The Blogs of Dave Murphy: New Salary Disclosure Rules – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
In January 2018 California will join the growing list of states and municipalities in the U.S. that have rules in place preventing employers from asking job candidates about their compensation history (other such jurisdictions currently include Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon, Philadelphia, New York City and state). Each law provides their own unique directions along with exceptions and “safe harbor” provisions, but the rationale for enacting them is to prevent the exploitation of historically underpaid employees, and in particular to close the “gender gap” in compensation differences between men and women (some of the laws specifically address the gender gap in their preambles). The spirit of the law is to provide equal pay for equal work, so these are positive steps toward ensuring that all employees regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or any other demographic trait are treated fairly and are not exploited.
In addition to demographic traits another segment of the work force that has been subject to potential wage exploitation consists of unemployed or transitioning workers. The thinking is that some employers will take advantage of a candidate who has no current income and offer them a wage that is at the lowest end of the designated pay scale for the job. This is exacerbated by the often-false perception that unemployed candidates are not as productive and high-performing as those who are currently working and not actively seeking a new job. Of course this is patently unfair when employees are caught in a large reduction-in-force or layoff and have no control over their employment status, particularly in the age of skyrocketing mergers and acquisitions.
So these new laws are good for us, right? Most reasonable people would agree with the rationale behind them and envision that they will become the law of the land in the U.S. in the near future. There is a danger, however, for many job-seeking candidates to assume that non-disclosure of compensation history will work to their benefit. One must remember that they are in a competition with other job-seekers for an opening and that the employer might very well select someone else for the position, and that the price tag for the employee is a relatively small part of the overall selection criteria. While there are exceptions, for the majority of candidates it will be advantageous to proactively disclose salary history information at some point in the selection process rather than keeping that information hidden.
From the employer’s perspective they are trying to find the best employee possible for their opening and pay them fairly, so that the new team member will be happy and productive in the job, and stay with the organization long-term. The job market is subject to the same supply and demand forces of other markets; if an employee is unhappy for whatever reason in their current job they can make a job change (just talk to your friendly Executive Recruiter about that . . .) One way to correct an exploitive wage situation is to find an employer who will pay fairly for top talent, and good employers know that. But what is considered “fair” compensation? For the employee it means being paid consistently with what that industry generally pays for that function. The employer follows that same direction too, but also must maintain their own “internal equity” at their organization – making sure that they don’t pay a new person more than an existing employee who has similar qualifications and experience. So there is pressure on the employer to ensure that they are offering a candidate an appropriate wage that is a win-win for both sides.
How does the employer find that appropriate offer?
In addition to monitoring industry wage trends and maintaining internal equity, the hiring manager must make an offer to the candidate that is financially incenting for personal reasons as well. Some candidates are highly motivated by money, others not as much, but all want to believe they are being treated fairly. In the new era of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” candidates will now be asked about their salary expectations at some point in the selection process, possibly more than once. As a candidate you now have an important decision to make. If you share a number that is beyond what the employer believes is reasonable for them to pay you are likely to screen yourself out of the selection process (remember, they have other candidates to consider). And if you share a number that is below what they believe is reasonable then you are leaving money on the table. That’s why I always recommend that a candidate reply to the question about salary expectations by explaining that they are seeking a compensation level that is fair and reasonable based on their qualifications. Now, if an employer already has information about the candidate’s compensation history they typically have an idea of what they would like to offer, and that reply nearly always deflects the difficult question about money that inevitably comes up in the interview process.
In the new era however, the employer (most often an HR manager) will either attempt to “pre-close” a candidate during the money conversation or be faced with a protracted negotiating process after they make an offer, which is something they don’t want. Depending on how gracefully the candidate communicates in that “negotiation” he or she may or may not get the job. I’ve seen many cases where a job offer is rescinded by an employer because of frustration with the candidate’s communication style at the point of offer. The vast majority of employers want to extend an original offer that is the “best they can do,” or very close to it. A candidate may be able to go the well one time to enhance it, but generally not more than once. The rejection of counteroffers will doom the process, and it can all be avoided with better communication earlier in the process about what is incentivizing to the candidate.
So, in responding to that question about salary expectations I will continue to recommend that most candidates disclose some of their compensation history and also provide some direction about what they are seeking for that particular position. For candidate’s who believe they have been exploited in the past for whatever reason they can explain their situation. This will give the employer the opportunity to offer something that is incentivizing and is a win-win for both sides, and avoid the potential for the candidate to create ill will or burn up political capital before they even start working at the company.
As a recruiter and broker of these deals I have observed that the more transparency and candor both sides exhibit in the process the higher the likelihood of a new hire, and of having someone remain with the company long-term. I view the new trend of non-discloser as a potential threat to the process. On the other hand, it’s likely going to be a boon for the recruiter-broker who will be called upon more than ever to optimize communication and facilitate the process.
As always, I welcome your comments or questions. Happy New Year!
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Giving Thanks in the Job Market
On Thanksgiving I took some time to ponder those things for which I’m thankful and it got me thinking about comments I’ve been hearing from hiring managers as they try to find people to fill openings on their team. For many employers it’s becoming less about finding specific technical skills or accomplishments in a resume and more about finding people with integrity, character and – most of all – humility. The matrixed based management structure prevalent in most organizations today requires that employees collaborate closely with their team members, and that they take time to thank and praise colleagues when appropriate as well as acknowledge their own faults and mistakes. The ability to be genuinely humble in this type of environment is a trait that is becoming harder to find.
As a candidate in a job interview it can be very tricky to express humility while also proving that you’re good at your job. An interview is a time to proactively communicate your attributes and positive qualities, which can be perceived as “bragging.” Hiring managers want to know that, although an individual has been working as part of a team, he or she can demonstrate individual contributions that have made a difference in the team achieving its goals. So candidates have to provide that evidence, but in a way that makes it clear that they value their colleagues and don’t take all of the credit for a team’s success. Team leaders don’t want to hire “Lone Wolves”, no matter how talented they may appear. Hiring managers want people who are genuinely thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a high-performing group of professionals. So as a candidate it’s important to balance “bragging” statements with humility and acknowledgement of other’s contributions.
A frequently asked question of candidates in the interview process is about perceived weaknesses or “areas for development.” Most interviewers will point out that we all have them, and will sometimes frame the question by asking what a candidate’s supervisor would say about their areas for improvement. This is another measurement of one’s humility and it is important to be truthful and genuine in your response. Hiring managers are generally not impressed when they hear something like, “sometimes I work too hard and have to take a break to achieve work-life balance.” That may be true but it’s a very predictable response and doesn’t get to the issue of whether or not you’re able to be self-critical and willing to acknowledge your faults. One candidate told me that his boss pointed out that he had a tendency to talk too much in meetings, so he deliberately set out to spend more time in active listening in order to help make the team more effective, at the expense of his own self-promotion.
Sometimes I’m asked if the trend toward individual attainment and away from humility and thanksgiving in the workplace is a by-product of our mas-and-social-media fueled culture. I think that’s true to some extent but it doesn’t automatically mean that younger Millennials are necessarily going to be less humble than Baby Boomers. I think that everyone, regardless of age and experience, must recognize the forces at work here and take steps to self-regulate themselves, whether working on cross-functional teams or answering interview questions.
Hiring managers are seeking that magic balance of skill and will. When they talk about a candidate’s lack of “personal chemistry” or “cultural fit,” they are most often referring to their perception of the candidate’s will: not just the willingness to work hard, but also the willingness to be humble and grateful for the opportunity to be part of a team. It is an increasingly important trait in the workforce and one we should all work on improving. As always I welcome your questions and comments.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Job-hopping – a generational thing?
I work with hiring managers to identify candidates for openings that fit their “ideal” profile. On the wish list of criteria is always a “track record of success,” often defined by a clear progression of increasingly more responsible roles. Most hiring managers want to see some of that progression within the same organization because they usually want to build a bench of future leaders for their own company, and would prefer to do that with people they can trust will want to stay with them for a period of several years. Hence, hiring managers have historically looked askew at “job-hoppers.” One large pharma company I have worked with even has a policy against considering candidates if they have more than two different employers in the past five years.
That conventional thinking is being challenged in many circles, and labor market analysts like to contend that workers in younger generations, particularly Millennials, are far less “loyal” to their employer and much more likely than older works to change employers frequently. One LinkedIn study says Millennials job-hop more than their predecessors, however this only contains data LinkedIn members actually report. Gen X and Baby Boomer members of the site may be less likely to report their extended history of employment, but instead the few most recent jobs. It’s interesting to note, however, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Baby Boomers job-hopped in their twenties just as frequently as Millennials do now. So it appears that frequent employment changes is not so much a generational phenomenon as it is a function of being young.
From a Recruiters perspective, job-hopping is more prevalent in certain functions than certain generations, for instance, I see far more employer changes among marketing personnel than I do among engineers or R&D personnel. On balance, a 50 year old marketing professional is more likely to have multiple, recent job changes on their resume than a 30 years old product development professional. A recent LinkedIn study inquiring about reasons for making a job change showed that 59% of respondents chose their new company because they saw a stronger path for career development at the new company than at their current company, regardless of their age. It’s not surprising that workers from all generations are seeking opportunity for growth and development, and it’s also not surprising that workers in their 20’s and early 30’s don’t necessarily believe that they were fortunate enough to stumble into a career path that will ultimately lead them to retirement.
Is there a continued stigma associated with job-hopping?
With corporate contractions, mergers and acquisitions affecting nearly all industries, and the resulting force reductions and lay-offs, it’s safe to say that frequent job changes on a resume are not unusual, and generally not perceived as negatively as they once were. Hiring managers are less likely to simply cast off a candidate without at least inquiring about the reasons for the job changes. But there remains a level of suspicion about candidates who have had many job changes because they are assumed to be a flight-risk. It’s extremely expensive and time consuming to hire and train new employees and if an interview team has to choose between someone who has demonstrated longevity in a given employer versus a job-hopper, they will demand that the job-hopper have significantly better skills for the job.
I think it’s fair to say that today’s hiring managers, who themselves have likely made several employer changes and / or lived through some downsizings, are far more open to considering candidates with a track record of multiple job changes. But they also have a high level of respect for employees who were able to earn multiple promotions within one organization over several years. It’s not necessarily a negative thing to have job hops, but it’s a very positive thing to show a track record of progression within one organization. And it’s so rare to see that in a Millennial candidate – for example, 5+ years at the same employer right out of college that included multiple promotions – that they are always viewed with favor in an interview process versus other younger candidates who don’t have that story to tell.
When I review resumes in my database of successful employees of mid-size and large companies who have risen to the VP level and above I see a similar pattern. Their first job out of college is usually with a high-profile, multinational organization that gave them training and access to resources that are not available at smaller companies. They generally stay there 5-10 years and earn at least two promotions, building a track record of accomplishments that make them very attractive to other organizations. In some instances those high risers will choose to remain with their initial employer for decades, rising through the ranks, but far more often I see them being recruited to smaller organizations where they can often accelerate their career advancement and have more fun doing it. It’s no secret that smaller companies are riskier and when they don’t get funding or their lead product fails, those A Players need to find another job. So in reality I see just as much job-changing (voluntary or not) among Baby Boomers and Gen X workers as I do among Millennials.
I don’t think job-hopping is a generational thing, I think it’s far more based on individual personalities and the functions that workers perform, regardless of their generation. As always I welcome your comments and questions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: “Do you have a different process for recruited candidates?”
We all know that candidates for job openings can have very different motivation for pursuing the role, so leading-edge employers adapt their interview processes for each candidate. An “applicant” is someone who is actively looking for a job and applies directly to an employer, typically in response to advertising. These are usually unemployed or under-employed workers who have updated resumes ready to send to job postings that may be close to their interests.
Employers – particularly larger ones – view these applicants as sellers of services, with the employer playing the role of buyer. It’s common for employers to treat applicants like they do other vendors or sellers: with skepticism and unresponsiveness. They recognize the need to be civil because they may need those vendors someday, but in the near term most employers feel little pressure or incentive to pay much heed to “applicants.” Unfortunately, the majority of hiring organizations behave this way because to do so otherwise would require time, effort and a commitment to “hi touch” that they’re unwilling to make.
In contrast, there is a different breed of candidate out there who is not actively looking for a new job, but they are actively “listening.” These are passive, opportunistic job seekers who are generally satisfied with their current situation and reasonably happy – so they need to be convinced that they should become a candidate for a new job that might improve their situation. These are truly recruited candidates and they often need a high-touch interview and selection process if they are going to make a job change.
So I ask my hiring managers and HR clients – who I’m trying to help fill positions with the best available people, whether applicants or recruited – if they have a different process for these candidates based on their motivation. Most often the answer is either “no” or “what do you mean?” That leads to a discussion about the importance of “selling” the opportunity to a recruited candidate, and the need to understand the candidate’s needs and desires so they can explain how the job can be a match. Those companies that are winning the War for Talent want to know about the hot-buttons of a recruited candidate so they can sell to them and secure A level “Impact Players” on their team.
The vetting and qualifying process should be consistent for all candidates in a selection process, but it’s important to recognize that you often have to earn the right to fully qualify a recruited candidate or they will likely remove themselves from the interview process before ever getting to the extended qualifying stage. So as in fishing, success in landing a recruited candidate is often based on timing. Examples of less-than-optimal hiring practices that dissuade recruited candidates from pursuing a job include having them complete extensive applications and / or assessments before they’ve had at least a few conversations with the employer, requiring them to provide references before a live interview, and lumping them into a “cattle-call” interview day where many candidates are brought into the same location to compete for a limited number of jobs. But the most common deal-killer for recruited candidates is the lack of responsiveness from employers after phone calls and live interviews – we call it “reverse rejection,” where a candidate’s self-defense mechanisms kick-in in order to pre-empt what they expect will be a rejection from the employer. If a hiring manager has any interest whatsoever in keeping a recruited candidate interested in a job, they must follow up with some meaningful feedback within a few business days of the contact.
We may be tempted to consider these relatively fickle recruited candidates as prima donnas – people we would not want on our team anyway. But the reality is that preparing for and going through an interview process is hard work and they need to be convinced that it’s worth it. In the same way that employers become disappointed when a candidate is just “kicking tires” and not serious about making a job change, recruited candidates are also suspicious that employers may be using them as fodder to benchmark against other candidates (often internal candidates who are in line to get the job). “Before we hire him let’s see who else is out there . . .” Nobody wants to have their time wasted – neither employers nor candidates – and this is particularly true if candidates are good at what they do and reasonably happy in their current job.
It takes extra effort to follow a modified process for a truly recruited candidate, but it can bring huge rewards. As we all know, it’s very expensive and time consuming to hire the wrong person. Given the risk involved in selecting employees for key positions, the best staffing people feel like they can’t afford NOT to have a selection process that includes an effective sales program for targeted, recruited candidates.
The Blogs of Dave Murphy: What about the “Overqualified?”
As a Search Consultant I work closely with clients to understand the key skills they are seeking when filling important positions. They always give me clear direction about minimum years of experience in a given function, for example, 5+ years of marketing experience in the cardiovascular medical device business. They rarely give me direction about maximum years of experience for a given job, nor will employers who are looking to avoid age-discrimination accusations provide a range of years of experience (e.g. 5-10 years of experience) because of the implication that they won’t consider older candidates. We’ve made positive strides in the US labor market over the past 20 years to include older workers as candidates for positions for which they have the right type of qualifications. But in candid conversations with hiring managers they will nearly always explain that they need someone who is either making a lateral move or one step forward in taking on the new position.
The reasons are plentiful but the main line of thinking is that if they hire someone who has been at a level higher than the opening, then the new employee will be a “flight risk” and continue to seek another job at a higher level after they have accepted the lower level position. Other issues include the concern that if a candidate is willing to consider a lower job then they must not be very effective in their job, regardless of the level. Sometimes hiring managers are threatened by candidates who have more experience than themselves, and there are some organizations who expect their team leaders to develop more junior employees and get them promoted. Many other reasons exist for organizations to pass over tenured, “overqualified” candidates and explain it as lack of fit with the team and corporate culture. The “fit” explanation allows them to avoid EEOC problems, and is a convenient tool for saving time in the interview process.
But what about the validity of this line of reasoning? The Flight Risk issue is very real, for one, and needs to be addressed head-on by candidates who may be perceived as being overqualified. Most “overqualified” candidates have been hiring managers in the same position in the past – “why should I take a chance and hire this person if they are likely to leave the moment they hear about a higher level role?” The reality is that people are motivated by different things and have different reasons for making job changes at different points in their careers. In research conducted on this topic by HR and Personnel consulting organizations, the most commonly cited reasons for making a change are (not necessarily in this order): opportunity for growth and development; opportunity to do more important work and to have a direct impact on the success of an organization; and geography / travel. Compensation is always among the top five reasons in these studies, but is always ranked third or fourth, never first.
There is a natural tendency among younger workers to aspire for advancement, so they will frequently cite the opportunity for growth and development as their primary motivation for making a job change. But mid and late career people rarely say that is their primary motivator; instead, they want to work in an organization (typically smaller) that allow them the freedom to make timely decision and feel like they are contributing (positively or negatively) to the bottom line. In short, the so-called “overqualified” workers want to have more fun at work, often at the expense of climbing the corporate ladder. They may no longer be driven by ego and status like they were in the past, and often the pride they take in their work and their professional work ethic will drive them to perform at an Exceeds Expectations level, rather than the anticipation of the next promotion. The 35 year old Senior Product Manager will often tell me that they have to get to the Marketing Director level and beyond, but the 45 or 50 year old Marketing Director will often tell me that they don’t care as much about level as they do about organizational efficiency and enjoying their work. These are some of the main reasons why we see people gravitate to start-ups and smaller, more nimble companies as they progress through their career.
Another important consideration when evaluating resumes of seemingly overqualified candidates is that resumes and CV’s are full of exaggerations and overinflated claims of greatness – they may not be overqualified at all. There is also a good chance that their title doesn’t actually reflect the work they have been doing – that the duties and responsibilities of a Director or VP at one company may be very similar to those of a Manager or Senior Manager at another company. It is somewhat reckless to quickly cast aside an “overqualified” candidate after a two minute resume screen, particularly when motivational fit can’t be communicated effectively on paper.
As a recruiter I’ve found that it’s important to invest 20 – 30 minutes in a phone call with these types of candidates, to more fully understand the depth and breadth of their skills and what it is that drives them at this point in their career. The post-recession reality of the job market is that there is still a significant imbalance in the supply and demand at the Senior Director, VP and Chief levels – at least in the Marketing and Business Development functions where I recruit. There are still many more “applicants” for senior level jobs than openings for them, and active job-seekers have recognized this new reality. Ongoing contraction in the Biopharmaceutical and Medical Device industry means this will not change anytime soon. Former VP’s are moving into Director roles, and Directors are moving into AD and Senior Manager positions, and in many cases they are doing it happily when they can find an assignment that gives them the opportunity to really impact the company’s success. Savvy employers will recognize this trend and re-consider their view of “overqualified” candidates.