Monday, June 29, 2015

Workplace Harassment

Harassment in the workplace is on the increase. We hear about sexual harassment most often because it makes good headlines and, rightfully, it strikes litigation fears in hearts of company executives, so it is usually acted upon when exposed. I don’t mean to diminish the critical importance of this form of abuse but there are already plenty of laws and protections in place, as well as lawyers ready and willing to assist. Rather, I am focusing on everyday workplace harassment and referring to just plain rotten treatment of employees – it is becoming rampant and endemic.
Depending on where you live, workplace harassment is variably referred to as mobbing in different parts of the world, but it means and represents the same thing. By itself, the term “harassment” is rather subjective and can be widely interpreted. If someone is having a bad day and might for whatever reason lose their temper and take it out on a co-worker or a subordinate, by itself, it does not constitute workplace harassment. In my own view, the criteria for what constitutes harassment is intentional and repetitive attention; of singling out an individual or a group for personal and/or institutional retribution by those acting independently and counter to company policies. 
I have heard stories that would curl your toes about harassment, public ridicule and mental abuse at levels that are hard to imagine. I’ve met previously exceptional people who’ve been almost broken as a result for merely trying to do their jobs and some whose self-confidence is never quite the same afterwards.
Let’s consider a few of the reasons for the kind of unprofessional behavior to which I am referring: 

·         Cliques of bullies - in many organizations there are small groups of people within that are akin to a syndicate, a little internal mafia of sorts; perpetrators and their sycophants who band together and collaborate, to cover and protect each other from scrutiny. Cross them and you’ll receive their disapproval at best or worse, their wrath.
·       Disengaged senior management – there is a growing trend, a degradation of management skills and leadership ability. Earning an MBA may result in good by-the-book management skills, but it does nothing to teach or promote true leadership abilities.
·       The sluggish economy - management is under enormous pressure for results and that pressure is passed down the chain of management; the further down the line the more pressure is exerted. This by itself is not a cause of, nor does it constitute workplace harassment; most companies are under pressure. The problem here arises when managers lacking interpersonal / people / soft skills lash out and tend to transfer their own frustrations onto lower-level subordinates. In other words they can’t handle pressure and don’t know what to do. 
·       Societal breakdown – yeah, that’s right; does anybody doubt the increasing lack of civility or the degradation of common courtesy? Obviously, this is going to inevitably carry over into the workplace.

So what can be done about it? First from the company and employer perspective, it should be thought of as a disease rotting the company from the inside out; tumors must be removed. Whatever happened to Topgrading? It is almost as though senior managers are more detached than ever about what is happening, or they prefer to avoid the issue because they are not equipped to deal with it. This is one reason why some companies lose some of their best and brightest, while the corrupted, remain and cling to their jobs any way they can - resulting in mediocrity as the new normal. Therefore, it is necessary to either root out the infections or lose your best quality people to people like me, I am happy to take them. The only solution rests with senior-level company managers to take on this issue.
Second, for employees who experience this kind of unprofessional treatment, keep a log or diary of events, write everything down, save and print emails, save offending voice mails, record conversations, take photographs or videos whenever possible. The perpetrators of workplace harassment are usually clever and to a varying degree can be evil geniuses bordering on the delusional or worse, psychotic. They’ll deny their behavior with a straight face and imply there is something wrong with the complainant. Have you ever heard of the term “Gaslighting”? Look it up. And don’t rely on others to step up as witnesses for fear of later retribution. The more info you can compile to prove your claims the better, not because you plan to litigate, in part because some of the things I just listed might not be admissible in a court of law. It’s primarily for the sake of your own sanity and so that you can back up your claims because, after all, the main point of this kind of treatment is most often intended to drive you away. Furthermore, if or when you decide to act, if you haven’t kept records you have nothing to validate your side of the story and you will be branded a whiner, a nut, delusional or a trouble maker; management might actually assist the very people making your life difficult.
In conclusion, if management won’t back you up and fails to take any real action, your only recourse is to find another job and leave. Sadly, for some people these experiences burn deeply into their psyche – and you cannot allow bitterness or hatred to take over, following you to wherever you go. And remember, one of the golden rules of interviewing, never talk trash about a current or past employer / employee; it is both bad form and can be slanderous – even if the person was truly a jackass.

Monday, June 22, 2015

About Urgency

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I consider predominantly online job search efforts as a sole means of searching for a new job as only a half-hearted effort -- by limiting your activities you are limiting your potential for success. The more and varied effort you put forth the better your chances, it’s pretty simple. The other key factor is your level of urgency. Do you want a job; do you need a job? The answer to this question guides most of us and influences our actions, real or perceived. But here’s the problem I encounter far too often: most people plod around and while they speak about urgency, their actions do not match their rhetoric. Let me explain.
When you see a good job posted, I assure you that companies are deluged with resumes within just a couple of days. Indeed, so many resumes come in that HR will often take down the job post assuming they have plenty to choose from and, as such, within a few days that job post is removed – first you see it, then you don’t.
When you find a good job posting, one that interests you, you need to act on it and pursue it then and there – on the very same day. If you’re serious don’t think about it, don’t sleep on it or consider it, but do something about it. Now. I am not here to psychoanalyze the reasons and rationale about why people do or don’t do what they need to be doing. I don’t care, but I do know that the longer people take time to contemplate a decision, time’s ticking. However, in order to be able to react you need to have your resume or CV and a basic cover letter template (with a few adjustments to suit the situation) ready to go. Are you ready, do you have these things prepared to use on short notice? If not, why not?
Years after having served in the military, certain memories stand out in my mind. Others know what I am talking about - little things that stick with you for a lifetime, things that influenced you at a very personal level. And one of those is of a Drill Sergeant screaming at you from your very first day, saying, and I quote, “You better move like you've got a purpose!” 
Furthermore, I have often observed human resources and office managers post jobs, then take down the post for a particular job in as little as two days, as soon as they have a handful of respondents they think sufficient to choose from. I recognize that what I am describing is not the case each and every time, but your mindset should assume it is so and that there is a very limited window of opportunity. So when you see something that appeals to you, that you feel is worthy of your attention don’t pine away, stop day-dreaming about it and do something, now
When you are or will be looking for a job and you are serious, you have a purpose so what are you waiting for? When you see something that interests you, react within the same day. If, in your particular situation there is no urgency, I still suggest you apply quickly for another reason; companies look only until they find suitable and qualified candidates. If you arrive late to the party, it’s already over.
Let me share with you a prime example of unintended procrastination, but procrastination nonetheless. Recently, I was working on a search for a mid-level lawyer for a good-named law firm. I was referred to someone who is indeed a good candidate with a great reputation. I spoke with him 3 ½ weeks ago, a few days before he was leaving for vacation. Rather than provide me his updated resume and his approval to submit him for consideration he said he’d do it upon his return. Well, that was 2 weeks ago and after he returned he needed a few days to catch up on work, but he shared with me that during his vacation his level of interest had increased and he’d get something over to me soon. That brings us to the beginning of last week when my client called me and said they were satisfied they had enough candidates and closed the process for additional candidates (you see, during this time I was still doing my job, continuing to speak with and recruit others because the process nor the hiring manager was taking a vacation). To make a long story short, the person who was too busy missed out and was surprisingly disappointed. Sadly the person who was too busy was indeed a better candidate than the person selected and hired. But, in fact, was he better? I suggest the better of the two was the person who wanted it more and demonstrated their interest in both word and deed.   

Monday, June 15, 2015

Job Seekers Hurt Their Own Chances

TMI – Too Much Information is my topic today and how, by not limiting what you post about yourself online, you are in reality limiting your potential when you search for a job.
Here’s a rhetorical question: if a stranger you don’t know asked you for your phone number would you give it to them; how would you advise your children or anyone you care about to respond? Let’s take it a step further; if you received an unsolicited letter in your physical or digital mailbox asking you personal questions without identifying the purpose for what the information would be used, how would you handle it? The same goes for other personal and family information. Would you give it to someone without knowing who they are and why they want it or for what will it be utilized? The answer should be a big and emphatic, “no”!
Yet, increasingly people willingly and without a second thought provide personal information online all the time. The most obvious issue is that of your personal privacy and security. Almost weekly we read about large scale security breaches and theft of information via sophisticated hacking. But there is another aspect most people are not considering and it is the primary reason to discuss this topic. The more complete an online profile you present to the world, the more you are providing people with the means to choose or dismiss you according to your personality, likes and dislikes than for your actual skills, experience and abilities. 
Now, you may be the kind of person who says, “Good, I only want to associate and work with people who are and think just like me.” Well um, okay but it goes both ways and likewise, a hiring manager may feel the same way, before and without even considering your qualifications. You see, all this extra information could cloud and interfere as to why you might be an ideal choice, but for that personal stuff you were so hell bent to share with the world. In effect you may well be further reducing your odds of not being hired, let alone being interviewed and not even to be considered to be interviewed. 
Has Facebook asked you for your phone number – you know for your convenience? Are you so desperate to be included and connected 24/7 that you provided it? Just the other day, I received a pop-up on a mainstream and popular professional social networking website, asking about the social causes I care about, which might in turn be tied to my professional profile. They suggested:
Let people know what matters to you:
  • Animal Welfare
  • Arts and Culture
  • Children
  • Civil Rights and Social Action
  • Disaster and Humanitarian Relief
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Human Rights
  • Politics
  • Poverty Alleviation
  • Science and Technology
  • Social Services
  • Economic Empowerment
Now, by your very nature you may be an activist at heart, but what does it have to do with your professional qualifications?
As time progresses, we are increasingly characterized and judged by the information obtained by a few mere keystrokes. The more you provide the more you will be scrutinized – that’s the brave new world we already live in. Each time you put this information out there, you are being categorized, classified and grouped. BTW, you do know this info will be sold to marketing companies or, in the worst case, hacked – and all without your permission, by people and for reasons you’ll never be told. Read the small print on User Agreements; by agreeing they can do whatever they want with your info – at least however much you choose to volunteer. 
As far back as the early 1990’s when I began my recruiting career, there were already plenty of laws that prohibited asking applicants and candidates personal questions about their marital status or family information. Because it is not relevant and, for good reason, it’s nobody’s business and it has little to do with your business / work-related duties. In other words, it was and is illegal to ask you for this information. But what good are those legal protections if you invalidate them, voluntarily providing it for public consumption? Yet, even now, I encounter people who, for whatever reason, list personal information on their resumes and CVs; date of birth, marital status, how many children and pets they have and other info that has no place on a professional resume – or online professional profile. Later, they whine and complain they were discriminated against for their personal views. Well, “You should’ve been knowin’ and you did it to yourself – boo friggity hoo“, is my less than conciliatory response. I might have empathy for your plight, but no sympathy.
During my lectures and seminars I suggest to people that, as companies are screening increasingly more resumes, they will undoubtedly use any convenient excuse to rule you out. HR and hiring managers disregard and disqualify people for even simple resume spelling errors, so why provide them additional reasons to eliminate you. Remember, with so many applicants, when they talk about “screening”, that means finding reasons to NOT select you for consideration; they are looking for reasons to exclude you. All of this other fluff and filler about your personal interests is silly and pointless, “Just the facts ma’am” is what Joe Friday used to say. If you want to refer to the fluffy personal stuff save it for after you meet them face–to-face and after it is established you are suitably qualified for the position. All of this connects to my blog from last week and the two previous blog entries I’ve referred to on this topic of over-exposure. 
We have reached an era when you simply must separate your private and professional online presence as best you can. You know, perhaps someday they’ll categorize you even by blood type and say something like, “we prefer to select O negatives because they are more compatible than those AB people” - am I exaggerating? Can I suggest that as long as it is still possible, that maybe, just maybe, being a bit of an enigma is not such a bad thing? After all, it makes people more curious about you. 
Some may think this is an unworthy topic, much about nothing. Still others may categorize my views in the tinfoil hat category. Well, perhaps and by the way, copper works best. If you think there is nothing to see here, then go ahead and move along, you’ve been warned - again.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Another Warning About Social Media Exposure

I’ve written about the dangers of social media with regard to job search efforts. Social media can enhance your image and reach people you otherwise could not. But it requires that you manage your social media presence no different than high profile individuals. The old adage of all PR (good or bad) is good PR is fine, if you wish to be known or notorious in the public / private world – but not if you want to be taken seriously in the business and corporate sector. 
I recall in the past someone argued with me about this topic as though I was suggesting people restrict or restrain their own individuality and stated quite vehemently, “I can say what I want about my own personal and private views, it’s my right”. They still didn’t seem to get it after I suggested that the moment they posted their comments publicly, it was no longer very personal nor was it at all private, “duh”. They still missed the point. 
For example: just last week I represented a very sharp young man to a company on whose behalf I am conducting a search. They were initially quite interested in my candidate and said they’d like for me to arrange a meeting and interview. However, about an hour later I received an email which shared a Twitter account screen shot with the same name as my candidate and asked me to verify if it was his. Indeed it was and there was nothing outwardly offensive; he was simply sharing his personal opinions about various topics. Nonetheless, they chose not to proceed further. The young man was surprised and said it had never happened before, but this is the era in which we live. It’s only going to get worse.
In the past on 5th August 2013 and again on March 30th of this year, I wrote about this topic of social media over-exposure and how it has become a routine step when pre-screening and considering potential job applicants. In other words, people are being reference checked online as a determining factor before they have a chance to demonstrate their abilities to do the job for which they are seeking to interview. And it is not just limited to applicants -- current employees are also being watched. 
The biggest and most clueless offenders are young people embarking on their careers at a time when good jobs are not growing on trees and when they need to most impress companies about why they should be chosen over others. 
So I urge you to gain the attention of those whom you may know who crave notoriety without considering the repercussions. Even if they just want to share their personal lives online, we all need to be aware of this not-so-new, but certainly increasing frequency of being pre-judged by their internet presence. Everyone should: 

A)     Think ahead before posting online anything, comments, photos, links…
B)      Activate filters for the more personal displays of their personalities
C)      Limit or reduce their online social activities 

Common sense says to apply all three suggestions because clearly you never know who is watching.
Is it fair that people use your own words or images to profile and make assumptions about you? Probably not but I don’t think it is a fairness issue, after all, it is information posted by you, voluntarily. If you put yourself out there for all to see, you’ll get your 15 minutes of fame all right, but perhaps it might not be the kind of attention you were expecting.
Many people simply don’t heed good advice until they are directly affected in a negative way. If your career aspirations mean anything to you, think before you post online; apply filters and restrict the audience who can see you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Problem with HR

Some people often need an adversary or someone to blame for their difficulties, and when you are looking for a job and it isn’t going well or not as easy as you may have assumed, human resources is an easy target. The title of this blog may cause some to think I am going to take an opportunity to trash HR. I have issues with HR as an institution and say with regularity that as a whole, human resources has become less human than ever – because, in most companies it’s true, and I contend it is the primary issue. There is increased reliance upon digital and automated scanning, filing, and responding before an actual person may or may not see your resume. I contend the problem with HR is not the people but rather the processes they’ve adopted. Even among many people I know who work at senior level in HR, they agree and lament about the same things. I think a lot of what they do is not very productive but my purpose today is, instead, to help people to understand some of what they experience and not take things so personally; people’s egos tend to bruise more easily than in the past, skins are unnecessarily thinner for no good reason.
A common complaint I hear from people who were screened on the phone or in person as an initial entry into the interview process, is usually by what may be described as a 20-something, “…who knew nothing about the job I applied for…” and/or, “…didn’t have a clue about what I do or have to offer.” This is especially irritating to people that have middle to senior-level experience. 
Yes, it does often seem as though they are not taking your meeting as seriously as you, but there is no intention to marginalize applicants. The fact of the matter is that screening resumes and conducting initial screening interviews is the most undesirable thing HR does, so guess who they task with it? You got it, the newest and youngest members of the staff. Companies receive a LOT of resumes and most of what they receive doesn’t even fit the job specifications. So who else is going to get stuck with the task if not the most junior members of the HR staff? Of course, if you make the effort to be at your best for the interview and you take the time to be there when they just walk down the hallway it is a bit frustrating, but I actually feel somewhat sorry for the junior staffers because they catch all the hostility of applicants who vent their angst and dissatisfaction in general.
So the next time you find yourself in such a situation, cut them some slack; if you are like many who find the job market to be less than encouraging don’t take it out on the first person you meet. Take a deep breath and recognize if that is their system and if you want to be recommended for a second interview round you’ve got to grin and bear it and do what is necessary to demonstrate why you are worthy of further consideration. But the other message is not to use that single initial event, the first interview, as a benchmark to judge whether or not you want to continue, because you haven’t yet met the hiring manager or key decision maker with whom you’d potentially work. 
There are more obstacles than ever between you and a hiring manager in front of whom you hope to find yourself seated. Even the simple task of applying for a job online has gotten more difficult. Increasingly, one must register online, or they want a photo. Sometimes there is a request for additional information or some other hoop through which you must jump. The reason for this is to specifically   reduce the number of resumes they receive that don’t fit the jobs for which they are looking for qualified individuals. A little ironic that the automated processes put in place to simplify and streamline the selection and hiring process are anything but. Hey, I don’t make the rules and I’ve questioned members of human resources and many of them can’t explain the rhyme or reason for a lot of what they do. However, none of this changes what you must do in order to have your moment with the actual key decision maker. The problem with HR is not the people, but instead it is the layer upon layer of bureaucratic garbage that has nothing to do with your ability to perform the role for which you applied. So don’t allow your frustration to handicap or disqualify you before you have an opportunity to meet the actual person who does the hiring.