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Are your employees ready to quit?

July 9, 2010

Are your employees getting ready to quit?  When did you last think that was possible?  My guess is that it has been a couple of years, because you figured there were no jobs out there.  The job market certainly hasn’t been good and it was risky for someone to leave a position for an unknown situation.

Well, I’m here to tell you that the tables are turning.  The market is picking up  and we are seeing employees that have put up with salary/bonus cuts, reduced benefits, longer hours, constantly changing management and a stop to all new development/projects making the decision to move.   They now have choices.  I am not saying that we are back to the .com days (unfortunately!) where employees are readily jumping ship and salaries are rising like crazy, but I believe that there is going to be a lot of movement of talent in the next year.

An article in The Wall Street Journal from May 26, said that,

“in February, the number of employees voluntarily quitting surpassed the number being fired or discharged for the first time since October, 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Before February, the BLS had recorded more layoffs than resignations for 15 straight months, the first such streak since the bureau started tracking the data a decade ago.”

Later in the article, it gave this statistic, “in a poll conducted by human resources consultant Right Management at the end of 2009, 60% of workers said they intended to leave their jobs when the market got better.”  The article also talked about employees feeling disengaged and having less satisfaction in their jobs.  Now, this data is for all positions and on a national basis, but 60%?  That’s a lot.

At MATRIX, we always talk to our candidates about why they are leaving and ask them if they have discussed those issues with their manager – especially if the main issue is money.  We usually hear something like, ” there is nothing they can do…they tell us all the time there is no money for anything…they have been laying everyone off, I can’t ask for anything.”  They feel so beaten down and so sure that there is nothing their company can do that they are not even trying.

The article mentioned that, a job board for tech professionals, asked what a company could do to persuade them to stay and 57% said there is nothing the company could do, 42% said higher salary and 11% wanted a promotion.  Sounds like there is nothing you can do, right?  I don’t think so….

Candidates are being picky and patient in their job search – and I think they are looking beyond the money – contrary to what is mentioned above.  They are looking for growth opportunities, challenges, new technology, flexible work hours, reduced commute time, a strong peer group and a leadership team they can believe in.

You have competition now for your best talent, but you have the first right/opportunity to keep them and hopefully strengthen your relationship.   Will you wait for them to resign, or be proactive?  If you would offer something when they resign, why not move forward now and show that you are thinking about their best interests and showing them that they are important to the company?  Waiting for someone to resign and offering a counter is not a good idea….not for you, the employee, or the rest of the team that watches this happen.  It doesn’t have to be just about money, although that can be key if folks are making less now than two years ago.

HP recently reversed its 5% mandatory pay cut, and I have other clients that have given pay raises to those that excelled during this time (and who they were able to hire during the downturn at a lower salary).  Other choices might be telecommuting one day a week, increased benefits, extra days off (especially if they worked long hours to cover for laid off workers), or finally getting to do that training they have been asking for. Or maybe a lunch hosted by the company that thanks them for all that they have done and communicating what is coming up, what challenges are still there and how you are hoping they will stay with you and be successful together. If you didn’t handle things well, maybe you should admit it and tell/show how you are getting back on course.  Be careful, though, this had better be genuine….we all know the fake rah-rah when we hear it!

I wrote a previous blog about keeping your best talent, and I think now is a good time to look at your team, understand what motivates them and be a true leader.  Communicate and try to understand things from their side and hopefully meet their needs as best you can while you have the opportunity.

Replacing a top performer is expensive, time consuming, and risky. You and your team will be distracted with interviewing, training, and closely managing this new person.   It is certainly a lot more expensive to hire a new employee than to motivate and reward a current one.

So – think about it….what can you do?


Finding your next hire – Soft Skills

January 13, 2010

We all make bad hires.  I had been recruiting for 5 years when I hired my first full-time sitter and she ended up failing the background check.  She seemed to have all the right experience and answered all my questions really well, but it turned out we didn’t share the same value system.  I should have asked more about “her” than her experience.  So, how can you do that in an interview?  It’s tough…but here’s a shot. 

When looking at a candidate’s communication skills, ask interview questions that have open-ended answers and a format that requires they explain the situation, tell what they did and describe the outcome.  A key thing to look for is whether they can describe it in a way that you can understand (can we relate?) and whether they constantly use jargon (can they talk to my business folks?).  Are they logical in the timeline/presentation of the story (organization skills)?  Do they provide enough detail without being verbose (detail oriented)?  Do they ask if you need more information (follow through, proactive)? 

In assessing problem solving skills, ask them to tell you about a problem and step through how they handled it.  Again, look at how they walk through the problem, describe the solution and assess the results.  Ask “what are the resources you turn to when researching solutions?” (think for themselves, get creative).

To see if they are a team player, ask them to describe a really difficult person they worked with and how they handled the situation.  Ask them to tell you about their current team dynamics and how they could work better (positive/negative? take responsibility for own attitude/actions?).  I also like to ask about their best boss, why they liked him/her and what their interactions were like. 

You will see a lot of their interpersonal skills throughout the interview, but ask them to tell you about a time when they used humor to diffuse a situation (especially if your team jokes around a lot).  Ask them how they form relationships when they join a new project or team. 

To see whether they are going to give good customer service, ask them to describe about a time where a situation did not go as planned and how they communicated the negative news to the client.  Ask them to describe their typical customer interactions and tell about a recent positive or negative experience.

To determine whether they have good leadership skills, ask about how they handled a time when they asked a team member to complete a task a certain way and they did it well, but not according to instructions.  Ask how they evaluate the work of others and how they determine strong contributors (what values are important to them).   

In listening to the responses of candidates above, you will see certain traits come out:    

Attitude –Are they upbeat and have generally positive responses and feelings about different situations? 

Accountability/Ownership – Do they take responsibility for their tasks, attitude, actions and results?

Sense of urgency – Did they arrive on time, ask about next steps and show interest in moving forward?

Attention to detail – Are their answers descriptive and thorough without being too much?

OrganizationDo they follow a logical process when describing problems solved?  Do they have notes and questions ready?

Ability to handle criticism – If the situation was negative, did they adapt and learn?

Flexibility – Were they able to take on new tasks, change direction and adapt to another’s needs? 

Honesty/Integrity – Did they resolve their problems with integrity and communicate honestly with others?

Listening – Did they ask follow up questions about the job/company etc. that shows they were listening?

Follow-through – Did they send a thank you note or complete something that you asked for?

Preparedness – Did they research the company/job/you before the interview and ask relevant questions?

This questions can cover a multitude of skills. “Tell me about a time when you knew you were going to miss a deadline or a customer was going to be unhappy.  What did you do?”  You are looking for sense of urgency, problem solving, communication, team player, honesty, integrity, customer service….

Finally, it is good to understand their personal interests and motivations.  My favorite question of all time – and one that I find hard to answer myself – “If money was no object, what would you do?”  I like to find out which web sites/books/magazines they enjoy on a regular basis.  And then finally, how do you know when you have done a great job? 

We have a saying in our business that there is a seat for every person (we use a different term, but person suffices).  You could interview all day long and ask all the right questions and still get a bad hire.  Hopefully, though, when you drill down their technical/functional skills to understand what they have done and you learn a little bit about what makes them tick, you should be able to avoid the dreaded “90-day action plan” to remove your bad hire and repair your damaged team. 

Good luck!

2009 Salary Survey

November 2, 2009

Here is the link to the most recent Salary Survey completed by Matrix Resources.  The information is gathered from a variety of sources and there are several cities that you can review – Atlanta, Raleigh, Dallas, Houston, Birmingham, Charlotte, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Jacksonville.

I would love to hear any feedback that you may have on these results.

Finding your next hire

November 2, 2009

It seems like it should be so easy. Maybe you want to find someone just like the person who is leaving.  Or maybe you’re thinking thank goodness that person left and are looking for just the opposite. Or maybe you just created the position.  Whatever the reason, this hire is important and you want to find just the right skills and personality.

I love my clients that call and say “I need a guy”. My response, “Okay, I know a guy…he’s good…..” And, maybe he is, but is he good at what you want? So, I need a little more than that to find your guy – or gal as it may be.

The easiest thing to do is to create a list and use it to evaluate candidates by adding a second column to note whether they miss, meet or exceed your requirements. It will make everything so much easier and it will keep your interviews consistent and somewhat objective. Also, write down what the person will be doing – projects that are available now and in the future and the core responsibilities. This helps keep your message consistent.

Okay – so the easiest part is the list of hard skills required/expected. Here is  my list that I like to go through with each client:  

Skills required – required, preferred and alternate skills. Please do not list everything your team uses as a requirement. There is nothing crazier than reviewing a position that has a list of 20 skills. I mean, really? For most positions, just concentrate on the key languages and concepts. If they are good in those, then they can most likely learn the rest.

Degree required – Is it necessary and why? I have a lot of managers who feel that the experience of college makes them a little different, or maybe the concepts/theories that you don’t learn on-the-job make them better. If you require it, just understand why in case you come across that great candidate that doesn’t have it. I see too many companies that close the door on a great candidate that didn’t get the opportunity to complete a degree or didn’t have the resources to go to a top school. It may be that your experience has taught you one way or the other, but try not to make too many assumptions about the person based on the degree.

Prior experience – what will this person have done in their past that will make them good for you? Do they need certain industry, application or company experience? Maybe they came from a small, medium or large company? Maybe they worked for a competitor? Maybe they have worked in a lot of different places and might be able to bring some new ideas to your team? I would look at the successful people on your team and try to see if and what prior experience made them better than the rest.

Travel – how much will be required? Southeast? National? International?

Hours – Telecommuting options – this is an area where you need to be clear and consistent. Candidates may have limitations or your company may have certain requirements. You may have flexibility but don’t promise too much to lure in a candidate. If your team consistently works 60 hours a week, you need to share that. If you don’t, you’ll invest time and money in a new hire who will later quit and it will cost you more time and more money.

Compensation – know the details such as salary, bonus and benefits. Also – are there things that candidates can trade? I have negotiated offers with a lower salary but more vacation or a telecommuting option. It is good to know what flexibility you may have for a great person.

Next time I’ll talk about the tougher skills, the subjective stuff, the soft skills.

The Interview

September 30, 2009

The Interview – Your objective: get an offer!

Find out the following when you set up the interview either with a Recruiter, HR or the Manager:

What should I wear?  Companies no longer require a suit for an interview, and some prefer that you don’t.  Find out.

What should I bring?  Hopefully you have been able to put together a portfolio or other summary that shows your work.  Perhaps even a list of projects completed with descriptions and links to websites if you are able to access and share.

Who will I meet?  Names, titles and roles if possible.

How long should I plan on being there?

Prepare for the interview

Appearance:  Dress appropriately (see above) and look well-groomed and professional.   Do not use this opportunity to show off your individuality or fashion sense (unless you are interviewing for a creative position).  If you smoke, do not do it before the interview and do not let your interview clothes around your “smoking” clothes.  Get your haircut, beard/goatee/mustache trimmed and have it neatly done.  For women, wear neutral/natural make-up.  Go very light on the cologne and perfume. 

Research the company, interviewers, general employees (LinkedIn is great for this and you might know someone there that can give you a great internal referral), recent press releases, etc.

Review the position and make note – on your resume – on the job description – of things that you have done that are similar and/or skills that match perfectly.  Make sure that you have the resume you sent them with you as well as the job description.

Prepare questions that show interest and help you evaluate the position.  Some good options:

          What do you see as my biggest challenges/tasks in the first 30, 60, 90 days?

          Tell me about your team and some of the projects you have done.

          What do you like most about working here?

Prepare for their questions.  You can’t anticipate everything, but prepare for the common ones:

          Prepare a two minute summary of your background/experience (pick the things that matter most for this position)

          Prepare an overview of projects you recently completed – type of project, team size, responsibilities, technologies used (prepare to answer why those were used) and the end results.

          Tell me about your biggest challenges and how you resolved them.  This is a great opportunity to show problem solving, flexibility, adaptability, ability to learn new things, be open-minded, etc.

          Tell me about any significant accomplishments.  This is your opportunity to shine – try to pick things that relate to this job/company.

          Why are you leaving your job?  This is not an opportunity to bash your current employer.  You can discuss what you are looking for in a new position.  Be prepared to answer this for your last three jobs if you have jumped around.

          What do you do on your own for growth/studying/continued development?

          What is the last book  you read?

          Where do you want to be in five years….be careful you don’t say you want his job.  Or maybe that is good…hopefully you will have read the situation well before then.

          Tell me about a difficult co-worker/customer/manager and how you deal with them.  Again, not an opportunity to bash or talk negatively.  You can talk about difficult people – every company has them – but remain positive about how you handled the situation.

During the interview

Be engaging with a great attitude.  Lean forward.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  Be enthusiastic – but not too much.  Remember your manners with everyone you meet. 

Ask the interview what they are looking for and why the position is open.  Most job descriptions are form ones or written by HR.  Hopefully the manager will tell you why he is hiring and what is most important.  If you interview with several people, ask them all the same question – you will hear different views about the position.  This will help you pick the experience that is most applicable and sell yourself.

Be succinct and to the point.  You can always end your answer with “Did I answer your question?”  or “Would you like to hear more?”

Feel free to ask questions if you don’t understand or need more clarification.  Most employers would rather have a thoughtful, correct answer than a quick, incomplete, incorrect one.  It shows that you give thought before you speak. 

DON’T be negative.  Don’t bash your previous employer.  Don’t ask about vacation and sick time.  Don’t ask about money – if they ask you, you can say that you are most interested in the position and would like to hear their best offer.  If they push, provide a range and make sure that the lowest number of that range is something you would accept.  Don’t ask about benefits. 

At the end of the interview – thank each person for their time, ask for feedback, do they need more information, next steps, etc.

After the interview

Send a thoughtful “thank you” even if you think you didn’t get the job or don’t want the job.  If you do want it, bring up 2-3 key points that were covered to show that you listened, are interested, are a good fit, etc.   Spell check!  Grammar check!  If you interviewed through a recruiter, ask them to forward it to the manager for you. 

If you are working with a recruiter, call and give them immediate feedback.  This triggers them to call the Manager to get feedback and next steps.  If HR set it up, call to let them know that you completed the interview and look forward to their feedback.  If the Manager called you directly, wait about 48 hours and follow up if you haven’t heard anything.  Be polite when asking for feedback and if the answer is no, see if you can find out why and let them know that it will help you in future interviews. 

Good luck!

Leadership Lessons from Top CEOs – Karen Klein – BusinessWeek SmartAnswers

September 25, 2009

I love listening to podcasts and one of my favorites subscriptions (FREE on iTunes) is for BusinessWeek – Smart Answers with Karen Klein.  All of her podcasts are 10-15 minutes and she has fantastic guests that get straight to the point.  Most of them are geared towards Entrepreneurs and small businesses, but many focus on leadership and management and ultimately, as a Manager, you may run your team like a small business.

This is a link to the one I listened to on my run this morning – great information for any leader or manager.

Here are some another management one that I found good:

Informal Results on Rates and Salaries for IT positions in Atlanta

September 25, 2009

My good buddy, Erik Davids, just put together current rates and salaries for the Atlanta market. I would look to this as a benchmark, and keep in mind that every position and client is different.
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Marketing Yourself – Writing a Resume and Building your Image

September 25, 2009

Now that you have decided what you want to do, here are some tips to get your “marketing” materials ready. 

1.  Clean up everything people will see about you.  Start with your social networking sites and make sure your MySpace, Facebook and Twitter pages are in good shape.  You do not want a potential employer to see or hear about your wild weekend or your opinions about everything – especially if they are constantly negative, political or religious.

2.  Create an excellent LinkedIn profile and get connected to current and past coworkers, managers, recruiters, college friends, user group friends, etc.  It is important to build a good network so that people can find you and you can find the people you want.  I would make your profile like your resume with good details for your most recent positions (last five years is enough) with responsibilities, technologies, etc.  Try to get a couple of recommendations from co-workers, managers, vendors, clients, etc.  Include your picture – it doesn’t really matter what you look like, it’s just that people like to see who they are working with when they can.  Make sure the picture is professional in nature.  Have someone else read it for mistakes and make sure that your message is clear.  Make sure that you mark your profile that you are open to job opportunities, introductions, etc.

3.  Make sure your contact information is professional – an email address that you check often and a voicemail.  It is cute to have kids on your voicemail, but not when you are looking for a new job.  And your buddies might love your funny email address, but it might not suit everyone’s tastes. 

4.  Create a clean, complete, chronological and informative resume.  Include your professional email, cell/home phone and your LinkedIn link (this is on your profile page).  If you blog or tweet professionally, then include that as well. 

I wouldn’t go beyond three pages and you can truncate positions that are more than seven years old with a short description with the company name, dates, your title and a sentence or two to describe your responsibilities. 

Do not include an objective, but do include a Professional Summary.  This is your “elevator pitch” if someone asks you “what do you do at work?”.  I would keep this to 4-5 sentences and it should be an excellent summary of what you bring to the table.

I like the education and/or certifications to follow the Professional Summary – especially if you have a degree from a good college. 

Each description should show the company (and a brief description of what that company does if it is not a well-known company), the dates (include the months), your title and a description of your responsibilities.  For developers, this would mean what applications you developed, and the technologies, methodologies and tools that were used.  You can include a technical summary after each job description if there were a lot of different tools, but still include the languages, databases, etc. when you describe the application.  If you are a manager, talk about the teams you managed, your responsibilities, the technical environment, the methodologies used and the applications/industry.  Use verbs that show success – built, sold, shipped, implemented, designed, developed, etc.

List your accomplishments – if you can quantify results such as money saved, faster turnaround, etc., then include those first.  Add any projects that you would want to discuss in an interview that shows what you can do and where you bring value.  Include any awards or honors you received.  Bullets are best for this for this section and try to keep to a max of 3-4 for each position. 

Spell check!  Grammar check!  If English is not your first language, have someone else read it to make sure it flows correctly.

Customize your resume.  You may have several versions of your resume that focus on different skills,  projects, industries, applications, etc. that directly correlate to the position for which you are applying.  

I tend to shy away from hobbies unless they are things you are truly passionate about and show something about your work ethic or character like being a volunteer, Eagle Scout, marathon runner, etc..  Although, be careful, some might read that you have too much going on to fully dedicate yourself to the job. 

Develop a strong cover letter for each position.  This is an opportunity to quickly summarize why you are a fit and sell yourself.  Your resume must back up whatever you say in the cover letter.  This needs to be customized and tailored for each position.  

This is a great start and I will follow up with more ideas soon!

Atlanta IT Salary Survey – February 2009

September 25, 2009

IT Salary Survey for Atlanta completed by Matrix Resources in February 2009.  The data is collected from a variety of sources and averaged/compiled into this quick report.  Please let me know if you feel the results are what you are seeing in the market.$File/AtlantaFeb09.pdf

Retaining Top Talent – Managing Top Performers

September 25, 2009

How will you keep your top performers?  They may see layoffs all around them and wonder when they will be next.  Or, they are working harder than ever and having to take a pay cut.  I am not an expert on the subject, but after reading a lot of articles, I saw the common threads.

Communicate.  Direct, honest, frequent and two-way.  Listen to your team.  Build open and honest relationships through communication.   Make a personal connection through communication.  Inc. Magazine article on How to Communicate:

Stay true to your company’s mission, vision and values.  Show how you “walk the talk”.  Be humble. Be passionate and determined about the business and your team.  Layoffs should be handled with dignity, kindness and respect.  A podcast from BusinessWeek – Smart Answers on How to Handle Layoffs

Get your team involved.  Build a positive team with an ownership spirit.  Empower them by asking their opinion.  Create a little fun.  Be open-minded.   Build collaboration.  Another podcast on Why a Sense of Ownership Matters:

Recognize top performers:  There are many ways to accomplish this goal and they don’t have to involve money.

  • Make the conversation about them.  Focus on their careers and encourage career development through growth and learning. 
  • Say “Thank You”.   Praise them for a job well-done or going the extra mile.  
  • Notice signs of stress and overload.  Help alleviate by assigning work more efficiently and establish realistic expectations.
  • Learn what motivates them. 
  • Allow them to try new things – new technologies will grow their skills, give you a more skilled and diverse workforce and potentially save money and increase efficiency.

Upgrade talent. Winners like to work with winners and losers bring down the team either with poor performance or creating a toxic environment for the rest of the team.  Now is a great time to raise the bar and make a few strategic hires that will elevate your team. 

I found this great summary as well and it relates directly to managing and leading top performers: