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Dual-Unemployed Spouses

August 31, 2009 Leave a comment

by David Mezzapelle
Read bio here

HR Compendium Sponsor

In the current economic climate it is not difficult to find a household where both spouses are out of work. When you add that to the fact that a majority of those people have children, mortgages, insurance and taxes, it is quite a stressful situation. Our company, in conjunction with The Wall Street Journal, did a story on this topic featuring a family in New Canaan Connecticut that recently experienced this exact scenario.

The wife worked for GE Capital as a Loan Manager and the husband was a Trust Officer with UBS. She lost her job in Nov (2008) and he was terminated in December. Neither layoff was based on performance – they were both downsized. Her severance was for 6 months and he did not receive any severance.

At First

At first it was tough for them, they felt empty when Mondays rolled around but at least their children were in school instead of hanging around. They started feeling sorry for themselves. Tensions built up quickly and they would snap at each other over the dumbest things. Financial constraints hit home during the holidays and explaining that to their kids was difficult. However, within a few weeks they got a handle on improving the situation.

During the day they would network to find new employment. They actually networked for each other among family, friends, business contacts, etc. When you combine each other’s resource list it is amazing how much further you can dig. One of our GoliathJobs’ Support Reps actually advised them to go this route and it ultimately proved successful.

Evenings & weekends they continued on like before but were much more careful about expenditures (i.e. restaurants, trips, clothes, etc). They still enjoyed wine but had certainly lowered their price point! Taking walks, exercising and spending more time with their children actually added to their job search efficiency. Exercise always makes tough times more tolerable and keeps the head clear. Financially they were ok but unfortunately many of their investments had taken hits. They admit that both sets of parents were very frugal – now they respect and see why.

The bottom line for this couple was to not dwell on the current situation and simply look forward to the future. Positive thinking & optimism had ultimately made them closer.

Effective Tactics

We spoke with many couples that were going through this hardship and came up with a list of the most common effective tactics:

  • No discussion on the job loss topic is permitted at night or on the weekends. One couple actually made a bet that if one slips the other has to cook dinner that night and clean.
  • Critiquing each other’s emails and resumes. Constructive criticism is important.
  • Mock interviews and videos (to see where the other person was weak). “My husband kept telling me that i need to be more relaxed during an interview. Once we started videotaping the sessions he was able to point out my less-relaxed nuances. Keeping that in mind I am careful to avoid those flaws now. Conversely, I kept telling him to talk louder during his interviews. I finally showed a close friend a copy of one of the tapes. As soon as she commented he improved his decibels!”
  • Help each other network and share contacts. In the case of the Connecticut couple, they wife’s old manager at GE was married to a financial advisor at JP Morgan. Using that connection they were able to get the husband an interview there. They made a similar connection for the wife in regards to the husband’s contacts at IBM Global Finance and Mercedes Benz Credit Corp.

The Least Effective Tactic

Being present when the other person is on the phone networking or speaking with a potential employer. It makes it hard for that person to relax and speak well. You need to leave the room so the other person is at ease.

Which Spouse is More Marketable?

In many cases we see a bottleneck in this area. Which spouse brings more to the table and is most likely to win the higher paying job first? This question has led to marital problems and needs to be handled carefully. The couple from Connecticut both agreed that “There is no least marketable spouse.” According to the wife, “We both worked in industries that took a hit. However, the Trust business is getting more complicated and i believe my husband will get a job soon. And as business lending starts to resume I am sure that my experience will open doors for me as well.” Living in Southern Connecticut, with a close proximity to the NY-Metropolitan area, also contributes to more potential opportunities in this case.

The Happy Ending

This story ends well and can serve couples world-wide with valuable advice & optimism. The husband landed the job at JP Morgan after connecting with the wives ex-manager’s spouse who worked there. The wife landed the job at Mercedes Benz Credit Corp after connecting with her husband’s contact at that company. This demonstrates the power of simple networking just within your own circles. The market may be difficult for job seekers especially dual-unemployed spouses. However, it is clearly improving and remaining optimistic can only help. Charge forward and stay confident. Dear Abby once said, “You might feel impatient when things are not as final as you hoped. Let go of the fear… and the world comes to you.”

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Facts? I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Facts!

August 18, 2009 Leave a comment

by John Wentworth
View bio here

mentalking“Data are bunk when it comes to picking employees.  I know!  I can tell who to hire in five seconds by just listening to them.” 

Jim, the recruiting director of Acceleration Service, sat at lunch with Fredrico, one of Acceleration Service’s divisional general managers.  Jim really liked him.  Fred was frighteningly bright, equally perceptive, but haunted by high achiever demons.

The demons included hubris.  Fred was sure that he was right.  About everything.  The problem was that he usually was, even when everyone around him disagreed with him.  His pattern recognition skills were superb, able to understand the essence of a situation from just shreds of facts.

But he overestimated his ability to pick new employees.  He ran a sales call center and kept one out of every ten employees hired.  As he and Jim sat there at lunch, Fred refused to use any data-driven selection tools.

Jim sighed.  “You are flaunting the entire discipline of psychology, you know,” he said to Fred.

Fred just smiled.  “I know what I know.”

Jim sighed again.

Jim was particularly frustrated because of some data-driven revelations that he had engineered and that Fred had acted on and which had turned out to be pivotal to Fred’s success, and which Fred had seemingly forgotten.

Fred at one point could not get anyone hired.  He was using a test and his recruiter had not been able to find anyone who could pass the test.  He reached out to Jim who assigned one of his corporate recruiters to the task.  Soon, they had candidates who passed the test and who got hired.  Everyone rejoiced.

But the rejoicing was premature.  Virtually everyone who was hired either left or was fired.

Jim sat down with Fred.  “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know Dude,” Fred said.  “It’s always been this way.  I have been able to create a cadre of loyal producers who are making a lot of money, but we can’t find any more of them.  I thought the test would help.  It’s normed to my top people, but it’s letting too many of the wrong people through.  I’m worrying about whether we have the right test.”

Jim growled under his breath.  He knew the test and he knew it was respectable.  And he knew that any respectable test, if it was normed to the right people, would create a filter that let people who were like the normed group through.  He recognized the limits to tests, too.  If you did not measure anything that actually correlated to on the job success, testing was useless.

And it was here that Jim had some sympathy for Fred’s point of view.  His environment was not like other call centers.  His management was not like other call center management.  Many of his successful employees had not been salespeople before.  They had been karate instructors, beach bums, nurses…there were a few that had sold, too, but they had not been particularly successful until they came to Fred’s shop.  So possibly, he thought to himself, Fred’s shop is so weird that the test is just not measuring what drives success here.

Jim called up the psychologist who had developed the test. 

“Ya know,” the Southern, folksy psychologist said, “we did gather some data when we normed the test that we are not currently gathering.”

“Why not?”

“No particular reason other than we had such a clear profile of success from the other data that we thought we probably didn’t need it.”

Jim just looked out the window, wishing he was doing anything other than having this phone call.

“Well, there is another reason, too.”

“What’s that?”

“The data have to do with dark side tendencies.”

“Which are?”

“Things like being suspicious, shy, sad, pessimistic, a sufferer, eccentric, loving risks too much and that sort of thing.  Not many managers want to hear that their top performers are high on these measures since, in extremis, they get you pretty close to mental illness.”

“So Fred’s top performers are nuts?”

“ ‘Nuts’ is not a word found in most psychology texts, but, yes.”

“So let’s measure the dark sides of the candidates.”

“And so we shall.”

And so they did.  Because they did not really know what they were looking for, they did more.  They quantified candidate profiles against the job requirements, which mostly had to do with their skills and prior successes, against the light side test scores and against the dark side scores.

Jim and Fred were having lunch.  They really did enjoy each other’s company, so they did not get to work topics until coffee.

“The first piece of stunning news I have to report is that we have an inverse correlation between candidates you have hired and their having done well in their past sales jobs.  If they were successful salespeople before they came here, they have left or been fired from your shop.”

“I told you that the karate instructor was the model we should be emulating,” Fred said, more serious than not.

“Then we found that there was no correlation one way or the other with light side scores on the test.”

“I told you that the test was no good!” roared Fred.

“And there is a very tight correlation between high dark side scores and strong performance.  Your top people are all nuts.”

Fred knew what dark side tendencies were.  And he knew he had them.  He just looked at Jim, for once in his life without words.

“Plus this: my recruiter has been living in your facility as you know.  He’s been taking his coffee breaks in your bullpen.  He has heard your Inside Sales Manager just beating up the new hires.  This might explain that several of the high dark side hires, whom you guys rated as stars, up and left suddenly.”

“So you are telling me that my environment and culture don’t match the people I’m hiring?”

“I am.  You are hiring eccentric and driven people who are pretty thin skinned and then your manager is beating them up.  It does not work.”

“OK, I get that he should not beat them up, but what kind of culture should I have?”

“You are a high dark side score person.  What culture do you want?”

“I make my own culture wherever I go!”

“Yeah, yeah.  And you fly, too.  Be serious.  Think back to when you were a kid.  What did you want your world to be?”

“I was surrounded by criticism.  I wanted unconditional love.  I felt different from other kids.  I wanted to be reassured that I was OK.”

Suddenly Fred’s face lit up.  “I got it! So I should provide that to my employees.  Unconditional love and belonging.”

“Yup,” Jim said.

Fred had gone back and made the conversion in his mind and actions.  Given that he was a man of extremes, it was not a surprise when the next day he started hugging all the new employees and telling them he loved them.  They were surprised and a few were a little put off, but on balance they liked it.  And they still quit.

“Why?” Jim asked Fred.

“I don’t know,” Fred answered.  Your theory must be wrong.”

“And your sales manager is abusive.”

“There is that!”

Fred went back again and started listening to the sales manager as he “trained” his new hires.  It turned out that “trained” meant berated, humiliated and scorned.

Fred fired him.  Jim helped him hire a new one.  The new one had the opposite problem.  Everyone stayed.  They just did not produce.

And the new sales manager, who was actually brought in as a VP, talked Fred into getting rid of the test and Jim’s recruiter.  He generated his own flow from his prior acquaintances and then hired the ones he liked…but they did not produce.  Fred go so enraged that he took over the inside sales himself, moved the new guy to outside sales and reengaged Jim.

Jim sat with him.  “You do know, I trust, that the research on good salespeople is that they start slow and take about six months to hit stride.”

“Not mine.  They do it faster.”

“But, considering for just a second that you might be wrong, I wonder if you gave them more of a conventional environment including a less enthusiastic training and a longer fuse, if they would not perform after a while…just like the majority of sales people.”

“I’m not abusive!”

“You are not as abusive as the guy you fired, but you do everything you can to make them go away.  Their training is like one big long stress interview.  Only the super-strong survive.”

“And those are successful.”

“There might be a better way.”

“Not for my shop!”

“Keeripes, you are stubborn.”

“And…I am right!”

So they kept hiring, not using a test or really anything else except Fred raging and swearing and threatening in the mass interviews.  Fred’s theory was that what he asked them to do, learning to sell his way, was difficult but could be mastered by those with extraordinary strong constitutions, those who were desperate to make a lot of money.  So he brought people in almost indiscriminately and then abused them in the interview process.  He hired those who responded right and were sufficiently drawn to the stress environment that they accepted his offers.

But they did not perform, either.  Jim suspected that they took the job to get the salary and then bolted as soon as they could find a less stressful job.

Fred hired a new inside sales manager.  Jim had personally watched over this search, including using a test.  The test showed that he was a mini-Fred.

“This guy is just like you,” Jim told Fred.  “Are you sure you want to hire a mini-you?”

“I’m not sure, but I’m going to try it.”

The guy reported for work with a load of inside salespeople who had told him they wanted to follow him.  Jim got fired again.  This time he was amused, not irritated. 

The new guy figured out in about a month that it was no fun working for an older clone of himself and took off.  The sales reps that he tried to hire him came in, sat through the stress interview and then left, never to be heard from again.

This left Fred as the acting inside sales manager with his payroll burdened with the VP who had been marginalized into an outside sales manager role and whose morale, and productivity, stank.

There is no happy ending to this story.  It is closely based on a real life experience of our company with a client whom I consider to be a close friend.  But his flaws prevent him from creating a stable, smoothly functioning organization that can grow.

He is not the only one.  Many entrepreneurs, me included, own businesses because we were lousy employees.  We are infantile and narcissistic, wanting to create an organization in our image, wanting to see ourselves reflected in our corporate mirror.

The only solution is to build a barrier of individuals who can both lead and follow between the entrepreneur and the rest of the organization.  This, however, requires trust, something the infantile and narcissistic have a hard time embracing.

The other issue this story drives home to me is that recruiting is very heavily influenced by the organizational context in which it is done.  Many recruiters try to do recruiting the same way every time, for every company.  They frequently fail.  The wiser recruiter looks at the organization, identifies the obstacles and resolves them.

If the organization wants to hire candidates who just don’t exist, or are not available for the money the company wants to pay, that issue needs to be resolved or recruiting will fail.  If a hiring manager does not want to hire because s/he is not sure of his/her boss and is afraid of being criticized for his/her hiring decision, that issue needs to be resolved or no hires will be made and recruiting will fail.  If the hiring manager makes erroneous hiring decisions, s/he must only be shown candidates who will succeed in the job, or turnover and low productivity will overwhelm what benefit the organization gets from filling jobs.

Recruiting, if fully done, is as complex as any other organizational matter.  Recruiting does not have a history of stepping up to that complexity, but, if it does not, recruiting will fail.

10 Best Practices for Managing the Aging Workforce

August 4, 2009 3 comments

 

by Richard Anthony, Sr.
View bio here

sponsored by HR Compendium

10 Best Practices for Managing the Aging Workforce

When introducing himself to the class I was teaching on managing the aging workforce, a Gen Xer in his early 30s said he had enrolled in my course because he was anxious about a promotion he was about to receive: supervising a group of people several years his senior in years and experience. A few of the Boomers in the class voiced a similar concern, but in reverse. They took the course in hopes of better understanding their “younger” coworkers or subordinates.

For the first time ever, we have four, and some people argue five, generations in the workforce. Each markedly different. Each variously hailed and reviled because of the myths about how they think and behave. All challenged to work toward common goals in spite of their differences.

The young man in my class had good reason to be anxious. Though bright and articulate, he had no prior supervisory experience. He did have the good sense to recognize that, without preparation, he risked failure in his first opportunity to exhibit the skills and competencies required of executives, managers and coworkers in today’s increasingly pluralistic and contentious workforce. Enlightened employers are devising new ways to recruit, develop and reward workers of all ages. However, studies show that most employers appear to be oblivious to the shifts occurring in the workforce and are therefore applying management principles and techniques that were better suited to the comparatively simpler shop floor and office venue of more than a half century ago, when the predominantly white male workforce was made up of Traditionals (born before 1946) and early Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964).

In another time, the potential for stress among the generations gradually would have been dissipated by the natural course of events; that is, older workers would retire and move on to the next stage of their lives, making room for the generation eager to displace them. That historical phenomenon is no longer as predictable as it was for half of the last century and beyond. Because they can look forward to longer, healthier life expectancies and are accustomed to being busy, the majority of the nation’s 78 million Boomers approaching “normal” retirement age want to remain gainfully employed on a full time or part time basis. Furthermore, in hard economic times, they are not in a hurry to trade their paychecks and health care benefits for decimated 401(k) and IRA account balances. The reluctance or inability of the Boomers to move out so that younger workers can move up adds to intergenerational stress and, in my opinion, may ultimately lead to seismic intergenerational conflict over opportunity, compensation and benefits, especially health care.

Nothing short of a transformational overhaul of public and corporate policies can avert intergenerational conflict in the workforce. That could take a full generation. In the interim, employers who see the competitive advantage of recruiting and retaining older workers can adopt some of the best practices developed by organizations that are managing the shifts in the workforce rather than being victimized by them.

Best Practices

Any approach to managing the aging workforce must be undertaken within the full context of the four generations, not just the older generation. Here are some examples of initiatives employers can take to establish a work environment that values the past, present and future contributions of older workers.

1. Study generational composition of your workforce.
The first step is to take stock of what you’ve got by developing a census of the workforce by age, gender and skill level. Then plot the age data according to the four generations (Traditionals, Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y). Next, study the similarities and dissimilarities among the four generations to understand the underlying motivations for each group.

2. Prepare a workforce forecast.
Now that you know what you’ve got, prepare a forecast of the human capital in terms of competencies and experience your firm is likely to need based on certain scenarios. Do a side-by-side comparison of the workforce you have and the workforce you believe you will need three to five years out; then decide what adjustments should be made and how best to make them.

3. Train managers and supervisors about intergenerational differences and issues.
Most managers and supervisors need to step back from their daily routines to understand the causes of intergenerational stress. On the one hand, they must be fair arbiters of age-related disputes. However, they must also be aware of the emotional, cognitive and physical changes older workers experience and the possible influence on the worker’s ability to perform.

4. Match HR policies to the needs of the workforce.
HR policies should be reviewed at least every two years to ensure that they are aligned with needs of the employer and the employee. Older workers, for example, may need customized training or retraining, different types of communications and more time to prepare for the transition to retirement.

5. Be creative in designing compensation plans.
Cash compensation is important to all workers, regardless of age. As needs and time horizons change, however, how and when compensation is received become strategic issues for older workers who have the foresight to manage their assets for gain and tax effectiveness.

6. Include all generations on committees and task groups.
One very effective way to recognize the experience and skills of older workers is to include them on committees and task groups whose opinions and recommendations are solicited by management. It may be advisable to have someone outside of the group facilitate the first few sessions to help ensure that potential conflicts don’t impede communication.

7. Design and implement a comprehensive communication plan.
The differences among generations concerning sources of information are well documented. Communicating with older workers may require greater frequency and more dependence on print media. Older workers also tend to rely more on peer communications than their younger counterparts.

8. Offer lateral movement.
Boomers are achievers, but personal growth and professional advancement need no longer be equated with climbing the career ladder. Particularly in the later stages of their careers, older workers can derive personal satisfaction and make a valuable contribution by moving laterally or diagonally into a different position or function. Often, lateral moves can also offer greater flexibility as well as opportunities for interim assignments or mentoring.

9. Offer flexibility.
Flexible scheduling, job sharing, part time work, sabbaticals for community service and leaves of absence for continuing education are only a few of the ways employers can accommodate the lifestyles of older workers and retain the experience and know-how the company needs. Such programs must be designed carefully and implemented consistently to avoid resentment on the part of younger employees who may feel they are being disadvantaged.

10. Reward managers for retention.
People do what is valued, observed, measured and rewarded. Consequently, managers and supervisors should receive an unambiguous message that retaining older workers who can contribute to achieving organizational goals is valued, will be included in performance evaluations and will be rewarded.

Summary
Unlike their predecessors, the majority of Boomers want to remain actively engaged in meaningful work. In sharp contrast, most employers are either oblivious to the pending exodus of older workers or they are inclined to encourage it in the belief that older workers are expendable and can be replaced at less cost (cash compensation and benefits). As millions of Boomers approach normal retirement age, employers will be forced to make staffing decisions that may have long-lasting consequences. The solution is to plan for and manage the shift occurring in the workforce, to the mutual benefit of the employer and the employee.

What! Internships for people 50+? How is that possible?

July 29, 2009 Leave a comment

by David Mezzapelle
View bio here

52 Performance Principles Sponsor
Our company has been advising people to re-visit education to sharpen old skills or learn a new one. This is especially important for people looking for a new job or simply re-entering the workforce. There is no age limitation on this advice.

So how do internships fit in? Quite simply. Employers across all industries can always use interns for a myriad of purposes. Until now, an internship was always considered sub-entry level and was reserved for students. Today more & more HR organizations are taking the time to educate employers on the benefit of hiring 50+ candidates in order to fill different roles on a flex-temporary basis (and at a low cost effective wage). This basis is the grounds for what we call a “50+ internship.”

This internship serves as a stepping stone for the candidate as they advance their career or it can be the initial foot in the door the candidate needs to work for a particular employer.

The benefits for the job seeker include:
• sharpens old skills
• modernizes the resume
• compliments any continuing education one may have taken (or is currently taking)
• some work is better than no work and this helps eliminate any gaps in time

The benefits for the employer include:
• obtaining a loyal, flexible employee with potential for a longer stay
• intern/employee can handle a variety of tasks ranging from basic to complicated
• cost effective
• a 50+ intern can usually work more hours
• more mature means more grounded. An improved ability to focus with being less easily distracted

Another factor to consider is the common misconception among young hiring managers that 50+ candidates are not up to date on the applications or tools necessary to get the job done. It is important for the candidate to diffuse that misconception early on. This can be done in a cover letter, resume and even during an interview if necessary. However, if you apply our internship concept to a candidate’s resume you will see that it also helps to diffuse the misconception along with many other benefits as well.

For more information on how your business can benefit from a 50+ intern, please visit us at www.jobsover50.com or email info@jobsover50.com.

About JobsOver50:
JobsOver50.com is a free web-based employment service for Baby Boomers & Retirees backed by the powerful GoliathJobs network. JobsOver50 connects job seekers to employers via schools & alma maters across all levels of education. This model delivers a competitive edge to candidates, a career service edge to schools and significant results to employers.

About GoliathJobs:
GoliathJobs is a free web-based employment service. We connect job seekers to employers via schools & alma maters. GoliathJobs creates partnerships with schools throughout North America which serve as liaisons. This model delivers a powerful edge to schools at no charge (and lifelong career services), a competitive edge to job seekers and high-quality results to employers. We believe that employment starts with education regardless of age, experience or educational level. 100% spam-free.

It Seemed Like A Beautiful Day

July 21, 2009 Leave a comment

How to Lose Your Perfect Candidate and Feel Like a Dope

by John Wentworth
Wentworth Recruiting

View bio here

Sponsored by Compendium 2009

“It’s a beautiful day,” Jim, the Recruiting Director of Acceleration Service said to himself as he walked from one building to the next. It was. The sun was shining, the temperature mild and the day was bathed in a gentle breeze.

“And it seems like a fine work day,” he said to himself next. He knew of nothing wrong. All the divisions were on plan with their recruiting. His teams were happy and engaged and their hiring managers were content.

“So why am I trying to talk myself into this?” he wondered.

The answer came when his cell phone rang.

When the call was over, he just sat down on a bench, looked to the sky and muttered, “I am such a dumb piece of dirt.” The sky seemed as if it had clouded over and the air gotten 15 degrees colder. All his earlier contentment was gone.

He had been personally recruiting to fill a critical job…for himself…a recruiting manager for a new division Acceleration had recently acquired. Part of Jim’s technique, and the technique he taught his team, was to close every attractive candidate in every conversation. His theory was that you want every candidate you might possibly want to hire to want you. In each conversation, he closed them a little more. By the time he got to a couple of conversations from making the offer, he had candidates closed, committed and ready to go, making the offer letter just a formality.

He had done that with this person, a very bright, hard driving and wonderfully skilled recruiting manager from a competitor of the purchased unit. She knew the industry, where to find the candidates and how to assess them. She also knew some of the hiring managers, other individuals who had moved her from company to Jim’s division.

Jim had a solid commitment from the candidate. She was being wooed by another company but had said unequivocally that she preferred Acceleration. Jim was under the impression that the candidate must have said something to the other company because they seemed to be backing off…by her telling of the story.

This call had been a reference, an individual from a third company in that same company that had been trying to hire his candidate. The reference had worked with her a few years before. Jim was being a little mischievous by seeking a reference from the company he had been competing with for the candidate, but she had given the reference’s name to Jim and approved his calling the guy.

“I’m really surprised that you asked about her,” the had told Jim a few minutes before Jim found himself sitting dejected on the bench.

“Why’s that?” Jim asked him.

“Well, I understood that she had accepted a job with our company yesterday.”

“You’re kidding,” Jim stuttered, knowing the reference was not.

Jim did what he could to get out of the conversation with his pride at least in part intact, and then sat down on the bench.

And then his phone rang again. It was his candidate. It was a difficult conversation. Jim was mad and embarrassed. Plus, the job was now open again.

“As it turns out, I never really had a chance,” Jim told Sarah Hockney, the general manager of this new division. She had been transferred from the division that provided Jim office space, and he had done a lot of work for her. They had become friends.

“How is it that you never hand a chance?” Sarah asked Jim.

“The president of her new employer called her directly to ask her to forget us and go with them. He’s not just the president of the company; he’s a relative of her husband’s. So her choice was me or a guy who could turn her entire in-law clan into her enemies.”

“So why are you so glum and confessing your sins to me?” she asked.

“Because I did not do it right. I did not set the example for my troops. Not only did the search not work, not only did I make an ass of myself to the reference, but I also will look really stupid to my troops. Hard to inspire confidence making sophomoric mistakes.”

“What mistake?”

“I didn’t defend against this.”

“I thought you told me that she had committed, that you’d closed her.”

“She had. I did. But the controller of our new division was behind the curve in so far as the budgeting for this job was concerned. They had to get the funding sorted out before we could make the formal offer.”

“You had no control over that.”

“True. And I told the candidate what was going on, but I did not call her every day. I relied on her word. I did not defend against a full court press from someone else.”

“Like this guy, but also from her company. They could have countered, too, no?”

“Yes, and there’s a whole technique of anticipatory defense against counters.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the very simple sharing of the observation that, while the current employer may think that you are very important and wonderful now, and worth all this extra money now, how sincere can they be when they did not think any of those things before they heard you were going to leave? And if they are not sincere, is it not reasonable to think that they are recruiting your replacement right now? They don’t care about you. They just want your leaving to be on their terms and their timing, not yours. And if you do stay, how does your manager feel about your loyalty? Will you ever be in her or his good graces, really?”

“And you say that to the candidate?”

“Again and again, before they get our offer. Again when we present the offer. And again and again as we talk to them through their notice period. We rehearse with them what the company is going to say, how they feel when they hear that, what they are going to say in response, how they feel when they say that, etc. We also start getting them into the email traffic from their new department, and we get their new boss to call them, so they start of feel that they belong with us. We work hard to build the emotional connections during the notice period.”

“So what did you do with this young woman you are so anguished about?”

“Not enough. I did not talk to her every day. I did not ask what else was going on. I did not ask if her employer was proposing a counter offer. I did not ask what was happening with her new employer. I did get her into the email stream. And I did talk to her, but not often enough. It’s a stupid, sophomore move. I feel very stupid.”

“You are.”

“Hunh?”

Sarah smiled. “Being concerned, as I am, about your state of mind and emotional well-being, I want you to feel good about your analysis. You are right. You screwed up.”

“Your kindness overwhelms me,” Jim smiled back.

“However, I’ve known you for a long time. This division that I’ve been given like a bad white elephant gift, that I’ve been given to integrate into Mother Acceleration Service, that I’ve been given to fix, turnaround and do major surgery on. It will be fine, in great part because, while you do not yet have a halo or wings, and you occasionally screw up, you will support the person who replaces this person and your team will fill our halls with some of the best people available.

“I’m actually happy that she’s not coming because of how she handled it. She should have called you when she got the big call from her in-law and worked the problem with you. Her not doing so suggests a certain lack of understanding how teamwork actually works and that, were she still coming, would make me worry about her.

“So get out of here and find a replacement. I’ll bet you a coffee that you have the job re-filled within a week.”

“Thanks for the pressure.”

“Now it’s time for you to leave and go feel sorry for yourself in someone else’s office.”

Jim did. The first thing he did was tell everyone what happened. He wanted to support his reputation of being forthright by telling everyone in sight. They were, to a person, understanding and supportive. That felt good.

As Sarah had predicted, he started to get referrals that had not arrived during the first part of the search and were of better people. This was good because one of the consequences of the first part of the search is that the candidate he tried to hire was so much better than the others in the pool, that the others had lost their luster. Normally, Jim had one or more back up candidates for every job. But his lead candidate made the back up candidates back up candidates no more.

But the referrals were great. “I should write this down,” Jim thought to himself: “Sympathy produces great referrals. I can use that.” By the end of the week, he had a great candidate who wanted the job and had just come back to the area and was, therefore, available!

Jim walked into Sarah’s office. “Done! You owe me coffee.”

“Really?” She smiled. “How about now?” She reached for her purse.

“Now is great.”

As they walked to get coffee, Jim told Sarah how the new hire had come to happen. It was raining, so they had to trot to the next building to keep from getting soaked.

Even though they ran, they were good and wet when they trotted through the door. “It’s a beautiful day, don’t you think?” Jim said with a big grin on his face.

“It is a beautiful day. And I believe it will be all week,” Sarah replied and she patted him on the back, “because of the good job you did.”

All Jim had to say was, “Whew! Too close for comfort!”

Why Hiring is Paradoxically Harder in a Downturn

July 14, 2009 2 comments

by Auren Hoffman
Read bio here

Sponsored by Compendium 2009

Why hiring is paradoxically harder in a downturn
Noise goes up but the quality stays the same
Hiring is always hard. The hardest thing to do at a company is the recruiting and hiring. It was really hard when the economy was doing well. Paradoxically, for certain industries (especially those reliant on innovation such as those in the tech space), it’s even harder when times are tough.

That’s right … hiring in tough economic times can actually be much harder than when times are good. In a downturn, the amount of resumes from C-Players massively increases while the amount of resumes from A-Players probably remains the same.

Never settle

First, let’s assume you’ve already bought into the “When Good Isn’t Good Enough” philosophy of always trying to hire A-players because they are just so much more productive than B-players (an ‘A-Player’ by definition is incredibly productive and smart and has that ‘it’, that rockstar-esque factor that makes everyone want to work with her). That means you won’t settle for people who are good but instead hold out for people that are great.

Great people – the A-Players – are a very different breed from the good (B-Players) and mediocre (C-Players). Great people are more likely to be employed with a company since a great person is often over 3 times as productive as a good person. Joel Spolsky argues in Smart & Gets Things Done that an A-player is anywhere from 5-10 times as productive. Joel looked at coursework data from a Yale computer science class and found that the fastest students finished their workload as much as ten times faster than the slowest students (average was 3-4 times faster).

table
Spolsky, Joel. Smart & Get Things Done. Berkeley, CA: Apress, 2007. p 6.

The (Un)Employed A-Player

In troubled economic times, anyone can get laid off, but a disproportionate number of layoffs tend to fall on C-players. This is because they are the lowest performing people in a company and there generally are more C-players at a company than any other caliber. Note that this isn’t always true, as evidenced with Yahoo!, a company that has recently experienced many layoffs but doesn’t have many C-players. In Yahoo!’s case, majority of the lay-offs fell on B-players and even some A-players. Yahoo! is an exception and is an exceptional company — most large companies, however, are chock-full of C-players.

A smart company would (or should) never lay off a great person unless her/his job function is eliminated. For instance, if a smart company had to lay off one of two software engineers with one being great and other being good, it will very likely lay off the good engineer and retain the great one (and might even give the great person a raise). Again, this is the logic that smart companies should follow. Then again, there are many dim-witted companies that lay off their great people for odd reasons and so you’ll find some great people out of those laid off.

Where to find that A-player

Some A-players are less likely to be looking to jump ship during tough times due to a risk adverse profile, security, financial reasons, or other reasons. They are happy where they are and more likely to hunker-down in tough times. On the flipside there are A-players that are MORE likely to leave. Tough times often paint companies into a corner and force them into maintenance mode rather than continuing to innovate. Great players love to innovate and usually NEED to innovate. It’s usually very hard to keep these type of A-players caged-up and thus this presents a big opportunity for recruiting.

For instance, in the past it was really hard to hire great software engineers out of financial behemoths like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan Chase. These companies have outstanding people and pay these people really well (often 50% above the salary at a tech company). Nowadays, even if these people have not been laid off, the great people are going to be leaving in droves. Why? Because in the next two years, it is really doubtful they will be doing anything remotely innovative. Instead they will be maintaining current systems due to the understaffed and underfunded technology departments. No fun there so expect a big exodus out of these companies.

It’s also worth noting that great people are often first to leave sinking ships. They don’t feel they need to stick around for a severance because they are confident they can always get another job.

How to deal with the paradox

Let’s face it, these great, A-Player type people are just really hard to find. Let’s say for sake of argument that A-players make up 1% of the population that could do the job, B-players are 19%, and C-players comprise the other 80%. It’s uncertain if these percentages are accurate, but there definitely are more C-Players than B-players and more B-players than A-players. Now if people find out you are hiring (through a Craigslist ad, posted on careers page, etc.), it probably means you are going to get a massive influx of resumes from C-players. Many of these resumes will be indistinguishable from those of A-players (it’s always hard to distinguish on paper). Which means the amount of noise (aka undesirable hires) will likely increase. Which means more work sifting through these resumes and talking to many more people.

It’s important to screen for great people in order to turn the volume down on all the noise.

Unfortunately, it is really hard to tell the difference between an A-player, B-player, or C-player just from a resume. Which means you need to engage with candidates and therefore you’ll have far more candidates to deal with given this economic climate. My guess – for a standard job announcement, you’ll have three times the number of C-players applying, twice the number of B-players, and the same number of A-players. Wow…your noise level has just massively increased!

graph

At Rapleaf for instance, we have a written one-hour technical interview as the first screen for resumes we like. Last year, our pass-rate for the test was 17% … meaning 17% of the candidates passed the written interview and moved on to a second round (a live chat with a Rapleaf engineer). Today our pass rate is about 6-8%. Our noise level has really increased.

One way to decrease the noise level (and thereby increase the amount of quality) is to specifically target candidates rather than to post a job ad. I would suggest targeting a company you think has great people, call into that company, and try convincing the talent to meet with you. I know if I was based in Manhattan and was recruiting software engineers, I’d be calling on the people in the top banks. While not everyone at a top bank is a great player, your ratio of great-to-good is going to go up substantially (assuming they haven’t already left).

Of course, not every position is harder to hire in this downtown. It is easier to find great people whose industries have been totally decimated by this recession. You’re in luck if you are looking to hire investment bankers, corporate lawyers, construction workers, or people in manufacturing.

This downturn looks to affect us all for the next couple years, so be sure to fill your company with only A-players and thereby creating your own A-Team.

mr. t image

The Bad and the Ugly – Violence at Work

July 8, 2009 Leave a comment

By David Bush
Read bio here

HR Leadership Sponsor

The Wall Street Journal has just emailed the following:

“Police continued to surround a building in downtown Binghamton, N.Y., after a gunman shot at least four people and kept more than 40 people trapped inside, local media reported, amid fears of fatalities. A man went into the building and started shooting around 10:30 a.m., local media reported, citing police scanners. The building is home to the American Civic Association, which assists immigrants with counseling and citizenship, according to its Web site.”

As I write this, the news on the radio is telling us that the hostage situation remains unresolved.

Perhaps it has started. The uptick in the frequency of work place violence that has been associated with economic downturns seems overdue. Yesterday, I was conferring with a colleague who has shared my interest in Work Place Violence for many years. We know that most workplace violence consists of non-fatal bullying and harassment, including such problems as being bitten by patients, being intimidated and threatened, or being stalked. But when people are stabbed or shot, the press wakes up with cameras and lights, and alarms us with stories of multiple murders in classrooms or postal stations or human resource departments. My colleague and I have consulted with companies attempting to prevent such events, and we have noted that fewer organizations attempt to prevent such behaviors than those who succeed in ignoring them.

Will the current recession lead to elevated rates of homicide at work? Will the outrage with Mr. Madoff lead to attacks on him and other Ponzis? Will people who are associated with the perception of undeserved bonus payments become the victims of disturbed murderers? Are the politicians and members of the press who appear to demonize people who can be blamed for the economic “down-turn” risking a stampede akin to those that may result from shouting “fire” in a theatre?

We live in a country that has a history of righteous violence such as riots and lynching. When many feel threatened and under attack, the potential for such behaviors appears to have been elevated in the past and we would not be surprised if history repeats. Do you hear people making remarks that sound like scapegoating? Who started this mess? Who will be blamed?

Perhaps we need to anticipate the potential for such problems and start to build early warning systems to prevent such bad and ugly events. Some organizations have created violence prevention committees led by representatives of HR, security, safety and legal. They create a form of “rumor central”, a clearing house for information about potential danger. Unlike the failure to share information that led to the 9/11 disaster, this approach encourages having critical information flow to the four person committee that consists of the top decision makers in HR, Legal, Security and Safety. This system also ensures that policies and procedures will be up-to-date on such issues as “you may not bring weapons to work.” On the latter issue, however, be sure to examine your state laws, since some states have laws that “protect your right to bring guns to work”. You may also wish to examine how secure your building entrances are. Can armed non-employees easily invade the company buildings? Are doors intended to be locked fire doors left unlocked for the use of smokers? Can anyone who knows this simply come in the back door? I have seen such high risk activities. The sooner they are fixed the better. Let’s hope that there is no uptick in violence at work. If there is, we all may ask to work from home. But that is another article.