Monday, February 24, 2014

Applicant-Paid Fees

When you interview for a new job or are simply considering the possibility, the inevitable question of money will be a part of the conversation. Have you considered this? Most people will reply, “of course” -- but have you, really? How did you calculate that magic number, the figure in your head that you seek? How flexible or inflexible are you; is your expectation realistic? How badly you need a job is one factor and we can talk about variables all day long. The circumstances of the job is another factor, and those you won’t learn until after the first interview. I am strident in advising people to avoid as best they can being pinned down to a number in the first interview, but that is a whole other subject.

The purpose of this blog entry is not concerned with your chosen magic number, per se, but rather how you formulated the number you seek. For some folks it is more straight-forward and simple; if it is, for example, union scale or GS (General Schedule) you don’t have the flexibility of negotiating what you will earn as a part of the interview process; it is what it is. Likewise, entry-level people usually have little choice and have to take what they can get. However, for the majority, at some point during your career you can have some influence, so how can you determine the number you will seek?

Most of us use the number we have already been earning as a benchmark and seek to get the same or better amount when we change jobs. But the markets have changed, affecting some sectors more than others. And just as someone’s house may now be worth less than one may think, some people will find themselves in a similar situation regarding their earnings. Actually, it is not a new phenomenon; since the 1990s companies have been thinning middle-management ranks, right-sizing, down-sizing and so on. Newly-credentialed lawyers make less than those who’ve come before them; the financial crisis of a few years ago resulted in banks cutting loose a lot of people, consolidating functions and now one person might do what was previously done by three. While some may snicker about their misfortune, falling into the class envy trap, the middle and working class have not been spared either. So simply pulling a number out of the air, just because, might not help you when many are vying for one job.

Just as people sometimes focus too much on money rather than the opportunity itself, companies have a habit of focusing more on what a person earns rather than how much they might positively impact the company they seek to join. Consider this: if, during an interview, you’re asked how much money you want and they think it’s too high, they may not call you back; quote a number too low and you may be cheating yourself. In my book I discuss this quandary and detail what I find to be the best way to manage this topic during the interview process.

When I speak with someone I might represent for the first time, I always ask them if there was a job opportunity you liked everything about and the only question was money, what would A) you want to earn, and B) you need to earn? Taking some time to thoughtfully consider this number, the answer should evoke two different numbers. Put another way, there is a number that represents what you would like and want to earn to maintain a standard of living you seek. Then there is the number you cannot go below; the number you need to meet your expenses. What are those two numbers? Now you have something to work with and your goal should be to aim for something between that range.

Traditionally, the guidelines have been to ask for and assume a 20% pay increase with any new job, if you are currently working. However, that 20% mindset has been around for many years and is from a time when there were more jobs than qualified people to fill them. If you are not working, you have little leverage for more than you were already earning. And if you are taking your career in another direction, that is a whole other subject. I am not suggesting people shouldn’t pursue what they think they are worthy of getting paid in exchange for their abilities and experience, but referring to archaic guidelines, pulling numbers arbitrarily from thin air without thinking it through, might be counterproductive.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

How and Why to DIY

I like doing things for myself. One reason is that I don’t much like waiting for someone else lacking my same sense of urgency and I’d rather do the lead, follow or get out of the way thing. I might step out of the way if someone has a better idea but I’m not much of a follower. Seeking and getting help is okay but I tend to be impatient waiting for others to get moving.
In a recent blog I alluded to a technique of finding job openings and opportunities you can then take on by your own initiative. If you follow the crowd and are satisfied with that approach, all good and well. Most people looking for jobs engage in the ritual of looking at online job boards and services and, if they see a job they like, they dutifully submit their resume and then await their turn. No problem, that is the system, but the way it is set up the job positions do not share the name of the company; you must go through whomever posted the job and jump through hoops before they will determine, first, if they will send your resume forward. I suppose it is blasphemy, as a recruiter, to share this information because I also protect the identity of my clients during initial conversations with potential job candidates. But I resolved a few years ago to share what I know in order to help individual job seekers with the means by which to empower themselves because, especially during the last few years, I think the deck’s stacked against individuals forced to submit (I don’t care much for that word) to processes which increasingly lack a pulse. Much to the dismay of human resource pros, nice folks though they may be, HR is less human than ever - meanwhile you’re sitting on the outside, looking like a forlorn dog waiting to be let in from the rain.
If you want to obediently follow the rules, so be it, but if you wish to be more hands on concerning your own job search activities, here is an easy method you can use; so easy in fact, you’ll feel like Alvin York at a turkey shoot. The next time you are on any of the popular job portals, I want you to highlight the body of the job description and copy it, and then cut & paste it into Google and watch what comes up. Very often, you will find a link directly to the weblink of the company that posted the job. Try it and see for yourself, it doesn’t work every time but most often it does. Congratulations -- you’ve just taken some of the mystery out of the job search process. Although I have clients and referrals in my business this is the technique I use. If, for example, I know of a qualified person, see a job online and want to know who the employer is, I go around the third party and contact the company directly. You can do the same thing. Like a lightning bolt “BAM!” you’re less dependent or solely reliant on faceless middlemen / women or a software program now, aren’t you?
Once you’ve ID’d the company posting the job, at the very least you can decide whether you want to pursue it. And don’t automatically dismiss recruiters who are the gatekeepers because often they have a relationship with the companies on whose behalf they work, which can be helpful. But there is nothing preventing you from going your own way and making direct contact, having removed one preliminary step in the process. However, if you choose to go direct, don’t do so without beforehand preparing yourself for how to go about it in the most effective manner. And therein lies the reason why most people will step back and rely upon the  submit, sit and wait manner of job search – they simply don’t know how to do it for themselves. If you are dismayed, don’t be, although there is no add hot water and stir instantly-gratifying solution for everything. But one step at a time; this method can help you and is but one of many steps to make you less dependent on that which cannot be controlled and it brings you a step closer to better influencing your way forward.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Trend or Fad

Here’s the thing about trends -- you can try to keep pace with them, be a trendsetter by staying ahead of them, spend time periodically chasing them, or ignore them. Take trends in hiring for example: as in anything there are always new and improved ways of doing things marked by innovations and new ideas; some have merit, some are just variations on a theme and some -- are crap. I look at what works more than what everyone’s doing and most of what the majority of people are doing, isn’t. So a trend is an evolution of ideas and methods, it’s meant to be a newer and better way of reaching a goal. Goals don’t evolve but ways by which to attain them do. There is a saying that also should be noted, in this case some common folk logic, which says “…if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Since I began my career as a headhunter 22 years ago, within little more than two decades we’ve come a long way in the manner by we conduct day-to-day business. Things like snail-mail, microfiche, and overhead projectors that progressed to facsimile machines, voice mail, email, cell phones, video conferencing, many of which are now long since obsolete. These items subsequently gave rise to new and evolving trends in the workplace. For example: now, when someone asks about a fax number, which most companies still have (not mine), I think to myself, how “Flintstones” is that!
It’s important to keep up with what’s new, however, it is also important to differentiate between a trend and a fad. In the current jobs market many people are grasping at every new thing they can find because they feel that the narrow list of tools to which they’ve limited themselves leaves them wanting and feeling increasingly desperate. I agree, if you think the internet is the tool and that’s virtually all there is, I’d freak out too. So when people talk about the next trend in hiring, in this case video resumes, folks, this isn’t a trend but just a silly fad. That is not to say there is no value in it but likely not in the way you may think.
The concept is fine, that suggests if you have a good video resume it can open doors for you. It will give someone an impression of you and provide you with an opportunity to show them why you are a good candidate and more clever than other mere mortals, “oh, if they would just see me, they would like me!” As well, assuming they’ll recognize your higher level of commitment because, after all, you took the time to assemble a really cool video selfie.
I’ve been a headhunter for a long time and, indeed, there are market sectors that already utilize video resumes or similar. If your career focus is related to media, media production and particular positions within the advertising business sector it is common. Otherwise, unless you aim to be a performance artist, a thespian, a talk show host, a commentator or media personality, or seeking to get onto American Idol or X Factor looking for your 15 minutes of fame, video resumes will require more time, effort and expense than any worth or benefit you’re going to get from it - so what’s the point besides your own vanity. And what is it going to cost; who’s going to produce, edit and assemble it? Do you know what is necessary to make it something worthy of someone’s attention? Ironically, to make a video resume effective you’ll need to practice and rehearse your presentation skills, hone and sharpen the points you want to get across to the recipient, delivering them effectively in a manner that is both convincing and engaging. You’ll need to consider what to wear, how to sit and…wait a minute, I just had a great idea! Instead of putting all that work into a video stunt, why not skip that silly video, stand or sit in front of a mirror and prepare yourself in the same manner for your interview.
Somewhere there is someone patting themselves on the back for coming up with the idea of a video resume. But unless your career of choice requires it, video resumes are about as innovative a game changer in the jobs market as (TV character) Morty Seinfeld’s invention of the Executive, a beltless raincoat, would be to the world of fashion. I think the idea of a video resume is as innovative as the beltless trench coat. Instead, here’s something that is time tested and works; assemble a solid resume and focus those same efforts on effective interviewing skills instead of a video.
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Monday, February 3, 2014

Working Overseas

Increasingly, more Americans are considering career options beyond the nation’s borders. After I was quoted in a recent New York Times photo essay on the 5th of January about Americans working and living overseas, I’ve received inquiries from readers asking for advice about how they, too, can investigate international opportunities. I don’t know if there is a ritual or plan you could necessarily implement; until it happened, I never envisioned myself living and working in a foreign country. I’m from Cleveland, a city I love, but I previously lived in Cary, North Carolina, a place from which I thought I’d never leave. But it just shows to never make long term plans – they can change. Regarding my own relocation, it was more a unique series of events and coincidences rather than an intentional effort that led me to live in Prague, Czech Republic. I recognized it, grabbed hold of it and 13 years later, I’m still here.
Occasionally during my time working here as a headhunter, I have been contacted by non-Czech foreigners, many of them Americans, who express interest in investigating opportunities here. Though most of them, I assume, are not really serious but only inquiring on a whim. A whim I say, because often they say something like, “…I loved the architecture and the beer…” (or something similar) and they’ll ask what jobs are available as though I have this repository of jobs for Americans who’d like to dabble in work while they enjoy the culture; but it doesn’t work that way – it never works that way. I do sometimes see opportunities for expats but, at least in my area, they don’t have the cache or clout they once did. Local professionals are just as qualified, which doesn’t mean there are no opportunities, but you’re going to have to compete with those already here, on their home turf. I’m not throwing water on anyone’s dreams about working and living overseas, but it must be approached with the same serious intent as you would with any job or career effort. Living and working as an expat is rewarding but can also be challenging, and potentially a disaster for anyone who does not consider it thoroughly or conduct some research.
I’ve spoken with many misguided souls who think it will be easier elsewhere, that the grass is greener; that just because they are American, or a native of any other well-established national economy, doors will swing open for them. Not so. That doesn’t mean there are no opportunities but unless you have something unique to offer, or a skill in short supply in a marketplace where you want to be, you must be able to compete and beat other qualified locals already in the market. Frankly, it is the same whether you want to relocate from the east to the west coast, as it is from one continent to another. Please also be aware that an attitude of American superiority is a real fast turn-off and the same goes for anyone of any nationality, who assumes they are going to arrive and help civilize and save the local savages from themselves.
If you are blessed with working for a company that will move you internationally within the same organization, it’s the best of options. Another option is joining an organization which actually encourages employees to move internationally as a reward for accomplishment and merit. It is a bad idea to move to a place where you’ve never been without at least one local visit to conduct a recon and scope out the area before you leap. You should also investigate the local laws and costs / standards of living. My own transition and assimilation was made easier because of my Czech and Slovak family heritage. I was already familiar with the customs and traditions of the area and, believe me, knowing and recognizing local culture and differences can portend whether or not doors open for you or are closed and off limits. If you are young and don’t yet have much tying you down, you can be a little more adventurous but, take it from me, you will need more money than you think, so plan ahead – and have an escape plan if things don’t work out; have the means to get back home if it doesn’t pan out as you’d hoped.
The number one obstacle standing in the way of most people who seek to live and work overseas, especially native English speakers, is foreign-language abilities. While others around the world have been learning English for many years, Americans and other native English speakers are handicapped because, until the last few years, you could travel vast areas and work in many places without a second language. The result has been, albeit unintentional, a self-imposed isolationism in limiting ourselves to global opportunities. I know many people outside the U.S. (for example), who speak multiple languages, but not so for most native English speakers. While there may not be the now legendary high-paying (overpaid) expat jobs of ten or more years ago, there are jobs for which you can compete at the same pay scale as others within their local market. But if you don’t speak the language how can you realistically compete? Specialists can still find opportunities in hard-to-fill niche markets but for the rest of us the language barrier is, in my view, the biggest hurdle.
This brings me to a larger point and that concerns our school-age children and my biggest appeal to readers from native English-speaking nations. The world is getting smaller, foreign language skills are more important than ever. If you want your kids to be competitive in the next few decades, they must learn foreign languages; it is the primary limiting factor for native English speakers. Foreign language ability is the Master Key that can unlock doors closed to others. For young people starting their careers, if they have enhanced language abilities, they should be encouraged to investigate possible internships or other international programs that will widen their career potential.
Living and working overseas can be very rewarding and a life-enhancing experience, but it requires forethought with a lot of planning and effort to make it happen.
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