June 9, 2009

Uncertainity in the Driver's Seat

One of the messages that I've been preaching to the hiring teams I am supporting is that uncertainty is the only predictable element of today's candidate market.

The recent trend of our slowing unemployment rate, our slowing foreclosure rate and our slowing home-price decline is a perfect example. This is all being trumpeted as good news. I suppose in a wacky, reverse-world kind of way it is.

This uncertainty is evident in the staffing and recruiting world, too. Hiring managers are eager for a late-90's like surge in candidate interest and willingness to consider new opportunities. Many hiring managers perceive that if they have an opening on their team, candidates should be abundant.

Not really. While I am seeing spurts of candidate hyper-activity; it is relegated to sectors hardest hit by actual lay-offs and closure. Think automotive and banking/investing/finance.

Holistically, however, what I am seeing is actually a frozen candidate market. Hiring managers are concerned that requisitions to replace terminated employees will not be approved; so mediocre-performing employees are kept in position instead of terminated. Employees who are drained by low-job satisfaction are staying in position, regardless of their self-satisfaction. In short, openings aren't being created, employees aren't going out to the open market. Compound this with recent announcement that more people than expected are retiring after layoffs; we are will soon be looking at a candidate shortage.

An interesting comment heard from my local KTSA radio-host Jack Ricardi, seems to sum up the feelings of many today. Jack commented that it made sense that unemployment has slowed down; there are too few people in most organizations left to cut.

April 9, 2009

Job Seeker Tools - pass it on

I was honored to host a Job Seeker seminar last week at Schertz United Methodist Church, here in Texas. There were lots of great questions from the participants - most importantly, there was hope.

I've started to intermittently listen, watch and read the news to deflect most of the pessimism and gloom in the media. So instead of caving into the hype and memorizing messaging, I'm going to do something.

First, I'm actively recruiting for folks in many disciplines, and geographies. If you haven't already, feel free to send me your resume.

Second, I'm keeping an eye out for all things new and useful to help all my friends who are in search of a new or better career opportunity. I'll pass them along as they come up - but here are some of my favorites so far:

  • JobAngels- a grass-roots effort to help those looking. Not a typical job board, rather, a community encouraging Job Karma. Know of a job? Pass it on. Need a job? Put yourself out there.
  • Social Networking - ahem, read my earlier blog. Put yourself 'out there'. Some very recent data shows that Twitter, MySpace, FaceBook, and LinkedIn are here to stay and people like it! Try it - you don't have to blatantly ask for a job - but it's a great way to connect and tire-kick. PS - JobAngels is on FB and Twitter, too.
  • Create your VisualResume - like your LinkedIn profile on steroids, but transportable (pdf downloadable) and dimensional. Oh, and it's free, too.
  • Streamline your search process - use aggregator tools like Indeed, or really jump into web2.0 and follow this hashmark jobsearch query on Twitter.
  • Go old-school. Actually ask two new people a day to think of you when they hear about job opportunities. Who knows what they might hear...
Finally, keep the faith in yourself and the what your future holds for you. Or, in the words of the very sage Dave Ramsey, "refuse to participate in the recession."

Go get 'em!

February 23, 2009

Fast Forward on 2009

Lexus just introduced it's newly-updated SUV, the RX for 2010.

While I am not what you would call a car hound, I certainly have an appreciation for fun and sexy cars (my personal all-time favorites would definitely be the '85 BMW 635csi and a vintage '55 VW Kharman Ghia coupe), Lexus' have never captured my attention.

So while the Lexus RX has always seemed a little staid to me, what really made me stop was, the marketing approach for the RX: 2009 is a write-off, let's skip it and look ahead to 2010. Wow, it's going to be a long year.

This approach makes me wonder - is 2009 going to be like a TiVo show that you end up fast-forwarding to the end (or maybe wish we could)?

I was speaking to a friend who just returned from a leadership conference his employer held this month. The friend's employer is tightening its belt and settling in for a bumpy ride. But even more frightening was an off-hand comment from an official of the organization that employee's are 'frankly just lucky to have a job.'

Having spent the better part of the last month interviewing candidates (about 75% of them unemployed from the auto or allied industries), the pragmatist in me agrees.

The HR strategist in me is worried - employers that embrace this 'be thankful or else' attitude are going to have a rude awakening at the end of our recession/depression/whatever-you-call-it.

Employees 'left standing' at the end of 2009 will likely have been surrounded by layoffs in their organization. According to a recent (Dec 2008) scientific study (4000+ employees from 3100+ companies) conducted by Leadership IQ, these 'survivors' are 87% less likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work and believe (61%) that the companies prospects are worse.

So, fast forward to 2010 (or for the real pessimists in the crowd, 2011). If the survivors remaining in organizations mirror the finding above - will they stay when new opportunities come up? Or, will they 'be thankful' to leave?

My bet is that employees told they should be thankful, will be thankful - to leave.

And, after all is settled from this economic tsunami, we are still left facing an inevitable reality: the bulk of our workforce is aging and still anticipating retirement (perhaps pushed off a few years), we haven't produced the scientists, engineers, nurses, doctors, technicians, etc that our economy and organizations need to be optimized.

January 27, 2009

Creativity = Compensation?

While lurking around FaceBook, a pay-per-click ad popped up on my screen for a Quality Engineer for hire. Since I am perpetually (it seems) on the look out for strong Quality Engineering candidates, I was drawn like a moth to a candle to at least look and see if there was a potential talent match. So, I ended up downloading the resume of Kaz Haque, an independent quality consultant (If you are on the hunt for a quality expert, check out his home page at http://GQAT.com)

While Kazs' approach isn't entirely novel (we've heard crazier self-promotion tales), it does show just how active and engaged a good career search will need to be in current times. It boils down to the most basic of selling techniques "A-B-C" (Always Be C(s)elling).

Just the other day, a morning show on TV showcased a young, laid-off, widowed-mom talking about her floundering career search. What was she doing? Occasionally, sending out her resume. After six months (she was intelligent, educated and presented well), she was still unemployed. Surprised?

Interestingly, a career coach recommended hand delivering her resume to 'get in the door.' Frankly, I question the efficacy of the hand-delivered resume technique. After all, I (like lots of other recruiters) run searches for positions all across the country for hiring managers far flung across the map. In today's world of technology, I would reccommend other techniques of getting seen and heard.

So, for all you job hunters out there, here are some low-cost, high-return ideas to amp-up your career search:
  • Attend networking meetings. Might seem obvious - but broaden your horizons. If you are an accounting guru, don't just go to the mixer for your local CPA chapter - especially if all of you are there to finds leads on a new career opportunity. This is an over-saturated market. Instead, look up the next mixer for the local APICS or SHRM chapter, and get to know decision-makers and influencers outside of your expertise. Or, attend a local Chamber of Commerce speed networking breakfast. Remember, break-out.
  • Video Resume. Not for the faint of heart - and, no, not on VHS. Think YouTube or iviioo.com. Keep it brief, think elevator speech. Avoid anything that would remotely resemble an American Idol audition tape. Ikes. Good taste and common sense will prevail.
  • Beef up your resume. If you copied and pasted your last job description onto your resume (you know who you are), your laziness will be reflected in the lack of zeal employers show in your paper. Your resume is about YOU and what you DID. Not what you should have, or were expected to do. Include action words, show results (or metrics). If you worked for a series of small, unknown or obscure organizations, include a hyperlink to the company webpage or Hoovers summary. This will help recruiters/screeners who are looking at your resume draw relevancy between you, the search and the other qualified applicants.
  • Create a Blog with a mini-bio and online resume to start crafting your Personal Brand. Blogger and WordPress are two very friendly, free tools that you could use to get up and running within hours. Be sure to include 'key words' on your online resume (so spiders can find you).
  • Create (and freely distribute) your personal calling card. Include your email, cell and blog URL.
  • Register yourself with online directories and networking sites. Make sure you are available to be found in membership directories for any associations to which you belong. Create and own your profile in databases like, ZoomInfo and Jigsaw. Make sure you are up-to-date in FaceBook, LinkedIn, Namyz...
Market, market, market yourself. You have one goal, making your career search the most succesful marketing and promotion campaign you have ever seen. This takes work and effort; all of which will be rewarded.

If you ultimately insist on (or someone else compels you) pounding the pavement to deliver resumes and get interviews - think strategically. Target smaller companies who are more likely to recruit locally and who have hiring managers in town. A satellite office for a major employer is rarely going to house a recruiter; and it is not uncommon for hiring managers to work remotely or be on the road.

Finally, keep in mind, the outcome of a National Association of Sales Executive survey:
  • 48% of sales people never follow up with a prospect
  • 25% of sales people make a second contact and stop
  • 12% of sales people only make three contacts and stop
  • Only 10% of sales people make more than three contacts
  • 2% of sales are made on the first contact
  • 3% of sales are made on the second contact
  • 5% of sales are made on the third contact
  • 10% of sales are made on the fourth contact
  • 80% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact
Translate and apply these statistics to your career search in any economy, and you will prosper.

Drop me a line if you implement one of these techniques and let me hear about your successes.

January 22, 2009

Are you feeling it?

It seems impossible to go through a day without hearing something about the economy, job loss, banking turmoil, you name it.

But how is the economy actually impacting your career? What have you experienced? Job cuts, salary cuts, 401k-match cuts, overtime eliminated?

Tell us your story - drop a line (linktosteph@gmail.com) with comments on how the economy is impacting your career to, or answer our LinkedIn poll

September 5, 2008

How do they do it?

Is your organization challenged by employee turnover? Perhaps struggling to get find qualified, interested, motivated applicants? Just looking for ideas on how to shore up your employee retention platform? In the 2008 Forbe's Top 100 Companies to Work For report, you'll find plenty of clues on what other companies are doing right. A space on this annual report is coveted by the select companies that make the list, recruiters looking to identify 'the best' talent sources on the market, and candidates wanting to make career moves to find greener pasture.

Savvy executive leaders know the well-documented links between employee engagement, operational performance and shareholder value/profitability.

But, take a look at the list... and maybe you'll see something that I contiually do. Absent from the list (as they have been for MANY years) are the 'big boys' of Wall Street - no IBM, no GE, no 3M.

Instead, we see.... retailers, lots of them. Surprising still, no Saks, Target or other 'world-class' operations. When I look at the list of retailers I see companies like Wegmans who has long provided one of the best GROCERY shopping experiences you could have - like my fond childhood memory of being a part of the Cookie Monster Club. (As an adult, one my required stops when I go home to visit my family includes a stop of Wegmans simply to bask in the presence.) What do they do to inspire loyalty of customers and employees alike?

Let's face it, retail is NOT glamorous. In my high school and college years, I performed my stint of retailing. Had I been part of team for a company like a Wegman's or Starbucks, I probably would have had a much better perception of the retail opportunity as a career. Instead, I got out of retailing as quickly as I could for my own greener pasture.

What do these retailers do that other companies can replicate? They don't pay huge salaries (Wegmans ranks #82 in pay), they don't offer massage treatments, they don't offer fancy cars or free cell phones. Simply put, they have followed the fundamental rule so easy to forget in business and at home - KISS! Or rather, I mean Keep It Simple, Stupid!
  • Offer flexible schedules's. My hometown favorite, Wegmans, is a bastion of opportunity for students, mom's, and people seeking second jobs - in addition to providing high-longevity career paths for employees looking for career options.

  • Offer health and welfare benefits. I know, benefits are expensive. But, companies that get the COST of absenteeism, and poor employee health understand the return on this investment. And, Maslov's theory requires our basic needs to be fulfilled before allowing us to reach higher levels of 'actualization' - if you don't have good employee health, you won't have good employee performance. Some industry leaders (like the List's 12th place mention, Nugget, another supermarket) offer 100% paid benefits.

  • Respect, respect, respect, respect. Rember the addage, people quit managers not companies? Look at the home builder David Weekly (#17). They don't offer many perks of employment compared to most on the list. But, according to the writers at Forbes "when the homebuilding industry slowed, the privately held firm canceled its annual reward trip and tripled severance pay for laid-off employees." Huh.

  • Career Pathing. How do you start out as a high-school student bagging groceries, and end up managing a department or a retail store? Wegmans has this figured out; with great success.

  • Support Continued Education and Personal Growth. Let's talk Paid Sabbaticals (#31 Alston & Bird). Or, how about robust tuition reimbursement programs (#42 Mitre)?

So, does any of this sound unreasonable? Many organizations balk at flexible scheduling, citing fears that scheduling needs won't be met, mass chaos will ensue, and that western civilization will fall. Ok, it is more work to schedule a dynamic staffing plan (and there is very little more challenging than staffing a 24/7 retail operation). But how productive is a staff that is distracted by being at work when outside obligations are calling them? Not very.

The take away from all of this is simple, each of these companies has found a message that was important to their business (retailers looking to reduce churn, consultancy looking to retain thought leaders) and created programs (great medical benefits, incredible work-life balance options) to stand shore up business need AND human need.

These companies identified issues that mattered to the bottom-line, connected it the issues of their employees all to find a win-win solution. Look into your own organization, find one employee issue and I'll bet you can find a solution that yields bottom-line success.

July 28, 2008

Where are all the candidates?

Recruiters are buzzing about a growing trend of candidates becoming increasingly hesitant to explore new opportunities unless they are being forced to do so. A number of factors are contributing to this change in the candidate’s job market, none of which will be surprising, including:

  1. rising fuel, food and living costs – we are consistently hearing candidates discuss this as an issue at all levels (yes, even in senior-level exempt searches). Candidates are voicing their flexibility of sacrificing title, salary and prestige in order to reduce, eliminate or avoid increasing their commutes. Likewise, we are seeing candidates reject opportunities that would require increasing commutes.
  2. retracting housing market – with the stalling to collapse of the housing market, we are seeing candidates less willing to consider opportunities which require relocation. This is further decreasing our available pool of candidates (again at all levels – but most especially at professional to senior management levels – the bigger the mortgage the bigger the bust)
  3. general market and political uncertainty – regardless of a personal opinion on the state of the financial market or politics, the general consensus heard across the spectrum from candidates is that we are in an environment of uncomfortable change, uncertainty. This perception ranges from a general sense of indecisiveness of what the future holds to an entirely negative perception of the near future. This uncertainty is being fed by increasing layoffs, continued financial market turmoil, and the looming presidential election.
  4. on-going candidate population trends – the start of the baby-boom retirement wave, shrinking availability of well-prepared college students and ‘mommy drain’ continue to stress the available candidate pool.

The combination of these factors is leading to a fairly typical ‘grounding’ effect on the candidate pool. As these trends move through their life cycles, candidates will have a greater tendency to ‘go to ground’ by choosing to maintain their status-quo (even it is mildly to intensely uncomfortable) rather than exploring then unknowns of a new career opportunity. In other words, from the perspective of a candidate, a major life change of a new career move in the midst of escalating living costs, depressed housing market and peak layoffs is not an ideal market to make a career move. Think a depression mentality – a bird in hand is better than two in the bush.

We are going to see reduced volume of applicants and an increased rate of withdrawals of candidates from the application/consideration process.

What can you do to encourage, engage and retain candidates?

  1. Sell the opportunity – the real opportunity, its challenge and growth.
  2. While selling, be genuine.
  3. Provide candidates the opportunity to connect with the best fit voice of the hiring team. This might be the person they resonate with best; it might be the CEO; it might not be the hiring manager.
  4. Engage with the candidate after the offer has been made, during the decision-making process and routinely before the start date.
  5. Focus on retention: Have a smooth first day of work planned, with business cards ordered, computer booted and a warm reception to joining the team. Spend a few dollars for a decent lunch either one-on-one or with the team.
  6. Focus on retention: provide a new-employee with an advocate/mentor to help them transition onto your team.
  7. Don’t assume that you have a better opportunity – from the perspective of an employed candidate a new job is RISK with unknown reward. Even if offered a better salary than they currently make, we are asking candidates to give up seniority (even informal/perceived seniority), benefits, 401k vestings, profit sharing, etc.