Thursday, December 30, 2010

Before You Resolve.....

It’s that time of year when everyone is talking (or writing) about making resolutions for the New Year. Year in and year out, the most popular resolutions are related to personal health (lose weight, workout, quit smoking/drinking) or money (save more, spend less, get out debt, find a new job). And year in and year out, most people fail to follow through on their New Year’s resolutions.

Why is that? Are we that undisciplined, that uncommitted to self-improvement? Well that may be part of it, but I think the major reason we fail is that we don’t really know what we want. Before you make your New Year’s resolutions, ask yourself:

“What do I really want and am I truly willing to sacrifice to get it?”

Very few ask this two part question and those of us who do rarely give honest answers. A lot of people “want” to lose weight and say they are willing to diet and exercise. But what they “really want” is to feel good and they want to feel good now. Diet and exercise are not “feel good now” activities, at least not in the beginning. Eating ice cream is a feel good now activity. People say they want to save money and they are willing to cut back on spending. But what they “really want” is to feel good and they want to feel good now. As long as buying stuff makes people feel better than not buying stuff and saving, people will keep on spending.

The truth is that the only resolution you are likely to keep is the one that hurts you more if you don’t keep it. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions…it’s more about the stick and less about the carrot. What do you really want in 2011 and are you willing to sacrifice to get it?

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Reason For The Season

May You Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Koyaanisqatsi

Remember the early 80’s documentary Koyaanisqatsi? It is a superb film. It was the first in the Qatsi trilogy of films; and is followed by Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi . The trilogy depicts different aspects of the relationship between humans, nature, and technology. In the Hopi language the word Koyaanisqatsi means "crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living".

This week I read something that, for me, captured the essence of “Koyaanisqatsi” in our time. Just after reading one more article about certain of our fellow citizens vehemently objecting to the use of Merry Christmas in public displays and greetings, I checked out Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 50 Hits of 2010. It’s my way of determining just how far I’ve slipped out of the pop culture mainstream. Fortunately I still recognize about half of the artists. Rolling Stone gave me a break this year. I mean the top 10 included Kanye West, Katy Perry, Sade and Mavis Staples. It also helps that Rolling Stone includes pictures of the artists.

So what do objections to Merry Christmas have to do with the Rolling Stone Top 50?
The title of the Number 2 song of the year is “F**K You”. The artist is Cee Lo Green (real name Thomas DeCarlo Calloway). I recognized his picture as the guy who sang “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley a few years back. "Crazy" is a terrific song and this guy has a great voice. You can go on-line and listen to “F**K You”. There’s even a video. I recommend the video version. Rolling Stone noted that “Cee Lo didn’t just say "F**k you" — he said it with humor and serious panache.”

Have you heard or read of any objections to this song? I haven’t. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t there something wrong when more people are upset over “Merry Christmas” than “F**K You”? I don’t know, perhaps we need to learn how to say Merry Christmas with more humor and some serious “panache”.

Koyaanisqatsi: crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living. Let's start by saying Merry Christmas and say it like we mean it…with some serious panache.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Crime and Punishment

Recently I was called for jury duty. I live in a county with a population of just over 100,000. It is on the outer fringe of the 19 county Dallas-Fort Worth Combined Statistical Area which has a population of over 6.8 million people. On the day I reported, over 200 other potential jury members had been called to sit 3 juries. I ended up in a pool of around 60 people from which 13 (twelve for the jury plus one alternate) would be selected. The trial was for a very serious criminal offense; I’ll leave it at that.

If you’ve ever been called for jury duty on something like this, you know that both the prosecuting and defense attorneys get to ask a lot of questions. We were sitting in a courtroom and each attorney had a seating chart with our names. I was praying not to be selected for the jury. And my prayers were answered.

I did come away from the jury screening session intrigued by the groups’ responses to two questions: Have you ever been the victim of a crime? Do you have any immediate family members who are in prison or who have served time in prison?
Now I admit that some folks, despite swearing to tell the truth, might have fudged on their answers. But for the most part, I think people were being truthful. I would say at least half of the 60 or so people in the group, including me, responded that they had been a crime victim. We also had to say what sort of crime had been committed. While the vast majority of crimes were burglaries and theft, there were a significant number of people who had been the victims of violent crimes. In response to the question regarding family members and prison time, at least a dozen people responded yes.

My first reaction was disbelief that over half the people sitting in that room would have been crime victims and one out of five had family members with a prison record. But when you consider the crime stats it makes sense. While crime rates have been dropping in recent years, the numbers are still high; especially when you consider them over a long window of time. Over the last 30 years annual property crime rates in the U.S. have been in the range of 3000-5000 per 100,000 (and they are even higher in Texas.) Violent crimes have ranged from around 425-750 per year per 100,000 (and again they are higher in Texas). So over a 30 year period anyone might well have become a crime victim. And considering the crime statistics, it also makes sense that in a room of 60 people, at least 20% of them would have a close family member serving time or having served time.

The good news as noted above is that crime rates have been going down in recent years. There are a lot of theories about the reasons for the decline, one being that legalized abortion has reduced the number of unwanted babies who grow up to commit crimes. I’m not buying that one, even if it’s true. Killing unwanted babies so a few of them won’t grow up to steal your SUV? I do believe that stronger law enforcement and the broad application of security technology have certainly been major factors in reducing crime. And there is probably some effect of the baby-boomer population aging beyond their most “productive” crime years. But when it’s all said and done, we still have a serious crime problem in this country.

My gut tells me that it’s about to get much worse. We have more people living on the margins of society. The “have-not” population is growing faster than the “haves”. 40% (yes forty percent) of all babies are now born out of wedlock and the numbers in certain demographics are almost double that rate. The institution of marriage is broken. How many happy families do you know? Which village is raising your child or your neighbor’s child? Think about it. What have we done to ourselves?

Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Psalms 79:8

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Moment of Truth

If you care about this country, I recommend that you take time to read
“The Moment of Truth. Report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.”

It’s worthwhile reading, even though I think it’s highly unlikely that we as a nation will suddenly become fiscally responsible. One line in the report’s preamble says it all: “America cannot be great if we go broke.” (I hear that the Chinese are already printing up the T-shirts.)

So where are we?

 Discretionary spending (excluding war related) has grown 34% in last decade
 Federal debt is now up to 62% of annual GDP
 If we do nothing the debt will be up to 90% of GDP by 2020 and 185% of GDP by 2035
 In 2010 federal spending is 24% of GDP…the highest since WWII and revenues will be only 15% of GDP…a 9% deficit gap in this year alone.

Read the report, there’s plenty to worry about. While I tend to be skeptical about economic projections, directionally I think the report is on point. We are headed toward financial Armageddon if we don’t change our ways. Interestingly, it is noted in the report that Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, has said that the most significant threat to our national security is our debt.

The Moment of Truth report recommends major reductions in spending and an overhaul of our tax policy. But it’s not going to happen. At least not any time soon. Before we can step up to the Moment of Truth, we must deal with the Truth of the Moment. And the Truth of the Moment is that we are not willing to make sacrifices. Certainly our political leaders are not going to sacrifice their careers by putting the lid on the cookie jar. Personally, I don’t want my taxes to go up and I don’t want to give up my tax deductions. Truth is that most of us do not trust “The System” and therefore we are not willing to sacrifice. Deep down inside we believe that our sacrifice will end up being someone else’s subsidy or entitlement.

I really believe that the first step toward turning this mess around is to impose strict term limits on the members of Congress. Pay them well and help them get real jobs when they leave Congress, but take away the option of being a lifetime politician. We should also offer financial incentives to congressional members, incentives that reward fiscal responsibility. Our current system rewards them for taking care of special interests and doing whatever it takes to get re-elected. As long as we reward that behavior, that’s the behavior we will get.

If you’ve read previous blog entries, you know that I tend to be pessimistic. In this case I am extremely pessimistic. “The System” has evolved to the point where it needs a major overhaul. But all of us are getting something out of “The System” and we don’t want an overhaul that takes away more than it gives. Sorry, but the day of reckoning is here. The Moment of Truth has arrived. Time to pick-up the check and pay for our lunch. And, I mean really pay for our lunch. Not with other people’s money and not with more paper. But as long as we have access to other people’s money and we don’t run out of paper and ink, I don’t see us paying for that lunch any time soon.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Headhunters

If you read my last blog, you know that we are now ready to apply all that we’ve learned about evaluating search assignments. Jerry Jones, Owner/GM and Puppet Master of the Dallas Cowboys has asked me to find him a Head Coach. Should I take the search?

First, we have The Client. What can I say? I only know what I read in the papers and see on TV. The Client is not much inclined to listen to others unless they agree with him; and in the end he will do whatever he wants to do.
So on a scale of 1-10, the Client is a 0.

Second, The Company. Well, the Cowboy organization isn’t what it used to be. In this case the Client has virtually redefined the Company and not in a good way. However, there is still some shine left on “the Star”, and they do have those cheerleaders, and Jerry does have all that money. I’ll rate it a 5.

The Job has pluses and minuses. It is big money and a big spotlight. A great opportunity to succeed or fail magnificently. On a “comparative value” basis it’s not a totally bad job. However, the requirements and qualifications are tough. The candidate must be willing to work for a high-control owner/general manager whose kids are heavily involved in the business. The Head Coach will have lots of responsibility but limited authority. Compared to other head coaching opportunities, this one really is below average. I’ll give it a 3.

Lastly, The Search. It’s ugly. It’s certainly not confidential. There’s plenty of competition, solicited and otherwise. The need is there for sure, but the urgency is moderate. Nothing is likely to happen until after the season is over. He has a strong internal candidate, Jason Garrett. He is also considering the list of unemployed and available head coaches who have successful track records. But Uncle Jerry likes to show people how clever he is and may go in an entirely different direction. The interview process will be goofy. It just will be. Trust me on that. Who knows how the hiring decision will really be made? The best thing the search has going for it is a GINORMOUS FEE. But even that’s not enough to rate it more than a 2.

So should I take on this type of search? None of the four key areas are positive. The answer to “should I” take on the search is obviously NO. But, it is tempting. Sometimes it’s just fun to take on something out of the ordinary, especially if it’s difficult and no one else would attempt it. I call it a Mickelson (you golfers know what that means). That said, taking on a Mickelson like this deserves to be filmed for one of those Jack Ass movies. It definitely has a “Hold my beer and watch this” feel to it.

But sometimes it’s not all about the facts or the fundamentals. Sometimes it’s about fun and foolishness. Would I take on the search to find the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys? Hold my beer…

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How 'Bout Them Cowboys...Contingency Search (Part 4)

OK, I closed last week’s blog entry with a “How ‘Bout Them Cowboys?” teaser. I had no idea they would show up Sunday afternoon and beat the Giants. Now I’m confused and will postpone further discussion of the Cowboys until next week.

Over the past three weeks you’ve read about my process for evaluating contingency search assignments. First, I consider my relationship with the Client. Second, what is the Company’s reputation? Third, is it a good Job? Now we are down to the Search itself.

I think there are 8 key factors which impact the actual search process:

1) confidentiality
2) competition
3) need
4) urgency
5) other options
6) interview process
7) hiring decision
8) the fee

Let’s briefly discuss each of these factors and why they are important.

Confidentiality. I like confidential searches. Usually there is less competition (other search firms, advertising, networking, etc). It can be a little tougher to recruit certain candidates who insist on knowing “the company”, but overall confidentiality is a plus.

Competition. The more competition on the search, the less likely I am to be successful. When a client tells me that they are using multiple search firms, running ads, have the job posted on multiple websites and social networks, etc etc.; I am not inclined to put much effort into the search. If the search has been underway for some time and now they are asking me to join in, I have to question why they have been unable to fill the job. Too much competition or a search that has gone on too long are major red flags.

Need. We get a lot of “tire kickers” in the contingency search business. Clients know that it doesn’t cost them anything to have me search. If the client is not truly motivated to fill the position, then my odds of success go way down.

Urgency. Sometimes we have clients who sincerely have a need, but always move slowly. In this business we say “time kills deals”. I’ve had searches that drag on for months even after the client has interviewed and targeted two or three candidates for the shortlist of finalists. I have even made placements on such slow-moving searches. But generally speaking, the longer things drag on, the less likely we are to have a successful outcome.

Other Options. This is really just another form of competition and it bites recruiters more often than most would like to admit. The most common “other option” is an internal promotion or transfer. I always ask something like: “Have you considered internal candidates?” or “Is there no one within you organization who can step into this role?”
This is a critical issue. Some companies use the search firm just to “see what else is out there” or to validate their decision to promote internally. If a company is seriously considering an internal candidate, be careful about investing too much time in the search.

Interview Process. Just knowing the interview process is a big plus. I can prepare the candidate for almost anything if I know what’s coming. Some recruiters don’t like companies who make candidates go through multiple interviews with different people throughout the company. My experience is that a lot of great organizations do this, so I’m all for it IF it’s done properly AND IF I know it’s coming. A lot of not so great organizations just sort of “wing it” through the interview process. Not good.

Hiring Decision. Closely related to the interview process, I need to know how the hiring decision will be made. The more people involved, the tougher it gets to make the placement. For example, I’ve had candidates left “standing at the alter” because the primary hiring authority finds out at the last minute that his boss or some other senior executive has a bias against people from the candidate’s current or former employer. Always beware of too many decision makers and/or the hidden decision maker.

The Fee. Size matters. Would I rather have a 40% chance of earning a $50,000 fee or an 80% chance of earning a $20,000 fee? You do the math.

So we have the model for evaluating contingency search assignments:
The Client
The Company
The Job
The Search.

Next week I’ll apply this model to an actual search assignment. What if you got a call from Jerry Jones and he asked you to find the next Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Purple Squirrels and Unicorns....Contingency Search (Part 3)

So assuming we have a functional Client Relationship and the Company is not too Bad or too Ugly, our next consideration is THE JOB itself.

When looking at the job I start with two major questions:
I. What is the comparative value of this position relative to similar positions in this industry?
II. Are the candidate qualifications and requirements reasonable?

I continue to be amazed by hiring authorities who attempt to get "A" level talent with "C" level compensation/benefits. I think there are several reasons why companies go this route. Probably the most legitimate reason for this approach is “salary compression”. This condition exists when the internal compensation level (what the company pays their current employees) is less than the external compensation level (what the company will have to pay to attract top talent from outside). This can occur for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the company has a long pattern of hiring less qualified and/or less talented people at lower compensation levels. When the day comes and they decide to “upgrade”, they are faced with the dilemma of needing to pay more to get what they need than they are currently paying for what they have. We also see salary compression in companies that grow their own talent and have a high level of employee retention. People may stay because they like the company or there are not many other employment options in the area or the company has great benefits and other extras. But it can still make it very tough to hire people from outside who are unwilling to make a lateral move or take less money just to work for this company.

There are other less legitimate reasons for companies to try hiring “on the cheap”. One is that they are just cheap. They think if they open enough channels (search firms, job boards, employee referrals, social networks, etc) they will find a highly qualified and talented person who’s willing to take their below market compensation package. And, occasionally it works out that way. But as a recruiter, you don’t want to be spending your time chasing that rabbit.

Another factor in the “comparative value” equation is career advancement opportunity. A position that offers significant career advancement opportunity is a major plus for a recruiter. Especially when going after top-level talent. So don’t focus entirely on the compensation/benefit package.

Now to Question Number 2: Are candidate qualifications and requirements reasonable?
(Or am I looking for Purple Squirrels and Unicorns.) I turndown as many searches over this issue as I do over “comparative value” concerns. Sometimes the hiring authority has a list of “must haves” that makes the search virtually impossible. The recruiter’s only option is to try and talk the hiring authority down off the ledge. (This get’s back to The Client Relationship. Will they listen to me?). But if the hiring authority is dead set on finding someone who meets all the specs, the recruiter has to decide if it’s worth the effort. And I would tell you that sometimes it is worth the effort. If it's a high-level position with a good company, I will seriously consider it. Some of my best candidates (and clients) have come from recruiting projects where, in the beginning, I was essentially looking for that Purple Squirrel or Unicorn. But, if in the process of looking for that which does not exist, I can develop relationships with highly-qualified, talented people; it’s not a bad investment. And sometimes, I can eventually persuade the hiring authority to consider an exceptional candidate who may not be a 100% match.

The real message here is that the recruiter must honestly evaluate THE JOB before taking on THE SEARCH. You owe it to yourself and to your client. The client may be locked into a situation where they simply cannot offer a highly competitive compensation package. What is the best they can get for what they can afford? The client may have totally unrealistic expectations regarding candidate qualifications. What is reasonable? What should they expect? Recruiters who know their industry can answer these questions. Recruiters who work for clients who will not listen better have some other source of income.

Next week, Part 4 of Contingency Search….”How ‘Bout Them Cowboys?”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly...Contingency Search (Part 2)

Last week we identified four key factors a headhunter should consider before they take on a search assignment: The Client Relationship, The Company, The Job and The Search. Then we wrote about how important it is that the headhunter establishes a strong working relationship with The Client. This week it’s about The Company.

Alert the media…news flash: It’s easier to recruit for a good company than it is for a bad one or an ugly one. Which begs the question, what separates the Good from the Bad and the Ugly? From the recruiter’s perspective (which in this case tends to be much the same as the candidate’s perspective) it’s mostly about the company’s reputation, situation and location.

Let’s talk first about location. This is a big deal for candidates. If the job is located at the company headquarters it’s a major and immediate issue for candidates. If it’s an issue for prospective candidates, then it’s an issue for the recruiter. I’m not going to pick on specific cities; but in general, transportation, logistics and supply chain professionals resist relocation to California and major metro areas in the Northeast. (This does not mean that we can't fill the position. It just means that the pool of potential candidates will consist mostly of people currently living in or originally from these areas.) Smaller towns tend to be less attractive. Warm climates generally win out over cold climates. And there are certain cities and states that suffer from negative images, deserved or not. Even if the job is not located at corporate, the corporate location has an impact on the candidate. Candidates think about future opportunities and where they might end up living. Company location matters, regardless of where the actual job is located.

Then there is the company’s “Situation”. What do the numbers say? How is the company performing financially? What does the balance sheet look like? What is the condition of their assets? Technology? Service ? Safety? Turnover?...etc,etc. If the company is performing poorly, headhunters know that it’s going to be a tough search. It’s sort of that whole lipstick on a pig deal.

Last and most important, the company’s “Reputation”. Joan Jett may have sung, “I don’t give a damn ‘bout my bad reputation”, but if your company has a bad reputation, prospective candidates do give a damn. And you better start giving a damn. Frankly, I consider company reputation to be the most critical of “The Company” factors. The company’s situation is a big part of their reputation. I get that. But here I’m talking about how the company is perceived by the candidates I am being asked to recruit. Example, a company may have a great reputation overall, but if the have a history of churning through sales people; then they will likely have a bad reputation with sales candidates. Some companies just have a bad reputation period. They may generate superior business results and even be in a great location, but if they develop the reputation of being a place where “outsiders” (people who did not grow up in the company) tend to fail, then it becomes a really tough recruit.

So as a contingency fee recruiter, I have to determine if this is a company worth recruiting for. If they are in a bad location, performing poorly and their reputation sucks; what are my odds of success? It depends. Who is my client contact? Maybe the company has brought in new leadership. Things may change for the better. Who knows? But I would say this. If I don’t have a solid relationship with someone at the company, and the company is bad and ugly, and all indications are that it will continue to be bad and ugly; why would I waste my time on a search? There comes a point where even if I thought I could make the placement, it’s just not worth being associated with that company.

Next week, Part 3 of Contingency Search…Purple Squirrels and Unicorns.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Against All Odds...Contingency Search (Part 1)

Contingent: Having a cause-and-effect relationship with the occurrence of something else. See also conditional and provisional. (

For the most part, I do my headhunting on a contingency fee basis. When clients (employers) ask me what I charge to do a search, I tell them it’s FREE. That’s right; I do the search for free. Now the placement is another matter. It doesn’t cost an employer anything UNTIL they actually hire one of my candidates. I don’t get paid until I make the placement. Getting paid is better than not getting paid. That being the case, I am inclined to only accept searches where there is a reasonable chance of success.

So how do I determine if there is a reasonable chance of success? I use a four point check list:

Client relationship is at the top of the list for a reason. Before taking a search, my first question is always: What sort of a relationship do I have, or am I likely to develop, with the client? In my mind, this trumps all other issues. The company can be great, the job outstanding and the search conditions highly favorable. But, if I do not have a productive relationship with at least one key client contact, my odds of success go down dramatically. And if the company, the job or the search characteristics are weak (and in most cases one or more of them are), then my odds of success really go in the tank. The good news is that in most cases, if I get far enough along to actually get the search opportunity, I can establish a decent working relationship with the client. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest, if I can get to a 5 or 6 level relationship and the other factors are at least manageable; then I’ve got a fighting chance at success. Will I take a search where the client relationship is weak? If it’s a new client, yes. There’s always a chance that I can eventually build a strong relationship with a key hiring authority in that organization. But if it’s a client where I’ve had bad experiences and I just know that it’s not likely to change; I’ll suggest that they consider using another search firm.

Where the client relationship really comes into play, is when some of those other factors are highly unfavorable. As an example, let’s say I’ve got a company that is under-performing financially, the job specs are very tight and the compensation is low. If I have a productive relationship with the client, preferably the hiring authority, and I can have a candid conversation regarding these issues; it is very likely that we can tweak things just enough to have a successful outcome. Hopefully, that successful outcome will be a win-win-win: for the client, for the candidate who is hired and for me. But if you’re in this business for the long-term, sometimes it’s just a win for the client. Maybe after that candid conversation, the best option for the client is to promote from within. It might be a stretch promotion, but it’s the best option. Ultimately it’s about doing the right thing for the client. In order to do that, we need more than a transactional relationship. And the closer we can get to a level 10 relationship, the better.

So assuming that I’ve got something more than a “transactional” relationship with The Client, the next item on the checklist is The Company. We’ll talk about that next week in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…. Contingency Search (Part 2)”.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


By now we’ve all heard about the bedbugs and we’ve heard different theories regarding their resurgence. Most experts agree that banning of DDT in pesticides and increased international travel are primarily responsible for the bedbug revival. While I agree that these two factors have contributed to the problem, I have another theory and it involves hotel bedding and the French. And it’s just one more example of unintended consequences.

I’ve traveled for years. I remember when all hotel rooms smelled like smoke and unless you brought your own alarm clock you had to ask for a wake-up call. (And I remember not getting wake up calls as requested.) I remember no free breakfast, no USA Today and really ugly carpet in those old Holiday Inns. For the most part, hotel stays are much nicer now than they were “back in the day”.

But a few years ago I began noticing a new and disturbing trend. It started in the really nice hotels. Now it’s in virtually any hotel than doesn’t rent rooms by the hour. At first it just aggravated me, but now that this bedbug thing has come back around, I think it’s time to sound the alarm. Duvets are providing aid and comfort to the bedbug community. (According to my wife, Duvet is the proper name. It comes from the French word for “down”. I, on the other hand, am inclined to call it what it is: a big, fat, worthless quilt.)

A duvet serves even less purpose on a bed these days than decorative pillows. I mean really, who needs a down-filled quilt that’s 3 inches thick? We are sleeping in a climate controlled room! These duvets are like a thermal sleeping bag. Give me a break. So here’s my drill and I think a lot of you are just like me. I literally have to un-make a hotel bed before I can sleep in it. The duvet has a top sheet and a bottom sheet, then there’s a sheet over the mattress. (And then there’s also a big thick bed spread over the entire mess along with those totally useless decorative pillows.) I pull all this crap off the bed and start over. I end up with a bottom sheet over the mattress and one top sheet and sleeping pillows. An entire corner of the room is now taken up by a pile of bedding which consists of a bed spread, decorative pillows, at least one sheet and a duvet; aka a big, fat, worthless quilt. And guess where bedbugs like to hang out: “Nesting locations can vary greatly including luggage, vehicles, furniture and bedside clutter” – Wikipedia. (I think that my pile of useless bedding and bedding accessories would qualify as clutter.)

So what’s my point? Form doesn’t always follow function and function doesn’t always follow form. Sometimes pretty turns into ugly. And if something is likely to end up in a pile on the floor, maybe it’s not worth doing in the first place.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Getting U Down (Part 2)

So what should our government do? Why not start a program that will provide job training? Why not offer loans and grants and other financial assistance to deserving folks who just need a “hand up, not a hand out”? Why not? Because we already have over 60 federal programs that supposedly do this. There are probably twice as many state, regional and local programs attempting to do the same thing. If you’re really bored sometime, read the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). That’s just one program and it looks great on paper. And if you add in the all the other programs, I see no reason why we should have 3.2 Million jobs going unfilled with over 14M unemployed and probably another 20-30M who’ve just given up and exited the workforce. So I’m thinking these programs must not be working all that well. If a private business had this many departments, programs, task forces and special projects spending money to address one issue, they would go broke. Oh that’s right, our government has gone broke. Repeat after me: "We don’t need another government program."

So what should our government do? The best way for the government to get the U (unemployment) down is to get the E(economy)up. I think there are three areas where the government must take action. Number one, tax policy should encourage business investment and profitability IN THE USA. Ours doesn't. Number two, massive investment is needed in our infrastructure. We are behind the curve and falling farther behind. The projects underway and/or being planned are nice first steps, but not nearly enough. Number three, get serious about energy. We must reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It’s going to be painful and take a lot of sacrifice, but it must be done. I honestly believe that if the politicians would just give half as much attention to these three issues as they do to getting re-elected, we could accomplish great things.

But the results won’t be there within an election cycle. So it is unlikely that our politicians will step up and do the right thing. If that is the case, then I would just say to our leaders in Washington…put down the shovel. Please give us a chance to climb out of the hole, before it gets any deeper.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Getting U down

Last week I talked about unemployment rates. If you go back and read that blog entry, you’ll see a significant disparity in the rates for various categories. These gaps are there in good times and bad. I have no idea how to balance the scales. I’m not even sure that we should try. The government and the unions have tried to do so for well over half a century. How’s that working out for us? On the other hand, I am concerned about the ever increasing gap between the haves and have-nots. But let’s talk about what we can do today to go from Big U to Little U.

First of all, let’s convert percentages to numbers of people. If we use U3, the government's official unemployment calculation, we have just over 14 million unemployed people in this country. In 2009 the average for the year was 14.2 million and while the number is coming down ever so slightly, we’ll probably average about that same level in 2010. Before the recession we had 7 million unemployed. So, I say let’s focus on the 7.2 million who have been added to the unemployment roster.

If I could wave a magic wand and create over 3 million jobs would that help? Well, consider it done. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (the same folks who keep track of unemployment), we have 3.2 million job openings in the U.S. There’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that there are 3.2 million jobs. The bad news is that they do not necessarily line up with the skills, locations or compensation expectations of the unemployed. For example, 1.2 million of the newly unemployed came out of the construction industry. Only 68,000 of the 3.2 million job openings are in construction. Another 1.2 million of the newly unemployed came from manufacturing. Only 200,000 of the 3.2 million job openings are in manufacturing and by the time you factor in skill requirements, location and compensation; a significant number of those 200,000 jobs will go unfilled; or be filled by currently employed workers who are in the right place with the right skills and whose job change will create yet another open position that doesn’t match up well with the unemployed population.

It’s worth noting that the number of unemployed “professionals” jumped by almost a million when the recession hit. But now there are over 600,000 job openings for people in this category. Again, there are issues of skills, location and compensation, but the recovery in this group is likely to happen much faster than it will for construction and manufacturing.

So what should our government be doing to put at least 7 million of our fellow Americans back to work. That’s next week's subject…but I’ll give you a hint…It ain’t more food stamps.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Real U

Let’s talk about the “U”. The “U” as in unemployment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics actually calculates SIX different U’s. The published unemployment rate is U3 and the August 2010 number was 9.6%. Pre and post 9/11 lows were 3.9% and 4.4%. Then there is U6, the super-sized measurement of U.S. unemployment (It’s also an age classification for youth soccer, but I digress). In addition to all those folks in the regular unemployment rate, U6 also counts "marginally attached workers" and those working part-time for economic reasons. Some of these part-time workers counted as employed by U3 could be working as little as an hour a week. And the "marginally attached workers" include those who have gotten discouraged and stopped looking, but still want to work. The August 2010 U6 rate was 16.7%. Pre and post 9/11 lows were 6.8% and 8.0%.

There is yet another measure of unemployment published by John Williams, an economist based in Oakland California. He does his own research and publishes a newsletter called Shadow Government Statistics (SGS). His SGS unemployment rate is similar to U6 but includes more of the “marginally attached”. It’s usually 4 or 5 points higher than U6, so that puts his U over 20%.

So what it the real U? That sort of depends on “U”. If you are among the unemployed, the U means “U are not employed” and that’s the only statistic that matters. But if you are not Unemployed it is likely that you are at least 25 years old, married, white, female, hold a management or professional position and have a college degree. The statistics are interesting and compelling.

Unemployment rates by categories:

25 yrs and up 8.3%
20-24 14.9%
16-19 26.3%

Married: 6.4%
Single: 13.6%

White 8.7%
Afro-Am 14.9%
Latino 12.0%

Men 10.6%
Women 8.6%

Job Category:
Management/Professional 5.1%
Services 10.6%
Office/Admin/Sales 9.1%
Blue Collar 12.1%

Less than High School 14.0%
High School 10.3%
Some College 8.7%
Bachelors Degree or above 4.6%

So what should we do about the “U”? My thoughts, next week.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Advice for the RIF'd

One of the most important questions I ask unemployed candidates is “what happened?”. (There are more sophisticated and/or subtle ways to approach this issue, but I prefer the direct approach). Most of the time candidates will try to put a positive spin on “what happened”. If I ask enough questions I can generally get to the truth. But that’s a subject for another time and another blog.

For the past two or three years one of the most frequent answers to the “what happened” question, is “reduction in force”, aka RIF, or its cousins “my position was eliminated” or “my department (duties/responsibilities, territory, division, company) were taken over by whoever, whatever, etc.” I still check the “spin meter” when I get one these responses. But, most of the time I find that the candidate is telling the truth. It does beg the question as to why were they RIF’d and someone else was not. But that is also a subject for another time and another blog.

Today’s subject is “Advice for the RIF’d”. What should you do when it happens to you? I’ll not attempt to cover all the bases and potential issues, but I do want to point out SEVEN of the most important things you should do if you get RIF’d.

Number One: Be Nice. Don’t get mad, don’t burn a bridge. Be Nice.

Number Two: Negotiate a severance arrangement. Be nice, but ask for some sort of salary/benefit continuation. In most cases, there may be a company policy on severance or “a package” will be offered when you get RIF’d. Be nice, be reasonable, but if the severance seems a little light, ask for more. And if nothing is offered, be nice, but be persistent in asking for some consideration.

Number Three: Be nice, but don’t sign anything until you’ve had a chance to think it over for at least 24 hours. And depending on your position in the organization and the issues on the table (i.e. severance pay, stock options, non-compete agreements), you would do well to have an attorney look over any documents you’re being asked to sign.

Number Four: Ask your boss for a letter of recommendation regarding your performance and confirmation that your departure was the unfortunate result of a RIF. You may run into company policies against writing letters of recommendation, but you should still press your employer for written confirmation that your departure was part of a RIF.

Number Five: Take it personally. Be nice, but take it personally. Losing a job is about as personal as it gets, whether it’s your fault or not. Pretending that it’s not “personal” only makes it worse, especially if your spouse takes it personally, and they will. It’s ok to be angry, it’s not ok act angry. Be nice.

Number Six: Take a breather before starting your job search. Every situation is different, but at minimum give it 48 hours before you start reaching out to people. A week or two is even better.

Number Seven: Before you start firing resumes all over the planet, work your professional network. And work it over the phone or in person. Email is a wonderful tool, but not for this. (And if a headhunter is part of your network, give them a call.) And remember, Be Nice.

Friday, September 17, 2010


There are over 2 million of them here in Texas. They represent one of the fastest growing populations in this part of the country. And they are not just in Texas. When the authorities attempt to deal with them they are sheltered and supported by people whose motives are questionable at best. They are harming this state and our nation.
They would appear to be unstoppable. Can you guess who they are?

a) Illegal immigrants
b) Muslims
c) Tea-party activists
d) Registered sex offenders
e) All of the above
f) None of the above

If you answered: f) None of the above; then you are correct-o-mundo. The problem we are facing is one that does not get much attention. It’s worse than a BP, it’s a BPP. Friends and neighbors, we have a Big Pig Problem. Seriously, there are over 2 million feral hogs on the loose in the great state of Texas. And they are a growing problem in surrounding states. All they need is some space and a food source (and they are not picky eaters).

They are also smart. A lot of land in the Southwest is undeveloped and used for hunting or just “getting away from the city”. The pigs hang out on these places and then raid crop lands nearby. (Ever seen what wild hogs can do to a field of peanuts? It ain’t pretty.)
The government has special units that go out and shoot the critters. They even hunt them from the air. I am not making this up. They go out in a little Piper Cub with a pilot and a shooter. They fly real low and real slow. Using shotguns loaded with buckshot they can kill a lot of pigs. There is also a year round open hunting season on pigs, so recreational hunters kill a bunch. But it’s a losing battle. A sow can have two litters a year and the population will just keep growing until they run out of space and food. But the problem is more than just crop destruction. There is a serious concern that this ever increasing BPP will eventually be the spawning ground for an H1N1 virus mutation that will cause a pandemic event in the human population.

So what does this have to do with your career, or the economy, or terrorism, or global warming, or any of the other stuff we are constantly told to worry about? Just this, don’t worry so much. There’s probably something out there waiting to get us that we haven’t even thought about yet.

T.S. Eliot wrote:

“This is the way the world will end,
Not with a bang but a whimper”

Perhaps we should add: Or maybe with a snort and an oink-oink.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Most Important Choices

Life is all about choices, right? So they say. Hundreds of books have been written to help people make the right choices. Therapists spend most of their time helping people work through their bad choices or the bad choices of others. Our lives seem to revolve around choices. Choosing the best school, the perfect spouse, the most rewarding career, the right neighborhood, the smart investments, diets that actually work, good retirement plans, caskets that don’t leak.

After many choices, some good and many bad, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important choices a person will ever make are:
_ What you choose to believe in?
_ How you choose to allow that belief to impact your life?

You’re not getting a sermon from me. As a charter member of Bad Choice Makers Anonymous, I am just saying that what you choose to believe in and how you choose to allow that belief to impact your life, are the most important choices you will ever make. And these are not easy choices. A lot of people say they believe in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have other do unto you.” But few people actually choose to live out that belief. How many “Born Again Believers” do you know who actually live like they really believe or that they really are “born again”?

What you choose to believe in and how you choose to live out that belief makes all the difference? Beliefs and actions. I actually think that most people believe in the “right things”, but choose to act in ways that are in conflict with those beliefs. That has certainly been the story of my life. Of course, there are those who believe in the “wrong things” and act in accordance with their belief, often with terrible consequences. On this day, 9/11 comes to mind.

But for the most part, we humans choose to believe in the good things. And we choose to believe that we are trying our best to “live right”. That’s the problem. Choosing to believe that we are living right or at least trying to live right is not the same as choosing to allow our beliefs to truly impact our lives, our choices. It’s not easy. You say you believe in the truth. Do you always tell the truth? Most people don’t. You vow to love and honor the person you marry. Will you always? Most people won’t. You say you believe in honesty. Are you always honest? In all of your dealings? Most people aren’t.

What will you choose to believe in? Will you choose to let that belief lead you in all the other choices you will make over a lifetime? I hope you always will. Most people won’t.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Unexpected Rewards - Part II

So how should one use unexpected rewards? In my opinion there are four keys to the effective use of unexpected rewards: Caution, Value, Motive and Timing

Be cautious in using unexpected rewards. For example, if you have ever worked in a union environment you know what the term “past practice” means. I know of one situation where a dock supervisor “occasionally” brought in donuts for his crew. Eventually some knothead decided that donuts and a donut break should become a daily event. A grievance was filed and the union won. No good deed goes unpunished. The same principle often applies with kids and charitable organizations. Once you get on their list, that unexpected gift becomes a pledge.

Value. To be a reward it has to have some value to the receiver. My wife happens to be an avid golfer. If I surprised her with a golf vacation trip she would think it was great. If she did not play golf, it would not be so great. She knows that surprising me with tickets to the opera would be like offering me a free root canal. Make sure that the unexpected reward has real value to the recipient.

Motive is critical. It’s one thing to use unexpected rewards to acknowledge and express appreciation, even love, for others. It can strengthen relationships and build loyalty. Some might say it's manipulative, but if done honestly and in good faith and with no strings attached, unexpected rewards are a great way of just saying "Thank You". It’s another thing all together if unexpected rewards come with a balance due or as penance.
Sending your wife flowers before you tell her about the upcoming fishing trip with your buddies makes the gift about you, not about her. Sending her flowers after you’ve transgressed in some other way may be necessary, but it’s not an unexpected reward. (And depending upon the transgression, it may only make things worse. There’s flowers and there’s bling-bling. Don’t send flowers to do a bling-bling job. Just ask Kobe Bryant. And sometimes there's not even enough bling-bling to make it work. Just ask Tiger).

Timing is everything. It’s a delicate balance. Unexpected rewards must be random and infrequent, but they cannot be just a one time event. Timing is also an art not a science. You either have it or you don’t. I don’t have it and I know it. I am overly cautious and suspicious by nature, so I even have trouble accepting rewards, whether they are expected or unexpected. The same caution and suspicion get in the way of my giving unexpected rewards. Will the person expect me to keep giving? Is this the right reward, will they appreciate it? Will they question my motives? Is the timing right?

So I struggle with it. But at some point, one has to stop over-thinking it and end the debate. Just learning to say "Thank You" may be the first step.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Unexpected Rewards

A couple of years ago, Dr. Wolfram Schultz, Professor of Neuroscience at Cambridge University conducted a study of reward behaviors in monkeys. The reward process consisted of two events. A light was flashed and then the monkeys got some fruit juice.
Dr. Schultz monitored their response by tracking the dopamine production in their brains.
(Oh by the way, the monkey brain functions much like the human brain when it comes to dopamine and the response to rewards or other pleasurable experiences.)
Initially, the monkeys got happy when they got the juice. Then they got happy when the light was flashed because they knew the juice was coming. (Back in 1927, Pavlov observed similar behavior in dogs as measured by their salivating in response to the dinner bell.)

But, monkeys are not dogs. Monkeys are more like us. They get bored. After many days of light flashes and juice, their “happy response” began to moderate. The researchers went to plan B. They stopped providing the juice after the light flash.
As you might expect, the monkeys were not happy about that at all. In fact they blew right through boredom with the light flash to down right indifference. So the researchers decided to occasionally provide some juice after the light flash. Sometimes the light flash was followed by juice and sometimes it was not. The monkeys started getting happy again about the flash of light, even when there was no juice. And when they did actually get the juice, they got really happy.

The researchers, feeling somewhat god-like at this point, decided to throw in one more twist. They started giving the monkeys juice without warning, no flash of light. This totally unexpected reward triggered the most powerful response. The monkeys really enjoyed the juice surprise. (The researchers did not report it this way, but my guess is that the monkeys were also suspicious the first time the juice showed up without a flash of light. I know I would be.)

This overall reward-response pattern plays a key role in human behavior, both positive and negative. And the unexpected reward aspect is extremely powerful and can be addictive (i.e. gambling). Headhunters live in a world of unexpected rewards (and disappointments). I must say that the placement you thought was never going to happen is always sweeter than the sure thing. And then there’s golf. An unexpected great shot (which are few in my world) is much more satisfying than tapping in a short putt (even if it’s for a birdie which are also few in my world). Why do we like upsets in sport and root for the underdog? What’s so great about an unexpected raise or promotion?

It is said that it is better to give than to receive. Assuming that is true, how should we be using the power of unexpected rewards in our professional and personal lives? Tune in next week for Part II.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Double Dip?

Back in May I blogged about my tendency toward pessimism and that even though the economy seemed to be in full recovery, I wasn’t falling for it. I said it was temporary and “things would go wrong and all will suffer”. We are not there yet and I don’t think it will get that bad, but the outlook is not great. Even a pessimist like me was feeling pretty good about things back in May. Not so today.

Headhunters have the opportunity to speak with a broad cross-section of industry professionals. Our firm specializes in transportation, logistics and supply chain management professionals. Those are the people we talk to. While we can’t predict GDP for the next quarter or the next year, we can tell you what’s going on today. We take the economy’s pulse everyday.

Based on feedback from various sectors and regions, here’s my take on the economy. Freight volumes have softened considerably this summer, but the economy is doing better than the headlines would lead one to believe. There is a shortage of qualified people. That’s not for all positions in all parts of the country. But, a significant number of our clients are having trouble filling positions. Obviously, we are getting biased information in that we will tend to have more communication with companies who need our services.
But compared to 2008 and 2009, it’s tougher to find qualified people. Capacity will be an issue when the economy does improve. It would not take much of a bump for us have real problems moving freight.

The political climate has everyone frustrated. Uncertainty about taxes and getting government spending under control are doing more to inhibit economic growth than anything else. Throw in health care, immigration and environmental issues and it’s easy to see why businesses are holding back on new investment and expansion. Pre-recession hyper-consumerism is gone and not coming back for a while. Less is more and it’s cool to be thrifty.

I don’t see anything that will drive a robust economic recovery. We are facing long-term issues that will negatively impact disposable incomes. However we get there, we must deal with federal, state and local budget deficits. We must upgrade our infrastructure. The status quo is not an option. The types and use of energy must change. The status quo is not an option there either. It’s time to pay up. But it was fun while it lasted wasn’t it?

Double dip? Probably not. A chicken in every pot? Likely. A McMansion in your future? Dream on.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Going Slater

Unless you’ve been in a coma, you’ve heard about Steven Slater. He’s the Jet Blue flight attendant who upon landing announced his resignation to the passengers with a big FU, deployed the emergency exit chute, grabbed a couple of beers on his way out and slid down to his 15 minutes of fame. Obviously, Steven was having a bad day. No need to go into the details of the story. If you’re interested, just google Steven Slater.

What I find interesting is the reaction people have had to his behavior. I admit that I had a good laugh about it. It became less funny when I realized the danger he posed to the ground crew by deploying the emergency exit chute. But, I guess it’s still newsworthy. (It’s as least as good as the one about the dog eating the rotting toe off of his drunken diabetic owner’s foot.) The interesting part about Steven Slater is that he has become a folk hero to millions of disgruntled workers.

It’s as if there are millions of Howard Beales out there just waiting to say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”. I’m old enough to clearly remember that movie, Network, which came out in 1976. I also remember “Take This Job and Shove It”, the Johnny Paycheck song (1977). The anger is out there. Dozens of movies, TV shows, books and songs tell stories of worker unhappiness, bitterness, resentment, rage and retaliation.

So what does this mean? In my opinion, it means that history keeps repeating itself but maybe now at a faster pace. The serf toiling for his landlord 800 years ago probably wasn’t too thrilled with his lot in life either, but did not have many options or outlets for expression. Millions who have come to the United States, including my European ancestors, were essentially fed up with their old lives and decided to change it. There are those brought here against their will who have fought back and struggled and changed it. The Labor Movement of the early 20th century was motivated by unhappiness, bitterness, resentment and rage. Today, developing nations such as China are starting to feel pressure from their work force.

It's the cycle of life. It’s human nature. You’ve heard the old saw about “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a life time.” My corollary is this: The man will eventually grow tired of fish and want a good steak, a nice bottle of wine, a beautiful woman and a big flat screen television…and air conditioning.

So when I see someone “Going Slater”, I wonder if it’s about the job or if they are just tired of eating fish.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Fourth Agreement

#1- Speak with integrity
#2- Don’t take anything personally
#3- Don’t make assumptions ….

….and now….

Agreement 4
“Always do your best - Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.”- Don Miguel Ruiz

I think Agreement 4 is the toughest one to live out consistently. We will all slip and stumble with the other three agreements, but with a reasonable level of commitment we can honor those agreements 80-90% of the time. I’m not so sure I can say that about Agreement 4. Most of us don’t do our best very often, let alone most of the time. We live in a world where “doing” enough to get by or “doing” enough to keep up or stay one step ahead of the competition is good enough. But I don’t encounter many people doing their best and I must confess that I do NOT always do my best. It seems to me that “Best” is the exception.

Why don’t we always do our best? I think there are two main reasons:
I’ve already alluded to the first reason. Sometimes less than our best is good enough.
It’s just a fact of life. You don’t always need your “A” game in order to win. Often your “best” is not expected or appreciated. How many of us accept and have even come to expect lousy service from “low cost” providers? You get what you pay for, right? And we tend to feel the same way when dealing with others. Do unto others as they are likely to do unto you.

The second reason why we don’t always do our best is that sometimes even our best is not good enough. Agreement 4 says that by giving your best “you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse and regret.” Maybe so, maybe not. How many of us have given our best and had it shoved up our ass? Everyone put your hands down. We’ve all been there. But I’ve come to the conclusion that this is no reason not to give your best. If you think about it, losing or failing or getting it shoved up your keester is no fun under any circumstances. But when it happens and you’ve not given it your best effort, you will always feel worse. Doing your best does not guarantee success. But doing less than your best always increases the odds of failure.

So how does this relate to your career? I’ll put it into perspective this way. When we talk to candidate references, we always ask “comparison” questions that focus on performance. The BEST candidates always do more. They exceed expectations, they give 100% (in this context, there’s no such thing as 110%) and they stand out in the eyes of their boss, their peers and their customers. It is competitive out there. The world is keeping score. YOUR BEST may not always be required or expected. YOUR BEST may not always win the race. But YOUR BEST will always beat less than your best which, in the end, is THE BEST you can expect.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Third Agreement

Agreement 3:
Don’t make assumptions - Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

This is the third of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements. The first one is “Be impeccable with you word, speak with integrity”. Number two is “Don’t take anything personally”.
And now we have number three: “Don’t make assumptions”.

What is making an assumption? According to the dictionary the act of assuming means “to take as granted or true”. So let’s not assume that Ruiz’s third agreement is applicable in all cases. I think there are three kinds of assumptions: good, bad and uncertain. Good assumptions are based on what is true or at least very likely to be true. It’s ok to make good assumptions. Good assumptions keep life moving along. I assume that flying from Dallas to Los Angeles is faster than walking. I don’t need to ask a lot of questions or test that theory. I take it as granted or true. Flying from Dallas to Houston is also faster than walking. I take it as granted or true. On the other hand, flying from Dallas to Houston may NOT be faster than driving from Dallas to Houston. That assumption would be uncertain. Assuming that I could personally fly a plane anywhere would be a bad assumption.

Headhunters must always be wary of making assumptions. That’s why the best headhunters ask a lot of questions. Some of the worst assumptions a headhunter can make with a candidate include:
· Assuming that the candidate’s resume is totally accurate (we talked about that with Agreement 1).
· Assuming that when the candidate says they would never accept a counter offer they really mean it.
· Assuming that when a candidate says they are wide open on relocation that means they would really move anywhere.
· Assuming that a candidate’s compensation requirements are set in stone.
· Assuming that the candidate is telling the truth.

And headhunters need to be equally careful with assumptions about clients (employers).
· Assume that employers will ONLY consider candidates who meet the job requirements.
· Assume that employers will EVEN consider candidates who meet the job requirements.
· Assume that employers will actually pay your fee. (Get it in writing).
· Assume that the compensation for the position is set in stone.
· Assume that the client is telling the truth.

So we ask questions, a lot of questions. And we observe behavior. And we learn from past experiences. You should do likewise. DO NOT:
· Assume that headhunters find jobs for people. (We do not, we find people to fill jobs for our clients).
· Assume that if you respond to enough job board postings you will find a job. (The vast majority of professional positions are filled via networking and personal referrals.)
· Assume that your headhunter knows what you want. (We are not mind readers. If we fail to ask the questions, you should not fail to give us the answers.)
· Assume that headhunters will keep working with uncooperative clients or candidates just on the off chance they might make a placement someday. (Time is money and headhunters will invest their time working with people who value the service and respond accordingly.)

Assuming that you are still reading this, I assume that you will be back next week for the Fourth Agreement. (Probably an uncertain assumption at best).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Second Agreement

In last week’s blog I provided a little background on “The Four Agreements” and then we addressed Agreement 1: Speak with Integrity. This week I am ready to tackle Agreement 2.

Agreement 2:
“Don’t take anything personally - Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”- Don Miguel Ruiz

OK, I’m already taking this personally because I struggle with Agreement 2. Agreement 1 is much easier for me. I don’t want to be lied to and I will not lie to others. Most of us can buy into that concept. Even though lies and misrepresentations are rampant in our culture, we still hold up the ideal of truth and honesty. Agreement 2 is tough and I have my doubts about some parts of it.

I do think there is merit in not taking things “too personally”, but I don’t see how we cannot take things personally when we are personally impacted. And to say that “Nothing others do is because of you” and is a “projection of their own reality” is fine if we are talking metaphysics. But when someone projects their reality into my reality (or my lane on the freeway), I tend to take it personally.

Nevertheless, we do inflict unnecessary damage on ourselves and eventually on others by taking things “too personally”. If you interview for a job and don’t get it, don’t take it too personally. Sometimes it’s not about you, it is about the hiring authority or the other candidates who were being considered or a combination of factors. (But it is worth considering that it may have something to do with you, at least in part. So don’t take it “too personally”, but do think about what you might do differently in the future.)

When the headhunter does not call you back every so often just to “see how you’re doing”, don’t take it too personally. It’s probably not about you. But if you’re a pain in ass jerk with totally unrealistic job expectations, it might have something to do with you. (And I say that with all due respect to the jerks out there.)

I think the keys to not taking things (too) personally, are to give others the benefit of the doubt and don’t let your ego control your emotions. One quick story makes this point and makes it in a dramatic fashion. This happened a couple of years ago. I had a candidate who had completed a long cycle of interviews. He was excited about the company and the company was excited about him. But, at the last minute an internal candidate expressed interest in the position. The company let me know that it might be a couple of weeks before they made a final decision. I told the candidate what was going on. After a week or so the company came back to me with an offer for my candidate. I called my candidate on his cell phone. Voice mail. A couple hours later, I call again. Voice mail. I call his home. Voice mail. I send an email. No response. One day goes by, then another, then the weekend. By now he’s got probably 10 voice messages and half dozen emails from me. The client wants to know what’s going on. I’m looking like an idiot. I am pissed. I know this candidate has bailed out on me. Just because the company was honest with me about considering the internal candidate and I was honest with the candidate, he got his panties in a wad and decided to just bail out (or make me sweat). I’m just about ready to write the whole thing off and the candidate calls me. He’s one big gusher of apologies for not getting back to me. I listen and wait for the reason. Then he tells me that his mother passed away unexpectedly. The last 4 days had been crazy, they had to travel half way across the country and deal with the funeral and his father and the rest of his family. It had been a mess. He knew he should have called, but he just didn’t want to deal with the offer or me or the other company right then. He had asked a colleague of his who had been one of his references to call me and let me know what was going on. The guy swears that he called and left me a message. He left someone a message, but it wasn’t me. But that’s not the point.

The point is this: Give others the benefit of the doubt. Don’t let your ego get the best of you. And don’t take things too personally. (By the way, my candidate did end up accepting the offer.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Four Agreements

Books like Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” (A Toltec Wisdom Book) usually do not make my list of “must reads”. I am not a fan of New Age philosophy and most of it rubs my Christian faith the wrong way. But occasionally something New Age comes along that is worthwhile. The Four Agreements has been around for over a decade and Amazon offers used paperback copies for less than $5. (Buy used, recycle...the New Agers will appreciate it.) Speaking seriously, I do think Ruiz’s Four Agreements make a great Code of Conduct for any business or individual.

Agreement 1:
Be impeccable with your word - Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

In the headhunting business we frequently use the acronym TAL to explain why something has gone wrong on a search assignment. TAL…They All Lie. Sadly, we live in a world where the truth is hard to come by. Most people, even those who pride themselves on being truthful, have no qualms about shading the truth or withholding important information. And, of course, there are those who will just outright lie.

It is estimated that 20-30% of people lie on their resumes. These include the “little white lies” people use to make their resumes look better, such as false claims of accomplishment or embellishing the scope of their duties and responsibilities. Some are pretty big lies, such as leaving off employers or falsifying dates of employment. Some are not really lies in fact, but lies in effect. I love it when someone shows their education something like this:

The Ohio State University 1990-1994
Fisher College of Business – Logistics

When the truth is they did not earn a degree. They did attend The Ohio State University off and on from 1990-1994 and did end up as a Logistics major, but are at least 45 hours from having a degree.

It’s not just about candidates who lie on their resumes. Some employers don’t tell the real truth about job opportunities. Some headhunters don’t tell the real truth about job opportunities (or the employers who are offering the opportunity). References don’t want to tell the whole truth about candidates. Candidates and employers fudge on compensation (especially bonus) information.
Candidates say they would never accept a counter offer, then do. Employers say they have no one else being considered for the position, then promote internally. Headhunters, knowingly or unknowingly become the conduit for candidate lies and employer lies. Pretty soon, we are all saying TAL and we end up grading ourselves and each other on the liars’ curve. The saddest part is that we just accept it as the way things are.

Speak With Integrity. Why can’t we accept that?

Next week Agreement 2.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The 21 Best Reasons to Work with a Headhunter (Part 5)

Reasons 16-21 could be called “Free Advice”. An experienced headhunter who specializes in your industry or profession can be a great resource.

16. Your resume. You can pay a lot of money to have someone prepare your resume. I see a lot of those. Occasionally they are good, but mostly not. Your headhunter is a well of information when it comes to resume writing.

17. Compensation information. Whether you are a hiring authority or a candidate, a headhunter is one of your best sources of compensation information. For example, transportation/logistics industry compensation information is very general and not of much value. There is not enough consistency in job titles within and across segments and regions. A headhunter, or better yet a search firm with multiple headhunters who specialize in this industry, is an excellent source of compensation information.

18. Timing your next career move. If your headhunter is knowledgeable and honest (and why would you work with one who is not), they will tell you if it makes sense for you to consider making a job change. They will look at your work history and give you an honest assessment as to if and when you should consider making a move.

19. Hiring decisions. A headhunter who knows your industry, knows your competition and knows your company can help you when it comes down to making a hiring decision.
I have had clients call me and ask my thoughts about creating, upgrading, downgrading or filling key positions in their organization. I have had clients call me and ask what I know about a certain person they are considering for a position. I want to see my clients succeed and I will give them my best advice (for free). If it’s good for them, it’s good for me in the long run.

20. Firing decisions. I’ve had clients call me, frustrated over poor business results and ask about replacing someone in their organization. More than once, after talking through it with the client, they have concluded that other factors are driving the poor results and replacing this person is not the solution.

21. New Market decisions. If your headhunter specializes in an industry, you owe it to yourself to discuss these types of decisions with them. It’s amazing to me how often a client reads the latest “how to run your business better” book or article and decides it’s time for their company to blaze new trails. I’m not suggesting that you make your decision based on what the headhunter thinks. But I am suggesting that the headhunter can be a good source of information and one more base worth touching as you consider new business ventures.

So there you have it, The 21 Best Reasons to Work with a Headhunter. I considered pushing this final installment back a week in order to rant about LeBron James, but thought better of it. I will say that my “free advice” to King James would have been to stay in Cleveland. And I do think there is a lesson here for all of us. When you want one thing too much (i.e. an NBA Championship), check yourself. You may be on the doorstep of making a really bad decision that will last a lifetime.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The 21 Best Reasons to Work With a Headhunter (Part 4)

13. We know how to check references. Clearly some recruiters check references in such a way as to make the candidate look as good as possible. As a candidate, that may be the type of recruiter you want to work with. But the best recruiters ask questions that are designed to find out why the candidate may not be the best fit for the position. Realistically, whether you are the candidate or the employer, this is the best approach. Most recruiters as well as employers can do a reasonably good job of digging up the negative stuff on a candidate. That is certainly a key part of reference checking. But, most of the time, a top notch recruiter will do a better job than the employer of getting to performance, behavior and management/leadership issues which may be problematic.

14. We know when to walk away. Experienced recruiters know when to walk away from a placement that just isn’t going to work in the long run. Believe it or not, for some headhunters it’s not all about making a placement and getting paid. Sometimes it becomes clear that this is a bad fit for the candidate or the employer or both. And sometimes neither party wants to admit it. The candidate needs the job and/or the employer needs to fill it. If your headhunter says this is not good for you…listen to the headhunter.

15. We know when and how to make it work. Sometimes it’s the right fit for the candidate and the employer, but something knocks it off track. Egos, money, family, relocation…sometimes it’s just the interview process itself or the way an offer is presented. Usually things can be worked out by a third party who understands and is trusted. (If you don’t feel that way about your headhunter, then you’re working with the wrong headhunter.)

We know a lot more stuff, but you’re probably bored with this "we know" stuff by now. And that line: “it’s not all about making a placement and getting paid”…the key words are “a placement”. For headhunters it really IS about making placements and getting paid. But the best headhunters know that real success is measured over time and people have long memories. It never pays to put your reputation at risk with candidates or employers by making a bad placement that could have been averted. Some of those will happen in the normal course of business and the headhunters will get blamed. That’s just the way it is. But we darn sure don’t need to shoot ourselves in the foot. There are plenty of other folks trying to do that to us (or worse).

Next week Part 5 and the final 6 of the 21 Best Reasons….

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The 21 Best Reasons to Work With a Headhunter (Part 3)

8: We know “market values”. Headhunters who specialize in a particular industry or functional discipline know what jobs are worth. We know what candidates are worth. My experience is that most employers are not willing to pay for the talent they need or want, but hire those who are willing to take the job at the prescribed pay level which fits into “the range". Those ranges are seldom designed to attract (or retain)top performers.

Conversely, candidates tend to over-estimate their value and will dig around until they find someone who is willing to pay them what they think they are worth. This usually turns out badly. The employer eventually realizes that he’s overpaid and regrets hiring the person. Or, the candidate discovers that he’s now in a terrible job with an awful company that can only get people by overpaying.

9: We know “market conditions”. Headhunters understand how markets shift between geographies and functions and economic cycles. For example, several years ago we saw a lot of value being placed on people who could manage driver recruiting departments. Then things changed and the focus was on business development people. Now we’re seeing a shift back toward driver recruiting or capacity development. And values can shift between segments within an industry, i.e. geographic region or service sector.

10: We know companies. Experienced headhunters learn companies. We learn about their cultures, their values, how they motivate employees, how they treat vendors and how they serve customers.

11: We know why an employer needs to fill the position. (Something any rational candidate should want to know before considering the opportunity).

12. We know why a candidate is interested in finding a new position. (Something any rational employer should want to know before considering someone for employment.)

We know a lot more stuff and I'll cover that next week in Part 4....

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The 21 Best Reasons to Work With a Headhunter (Part 2)

If you are the Hiring Authority….

4: Client Confidentiality. There are a lot of good reasons not to broadcast that you are trying to fill a key position. The obvious one is that you have someone in the position who you need to replace, but you do not want this person to know about it. But there are other less obvious situations. For example, you are promoting or transferring someone. They know about it and are excited about the advancement opportunity. But you do not want to stir up your organization (or the competition) by going to the market with a publicized search. Another example is the organization in “transition”. I’m being polite. What I could say is that your organization has had a hard time “getting it right” and you’ve gone through a lot of management changes. There is a point at which candidates just won’t even consider responding to an ad from “that company” because they are always looking for people. If you don’t want to become “that company” consider keeping some of your searches confidential.

5: Targeted search. If you know exactly what you want there are a lot of advantages to using a search firm. Your personal network will always be option number one. But if that does not yield the right candidate, using a search firm to drill into specific competitors for specific talent is the next best option.

6: Expertise. A well-connected search firm that specializes in an industry or functional discipline will deliver more highly qualified candidates than you will get from running ads or networking.
The operative words being “highly qualified”. You can find a lot of candidates and fill jobs without using a search firm. No question, most jobs do get filled without using a search firm. And most of the time it doesn’t matter that much so why pay a bunch of money to a search firm? (Bet you never expected to hear that from a headhunter). But when it does matter and you need to see the best in order to hire the best (even if the best one ultimately does not come from the search firm), then you owe to yourself to use a search firm.

7: Bottom Line Impact. What’s the difference between an “8” and a “10”? Well, it depends on the position. How much does it matter? If it is a moderately high impact position it is easily in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. If it is a significantly high impact position, then it’s in the millions. Think about your business and the impact your best people have on the bottom line. Why would you not make every effort to hire the best people?

Next Week: Part 3

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The 21 Best Reasons to Work With a Headhunter (Part 1)

1: Headhunters develop relationships with company hiring authorities. As an individual you may have a good professional network. If you don’t, then you need to start working on it. But, no matter how hard you work at “networking” you will never be as plugged into career opportunities as a well-connected headhunter who specializes in your industry or profession.

2: Headhunters develop relationships with talented candidates. No matter how good your resume looks or how many social networks you join, you are dancing in the dark when it comes to finding the best opportunities. You may find a job or a job may find you, but you have no way of knowing the jobs you are missing by not having a strong relationship with a headhunter who has strong relationships with hiring authorities.

3: Candidate Confidentiality. You may think there is an upside to your current employer finding your resume posted on a job board or noting on your Linked In profile that you are interested in “career opportunities”. In fact, there may be some upside here. You might have a boss who will reach out to you. You might get a hug, a promotion and a big raise. But I wouldn’t count on it. Most likely, nothing will happen. At least as far you know. But you may get put on the unofficial “watch list”. Back in the day (before the internet), the watch list consisted of people who were always reading the “help wanted” ads in the newspaper, or in Transport Topics or in the Journal of Commerce. Combine reading the “want ads” with comments about how much more money people got paid over at Brand X, and you really started to let the air out of your career tires. The same dynamic is in play today, it’s just gone digital.

Stay below the radar. Develop a relationship with a headhunter whom you can trust and whose clients are likely to offer the desired career opportunities. I would even say it’s ok to develop relationships with two or three headhunters where it makes sense.

Next week Part 2 of the 21 Best Reasons….

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Risky Business

I have always been fascinated by the way we humans make decisions. As I look at the BP disaster in the Gulf, I see a familiar model of decision making. I call it the “Big Reward-What are the Odds” model. It works like this. When people believe there is an achievable, large reward in the near term, they tend to underestimate the downside risks. And the lower the probability of a specific downside risk, the more they tend to underestimate the consequences of even the most disastrous potential outcomes.

So what does this have to do with you and your career? A lot if you tend to be a big risk taker. Now there’s nothing wrong with taking risks. This nation was founded by folks who put it all on the line. Business involves risks. All great endeavors start out with someone who is willing to take risks. But when you accept risk, you must be honest about the potential outcomes. Our founding fathers had no illusions about the consequences of failure. Benjamin Franklin assessed their situation correctly when he said, “We must hang together gentleman, or we will most assuredly hang separately”.

Now back to your career choices. Let’s say you are a salaried sales person working for a well-established company. Your base salary is $ 85,000, you get a car (nothing fancy) and if you do well and the company does well you might get a $10,000 bonus. You are reasonably satisfied, but see no long-term future with this company and would like to make more money. You get a call from a headhunter and he tells you about this great opportunity with a growing, progressive company. The base salary is about the same as what you’re making now, they offer a large car allowance and here’s the kicker…their incentive plan pays you for your performance. Realistically, you should make $50,000-100,000 just on the incentive and if you’re a super star it could be double that.

You start doing the math and get excited. You can see yourself making over $200,000 a year. You decide to go for it and end up getting the job. “Big Reward-What are the Odds”. Once you are on board you discover that the new company does not support its product (or service) very well in your market. This is going to be tougher than you thought and it’s going to take some time. Then your boss tells you that if you are not generating a certain level of revenue within 90 days, they will have to cut your salary. I could go on with the downward spiral, but you know the story. Ultimately you get canned.

What went wrong? You got hooked on the “Big Reward” and failed to answer the “What are the Odds?” question. To go one step further you did not seriously consider the consequences of failure.

Recommendation: When that so-called great opportunity comes your way, think first about the likelihood and consequences of failure and work from there. Do the same with your current situation. If I stay, what’s the worst that could happen and how likely is that? And don’t get caught in the “either or” trap. Your current situation may not be a good one, but don’t jump to a worse one just for the sake of change. Look for something better and be patient. Know what you’ve got, know what you want and know what it will look like when it comes along.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Purple Hearts and Roses

Last year I had the privilege of attending an event which honored wounded veterans from our community. My own father, long since passed away, was a WWII veteran who was wounded in action. So this event had special meaning for me, especially when his name was read. In honor of these heroes I wrote “Purple Hearts and Roses”.

They gathered at the Methodist Church.
To honor and read those names.
It is the Heart that brings them together
The Heart, it is all that remains.
They wear their wars on their faces.
Every battle, some won and some lost.
These people know the truth about fighting,
For they have paid the costs.

The greatest generation sits up front.
Old men, some waiting to die.
Fears once felt again remembered,
Yet courage still fills their eyes.

They read the names of the departed.
And place a rose for the fallen Heart.
Each drop of blood is sacred
Each rose sets them apart.

They play “Taps” at the Methodist Church.
A salute to the dead and the dying.
Purple Hearts stand together in silence
With roses these Hearts are crying.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Creativity and Being

According to a new survey of 1500 CEO’s conducted by IBM’s Institute of Business Value, creativity was identified as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future. Creativity… that’s nice. I wonder what these CEO’s really mean by creativity, especially in the context of business leadership. Creativity can mean a lot of things: innovation, new ideas, new approaches, invention, or the worn-out phrase “thinking outside of the box”. But rest assured, when a CEO talks about “creativity” they mean doing things differently or doing different things which will increase the value of the enterprise. Here’s the challenge: creativity in business always requires change and change is mostly resisted, not embraced. From my experience in the transportation industry, both as a manager and now as a headhunter, creativity can be a slippery slope for those first in line with new ideas.

So how does one go about creating and implementing new ways of providing transportation, logistics or supply chain management services? First of all, understand that in this space, it’s about execution and efficiency. Nothing says it clearer than Better, Faster, Cheaper. (Cheaper has always bothered me, so let’s say “of more value”.) Think about some of the game changing, creative innovations and business models which have revolutionized the way we move stuff: Containers, stack trains, the Interstate highway system, the Fed Ex model for moving parcels and small packages, the Wal-Mart logistics model for retail, just to name a few. The ways technology is being applied to everything from equipment operation, to inventory management, to freight network optimization. Someone sometime had the idea and the vision and the drive to make these things happen. In some cases, it was someone else’s idea and someone else’s vision and perhaps even some other one’s drive that ultimately brought about the new way of doing business. But the common thread here is that the new way is Better, Faster and “of more value”.

If you have new ideas about how to design, package, purchase, sell, handle, pick-up, transport, inventory, distribute, deliver and/or install stuff; always put that new idea to the test. Is it better, is it faster and, more importantly, is it of more value to my customer than the way we do it now? And all of that still doesn’t get it done, unless you can sell it to the decision-makers and stakeholders. New ideas take time, resources and support (financial and otherwise). Thinking creative is easy. Being creative…now that is the hard part.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?

A recent study noted that during this decade, in the United States, the 65-74 age group will grow by 44% and the 55-64 age group by 40%. The pool of people 45-54 will drop by 8% and the 35-44 group by 4%. Those of us who are in (or will soon be in) the older groups expect to work longer. We have for some time. Either we cannot afford to retire or we do not want to retire. Whatever the case, the reality is that our economy cannot afford for us to retire. This is not just an issue of Social Security and Medicare running out of money. It's an issue of who's going to do the work? And can the older folks do the work that needs to be done? As a work force, what skills are needed and who has those skills? We can talk about older folks working longer, but if they do not have the requisite skills, it's a moot point.
And while at a macro level younger people may understand that our economy needs these older workers, at the personal level a younger worker would just as soon see the old folks step aside. Especially if the old folks are ahead of them. My sense is that many older workers will stay in the workforce, but will be forced into low pay, low skill jobs. If you are, or are soon to be, an older worker, my advice is to figure out what you want to do and prepare to do it. If that means going back to school or learning new skills, start now. We can't all be Wal-Mart greeters.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Keeping it Negative

I am a pessimist by nature. In the darkest days of the Great Recession of '08-'09, I took consolation in the fact I had predicted (as I always predict) that hard times were coming. However, by the end of 2009 against my nature, I was somewhat optimistic.
I actually thought we would see an economic turnaround. I even made the mistake of saying so and then, as if to remind me of my rightful place under the dark cloud of negative thinking, January and February turned out to be like most Januarys and Februarys...cold and economically unspectacular. By mid-March, I was convinced that 2010 would be flat at best. We were still at least a year away from a rebound. Time to hunker down and gut it out.
Then something began to happen. Business improved. Demand for our customers' services increased...a lot. Suddenly, there is a shortage of capacity. There are opportunities to get rate increases. Our customers are actually starting to hire people. They are even willing to use search firms again. The clouds have parted, the sun is shining, happy days are here again....
But I'm not falling for it. I know that it's just temporary. Something will happen. Oil will go to $200 a barrel. Inflation will go crazy. Another "bubble" will burst. Whatever it turns out to be, Murphy's Law will prevail, things will go wrong and all will suffer. Now having lowered my expectations and returned to my natural state of pessimism, I can enjoy the economic recovery knowing that it too shall pass.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

45 for 10

Researchers have determined that 45% of American workers would leave their employers for a 10% increase in pay. They go on to note that more people are loyal to their favorite soft drink than they are to their employer. And this "45 for 10" would be news because...? It's certainly no surprise to me. Frankly, I would have predicted that at least 2 out of 3 American workers would change employers for a 10% increase in pay.
Assuming that all other factors are perceived to be equal: location, type of work, company stability, benefits, etc; I'm pretty sure that most employees would jump for 10% more money. The reason: Most people have zero confidence in their employer's commitment to them. And I think that lack of confidence is even more evident with younger workers. They have watched their parents go through lay-offs, downsizings, reorganizations and restructurings. As a result, they are not much inclined to consider playing on the same team for 30 years for less money.
And what does this "45 for 10" say about money and job satisfaction? Over the years, studies have shown that more money does not result in more job satisfaction. That job satisfaction comes from other factors, such as the work itself, relationships with co-workers, recognition for performance, respect, control over the work environment and so forth.
Maybe what "45 for 10" is saying is that a lot of workers are not finding job satisfaction, or they've found as much as they expect to find; and believing that the grass on the other side of the fence is the same, maybe not green, but just the same; they have concluded that more money is better than less money.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What's the Point?

So another headhunter decides to start another blog. Whoopie-Woo. What's the point?
Does he need more unemployed candidates who are looking for work? Does he need more companies who want to use his services after they've looked at thousands of candidates from hundreds of job postings and just can't find the "right" person (and oh by the way, can't really tell you what the right person looks like because the job has been open so long that the hiring authority has changed three times.) Does that headhunter need to vent his frustration? Maybe, sort of.

But that's not the point. The point of this blog is to talk about what works and what doesn't work, from one Headhunter's point of view, when it comes to finding and landing the right job or the right person for the job.

It isn't going to be pretty, but it will be true (at least from my point of view).