Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In a Job Hunt, There is No Such Thing as an Informational Interview

I always tell candidates, especially juniors, that there is no such thing as an informational interview.  If someone agrees to see you it is because there is the possibility of a job, either now or in the near future.

When people at companies are really, really busy, they just don’t see people.  Once someone agrees to see you, there is probably something in your background that they are interested in – it could be as mundane as your school, but it could be your experience or your perspective, based on your background.  Once they have agreed to see you, your interview should be approached as if they had a specific job in mind.  Besides that, even when there is no specific job, during your interview there may be something you say or an experience you discuss that rings a bell with the interviewer and they end up realizing that you can solve a problem they have.  This could lead to them actually making a job for you.  It happens all the time.

Why is this advice important?  Because, if you approach an interview thinking that it is just for information, your interview will be different than if you believe there is a job.  It has to do with mind set. Informational interviews, if purely that, tend to be casual meet and greet affairs.  But a real interview becomes purposeful and directed, which is what every candidates should want.

All interviews, no matter what level you are (even entry level) are based on the same premise:  past success is indicative of future potential.  You must communicate your past successes and how you achieved them.  If you go just for information, you are very apt to just chit-chat and then forget to let people know who you really are.

While the purpose of any interview is to gather information about the company you are seeing, the objective of an interview, whether for a specific job or just to meet someone, should be to get passed on.  If you are seeing someone with the mindset that you are only there for information, you could easily forget to determine if there are others you should also meet.

Even when an interviewer tells you that there is no job available just now, it is really not an informational interview. 

At the end of the interview there are a couple of questions which must be asked.  First, ask for the order.  Every salesman knows this. Jobs go to the person who asks for them.  Make sure the person you are seeing knows that you are interested.

Second, ask if there are other people within the organization you might meet.  You can also ask if they know people outside their company with whom they might connect you to.  Don’t push too hard, however – no one likes to be bullied by an interviewee.

Finally, ask how they would like you to follow up.  When should you call or email and which do they prefer?  Then be sure to do what you are told, when you are told to do it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hire People, Not Résumés

When companies lose an executive, they go into panic mode.  Especially advertising agencies.  Agencies are so focused on filling a vacant job that they forget to define the issues that they face when replacing the lost executive..  The loss of an executive should be an opportunity for introspection.  It is a time to figure out how to improve upon the departing executive, no matter what level he or she is.  And no matter how good he or she was.

Two weeks is never enough time to do a proper search and on-board someone.  So what most agencies do is to focus on finding clones of the previous title holder. The faster it can be done, the less problems they will have with antsy clients and internal issues.  It is much easier to find someone who already knows the business without regard to whether their experience and capabilities are truly right for the agency and account.  Consequently, all too often agencies tend to hire a person with a comparable résumé rather than spending the time to define the problem and hire the right executive.  

I call this hiring a résumé.

It happens all the time.  Over the years I have seen so many wrong people hired.  They had great résumés but just did not belong in the job. 

When someone like this is hired, both the agency and the new person soon realizes that the wrong person was hired.  It then takes a long time - often more than a year to act upon this bad hire.  So after while there is a meeting of the minds and the new person leaves.  What a waste.

What does the agency do?  It once again looks for another person with the same or similar background.  That is the true definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.

A great example of this happened a few years ago when a holding company hired a very well known former agency person to run one of its subsidiary agencies.  The person they hired had been president of a well known and highly respected ad agency which was similar in size, reputation and creativity to their subsidiary.  He turned out to be a disaster.  Within about eighteen months, the agency was practically out of business and the new president lost his job.  What the holding company failed to do was to fully understand its own situation and define the essence of the job the president had to undertake.  The agency had lost its previous president and had also lost its largest account which was about 60% of revenue. It was a great agency with a great reputation. But the holding company failed to define its issue as a new business problem; they needed to build up revenues.  They should have hired someone with strong new business credentials.  The new president was simply bad at new business.   He was a competent executive and had previously been involved with new business, but he was not the rain maker. His prior agency was dominated by two creative gurus and a very well known new business person who really did the pitch and the closing.  And the worst part was that there was a search firm involved (not me).  The guy they hired was an obvious hire because of his résumé, but not because of his strengths.

When I am given an assignment, I ask agencies to define their problem, especially for a senior job. I am often told that there is no problem.  That is, of course, ridiculous.  When agencies properly define the problem, they can generally find the right executive much more efficiently.  I have seen many successful executives move, even at senior levels, from, for instance, non-package goods on to a  major CPG account. They are able to do that because the management of the agency has carefully considered the needs of the account and realize that a particular person has the skills necessary to handle the client, without necessarily being able to manage the account.  The category experience will come quickly. 

I can think of one job I recently filled where I found an account person who had a completely parallel track to an account director spot I was looking to fill.   She had worked on three of the brand’s major competitors.  She and I discussed this and agreed she should talk.  I was not sure that this was the right opportunity for her, but we agreed that she should talk and explore it.  I knew she would be offered the job, even before her first interview; they were going to hire her for her résumé.  Within a week she had done four or five interviews and was offered the job.  She correctly turned it down.  However, from the feedback she gave me, I was able to call the agency president and discuss their true needs.  Two weeks later I was able to place someone who had no category experience but who was better suited for the job than the candidate with category experience.

This is a really important distinction.  And I believe that by correctly defining the job, the agency saved itself from a poor hire. It is essential for any company to first define what has to be done, what skills are needed and, finally, to determine what background experience would work best.

I have written about hiring category experience, which limits the candidate pool considerably.  It is especially insane at junior levels.

Would love to hear about your experiences in this area.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Adventures in Recruiting: Cross Purpose Interview

Before I was well established and known as a recruiter, I had a really amusing incident, which is worth describing.

I had been recruiting about two months and I got a call from a senior account manager.  He said to me, “I hear you can work on anything.  If that is true, I could use your help.”
I was delighted.  It meant that in just a short time my reputation as a recruiter had spread and people were now calling me.  Of course, with great enthusiasm I told him that I would love to work with him and would like to meet him.  It was and has been my policy to try to meet all the people I work for, not just my candidates.

I have always had the belief that I should know and understand the culture and casting of my client companies.  I made a date to go visit with him the following morning.

I showed up a couple of minutes early so I could observe the reception area, see who was coming and going and get a feel for the agency. It was an agency I knew by reputation, but had never known anyone there.  Obviously, this would be my first assignment with them.

Because I had only recently started recruiting I did not have a great presentation on myself. I still used my advertising résumé and biography accompanied by a single page sheet explaining my recruiting philosophy.

When I was brought in to his office, he asked for my résumé.

Him: “This is for an account supervisor spot.”

Me: “Not a problem.  I can work on anything.”

Him: “I heard that.  That is why you are here.  This is a difficult account.  The client is very demanding.  I need someone who is able to deal with a client who can sometimes be a bit, shall we say, nasty.”
Me: “Well, I once had a client punch me.” [True]

Him: “I would like to hear that story but I am a little rushed for time.  Have you ever worked in the hospitality business?  I don’t see it on your résumé.”  

Me: “You tell me what kind of background you are looking for and I will find that person for you.”

Him: “Does that mean you are not interested in the job for yourself.”

Me: “I am a recruiter and I came to see you to get job specs.  I think we have a misunderstanding.   I am not interested in this job for myself, but I know people who might be great for you.”

Him: “I thought you were a candidate. Although your resume looked a bit senior for this job.   I have never had a recruiter come see me before.”

Now I thought that was amusing, but here is the best part.  About two weeks later, I was called by a senior vice president who was running a piece of business at an agency where I had worked for many years running the same account.  He knew who I was and what I was doing.  He told me he wanted to hire someone and had heard what I was doing so he thought I would  be a natural to help fill the job.  I asked to meet him.

Walking in to those offices was like old home week.   There were still many people I knew there and I was greeted with open arms, so to speak.

I spent about ten minutes with the person who was a senior vice president, the same title I had had.  He gave me the job specs and I because I had worked on the account, I completely understood who and what he wanted.  Not a problem.  I knew his issues before he even described the job.

Then, he got up from his desk, walked over to the door and closed it.  He walked back to his desk and handed me his résumé.  “Now interview me.  I hate this place.”

It has actually happened to me several times since.  And I have had a number of people come to my offices for an interview prior to starting a job hunt who, in turn, proceeded to give me a job search assignment.

Recruiting can be a very amusing business.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How To Get Promoted (From Any Level To Any Level)

One of the important aspects of managing your career is to get promoted where you are.  That’s why I always recommend to candidates to show their promotions right on the résumé.  Every prospective employer likes to see a candidate with growth potential.  And showing a record of promotions shows great potential.

But how do you get promoted?

I have always believed that a promotion should be somewhat anticlimactic.  The best way to get promoted is to have assumed the position at the next level long before you get there. 

Remember how when you were junior and you were sitting in a meeting and had a thought?  But you were unsure of the thought so you didn’t say it?  And then, five minutes later someone else said what you were thinking and the whole room gave that person recognition and accolades?  And you said to yourself, “Damn.  I should have spoken up.”  Well, those are the instincts you have to learn to hone so that you do get recognized.  And the more you speak up and contribute, the more recognition you will get and the better you will do.

And the better you do the more confidence you will gain.  And that is how to get promoted.  You don’t wait for your supervisor.  You just do.  Most account managers and creative people tell me that when they got promoted they were doing the same job that they were previously doing, or at least a huge portion of it. (Along with the promotion, there may be new responsibilities).  As I said, the promotion should almost be anticlimactic.

There are those who tell me that they are working for a tough, insecure supervisor who will get angry if they become too assertive.  Tough for the supervisor.  In appropriate meetings, you managers will see that you are ready for the next level and, despite your immediate supervisor’s insecurity, you will get the recognition you deserve.

Sometimes this takes a while.  I see young people a year or two out of school who believe they are ready for promotion.  The account executive who has only a year in grade and wants the account supervisor title.  And they, unfortunately, look for a new job rather than wait to get the next title.  Over the years, I have counseled probably hundreds of executives who tell me they are ready for promotion.  I tell them to sit tight so they can show a career progression where they are.  When you are young, waiting is hard, but often the right thing to do.  As you go up the scale the pyramid gets narrower at the top and waiting to get promoted may be a necessity as jobs get scarcer.

I am not advocating being pushy.

There is a fine line between being assertive and being too pushy.  However, it requires maturity to determine the balance between the two.  That maturity is part of being promoted.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Words That Don't Belong On Your Résumé

I owe the idea for this post to MSN, which is my internet home page.  A couple of weeks ago they published an article about ten useless words on resumes.  And while my list differs from the author, Beth Braccio, it gave me pause for thought and a good subject to write about.

I have written before about my views on résumés.  If you are staying within the same business, all anyone wants to know is where you worked, how long you worked there, what you worked on and, finally, did you get promoted.  (If you are changing careers and moving into something new, your résumé takes on a whole new perspective.) 

People agonize about every word in their résumé.  I have often received six or more “tweaks” in a single day.  Sometimes I have compared one to another and found things as arcane as changing a “The” to an “A”.  No kidding.  About half the résumés I receive, especially those of more senior executives contain a blurb at the top.  A kind of descriptor.  Ironically, few people actually read that paragraph.  They skip right to the meat of the résumé to see where the writer has worked and what they worked on.

However, within the résumé or in the descriptor, there are words which people really work hard to come up with.  Most of those words are wrong and actually sometimes have the opposite of their intended effect.  Here is a quick list of words I see all the time on advertising résumés.  Following each is a brief commentary:

Experienced –
This is a euphemism for older.  It is unnecessary.  Your résumé speaks for itself.

Mature –

Creative –
Most account people who use this word are not.  If you have worked at a series of creative agencies, then it is an unnecessary word.  If you have worked at the old Grey, Bates and/or McCann, you had better have the creative credentials and the work to back up this kind of statement otherwise it is meaningless.

Successful –
Not sure what this means.  If you have been able to keep your job for more than a few years, you are probably successful.  If you have been promoted multiple times, the word is redundant.

Skilled –
If you have more than a year or two in the business, this is a gratuitous word.

Buttoned-up –
If you are an account person, you are supposed to be.  It is taken for granted.  If you have to say it, it raises questions.

Organized –
As opposed to what?

Motivated –
I should hope so.

Dynamic –
This is another word I fail to understand.  But it does sound good.

Proactive –
I think that what this means is that you don’t wait for your clients to ask for things.  It is another one of those sounds-good words.  A smart interviewer might ask you for a bunch of examples and you could get trapped by your own verbiage.

This is a list of just ten words.  A much better idea is to list real accomplishments and successes.  Those things can be stated simply and clearly after each of your experiences is listed.

Using words like: accomplished, achieved, grew, generated, created, enabled, and a host of other active and descriptive words is a much better way to go.
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