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, March 26, 2012

The Headhunter Un(der)dressed

Chapter 7 of my book deals with what a candidate should wear to a professional interview.  In the chapter, I include comprehensive instructions for both men and women regarding everything from color choices to shoe polish to what perfume not to wear.  But the chapter could really be summed up in three little words.  Wear. A. Suit.

Of course, there are exceptions – and for certain careers, a suit may never be required.  But basically, my thinking is this:  At a job interview, you are competing with other candidates for your future livelihood.  It is not a time to focus on being comfortable.  Wearing a suit unequivocally demonstrates respect for your potential employer and commands respect for you.  

You would think that I would follow my own advice, wouldn’t you?  You would think.  But…

A few weeks ago I proposed the services of Ward & Associates to a client for whom I had previously done work.  As an entrepreneur, presenting one’s services is the equivalent of undergoing a job interview.  My presentation would either earn a paying assignment or open that assignment to someone else.  Even though I had worked with this client before, the previous assignment involved a different professional discipline.  I knew I would have to convince the client of my capacity to recruit from a completely separate arena of candidates. 

As anyone from the Chicago area knows, the last few weeks have seen record warmth and constant sunshine with 100% chance of perspiration. Putting on a tie to meet with my client was far down on my list of Things I Want To Do On An 83-degree Day.  And, having some familiarity with my client, I knew he dressed casually.  I decided to leave the tie behind and dress for comfort with an open-collared dress shirt and sportcoat. 

Turns out I was the only one at the meeting dressed for comfort.  My client, the usually casual CEO of the company, had spent his morning at a meeting with a prospective client of his own.  Because he had felt unsure of what to wear to the meeting, he phoned beforehand to make sure he dressed appropriately - a novel idea.  Although he was advised that casual attire was fine, he chose to wear a suit to his meeting, a suit which he still wore- which means he was dressed much more formally than I was.  Oops.
There is a happy ending.  I got the assignment.  But some good luck and my client’s goodwill played a big part in the successful outcome.  The long and short of it is: I had made a serious mistake in arriving at my “interview” wearing casual clothes that potentially undermined my professionalism and reduced my confidence.  My client, on the other hand, did two things right.  He checked on what attire was acceptable for his meeting, and then he dressed beyond what was expected.  He was a CEO and he looked the part.

Moral of the story:  Better to sweat in a tie than sweat because you are not wearing one and should be.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Smile. Why not?

Have you ever worked with someone who is humorless and generally unhappy?  I have - and I swear it is not my current partner. 

You know the type.  She’s the woman who can barely muster up a “Good Morning” because it contains the word “good.”  He’s the guy who can bring you down as mercilessly as a chainsaw drops a dying tree.

Or perhaps you yourself are that purveyor of bad cheer.

Pick a day and try to be aware of your facial expressions.  When you pass the receptionist in the morning, do you acknowledge that person with a smile – or drag yourself by with a perfunctory nod?  When you shake hands with a new colleague, is your handshake accompanied by a smile with eye contact or a blank stare into the great beyond?  Do you react to a co-worker’s good news with a hearty smile or a hardly noticeable uptick of the lips?

If you discover that you are a swirling drain sucking the joy out of your workspace, it may be time for a one-step attitude adjustment – Step 1:  Smile.

Smiling is easy, it’s free, and it usually earns you the good will of the recipient. 

If you are a candidate interviewing for a job, a genuine smile during your introduction scores a few points in the plus column that might compensate for a bad answer later in the interview.   And it just might make you more comfortable and confident as you enter the interview process. 

Similarly, smiles given to peers, managers and subordinates at work are usually given right back, making everyone feel better about each other and about the day.  It has been suggested that acting happy will eventually make you feel happy - when you act happy, the people around you tend to react with happiness making you actually feel happy, etc.etc. you get the drill.

So, if your facial muscles have become stuck in neutral, I suggest that you switch gears and work at smiling.  You will become the person people want to work with and be with – never a bad thing – in your workspace and in life.

Even if you can’t become a habitual smiler, consider the words of the immortal, but long deceased, W.C. Fields, “Start every day with a smile and get it over with.”

Or in the words of a famous headhunter, “Smile. Why not?”

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Visit to Brother Rice

Outdoor hockey in Murray Park, lifelong friends, pick-up teams for any number of sports, “cheater’s proof”, and “do-over” – all these memories come to mind as I head to the South Side (also known as the Souf Side to Souf Siders) later this week to speak to the current students at my alma mater, Brother Rice High School in Chicago.  It’s Career Day and I have volunteered to share my thoughts about my professional career and how it evolved. 

The “do-over” was invented out of necessity.  For those of you who are not familiar with baseball played with five players on each team, a hit to right field was an automatic out because we didn’t have enough players to cover that field.  A “do-over” was the result of a ten minute argument over which side of an imaginary line a batted ball had fallen.  Neither team would relent as to the rightful outcome so we would restart the game with the always acceptable “do-over.”  At least we could move on - even though one whole team was sure that the ball was two inches into the right field area and the batter should have been out.

This nostalgia was sparked as I prepared my remarks for the students.  How did I get where I am now from the hallways of Brother Rice.  What decisions were made that determined my path.  Did I let them happen or did I make them happen.  What would I do differently?   If I had a “do-over,” where would it be?  I have evaluated all these thoughts in an effort to establish, if I were a high school senior now, what advice would be most valuable to me?

This has been a very fun process and I encourage you to try it.  Recognizing the limited attention span of most high school seniors, I know my suggestions must be short, relevant, and interesting.  Therein lies the key to successful public speaking for life (see, this is a useful exercise for everybody).  The following is what I have decided to share.

1.     Know who you are.  All of us are hard wired as to our personal skills and talents.  Outgoing, mechanically inclined, musically oriented, attentive to details, right brain, etc.  The sooner you can honestly identify your personal portfolio, the more comfortable you will be at making decisions.
2.     Establish your ethical compass now.  Your moral standards will drive every decision you make and determine with whom you will associate. You must decide right now to be a person of integrity, as your future reputation is built on a foundation of your past decisions and actions.
3.     Once you have made a career choice, be the very best you can be.  Being a mediocre player in the middle of the pack is not as much fun as being the leader.  The view from the driver’s seat is much better.
4.     Learning never stops.  Whatever your current occupation, whatever tool you use today will change dramatically over the course of your career.  Life moves fast.  Progress changes things.  Don’t be left behind. Be active in the continuing learning process.
5.     Failure is part of life.  Everyone who has ever taken chances in life has failed occasionally.  Most people will judge you not by the failure but what you did afterward.  Did you get up and continue to invest in life or did you settle for less.
6.     Business and/or your job are not the most important aspects of life.  Make sure you take the time to build good friendships and other relationships.  Invest at least some of your time and effort in the people you will love and be loved by for the rest of your life.

This list could be much longer but I am taking my own advice and keeping it short.  If you have an addition you would like to suggest, now is the time.  Feel free to twitter (@Irishman4hire) or email ( thoughts to me, preferably before 5th period, Wednesday.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Don’t mess this pest, or….............. Don't miss this post


Having broking sales records and exceeded sales quotas in my previous positions, I am an ideal candidate …

This was the first line of a correspondence I received recently.  I did not read the second line.

As a headhunter who is listed in a variety of executive search databases, I receive letters and e-mails from many strangers.  I try to read all of my mail with an eye toward helping anyone I can help. But a correspondence containing a glaring mistake in spelling or grammar virtually always lands like a three-point shot in my wastebasket. Nothing but net.

The fact of the matter is, when the competition is tough, a small typo in any written communication can be the kiss of death. It will be assumed, rightly or wrongly, that someone who cannot produce quality work when trying to putting his/her best foot forward will not be able to produce quality work after being hired. 

Let me admit here to being somewhat detail-challenged myself. I have been known to make a spelling/grammar/typing error in a document.  Very little disturbs me more than discovering a mistake in an e-mail I have just sent to a client. Hence I always proofread my e-mails several times before clicking “Send.”   Hence my wife and I took the time to read our book at least 37* times before publication.  Hence I sometimes cannot believe I am posting blogs weekly** for public consumption. 

If you are hoping to land a new job, your resume and all correspondence with recruiters and potential employers must be 100% error-free.  So spend time reading and re-reading your letters and e-mails for spelling, grammar and tone. (Remember – your spell check program will not uncover every error: the dreaded “of/on/or/oh” problem.) If you are unsure about something you have written, have a friend or family member help you with editing. Check all your outgoing correspondence for accuracy of dates, recipients’ names, and company names and addresses.  Be sure the automatic signature attached to your e-mail contains the correct contact information.  All links must be functional.

It takes a little extra time, but careful proofreading is a necessity in your search for new employment.  Check and double-check your e-mails, cover letters, and resumes.  A great background portrayed in a resume riddled with errors is like a suit and tie with a foundation of worn gym shoes.

*Do not advise if you find mistakes in the book.
**Do not advise if you find mistakes in this blog.