Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Never Bring Coffee On An Interview

I know that many of you will think I am nuts after reading this post. But bringing coffee on an interview is a no-no. There could be a small chance of turning off the person who is meeting you.

It is one of those pet peeves. We all have them - your nice neighbor who leaves their kid’s tricycle in the middle of the hallway for you to trip over or the cab driver who is talking on his cell phone, and you think he is talking to you or, as one executive told me, the person who sends you an email thank you note and uses email abbreviations like u instead of you. These things shouldn’t bother you, but they do. Well, that is the way I feel about bringing coffee on an interview.

People bring coffee or soda into my office almost every day. In New York, Chicago and most other major cities, Starbucks and other coffee vendors, are so ubiquitous that buying coffee in the morning is a given. It is so automatic that we don’t even remember that it is in our hand as we go up on the elevator as we go to work. And when we go on interviews we think nothing of bringing coffee with us.

But it is wrong. And I am not the only one to think so.

Years ago, the recruiter at one of the major agencies agreed to see a candidate of mine at 8:15am. The candidate was an excellent prospect for the agency and the account she was interviewing for. When the interview was over, my client called me and told me she wasn’t passing my candidate on because she brought coffee on the interview, despite the fact that she liked the candidate. The HR manager thought she was rude for bringing it.  If the candidate had brought an extra cup for the interviewer or had called to offer to bring coffee, it would have been ok, but she didn’t. The corporate recruiter told me that about half the people who came to see her first thing in the morning brought their own coffee and she was tired of it.
I feel the same way.

I wouldn’t bring coffee or soda to your house. Please don’t bring it to mine. Few of us would go to someone’s home to visit carrying a cup of coffee or a soda. We might if we called first, but going to an office is somehow different. A coffee cup or soda can has become so much a part of work “attire” that we don’t think twice about it. If you are on an interview, drink your coffee or soda before you go, simple as that. It doesn’t matter if it is a recruiter like me or a corporate human resources person or a senior executive. Or even a client.

I once took my staff to make a sales call on a client agency. When we arrived the client offered us fresh brewed bean coffee and commented (without my prompting) that he hated it when people came to see him and brought soda or coffee with them.

Am I being petty? Maybe. But if bringing coffee has a five or ten percent chance of turning someone off, why take that risk? You are supposed to be on your best behavior for an interview or a sales call – nothing should be taken for granted. If only a small percentage of the people interviewing you would be offended, why risk blowing a good job over those odds?

Besides, I always offer all my guests great fresh brewed espresso or coffee.

If you are going on an interview and they don’t offer you something to drink, suck it up for half an hour and have some when you leave.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

What An Offer Letter Is And Is Not (Revised)

I originally wrote this post many years ago and thought that it was worthwhile publishing again with an update. The reason is that this subject has come up many times recently with candidates.

There are many misconceptions about offer letters.  However, before you read this post, please be aware that this is not intended to be legal advice. However, I want my readers and candidates to know what an offer letter is and is not.

Many years ago, some of my candidates got offer letters, some did not.  It made no difference.  Today, these letters are a matter of course.  In fact, most of my candidates will not resign from their existing company until they receive an offer letter.  They are correct to wait for the letter.  However, even if they have one and it has been signed by both parties, it is not a contract of employment.  An offer letter merely spells out a company’s intention to hire, but it is not a guaranty of employment and it is not a contract.  

Offer letters are always for the protection of the hiring company, not the employee.

However, a proper offer letter should contain a number of items.  Among them:
-       Start date
-       Salary
-       Reporting structure
-       Duties and responsibilities
-       Eligibility for and timing of commencement of benefits
-    Other job perks
-       Bonus eligibility and details
-       Anything else discussed upon which the offer acceptance is based

According to Rick Kurnit, partner of the law firm, Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, one of advertising’s foremost legal experts, an offer letter becomes a contract only if it spells out severance.  If one resigns based on reliance of the letter, the hiring company might be responsible for reasonable loses based on that reliance – for instance, if a candidate agrees to move, hires a moving company and pays a non-refundable deposit, it is possible that the hiring company might be responsible for that cost even if the offer is withdrawn. In my experience, when things like this happen, most companies are pretty reasonable.

In my non-legal opinion, if a person resigns based on reliance of the offer letter and the offer is rescinded and the previous employer refuses to re-hire the departing employee, there could be recoverable damages.  

Because most offer letters state that employees are “at will” (meaning that they can be terminated any time and for any reason) and do not contain a severance agreement, they really make the new employee no commitment, even during the period between the time an offer is extended and the time a person starts work.  (If there is a severance agreement as part of the offer letter, during the notice period between, the offer letter might possibly be a valid contract and, I suspect, the offer letter would only protect the new hire to the extent of the severance.  One must consult an attorney to determine if that is so.).  The Catch 22 is that few companies give severance except to their most senior employees and sometimes not even then but you might have to sue to recover the severance. (See my post on why you might not expect severance,)

The bigger issue then becomes that you may have to sue the hiring company and undoubtedly they have bigger resources than you do; especially the holding companies.  And the truth is, they know it. 
I have previously written about contracts. I cannot stress this enough: if, during interviewing and negotiating, there are agreements and understandings (e.g. salary reviews, promised raises, bonuses, promotions, anticipated career paths, etc.) and those agreements are not in the offer letter, they do not exist and are not part of the hiring agreement. I have candidates tell me tales of woe all the time, especially when a hiring manager leaves and no one has been told about agreements made prior to hiring.  

As an aside, I find most offer letters cold and filled with legalese.   Sometimes offer letters are formulaic and look as if written by a patent attorney.  They are unnecessarily harsh documents.  There is no reason why an offer letter cannot be welcoming, warm and exciting while and still containing all the necessary language.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Turnover And Job Change Frequency Can Be Controlled

Turnover in the advertising business is legendary.  There are no statistics that I know of to show how often advertising people change jobs compared to other businesses, but from my experience and observation, job changing every two to three years may be average.  Nationally, I just read that in all jobs, people now take a new job every five years.  I have written about it many times.

The reason for this turnover in all business often has to do with money and advancement.  But another major reason is that people don’t like or resent their supervisors.
In advertising, gone are the days where employees knew for certain that they would be promoted and get salary increases on a scheduled basis.  And even at those agencies where there is a policy about the frequency of raises, it is almost inevitable that a salary freeze will be put in place that blocks an expected salary increase.  In advertising, the way that many people fight back, is to accept a new job and hope for a counter-offer; but as I have written, counter-offers almost inevitably result in the termination of that employee as soon as the agency can replace them.

However, all companies, especially ad agencies could control and lower turnover with just a few inexpensive changes.  

Raises must be given to employees on a regular and scheduled basis.  This is especially true of juniors – imagine living in New York City, Chicago or L.A. on $45,000 a year.  Putting in a wage freeze just as someone is due for more money is a sure way of driving them away.  I have met many senior people, who have worked at the same agency for a long time, and have not gotten a raise in three to five years; that is just unacceptable.  Given the rate of inflation, that means that people who have not gotten a raise in so many years are actually making less than they did before their last increase.  This, too, is unacceptable.

Promotions and rotations should be scheduled regularly.  This was one of the things I liked most about advertising when I was an account manager.  I loved working on new accounts and learning new industries. And I knew that I would be rotated after a couple of years – just when I needed a change.  Many agencies used to have policies about rotations.  They were built into the agency’s new business pitch and staffing proposals so that clients knew about and accepted these changes as part of hiring the agency.  For instance, until about the late 1990s, many agencies, prided themselves on their rotation policy at all levels.  Rotations just don’t happen much anymore.  This attractive feature of employment went away for two reasons; first, it was time consuming to administer and required human resources to make these complicated changes. And, second, the client fee system put clients in charge of who worked on their business and if the client liked, even a very junior person, that was the end of the rotation, despite that the client often rotated the people on the brand.

Promotions once could be expected on a regular basis.  Today, not so much.

Finally, there is no management training or counseling for poor supervisors (who may be very talented at their jobs otherwise). Occasionally, I have heard stories about how some companies have sent managers to therapists to learn how to manage the people who work for them, but this is rare.  In advertising, even when it is offered, managers claim that they are too busy to go and, unfortunately, management does not insist that they do so.  As long as their clients like them, they are immune to disciplinary action in terms of their management skills.

Turnover can be very expensive for a company.  While the financial people frequently only look at the out of pocket cost of replacement, lost productivity and lost knowledge are a huge unmeasured cost. If Human Resources were allowed to truly manage employees, I am sure that turnover could be lowered significantly. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Nine Changes You Should Know About In (Advertising) Recruiting Over The Last Many Years

While everyone talks about how the advertising and marketing business has changed, few people write about the search business. I thought it was a good topic.
Companies Have Eschewed Recruiters For The Internet
Perhaps the biggest change is that all kinds of companies are trying not to use recruiters.  Rather than trying to negotiate lower fees, companies have turned to electronic recruiting, which does not work. This is especially true of people under $100-150k.

Previously, At Many Companies, HR did not do the recruiting or initial screening
At least at ad agencies, many account groups did their own recruiting with their own favorite recruiters.  When recruiters knew the people they were recruiting for and had direct contact with them, recruiting was more efficient and, frankly, easier. 

HR sometimes coordinated and tracked candidates, but was mostly removed from the process.

Obtaining feedback was often easier and faster. Getting feedback directly from the person who did the interviewing was really helpful and speeded up the process.

Recruiters often met in person with hiring managers they did not know
This gave recruiters a sense of who they were hiring for and enabled the company and the recruiter to make a mutual connection. Recruiters could actually question the hiring managers to determine accurate job specs.

If the client was out of town, recruiters sometimes went to see them or they spent a great deal of telephone time with the people directly involved with the search.

Before Faxes, clients relied on recruiters to actually do their job by describing candidates and giving reasons why they were right for the job
As a result, recruiters were actually held to a higher standard than they are today.  

With the advent of Faxes in the late eighties, the human resources coordination became more pronounced.  With that, companies started to see candidates based on their résumés, not on their skills.

Email made it even worse.

Even Though It May Have Been Illegal, People Used To Ask Recruiters To Find Women
Believe it or not, back through the early to mid-nineties, we often got assignments which, sub-rosa, asked us to find women.  Responsible companies knew that they were overwhelmingly male dominated and actually looked for women.

Today, the business, especially at mid to lower levels, is dominated by women.

Candidates Used To Have Much More Intensive and Thorough Interviews
It was not uncommon, even at the biggest agencies and companies for even junior candidates to meet the CEO or President.  Today, not so much.

I have written that the old Chiat\Day (before TBWA) used to have a candidate do a minimum of 9 interviews (my record was 17 interviews there) to insure that prospective candidates were a good fit.  While it may seem excessive, it went a long way towards insuring that candidates matched their culture.  Today, again, not so much.

Help Wanted Ads Were Still Important and Vital
“I got my job through the New York Times” was an advertising campaign the Times ran because their help wanted ads were a huge section of the paper, especially on Sundays.  Ad Age and Adweek also had vital job listings, as did every trade paper in the country. (I hired more than one recruiter by using Adweek.)  Help wanted ads have been replaced by the internet, of course.

Candidates Returned Phone Calls
Years ago, when recruiters worked for most agencies and had many job listings, when recruiters called, candidates almost always returned the call.  Today, not so much.  In fact, because most companies have stopped using recruiters except for senior positions, many people have no idea what a recruiter does or can do, so they do not bother to return calls or emails.  Today, a search person can call and email (at business) dozens of times before a candidate will respond, albeit reluctantly. The reluctance is that most have no idea what a recruiter does or can do.

Companies Relied on Recruiters As Trusted Advisors
Many companies used recruiters to help with business problems.  I can think of the old Messner, Vetere, Berger, McNamee, Schmetterer (MVBMS, now Havas) agency calling me to come over for a lunch to discuss how to cut down on turnover on the MCI Business, which was so busy that it burned out people quickly. 
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