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, October 29, 2012

The Devil You Know

Do you plan to stay at your current job because your window provides a magnificent view of the city skyline? Or because your boss has repeatedly told you how valuable you are?  Do you have a great group of co-workers with whom you have shared daily lunch and office gossip for the last three years? Is your office is only a block from the train station?  Are you proud when you say your company name?

All of the above reasons, plus countless others (great cafeteria in the building, four personal days, summer scheduling, a Keurig down the hall) are acceptable justifications for staying where you are now – if where you are now is really where you want to be.

But I suspect that many of the reasons people choose to remain in their jobs are rooted in something other than real job satisfaction. 

I’d call it comfort, but the word “comfort” is often an overstatement.  Sometimes even workers who should be downright miserable seem emotionally trapped within their cuticle walls.  In these cases, the resistance to change may be more akin to cowardice or complacency than to actual comfort.

You may have heard the saying, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

But if the devil you know has a crimson complexion, a sharp tail, makes nasty demands, and keeps the thermostat at 90 degrees, I wonder.

On one of my recent recruiting calls, I spoke to a young professional who should have been extremely dissatisfied with his current situation.  His work content was unrewarding, his workday harrowing, his manager erratic, and any promotion would almost definitely be later rather than sooner. Still this young man was reluctant to leave the prestigious firm in which he had started his career for a different type of opportunity. 

Wrong?  Right?  Why?  Why not?  I don’t know.

Everyone has a different baseline when it comes to comfort, security, and tolerance of change.  Everyone has unique ambitions, hopes, and priorities.  So no one, least of all this headhunter, can tell an individual whether his/her life will be better or worse because of a job change. 

But I can suggest that you periodically evaluate your current circumstances with respect to your happiness, your fulfillment, your career goals, and your personal goals.  Do not let complacency or an unwarranted sense of “comfort” keep you from pursuing a better path.

In some cases, the devil you don’t know might not be all that bad.

Monday, October 22, 2012

From Unemployed to Employed: Negotiating Your Job Offer

Out here in the real world, as opposed to the artificial world of “adjusted” statistics and unfounded optimism, there is a significant amount of long-term unemployment and under-employment.  I know this because I encounter discouraged job seekers in so many places: during research for my recruiting assignments; in the job networking groups which I occasionally address; and, unfortunately, among my inner circle of family and friends.  

From the perspective of a job candidate, negotiating a job offer after an extended period of unemployment presents a unique set of challenges, primarily because it is virtually impossible to have a true negotiation when one side seemingly holds all the power. For example, if you have been unemployed for nine months or more, it may be hard to demand a salary increase or an extra week of vacation based on what you earned in a previous position.

That said, I can give you a few pieces of advice on negotiating a job offer to your best advantage, even after a lengthy period of unemployment.

1.      Be enthusiastic about the opportunity. Start your offer negotiation with an affirmative declaration of your interest in the company and the position.  After this, you can broach the subject of any reservations you have regarding job content, salary, benefits, sales targets, etc.  Expect minor concessions from the employer, not a major overhaul of the position.

2.      Be positive about your capabilities.  In the current economy, many job seekers have had to leave their comfort zones in order to re-enter the ranks of the employed.  You may have to enter a new industry, learn something you don’t know, or develop a talent that has been allowed to lie dormant until now.  Speak and act confidently.  An employer will not knowingly offer you a job you cannot do.  Do not let self-doubt prevent you from earning and accepting a good job offer.

3.      Ask questions.  Even though you are unemployed, you are allowed to – and should- ask questions during job offer negotiations.  While you want to make a job work for you, it is possible that it just won’t.  If you sense overwhelming obstacles to your success going forward, whether related to the financial situation of the company, the attitudes of management, or unrealistic expectations about your performance, it is better to walk away now than to walk off the plank.

4.      Remember as you negotiate that your ultimate goal is to accept the job.  This is different from a situation in which you are currently employed and have a viable choice of remaining with your current employer if your desires are not met.  I am presuming the position is a reasonable fit – as you would not have interviewed multiple times for a job which you had no intention of accepting.  In a stagnant economy, any good job offer is not to be turned down lightly. It is a job, not an end of a career. 

5.      Your abilities, your accomplishments, your talents and successes are part of who you are, regardless of your recent unemployment.  Accepting a job offer that is different than you might have expected in the past is a result of a poor economy, not indicative of any failure on your part.  Once you accept a position, move forward with anticipation and optimism, as you begin to create a new path for yourself.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Smile but not too much; Laugh, but not too much.

I am prepping for a Skype interview later today (Note to my interviewee: this is not about you.).  I am not a big fan of Skype for interviews as the technology is still not where it needs to be for an accurate evaluation of a candidate.  Variables are injected that should not be part of the evaluation process, such as equipment quality, internet connections, and thunderstorms.
But for an initial one-hour interview, Skype is a great alternative to a cross-country flight, providing time and expense savings for the candidate, the client and me.  It provides that “face-to-face” contact many clients and candidates want, without the accompanying bill. Reading facial expressions during an interview is a critical component.  A poorly structured question will be immediately apparent when the candidate silently expresses “what the heck” with a facial expression.  And it works in the candidate’s favor when an answer is off the mark.  A simple phone call does not provide this instant feedback.
So, how do we make the best of a Skype interview?  A few key elements come to mind.
Hardware problems are the number one issue when it comes to a smooth meeting.  In advance of an upcoming meeting, verify that you are properly registered with a video conferencing service and that your account is active.  Skype is used in our office but there are several other options.  Test your camera and the microphone by calling a friend.  In testing the equipment, make sure the camera is in focus.  You do not want the angle of the sun to transform you into a celestial creature.
Take a look at your own background in your video feed.  If you are interviewing from home and have posters of rock stars or football players on the wall behind you, think about taking them down or relocating your computer.  The background should not in any way attract the attention of the interviewer.  Keep it neutral and, if possible, professional.
Turn all phones off so you are not tempted to answer an incoming call or a text.
Your appearance may be slightly more casual in a video interview as it would be in an office meeting.  My usual suggestion is to wear a suit for personal interviews.  On a video call, wearing a collared shirt with a tie should be sufficient.  For women, any type of blouse/sweater that would be appropriate in an office environment will work.  The good news is that you only have to concern yourself with the upper half of your body.  (If you decide to wear jeans, remember NOT to stand up during the interview.)
 Be prepared to work the camera.  Just like a TV reporter must focus on the camera when speaking, you must also.  When you are talking, look directly into the camera at the top of your monitor, not at the picture on your monitor.  To look at the monitor is the equivalent of looking off into space when you are directly addressing the interviewer.  Eye contact with the interviewer in this case means eye contact with the camera.
It is critical to be yourself, but a controlled version of yourself.  Excessive looking around, fidgeting with your hair, nervous smiling or outbursts of laughter will be extremely noticeable on your “computer face” and may be perceived negatively.  Once you have begun the video interview, the normal rules of interviewing engagement are in play.  Focus on the task on hand and not the toys on your desk.
In some cases, the internet gods intervene and destroy the connection.  Don’t panic as this never reflects on the candidate.  Everyone knows the technology is imperfect.
If you cannot understand the interviewer because of poor sound quality, mention it immediately so the problem can be rectified if possible, before important misunderstandings occur.  If the picture is not clear enough to easily see facial expression, it is not worth being tied to the camera.  Simply tell the interviewer of the issue.  At this point, arrange a phone call and make the best of the forced alternative.
A video interview is a convenient, but less than ideal alternative to a personal meeting when pursuing an opportunity.  In the case of a geographically distant candidate, it may be the only avenue into a process that might normally not be afforded. 
And now I am off to have my make-up retouched for my video session.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The One-Page Resume Rule: “There is no one-page resume rule.”

Trying to describe a lengthy career in a one-page resume is like trying to fit an XL physique into an L piece of clothing.  No amount of squeezing/ adjusting/ twisting/ contorting is going to make it fit.  Trust me.

Back in the day when paper cost more than a one-fourth-of-one-cent per sheet, and e-mail was just a gleam in Bill Gates’ eye, professors at colleges and career counselors emphasized confining one’s resume to a single page.  In the interest of brevity, simplicity, tree longevity?  Who knows?

What I do know as a long-time headhunter is this.  There is no reason to confine your resume to one page unless you have only one page of information to share with a potential employer.  This might be true in the case of an entry level professional or an individual who has had a very short career or a single employer.  If you have more than 10 years of experience or more than two job titles or employers, it is likely that it will require more than a single page to describe your experience in adequate detail.

And that’s okay.  There is no one-page resume rule.

When someone tries to fit two or more pages of information into a single page, the sacrifices in terms of resume readability and content can be glaring:  adequate margins; readable font size; white space between paragraphs and sections; and bulleted details/ examples of important achievements.  The final product may be overcrowded and difficult to read, and in many cases, it will not be read.  If I cannot find your college degree and your most recent employers and titles without use of a magnifying glass (or a 200% zoom on the computer) I give up.  And so will other recruiters and employers.

And so, a few points to guide you as you compose your resume:

·         You MUST include relevant details and examples that will differentiate your background and experience from other similar backgrounds. 

·         Your resume MUST be readable and attractive, including white space and separations of content.

·         There is no One-Page Resume Rule.

Of course, not all arbitrary limitations on resume length are unreasonable…which brings me to The Three-Page Resume Rule.  My advice - unless you have been working continuously since 1947, follow it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Second First Interview

When I contact a candidate with the happy news that he/she has been invited for a second interview with a company, I can almost hear the figurative champagne cork popping. I know that mere minutes may pass between the end of my phone call and an exuberant phone call or text sharing the good news of a potential new job with a friend or family member. 

As the person whose role it is to lower expectations, may I say that getting a second interview is as close to getting a job as the U.S. having a 4 point lead going in to Sunday’s final round of the Ryder Cup.  You are ahead of where you were when you started, but you can still lose it.  (And they did.)


In general, the second round of interviews is similar to the first in that it is still very much a part of the screening process.  In rare cases, when only a few people have interviewed in the first round, you may be the only one left going forward.  More often though, you will be among several who are proceeding to the next interview phase.  Based on performance in the first interview, you or someone else may have an advantage at this point.  The competition continues.

During the first interview, you have probably survived a general examination of your background and credentials.  The second interview will be similar in nature, but be prepared for the interviewer to dig a little deeper.  If you have made mistakes in your first interview, this is your chance to correct them.  If you omitted experiences or achievements you wanted to emphasize, this is the time to work them in to the conversation.   

You may meet one or several people you did not meet in your first interview.  With each of these individuals, remember that this IS your first interview.


Are you wondering why this position is open for the third time in as many years?  Do you have some doubts about the financial health of this company?  Have you seen the office in which you will be spending your days?   Do you have questions regarding working hours or travel or overtime requirements?  The second interview may be your best shot at asking the questions that will help you determine whether or not you really want this job.   

This is because the third step in the interview phase may well be a job offer.  It is best to enter this phase armed with most of the information you need to make a decision.  Asking more than a few questions about the company and/or the position at the point of the job offer may cause your hiring manager to wonder where you were during the previous sessions.


Many candidates perform better at the second interview than the first because of increased levels of confidence and comfort.  This is all good.  They liked you – they were impressed with you – they asked you back.  But don’t pop the champagne just yet.