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, May 21, 2012

How NOT to Boss

There are many ways of learning how to be a good boss.  One of the best methods is to have a great boss who teaches by example.  The most common is being under the thumb of a not-so-good boss.  

Most of us who have been in the workforce for over ten years have at some point enjoyed catering to the whims of a boss who is a) dictatorial; b) micromanaging; c) unprofessional; d) unintelligent; e) unintelligible d) mean; e) worthless; f) unappreciative; g); overbearing; h) lazy; i) I’m getting carried away here; let’s just assume the rest of the alphabet can be utilized.

Of course, there’s the chance that, regardless of how great “the boss” might be, it’s just not in the American spirit to want to be told what to do.  After all, does the pursuit of happiness include a micromanaging boss?

But the point I want to make today is that learning what NOT to do can be as important as learning what to do when you become “The Man”.  Here are a few of my personal and second-hand insights about the “nots” of being someone’s boss:

1.      Do NOT stand over someone’s shoulder as they work on a Word document or Excel spreadsheet. (Contributed by my wife/ business partner).

2.      Do NOT be more lavish with criticism than with praise.  It’s less demoralizing to point out a mistake when the good stuff has been noticed as well.

3.      Do NOT expect your staff to have telepathic powers.  Explain what you want and why you want it.

4.      Do NOT talk about any of your reports to any other equal report.  Lack of trust and lack of respect go a long way toward creating a dysfunctional work group.

5.      Do NOT be a bad example.  If you expect your staff to obey the rules, obey the rules yourself.

6.      Do NOT expect the impossible.  Try to set deadlines that can be reached and workloads that can be accomplished.  Listen when you get a comment or suggestion regarding workload.

7.      Do NOT assign tasks to a completely unqualified person and expect good results.  It is management’s job to align tasks with a person’s abilities and training.

8.      Do NOT be rigid.  A little flexibility by the boss goes a long way toward increasing worker satisfaction and productivity.

9.      Do NOT issue a reprimand in public.

10.  Do NOT yell.  Often rewarding, rarely helpful.

 Of course, you can become an entrepreneur and be your own boss. But then when you gripe about the jerk, no one is listening. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Seinfeld Meeting

Last week, I co-hosted an informal breakfast meeting with attorneys from Ice Miller LLP.  The attendees were all upper management executives at Chicago area firms, including representatives from manufacturing, insurance, banking and other disciplines.

Over the past few years, I have arranged several of these meetings, inviting current and former clients and candidates and other business friends.  I call these gatherings Seinfeld meetings – or meetings about nothing – which generally end up being meetings about “whatever.”  As the host, I get to guide the “whatever” toward current business issues that I think are noteworthy.

At last week’s meeting, “whatever” included some very interesting topics like how economic uncertainty affects business activities, the availability of credit to small businesses, and aspects of the local business climate (we DO live in Illinois, after all). As many of the participants are parents, a natural topic was the current state of higher education and how it prepares (or doesn’t) young people to enter the work force.   Contributors brought up the following points:

1.      Decision making:  How many other $100,000 to $200,000 decisions do we let our kids make at age 18?

2.      Cost vs. value:  Are we sending our kids off to pursue expensive degrees that will recoup only minimal financial benefits (enough to buy their own beer as long as they live with their parents) for several years following college?

3.      Participation: Is it a good thing for students to participate in the funding of their education as a means of taking some ownership of the process? 

My two daughters went to private universities, and I can happily report that both were successful in landing good jobs within their major fields of study (Business/Communications).  But they did not major in Gender Studies or Medieval History, in which case that private school decision might have been financially questionable.

So, is a parent morally compelled to fully subsidize any area of study at any school? 

I am reminded of a speech given by a Notre Dame Professor of Anthropology at orientation when my oldest daughter went there.  He humorously portrayed the reaction a parent might have when his/her child is accepted into Notre Dame’s Anthropology major. He was a great guy, but my daughter was not encouraged to study Anthropology.  She was pretty much given the choice, Business or Business.

I am also reminded of making the trip to the University of Missouri with my second daughter to discuss its journalism program.  The Dean of that department told her to expect to live far from the Chicago metro area and make approximately $25,000 in her first job.  He was also a great guy – and he happily pocketed the twenty I slipped him afterward.

I guess, what it comes down to is this:  The world always needs experts in Anthropology and Greek Studies, but not very many.  If you can afford the luxury of a yacht or an island vacation home, you can certainly fund your child’s education in any area of study, even one that promises very few jobs. 

But if spending on luxuries is not your lifestyle, I certainly suggest having your children share in some of the financial consequences of their decisions.  And if you are looking for a monetary return on your education investment, it might be wise to select a more marketable major.  I suggest Business.  Or Business.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Just Want To Be Your "Friend"

I have now seen several news stories about a recent trend in hiring:  It seems that more and more employers are asking job candidates to supply their Facebook passwords as a condition of being hired. 

Is this request proper/ legal/ helpful/ a violation of a job-seeker’s first amendment rights?  We are in uncharted territory here, fellow pioneers.

Here’s one side:

At some point in the hiring process, an employer will likely ask a candidate to authorize verification of education and professional certifications, provide references from prior employers, possibly submit to drug testing, and in some cases expose themselves to criminal background and credit checks.  (Some states have severely curtailed use of credit checks for employment consideration.  I agree that credit background on a bricklayer is unnecessary but for highly responsible financial roles, I assure you, it is critical. Imagine hiring a CFO who had fully exhausted the line on 15 credit cards and had three mortgages on his house?)  Since most candidates agree to authorize these incursions into their private lives, why not Facebook?

On the other hand:

Headhunters and hiring managers are prohibited by law from asking potential employees about such matters as family plans, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, medical history and more.  So why should a candidate be pressured to allow an employer into a personal social network that might well reveal the answers to all these forbidden questions, in addition to their favorite alcoholic beverages and a proclivity for skinny-dipping.

Well, I am not a constitutional lawyer but I function as one frequently in discussions with my wife, children, and at parties where there is alcohol.  Based upon that legal foundation, my first thought is that this passion for someone’s Facebook password is troubling.  Many of us might not survive even the initial password pass-along, especially if our well-used password seems silly, juvenile, or just plain strange.  (Ilovemuffinforever, killtheman -- you know who you are.)  But, even if you survive shelling out your cool, yet tasteful password, do you want your potential employer to know that you “like” Political Candidate X, play Facebook Slots, and last checked in from Miss Kitty’s Bar & Grill at 3 am last Thursday night? (Hey, open mike nights are really fun.) 

As a result of the Facebook password controversy, several states have introduced bills that would prohibit coerced Facebook access. And now, a bill has been introduced at the federal level that would prevent employers from seeking access to social networking sites “to discipline, discriminate or deny employment to individuals…”  I reluctantly support the concept of this proposed legislation.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a nothing but disgust for excessive laws and regulations (and many of the people that author them.) The laws seem designed to replace common sense.  Having said that, it seems that the unwanted presence of strangers in your Facebook community just might destroy the freedom to share personal thoughts and pictures with your selected “friends” and even potentially destroy these social forums altogether.

Meanwhile, until legal restrictions are in place, I suggest you either take down your Facebook profile for the length of your job search, or at least remove all pictures in which you are over-served or under-dressed.   This way, you can happily provide your new password, Ilovemywork, to a potential employer when you are asked.