Monday, June 26, 2006

Graduation Time

This time of year is always fun in that there are lots of pieces that show up in print or in short segments on the evening newscasts all of which are focused on advice to the new grads.

If you had not seen the one below authored by Charles Sykes, author of the book Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, Or Add, I think it worthy of attention.

Rule No. 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it. The average teen-ager uses the phrase "It's not fair" 8.6 times a day. You got it from your parents, who said it so often you decided they must be the most idealistic generation ever. When they started hearing it from their own kids, they realized Rule No. 1.

Rule No. 2: The real world won't care as much about your self-esteem as much as your school does. It'll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. This may come as a shock. Usually, when inflated self-esteem meets reality, kids complain that it's not fair. (See Rule No. 1)

Rule No. 3: Sorry, you won't make $40,000 a year right out of high school. And you won't be a vice president or have a car phone either. You may even have to wear a uniform that doesn't have a Gap label.

Rule No. 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait 'til you get a boss. He doesn't have tenure, so he tends to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he's not going to ask you how you feel about it.

Rule No. 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity. They weren't embarrassed making minimum wage either. They would have been embarrassed to sit around talking about Kurt Cobain all weekend.

Rule No. 6: It's not your parents' fault. If you screw up, you are responsible. This is the flip side of "It's my life," and "You're not the boss of me," and other eloquent proclamations of your generation. When you turn 18, it's on your dime. Don't whine about it, or you'll sound like a baby boomer.

Rule No. 7: Before you were born your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. And by the way, before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents' generation, try delousing the closet in your bedroom.

Rule No. 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn't. In some schools, they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. Failing grades have been abolished and class valedictorians scrapped, lest anyone's feelings be hurt. Effort is as important as results. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life. (See Rule No. 1, Rule No. 2 and Rule No. 4.)

Rule No. 9: Life is not divided into semesters, and you don't get summers off. Not even Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours. And you don't get a new life every 10 weeks. It just goes on and on. While we're at it, very few jobs are interested in fostering your self-expression or helping you find yourself. Fewer still lead to self-realization. (See Rule No. 1 and Rule No. 2.)

Rule No. 10: Television is not real life. Your life is not a sitcom. Your problems will not all be solved in 30 minutes, minus time for commercials. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop to go to jobs. Your friends will not be as perky or pliable as Jennifer Aniston.

Rule No. 11: Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them. We all could.

Okay Mom and Dad, let's adjourn to the bar!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Hidden Benefits Of Getting Away From The Office

A few months ago, Ken White, who has been involved with MIT Sloan Alumni Career Services ever since I met him some 10+ years ago, called and asked if I would be on a panel that he was putting together for this year's reunion.

When I asked him what the topic was he said networking. When I asked who else was to be on the panel he said it would be Lawler Kang, who had just published a book Passion at Work : How to Find Work You Love and Live the Time of Your Life and Ian Ybarra (an MIT grad) who works with Keith Ferrazzi the author of the current best seller Never Eat Alone (you have to love the title!)

The event was in Boston which isn't all that far from my home in Rhode Island, and since it was to be held on a Friday, I thought it would be a great way to be able to spend some extra time at home since I would have to come up from our offices in Connecticut beforehand.

When I asked Ken why would he want me sandwiched between two books, he said that since we had been in the networking world for close to 20 years he thought I might bring a different perspective (translation: feedback from the real world?)

So I thought, why not, and besides, I thought it was pretty neat that the school was offering a program like this to returning alums since so many alumni offices are under such stress from a workload they are usually no where near staffed to meet or funded to deliver.

By the time I got back to Rhode Island after experiencing my first (and I hope my last) homeward commute from Cambridge at the absolute zenith of a Friday Boston rush hour (and if ever there was an oxymoron it's "rush hour") I had had more than enough time to reflect on the day's program. All in all it felt pretty good, and I enjoyed listening to what my fellow panelists had to say as well as the time we had to dialogue with our audience.

One of the really beneficial things of getting out of the office and participating in events such as this one is that you get to hear how different people can focus on the same subject but the way in which they communicate it helps to drive home the point with a sense of clarity that had not come through before. In short, you learn from each other.

Case in point was when I was trying to help people relate to the kind of relationship that's necessary when it comes to effective networking. The example I used was asking people to visualize a scene that we all have experienced time and time again. It was: when you get back from lunch and you have a stack of "while you were out" slips and a ton of email that just piled up, but you have a meeting in ten minutes...Whose message do you always return and whose do you put off until later?

After the formal program, a number of participants told me that this particular example helped them to "get it" - it was a nice feeling.

For my part, when Ian was talking, one of the key points he made was around the word "generosity". His coming at the same idea but from this angle, helped me to recall that while there were other reasons as well, one of the key motivations
that made me pick "the" call I was going to return was that it came from someone who at some time (and often more than once) had done something for me for no other reason than they were generous with their time, experience, or information, and the time that had passed between contact with each other was irrelevant.

Said differently, “People do not remember what you say or what you do, over the years, but they never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Recruiting Super Stars and Also Rans

I got a pleasant surprise the other day when I got a call from Bill Vick, a name well known to the recruiting community for many, many years. Bill was one of those who was well out in front of the learning curve when it came to understanding the care and feeding of the Internet as it applied to the world of recruiting. Self-described as a "Big Biller, Author, Recruiter, Entrepreneur", one of his latest ventures is a site called XtremeRecruiting which is essentially a site of Podcasts Bill is collecting for a book he is getting ready to write.

So, as I said, I got a call from Bill wanting to set up an interview with me. Since I am not a recruiter, I was curious as to why, and was flattered to hear that since he has known of us for many years, and is aware of the relationships we have built with the search community, he thought my perspective might be of some interest to his listeners. He had some interesting questions to ask, one of which was what I thought made the difference between a good recruiter and a great recruiter, in other words, between a "super star" and an "also ran."

As I thought about it, lots of thoughts flashed across my mind, such as: research, segment expertise, presence, interviewing skills, written and verbal communication skills, educated intuition (if there is such a thing) and work ethic and personal ethics among others. But for whatever reason, what came out of my mouth was trust.

Essentially what I told Bill was that for me at least, what made recruiting super stars was not all that different from what differentiates people no matter what their profession - namely, how we perceive the sincerity of the relationship. I told him that the rap on the recruiting world (as he knew far better than I) was that it was transaction oriented, and thus gave it a feel of artificiality so far as the nature of the relationship between the recruiter and the candidate was concerned, and those recruiters who were able to build real relationships were those who became the "big billers." Indeed, it struck me that this was the underlying key to the success of anyone in business, and particularly anyone who was selling a service.

Later on in the day as I reflected back on our conversation (and as all of us are wont to do in terms of beating ourselves up about how we wish we had been better at saying this or that) it crossed by mind that since ExecuNet was founded some 18+ years ago, the majority of our members, both recruiters and executives, still come by referral, and referrals are the result of real relationships.

So I said to myself, "Dave, lighten up, go have a glass of wine." It was a nice way to end the day.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Gray Matters

For a number of years now at ExecuNet, in addition to our two bi-weekly newsletters, we have included as part of membership, a series of PDF career guides for our members. The last time I looked I think we were pushing near twenty of them.

They cover a wide variety of career related topics from networking, interviewing, job search research, working with recruiters, and digital dirt just to name a few. One of the most dog-eared (if such a thing applies to a PDF) is when we publish one that has to do with age.

Thanks to the great work of our Senior Editor Robyn Greenspan, the most recent of the guides is called Gray Matters: Experienced Executives Gaining the Edge and when we checked over the weekend, several thousand members had download their copy in the first 72 hours it was posted.

I certainly can both understand and relate to the interest our members have in the topic. For many, if they have been fortunate in life, when they first bump into age discrimination, it is their first "personal" experience on the discrimination front. What I mean is while they likely have seen discrimination in action, they were observers not recipients. It is like the difference in understanding something on an intellectual level versus understanding or experiencing it on an emotional level.

For anyone who has ever experienced discrimination on any level be it for race, sex, age, religion or whatever, the frustration and anger is some of the most intense feelings one can ever have.

So the question is what does one do after the anger and frustration have been exhausted? To me, at least when it comes to the age issue, it has always been a question of deciding how one wishes to use their time and energy.

We all have biases. In my own experience, for most people I know, they lie somewhere in the middle of a spectrum, not on the extremes, meaning while they are there, people are willing to listen and learn. They are, in a word, subject to be influenced.

While not trying to be too simplistic, if a salesperson has done his homework, he goes into the selling process knowing what some of the customer's potential "objections" are and has made his plans accordingly.

In Gray Matters, what Robyn has done is to try and provide our members, particularly those who may not be seasoned in selling themselves, not only with an understanding of the issues, but more importantly, with some ammunition to fight back.

Headline: Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, there is value to experience.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Truth, Justice and the American Way

I was reading Steve Levy's blog The Recruiting Edge the other day, and his post was entitled Truth, Justice and $$$. He was writing about a story that appeared on entitled, Trial Lawyers Are Down Now; Let's Hit Them Again. The author was Kevin Hassett who is director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, information I add for those interested in the author's political affiliation.

It is an interesting read, and it reminded me of the degree to which the thought of lawyers raises my blood pressure even though I am well aware that my bias is grossly unfair to that small number of lawyers who, simply by the law of averages, must be very decent, ethical people. In fact, now that I think about it, I have even met some.

That said, and as I wondered where this bias I have came from in the first place, I was reminded of how many times over the years I had seen instances where those whose role in life seemed to be to make their living by "beating the system" were represented by lawyers who made their living by helping the scoundrels to do it while the rest of us sat back and paid the tab.

It all reminded me of how I felt as a Labor Relations representative during the first 10+ years of my career when I recall thinking how incredibly expensive it was for a company to manage what probably amounted to 1% or less of the employee population.

At the time I was working in a manufacturing plant of some 3,000. We had a labor contract that I think could have been weighed in pounds, not ounces. It didn't take me long to figure out that for 99% of the people I was dealing with we didn't need a contract, all we needed were two people who instinctively knew what "fair' was, and that was it. The other 1% kept lots of us, including the legal staff, very busy and, if labor agreements ever had a "dedicated to" section, it should have been dedicated to that group.

As I look back on those days now, when I was a twenty something, I tell myself I felt the way I did as the result of "innocent idealism" as yet untarnished by the real world.

Now, some 40+ years and several Global Crossings, WorldComs, Enrons, Adelphias & Tycos later I realize that given the road we have traveled, and like it or not, it looks like we are going to need more lawyers not less.

Not a happy prospect.