Saturday, April 30, 2011

Square Pegs and Round Holes (Part III)

Hope you had a wonderful Easter. Before we jump back into the subject of “Interview With Purpose”, I’d just like to remind you of my blog entry of January 22, 2011 titled “That Giant Sucking Sound”. Wish I’d been wrong about that one.

We’ve covered the first four items on the “Interview With Purpose” checklist:

1. Can the company successfully compete in its market?
2. What is the company “culture”?
3. What are the expected outcomes? How is success measured for this position?
4. Will I have access to the resources required to be successful in this role?

Now on to numbers 5 & 6:

5. Do my skills and experience truly qualify me for this position?
6. Would I hire myself for this position?

These are the most challenging questions one must face when interviewing for a position. Let’s face it, when you interview for a job that you really want, you are in full sales mode. You will tend to “stretch” to match your skills and experience to those required for the position. The primary reason candidates do this is because quite often IT WORKS. Depending on the positions you’ve held in the past, the companies you’ve worked for and what your references have to say about you, it’s not that tough to convince an employer that you are truly qualified for a certain position. And if the employer is anxious to fill the role and doesn’t really ask probing questions, you will likely get the job. And unfortunately, you will likely fail…very soon and very conspicuously.

Be honest with yourself. Do you really have what it takes to be successful in the position? Would you hire yourself for the position? I’m not saying that you have to be the best person for the position, but you better darn sure be well-qualified. However, when someone really wants the position, or perhaps desperately NEEDS the position; the focus is on getting the job, not determining if they can actually do the job.

This is a really tough subject. As a headhunter, I get paid to find people to fill positions with my client companies. As an experienced headhunter and an experienced industry professional, I tend to be overly critical in evaluating candidates, especially when the client has been very clear and specific in what they expect from the position. It’s also very frustrating when I see clients hiring people who are not truly qualified for the position. Increasingly, I’m taking the position that if a candidate is talented and motivated, a good fit for the company (not necessarily the position) and the company has a track record of hiring “off spec”; I should go ahead and submit the candidate. As a result I am more dependent than ever on candidates and clients being open, honest and transparent in the interview process; to interview with purpose. Frankly, I see other headhunters as well as internal recruiters taking the same approach in presenting candidates. So candidates beware. Just because you’re getting an interview, don’t assume that you are really qualified for the position. Take a look in the mirror. Check yourself, before you wreck yourself.

Next week, the final installment of this series.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I’ll pick up the “Interview With Purpose” theme in the next blog. This week it’s about the THE PURPOSE. He spoke Aramaic and they called him Ea-shoa’ (Life Giver) M’shee-khah (Anointed One). I recommend that you get a Bible and read at least one of the four very brief accounts of his life and ministry (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). Then read the Book of Acts and the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Don’t let anyone “sell” you on Christianity. Read it for yourself. And don’t focus on all of the hypocrites you’ve known, or the dysfunctional churches you’ve attended or heard about; or the whacked-out televangelists you’ve channel surfed across. Just read the inspired words of those who were there and ultimately gave up their lives to follow Ea-shoa’ M’shee-khah, Life Giver, Anointed One, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Square Pegs and Round Holes (Part II)

Now for questions 3 and 4 on the “Interview With Purpose” check list:

_3. What are the expected outcomes? How is success measured for this position?
_4. Will I have access to the resources required to be successful in this role?

Okay, I cheated and put two questions on number three. These are very closely related, but distinctly different. And the difference is critical. Let’s say you’re interviewing for a sales leadership role and the company says “We need to grow our top line revenue”. The obvious questions you must ask is how much and how fast? And if the answers you get are “As much as we can, as fast as we can”, start looking for the exits.

Let’s say the answers are more specific, 10% CAGR over the next 5 years. But, what they don’t say is that they expect the revenue growth will come from business that is more profitable than what they are currently doing and, oh by the way, their existing market has minimal growth potential. In fact, their core business is under competitive attack and their market share is likely to shrink and become less profitable.
How are you liking this job now? Always look closely at the expected outcomes, how are they measured and where is the starting point.

On to question 4, will you “have access to the resources required to be successful in this role?” Let’s stay with the example above. Perhaps you’re still interested and can see the potential for success. But, it will require hiring sales people with experience in other market segments and significant investment in new equipment and/or technology. Now this gets dicey. If you’re interviewing for a position, it is always risky to start asking questions about how much the company is willing to invest so you can be successful. I recommend that you don’t tackle this question head on. It’s better to ask open ended questions about the company’s resources (people, equipment, technology, access to capital, etc). Look for opportunities to connect their responses to a question such as, “So with the right person in this position, you feel that you’ve got all the other pieces in place to get to the next level?” A “yes” answer is a big red flag. While there are situations where there really is only one missing piece, those are few a far between. And the more aggressive the company’s expected outcomes, the more likely it is that they will need more than just you to achieve those outcomes.

Again, it’s all about interviewing with a purpose. If your purpose is just to get the job, then tell them what they want to hear and only lob softball questions that demonstrate you’ve done your homework and really want to work for these bozos. If your purpose is to get the right job, where you can be successful over the long run, then ask the tougher questions. The non-bozos will respect that approach.

Next time, questions 5 and 6.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Square Pegs and Round Holes

Last time we talked about interviewing “With Purpose” and left it with the question of how should a candidate go about determining their value to a potential new employer.
I think there are 7 questions a candidate should focus on when considering a new job opportunity.

_1. Can the company successfully compete in its market?
_2. What is the company “culture”?
_3. What are the expected outcomes? How is success measured for this position?
_4. Will I have access to the resources required to be successful in this role?
_5. Do my skills and experience truly qualify me for this position?
_6. Would I hire myself for this position?
_7. What are my other options?

Let’s take 1 & 2 this week.

The first question, “Can the company successfully compete in its market?” seems like a no-brainer; but I talk to candidates every day who find themselves working for companies that are not competitive. The candidate may be well paid, love their boss and think the company culture is great (hey, they took the job for some reason), but then they find out that the company cannot (or will not) deliver the products or services required to compete in the market place. My observation is that, in most cases, an experienced industry professional should have been able to figure this out before taking the job. Frankly, as a headhunter, if I know that an employer is struggling to compete in its market; I tell the candidate. And I tell the employer as well. If a company is in trouble, they better have a great plan to turn things around or you’re only taking a temporary job. If they have no plan or worse yet, are living in denial….walk away. As we say in Texas…you can’t polish a turd.

Number 2, the “Culture”. One of the most overused, least understood terms in business. I suppose as a candidate, whatever you consider to be important in a company’s culture is all that really matters, but company culture is a very big and complex subject. I like this definition: "The specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization.” [1]

We work in the transportation, logistics and supply chain space. It is a very large, highly fragmented market and I cannot think of a sector with more diverse cultures. This is something every candidate should seriously consider. Moreover, ours is an industry where some very successful, highly profitable companies do not have what most outsiders would describe as a healthy culture. Maybe a high functioning cult, but not a healthy culture. Know who you are, how you deal with people and how you like to be dealt with. Don’t join an organization where your style doesn’t fit. It almost never works.

Next time, we’ll talk about questions 3 and 4. In the mean time, before you take that next job…call me.

1. Charles W. L. Hill, and Gareth R. Jones, (2001) Strategic Management. Houghton Mifflin.