Monday, June 6, 2016
Like many people I was reminded this weekend of a great many profound quotes from the life and times of Muhammad Ali. His face is forever on the Mount Rushmore of sports and his many great boxing accomplishments are etched in the history books where they’ll remain for all time. His civic deeds will always be remembered and his name will stand alongside many others who have impacted humanity. As I read through so many things he said over the years one that resonated with me was “Don’t count the days, make the days count”.
Too often in life we find ourselves in situations where we are simply treading water or, as the quote says, counting the days. My son just wrapped up his last day of first grade. He is making plans for summer and wanted to know what I would be doing this summer. I laughed and somewhat sarcastically walked him through my day/week. Monday through Friday are getting up early, driving an hour to work, spending 8 hours at my desk, and driving an hour home to cook dinner, get him cleaned up, and tucked into bed. Then repeat 4 times and it is Saturday when I get to go grocery shopping, mow the lawn, and clean up the house. Then Sunday rolls around and for us that is our relaxing day to do what we want. At the time I didn’t really think about what I was saying to him. I made my life sound miserable. As I depicted it in that moment I basically hate 6/7 of my life with only the weekends, and really one day then, as rays of hope.
Obviously my weekends trump weekdays most of the time but I enjoy my career. I am fortunate to be part of a great team of people with a common goal. We are partners and friends. We have fun at work and try our best to positively impact the lives of those we assist as we earn our livings. It is work; but it is work I enjoy far more than things I’ve done earlier in my career. I am able to come to work with like-minded people who I both like and respect and do something that I believe helps people while still allowing me to provide for my family. I also left out the evenings when the three of us, my wife included, go to the baseball fields, play with the dogs, go fishing, watch television or any number of other things we enjoy doing.
As I read and reread Ali’s greatest quotes I kept thinking about the “Don’t count the days, make the days count” line and for some reason thought back to the conversation with my son. I don’t want him to have the idea in his head that I am just counting the days waiting for something better. I don’t want him to think that is what life and work are about. I’m realistic and know work is never going to be our favorite thing to do but it should be something we can take pride and some joy in doing. If we’re not, then we’re in the wrong job or with the wrong company.
Sure we’ll count down the days to big events, vacations, important dates, and things like that but we should never be just rolling out of bed in the morning and slogging off to some job we hate at a company where we are miserable. We all deserve to be in a career situation we find joy in, working with a good group of people, and be doing something we’re good at. As parents, or even spouses, we have responsibilities that cannot be escaped but trust me, meeting them doesn’t mean we have to be miserable. We certainly don’t want to teach our children that being an adult means being miserable in your career, and consequently life, and just counting the days until you’re done. If nearly 8 years in recruiting has taught me anything it is that you never know what sort of opportunities might exist for yourself until you look for them.
I learned early in life that it can be taken away from you without warning. The death of someone close to me served as a cautionary tale for not only planning for tomorrow but also living for today. As Ali said, “Don’t count the days, make the days count”. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us so we shouldn’t waste a single day.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Stability, which for the purposes of a career conversation is somewhat synonymous with security, is one of the top things people seek in their careers. For many the definition of stability is one centered on the organization for which they work. Is ownership stable? Are they going to sell? Will they buy a competitor? Is management here to stay? Do employees turnover at a high rate? Is the company growing? – These are just some of the many questions people ask as they assess the stability and security of their own careers. These factors and many more contribute to stability. What many often overlook is the role they can and do play in creating their own stability and job security.
So how do you do it?
The reality is you already are influencing how stable your career and employment are. It is a process you cannot recuse yourself of even if you want to. The trick is to make sure you’re doing it as well as you can and to your benefit and not detriment.
1. Performance – This is easy; right? If you are doing a good job then naturally you are valuable to an organization and thus, harder to part with. Sure, this is categorically true but also nowhere near the complete picture. Doing a good job and meeting the expectations of your job assignment is great. But will doing a good job be enough? Probably not; but it is a start.
2. Irreplaceability – This is where doing a good job meets creating stability and security. Doing a good job helps. The question you still have to ask yourself is: could someone else do a good job if put in your position? For almost all of us, the answer is yes. So then the follow up has to be asked: is it likely/easy for someone else to be found who can do what you do? If you conclude suitable replacements are readily available, you do not have security. So what do you do? Make the answer to the second question “no”. There are a lot of ways to do this. Here are a few:
a. Diversify your skillset. Learn niche disciplines that set your abilities apart or tackle responsibilities to enhance your position. This may be specializations within your industry, unique product lines, technology skills, or many other things. Setting yourself apart from the pack, in a positive way, increases your value and makes replacing your contributions much more difficult.
b. Get involved and spread your impact. Be active in as many facets of your organization as you can without burning yourself out. This doesn’t have to mean more work or more hours at all. Find ways for more people to see your worth and to feel the impact if you were to leave. This creates more opportunities for you to be an invaluable resource that someone, or many perhaps many someones, cannot afford to lose.
c. Build Relationships. Maintaining professionalism is always paramount but some people fail to build or maintain relationships within their careers. If nobody knows you, nobody can care about you. That doesn’t mean you should take things to a place that is overly personal or that detracts from you as a professional but you also don’t want to be the person who shows up, works, does well, goes home, and repeats with no interaction or relationship building. Do it within a framework that is both appropriate and comfortable to you but allow yourself to be human and to be known by your name, not just your title.
3. Value – This is not like getting a buy-one-get-one deal or anything like that but value does play a role. You want to maximize your earning potential but there is more to the equation than just salary. You can get priced out of a market and make yourself more susceptible to being replaced or downsized. Companies carry a responsibility in this but amidst a constant pressure to give raises they can sometimes fall victim to overpaying and sooner or later, the bubble bursts. They realize they are overpaying for what a comparable replacement might cost and you find yourself on the short list for an unplanned exit. Obviously you don’t want to turn down a raise or a bonus but be cognoscente of that fact that your value and worth have to be favorably aligned with your cost for you to have long term security and stability. This is hard to monitor and if you’ve done a good job making yourself valuable it can be even trickier. Getting overpaid can be great in the short term but if it winds up making you unemployed your cumulative earnings over a period of time can wind up being lower in the long run and with the added headache of changing jobs and potentially being in a less desirable situation (more expensive benefits, longer commute, less desirable company, etc.).
Certainly the company you works for plays a big part in how stable and secure your career will be but the fact of the matter is you hold more power than you might think. In a world that is changing around you every day take charge of what you can, control what you can, and create the career you want for yourself.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
For a long time companies have used social media as a means of doing some investigation on potential hires and current employees. People share things on their social media accounts they would never reveal to an employer or perspective employer yet, with a quick search, companies get this information at their fingertips.
I am seeing more and more companies I work with taking their organizations in to the social media frontier for their own uses as well. Company Facebook pages, LinkedIn landing pages, Twitter feeds, YouTube Channels, and more are becoming common place. Companies utilize these mediums for everything from community engagement to branding, marketing, advertising, and more.
What this means for jobseekers is that more information is available about companies than ever before. You can learn about them from their websites but some of what you see them share and post on social media is able to give you insights into their culture, values, and practices in ways nothing on a corporate web page can. Sure they are more calculated than the average person will be but the standards of what gets put on a social media account are more relaxed than those that govern corporate web pages. Using this less guarded source to do your research helps you in a few key ways:
1. You can learn about a company to better understand if they align with you philosophies. Are they engaged with employees? Do they seem to have fun? Are they professional, relaxed, etc.? Are they involved in or passionate about any causes? If so, which ones? How do you feel about those?
2. See how others are responding to them. Look at comments posted by other users. Who are they? What are they saying? Why?
3. Get insight into a company’s interests. Knowing about them helps prepare you for the interviews and gives you talking points to build rapport and make connections.
When you head in to an interview it is all about being prepared. That preparation fosters confidence and a comfort level that will allow you to do your best and make the truest impression of yourself. Take advantage of the resources and information available to you and do not overlook the value of an organization’s social media platform when doing your preparation.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
For years the practice of conducting business over drinks or a meal has been a staple in the business community. It would only seem fair then that interviews often take place under these same circumstances. I cannot tell you how many times I have set up an interview over breakfast, lunch, dinner, or simply for drinks. No big deal; right?
Well the thing about these meetings is that when there is food or drink involved it adds one more layer of things that can go wrong. It should not be something that you allow to create undo stress but you should be mindful going in. I think this generally applies to both interviews and business dealings but of course, I deal more with the interview side of it.
In the past few weeks I’ve seen instances where candidates have fallen victim to the added factors in different ways. First was an issue with drinking. I’m sure most of you can see where this is headed but there have been times when candidates become intoxicated during the interview. Yep, that happens. We have even seen instances where they arrive early and have had one, or maybe a few, too many before the interview even starts. I’d say the overall likelihood of getting the job in these instances is somewhere right around zero percent. Your skills, qualifications, past experience and potential go right out the door; they don’t matter a bit. You’ll forever be known as the guy/gal who got drunk in the interview; nothing more than a funny story the interviewer tells in the future. You don’t want that.
Alcohol is not the enemy and it can play a role in the process but you certainly have to remain in control of the situation and know that everything you do, say, don’t do, and don’t say is being judged and evaluated. If you remember that you’ll be fine when it comes to drinks; just don’t spill anything on yourself.
Drinking is an easy one to understand, but what about food? How could that go wrong? Well, there are a few ways it can go wrong. First is getting something too messy. You don’t want to dive into a plate of ribs or a sloppy burger on an interview. I love ribs; I really do, but eat them another time. You don’t want to wear food at this particular juncture. You also don’t want to eat anything that can be distracting. A whole lobster, crab legs or something like that might be a good food to avoid. The cracking, pulling and breaking it apart can be a distraction and you’re there to talk about things other than how much you like melted butter for dipping. In general, avoid anything that draws attention to the food. You want the meal to be a background matter, not the star of this particular event. Eat something simple and relatively easy to eat.
Another thing to avoid is eating too much. Have you ever been around someone, likely a friend or family member, who ate half-a-dozen cupcakes? What about 3 burgers? You get the idea. Well with friends or family it might be okay, maybe even funny, or perhaps it goes unnoticed because that is just what (insert name here) does; right? Well this person doesn’t know you and they are going to notice. Best case is they think nothing of it but worst case is they find it very strange or uncomfortable to be around.
I’m not trying to scare people off of interviewing over a meal or drinks but it is an area where I’ve seen and heard of enough examples to know that a lot can go wrong. This is true for people from C-level on down to near entry level; no one seems to be immune. If you should ever find yourself in such a situation just be mindful and you’ll do fine.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
As another year winds down I am reminded once again of the ebbs and flows of the corporate world. In my line of work I most closely observe the hiring process but cannot help but notice how times of the year impact both businesses and candidates in other ways as well. Speaking to hiring, since after all, that is where my expertise lies, I notice some interesting trends. With seven years under my belt I can speak to some clear patterns. Here are 6 things I notice about the hiring process that are consistent year after year:
- Candidates will get most active in the early spring. More so than any other time of year, spring is when candidates, particularly those in non-sales positions, hit the market in search of a better fit. Reason being, bonuses get paid out in February or March a lot and since they’ve already put in the time to earn that money they like to stick around and collect it before moving on. Once it is paid though they open their minds to seeking out greener grass elsewhere.
- Companies know about #1 and so they hire those kinds of role heavily at that time of year. They also have to react to candidate movement and replace those they lose. The attrition and growth combine to create a great time of activity and opportunity.
- In the summer, things will slow down. Nothing overly complicated behind it, just that it marks a time of year when a lot of people, candidates and employers alike, take their vacations. When nobody is around, it is hard to interview, review applicants or do any of the other things that the process of hiring requires. There is certainly still activity, just not in the abundance we’ll see at other times of the year.
- Producers are always in demand. The market knows no time restrictions on producer hiring. They are hard to find and thus, always in demand. That said, there are times of the year when agency cash-flow is better than others so perhaps more attractive deals can be had but overall the market will always find a way to bring on a good producer if they are available.
- In the fall, things will ramp up. If you’ve spent any time in the insurance industry you know the renewal windows. 7/1’s, 10/1’s, and nothing bigger than the 1/1 renewal push. With it looming only months away, companies seek to ramp up their service and technical teams in particular. They need to bolster their team for their busiest season and to springboard them into a great new year. This is also a time of the year where companies have a good idea on their overall growth for the year and know if they need to add to their teams.
- The holiday season is unpredictable. From Thanksgiving on through the end of the year timing is very unpredictable but more often than not it slows down a bit. 1/1’s are nearing, it is a busy vacation time, and a lot of companies are wrapping up year-end reporting and analysis. There are certainly exceptions as some look to get things done on this year’s P&L or to have hires in place heading into a new year. Overall you just never know what you’ll get.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Like a lot of people in the Midwest, I have a ton of friends, family, and colleagues who are die-hard Chicago Cubs fans. Unless you live in a cave you’ve no doubt heard that the Cubbies are in the playoffs this year for the first time since 2008 and just won their first playoff series since 2003. Now to clarify, I am not a baseball fan. It is the game I played the most but I just never got into it as a fan. I turn it on every fall and watch the playoffs but I don’t have a favorite team. I love seeing the Cubs, Royals, and Astros all in the mix since it is rarer for these franchises but I really have no dog in the baseball fight. I’m too passionate about my team to have more than one and for me it is all about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts. After that I have no energy for further fandom.
Nothing I’m about to say comes from arrogance nor is it to be condescending so please, if you read past this point, read the whole thing to hear me out. I happened to be home with the Cubs/Cardinals game on yesterday evening and watched the end of it. The Cubs clinched the NLDS series against the rival Cardinals at home on Wrigley Field. This, it turns out, was the first series clinching win in their entire organization’s history to take place at home in Chicago. As I watched the final out and the outburst of pure joy from fans and players alike I first felt really happy for all of the friends, family, and colleagues I have who are devout Cubs fans. Good for them. I know how much the team has struggled over the years and it is awesome they get to celebrate some success. Then, as the celebration raged on and seemingly nobody left the stands, I began to just feel sad and confused. There was a brief moment where I was literally embarrassed for all of sports. I saw a bunch of people, fans and players included, acting as though they had just won the World Series and were bringing home a title. This is the divisional round. They still have two more best of 7 series to win if they want the real crown. What in the heck are they so happy about? I wondered a little if Cubs fans know how the playoffs work. There are other teams still in the mix; they get that, right? I mean, seriously, this is a great step but there is a long way to go. Pump the brakes here folks.
Keep in mind, my sports passion is reserved for the Colts. Different games for sure, but as a Colts fan our season never truly starts until the playoffs. We don’t worry about making it to the playoffs or winning a first round game; we want it all or nothing at all. Let’s be clear, we are not the class of the NFL in terms of titles and I have no illusions about that but we win and win a lot. That is, in fact, precisely what I’m saying. We are the team who makes the playoffs every year and then maybe wins a round or two and we’re out. The heartbreak is there every season, perhaps a touch later on than when Cubs fans experience it but we end in the same place, not champions. Just as disappointed. We’ve been to two Super Bowls in my time and won one of them but we are in the postseason all the time. So I reserve the over-the-top jubilation for championships. A Wildcard or Divisional round win is great, and I’m always happy, but unless we are coming home with the hardware and bragging rights the season is not a success and that is how everyone in Colts nation looks at it. We expect to be good and are disappointed if we fall short.
Back to the point: So here I am shocked and confused at how excited these Cubs fans and players are and unable to understand what is making them so happy. Great, a win, you’re always happy after a win and a playoff win is even better but not this great. I mean come on Cubs fans, you’re embarrassing yourselves; right? Wrong! It was only after coming to work and talking to a few of them that I began to realize this is that big for them and that doesn’t make being a Cubs fan any better or worse than being a fan of any other team or sport; just different. It is a matter of perspective.
So this got me thinking about how differently we all view our careers. It’s kind of like when you and your boy/girl-friend break up and you recommend to a friend that they could/should date them. The on-the-surface implication is “they aren’t good enough for me, but they’d be okay for you” when in reality it is about perspective and the subtle differences we all have. Maybe she was too into staying in and watching movies but your friend would love that and you like to mountain bike or something. Simple things can make the difference. Careers and employers are the same. One company may or may not be a fit for me but that does not inherently mean they are not a good employer for my sister, best friend, or college roommate. It is just about the specific nuances and circumstances of each person and their situations.
I talk to people all the time who have heard a certain company is great or conversely, a company is terrible. Now there are some instances where such sweeping generalities apply but more often than not it comes back to perspective. What is good for one is not necessarily good for all and vice-versa. The same is true for employers and hiring managers assessing potential employees or even current employees looking to move up within the company. Success or struggles in a given role, department, etc. is not necessarily going to be an accurate predictor of how a person fits a new role, company, or department. I am constantly talking to people about forming their own opinions and finding out if a place is right for them individually or not.
It seems simple but we are nearly all guilty and often make the mistake of forgetting about perspective in precisely the way I did last night as I briefly sat in awe of the spectacle unfolding at Wrigley. What, to me, would be absolutely absurd behavior if my team were in a comparable situation was, despite my initial reaction, completely appropriate given the circumstances. Colts fans and Cubs fans just have different perspectives. No better, no worse; just different, and we have to act in accordance with our own perspective since it is all we really know. What we need to be mindful of is that the entire world does not share our own individual perspective and thus, will not act, react, think, or feel in accordance with how we might.
Congratulations to the Cubs and Cubs fans everywhere! I am happy for you even if, at first, I didn’t fully comprehend just how happy all of you are. Good luck in the NLCS and beyond!