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What’s Keeping Me Up at Night

10/03/2011 02.32 EDT

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I feel the need to temper the optimism of my mid-year report on executive employment, with a post more fraught with the anxiety that any professional in the talent acquisition industry might be feeling in a global economy that appears to be teetering on the brink of, if not collapse, then a prolonged period of stagnation.  As all prognosticators do, let me get the defense of my earlier predictions out of the way.   First, I hedged on Greece and Greece came through in a big way in terms of throwing Europe into economic consternation.  Second, the debt ceiling debacle accomplished something that I really did not think possible in my lifetime; it shook global confidence in the full faith and credit of the United States of America.  I’d like to thank our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle for that little present.  Which leads me to this question: If two U.S. political parties can’t agree on fiscal policy, how can 17 sovereign states begrudgingly connected by a common currency do it?   So, given the uncertainty produced by the events of the last quarter, what keeps this talent acquisition professional up at night?   Executive hiring will slow to a crawl.  While we are finishing up a very strong third quarter, our industry is a lagging indicator and it’s completely plausible to think that hiring among the senior management ranks might fall off a cliff à la Q4 2008. The Phillies will somehow find...

When Gaps in Succession Planning Turn into Chasms

09/21/2011 10.43 EDT

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When we are asked to conduct a search, more often than not, it is the result of a gap in a succession plan. Often, the situation is inescapable and, hopefully, due to the fact that our client’s growth is outstripping their ability to fill all of the gaps in the organizational chart through its own talent pool.  Recently, however, we are seeing more systemic problems – ones that are hindering the development of talented pre-executives into senior leaders capable of managing a set of broad strategic responsibilities.   Much can be attributed to the downturn in the economy as organizations are asking all employees to take on more responsibility in order to drive down costs.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the senior executive ranks where spans of control have grown significantly.  A byproduct of this drive for efficiency is that the gaps in responsibility between management levels are growing so wide that it becomes more and more challenging to promote from within.    The problem is exacerbated by the fact that when lower levels of management are asked to do more, they generally assume responsibility for more of the work of their subordinates.  On the other hand, when senior executives are asked to do more, it is related to the tasks of their peers.  Thus, the mid-manager is doing more with less by becoming more tactical and hands-on, while his or her senior-level boss is doing more with less by going broader and more strategic;...

Will your Search Process Pass the Fitness Test?

09/09/2011 02.28 EDT

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When we begin a new search on a client’s behalf, we meet with the hiring manager and leadership team to fully understand the position, its scope and responsibilities, and its place in the organization. Clients speak at length about the requirements of the role and the consequent qualifications they are looking for in candidates. They outline desired work experience, educational credentials, industry sector experience, etc. They often have a very specific set of requirements related to candidate qualifications – most of which can be ascertained by reviewing candidate resumes and interviewing them.   In a prior life, I worked with clients who were dismissing executives, sometimes because they were not successful in their roles. When I would ask clients why the executive failed, they seldom said things like “Well, she only had seven years of management experience instead of ten years” or “He went to a state school and not an Ivy League university.”   Instead, I heard things like “He always had to be the smartest person in the room” or “She couldn’t work collaboratively across departments” or “He just wasn’t seen as a credible, genuine leader.”   So, the “derailers,” if you will, had little to do with concrete work experience and credentials. Instead, they were tied to style, emotional intelligence and those most elusive of concepts – cultural fit and chemistry.   When recruiting a new executive to a company, the assessment of their cultural fit is arguably the most difficult part of the...

How Are You Preparing for Your Next Interview?

08/31/2011 10.53 EDT

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I coach many candidates before they interview for a position.  I do it as part of my role at Salveson Stetson Group and as a favor to help others, and, frankly, I just enjoy doing it.  I often find that candidates are underprepared for an interview and are essentially “winging it.”  But sometimes, it’s the opposite – candidates are over-prepared to the point that their presentation can seem canned or even insincere.  If you are coaching others on the job hunt or you, yourself, are interviewing, I’ve outlined a few suggestions that may be helpful.  Some of this information is common sense but worth mentioning:    Do your homework before your meeting.  Does the hiring executive have a profile on LinkedIn?  Review the company website, gather information from news sites and talk to others who have worked for the company in the past. Make a strong first impression.  Smile, make eye contact and firmly shake the person’s hand.  I know this is something that your mother and father have told you time and time again – but it really is important! Turn off your cell phone, completely.  Don’t put it on vibrate. There is nothing more irritating than to have someone’s cell phone ring or vibrate during an interview.  It is distracting and sends the message that you are not fully engaged in the conversation. Come prepared with specific examples of accomplishments that relate to the needs for the role.  You should be able to provide a...

Don’t Be “That Guy”

08/24/2011 12.59 EDT

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As you might imagine, I get many calls and emails from people looking for jobs.  I do my best to keep up with them and help where I can.  On rare occasions where serendipity intervenes, the job seeker actually is a good fit for a current assignment.  However, most of the time, I can only help in terms of advice or networking support, both of which I am more than happy to do.  I reserve Friday mornings for any job seeker who can get on my calendar.  It’s the right thing to do, particularly in this economy.   Service providers are great sources of information and referrals for job seekers.   We are in the market on a daily basis and, as part of our responsibilities, we do our best to keep current.  Lawyers, accountants, insurance brokers, human resources consultants, etc. – our book and trade is in knowing what changes are afoot before anyone else does.  By and large, this community is the job seeker’s friend.  While there is no immediate payoff for the service provider, the good ones know that lending a hand is not only the right thing to do, but a great long-term business development strategy.  Most job seekers remember this help and are eager to maintain these relationships after they’ve successfully concluded their job searches.  However, there is a small minority that doesn’t.  If I can offer any executive just one piece of career advice, it would be “don’t be that guy.”  ...

Are Great People Overrated or Just Under-Evaluated?

08/18/2011 01.45 EDT

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I just finished Bill Taylor’s blog on HBR, entitled “Great People Are Overrated”.  It’s quite an interesting read.  While I encourage you to take a look at it yourselves, at its barest essence, Taylor’s position is that if offered the choice between having one superstar in his organization versus a group of solid contributors who can work as a team, he’ll take the team every time.  He posits this assertion in opposition to Mark Zuckerberg’s statement in a New York Times article earlier this year that “Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good.  They are 100 times better.”  Although it’s my job to recruit star performers for my clients, I generally think Taylor is right (but perhaps not for the reasons he thinks he is).   Throughout my career, I have seen smart people fail in organizations more times than I can count, especially in my early days as an outplacement consultant for Right Management.  They rarely failed because they were technically incompetent; in fact, they often were brilliant in their fields of expertise.  So why did they fall short?  In my opinion, their disappointing performance was based on the fact that they lacked the people and communication skills to lead an organization.  They were virtuoso performers miscast in roles that required conductors; in the end, really not their fault, but a huge indictment of the assessment and selection practices of the firms that hired...

What Do Employees Want?

08/03/2011 09.54 EDT

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I talk to a lot of people over the course of my day.  Many of these folks are thinking through their next career steps and talking about their interests – what they are really passionate about doing.  At the same time, I am also often on the receiving end of venting – hearing everything imaginable regarding company and “boss” behavior.  Most of all, people are trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up. As you can imagine, all of these discussions are held in the utmost of confidence.  However, I have learned a great deal about what employees want and hope to get out of their employers and bosses.  I’ve summarized some the themes I have heard:   Listen to me – Employees want to be heard…really heard.  They usually care about their work as well as their company and devote most of their waking hours to their jobs.  They really want to know their opinion counts and that they can make a contribution to the business.   Talk to me – Tell me what is happening.  Employees want to understand what is going on in the business.  They feel they will perform at a higher level if they are informed.  In addition, they know they can handle good or bad news – they just want to be included so they can adjust their work accordingly.   Stretch me – Talented employees want to be challenged, stretched and provided with ongoing interesting...

Why Technology Will Never Replace Executive Search

07/27/2011 10.43 EDT

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The business of finding and securing talent has been transformed by technology over the past 15 years. The biggest changes have taken place in the processes used to hire and develop entry and mid-level people in organizations. That world is full of Applicant Tracking Systems, Recruitment Process Outsourcers, on-line job posting and candidate databases. If you engage an executive who runs an internal recruitment function for a large company in a 30-minute conversation, I can pretty much guarantee that they will spend 25 of those minutes speaking about systems and technology. Our business is focused entirely on senior executive positions – so-called “C-level” executives – who run companies or divisions, or report to the people who run them. In our part of the talent-finding world, technology has also had a significant impact. We use sophisticated databases to identify executives and many forms of technology to communicate with them. If it is too expensive or time-consuming to interview them in person, we use Skype. Since everyone in the world has at least one cell phone, we can usually reach out directly to people we want to speak with, instead of trying to leapfrog over executive assistants. So, it’s true that technology has changed how we do our work. In many ways, it has made us more efficient. For years I have been hearing about how firms like ours will be put out of business by technology – why would you need a search firm if you have LinkedIn?...

The (as of yet) Unfulfilled Promise of Talent Management

07/20/2011 02.40 EDT

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Talent Management is the new black. It’s trendy, chic, and virtually every Fortune 100 company wants to have it. But, what exactly is it? The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) defines it in the following manner. A holistic approach to optimizing human capital, which enables an organization to drive short- and long-term results by building culture, engagement, capability, and capacity through integrated talent acquisition, development, and deployment processes that are aligned to business goals. Do me a favor. Walk into your CEO’s office and give him/her this definition and tell me how long it takes for their eyes to glaze over. I’ll bet you $5 you don’t get past holistic. But, if you ask him or her what drives the business, having the best people is most likely going to come out in the first sentence of their answer. The rush to establish talent management as a function is based on the perception of the C-Suite that people are indeed important coupled with the uneasy feeling from those same leaders that they don’t know how to get, develop, and keep the best people to work in their organizations. The knee jerk reaction is to create a talent management function that owns “get, develop, and keep” for the company. A leader is appointed, several functions are assigned to them (most likely executive and organizational development, performance management, talent acquisition, and perhaps diversity), and this newly created organization often finds that they have no mandate, specific objectives,...

Interviewing Star Candidates

07/06/2011 02.40 EDT

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Given the number of interviews I do on a weekly basis, it’s easy for them to blend together.  Not that I get candidates mixed up with one another; I take good notes and do my best to be focused in every interaction.  But it’s hard for a candidate to stand out in a calendar that may contain 15 to 20 interviews, but the “stars” do.   In my opinion, what differentiates stars in an interview setting is their ability to engage their interviewer.  Typically, they are focused and succinctly describe their strengths. Accomplishments are linked to results.  They have an engaging style and as a result, I rarely look at my watch or even wonder what time it is – the conversation flows naturally.   This notion of brevity is worthwhile for every executive-level candidate to consider.  The human attention span is short, even under the best of circumstances.  The more concise you can be in an interview while still driving your point home, the more likely you will be to engage the person on the other side of the table.  I find that star candidates have the ability to provide specific examples that sound more like short stories than novels.  The novelists, on the other hand, often lose track of the questions they’re in the middle of answering, as do those asking the questions.   Other distinguishing traits include bringing a focused energy to the conversation and an observable passion for one’s work.  These qualities shine...