Archive for October, 2007

Bizarre Tales from the Job Bazaar: The Reluctant Recruiter

October 27, 2007

If you read last week’s post (highly recommended and categorized under Never Fail to Amaze), you’ll know that I’ve reentered the job market. It seems that the company I work for is on the “block” for imminent sale to a competitor. I just knew that my foray into the search for new employment would spawn a vast array of stories. It didn’t take long!

I received a call on Friday from a recruiter in response to a bevy of resumes that I had E-mailed during the previous two weeks. The recruiter had been retained by a mid-sized privately held company that manufactured and distributed aftermarket products. Neither the company nor the industry is important here. The firm was looking for a seasoned and mature financial manager. They had retained a professional recruiter for this search as it was the third highest position in the enterprise and the principal could not entrust this process to their normal HR staff.

The recruiter stated that he found my education and experience quite impressive and really honed in on my years of experience. We discussed my technical qualifications and the requirements of the position. It was a very detailed and professional interview. The recruiter was very knowledgeable about the company and provided a good deal of information about the business and the industry. I did notice that he continually returned to questions about my experience and particularly about my human relations skills, temperament and ability to cope with stress. I sensed that there was more to the story than he was letting on. After a very pleasant hour or so of questions and answers, he finally got to the point of asking me if I would like to pursue the position further and actually come to the company for an interview. On the surface, it sounded like a reasonably good opportunity and so I replied in the affirmative.

There was distinct moment of silence after my reply. The recruiter cleared his throat and then began his “confession” with the following statement, “I might be cutting my own throat here, but in the spirit of full disclosure and professional ethics, there are few things you need to know before making a final decision to commit to a face–to-face interview with the principal.” UH OH! “Tell me more,” I suspiciously replied.

Constant throat clearings, “Um’s and Er’s” and a general hesitancy to go on punctuated the recruiter’s “disclosure”. I could sense that he was honestly telling tales out of school. His level of discomfort and embarrassment was more than obvious as he related the following facts: It seemed that the company had been founded and nurtured to a successful enterprise by an intelligent and hard working fellow. The gentleman had recently retired and entrusted the firm to his son who was now the full charge CEO. The recruiter then went into a reporting of the traits, characteristics and behaviors of the son. According to the recruiter, the lad had grown up the company and was as intelligent and even more passionate about the business than his father. In fact, he was so passionate that he was prone to throwing fits and tantrums when things did not go his way or meet his expectations. This occurred quite frequently. His tantrums were legendary and would include throwing things around the plant and office, publicly debasing managers and employees, screaming and using crude and foul language. Due to his childish antics, the turnover of managers and employees was quite high. The recruiter then asked me how I would feel about working under those circumstances.

Now I was silent for a moment. “Sounds like a pretty immature kid to me,” I said. “Well, he really doesn’t mean to act this way. It’s just that he’s so passionate about the business that sometimes it gets the best of him,“ came the less than believable and sugar coated reply. My response was quite succinct, “Passionate? Sounds like a spoiled brat!” I then asked to whom the position in question would report. The recruiter replied that the son was in full charge. I thanked him for his honesty, told him that I would take a pass, and wished him luck. When the conversation ended, I sensed that we had both breathed a long sigh of relief.

What could the father of this jerk have been thinking? No wonder the recruiter was hesitant and embarrassed. Thank goodness for his honesty. There was no way that I was going to get involved with anything like that again. Years ago, I had briefly worked for a spoiled maniacal punk like that in a very similar situation and had to quickly extricate myself from it after discovering what was really going on there. Thank God I didn’t have to be interviewed by the FBI, as were others. In fact, the story of that horrific and terrorizing experience will be the theme of another book that I’m writing about family owned and operated businesses. Had the recruiter who roped me into that mess been honest, it would have saved me a lot of grief.

It’s good to know that there are some ethical folks out there in the recruiting world. I suspect that the situation at this company is a whole lot worse than this recruiter let on. I hope that he received a large and nonrefundable retainer. He’ll earn it.


Preparing to Dance the Job Search Shuffle

October 21, 2007

Well it’s time to dust off and update the old resume again. I can already sense what might be coming down the pike. Another company is sniffing around and I feel that a purchase of our brand name, manufacturing plants and other assets is inevitable. Since the interested firm is a competitor, the transaction will probably not include our employees or managers. The generals will be afforded parachutes or contracts but we line officers and noncoms will be in free fall to fend for ourselves. I’ve decided to be proactive here and officially reenter the job market now. This is always an interesting experience.

They always say to try networking first. Unfortunately, I don’t have any old college chums nicknamed “Biff”, “Taz” or “Scootsy” who are the CEO’s or VP’s of major corporations. My networking circle seems to consist of other middle-aged veteran career managers like me. We’re usually too tired and stressed out from work to socialize. I never had the time or inclination to play golf anyway. Perhaps my powerful big shot brother-in-law could be of assistance. Oops! I forgot that I don’t even have a brother-in-law. I think that I’ll pass on networking.

I’ll send out a barrage of resumes in reply to online Ads. This usually results in a plethora of phone messages from employment agency recruiters who are absolutely desperate to talk to me. They all love my background and always have the perfect opportunity to match my education and qualifications. They need me to call them back ASAP. Here’s how the calls usually go:

“Hi Bob. This is Jerome Alexander returning your call.”
“Oh yes, Jerome. Eh, Jerome, Oh yes! Thanks for calling me back. I really like your background and might have a great opportunity for you.”
“Super! Tell me more.”
“Well first let me pull your resume. Let’s see, do you have an advanced degree?”
“That’s good. Are you a CPA?”
“Yes, I thought you already read my resume and liked my background.”
“Sure, well I’d really like you to come into our office and discuss what you’re looking for.”
“I answered a specific Ad. The position in the Ad is what I’m looking for.”
“That’s all well and good but we really need to meet face to face so I can present you to potential employers.”
“What about the position in the Ad that I applied for?”
“Oh that position has already been filled. I really need to learn more about your background and what you’re looking for so we can find a match. Can you come in on the…”
“Bob, call me back when you have a real position with a real company that matches my background and qualifications. Then we’ll talk.”
CLICK! (That’s me hanging up on the schmuck.)

Sometimes I get the strangest of responses to my online applications. Last go around, I received an E-mail reply from the vice president of a legitimate mid-sized service company. According to his message, they had narrowed their search based on the resumes they had received but needed each candidate to complete a “questionnaire” before even entertaining a first go around telephone interview. I decided to bite and requested the form. A questionnaire? This huge document consisted of four incredibly detailed business problems confronting the company and required the candidate to state the specific actions they would take to solve each of them. It also required a rationalization of each action. These were like Harvard Business School cases. I could not believe the arrogance of this company. I replied to the vice president in the biting style of The Corporate Cynic questioning the ethics and morality of seeking free consulting services under the guise of interviewing potential candidates for a position with the firm. Want to test someone’s business acumen in real world situations? Hire them. Don’t play silly games like this. I never received a reply but noticed that the Ad reappeared from time to time over the following twelve months. I still wonder what this company was up to and what idiots had actually invested the hours or even days necessary to provide the free answers to the problems.

I always try to dismiss those “cattle call” responses to my applications. You might know the drill here. The phone call comes in late Friday afternoon from some assistant to the assistant to the assistant at a company you’ve applied to, “Mr. So-and-So will be in town on Monday and can see candidates between 8AM and 2:30PM. Your options are 9AM or 1PM.” My, how important filling the position must be to this company!

Worse yet is when you arrive for the appointment but are stiffed for the interview by some high level official, particularly when you’re well into the process and it’s been scheduled days or even weeks in advance. I’ve had this happen twice and without warning, once by the president of a $75 million manufacturing company. Can you imagine the impression that leaves on a candidate? I can understand last minute emergencies and the like. I’ve been in the business world for a long time. But without even having the courtesy of leaving a message? Neither interview was ever rescheduled by the companies in question. It’s obvious that they either selected another candidate or decided against filling the position at the last minute. The rudeness and unprofessional behavior of these executives will not be forgotten.

The interviewing process is always replete with entertainment as well. Besides trying to remember what kind of tree you’d like to be (if you could be a tree) or what barnyard animal best describes you, it’s always challenging to stare down the twenty something HR novice when they want to delve into your managerial experience:

(Imagine hearing this spewed at hyper speed and without even taking a breath!)

“Please describe a situation you experienced as a manager when a conflict arose between two employees. What was the nature of the conflict? What was each employee’s position? How did they feel about the conflict? How did you learn about the conflict? How did you react to the conflict? What did you do about the conflict? State the specific actions. What did you say to each employee? How did they react? How did you react? How was the conflict resolved? Was there an agreeable outcome? If not agreeable to all was there a compromise? How did the employees feel about the resolution? How did you feel about the resolution? Did the conflict occur again?”

Stop! I’m been successfully managing departments of people for twenty-five years! I’ve seen it all and dealt with it all.

Finally, there’s always the inevitable waiting period when the hiring executive indicates that the choice is down to two or three candidates and “guarantees” that they’ll be touch once the final decision is made. You wait and hold your breath. When you don’t get a call, you contact the executive. “Oh, we hired another candidate. I figured that when you didn’t hear back, that would be understood. ” What a cowardly way to avoid the responsibility for giving bad news. In all my years of interviewing and hiring, I’ve never pulled that stunt.

At any rate, it’s time to leap into the process. I’m sure there will be a lot of new stories in the near future. Sometimes I wish that I knew a “Biff” or had a big shot brother-in-law, but then I’ve always managed to do fine without “connections”. My education, background and accomplishments speak for themselves. Besides, companies always need experienced managers who can actually get the real work done. I hope!

Stay tuned!

Do the Fans of Fred Flintstone Live on in the Executive Suite?

October 13, 2007

I recently overheard an executive reprimanding a seasoned veteran lower level manager. I was struck by the curtness and severity of the dress down as well as the trite and overused comments utilized in the humiliation. What bothered me so much wasn’t the fact that the manager was being told about some error that had occurred but rather the snotty tone of the remarks and the snide insinuation that the manager was somehow intellectually deficient and inferior to the executive. I will admit that I did not know the entire context of the situation at hand but definitely noted the arrogant demeanor of the executive as well as his smartass comments:

– I don’t think you have your arms around this business.
– Results are what I pay you for.
– If you don’t know the answer, who does?
– You’ve taken your eye off the ball.
– This should have been a slam-dunk.
– You just don’t seem to get it.

These were just a few of the barbs thrown at this manager. Sound familiar? What struck me the most, aside from the arrogance of the executive that I have now become inured to, were those comments. Lately, it seems that I keep hearing these expressions parroted over and again by certain executives in the ivory tower. Sometimes they’re slightly modified or used in conjunction with other statements of a similar nature but there seems to be a flood of them and delivered with the same demeaning intent.

The use of words and phrases by powerful people must be treated with careful thought and reflection. Now we all know that the executives in question have been endowed with above average intelligence and innate managerial skills. How else could they have possibly risen to such exalted positions without these characteristics? I cannot explain the explosion in the use of these phrases and comments nor can I understand the need to use them to humiliate others and showcase how intelligent they are. We all know how much smarter they are than us mere mortals. What is with this sudden need to prove it to everyone?

I was reminded of an old Flintstones episode where Fred inadvertently became the boss of the quarry. Mr. Slate, the real boss, was away or something. I can’t quite remember the circumstances that put Fred in command. Fred buffaloed his way through the situation by the continual use of several comments and expressions. I can’t quite recollect who coached him in this charade. Perhaps it was Mr. Slate himself. I might be wrong here but I believe that were three expressions that Fred was taught to use in any situation dealing with the other managers around the quarry:

– Whose baby is that?
– Let’s run it up the flagpole.
– I’ll buy that!

Fred was very successful in using these words with the other managers. In fact, it’s all he ever said to them. Because of Fred’s position power, the other managers groveled at his feet all vying to answer “Me” to the question “Whose baby is that?” or beaming when Fred would say, “I’ll buy that!” Fred was getting a lot of mileage out of these words – and he didn’t even know what he was talking about. I do seem to remember his head swelling due to the attention. He began to act like a real “big shot” and of course thought of himself as superior to the others. Now Fred Flintstone was not the smartest guy in the quarry. He did not possess an executive MBA or come from a fortune 500 company. Fred’s “connections” with Mr. Slate were no more useful than to earn him the privilege of being used as a temporary dupe. Of course in the end, Fred learned his lesson, went back to his steam shovel-asaurus and we all got a good laugh. It’s funny how I remembered that particular episode, those words and the impact they had on Fred’s co-workers as well as Fred himself.

Words spoken by those in powerful positions carry a lot of weight. I would like to think that the executives in question here realize this and are just not aping these comments and expressions like Fred Flintstone to make themselves “feel important” by humiliating others with words. Come on folks. We all know how smart you are!

Here are some other expressions that might replace those in your arsenal. You might even really feel a lot better about yourself when using them, particularly if they result in the desired effect:

– We seem to have a problem here. What can we do to prevent it in the future?
– Let’s figure out how this happened. Perhaps collectively, we can come up with a permanent solution.
– Please make sure to let me know if you need my support in this.
– We must do something to stop this in future. Any thoughts?

Give it a try! Even a caveman can do it!

Coping with One’s Own Cynicism in the Workplace

October 6, 2007

I was recently asked about how one copes with being the consummate corporate cynic while functioning as a manager in a large corporation. How one keeps their personal sanity and avoids the professional pitfall of infecting one’s direct reports with “attitude”. I answered with one simple word – humor.

Although I am personally pretty adept at compartmentalizing my rage, disbelief and disgust with the things I see happening on a daily basis, it’s tough sometimes not to go off on a real tirade around coworkers and peers. Humor is definitely a great safety valve and there is far too little of it in today’s workplace. I have never seen such humorless lifeless zombies, ramrod stiff automatons, frenetic micromanagers and sanctimonious pompous asses in my life. Take your job seriously – not yourself!

Perhaps you see glimmers of humor (albeit slightly sarcastic and satirical) in my weekly posts. Writing is a great outlet for me. I’m even better in person. The staff and my peers can attest to that. I’ve had them rolling in the aisles during some really tough times. I believe that the laughter I can invoke really helps cut through the drudgery, tension and anxiety. At one point it was even suggested that I become a standup corporate comedian or talk show satirist. That’s enough of that!

Forget about those goofy books like Fish. Come on, that’s grammar school schmaltz. What an insult to intelligent people. We’re all adults. We’re all in this together and we all share a common environment. Believe me, there’s plenty of great material to poke fun at in the workplace. Everything and everyone is fair game – including oneself. Although some managers approach their functions and the company with near religious zealotry, there’s nothing THAT sacred in the workplace. It isn’t a place of worship. Skewering the foibles of the leadership and satirizing company polices is definitely not sacrilegious. Considering the hours that many of us put in, it’s our home away from home. Can’t we be as comfortable at work as we are there?

Groups of like minded managers can really elicit some fun and good laughs when they get together. When I think of some of the nicknames we’ve come up over the years for members of the top brass based upon their quirks and idiosyncrasies, it’s astounding. Some of the stories we’ve traded about the upper echelon are absolutely hilarious and the spoofs on goofy company programs and polices have been priceless. It’s never meant at all to be mean or even vindictive. It’s a real sharing of feelings and genuine camaraderie. I liken it to being on a battlefield or fighting a long drawn out war. Something other a few “metrics” and a “vision statement” is needed to bind us together. Am I saying that the corporate leadership is the common enemy that binds? Absolutely not! Soldiers fight the real enemy with zeal and STILL have fun at the expense of their superiors and the “system”. If you think that this does not go on within all levels of an organization (except the executive, of course), I think you’re sadly mistaken.

Don’t get me wrong here. As managers, we all have responsibilities and should never shirk them or attempt to foment mutiny. I dislike whiners and gripers as much as the next manager. I have little patience with complainers who have been given the tools and training to get a job done as well. As a manager, I’ll listen to a bitch session from time to time. People have different tolerance levels for stress and that needs to be recognized and respected. Experienced managers know when not to cross the line. But when it’s all said and done, I always try to end with a good laugh, even if the jokes on me. I believe that it’s all part of coaching, reducing tension and treating people like human beings instead of machines.

We live in a stressful world and the workplace certainly mirrors if not exacerbates the anxiety. If more managers and executives could take themselves a little less seriously and show some humanity through a little more humor, I think we’d all feel better. Maybe the Corporate Cynic would no longer have anything to write about. I doubt it.

In the meantime, as my old friend Joe P. would say many many times while we worked together at one crazy company, “You’d better laugh, because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.”