Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Birthday at Work: No, Thank You.

Today is my birthday and it's my day off.  For me, that's the best combination.  Yes, I'm one of those people who don't like to celebrate their birthday at work.  A bit contrary to what my friend and fellow GE alum Allen was taught about HR folks at work before he retired over 25 years ago.  "Human Resources was in charge of Health and Happiness," he once told me, trying to keep a straight face before he chuckled.

Those who know me may be surprised:  what, me ducking an opportunity to be the center of attention? I don't share my birthday on Facebook.  My friends at church didn't know it was my birthday, either.    My 10 year-old son Noah spread the word efficiently (my own personal human social media channel), so a few of my friends did snag me with their good wishes before we all departed to enjoy the rest of Sunday; that was kind, and fine - thank you.

I wasn't always so blase' about my birthday.  Between my two sets of parents, my husband Joel and my friends, I was happy for it to be "Deb Day" (as my friend John dubbed it) the entire month of February, gifts, dinners, cakes, etc. When I was in college, I sent both of my parents thank-you cards, thanking them for not practicing birth control.

My neutrality about my birthday is not based in any fear of getting older; I come from a long-lived family of women who made it well into their 90's while neglecting their health, so I'm set there.  The biggest factor is certainly the birth of Noah almost 11 years ago.  The anniversary of giving birth to Noah is far more meaningful to me than the anniversary of my own birth.  That experience was life-changing to the core of my being, and as I said to Noah today:  he is the best present I have and ever will receive.  All other gifts, except for the gift of Noah's father in my life, pale in comparison.  Eleven years ago, when my birthday crossed the 7th month of Noah's pregnancy:  I threw myself a bowling birthday party and bowled a 220, beating all of my men friends and Joel.  Noah changed my perspective on my own birthday even before he was born.  My parents gave me Joy as my middle name, and it fits:  I'm very happy that I was born, especially to be Noah's mother.  Everything else is gravy for gratitude.

And while we're on the subject of gratitude:  aside from motherhood, as I reached a certain age, I am lucky enough and grateful to have enough things:   I want what I have.  That too, is a wonderful gift as well as a blessing.

Birthdays at work have always rung a bit askew and even hollow for me.  I appreciate the good wishes and intentions, but recognition for reaching another year of life at work seems out of sync with the raison d'etre of the workplace.  Especially on those birthdays later in my career when the tenser tasks of my job as a manager / leader came first.  No one cared on a bad day that it was my birthday.  The work still needs to get done, whether it's my birthday, or not.  That was a great lesson in acceptance, and in striving for an integrated life including, but not limited to, work.

Now, recognition for a job well-done and for being a valuable / valued member of a great team:  those are the gifts of engagement that mean the most to me at work.   

This week:  my wish for all of us is "Happy Workday, and thank you," at work.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Diamonds or Toads: How Your Hiring Authorities Help (or Hurt) Your Company's Reputation

My brother teases me for retaining my 20 year-old AOL email address.  Call me sentimental:  it's the account Joel and I created the year we were married.  It doesn't have any numbers in it.  My AOL account is a repository for merchant emails, so I basically skim it once a day.

When I opened up AOL this morning, I saw the story on the news feed about the store manager who allegedly told the applicant with 1.5 arms that he would not be able to work in her store because of products placed on a high shelf. (Apparently, the store manager experienced interview amnesia and forgot the store had both a step-stool and a ladder, standard gear for a retail store).  The applicant appears to be a nice, stand-up guy with 11 years of uninterrupted service and retail work experience and a sterling reference from his last manager.  The same applicant who the store manager during a 15-minute interview also allegedly ridiculed for working at Victoria's Secret while allegedly simultaneously sexually harassing her co-interviewer about her bra size.

What immediately popped in my mind was not my 20+ years of hiring and HR legal experience:  it was the Toads and Diamonds fable.  You know:  the fable about the two sisters who are tested by a fairy at the well disguised as a thirsty old woman.

The kind sister, who immediately gives the old woman a drink of water, is blessed with the gift of diamonds, pearls and flowers spilling from her mouth every time she speaks.

The nasty sister, who shooed the old woman away instead of giving her a drink of water, is given the curse of toads and vipers falling from her mouth every time she speaks; and is consequently shunned and shortly thereafter dies in a corner of the forest.

The kind sister wins marriage with a prince she meets in the forest with her new gift.   The Middle Ages' version of career success for women.  But I digress.

Hiring authorities at every level, from CEO to store manager, assume great power and equally great responsibility.

Most hiring authorities understand this role, and represent their companies adequately:  that is, they don't violate the law during the interview or engage in insulting behavior, leaving their job applicants with a neutral experience. No diamonds or toads.  The prediction would be that their customers have a neutral, shredded wheat-type experience, too.  Not the best stance against their competitors, but not the worst.

Some hiring authorities are on a power-trip doomed for personal and reputational failure, acting like the capos at the gates of Auschwitz treating job applicants like prisoners of war.  "Go to the right, and I'll grant you the privilege of working for me," the little power-mad voice in their heads sings.  "Go to the left and be condemned to continued unemployment."  Certainly not freedom through work.  And certainly not companies you would want support with your patronage or your employment.  A nest of vipers and toads to make Indiana Jones sweat, indeed.

And then there are the bleeding-edge hiring authorities and companies who get it. Who have clear values, visions and missions, and know how to walk the talk accordingly and consistently. Who recruit for the diversity in their candidates that equals or exceeds the diversity of their customers.  Who hire managers and hiring authorities who also walk the talk accordingly and consistently, and make available those who don't to industry.  Who understand all too well that their reputations pivot equally on how they recruit their employees and how they recruit their customers. And that the strategies for both employee and customer recruitment / retention are inextricably linked for long-term success.  These are the diamonds and pearls of the leading companies that we want to patronize as customers and where we want to work as employees, leaders and vendors.

Personally, I find diamonds and pearls most becoming.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

You Can Handle the Truth About Your Job Search

I received an email today from a reader in a related industry who has been looking for full-time work since 2010:

Hello Debra-

I read your recent blog with great interest.  I've been "selling" myself for the past 2 years with no full-time takers.  Please see my attached resume. Comments?  Opportunities?

Thanks so much.

Gentle readers:  I was born in New York City, and my daddy is a Marine.  If you ask my opinion, I will serve it up directly and in the spirit of supporting our mutual success.  In that context, below please find my direct and heartfelt response:  

Thank you for your kind feedback on my blog posts.

I've been to the Recession Rodeo a few times myself as well as in the hiring authority seat, so my response to you is grounded in both of those experiences:

  • If you hadn't mentioned that you have worked, albeit part-time, since 2010 in your email below, I would assume from your paperwork that you have not worked at all since 2010.  Please consider including your contract / project work since 2010 as your most recent / current work experience on your résumé since 2010.   Work, part-time or full-time, still counts as your most recent résumé item, perhaps as a Consultant performing contract work.  One significant reason you may not be getting many bites from hiring authorities.  Also, from your email, I don't know the depth and breadth of these part-time / contract projects.  Summarizing recent projects since 2010 in both your résumé and cover letter / email telegraphs that you're already working and therefore employable to a potential hiring authority.
  • Good, bad or indifferent, your lack of social media presence does not do your background justice.  Please do some LinkedIn searches to see how peers / colleagues in your industry have punched up their LinkedIn profiles, including a headshot that communicates trust.  The more you use / explore LinkedIn, the more you learn its capabilities to promote you as a professional / practitioner.  Also:  once you're 5 years or more past graduation, no need to keep graduation dates on your résumé.  Also:  lots of great books in the local library system on this subject.  A lot of what I've learned about social media has come from reading and online / in-person seminars, almost all free.  And once I learn it, I implement it.
  • Hiring authorities and your network will do a quick Google search to see what you've been up to / what you've accomplished.  My quick search on you turned up an article implying different employment dates / employers.  When dates / employers don't sync up on a résumé, hiring authorities will also take a pass.  Please ensure that your résumé matches these searches, and/or outline why.
  • Stating reasons for leaving jobs / companies on your résumé and LinkedIn profile not only demonstrates that you're proactive, but may also help a hiring authority take a second look at you as a candidate.
  • Most importantly:  have you asked for this same feedback / advice from trusted colleagues / friends in your local network that you have asked from me (someone who has never met you)?  From former clients?  If so, what are they telling you?  When I hear the same piece of feedback twice, I have learned over time that I need to listen, incorporate it and change course. Also, for those folks in your network and clients that you've listed on your résumé:  have you networked face-to-face with all of them, asking for their advice and asking how you can be of service in return?  Selling is an in-person exercise; with your background and accomplishments, you know this even better than I do.

Hopefully my comments were what you were looking for: I suspect that you will make better progress with in-person contacts within your own network.  I wish you the best in those explorations.

Have a great week and thanks again for your feedback,


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Doing the Job During the Interview Benefits Everyone at Work

As I mentioned in this post last November, one of my best experiences of doing the job in the interview was when Bill, the best mentor / manager of my career to date, gave us both a break from the formal interview and asked me to write a press holding statement based on a chemical accident scenario he provided, giving me 15 minutes to do so.  I loved it.  I banged out the holding statement in 5 minutes and handed it over to him.  Bill looked at me, looked at his co-interviewer and smiled.  I knew then that I had the job.  More importantly, I had the wonderful experience of witnessing Bill's appreciation for my talent and abilities as part of the interview process.  Because Bill had the insight as the hiring authority to ask me to do the job in the interview, we had each other at hello.  It was the beginning of a rewarding work experience for both of us.

This past week, a colleague took this best practice one step further and invited their lead candidate to work in the office with them for 3 hours.   Clever Colleague wanted to see how Lead Candidate conducted themselves as they completed a key task together.  Both Colleague and Candidate were pleased, and both are now truly ready to seal the deal with a job offer.  

Clever Colleague was also smart enough to know (without prompting from me) that they should pay Lead Candidate for their work demonstration time.  

This is a best practice because it takes the hiring process out of the theoretical chatter that is the banal and tired employment interview and brings it into the realm of actually demonstrating the work that needs to be done by the prospective employee (vendor) to successfully fill the needs of the job at hand.

It just like good theatrical writing:  show me, don't tell me.  If you don't have the skill to demonstrate how you can you best meet the needs of your next employer (customer), you become like a forgettable movie ending:  like the bad narrative that someone else forced Harrison Ford to do at the end of Ridley Scott's first theatrical release of Blade Runner.  It just doesn't ring true, and it does not do you as the candidate (vendor) any justice at all.  (Or, as illustrated by my favorite line from Human Resources interviewees who have no HR experience:  "I'm really great with people.")

Work demonstration does not need to be just the hiring authority's idea during the employment sourcing process:  how have you (and will you) proactively demonstrate by doing the job in the interview that you will concretely meet / exceed your new employer's needs?  Is it a press release, a custom Crystal report, a draft marketing plan for your first 90 days in your new role?  The creative possibilities are endless, for both vendors and customers.  Make your best work demonstration offer to the decision-maker.

This week:  show us what you can do at work.