Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Never Bring Coffee On An Interview (Part III) – Especially To A Restaurant

I have posted several times about not bringing coffee to an interview at someone’s office.  My premise is simple, if it turns off only 5% of the interviewers, then why take a chance?  A couple of weeks ago I came to a new realization – people actually bring coffee into restaurant while interviewing.                                       

I met a friend at Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel, which is a great place for breakfast and a very good place for interviewing since the tables are reasonably spaced.  I was early so I was chatting with the maitre d’.  I noticed a gentleman sitting at a table with a Starbucks coffee cup.  I couldn’t believe that someone would actually bring their own coffee into a restaurant.  I remarked about it to the gentleman I was chatting with.  He then told me that what surprised him most was the huge number of people who brought coffee into the restaurant while obviously being interviewed for a job.  I was blown away by this realization.

It is one thing to bring coffee into someone’s office, and while I don’t approve, it is relatively harmless.  However, bringing coffee into a restaurant interview is not only rude, it is an outrageous.  After all, that is how a restaurant makes its money.

As a result of that encounter, I have been taking a quick survey at restaurants which are open for breakfast and asked about the frequency of this.  To my shock and dismay, I find out it is very common.  One hostess told me that on any given morning, I would find half a dozen people with their own coffee, many of them on interviews.  Yiikes.

I can only believe that the rudeness in unintentional – people are so used to their morning routine of buying coffee on the way to the office, that when they go to a restaurant, it never crosses their mind not to buy and bring coffee into the restaurant.  Mostly, I believe that they don’t even realize that they have done so because it is so much a part of their routine.

I can’t think of a faster way to blow an interview. If the candidate is unaware that bringing coffee is a no-no,  I guaranty that whoever is interviewing them is aware of the brought coffee.  If bringing coffee into someone’s office turns off 5% of the people, bringing it into a restaurant has to offend 95%.  If I were in human resources or was a hiring manager, I would never hire anyone who is that unthinking about their environment, no matter how inadvertent it is.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Adventures In Recruiting: Asking The Wrong Question On A Final Interview - By The Interviewer

This is one of my favorite recruiting stories and I can’t believe I never wrote it.

Many years ago when the prevalent senior title in the ad agency business was Management Supervisor, I had a candidate interviewing to run a significant account at a mid-size agency.  She had been all through the agency.

She had met the group EVP on the business, the creative director, the research director (agencies used to have that title). Everyone loved her and she was about to get an offer.  Prior to the offer, she was asked to meet the Vice Chairman and told it would be a necessary courtesy.

She had a very pleasant fifteen minute chat with this gentleman.  At the end of her quarter hour, he looked at her and told her that he thought she would make a great addition to their staff.  As a courtesy, he asked her if she had any questions.

She thought for a second and said that she really didn’t have any, but she said to him, “Gee, maybe I should see the agency reel.”  This was a perfectly reasonable and normal request.

With that, the CEO exploded.  Here is what he said, as best as I can remember.  “Reel?  You want to see our reel?  Why would you even ask that?  You should know this agency by now. We do shit!  Our work sucks.  We don’t compete on the basis of our executions. We compete because we are strategic and smart.  If you want to see our work, you don’t belong here.”

That was it.  

I thought at the time that he was crazy.  I still do.  I confronted him and he told me that he thought it was a dumb thing for her to say to him. I told him that I thought it was a perfectly fair thing for her to say (in those days, before the internet, every agency kept a reel and proudly showed it to candidates), after all, she should know about the agency’s work .  He told me I was the wrong recruiter for them and I never worked for them again.

Several years later they were purchased and merged out of existence.  This vice chairman was "retired" but is still around consulting with agencies, primarily in the new business arena. Go figure.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Do You Know Critical Questions To Ask On An Interview?

So often, I see people who are miserable in their jobs.  One of the reasons they are unhappy is that they did not determine the full scope of their job before they accepted it.  There are questions which can be asked which will help to determine if a job is really what you are looking for.   These questions are actually rarely asked. But if you do ask them, they may help to make a good and informed decision to accept or reject an opportunity.

Several years ago, I posted on how to be sure the candidate a company hires is the person they interviewed.  This post is the exact opposite and might be called, "How to be sure the job you get is the job you interviewed for."

1)         May I speak to the person who previously had this job?
This is something to request after an offer is made or, at the least, just before you get an offer. It is an obvious question, but I would guess that 90% of people interviewing fail to ask.  Seeing the person who either left the company (If they have left, find out where they went and get their contact information) or was rotated off can answer a wealth of very critical and important questions.  And, of course, if the person you request this of ducks an answer, that should tell you a lot.

2)         How long was the person who had this job before been in the job? Followed by Why they Left?
This is different than asking why a job is open, which should also be asked.  It will illicit very good information. If the previous person was a long time in the job, it would be helpful to talk to them.  Some jobs are actually non-promotable; there are many cases of the person you would be reporting to simply staying in place, leaving little possibility of upward movement.  Other jobs are frequently stepping stones  to better positions within the company.  You need to know this going in.
3)         If the client is difficult, what has the agency done to alleviate the issue?
You want to understand the relationships between the agency and the client. If the agency doesn’t see them often and they are nearby, it should tell you a lot about whether the situation can be alleviated.  It may also present you with opportunities for moving forward – even if you are a relatively junior executive.
4)         How often do you see the client
This is a follow up to the previous question.  Agencies should see the client frequently.  Skype and emails do not make a relationship.  It should also lead to a discussion of the relationship with the client, which is important to know prior to accepting a job.

5)         What is my likely career path and where will I be in three years? 
This question should foster a significant conversation. It should tell you how long the person you will be reporting to has been in place and whether there is room for you to advance.  It should also tell you whether the company has actually thought about the career of the person they hire or if they are merely trying to get a body in place.

6)         What is the structure of the business and what will be my place within it?
I remember once interviewing someone who was an account director on one of the largest fast food accounts.  It turned out that he was precluded from attending most client meetings because the president of the agency was directly involved and wanted to keep meetings small. His comment was that he was looking for a job because he felt like an assistant account executive.  This is information you need before accepting a job.

7)         What kind of training will I receive?
 Few people are too senior for this question.  While most agencies have curtailed or dropped training programs for junior executives, it is important to determine if they have anything appropriate at your level.  At senior levels, many companies have management training. You need to find out if this exists and how you might qualify.

8)         What do titles at this company mean?
Some people get hung up on titles.  You need to understand the company’s structure and your likely place within it.  You also need to know what perks come with certain titles; don’t take for granted that some benefit you have now will come in a new job. Does being a "partner" mean anything?  What is the difference between a partner and a senior partner? A SVP at one company may be a better title than an EVP at another.  This includes vacation time, bonus structure and other types of compensation.  Make an informed decision based on what you have now and what you are likely to get.  Questions about titles and benefits are best asked of HR prior to getting an offer.  The reason I say prior to is because it is best to figure out what you want before an offer is extended made so that you can let them know your expectations in advance.  However, never negotiated until an offer is made. 

All these are questions you should ask, but remember not to negotiate until you have an offer. I have written about this before and you need to understand that the leverage to negotiate is in an offer, not before.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Is The Real Purpose Of Interviewing?

This is a post that should be read by everyone at every level of business from junior to very senior executive.

People go on interviews fro all kinds of reasons.  I posted that there is no such thing as an informational or networking interview; people who understand that are way ahead of the game.

Let’s start out by saying that when hiring, companies often hire a person who is very different than what their job specs called for and what they had initially conceived of.  Companies often refine their specs as they interview, which is perfectly acceptable.  It is for that reason that I am writing this post. Of course the obvious reason for interviewing is to get a job.  But it goes way beyond that.

The purpose of interviewing, simply put, is for the company and the candidate to gather information about each other. The more information you get, the better informed the decision you can make.

First interviews, generally conducted by human resources professionals, are for the purpose of determining cultural fit (personality and interests) and to make sure that the candidates they see have the skill levels that the job calls for. When a candidate does not get passed on to the hiring manager or next level, it is generally because of a lack of fit or missing skills.  (Rarely does HR rule someone out unless there is a valid reason.In this first interview, candidates should be able to find out a little about the job at hand.  But the real information will develop at the next level of interviews, usually with the hiring manager.  That is why I am always surprised when candidates see HR and announce to me that they are not interested, even if they are being passed on.  It is the wrong time to drop out.

Even after the second interview, if there is interest on the company’s part, candidates should pursue the job and meet successively higher levels of management.  If there are unresolved job issues, those questions may be addressed by more senior people.  

Of course the purpose of interviewing is to get a job, but the objective of interviewing is to meet the most senior person you can meet.

The most senior people have the ability to address issues and even change the job to fit a job applicant’s needs if they like the candidate enough.  I recently published a post talking about the fact that résumés only tell part of the story.  I received a comment in which the person said that the senior person saw in him other attributes which were not evident initially and he was hired, probably for jobs he did not apply for.  That is reason enough to meet a senior person.

All business is filled with people who were initially hired for jobs or responsibilities that they did not interview for.  But this can only happen when the process continues to a logical conclusion with the most senior manager.

Besides, the senior person can influence subsequent hires and may even have friends in other companies to send you to if you are actively looking for a job.
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