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, January 30, 2012

Are You Getting Paid Enough?

Whether you are a C-level executive in a corner office or an entry level gopher in a cubicle, the chances are your answer to that question begins with a capital N and ends with a gigantic exclamation point! (OR TWO!!)

I am in a profession that requires me to know a lot about people’s salaries.  In fact, when I contact potential candidates about a position, their current compensation level is one of the pieces of the puzzle I must assemble in order to determine whether the position for which I am recruiting is a good fit for them.  The more people I talk to, the more I learn about what kind of salary is required to attract the best talent.  As a result of this, I often become aware of what level of pay is competitive within a given discipline.

As a recruiter, I have found that a majority of people I speak with during the recruiting process share the belief that they should be making more than they are. (Of course, my statistics may be skewed by the fact that people who are 100% satisfied with their compensation may not take my call.)  Certainly, my personal friends and colleagues are always interested in my professional observations regarding salary levels among their peers.

If you are someone who feels that you might deserve higher compensation, I suggest doing something to quench your curiosity.  Following are some sources of information you might consider. 

First, there are several online resources that will provide a reasonable compensation guideline for your position.  I just went to Robert Half’s annual salary survey and found it useful and easy to use.  Some of the other salary information sites are obvious collection vehicles for your information.  At these sites, you may receive some information, but you can assume you will be contacted via e-mail or called by a recruiter (not all bad).

If you are high enough in the food chain, you may be able to find comparable salaries for your position in documents such as a proxy published by a public company.  A proxy outlines the salaries for top management of the company and many of the perquisites.

Another suggestion is to call a friendly recruiter; yes, there are a few.  Recruiters will be able to very quickly evaluate your marketability, including your current compensation.  Be prepared for a blunt response.  If you are not marketable in the opinion of the headhunter, the call will not be a long one.  If you have called a person familiar with your market, he/she should be able to give you a reasonable guideline as to compensation in your field.

And finally, the tried and true method of gossiping with friends and colleagues works very well.  Your people skills are in high demand when you go this route.  You can’t just blurt out to a co-worker, “Hey, what are you making?” over coffee.   Better to couch your question in third person terms.  “Do you have any idea what they offered the new hire?” or “Do you know what they’re paying sales reps at XYZ Co.”
To ask a person’s general opinion of the current compensation plan within the company or industry is a fair question and may lead to more targeted information.  But if you expect others to shell out information, be prepared to reciprocate with whatever you know.

Finally, your research could include putting out some feelers into the job market.  I advise that you do this carefully and with high regard to confidentiality, lest your employer discover your pursuit of information and/or opportunity.  Send out resumes to companies in your industry. If your resume becomes the hottest ticket in town, you will probably hear from a lot of employers.  Learn the salary range of the positions for which you are deemed qualified.  On the other hand, if you find no/few takers in the job marketplace, it might indicate that your experience is not as marketable as you thought.  In this case, you might be making exactly the amount of money that the current market will bear. (Job markets are dynamic, by the way.  The current market salary for your position may change within months.)

If you find little opportunity for salary advancement outside your company, it may be worth a talk to your superiors about growth and promotion opportunities within the company.  This is also a perfect time to inventory your skill set and look for opportunities for improvement.  Make it known that you are looking for ways to advance to the next level.  Salary should not be the driver in a discussion with management.  Seek ways to contribute at a higher level and money may follow.  If not, see what is currently attractive in the marketplace and move in that direction.

If you have explored the job market and all possibilities for advancement in your company to no avail, it’s time to get happy with what you are making, at least for the moment.  But I recommend that people venture into the job market periodically, just to make sure they are getting paid what they are worth.  That higher paying position may not come knocking at your cubicle wall. 

At the end of the day (whenever that is) when you get on the elevator to go home, the only person at the company who truly cares about your career is you.  It is your responsibility to reach out and find your own gold.

Monday, January 23, 2012

“Numbers Don’t Float My Boat” and Other Quotes That Sunk Interviews

In retrospect, some things my candidates have said during interviews are fairly amusing.  In real time, not so amusing.  The pleasant look that I paste on my face during interviews sometimes hides a tight-lipped grimace as a candidate manages to kill the interview in its tracks with one fatal statement.
Here are a few memorable words I have heard (or heard about) from candidates over the years:
·       “Numbers don’t float my boat.”  (Spoken by one of my first candidates when interviewing for an accounting role.)
·       “Sorry I’m late.”  (In interview-speak, “late” is usually synonymous with “DONE.”)
·       “Someone gave me bad directions.”  (This was the sequel to “Sorry I’m late” above.  That “someone” happened to be this headhunter, who managed to make it to the interview on time using aforementioned directions.)
·       “I’m planning to go to grad school and need a company that will pay for it.”  (And the need you are filling for us is…?)
·       “I pretty much did what I was told.”  (Response of a candidate when asked what innovative ideas he had proposed during his most recent position.) 
·       “Why do you need to verify my degrees and credentials?”  (Hmm. Why indeed?)
·       “I plan to quit work and go to law school as soon as I can save the money.”  (Spoken by a candidate with ambition, but not related to the current position.)
·       “No, I do not have any questions.”  (Because you are inattentive, uninterested, or afraid to look stupid?)
·       “My current company **#*s  *#$.”  (Profanity in an interview **#*s  *#$. )
·       “I’d rather start on Wednesday rather than Tuesday after the holiday weekend because I always get really drunk on the holiday.”  (Spoken by a candidate just before we postponed the start date indefinitely.)
·       “What’s the job?”  (Yes, this was actually asked by one of my candidates in the midst of his job interview.  Too late, much too late.)

I always tell my candidates that an interview is a whole presentation and that they should not obsess over every word they said and every small blunder they might have made.  Having said that, some interview mistakes are hard to counter.  If you prepare well with research, focus on the needs of the interviewer, and think before speaking, many mistakes can be avoided.  Oh, and tell the truth.  Your degrees and credentials will be verified.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Goals and Expectations

Players on a successful college basketball team are likely to share some general goals for the season, such as beating XYZ team or making it to the Final Four.  On a well-coached team, each player also understands his expected contributions to the overall goal, for instance: offensive rebounding; shooting 3-pointers; executing the defense.  Unfortunately, many companies can miss the bunny when it comes to communicating goals and expectations to their employees.

In the course of executing my assignments, I often speak to several upper and middle managers within a company.  A key question that I ask is “What are you trying to accomplish as a company and in this position?”  The purpose of the question is to gain a sense of the company’s strategic direction.   It never fails to amaze me when I talk to several managers and I hear responses to this question that do not line up, or when a response is little more than a blank look.  The management team is obviously not pulling in unison.  When this is the case, how would it be possible to achieve a company goal other than sheer luck?

Over the holidays, I had a conversation with a C-suite resident in a mid-sized company.  The topic circled around management of employees and what to do when managers seem to operate at odds with the goals for the department and the company. 

One thing this executive said has stuck in my mind since that time.  He noted that his company’s CEO had recently held a meeting of all managers to finalize and formalize the strategic plan for the coming years.  At the end of the meeting, he told the attendees that the information must be disseminated to all employees in the company, no exceptions. 

The CEO was certainly confident that his directives would be followed by his trusted inner circle (or else).  But by emphasizing that the strategic directives be communicated to the entire workforce, he insured that his goals would be known and shared by each employee, down to the lowest level.  Reinforcing the order, he advised that a review would be conducted in January to insure that the communication of goals had taken place. Just a wild guess but I am speculating that in the next three weeks, there were many meetings held by managers to outline the goals and objectives for the next few years.

If you review the most successful companies in the world, you will find that the short and long term goals and objectives have been imprinted throughout the workforce.  Each operating unit knows its role in the plan.  Every subsidiary knows the expectations of the company as a whole.  The employees are much more likely to contribute well beyond the boundaries of a paycheck and to accept accountability when they know their ultimate mission.  The above CEO certainly knew this and wanted to make sure that each of his employees was onboard.

As you start out a new year, are you confident that all of employees know your strategic vision and the operating plan for 2012?  If you are a small company, this can be easily accomplished with a hallway conversation with a few employees.  If you are a larger entity, perhaps human resources can implement a questionnaire to verify that your managers are sharing the plan with the workforce.  For a minimal investment, the payback might be significant.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pride and Paying Your Dues

By The Headhunter’s Daughter

Kaelan Ward is a 3-year professional, a legal business development coordinator, a survivor of more than one career risk, the founder and contributor of Posts on Post (urban etiquette for the modern misbehaver), and the product of 25 years of career advice from THE HEADHUNTER himself. Email Kaelan.

Though several of the elements may be the same (as evidenced in previous Headhunter Files post, We’re Talkin’ Romance), job hunting ain’t no love story.

Everyone graduates with a diploma and dreams of a job that rewards creativity and “great” ideas with praise, cash and prizes. And then they enter the workforce and make copies (if they’re lucky, coffee if not).

In our indulged, entitled Generation X, Y and Millennial society, where we’ve been overserved on ego, the corporate workforce is morally bound to keep us chained to a printer for at least two years to keep things in perspective.

The most common question asked in interviews for jobs that require between zero and five years of experience is the ever-dreaded, “Do you mind a small amount of administrative work?”

It’s a trick question because the amount of administrative work is totally contingent upon how much or little you suck at the job and company politics – if you’re terrible, get some orthopedic shoes because you’ll be running checks back and forth to payroll all day. If you’re great, your administrative work will be limited to “a whole lot.”

The fact is, you will likely spend much of your twenties snarking, “Good thing I got my college degree.”

After a few well-designed career moves, my current job only involves about 40% administrative work, allowing me to spend a small majority of my day doing things like thinking, writing and talking on phones. But this was no happy accident – during six internships I did everything from floral design to sweeping floors at various ad agencies.

Despite what your self-esteem tells you, administrative work isn’t beneath you. There are several reasons why you shouldn’t be too proud for administrative work.

·       Administrative work is the window to the corporate world. It may seem like just making copies, but what you hold in your nimble hands are documents that are either being distributed, circulated, or revised, pertaining to goings-on beyond your cubicle walls. Taking “the minutes” gives you access to high-level meetings, editing PowerPoints provides a mini style-guide for how the higher-ups work, and even the most pious employee takes a peek at the papers they’re shredding. Just because you’re not involved in the papers you’re putting together doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them.

·       People hate administrative work. I know that includes you, but your boss, who receives more than your six daily emails (not counting those from J. Crew about the upcoming 30% off final sale) really, really hates administrative work. By offering to bear some of his or her burden, you can kill an afternoon and show off your collating and color-coding skills to management.

·       Admins have all the good gossip. If you think Admins aren’t important to your corporate climb, try getting access to a partner’s life (and some helpful tips on approaching him or her) without approaching the powerful secretary. Administrative work – including expense reports, email organizing and copy-making – gives you the best window into who is moonlighting at a bar during his/her long lunch and who might be a bit of a pervert. Hey – you’re the low man on the totem pole. You’ve got time to kill.  Which leads to…

·       You are the low man on the totem pole and you’ve got time to kill. Sorry, sweetheart. We all know that you’re fully qualified to be two pay grades above your current position, but like it or not, this is your current lot in life so get comfortable in the cubicle until review season. That’s just not the way the world works. Someday you will look back at that cubicle and fondly remember leaving at five.

·       You need a job. It’s a jungle out there (didn’t you learn anything from CareerBuilder’s Super Bowl ads, you little consumer?) and you need employment unless your favorite roommates go by “Mom” and “Dad.” If you’re truly unsatisfied, keep your eyes open. But be warned – that “small amount of administrative work” is not your personal cross to bear, so don’t come crying to me when your new employer begins orientation with a tour of the scanner.