Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Checking The Right References

I ran my co-op for many years.  For all that time, we had a resident manager who reported to me.  He was good, but extremely difficult to manage.  Ultimately, he left and was hired by another co-op.  I was actually very surprised that I was not asked for a reference by their board. I determined that the manager gave other names, but not mine.  Not surprisingly, I heard that he was gone in under a year.
Advertising is no different.

I have had this discussion with other respected advertising recruiters.  We are all surprised that our clients rarely ever ask us about people they are going to hire.  I have been recruiting for long enough to know most of the major players, and if I don’t know them personally, I know them by reputation or can quickly get an objective reference about them.  Clients should trust recruiters to give them honest feedback about people and their reputations; even when those candidates are found directly and not from a recruiter.

Getting references from candidates is important.  Surprisingly, I have called people whose names I have been given and found that those people do not like the candidate who gave their name.  One even told me he was shocked to be given as a reference since he had fired the candidate, not once, but twice. However, more important than the references you are given, particularly for senior executives, are the people whose names do not appear on the candidate's list..  How could a co-op board fail to call the person who the resident manager reported to for over eleven years?  How can a company hire an executive at any level and not check with their previous employers, especially if their names are not on a reference list?

As an aside, if the person is currently employed, it is a no-no to call an existing employer, but previous companies should be checked out. Anyone looking for a job knows that this may happen. It is part of the process.  However, overlooking references happens all the time.

I can think of one case where a “name” executive was simply hired as a president based on his excellent résumé.  Remember my post, “Falling Up”?  They never checked him out; they assumed that with his previous credentials, he just had to be good..  If they had spoken to knowledgeable people he had worked for and with, he would never have been hired for what was, essentially, a new business job.  The company would have determined that new business was his single weakest attribute.  Could it be that the hiring company executives simply did not want to be proven wrong in their decision to hire this person?  At any rate, it was a disastrous oversight.

I can think of another case where an executive was an EVP at a respected ad agency for many years.  He joined another agency as president, lasted under two years and then had three more presidencies, none of which lasted more than two years.  I asked the chairman of one of those agencies if they had called people at the other places where he was president to determine why his tenure was so short.  He confessed that he only called someone he knew at the first place where the executive was an EVP.  This chairman is a good friend of mine and he never thought to call me. If he had, I might have told him what I had heard, but  I certainly would have given him names of people at the other companies.

I am not sure I understand the psychology of not thoroughly checking references of very senior people to determine their management style, philosophy and their strengths and weaknesses.  Can anyone explain this phenomenon?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Resigning Properly: What Everyone Should Know

I was counseling a candidate I placed on how to resign and I realized that I had never posted this important information.


There is actually a proper way to resign.

Resigning is never easy, especially if your company has been good to you or if you and they are very busy.  However, the best way to do it is to go to your supervisor, swallow hard, take a deep breath and simply state that you have accepted a new job. You must do this assertively and without hesitation.  If, while resigning,  you hem and haw, you are communicating lack of commitment and assurance, which could be taken as a sign that you are looking for a counter offer. 

Without getting into a long dissertation on counter offers, which I have previously written about, suffice to say that 90% of all people who accept a counter offer are gone within twelve to eighteen months – mostly not by their choice.  Counter offers are always for the convenience of the existing company. So, if you are looking for a new job in order to get a raise or promotion from your existing employer, it is a very bad tactic and will only have a short term effect.

Accepting a new job is giving your word and your word should be kept.

It is important to thank the person you are resigning to for the opportunity to have worked there, but to explain that you have a accepted  a new career opportunity.  By doing it as a statement of fact, you make it clear that you are leaving and not looking to negotiate.  You do not need to offer a long explanation as to why you are leaving or what your new job entails.  The less said, the better.  Your manager should react gracefully and positively.

Most managers will be positive and supportive, but I have heard stories about those who react badly to resignations.  A common response is to lash out. Some managers react selfishly, “You can’t do this now.  Who is going to do the presentation [or analysis, or project] in two weeks?”  What this means is that the manager will have to do the work herself or himself.  Ironically, a poor reaction is often indicative of the reasons someone is leaving in the first place.  

It is proper to give two week’s notice; if you want to leave sooner, simply ask if that is possible.  It is to the company’s benefit to keep you there as long as possible.  I know of one instance where someone resigned on a Monday after lunch and the human resources person actually wanted the employee to stay for two weeks and not leave until after lunch two weeks from that day (she did not).  Some employers ask for three or four weeks.  This is only acceptable for the most senior executives who are running businesses.  The truth is that once it is over, it is over and you want to leave as soon as possible. And in many cases, the company wants you to leave as well.  Many people discover that by the middle of their second week after resigning that they have been cut out of important meetings and are only finishing projects.

If the company asks for a resignation letter it should be just two or three sentences long.  It should simply say, “This letter is to confirm what I have previously stated.  [Date] will be my last day of work.  I have enjoyed my time here, learned a lot and appreciate the opportunity which [firm name] has given me. Sincerely.”  Nothing more.  However, unless they ask for such a letter, it is totally unnecessary.  I don’t think that in my career, which spanned a number of agencies, I ever wrote a resignation letter.  Resignation letters are sometimes requested by the company for legal reasons.

It is important to ask key executives if, in the future, you can use them as a reference.  During your resignation period is the time to do that.

You always want to try to leave on good terms.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How To Lose A Job

It is rare as a recruiter to hear how someone screwed up.  99% of my candidates come to me with a story; getting fired is never their fault.  I can't think of anyone who has ever told me that they screwed up.  The reason for termination is generally bad business or account loss, which is mostly true.  And if I check with clients, most companies, in order to protect themselves, rarely tell me the truth about someone leaving, especially if that person is being let go for any kind of cause.

I had a fascinating conversation with a client the other morning. He was totally honest with me and told me about an account person he had the need to replace.  When I asked him why, he said that the person he had  incapable of performing, perhaps because she was too junior for her role.  I asked him to explain more.  His description, which follows, gave rise to this post and my desire to understand what separates successful executives from others.
My client told me a bunch of things about this account person, who happened to be someone I knew.  Among the “for instances” he described was this story.  My jaws dropped when I heard it.  

The client emailed this account person to tell her that a photograph that they (the client) had supplied for incorporation into a trade show display that the agency was creating did not work.  There was no blame on the agency; just a simple statement that it didn’t look right.  There was absolutely no problem.  However, the account person called her manager, who was out of town with a different client to tell him about the problem and ask what to do.


His first question, “Which image did not work?”  The account director actually didn’t know.  “Didn’t you ask the client?”  Again, no. Since the manager was not in the office, he asked the account person what she thought should be done. She actually didn't know. Of course, the answer was simple.  All she had to do was call the client and see what he wanted the agency to do.  This account director, believe it or not, had over 15 year's experience and should have known how to handle the situation.  All the client really wanted was commiseration.  the manager, who was out of town was forced to call the client.  He realized that the account director was clueless as to the real nature of her job.

There is a management principal which says, don’t bring me the problem, bring me the solution.  Some people get it, unfortunately, some don’t.  It isn’t about age or experience.  One does not expect an employee a year or two out of school to simply get it, although many do.  But certainly after fifteen years in business, an executive is expected to know how to handle what is, essentially, an easy, day-to-day situation.  In this case, it wasn't even a problem.  

Last year, in my blog, I wrote about how to get promoted.  In essence, all promotions should be anticlimactic.  Account executives get promoted once they have already assumed the position of account supervisors.  When EVP’s get promoted to president, most people are not surprised because the EVP was already acting the role.  

The secret to success is that one must have confidence enough to take charge.  I am reluctant to use myself as an example, but I was a senior vice president before I was thirty.  I was lucky enough to work with fabulous people who appreciated my talents and pushed me, but I was always able to take the next role long before it was given to me.  I recently looked at my high school yearbook and the quote under my name was, “The most important thing is to know what ought to be done.”  I was fortunate at one point in my early career to work for a man named John deGarmo  who had an agency by that name.  I was having an issue getting started on a project and he gave me this great advice:  “Just start.  Go in a direction.  The knowledge you gain as you progress will enable you to evaluate what you are doing and, if necessary, change direction.”  He went on to tell me a truth about business: There are very few decisions you make which cannot somehow be changed if you discover that they need to be adjusted.

And that is the secret of the take charge account person or any other executive, for that matter. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Everyone Uses The Internet Differently


A couple of weeks ago, a client was perturbed because an email was not returned immediately.  The email was sent to a candidates home email address, as it should have been.  The candidate did not check his email until that evening and responded after business hours.  It gave rise to this post.

Here are my thoughts, comments and preferences:

Some people only check their personal emails in the evening when they get home.  Some do it even less often.  Frankly, especially when actively looking for a job and interviewing, emails should be checked frequently. However, lack of immediate response should not be surprising.
When I was first using Facebook, I was very surprised one day when an active candidate turned down my Facebook invitation telling me that she reserved Facebook only for very close friends and family.  I mentioned it to my daughter, the very successful blogger and website developer, Liz Gumbinner (mom-101, Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech). She reminded me that everyone uses the web differently.
LinkedIn asks people to only connect with people they know.  I follow that rule and generally do not link to people I have not met. (When I tell that to people who ask to link with me whom I do not know, I generally send them a reply explaining why I have ignored their request; some get angry.)  I will connect with people from out of town or abroad - if they have relevant backgrounds; I often end up interviewing them. I don't make introductions through LinkedIn.  After all, I am a recruiter and get paid for introductions; people who are looking for a job should not realistically ask a recruiter to introduce them to people through LinkedIn.

Anyone can follow me on Facebook or Twitter, I rarely block anyone; except porn and hookers.

People looking for jobs should only use their personal emails.  Using your company email, even for the most senior people, is bad form.  Months ago, I posted about what your email says about you.  Your brand name is your name; your full, readily identifiable name should be part of your email address.  I have lots of candidate who use letters and numbers, and sign their emails with their first name - often, I have to respond and ask them who they are. It is bad form for people to use their work email addresses on résumés (a surprisingly large number of people do this, particularly senior executives). 

There was a time when a ton of people asked me to join things like Plaxo; I steadily refused.  The purpose of those sites was to keep your address book up to date with changes from other people (new phone numbers, changes in email, new address, etc.) Websites like that invade your inbox and send out emails.  I have no desire for anyone to have access to my address book, no matter how private or confidential they say it may be.  

I don’t like getting messages on LinkedIn or Facebook because it requires an extra step in order to respond.  I much prefer getting emails directly, which I can always answer from my Blackberry.

Twitter handles are often obscure.  Sometimes I follow people who have odd names, but in short order, when I see some of those names, I forget who they are, the same way that I can't recognize them if their email address doesn't contain their name.

While I subscribe to Klout, Tumblr, Google+ or Branch out, I don't really understand them or the differences among them.  There are just too many sites to manage, connect to and check.  I don’t understand how these truly differ from Facebook.  Nor do I care. People ask me to connect with them on these sites; sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I rarely look on them.  I don’t give a rat’s you know what about my Klout rating.  Frankly, I cannot keep up with all this technology and I am not sure why I should (I actually do understand the necessity for Google +). 

Each of us is different.  And I accept that everyone’s preferences towards social media are individual. 
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