Monthly Archives: February 2010

Summer Jobs: How to Help Your Son or Daughter Get One

It’s February, but it’s not too early to be thinking about the summer break.  Whether your kids are in high school or college, you can (and maybe you should) begin the summer planning process now.

While you might think a plan begins with a to-do list, I believe a plan begins with a what-do-you-want-to-do list.  Yes, the economy sucks and jobs are few, but you still have to decide where you are headed with this job thing.  If you don’t,  your 15 year old is likely to commit to about five minimum wage hours a week on a parks crew to which you will have to ferry her, while three blocks away is a twenty hour a week babysitting gig that suits her love of children much better.

Here are the questions for discussion.

  1. What are your goals for the summer job? (Not just your child’s goals, but yours.)

If this is the very first job ever ever, the most important thing is that your child have a good experience, learn some lessons about work in general, and build some lasting relationships for the future.  But, if money is tight in your house and this job has to be about earning and saving as much as he or she can, that may mean that everything (except his or her safety) is sacrificed for earnings.  If your son or daughter has a lifelong career dream, exposure to that career path may be paramount.  The specific need sets the stage for setting goals.  All jobs and all goals are not alike; to get the right job, you must have the right goal.

  1. How will the job fit into your family’s summer plan?

This simple question rarely gets a simple answer.  Unless the child’s job is a priority for you, things will go badly when a.) there is no transportation to the child’s job, b.) your vacation plans interfere with work, c.) you try to become the boss of the job and set the schedule, d.) you want an emergency babysitter who is scheduled to be an usher at the local Muvico in ten minutes, and e.) you decide to teach a lesson by not waking someone up for an early shift.

Believe me when I tell you that many employers these days rank young people the absolute least desirable among job candidates, even for jobs that are traditional starter roles in the world of work.  Why?   Because they don’t come to work and often they don’t come to work because a parent doesn’t get them there.  Or worse, a parent chooses to divert them from working.  Reliability has to be the brand stamped on your child’s forehead; it is the number one desirable competency from the employer’s point of view.

  1. Why should someone hire your son or daughter?

Your son or daughter will tell the prospective employer whatever they hear you say.  Is your son the strongest kid on the wrestling team?  The best leader?  The one who does his homework before dinner and before hanging out?  Is your daughter the fastest blader on wheels?  A fashion superstar?  The nicest girl you know?  An expert painter?  Brilliant on the computer? What you say about them to your friends and what they hear you say is their core strength is what they believe and what they repeat.  Whether they or whether you take primary responsibility for finding the summer job, discuss the answers to the question before it is asked.

Most intelligence about available summer jobs comes through connections, yours or your child’s, but the actual hiring is a function of good eye contact, a confident story told by the child that reflects what the community already knows about him or her, and the hiring manager’s belief that this particular child will show up and get the job done.

Therefore, the discussion you have in the course of planning should focus on goals, on how you will support the relationship between your child and the employer, and how your son or daughter will fit into the workplace, given his or her particular strengths and skills.  Jobs may be scarce, but armed with a plan and your leadership your son or daughter can be among the lucky kids to land a gig for the summer.

Who’s Who in the Recruitment and Selection Process

Recruitment and Selection are two different organizational processes connected by the underlying principle that in order to select the right person for the job, you have to have attracted the right group of folks to pick from.  Some companies cast a wide net, include a lot of candidates, and engage in a winnowing process.  Others are highly targeted, focused on a narrow audience of special people they court and consider.  There is no right or wrong; it’s a matter of company choice.  Either way, you need to know who you are dealing with in order to make the right move for you.

Here are some of the major players you might encounter:

Headhunter.  A “headhunter” is a recruiter who works for himself or herself or a major (or minor) headhunting firm.  A retained search firm is paid (usually a percentage of the job’s annual cash compensation) whether or not they place a candidate.  A contingency recruiter is paid similarly, but only if his or her candidate is placed.

You might first hear from a headhunter’s researcher whose job it is to qualify you or get your ideas for leads, if you yourself prove to be wrong for the opportunity.  The researcher is highly oriented to recruiting—the message is that you are great, the job is great, the company is fabulous.  You are her new best friend;  you will discover you have many friends in common. The actual account manager, though, is more likely to winnow.  Both have a stake in your positive vibes, but also a stake in both your deliverability (are you really interested?) and your suitability (are you right for the company and the job?)

Contract recruiter. A contract recruiter is screening potential candidates who’ve landed in a pool, through the company’s outreach activities.  Might have been advertising, might have been a file search, might have been a job fair, but the contract recruiter (who is not an employee of the company) has a crowd to turn into a qualified few.  He or she is criteria-oriented by definition—the contract determines the task.  Contract recruiters are usually paid by the hour or perhaps by the day, week, or month.

Company recruiter. This person is definitely a company asset, with lots of knowledge and lots of enthusiasm for getting and keeping you interested.  This is someone—who may or may not have the title of recruiter—who probably has some say into the selection pool, but is more likely the professional who keeps it all moving and makes sure the company gets its value and the candidate gets treated right.  He or she is deeply concerned with what you think of the company, and also knows that it isn’t over until it’s over, so is inclined to keep you interested all the way to the end.  And then some.

HR Manager.  This is another level of HR involvement that may or may not happen; sometimes it’s a recruiter’s boss, sometimes it’s a hiring manager’s HR Business Partner, depending on the size of the company or the level of the job for which you are being considered.  Probably an influencer with power; don’t be fooled by the authentic interest in you as a person.

Hiring Manager. This is a (maybe THE) decision-maker, who might go by any number of titles, including manager, director, vice president, owner, or boss.   Assume that this is by definition the person who narrows the field to one.

Selection Committee Member or Selection Committee Chair. The name says it all.  The people who see these people, if a committee is being used, are in one of the selection rounds.  You might see such a group all at once, or one at a time.  Some will be in recruitment mode, some will be examining you with a microscope.

The Big Boss.   This is the honcho who gets to say, at the last minute, either, “wow, everybody did a great job; I like her (or him),” or “what were you people thinking?”  Screw this one up at your peril; it looks like a pleasant lunch at the local white tablecloth restaurant, but it probably isn’t.  Selection masquerading as recruiting.

Stay tuned in to who you are talking to, and who is talking to you.  By the time you get to the hiring manager, you can think of yourself as a real candidate.  Until then, you are being recruited into a pool, and then a slightly smaller pool.  Pools aren’t jobs, so don’t get ahead of yourself.

Questions to Ask the Interviewer

You know the interview is coming to an end when the interviewer asks “Do you have any questions for me?”

Assume you are being asked a sincere question; while it may or may not be a simple formality, it is another chance to increase the likelihood of your being asked to join the next step of the selection process.  As in, “I liked him/her.  Let’s ask him/her to come back.”

I’ve been asked some really challenging and intricate questions, all of which I tried to answer.  Sometimes, the candidate’s question was intended to make the candidate look really smart and in-the-know.  Sometimes, first round candidates refer to a list of detailed questions brought to the interview, all with proprietary and off-limits answers.  Sometimes, early stage candidates really want to know if they can have three weeks off this August for Cousin Heather’s wedding in Ireland.

You have a lot of choices here.  Let me give you some guidance.

1.  Don’t compose and then ask a question you think will make you look good, whatever you think “good” is.  The result will be that you won’t listen to the answer, and an interviewer can see in your eyes that you are not listening.  That reveals that it wasn’t a real question, and that you aren’t all that authentic.

2.  Don’t ask technical questions of nontechnical people.  It can make them feel challenged, and not in a good way.

3.  All questions about compensation, benefits (including vacation and other time off), perquisites, career paths, and required hours of work and travel should be saved until you are the selected candidate with an offer letter in your hand.

4.  Don’t ask questions about proprietary matters.  It makes you look naive.

5.  Don’t read the annual report and then fabricate general or specific questions about the contents. (Unless you are interviewing for the CFO or Treasurer job, and the headhunter suggests that it’s best if you pose the question directly.)

6.  Don’t work from a written list, although a quick note to yourself that allows you to refrain from interrupting an interviewer is okay.  Written lists look more painstaking than is necessary, and a bit overprepared.

7.  Don’t throw hardballs.

The general rule is that the first two interviews are for the benefit of the employer, and the last two are more than likely your own chance to evaluate.  If that holds true, you are freer to ask more questions if you are still in the running after two interviews.  At that point, you should be evaluating your own interest in and ability to do the job, though, not the size of the compensation package or the availability of the first week in July for your trip to St. Pete.  Your questions can cover scope of the job, resources available (including staff, time, budget, information, etc.).   Departmental goals, company culture, traditions:  all good subjects if they haven’t already been covered.

Remember that the best interview is a good conversation, and proceed accordingly.

1.  You can and should ask the interviewer about himself or herself, how long he/she’s worked there, why he/she joined, what he/she likes best about the company, industry, or work.

2.  You can and should ask about the decision-making process, how many steps there are, where they are in the process, and when they expect to have the job filled.

3.  You can ask how they chose you for an interview and what they like about your background.  Once this question has been answered, you can’t let the answer hang in the air, though, you have to at least state your belief that you are a good fit for the company or what you like about the prospect of working for this particular company.  It’s a question that has to have reciprocity for closure.  You must choose each other.

And, you may use the answers to the above suggested questions to inform the content of your thank you letter.  Drawing comparisons between you and their needs is a time-honored strategy, but hard to accomplish if you haven’t asked questions that will lead you to a good letter.

Your questions are more likely to be remembered than many of your answers will be, simply because the interviewer is paying more attention to you in this part of the interview; you have more control in this phase, so use your power wisely and strategically.  Make a friend, be relaxed, smile, lean forward, thank the interviewer.

Above all, be spontaneous, authentic, and friendly.  Your main job at all times is to stay in the running–decisions aren’t made until the end of the process, and lots of things can happen between any given moment and the last minute.

Next blog:  Who’s who in the process?

Questions about interview questions

I always get the good phone calls the night before the interview.  Someone is drifting off to sleep, imagining the way he or she will smile, shake hands, eagerly answer questions. . . wait, there will be questions?

Yes.  And you should, in the best of worlds, have some answers.  Here are the three big questions I was questioned about this month:

1.  What are your weaknesses? (Also masquerades as “If we hire you, what will we say is not your best attribute or feature when we review your performance in six months?)

I think by now we all know that you can’t answer this like Michael Scott, “ I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job.”  So what are your weaknesses…and what are you doing about them?  That’s what’s important.  Don’t answer the question without adding the information that you are totally on to yourself and working on your lack of self confidence, conflict avoidance, feedback dependence, whatever it is.

Your role in the interview is to establish a rapport and participate in a conversation that will get you to the next level of the selection process.  So when you are asked this question, which usually comes up in the earlier rounds of the process, my suggestion is to answer truthfully, with a sense of humor, by admitting who you are.  Perhaps you can be too direct in dealing with others (and are working on broadening your range or softening your delivery for those who are left breathless by your skewering).  Maybe you have strong opinions, and are practicing better listening skills.  Perhaps you are soft spoken and are taking speech lessons.  Or you are less confident than you would like to be, hence the setting of goals that take you toward new experiences.

Do you see where I’m going?  Truthful, but self aware, and working on your performance is who you want to be and who you want to present.  Be prepared to be asked for an example of your deficiency in action, along with what you learned from the experience and what you did differently.

2.  Have you ever been fired from a job?

This is a yes or no answer; don’t volunteer more than you must.  If the answer is no, we can agree you can skip this section.

If the answer is yes, but you reached an agreement with the employer who will now represent your termination as a resignation, the answer is actually no.  Apparently you resigned.

If the answer is yes, but you have no such agreement and have no idea what the terminating employer will say about you, the answer is yes.

When the answer is yes, you have to explain this yourself, in a way that is a.) brief, b.) honest, but careful, and c.) acknowledges (calmly) that there are differing viewpoints on what happened and what should have happened.  Calm is the operative word here.  People get fired; life goes on.  It’s a bigger deal to you than it is to anyone else.

Memorize this:  “I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was probably one of the best things that could have happened.  I learned so much.”  Of course, be prepared to list all the good things that you learned and all of the blessings that accrued from this unfortunate misunderstanding.  I hope that, if you didn’t already know it, when you practice saying it with conviction you realize it is true.

But: Do. Not. Lie.  It is never worth the risk.

3.  Where do you see yourself in five years?

“In the Bahamas, on a beach.  Ha!”   (wrong)

“In your job.  Ha ha!”      (also wrong)

“I don’t know; my spouse is a professional also and she/he has the better job and bigger income.”  (OMG, really?)

“In this job.”  (really?  okay, depends on the job, but maybe. . .)

“I have career goals that could take me in one direction or another, but I’d like to stay with the same company.”   (very good)

“Right now I’m focused on this opportunity and learning as much as I can about the (company, industry, profession).”  (also good)

“Eventually I’d like to move into (Finance, Operations, Management).  One reason I’m interested in this job and company is that I know you nurture and promote talent; that’s one of the reasons I’m interested.”  (very very good)

But here is an alternative strategy for you.  Do your homework extremely thoroughly and extraordinarily well, and answer in the context of the company and the job you want:

“Working right here for the market leader!  Here are my ideas.”

“I’d like to have built the world class HR department you want. Here’s what I think it will look like.”

“I think by then we should be outpacing the rest of the region by about 80%. Here’s how.”

“We’ll have trimmed expenses and maximized our systems.”

“I’d like to have set some serious performance records.”

“Launched three new products/services.”

“Solved the industry’s worst problems.”

All better than anything you might say for yourself about your personal goals.  But remember this–no matter what strategy you choose, it isn’t okay to deliver a one sentence answer and sit back and wait for the next question.  You’re in a conversation with a decision-maker who has asked you about you.  This is your chance to separate yourself from the rest of the pack.  If it were me, I’d talk about me in the job and career I want.

The point of the interview is to get you to the next step of the process; that’s a function of developing rapport, building a relationship, and avoiding self-inflicted damage.

Next blog: What questions should you ask the interviewer?