Tuesday, April 28, 2015

One Way To Evaluate A Job Offer

Before you accept any job, you should always ask yourself this question:  What if it doesn’t work out?  Asking that question of yourself is important.  The answer should tell you whether you should accept the job or not.  And you must ask yourself this question no matter what the position is – president or entry level.

Every job should propel your career forward.  It must provide you with something that you don’t yet have.  It could be expanding your current experience, it could add new skills to your portfolio or it could provide new management experiences. But most important, it must provide you with something that is tangible and marketable.

No one accepts a job thinking that it will fail or be a negative experience.  However, sometimes those things happen.  For whatever reason, what if you decide you made a mistake?  What if it doesn’t work out and you have to leave the job in a year, six months or sooner?   You have to ask yourself this question  because you will need to tell a prospective employer your story as to why you took the job in the first place and what went wrong.  But, most importantly, you need to be able to articulate what you got out of the job you are leaving that you didn’t have before (or at the very least, what you thought you would get out of the job and why you took it).  Sometimes you can learn more from a negative experience than a positive one.

If the job does not add anything to your credentials, if it is just more of what you have or just seems to be a better opportunity or better money, don’t take the job.  In those circumstances, jobs can lead to a career dead end.  As you get more senior, you are expected to have a view of who you are and where you are going.

Promises made during interviewing must be in writing.

Jobs that are offered with merely a promise of things to come most often don’t pan out.  You must evaluate a job based on what you will be doing as soon as you start that job, not what they tell you will happen in the future.  I see so many people who were made promises of things to come who, based their acceptance on those assurances, only to have them not work out.  If promises are made, they must be in writing with specifics as to how and when they will be fulfilled.  If they are not in writing and spelled out in an offer letter or contract, they do not exist. (Please read my post on offer letters).  If an offer letter does not reflect everything you have been told and understand about the job, including all promises made, be very cautious of that offer.

You must be careful about what I call weasel language in offer letters, phrases like, “It is our intention,” or, “depending on business”.  These phrases set up an excuse for things not to happen.
In fairness, few companies make offers with the intention of reneging on the promises made, but stuff happens.  Business is won and lost, people come and go, and companies are bought and sold. These things may affect promises made. 

An offer is only as good as what you do immediately after you accept a job. Those duties and responsibilities must also be spelled out. You must evaluate any job order based on today, not tomorrow.

I see many candidates who tell me that promises were made by one person (or several people), but when they arrived at the job, no one else knew of this assertions.  I hate to see it when candidates are disappointed by broken promises.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lunch Breaks Are Critical

I hear constantly about executives who call meetings at the last minute during lunch.  Their people end up not eating or chomping a sandwich on the fly.  Aside from being bad for health, it actually impacts negatively on productivity.

Companies often call lunchtime meetings in order to jam more work into the day. They wrongly think that this increases productivity but it actually may work against them.  Ad agencies, PR firms and other service businesses are infamous for doing this.

Most people eat some kind of breakfast. We all know that they say that breakfast is the most important meal.  But after working four or five hours, our bodies need to refuel. Lunch may be almost as important.  The day takes its toll on your body and everyone needs time to recuperate and recover.  In fact, a short lunch break sets everyone up for a productive and creative afternoon. 

I believe in meditation and I take "quiet" breaks a couple of times a day, just for three to five minutes to relax, close my eyes and do nothing.  I have been doing this since I was in my early twenties.  It relaxes me, and sets me up to get work done.

Lunch is even better. They say that taking even a short, twenty minute lunch, away from phones, computers and business makes people more relaxed and able to face work.  That is another reason I don’t like open plan offices – you can’t just get away from everyone. Having a few minutes of privacy inevitably makes people more relaxed and able to get work done efficiently.

When I am really busy, I sometimes leave the office and walk around the block, just to clear my head.  I much prefer to go to a take-out joint and bring back lunch if I have to – the couple of minutes out and getting a bite to eat to bring back actually rejuvenates me; doing that is better than having it delivered.  And better yet is a half an hour out with a friend, with my mind completely off work.

If you Google lunch breaks you will find dozens of articles and scholarly works that talk about how a lunch break can set you up for a productive afternoon.  I no longer work in a big office, but I always resented bosses who walked into my office at 12:05 to tell me about a meeting they just scheduled which will last about two hours.  I always felt lunch time was my time, my time to clear my head and take a breath. (Now, I regularly interview during lunch time, but I take a break either before or after.)

And those Googled articles all say the same thing – there is a considerable body of evidence that executives who take a real break are far more productive and creative then those who work without a break. It is why at conferences and big meetings there is always a lunchtime scheduled so that people can stretch and let their brains relax.  It is actually just common sense.

When one is stressed and over wrought with emergencies and projects, it is beneficial to walk away from these problems for a brief period.  Just like most people have their best ideas in the shower or as they are falling asleep, having a break facilitates creativity and production. Taking a break allows fresh thoughts to emerge.

It is tempting to try to work through lunch in order to get more work in during the day, but it may actually work against you. 

Just a thought....

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

When Hiring, Job Descriptions Need To Be Replaced

When trying to fill a job, most hiring managers are asked to write a job description.  The description they create is generally counter-productive because it leads to only describing tasks rather than defining issues as well as tasks.  All too often, recruiters will find a candidate who perfectly matches the job description only to have him or her rejected for reasons that have not been articulated.

Traditional job descriptions need to be replaced.

The problem with the traditional job spec/description is that it does not go far enough.  When companies are hiring, they need to find people who can go beyond solely doing assigned tasks.  They need thinking and problem solving and they always needs specific personalities.

I would like to propose a completely different idea which is what I call a job audit.  Rather than creating a job description, hiring managers and their managers should create a job audit which would go way beyond the mere description.  The audit should define all aspects of the job.  It would include the function, duties, what the job is and is not, and what the new hire should accomplish as well as the personality traits of who would work best in the job. This will lead to better, more productive hires; it will provide better direction to HR for screening and will allow outside recruiters to be far more productive. 

While it requires much more work and thought to create, it will shorten the recruiting process by making it far more efficient.

A job audit should include the following elements:
-       Why the job is open (replacement, new position, etc.)
-       What the new hire should accomplish besides tasks
-       What can this person do better than the previous person who had the job
-       If a new position, how will this person be evaluated
-       What problems the new hire should solve
-       What skills the new hire must possess
-       What skills the new hire might possess
-       What experiences the potential hire might and should have (what problems have they solved, 
      what have they done)
-       What kind of personality will work best in this job
-       What are the up sides of this job (what is the likely career path, what makes the job good)
-       What are the down sides (difficult situations, personalities, excessive travel, long hours)

The key question managers should ask of themselves is, “On this next hire, what do I want him or her to accomplish?  What should he or she be able to do to maximize his or her effectiveness on the job?” In other words, who should this next hire be and what should they do, what problems should they solve?  A job audit will accomplish that.

The Job Audit must be actionable, it should include both tasks (the traditional job spec), but also include personality and expectations.  

All too often we see job descriptions which list qualifications; those qualifications may say things like, "excellent management skills".  What they fail to say is that they will be managing a group of six, one of whom is brilliant, well liked but needs to be carefully focused; the others are easily managed.  That kind of information should be included in a job audit; it will provide direction for HR and for outside recruiters in order to screen candidates effectively and efficiently.

Once, when I placed an agency chairman, the original job spec included all kinds of descriptions of tasks that a company chairman should have – new business, finance, management, etc. These things are all expected for a company chairman.  What was missing, that I discovered after I spent a day at the company,  was that the existing management was extremely hostile to the idea of bringing in an outsider (I was hired by the parent company).  Hostile is an understatement; they were downright threatening because all of the existing management were being passed over and each of them felt deserving of the job. Their tenure ranged from eight to twenty-five years, but, in truth, none were really chairman material.  I changed the specs to include that appropriate candidate had to be tough as nails in order to control this group, but he or she had to be able to cover their iron fist with a velvet glove. so as not to alienate this truculent group; they would be necessary in the short term.  Changing the specs enabled me to find the right person.

If a candidate is eliminated for a reason not within the original job audit, then the audit needs to be rewritten. The job audit should be a fluent document. It should be adjusted as interviews take place so as to be up to date and continuously actionable.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Truth About Reference Checks

Most people don’t realize that it is probably against their company’s policy to give a reference, either good or bad, on a former employee,.  Some people think it is illegal to give a negative reference, but that isn’t quite the truth.  References are legal, but giving a negative reference can leave a company, and the employee giving the reference, open to a defamation of character suit.   As a result, most large companies have a policy that their employees should not give any references at all.

This post is about personal references, not criminal and financial background checks.

We all know that most companies request a potential employee to provide the names of references.  Under federal law, SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley), companies are required to conduct due diligence on a potential hire. As a result, most companies, make reference calls to ask about experience(s) with the candidate.  They then make notes on those calls and file them away.  Nothing more.  Rarely does something negative show up on a reference call, especially since the references are generally the names provided by the potential employee. 

The best references tend people who might know the candidate and whose names have not been supplied by the candidate. However, there is a big danger in contacting these people.  Unless they have had direct experience working with the candidate, they often don’t have full information and much of what they have to say is hearsay and based on rumor or third-hand information; unfortunately these people will provide this information as absolute fact..  I have seen really good and qualified candidates get dinged because of this. I had a recent case where someone told a reference an entirely incorrect  story about a candidate being let go from a former employer (fortunately, my client sensed that something was missing from the information and asked me to check it out. I was able to uncover the full and truthful story.).  Consequently, the first question which must be asked of these people is what their working relationship is/was with the candidate; did the candidate actually work with them?

Ironically, few references deal with the issues that candidates are being asked to solve.  As a recruiter, we often do references.  I always ask my clients if there is anything specific which the company would like me to check; most times companies just ask me to get a general reference without any specifics. For instance, if a company knows that the potential hire has to deal with difficult people, a good reference should check to see how this candidate handles difficult situations and people; the reference should provide detailed specifics on this issue. 

A very senior manager recently told me that he personally rarely asks for references at all, because people don’t give names of those who would speak badly of them.  (Years ago, I actually was given a name of someone who spoke badly of a candidate who he had previously fired for cause. He was shocked that the candidate had given his name.  I must say, that with hundreds of references I have obtained, that only happened once.)  However, as a result of Sarbanes Oxley, publically held companies and their subsidiaries need to show that references have been checked.  There are some appropriate SOX applications for smaller, non-public companies so they also need to conduct reference checks.  

There is another side to this issue.  If references aren’t checked, a company can end up with a person like one I have been following for about twelve years.  In that time he has had about 14 jobs and has been fired from every one of them, for cause.  I am told he is a liar, an expense cheat and a bad account person, but he is good looking, glib, charming and interviews perfectly. He interviews so well that people trust him, like him and don't feel that references are necessary.  However, if he does supply reference names,  I can’t imagine who these people are or what their working relationship with him could possibly be.

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