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, 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.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cassettes and Your Future

Trying to assess the job market can be very confusing, given the conflicting news analysis and job data.  Washington is ecstatic that 163,000 jobs were created in July, yet the unemployment rate actually rose to 8.3%. Huh? 

If you have been seeking work for some time, don’t worry about the national job statistics or what George Stephanopoulos thinks.  Instead, you must focus on your life and finding an opportunity to earn the fuel that powers the economy of your family, a.k.a. a paycheck.

Let’s assume you have done everything right as far as resume preparation, target-marketing your credentials, and following up on every available opportunity.  But nothing good has happened.  What the….?  You are an industry expert; a technical genius in your field; a manager with a great history of success motivating professionals in your industry.  But what if there are no longer opportunities in that industry?  Remember the eight-track cassette manufacturing industry?  Probably not.   Is there a chance that your industry has gone the way of the eight-track cassette – temporarily or permanently?

The hard, cruel fact is: many jobs are forever gone, as are several industries - and I am not talking about off-shoring.  I am talking about diminished or flattened demand for a product or service that drives an industry. If you are in an industry that is no longer viable, it is time to face that fact and consider your options.  You have a decision to make regarding how to support yourself, and the sooner you make it the better you will be.  In some cases, your new course may require retraining and starting over.

I know of people who have been in some form of job search or underemployment for years.  Some have taken steps to learn new skills and or trades.  One very forward- thinking acquaintance left the IT field several years ago and completely changed his field of expertise.  He is now a physician’s assistant in the surgical suite.  This was a dramatic change that took a lot of studying and hard work.

But retooling does not have to entail learning the difference between a scalpel and a forceps.  It might mean a slight enhancement of your skills in word processing and/or spreadsheet manipulation. It might mean taking a temporary assignment that increases your skills, enabling you to qualify for a permanent job.  Or it could mean taking a course or two and getting licensed to perform a function in an area in which jobs still exist.  Based upon the weather this year, learning HVAC may be a reasonable tack. 

There are areas of the economy that are in hiring mode even today.  The barrier to entry is sometimes minimal.  Do some research to find out where the jobs are and how you can become qualified to do those jobs.  Be aware of your hard wiring.  Perhaps this is the perfect time to reload your career into something that you actually enjoy doing on a daily basis.

Retraining is not an overnight activity.  It will take some time.  You may have to take a lesser job in the interim as you reload your skills.  In the long run, your new skills may provide some financial opportunity and some personal satisfaction.