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, February 27, 2012

The Contribution Quotient

In a thriving economy, companies are profitable and there are plenty of good jobs to go around.  In that perfect world, there is room for some complacency among company management and workers: room to keep an extra person on the payroll just because you like him/her; room to be just an average worker. 

But in a world of low or no profit, complacency is not an option for businesses or their employees. If your value to your employer is not apparent, your future advancement may not be guaranteed, as much as everyone likes you.

One good measure of your value as an employee is what I will call the Contribution Quotient (CQ).  Basically, it’s a hypothetical ratio of how much you contribute in your position vs. how much you cost your employer.  In today’s economy, not only must your CQ be positive, it must be above the CQ of Joe the Jobhunter (with the impressive resume) who may be eyeing your job.

As a general rule, the further you have progressed in your career, the higher your salary and the more costly you are to your company. In order to maintain a positive CQ, your value must increase in direct correlation to the added cost of paying your salary.  This is not bad news unless you ignore reality.  It simply means that you must always strive to be a higher level contributor. 

Here are a few ways a long-term employee can boost his/her value to an employer and increase the odds of job security and upward mobility.

¾    Be fully engaged in your job. Any qualified individual can “do what is asked.”  The positive CQ individual expresses opinions and suggestions about better ways of accomplishing a task or process. Contributing ideas increases your value to your direct managers and the company as a whole.
¾    Know “everything” about your employer.  Take an interest in the way your company is structured and managed; the location of its factories/offices; the objectives of the company; the centralization or autonomy of its subsidiaries and branches. Inform yourself about your company’s competitors and its place in the industry. A comprehensive knowledge of your business and your company is of demonstrable value and positions you above outside competition and your indifferent peers.
¾    Cultivate your knowledge of and relationships with company personnel:  An understanding of “who-does-what” and a network of relationships with key personnel in your company are values that cannot be replaced quickly by a newcomer.
¾    Regularly exceed expectations.  Make every effort to perform at a higher level than your peers, demonstrating that your productivity and quality of output is consistently in the top tier.

If you find that everybody in your company is striving to succeed and working harmoniously in the best interest of the company, check to see if you are dead as you may be in heaven.  In the real world, you will probably stick out if you are a high CQ employee.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What, me…a manager?

Do you routinely skip lunch with your fellow cubicle-dwellers in favor of a brown bag and some uninterrupted productive time at your desk? Be careful. For your career, it might be better to ditch the PB&J in favor of a Pesto Panini with a side of human interaction.

Here is something to remember as you plan your career. Whether you are an accountant or an HR professional, a marketing person or a banker, many of the roads upward in a career eventually go to and through people management roles.  Unless you learn to form relationships and manage people as well as tasks, your upward motion will reach its plateau long before the pinnacle of your potential has been reached.

So while excellent job performance is career priority #1, relationship building and people skills are a close second.

Generally, there are one or two roles at the beginning of a career in which the only requirements are to learn your job function and to apply that learning to your assigned tasks.  These learn-and-execute positions are the period of your career in which you acquire expertise in your chosen field. 

At some point, perhaps three to eight years into a career, you may be promoted to a senior level or coordinator role.  At this point, having proven that you have a strong foundation of knowledge in your area, you may be given more responsibility and the opportunity to perform higher level functions.

Once you have mastered your job function in these early stages of your career, the next step forward might well be to a supervisory or management role that involves the management of people. If you have not worked as hard to build relationships and people skills as you have worked to develop your job expertise, this may be the point where your career comes to a grinding halt.

There are very specific skills necessary for a people management role. These include leadership, communication abilities, listening, problem-solving, time management, delegation, decision-making, and discipline.  When you are being considered for such a role, you must be able to demonstrate that you have these traits.

So how might you develop your people management skills while also performing your job?  Here are a few suggestions:

·       Be a part of your office environment, not apart from it.  You do not need to lunch every day with your group, but an occasional lunch shows respect and friendliness toward co-workers (and those you might eventually be supervising).  Make time for conversation and interaction with the people in your department.  You will learn about the opinions and problems of your co-workers and acquire a vision of how your department works.
·       Make presentations.  Take every opportunity to present your work product to your peers and managers.  You will become comfortable with public speaking, as well as taking visible ownership of the work you have done. 
·       Read books on management.  There are thousands out there; the ideas in them will help you develop a management philosophy, as well as making you conversant on the subject during an interview.
·       Attend meetings.  Even optional ones.  Every meeting may seem like a waste of time, and many are, but being visible to those around you is never time wasted.
·       Contribute ideas.  Whether in casual office conversation, a department-wide meeting, or a requested appointment with your manager, having and contributing ideas demonstrates leadership and an attempt to solve problems.
·       Follow the rules.  You will not be promoted to a position that enforces the rules if you are not seen as someone who has followed the rules.

Even if you do not aspire to a managerial role, the above suggestions can contribute to job satisfaction, job security, and your own self respect.  Having a friendly relationship with your superiors and peers is always a good thing.  When it comes to promotions and pink slips, not everyone can be the most popular kid in the class, but you may not want to be “what’s-his-name” in the corner cubicle either.   

Monday, February 13, 2012

Seduction by Interview: A Valentine's Day Special

I swore that I would love you to the end of time!
So now I'm praying for the end of time
To hurry up and arrive
Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you
I don't think that I can really survive*
In a courtship, you may believe in love at first sight, but experiencing that “love” should not blind you to the lyin’ eyes and cheatin’ heart you discover later in the relationship.  Similarly, during the interview process, falling in love with the idea of a job is not unusual.  But do some listening and some careful analysis before you walk down the aisle. 

If an interview process has gone right, both candidate and employer have portrayed themselves honestly.  Still, there is a slim possibility that the employer made no mention that the previous occupant of your position was hospitalized for a little breakdown (he is fully recovered now), and that you made no mention of that pesky lawsuit (none of their business). 

One way to minimize those unspoken truths is to ask a lot of questions during your interview.  Most hiring managers and candidates will not lie blatantly, for fear of legal reprisal. (And, of course, because of their own integrity.)

But today I would like focus on negative information that HAS been revealed and what to do with it.  Two words:  LISTEN and BELIEVE.  Remember that an interviewer has no selfish interest in imparting negative information to a job candidate. Rather, quite the contrary.  So, if an interviewer speaks in less than glowing terms about the position, the personnel, or the company – take it to the bank.  Assume that the interviewer is trying to provide you with a realistic expectation of your working environment and help you determine whether the job is a good fit for you.

For instance:

When your interviewer tells you that she is known as a difficult manager, take note if you are sensitive or faint-of-heart.  If you don’t like hard-hitting criticism and/or raised voices, beware.

When your interviewer tells you that some overtime will be required, you can bet that you will be following your favorite 7:00 pm reality show only on DVR.

When an interviewer says the job is “fast-paced,” assume that you will struggle to keep up with the workload.  If you are calm and steady-as-they-go, this job may be a good fit for you.  If not, a prescription for Xanax may be in your future.

When you are told that the department you will oversee is currently months behind and in a state of chaos, presume that your first few months will resemble the Ninth Circle of Hell.

An employer with a job opening can be a seductive suitor, particularly if you are unemployed or unhappy in your current situation.  But do not close your eyes to the reality of the job as presented in the interview process.

LISTEN and BELIEVE.  With any luck, you will not be singing the lyrics from a Meat Loaf song as you undertake your now job.

I'm praying for the end of time
It's all that I can do
Praying for the end of time, so I can end my time with you!!!*

*Lyrics from Paradise by the Dashboard Light, written by Jim Steinman, performed by Meat Loaf.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Creating Your Brand

In my family, we drink Corona beer only in the summertime.  Bottle, no glass.  Slice of lime in the bottle.  Could we enjoy a Corona in December?  We will never know because we drink Christmas Ale in December.  Could we enjoy Christmas Ale with a slice of lime? No.

Yes, my family may be a group of TV-watching, mindless, beer-drinking robots controlled by the whims of some copywriter looking down on us from the upper floor of a skyscraper.  Nevertheless, we will continue to drink Coronas in the summer with limes.  Because branding works.

Branding is the creation of an image surrounding a product.  Successful branding includes setting a value proposition such as the promise of enjoyment, less work, more free time, success, romance, limes, beaches – and driving that proposition home day after day, week after week.

I would encourage each of you in the workforce to think of yourself as a product.  What is your brand?  What is your value proposition?  What would you like your image to be among your peers and superiors?

Each day when you walk into your cubicle or office, your brand is being defined.

Your appearance is definitely a part of your brand.  Do you dress professionally – or sloppily- or like you are looking for love? 

Your credentials are part of your brand.  Much as you may not want to hear it, getting that MBA  or professional certification you have always talked about but never done anything about might increase the value of your brand.

Your attitude is a major part of your brand.  If you are friendly, cheerful, and supportive of your team, it will be duly noted.  If you retire immediately to your office, avoiding conversation and/or extra work, also noted.  Are you known to contribute an idea or opinion?  Do you exude confidence and independence?  Or are you always anxious about your performance?  Are you out of the office each day at 4:55 regardless of your workload?

Your interests and aptitudes are also a part of your brand.  Do your eyes glaze over when your boss talks numbers – or do you jump at the prospect of designing a complex spreadsheet related to budget forecasts?  Do you have a knack for small talk with clients/customers?  An ability to explain, teach, manage? Creativity?  Writing skills?  What are your gifts?  Are you discovering your own gifts and demonstrating them to those around you?  Are you asking for tasks that shine a light on your talents and steer you in a direction that maximizes your chance to succeed?

As you can see, with the exception of your natural abilities, your brand is under your control.  The choices you make each day define your brand.  You can make sure you are always well-groomed and personable.  You can check your negativity at the office entrance. You can choose to pursue an advanced degree…or not.  You can get to know your co-workers…or not.  And you can seek the associations and assignments that will play to your strengths and fulfill your greatest potential…or not. 

If you think your brand is good, enjoy it – with a slice of lime.

If you think your brand could use some work, there’s no time like today.