Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Next Great Weapon In The War For Talent

If you are on either side of the recruiting desk, you have probably long ago heard about the Electronic Recruiting Exchange's web site. They really have done an excellent job and trying to provide a platform for those who operate in or are just interested in the recruiting "space" to express points of view. I try to check it out frequently.

Apparently, as do many publishers, at the end of the year they will reprise some articles they feel had a lot to say. One of these was written by Mike Homula, currently the Director of Recruiting for Quicken Loans and ran under the title of The Next Great Weapon In The War For Talentand ran last July.

As I said, if you are really a practitioner you'll probably want to read the whole thing, but since I am not in the recruiting game to the degree that Mike et al are, I took something else from the point he was making in this piece which was, in short, that the next great weapon is you, not technology filled clicks, links, and resume data bases.

Anyway, at the tail end of his article, Mike lists a number of attributes which he feels really make the difference in the kind of relationships that are needed for a recruiter to be able to land exceptional talent in the increasingly competitive market in which we all find ourselves. Among these were things like:

Build credibility;
Consult, Don't Recruit;
Use Energy & Passion as a Weapon

Maybe it is just the nostalgia that comes naturally as the year comes to close and we all start thinking about where we've been and where we're going that struck me when I was reading this, not sure. All I do know is that it made me realize that some 18 years ago I was just one among millions of other executives who had been caught up in the recession that was rapidly pushing us into the 90's. I was also angry and confused at what felt very much like an adversarial relationship between candidates and recruiters.

While I didn't use the same words that Mike used in his article, when we decided to try and make ExecuNet a reality, I now realize that much of what still are were then the driving factors for us were also based on the building of our credibility on both sides of the recruiting desk, approaching every encounter with someone not as a "sales" opportunity, but rather to help where we could help and not worry about the outcome; and finally, to take the anger and channel that energy into a passionate message that we could take something that many felt was a win-lose relationship, and make it win-win. It all seemed to fit.

It will obviously be left to others to judge as to how far along that road we have come in the past 18 years, but when I reflect on the fact that personal recommendation continues to be the single biggest source of referral to us, it does make me feel that we are still on the right track, and that credibility, an attitude that is built on helping, and passion for what we believe have certainly helped to keep us going in the right direction.

Here's to a peaceful and prosperous 2006!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Career Doctors

Over the years, now 18 of them, I have lost count of the number of calls and conversations we have had with the media, be it radio, TV, or print. In almost every case, the common thread is that these are short conversations where you really don't get much of a chance to have a discussion. Most are "sound bites" or situations where the writer is focused on a specific topic, so the "discussion," if you want to call it that, is pretty narrow to say the least. On top of that, by the time it gets edited, etc., often the only thing you recognize versus what you actually tried to say is the name of your company.

Recently, however, I had the chance to have a real discussion on an Atlanta based radio show called The Career Doctors. It airs every Saturday from 12-2 on WGKA 920 AM and via the net at The shows hosts are Craig Allen and Deborah Sawyer. On this particular day, Deborah was on vacation, so her place was taken by Mikal Jackson, the Corporate VP of People and Culture at MillerZell, a retail strategy/design/implementation firm based in Atlanta.

What made this so much fun wasn't the fact that host Craig Allen (his stage name because his real last name is one of those where it would take up the first five minutes of the program to pronounce properly) has been such a long time member of ExecuNet - that just added to the good feeling. No, the real satisfaction came from two things:

1. There was passion and genuine interest in the issues Craig and Mikal wanted to discuss, and

2. I actually had time to answer in depth and explain the context of the responses.

Really nice for a change.

The other thought that came to mind when we finished our discussion was that there was such a program in the first place, and when I started to think about it, this is not the only one. A friend of mine in the NY, NJ, CT tri-state area has a similar program, as did Ed Kelleher and his partner Mitch Wienick down in the Philadelphia area. Hadn't thought about it until now, but Ed's company, Kelleher Associates, has been hosting and facilitating our networking meetings in the metro Philly area for a long time as well, and I have fond memories of participating in their show for the same reasons.

Point being? If there is media that is now focusing on career management, it would indicate that there is both interest and need, and it would not surprise me to see this continue to expand. Indeed, it isn't only the traditional media outlets that are focusing on career issues, all you have to do is check out any of the multitude of websites (e.g. or Weddles to name a couple) and, of course, not to mention blogs, including this one, to see that people, including many senior level executives, care very much about and continue to be curious about seeking answers about career management in this era of You, Inc.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Intimidations & Stress: All in a Day's Interview

Saw an article in a recent issue of the Financial Times in a column called MBA diary. Essentially it was about the stress interviews to which many MBA students are subjected in order to see how they react under pressure.

I had not read about stress interviews for a long time. I guess I was hoping that they really had gone out with high button shoes, hula hoops, and pet rocks. Apparently not, and I think it's too bad.

For sure, we all face pressures in our jobs, and for sure they are of differing degrees, so if the deal here is that they are looking for candidates to man a trading desk, then maybe there is some rationale to it, but even then I am not sure that I am ready to sign up for it as a good indication of what I am getting if I hire the person.

People have been trying to break the code on the making of hiring decisions since as they say in the military, "Christ was a Corporal." No one has done it yet despite the claims one sees on the websites of all sorts of interviewing software. The person who really figures this one out will be the next Velcro-like billionaire.

The interview process itself creates stress, to add artificial stress to it, in my view, simply further distorts the real characteristics and traits that an organization may be attempting to identify in the first place.

Said another way: in my experience, the hires that have not worked out failed not because they were deficient in the technical skills or experience but failed because they were not a good cultural fit. Sometimes that was based on a 1:1 relationship with the boss, sometimes it was broader than that, and the employee's personality just didn't sit well across the organization. Anyone reading this will know exactly what I mean.

The point I am trying to make is simply this: Making a hiring decision that turns out to be a winner is tough enough at best, and since what they call “chemistry” is far more important than anything else to most folks, the more things you can do to discover who the real person is the better off you are. Adding stress that is artificial, I believe, does not give you insights into the real person. It shows you nothing more than how you might behave under the same set of circumstances which are not only not real, but which are not likely to surface in any case.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Holiday Shopping

I don't know about you, but when you get to a certain point in your life, and the people on your gift list are at about the same place, it get harder and harder to figure out something to give to them that you think would really give some pleasure that might bring more of a smile than a sweater, tie, or a bottle of perfume.

Fortunately for me Ellen Stuhlmann who edits the Executive Insider, our free bi-weekly electronic newsletter, came to my rescue with a book recommendation (she recommends one in every issue) entitled Then We Set His Hair on Fire: Insights and Accidents from a Hall of Fame Career in Advertising. The author is Phil Dusenberry, the former chairman of BBDO North America.

When Ellen recommends something, I pay attention. Not only because she has great taste, but also because she always picks books that are not only first class reads, but she also makes sure that the "learnings" in the books are things that help our members become more effective as leaders. In this case, Ellen said "Do you want to learn how to tackle communication problems from a unique angle and hit home runs, not just singles? Treat yourself to this insightful and entertaining book this holiday season!" Apparently lots of people feel about her recommendations as I do since scores of our members were forwarding her suggestion to their friends all over the place.

Thanks Ellen

Career Insurance

Pete Weddle has been keeping tabs on recruiting trends since well before any of us knew that the Internet was something other than a new bar-restaurant in our home town. Among other things that Pete's company publishes, he has a couple of free electronic newsletters, and, as usual, the one that crossed my desk this week, had some interesting commentary - in this case he was writing about the importance for job seekers and their use of search agents.

Pete had a number of key points to make about why if people were not using an search agent that they ought to be. I certainly agree with him, if for no other reason, than it helps people to be both proactive in terms of managing their careers, and it also helps to leverage one's productivity.

Pete prefaced his remarks by wondering how many of the employees at Merck might have been using online job search agents since they now knew, along with the rest of us that somewhere along the line there are 7,000 of them are not going to be there too much longer.

When I was reading all this it reminded me again of one of the prime driving forces that gave birth to ExecuNet which was an awakening by many of us that the world of work had changed, and there was great truth in the phrase: "nobody cares about you more than you." Time and time again, I talk to members who tell me that when they originally joined us they did so because they just been impacted by a downsizing, a merger, or restructuring. Over time, however, they say that they remain a member for one of the same reasons that Pete mentions in his piece on search agents - specifically, they view it as "career insurance." Career insurance is one way we talk about it, another is that if you are not doing things to proactively care for your career, you are just waiting for the world to happen to you - and you can bet that it will.

Over the years, it would certainly seem that people have internalized the concept of career insurance, at least by what we see here. When I look at our current membership as we close out 2005, roughly 70% are currently employed and they have their "ALERTS" set,

And given the state of the world of work in which we live, it also makes me wonder if the reason we had our system built so that members could actually set up to three separate alerts for themselves rather than just one was because if we have learned nothing else, we have learned that there is indeed truth to the old phrase "you can't have too much insurance."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tolerance of Jargon

Most of us are so time constrained and "brand-washed" (if there is such a phrase) to the WSJ, that it borders on being an epiphany to discover that there are actually other newspapers that deal with the world of business.

I have to confess that I while I am still a "loyal" brand-washed Journal reader, during the past year I was introduced to the Financial Times by Lauryn Franzoni, our Vice President and Executive Editor. I haven't gotten around to asking her when she became addicted to FT, but my guess is it was when she was running a publishing company in London a few years back. No matter, she turned me on to the FT, and while I still don't seem to have the time to read the Journal every day, much less the Financial Times, Lauryn very kindly sends long an article or two that she thinks would be of interest.

For example, last July it was Lauryn that turned me on to Martin Lukes Chief Personal Ethics Champion aka Maybe it's just because I am such a fan of British humor or have been gone from the big-time corporate world long enough that some of what goes on just makes be laugh until the tears come. Not sure, all I know is that I have been a faithful reader of Martin Lukes' business happenings every since.

Well, now it seems there is another one! Lauryn stops by and showed me a column in FT's Business Life section written by Lucy Kellaway that was titled: Why there has been an uptick in my tolerance of jargon. Unfortunately, the FT has gone the route of the NY Times and you now have to pay to read the work of their regular columnists, so I can just give you a link so you can check out this particular piece. Suffice it to say I thought it was pretty funny (otherwise why am I taking the time to blog about it).

In the column she directs the reader to a couple of books on business jargon. One is by, as she calls him "...a frightfully nice man with a PhD from Oxford" and is titled: Ducks in a Row, an A-Z of Offlish. To give you an idea of the author's approach, Lucy tells her readers that in his introduction to the book, the author tells us "As offlish is highly contagious, it is vital that these people are mocked, ridiculed and undermined in order to prevent its spread." I love it!

On the other side of the pond, comes the U.S. entry written by Ron Sturgeon, someone that Lucy describes as a "...former scrap-car dealer." This one is titled: Green Weenies and Due Diligence. She says the book as some 1200 terms and phrases many of which I assume covers the well-worn territory that with which most of us are all too familiar. She did, however, offer up a couple of newer ones (at least to me) such as "chair plug" and "square-headed girlfriend." The first being someone who simply sits in a meeting contributing nothing (aka an empty suit?) and the "girlfriend" turns out to be your PC.

What does it all mean? Nothing of course, but as we struggle through the crashing and thrashing of getting to our numbers by year-end along with creating our numbers for the year coming, it's kind of fun to take a side trip to columns like Ms. Kellaway's.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Working to Live or Living to Work?

Last Tuesday's WSJ had an interesting column by Loretta Chao titled, For Gen Xers, It's Work to Live. One of the key points it made had to do with the gap between the "wants" for the Gen Xers and the Baby Boomers (and beyond) for whom they work.

It isn't that the observations the reporter made by providing all sorts of stats from almost any survey you want to mention that made it very clear that the Xers most valued "perk" was work schedule flexibility. That came as no surprise. What caught my attention was that many of their bosses still think that "by the book" structure is still what makes the world go round.

Any company or manager on the planet who has not yet gotten the word that as our economy has continued to gain traction the GenXers (and yes, a good percentage of the Boomers as well) are starting to vote with their feet in a big way must not have their EKG machines turned on.

Here at galactic headquarters we see these things manifesting themselves in any number of ways as the senior-level executives who make up our community report to us on what is often an hourly basis things like: people "landing" at a significantly higher rate; new members who report their status as "currently employed and thinking about making a change" to name a couple. They are, of course, responding to what they see in terms of the increased demand (e.g. our postings from recruiters are up close to 40% YTD).

So my question is this: If all those who say they are making a change because they want to find a work environment and/or a culture that is more in tune with their "wants", to what degree do they "get it?" Do they "get it" enough to really work to transform the cultures of the organizations to which they are going so that they meet the real needs of those already there and as part of which and as members of the executive team, they will be trying to recruit and retain?

If one examines the behavior of organizations in the past as they have attempted to adapt to the changing values of differing generations, it explains all too clearly why when it is a seller’s market that retention is always a big time issue. And the "war for talent" stats notwithstanding, it ain't just about numbers of warm bodies available.

There is in all this, it seems to me, both lesson and "learning." The companies who have not made addressing retention issues a strategic priority must be made up of people who believe the old saying: "History is something that happens to other people."

It would be my hope that in today's environment where we have the chance to apply both lessons and "learnings" that companies will be more inclined to view it as Alphonse De Lamartine put it: "History teaches everything including the future."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In the Enron and SOXly era, it only seems appropriate that the ethics gurus would be getting some "testing" questions on a wide variety of topics.

Here's one that I saw the other day on David Perry's Gurrilla Marketing for Job Hunters blog. The question posed to readers was this:

As a candidate what would you do if the company you were interviewing with wanted to offer you a job but told you that they did not want the headhunter who made the introduction to get paid?

Headhunters cost a lot of money, companies are trying to save money any way they can, you want and need a job. What's the "right" call?

Since the question is already posed on the Gurrilla blog, if you prefer to share your thought both here and there, you can do so by going to the Guerrilla Marketing blog and put in your two cents worth on the entry: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Friday, December 02, 2005

No Monkey Business When It Comes To You, Inc.

I got a chance the other day to read a piece on CEO turnover that came via Challenger, Gray & Christmas and via CNN/Money. Isn't the Internet great?

In any event, the article said in part "So far this year, 1,110 CEOs have left their jobs, surpassing even the dotcom exodus of 2000. October saw 96 departures, 113 percent higher than during October 2004, including 15 health-care CEOs and a dozen chief executives from the technology sector." This was not a huge surprise since we all have seen the stats that talk about the average tenure of a CEO these days is something less than three (3) years.

What got me thinking was that when it comes to managing one's career in this new world of "Me, Inc.," you had better not only be proactive in your thinking, but you had better be “up” on the tools and techniques that will help put you in the position to compete and not just be part of the pack. While it is obviously encouraging to all of us that the economy still seems to be moving forward in spite of high energy prices, hurricanes, and the understatement of "foreign entanglements," it doesn't change the fact that moving on to the next challenge is anything but easy. Indeed, with this being the case, and in this environment, it still amazes me on a daily basis that so many senior-level executives continue to approach the job market and managing their careers in ways that don't seem to recognize that the world as moved so far beyond "Dear Sir, I saw your ad in the Wall Street Journal" that it doesn't even show in your rear view mirror.

This is just one of the reasons that I was so taken with David Perry's new book called Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters. After I had read a draft, I not only thought the book was going to help an awful lot of people, but I specifically wanted to see if we could get him to put a special live webinar together to help our members become familiar with some of what the book had to offer and also would give them a chance to talk with him. Fortunately, we were able to "score" on both fronts.

When executives are out of work, one of the first things one often hears them say is that they plan to "work with a recruiter.” Even after all these years it still amazes me that somehow they have the notion that a recruiter is the "answer" when almost nothing could be further from reality. In the environment that will continue for at least as far as most of us can see, anyone looking for a senior-level executive job had better hone in on and become an advocate of “do-it-yourself career management.” The tools that Perry has put together in the book make it the best DIY kit that I have come across in a long time.