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A Candidate-Driven Job Market

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: A Candidate-Driven Job Market

The U.S. unemployment rate across all industries dropped to 3.8% in May, and it was the 92nd straight month where more jobs were added to the workforce than lost. There are now more job openings than unemployed workers and the U.S. economy is experiencing the second longest run of GDP expansion in history, with positive growth every quarter since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. As a result we have been experiencing what recruiters refer to as a “candidate-driven job market,” where the demand for talented, ambitious employees with unique skills far outpaces the supply of those workers.

Some of the growth can be explained by economic difficulties in other industrialized regions around the world, as well as by sound economic policies implemented since the recession. A significant cause of the imbalance in the job market, however, is the changing demographic patterns in the U.S. workforce. The retirement of baby-boomers has led to a management void and there aren’t enough bodies to replace them, particularly in certain knowledge-intensive industries like Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology, and Med Tech. The net result is that, although we can expect a temporary rebalancing in the labor market in the next recession, talent shortages will be a significant issue in the U.S. economy for many years to come and we need to prepare accordingly.

What does this mean for employees and job candidates?

Good news, generally speaking. Candidates who are open to making a job change now routinely have multiple opportunities in front of them and often more than one job offer to consider. Wages are increasing and candidates have more leverage in salary discussion, particularly if they anticipate that their current employer is likely to extend a counter-offer when they resign (that is a topic for a different Blog). We’re seeing more willingness by employers to allow for remote work arrangements or telecommuting because employees don’t feel much pressure to relocate for job opportunities. Employees with hard-to-find skill sets know they are well positioned to ride out the next recession, even if there is a year or so of widespread downsizings.

What does this mean for employers and hiring managers?

It requires a change in both hiring and management orientation for those organizations that want to succeed in the War for Talent. For a company or division who long-term survival depends on the presence of knowledge-based workers it is absolutely critical that they are trained in how to attract and retain the best people. Many organizations will have difficulty changing their culture and orientation to adapt to this new reality, particularly large, multinationals that have a tradition of “screening applicants” and choosing new employees as if they are shirts on a rack in a department store. The shirt doesn’t say “no, I’m not going,” but the A Player at the direct competitor does, and he or she needs to be sold on the idea of quitting their job and taking another one. It’s not very difficult: if as an employer you have a good story to tell then tell it, particularly if it includes opportunity for career development and advancement. Be fast and responsive to candidates in the interview process and show interest in them personally. Those simple, common-sense steps will help progressive employers win the War for Talent.

In our candidate-driven job market employees are now basing their decisions about where to go to work – and where to remain – on things other than compensation and benefits. They want competent, trustworthy management with limited re-organizations, a collaborative atmosphere, and a runway for advancement of some sort, among other things. Salaries, bonuses and stock offerings have all bounced back nicely since 2009, but other cultural changes have been slower to develop, or to re-emerge. An example of this is how companies are handling the issue of relocation for new employees. Before the recession, which was caused in large part by the mortgage crisis, employers were quick to provide full financial assistance in moving new employees, including paying real estate transaction fees. Now even the large global organizations are rarely doing that for middle-management workers, and instead are offering small sign-on bonuses to cover the cost of moving household items and a few months of temporary housing. So that’s an example of an opportunity for an employer to differentiate themselves in the talent war, by offering more generous relocation packages.

There are many changes an organization can consider as it repositions itself to become an employer of choice. Some are large, expensive endeavors, but most are small actions that demonstrate a “high touch” orientation and a feeling that the company really cares about their people. The first step, of course, is to make the decision that you want to be an employer of choice. As a recruiting professional I have a unique opportunity to see the various tools and techniques used by many different organizations, and some are more effective than others. Please let me know if you would like to discuss them.


What Drives Us Beyond Fear of Change?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: What Drives Us Beyond Fear of Change?

As a hiring manager and team leader in the workforce you know that your most valuable assets are talented, ambitious employees. It’s useful to occasionally review the reasons why these high-performing people choose to work for you, whether that means taking a job offer or remaining on your team long-term. There is a natural human tendency to resist change and fear the unknown, but if the motivation is great enough you can be sure that the A Player employees will pursue greener pastures if it is in their best interest to do so. What are those motivators? A popular method of categorizing them is summarized by the acronym CLAMPS, which stands for Challenge, Location, Advancement, Money, People and Security. Each of these drivers affects people differently at different times, and it’s extremely beneficial to understand their impact.

Challenge – One of the most commonly cited reasons people have in explaining why they want to make a job change is to find an opportunity that is more challenging for them, to allow them to stretch their abilities and develop new skills that will enhance their career. Sometimes people make job changes simply because they are bored, or because they have been in an organization for a long period of time that has not given them the opportunity to do different things. This is not as strong a motivator as those based on fear but it can be powerful nonetheless.

Location – This relates to non-work related quality of life issues beyond just commute time. It includes significant life decisions to be near family members, to keep kids in a particular school, and to reduce the amount of overnight travel, among other things. These are often non-negotiable factors, and we have seen them become more important as the years go by. As generations change and our society has become more affluent there has been an increasing unwillingness to accept a job in a non-preferred geographic location.

Advancement – Perhaps the most important driver for ambitious professionals to consider making a job change is the opportunity to advance their career in duties, responsibilities, direct reports, and job title. It’s the most commonly cited reason I hear when people call me back to discuss career opportunities. The one that stands out the most is for individual contributors who want to supervise a team. This is industry and discipline dependent of course, but for many people the hurdle to get this level is very high.

Money – Many would assume that compensation is the leading factor people consider when they decide to make a job change or to remain in their current company. That’s not the case, however. It is certainly a part of the overall consideration but it’s rarely if ever the number one cited reason. Most high performers simply want to be paid fairly based on industry and geographic standards. Some folks become more willing to accept more risk-and-return as they advance through their career, exchanging base salary for variable comp and equity.

People – This is a huge reason why employees consider making a job change, and the number one reason I hear when they say they are happy with their current situation. Everyone wants to work with smart, talented, nice people who can make their day more enjoyable, share ideas, and stretch them to accomplish things they wouldn’t do on their own. Indeed, this is the main reason that we hold interviews: to evaluate personal chemistry and cultural fit, on both sides.

Security – Fear is a powerful motivator in all of life’s endeavors, and the job market is no different. If employees are concerned that their job is at risk of being eliminated or that an acquisition or reorganization will change their job satisfaction they will make a change faster than for any other reason. Age and family status play a major role in the need for security, and some people are willing to put up with the bureaucracy, politics and perceived security of large organizations based on their personal circumstances and the phase of their life.

How does all this impact the employee selection process when filling a job opening?

When a hiring manager needs to fill an important position he/she will normally develop a list of required and preferred qualifications for the job and initiate the “selection” process. Often overlooked in this process is the importance of convincing the best candidates to consider quitting their current job and taking yours. The most effective way to convince the superstar candidate to make that change is to understand their primary motivators and to explain why your opportunity will better satisfy their needs than other opportunities.

Proactive hiring managers will often discuss the CLAMPS model with candidates early in the interview process and ask them to articulate what they are seeking. If a candidate can’t identify a rational reason for making a change or pursuing your opportunity then they are either not serious about making a switch or do not prefer what you have to offer. It saves a bunch of time and heartache to weed these candidates out early in the process rather than have them reject an offer at the end – or take a counteroffer from their current employer.

It’s no secret that we are experiencing a “candidate-driven” job market where there is an undersupply of talent relative to the demand for specific kinds of employees. In addition to competing effectively for the best employees managers must work harder than ever to retain them once they are on-board. The CLAMPS model comes into play again for the same reasons: people choose to stay in a job using the same criteria as when they choose to leave for another job. It’s very useful to know each team member’s primary motivators when working with them to create a career development plan or to inspire them to perform at a high level in a particularly difficult situation. Good managers will continually probe, using the CLAMPS model or something similar, to stay up to date on what drives each team member. As always I welcome your comments and questions.

New Salary Disclosure Rules – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

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!

Seasonality in the Job Market?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Seasonality in the Job Market?

It’s the 4th of July week and I’m camping in an RV park, “on holiday” in a good old fashioned family vacation. I generally schedule my time off to coincide with the vacation and travel schedules of my clients. It’s tough to have meetings, schedule interviews and do business when nobody is around. Just like planting season, tax season and football season, there is a seasonality in the job market that impacts the way employers and potential employees make decisions. Hiring managers and job seekers would be well served to recognize the trends so they can best invest time and money to meet their goals as efficiently as possible.

In addition to PTO schedules the timing of staffing decisions is also driven by an employer’s budgeting cycle. In the Med Tech and BioPharma industries, unless your primary customer is the U.S. government or you work for Medtronic, you probably run on a fiscal year that matches the calendar. In that case we generally see new headcount put in place in January of each year and a significant spike in hiring during the first five months of the calendar year. There are many large medical conferences held in May and June and things begin to slow down, and by July and August they can sometimes grind to a standstill. In the U.S. most employees are back on the job in late August and there is a burst of hiring activity between Labor Day and early December. The second half of December is typically dormant due to the holidays.

Why is this important for employers?

Hiring managers with urgent staffing needs recognize that the supply of qualified candidates who are interested in considering their job is nearing an all-time low. The U.S. unemployment rate is approaching the “transitional” level and in the medical industry in particular it’s extremely difficult to find “A Players” to key openings. Even unemployed candidates are able to be choosy and selective in this job market because they’re more confident they will have multiple offers to consider. We’ve seen a steep rise in the rate of counteroffers being extended and accepted, and candidates who accept job offers and then don’t show up on the start date because they continue to interview with another organization and accept another offer.

All of this means that that hiring managers must consider seasonality in planning for job creation and work force expansions. And even in adapting to unexpected backfills an employer must plan their interview process more thoughtfully in this labor market. You have to be ready and eager to interview qualified, interested candidates before you post a job or ask a recruiter to begin selling your opportunity in the marketplace. If you start too early and can’t move them along through the process at a reasonable pace you will build resentment among candidates and lose them to other, more nimble employers.

Check with the members of your interview team to get agreement on the decision-making process (including the need for consensus) and their travel schedule (work or personal) that will impact their ability to interview candidates. Candidates who are currently employed will generally be more available for calls and interviews between February–June and September–November, just like the interview team. It’s also a good idea to use Facetime or Skype more aggressively in other months to maintain candidate interest.

Why is this important for candidates?

For candidates who are currently employed and not in an “active” job search the issue of job market seasonality is not a significant problem. If you’re not planning to make a job change and are simply being opportunistic you can manage you schedule with or without employers and interview teams. What I generally see, however, is that when a candidate agrees to consider a particular opportunity and enter into an interview process he or she will become more inclined to consider other openings at the same time because they have gone through the process of updating their resume, brushing up on interview tips, and mentally preparing to make a job change. When you have multiple interview processes underway at the same time it’s very important to communicate that information to each of the employers, particularly in peak season, and be transparent about projected interview dates and your travel schedule and availability. You’re not being “pushy” when you tell an employer that you are moving along in another interview process and they may need to expedite their own process.

For active job seekers it’s more important to consider seasonal differences: your research, phone calls and emails should occur during those weeks and months of peak interview times so you can catch hiring managers when they are most available. For instance, if you decide to contact a GM of a business unit only two times because you don’t want to be a pest, make sure it’s during peak season rather than “off season.” In the interest of managing your own expectations, it’s important to understand that most employers post jobs online without considering the timing issues of the interview team, including their own. So you may apply to a posting for which you are highly qualified and get limited response, if any. It doesn’t mean that they are not interested in your qualifications – it may mean that they have not timed their process appropriately.

When a new job comes “open” I will often encourage employers to postpone the initiation of a search for candidates until the timing is right. It seems counter-intuitive in a candidate driven job market, but for best results all members of the hiring process – including the candidate – need to be ready to talk and make decisions in an expedited manner. Of course, there is a distinct difference between a job “opening” and a true business need that requires hiring a talented employee – but that is the subject of a different blog. As always, I encourage your comments and questions.

Talk to your recruiter about RBF

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Talk to your recruiter about RBF

Resting Bitch Face. It’s a real thing – a scourge upon the land that ruins people’s perception of each other. Google it sometime to see some examples. Male or female, all ethnicities and ages – this is a global epidemic that Wikipedia defines as follows:

“Resting bitch face, also known as RBF or bitchy resting face, is a term for a facial expression (or lack thereof) which unintentionally appears angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous. The concept has been studied by psychologists and may have psychological implications related to facial biases, gender stereotypes, human judgment, and decision making. The concept has also been studied by computer experts, utilizing a type of facial recognition system; they found that the condition is as common in males as in females, despite the gendered word “bitch” that is used to name this concept.”

What has this got to do with staffing decisions and career planning? Plenty. All day long I hear things like “not a fit,” “bad chemistry,” “didn’t click with him/her,” “don’t think I’d fit well in their culture.” It’s certainly true that behavioral traits like work ethic, prior performance results, and the words people use to ask or answer interview questions do matter. But there is a reason why we insist on live interviews rather than simply matching job descriptions to resumes, sending emails, or holding phone calls or Skype conferences. We want to see people, shake their hand and – often unknowingly – evaluate body language. And nothing drives body language more than facial expressions, so we must get educated about RBF and it’s ramifications throughout the job market and global economy. Let’s look at this plague in two ways: why candidate’s often don’t get job offers, and why they often don’t want to accept them.

First, on the candidate side of the equation: interviewees know they only have somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours of “face time” to make a good impression, and they can’t blow it. Successful candidates understand that the most important thing they need to communicate, in whatever way possible, is trust. “Trust me, Ms. Hiring Manager, that I will get the job done and exceed your expectations. I will view the problems that need solving through your eyes and take accountability to solve them, freeing you up for other things.” It’s very hard for an interviewer to trust someone who, when they are not speaking, has a facial expression that communicates that they are “angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous.” Live interviews typically begin with the interviewer providing some background about the company, the job or themselves, giving the candidate the opportunity to listen and communicate with non-verbal cues. If the message being sent back is coming from a RBF then there’s going to be a problem.

Regarding the interviewer who suffers from RBF – the problem is more insidious. The reality is that many hiring managers WANT to project resting bitch face because their interview style is to screen out “unworthy” candidates. They believe they hold all the cards and that the candidates have to do all the selling in order to prove they deserve the opportunity to take the job, forgetting that the best candidates have many, many great opportunities in front of them to consider. The interrogation-style interviewer rarely gets the A Player on their team, but they generally don’t care because the company culture is fine with that. But what about the sincere manager striving to build and lead a world-class team? The most important thing they need to communicate is that they care about people on a personal level. The old leadership adage is that “nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.” Since the majority of time in a live, face-to-face interview is spent with the candidate answering questions and the interviewer listening, there is ample opportunity for RBF to creep out and cause the candidate to lose the sense that the person sitting there could possibly care about their personal goals, dreams and ambitions.

So what can be done?
Like any good 12-step program the first and most important action is to recognize and accept that there is problem. The first phase after RBF diagnosis is always the toughest. It usually includes shock, anger, denial, introspection, research and grudging acceptance. Then comes the hard work of prescriptive action, including many hours logged in front of the mirror conditioning those facial muscles so they can unconsciously communicate Resting Happy Face. On the other hand, you can simply forget about allowing the face to rest at all in an interview. Experts agree that the easiest technique is eyebrow control – if you want to convey a sense of trust or caring you may want to furrow the brow when you hear a particularly sensitive comment. Of course, high eyebrows along with an easy smile will endear the other person to you, provided it is not overdone. The bottom line is that those who suffer from RBF must work during the interview to keep that face moving!

There are countless remedies and techniques for treating RBF available online. Given the huge market potential I can foresee the day where a new wonder-drug is approved for the condition – perhaps a next-gen Botox or something similar. My own prediction is that RBF will become much more apparent and recognized as the scourge that it is, particularly when our very own President suffers from it. Perhaps Patient Advocacy Groups will be formed. I’m optimistic that the higher profile of the disease will increase research and funding for treatment options, and those of us suffering quietly will no longer live in the shadows. As always I welcome your comments and questions.

“Do you have a different process for recruited candidates?”

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.

What about the “Overqualified?”

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. 

“You never get a second chance . . .

Murphy’s Law on Recruiting Blog: “You never get a second chance . . .

. . .to make a first impression.” As a candidate for a job you find interesting and attractive, you know that this axiom holds true. But what about employers, hiring managers and HR professionals? In the new War for Talent the first impression you create in the mind of a targeted, prized candidate is crucial to your success in landing him or her on your team. And that first, live impression is typically an interview date the candidate has at your company or off-site location. As an employer and interviewer, what tools and tips exist to help maximize that first impression (other than your own personal charm and dazzling intellect, of course)?
You can start with a unique and differentiating Interview Schedule / Welcome Document inviting the candidate to the interview. Most employers email a candidate an interview schedule a few days before the meeting date, and it includes a table of information showing location, times, and interviewer names and titles. But you can use this email as an opportunity to make a great impression, providing the candidate with information about what to expect and making them feel welcome. A small, rapidly growing Biotech client of mine invited a candidate I’m representing to a full day of interviews recently. The candidate is a highly rated employee (we call them “A Players”) who is open to making a job change but not desperate to do so.

The company sent the following document to her one week before the scheduled interview (I’ve recreated it here, with the names changed, but it was sent as an attractive PDF attachment on company letterhead, along with directions to their location).
XYZ, Inc.
Interview session for Jane Q. Candidate
Position: Marketing Manager

Dear Jane,
Welcome to XYZ! Our hope is that your brief visit with us is a mutually rewarding one. We would like to give you enough information to help you become acquainted with us and in return get to know you. Our goal is to ensure that our time together will be a collaborative process. We will be assessing for “can do, will do, will fit, and will bring” as it relates to the position and company, and expect that you will do the same. We encourage you to ask questions, make comments or express any concerns you may have so you can determine if this opportunity is right for you and your career.
Thank you for giving us this opportunity to show you our company!

9:00 – 10:00 am John Q. Employer Director of Marketing Washington
10:00 – 11:00 am Mary Smith VP of Marketing Lincoln

If there is no attendant at the entrance to the building, please sign the visitor’s sheet and create a badge upon entering the lobby. Call extension XXX from the front desk phone and a representative from HR will escort you to your first appointment. We look forward to seeing you.


Jane Q. Candidate was duly impressed by the initiative XYZ took to welcome her, and because of that she prepared extremely well for the interviews, received a job offer, and gladly accepted it. She resigned from her company, which works in the same space as XYZ, and made the change primarily due to cultural fit and personal chemistry with the team – which are the most common reasons cited by employees who make job changes.
There is a reason why we call it “recruiting,” and organizations who go the extra mile like this are the ones who are winning the War for Talent. I’m always eager to hear any comments or questions.

Dave Murphy
The Alpine Group

Responding to Recruiter Bulk Emails

How to Best Respond to Bulk Emails from Recruiters

My colleague Michael Pietrack pointed out that one of the necessary evils of the recruiting business is bulk emailing. We discussed how most recruiters try their very best to pin-point the types of roles that would be of interest to every candidate that is in their niche area. This information is usually based on previous conversations, where each candidate gives the recruiter specific direction on what types of roles would be of interest. If you and I (or the recruiter of your choice) haven’t had a call like that, it would be mutually beneficial to do so.
So, once you get an obvious bulk email from me or from another firm, here are a couple “do” and “don’t” suggestions that Michael developed to help you improve your success rate of getting a reply.
What to Do:
-Respond in a professional way. For example, the one sentence response or a fragment sentence is not a professional email. I get so many email responses that if you read them, you would be embarrassed for the person.
-Demonstrate strong writing skills. With so much of our daily lives done over email, your recruiter is evaluating whether or not you can communicate clearly and with intelligence through email. This will definitely give your recruiter confidence to present you to their client.
-Read the person’s email all the way through. I get many emails where people ask questions that are in the body of the original email. That tells me they didn’t read it, and it’s an immediate red flag (usually followed by a deletion of the message).
-Follow the directions in the email. If the person doesn’t follow the directions, I assume they will do the same when my client sends them action items that must be completed.
-Be self-critical. If you meet 1 of the 5 must haves for the role, then you’re not likely to get the job or even an interview. If the recruiter sent you an email that isn’t appropriate for your skills, help that person course-correct so that future emails will be more effective for them and not annoying to you.
What NOT to Do:
-Don’t ask who the company is. If the recruiter wanted to freely say who the company was, they would have put it in the original email. When you show them that you are a fit for the job, they should be able to tell you over the phone who the company is.
-Don’t ask about salary. Our clients pay us to find people who are interested in the job and who will bring them value. The way to engage a recruiter is to talk about the value you can bring before you find out if you just hit the lottery. Imagine if your friend was setting you up on a date, and your first question was, “Is he rich?”. Get my point?
-Don’t request more information over email. Recruiters run a phone based business, and they want to talk to you about the role. They don’t want an email to do the selling, especially a job description. The amount of information that recruiters want to share over email was certainly in the original email. If you want more information, show the recruiter you’re qualified, and then request a time to talk.
-Don’t send fragmented sentences or one-line sentences. Some of my favorites are: “Am interested, submit me” (This person is confused about what recruiters do for a living); “Could be interested if money is right” (Automatic delete); “Who’s the company?” (Again, the information the recruiter wants out there is in the email); and “I’m a perfect fit!” (In my career, no one who has said this has gotten the job. Again, be able to self-critique.).
Here is an example of what your response should look like:
Hi Dave,
Thanks for contacting me. I think I might be a fit for this role since I have X, Y, Z in my background. Remember though that I’m earning $1,000,000 base, and if you think that wouldn’t deter your client, then I’m open to talking. Can we set up a time to talk further about this position?
Thanks for your time,
Awesome Candidate
I hope these suggestions are helpful. If you have further questions, please respond to me privately via email:

Too Many Recruiters?

I got a call from a client of mine at a Medical Device company that needs to fill a key marketing position in a hurry, but not compromise on quality. He gave me the job specs and ideal candidate profile, we discussed the comp plan and relocation policy – and it all looks good. So I asked him what his recruiting plan is, and he told me he is calling me and three other recruiters to have us begin canvassing all the targeted candidates who fit the profile, with the plan to pay only the recruiter who first refers the candidate who is offered and accepts the job. Sounds logical at first doesn’t it? The more salespeople you have out there competing with each other to sell your product the better the chances are that you’ll get what you want.
But consider the situation from the salesperson’s (in this case, the recruiter’s) perspective. Given everyone’s time constraints, the odds are good that by the time I get in contact with three targeted candidates, two of them have already heard about the opportunity. Since I have multiple positions to fill with various companies, some of whom pay me a retainer, and others who have no retainer but exclusivity on the search, how incented am I to perform anything more than a cursory database search for people I know are in an active job search? There is no true recruiting of “passively looking” or “actively listening” candidates for the job because the odds are so low that the time invested in that (which typically amounts to 100+ phone calls) will be worthwhile.
So in the multiple-recruiter scenario the company trying to fill the job will see a blast of resumes of actively-looking candidates in the first week, and then the recruiters will move on to other projects. The recruiters are rewarded for being fast, since they are racing each other, rather than thorough. The frequent result is that the job remains unfilled for a prolonged period, LONGER than the time it takes for one experienced, competent recruiter who is held accountable for results to fill the job. That recruiter knows there is a payoff so will invest the time and deliver results.
From the candidate’s perspective, the best “actively listening” candidates are most interested in openings that are difficult to get, not those that have multiple recruiters calling them begging them to consider it. They respond much more favorably to a recruitment outreach when the recruiter has taken the time to specifically target them, working in a retained or exclusive arrangement. When they are contacted by multiple recruiters they begin to wonder why the job is so difficult to fill.
When a recruiter is working for a client exclusively the recruiter can advise the client better because they have a full view of the whole candidate pool. Over time, the recruiter will get to know the hiring manager’s taste and will become proficient at selling the company. All in all, you win by having one teammate that you count on to be your talent scout in the market.
Whether you chose the Alpine Group or another firm, my professional recommendation is to exchange commitments and hold the recruiting firm accountable. You’ll enjoy the experience more, and you’ll come away from the experience seeing the real value a true professional recruiter can bring to your company. As with any other professional service, if you truly want the recruiting agencies you use to compete for your business, then interview them and check references before the search and choose ONE for best results. As always I encourage your feedback or questions.