Thursday, June 26, 2008

Layoffs In A Shrinking Job Market

"Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" was a comedy movie, but the reality of a shrinking job market is no laughing matter for those who have lost their jobs or fear they’re in jeopardy.

May 2008 marked the fifth month in a row that the economy has shed jobs. And more losses are forecast for the rest of the year.

According to the Labor Department, the unemployment rate surged to 5.5% in May, a 10% increase from April’s rate of 5%, making it the largest monthly spike in more than two decades.

Over 320,000 jobs disappeared during the first five months of this year. Considering that it takes 125,000 new jobs annually to keep up with population growth, the shortfall makes it that much harder for those in the job market.

Shrinking Job Market = Recession

As Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington said, “We simply haven’t had five months of net job losses without being in a recession.” With all the pundits sparring over whether the country is in a recession technically, Bernstein implies that the job picture tells the true story.

So what should executives do to secure their careers in an environment where layoffs are occurring across the board, with job losses in industry after industry? Consider these three choices:

Think Growth

In spite of all the gloom and doom in the marketplace, healthcare remains a rare bright spot for most senior executives. In virtually every function, from IT and Finance to General Management and Human Resources, the demand for talent in the industry is at an all-time high and growth in the sector shows no sign of abating.

Think Green

Demand for solar power, wind turbines, biofuels, battery enhancement and a host of alternative energy sources are driving the growth of new businesses in this emergent industry. Some of these “green companies” will be tomorrow’s behemoths. And although many of these fledgling firms have a wealth of good ideas and more than adequate 1st and 2nd stage financing, they all need sophisticated leadership and quality management.

Think Small

While cutbacks are rampant at the larger financial, professional and business services companies – where banks, legal, accounting and management consulting firms exist – there is a demand for talent at the smaller, more nimble organizations in each of these disciplines. What the big boys throw away, the smaller guys always grab.

In a shrinking job market … smaller, greener and growing are your safe havens.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Work/Life Balance: The Example of Tim Russert

The untimely passing of Tim Russert, the anchor of “Meet the Press” and NBC Washington Bureau Chief, coupled with all the talk about the richness of his life got me to thinking ... what do we really mean when we talk about work/life balance?

Here was a man who spent an inordinate amount of time working at his job. More hours than most top executives. In a season of dramatic political events, he appeared to be everywhere, from early morning segments on the Today show, late night commentary on NBC and MSNBC and hosting two weekend shows, including the most influential news show of them all.

Plus, he spent many hours in preparation, including the “nuts & bolts” of investigative journalism, with his many famous “what do you know?” telephone calls. All this while simultaneously directing the activities of some of the best known names in news from his perch atop the NBC Washington Bureau.

Obviously a very busy man – but was his life in balance?

To answer that question – and to help all those execs struggling with the concept – we should define what is meant by work/life balance.

For me, the best definition addresses four key areas – work, family, friends and self, along with the two common goals everyone strives for – achievement and enjoyment. When you combine all those components, you come up with a pragmatic and doable definition of work/life balance:

“Achievement & enjoyment in the four life quadrants of work, family, friends and self”

There are no mandatory hours allocated for the quadrants and no equal time is implied. The only imperative is striving for achievement and enjoyment in each.

So, did Tim Russert, this hard-driving newsman who wore many hats and spent countless hours engaged in his work, attain work/life balance?

There is no doubt the answer is an emphatic “YES!”

His life is a testament to it. In addition to an admirable record of professional accomplishments, Russert was very close to his family; amassed hundreds of friends who recount story after story about the kindnesses he showed; allocated time to himself by hopping on the treadmill daily and going to his beloved Buffalo Bills games, and even expanded his work activities by penning two exceptional best sellers.

My opinion: A work/life balance model for any executive.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Job Offer Negotiation In A Nutshell

For most executives, business negotiations are a routine, day-to-day responsibility, and they bring thought, talent and technique to the table.

However, when it comes to negotiating a job offer, they often don’t apply the same skills. In place of a dispassionate, methodical and logical approach, their personal feelings get in the way and avoidable errors are made.

So what’s the best strategy when the phone rings, the offer is extended, and it falls short?

Relax, the dance has just begun

There are only five essentials when you initially receive any job offer.

1. Listen. Let the person making the offer go through their entire pronouncement and absorb what they are saying.

2. Thank. After they’ve finished reciting the offer, express your gratitude. No matter what you might think of the terms, the appropriate response is to thank the person for the offer.

3. Restate. Play back what you just heard for confirmation. Say something like….”Let me see if I got all this. I’ll be reporting to Bill Jones, the title is Managing Director, the compensation is, my objectives include, …. etc.”

4. Written Offer. Ask to have a hard copy sent to you or at the very least, a faxed or email version. In print is imperative.

5. Response Scheduling. Let them know you need some time to digest the offer and schedule the date/time you’ll get back to them.

NEVER negotiate any aspect of a job offer on the spot. If you do, you run the risk that your request will be granted – which will effectively end any further negotiation. At this point, you haven’t had the time to fully drill down all the components.

Pick your points, wants and must-haves

After you’ve received a copy of the offer, carefully review it and determine which pieces work well for you and which do not. In addition to the compensation issues, you may want to negotiate such points as exit package, reporting relationships, job title, objectives, resources, start date and other relevant matters.

Short list three categories: your “must-haves” for accepting the offer, your “wants” in order to make you a happy camper and the “deal-breakers.” Prioritize them and one by one, develop your business case for each. A good technique is to have a coach or trusted friend/colleague role play the other side as devil’s advocate. It’ll help in refining your presentation.

Make your case

Before any negotiation starts, remember this is a business meeting. Begin by emphasizing your desire and enthusiasm for both the job and the company. Setting a positive and warm tone at the outset always helps. Then get down to brass tacks. Walk through your “must-haves”, “wants” and “deal-breakers”, using the same savvy and smarts that got you here in the first place.

They want you. You have leverage. Use it wisely.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Termination Do's, Don'ts & Dummies

Paul Simon's best-selling song, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” was just topped by the NY Mets … their way of terminating a relationship made the headlines.

"Meet the Mess" screamed the front page of yesterday’s NY Post, referring to the firing of manager Willie Randolph, in a not-so-subtle takeoff on the club’s theme song, "Meet the Mets." And the inside articles were no less forgiving, with one stating “Mets Midnight Massacre a Disgrace” and another subtitled “Willie Out as Skipper in Unfair Late Night Shock to Met Fans.”

Randolph was fired at 3:15 AM, New York time, following a victory in California.

How you fire can be more important than why

The manner in which employees are terminated is a reflection of the attitude of the organization towards its people. When done properly, all parties can benefit, but if approached in a haphazard, inconsiderate or emotionally charged style, negative repercussions are often immediate, far-reaching and long lasting.

Firing an employee has been cited as one of the most difficult business tasks for leaders. It’s also rated as highly traumatic for the individual being terminated. All in all ... a tough situation. For an organization involved in large-scale layoffs, convenience should not preclude careful attention to each and every affected employee.

There’s a time-tested protocol for the optimum management of terminations that includes a fair measure of compassion for your employee’s circumstances.

Six steps

1. Give the employee his/her due respect. Instant termination by phone, fax or email is simply rude. Resist the temptation to be expedient. This person has been a contributor to the company. The courtesy of a face-to-face meeting is common decency.

2. Prepare for the meeting. Draft your message in advance. Set the stage by saying something like, “I have some difficult news to deliver to you,” then let them know what is happening, the reason for it and the final date of employment. Deliver your entire message, including the contents of the separation package before you take any questions from the employee. Be brief, clear and direct.

3. Make it final. This is not the time for debate, the termination is a done deal and while there may be some future negotiation about the severance details, there is no negotiation about the termination.

4. Make it private. No matter where you conduct the meeting – your office, their office or a separate conference room – ensure there are no interruptions.

5. Be sensitive. Firing someone is not an easy task, but the emotional difficulty pales in comparison to that of the person being fired. While you can’t change the situation, you should be prepared for questions.

6. Involve HR. After you’ve delivered the message, it’s usually easiest to introduce an HR professional to review the exit package, discuss written releases and other next-step activities.

Put yourself in their shoes

Would you rather be told you’re fired by your boss or by an avatar?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Job Market For Boomer Executives

According to career pundits and the U.S. Department of Labor, it’s harder for older workers to land a job than it is for their younger counterparts.

But when it comes to top executives, I’m not convinced that’s the case.

While government statistics show that 75% of people, ages 25-54 secure new jobs within a year as compared to 61% of workers between 55 and 64 – those figures don’t break out jobs by level. By lumping the most senior executives into the same pot as the folks on the factory floor, the metric becomes skewed. There’s always a need for experienced and accomplished leaders.

Myth buster

A few years back, the top management of a global insurance company that had recently acquired another insurer contacted me, requesting a consulting team of senior HR professionals to coordinate the talent integration of the two companies.

About a dozen phone calls later, the team was in place and at my office. In addition to outstanding credentials, these four men and two women – all of whom I had known for over a decade, had four things in common.

1. Each had been part of a workforce reduction

2. All had held key positions in the HR departments of large, well-known companies

3. Each was willing to work on the project, but all wanted to resume full-time work

4. Their average age was 54, with none under 50

Our team spent the next 120 days working on talent assessment and integration. After the project concluded, they resumed their job campaigns, continuing their weekly meetings at my office. Within six months, every single one was reemployed. And each one landed a position either running or being a key player in a sizeable HR department.

Boomer tactics

Why were these older execs successful in spite of the naysayers? Two words … smart campaigns.

Specifically, they followed these five steps.

1. They didn’t go after the kinds of jobs appropriate to someone half their age. Years of experience and knowledge were emphasized, not diminished.

2. They carefully targeted companies. Only those businesses whose needs closely matched their skills and accomplishments were considered.

3. They intensively researched those companies to identify specific problems and opportunity areas where their skills and experiences could make a measurable difference.

4. They identified the top decision makers, networked directly into them and presented a persuasive business case for their hire.

5. They prepared thoroughly for interviews, elicited useful feedback, judiciously followed up on all leads and were always “professionally” persistent.

A simple equation

Job finding, at any age, is about matching your skills, abilities and experience with a company’s needs.

The greater the company needs ... the more important the level of experience.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wall Street Writedowns Equal Job Meltdowns

Anxiety exists on almost every corner on Wall Street.

The NY Times report citing that nearly half of Wall Street's bank profits are gone with more bad news and job cuts on the horizon qualifies as one of the most stress-inducing articles I’ve read in a while. Citing the marquee firms - Goldman, Lehman, Citi, Merrill, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, as having their earnings gutted, is a graphic description of the carnage.

“Huge writedowns”, “giant erasers” and “weird limbo” are just a few of the phrases in this article guaranteed to strike fear in all those involved in financial services. From employees and shareholders to companies that rely on the stability of the financial community … angst is becoming a constant companion.

No doubt about it - there are serious problems at many of today’s financial firms. But it’s not the first time Wall Street has undergone large-scale layoffs. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again.

The daily barrage of scary stories and resultant distress are counterproductive to thinking straight and moving forward. Smart career management is your best remedy.

Get your priorities straight

Whatever the current job, it is only a single piece of the bigger picture … your career. If you feel like you’re currently working in an earthquake zone, move to solid ground. Actively seek out new opportunities and/or better manage your current situation.

The obvious actions

Sharpen the tools in your career management kit. Ensure your resume is current and speaks to the value you can add. Broaden your network and actively seek out those well positioned in your industry. Research smaller companies that often benefit when the larger players are retrenching. And touch base with key recruiters to guarantee you’re on their radar screen.

The subtleties

Strengthen your value to your employer. The tougher things are at work, the more visible you want to be. Far better to be in the center of the action than off somewhere on the periphery. Fortify your relationship with your boss. Ask if you can take some of the priority projects off his/her desk and onto yours. Improve your skill sets. Critically examine your contributions to the company. Try making yourself invaluable. It’s harder to fire a key contributor.

Don’t let fear mongers make you nervous … job meltdowns aren’t career meltdowns.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Severance Package: Pre-Nup For Executive Hires

Many an executive has found out the hard way that the right time to negotiate a severance package is not when you’re fired, but when you're hired.

After spending six months in 1999 negotiating his exit deal from Citigroup following a falling out with Sandy Weill, his former mentor and boss, Jamie Dimon said he wouldn’t have taken the top job at Chicago’s Bank One in 2000 if it didn’t include a severance package.

Dimon, currently Chairman & CEO of JPMorgan Chase, put it this way at a 2005 conference on executive pay: “I don’t want to negotiate with anybody. I want to know exactly what it is I’m getting,” he said, referring to the separation agreement ... the corporate equivalent of the pre-nup.

Planning ahead pays

Whenever an executive asks for advice in negotiating an employment offer, I remind them that the leverage they have when a company wants them to come on board is far greater than when they want to throw them overboard. One exec I've known for years had his last three positions wiped out due to acquisitions. He's not concerned though ... his severance packages will carry him beyond retirement.

Given that the odds of getting fired in today’s world are greater than 50%, it's worth remembering that severance can be more valuable than compensation. Witness the headlines touting the departures of CEO's of failing companies. They're leaving with seven, eight and in some cases, nine figure checks.

Every severance package spells out what happens if you're fired, forced out or the company experiences a “change in control.” Before entering a new position, hammering out exit issues such as finances, benefits continuation, career services and the official exit statement is vital.

Top executive turnover is at record levels ... the "pre-nup" between you and your future employer could be among the smartest career moves you'll ever make.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Oblivious Executive

Yesterday’s rogue gallery of fired Wall Street executives, portrayed in a slideshow that would make Al Gore proud, made me wonder why their faces are being beamed across the Internet. Looks like a different version of the perp walk.

Dethroned leaders, ranging from such notables as Carly Fiorina to Tom Freston, didn’t get to the top without a large measure of skill and competence, but once ensconced, a fair number of executives lose sight of the landscape below, sometimes to the detriment of their own careers.

Clueless in the C-suite …

Several years ago, the CFO of a major NYC hospital called me in to “shape up” his direct reports. Citing underperformance, he attributed it to deficiencies in their teamwork, collaboration, problem solving, reporting systems and decision-making skills.

As I met with each one individually, assessed the problem areas and received the required feedback, a recurrent and consistent theme became apparent. Everyone claimed that the CFO’s lack of leadership was the cause of the department’s dysfunction. The litany of complaints ranged from inaccessible to short-tempered. It had devolved to the point where this team felt they were playing without a quarterback.

You learn a lot when you ask the right questions.

Shaking out the stupor …

After distilling and compiling the feedback in anonymous format, I presented it to the CFO who was, in fact, shocked. Having no idea how his staff regarded him and to what lengths they went to avoid him, he became visibly upset. All had ranked and rated their peers highly. All had ranked and rated the CFO poorly.

While he may have been oblivious, he was not immune to reality. He understood that there was a problem … he just never considered that it was his doing.

I wonder if that’s how those execs in the slideshow feel.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Leading a Stressed Workforce

It can take a Herculean effort to successfully lead a stressed workforce.

The headlines tell the story – these are difficult economic times, causing apprehension and nervousness in employees throughout a sizeable portion of corporate America. In many companies, a host of counterproductive emotional issues are in play … and executives who don’t recognize and address them will have difficulty moving their organizations forward.

Uncertainty and fear are the biggest obstacles

Companies undergoing layoffs are dealing with anxious employees, as are those where workforce reductions are a future possibility. With terminations being conducted in waves and reported daily in the press, no one knows if and when the pink slip is coming. These are not circumstances conducive to engaging and motivating employees.

The insight out

In workshops I’ve led for the “survivors” of layoffs, a loud and clear message often comes through. Trust and pride in the organization has been eroded and an attitude of “me first” dominates – exactly the opposite factors needed to “right the ship.”

Negative feelings always impact productivity and work quality. The consequences generally are increased error rates, decreased creativity, higher levels of absenteeism and poorer problem solving. The once upbeat water cooler hangout morphs into a gloomy commiseration gathering where complaints, resentment and suspicion towards the company are continually reinforced.

There's a downhill trajectory in this scenario and if not reversed, you could end up with a lose-lose outcome.

Navigating rough waters

Getting your workforce through a difficult time is a true test of corporate leadership. The following five actions will help regain some of that lost trust and go a long way towards improving morale.

1. Acknowledge the reality – recognize the issues, problems, emotions and reactions your employees are experiencing

2. Communicate candidly and often – in any crisis situation, frequent communication helps reduce fear and dispel uncertainty

3. Display and encourage adaptability – upheaval in the workplace requires a new and relevant approach to engaging your workforce

4. Inspire ideas – lead town halls and thought sessions to involve everyone in solutions

5. Be emotionally intelligent

While these measures won’t turn back the clock to the good old days … they’ll increase your odds of making your workforce and organization more productive. They’re the “must-do” actions that can foster the “can-do” reactions.

Responsibilities of leaders are heightened during turbulent times … but if successful, so are their reputations.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Jobless Millionaires: The Consequences of Wall Street Layoffs

This is the first time in over 25 years of coaching executives that I’ve seen so many millionaires in the job market.

New York City and its upscale suburban surrounds are feeling the sting of the Wall Street layoffs. Families, communities and businesses are processing a new and painful reality.

As their net worth declines and short-term prospects shrink, executive lifestyles and spending habits are being subtly altered. The consideration of a golf course membership may be weighed against the payment of a child’s private school tuition. A vacation abroad may be re-evaluated against the possibility of zero earnings for an undetermined time.

Prudent financial planning will most likely ensure that many Wall Street millionaires ride out the rough patch for the time being. But the local organizations and businesses that depend on them, e.g. golf clubs, restaurants, spas, limo services, etc. may not be able to hold on if discretionary spending is significantly reined in … there is a possibility of “no fault” casualties.

Sustaining the seven-figure lifestyle …

Wall Streeters are being forced to reassess their careers. For the fourth time in just under 30 years, the industry is going through a contraction and, once again, there are more job seekers than jobs. The competition for coveted positions is intense. The previously unthinkable is being whispered, “What if I can’t get another job on Wall Street … how can I afford to keep all this up?”

The bottom line is that Main Street doesn’t pay like Wall Street. But life as we know it doesn’t begin and end on Wall Street either, regardless of the infamous words of Gordon Gecko. It’s been my experience that many of these executives go on to lucrative positions in other industries or start successful businesses of their own. Almost 80% of the executives I coached during the Lehman layoffs in 1992 ended up working outside Wall Street.

Succeeding on Wall Street is tough, but like the song says, "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere." If you've got Lehman, Citi, Bear or any of the other firms on the street on your resume, the odds are you're highly marketable.

The take away: Career options … like stock options … are more plentiful and varied than most people know. And if the right one is chosen, it can reap millions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The IQ & EQ of Leadership

Emotional intelligence is critical to effective leadership – especially at the top.

Research indicates that emotional competencies are more than twice as important as intellect and technical ability when it comes to achieving organizational excellence.

As most successful executives know, the higher up the organization they go, the more apparent it becomes that the skills that propelled them to the next level are not necessarily the skills they need when they get there.
While technical proficiency and high intellect are usually the building blocks that launch successful careers, the data shows that's not what sustains them. In his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman cited research indicating that 67% of all abilities essential for effective performance were emotional competencies. When compared with IQ and technical expertise, emotional factors mattered more than twice as much.

At the top executive levels, nearly 90% of success in leadership is attributable to a high EQ… the measure of your emotional intelligence.

A few years back, I was contracted to facilitate a meeting geared to fostering collaboration among the key executives of a publicly traded New Jersey-based telecom. Halfway through the meeting, a note was delivered to the CEO who promptly stood up and began screaming at the CFO ... not the best example of a high EQ.

So, what exactly is meant by emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is comprised of the competencies needed to effectively handle ourselves and our relationships with others. Specifically, they include self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation and adeptness in relationships.

When properly mixed together, they're the ingredients that make up the “secret sauce” of leadership.

In an era when increases in profitability and production are tied to leaders who can increase engagement, loyalty, collaboration and innovation, the research shows a clear link to emotional intelligence and helps explain why the lack of it sometimes leads to really smart people doing really dumb things.

If you’re a leader or a wannabe leader, it’s wise to check your EQ.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Moles Are Good For Your Career

I’m not referring to the kind Cindy Crawford made famous … but the type that Jonathan Pollard made infamous. Dare I suggest that it’s good to have spies?

Countries have them ... as well as many of the most successful leaders in companies worldwide.

Why? Because they know that how others see them is critical to their success and that it’s advantageous to have people in the organization who will forthrightly and candidly tell them how they are perceived … all the time.

Not long ago, I was contacted by the COO of a packaged goods company to provide executive coaching to one of her direct reports, the VP of Strategic Planning. “He is a brilliant executive who is important to the Company’s success,” the COO said. “His work product is great, but he has people problems.” She went on, “There’s been high turnover in his department, grumblings about the way he treats staff and some of his colleagues find him gruff and difficult to deal with.”

As the conversation moved to a close, she added, “This is the second time we’re providing him executive coaching. The last time was two years ago … I hope this one sticks.”

That was a show stopper. Why the repeat engagement?

Only one of two reasons: Either the first experience was a failure or he fell off the wagon.

In this case, it was the latter. His first coaching experience was seen as a great success, but gradually, he reverted to his old habits. Staff began exiting, complaints mounted, and in spite of the quality of his work, the COO was now considering his departure. This was the Company’s last-ditch effort and final intervention.

What went wrong? Why did our VP go from reclaimed to relapse?

Simple, he stopped asking for and receiving feedback. He thought his issues were permanently resolved. That’s rarely the case. Changing negative behavior in the short run is relatively easy … sustaining that change long-term is very difficult.

It requires ongoing, honest feedback and a willingness to do something with it.

Two years ago when he first received coaching, feedback about his behavior was culled from the people working with him – superiors, subordinates and peers. It was then presented to him in anonymous format, ensuring he understood how others saw him. A plan was drawn up, he subsequently changed his behaviors and everyone recognized the improvement.

The coaching was deemed a success, the COO beamed, the VP was proud of himself and all those around him marveled at the transformation. Kudos to everyone!

Until … pressures mounted, time became scarce, demands increased and the VP, without realizing, reverted to his old ways. He stopped requesting and getting what had helped him in the first place … candid and straightforward feedback.

And now, his job was squarely on the line.

Unfortunately this is a story repeated all too often. If you stop asking for feedback, few will offer it. You have to encourage it and create an environment where people feel comfortable telling you when you’re doing well and, just as importantly, when you’re not.

In short, you need people up, down and sideways willing to keep you abreast of your own actions and others’ reactions … those are the kind of moles that are good for your career.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Executive Layoffs: More Likely

Grim news just keeps piling on.

Today the jobless rate jumped to 5.5% - the biggest one-month rise since 1986.

Yesterday it was the airline sector – with Continental announcing 3,000 layoffs or 7% of its workforce. And that figure comes on the heels of last week’s announcements of significant layoffs by United and American.

So we can now add airlines to a growing list that includes financial services, housing, automotive, telecom, retail and several other industries rapidly shedding jobs.

The cumulative effect of these cuts is becoming chilling with U.S. companies planning 103,522 layoffs in May compared to 90,015 in April. And while the final number of job losses in the current downturn is unknown ... what is known is that it will go higher.

So what can we learn about job campaigning in these difficult times? And who best to ask than an executive in the midst of it?

Last week I was introduced to a senior human resources exec who has been searching for a position since last September. This is a fellow with impeccable credentials who has headed up the HR functions of a major restaurant chain, a leading consumer products company and a marquee ad agency.

“Looking back,” I asked him, “is there anything you would have done differently in your job campaign?”

He thought for a second and said, “Well, in addition to the things everybody talks about from recruiters to networks, there are three things I’m doing now that I wish I had done earlier.”

This is what he learned …

1- Explore project consulting or interim activities. “In talking to people and companies about their needs, I heard about problems that I could have easily fixed. But they weren’t presented as full time jobs and I never thought about suggesting that I tackle them in a consulting role. That was a mistake. It would have provided a good platform, the money wouldn’t hurt and, coincidentally, that’s exactly what I’m doing for a company now.”

2- Explore out-of-area and even out-of-country opportunities. “I started this job search saying I wouldn’t move. We have one son in high school. I didn’t want to uproot him and passed on exploring a couple of jobs out west and then one in Europe where I think I would have been a good fit. While I’m still not certain I would have accepted any of them, not pursuing them was an error. Now I’m looking at everything, anywhere.”

3- Explore opportunities other than my prime choice. “Early on I had a shot at a great job, but it was a divisional position and I really wanted the top HR slot. Today, I’m more flexible and not only looking for a #1 or #2 job, but have broken out my functional capabilities as well, and am selectively exploring running a Compensation & Benefits function, which has always been my sweet spot.”

The take away ... in a tight market, expand your scope.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

In The Absence Of Executive Presence

Ever think you were perfect for a top job you didn't get? It might not have been your lack of achievements, but your lack of executive presence.

Just having functional excellence – no matter how towering – is not nearly enough to warrant a key to the executive washroom. As one respected recruiter said to me, “they're all good on paper.”

You have to be better in person. You need that quality known as "Executive Presence."

Unfortunately, too many people use the same definition for executive presence that Supreme Court Justice Stewart used when he defined pornography as “I know it when I see it.” It’s that kind of nebulous thinking that adds to the confusion.

In spite of its seemingly vague nature, developing executive presence is among the most frequent coaching requests made by companies and their leaders.

So let's clear out the cobwebs.

One of the great corporate truths is that companies, like people, are unique and what works in one may fail in another. There are few "one size fits all" behaviors for attaining corporate success. However, when it comes to executive presence, people see it the same way everywhere.

The most accurate description of executive presence is a leader who is at ease and comfortable with people throughout the organization, relaxed and composed under pressure, can connect quickly, communicate convincingly, skillfully handle the most difficult of situations and look, act and sound in ways that inspire confidence.

Beyond that, executive presence requires the ability to impact groups, build strong relationships, impress and influence others and be accepted by diverse constituencies.

Strive for all of them. Learn from the behaviors that are common to charismatic leaders and be sensitive to how they speak, think and act. Avail yourself of the scores of techniques used to help develop the skills necessary.

If you believe that your work alone will get you to the top, you're kidding yourself. Success is much harder in the absence of executive presence.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Entrepreneurial Instincts

Almost every successful executive I’ve ever met has an entrepreneurial itch they’d love to scratch – yet very few ever do.

Why? What is it that sets apart those who go out on their own from the majority who never try?

It’s simple – those who venture out have an overwhelming desire to be their own boss. It's the primary driver in their decision making.

A recent article in Business Week supports that fact and confirms what I’ve seen and heard from those executives who have taken the leap from the corporate world to that of the entrepreneur.

And while the financial rewards of business ownership often don’t match the returns they might amass in the corporate world, the data strongly indicates that people who run their own business experience greater job satisfaction than people who don’t. In fact, they say they’d need to earn 2 ½ times as much working for someone else to be as happy.

Most new ventures are small, increasingly home based, and have an uneven track record of long term success, with less than 45% of startups still going after five years.

But the skills, experiences and capital executives bring to starting a company dramatically raise their chances of success. They write business plans, rigorously execute them, know how to attract talented people and bring fact-based decision making to the table. And, when in the market for acquisitions, they're positioned to ask the right questions, conduct due diligence and acquire profitable operations.

Successful entrepreneurs need a strong dose of self-confidence, high energy, dogged persistence, a tolerance for risk and a mastery of the same planning, organizing and business skills required in the corporate world.

And most importantly, they need the ability to generate business activity. For, as many a business owner has found out, it’s often a lot easier to do the work, than it is to get the work.

According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, some 465,000 people create new businesses in this country every month.

If you want to be part of that number, can meet the criteria for success and your instinct says entrepreneurial, consider going for it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Cultivation Of Executive Recruiters

If you scour the contact management files of most successful executives, you’ll often find the names of top recruiters at well-known search firms.

If you don’t have them in your digital rolodex, you should.

The world of executive recruiting is divided in two. One titled Retainer, the other Contingency. Both search for candidates to fill job openings and both are paid by companies. But that’s where the similarities end.

Retainer search firms are contracted to search for executives who can best fill a specific position. Their fee, anywhere from 25-33% of the first-year’s compensation, is paid regardless of the outcome of the search.

Entrusted to fill a company’s key roles, they typically present a well vetted slate of “top fits” for consideration. Often, they have long standing relationships with their client companies, understand their needs and culture, and are on the lookout for perfect matches that best meet their client’s requirements.

Contingency firms, on the other hand, collect their fee only when a candidate they present is hired. Companies inform them of their job requirements and they search for likely prospects. Because they’re aware of the needs of many organizations, they may circulate your resume among those they think could be a good fit.

Unless you’re comfortable having your resume widely circulated, you might want to keep contingency firms on a short leash. It’s wise to set ground rules with them up front and make sure you know where your resume is being sent before it goes out.

Develop key relationships …

At different times in the lifecycle of an executive, both retainer and contingency firms are worthwhile allies.

Most search firms, whether retained or contingent, have developed their own “sweet spots” based on industry and/or function specialization. Take the time to learn who the key firms and players are in the areas that reflect your needs.

The Directory of Executive Recruiters is the bible of the search industry. Updated annually, it lists virtually all the retainer and contingency firms and breaks them down by level, industry and function. Its online version can be found at

Begin cultivating a handful of recruiters early in your career and advance along with them. Take their calls when they phone and acknowledge their emails when they write. Even when you’re not interested or less than an ideal candidate for their search, provide referrals or suggestions.

And no matter your function, industry or location, if the title “executive” fits you, remember there are certain search firms who are on everybody’s short list of career makers. They include Korn Ferry, Russell Reynolds, Spencer Stuart, Heidrick & Struggles and a handful of others.

Like a well-tended garden, careful cultivation of executive recruiters can yield bountiful rewards.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Before You Dismiss The Job, Get The Offer

While job hunting is not a game, it does have rules. And among the most basic of those rules is – get the offer!

When you interview for a job you think has potential, your objective is to make them want you. Actually, the role of the job hunter is to make the employer so eager to bring you on board that the prospect of losing you causes them distress.

It’s based on two premises.

One, the more an employer wants to hire you, the greater your negotiating options will be. And two, there are no negotiating options without an offer.

Sure, you’re also gathering information so that you can eventually make an informed decision, but there will be no decision to make if they don’t offer you the job. That's a reality job seekers sometimes forget.

A couple of months back, I received a call from a senior attorney who had just finished interviewing with the General Counsel of a firm she thought she might want to join. She had already had a positive interview with the executive search firm, an even better meeting with the head of HR and knew the firm was a top-notch place to work.

When I asked how her latest interview went she said, “Oh, it went great. The General Counsel is somebody I can see myself working with, the projects he described sounded interesting and I really think I can learn from him. But I’ve decided not to pursue it any further.”

That was a shock because even though she was still employed, her firm had just gone through an acquisition and integration that put her job in jeopardy and pushed her position further down the corporate totem pole. Plus, she was unhappy with her current employer and role long before the integration took place.

“Why don’t you want to pursue it?” I asked. She didn’t miss a beat “Well, it looks to me like most of them work in cubicles, the title he threw out wasn’t very appealing, I have concerns about their compensation structure and their vacation policy is a week less than I have now.”

“Did they make you an offer?” I asked. “No” she responded, “they want me to come back and meet with several of his direct reports but I think I’m going to call and stop the process.”

Talk about putting the cart in front of the horse.

Of course there are times when continuing to interview with a company is pointless, but unless the gap between what you want and what you see is a chasm so wide that under no circumstances would you work for the company – it's usually to your advantage to generate the offer.

When I asked this attorney if there was any way she could see herself working for the company she was interviewing with she said, “Sure, but I doubt they’ll meet my requirements.”

Further conversation got her to put her concerns on hold and continue the interviewing process with the objective of generating an offer.

The outcome – she got the offer. And a little post-offer negotiation resulted in a boost in comp, a private office, an AGC title and matching vacation time.

The sequence ... get the offer ... negotiate ... then decide. Nothing to decide without the offer.


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