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, September 24, 2012

The Big Buck Theory

Being rich doesn’t solve every problem in life.  But it does solve a big one: being poor.

Throughout my career, having interacted with many individuals in all walks of life and all phases of their careers, I cannot think of a single person who set an upper limit on his/her desired earnings.  On the other hand, by their choices and their actions, many individuals do set upper limits on the earnings they can actually achieve.

If your career objective is to make a lot of money, as opposed to work/life balance, wearing jeans to the office, or family time, how do you accomplish that objective?   Here are some factors I’ve observed.

Choosing your path:

1.      Examine your hard wiring. There is a whole chapter devoted to this in my book. You will not excel at something you do not do well. 

2.      Pick a path that utilizes your talents.  There are choices.  If you are good at math, you could be a math teacher, an engineer or an accountant.  If you are good at science, you could be a teacher, a researcher, a doctor.  If you are a good writer, advertising, editing, marketing or journalism might be areas of interest.  If you are good looking and charismatic, modeling might be an option, but so would sales.

3.      Pick a path that offers a realistic chance of success based on your level of ability.  I was a great high school hockey player with thoughts of playing professionally. I got a reality check when I played for Notre Dame – and ended up majoring in accounting. 

4.      Pick a path that offers the highest financial reward potential.  If you decide to be a biology teacher and not a doctor, you will always make a teacher’s salary, not a doctor’s salary. 

Once you have established a path:

5.      Work hard.  Duh.

6.      Work very, very hard.  Contrary to popular belief, success and wealth are usually a result of hard work, long hours, and extreme commitment.  You may have to sacrifice some evenings and weekends, and possibly some family life and/or social life to the cause

7.     Work smart.  You can work 15 hours a day, but if you fail to notice and solve problems, your upward mobility will plateau at your current level.

8.      Set short-term, achievable goals.  Not “I will be a millionaire in 20 years,” but “I will get a promotion in three years or seek a position elsewhere.”  Aggressively target these goals.

9.      Be confident.  If you doubt your abilities, others will too.

10.  Claim credit for your achievements.  Or someone else will. 

11.  Differentiate yourself.  Never forget that you are competing with your co-workers and your peers outside the firm for your next promotion. What are your peers doing to get ahead?

12.  Educate yourself.  If you need a degree, a certification, or a course in XOOO to increase your salary, sign up now.

13.  Cultivate relationships in your company.  Your achievements must be noticed by someone in management before you are rewarded for them.

14.  Cultivate relationships in your industry. Your first employer may not provide the financial upside you are seeking over the long haul.  Knowing professionals at other firms may provide entry into more lucrative positions.

15.  Be open to change.  Do not marry your employer.  If a higher paying opportunity or an opportunity with greater upward mobility comes along, forget your BFF co-workers and go.

16.  Be open to risk.  Sometimes a commission-based position or an entrepreneurial position can offer huge financial rewards.  Does your station in life allow you to take a chance?  Do you have the self-confidence to take a chance?

Notice that the term “good luck” did not appear in the above list.  Notice that the ideas of hard work and sacrifice, in varying terminologies, were consistent throughout. 

Keep in mind that not everyone wants or needs to be wealthy and that being rich is not synonymous with living a great life.  At some point sooner or later in your career, you might make the choice that the rewards of being very rich are not worth the price that you will pay in other areas of your life.  Be happy and confident with whatever choices you make and live your life accordingly.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thinking across the desk: Refresher # 287

Last week I participated in a marathon.  Although I didn’t win any medal, I did feel a sense of satisfaction as I interviewed, almost non-stop, a series of strong candidates I had recruited for my current assignment.  After speaking to an impressive group of professionals, my usual problem as I present them to my client afterward is remembering “Was it X or Y who was raised in a village in Ecuador and swam in the Olympic trials while working his way through Harvard selling knives?” 

Fortunately for me and them, all of the candidates I met last week performed well in their interviews.  A few of them could have done even better.

An idea I have addressed many times in this blog, as well as in my book, is “thinking across the desk” or focusing on what your interviewer wants to hear rather than what you want to say. As I analyze my recent series of interviews, I think it might be helpful to review the concept.

At the beginning of every interview I conduct, I present the case for my client, including:  size, history, industry, and financial status of the company; reason for the opening; main functions of the job; people management requirements; technological expertise requirements; factors in the success/failure of any recent occupants of the position; my sense of the priorities of the hiring manager; etc.etc.

In other words, I provide the candidates with a fairly detailed shopping list of what I am seeking in their respective backgrounds.

A successful candidate pays close attention to what I say and seems to “get” what I want.  He/she focuses on my shopping list and continually allows me to figuratively check off items as we proceed through our conversation.  A less perceptive candidate continually gets sidetracked, wanting to talk in great detail about toothpaste when I am looking for shampoo.  As often as I drag this candidate back to the topic of shiny hair, he/she continues to veer back to the benefits of white teeth.

For example, you might be proud of your great knowledge of SAP or another complex software program.  This company doesn’t use it.  In a job interview, tell but don’t dwell.

Or you might want to boast about how you motivated a whole sales department to unprecedented success.  Unfortunately the current opportunity doesn’t involve any people management.  Mention your achievement, then move on to something more relevant to your interviewer.

But if, two jobs back, you were in charge of reorganizing your small company and are interviewing with a small company in need of reorganization, describing the details of that experience is your first priority.

In summary, prepare for your interview and mentally outline your presentation, but be flexible enough to adapt to the situation at hand.  The candidate who manages to bend and shape the elements of his/her background into the mold fashioned by the interviewer may well outperform a seemingly more qualified but less perceptive candidate who refuses to stay on course. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Live, Love, Laugh, Learn Excel

Those of us who were kids before the 1990’s may remember when school was all about learning the three R’s:  reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. (We took some liberties with spelling.) Both we and our teachers were happily unaware of such activities as formula pasting, data sorting, finding-and-replacing, and spellchecking.

Those of you who are younger than thirty-five or so might be congratulating yourselves as you read this because you have grown up in a personal computer world.  You twenty-somethings may have learned basic word processing skills before you grew out of T-ball, and clicked your way around colorful world maps well before you were allowed to walk to school by yourself.

Don’t get too comfortable. At the rate technology advances, all the “stuff” you know now will be outdated before your own kids are old enough to ask for the keys to the wind-powered car. 

If there were a single piece of advice that I could give to EVERY unemployed person I know, it would be to learn something you don’t already know in terms of technology. 

There’s always a good excuse for lack of techspertise

You might have spent the bulk of your career in a field that did not require huge technological expertise.  Construction and/or skilled labor come to mind.  Or you might have been so “high up” that you were able to assign others to perform the required word processing and spreadsheet functions for you, while using your advanced knowledge to analyze the results.  Or maybe you worked in a small office that resisted computerization until the bitter end and left you untrained in basic computer skills. Whatever the case, the everyday language of basic technology is a foreign tongue to you.

My advice is to lose the excuse. It is a bad economy, and possibly will remain bad for some time to come.  There are jobs out there, but you may have to learn something new to qualify for them.  The language of today’s workplace is technology.  Here are four basic areas of technology that might open a door that might otherwise be slammed in your face.

1.      Microsoft Word

2.      Microsoft Excel

3.      Sending, receiving, forwarding E-mail

4.      Perusing the Internet

If you are already experienced in these areas, try to become even more proficient – or explore a more complex software program that is a staple within your specific industry.

It doesn’t cost a lot to acquire basic computer skills.  Hundreds of books (as well as computers) are available at the library. Courses are available online or at local sites.  These range from free to somewhat costly.  Many of you have family members who have acquired these skills already and would be happy to share them with you.  Free Of Charge.  Ask them.

Your old job is your old job – your new job may be more challenging and rewarding than you could have hoped.  But to get it, you might have to learn more than you ever wanted to know about things like formatting, formulas, and hyperlinks. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

For Love of Labor

Most of us get out of bed each Monday through Friday with a song in our hearts because we get to go to work for the next 8-10-12 hours, right?  A holiday like Labor Day (yesterday) comes as an unwelcome interruption to our productivity at the office.

Okay, maybe we’re not that excited about work.  As I have been heard to say to my children, “That’s why they call it work and not play.”

My mother and father were examples of a work ethic that seems as rare these days as the powdered wig.  Both were Irish immigrants who came to America in the mid-1900s. Early on, my dad worked as a miner in Colorado. I was surprised to find this out shortly before he died. When I knew him, he worked for the Illinois Central Railroad in the Commissary department.  

Prior to my birth late in her life, my mother worked in an Armour Foods canning plant. As I grew older, she hired out on nights and weekends as a caterer to wealthy families, mostly on Chicago’s north side.  Maybe I got my entrepreneurial spirit from Mom.

Today we might say my parents had low expectations.  They did not expect intellectual challenges or personal fulfillment from their jobs.  They did not expect positive feedback or performance incentives or massive amounts of vacation.  They simply went to work so they could pay their rent and support themselves and their kids.  They lived frugally.  They never cheated or whined or complained.  They saved money on a very limited income.  They just did it.

All this family nostalgia to make a few points for this Labor Day week:

·         There is no shame in any kind of honest work.

·         In these days when many of our fellow citizens have no work, we who are employed can try to appreciate the simple fact of a paycheck.

·         Many of us are fortunate to have jobs that are personally rewarding.  Everyone should be looking for that kind of job.

And now we can start counting the days until Thanksgiving.