have gone unfilled for long periods of time.    And these jobs are not all oil rig opportunities in the Congo.
Yes, some open positions are those in which an employer is demanding a fully-trained, Mensa-qualified, low-maintenance, inexpensive individual who will be understand the job and be productive from day one – in other words, an employee that does not exist in human form.  And other positions are open long-term due to a difficult location, narrow skill set requirements, and/or salary issues.  But there are also prime, desirable positions that will open up in December and be filled almost immediately.  These are the positions you cannot afford to miss due to time-consuming Christmas shopping.

It has been my experience that many companies develop their annual plans in the September/October time frame (Don’t have a plan yet? Better get to it).  The final plan is in place by late November so that each manager can begin executing his/her piece of the plan. The forward-looking manager may well begin processing new 2012 staffing plans right about now.  As an example, if you are a sales manager and your 2012 plan calls for an additional salesperson, would you begin to recruit in January or February?  Not if you want a shot at a full year of benefit.  The smart manager will be recruiting now for a Christmas hire and a January 1 start.
At Ward & Associates, we have seen an uptick in phone activity in the recent month.  There have been inquiries as to the availability of candidates capable of being controllers, manufacturing managers, IT managers, sales support, and quality control managers.  It would appear that companies are either actively looking for specific candidates or are planning to do so very soon.  It is in your best interest that companies who may be hiring know you exist.  Be ready with a resume when an employer or a recruiter calls.  Continue all avenues of personal networking.  Make lots of phone calls. 

You may be some employer’s January 1 new hire, but not if you are taking a month-long holiday from your job search.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rules of Engagement

A few months ago, I flew across the country, was picked up at the airport by a young professional woman in a 750 BMW, and drove off with her to a hotel for an “extended conversation.” Sounds like a headhunter behaving badly?  It wasn’t.

 The extended conversation was actually a job interview to determine the woman’s qualifications for an engineering position I was attempting to fill.   The interview took place in the hotel’s lobby with cleaning staff and visitors roaming freely through the area. The hotel was chosen as the interview setting because its proximity to the airport enabled me to meet my strict time constraints.  Immediately after leaving this young woman, I flew another 500 miles to another airport, another interview, another candidate.

As a recruiter, my livelihood depends on meeting unfamiliar individuals, both men and women, in what usually are considered social, non-office settings.  When arranging and conducting such meetings, I am constantly aware that my actions must not only be above reproach, they must appear to be above reproach. Whether you are a hiring manager or a job candidate, in this day when sexual misunderstandings are commonplace, I advise you to share my attentiveness to interview propriety. 

With this in mind, here are some common-sense guidelines:

·          Neither propose nor accept an interview on any floor above the first floor of a hotel. 

·          If an interview must occur when an office is unoccupied, try to make sure there are at least three people participating in the interview.

·          Dress professionally.  Do not comment on any other interview participant’s attire or appearance.

·          Refrain from any discussion of present or past romantic relationships or experiences.

·          Avoid discussion of sexual preferences.

·          Avoid using offensive or suggestive language or humor. 

·          Conclude after-hours interviews by 10 pm.

·          In general, avoid drinking alcoholic beverages during an interview.  During dinner interviews, a glass of wine or beer may be acceptable.  Any candidate who is pressed to have a drink or more than one drink should assume that what is happening is not a job interview.

·          Do not initiate any subsequent social arrangement (date, bar crawl, vacation) of any kind during the course of a job interview.

·          A good rule of thumb is to treat the person seated across from you as you would want your daughter/son/spouse/sibling treated.

The boundaries of acceptable behavior between men and women in the workplace have never been more ambiguous.  When women and men work side-by-side as peers, things happen.  Colleagues lunch together, travel together, share personal conversations and attempts at humor.  Occasionally a flirtation occurs.  Occasionally something more occurs.  Camaraderie? Courtship?  Harassment?  Whatever.  Just make sure “whatever” does not occur on an interview in which you are a participant.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ward, Bob Ward

A confidential search does not require the dashing good looks or classy British accent of James Bond.  Bloody fortunate for me. But a search to replace a current employee who has not yet been advised of his imminent departure can call for all the stealth skills of a trained secret agent. 

All things considered, it is preferable for incoming candidates to fill a position that has already been vacated.  But, when dealing with some middle to upper level management positions, an extended vacancy due to a termination can be disruptive to productivity.  (Another way of putting it:  a group of workers without a manager is a department-wide six-hour work day waiting to happen.)  In such a case, a company may choose to begin a confidential search.

Once a confidential search has been deemed necessary, a company often seeks the services of an external search firm.  This is generally a matter of simple logistics. Recruiting for a position can involve making hundreds of phone calls, screening dozens of resumes, and interviewing multiple candidates several times.  In many companies, particularly small to mid-size companies, it may be difficult to keep such an unwieldy process from the notice of the staff.

When a company approaches me with a confidential assignment, I assure the client that I will make every effort humanly possible to maintain the private nature of the search. This means:

·         not identifying my client by name during my initial screening phone calls;

·         providing potential candidates only general information about the company’s size, industry and location (Instead of The company is a $60 million dollar automotive parts manufacturer located in Aurora, Illinois, I may say, The company is a growing plastics manufacturer in the western suburbs of Chicago);

·         not relaying the opportunity to any professional groups in which peers might recognize and identify the company.

At the same time, I advise my client that I cannot guarantee the confidentiality of the search beyond my own personal activity.  The recruiting process is based on networking, which is based on people talking; when professionals talk to one another within a given industry and a given geography, the confidentiality of a search will eventually be in jeopardy.  I often warn my clients that they have a window of a few weeks within which privacy can be assured.

Generally, candidates will agree to meet with me once without knowing the name of the company, but they will not invest any more time or thought after that until I share the company’s identity.  This makes all the sense in the world.  If you are a Green Peace advocate in 2010, you certainly are not going to consider a job with BP after the spill.  So even if the initial client-candidate interviews are conducted offsite, the confidentiality of the search may have been compromised at that point.

The crux of all this is: if you find yourself choosing to start a search to replace a current employee, you must be prepared to move quickly.  Arm yourself with a competent recruiting professional, a well-documented job description, a pre-planned screening process, an organized team of interviewers, and an established time line.  Once you start the process, there is no turning back, as word does travel as fast as I can order an extra dry martini, shaken, not stirred.