…”your candidate is just too old”…

I don’t really hear the above words spoken this way. I hear it just about every day, but nobody says it just that way. They say things like, “Well we want people who are ‘moving up’ in their career,”…”We really only want 5 to 7 years of management experience, if that,”… “Our average age around here is in the 30s and we want someone who can identify with that group”… ” Senior management is in their early 40s so we don’t want someone older than that”… No matter how they say it, it’s all the same thing, “we just don’t want to hire somebody that’s older.”

Of course, when our client says things this blatantly, our standard comeback is, “Well, we will refer every candidate who is qualified regardless of just about anything. As long as they are capable of doing the job we will refer them.” And, of course, our clients will say, “yeah, okay” and go back to either including or eliminating candidates for any reason they want. We recommend them no matter what.

One of my candidates wrote when she read between the lines and interpreted her being turned down for an interview as her being “too old.” This is about as well written and articulate as I’ve ever seen anyone (boomer) express themselves about the condition of the marketplace. It is not only sincere but communicates exactly the way people over 50 feel. It’s so well done, I have to share it: (Her particular profession is in high-tech sales. But before you dismiss that as, “it’s different in my profession” read the whole article.)

“I have spent the past 25 years becoming an expert at my craft, winning performance awards, demonstrating consistent growth, and helping others replicate my success, that I am no longer marketable because I am over 50 years old and have too much experience.

Nobody sees value in a consistent, 25 year track record or the 80+ recommendations on LinkedIn from my clients, partners, peers, direct reports, and management. This new revelation surprises me because I actually feel that I am just now hitting my stride. I have worked too hard to get here to accept that my experience is no longer valued. I fully expect, and look forward to, another 20 years of success.

Earlier in my career, I resisted leadership roles because frankly, I have always produced, so I actually am at a stage of my life that I get more fulfillment from helping others grow than from my personal growth. So I have gone down the leadership path. Now I find out that I am over qualified for an individual contributor role and I am really too old to lead.

I also learned that the number of jobs I have is unattractive to potential employers. It’s been my experience that having a diverse background of Fortune 500 companies gives me an upper hand in a competitive sales scenario. I have been well trained at each company and I also know the reality of each company’s weaknesses. I know why we won and I know why we lost. My clients have been located all over the United States. Wouldn’t that knowledge and experience bring tremendous value to an organization that competes with them? I was also told that I have too many short stints at risky start-ups on my resume. Why is it automatically assumed that a career change is due to the employee’s shortcomings?”

There are facts around strategic career moves, ethical conflicts, product viability, misrepresentation of comp plans, and management shortfalls that I would not want to discuss during a job interview because I try to focus on my success at each role vs. why I am still not there. Regardless of what I experienced, I have left each company stronger, wiser, and better equipped to be successful at the next job. I love that my background is diverse. I find it confusing that what I consider to be “experience,” is considered “unhirable” by today’s Corporate America.

I also learned that having many jobs makes some potential employers worry that I may be unstable. Well, I am glad that my instability hasn’t impacted my 28 year marriage. I am glad that this instability didn’t damage the successful, ethical, moral, honors graduate that we raised. I am grateful that the instability didn’t impact me financing 100% of my own college education or the multiple jobs I held while completing my education. And finally, I am grateful that my instability didn’t impact the three jobs that lasted over five years, each or all the awards I have earned throughout the years or the billions of dollars in sales that I closed while living in DFW my entire life.”

It’s really important for all of us to have a perspective of age and how it is perceived by hiring authorities, especially if the perception is, “too old.” The real issues around being “too old” in getting hired is not the issue of age so much as it is a group of issues that are reflected in being older. It’s not being “older” that is the issue as much as it is a whole bunch of things that happen to come along with “being older.” Let me explain with the story of my own personal practice.

My personal practice in the recruitment profession centers around high-tech and IT sales and sales management. My personal practice covers everything from products, hardware, software, etc., to services, staffing, consulting, etc. Our firm employs more than 20 recruiters focusing on candidates and opportunities closely in the DFW area but also some in Austin and Houston. Even though my personal practice is in IT sales, our firm works practices in banking, finance and accounting, IT, administrative, and technical placement. The firm has been around since 1952, focusing on the local area.

I started in the business in 1973. In the late 80s I began to place salespeople in the emerging high-tech/data processing field. It began with organizations like ADP hiring copier and office products salespeople, because there were no “experienced” payroll services salespeople available. In other words, people like ADP could not find experienced people for what they did, so they had to hire the “best athletes” they could and train them in payroll services sales. As technology advanced, organizations like Computer Associates, Oracle, PeopleSoft (and hundreds of other software firms whose names are ancient history) couldn’t find experienced software salespeople, so they hired tons of “best athletes” they could find…like payroll processing salespeople (from ADP and the like). My wife, Chris and I put our first of five children through Columbia University on the fees I earned from placing people with just Computer Associates. The late 80s and most all of the 90s were hot markets for technology salespeople, fortunately for us, in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. There were literally thousands of IT salespeople in the area and they were moving around as fast as the hundreds of companies getting into the software/services business could hire them. They were all in their late 20s to early 40s.The industry was young and aggressive and they were hiring those types of people. To give you a perspective, in the year 2000, I personally billed more than $4.3 million in fees. I was placing 15 to 20 of these people a month, for a whole year. (It was not my recruiting ability; I happened to catch a great market at the right time!)

A lot of the folks that I was placing became rock stars. (The Candidate quoted above was one of them!) It wasn’t uncommon to see lots of these people earning more than $1 million a year. High-tech was hot and lots of people could see no end to it. In the mid-2000’s though, technology started to catch up with itself. Companies were either evolving or emerging to create environments with even more efficiency and less technology. Some technology firms, like Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and a few others grew exponentially. But for every one of those, literally hundreds of these firms declined, got absorbed or simply went away. As technology advanced, business didn’t need as much technology. Hardware became more efficient, cheaper and eventually a commodity. Software went to the cloud and competition drove the pricing drastically downward.

As technology evolved, the users of it became more savvy and understanding about what the technology did. The technology firms that had to hire salespeople to help businesses change the way they did business in the late 80s and 90s could hire a different breed of salesperson once their customers got used to the technology. Take an example of payroll services. Payroll service companies had to hire really smart, convincing, aggressive salespeople in the late 80s and early 90s because these salespeople were getting businesses to outsource and trust the sales person’s employer with one of their most important endeavors… payroll. The last thing a business wants is to make a mistake with its payroll. It took some phenomenally convincing salespeople to get businesses to change the way they were doing things and to turn that function over to someone else. It was not uncommon to see some of these salespeople making $250,000-$350,000 a year selling payroll services. These salespeople conditioned and educated their customers to trust an outside service with one of the most important functions of the company. These sales folks were literally changing the manner in which companies did business.

Now, feature the fact that eventually hordes of businesses in the United States used payroll services. Most every business totally understands the service and isn’t afraid of it. Payroll services do not have to hire “attainer” type salespeople anymore because the customer understands, sometimes better than the salesperson, what the service is. The payroll service can hire a “maintainer” to go out and call on potential customers to get them to simply “change” payroll services. Not only are these payroll services offering other employee oriented products like insurance, but the only differentiator with many of them is simply “price”. The service has now become a commodity. The customer knows as much about the product and the service as the provider does. In fact, all of the providers are providing a wonderful education for the customer to the point where the customer is tremendously enlightened. In fact, most anyone who can maneuver the Internet can go online and buy payroll processing services for their company. Not only do they not need a salesperson, but they can get all of their customer support over the phone or live chat. Technology has changed the whole thing!

Now, extrapolate what happened in the payroll services business to all kinds of other hardware and software technology innovations. As technology advances, the products and services become cheaper and the providers need to hire fewer people and can spend less money doing it (telecom business). One of my associates, Jim Brown has been with us for almost 30 years. As I was placing sales and marketing folks in technology, he was placing systems engineers and customer support folks. Back then, just about every sales and marketing organization had a boatload of SE’s supporting salespeople. These were people who did the technical demonstrations to the customer of what the hardware and software could do. It was definitely technical stuff and required not only superior technical skills but also great people skills. Most people don’t have any idea how the ability to do customer demonstrations has changed with the speed and the quality of the Internet. The technology to write software has advanced so rapidly, companies don’t need as many developers as they used to.

When you think about it, the advance of technology has decreased the need for the number of people it took to deliver the technology into the marketplace. With the contraction of the number of technology firms…sure, there are the salesforces and the workdays of the world but nowhere near the numbers of them as back in the evolutionary periods of Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, etc….. there is a glut of technology sales/managers/technical support/developers available who cut their teeth and their career helping to build these organizations. When they need to change jobs or find a new job, they find that they are competing with hordes of other candidates with the same pedigree and background. In other words, the supply has far out distanced the demand. Ironically, technology has advanced so far that it has created a glut of technology people available for fewer jobs.

The result – For every sales position that I work with, my client can choose, just in sheer numbers from 25 or 30 people. For every management position there are 45 to 50 candidates available. Now, maybe not all of these people are “equal” but their experience and abilities are not that far off from each other. There are fewer positions and lots and lots and lots of choices of candidates. Years ago, they used us to find the “best athlete” they could and taught them what they needed to know. Now they use us to identify two or three excellent candidates out of the pool of 40 or 50 possibilities. The effort of the work is the same but the facet of it is different.

We all have a tendency to think that our success is because we’re so damn good. We neglect to accept the fact that we might’ve been at the right place at the right time. There’s been years since 2000 that I have done one half of that $4.3 million, but I haven’t come close to it since. 1999 and 2000 were anomalies. They were the point in time where technology was taking off and I happen to be in the recruiting business and happen to be doing it in Dallas, Texas which was a hub of technology. Did I work hard? Absolutely! Was I lucky? Absolutely! I rode the wave. It was a blast. But it wasn’t me. Well some of it might’ve been a little me, but it was mostly the market. It was a time when we got people hired and they didn’t even have to have a resume. They would have one interview and get hired on the spot.

So here is what happens now. One of these clients comes along and needs to hire, let’s say, a salesperson in the software sales arena, let’s say the average salary is $110,000 base salary with the total on target earnings of $240,000. I easily have at least 15 (if not more) qualified candidates for them. Short of one green eye and one blue eye on the same person, I have five or six that are exactly what they might be looking for.

Now, in the eyes of my client, looking at the candidate who I quoted above, why would they consider someone with 25 years of experience when they only need, according to them, 10 years of experience? Recommendations are great, but their fear is if they “overhire” and get someone with 25 years of experience when they only need 10 years of experience, that person will leave if they get the chance for a better job that might be more commensurate with their 25 years of experience. Even though the candidate is willing to accept a sales job, even though she has been in management, the client is concerned that if they hire someone like her as a salesperson, she will continue looking for a management job. (This is a fallacy. People very rarely take a job and then keep looking for another one, especially on a professional level.), but in 44 years I’ve never been able to convince anybody that just because a person’s been in management before they will leave a non-management job if a management opportunity comes along.

Although the candidate may feel that she is “just now hitting my stride,” the client feels that she is taking one or two steps backward and is afraid, again, that if a perceived better opportunity comes along, she would leave. She is perceived to be “overqualified” for a contributor role. And, when a management role came along, which it did the other day, the client had so many people to choose from who had experience in exactly what they did, she was eliminated. She wasn’t eliminated because of her age, she was eliminated because of her experience, or lack of it.

The number of jobs this candidate has had is probably one of the most difficult challenges I, or any other recruiter deals with. When a hiring authority sees a number of short stints on a resume, this scenario runs through their head: they will hire this person, they will stay a short period of time and the hiring authority’s boss will turn to them and say, “You damn fool, couldn’t you see that they were only going to stay a short period of time?…” All of the reasons that the candidate went to or left the jobs they’ve had doesn’t matter. The hiring authority has so many people available to them, running the risk of a person with too many jobs isn’t something most of them are willing to do. “Ethical conflicts…product viability…misrepresentation…management shortfalls…” might all be true, but our hiring authority is afraid of making a mistake and may not even listen to these realities.

The issues that most over 50-year-old candidates face are not issues of age. They are issues that come along with age. If these firms interviewed a 30-year-old who was experientially overqualified or had made too much money or had too many jobs, they probably wouldn’t hire them either. But, alas, it’s hard to see or appreciate this when you are looking for a job and keep getting turned down. The candidate I quoted above is a good person with a great track record. Any company that would hire her would get a great employee. I’ve placed her twice in her 25 year career and she’s great. If I could place her again, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But I don’t write the rules. I live by the policies and parameters that our clients dictate to us.

The most difficult fact that most job seekers, but especially the ones over 50-years-old, have to come to grips with is the phenomenal number of candidates a hiring authority has to choose from. People say to me all the time, “But unemployment is at 4.3%; there can’t be that many good candidates!” Well, in most professions, there are. And even if there aren’t, most hiring authorities would rather run a risk with a lesser experienced person then an overly experienced person. Most job seekers see a job opportunity through their own eyes and have no idea how they stack up with the other candidates that might be available to the employer. They know they have the ability to do the job. And they probably do have that ability. But the ability to get the job is another matter.

Being too old isn’t the issue. It’s all of the things that come with it!

So, it’s easy to say, “Well this candidate is in high tech sales and it’s different in my profession. I still have the same problem… but it’s harder with me!” We are such interesting beings. We always think the other guy has an easier go at things than we do. Having been in the placement profession since 1973 here are some of the professions and businesses I’ve experienced changing. If you were in one of these businesses or professions, the story of my candidate above applies to you also:

Electronics… diodes, resistors and PC boards .. Manufacturing to sales (years ago!)
Aerospace manufacturing
Steel manufacturing
Key punch operations and management
Telecommunications…manufacturing, sales, installation
Drafting and Design
Garment manufacturing
Furniture manufacturing
PBX operations
Electronic equipment installation and maintenance
File clerks
Loan clerks
Clerical staff

I could go on and on, but I think you get my point. My gut is that 60% of America’s workforce could eventually live the same scenario.

Growing older has its challenges.

But wait…there’s more…Just this last week I placed a friend of mine who I’ve known for more than 22 years. He has been a candidate of mine. He has been an employer of mine. He has hired a number of people from me over the years. He has even owned his own business for a number of years… been the president. He sold that company a number of years ago and most recently has been a senior salesperson with a medium-size software company.

His company was sold and the organization that bought it wanted the technology and not the personnel, so they laid him off. I referred him to one of our clients. Fortunately, and this is the caveat, he had been selling into the same market that our client was. He went to work for $120,000 base salary…he asked $150,000 base salary like he had been making before he got laid off but our client wouldn’t do it. The company is small and there is some risk to it. But he looks at the opportunity with “no expectations.” He figures, that if it grows there’s a chance he could move into management. He is 66 years old and has grandkids just like me.

(Admittedly, we all got lucky here. It never hurts to have a little luck.)

…the job seeker’s emails

There are few things that are more used and abused than emails in the job search. 98% of the emails job seekers send are poor and the other 2% are downright awful. I’m not sure where people get the idea of what they think an effective email should look like, but most of the time they are wrong.
Make sure that your e-mails are short and to the point. Keep this in mind when you write an e-mail. There are 205 billion e-mails sent and received every day. Business people average 126 e-mails sent and received daily, according to the The Radicati Group, Inc., a worldwide technology research firm based in Palo Alto, California. Hiring authorities and Human Resources departments receive two times the average. Picture someone who’s looking at 189 e-mails every day. You tell me if you think your four paragraph e-mail accompanied by your resume is going to be read. It’s not!
Your e-mail, preferably introducing yourself and your resume, should be short. I recommend no longer than two or three paragraphs with no longer than two or three sentences. Remember that the e-mail, like your resume, is going to be scanned, not read.
The purpose of your e-mail is to get someone to interview you! (At the least, read your resume.)
An effective “subject” line might be “Excellent salesperson,” “Outstanding accountant,” “Efficient administrator,” and so on, followed by maybe one or two sentences, highlighted with:
• Reached 120% of quota three years in a row.
• Lowered department expenses 15% three years in a row.
• Increased efficiency 20%.
• Lowered turnover 15%.
Put these in the body of the e-mail. Remember that “Stories sell . . . numbers tell.” Then, write a short, succinct e-mail selling yourself with numbers that say “I’m a good employee, and you should interview me.”
A three or four there are a few things that are more used and abused than emails in the job sear. 98% of the emails job seekers said are poor and the other 2% are downright awful. I’m not sure where people get the idea of what they think an effective email should look like, but most of the time they are wrong.

Make sure that your e-mails are short and to the point. Keep this in mind when you write an e-mail. There are 205 billion e-mails sent and received every day in the world. Business people average 126 e-mails sent and received daily, according to the The Radicati Group, Inc., a worldwide technology research firm based in Palo Alto, California. Hiring authorities and Human Resources departments receive two times the average. Picture someone who’s looking at 189 e-mails every day. You tell me if you think your four-paragraph e-mail accompanied by your resume is going to be read. It’s not!

Your e-mail, preferably introducing yourself and your resume, should be short. I recommend no longer than two or three paragraphs with no longer than two or three sentences. Remember that the e-mail, like your resume, is going to be scanned, not read.

The purpose of your e-mail is to get someone to interview you! (At the least, read your resume.)
An effective “subject” line might be “Excellent salesperson,” “Outstanding accountant,” “Efficient administrator,” and so on, followed by maybe one or two sentences, highlighted with:

• Reached 120% of quota three years in a row.
• Lowered department expenses 15% three years in a row.
• Increased efficiency 20%.
• Lowered turnover 15%.

Put these in the body of the e-mail. Remember that “Stories sell . . . numbers tell.” Then, write a short, succinct e-mail selling yourself with numbers that say “I’m a good employee, and you should interview me.”

A three- or four-paragraph e-mail is not going to get read! This also applies to LinkedIn InMails.
One last thought about your e-mails: make sure you put your telephone number under your name or your “signature.” That way, it’s easy for people to call you.
paragraph e-mail is not going to get read! This also applies to LinkedIn InMails.

….get grit

Jonah Lehrer’s book, ”Imagine”, addresses how creativity works. It is an excellent book and comes to a number of conclusions about the fact that creativity is really not as much a gift as it is a developed trait. Psychologists, in recent years, have studied the relationship between persistence and creative achievement and have cited the fact that most creative people have a phenomenal ability to stick with their work in spite of all the difficulties and challenges they’re faced with. The technical term used for this trait is grit.

It made me realize that one of the reasons we have so many people in America who actually just give up looking for a job when they need one is that they lack grit.

Many of these people who give up looking for a job just plain don’t know what to do. After talking to a few friends and family they resort to hitting the send button with their resume thinking that is the work of “looking for a job.” Grit in looking for a job has to do with developing a job search strategy and executing on that strategy no matter how hard or difficult it may be. It is putting up with the ups and downs of the job search – the rejection, the refusal, the not getting called back, being told you’re the “best candidate” and then never hearing from the folks who told you that. Grit is what it takes to keep on keeping on in spite of setbacks.
Grit is focusing on the process and not worrying about the results even when it’s emotionally difficult. It is making one more call after 15 or 16 rejections in a row. It’s overcoming the downright depressive, rejected feeling when you don’t get hired to give you the moxie encourage to immediately go to another interview.

Get grit by:

• Encourage a growth mindset. Individuals with a growth mindset believe intelligence and talent can be developed through hard work and dedication. By contrast, those with a fixed mindset believe a person’s most basic abilities are fixed traits.

• Persevere (perseverance is the pursuit; grit is the trait)

• Hard work – Really, really hard work! Like pushing yourself to make 10 more cold calls, right after you have been rejected.

• Drive to improve – Get better at what you do daily. Get more interviews. Interview better. Follow up on those interviews better. Drive to improve

• Self-regulate. Don’t let others take your “power” away from you.

• Push yourself. If you don’t end the day feeling mentally and emotionally depleted, you probably haven’t worked very hard.

• Focus on what you can control and mentally and emotionally let go of the things you can’t control

Get grit!

… busy, busy, busy, busy… I’m just so busy

Marilyn came to see me 12 months ago. She had been calling me for six months before that telling me she really needed to change jobs and that the company she was working for was taking advantage of her. She wasn’t making enough money, etc. But every time we made an appointment for her to come see me, she canceled. She was just too busy to get together. She finally broke away one year ago.
Over the last year, I have called Marilyn three times about an opportunity that I had for her. They were darn good ones and much better opportunities than she had. Twice she told me they sounded good and she’d get back to me about interviewing and just didn’t. Now, most recruiters with any experience would just stop trying to get Marilyn an interview. They were taught to just quit wasting their time with someone who simply isn’t that serious about changing jobs and there is a large part of me that would totally agree with that. But then again, I figured that somewhere along the line, Marilyn will simply get fed up with her present job and get serious about finding a better one. I figured that when she did, she would certainly change her ways and make time for interviewing. But just because I’ve been doing this for 44 years really doesn’t mean I know much (I’m reminded of that daily).
Then last month I found an absolutely perfect job for Marilyn. It took two days to get her on the phone, but after hearing about the job, she even agreed. Along with being absolutely perfect for her experience she was going to be able to increase her base salary by $50,000 and earn 1 1/2 times her present income. Even Marilyn seemed motivated. Well…..kinda.
As we arranged for her first interview, I spoke to Marilyn differently than I had before. I explained to her that she really didn’t act like she was looking for a job in that she was never going to find a better opportunity if she was so “busy” all the time. I explained to that her being so busy all the time was simply an excuse she used to keep the job she had so she could keep complaining about it. Some people purposely sabotage themselves in interviewing as well as seeking a job just so they can complain about the lousy job they have saying things like, “Well I’m trying to change jobs, but I’m so busy I haven’t been able to interview for a better one.” She assured me that really wasn’t the case.
We had to postpone the initial interview twice because of Marilyn’s schedule (not surprising). I forewarned my client that this would probably happen and the hiring authority was comfortable with it. After all, Marilyn’s background was pretty darn perfect for them. When Marilyn finally made it to the client after postponing it twice, she absolutely fell in love with the opportunity and the people at the client’s office. They spent three hours together on a Friday afternoon and agreed to talk over the phone on Monday to clarify any questions that Marilyn might have as well as arranging a time for a telephone interview with the CEO in New Jersey.

Marilyn was instructed to call the vice president she’d interviewed with on Monday to clarify any questions she might have about the company, the job, the pay, etc. as well as pinning down the time to speak with the CEO. By 2 PM Monday Marilyn had not called the vice president. The VP called me and asked about what was going on with Marilyn. Knowing that Marilyn hardly ever returned a phone call… because she’s so busy… I emailed her and asked her why she hadn’t called the VP. She wrote back, “busy, busy, busy. Conference calls all day and into the night. I’ll have to do it Wednesday because I’m just too busy.” What happened to all of the love that happened on Friday afternoon? The VP was appalled. So, she picks up the phone and calls the candidate, leaves a message and then emails her. The candidate writes back (and she forwards it to me), “I’m just so busy today and tomorrow that I just really can’t talk. Can we talk Wednesday afternoon? Also with the CEO?”
Well, you can probably see where this was going. Fortunately we convinced the VP to interview two other, somewhat lesser qualified, candidates when she agreed to interview Marilyn. And it’s a good thing. Wednesday at 7:30 AM in the morning Marilyn wrote an email to the VP and myself explaining that she was just too busy Wednesday to complete the calls to both the CEO and the VP, saying that she’d have to do it Thursday. I told the VP that we were wasting our time with Marilyn. Thankfully the VP at least listened enough to bring the other two candidates back to complete the interviewing process and arranged telephone conversations with the CEO for the both of them. In spite of all of this, the VP still wanted Marilyn to speak with the CEO. She flat out said that she really wanted to hire Marilyn.
Marilyn completed the follow up calls with the VP as well as the CEO late that Thursday. That Friday morning, unbelievably, the VP emailed a job offer to… Marilyn! She copied me. In the subsequent phone conversation she explained to me that the CEO was blown away with Marilyn’s background and experience and that she, along with the CEO, felt Marilyn would fit the company perfectly and in spite of the fact that Marilyn was almost too busy to speak with them, she was a perfect fit.
We have a saying around here that all of the people we work with are “spiritual beings acting human.” What we see people do defies common sense, let alone business sense. So what does Marilyn do? She tells them that she will let them know what she wants to do in a week. I try to reach Marilyn and, of course, she is too busy to talk. She emails me that she is just covered up and too busy to talk for the next couple of days. The VP, to reinforce the company’s interest, gives her a call and, alas, Marilyn is just too busy to respond to the email or give the VP a call.
After the second day of “waiting,” the VP and CEO of our client company catch on that Marilyn is just too busy to really be serious about the job. They can’t believe that they offered Marilyn a $55,000 increase in salary and a chance to almost double her present earnings of $105,000. They have the two other candidates back and hire one of them. They do it all in one day.
That Thursday evening of the week that Marilyn told us she would respond to the offer, Marilyn emails the VP and the CEO informing them that she’d like to accept their offer. When the VP writes and tells her that they hired someone else, Marilyn, instead of being gracious (and intelligent) writes them back the most rude, disparaging email explaining to them how stupid they were. Instead of keeping the door open for the future, she nails it shut with an absolutely idiotic diatribe about what they were missing by not hiring her.
Marilyn did call me. She was mad as hell. I tried to explain to her that her busyness got in the way of spectacular business and career opportunity. She mumbled something about just being so busy as she hung up the phone.
Lesson: don’t let your busyness get in the way of a good business decision.

…Ted Is just too busy to find a really good job

For the past two or three months, I’ve been trying to get Ted into the office to interview him correctly. But, with Ted, it’s always that he is just too busy to come. He has made three appointments with me and missed all three of them.

I placed Ted 10 years ago with, what was then, an up-and-coming software firm. It is now one of the country’s largest software firms. Ted’s performance has been really good on average and spectacular for a few years. For the past two years Ted has been calling every three or four months telling me how his commissions have gotten less and less and less for a higher and higher and higher quota. Every time he calls we make an appointment and every time, so far, he’s called to cancel. For two of the appointments, he called an hour or half hour before and said that he was just too busy and he couldn’t make it. The third time, he just plain missed the appointment. It’s no big deal to me, I deal with a couple hundred “active” candidates at a time and as many others as I have to recruit who are not actively looking.

About 18 months ago, Ted was committed to leaving the firm I placed him with. He did the same thing back then. He was always too busy to come in an interview with me. On top of that, since I had placed him before and he is an excellent performer, I did try to get him a number of interviews with different clients. We set an interview with one of my clients and at least 50% of the time, Ted would have to rearrange the interview because of his “busy” schedule. Sometimes I was able to do it, and sometimes I wasn’t. Ted turned out to be one of those people that every time you to speak with him, the sky is falling. He would call, and with a panic in his voice, he would claim, “Oh, my God… Something has come up… I have to talk to my boss… one of my clients called and I have to take care of it… I’m sick and I have to go to the doctor… my dog died… today is Tuesday and I’m in a panic, I just can’t interview.”

This kind of thing would go on to the point where I just quit trying to get Ted interviews. No big deal. Well, eventually Ted found a job. Sure enough, one year later Ted is calling me and telling me that he made a terrible mistake. The company he went to work for turned out to be a disaster for all kinds of reasons. He said that when he went to work for them they only interviewed him twice and he made a knee-jerk decision to go to work there. He claimed that he moved too fast without doing even reasonable due diligence. My first reaction was to think, “right…sure… I’m really sorry for him but that’s what happens to people like Ted, where everything is helter-skelter, every moment is a tragedy or an emergency. They then make quick, knee-jerk reactions and take a bad job.”

Well, I have a lot of empathy for Ted and, after all, he has been a performer so I enter the Twilight Zone (If you’re not old enough to remember this TV program, Google it) of “Lucy and the Football” and I decide that I’m going to try to help Ted find a job again. I overlooked the fact that he still can’t take the time to come see me even though we set up two more interviews that he misses. The first he missed because of a conference call he needed to be on and the second because he had an emergency at home.

So, we get lucky. A great opportunity comes along that fits Ted perfectly. Because the hiring managers are all over the country, we proceed to set up a number of telephone interviews. Before we begin the first one though, I explained to Ted what the problem has been for the last 18 months. I explained that he seems to be one of those people where everything in their life is a major ordeal. “Ted, you’re a drama queen! Every time we go to do this you come up with all kinds of excuses as to why you can’t make an interview. Everything in your life seems to be a mess. I have no idea how you are a top performer in what you do but working with you and for you is a train wreck. You miss appointments and everything seems to be an emergency. I can’t work this way. Now, Ted, I have a job and it doesn’t matter to me which candidate (from me) my client hires. If it’s you, great. But if it isn’t, I got lots of folks that would kill for this deal.” And Ted’s response, “Tony, you just don’t understand how difficult my life is blah… blah…blah.” It is a litany of all of the things going on in his life highlighted by the fact that he’s got a crummy job, working for people that just don’t understand. But he agrees to talk to the client. Great!

To streamline matters, I convince my client, the executive VP of sales, to bypass the initial screening interviews that the company normally requires with candidates and move to what is usually the third interview with him. Ted’s track record is so good, the EVP agrees. I get with Ted, find the times it would be good for him and set a telephone conversation with the EVP and Ted. “Dear Lord, please help Ted and the EVP hit it off.”

Well, guess what? Five minutes before the interview was to take place, Ted calls the EVP and leaves the message that an emergency has come up and that he needs to postpone the interview. Yes, being a rookie recruiter is really hard. The lessons don’t seem to come quickly enough. I feel like such a fool.

The EVP wanted to reschedule. I told him to forget it. I feel sorry for Ted. I can understand how he made the mistake of going to work for the folks he is now working for. He needs to find another recruiter.

Ted’s life is a mess because Ted is a mess. Pray for him. We all need to learn from him.

P.S. I’m sure that none of you reading this are like Ted. But you know someone who is, so please, feel free to pass it on to them.

….coming in second, third or fourth

Often my candidates are so disappointed when they come in second, third, fourth etc.  in the interview cycle … which means they don’t get hired … fair enough, I understand, you always want to try to win the job…

However,  most people aren’t aware of this, often times the difference between the candidate who gets the offer and the ones that come in second and third and fourth are so small that most hiring authorities couldn’t even tell you exactly the difference  … they’ll say things like, “well we just thought she’d fit in a little better” … or… “there was just something about him that we feel like he is the best choice”…  most of the time there is very little, if any, difference between the candidates…

I can’t tell you the number of times over the years that I’ve had a candidate who came in second, third or fourth, who eventually got hired for the job … this happens when the first or second candidate either gets other offers or decides not to take the job, leaving the door wide open to other candidates.  Years ago I placed a candidate, and he was not “THE” person that the company had offered the job. … the first eight turned it down…  the guy that got hired eventually became the owner of the company … how gratifying

The lesson in this is to be sure that no matter which position you come in, always be graceful and understanding that the organization is doing what they think is best for them at the time…  always keep the door open with a gracious and grateful attitude … thank the organization for their time, communicate that you would still love the opportunity to work for them and if that opportunity ever becomes available  again, to please let you know…

Whatever you do, DO NOT get pissed off, angry or mad … even if you feel like you have been treated wrongly, do not burn any bridges … even though losing out to another candidate is not easy to take, always be gracious … and always leave the door open for the future…

It’s not uncommon for companies to hire someone and have that person not work out in a relatively short period of time … all kinds of things can happen and there’s no sense in burning a bridge for an opportunity that again may come up with them… I think I’ve mentioned it before but I had a candidate that went to work for a company who interviewed him, didn’t hire him, but liked him so well they kept in touch with him and eventually hired him … seven years later…

so, do your best to come in #1, but don’t let coming in second, third, or fourth keep you from losing sight of the goal

…Advice for millennials

I’m only addressing this generation because there are more of you in the workplace than any other generation, and, at this writing, the 75 million of you (surpassing the baby boomers numbers of 74 million) are beginning to begin settling in to your careers. As with previous generations, you’re going to change jobs more often early in your career (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and you need to be aware of some of the issues you are facing relative to getting a job. Please PAY ATTENTION!!!

So, I’m going to discuss some of the perceived traits that you, as a millennial, have and how they impact, for better or worse, your job search.

Your expertise and reliance on technology
Most of us would agree that 99% of the advancements of technology are good for business. However, in the real world of getting a job, being “connected” is only of value if it can get you an interview. Somewhere along the line you’re going to have to have real-world conversations with people, i.e. interviews in order to get a job. Many of you rely on “just text me” to communicate. You cannot get a job by just texting. Speaking with people face to face, learning to look them in the eye and expressing yourself verbally in more than 140 characters is going to be necessary. This takes practice if you are not used to it.

It is said that you have been raised to believe that everyone gets a trophy for participating and that has given you confidence. Well, in business most people DO NOT get trophies. Now it’s true that the first step in being successful is actually showing up, but you don’t get confidence by simply being there. I have no problem with confidence but it needs to be tempered with humility. As Dizzy Dean (google him if you don’t know who he is) was quoted as saying, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” So, let your successes and accomplishments give you confidence. But, realize that your confidence will be interpreted as arrogance without performance.

It is said that you all think you can do this well. If you research the studies on the subject of multi-tasking, you will soon discover that success at it is not only a myth, but it is actually a deterrent to quality work. So, don’t go into an interview touting the fact that you’re good at multi-tasking. Any interviewer with any brains will discount you if you say this as one of your workplace attributes.

Friends come first
Try convincing a prospective employer that your friends are more important than the job you are applying for and you will continue to be unemployed. A few years of working in the real world, a spouse, a mortgage, a car payment, a couple of kids and the realization that it is likely that their college tuition per year is going to be more than you make in one, your friends will be far down the priority list. So, don’t embarrass yourself by even mentioning how important your friends are in the same breath as your needing a job.

Play then work
Common sense should tell you that communicating anything like this in an interviewing situation is disaster. But I have recently had candidates of the millennial generation say things like, “Well, my personal time is very important to me,” and by never bothering to explain what that means, be quickly eliminated from consideration. In fact, since your generation has a reputation of this trait, you better be damn sure you communicate in the interviewing process that work has an extremely high priority in your life.

Focus on involvement and participation in teams
Okay, being a team player is important. Everyone in business has to be able to get along with everyone else. However, you better be able to perform on your own, by yourself, individually regardless of what the team does or doesn’t do. It’s true that interviewing authorities are going to be interested in your ability to work in a group setting. No company wants a maverick that’s going to piss everybody off. However, if your focus on involvement is more important than your individual performance, this isn’t what business is about. You’re going to be accountable for your own performance. The team will take care of itself if each individual performs their duties well.

Don’t worry about failure
You guys got this notion when everybody got a trophy whether they won or lost. But, in the real world you damn well better worry about failing. This doesn’t mean that you’re not going to fail. In fact, you’re going to fail a lot. But not to worry about it, as though it was no big deal, will keep you living at home and certainly without a job. Be aware that you have to put failure in the right perspective. (Read the quote by Michael Jordan about failure.) Learning from your failures is what’s important, but to blow it off as though you shouldn’t worry about it will not get you a job.

Respect my skills
Wake up! No one is going to automatically respect anything about you, especially your skills, unless you can demonstrate successful performance applying those skills.

Connection to parents
This trait can be a good thing but also not so good. It’s not so good when your parents continue to let you live at home rather than forcing you to get out on your own, no matter how difficult or painful it may be. It’s not good when your parents keep giving you advice about the job market and what kind of a job might be available to you when they have no idea what the job market is really like. I’m sure they love you, but encouraging you to take nothing less than a VP job won’t help you. (Obviously, I’m being facetious when I say this. But I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had well-meaning parents give advice about the kind of job their prince or princess ought to get, regardless of their knowledge of the job market.)

It is good when mom and dad insist that you get off the dole by taking the best job you can find and go to work. They need to realize that the door to opportunity opens from the inside. No employer is going to automatically love their children the way they do. But that has nothing to do with the job or the opportunity that might be available to you.

They want to ‘develop’ themselves
There’s a part of this trait that might be viable. If you begin to look at job opportunities from the “outside”, judging them by how you can personally “develop”, you are going to have a rough time. There might be a slim possibility that you can judge a job during the interviewing process regarding how it might provide personal growth. But most of the time, most companies aren’t really that interested in your personal growth and will neglect to talk about it during the interviewing process.

It is more likely that after you get a job, you will figure out for yourself how you can personally grow. It is not likely that the incentive for this is going to come from your job or your employer. It’s going to come from you, intrinsically. Finding ways to grow personally in your job should be a lifelong endeavor. The sooner you develop it the better.

Constant feedback
You don’t have to worry about this trait too much. You’re going to get plenty of it, especially if you don’t perform very well. The needing of constant feedback however, can be a deterrent to your success. Constantly asking your superiors, “How am I doing?”, is simply annoying. In the job search process you’ll get pretty damn quick feedback. Either you get a second interview after your first interview or you don’t. Either you get a job or you don’t. Pretty simple! After a while… a very short while… either in looking for a job or performing on one once you have it, you’ll get plenty of feedback. You won’t have to seek it. After all, feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Personal relationships with boss or co-workers
This is a nice, idealistic thought and they can be great if you can find them. But, one, there is no way of knowing in an interviewing situation whether you’d be able to build a personal relationship with the person you’d be working for, and, two, be aware of this, that person you are interviewing with, who would be your direct boss, who might be close and caring could leave their job and the company in a heartbeat. Don’t go overboard with personal relationships at work. If you get good, valuable ones, that’s great, but remember, this is business not marriage.

I’ll google it myself
We all know you’re independent and feel like you can find things out on your own, either on the Internet or by asking friends. However, the organization you are interviewing with or working for has made a tremendous number of mistakes which result in policies, procedures and “this is the way we do things” practices. Please refrain from thinking you need to reinvent the wheel or enlighten the whole company with your discoveries. Don’t be so stubborn as to not stop, listen, and learn what goes on in the company before you start “changing” it.

Feeling entitled
Your helicopter parents might have raised you this way and the college or university you attended may have gone out of their way to make you feel special (You really were special to them. You paid them more than $33,000 a year in private school tuition, almost $10,000 a year in tuition for an in-state public college or university and almost $25,000 for out-of-state tuition at a public college. And these figures do not include room, board and other kinds of fees. Pay me that kind of money over six years, which is how long the average college graduate goes to school and I’ll be more than happy to tell you that you are special.)

To most companies that are going to interview you and hire you, you aren’t special until you perform. You aren’t entitled to a job, a paycheck or continued employment. You aren’t entitled to a pay raise or promotion until you earn it. Working is a privilege, not a right. The mantra of these organizations is that, “If you do your job, you get to keep it!”

View work as something to be done between weekends
Approach interviewing and a new job like this and you’ll get to have one permanent, long weekend.

“I’ll market myself to the highest bidder”
And, parenthetically, “I can leave in a heartbeat, you know!” This is the height of solipsism and egocentricity and unless you are the center of the universe, which you are not, or a draft pick in the NFL or NBA, in this job market you probably don’t have another “bidder.” So, stop this silly business, take any reasonable job you can and work your ass off.

Some of you are just beginning your career. Some of you are in your late 30’s and have learned all of these lessons which the marketplace has taught you. The longer you’re in the workforce, the more you realize that all of these “generational characteristics” melt away and we all advance and decline in our job search and our professional life based on the same rules.

One last thought which only applies to the male millennials – You’d make a lot better impression when you interview if you shave. Just a thought!

… References matter

There’s a tendency for those job applicants to take the references for granted. Even the most professional ones that idea with have a tendency to think that references on any big deal and, unfortunately, often wait to the last minute try to find them when a client wants to check them. This is a tale of two candidates and their references.

The first candidate, Tony (great name!) Reached out to the people that he was going to use as a reference right when he started his job search a month or two ago. He lined up to managers that he had worked for, two customers that were his and two peers just in case he needed them. He touched bases with these references every once in a while during his job search to let them know how his search was coming along. Sometimes he called. Sometimes he just emailed. But, they obviously felt a “part” of his job search because he just kept them informed of kind of where he was at.

When the time came and our client asked for his references, Tony shot them to the hiring authority within 20 minutes of being asked. He called or emailed three of them, the two managers and the customer (which is what our client asked him for) to let them know about the company he was interviewing with, about the job itself and questions he thought the hiring authority would be asking.They were prepared and were gracious about doing it.

Our other candidate, Paul, competing with Tony, had done an equally good job of interviewing and was asked for his references. The hiring authority told both Tony and Paul that it was a neck and neck race and he was going to check each set of references to see if there might be a difference. Unfortunately, Paul had to “get his references together.” He had not prepared any references before he started his job search, because he didn’t think it would be any big deal to get them together when a prospective employer asked for them. Once Paul was asked for his references, he called a few people that he thought would or could help. It took him a day to find one of his old managers and, unfortunately, he couldn’t find another. He did find A customer, which took him a whole day to do and since he couldn’t find another one of his previous bosses he conscripted one of his peers to be a reference. Two days after he was asked, the guy got his references lined up.

Well, you can imagine what it was like for our client who is checking the references. Tony’s were impeccable and Paul’s were mediocre at best. Tony prepared his while Paul was panicked to even find them. Paul felt lucky to locate them even a day or so late and never gave them much information about who is going to call and what they might ask for what the position was then what about hiring authority might want to know.Paul was a good candidate but his references weren’t that good for him.

Lesson:Find really good references. Keep them posted about your job search and prepare them for anyone who may call the.

… Your dance with the HR department

most people don’t even know where the HR department came from. It was invented in the early 60s to protect companies from racial discrimination. There were, before that, quasi-administrative people who managed the company’s insurance programs when those programs began right after World War II. But once the government started requiring companies to keep track of the kinds of candidates the company was interviewing and hiring, it was logical to have those administrative people who were taking care of insurance to keep those records. People managing the departments of companies hated keeping those kinds of records anyhow, if they did it at all. Then laws were passed regarding other types of discrimination requiring record keeping, i.e. gender bias, age, etc. so the HR department got bigger. As companies had to protect themselves all kinds of discriminatory problems once people got hired by developing policies and procedures, the HR department was tapped for that task also. The HR department was now becoming “proactive” in its protectionist activities. Its mission, and the people in it, was to protect the company from the mistakes of its own employees.

Well, as long as the HR department was doing all of these things with employees, it only seemed logical that they should be involved in the initial recruiting and screening of job candidates. After all, records of candidates applying for jobs had to be kept. Besides, most hiring managers hated that part of their job anyhow. It was a terrible distraction from what they really knew how to do. They didn’t do it very well to begin with, so it was a good deal for them if they offloaded it to someone else, even if those folks weren’t competent enough to know what they were doing (An added benefit for the head of the engineering department, accounting department etc. was that since they weren’t any good at the initial acquiring and interviewing of candidates, this offloading gave the chance to “blame” someone else when the hiring process wasn’t working out.)

So, the nature of the HR department is to proactively protect the company. They really don’t know the amount of experience or qualifications that the accounting department or engineering or sales departments might be able to live with regarding a candidate. They really don’t know much an engineering candidate needs to be a competent engineer in the company. When they go to hire, or at least perform the initial functions of interviewing and hiring process they see it through protective eyes. They rarely know the “gray area” of give-and-take that a direct, hiring authority would know. But since they are supposed to know all of this they act like they do.

So, when you are directed to apply to the HR department when you go to apply for a job, realize that the probabilities are you getting an interview have decreased at least 75%. The HR department is taught to look for reasons of why thingsWon’t Work, not reasons as to why theyWillWork. They see the glass as half empty rather than have full. After all, their job is to “protect” the company from lousy employees (like you).

Now, to even give you even greater comfort, sometimes these HR folks get so busy even they have to offload the “recruiting” of new employees. The truth is, they aren’t very good at it and don’t like it any more than the hiring authorities do so they hire internal recruiters. Sometimes these internal recruiters are experienced professionals and sometimes they are “contract” recruiters who have little to no experience. Many of us have talked to them over the phone. You know, that 22-year-old kid who was tasked with evaluating your 15+ years of experience in your profession. Right! Sure! They were given a list of 15 questions to ask and if you answer’yes’ to 10 of them, in their wisdom, they might consider you as a candidate. You probably talked to one of those this week. And you can’t understand why you were eliminated. Well, they don’t know either. But since you didn’t hear back from them, you know you were.

I know many candidates who won’t even apply to a job if they have to go through the HR department. We, very often, even as recruiters have to work through a company’s HR department. Having done this since 1973 I know hundreds of very competent HR folks. But whenever we have to work through the HR department, the search becomes a back burner priority. It’s not that these folks aren’t nice people…I’m sure most of them are. But it is just one layer of “screening” that stands between a candidate and a good job. Getting through this “screening out” process, even for the most competent candidate is sheer luck. Remember, these people are hired to “protect” the company. They may not even like your “summary of qualifications,” let alone understand what it says, but you’re out! After all, they have 180 other resumes that might look better.

So, the best way for a candidate to avoid being screened out by an HR department is to call and speak directly to the hiring authority. Don’t give me that silly stuff that you don’t know who the hiring authority is. LinkedIn will tell you. Email that hiring authority your resume along with a short… I said short…note as to why you are a good candidate and should be considered. Call and leave him or her a voicemail before or after you send the resume. Make sure that your voicemail has a very short but informative “value proposition” as to why you should be considered for a job. You may have to leave two or three voicemails like this before the hiring authority calls you back. So, you ask, “wow, should I be this aggressive? What if I make them mad?” Well, having left messages like this since 1973, I guarantee you, nobody is going to ever get mad at you. In fact, you’ll be surprised at the number of them that admire your tenacity and persistence. Let’s face it, you’re needing a job is a lot more painful than the possible embarrassment of calling somebody… even if it’s the wrong person. Don’t even worry about what you look like, you need a job.

having said all of this about the HR department, I have to tell you that there are a phenomenal number of very professional, polished and efficient HR departments. We do work with some tremendous people in HR who really know exactly what they’re hiring authorities want and actually make a hiring process more smooth. They have a great way of simplifying the process. But these folks are the EXCEPTION rather than the rule. Unfortunately, the majority of HR departments aren’t run that way. In fact, most of us consider them to be the Hiring Roadblock Department.

(While editing this post this Monday morning, I got a call from an HR ‘screener’ at a client company who was supposed to screen one of our candidates today at 1 PM CST. The screener told me that he would like to move the time to earlier in the day. He explained that today was the opening day of baseball in his city and he wanted to go to the game and since the 2 PM EST would be the time of the beginning of the ballgame, he wanted to move his phone screen up to this morning. Get the idea?)

This may come as a surprise, but often times hiring authorities are just as frustrated with their HR recruiting efforts as you are. Most of them aren’t seeing the quality candidates at the HR department would lead you to believe they are. How to why no this? I told at least once a week by hiring authority that their HR department hasn’t gotten them any qualified candidates. And, if they have plenty of good candidates choose from, they will simply tell you that they have plenty of candidates, but that you are welcome to apply.

So, the next time you’re told to work with the HR department, he prepared.

….when things go wrong

Things are going to go wrong in your job search. On average you’re going to have 15 or 16 negative things happen for every one positive thing that happens. Now, unfortunately, there are times in your job search where the wheels really fall off. You get into a terrible slump. Not only do you get two or three rejections in a row but your interviews seem to dry up and you can’t seem to find anybody that will even listen to you, let alone interview you. We all go through this. Slumps are part of every business and game. Winning wouldn’t be as sweet if these kinds of events weren’t so devastating.

It’s really easy to say that this kind of thing isn’t any big deal and that we all go through it when we’re talking about the other guy. It’s really hard to do when you are experiencing it yourself. So, the first thing to do is to heed my warning and expect these things.

The most important thing you can do, and I really want to emphasize “most important thing you can do”, is to rely on the “system.” I go through slumps in my profession all of the time. I’ve seen some in the last few years, but I always know that the downs eventually create ups, and I just need to keep hanging in there and working my system.

My system and process centers around making calls to clients or potential clients. I know that if I make 100 calls either to existing or potential clients, I’m going to get to two hiring authorities that are going to be interested in the candidate I present. Of the two that call me back, only one of them is going to have a job opportunity in Dallas that one of my candidates might be interested in. In one week, I get two to three job opportunities. I’m going to have to send nine candidates out on interviews…either nine candidates to that one opportunity or nine candidates to nine different opportunities or five candidates to one opportunity and four candidates to three or four other opportunities. My “ratio” is nine appointments to make one placement. I average 3.5 initial appointments per candidates a day. You can take the math from there.

I know that no matter what, as long as I keep working my “system,” my process, I’m going to be able to place people. No matter how difficult and challenging it is, the numbers are always going to work for me. There are years where it has taken 14 appointments to make one placement and years where it has taken only four. I know that I can’t control the economy but I can control my activity.