Thursday, December 26, 2013

The New Year

Once again it’s time for my New Year’s predictions and also time to look back on how this year’s forecast played out.

2013 Predictions (published 12/26/12)

Prediction Number 1:
Green Bay (of course) and Denver meet up in the Super Bowl. But The Pack goes back to Green Bay without the trophy. Denver wins and the game will be a classic.
(Closer to home…Karma kicks Jerry Jones in the ‘nads and the Cowboys lose to the Redskins this Sunday, missing the playoffs yet again.)

Result: Well, Denver should have made it, but shoulda, woulda, coulda doesn’t count. So I blew this one. (I did get the Cowboys right and, of course, they will lose the final game again this year to miss the playoffs as usual. Go Iggles.) Grade D

Prediction Number 2:
We postpone going over the fiscal cliff by passing a very weak compromise with some tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, caps on future spending and a “commitment” to really address the problem this year.

Result: Pretty much nailed this one. Grade A

Prediction Number 3:
We do NOT address our fiscal problems this year, but continue to dance along the edge of the cliff.

Result: Another Grade A

Prediction Number 4:
Israel opens up a 55 gallon drum of whip ass on Hamas. Iran makes the mistake of getting directly involved and things go very badly for them as well. The impact on the global economy is severe, but short-lived. Assad finds a way to stay in power another year in Syria.

Result: Missed most of this with the exception of Assad still hanging on. Grade C.

Prediction Number 5:
The U.S. Economy drifts along with moderate growth. Unemployment finally dips below 7%.

Result: Prediction on the US Economy was about right. Just missed on the unemployment rate as we came in at 7% in December, but not below it. Grade B

Prediction Number 6:
Attempts to ban the manufacture, sale and ownership of assault weapons will fail again. Additional background checks and restrictions are put in place. More mass shootings will occur.

Result: Mostly accurate, although there have been no significant changes to background checks or restrictions. Grade B+

Prediction Number 7:
Tiger Woods will not win a major.

Result: TW did not win a major. Grade A

Prediction Number 8:
Nick Saban will return to the NFL

Result: Saban is still at Alabama. Grade F

Prediction Number 9:
A major railroad will purchase a large truckload carrier.

Result: Did not happen. Grade F

Prediction Number 10:
50% of my predictions will be accurate.

Result: Five A and B’s which on my grading curve, makes this one an A.


And now for those 2014 predictions.

Prediction Number 1:
This one is a layup…Tiger Woods does not win a major.

Prediction Number 2:
Denver and Seattle meet in the Super Bowl. Weather plays a major factor in the game in favor of Seattle, but Peyton Manning throws a game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds.

Prediction Number 3:
The Administration will keep moving the goalposts on Obamacare and the costs of the program will become unsustainable. Our healthcare system will get a lot worse, so you better take care of yourself.

Prediction Number 4:
We’ll make significant progress on immigration reform. It’s a mid-term election year and this is an issue that politicians from both sides can get behind. And with an improving economy the business community needs workers.

Prediction Number 5:
The unemployment rate drops below 6.5%. The economy is improving and long-term unemployment benefits are drying up. GDP growth will be in the 2.5-2.7% range in 2014.

Prediction Number 6:
Anyone born after 1980 will cease using the words “twerking” or “swagger”.

Prediction Number 7:
Matthew McConaughey will win the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club.

Prediction Number 8:
St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series.

Prediction Number 9:
Another year will pass with no significant movement toward addressing our federal deficit problem. The stock market will peak in Q3 and begin a downward slide into 2015.

Prediction Number 10:
Hope I’m wrong, but something really bad is going to happen during the Winter Olympics.

“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.” Ecclesiastes 9: 11-12

Monday, December 23, 2013


This Christmas season may turn out to be a big setback for cyber-shopping. If you bought gifts on-line this year it is very likely that they will arrive late. And when the gift does arrive, don’t be surprised if it’s not exactly what you ordered. I don’t know what the actual service performance will turn out to be, but from what I’m hearing (and I talk to a lot of folks), it sounds like a third of all orders are late by at least two days or more. Furthermore, a lot of what has been shipped is the wrong stuff (size, color, model, quantity, etc.).

Weather is getting a lot of the blame and that’s probably a legitimate excuse. But I think we are also feeling the effects of a new and emerging logistics network that is still trying to figure out how to serve the e-commerce market. Increased demand + seasonal surge + weather + extended supply chains + marginal workforce + competitive cost pressure = late deliveries and bad orders.

Even when it is only two days late and the right product, it still feels sketchy. I’ll give you an example. We decided to buy an elliptical for Christmas. Its shipment from the east coast was managed by a leading 3PL and the white-glove home delivery/assembly contracted to a name-brand provider of such services. I had a tracking number and the order was set for delivery on the 17th. Then it got pushed back to the 18th. On the 18th we were called and told that it would be the 19th. When it showed up on the 19th, it was in the back of an unmarked pick-up truck. The driver and his helper were dressed, how should I put this…they were dressed very casually. But I could see that my elliptical was in the big box in the back of their little pick-up, plus they had the right paperwork.

As it turned out, the guys did a good job of putting the contraption together and seemed like decent fellows. They confirmed that they were independent contractors working for “the company”. And the company was a North Texas warehousing/delivery service that served as an agent for the “name-brand provider” who had been set-up by the “leading 3PL”. I realize that I live out in the frickin’ toolies; but when relatively expensive, white-glove service is provided by two homies in their unmarked pick-up truck, it just doesn’t feel right. Put a magnetic sign on the door. Give them a cap with a company logo. Make ‘em pull up their pants.

But hey, this order was only two days late and so far the product works great. Not the same can be said for several of the gifts my wife purchased. At least two of those that did arrive are just flat the wrong items. Four gifts are late and two will not arrive until well-after Christmas. Everything was purchased in plenty of time and the orders were pretty simple. But somewhere out there I just know there are over-worked, under-paid, un-motivated, poorly trained seasonal workers fumbling around to fill orders; while a thousand miles away a group equally over-worked, but well-paid, highly motivated executives try to figure out how to cut another penny per package out of their costs.

Contrary to the Nativity Scenes we often see, the Wisemen were not at the manger in Bethlehem with the newborn baby Jesus. Most scholars agree that it was much later, perhaps two years later, before they found Jesus and delivered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Who knows? Maybe faster and cheaper are not always better.

Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas. (And next year, let's all just go to the store and buy our gifts the old-fashioned way.)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

If It Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck…

Of course I couldn’t stay away from the Duck Dynasty controversy. For the record, I’ve only watched the show a couple of times. Not a bad show. I actually like the people. Picture them without the ZZ-Top look and it’s pretty much the family and neighbors I grew up around. I’ve heard Phil Robertson’s testimony about his wild days and how he came to faith in Jesus Christ. I respect and envy the grip he’s got on his faith. He must be the “good soil”. (see Parable of the Sower and the Seed, Matt 13:1-23). I, on the other hand, have tended to dwell among the thorns most of my life. But, that’s another story. Let’s just say that I am still a work in progress.

As you have no doubt heard by now, Brother Phil stepped in it while being interviewed for an article in GQ magazine. (His first mistake was agreeing to an interview with GQ magazine. Phil, what were you thinking?) He made some pretty graphic comments about homosexuality and then called it sin. He also called out some other sinful behavior including heterosexual fornication. Then later in the article he took a trip down memory lane recalling the good old days when he worked in the fields with his black neighbors. And from his perspective, back then they were pretty much living the dream and had no complaints about life in Louisiana before they were corrupted by government handouts.

It would take a lot of time and exegetical discussion to touch all of the sexual bases covered in the Bible. Suffice it to say that I am a bit more open-minded than Mr. Duck Daddy, but adultery is still a sin according to the Bible and illicit sexual behavior (hetero, homo or solo) tends to cause all sorts of emotional, psychological and physical problems. Since God made us he sort of knew what we could handle in this area and gives us fair warning. Not being preachy, just sayin’.

The fact is that Jesus had a lot more to say about material wealth and riches than he did about sex. So, in my opinion, my fundamentalist brothers and sisters would do well to give at least equal time to this issue. Nevertheless, it’s a free country and Phil Robertson certainly has the right to say what he thinks about homosexual behavior. That goes the same for his recollections of how life was for his black neighbors back in the 50’s and 60s’. He’s wrong, but he has the right to be wrong.

However, everything comes at a price. There is a price to be paid for stating your opinion. The bigger the issue, the bigger the price. The network that airs Duck Dynasty, A&E, is owned by ABC. ABC is going to pay a price for Phil Robertson’s comments and for their response. One way or the other it’s going to be expensive. And they have the right to choose what price they will pay. If they let him slide, they get blasted by “the left”. If they suspend him, which they did, they get blasted from “the right” and they are. They have to weigh their options and figure out how to control the damage. At the end of the day, a lot will depend on how much crow Daddy Duck is willing to eat and my guess is, not much. Ducks don’t eat crow.

So what’s to be learned here? Fundamentalist, evangelical Christians will say that it’s just another example of the liberal media’s secular humanistic bias blocking free speech when they don’t like the message. Those outraged by Phil Robertson’s comments will say that freedom of speech does not give someone the right to say things that contribute to the hatred and intolerance of others. Frankly, to some degree both sides are right. What is undeniable is that some things are better left unsaid. And the bigger ones stage, the more one needs to consider heeding that advice.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Amazing Forgiveness

"Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace." - Nelson Mandela

Philip Yancey in Rumours of Another World shares a story of the remarkable. The story of an atrocity that happened during the days of apartheid in South Africa and the reconciliation that followed in a court room many years later.

A policeman named Van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body, turning it on the fire like a piece of barbecue meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later Van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy's father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it.

The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. "What do you want from Mr. Van de Broek?" the judge asked. She said she wanted Van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband's body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded agreement.

Then she added a further request, "Mr. Van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real."

Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing "Amazing Grace" as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but Van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed.

Monday, December 9, 2013

I'll Know What I Want When I See It (Part V)

‘If you think hiring professionals is expensive, try hiring amateurs.’ – Larry Bossidy

We now come to the final installment of this series and look at the impact of “thin-slicing”, intuition, gut-instinct, bias and first impressions on hiring decisions. In Part II of the series, I told of how orchestral musician candidates now audition behind a screen in order to minimize bias. It was noted that when it’s all about one thing, in this case the music, it makes sense to structure the audition (or interview) in such a way as to eliminate the impact of “non-music” related factors such as the candidate’s gender.

But the reality is that for most employers it’s about more than just “one thing”. It’s not just “the music”. For example, our firm recruits executive, managerial and sales professionals. A major key to success in these types of roles is how well the candidate “relates”. Most would agree that the ability to establish, develop and manage relationships is an absolute necessity if one is to succeed in an executive, managerial or sales position. Headhunters understand this. Employers understand this. And candidates understand this.

So if we cannot put blinders on when it comes to interviewing and evaluating candidates for these types of roles, how do we minimize the potentially negative consequences of things like “thin-slicing” or first impressions. As mentioned previously in this series, employers would do well to know what they really want in a candidate. A meaningful job description that speaks to experience requirements, skills and accomplishments is a great first step. Secondly, interviews should include considerable discussion about these subjects. It doesn’t do much good to have a great job description if you’re not going to use it. And, lastly, verify the candidates experience, skills and accomplishments. Again, it doesn’t do much good if you have a great job description, cover all the bases in the interview and then just take the candidate’s word for it when it comes to their experience, skills and accomplishments.

This really brings us to the biggest problem I see with employers when it comes to “thin-slicing” or first impressions or bias or whatever you choose to call it. The fact that sometimes an employer decides not to hire a highly qualified candidate “just because” is certainly frustrating for the recruiter and for the candidate. And maybe there was bias involved or a bad first impression. It is what it is. But the bigger problem for employers and candidates and, ultimately for the recruiter; is when the employer ends up hiring the candidate primarily based on those first, thinly sliced impressions. Missing out on the right candidate for the wrong reasons is a mistake, but it may not cause much pain. Hiring the wrong candidate for the wrong reasons is a bigger mistake and is always painful, for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with hiring someone you like as long as they can do the job. In fact, life is too short to work with people you don’t like. So “liking” is a good thing. But hiring someone you like who cannot do the job, never turns out well.

So Mr. Employer, I do not expect you to hire a qualified candidate whom you do not wish to hire “just because”. I can accept that outcome; even though you’ve just thin-sliced yourself out of a good employee, the candidate out of a job and me out of a fee. But, Mr. Employer I do expect you to hire a candidate who can do the job. Don’t let your personal biases lead you to hire someone based on looks, or where they went to school, or where they’ve worked, or if they grew up on a farm, or their hobbies, etc. etc.; IF they are not actually qualified to do the job. It is the quickest, most direct route to building a totally dysfunctional organization. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at Washington.

Friday, November 29, 2013

I'll Know What I Want When I See It (Part IV)

After a week off to reflect on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, we are back to thin-slicing. This week we look at it from the candidate’s perspective. When should you pay attention to “thin-slices” and listen to your gut? And when does it lead you astray?

When candidates tell me that they are having “gut-tugs”, I reply that they should always listen to “their gut”. But, then I go on to recommend that they listen closely and determine if it’s a legitimate warning signal or just nerves. I also take into account how motivated the candidate is to make a job change and what is driving that motivation. My experience is that the more motivated a candidate is to make a job change the more they should stop and listen. And if they are considering a new job that specifically meets their needs, it’s time to slowdown and listen even closer. The most common mistake I see is where the candidate is unemployed and just wants to get back to work. Now I understand that when you’re unemployed, getting back to work is a priority. And sometimes you just have to do what you have to do in order to pay the bills. But, don’t ignore what your instincts are telling you about the job. And, if you can afford to turn it down and look for a better opportunity, perhaps that is the best option.

As a general rule, if a candidate’s primary motivation is fear or anger, I advise them to take a deep breath and seriously consider all of their options. (The same is true with employers when it comes to hiring decisions, but we’ll talk about that next time.) The more the candidate’s motivation is emotionally driven, the more they need to listen to their gut. When the emotions take over, the reasons for accepting a new job opportunity nearly always make sense on the surface. I’m unemployed. I need a job. This is a job. I’ll take it. I didn’t get that promotion. I’m pissed. This new job is a big step up. I’ll take it. I can’t stand my new boss. I am miserable. I really like the guy I would be working for at Brand X. I’ll take it.

Sometimes, when emotions are running high you fail to pay attention to your gut and you miss those “thin-slices”. I’m not talking about the obvious things such as the company’s financial performance or management turnover or service reputation. You might be inclined to ignore those as well if you are really motivated to take the job. But, most likely you have factored them into the decision. On the other hand, a thin-slice, intuitive issue might be something as subtle as how the executive offices look relative to the offices and work stations of the other employees. What’s the “vibe” or mood among the rank and file employees? What kind of cars are the executives driving and where do they get to park? I’m not making a judgment one way or the other about these types of observations. But, your personal experiences and “thin slicer” may subconsciously tell you something about this company that you should not ignore. And if you are caught up in the moment and just see this job as an answer to your fear or anger driven job search, you might miss some of those subtle cues which likely point to major issues.

Now the flip-side, when do thin-slices or “gut tugs” tend to work against a candidate? Usually it’s when they perceive that they can afford NOT to make a job change. They may well be motivated to make a change and would not be this far into the decision-making process otherwise. This is most often the candidate who is not all that unhappy in their current job, but simply realizes that they will eventually need to make a change in order to reach their long-term career goals. This is the candidate who will pay too much attention to the “little voices” inside their head. And what they take for “gut tugs’ are often just nerves, fear of change. They will find every excuse in the book to talk themselves out of taking a job which they absolutely should take, saying that it just “doesn’t feel right”. If you are the prospective employer (or the headhunter) who is dealing with this candidate, you have to cut through the bull---- immediately and figure out if the candidate’s “gut tugs” are legitimate red flags which say this candidate is not likely to be successful in this role with this organization; or are they just nerves and this opportunity really does make sense for the candidate; or are they a function of other factors in the candidate’s life which take precedence over their own career plan (i.e. spouse’s job, kids in school, extended family connections/commitments, etc.).

So if the job change is a good career move, and there are no significant family or personal roadblocks, and the “gut-tugs” are really just nerves; what do I tell the candidate? Honestly, I tell them that if the “gut-tugs” are that strong and they absolutely will not go away, even if we both agree it’s just nerves, then don’t do it. Here’s my logic. It may be a good career move. And there may be no good reason not to take the job. And we may agree that the nerves are just related to the normal fear of change. But if the candidate just cannot find a way to get comfortable with the decision to accept the job…there is something else going on.

From personal experience, I’ve faced decisions in my life that seemed to make total sense even though I had serious gut-tugs about them. Sometimes I was able to identify the source of those gut-tugs as legitimate red flag issues and ended up making the right decision. But, there have been situations where I dismissed the gut-tugs as “just nerves”, threw caution to the wind and charged full speed ahead. Occasionally that was the right decision and things worked out. But more often than not, it turned out badly. There were probably legitimate reasons for those nervous gut-tugs and when they would not go away, I should have paid more attention. Before you make that decision ask yourself: what answer will give you the most peace of mind and what answer makes the most sense. If they are not the same, then you need to search for more answers.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

If They Can Get Away With This….

(The “I’ll Know What I Want” series will resume next week.)

In 1963 my mother was working as a bookkeeper for a real estate company in Fort Worth. Their office was on River Oaks Boulevard and she saw President Kennedy’s motorcade on its way back to Carswell Air Force Base. From there they made the short flight to Love Field in Dallas. JFK, Jackie, Texas Governor John Connally and his wife got in their limousine and with the top down, drove into the city.

Shortly after lunch, our elementary school principal came on the intercom and told us that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Classes were dismissed and we could go home. It was a beautiful day in Texas and I walked the mile and half to my house. I could have taken the bus, but preferred to walk. On that day, I walked home alone. And when I got home, I was alone. An only child, both parents working and I old enough to stay by myself. I turned on the television and Walter Cronkite told me that the President was dead. My mother called and said that she was on her way home. Dad was still on the road and would not get home until the weekend.

My folks, all of my folks, were Democrats. Back in those days, most working class people in Texas were Democrats. I think I had one great-aunt who had married into some money and another uncle who worked for an oil company. They were Republicans. Otherwise, all Democrats. Even though JFK was a Yankee and a Catholic, at least he was not a Republican. So he was our guy. The fact that he was a WWII combat veteran got him extra points with my Dad who had also fought in The War.

When Lyndon Johnson, a Texan, was sworn in as President I remember my mother commenting that it would probably be good for Texas but bad for the nation. And when dad finally got home, he speculated that Johnson was probably in on the assassination. My dad was one of the original conspiracy theorists. He could not stand Johnson and in the following years as the war in Vietnam escalated, he would say that Kennedy would not have let this happen. So when Oliver Stone’s movie JFK came out, it was like déjà vu all over again for me.

No one really knows what would have happened had Kennedy served out his term. I think it’s likely that he would have been re-elected. But, I’ve always figured that Vietnam would have turned out just about the same. I tend to think forces far above and beyond the President or even Oliver Stone’s military-industrial complex are at work when it comes to war. I’m guessing that Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy would still have been killed. Nixon would have gotten elected. Watergate would have happened. Oil would still play a major role in world events and the Soviet Union would have collapsed one way or the other.

But, I do think that the Kennedy assassination made the nation and certainly my generation less optimistic and more uncertain. It left behind a false dream of “what was” or “what might have been”. A dream that reality could never measure up to. For some it became an excuse and for others a warning: If “They” can get away with this “They” can get away with anything. And fifty years later, those words still echo.

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
I shouted out,
Who killed the Kennedys?
When after all
It was you and me.

-“Sympathy for The Devil”, The Rolling Stones
Songwriters: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I’ll Know What I Want When I See It (Part 3)

Now that we’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of thin-slicing, bias, intuition, gut-feelings, etc.; we must ask:

Do we know and understand how, why and when we are “thin-slicing”?

Can we tell when we are being “thin-sliced” and, if so, how do we handle it without becoming totally paranoid?

When does our own intuitive “thin-slicing” work in our best interest and when does it lead us astray?

I’ll look at these questions from the perspective of candidates, employers and headhunters. And since this is “HeadhunterPOV”, I’ll start with headhunters, more specifically this headhunter.

First of all, to a significant degree we just don’t know how, why and when we are “thin-slicing”. Intuition and gut-feel are the result of so many life experiences and so much information, that most of the time we don’t even realize how much they are impacting our thought process. Part of the battle is just knowing they are at work out there somewhere. For example, I acknowledge that a lot of factors influence how I evaluate a candidate. I do my best to focus on those which most closely relate to the candidate’s professional qualifications. I must also consider those qualifications which my client (the employer) values the most. For example, I may consider that for a certain position in sales the candidate’s most important qualification is a track-record of successfully selling complex supply chain solutions. While the client may value that as well, they may actually put more emphasis on what companies the candidate has worked for or how much experience they have selling in a specific industry vertical. So I am always shifting back and forth between how I evaluate the candidate and how I think my client will evaluate the candidate in terms of their professional qualifications and experience.

But, this is actually the easy part of the evaluation process. The hard part is figuring out what my gut is saying about this candidate and even more importantly what my client’s gut is likely to say about this candidate. And just to complicate it a bit more, how many people in the client’s organization are going to be involved in the hiring decision and what’s going on in their gut? How do their thin-slicers work?

For me personally, I acknowledge that a lot of non-job related factors can influence how I view a candidate. And, we all let “personal” factors influence us to some degree. The key is knowing what those are and guarding against them. I know that a candidate’s age, ethnicity, gender, where they went to school, where they are from, accent, appearance, personality, marital status and special interests all influence my opinion. And, yes I know that most of these are things you can’t ask about. But, 99.9% of the time the information is there or just comes out in conversation. I also know that many of my clients are influenced by these factors and ultimately these are the things that will lead them to pick one candidate over another. We may all like to think that we are selecting the most qualified person for the position, but that’s just not how it works in the real world.

So we are juggling the candidate’s professional qualifications, the candidate’s personal characteristics, my biases and preferences and even more importantly the client’s biases and preferences. Forget about making the best decision. You’re never going to know it even if you do. THE REASONABLE GOAL HERE IS TO MAKE A GOOD DECISION AND, AT MINIMUM AVOID MAKING A REALLY POOR DECISION. FOR ME THAT MEANS FOCUSING ON THE CANDIDATE’S PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS. You have to keep going back to the most critical factors which will determine the candidate’s likelihood of success. And the foundation for success is always the candidate’s professional qualifications. In most cases, when a candidate’s hiring is based more on “personal characteristics” than “professional qualifications”, it turns out badly for the client and the candidate.

Does this mean that the best hiring decision is based entirely on the candidate’s professional qualifications? Of course not. As noted above, that’s just not how it works in the real world. This is where thin-slicing, intuition and gut-feel intersect with what you actually know about the candidate, client company, their culture and the hiring authority. At some point, you have to ask THE BIG QUESTION: Is this candidate going to be successful in this position in this organization?

Once upon a time, an old headhunter gave me this piece of really good advice: “Don’t play God.” For the headhunter it is a balancing act between evaluating candidates based on professional qualifications and still making allowance for the “personal” factors while not pushing the client or the candidate too far in either direction. The hiring decision is not mine. The decision to accept the job offer is not mine. I have a responsibility to inquire, inform and guide. That includes making sure that the client and the candidate are both asking THE BIG QUESTION: Is this candidate going to be successful in this position in this organization?

Next time, the candidate and thin-slicing.

Friday, November 8, 2013

I'll Know What I Want When I See It (Part 2)

Bias: having or showing a bias : having or showing an unfair tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others. – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Last week I introduced the concept of “thin-slicing” and suggested that it plays a significant role in the hiring process. We described “thin-slicing” as the ability to find patterns in events based only on "thin slices," or narrow windows, of experience. What we end up calling intuition or gut-feeling is a product of thin-slicing. Sometimes we know exactly where it’s coming from and sometimes it’s a mystery. Sometimes we don’t even realize that our intuition or gut is actually tipping the scales in the decision-making process. And, contrary to the advice of “just go with your gut”, we are often wrong when we allow our intuition to determine the outcome, especially when we confuse it with bias.

In Part One of this series I referenced Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink”. One classic example he gives where “thin-slicing” fails is the history of hiring musicians for orchestras. For many years orchestras were made up mostly of men. Few women ever got in and then it would only be as second chair in certain sections. Men were assumed to be more physically able to handle the rigors of playing musical instruments at a high level; especially where a measure of strength and breath was deemed particularly critical for success. Read the book if you want the full story, but essentially what has happened is that now musicians audition behind a screen. The decision-makers have no idea if it’s a man or a woman. Great pains are taken to make sure that even the sounds of their footsteps are muffled so as not to tip off the gender of the candidate. Turns out that female musicians play better behind the screen. The truth is that they don’t play any better, but they sound better. There was such an age old built-in bias in this profession that the primary decision maker (the maestro) could not really hear the music over the subconscious noise created by the gender of the musician. Take away that noise and you can actually hear the music. Nowadays when you go to a concert, you see a lot of females in the orchestra. The screen has made all the difference.

So how much bias do we see in our industry? Frankly, a lot. Is it always bad? Well, that depends. If all you want is the best music, then biases about gender, appearance, age, race, etc. will get in the way of hiring the best musicians. If all that really matters is the music, hire the best musician. But, if you are hiring someone to lead a team or a sell something, it can be a little more complicated. Now you’ve got to deal with the biases and preferences of other people. Will the team accept a leader who looks or talks a certain way? Will a buyer do business with a sales person who is perceived to be too young or too pretty or too old or too fat or “too” whatever?

The politically correct answer and legal requirement is just don’t allow bias into the equation directly or indirectly. Have a very specific job description and hire the best person for the job. But how does that decision get made and how do we know that our “hidden” thin-slicer isn’t working overtime as we interview and evaluate candidates. How many of us are willing to hire the person behind the screen? And should we even consider doing such a thing? Perhaps. More to come next time.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

I’ll Know What I Want When I See It (Part 1)

“We don't know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don't always appreciate their fragility.” – Malcolm Gladwell

Thin-slicing is a term used in psychology and philosophy to describe the ability to find patterns in events based only on "thin slices," or narrow windows, of experience. It’s been around since the early 90’s and was popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book titled “Blink” (2005). The concept has been applied to a variety of subjects and situations including bird-watching, art criticism, athletic prowess, gambling and speed-dating. Marital expert, John Gottman has even built a predictive model using thin-slicing. He has shown that by looking and listening to a relatively limited amount of interaction between couples (recently married or soon to be married) one can successfully predict if the marriage will survive.

We all “thin-slice” and are “thin-sliced” whether we realize it or not. It is a major factor in the hiring process. Many employers go to great lengths to minimize negative “thin-slicing” when it comes to selecting, interviewing, evaluating and hiring people. And a few of them actually have some success. They find a way to hire the most qualified person, not just the one the hiring manager likes the most. But most of the time what really happens is that companies just end up hiring the one that the hiring manager likes the most.

So how do you minimize the negative effects of “thin-slicing”? Employers need to have a meaningful job description with specific requirements that go beyond prior work history and education. Know what you really want this person to do and identify the proven abilities, skills and prior accomplishments which correlate most closely to success in this role. And then force yourself to objectively measure candidates against these requirements. Likewise, candidates need to understand the specific requirements of the position. Assuming that a candidate is, in fact, qualified, the challenge is then communicating that to the hiring authority.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the positives and negatives of “thin-slicing” from three different perspectives: employer, candidate and headhunter.

Monday, October 14, 2013

How To Stop A Nosebleed.

Some things in life are complicated and there are no easy answers. But my experience has been that most of the challenges one faces in life are not all that complicated and the answers are right under ones nose. The hard part is not that you don’t know what to do; the hard part is doing it. Take, for example, my nosebleeds.

For most of my adult life I have had occasional nosebleeds. Always from the left nostril. Sometimes severe and sometimes just a drip or two. Like a lot of kids, I got my nose mashed in a couple of times playing sports, running into things and forgetting to duck. I always figured those events contributed to my nosebleeds. I also suffer from seasonal allergies. So I spray stuff up my nose and take over-the-counter allergy medications. According to my wife, these self-medicating efforts were the primary cause of my nosebleeds. As I grew older, the nosebleeds seemed to become more frequent. A spike in blood pressure, spicy foods or alcohol all seemed to trigger a nosebleed. If I happened to have taken an aspirin or an ibuprofen or a naproxen, the nosebleeds could last for a while. Frankly, my nosebleeds had gone from an annoying inconvenience to a potentially serious problem.

So I read all that I could about nosebleeds. And I started using moisturizing saline sprays and Vaseline to keep my nasal passages from drying out. I invested in a humidifier. I stopped drinking alcohol. I developed meditative rituals and tried to pray when I felt like my blood pressure was going up. I avoided certain foods and even experimented with vitamin K (which was really stupid). I thought about going to an ear, nose and throat specialist, but that would have made too much sense. So I kept trying to figure it out. I considered that both my father and his father had both suffered from nosebleeds as adults. Both of them had undergone cauterization to fix their nosebleed problems. That seemed like a pretty drastic and primitive way to address what was clearly a lifestyle/nutritional/environmental problem.

Despite my best efforts and various attempts to find a cure, the nosebleeds continued and even got worse. Something had to be done. As a last resort, I finally decided to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. (OK, my wife forced me to go see an ear, nose and throat specialist. But, I agreed with her. So it’s sort of like I decided.) Still, I could not stand the thought of major surgery to my nose and sinuses. I am terribly claustrophobic and the idea of having all of the post-operative packing and swelling in my nose just freaked me out. So with much fear and trepidation, I showed up at the ENT’s office. He looked up my left nostril and declared that he could see the problem. A vein protruding on the inner side of my left nostril, not too far back. Wow, this is exactly where the blood came from when I had a nosebleed. This guy was good. He said he thought he could fix the problem with chemical cauterization. Cauterization? Really? I mentioned that my father and grandfather had the same problem which was corrected via cauterization. He was not surprised, noting that this type of nasal bleed problem tended to be genetic. So he numbed the area and proceeded to use some silver nitrate to “burn the bleeder” and seal it over. He told me not to blow my nose for a couple of weeks and call him if I had any problems. That was two months ago and it would appear that cauterization was indeed the simple solution to a simple problem that I had lived with for a long time.

Some might say that there are simple solutions to many of the problems America is facing today if we just had the courage to act. Some might even say that it’s time to “burn the bleeders” so to speak. Maybe so. I don’t know. I do know that it’s nice to be able to once again enjoy a cold beer and Mexican food without having to worry about a nosebleed.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Primum Non Nocere……First Do No Harm

Fixing our healthcare system will require some combination of more money to provide the products and services some folks are not getting, reducing the cost of certain products and services and limiting the availability of certain products and services. I don’t think the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka Omabacare) gets us where we need to be. Furthermore, I’m not sure any politician has the guts to put forth a program that does. Providing healthcare for all, significantly reducing the cost of healthcare and determining what level of healthcare people are “entitled” to receive would seem to be way more than our government can handle. And then there is the question as to whether or not they should even be trying.

Certainly the government has a role to play in healthcare. We want and need certain controls, guidelines, certifications and oversight of healthcare related services. Rules and regulations are necessary up to a point. But we are headed in the wrong direction when the government mandates that everyone will have healthcare and then cobbles together a half-ass program and hopes that the people (especially the ones who vote) won’t get so pissed off that the political geniuses who came up the idea get run out of office.

The healthcare math is really simple. It still cost money to provide healthcare to people who do not have healthcare (or money). You can force young healthy uninsured people to pay for healthcare that they will not likely need at this point in their lives and cover some of the immediate costs. But it’s not going to come close to covering the overall cost of adding millions of uninsured, unhealthy people to the program. And the premiums you (and your employer) pay in when you are young will be needed to keep you upright and mobile when you get older. Trust me on this.

The cost of certain healthcare products and services can and should be reduced. The threat of litigation causes the industry to over test, over prescribe and over refer to specialists who over refer to other specialists. In many cases the process or sequence of tests and evaluations allowed by insurance providers ends up adding costs, not to mention delaying treatment. The “system” needs to be improved. The marketplace can do a pretty good job of driving down costs and improving service if it’s allowed to work. But, the healthcare, insurance and big pharmaceutical lobbyists have done a great job of stacking the deck in their favor. And, I predict that when it’s all said and done, they will do just fine under whatever sort of healthcare program we end up with. They will make sure that “the marketplace” works mostly to their benefit.

Which brings us to the third variable in the healthcare service and cost equation. What products and services will be available and who makes that determination? Interestingly, we are moving toward a hybrid healthcare system that is part public, non-profit, government entitlement program and part private sector, for-profit business. Perhaps the worst of all outcomes. The “for-profit” system which delivers the vast majority of healthcare related products and services cannot afford to lose money. Capital will evaporate and the businesses will go under. So this “for-profit” system will charge whatever they can and continue to lobby as hard they can. And, where they cannot figure out a way to make a profit, those products and services will become very difficult to access. Or they will only be available “outside” of the “affordable” system at prices few of us can afford.

There is no easy fix to our healthcare system. And it is indeed a shame that many people in this country do not have access to healthcare. We could improve that situation over time by upgrading our network of “public” healthcare services. But, there is no way to provide comprehensive healthcare for everyone without forcing some of us to pay for the healthcare of others while paying more for our own.

The real question is not are people entitled to healthcare. The real question is what sort of healthcare are people entitled to and what sort of healthcare should they pay for? And if they can’t pay for it, do they just live without it as best they can. For example, I had a total knee replacement back in December 2011. It has been a wonderful thing and I am thankful that I had insurance that covered most of the costs. But, should a person be “entitled” to a knee replacement? If you have no insurance and cannot afford a knee replacement, should the taxpayers pick up the tab? Tough question. No easy answers.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
- James Orchard Halliwell

By now you’ve probably heard about the Sports Illustrated report on the Oklahoma State football program. SI spoke with various sources including former players. Going back to the early 2000’s and as recently as 2011, OSU players were allegedly recruited and rewarded with cash, passing grades, drugs and sex. Perhaps not coincidentally, during this time OSU has had more talented players and their football program has risen from mediocre to exceptional.

I used to live in Oklahoma and would always root for OSU vs. OU. They were the underdog, not unlike my Texas Tech Red Raiders relative to the University of Texas. People in Oklahoma and Texas are passionate about sports, especially football. And when it comes to high school and college football, the passion can become an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The same can be said for other regions of the country. Having lived in the Southeast, I can confirm that they are the most passionate about college football. With all due respect to OU-Texas, Michigan-Ohio State and countless other intra or inter state rivalries; nothing comes close to Alabama-Auburn. Even Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Florida and any LSU game are crazier than anything you’ll see outside of the South.

But make no mistake, Oklahomans take their football seriously. Seriously enough to welcome Texas players by the dozens into their schools. Oklahoma high schools produce some great talent. Just not enough to fill OU and OSU rosters. Going back to the 1940’s OU made the commitment to build a national championship caliber football program. They were successful and ultimately were inspired to build a university that the football program could be proud of. And OU is now a great university. Likewise, OSU is a great university. But they have always been behind OU when it came to football. While their overall sports programs outshined OU, football is all that really matters in Oklahoma. OU was the bully and OSU the bullied.

Eventually, if they are determined to keep showing up, those who are bullied fight back. In the world of big-time college football how can a perennial underdog fight back? Hiring a good coach is a step in the right direction. Having a rich donor like Boone Pickens is even better. But coaches and facilities don’t win games. Players do. And if you are an OSU, or a Texas Tech, or a Baylor, or a Vanderbilt; how do you compete for talent up against traditional powerhouse programs? At some point, you start taking too many kids who can’t do even the most basic college course work. You take kids who want to be paid for their services. You take kids who like to party, a lot. All programs, including the so-called powerhouse programs have some of these kids. Unfortunately, for some programs, and OSU may be one of those, you can end up with too many of “those kids”.

Most individuals or groups that are in a competitive situation will tend to migrate toward actions and behaviors that get results even when those actions and behaviors are against the rules or are just plain unethical. Some years back we saw it in sports with steroids. Nobody really liked the idea of using steroids, but when you are competing against people who are using them and gaining advantage, you use them. Schools and coaches would prefer to have players who are capable of doing college level course work, but when the competition is taking the best athletes available including those who can’t read, you use them too. Great player who likes to party? We need more great players. So we’ll party? One does what one has to do.

And it goes on everywhere. From corporations competing for profits to local churches competing for members. From beauty pageants to how we drive on the highway. From resumes to “value proposition” sales spins. Most of us do what we have to do as long as it works and we don’t get caught. We tend to grade ourselves on the curve of “this is what we have to do in order to compete” and integrity as an absolute value is replaced by something we call winning.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Labor Day

This country is facing a serious labor shortage. Sure we have a lot of unemployed folks. Some don’t want to work, at least not for the wages that are available. Some are just not employable for a variety of reasons. Some are living in the wrong zip code and can’t figure out how to get to where the jobs are. And many are in transition and will be working soon. Then there are drugs and criminal records and health issues and all kinds of noise that keep people unemployed. Unemployment is a problem, a serious problem and I don’t mean to minimize it. If you’re unemployed it’s a huge problem for you personally. But, when one looks at the big picture and considers what this nation will look like over the next fifty years, the looming labor shortage is as critical as any issue we are facing. We are rapidly approaching the point where there simply will not be enough skilled trades people around to keep our machines running. Even semi-skilled or unskilled labor will be in short supply.

Everyone can’t be information workers or idea people or relationship managers. Some one has to keep things running and clean-up the mess. Ultimately, the marketplace will do its job and the person with the tool belt and hardhat will make more money than the person with the keyboard and mouse. In fact, we are already there with certain trades. The person driving the truck will make more money, a lot more money, than the person dispatching the truck. In some transportation sectors we are already there, as well. And the person repairing the truck may end up making more money than anyone.

Information, ideas and relationships ultimately matter. For hundreds of years those people who were good at managing (and in many cases manipulating) information, ideas and relationships were pretty special and made a lot of money. In an age of instant and almost unlimited information, “knowing” stuff isn’t so special anymore. And most of the low-hanging fruit of brilliant ideas has been picked. Invention and innovation will always be special. But we now live in a global marketplace of ideas. The supply of brilliant minds is greater than it’s ever been in the history of the world. So what if you’re the smartest person in your city or state or country. It just doesn’t mean what it used to mean, nor is it worth as much. And as for relationships, it will probably make more sense to know people who can fix your car, your computer or your air-conditioning; than it will to know how to motivate your employees. Especially, when your employees read about motivation on the internet and know exactly what you’re up to.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The D-Word

The next time someone is trying to sell you something you would do well to watch out for the D-Word. The D-Word is the secret weapon of closing. It is the most powerful word in marketing and advertising. It is the “winning word” for settling disagreements between friends, lovers and family members. Lawyers love to use the D-word in opening and closing arguments. It is the vote getting word in politics. It is the one word that puts your conscience to bed when you are making a bad choice. It’s the D-Word: D-E-S-E-R-V-E.

It’s a word I seldom use in the search business because I think it’s too dangerous. Furthermore, whether you are a candidate or a hiring authority, I have no clue as to what you may or may not deserve. Certainly, I want to know what’s motivating your decision. Why are we talking? If you are a candidate, what is motivating you to seek a new opportunity or even consider one? If you are a hiring authority, what is motivating you to hire someone for a certain position? I’ve written about these issues in the past and there is a lot to unpack in these questions. But, fundamentally, all motivations are driven by different levels of “want”. In the search business, all of my questions ultimately connect to your “wants”. What do you want? Why do you want? How much do you want? I love working with highly motivated people, either hiring authorities or candidates. Tire-kickers and window-shoppers don’t pay the rent. I want to work with people who are ready, willing and able to do business.

And no one is more motivated AND at risk than the person who believes they “deserve it”; whatever “it” is. If they think they deserve it, I know that I will have their undivided attention along with some personal baggage. The D-word is a double-edged sword. For instance, the candidate who is convinced that they deserve a certain position or a certain level of compensation is the most at risk for accepting a counter offer. There is an ego-factor embedded in “deserving” that translates into a need for acceptance. The candidate that likes their company, likes their boss, likes the people they works with, etc. etc.; but thinks they "deserve" a promotion, a raise, a bigger office, whatever…is the candidate who will flip for a counter-offer. The hiring authority who is convinced that their organization “deserves” a certain level of candidate is the one most likely to end up making a low-ball offer, promoting from within or just deciding not to fill the position.

The other problem with those who are motivated by getting what they think they deserve is that they almost never get enough. It’s tempting to entice candidates with phrases such as “you’ve worked hard and this is the job you deserve” or “you know you deserve more”. And what hiring authority doesn’t “deserve” to hire the very best candidate (aka my candidate.) The D-word is a great closer, but too often, the “buyer” ends up disappointed.

From personal experience, I’ve made decisions where the D-word was a secondary factor. Want and deserved. Need and deserved. Can afford and deserved. It’s the right thing and deserved. We all put ourselves on that pedestal from time to time. But, when the D-word was the primary reason for my choice, it has always turned out badly. So whatever decisions you are facing, be wary of the D-word. You might just get what you deserve.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Best Little Book About Texas

Most people think that the best books about Texas were written by Larry McMurtry. Some folks who are not from Texas will even mention Edna Ferber (“Giant”). Those who are serious about Texas will look to the works of J. Frank Dobie, Elmer Kelton, Walter Prescott Webb, A.C. Green and T.R. Fehrenbach. And there are dozens of other great Texas writers. I’ve read some of all of them and all of McMurtry. I like the movie “Giant”. But the book, not-so-much. Ferber’s portrayal of Texas and Texans is just way too over-the-top and it comes across the same way in the movie. Entertaining yes, but not all that much like the real Texas.

McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” is near the top of my favorite books list and the television mini-series is the best I ever saw. One of his earlier books, “Horseman Pass By”, is a decent work that was the basis for the outstanding movie “Hud”. “The Last Picture Show is a good read and a better movie. “Terms of Endearment” is a fine novel and an excellent movie that just happened to have something to do with Texas. It wasn’t really about Texas and the setting could just as easily have been in Florida or Georgia or California. However, I still like most of McMurtry’s work and his portrayals of Texas and Texans are pretty much spot on.

But for my money, the best book ever written about Texas is John Graves’ “Goodbye To A River” (1960). John Graves passed away last week at the age of 92. Google John Graves + “Goodbye To A River” and you will find numerous articles and tributes to the writer and to the book. He was special and this book is special. Most of us at one time or another have read a book or heard a song or gazed at a painting and said to ourselves, “That’s how I feel” or “That’s what I see” or “That is the truth”. When I read “Goodbye To A River”, I say all of those things. It hits close to home. Like me, John Graves is from Fort Worth. Like me, he had uncles and relatives who introduced him to life away from the city. And like me, much of that time was spent on the Brazos River. The same section of the river he writes about in his book is one where I spent much of my youth. The people he writes about could easily be my kinfolk. And he ties Texas history into every bend in the river and beyond. While I cannot claim to be from that place, my parents and their parents and the family tree on back into the mid-1800’s are from that place. So in many ways that place and those people are mine.

“Goodbye To A River” is the only book, other than the Bible, that I read over and over. It reminds me of what my ancestors went through and how hard their lives were. It humbles me and keeps me from feeling sorry for myself when I am tired or stressed out. It inspires me to value all of God’s creation. It reflects both the sacredness and fickleness of life. It tells me that all people and all places count, no matter how small. It allows me to see things as they were and perhaps even as they are. For me, the best little book about Texas is also one of the best ones ever written about life.

“If a man couldn't escape what he came from, we would most of us still be peasants in Old World hovels. But, if, having escaped or not, he wants in some way to know himself, define himself, and tries to do it without taking into account the thing he came from, he is writing without any ink in his pen. The provincial who cultivates only his roots is in peril, potato-like, of becoming more root than plant. The man who cuts his roots away and denies that they were ever connected with him withers into half a man.”
― John Graves, Goodbye to a River: A Narrative

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Ground We Stand On

I’ve been trying to ignore it, hoping it would go away. But apparently it is here to stay, at least until a more sensational story takes its place. It is the on-going saga of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. I wrote about it last year, shortly after it happened. (

My position then was that Zimmerman was in the wrong. I still feel that way. And but for Florida’s very questionable ‘stand-your-ground’ law, he would have been found guilty of manslaughter if not second degree murder. Last year I said that it was NOT about race. I still say that it was NOT about race. I’m a conservative white guy, so my opinion on matters of race doesn’t matter I suppose. That certainly seems to be the position of some blacks and most white liberals who deem themselves qualified as experts on all matters of race. But, the last time I checked, it’s still a free country and I am entitled to have my own opinion. (It is still a free country isn’t it?)

I can’t get inside Zimmerman’s head or know exactly what he was thinking on the night he pursued Trayvon Martin. Some might say that his comments to the police dispatcher had racial overtones. But, does anyone seriously believe that Zimmerman would not have pursued a white, brown or yellow kid in a hoodie who was cutting through his neighborhood on foot at that time of night? Neighborhood watchmen/wannabe cops live for this stuff. This was a call to action for old George. Race was not a factor for Zimmerman.

Did race factor into Trayvon’s behavior? Perhaps. I’m not qualified to speak on this, but I can understand why a young African American male might be upset, scared and angry when an unidentified civilian comes after him. Had it been a white teenager, perhaps the kid just waves, says hello, tells Zimmerman where he lives and that he’s just coming back from the store after a munchie run. So being black does matter. I’ll grant that. There are also reports that Trayvon smoked weed and had a little wannabe “gangsta” thing going on. Sounds like a lot of other kids, regardless of race.

George Zimmerman is the only one still alive who knows what really went down that night. Wannabe cop meets wannabe gangsta. Perhaps he just wanted to talk to Trayvon and the kid turned around and jumped him. Maybe Zimmerman was fighting for his life and Trayvon was just a bad man and not your typical teenager. What ever it was, it should not be used as fuel to stir up old racial tensions and stereotypes. While we are debating where the country is on black vs. white race relations, we are ignoring the more important issues of what is actually going on in large segments of the black community, i.e. black-on-black crime, children born out of wedlock, poor education, high unemployment and the list goes on and on. Maybe at the bottom of that list, we find some white folks killing black folks and vice-versa. But if we focus on these isolated events, tragic as they may be, we are missing the bigger issues.

Instead of making Trayvon Martin the trump card in the race deck or the poster child for racial justice; we should be talking about the serious problems inherent with “stand-your-ground” laws. And we should be taking a closer look at neighborhood watch groups, who is armed and how they are trained. Trayvon Martin is dead because an overly aggressive neighborhood watch guy put himself and Trayvon in a deadly situation. George Zimmerman is legally not guilty because of a Florida law that, as written, should not be on the books. We should be talking more about those issues than the color of Trayvon Martin’s skin. But what do I know? I’m just an old conservative white guy.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Rest in Peace, Schoep...

Last summer I posted a brief entry about a man and his old dog. The man is John Unger and the dog is Schoep. Schoep passed away last week. Here are links to that story as well as John and Schoep's Facebook page.

With a salute to old Schoep, I'm reposting my entry from last year.


Barney and Me

"The misery of keeping a dog is his dying so soon. But, to be sure, if he lived for fifty years and then died, what would become of me?" – (Sir Walter Scott)

If you haven’t seen the photo of the guy in the water holding his old, arthritic dog; you just weren’t paying attention. And the story that goes with the photo inspires while at the same time breaking our hearts.

If you’re a dog person, or just a human being with a heart, you can’t look at that photo and not get a lump in your throat. It really hit me. We have dogs, two very friendly Bichons, Dillon and Boudreaux. They are amusing little guys, low maintenance and great house pets. But once upon a time, we had a real dog. His name was Barney and he was an English Springer Spaniel. The best dog ever. He moved all over the country with us and could handle just about anything or anyone. He was smart, loyal, gentle and absolutely fearless.

Not counting my wife, he was my best friend. But when he died I wasn’t there. Why I wasn’t there is another story and it will be someone else’s to tell someday when I’m not around. But I wasn’t there when he took that long, last ride to the vet. Thankfully my wife was there and to this day she cannot stand to watch the similar scene as it plays out in the movie Marley and Me.

Maybe it was for the best that I wasn’t there. I just don’t know. But I do believe that our dogs will be there for us when we get to heaven. And they will come running to greet us and not only love us, but forgive us for taking so long to get there. (Hell, I can’t even write this post without crying.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Is That Your Resume?

As a headhunter I see a lot of resumes. I mean a lot. I see the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to resumes. Recently I came across this article and the author has some very good things to say. I wish I’d written it. But, I’ll do the next best thing and share it.

Ten Words and Terms That Ruin a Resume

by Charles Purdy, Monster Senior Editor

Your resume needs an update -- that is, if your resume is like that of most people, it’s not as good as it could be. The problem is language: Most resumes are a thicket of deadwood words and phrases -- empty cliches, annoying jargon and recycled buzzwords. Recruiters, HR folks and hiring managers see these terms over and over again, and it makes them sad. Wouldn’t you rather make them happy? It’s time to start raking out your resume, starting with these (and similar) terms.

1. “Salary negotiable”

Yes, they know. If you’re wasting a precious line of your resume on this term, it looks as though you’re padding -- that you’ve run out of things to talk about. If your salary is not negotiable, that would be somewhat unusual. (Still, don’t put that on your resume either.)

2. “References available by request”

See the preceding comment about unnecessary terms.

3. “Responsible for ______”

Reading this term, the recruiter can almost picture the C-average, uninspired employee mechanically fulfilling his job requirements -- no more, no less. Having been responsible for something isn’t something you did -- it’s something that happened to you. Turn phrases like “responsible for” into “managed,” “led” or other decisive, strong verbs.

4. “Experience working in ______”

Again, experience is something that happens to you -- not something you achieve. Describe your background in terms of achievements.

5. “Problem-solving skills”

You know who else has problem-solving skills? Monkeys. Dogs. On your resume, stick to skills that require a human.

6. “Detail-oriented”

So, you pay attention to details. Well, so does everyone else. Don’t you have something unique to tell the hiring manager? Plus, putting this on your resume will make that accidental typo in your cover letter or resume all the more comical.

7. “Hardworking”

Have you ever heard the term “show -- don’t tell”? This is where that might apply. Anyone can call himself a hard worker. It’s a lot more convincing if you describe situations in concrete detail in which your hard work benefited an employer.

8. “Team player”

See the preceding comment about showing instead of telling. There are very few jobs that don’t involve working with someone else. If you have relevant success stories about collaboration, put them on your resume. Talk about the kinds of teams you worked on, and how you succeeded.

9. “Proactive”

This is a completely deflated buzzword. Again, show rather than tell.

10. “Objective”

This term isn’t always verboten, but you should use it carefully. If your objective is to get the job you’ve applied for, there’s no need to spell that out on your resume with its own heading. A resume objective is usually better replaced by a career summary describing your background, achievements and what you have to offer an employer. An exception might be if you haven’t applied for a specific job and don’t have a lot of experience that speaks to the position you’d like to achieve.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sitting Up With The Dead

I recently went to a family reunion, my mother’s side of the family. Each year in late June, what remains of the clan gathers in a small community southwest of Fort Worth. I am closely related to some. But with others the branches split so far back in the 1800’s that I lose track after the 3rd or 4th cousin by marriage explanation. The core group of relatives in this community descended from my great-great grandfather. His brothers and sisters spawned these other folks, only a few of whom look and sound like family. But, they seem genuinely committed to maintaining the tradition and, I suppose what they see as a link to the Old West. Not that this side of my family had much to do with the Old West. They rode horses and had a few cows, but mostly they were hard-scrabble farmers who came to Texas after the Civil War. Some were lucky enough to secure good bottom land along the Brazos River, but most ended up with land best suited for scrub oak, cedar brush and prickly pears. The area gets less rain than places only a day’s ride (on horseback) in three directions. Go further west and you better be into raising goats.

My grandfather was one of 15 kids (Methodists taking the Lord’s instruction to be fruitful and multiply quite literally.) I don’t remember the order of birth but my grandfather was in the first five. All but one are now passed on. The lone survivor was number 15, an eighty-eight year old aunt who was only a couple of years older than my mother. They grew up more like sisters than aunt and niece. Her mind is sharp as long as you don’t inquire about anything that’s happened since 2000. The closer to the present time the worse it gets. But the farther back you go, the better.

My aunt recalled when my mother died back in ’98 which led her to speak of other deaths and other funerals. The only present day reference she could muster was noting how fortunate they were to now have some gas wells around there to fund upkeep on the cemetery. To the extent that any royalties are left over is evidenced only by new improvements to the community church, once Methodist, now staunchly Baptist.
As she spoke of deaths and funerals, one of the old men sitting nearby recalled when family members dug graves for the departed kin. Back then they did not take their dead to the funeral home. They dressed them in their Sunday best and laid them out in the house. While the young men dug the grave, the family waited for more relatives to arrive; sometimes taking a day or two, but never much more, especially in the summer months. There was too much farm work to be done and dead bodies ripened quickly.

Lacking the proper filters, old people and children just talk about whatever comes to mind. And on this day, my aunt wanted to talk about “sitting up with the dead”. The fact that we were attempting to eat our Sunday dinner was of no consequence to her. She told of how folks would sit up around the clock with the dead body. One lady there with us, in her 50’s and married into the clan somehow, commented how that showed so much love and respect for family and that she couldn’t imagine people today making such a sacrifice. My aunt shook her head and laid down her fork loaded with green beans.

She said, “Love and respect had nothing to do with it. Someone had to be there to keep rats and mice from eating the body. And in the summer time with the windows open, cats would come in and eat the person’s face off if you weren’t watching.”

A few of us had heard of “sitting up with the dead”, but I don’t think any of us had ever heard that it was for the purpose of keeping vermin and critters from eating the body. No one knew what to say. I just started laughing and said, “That is great. I’d never heard that before.”

My aunt smiled and replied, “Well, that’s the truth.” Then she looked at me and asked, “Now tell me again, who are you?”

Before I could ask for more details, my wife managed to change the subject and soon my aunt was telling stories about playing paper dolls with my mother when they were little girls. She even remembered who I was and commented that she could not believe that I came out of my mother’s body. That comment made me put down my fork. Could we just go back to talking about cats and rats and sitting up with the dead?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

How You Make a Living

“Do you have any qualms about how you actually make a living?” – Dr. Jennifer Melfi
(Lorraine Bracco’s character speaking to Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in the HBO series “The Sopranos”)

James Gandolfini, the actor who so brilliantly portrayed the Mafia boss, Tony Soprano, in the HBO series, “The Sopranos”; died this week. He suffered a heart attack while traveling in Italy. He was only 51 years old. Mr. Gandolfini was a great actor and a gentleman, who by all accounts was nothing like his character Tony Soprano. I remember seeing him for the first time in the movie True Romance (1993) where he played the role of; guess what…a Mafia guy. His violent, bloody scene with Patricia Arquette is classic Quinten Tarantino and definitely not for family viewing. (True Romance is one of my all time favorite movies and the soundtrack is killer…no pun intended.) While he played other roles during his career; to me James Gandolfini was always first and foremost the Italian Mafia guy with that classic New Jersey accent. And he was totally Tony Soprano.

"The Sopranos" was a hugely successful series that ran for six seasons. Even though it was about fictional characters living out their lives on a very unique and violent fringe of our society, "The Sopranos" somehow resonated with many of us. Americans have always been fascinated by gangsters and in particular with the Mafia. Back in the ‘70’s and 80’s, The Godfather series captured our attention and our imaginations. Later in the 90’s movies such as Goodfellas and Casino drilled down even further into the evils of organized crime. For some reason, we just love to watch it. Perhaps we even need to watch it. Usually it’s the ‘good’ bad guys vs. the ‘bad’ bad guys and it matters that we recognize the difference. It matters even more that we always remember that they are all bad guys.

Which brings me back to “The Sopranos”. Somehow “The Sopranos” was different from all of the other mafia/organized crime/mob stories. Just when you thought Tony and his crew were the ‘good’ bad guys, they would do something so awful that you knew they were just plain old bad guys. There was great writing and superb acting. It was an award-winning show all the way. But along the way to winning awards, “The Sopranos” became something more. It became a portrait of dysfunctional life in a wealthy American suburb. Tony Soprano just happened to be a guy whose ill-gotten gains were a bit more ill-gotten than those of his neighbors.

Meanwhile, back in the real world McMansions were being built throughout Northern New Jersey in neighborhoods very much like the one portrayed in "The Sopranos". And not just in North Jersey. Gated McMansionvilles were popping up everywhere. And more than a few of those McMansions were occupied by people who made their living polishing and selling turds; aka Structured Investment Vehicles (SIVs). Polishing and selling turds is legal as long as you do the paperwork and add the appropriate legal disclaimers in the fine print. These folks are not Bernie Madoffs, hatching illegal ponzi schemes and literally stealing money. But they aren’t much better. They are certainly not members of the community of ethical financial professionals who actually play a valuable role in the efficient deployment of capital resources. Perhaps we should just call these turd peddlers creative capitalists. Creative capitalists invent new investment vehicles and know how to spin even the most risky ventures into what unwary investors view as AAA grade safe havens. They understand the power of money and the value of diversification. They know how to H-E-D-G-E and that it is unwise to hold in their hands for too long even the most well-polished turd.

“The Sopranos” ended their run in 2007. A year later many of the polished turds started to stink and soon thereafter we had the Great Recession. A lot of people got hurt, including some of those “creative capitalists”. But the truth is that most of those who got hurt never moved into their own McMansion. The power of money tends to hold up pretty well, even in a Great Recession…if you have enough of it and you understand how to use it. So now five years later, those McMansions are occupied once more and new ones are being built. The creative capitalists are still running their magic show, moving money around the world while finding new ways to keep more of it for themselves.

What I found most interesting about Tony Soprano was that he was a tortured soul. He struggled to reconcile his life with the way he made his living. Few of us make our living from felonious pursuits. Even fewer of us end up “whacking people” or having people “whacked” in the process. But, if we have a conscience, most of us will at times question if we are “doing the right thing”. And then there are those who polish turds.

“Yeah. I find I have to be the sad clown: laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.” – Tony Soprano’s response to Dr. Melfi’s question.

RIP James Gandolfini

Friday, June 14, 2013

Heavy Burdens

When I moved back to Texas a few years ago, I reconnected with some old friends. Guys I grew up with back in the day. Still kids to me, although like me, now older and grayer and wrinkled; gravity and time and life having taken their toll. Over the past four years we’ve gathered for golf and birthdays and dinners and concerts. We’ve bored our wives with stories of our youth and embarrassed each other with tales of misadventures, old girlfriends and the time when you know who drank a pint of gin and threw up in the back seat of his best friend’s car. Mostly true stories that get better with age and the entitled embellishment that comes with the passing of years and the fading of memories.

One of my old friends called me this week. I could tell immediately that something was not right. He sounded anxious and may have been about half-drunk. He rambled on with a gee-whiz, can-you-believe-it tale of moving and lost or stolen credit cards and debit cards. Of changing banks and having funds tied up in the transition. Of how he did not realize what had happened until the day before, when he was unable to pay for repairs on his pick-up. Of how another of our friends stepped up and bailed him out with a $500 loan. Now he had a family emergency and needed travel money to see his sister down on the coast who was in dire need of his help. He could probably get by on a $1000 but really needed $1500. He hated to hit up his buddies, but since we were kind of like a band of brothers figured it was the logical place to go. And, besides, he would have all of the banking and credit/debit card mess worked out by next week and would pay me back immediately.

It’s been some years since I had a conversation like this. I used to have them on occasion with truck drivers (or their wives). I was born at night, but not last night and my bullshit meter still works. My old friend’s story was bullshit. I told him that I would call him back. I actually took the coward’s way out and said that I needed to run this by my wife. That I would not want her giving $1500 to one of her friends without talking to me first. I owed her the same consideration.

I called the friend who supposedly loaned him $500 the day before. Sure enough, that story did check out….up to a point. He had given him the money. When I told this friend that our “friend in need” had hit me up for money, he realized that he had been taken. He said he knew the folks at the repair shop where our friend claimed to have had his truck repaired. He quickly checked and called me back. Of course, there had been no repair.

I did call back to the “friend in need”. I told him that I hated to be a jerk, but that his story wasn’t adding up. He had kids and family and even an ex-wife with whom he was on good terms (I mean really good terms…friends with benefits good terms.) Had he reached out to any of them for a quick loan? He assured me that they would help him out but he just hated to go to them and he felt silly being caught short like this. Then he quickly started withdrawing his request, saying that he understood and it was no big deal…blah, blah, blah. I told him that if worse came to worse, call me back and I would help him.

In the day or two since those calls, I’ve discovered that my “friend in need” has fallen back into the black hole that is his gambling addiction. Having been away for many years, I did not realize that this had been an issue in the past. I have been told that he has called others in our circle of friends, who knowing the history, have turned him down. I have now learned that he has even exhausted the patience of his kids, his family and his ex-wife. Our “friend in need” is in big trouble. But, he will not admit it and will not seek help. It breaks my heart.

I could get on my soapbox and tell story after story of people’s lives that have been destroyed by gambling. It is a terrible addiction. But we all have our demons. Some worse than others. I’ve written in the past about “living on the edge”. It is a real place and it is real fun while it last. Then it’s over. I will not and cannot judge my old friend. There but for the grace of God go I. I will pray for my friend. It can’t hurt and it might even help. But, I’m not sure that my prayers get through. I’ve seen too many friends and family members fall under the weight of whatever addictive burdens they were bearing. I look in the mirror and see a man still struggling with his own demons. We all break hearts; our own as well as the hearts of those who love us…and even the heart of the One who saved us.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” – Jesus, The Christ (Matthew 12:43-45).

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Career Makers, Career Breakers....Part 4

“No man is an Island, entire of itself.” – John Donne

In the final installment of Career Makers, Career Breakers, we’ll look at perhaps the most important “Maker” and “Breaker” issue: Networking

Career Maker #7: Network, Network, Network
Here’s a news flash for all of you high performers out there who believe that you can ride your accomplishments all the way to the top: YOU CANNOT MAKE THAT RIDE TO THE TOP BY YOURSELF.


You may be the smartest person in the room. You may have achievements out the kazoo. You may even be a great boss and mentor to those in your charge. But, if you are not “connected” beyond the immediate circle of people in your work group, you are falling behind in the “race to the top”. And if you are not even well-connected to the people with whom you work, then you are not even in the race.

Career Breaker #7: Don’t Network

There are different levels of networking. The good networkers know how to do it in a way that is genuine and they don’t even seem to be networking. The bad networkers always seem to have an agenda and everyone knows it. They just try too hard. You keep waiting for them to try and sell you something or convert you. But there is even something worse than the bad networker. It’s the non-networker. This is the person whose professional existence is known by only their co-workers, whose accomplishments only by the boss and whose personality is known perhaps by the resident bad networker who will attempt to connect with anyone who has an open door or an empty chair beside them. Non-networkers are otherwise invisible. If you are not highly motivated to advance in your career it may not be that big of a deal. But if you aspire to advance at all, much less advance to professional greatness, you better figure out this networking thing and get on board.

So am I saying that all of the folks who make it to the top are just glad-handing, hail-fellow-well-met types? Not at all. But, I am confident that they were and still are great networkers. This is not meant to diminish the talents and accomplishments of Fortune 500 CEO’s, but I think most of them would agree that there are a number of other executives out there who have (or had) the talent and drive to reach their level of professional success. It just didn't happen. The difference often comes down to being in the right place at the right time with the right people. And if you want to improve your odds of being in the right place at the right time with the right people, you must “network” with the right people at the right times in the right places…and in the right way (note comments above regarding bad networkers.)

Volumes have been written about networking, so I’ll not go much further other than to say that if you are not spending at least one hour per week “networking” you are seriously short-changing yourself. And this is more than polishing up your “on line” presence or brand. This is personal and it involves talking to people in your industry; customers, competitors, vendors, investors and yes, even headhunters. Of course, there are things you cannot and should not talk about. So be careful. But, there are plenty of things you can talk about and you can build safe, ethical and responsible relationships; even friendships. The “race to the top” is challenging. You will need guides, counselors, insiders, good PR, supporters and most definitely friends along the way. It doesn’t just happen. You have to help it along with a good dose of honest, sincere networking effort. Even if you don’t make it to the top, you’ll have more fun on the journey.

So that wraps up my take on Career Makers and Career Breakers. If I had taken more of my own advice along the way, I might not be blogging about such things today. I might even be rich and retired, or just tired. I can think of no better way to close this out than with one of my favorite poems:


An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim-
That sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when he reached the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting strength in building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head.
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."

-Will Allen Dromgoole

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Happens In Tornado Alley

I live in Tornado Alley. This is where I was born and with the exception of a few years in the Southeast and later in the Northern Rockies, it is where I have lived most of my life. And a number of those years were spent living in central Oklahoma, the bulls-eye of Tornado Alley. I was there on May 3, 1999 when The Big One finally hit and devastated the south side of Oklahoma City, namely the suburb of Moore, Oklahoma. When one grows up living with tornadoes, one doesn’t get too excited about them (or at least this “one” never had before then.) But when you see first hand the damage done by a monster tornado, it takes your breath away. It is truly unbelievable.

Last week a tornado hit Granbury, TX and killed six people. On Sunday tornadoes hit Edmond and the outskirts of Shawnee, Oklahoma. Several people lost their lives. It’s that time of year and it’s what happens in Tornado Alley. But then yesterday, a massive, killer tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma. Almost the same path as the May 3rd '99 tornado and another one, not as bad, that came through Moore in 2003. I remember watching the one in ’99 on television as it was on the ground for over an hour before hitting the OKC metro area. Everyone knew it was coming. Yesterday’s tornado gave less than 15 minutes warning. And that was best case. For many the warning was much less or none at all until they heard the sirens, if they heard the sirens. The death toll is already higher than it was in ’99 and will likely go even higher. Many of the dead are children who were trapped in the Plaza Towers Elementary School. And among the dead are teachers who gave their lives trying to protect their students.

A large portion of Moore, Oklahoma no longer exists or has been reduced to twisted piles of rubble. People who were alive yesterday are dead today. But, what you are witnessing and will continue to witness in the days ahead will be the best of Tornado Alley, its people. They just don’t come any better. They will turn to God and reach out to one another. Those who have, will give. And those who have lost everything will work to rebuild. I must confess that my faith is weak and I tend to question God in the wake of natural disasters. Some are like me, but most folks in this part of the world will thank God that they are still alive and note that it could have been worse. They will talk about God’s will and quote scripture: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

It’s that time of year and it’s what happens in Tornado Alley. I can live with it. I may even be used to it. But, I'll never understand it. Maybe I'm not supposed to.

Giving thanks to God for the relatively low number of deaths from the tornado. Truly a miraculous outcome. For those who lost love ones, a tragedy of course. But given the circumstances, to lose only 24 people(the latest count)is amazing. Some might ask the question: How can you thank God for mitigating the impact of a disaster He created? If you believe that we live in a fallen, broken world; that is the answer. We live in a fallen, broken world. God intervenes as he sees fit and will "have mercy upon whom He will have mercy" (Rom 9:15). On the other hand, if you believe that God is directly responsible for natural disasters, then you are still left with the fact that He will "have mercy upon whom He will have mercy". Or you can believe whatever you choose to believe. Ultimately, we find ourselves humbled, down on our knees whispering "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." (Job 42:3)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Career Makers, Career Breakers...Part 3

Another week and more Makers and Breakers.

Career Maker #5: Take calculated risks and succeed.
Those candidates who step outside of their comfort zone and take on new challenges can really accelerate their careers. Conversely maintaining the status quo, even if you are maintaining it well; may be viewed as a negative by many prospective employers. Certainly, we have clients who appreciate the candidate who has had a steady, patient career track; sticking with the same company and staying in the same position for years at a time. But there comes a point, where employers look at steady/patient and see limited potential/not career motivated. So if you do have a burning desire to advance your career, don’t get stuck. Look for new challenges and be willing to take on reasonable risks where there is a realistic opportunity to succeed.

Career Breaker #5: Taking too many risks, too often and failing.
This is the other side of the coin and as a headhunter I see this outcome way too often. The classic scenario is the young rising star, smart, hard-working and seems to have the golden touch. This star quickly reaches the upper limit with his current employer. It could be for a variety of reasons, some legit and some political. Regardless, the star becomes frustrated. The star just can’t drive 55. Along comes the big opportunity, the big title, the big money…come on down, the price is right. The star jumps in with both feet. Perhaps it’s mission impossible or maybe he just isn’t ready for prime time; for what ever reasons, he fails. But stars know how to rebound and they find another high risk, high reward gig; then another and another. One day they look up and they are staring down the barrel at 50 with a resume than looks like Swiss cheese. You don’t want to be that candidate.

Career Maker #6: Be Nice
Contrary to what many people say and think, Nice Guys (and Gals), seldom finish last. What we do often see is that those who finish first are the object of resentment, jealousy and scorn, thus sometimes are labeled as something other than nice. Being nice doesn’t mean that you have to be a soft touch, people-pleasing pushover. That is not a good strategy for career advancement. But, my experience is that most successful people are genuinely pretty nice people. They build strong relationships with people throughout their company, industry and community. They are well-thought of and respected. It is rare that a “not so nice” person succeeds over the long run. As always there are exceptions, but odds are that if you are a genuinely nice person, you will do much better in your career (and in life for that matter).

Career Breaker #6: Be an Asshole
As noted above, there are exceptions to the “nice” rule. There are truly some awful characters out there who seem to revel in being assholes. And they have figured out how to survive and thrive in their particular organization. But, do not model your career on these exceptions. If you are an “asshole” it will usually catch up with you. Most organizations do not want that person. Even if you’ve managed to rack up an impressive list of accomplishments, you will have limited opportunities and there will come a time when the only job you can land will be working for assholes who are as bad or worse than you are.

"A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person." - Dave Barry