… Gratitude, empathy and understanding can get a great employee

I had a gratifying experience this week. Sixteen people e-mailed me to my personal/business e-mail address that they had been the beneficiary of their employers hiring them in spite of their DWI’s, bankruptcies, misdemeanors and, yes, three felonies. They felt compelled to write about how their employers understood about their indiscretions and hired them anyway. They are phenomenally grateful and realize that their being hired was very rare.

Every one of them told me that they had been rejected a phenomenal number of times because of their mistakes. Everyone expressed the idea that they totally understood why they were not being hired. They might have been frustrated by this, but they weren’t mad. Every one of these people took full responsibility for their mistakes. They ended up going to work for people who had empathy, understanding and the willingness to give them a shot. Most of them went to work at jobs that were well below the level they had before. They realize that, in essence, they were starting all over. Both they and the employers that hired them acknowledged that everyone was getting a good “business deal.”

I personally believe that most employers close their minds to the opportunity of hiring folks with things like this in their background. I’ve tried to argue the wisdom of it to people who simply wouldn’t hear it. They claimed it was their company policy or that they would lose their job if other people in the company found out they hired a felon. When we, as a company, represent a candidate with these kinds of challenges in their background, we first evaluate the quality of the candidate and their experience. We will often represent them and simply ask hiring authorities, before they grant the interview about their ability to hire someone with the respective mistake in their background. If we get the statement “I can’t and won’t do that”, we simply stop.

I did hear from three managers of companies. One of them wrote that he appreciated the post and he personally wouldn’t have a problem with hiring somebody with these kinds of blemishes on their background, but his company would never let him do it. He felt stuck, but he had too many other things to worry about. The two other employers said that they were open to hiring people with these kinds of problems. I have no idea what percentage of our post was read by candidates seeking a job or by hiring authorities, or maybe both. But it was gratifying to get these three folks to respond.

Even our firm will draw the line at representing pedophiles or sex offenders. We will pray for them, but we can’t bring ourselves to place them. But there are lots of folks who can be very good employees, despite their past mistakes.

I didn’t expect to get any responses to that post. To get the 16 supportive emails was gratifying. Especially around Christmas time.


…DWI’s, bankruptcy, credit problems, misdemeanors and felonies

 Not a week goes by that a candidate represented by our firm reveals one of the above just about the time they are going to get a job offer from one of our clients. My sense is that probably 25% to maybe even 30% of professional job candidates have one of these issues in their background. Certainly, nobody really wants to talk about it and most candidates won’t even bring it up until the issue is either discovered by the hiring organization or they offer it up in the final stages of the interviewing process.

Most of the time, these issues stop the offer. Sometimes they can be worked around by the hiring authority and the company, but they are always problems. There are some graceful ways of dealing with them to minimize their impact but every candidate who has a ding like this knows it’s going to be a problem and they are usually scared to death of its impact.

Unfortunately, felonies are almost always insurmountable, especially in professional positions. Only 10 or 12 times in my 43 years of doing this, have I had a company hire a candidate with a felony in their recent past. The empathetic part of me realizes how sad this might be, but the business side of me realizes why companies can’t run that risk. The situations where candidates with felonies have been hired have usually been in sales environments where they potential employee does not handle cash or money. If you’re an accountant with a felony of embezzlement, you need to change professions.

DWI’s and misdemeanors can often be explained and overlooked by some firms, but it is hard. I suggest people get an attorney to find out how, if enough time has elapsed, these records might be removed from a person’s public background. Everybody has an opinion about how long these things stay on a person’s record. Don’t rely on a friend that thinks they know. Find an attorney that deals with these things all the time and find out exactly what to do.

If you aren’t sure of what is on your record, and it’s amazing the number of people who don’t really know of their misdeeds, run a background check on yourself for around $40 (that is the cheapest service) and you can see what most employers will find. Every once in a while we run into a situation of identity theft as well as the wrong identity being checked.

If there are some of these issues in your background, I’d recommend discussing them with the hiring authority if you think you are going to be a finalist for the job opportunity. And be sure that you discuss them before a background check is made on you by the employer.

Now it is very important and I need to emphasize, very important, that when you go to explain these incidences, don’t be angry or try to justify how you were “wronged” or how you had just a little too much to drink, and you got sassy with the policeman so he decided to claim that you were DWI. The best way to deal with these kind of things in your background is to be remorseful, apologetic and have a “how can we work this out?” attitude. Anything less than a remorseful, apologetic attitude simply won’t fly. I’ve seen felons get hired simply because they presented themselves as remorseful and apologetic. One guy I knew even made it a “positive” benefit.

If a company simply can’t work around the issue, be graceful and understanding. There is absolutely no sense in burning the bridge with the company or the people in it.

Bankruptcies are a bit different. Some companies don’t care; others might. We had a banking client that refused to hire one of our candidates because of a previous bankruptcy. They really wanted to hire the candidate but they had just fired an officer for embezzlement. They couldn’t take the chance. We recently placed a banker that did have a bankruptcy in his background, but the bank hired him anyway because they really liked him. Other than financial institutions, most organizations will consider someone with a bankruptcy. But they better be a really good candidate and sell themselves really well.

“Bruised” credit falls in the same category as bankruptcies. Financial organizations will usually have a rough time with it. But especially since the last recession where lots of people had bruised credit, most firms will overlook it provided the candidate is really good.

Whatever the issue, a candidate is going to have to explain it really well. Again, it’s important for the candidate to bring these issues up before the employer discovers it on his own.




… Your first impression


The recent cover article in Psychology Today summarizes the latest research regarding first impressions. This is one of those topics that people are aware of but they hardly ever apply them to the interviewing situation. The article summarized as follows:

  • We look at a person and immediately a certain impression of his or her character forms itself in us. A glance, a few spoken words are sufficient to tell us a story about a highly complex matter.
  • People depend on first impressions to assess a person’s extroversion, openness, agreeability and conscientiousness. Studies have shown that the judgments of these characteristics made after knowing someone for a minute are usually as accurate as those made after knowing the same person for years.
  • First impressions are almost perfectly accurate 30% of the time.
  • The presence or absence of physical warmth similarly sways first impressions. Psychologists found that subjects holding a cup of hot coffee as opposed to iced coffee rated the person they met as especially warm and generous.
  • People who sit at a wobbly table or sit on a wobbly chair judge the people they meet as unreliable.
  • A person’s face at first glance can form a strong impression. For instance thin lips and wrinkles at the  corners elicit judgments of distinguished, intelligent and determined. Persons who were baby faced were perceived as physically weak, naïve and submissive, although also honest, kind and warm.
  • The more a face resembles the viewers face, the more the viewer is predisposed to like it.
  • A single piece of highly negative information undoes a positive first impression, but it takes a lot more… like doing something heroic… to overcome a negative first impression.
  • First impressions are most unreliable when there’s a narcissist in the room. Narcissists are just plain hard to read. They make incredibly good first impressions.
  • Getting to know people over an extended period of time alters first impressions. But for the most part it takes a long “getting to know you” period to alter those impressions.

A study at McGill University as far back as 1965 found that people decide to hire other people based on the impressions they get of the candidate in the first four minutes.

These facts about first impressions have a lot to do with the interviewing situation. For a candidate, they need to know that it is really important to make a good first impression. Dressing appropriately, looking people in the eye, having a firm handshake and all of the things I’ve discussed in previous blogs about first impressions and the first interview apply. Most candidates totally underestimate the impact of that very first impression. They will give it lip service and say things like, “Tony, I know that… but everybody dresses casually for interviews.”

If you’re a hiring or interviewing authority you want to be aware of the pitfalls of first impressions. Get to know candidates over a period of time, preferably in different environments to confirm, deny or alter first impressions.

Realizing the psychologist’s findings you might want to reconsider going on a job interview on wobbly, stiletto heels or interviewing at a noisy Starbucks after buying the interviewer an iced coffee.




…your telephone interview

Telephone interviews are becoming more popular. But if not taken seriously, they can be a disaster. Recently, one of our candidates was scheduled to have one at 8:30 am one morning. The interviewer ran late and emailed her at 8:30 asking to postpone it till 9am. She agreed. By 9:15am he hadn’t called, so having to get her kids to school, our candidate was driving at 9:30am when the interviewer calls her. She is in the car with her daughter running late to get her to school. She answers the phone while driving and tries to do the interview. As she drives through a school zone, she gets pulled over by the police. So what kind of interview do you think she had?

Now I know this subject doesn’t have much sizzle, but more telephone interviews are failed than are successful. So here are some simple instructions to make them successful:

  • Don’t take it for granted. It is a real interview.
  • Create a checklist… Review the job posting or information you have about the job. Review your qualifications.
  • Have your resume in front of you.
  • Have the highlights of any research you’ve done on the company, especially ones that would support your skills and experience. The more prepared you are the better.
  • Use a landline. Only use a mobile phone if you don’t have a landline. Turn off call waiting. Be sure you are where the reception is excellent.
  • Interview in a private quiet space, with no kids in the background, dogs in the background, noise in the background, etc.
  • Have a glass of water nearby. Talking can dry out the throat.
  • Take notes and feed back to the interviewer any important points about what makes you a great candidate.
  • Have a mirror in front of you and remember to smile.
  • Focus, listen and enunciate well. Focus on the interview just like it was a face-to-face interview. Be sure to listen to questions and ask for clarification if you don’t understand the question. Speak slowly carefully and clearly when you respond.
  • Pay attention to your own body language, even if you’re on the phone, just like you would a face-to-face meeting.
  • Multitasking does not work very well in a telephone interview. Don’t be reading e-mails or writing e-mails. Focus and pay attention. Rustling papers, noisy chairs, or any background noise is distracting.
  • Have questions ready to ask the interviewer. Make sure they’re good ones. When in doubt, or when you can’t think of any questions, ask the interviewer about themselves!That is the most important subject they have. “I noticed on LinkedIn you are at XYZ Corporation before this one. Why did you move and come to this one? Why do you stay there? Get people talking about themselves and they will think extremely highly of you.
  • Follow up with an e-mail after a phone interview. Make sure you have the address of the person and the e-mail address of the person. Use the thank you note to reinforce what you might have spoken about on the phone.

These tips will make your telephone interview a success.


… “Well, I’ve paid my dues…”


We hear this weekly. There are over 20 recruiters in our organization and each one of us may even hear it three or four times a week. It’s usually stated by someone who is trying to justify getting more money if they change jobs, finding a management job or basically expressing the fact that they don’t want to start all over, let alone take a step back from the level of job they had.

Unfortunately, these folks have some kind of entitlement attitude that tries to justify that someone else ought to give them a promotion or more money just because they deserve it. I had this brought to my mind again this week by a fellow who has been out of work for almost a year, who says that he’s had job offers that were lateral moves to the job he had but that he and his wife know that, since he’s paid his dues he will find a job that is at least a $10,000 “step up” in earnings and, preferably, a management position. With a straight face he was trying to convince me that a job like that existed and he was going to find it. The guy has been out of work for a year. Can you say – delusional?

There’s no such thing as, “I’ve paid my dues!” Every one of us “pays his dues” every day. Our value in the marketplace is not intrinsic. It’s whatever we can get in the marketplace. The marketplace doesn’t give a fig about what you think you’re worth or how many “dues” you’ve paid. The marketplace is going to tell you what you’re worth. Take it or leave it. None of us “deserves” anything.

The idea is for a job seeker to sell his or her skills and experience the best they can. The better their experience and performance, the more the market might bear. Nobody cares about what you’ve done in the past unless it’s an indication of what you can do for them. All a hiring authority or his or her company cares about is what you can do for them NOW. Your value is whatever you can get them to pay.

“I’ve paid my dues…” Cut it out!


… Reaction to the 99 million out of work

It’s really interesting reaction that we got for the post two weeks ago about why the 99 million people that are permanently out of work are there. Most of the reactions claimed that the article was spot on. And there were quite a few others that voiced the fact that, “I’ve been among the 99 million for years… clueless hiring managers, HR fools and time wasting recruiters treat people such as myself like absolute s—t!” or comments like, “let’s see, bogus job advertisements, cronyism, much cheaper labor overseas, globalization, zillions of H1B visas…”

The numbers of these comments were surprising. This small sampling though, reinforce the idea that for some reason our society is accepting and tolerating this low rate of employment participation on everyone’s part. The major reason, and I do mean major, is that looking for a job is a phenomenally emotionally stressful thing to do. When the job market is tight and job seekers don’t get fairly immediate positive response to their efforts they lose momentum and because they really don’t know what to do in order to get a job they decide that, “there are no jobs out there” and they quit looking. On top of all of this, and this is important, the distance between the hiring authority and the job seeker is greater than it’s ever been. There are going to be 15 negative events for every positive one. Job seekers are lied to, storied, left on hold and simply ignored.The inability for a job seeker to communicate directly with hiring authority is greater than it’s ever been. It’s harder and harder, because of the Internet, because of applicant tracking systems and, yes, people who “review” resumes who know absolutely nothing about what they’re looking for for candidates to actually get an interview. And, on top of that most candidates don’t know how to perform well when they get the interview.

After a while, jobseekers become depressed and cynical about the whole situation. They quit. No one has prepared them for how really hard and difficult looking for a job is. Nobody has prepared them to realize the phenomenal amount of rejection and refusal that goes on in getting a job. No one has said to them, “look, you’re going to have to make 100 phone calls before you get one person to call you back. You’re going to have to get 10 of those calls before you have one of those people interested in speaking with you. Forget sending your resume. You’re going to have to send 180 album before you get anybody to respond. Pick up the phone and call a hiring manager and ask for an interview. You’re going to have to have 14 interviews… to maybe 18 interviews to get a job offer. And that might not even be one you want. It’s going to take 4 to 5 months just to get this far and then you’re likely is not to have to start all over. Are you ready for that?”

Some people get so depressed just upon hearing this, they quit looking and give up. But look, that is the way it is. That is  reality. You can believe me now or bleed me later and you can either face it or not. But that’s the truth.

A job seeker just has to keep going, and going, and going and going. They have to develop a systematic approach to finding a job. And they have to approach looking for a job like any other sales process. Making a ton of prospecting calls or ton of prospecting events. Getting in front of as many people as possible to interview and then interviewing extremely well.

If job seekers began knowing that finding a job in today’s market is really, really, really hard and prepared for it, one half of those 99 million people would find jobs. Maybe not the perfect job… but they would find a job.




“So how’d they find out I was looking for a job?”

Andy, a 20 year veteran of sales, with a stellar track record asks me that on Thursday. He just couldn’t believe that his boss was asking if he was looking for a job. He kept mumbling, “… How’d they know?….How’d they know?”

I explained to him that experience in this profession since 1973 tells me that 98% of the time when a candidate gets “discovered” they got discovered because they told somebody in the company that they were looking for a job. Years ago I used to get all worried for a candidate and counsel with them on all kinds of conspiracy theories as to how the company found out they were looking for a job. But, after a number of years of hearing the real story as to how a candidate’s company finds out there looking to leave, I’m absolutely certain that 98% of the time, it comes from the candidate himself.

In this situation, I had the wisdom of telling Andy that somewhere along the line he mentioned this to someone in the company and it got back to his boss. He was quiet on the other end of the line and then I heard him softly mumble, “… That son of a bitch” and then continued silence. I told him that I bet there was somebody he had discussed leaving with and I bet everything I own that person discussed it with somebody else, who began the conversation with the proverbial, “you can’t tell anybody else but Andy might be looking for a job…” And then that person tell someone else in the same manner and so on and so forth.

In this case, the two people that Andy told where his best friends and he couldn’t imagine them saying anything. But in his heart he knew that one of them did. Now, he was still mad about it, but at least he was man enough to admit that he’s the one that shared the idea with someone else in the company.

He was fortunate that he wasn’t fired on the spot. But he did tell me that his boss, who up until now had been a good friend of his, seemed distant and removed. Both Andy and his boss are very uncomfortable and it’s making it difficult for everyone.

Here’s the lesson: KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT about looking for a job. Tell me, your spouse and then stop! Even if you don’t get fired, and most likely you will be, the relationship you have with all of your superiors is going to deteriorate. It’s just not worth the risk. If you’ve got a job and you’re looking for another one, it’s like having two jobs.

No matter how close your friends are and how much they like you, you can’t afford to get fired. SHUT UP!

96 million people who can work, but don’t… Walking dogs

Recently the Department of Labor published a report that there were 96 million people in the United States who could work but don’t. Academics, psychologists, economists and all kinds of experts try to figure out why this is happened. From their academic, 500 foot view, They come up with all kinds of theories as to why. Government entitlements… And there are close to 40 different kinds of government assistance programs where people can get money for doing relatively nothing If you are out of work (BTW, there 1840 subsidy programs run by the federal government). Many would say that these programs encourage people not To work. And maybe so.

I’m in the trenches finding people jobs every day and have been since 1973. I’ve placed minimum-wage people all the way to CEOs, Presidents, vice presidents etc…. wages anywhere from $5 an hour (in 1975) to over $1 million. I’ve probably seen just about every situation you can imagine and people looking for a job. I even had some candidates over the years commit suicide, partly because they were having such a difficult time finding a job.

I submit to you that there is one major reason 99 million people give up and one minor reason. The first reason, is emotional. Most of these people gradually… very gradually.. give up looking for a job because it’s darn hard to do and they don’t get very much success doing it. They get laid off or lose their job they go on unemployment. Maybe they try to get a few interviews. They spend all kinds of time sending their resume over the Internet to job postings that may or may not really exist. They go on a few interviews and because they don’t perform very well and because the competition is phenomenal, they don’t get hired. Maybe they get offered a job at less salary than they were making before, or the job “just isn’t the right fit,” When they send a resume they rarely even get a response. They go to support groups, at least in the beginning of their search along with hordes of other people who are out of work and those are the stories they hear.

They decide that, since they are on unemployment for a while, the house needs fixing up so they do that. They convince themselves that they hadn’t had a vacation in a number of years and since they are out of work, this should be a great time to do it. They hadn’t been back home, to visit their home town in years, so it’s a good time to go visit family and old friends. They begin to do anything and everything that  doesn’t have anything to do with trying to find a job. The inertia sets in.

Emotionally, after a few rejections, they become more disheartened. They read the papers about how even though unemployment is somewhere around 5.3% this country has the lowest labor participation rate since 1978. For many of these people their skills are becoming outmoded and after being told that in a number of interviews, They begin to say “there just aren’t any jobs out there,” and they begin to believe it. Even what little the phone was ringing before, it pretty much stops now. They may get a call from a few friends who talk to them about jobs at substantially less money than what they were making before and they defensively think, “if I was worth $xxxxx before, there’s no reason for me to take less now. And they don’t even interview.

By now, seven or eight months have gone by and they still don’t have a job. They may mount a new effort to get interviews. When they send their resume screening and interviewing authorities see that they have been out of work for more than six months and wonder “what’s wrong with this guy?” And now the interviews are even more seldom. If he gets an interview, he has to explain why he’s been out of work for seven or eight months and, no matter what he says interviewing and hiring authorities are suspect of them. After all they have other candidates available to them that aren’t carrying this risk. Employed employers think, “well, if this guy such a good employee why is it taking them so long to get a job?”

By the time 12 months runs around our erstwhile job seeker is absolutely convinced that there are no jobs out there and that he’ll never find one. And his prophecy becomes reality. He is so emotionally debilitated and often, downright depressed, he couldn’t perform well on an interview even if he got one. If one comes along he rationalizes that it’s too far to go to work, not enough money, not the kind of firm that he would like, etc. So he turns the interview down and the spiral continues.

The minor reason that people have problems finding a job is that they just don’t know what to do. They don’t know to develop a systematic approach to looking for a job. A systematic approach that involves making boatloads of calls, trying to get as many interviews as possible, then performing well on those interviews and doing this over and over and over and over again until they find a job.

Last week one of our placement managers was called by one of our clients. The client needed to hire a quasi-accountant for his firm on the temp to perm basis. The client wanted to pay $13 an hour with the understanding that the position may become permanent after the first of the year. Our recruiter called a guy who fit the description really well who had been out of work for 18 months. the guy had been in the zone business for a number of years making $45,000 and he had done a lot of accounting and bookkeeping to manage his own business. He closed the business 18 months ago and has been doing odd jobs since. We described the opportunity to him thinking that he be phenomenally excited and go on the interview. At the initial phone call candidate listen to what we had to say and asked if he could call us back. He called back 15 minutes later and said that he wasn’t going to go on the interview. It sounded good but it was only temp to perm, it was too far away to drive and on top of that he could make $1500 a month walking dogs. If he took a job like that he wouldn’t be able to walk dogs. He was mentally and emotionally unemployed and so emotionally unemployed that it was simply easier to rationalize not going to work because he needed to walk dogs.

This is why 66 million people are permanently out of work. Kind of sad.



… know when to say “I don’t know…”

Our candidate was as perfect a fit as we were ever going to find. Our client needed a great candidate but also insisted upon a very technical background. It had taken us 67 days to find the guy and he made it through the first interview with flying colors. Eight people had preceded him and all failed.

Candidate calls and says, “I nailed this… I’ll get this offer.” We warned him that he could never let his ego get bigger than his game and he just needed to keep on interviewing well and then gracefully, humbly get the job. He was feeling pretty strong about being the only one of many candidates who got through the initial interview and went into the second interview with a panel feeling really confident. Well, as we’ve discussed before, a panel interview is totally different than a one-on-one interview. But that didn’t turn out to be the problem.

The problem came when one of the members of the panel asked him a relatively technical question that, in reality, had no real answer. The guy that asked the question was trying to show off among his peers. Our candidate took the bait and just started talking and talking and talking and talking. He knew in his heart that he really didn’t have the answer and was simply trying to baffle them with bull shit. Everyone in the room, including our candidate, knew exactly what he was doing. This all happened yesterday.

We’re not sure what’s going to happen. We haven’t been able to get feedback from our client. The people in the company know how hard these kinds of candidates are to find and, if they have any sense, they will still try to hire the candidate.

But the lesson loud and clear is: don’t act like you know something when you don’t. When you don’t know the answer simply say, “I really don’t know.” Trying to BS your way through an interview will only lead to disaster.


It happened twice this week, and happens all the time. Candidates are asked a reasonable question and give not only Too Much Information, but way too much information and it ends up costing them the job. We had a well-qualified candidate for senior-level inside sales manager’s job. She made it past the first interview and when she went to the second interview for some reason or another she felt compelled to explain to the female hiring manager why she wore a wig. It was a very expensive wig and unless you look closely you couldn’t even see that she wore one. She went on and on, according to the hiring authority, for five or 10 minutes about the condition of her hair. It had absolutely nothing to do with the job… nada! On top of thinking that the conversation got weird, the hiring authority totally lost interest in the candidate. And what’s worse, the candidate didn’t even detect it.

The second situation had to do with a very well-qualified V.P. This guy is in his late 40’s and has 20 years of solid experience and you think you would know better. Somewhere in the conversation with the CEO of one of our clients, he started talking about all of the problems he was having with his 16-year-old. Now most of us who have raised kids know parents always have problems with a 16-year-old, especially a male 16-year-old. For some crazy reason our candidate felt so relaxed with the CEO, he told the CEO about his kid’s problems at school, his kid’s challenge with hanging around the wrong kinds of other kids and, can you believe this, his kid’s drug problem. End of interview! Although the CEO had a tremendous amount of empathy for the candidate’s situation he didn’t feel comfortable at all hiring someone who might be so distracted by his 16-year-old that he might not travel or work like he should.

Some years back, we had a very accomplished female candidate. She had recently gone through a rather ugly divorce and didn’t mind sharing her woes over the divorce with prospective employers. We warned her not to do this under any circumstances. Many people however in situations like that can’t help themselves. She made it past three interviews with one of our clients and was a finalist. In fact, we were told it was hers to lose. In the final interview with the executive VP she ended up telling her personal story. After the interview she told us that even though she had gone into her personal story more than she would like, the hiring VP totally understood her situation. The executive VP told our candidate that she had recently gone through the same kind of ugly divorce and they spent 20 minutes commiserating. Our candidate knew that, this time, talking about her ugly divorce only helped her, because the executive VP really understood and empathized with her because he executive VP had just gone through the same kind of ordeal. Unfortunately, she was totally wrong. The Executive Vice President wasn’t going to hire her because, according to the EVP, she knew what a basket case someone is when they go through that kind of thing and since it had just happened to her she knew, from experience, that a person going through that ordeal wouldn’t be focused for at least a year.

Here’s the lesson:Don’t give TOO MUCH INFORMATION !!!It will work against you