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The Process of Making a Job Offer

Making a job offer requires a process, not a pitch. In this first in a three part series, we look at the process of qualifying candidate’s motivations and boosting your probability of a successful hire.

You’ve experienced this, I’m sure. After a thorough interview process, you extend a candidate what you think is a terrific offer… which lands as flat as a wet load of sand. She turns you down. Her explanation is polite, appreciative, but unexpected and somehow doesn’t feel true. WHAT? you ask yourself. How could that be? This job was perfect for her. Everyone thought the world of her, and she seemed to like us. You think about how this would have benefited her career. The comp package was competitive. It doesn’t make sense.

Face it. You didn’t sell the deal. If you had done your homework, you would have known what the response would be before you popped the question. It doesn’t matter whether you have the charisma of Tom Hanks or Salma Hayek (though that never hurts). Real salesmanship is about orchestrating and presenting all the right reasons someone should accept an offer. It doesn’t require glibness, subterfuge or mind control. You don’t have to change who you are. Selling anything that is emotionally charged requires a process, whether it’s a house, a business plan or that VP position with the corner office.


The Job Offer Process

The Job Offer Process is iterative, much like an application development life cycle. You establish information. You flesh it out. You qualify it. You confirm your understanding with your candidate, and how each piece of new information relates to what you previously learned. Each block of information builds a foundation for the next. If you learn something that strikes the candidate out for this or any position in your company, you stop the process, and move on to the next candidate.

To borrow a well worn sports metaphor, the Job Offer Process is like a golf swing. Prepare with a full and steady back swing (Establish a Common Vision), make solid contact with the ball (Gain Acceptance), and follow through (Prepare for Arrival).

You cannot establish a common vision until you know the vision of your candidate. Start at 30,000 feet and gradually work down to ground level.

Career Objective. First, what is the candidate’s ultimate Career Objective? Qualify any responses, be open minded and try to envision the candidate in that future role.

Job Issues. What is missing from the candidate’s current job, or what new element is he or she seeking? Do the Job Issues relate well to the Career Objectives?

Candidate’s Vision. What is the Candidate’s Vision for solving these issues? Is it backed with a workable career plan? Does this vision make sense in regard to the previously stated Job Issues, or before that to the Career Objective? Is there consistency throughout? Is the Candidate’s Vision consistent with your own? Is it realistic? If not, stop now, and save each other some time.

Value of Change. Given what you’ve learned of the candidate’s capabilities and objectives, does enough value exist for this person to change jobs and work for your company? Is the Value of Change expressed by the candidate consistent with his or her Vision? Listen to WII-FM… What’s In It For Me. By now, your candidate is already tuned in.

Qualify Expectations. Without making any commitments, and staying at a high level, use “what if’s” to paint a picture of the job you have in mind for the candidate. Qualify the candidate’s expectations for responsibilities, necessary prior experience, management capabilities, travel and life balance, resources and support. Validate whether what you are describing is what he or she is seeking. It’s a trial job offer without the commitment. Are your candidate’s capabilities and expectations consistent with what this job has to offer? Where there are deviations, can they be remedied? Does the candidate express strong interest?

By now, there is little you should not know about your candidate’s motivations. You know whether they are qualified to do the job. You know if they’ll fit in with the culture. And, if you followed the process above, you know whether it makes sense for this person to take this job, and most importantly, if they are eager to take it.

Gaining Acceptance

Verbal Offer. With the exception of a trusted recruiter, no one but you should ever be allowed to make the Verbal Offer. With all due respect, this includes HR. The candidate isn’t applying to work for HR. He or she wants to work for you. If your company’s policies dictate that an HR person must extend all offers, have your HR rep sit with you when you make the Verbal Offer. The company’s protected, and your HR person will be glad to get another open slot filled.

Why is it in your best interest to have your recruiter make the verbal offer instead of you? Your recruiter is a buffer who will protect you and your company from ill-advised candidate demands that might scuttle the deal if presented. Your recruiter can, and should, be a trusted negotiator working on your behalf, not the candidate’s. Let him or her be the bad guy. You can always play the savior and “give in,” if need be, later on.

Remember when you gave the trial job offer that the candidate was so eager to accept? If you did your job qualifying and confirming his or her expectations, there should be few real surprises.

New Obstacles. Like Rosanne Adanadana used to say, “It’s always something.” Unforeseen obstacles can pop up at this stage. The 401K plan kicks in too late. The spouse doesn’t want to relocate, after all. There’s a hot new project back at the current employer, And it’s mine, Ba-by. You need to proactively seek these out so you are ready to respond at any stage in the recruitment life cycle.

Written Offer. No written offer should be sent until the candidate gives you a conditional “Yes” to your Verbal Offer. Written offers tend to create New Obstacles, because they are legal documents. Be prepared. The more senior the position for which you are hiring, the more nit-picky your candidate is likely to be (stock options and stock grants do that to people).

Prepare for Arrival

You’ve ironed out all the kinks. Negotiations are over. The candidate has a start date in just weeks. Are you done? Not on your life. Now is when you go into caretaker mode to make sure nothing happens to sour all your efforts.

Coach Resignation and Counteroffer. Stepping gently, become your new hire’s confidante over how to handle his or her resignation. If the person is valuable, how they react to a counteroffer may prove pivotal.

Monitor Continued Commitment. Stay in touch with your new hire. Send a personal note of welcome. Make a few phone calls. Extend an invitation to the Company Party or to a team meeting. Get the person involved and thinking about projects or opportunities they’ll be working on in the next few weeks. Most of all, rekindle their vision of what they have to look forward to.

Celebrate Arrival on Start Date. Publicize the person’s arrival so other employees know who the person is before he or she arrives. Personally introduce the person around the office. Pre-arrange meetings for the person’s first two weeks. Lastly, sit down the first day and collaboratively work out the person’s goals, objectives and performance measurements. Celebrate the arrival!

This process does not require so much time as it does thoroughness and awareness, enabling you to gain understanding of your candidate’s motivations. In an ideal world, each step would lead sequentially to the next. Life rarely is so linear. One usually builds understanding of a candidate’s true motivations over several conversations, often with multiple interviewers. Stay mindful of what you have not yet learned, fill in the gaps bit by bit, and build your understanding as you go. In subsequent articles, we’ll look at the art of making the offer.

Scott Cadwalader, Diligent Partners LLC

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Ensuring Your New Hire Actually Starts

How to ensure your new hire actually starts work, and that his or her first days on the job are everything you promised they would be.

After months of time consuming recruiting, you at last have hired someone to fill that critical job in your organization. Best of all, the person you hired is ideal. The right experience. The right track record. The right personality. The right goals and work ethic. In two weeks, he or she will be sitting in that office, two doors down. So why do you have this whispering murmur inside your head, like you were Son of Sam? What’s that voice trying to tell you?

As unpleasant as it is to admit, you know from experience that your recruitment effort with this person is far from over. Any number of things might happen to spook your candidate. Buyer’s remorse. A counteroffer from his employer. A higher bid from your evil competitor (curse them!). Family problems that could make the candidate suddenly feel like this was “a bad time to change jobs.” A fiancé who announces she has a job opportunity on the other side of town. A chunk of blue ice the shape of Madagascar falls on his head. A million things could happen to thwart your efforts to get that person in your lobby on his start date. And you’ve experienced them all. Well, most of them. Not the blue ice thing yet. But you’ve read about it.

If this person does show up for work, be aware that any number other complications may rear their ugly heads. One or more of his expectations won’t be met, possibly game changing expectations. There might be departmental confusion over this person’s role, responsibilities or authority. Someone thinks that part of the new guy’s job is still his or her job. A departmental politician decides to test your guy’s mettle at his first staff meeting. Business priorities suddenly shift, which means this person’s job priorities may need to change, perhaps from the very priorities that originally attracted him to the position in the first place.

Few of these are likely to cause anyone to cash in their chips after just a few days or weeks, but they may well make it easier for a newest hire to be lured back to his old employer, or worse yet to your key competitor, after just a few months, leaving you back at Square One.

After all your recruitment effort – all that blood, sweat and tears – you need to mitigate your risk. In the weeks preceding your new hire’s arrival, you need to stay in touch with him and orchestrate preparations for his welcome arrival. Fortunately, it is easiest part of the process to conduct and requires the least amount of time on your part.

Mitigation Rule #1: Coach Resignation and Prep for Counteroffer

Immediately after your new hire – let’s call him Simon – gives you his formal acceptance, you may need to coach him on how to resign from his current employer. At the very least, you need to learn how Simon intends to resign, because it may tip you to potential problems that you can head off, now.

Resigning is an uncomfortable experience. Savvy managers who value good employees will use every conceivable leverage point to get MVP’s to stay: guilt; loyalty to the company, colleagues or even desirable assignments; promises to correct past sins; promises to create new opportunities; and, last but not least, outright bribery in the form of promotion or increased compensation. Every manager, including you, has used these ploys. Often, they are used with all sincere intent to change circumstances so that stars like Simon have no need to leave. But just as often, they are used as stalling techniques to protect the company’s interests. You know it, and you need to make sure that Simon knows it. Ask Simon why his company didn’t offer to make these adjustments before his resignation. Simon also needs to know that according to the National Employers Association, 80% of all people who accept counteroffers are gone, six months later.

As soon as Simon accepts your offer, he needs to be reassured that he’s made a positive business decision and that, whatever his relationship with his current employer, he owes it to himself to make a clean exit. Coach him on resigning gracefully. It will make his transition that much easier, and will increase the likelihood that if a counteroffer is made, he will turn it down.

Should Simon inform you of a counteroffer, or a surprise offer from a third party, you’ll need to make a judgment call. Is this someone on whom he can be counted when he’s made a commitment? Is this someone you truly want in the organization? Is he worth the trouble? There are no hard answers. Depending on Simon’s value, you may wish to make an accommodation to bridge the gap between his options, hold firm, or wish him well with the other company. The key is to listen well to what Simon has to say, and ask him probing questions to help you qualify the validity or sincerity of his dilemma. Whatever you do, never get into a bidding war. You’ll regret it.

Mitigation Rule #2: Monitor Continued Commitment

Once your candidate has final formal acceptance, there are a number of other reasons to stay in touch with your new hire, if only to keep Simon mindful of the reasons he accepted the job in the first place.

Use every excuse to stay in touch. As soon as Simon accepts, send a handwritten note of welcome, or at the very least an email. If you want to knock his socks off, have everyone who interviewed him sign the card. If it is appropriate, and the level of the individual warrants it, send a gift basket of welcome. This is highly effective if the gift is an actual product of your company. A personal touch is the strongest defense against an aggressive counteroffer.

Find excuses to make a few phone calls. Consult Simon on decisions you need to make that might affect his area, once he’s on board. Extend an invitation to an upcoming company party, or invite him to an informal dinner or lunch prior to his start date. Get him involved and thinking about project decisions in which he’ll be involved when he starts work. Keep his vision of all to which he has looked forward burning bright.

Mitigation Rule #3: Celebrate Arrival on Start Date

The first two weeks on the job will set a tone for your new employee that might last for years. Indeed, a sound onboarding process may mean the difference in whether even the most capable A-player will be accepted by the corporate culture. The first 90 days requires a great deal of forethought and planning. At a minimum, however, what simple preparations on your part can lay out the welcome mat?

Before Simon arrives, publicize his hiring so that everyone in your company knows about him in advance. Make sure that receptionists knows his name, title, department and extension; that his computer, mobile phone, email and systems privileges are pre-established; and that his office space is cleaned and ready for its new tenant. Have business cards printed and ready. Wow your new star with thoroughness and efficiency.

No less important is your need to articulate and publicize Simon’s role, responsibilities and level of authority to clients and staff. Your publicly acclaimed celebration of his arrival, both in writing and in face to face encounters, may prove critical to his success.

Prearrange a number of relevant meetings for your new hire that will take place during the first two weeks. These should include “get acquainted” meetings or project meetings with senior executives, peers, clients, and even key vendors. The faster and deeper you plunge this MVP into a highly visible role – and demonstrate your visible support for his success – the greater credibility you will bestow upon him and thereby increase his chances of success.

Last, but not least, sit down on that first day and collaboratively work out your new hire’s goals, objectives and performance measurements. Not only are you laying a foundation for a healthy working relationship, you are demonstrating just how you want your new star to treat all of his new hires in the future. It embodies cultural wellness, and perpetuates smart recruiting and retention for the future.

Scott Cadwalader, Diligent Partners LLC

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Orchestrating the Interview Process

In any job market, you can’t afford to turn off strong A-player candidates any more than you can afford to hire B- / C-level candidates. Your company’s interview process needs to be well defined, consistently applied and tightly controlled.

No matter what you may think of the advice offered by your least favorite Gartner analyst, that person is one tough hombre. Why? Every analyst hired by Gartner goes through an interview process more akin to the Inquisition than to modern interview techniques. All that are missing are the rack, the hot poker and chanting monks in hooded robes. You see, following what most of us think of as a “normal” process of one-on-one interviews with various research directors, the candidate must stand before an open tribunal of 30-40 Gartner analysts and present an opinion. During the course of the presentation, the candidate is brutally challenged, jeered and tested. Strong, incredibly intelligent men and women have been known to leave the podium in tears, humiliated, and at the very least shaken. The event is designed to test their mettle. If a candidate can stand up to the egos of this crowd, Gideon Gartner once reasoned, he or she certainly can stand up to a crowd of 1,200 highly opinionated, intelligent and innately skeptical CIO’s.

It’s a process that works for Gartner. Unless your managers need to stand up to similar group pressure, I do not recommend it for you. The interview process should be part qualification and part sales, conducted in tandem. After all, in this market, any good candidate has options. He or she originally may want to work for you, but a badly conducted interview can irreparably tarnish any company’s image, and a six-month recruitment effort that you felt was “in the bag” can be trashed by one individual’s unwitting blunder. In this job market, you can’t afford to turn off good candidates any more than you can afford to hire the wrong people. Your company’s interview process needs to be well defined, consistently applied and tightly controlled.

3 Stages in the Interview Life Cycle

Whether you are a CXO, EVP, director or a manager, if the candidate in question will report to you, you are the “hiring authority” and therefore the person who must orchestrate the interview process. The candidate may have made their way to your door by any number of means (personal referral, posting, recruiter, and so forth). For Stage 1, as the hiring authority you need to conduct the initial interview and make a decision as to whether Mr./Ms. Candidate is a likely fit. Depending on circumstances, you might choose to conduct this interview in a formal setting, or over lunch or even dinner.

Stage 2 entails what I call “consensus interviews,” namely, a series of formal interviews conducted by the superstars of your management team whom you have hand-picked to further qualify the candidate, validate or challenge your judgment, gain buy-in and help sell the opportunity. HR typically participates at this stage, validating the candidate’s employment claims and at the very least selling the candidate on the company, its culture and its benefits programs.

Once your interview team has determined that it wishes to hire this candidate, you may require a Stage 3, the “executive encounter.” This may be anything from a 5-minute handshake meeting to a two-hour dinner meeting, typically with the senior-most executive your candidate will support, ideally a charismatic exec who can sell, and for C-level hires possibly even a board member. The executive encounter is your trump card. Use it with discretion: the more people who interview your terrific candidate, the greater the odds that someone may say something that can sour the deal.

Roles and Responsibilities of the Interviewers

Before you allow any interviews to be conducted by your superstars, you need to establish their roles and responsibilities. Each individual will have a specific role as both an “evaluator” and as a “marketeer.” The interviewer’s own area of expertise should dictate which of the candidate’s tires they should kick. You or your recruiter should prep each interviewer about your candidate’s hot buttons so that he or she can discuss how your company can fulfill those needs. Speak with each interviewer about his or her role personally.

It is shocking to me how few companies provide interviewers with a current and accurate job description, together with clearly defined candidate criteria. If you fail to provide your interviewers with a common measuring stick, don’t complain when they try to apply different metrics. A scoring sheet and itemized criteria can help you avoid a number of mismatched impressions about someone you consider to be an ideal candidate by your criteria, but not theirs

Achieving Consensus

Interviewers need to provide you their feedback that day, if not before the candidate exits your doors. The sooner you can determine whether you should make an offer, the higher your chances to make the hire. The more efficient your team comes across in reaching a conclusion, the better an impression you’ll make. Remember, the interview process is not a one-way street. The process you demonstrate, the caliber of the interviewers, the questions they ask and the consistency of the messages they communicate about your company all contribute to how the candidate will consider his or her subliminal interview of you. Be as prompt and as honest with your feedback as possible. Even if a candidate does not get the job, he may be so impressed by the experience, he may refer other, more qualified candidates to you. It happens.

Some companies think that the best way to achieve consensus and efficiency is to do the “one big team” interview. “After all,” they reason, “if we’re all in the room together we’ll share the same experience, hear the same responses and have a greater basis for comparison.” My problem with this is that it comes across like the Inquisition we talked about earlier. It’s the opposite of “sales-y.” And it is no more time efficient for the interviewers than if they each spent the same amount of time with the candidate in the privacy of their own offices. Private interviews allow each interviewer to sell, and to qualify the candidate in his or her own assigned role, in his or her own interview style (another topic, in and of itself). You will dramatically increase your chances with one-on-one interviews.

How should you gather feedback from your interviewers? The optimum method is to meet as a group after the last interview, or at the end of the day. To shape a more dimensional profile, go ahead and use score sheets or written notes, but don’t use them as substitutes for verbally shared opinions. Force participants to base their opinions on uniform criteria. A Big 4 management consulting client runs “round robin” interviews of between 10-18 candidates in a single day, once a month. Whether you use the round robin method to process 2 candidates or 20, its process will help you make better hires. The debriefing of the interviewers typically lasts 5 minutes per candidate, consensus is achieved quickly, and participants are more likely to feel joint responsibility for helping winning candidates be successful if they come on board. Moreover, it allows a candidate’s sponsor to deliver prompt feedback, and ideally to make the offer.

When all is said and done, at the conclusion of this interview process, you and your management team will have as full an understanding as possible of whether this candidate is right for your organization. The next step will be to make an offer and get it accepted, and that is a whole other matter. Luckily, it will be one made far easier because of the care taken in the interview process.

Scott Cadwalader, Diligent Partners LLC

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Recruiting and Retaining Superstars

 

The quality of your people defines your culture. Your recruitment efforts leverage and replicate their strengths. Your best people, not just programs, can be your best sales tool in attracting and retaining superstars.

We all have read the articles. Over the past 10 years, companies have become increasingly creative in their approaches to creating work unique environments that promote higher collaboration, more efficient processes and a work hard/play hard credo.  Startups may point to Foosball or Cornhole as means to create a relaxed, playful vibe, to go along with open work areas.  But do they create culture?  While such benefits can be attractive, they do not define a corporate culture. Culture is not defined by your language, your race, your nationality or your work environment. Culture is defined by the behavior, education, creativity, and ethics of you and your neighbors. All executives need to remember that how they and their managers communicate these attributes may be the most pivotal factor for recruiting and retention (R&R) success.

R&R Success Demands Executive Leadership

Mr./Ms. Executive, you have to take charge. You cannot defer this matter to Human Resources. R&R is the biggest challenge you face, because in today’s demand marketplace, if you can’t find the right people, your organization will fail. You must involve yourself personally, as well as all your best people, and you must stay at the center of this campaign. This is not only to ensure you succeed in your recruitment efforts, it is to ensure that your best people stay with you over the long term.

What makes many executives blanche at getting personally involved in recruiting is that a successful R&R program deals with something very un-linear, frequently illogical, and utterly unpredictable… people. Many executives offload recruitment responsibility to HR because they don’t feel comfortable, or they prefer to tackle challenges that are, to them, more tangible, more predictable, or — ahem — “strategic.” And let’s face it, when a person makes an honest effort at recruiting (or retaining) someone they really value, they are likely to invest some emotion in the effort. When such an effort fails to go the direction you expect, it takes its toll on you. I’m no more immune to it than you.

I am not advocating that you take away recruiting from HR or — God forbid — professional recruiters. Everyone has their role to play. As I’ll address a bit later, you need a multifaceted R&R strategy. My point is that many executives forget that, whether they like it or not, they are the main attraction. You may look like Danny DeVito, but if you are an executive with a great reputation, the people you want most will picture you as George Clooney. Don’t shy away from that role. Embrace it.

Recruiting and Retention Truths

If you accept that it is the quality of the people that defines your culture, your recruitment efforts must be geared to leverage and replicate their strengths. Focus on these R&R truths as a means of improving the cultural wellness and retention levels of your organization.

  1. Every executive needs to be personally involved in the recruitment and retention of individuals in his or her chain of command at least as far as two levels down in the organization, perhaps more, depending on how effective your direct reports are at R&R. This includes defining and refining business needs and requisite job responsibilities, being personally accountable for R&R, and orchestrating whatever resources are necessary to lead good people to your door. Such resources may include colleagues, consultants, vendors, and recruiters.
  2. If your organization’s culture is not healthy, the best people will avoid you like the plague. I wish a magic wand existed that could transform a dysfunctional organization into the “All Madden Team.” Doesn’t exist. Winning hearts and minds is tough enough for any exec who inherits someone else’s legacy team. It’s harder still to lead them through cultural change — to light a fire so that they can believe there is a better way, that change is possible, that they can do it, and that they will benefit from the effort. Divisional or departmental cultures are systemic of their corporate parents; if you work under an ogre of a CEO who perpetuates the very culture you’re trying to change, surrender and get out of there. If the source of dysfunction is resident within your own organization, and you don’t take action to fix it, you can spend as much as you like on recruiting, advertising, “rah-rah” programs, and self-promotion, but your efforts will be wasted. In the end, your culture will still be sick, and the only people you will attract will be those who are either unemployable elsewhere, or are money motivated bottom feeders who will work for you only until they hear from a higher bidder, nine months from now. Physician, heal thyself.
  3. Involve only your best people in the process. Why would you allow a manager (who on a scale of 1-10 is a 4) to interview a candidate who may be an 8 or a 9? Un-involve them. A good recruitment effort may take anywhere from 2 to 9 months for a critical hire. Why risk all that effort with an employee who has the presence of Homer Simpson? The same holds true for your retention efforts. In your exit interviews, ask departing employees to be candid about their motivations. If Homer’s name comes up repeatedly, you know what to do.
  4. Get everyone singing from the same song sheet. In recruitment, too few companies take the time to ensure that all interviewers understand the criteria that are to be used in evaluating prospective employees, and the role that each interviewer needs to play in the process. Establish everything up front when you initiate the recruitment effort, and rekindle your team’s understanding once you are ready for interviews. Make sure your people understand how to interview (most do not), and that they understand that a balanced interview process is as much about selling your organization as it is about qualifying a candidate. A similar principle holds true for retention efforts: a consistent performance management program conducted uniformly by your managers will do wonders for your corporate culture’s health and attractiveness.
  5. Orchestrate the right resources. Internet recruiting has been a boon to internal and external recruiters because it has sped up our ability to process raw information about people. Unfortunately, it does nothing about improving the judgment of those who must do something with that information. Therefore, you must be mindful to utilize qualified resources to do the initial filtering who actually understand the position, and who have the time in their process to affect proper quality control. These resources, whether they are the HR department, external recruiters or members of your management staff, must be credible to prospective employees, and when appropriate they must be able to sell. In their own respective disciplines, they must be superstars. Retention requires the same alignment of capabilities: only your superstars are likely to keep their superstars in the fold; marginal managers will always be a detriment to the process, not an asset.

Exert Your Own Leadership

The most elaborate, multifaceted recruitment and retention program will do you little to no good if your participants do not have a thorough understanding and commitment to the principles, objectives, and processes required. If you begin by leveraging the strengths of your stars, in time you will effect a cultural transformation where retention is merely a statistical footnote, and recruiting is a process run with confidence.

Scott Cadwalader, Diligent Partners LLC

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Interviewing for Character

In the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, many employers were either patting themselves on their backs, or are quietly re-examining their codes of ethics and their hiring practices. Commonly, executive managers are asking, How can we ensure that the people we hire to lead our public institutions have the necessary character to earn and maintain our trust?

Most American businesses are lead by fine people who lead wisely and ethically. By their very actions, some leaders even inspire their workers to greatness. How do companies qualify such leaders during the interview process? Is it by accident?

At companies that have taken time to foster ethical cultures, finding people who are attracted to sound values has proved rewarding. At Baxter BioScience, the Global Business Practice Standards handbook issued to every new employee since the late 1990’s was the culmination of years of promotion on the importance of professional integrity. The book’s slogan is Integrity Works Here. At Irvine-based Edwards Lifesciences, a former Baxter company spun-off in 2000, it published a similar code of behavior, and took the additional step of including several aspects of integrity and people skills in the interview criteria guides used by its hiring managers.

For most people, interviewing others is rarely easy. Verifying someone’s competency and employment history is challenging enough. Determining whether someone has sound character adds complexity, but it is doable.

It is far more difficult to see people as they really are, than it is to see them as we would like them to be. Interviewing requires diligence and patience. At a minimum, it takes time to verify the basics: dates of employment, job titles, promotion history, performance achievements, references. It takes even more time and functional knowledge to determine if candidates are knowledgeable and competent. Gaining insight into people’s character requires still more time, but the dividends earned can be the greatest of all. When you hire a person who has extensive job experience, is knowledgeable and competent, and possesses outstanding human character, you have won the equivalent of a trifecta. Not only have you hired an outstanding individual contributor; you have introduced into your organization a presence that can positively impact your corporate culture in many ways.

What Is Character?

In one of his syndicated radio commentaries, Michael Josephson said, “What we’re looking for is moral strength based on ethical principles. Character is revealed by actions, not words, especially when there’s a gap between what we want to do and what we should do, and when doing the right thing costs more than we want to pay. Our character is revealed by how we deal with pressures and temptations. But it’s also disclosed by everyday actions, including what we say and do when we think no one is looking and we won’t get caught.”

Josephson’s Character Counts! Foundation, which promotes good character to schoolchildren, developed a list of six enduring, universal moral truths which distinguish right from wrong and define the essence of good character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, justice & fairness, caring and civic virtue & citizenship. In the business world, respected author and speaker Stephen Covey speaks about similar values as “inviolate principles” and says that the most effective leaders follow a “true north” compass.

In John Maxwell’s 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, 11 of Maxwell’s espoused qualities are as much attributes of character as they are of leadership. Maxwell believes that most of these qualities can be learned – if an individual recognizes his or her weaknesses, and truly has the will, drive and persistence to grow.

The challenge for interviewers is that even executives with questionable values may have studied these same self-improvement books by Covey and Maxwell, and have today’s “exec speak” down cold. They can be charming, know precisely what to say, when to say it, and carry themselves with absolute confidence. Differentiating the Real McCoy from a smooth talking fraud can be difficult for those without an interview process with defined checks and balances.

Crystal Ball Not Required

Regardless of how one defines character, there are many traits or clues for which any interviewer can look when trying to determine if someone has good character. One does not need to be a psychologist to achieve insight into a candidate’s character. Some qualifying questions, a little perception, and validation of one’s impressions through reference checks can uncover a lot.

The DNA of a person’s character can be discovered in their personal history. Unlock someone’s history, and one can unlock his or her code. Often, stories relayed about childhood experiences, team sports or academic clubs can reveal much about one’s integrity, commitment or courage – or just about any other aspect of character. The same holds true for lessons learned in college, or in every job worked since. “It is never about what organization an individual belonged to,” says executive search consultant, George Sheth. “It is about what that person did there.” To the skilled interviewer, what becomes apparent as one walks through someone’s life story from past to present, is that their life and the lessons learned at each step have to make sense. One looks for consistency or personal growth. If a candidate must grapple with an answer, the cause may be a conscious or unconscious need to edit reality.

Sheth says interviewers must be just as interested in how their subjects made tough decisions, as they are in what they decided. “How” and “Explain to me” are among the most powerful words in an interviewer’s toolbox. “Why” is another. Asking candidates to clarify the logic and the methods for past decisions can be extremely telling.

Some of the most savvy and manipulative people may go out of their way to convince others of their superior moral nature through their commitment to their community. It can be difficult to discern what aspects of servitude are heartfelt, and which are simply designed for public viewing. When a candidate discusses his commitment to the arts, does he speak more about the lavishness of the latest fundraising dinner or about a struggling young artist? Does he namedrop in order to impress others?

Interview Methods

With most interview techniques, how candidates respond frequently is as important as what they say. Sheth recommends using active listening, and paying attention to eye movement and body language.

Tracking during 1st round interviews is an effective means of gaining a thorough understanding of how an individual has grown professionally, to flesh out resume claims, and to ascertain how and why he or she has made job changes. As the candidate walks through a chronology of his or her career, the interviewer must take copious notes, which may be explored in 2nd round interviews or with immediate qualifying questions.

Explanatory Questions provide clarity to why or how the candidate took certain actions. “Could you explain to me why…” and “How did you…” are good examples.

Hypothetical Questions are useful for validating the logic the candidate may have offered in previous Explanatory Questions, or for addressing areas that otherwise were not covered, or for gaining clarity about actions unearthed while Tracking. For example, “Given this scenario, how would you…” can refer to a current real-life situation at the employer, a fictional company or even a hypothetical moral dilemma between two people.

Validating Impressions with Others

Sheth observes that while most interviewers would like to think they have impeccable judgment, no one is infallible. Opinions are, after all, subjective. Observations and anecdotes from objective third parties can be extremely useful for validating or challenging one’s opinions. “The operative words here are ‘objective’ and ‘opinions,’” Sheth says. “It is rare that any candidate is foolish enough to suggest people who will give them a bad reference, but it does happen.”

Many applicants count on the fact that many employers do not check references. If employers do, they typically do a cursory job of it, or they simply rely upon outsourced background checks into individuals’ credit and criminal histories. But callouts to former employers to verify employment dates, or outsourced background checks, rarely provide information about people’s character.

There are two types of references. First, there are those “warm” references that candidates provide, which some employers check at the time of an offer. Then, there are truly objective 3rd party references that should be tapped – and rarely are, except by reputable recruiters or savvy hiring managers.

Many employers operate under the misconception that they cannot legally ask qualified questions of competency about candidates, because their own legal counsels have admonished them not to offer such commentaries on their own former employees for fear of defamation lawsuits. Consequently, many company managers and HR professionals believe they can ask no more than “name, rank and serial number,” or whether or not a prior employer would hire an individual again. The truth is that they can ask much more, so long as it is job-related. It is up to the former employer to decide how much it wishes to answer. Fortunately, despite concern over lawsuits, most functional managers will go out of their way to provide detailed assessments of people’s strengths and weaknesses, their accomplishments and even their failures.

Who are these so-called objective 3rd parties? Any well-connected senior executive who has built and maintained a network of professional colleagues and friends is likely to “know someone who knows someone” about a prospective candidate, particularly if it was someone within that circle who recommended the individual in the first place. Quality recruiters typically have an even more extensive network to tap, because professional networks are their lifeblood. Whoever makes the effort to check with a 3rd party needs to seek qualitative job-related commentary from those who worked closest to the individual. Managers, peers and clients are optimal.

With every input received, a hiring authority must edge towards a conclusion, not leap to it. Candidate-supplied references and references from other 3rd parties should be taken with a grain of salt. Just as in divorce situations, there is “his story” and “her story” – and somewhere in the middle lies “the truth.” Sheth cautions that one always needs to remember that one or more of these 3rd parties may have an ax to grind with this individual, which is why callers need to speak with as many 3rd parties as possible.

Legal experts at the Society for Human Resource Management advise interviewers to document every conversation. Is there consistency in commentary between the candidate’s suggested references and those of 3rd parties? Is the commentary consistent with what the candidate conveyed during interviews? Do the opinions of others align with those of the interviewer or the interview team? Do all the data points make sense?

Little Things Can Add Up

Just because one doesn’t uncover a history of blatant corporate malfeasance, improper behavior or criminal misconduct does not mean an individual’s character is pure enough for a position in which character may decide critical outcomes. Sheth points out that individuals who “look away” from inappropriate behavior may be just as damaging because their patterns of inaction and hypocrisy can undermine corporate standards. “Did the person’s resume stretch the truth? Did you catch him in a lie about himself or the company? Was his assessment of himself consistent with what others had to say? Did he ever give credit to others? Little things can add up to how an individual is likely to respond under extraordinary circumstances,” Sheth concludes.

Triangulate and Decide

Many levels of fact and nuance must come together in order to reveal an individual’s likely character. To rely solely upon a single data point without considering the whole – one’s impression from an interview, other interviewers’ opinions, outside references, or background checks – may be naïve and possibly irresponsible. It may take months to discover that someone has questionable character, still more months to prove it, and possibly a year or more to assemble sufficient documentation to justify termination, if necessary. If an unethical individual is allowed to fester and replicate within a company, bringing in colleagues who share the same values – or lack of values – it can takes years to undo the damage, at great cost. On the other hand, as at Baxter and Edwards, companies that take the time to define and promote their value systems can build business cultures where character and integrity become part and parcel to their businesses.

Scott Cadwalader, Diligent Partners LLC

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Is a Start-Up Right for You?

Start-ups can be extraordinarily stimulating places to work.  Everyone, from senior management to the receptionist, feels like they are on a mission from God.  The hours are long, the pace frenetic, and emotional swings as sudden as each day’s latest win or loss.

Deciding whether one should accept a position at a start-up – versus a well established company – requires more than idle thought.  There is much more to consider than simply whether you can afford being unemployed for several months after your employer fails to make payroll.  Many talented professionals feel they can always find new jobs if their employer fails.  With that confidence, many professionals will take that risk, over and over and over again, ever optimistic that they can strike it rich in stock options or stock grants.

There’s more at stake than one or more months of unemployment.  Your career, for one.  The choices you make in employers, and their success in the marketplace, may have long term consequences upon your marketability.

In the battle for digital transformation, employers are scrutinizing resumes more than ever before.  All are being highly selective.  All want to hire employees with talent and drive.  At established businesses, and employers want to hire talent who will stay for the long term.  At startups, their priority is more immediate: what can this individual achieve to get us to our next round?

People who repeatedly have taken positions at doomed start-ups often are assumed to be job hoppers, or may be presumed to hold some toxicity for the failures, and therefore get filtered out from consideration at future employers.  The problem is that screeners for hiring managers cannot discern from a resume why someone’s tenure was so short, nor whether they should share in blame for a startup’s failure.  This is as true of hiring at startups as it is at large corporations.  If there’s a pattern of brief employment, they see a red flag.  They see risk.  They see instability.  Something must be wrong with this person.  Next applicant, please.

Risky Business

You may be entirely correct in your belief that you are destined to help a start-up achieve Silicon Valley nirvana and to be rewarded handsomely for your contribution.  But before you rationalize yourself into justifying an emotional decision, research your potential employer and consider the following.

Beware of marketing hype.  Many start-ups are founded by entrepreneurs who are Masters of Marketing – to customers, investors and potential employees.  They know how to paint a rosy picture, sometimes right up to the end.  The horror story of Theranos is an extreme example, but no less impactful for employees at tens of thousands of failed start-ups that never grew past 6 employees.

Don’t fall under the spell of genius.  The founder may be a wunderkind or MIT’s top graduate, but technical brilliance alone does not guarantee that the founder’s big idea is sound or marketable.

Consider the past successes or failures of the founding partners.  It takes a rare and special alignment of knowledge, experience and fortitude to launch a new venture successfully.  If the founders have no track record, or simply a bad one, your risk is high.  Consider the qualifications of the management team.  If the president was previously a regional sales manager, or the CFO was a finance manager at her last job, what makes you think they are qualified to step up to these higher level responsibilities?

The track record of the investors is just as critical.  Quality investors bring much more to start-ups than a fat checkbook.  They bring expertise.  They bring connections.  They bring influence.  And if their track record is sound, chances are they know a good thing when they see it.  If they have made a substantial investment in the company, they will work very hard to not let it fail.  On the other hand, you may find their methods of remediation to be a bit draconian, so beware.

Does the company’s business offering make sense?  Does it fill a defined need, or is the offering just another among a sea of equally competitive options?  Is there true differentiation, and can the company make itself heard in the din?

What is the projected ramp-up until the company expects to be profitable?  What stage is the company in?  If it is a late-stage company with executives and funding in place, your risk is likely to be lower, but the upside for latecomers like yourself will be considerably less.  Is this a pre-seed company with few executives and only marginal private funding?

If company stock is substantial part of your compensation or benefits, you need to delve into the minutia.  If you are to be an officer, is this a stock grant requiring approval of the Board, or stock options?  If options, at what discount, or based upon what date and at what price?  What class of stock?  When do options vest?  How often are they awarded?  Will they still vest if the company is acquired?  Are there planned offerings for you in Year 2, Year 3?  Depending on the size of the stock component, you would be wise to discuss the stock benefit plan with your accountant and your stock broker.  Your stock broker may, in fact, be an excellent sanity check on the viability of the company’s competitive prospects.

Professional Growth

Beyond all these financial considerations, there remains a core question that you should always ask yourself when considering any new employer.  Will this position provide career growth?

When the number of employees is small, people are asked to bear broader responsibilities.  Because everybody is busy, there is little time for management oversight, let alone mentorship.   You either sink or swim.  That, in and of itself, can provide professional growth, in a Darwinian or Nietzsche sort of way.  “What does not destroy me makes me stronger.”  That you can achieve stretch objectives and be successful with new responsibilities can suggest a lot about you as a resource.  In the absence of strong management oversight or guidance, you have survived, maybe brilliantly.

Then again, if you are honest with yourself, maybe not.  Maybe you simply survived.  Possibly at the expense of valued personnel, or clients or trading partners.  The fact is the frenetic pace of your start-up may have masked the details of your actions from otherwise distracted peers or superiors.  Maybe the decisions you made or the actions you took were sufficient to accomplish certain goals, but they weren’t the best options.  A strong superior or a concerned mentor might have taught you a different path.  In other words, maybe you haven’t grown as much as you think.

For a senior executive at the peak or even the downhill side of his or her career, professional growth may be less important than the upside of a well considered risk/reward ratio.  But for someone in the early stages of their career, professional growth is tremendously important.  Lessons learned from great mentors are lessons that will be applied for life.  They are as important to the young professional as a great secondary education to future college graduates.  That isn’t to say that mentors can’t be found in start-ups.  They can be found anywhere.  But if learning the art and science of your profession is important to you, work for a company that will provide you a mentor, be it a staid Fortune 500 or a renegade start-up that markets gold-plated Jujubes.

Whatever you decide is best for you, know what you are getting into, mitigate your risk and make the most of your decision.

Scott Cadwalader, Diligent Partners LLC

Posted on

Cold Realities of the Counter-Offer

See if this scenario sounds familiar.  For any number of reasons – underappreciated, overworked, underpaid, overlooked, whatever – you reach the conclusion that your career potential will never be realized at your employer.  After a diligent job search, you accept an offer from a new employer.  You are excited that you will start your new job in just a couple of weeks.  ]

You give notice to your company, and you are startled to learn that they don’t want you to leave.  Suddenly, they have great plans for you!  Executives or board members are calling you at work and at home with great concern and interest!  “If only we’d known!” they say.  Earnest promises are made.  Your boss tells you – coincidentally – that he had just filed with HR to issue you a raise.  Retention bonuses are now offered, and even a promotion is hinted at, sometime next quarter.  Pet peeves you have raised time and time again in the past, suddenly are being taken seriously.  You are enormously flattered.  You feel terrific, and wish this could happen to everyone.  You can’t help but think, Maybe I was premature in my decision. Perhaps I should have shaken their cages, years ago.

Snap out of it.

Ask yourself this sobering question: “If I was worth X dollars yesterday, why am I suddenly worth X+Y dollars today?  Why are they so accommodating to my needs, now?”

Consider this: While there are always exceptions to any rule, your present employer is probably buying time until they can secure your replacement.

The reason you were extended a counter-offer is because they need you, at least for the short term.  When someone with any talent serves notice, it never is convenient for the employer.  It is painful.  It is disruptive.  It is expensive. It takes time to locate and recruit a replacement.  Major initiatives can be endangered.  There may be others who report to you that they can’t risk losing.  At the very least, the person you report to will likely be the person to carry your load until they secure your replacement.  If any pivotal direct report ever resigned from under your management, you know precisely how you were impacted.  Longer hours.  More meetings.  More stress.  Maybe for months.  Who needs that?

Other considerations that can run through an employer’s mind include:

  • This resignation could wreak havoc with my department’s morale.
  • Coming on the heels of some other resignations, this will make me look ineffective as a leader.
  • I don’t have anyone else right now who can fill this person’s shoes.
  • How am I going to replace this person during a hiring freeze?

Bottom line: If you have any value at all, no employer will ever want you to leave on your terms.  Just theirs.

Still tempted to accept? 

Consider this: Statistics cited by BusinessWeek, the National Business Employment Weekly and others have shown that between 75-90% of people who accept counter-offers no longer will hold those jobs after 6 months.  Why?  For one thing, the core issues that inspire people to leave in the first place rarely ever change.  Or their promotions do not really materialize.  Or that new plum assignment doesn’t turn out to be so “plum,” after all.  Or they find themselves no longer being included in meetings or discussions about the company’s future.  Executives and managers treat them differently.  Eventually these people come to the conclusion that they really do have to leave.  Fast.

And for any of these individuals, what are their chances of rekindling relations with that other employer whose offer they at first accepted and then backed away from?  Slim to none.  That door is now closed to them, forever.  Just as the door to their old employer will also be closed.  Leaving on a high note?  Probably not.  Enthusiastic references from the old boss?  Probably dampened now because he or she is less likely to trust this individual as they once did.  These people could be bought off.  And since their responsibilities have been shifted to others over a period of months, they are less likely to be remembered for the significant accomplishments for which they previously were known.  Others now carry the major responsibilities.  In the end, once they do leave, these poor souls will discover they have burned bridges with two employers, never to return.

Before you explore your options elsewhere, you owe it to yourself to document the reasons you should leave.  Prepare a T-chart and list all the positives of your job, and all the negatives.  Of those negatives, which, if any, have you really tried to change?  Have you exhausted all reasonable efforts?  If your superior values you as an employee, you owe it to yourself to voice your concerns one last time, before you click on that internal switch that turns on your job-seeker mentality.  Because once ‘on,’ your priorities and perspective regarding your company will be changed forever.

Once you do make that decision to accept another position elsewhere, commit to it.  Be firm, embrace your new opportunity, and make the most of it.  It will save you a world of grief, and keep your image and career path on the high road.

Scott Cadwalader, Diligent Partners LLC

Posted on

Writing Resumes That Beg To Be Read

As professional search consultants, we read plenty of resumes, solicited or otherwise.

Admit it.  When was the last time you said to yourself, Oh boy, I can’t wait to read some resumes!  No resume will ever likely be considered New York Times Best Seller material, though one could argue that in some resumes there is more than enough fiction to qualify.

As in all written communications, resumes should be written first and foremost to be read.  Second, to be understood.  And third, to inspire the reader to want to meet you and to learn more about you.  Always write with specific, defined objectives in mind.


Alternative approaches for different types of professionals

There may be as many opinions about what constitutes a good resume as there are, well, resumes.  Two resume formats are popular currently: the traditional chronological resume, and the functional resume.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each, as they each benefit different types of professionals.  Unfortunately, not every professional understands which type is most appropriate for his or her needs.

The Chronological Resume

The chronological resume details every position a person has held, in reverse chronological order.  The individual’s most recent position is highlighted first, usually more extensively than earlier positions, because that position should represent the logical culmination to date of the individual’s career.  All previous positions, all advancements, all new skills and responsibilities, and most importantly all accomplishments should build the case that this individual earned the right to his or her most recent position.  This is the ideal resume format for the career professional whose career has progressed steadily and logically, like a locomotive progressing steadily up the tracks, hitting all the appropriate stations along the way.

On the flip side, chronological resumes can and will raise red flags about candidates who have not managed their career tracks well.  Job gaps.  Frequent changes between employers.  Too many short stints.  Jagged moves from one type of job to others for which the person’s career has not logically prepared them. These are just some of the red flags that make employers and executive recruiters uneasy.

The Functional Resume

The functional resume takes an entirely different tact, organizing one’s career history in relevant areas of capability, such as “program management” or “organizational change,” rather than chronology.  Instead of demonstrating how one has built upon one’s experience over time, the functional resume boldly categorizes one’s accomplishments into categories, so that even less knowledgeable screeners will recognize the functional capabilities that their employers may be asking them to seek.  Professionals who benefit most from the functional resume are consultants and freelance contractors.  Since contractors float from company to company on a frequent basis, their nomadic nature can give chronological resumes an unstable appearance, or one of impermanence.  By ignoring the chronology of their projects (at least in the main section) and focusing on displaying a body of work that spans many clients, functional resumes showcase their best attributes.  In the case of employed consultants who have been at firms like Accenture or Deloitte for several years, their resumes benefit by illustrating their functional expertise within the context of a chronological resume through their project descriptions.  Their resumes enjoy the best of both worlds, showing stability and explicit capability.

The downside of the functional resume, however, is that it raises questions.  Most employers and recruiters, seeking to hire full time employees, get very nervous when presented with a functional resume.  Can this person hold a steady job?  Does this person contract out because of lurking personality issues?  Is this resume hiding employment gaps?  Does this person wish to advance?  Can he or she advance?  Since the resume does not explain how this individual prepared for certain duties, how can one have any confidence she actually was even capable in her last several jobs?  What does her hiring say about the judgment of her employer?  By choosing not to lay out her chronology, is she hiding something she does not wish to have revealed?

Net-net: use the functional resume only if you are pursuing temporary employment as a free agent who will be expected to do a job for a period of time and then leave.  If, on the other hand, you are someone who has been a full-time employee whose motivation for using a functional resume is to mask numerous jobs changes or employment gaps, be prepared to answer some pointed questions.  Otherwise, a traditional chronological resume is the best approach.

Appearances: Keep It Simple

In the age before computerized processing of resumes many job seekers felt the need to make their resumes stand out from the pack by using elaborate letterheads, portraits, colored stationary, bound notebooks, or any number of gimmicks that were all style and, frankly, completely meaningless.  The same holds true today.  If you suffer that inclination, save yourself the trouble.  Today, such tactics will do you more harm than good.  Keep it simple.

Since any resume you submit to a company or a recruiter is certain to be processed by an applicant tracking system for inclusion in an applicant database, your resume needs to be formatted as simply as possible.  Avoid fancy fonts or graphics that may not be recognized, don’t reverse out any text, and use only standard point sizes.  Arial or Times Roman are your safest fonts.  Avoid using tables since they can confuse text readers (and humans, for that matter).

As for including a photo on your resume, unless you are an entertainer or a sales rep, let your interviewers be pleasantly surprised when they meet you.  You may look like Chris Hemsworth or Jennifer Garner, but no computer will give you bonus points for your portrait.  (For that matter, some recruiters will outright dismiss resumes with photos, out of spite.)  Avoid anything that can complicate the system’s ability to read, digest and process your content.

At the top of your resume, list all your contact information in a column format: full name, home address or city, mobile number, and personal email address to protect your privacy at work.  It is important to stack each line of information separately, rather than a string in a single line, so that the computer system will process each element into its proper field.  There is no need to include the words, Resume or CV, anywhere on the page – any person or computer will know what you have sent – but do include the words in the document’s title.

Since your resume ideally will be read by an actual human, there still is reason to make it easy on the eyes.  Use lots of white space and standard 1″ margins.  Don’t cram each page with 8 pt. type just to comply with some arbitrary rule about a maximum number of pages.  It is a myth that your resume must be no more than two pages in length.  No computer on earth failed to process a resume because it exceeded an arbitrary page limit.  The reason that some recruiters fail to read some long resumes is because they are a) uncompelling, b) are padded with extraneous information or c) they’re simply not what the recruiter is looking for.

If your content is impressive, well written and to the point, and if you are what the recruiter is looking for, your content-focused resume will get read, no matter how long it is.

Career Summary vs. Career Objectives

If you are seasoned professional, include a brief paragraph that summarizes your career, directly beneath your contact information.  Unless you are seeking a career change, the summary itself will imply your objective by stating facts and allowing the reader to come to his or her own conclusion.  For the younger professional, or someone seeking to make a career change, a paragraph broadly stating a career objective is best.  Whatever approach you chose to take, keep it simple, brief and to the point.

Professional History

In a chronological resume, begin with your most recent position and work backwards in time.  In bold print, list your employer’s name, city, your title, and the month and year of your start and end dates.  If you’ve worked for one employer for many years and had numerous promotions, you may be wise to bundle them under one company listing and highlight your latest position.  To clarify your promotion history, you may lead with a summary statement such as, “Originally hired as a production supervisor, and promoted steadily to project leader, development manager, program director and to current position as…”  Alternatively, under the company heading, you may list each of your titles and the dates when you held them.

If you have had multiple employers through no fault of your own – such as corporate mergers, acquisitions or downsizing – you need to explain in a succinct and accurate way that mitigates any possible concerns over you as a desirable long term employee.  For example, if your employer’s name changed due to a merger or acquisition, list the new company’s name and follow it in parentheses with your original employer’s name and the date of the turnover.  By doing this, you enable yourself to list all of your accomplishments at both companies under a single employer; only the corporate structure has changed.

If you changed employers following an organizational downsizing, state that you were downsized, at the end of your listed accomplishments.  There is no need for you to feel defensive.  The reader wants reassurance that your termination was not the consequence of your personal actions.On the other hand, if you have made frequent job changes between various employers for whatever reason, or if there have been glaring gaps of unemployment, do not try to disguise the facts.  Fudging the truth invites disaster.  In this day and age of litigation and employer liability, HR departments check employment histories of applicants with all previous employers and colleges: job titles, dates, degrees, etc.  Any falsehood is cause for immediate termination from your new employer.  Never go down that road.

Accomplishments Are What Resonate Most

Above all, your accomplishments are what employers care about most, not the details about your responsibilities.  The laziest resumes are those created by cutting and pasting responsibilities from job descriptions.  For any position, include no more than a one or two line description of your responsibilities.  All bullets that follow should be about accomplishments that benefited your employer.

It’s not about your responsibilities.  It’s what you have ACHIEVED with your responsibilities.

Whether you choose to use a chronological or functional resume, begin all sentences with a verb that states what you have done (e.g., “Managed a multi-disciplined team of twelve that developed…”).   Stick to facts and avoid superlatives.  What the reader is looking for is evidence that you have been an active participant, contributor or leader.  Wherever possible, include metrics that offer either a measure of your performance or the size or scope of your endeavor (e.g., “Increased product flow by 17% in 3 months,” or “…with an operational budget of $10.7 million and a project team of 22 full-time professionals and contractors”).  Performance metrics illustrate your capability and a potential measure of your worth.  Details such as budget numbers or resource numbers provide a framework of context – under what circumstances you have proved you can deliver such performance for an employer.  Never oversell yourself, but don’t undersell yourself either.  If you let the facts be known, they will do the selling for you.

Credentials

Some professions rely heavily on one’s education, certification or training.  Others do not.  If your credibility as a potential hire is predicated first upon your educational foundation – such as a doctor, engineer, scientist or accountant – and secondarily upon what you have done professionally, list your educational degrees, certifications and any relevant training programs immediately beneath your career summary.  If your career has proved not to be dependent upon these, or if you are a senior corporate executive who has achieved success in spite of a minimal education, list your credentials at the end of your resume, since they add less value than your actual experience.  Otherwise, list your most advanced degree first, your undergraduate degree second, followed by any certifications, awards, publications, patents or relevant training programs.  If you are an educational junkie addicted to continuous professional education, I have cautionary message: be selective in what you choose to disclose, because some hiring managers may feel threatened or hold a negative view toward your accomplishments.

Outside Activities

Feel free to mention relevant industry memberships, or possibly community or civic groups. They demonstrate a desire to contribute, and they imply character.  On the other hand, avoid mention of religious or political affiliations.  One never knows how others may stand on issues where religion or politics are concerned.  Do nothing that could potentially exclude you from consideration.

Attachments

Whenever you send your resume to a company, send a tailored cover letter as well.  Whereas you will not necessarily tailor the resume itself for every employer – the facts of your career history are, after all, the facts – a tailored cover letter provides you an opportunity to connect the dots as to why you should be a logical hire for a given position.  Consider the employer’s published job requirements and explain why your career experience aligns with that opportunity.  If appropriate, do some research on the company’s current business issues, and demonstrate your knowledge by addressing how you could help the company address those issues from the standpoint of that specific position.  This is particularly important for senior executives, and can be relevant even for staff members, because discussing these issues demonstrates a degree of intellectual capacity and management potential.

If you have been written about in the press, or if you are proud of any of your own published works, restrain yourself.  Do not attach any clippings just yet, or any presentations or photocopied letters of reference.  Provide those only upon request.  Attaching any of these to a resume only makes an individual look needy.  Let the resume speak for itself.

Stating your salary requirements can only exclude you from consideration before a potential employer has an opportunity to get to know you.  Similarly, unless specifically requested, don’t include your salary history.  Earn too much, and you will get excluded.  Earn too little, and you will get excluded.

Remember that your objective is to earn the right to an interview.  Ensure your resume is read and that it is appreciated for all the right reasons.  Inspire the reader to invite you to interview.

Scott Cadwalader, Diligent Partners LLC

Posted on

Should I Accept This Job?

You have endured a battery of interviews, met countless interviewers, and now are faced with a good, even flattering, offer. You have performed your own due diligence on the employer, just as the employer has with you. Everything checks out fine, but conflicting logic and emotions are holding you back from accepting. It may be a fear of success. It may be fear of the unknown. It may be fear that you will leave friends behind, or not be able to make new friends. (Doubtful, if you have made friends in the past!)  The reasons for accepting or declining a job opportunity are finite. Just like a childhood fear of the darkness, sometimes all you need to do is shed some light on the subject. Should you take the job? Here is a check list of questions only you can answer for yourself, to help yourself make the right decision.

The Opportunity in Front of You

Is this an average job, a good job or a great job?

Is it a rare opportunity? If it is rare, how likely is it you will be presented another such opportunity, any time soon?

Does this job excite you? In what ways?

Does this job contribute to your long term goals?

Do you have confidence in your ability to perform highly in this job?

In comparison to the new job, does your current job provide you:

  • Greater job security?
  • Greater professional growth opportunity?
  • Greater income growth opportunity?
  • Greater satisfaction?

Would accepting this job add value to your life in terms of:

  • Professional growth?
  • Respect from your peers?
  • Name recognition in your industry?
  • Annual compensation? If any, what percentage higher over your current gross income?
  • Providing for your family’s needs?

Relocation

If relocation is necessary, is affordable housing within a reasonable commute to the job?

Does the company’s relocation package provide you the means and flexibility to move without significant financial sacrifice on your part? If you foresee the possibility of financial sacrifice at your end, will your new compensation offset any loss?

Is the company demonstrating a keen interest in making your relocation as painless as possible?

Is this city one in which you can enjoy a high quality of life, given your tastes, your interests, and those of your family?

If the new job does not work out after a year or more, does this new city have a significant number of other potential employers?

Your New Boss

Are you impressed with the hiring executive?

Do you believe the hiring executive invested enough time to get to know you and your capabilities, sufficient to make a wise hiring decision?

Do you like the hiring executive, and does he/she treat you with respect?

Are you confident your new boss will be motivated to assist you in ensuring your success?

Do you believe your new boss will be a good mentor for you? In what ways?

Your New Company

Overall, are you impressed and do you have confidence in the quality of the leadership team?

Based on the people you have met, your observations of others in the hallways, and whatever research you have been able to gather, is this a company where people enjoy working?

Compared to your current or previous employer, do your senses tell you whether this new company’s culture is worse, about the same, or better than that of your current employer?

Is this company on a sound financial footing?

If the company is changing, is it on the right track, and has the leadership outlined a credible plan?

Does the company have a good reputation?

How This Job Would Make You Feel

Is this a company for which you would be proud to say you work?

Is this a job in which you can make a difference, and feel valued for your contribution?

Is this a job for which your family and friends would be proud of you?

Is this a job in which you can challenge yourself?

Is this a job in which you can succeed?

Is this a job in which you can have fun?

Only you can answer these questions. Be candid. Be honest with yourself. If you can define specific concerns, you owe it to the person who wishes to hire you to be as open and candid as possible. This individual has invested significant time in considering you against other potential hires. Talk through any questions you may have, and make a prompt decision. If you decide to decline, do so graciously. If you accept, embrace your new adventure!

Scott Cadwalader, Diligent Partners LLC

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Why Corporate Culture Matters

Diligent Partners LLC

When deciding whether to join a new company, there is more to consider than the position’s responsibilities, growth potential, or compensation package. Certainly the relationship between you and your future superior is important. Trust, communications and clearly articulated expectations between both parties will play a critical dynamic in your success and satisfaction. By the same token, if you are, in fact, to be the new company head, the quality of the relationship between you and the board of directors will be similarly essential. In both scenarios, the hiring authority is likely to be the most motivated, and best positioned, to see you succeed.

A corporate culture shares no such motivation. Much like a heartless virus that feeds on its host, what matters most to a corporate culture is that it survives. Corporate cultures prefer the status quo. They are resistant to change. They evolve slowly. If you are compatible with the new corporate culture, or simply highly adaptable, you are more likely to be welcomed. If you are incompatible in any way, you will be rejected. No matter how supportive the hiring authority may be, a hostile corporate culture can overwhelm his or her best intentions. Only once you fully understand the nature and rules of your new corporate culture, can you hope to comply with, or to change, the culture.

Perhaps you have been recruited to be a change agent because the existing corporate culture stands in the way of any number of potential improvements. If you are a C-level executive, realize that studies have shown that you will need to churn 60% of the management team if you hope to achieve significant cultural change. Even then, depending on numerous factors, change may not become apparent for years, if ever. Change only happens with considerable effort, persistence, and clearly communicated objectives in mind. If you are being brought in as one of many members of a new regime, you need to gain a sense of whether management churn will approach the 60% mark, and if not, just where it will fall short so you understand your own liability. Playing a role as a change agent can be incredibly rewarding, so long as sufficient support exists where it counts to help you achieve and maintain the momentum you need.

So how can you determine your compatibility with a corporate culture before you leave your current employer?

On a superficial level, many see corporate culture as a reflection of the dress code; an open, closed or even virtual office environment; the number of hours people are expected to work; or the degree of formality with which people behave toward one another or the outside world. What’s far more difficult to discern is the manner in which one is expected to accomplish things. This aspect of corporate culture increases in importance with each level in the corporate hierarchy. It’s not simply what actions executives take that draw scrutiny; it’s how they apply them. This is the single most overlooked aspect of corporate culture, and it is the most perilous.

Researching a company’s culture

There is much you can learn about a corporate culture before your first interview. In fact, early research can be an asset to your interview, and your interview can, in turn, serve to qualify the validity of your discovery. The Internet can provide incredible insight, as can articles in the trade press, business journals, and executive autobiographies. Even newspaper articles can offer evidence of what to expect: a history of repeated layoffs, divestures, consolidations, mergers and acquisitions can speak volumes about how a company treats its people, in good times and bad. The more sources you explore, the clearer your picture of life within that company will become.

Many companies will extol their virtues in mission statements or value statements about their people, work/life balance, or their responsibilities to the community at large. While these may be genuine, they may just as easily represent the image a company wants to project, or an end state it wishes to achieve. What is stated, and what is reality, are often far different.

Ask around. Tap your personal network of friends, associates, and professional recruiters to learn what they have heard lately. In addition, ask the people in your network if you can speak confidentially to people they may know who work within the company. No one source or data point, however credible, should be accepted at face value. Consider the entirety of your research before drawing any conclusions. People’s impressions or their memories often become dated, if not tainted. For instance, what if you are introduced to one or more former employees who have an ax to grind as a result of a layoff or purge of poorly performing employees? Will they give you unbiased testimony? If the company had simply been trying to heal itself – or its culture – they may never have understood the full truth of why their careers were cut short. When confronted with negative or bitter testimony, you may be wise to focus on how the company treated them during their dismissal, not their perceived injustice.

To get to the truth of a corporate culture, ask qualitative, open-ended questions that, taken collectively, will paint a richer, more layered picture of what matters most: the rules of how things get done.

How are decisions made? Some cultures demand consensus building, which slows change or action. Others promote individual initiative and decisiveness, which accelerates change. The former tends to share responsibility among many while blurring accountability. The latter leaves little doubt as to who will reap the rewards or suffer the blame for decisions that have been made. In both cases, it is equally important to understand the level and type of analysis that is expected of executives faced with critical decisions. Is this a culture that believes only in quantifiable metrics, or can a strong executive rely upon his or her past experience to ‘make the hard call’? Is this a company that relies excessively on management consultants to bless every initiative, or is the use of outside consultants considered a professional weakness?

How does the culture view risk and reward? Gartner classifies companies as Type A (Aggressive Innovators), Type B (Pragmatic Adopters of Proven Solutions) and Type C (Risk Adverse Followers). Such companies foster cultures that reflect their business philosophies and styles. How is this company depicted by Wall Street analysts? At the head of the pack, or somewhere else? If you are fortunate enough to discuss risk/reward with company insiders, ask for their insights into the most influential executives in the company. Do they avoid risk, or do they accept it at pragmatic levels? How does one determine an acceptable level of risk? What role do politics play in the approval process?

How important are social relationships between executives in this culture? In many large companies, the relationships execs develop outside the office build the strongest bonds of trust and support. Other companies feel that social interaction is a distraction from the work at hand.

How does this company prefer its executives to manage their people? There are a number of follow-on questions to this. Is there is preferred management style, and how consistently and effectively is it applied? Is this a top-down, autocratic organization, or one that promotes enablement? Do management styles vary in different departments, regions or levels of the organization, and why? How might those differences affect the corporate culture?

Once you are in an interview setting, these same questions can provide a framework for thoughtful, meaningful dialog that is not only important to your decision, but will impress the interviewers with your insight.

Scott Cadwalader, Diligent Partners LLC