Upward Mobility – What happened?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Upward Mobility – What Happened?


I’ve written before about the generational differences in the United States regarding upward mobility and relocation for career advancement. In the past Baby Boomers and their parents were routinely willing to uproot their families in order to advance their socioeconomic status. That is less likely to be the case with subsequent generations who are more interested in “work-life balance” and “working to live rather than living to work.” Of course, this in inherently tied to rising standards of living in the U.S. over the years and workers having enough resources to meet their needs. It’s fair to assume that the Oakies of the 1930’s Dust Bowl didn’t talk much about work-life balance.

This trend has given the shrinking pool of job candidates who are “upwardly mobile” a distinct advantage in the labor market versus those workers who can’t or won’t move. While it’s true there will always be a “home field” advantage for local candidates to fill local jobs, the relatively low number of out-of-town candidates for any given job means that relocating workers are now in a stronger competitive position than they were 20+ years ago.

So that’s good news for mobile employees – but what about employers, and the larger economic impact of this trend? This recent story in the New York Times depicts a potential problem emerging in the U.S. work force related to employees staying put in their current jobs. As author Patricia Cohen writes, “In recent years economists have become increasingly worried that a slide in job turnover and relocation rates is undermining the economy’s dynamism, dampening productivity and wages while making it more difficult for sidelined workers to find their way back into the labor force.”

Generalized fear of change also affects the issue. The University of Michigan’s Betsy Stevenson, a former member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisor’s, noted that “there is a possibility that people stay in jobs that aren’t as good for them because they’re terrified of changing, and that’s bad for the overall economy.” This means that skill jobs are being performed by less qualified, less productive workers, and the lack of job changes and relocations suppresses promotions and pay raises, further dampening the economy.

The problem is particularly acute in metropolitan areas in the U.S. where high-growth industries, including Biotech Med Tech and High Tech, have become concentrated, regions like the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and West Coast. The need for skilled workers in those areas has driven up wages and cost of living rates, making it more difficult for out-of-towners to be willing to move there since the wage inflation doesn’t keep up with the increase in housing costs. That limits the injection of “new blood” and new thinking in those areas and creates a perpetual game of musical chairs among existing workers who already reside in any given expensive city.

Into that void has stepped a highly mobile, highly educated class of immigrants from places like Europe, China and India. Having already moved half-way around the world to seek great career opportunities, they are far more likely to consider further relocation within the U.S. as compared to their native counterparts. If economists and elected officials are concerned about this void in the labor market they would support policies that enhance more immigration of skilled workers rather than less of it.

This trend has created lasting impacts on the cultures of U.S. companies – they are changing in ways we’ve never seen before. We all know that change is constant and inevitable, and those individuals and organizations who embrace it and lead the way will be far better positioned for success in the new economy.


Cost of Living Adjustments?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Cost of Living Adjustments?

I fill a lot of jobs in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, Boston and New York. As compared to other locations in the U.S. it is rather expensive to live in those cities. People who are considering moving to expensive locations in order to take a new job will often ask if the employer will adjust their salary upward to account for the higher cost of living. The answer? It depends, but generally no.

There are a few select organizations – typically large, well-capitalized multinationals – that will include a modest Cost of Living Adjustment in the job offer, and most often it appears as a one-time lump sum built into the relocation package. But in the vast majority of cases the employer doesn’t provide a COLA, and it’s often surprising for many to learn that the wages for Med Tech marketing jobs in expensive cities are only marginally higher than those in less expensive places.

The best evidence of this is the case of relatively large corporations that have offices and employees doing nearly identical jobs in different cities (think places like J&J, Medtronic, Abbott, Roche, Novartis). To be sure, there are some differences in salaries paid to employees working in different locations, but generally speaking a Marketing Manager at a given organization who is based in San Francisco is earning no more than 5-10% more doing the same job as his/her counterpart in, say, Minneapolis. That “COLA” comes nowhere close to off-setting the difference in cost of housing in most cases.

This explains why employers located in pricey cities try their hardest to fill job openings with candidates who are already living in the local area and who don’t have to relocate. Employers are fully aware of the difficulty in convincing someone to relocate and take a financial hit in the process – even though they are almost always getting some sort of increase in their pay. As in taxes, it’s not what you earn that is important – it’s what you keep.

All employers in expensive locations have been burned multiple times by courting candidates who need to relocate only to find out at offer time that they will not move. Or they will move only if they are made “an offer they can’t refuse.” Often the candidate will not do the math and actually research the rent or home prices in the new area until the end of the process, wasting everyone’s time and burning bridges along the way. We also frequently see the situation where the candidate doesn’t engage the spouse or partner in the arithmetic of the move until after an offer has been extended, which is a recipe for disaster. Finally there’s the worst case scenario where a candidate accepts a job, begins employment and then decides after six months or so that they’re not going through with the relocation. Now the employer is faced with an “effective” vacancy of a year or more because they have to re-start the search from scratch.

For these and other reasons hiring managers always prefer a local candidate who is already used to paying the cost of admission in the expensive but very lucrative job market. They can fill a job faster, cheaper, and easier, and the “flight risk” factor is reduced.

Why does this matter?

Why would a sane person consider relocating to take a new job in a significantly more expensive area, assuming there are no personal or family reasons driving the decision?

As it turns out, there are several reasons.

The most common is the opportunity for growth and development within an employee’s own company. By moving to the headquarters location from a regional office, a sales position, or a manufacturing plant, an employee can generally improve their career development options significantly. The other frequently cited justification for an expensive relo is based on the fact that the employee’s industry is likely concentrated in that new area, so that if there is a layoff or something goes wrong with the new job or employer, there are many other viable options nearby and the employee will not have to keep relocating to build their career.

There are valid reasons why those cities are so expensive – the best jobs are often based there, in a concentrated geographic area, limiting career risk for people in those industries. And the situation is self-perpetuating: an employee with a great idea leaves his or her company to go across the street and build a start-up in the same industry. They’re unlikely to build that new company in a remote, inexpensive place because the most important resource – human capital – is right there nearby.

So some bold, adventurous souls are willing to pay the cost and move to Cambridge, Manhattan or Palo Alto so they can be either in – or at least near – “the game.” They want to be in places where career opportunities abound and make the risk-return tradeoff that we often have to make in managing our careers, and in living our lives for that matter. Maybe someday geographic COLA’s will be a staple of the American workforce, but until then we’ll have to do the analyses and the make the tradeoffs about relocation, knowing that the immediate take home pay may not go as far as we hope.

Turning down retainers – Just say “no”

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Turning down retainers – Just say “no”

Many of my long-standing clients will ask me to help them fill executive positions on a retained search basis. In most cases those projects work out extremely well for both parties including the placed employee. These are well-run companies that I can represent effectively in the job market, and attract prospective candidates to consider a new career opportunity. These positions are critical to the success of the organization so the retained search approach makes perfect sense. They pay me for the process of being extremely thorough and accurate so that all targeted candidates and prospects will be contacted at least twice. In those situations it’s a win-win for all parties involved because the hiring manager is getting complete reach and frequency of their message to targeted individuals, the prospects are getting consistent, accurate information about the opportunity, and I’m assured of a well-run process that will result in a placement of a high-quality employee in a top-tier organization.

I wish all retained search projects had such ideal outcomes, but unfortunately they don’t. From time to time I’ll speak with prospective clients about their staffing needs and they will request a retained search despite a lack of key elements in place that are required for such a project to be successful. For instance, they may be seeking a person that doesn’t exist: such an extensive combination of qualifications that it will be extremely difficult to even find such a person much less convince them to quit their job and take the new one. Another common problem occurs when the company has such a negative reputation that few qualified, talented people will consider working for them. In many other cases, the job has been open for so long that nearly all qualified prospects for it have already been made aware of it and have passed. And of course there is the problem of non-competitive wages and the inability to financially incent a prospect to make a job change.

Each of these problems, or a combination of them, lead to the low likelihood of filling the job in a timely manner with the “A Player” that all companies are seeking. And although the retainers pay the bills, as a professional Search Consultant I could and should be working on other projects that will yield success and happy clients in a much more timely manner. A recruiter can burn up months of unproductive time working on bad searches that do not justify a retainer. The recruiter can also develop a reputation of poor performance because they accepted a retainer and then could not fill the job. Sometimes they foolishly accept a retainer to fill a job that is well outside their area of specialization, knowing in advance that they are unlikely to fill the job quickly. But more often the reason for failing on the search is something completely out of their control.

Sometimes I don’t know that the project is unlikely to succeed until I get into it and begin speaking with prospects in the marketplace. There have been occasions where I’ve returned the initial retainer or not cashed the check until I know there is a likelihood of success. If I’m doing my job correctly I can avoid those situations by asking the tough questions in the initial discussion about how I might be able to help them fill the job. Those include questions about the hiring manager’s timeline and urgency to fill the job, the history of their prior attempts to fill the job, the financial package, as well as their insistence of finding the perfect combination of qualifications.

There is an old adage in the recruiting industry about not getting “married” to a bad search. When it’s clear that the project is not set up for success, I feel obligated to “just say no” to a retainer and explain why I can’t take the money and commit to the project. I will often recommend a contingency search approach in those cases (where I don’t get paid until I fill the opening), which is nothing short of heresy to many recruiting firms. The reality is that I would rather be “dating” a bad search and spending the majority of my time on other projects that have a high likelihood of success. Along the way there is a good chance I’ll be able to match a candidate with that company, since I work in a highly specialized niche (marketing professionals in the medical technology industry), but I can’t guarantee that will happen.

My goal in turning down a retainer is to have an honest conversation about how to improve the situation and help the would-be client fix their problems. Those problems are not easily fixed in the short term, however, so we end up either running a contingency search or re-visiting the prospect of working together in the future. In the search profession we have the opportunity to build long-term success by turning down potential business that doesn’t make sense. And although my profession can seem at times to be focused on short-term transactions, it’s the long-term relationships and personal reputations that matter most.

Blind dating in the workforce

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Blind dating in the workforce

I know it’s weird, but the analogy is accurate. Debriefing with candidates after their job interview is similar to asking them about their first date with someone they just met. “How did the call (meeting) go?” “What did you talk about?” “Did he/she say they will call you again?” The candidates nearly always begin by saying “I think it went pretty well.” But then, upon further probing, they open up and begin to describe all kinds of things about their encounter with the interviewer. I believe the word “candid”ate derives from this phenomenon – some people are very candid and honest with me about their experience. And to carry the analogy further, sometimes I get the intimate details about how well the interviewer prepared, their amount of listening and eye contact, and how long it lasted. From all this debriefing with candidates over the years it’s pretty clear that some interviewers need Cialis for Daily Use.

In 2015 great employees are rare and hard to attract. They need attention, a feeling of connection, and maybe even some romance. In 2009, slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am was the rule of the day for interviews. For every job opening there were 10-20 qualified, interested candidates, many of whom were laid-off and in active job searches, and employers could “select” from a list of A Players. Anyone paying attention has recognized that the job market has turned 180 degrees and if employers really want to attract a targeted, rock star candidate they need to compete for them. Once a candidates determines that they are open to making a job change, frequently because I called them and broached the idea, they don’t just purse one opening – they pursue many. They think “If I go through the effort of updating my resume and preparing for interviews I might as well consider a range of opportunities.”

All of this is great news for employees – we’re in a fantastic job market. However, it creates some challenges for hiring managers and those responsible for “recruiting” talented employees. Many studies have been conducted over the years asking job-seekers about their motivation to change employers. Sometimes it’s based on relocation, more money, travel or lack of opportunity for growth and advancement. Very often, however, it’s based on management style, corporate culture, and “personal chemistry.” This last variable presents an opportunity for a new employer, who is ostensibly “recruiting” to fill an opening, to win in the so-called War for Talent. Like anyone on a blind date, a candidate wants to feel respected and engaged in the interview. They appreciate recognition for their prior accomplishments, and while they understand that they need to make a positive impression on the interviewer, they expect the same in return.

I used to think it was only interviewers at Fortune 50 companies who refuse to prepare adequately for telephone or live interviews – showing up late, reading the resume for the first time as they walk in the room or get on the phone, interrogating candidates rather than asking insightful, probing questions, and wrapping it up after 20 minutes. Now, however, I see it at all types of organizations including those candidates have never heard of before, which is even more unfortunate. It’s very hard for a B company to get an A player, and it takes a fair amount of effort.

Other downers for candidates on the blind date: when the interview calls them for the first time on their cell phone while driving. Yes, sometimes that has to happen unexpectedly but good form would be to reschedule and provide complete attention. Candidates also complain when they don’t have the chance to ask any questions of their own during the conversation, particularly in later stage interviews as they’re trying to gather information to determine if the opportunity is good enough to make a job change.

On the other hand, I’m happy to report that many of these blind dates are very positive experiences for those A Player candidates. They call me right after the call or meeting to debrief and report that the interviewer was well prepared, engaged, and provided a lot of information about the company, the function, and their management style. If candidates express interest in moving forward, I always ask them why, and by far the most common response is because they really like the interviewer and felt a good connection. So the good news is that you don’t have to be a “Rocket Surgeon” to figure out how to attract good people, and you don’t need that Cialis after all.

Consolidation & Contraction

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Consolidation & Contraction

Usually these blogs provide commentary on the different elements of the recruiting and staffing process, but this one focuses on changes in the Med Tech and BioPharma business. I first got into the industry in 1985 with a small, family owned drug company called Carter-Wallace. Back then there were over 100 different commercial stage, branded pharma companies including at least 25 that we would refer to as Big Pharma (I later went to work for Merck which at the time was the biggest of the Big Pharmas). Little did we know at the time what “Big” really means.

Now, the top 10 drug companies account for over one-third of industry sales. Those super-companies represent the sum total over 50 other organizations that were merged / acquired / aligned into each other. Consider the case of a friend of mine who began his career at Marion Labs. They became part of Hoechst Marion Roussel, which was merged into Rhone Poulenc Rorer to become Aventis, which became Sanofi-Aventis, and recently acquired Genzyme. The rate of contraction in the industry is accelerating at a rate we’ve never seen before, and a similar trend can be seen in the Medical Device space as well. Organizations seek to optimize efficiency and economies of scale – particularly those that have invested in building huge commercial teams and are constantly in need of new products to sell. In our industry it’s often much easier to buy intellectual property than develop it organically, and that trend is not likely to change.

So what does this mean for employment and career development opportunities? For those among us in Corporate or Business Development activities, it’s a huge opportunity to push for M&A and licensing deals, and to create a secure employment path. And for risk-taking founders and early employees of start-up companies with unique IP this is a trend that will continue to provide significant wealth-building opportunities. For most marketing personnel (about 80% of the jobs I fill) there is real risk in the trend toward consolidation. While it’s true that HQ-based marketing teams that are acquired are needed in the short-term to maintain revenue growth and help build a bridge to the future, combined organization, more often than not we see duplicity in certain functions that usually results in jobs being eliminated. A combined company only needs so many mid-level managers and executives in functions like brand marketing, market research, sales operations, communications and other related areas.

Another source of post-acquisition layoffs in marketing functions is logistical: most organizations want to consolidate employees in the same location to reduce overhead and improve communication. That means relocation of employees, and the reality is that few Gen Xers and Millennials are willing to relocate for their employment. When M&A deals are struck the terms include analysis of the costs of severance packages that will be offered to employees who won’t relocate. While it’s true that the acquiring company generally has a few vacancies to backfill due to non-relocation of marketing staff, it’s rarely one-for-one. In the majority of cases we see that the post-acquisition “whole” is lesser than the sum of it’s parts as it relates to the workforce.

So how best to prepare for the new reality of permanent mergers and acquisitions? There are several strategies one can consider, and they each have advantages and disadvantages, of course. Some marketers choose to develop new skills in BD and deal-making in order to capitalize on the trend. My thought there is that it’s always best to make that shift early in your career when you can still afford it, and to do it with your current employer since a new employer will require established BD experience and an existing Deal Sheet to consider someone as a viable candidate.

Others anticipate the need to expect frequent job changes throughout their career, and they will sometimes move to a region or city where the industry is heavily concentrated in order to limit further relocation (PA, NJ/NY/CT, Boston/Cambridge, California, and – in Med Tech – the Twin Cities. And an extremely common strategy we see among Marketing VP’s and senior execs is to build a solo career in contract based consulting, forgoing so-called “job security” and benefits for lucrative contract work that is project based. That obviously requires a level or risk tolerance that’s not for everyone, but it has become a very viable long-term career option.

It’s not just the Med Tech and BioPharma industries that are evolving in this way, of course. Employees in all sectors of the global economy have been pinched by consolidation and contraction, and it will continue to accelerate. In the end each of us has to manager our careers proactively, anticipating and embracing change, so that we can minimize the occasions where we have to react to adverse situations. Sometimes that means a job change ahead of looming trouble, sometimes not. The days of getting a gold watch after 30 years with a company may be gone, but there will always be a need for innovative, ambitious marketers in our industry in one form or another. I look forward to adapting as our industry changes, and continuing to serve as a resource for my client companies and marketing professionals.

Dave Murphy

Ready to move up to the next level?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Ready to move up to the next level?

The most commonly cited reason people state for making a change to a new company is for an opportunity to move up – to grow and develop faster than in their current organization. It’s a common problem in the workforce: new employees begin a job with high energy and expectations to climb the ladder, but something unforeseen prevents them from doing so. Sometimes it’s caused by market forces working against the company, other times it’s a change in direction by senior management, and occasionally people are simply duped into taking a job under false pretenses. Regardless of the reason, I often have conversations with ambitious people who want to make a job change to get a higher title, more management responsibility, and more money.

That’s good news for me and the client companies I help fill important positions. We want to find ambitious, talented employees with lofty leadership goals. Those folks are commonly referred to as “A Players,” and all organizations want them (including the employers at B and C companies). But a significant challenge exists in trying to move up while moving over to a new company: that company has the option of moving an existing employee up (an internal promotion) and take a chance on a known quantity, rather than on a person brand new to them from another organization. Most reputable firms would prefer to promote a promising, junior level employee who is already on the team rather than promoting an external person who has not worked at the more senior level in the past.

For example, in filling first-line management positions (often referred to as “Director” at many organizations) nearly all of my client hiring companies will require prior first-line management experience to consider a candidate. Their order of preference would be to first find another Director at a competitor who wants to move laterally because the company offers a better path for long-term growth. The next best option is find an internal person that is ready for a promotion into a leadership role and give them a chance. And finally they may consider a Manager or Sr. Manger at another company who is stuck and is looking for a Director role.
There are some notable exceptions to this, in particular the situation where people at the hiring company already have a pre-existing relationship with the external, junior level candidate they are considering for promotion. If a VP of Marketing worked with a talented Marketing Manager at another company in the past he/she may be strongly inclined to hire that person as a Director at the new company based on direct familiarity with past performance. Another, less common, exception is the case where someone is moving from a large company with big budgets and lots of highly relevant experience, to a smaller company that needs that experience, and that is having trouble luring senior people to make a lateral move.

So what can be done to improve the situation if you’re a talented person with career advancement ambition? I always encourage people to try to get to the next level while they are still at their current employer. The vast majority of organizations are looking for opportunities to promote good people, except in those cases of merger and acquisition where new management teams want to bring in new people with whom they’ve worked in the past. And since decisions are so often made based on cultural fit and personal chemistry, it stands to reason that you will be able to leverage positive relationships in your current company much easier than in a place where you are unknown.

But what about the dire situation where there are few opportunities to get to the next level within the current organization? Sometimes we have to consider moving laterally in terms of title and responsibilities, with a modest bump in pay, in order to get to a company with clearly better opportunities for growth and development. Think of it like riding an elevator in a skyscraper – sometimes the elevator bank you’re in will only go so high, and you have to cross the hallway to another elevator bank that is going higher. In those situations we have to really vet the new organization, their technology and their leadership to feel confident that it’s worth the effort to make the change. Very often analyst reports about a company’s financial backing and pipeline prospects are helpful in making that determination.

Before I agree to represent a company as their agent in filling a position I try to make sure those reports are positive, the leadership is trustworthy, and the technology has positive long-term potential. It’s a terrible feeling for me as well as the new employee’s I place when a company does not deliver on promises – or they get acquired and install a new management regime. We all know there are no guarantees out there, but when it comes to career management often the best thing to do is be extremely practical about the realities of the job market and do your homework before making a change.

Fantasy Football for Recruiters

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Fantasy Football for Recruiters

This time of year many of us are busy crafting our strategy for upcoming Fantasy Football drafts, combing through magazines or reading websites. Particularly in those early draft rounds we only get a few chances to get it right, and those choices make or break our entire season. It occurred to me that as I help my client companies recruit candidates to fill key positions, we often go through the same process: understanding the position (a Job Description), developing a targeted search plan, interviewing, vetting, and selecting. All hiring managers want to get Tom Brady, Calvin Johnson, or (pick-your-favorite-player) on the team. The key difference, of course, is that candidates for employment often choose not to go, or they don’t return a call because there is no reason to make a job change, or they have three job offers to choose from at the same time. So to operate under the assumption that as a hiring manager with an “opening” we should be able to expect the most talented person in the workforce to join our team is, indeed, a fantasy.

The trap I see many managers fall into is that initial candidates who are early in an interview process are “put on the backburner” while we search, and wait, for better people. And we search, and we interview, and we wait, and at some point along the way we have a choice to make: is it better to have a vacancy on the field (for example, no Tight End) and go with fewer players than your competitor? Or does it make more sense to get someone in there who is competent and willing to play for your team? I suspect the answer is that it depends on the position and what time it is in the game. If it’s an important job, and it’s crunch time – maybe a product launch, or an IPO or merger, or a new technology platform being implemented – it may make sense to hire someone who is over-the-bar in terms of qualifications and cultural fit, yet perhaps not the envisioned perfect-candidate profile.

Just as no football coach, fantasy or otherwise, would enter a game under-staffed, no hiring manager should carry a vacancy for a prolonged period. Winning companies have a clear process for recruiting and selection, identifying a short-list of candidates who are hirable and interested, and setting a general deadline for making a decision. One of the hardest skills for new managers to develop is attracting and then vetting new members for their team (particularly when they were recently promoted and are now backfilling their old position). But an even more important skill to develop is overcoming the fear of making a mistake or bringing on someone who is high-maintenance and a management challenge.

From my seat it is interesting to observe the differences in hiring behavior between brand new managers of people and those with several years of experience supervising others. Many new managers are very hesitant to make a decision and fill an opening. Almost as if it were a marriage proposal, the fear of making a mistake will sometimes drive them to consider dozens of qualified candidates over several months, and many are willing to do 2-3 jobs at once while waiting for Joe Montana to show up and interview. The strain on the rest of the team members, who typically have to help cover the vacancy, begins to wear on them, often leading to further turnover. If left to fester, vacancies – whether backfills or newly created jobs – become a cancer that can drag an organization down. In this white-hot job market for executives in the medical industry all candidates want to know why a job is open, and how long it’s been vacant. Prolonged vacancies, particularly those that have been advertised for more than six weeks or so, create fear and uncertainty. I hear things like “why can’t they fill it?” or “why won’t people go work there?”

As with everything this is a balancing act – nobody is suggesting that we hire the first or second warm body who interviews, knowing that they are unlikely to meet expectations. But just as great coaches in sports can identify budding talent and help make them great when put into the proper system (Bill Belichick comes to mind), leaders in the workforce must be willing to make hiring decisions when they are asked to manage a team. Beyond staffing, successful management is about training, inspiring, motivating, and – when necessary – coaching and counseling underperformers, including those you may inherit. Yes, sometimes that even means replacing people, a difficult task that good managers must embrace.

It it’s any consolation, one of the most common qualities that my client’s seek when filling a supervisory role is the experience of dealing with a “management challenge.” They want to know about situations where you’ve been able to turn around underperformers and get them moving in the right direction, and they want to know about situations where you’ve had to move someone out of the organization. Candidates who don’t have those experiences are viewed as being untested and less attractive, particularly given the trend toward permanent reorganizations where managers are assigned new subordinates rather than being allowed to select their own people.

One of the great tenets of leadership, among coaches or managers of any group, is “when in command, take charge.” In other words, make a decision and own it. Monitor it, and if you determine later on that it needs to be corrected, then admit the mistake and fix it. All noteworthy books on leadership cite indecision as having a crippling effect on organizations. When it comes to competing in the marketplace, we must stop carrying prolonged, expensive vacancies and losing good employees to other teams. We can go on and on with sports analogies here (“you miss every shot you don’t take”), but it’s fair to say that having somebody in a crucial job – even if it’s on a short-term, contract-to-perm basis, is better than having nobody. If we’re doing our jobs as managers that means keeping all parts of the machine operating smoothly.

What’s the risk in changing industries?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: What’s the risk in changing industries?

I frequently have conversations with people who are contemplating a change in industry, or changing the market in which they work within a given industry, for example, switching from the pharmaceutical to the medical device industry or vice versa. Sometimes their interest is driven by curiosity or a desire to simply do something different; more often it’s driven by economic conditions and their interest in advancing their career. Of course we should never define success strictly in terms of earnings or wealth-building, but the concept if managing one’s career is often measured by compensation. So a natural question for people considering a change in industry is related to the risk of such a move, and the resulting return.

Most people would agree that there is some level of risk associated with changing industries, as Michael Jordan discovered when he left basketball to play baseball. You typically lose the ability to leverage unique experiences as well as relationships built and groomed over many years. So there has to be a compelling reason to do it – a problem that is pushing you out of your current industry, as well as a benefit that is pulling you to a new one. In some cases those reasons can be related to job satisfaction and self-fulfillment, but more often they’re rooted in financial issues associated with the job market in each industry. In the example of the medical device and pharmaceutical industries, the similarities between the two make it a viable option for many. For marketing executives, the end-user customers are often the same (physician specialists) so the work experience and relationships can be fairly transferable.

So on the surface certain kinds of intra-market industry changes are fairly straightforward – at least in the mind of the employee. From the employer’s perspective, and for most hiring managers in the medical device and pharmaceutical industry, they typically don’t view it as an easy transition because of regulatory differences and related pace of work. A PMA or 510K approval process is generally easier and less complicated than a New Drug Application approval, so it moves faster and requires fewer people. As with all industries an employer will prefer a candidate for employment from their own business vertical than taking a chance on someone from an adjacent business. So a candidate can generally expect at best a lateral move in title and money when switching industries, and sometimes may need to retreat a step, particularly if they are unemployed.

Because of the difficulty in making such a switch, the benefits “pulling” someone into a new industry are usually not as significant as the problems that are “pushing” them out of their current situation. Sometimes it makes a great deal of sense to do it, particularly when one’s current industry has a gloomier outlook (eg. company consolidation) than the prospective new one. For instance, the unprecedented rate of M&A activity in the biopharmaceutical industry may drive drug company personnel to consider moving to the Medical Device or Molecular Diagnostics markets (in the first quarter of 2015 there were as many acquisitions in the pharma industry as in all of 2014).

Proactive vs. Reactive
Is it smart to wait until you’re forced to try to make a change, or better to act proactively when you first “read the writing on the wall?” My own view is that, unless you believe you will enjoy the work more, it makes more sense to wait, generally, for conditions to dictate a change. Why? Because of the post-recession competitive landscape in the job market. More often than not when a middle-management candidate tries to make a change to another industry in the open job market, he/she is not going to be very competitive unless they already have person relationships established. When the change is made successfully it’s often because they follow a former boss or colleague who already made the change, or they work for a large multinational with business in several verticals and they transfer internally. That’s often not a merit-based decision process and is usually a matter of being in the right place at the right time, which is a difficult way to plan your career.

Some functions are more easily transferable than other, including finance, IT and HR. In the case of Marketing and Business Development work, I see Marketing Communications, Forecasting and Licensing personnel make industry changes relatively often. And agency personnel in Management Consulting or Advertising or usually so embedded in their client’s industries that they make the change to the “client” side all the time. And currently many talented pharmaceutical executives are successfully pursuing new roles in the “companion diagnostics” or “personalized medicine” markets driven by genomic and proteomic technology, particularly when they can leverage disease-state expertise.

So there are plenty of examples of talented people who have changed industries successfully. For the most part however, there exists significant financial risk in attempting to make a change unless it is done early in one’s career when the monetary hit is not as significant. A noteworthy caveat to all this is that the personal opinion of a hiring manager will often override conventional thinking. If a VP of Marketing at a drug company began his or her career in the Medical Device industry, for example, then they will usually be much less concerned about the ability of another smart, talented person to make the transition. In the end a candidate’s viability is measured against that of other candidates who are pursuing the same job, and as with most things in life it often comes down to being in the right place at the right time (with the right recruiter, of course!)

Closing in the Interview Process

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: “Closing in the Interview Process”

Once we get past the first few jobs in our career there is always the question about how to close gracefully in a final interview. Particularly when interviewing for positions that are not related to sales, we often wonder if it makes sense to try to get some kind of commitment from the interviewer. Clearly sales candidates need to demonstrate closing skills, but what about the rest of us? In the case of candidates who are recruited to consider a particular job opportunity, the question arises about the importance of selling themselves in the interview process.
For mid-management roles and above the overall recruitment and selection process takes on average anywhere from 4-8 weeks, if conducted appropriately. During that time the recruited candidate experiences different phases of the process, from the point of learning about an interesting opportunity to the point of being offered and job and accepting it: he/she has to earn the right to get the job, just like an unemployed candidate. As the process evolves and the candidate gather’s more information, his/her interest is supposed to build, if it doesn’t then he/she should gracefully withdraw for the process. And so it makes sense that there should be some “closing” that occurs by the candidate throughout the process.
But there is an important difference between asking for an employment commitment and asking about a candid exchange of mutual interests.
It’s been my experience that people who are offered jobs that they really want recognize the importance of being very forthright and proactive about their interest as the interview process winds down. If you’re interested in the job, make a direct, clear statement to that effect as the interview draws to a close. Hiring managers place just as much value on finding someone who is excited about the job opportunity as someone who can do it well, but isn’t real enthusiastic about it. Think about it: would you want to hire someone who is 80% qualified to do a job an 100% excited about it, or someone who is 95% qualified and 50% excited? Employers need people who can commit to long hours and sometimes stressful working conditions, and they don’t want to hire people who appear to be unwilling to do that.
And then, after making a clear and simple statement of interest in an interview, it becomes very comfortable – and logical – to transition into a question where you probe to find out if the interviewer has any concerns about you that would prevent you from moving forward in the process. It’s a two-step process: “I’m very interested in the job, so I have to ask you if you have any concerns.”

Why is this important?
More often than not if the interviewer has a red flag or negative thought in their mind about a candidate I’ve presented to them it is usually based on a misunderstanding they have about the candidate’s interests or background. However, interviewers are generally polite: they usually don’t want to be proactively critical of a candidate and voice a concern that is a deal-killer for moving forward. In the case of a misunderstanding this results in a lose-lose outcome unless the candidate closes appropriately. It’s the candidate’s job to find out what that potential negative issue is in the mind of the interviewer and get it out on the table. If it’s a legitimate obstacle that can’t be overcome then both sides move on with their lives without wasting time; if it’s a misunderstanding about candidate motivation and / or qualifications then a logical next step can be established.
Most mid-management and senior executives have their own verbiage and method of getting to this same point: an open exchange of information that will optimize efficiency in the interview process for all involved. This is not a candidate being “pushy” about getting a job; it’s a demonstration of interpersonal communication skills that are crucial for everyday success.

“If you love me, you’ll stay” Counteroffers are back!

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: “If you love me, you’ll stay” Counteroffers are back!

Now that we’re back to white-collar unemployment rates at the “transitional” level, it has become a candidate-driven job market again, similar to the period of 2003-2008. Employers are having trouble finding and keeping talented employees, so they have dusted off the age-old retention tool used to stop employees from leaving: the counteroffer.

It’s a natural and predictable response to a difficult situation that employers face all the time – how to fix an immediate problem of having an unexpected vacancy? The quickest and easiest solution? Convince the valued employee to change their mind by: paying them more money, offering to alleviate their pain / complaint, or both. If the employer can get the employee to stay that will at the very least buy some time to develop a succession plan that will minimize a pro-longed vacancy.

Sometimes it works. An employee will accept the raise and / or the promises to change. And sometimes it even works out for both parties: the employee was actually underpaid and / or the complaint they had was legitimate and fixable. The problem, however, is that the employee had to hold a metaphorical gun-to-the head of the employer and threaten to resign in order to get those things, so the relationship can never be the same in the future.

That’s why things often don’t work out in the near-term or long-term for the employee who accepts a counteroffer. In addition to the altered relationship, the reality of the counteroffer deal is that the extra money has to come from some budget – typically an FTE merit increase for the employee that is paid sooner than scheduled – and the future raise doesn’t happen. The other problem is that those promises for change / promotion / direct reports that were made to blunt the departure too often don’t materialize in the agreed-upon timeframe.

We’ve even heard about the guilt-trip counteroffer, where senior management reaches out to the departing employee to try to shame them into staying. “How can you do this to us?” “It’s a small industry – you don’t want to burn bridges, do you?” The most interesting tactic of late, however, is the delayed counteroffer, where the employer waits a couple of months after the resignation and contacts the former employee to see how things are going in the new job. Very often, if the new employer has a weak or non-existent on-boarding program, the new employee is panicking that they have made a terrible decision. They are ripe to be convinced to come back to their old job, with more money, and avoid a “hole” in their resume.

Why does all this matter?
As an Executive Recruiter it’s completely self-serving for me to advise employees to never accept a counteroffer just to preserve a deal I’m trying to broker. Sometimes it may simply be the wisest choice for an employee who doesn’t want to take on the risk of making a job change. My advice for those employees who find themselves less than satisfied in their current situation is to have a candid conversation with a trusted manager and explain your concern. See if it can be remedied in a reasonable way, without threatening to resign or appearing like a whiner. Try to fix things BEFORE you begin looking to make a change so that the employer has a legitimate chance to do the right thing. A good manager is always looking for ways to improve the job-satisfaction of valued employees.

In those unfortunate situations where the problems can’t be fixed, then a hard-working, competent employee owes it to themself and their family to proactively manage their career, and sometimes that may mean making a job change. But just remember, once you go down that path and agree to accept a new challenge that will meet or exceed your needs, you should be absolutely committed to it. Like a mentor of mine once told me, “good opportunities knock, they don’t kick the door in.” That great job that you may turn down to accept a counteroffer is perishable. There is no guarantee that another one will come along that will be such a nice fit and get you that excited.

We know that making a job change can be stressful and even traumatic sometimes. You have to build new relationships and political capital, you have to say goodbye to friends and colleagues you respect and admire, and the future is often uncertain. Counteroffers capitalize on the emotional upheaval many people feel during this time of transition. And later on, when the memory of the short-term raise has faded and the promises of change fail to appear, I will often get a phone call from the employee who accepted the counteroffer, explaining that the environment has become unbearable and they have to get out. Now you’re dealing from a position of relative weakness rather than strength – hiring managers typically don’t like candidates who are running away from something, and they certainly don’t make compelling offers to them.

So if you accept a good job offer for an opportunity you’ve thoroughly vetted, and you’ve determined that the timing is appropriate to make a well-conceived job change, take the job and don’t look back. Sure it’s a little nerve-wracking and inconvenient for a little while, but that short-term discomfort will yield handsome long-term dividends. Sometimes you have to get off one bank of elevators, cross the hall, and get on another elevator that goes to a higher floor. It’s all part of the risk-return analysis we all face in managing our careers. I still haven’t heard of anyone on their deathbed look back on their life and say, “I really wished I’d played it safe.”