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, December 4, 2012

When taking a step backward isn't a bad thing

First, let me be perfectly honest.  I almost never advise any professional to take a backward step during the course of his career.  If I may use a football analogy, advancing toward one’s career goal line is hard enough these days without imposing a 15-yard penalty on yourself at any time in the game.

Certainly, from a recruitment standpoint, I would neither encourage nor expect any candidate to accept a lesser position than what he or she has in terms of salary, job content, title, or any other standard measure of progress.  And truthfully, most of my clients would be less than completely receptive to an individual who is considering leaving a higher position for an apparent demotion.  A big “Why?” would become a large, gray, perhaps immovable elephant in the room.

However, as usual, there are exceptions to any rule.  So when is taking a backward step in your career okay or even a good thing?

Answer:  It is okay to step backward….

1.     …when you are standing on a cliff.

Occasionally an individual who has been an outstanding performer in previous roles gets rewarded with a promotion to a role in which she cannot perform at the same level of excellence.  For instance, a person with superior technical ability is promoted to a managerial role although she has no aptitude for nor interest in assigning and delegating work and disciplining subordinates.  If you have been promoted to a position at which you believe you cannot succeed, it is a good move to find a way, within or outside of your current company, to return to a role at which you can excel.

2.     …when you are heading in the wrong direction.

Have you somehow ended up in an accounting/finance role when what you enjoyed most in your career was your entry level position in the marketing department?  If, after serious consideration of all relevant factors, you have decided that you are on the wrong career path, it may be necessary to take a step backward in order to start moving forward in the right direction. This will require less financial sacrifice if done earlier in your career rather than later.

3.     …when a step backward really isn’t.

It is sometimes rational to accept what might initially appear to be a demotion, but really isn’t.  Perhaps you have been offered a position that is one level beneath your current title, but offers you valuable exposure to areas which are necessary to your long-term advancement.  Keep in mind that an identical title may have very different responsibilities from one company to another, particularly when company size is dissimilar.  In certain cases, a lesser title may actually give you more responsibility.

4.     …when you lack a paycheck.

When you are unemployed, only you can determine how long to hold out for a position that is bigger or better than your previous position.  This will depend on your level of self-confidence, your financial needs, and your view of the job market.   In today’s job market, many professionals have come to realize that a step backward is the only step available.

A step backward does not signify the end of your career. So if you find yourself banging your career into a brick wall for a period of time and getting no further ahead, consider stepping back a few feet and perhaps you will see the open door a few feet to your right. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Networking

If you are in the midst of a challenging job search, it may be tempting to regard the holiday season as a welcome break from your efforts and your anxiety – a time to relax, eat leftover pecan pie, and watch old movies on TV. After all, everyone knows no one is hiring over the holidays anyway.

Humbug to that.

I can assure you that companies hire 12 months a year, come hell or high water or Thanksgiving.  If a vital employee resigns, is terminated, moves away, retires or dies, the effort to replace that employee does not wait until after the management person has fully recovered from her New Year’s festivities; it begins now.  If you are on a networking hiatus when the recruiting mission begins, you might miss a great opportunity.

Instead of regarding the holiday season as a time of imposed inactivity, try looking at the season as one of increased opportunities for personal networking.

·       What might have been an awkward “tell-all” networking phone call to a former colleague or associate can now wear the cheerful garb of a holiday greeting.

·       Your former employer, your college alumni association, your professional association may invite you to holiday cocktail parties and/or dinner events.  These events may not be as fun as watching Christmas with the Kranks again – but what better chance will you have to tell a group of interconnected professionals about your job status?

·       Additionally, your family, friends, church, and neighbors may host holiday events – look at these as another chance to put your face and your story out there.  Uncle Joe’s friend Jane may work at your target company and be able to provide you an intro.

·       Ask an old friend to lunch.  Even if it’s someone you don’t ordinarily socialize with, people tend to touch base with old friends around the holidays, so you won’t feel too odd extending the invitation.

Becoming reclusive and lethargic for the six weeks of the holiday season will not only darken your mood and sap the joy from the season; it may be a waste of valuable opportunities to network yourself into a new job just in time for the new year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Suddenly unemployed? A to-do-today list

This past Friday an acquaintance phoned me in a state of stunned disbelief.  Her employer of over 15 years had terminated her suddenly and without warning.  She was completely taken by surprise, rightfully panicked, and somewhat grief-stricken.
Most people who go to work each day are not worrying about the possibility of a job loss, just as most people dining in a restaurant are not worried about the possibility of salmonella in the salad. This is good.   If we all agonized today about everything that might happen tomorrow, we could not enjoy our work or our meals.  But, as when unexpected digestive problems occur it is nice to have some Pepto Bismol in the house, so when an unexpected job loss occurs, it is nice to have a plan.

So, for all those who find themselves faced with sudden unemployment, I have compiled a short list of my suggestions for the days/week(s) immediately following a job loss:

1.      Immediately assess your termination agreement with your current employer.  Determine the length and amount of any severance package you might have.  Take special heed of your health insurance needs.  You and your family should not be without health insurance for even one day.  If your company provides outplacement services, use them. 

2.     Apply for unemployment benefits without delay.

3.     Discuss your unemployment with your immediate family.  Do not try to spare your spouse and children from anxiety and shoulder the burden alone.  You need the support of your family, and your family needs to understand that a lifestyle change might be forthcoming. 

4.     Assess your financial situation including savings, income, and expenses.  Figure out which expenses can be cut and which can’t. If possible, postpone any dramatic life changes such as a change of housing for at least several months.

5.     Take a personal inventory of your skills, your perceived market value, and your employment goals for the immediate future.  If available, review your skill set with a career advisor or a trusted mentor within your field or a career-oriented field.

6.     Prepare a resume that highlights your most marketable skills.  Have a trusted friend or advisor review your document. 

7.     Post your resume and/or professional profile on every professional and social networking site you are aware of, including LinkedIn and  Facebook profiles, as well as job posting sites. 

8.     Prepare a brief verbal statement about your background and your goals to use for face-to-face and/or phone networking.  Rehearse your statement so you can deliver it to friends and contacts without nervousness.  Be prepared to expand on your brief statement to an interested party.

9.     NOW…you are ready to start the networking process via phone and e-mail, using the above verbal statement of background and career goals.  Start with your closest friends, family members, colleagues and acquaintances and work outward.  Look for meaningful job clubs or organizations in your vicinity

10.  Be prepared to approach your job search as your job.  You do not have to work eight hours a day – that would be kidding yourself - but do something every day. Consistent effort is imperative.

11.  Refresh your job search/interviewing skills.  You may be required to interview on a few days’ notice.  I’ve heard there’s a very good book available….
12. And then there's week 2.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Decide and Conquer

The following is a sentence from our book, From Interview Disaster To Interview Master.

It has always been my philosophy that if a candidate is going to walk away from an opportunity, the sooner he or she takes the first step on that walk, the better for all involved.

The invitation to a first job interview can be alluring for many reasons.  A recruiter’s call serves to reassure you that you a desirable commodity when your terrible boss doesn’t.  A chance to improve your salary or your title may be attractive.  And, of course, there’s the chance of escaping the hell hole.

So you can be excused from accepting a first interview for the wrong reasons. But after the first interview… not so much.

During a typical first interview, if all goes well, a huge amount of information is exchanged.  As a candidate, you are responsible for asking questions and collecting information about job content, work expectations, corporate direction, and company goals, then using the information to determine whether your interest in a position is real and reasonable.  If it is not, it is up to you to make a swift decision to terminate the process unilaterally, even if you are invited back for Round 2.

Human nature being what it is, occasionally a candidate will shape reality to make a position seem more desirable than it is in order to justify continuing the interview process and keeping the dream alive.  It is critical to man up and see what is there not what you want it to be.  If the commute is going to be crushing or your potential boss keeps her broom in the corner of her office, take the hint.  Kill the interview process.

A second or even third interview leading toward a hire that will never happen is a waste of time and energy on the part of each person involved.   Coordinating the calendars of two or more busy professionals to schedule job interviews is a task that may involve using valuable vacation time or hours from a participant’s overloaded work schedule.  When a lengthy interview process is destined for failure, it can leave all participants in the process (recruiter, employer, and candidate) alienated and unhappy.  Believe me, when the reason for turning a job down after four interviews is the commute, homicide is on the radar screen.

I urge candidates to be as analytical and rational as possible when assessing a job opportunity.  And did I mention QUICK?  The earlier you make your decision, the better for all involved.

An honest “thank you but no thank you” after the initial interview will serve you very well.  You never know when the person you turn down will show up at a company that you really wish to join.  It is better not to be remembered in a negative way. 
And finally, there are better and much more enjoyable ways of wasting time (many involving alcohol consumption) than participating in job interviews for a job that you will never take. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Devil You Know

Do you plan to stay at your current job because your window provides a magnificent view of the city skyline? Or because your boss has repeatedly told you how valuable you are?  Do you have a great group of co-workers with whom you have shared daily lunch and office gossip for the last three years? Is your office is only a block from the train station?  Are you proud when you say your company name?

All of the above reasons, plus countless others (great cafeteria in the building, four personal days, summer scheduling, a Keurig down the hall) are acceptable justifications for staying where you are now – if where you are now is really where you want to be.

But I suspect that many of the reasons people choose to remain in their jobs are rooted in something other than real job satisfaction. 

I’d call it comfort, but the word “comfort” is often an overstatement.  Sometimes even workers who should be downright miserable seem emotionally trapped within their cuticle walls.  In these cases, the resistance to change may be more akin to cowardice or complacency than to actual comfort.

You may have heard the saying, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

But if the devil you know has a crimson complexion, a sharp tail, makes nasty demands, and keeps the thermostat at 90 degrees, I wonder.

On one of my recent recruiting calls, I spoke to a young professional who should have been extremely dissatisfied with his current situation.  His work content was unrewarding, his workday harrowing, his manager erratic, and any promotion would almost definitely be later rather than sooner. Still this young man was reluctant to leave the prestigious firm in which he had started his career for a different type of opportunity. 

Wrong?  Right?  Why?  Why not?  I don’t know.

Everyone has a different baseline when it comes to comfort, security, and tolerance of change.  Everyone has unique ambitions, hopes, and priorities.  So no one, least of all this headhunter, can tell an individual whether his/her life will be better or worse because of a job change. 

But I can suggest that you periodically evaluate your current circumstances with respect to your happiness, your fulfillment, your career goals, and your personal goals.  Do not let complacency or an unwarranted sense of “comfort” keep you from pursuing a better path.

In some cases, the devil you don’t know might not be all that bad.

Monday, October 22, 2012

From Unemployed to Employed: Negotiating Your Job Offer

Out here in the real world, as opposed to the artificial world of “adjusted” statistics and unfounded optimism, there is a significant amount of long-term unemployment and under-employment.  I know this because I encounter discouraged job seekers in so many places: during research for my recruiting assignments; in the job networking groups which I occasionally address; and, unfortunately, among my inner circle of family and friends.  

From the perspective of a job candidate, negotiating a job offer after an extended period of unemployment presents a unique set of challenges, primarily because it is virtually impossible to have a true negotiation when one side seemingly holds all the power. For example, if you have been unemployed for nine months or more, it may be hard to demand a salary increase or an extra week of vacation based on what you earned in a previous position.

That said, I can give you a few pieces of advice on negotiating a job offer to your best advantage, even after a lengthy period of unemployment.

1.      Be enthusiastic about the opportunity. Start your offer negotiation with an affirmative declaration of your interest in the company and the position.  After this, you can broach the subject of any reservations you have regarding job content, salary, benefits, sales targets, etc.  Expect minor concessions from the employer, not a major overhaul of the position.

2.      Be positive about your capabilities.  In the current economy, many job seekers have had to leave their comfort zones in order to re-enter the ranks of the employed.  You may have to enter a new industry, learn something you don’t know, or develop a talent that has been allowed to lie dormant until now.  Speak and act confidently.  An employer will not knowingly offer you a job you cannot do.  Do not let self-doubt prevent you from earning and accepting a good job offer.

3.      Ask questions.  Even though you are unemployed, you are allowed to – and should- ask questions during job offer negotiations.  While you want to make a job work for you, it is possible that it just won’t.  If you sense overwhelming obstacles to your success going forward, whether related to the financial situation of the company, the attitudes of management, or unrealistic expectations about your performance, it is better to walk away now than to walk off the plank.

4.      Remember as you negotiate that your ultimate goal is to accept the job.  This is different from a situation in which you are currently employed and have a viable choice of remaining with your current employer if your desires are not met.  I am presuming the position is a reasonable fit – as you would not have interviewed multiple times for a job which you had no intention of accepting.  In a stagnant economy, any good job offer is not to be turned down lightly. It is a job, not an end of a career. 

5.      Your abilities, your accomplishments, your talents and successes are part of who you are, regardless of your recent unemployment.  Accepting a job offer that is different than you might have expected in the past is a result of a poor economy, not indicative of any failure on your part.  Once you accept a position, move forward with anticipation and optimism, as you begin to create a new path for yourself.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Smile but not too much; Laugh, but not too much.

I am prepping for a Skype interview later today (Note to my interviewee: this is not about you.).  I am not a big fan of Skype for interviews as the technology is still not where it needs to be for an accurate evaluation of a candidate.  Variables are injected that should not be part of the evaluation process, such as equipment quality, internet connections, and thunderstorms.
But for an initial one-hour interview, Skype is a great alternative to a cross-country flight, providing time and expense savings for the candidate, the client and me.  It provides that “face-to-face” contact many clients and candidates want, without the accompanying bill. Reading facial expressions during an interview is a critical component.  A poorly structured question will be immediately apparent when the candidate silently expresses “what the heck” with a facial expression.  And it works in the candidate’s favor when an answer is off the mark.  A simple phone call does not provide this instant feedback.
So, how do we make the best of a Skype interview?  A few key elements come to mind.
Hardware problems are the number one issue when it comes to a smooth meeting.  In advance of an upcoming meeting, verify that you are properly registered with a video conferencing service and that your account is active.  Skype is used in our office but there are several other options.  Test your camera and the microphone by calling a friend.  In testing the equipment, make sure the camera is in focus.  You do not want the angle of the sun to transform you into a celestial creature.
Take a look at your own background in your video feed.  If you are interviewing from home and have posters of rock stars or football players on the wall behind you, think about taking them down or relocating your computer.  The background should not in any way attract the attention of the interviewer.  Keep it neutral and, if possible, professional.
Turn all phones off so you are not tempted to answer an incoming call or a text.
Your appearance may be slightly more casual in a video interview as it would be in an office meeting.  My usual suggestion is to wear a suit for personal interviews.  On a video call, wearing a collared shirt with a tie should be sufficient.  For women, any type of blouse/sweater that would be appropriate in an office environment will work.  The good news is that you only have to concern yourself with the upper half of your body.  (If you decide to wear jeans, remember NOT to stand up during the interview.)
 Be prepared to work the camera.  Just like a TV reporter must focus on the camera when speaking, you must also.  When you are talking, look directly into the camera at the top of your monitor, not at the picture on your monitor.  To look at the monitor is the equivalent of looking off into space when you are directly addressing the interviewer.  Eye contact with the interviewer in this case means eye contact with the camera.
It is critical to be yourself, but a controlled version of yourself.  Excessive looking around, fidgeting with your hair, nervous smiling or outbursts of laughter will be extremely noticeable on your “computer face” and may be perceived negatively.  Once you have begun the video interview, the normal rules of interviewing engagement are in play.  Focus on the task on hand and not the toys on your desk.
In some cases, the internet gods intervene and destroy the connection.  Don’t panic as this never reflects on the candidate.  Everyone knows the technology is imperfect.
If you cannot understand the interviewer because of poor sound quality, mention it immediately so the problem can be rectified if possible, before important misunderstandings occur.  If the picture is not clear enough to easily see facial expression, it is not worth being tied to the camera.  Simply tell the interviewer of the issue.  At this point, arrange a phone call and make the best of the forced alternative.
A video interview is a convenient, but less than ideal alternative to a personal meeting when pursuing an opportunity.  In the case of a geographically distant candidate, it may be the only avenue into a process that might normally not be afforded. 
And now I am off to have my make-up retouched for my video session.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The One-Page Resume Rule: “There is no one-page resume rule.”

Trying to describe a lengthy career in a one-page resume is like trying to fit an XL physique into an L piece of clothing.  No amount of squeezing/ adjusting/ twisting/ contorting is going to make it fit.  Trust me.

Back in the day when paper cost more than a one-fourth-of-one-cent per sheet, and e-mail was just a gleam in Bill Gates’ eye, professors at colleges and career counselors emphasized confining one’s resume to a single page.  In the interest of brevity, simplicity, tree longevity?  Who knows?

What I do know as a long-time headhunter is this.  There is no reason to confine your resume to one page unless you have only one page of information to share with a potential employer.  This might be true in the case of an entry level professional or an individual who has had a very short career or a single employer.  If you have more than 10 years of experience or more than two job titles or employers, it is likely that it will require more than a single page to describe your experience in adequate detail.

And that’s okay.  There is no one-page resume rule.

When someone tries to fit two or more pages of information into a single page, the sacrifices in terms of resume readability and content can be glaring:  adequate margins; readable font size; white space between paragraphs and sections; and bulleted details/ examples of important achievements.  The final product may be overcrowded and difficult to read, and in many cases, it will not be read.  If I cannot find your college degree and your most recent employers and titles without use of a magnifying glass (or a 200% zoom on the computer) I give up.  And so will other recruiters and employers.

And so, a few points to guide you as you compose your resume:

·         You MUST include relevant details and examples that will differentiate your background and experience from other similar backgrounds. 

·         Your resume MUST be readable and attractive, including white space and separations of content.

·         There is no One-Page Resume Rule.

Of course, not all arbitrary limitations on resume length are unreasonable…which brings me to The Three-Page Resume Rule.  My advice - unless you have been working continuously since 1947, follow it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Second First Interview

When I contact a candidate with the happy news that he/she has been invited for a second interview with a company, I can almost hear the figurative champagne cork popping. I know that mere minutes may pass between the end of my phone call and an exuberant phone call or text sharing the good news of a potential new job with a friend or family member. 

As the person whose role it is to lower expectations, may I say that getting a second interview is as close to getting a job as the U.S. having a 4 point lead going in to Sunday’s final round of the Ryder Cup.  You are ahead of where you were when you started, but you can still lose it.  (And they did.)


In general, the second round of interviews is similar to the first in that it is still very much a part of the screening process.  In rare cases, when only a few people have interviewed in the first round, you may be the only one left going forward.  More often though, you will be among several who are proceeding to the next interview phase.  Based on performance in the first interview, you or someone else may have an advantage at this point.  The competition continues.

During the first interview, you have probably survived a general examination of your background and credentials.  The second interview will be similar in nature, but be prepared for the interviewer to dig a little deeper.  If you have made mistakes in your first interview, this is your chance to correct them.  If you omitted experiences or achievements you wanted to emphasize, this is the time to work them in to the conversation.   

You may meet one or several people you did not meet in your first interview.  With each of these individuals, remember that this IS your first interview.


Are you wondering why this position is open for the third time in as many years?  Do you have some doubts about the financial health of this company?  Have you seen the office in which you will be spending your days?   Do you have questions regarding working hours or travel or overtime requirements?  The second interview may be your best shot at asking the questions that will help you determine whether or not you really want this job.   

This is because the third step in the interview phase may well be a job offer.  It is best to enter this phase armed with most of the information you need to make a decision.  Asking more than a few questions about the company and/or the position at the point of the job offer may cause your hiring manager to wonder where you were during the previous sessions.


Many candidates perform better at the second interview than the first because of increased levels of confidence and comfort.  This is all good.  They liked you – they were impressed with you – they asked you back.  But don’t pop the champagne just yet.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Big Buck Theory

Being rich doesn’t solve every problem in life.  But it does solve a big one: being poor.

Throughout my career, having interacted with many individuals in all walks of life and all phases of their careers, I cannot think of a single person who set an upper limit on his/her desired earnings.  On the other hand, by their choices and their actions, many individuals do set upper limits on the earnings they can actually achieve.

If your career objective is to make a lot of money, as opposed to work/life balance, wearing jeans to the office, or family time, how do you accomplish that objective?   Here are some factors I’ve observed.

Choosing your path:

1.      Examine your hard wiring. There is a whole chapter devoted to this in my book. You will not excel at something you do not do well. 

2.      Pick a path that utilizes your talents.  There are choices.  If you are good at math, you could be a math teacher, an engineer or an accountant.  If you are good at science, you could be a teacher, a researcher, a doctor.  If you are a good writer, advertising, editing, marketing or journalism might be areas of interest.  If you are good looking and charismatic, modeling might be an option, but so would sales.

3.      Pick a path that offers a realistic chance of success based on your level of ability.  I was a great high school hockey player with thoughts of playing professionally. I got a reality check when I played for Notre Dame – and ended up majoring in accounting. 

4.      Pick a path that offers the highest financial reward potential.  If you decide to be a biology teacher and not a doctor, you will always make a teacher’s salary, not a doctor’s salary. 

Once you have established a path:

5.      Work hard.  Duh.

6.      Work very, very hard.  Contrary to popular belief, success and wealth are usually a result of hard work, long hours, and extreme commitment.  You may have to sacrifice some evenings and weekends, and possibly some family life and/or social life to the cause

7.     Work smart.  You can work 15 hours a day, but if you fail to notice and solve problems, your upward mobility will plateau at your current level.

8.      Set short-term, achievable goals.  Not “I will be a millionaire in 20 years,” but “I will get a promotion in three years or seek a position elsewhere.”  Aggressively target these goals.

9.      Be confident.  If you doubt your abilities, others will too.

10.  Claim credit for your achievements.  Or someone else will. 

11.  Differentiate yourself.  Never forget that you are competing with your co-workers and your peers outside the firm for your next promotion. What are your peers doing to get ahead?

12.  Educate yourself.  If you need a degree, a certification, or a course in XOOO to increase your salary, sign up now.

13.  Cultivate relationships in your company.  Your achievements must be noticed by someone in management before you are rewarded for them.

14.  Cultivate relationships in your industry. Your first employer may not provide the financial upside you are seeking over the long haul.  Knowing professionals at other firms may provide entry into more lucrative positions.

15.  Be open to change.  Do not marry your employer.  If a higher paying opportunity or an opportunity with greater upward mobility comes along, forget your BFF co-workers and go.

16.  Be open to risk.  Sometimes a commission-based position or an entrepreneurial position can offer huge financial rewards.  Does your station in life allow you to take a chance?  Do you have the self-confidence to take a chance?

Notice that the term “good luck” did not appear in the above list.  Notice that the ideas of hard work and sacrifice, in varying terminologies, were consistent throughout. 

Keep in mind that not everyone wants or needs to be wealthy and that being rich is not synonymous with living a great life.  At some point sooner or later in your career, you might make the choice that the rewards of being very rich are not worth the price that you will pay in other areas of your life.  Be happy and confident with whatever choices you make and live your life accordingly.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thinking across the desk: Refresher # 287

Last week I participated in a marathon.  Although I didn’t win any medal, I did feel a sense of satisfaction as I interviewed, almost non-stop, a series of strong candidates I had recruited for my current assignment.  After speaking to an impressive group of professionals, my usual problem as I present them to my client afterward is remembering “Was it X or Y who was raised in a village in Ecuador and swam in the Olympic trials while working his way through Harvard selling knives?” 

Fortunately for me and them, all of the candidates I met last week performed well in their interviews.  A few of them could have done even better.

An idea I have addressed many times in this blog, as well as in my book, is “thinking across the desk” or focusing on what your interviewer wants to hear rather than what you want to say. As I analyze my recent series of interviews, I think it might be helpful to review the concept.

At the beginning of every interview I conduct, I present the case for my client, including:  size, history, industry, and financial status of the company; reason for the opening; main functions of the job; people management requirements; technological expertise requirements; factors in the success/failure of any recent occupants of the position; my sense of the priorities of the hiring manager; etc.etc.

In other words, I provide the candidates with a fairly detailed shopping list of what I am seeking in their respective backgrounds.

A successful candidate pays close attention to what I say and seems to “get” what I want.  He/she focuses on my shopping list and continually allows me to figuratively check off items as we proceed through our conversation.  A less perceptive candidate continually gets sidetracked, wanting to talk in great detail about toothpaste when I am looking for shampoo.  As often as I drag this candidate back to the topic of shiny hair, he/she continues to veer back to the benefits of white teeth.

For example, you might be proud of your great knowledge of SAP or another complex software program.  This company doesn’t use it.  In a job interview, tell but don’t dwell.

Or you might want to boast about how you motivated a whole sales department to unprecedented success.  Unfortunately the current opportunity doesn’t involve any people management.  Mention your achievement, then move on to something more relevant to your interviewer.

But if, two jobs back, you were in charge of reorganizing your small company and are interviewing with a small company in need of reorganization, describing the details of that experience is your first priority.

In summary, prepare for your interview and mentally outline your presentation, but be flexible enough to adapt to the situation at hand.  The candidate who manages to bend and shape the elements of his/her background into the mold fashioned by the interviewer may well outperform a seemingly more qualified but less perceptive candidate who refuses to stay on course. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Live, Love, Laugh, Learn Excel

Those of us who were kids before the 1990’s may remember when school was all about learning the three R’s:  reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. (We took some liberties with spelling.) Both we and our teachers were happily unaware of such activities as formula pasting, data sorting, finding-and-replacing, and spellchecking.

Those of you who are younger than thirty-five or so might be congratulating yourselves as you read this because you have grown up in a personal computer world.  You twenty-somethings may have learned basic word processing skills before you grew out of T-ball, and clicked your way around colorful world maps well before you were allowed to walk to school by yourself.

Don’t get too comfortable. At the rate technology advances, all the “stuff” you know now will be outdated before your own kids are old enough to ask for the keys to the wind-powered car. 

If there were a single piece of advice that I could give to EVERY unemployed person I know, it would be to learn something you don’t already know in terms of technology. 

There’s always a good excuse for lack of techspertise

You might have spent the bulk of your career in a field that did not require huge technological expertise.  Construction and/or skilled labor come to mind.  Or you might have been so “high up” that you were able to assign others to perform the required word processing and spreadsheet functions for you, while using your advanced knowledge to analyze the results.  Or maybe you worked in a small office that resisted computerization until the bitter end and left you untrained in basic computer skills. Whatever the case, the everyday language of basic technology is a foreign tongue to you.

My advice is to lose the excuse. It is a bad economy, and possibly will remain bad for some time to come.  There are jobs out there, but you may have to learn something new to qualify for them.  The language of today’s workplace is technology.  Here are four basic areas of technology that might open a door that might otherwise be slammed in your face.

1.      Microsoft Word

2.      Microsoft Excel

3.      Sending, receiving, forwarding E-mail

4.      Perusing the Internet

If you are already experienced in these areas, try to become even more proficient – or explore a more complex software program that is a staple within your specific industry.

It doesn’t cost a lot to acquire basic computer skills.  Hundreds of books (as well as computers) are available at the library. Courses are available online or at local sites.  These range from free to somewhat costly.  Many of you have family members who have acquired these skills already and would be happy to share them with you.  Free Of Charge.  Ask them.

Your old job is your old job – your new job may be more challenging and rewarding than you could have hoped.  But to get it, you might have to learn more than you ever wanted to know about things like formatting, formulas, and hyperlinks. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

For Love of Labor

Most of us get out of bed each Monday through Friday with a song in our hearts because we get to go to work for the next 8-10-12 hours, right?  A holiday like Labor Day (yesterday) comes as an unwelcome interruption to our productivity at the office.

Okay, maybe we’re not that excited about work.  As I have been heard to say to my children, “That’s why they call it work and not play.”

My mother and father were examples of a work ethic that seems as rare these days as the powdered wig.  Both were Irish immigrants who came to America in the mid-1900s. Early on, my dad worked as a miner in Colorado. I was surprised to find this out shortly before he died. When I knew him, he worked for the Illinois Central Railroad in the Commissary department.  

Prior to my birth late in her life, my mother worked in an Armour Foods canning plant. As I grew older, she hired out on nights and weekends as a caterer to wealthy families, mostly on Chicago’s north side.  Maybe I got my entrepreneurial spirit from Mom.

Today we might say my parents had low expectations.  They did not expect intellectual challenges or personal fulfillment from their jobs.  They did not expect positive feedback or performance incentives or massive amounts of vacation.  They simply went to work so they could pay their rent and support themselves and their kids.  They lived frugally.  They never cheated or whined or complained.  They saved money on a very limited income.  They just did it.

All this family nostalgia to make a few points for this Labor Day week:

·         There is no shame in any kind of honest work.

·         In these days when many of our fellow citizens have no work, we who are employed can try to appreciate the simple fact of a paycheck.

·         Many of us are fortunate to have jobs that are personally rewarding.  Everyone should be looking for that kind of job.

And now we can start counting the days until Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Encounters of a Stranger Kind

I am a people person, so meeting strangers is one of my favorite parts of the headhunter’s role.  (Meeting strange people is not, although occasionally that happens as well.) 
After a brief phone conversation in which I decide that a recruited candidate has the basic qualifications for a position, I generally arrange a personal interview to evaluate that candidate’s background in depth before presenting him/her to my client.  Often this meeting occurs in a public venue such as a coffee shop or restaurant.

The first hurdle in a meeting between strangers is actually meeting the stranger.  This should be simple, right?  Especially for a headhunter who has been scheduling interviews with candidates for over 25 years.

Yet, more often than I would care to admit, valuable time is wasted between the arrival and the introduction phase of one of these interviews.  Maybe it’s just me, but I hesitate before walking up to each well-dressed individual sitting alone in a restaurant and asking, “Are you Joe/Joan?” (Note - When my candidate happens to be female, I only get about two or three such unsolicited encounters with female customers before I expect an unsolicited encounter with the manager.)

In my book, I say the following:

It may not be necessary to wear a red rose in your lapel, but providing a general description of yourself including height, hair color, or what you will be wearing will help to facilitate an early introduction and prevent awkward overtures to strangers.

Even this may not always work, as the guy who describes himself as tall with brown hair may end up being the guy with the paunch and the wrinkled shirt, but at least I have a chance.

If you are a candidate meeting a recruiter or interviewer in a public place, I suggest:

·         Arrive on time, but not too much prior to the scheduled time.  Time of arrival may serve as a clue to identity.  If you arrive early, seat yourself at a table where you are visible from the entry.  Do not become involved in a meal;

·         Look for the one who is looking for you.  Keep your eyes focused around you, not glued to your coffee or the tabletop;

·         If, at or near the appointed interview time, you see someone with a briefcase scoping out the room as though looking for someone, assume that it might be you, and that his briefcase does not hide an axe.  Make yourself visible;

·         As stated in the book excerpt above, provide a brief description of yourself or your attire in advance and ask for a general description of your interviewer;

·         Or wear a rose in your lapel.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

For Discriminating Readers

Discriminating is an integral part of the hiring process. Yes, I said it.

Discriminate is not always a bad word.  Think of a discriminating eye or a discriminating palate.  In these cases “discriminating” means discerning in matters of taste or recognizing fine distinctions. Here are some synonyms from my trusty online thesaurus:  distinguish, tell apart, differentiate, classify, categorize.  In short – discriminating is the stated goal of every interviewing process.

Employers are allowed to discriminate based on the following characteristics of a job candidate, as well as many others:

·         Education
·         Related experience
·         Communication skills, both spoken and written
·         Perceived intelligence
·         Likability
·         Energy level
·         Hobbies
·         Personal hygiene
·         Use of profanity
·         Sense of humor
·         Annoying vocal inflections
·         Bad tie
·         Etc,etc,etc.

Please note that I am not saying that it is WISE to discriminate based on any or all of the above characteristics, just that it is not prohibited by law.

But the following types of discrimination are expressly prohibited by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines:

Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

The law forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment.

I conduct my business in strict adherence to EEOC guidelines.  I trust and advise my clients to do the same.  In fact, I believe it is not only illegal, but stupid, to participate in the prohibited types of discrimination.  All individuals should be screened and judged as individuals, not part of a larger group, so as to not miss an individual who might be the best possible fit for your position. 

But candidates, beware.  So far, there is no law requiring an employer to hire the guy with purple spiked hair or the girl with the dragon tattoo.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Olympic Lessons For Job Interviewers

The Olympics are over and I can safely revert to my true identity as someone who does not care about synchronized diving or the pommel horse.  Until 2016, at least. 

What I do always care about is job interviews.  So while we can’t all be Michael Phelps with his record number of Olympic medals and his model girlfriend and his future millions, we might be able to learn some lessons from Michael and other Olympic winners about life, achievement, and of course –  job interviews.

Here’s a brief review on interviewing guidelines, provided by the likes of Michael, Missy, Gabby, Misty, Kerry, Ryan, Matt, David and all our other great USA athletes.  And me.

Prepare like it means something:

Your job interview may not require life-threatening plunges from a platform, unending laps in the pool, or back flips on a balance beam, but it does require extensive research on your potential employer, a thorough review of the main talking points of your resume, and even some practice in front of a mirror.  When losing is not an option, preparation is not optional. 

Perform when it counts:

Whether you are on the starting block waiting for the start of the 400 IM or in the reception area waiting for your job interview, the pressure is on.  You must perform in this moment, at this time, in this location – or an opportunity is lost, most likely forever.  Make sure you are rested, prepared, and ready for your main event.

When the going gets tough, keep going:

World-class athletes experience injuries (think about sprinting on a broken leg), accidents, bad luck and bad days.  You too may lose an opportunity to bad luck, a bad day, or better competition.  Move on.  Put it behind you.  Keep going.  Prepare for the next opportunity.


Who gets more favorable publicity:  the smiling, happy girl who happens to be a record-breaking swimmer, or the sultry gymnast who frowns and scowls at her silver medal?  Every hiring manager I know would rather hire a pleasant, friendly candidate than one who seems stressed-out, uneasy, or unenthusiastic.  Even if it’s an act, smile.


Talk about your achievements, your hard work, your aspirations, your motivations – avoid excessive personal information, subjects like one-night-stands, and any mention of urination, in a pool or elsewhere.

Be aware of the competition:

A job search is every bit as much of a competition as an Olympic event.  If you slack off in any area of your job interview – be it appearance, preparation, enthusiasm, demeanor, or any other aspect of your presentation, be assured that there is someone warming up in a hot tub somewhere waiting to send you to the second-place podium.  And on that subject…
Go for the gold:

It’s sad but true.  Only one person can claim gold – and the accolades, endorsements, and self-fulfillment that goes with it.  In an interview situation, only one person can claim a job.  Silver or bronze means you are still looking.