Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turnabout May Be Fair Play

I had a really interesting exchange with a candidate that has left me perplexed.  The more I think about it, the stranger it is.

Here is the back story.  I placed a gentleman in a fairly senior director position.  He was scheduled to start his new job mid-month.  His new company’s insurance would kick in on the first day of the month after he started.  I asked him when he was going to resign so I could counsel him on how to do it gracefully and tactfully and in such a way that they did not make him a counter-offer.

His response blew me away.

He planned to resign on the Wednesday or Thursday of the week before his start, effectively giving his company only two or three days notice.  I asked him why he did not want to give them two weeks notice.  Since he was offered and accepted the job during the previous month, he told me that he wanted to wait until the new month before resigning.  That way his insurance from the old company would be in effect all month and his new insurance would kick in the following month with no loss in coverage.

He told me that he liked his current job but the opportunity he had taken was better on many grounds.  I told him that only giving his existing company a couple of days notice was unfair.  While there is no law that says two weeks notice is mandatory, it is customary, a policy in many employment manuals (although they are customarily given out only after people are employed) and it is also common courtesy, especially since he liked his current job.

He went on to explain his reasoning.  He commented that the offer letters of all companies now say that he is an “employee at will”, which, in his interpretation, means that he can be terminated at any time, for any reason and not necessarily be given any notice. That termination may or may not include severance, which companies, for the most part, do not guarantee.   He therefore felt that the company where he currently worked had now become, an “employer at will,” meaning that he could leave at any time, for any reason and not give notice.  He said, “Turnabout is fair play.”

I questioned him at length.  His logic was inescapable.  He explained that he had witnessed many companies terminate employees and ask them to leave the building immediately.  He felt this was devastating, demoralizing and unfair.  He also explained that many employees sometimes resign with two weeks notice and are then immediately terminated and asked to leave with no pay for the two weeks.  He went on to say that he felt most companies design their benefits to protect the company rather than the employee – stock options and employer contributions to retirement plans that vest over very long periods of time, thereby insuring that the company will probably not have to make the full contribution; no guarantee of severance is given, nor is guarantee of notice of termination; commissions on new business generally are not paid immediately, thereby leaving the issue open as to whether they will be paid if the employee leaves. And, of course, health insurance is paid only one month at a time.

His words left me breathless.  I am wondering if this is the beginning of a trend.  Employees have become jaded.  Companies have shown very little loyalty, even to long-term employees.  Perhaps, in his past, this candidate had been burned by a former employer – as many people have.  And now it is payback time.

Ironically, after this happened, I had a candidate who gave two weeks notice and was terminated with no further pay the next day. In the above case, the employee did the right thing, ultimately giving his current employer proper notice.He is a good guy and will be a fine employee.

One of the reasons why people give two weeks’ notice is because they want to preserve their references and leave on positive terms.  But the truth is, lawyers counsel companies not to give references.  And since references come from individuals, rather than the human resources departments, maybe the employee’s logic is that being nice to the company doesn’t really matter. Could this be the start of a trend?  Is this the result of years of employees feeling that their companies really have no particular loyalty to them?

I would like to know what people think.

Food for considerable thought.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adventures in Recruiting: A Cover Letter To Make You Laugh

Anyone who receives cover letters knows that there is no such thing as a perfect cover for a resume. Most cover notes don't even get read because screeners go right to the resume to see where the person worked, how long they were there and what they worked on. Those elements determine the eligibility to work at a company or on as specific job. Cover letters, in my opinion, should be short and to the point.  I just received this unsolicited email.  Aside from being too long as to be exhausting, it is so badly written as to have made me laugh out loud.  I think it is amusing enough for you to work through it in its entirety.  It appears verbatim below, but is edited to protect the not so innocent.

"To Whom It May Concern,

I would like to apply for a position as my goal is to further my career in Media and/or Hospitality Marketing, Branding & Management and this position would be an excellent opportunity for me. I am willing to grow into a new position where I can devote a lot of my time and efforts towards.

I have not just spent most of my life pursuing a career in the entertainment industry but I have been surrounded by it my entire life. Having worked numerous jobs in this industry with a heavy focus on marketing and production, I have enabled myself to build my own business, [name and company website]. Though a small company,[company name] is well-positioned within the entertainment industry, via strategic professional relationships with family members whom are former long-term, high-ranking executives at [talent agency name]and current executives {another talent agency] (references furnished upon request). Though I have this company I started, I am needing to learn more and expand my knowledge with new opportunities. With all the projects that I have continued to work on have been extra convenient having a travel agent license which helps in research and booking experience for all types of projects where travel is required. Over the past 15 years I developed several databases with over 250,000 contacts and keep it all up to date.

In the past 2 years, I have been concentrating on developing marketing opportunities with a focus on product placement, licensing, digital distribution, sponsorships, and cross promotions and will continue to expand my efforts as new opportunities develop. With my experience and knowledge, I have established important relationships and have organized databases that will continue to grow as I grow with each opportunity.

In the area of production, I have recently received a Producers credit on the feature film [" name of film"] (2009), produced by [name]. I was responsible for the marketing of this film and am currently working closely with the Director and other Producers....on future projects.

Most recently, I have taken on the management role working with a few musicians, actors as well as other media and entertainment clients. As a manager, I have worked to secure a national campaign deal for a "Back to School" promotion with[company] throughout North America. With this deal, I was able to develop the partnership, negotiate the terms and am leveraging the opportunity to bring increased awareness to my client [name].

In an effort to target a younger audience, I have begun working as a freelance consultant with a company called [name and website] a creative digital content company that produces music, animation and apps for kids. I have been researching and staying on top of new trends that appeal to a younger audience and work with the company CEO to develop marketing platforms that reach their target demographic.

I am strongly invested in the world of entertainment, digital media and hospitality management & marketing and would like to continue to grow in this area.

I would be very appreciative for any and all efforts and have attached a copy of my resume, which more fully details my qualifications for your company. Thank you very much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Have a great day." 

Phew.  Anyone interested?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Never Take A Final Interview For Granted

This post is written for hiring managers and companies.  It deals with a critical part of the interviewing process – the final interview with the most senior person in the interviewing chain.  It should never merely be a formality or a matter of courtesy.  It is an essential part of the process.  Its purpose should be to determine the “fit” of the candidate within the group and within the organization.

It is the job of every senior executive to insure that the culture of their company remains intact.  While the final interview should also be a double-check to insure that a candidate meets all the important criteria of the job specs, the most important aspect of this particular interview is to insure that the candidate is right for the agency. 

About a year ago, the president of an agency told me that she had just rejected two account director candidates (not mine).  As a result, she knew that the two group account directors who had approved them and passed them on to her for final approval were angry with her for rejecting them.  Her rejection was based on two factors, one having to do with seniority and one having to do with where these prospective employees fit within the company.  The president’s logic was that she felt that the agency’s account directors should be capable of stepping up to the plate at those times that the group director was unavailable.  She did not feel that these people had either the presence or the seniority to do this even though they were perfectly capable account people. 

Most important, she had questions about these two candidates that overrode the issue of seniority.  She felt that the two rejected candidates did not embody the culture of the agency – smart, passionate and committed.  They were, in her opinion, just competent account people, good for handling the problems of today on their accounts, but perhaps not right for their long-term growth within the agency.  I applaud her decision.

In hiring people, it is critical for an agency to insure that people are competent in terms of the job specs.  But if they are to grow within the agency, they have to be the kind of people who are right for the culture.  Simply put, creative agencies should hire writers and art directors who can produce according to that agency’s standards.  And those same agencies should hire account people who understand how to work in that kind of environment.

Finding those kinds of people can be difficult.  The old Chiat/Day (before TBWA) used to have account candidates go through nine or more interviews.  They saw other account people (both senior and junior), planners, creative people, anyone of whom could “ding” the candidate.  (My record was a candidate who did 17 interviews there before being hired.)  While this may be somewhat cumbersome, it insured that their passionate and committed culture remained intact.   Except for the extreme number of interviews, I never had an issue with this process.

In interviewing and hiring, it is easy to lose sight of the culture in favor of a short-term
“fix”.  I call this my theory of ten percent.  It goes something like this:  Two people go into business together.  They can agree on 99% of all issues.  The company grows and it is time to hire.  They try to find an employee who is just like them.  It is difficult.  After much interviewing, they find a candidate who is 90% of them.  The three of them work together for a while. Time goes buy and now the new person is going to hire someone to work for them.  After a long search, the third person finds someone who is 90% of himself/herself.  And so on.  By the time of the third and fourth hire, those candidates could be thirty to forty percent of the original owners, clearly diluting the culture.  It is the responsibility of the senior people to insure that the people they hire are as close to the core company philosophy as possible.

This is a challenge of all big companies, especially those which are so large as to have multiple groups within.  And it is the responsibility of all senior executives to insure that their group culture remains consistent and intact.

This assumes that the philosophy and culture are clear, communicated and understood by everyone within the interviewing chain.  All too often candidates and hiring managers forget that the final interview of the candidate they have chosen to hire may not be a lock. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Agencies Should Hire The Best Talent No Matter Where They Live

The issue in recruiting is always candidates.  I learned this when I was first recruiting.  Finding the right person for a job is like completing a jigsaw puzzle.  The fit has to be just right.  The most successful recruiters are those who understand their clients and, within the client organizations, understand the nuances among the accounts and are able to place the right people in those jobs.  Agencies still mistakenly believe that there are loads of people roaming the streets and they can have their pick of candidates as a result job specs continue to be specific.  

Good candidates are hard to find. 

Ironically, we often find a great candidate who lives in another city or even another country.  Unfortunately, some agencies reject great people simply because of proximity without having met them or even talking to them.
These days a Skype interview is almost as good as meeting someone in person.  And it makes perfect sense for a preliminary chat for someone who lives elsewhere.

Over the years I have had candidates rejected simply because they live in another place and the agency does not wish to become involved with relocation, even if the candidate is paying for it.  Agencies often bypass excellent candidates from both Canada or abroad, not only because they don't want to get involved with waiting for the move or for visa applications, but because coordination can be difficult.

This is a business of talent.  Good talent can be found in lots of places.  No candidate should be rejected simply because they don't live conveniently.  I am not just saying this because I am a recruiter.  From the company’s point of view finding the right people can make the difference between keeping and losing an account, so why not go for the best possible person?   

There are many agencies, particularly among the top twenty, who tell me that they will not accept candidates from other markets.  And they forbid me to introduce candidates who require a visa application, visa transfers or sponsorship, even those from Canada.  They tell me that, after all, there are plenty of well qualified people who live right here and do not require any extra work to bring them in.  They also tell me that visa sponsorship is too time consuming and too expensive.   Yet they may spend weeks or months trying to recruit locally when the best candidate could have been found and hired long before the local person appears.
There is also another bias which I cannot understand.  Many Americans relocating back home from abroad are rejected because the screeners - sometimes human resources but often other people who they meet within the organization - have absolutely no concept of what goes on in another country.  I meet lots of Americans coming home who tell me that they have a difficult time in even getting interviews, no less getting hired.  They are rejected simply because what they did abroad is not understood here.

I once had a candidate who was sent to Japan by his management.  He did really well at this agency's Tokyo office - he saved one of their largest international accounts.  Because he was so successful, he was promoted several times in Japan, eventually becoming director of account management.  Then his wife got pregnant and he decided to come home.  When he arrived back in New York, the president of the agency, who was the one who sent him abroad, told him that he would only bring him back at his previous salary and position from five years before, "I don't really know what you did in Tokyo and I am not sure it is relevant."  Of course he left the agency quickly.  I have heard that story many times. 

This issue was once brought home bay a very professional and very wonderful human resources person who told me that she didn’t trust foreign experience because she did not quite know how they worked or what they really did abroad.  The answer, of course, is that they work pretty much the same way we do here. In many cases they are better because they have had to become far more resourceful in dealing with clients and getting work done. This problem applies to people who live and work at agencies outside the three or four top advertising markets here in the states.  As silly as that sounds, as a recruiter, I come across it all the time.  It sometimes isn't verbalized, but it is there.

Some agencies, even those with senior management who are foreign nationals, are reluctant to hire people from abroad because they may require visa applications or transfers.  My understanding is that H-1 visas require almost no time and effort to process and are easily transferred between companies.  Initial applications for people who have never worked here may be more cumbersome but are not difficult.  Intra-company transfers are very simple.  

I am not advocating hiring people from other countries simply because they are foreigners.  I am advocating that advertising is a business of talent and all companies should simply be looking for the best people, no matter where their experience comes from.  And I am certainly saying that an American who has worked abroad should not be discriminated against because they worked abroad.

Each day the world gets smaller.
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