CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS
Pre-employment screening protects people, property
By Sherri Begin
• April 12, 2004
More local businesses are beginning to use pre-employment screening to protect themselves, their employees and their intellectual property.
Screening of potential employees is not new; it's something many companies have been doing for over 20 years, said Michael Saad, president and owner of Meridian Security Management Inc. and an adjunct instructor at Walsh College.
"But after 9-11, companies (that) were wondering if they should do it have gone ahead and done it," he said.
The 2001 terrorist attacks made companies more aware of the types of background searches available and the cost of them, said Michael Pachuta, president of Risk Analysis Management Inc. in Troy.
"When (companies) realized it was economically possible to screen all of their employees, they implemented it," he said.
Risk Analysis Management is one of 186 founding member companies in the Durham, N.C.-based National Association of Professional Background Screeners, formed last year. According to the group, the number of businesses doing pre-employment checks in Southeast Michigan and the United States has doubled over the past five years to between 25 and 35 percent of all companies, Pachuta said.
"Business owners are realizing the biggest asset is their staff, and they want to protect them," he said.
Also, as companies reduce staff, they want to make sure the employees they have left have clear backgrounds, are drug-free and have good integrity, Pachuta said.
Under Michigan law, employers can be found liable if an employee assaults another employee or a client, and the employer failed to take reasonable measures to discover any criminal record for that employee when he or she was hired, Saad said. Pre-employment screening often includes checks of employers, civil and criminal records, and credit and driving records.
In the 1980s, businesses conducted background checks because they didn't want to be victims of theft, he said. "Now they are also (doing background checks) because they don't want drugs, violence or sexual assault in the workplace, or the loss of trade secrets."
One Michigan company with Troy operations contacted Meridian to inquire whether they had the right to fire an employee who'd been acting in a threatening manner. A check of past employers and criminal records showed the employee had a history of being violent and uncontrollable in the workplace and had two misdemeanor arrests for assault and battery, one related to work, Saad said.
If the Troy company had done a background check, it could have made an informed decision on that person's history at hiring time, he said.
A tier-three supplier in Oakland County hired Meridian to do a background check on a financial executive from another state whom they were close to hiring, Saad said. They delayed hiring the person when they discovered an ongoing civil suit brought against him by his former employer for misappropriation of funds. The applicant didn't reapply.
Depending on the geography and nature of a company's business, criminal history findings occur in an average of 10 to 15 percent of all candidates checked, Saad said.
A Rochester Hills company hired Legal and Security Strategies Consulting Inc. of Walled Lake to investigate drug and theft problems at its company. It turned out the business unknowingly employed five fugitives.
"You've got to know what's going on in your workplace, what the people are doing and who they are," said Ned Timmons, a former FBI agent and president of Legal and Security Strategies.
Local businesses also are using pre-employment screening as another way to protect their trade secrets. In Southeast Michigan, identity theft and the use of false identification by job applicants are out of control, Timmons said.
Legal and Security Strategies helps its clients develop background-check systems, a business that has tripled in metro Detroit since Sept. 11, 2001, he said. "It's human nature to think it won't happen to your firm, but it's happening every day."
One tech company in Ann Arbor had 10 applicants from China. The applications made it through human resources without anyone noticing that all 10 Social Security numbers, as listed, were consecutive. "They just made them up," Timmons said.
Screening won't always turn up red flags, said Saad, who headed up security for Allied Signal Corp. in New Jersey before it merged with Honeywell. That was the case with one of the supplier's employees, Nidal Ayyad, who was convicted in 1994 of having played a role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City.
"In that case, it may not have been possible to determine from his background check that he would be capable of such a terrorist act," Saad said.
Screening is not all it takes to assure a safe workplace, he said.
"Once an employee enters the work force, proper supervision is critical to the continued assurance that the work force is safe."
Sherri Begin: (313) 446-1694, firstname.lastname@example.org
Improving Shareholder Equity by Matching
Temperament to Task — A Case Study at Dow Chemical
By Greg Stevens, President, WinOvations, Inc. (email@example.com); James Burley, Professor of Marketing, Central Michigan University; and Kurt Swogger, Vice President, Polyolefins and Elastomers R&D, The Dow Chemical Co.
In this case history we show how matching personality type to job function dramatically improved New Product Development results in one division of Dow Chemical over a 10-year period.
For years researchers have been trying to figure out the "secret" of innovation. In the past, despite extensive research, the personalities of employees were not seriously considered as key factor in business success. Now however, 40% of major companies use personality instruments as key hiring criteria. Since people, not processes, make inventions, it only makes sense that temperament and personality should be strongly considered as a way to leverage people's innate talents into corporate success and increased shareholder value.
In 1991, Dow Chemical was considering selling or joint-venturing its Polyolefins and Elastomers (PO&E) business. The products produced by this business including plastic items such as grocery bags, shrink wrap, milk jugs and other containers, were becoming increasingly commoditized earlier technological advantages were being lost and profitability was steadily declining.
Dow's PO&E business had not created a single new product line in several years prior to 1991, and it was believed that "there was nothing new under the sun." The very culture of the R&D organization itself seemed lacking in creativity. Indeed, it looked like "the sun was setting" on the PO&E business at Dow.
Taking up the challenge
This was the challenge that Kurt Swogger inherited in 1991, when he became head of R&D for Polyolefins and Elastomers. In a remarkable turn around that took less than 10 years, Swogger and his management team were able to transform the division from a commodity producing entity being considered for divestiture, into a thriving, creative group which now represents a significant proportion of the shareholder equity of The Dow Chemical Co. By 2003, more than $3 billion in value had been created from this one research group's efforts, in large part due to getting the right person in the right job.
How Was The Innovation-Transformation Achieved?
To build a more innovative and agile culture, Dow's Polyolefin's & Elastomers R&D group instituted a number of unique procedures and approaches which led to the rapid formation of a more creative and effective culture. One key aspect of PO&E management's approach to improving R&D's organizational effectiveness was by matching individual personalities to the job function needing to be performed. The aim was to match people and their personalities with job they did best.
Two types of personality
The approach was influenced by the work conducted over an earlier 10-year time span in a different division of Dow, which had revealed that certain types of personalities involved in the early stages of New Product Development regularly out-earned other types. These types were referred to as Starters/Innovators. These out earned other types by a factor of 95 times - a 9,500-percent improvement - when measuring corporate profits that later resulted from their early-stage New Product Development analyses.
The Starter personality types are those who are creative, intuitive, curious and visionary. These individuals continuously challenge the status quo by asking "Why not?" They are risk takers, and often are hard to manage.
The other type of personality identified were the Finishers. These types are detail minded, practical, respectful of authority and rules, well focused and task oriented. These are the people who "get the job done."
In terms of Keirsey Temperament Theory, "Starters" are the Rational Architects (INTPs) and Inventors (ENTPs)' and the Finishers for the most part are Guardians (Sjs).
Steps to implement
First it had to be determined which personalities were needed to do which jobs. Upon reflection, it became evident to management that Starter job roles included determining what new polymers are needed to meet customers' needs, and then creating them. This required breakthrough thinking and broad, multidisciplinary experiences. Finisher job roles included developing and commercializing these products, keeping plants running well, and implementing procedures as required, to make money. A group such as PO&E R&D needed both types of personalities.
With that understanding, management first set out to identify the Starters/Innovators and Finishers/ Implementers throughout the organization through both intuitive and qualitative means.
When new R&D management initially took over in 1991, the right person was in the right job only 29% of the time (i.e. Most Starters were in Finisher job roles, and vice versa). Management was able to determine this through observation and judgment and began a shift to move individuals into more appropriate job roles.
Management watched closely to determine whether the job changes were working. Usually mismatches could be identified within six months or less. For example, if an individual was having great difficulty in a Starter role, they were reassigned quickly to a Finisher role, and vice-versa. In short, there was some trial and error involved, but by 2001, the right person was in the right job role 93% of the time.
Scarcity of starters
The scarcest types of people to find were the Starters. [According to Keirsey, Starters make up about 4 to 5% of the population at large, while Finishers represent 50%.] Management wanted more Starters to increase the number of differentiated new products. They sought out creative scientists and managers, or "mavericks" to fulfill these functions. These people were typically found in other parts of The Dow Chemical Company's organization, where they were often out-of-favor and frustrated because they did not fit the cultures of those divisions, and were often perceived as "difficult to manage." These individuals would quickly find a home in Polyolefins R&D if they were creative and intelligent types, who were really trying to make positive changes for the company, rather than just being challenging trouble-makers.
Due to their scarcity, and the critical role they play in creating tomorrow's new business, Management made sure to reward these the Starters well in their new roles.
Raising the Creativity of the R&D Group's Culture
Another key aspect of PO&E R&D management's approach to improving R&D's organizational effectiveness was to try to quickly increase the creativity of the key decision makers in the research group, in both scientific and managerial roles.
When new R&D management initially took over in 1991, the research group's culture was well below the national average for creativity. In 1991, the group culture was that of an "SJ-Guardian" group - akin to the culture of bank tellers. By quickly bringing in more creative scientists and managers starting in 1993, after just two years the group's culture was already transformed to that of a much more creative "NT-Rational" culture, and this trend continued through 2001. The rapid boost in group-creativity has led to a remarkable outburst of innovation coupled with the creation of extraordinary value. This research group is also now defined by external auditors as "best in class" in the chemical industry for speed-to-market, and is much faster on average than its parent company.
Evaluating the changes
The positive results of this ten-year transformation were striking. In total, the personalities of 91 percent of all the key decision makers in PO&E R&D over that time period were measured, and most were interviewed in-depth as well. Various R&D performance metrics were also gathered over the same ten-year time period.
Raising the creativity of the entire organizational culture was also achieved by quickly bringing in more creative individuals as key decision makers in the organization - both scientists and managers. The average Creativity Index for the group of top managers and scientists rose from being substantially below the national average, to substantially above the average in less than four years.
The Polyolefin and Elastomers Business was also extraordinarily focused in its approach towards innovating between 1991 and 2001. This was not a case of "unleashing the creative child within." They focused their creativity on understanding key customer requirements, and the cost performance that they would need to achieve so that their customers would receive outstanding value. In short, the efforts of the creative yet often difficult-to-manage Starters, were directed and focused on key money-making projects, by top management. When needed, this direction was provided autocratically: Starters were not allowed to work in an out-of-control manner, on whatever felt good at the time to them.
The results in organizational effectiveness resulting from these changes are impressive. Various R&D performance metrics were measured for 1991, 1995 and 2001. Since 1991 the number of patents has increased four times. The overall efficiency of pilot plants has increased 18 fold. The efficiency of personnel handling technical service has increased 2.6 times, freeing up a small army of 133 individuals for more productive roles, including innovation.
Since 1991, there have been 16 major new product-line launches, where there had been none for many years prior. A steady stream of new product launches occurred , not only including major product innovations in polyethylene, but also in polypropylene, PET, elastomers and fibers. The percent of sales from products less than five years old had increased from 2.5 percent to 14 percent, a remarkable transformation in a business that today produces over 20 billion pounds of product. Even the capacity of existing plants has been increased by a factor of two-and-a-half times. Sales of new products have also helped to boost sales of existing products in the portfolio.
Increasing Stockholder Value
The first large increase in value from the breakthrough innovations from PO&E R&D came from the equity gained by Dow Chemical in 1996 as a result the DuPont-Dow JV in elastomers, which added over $0.5 billion to the share-holder equity of Dow Chemical per their annual report. By 2003, over six times the $0.5 billion in value from the DuPont-Dow Joint Venture in elastomers has already been created. The value created is conservatively projected to more than double again within the next three years. The Polyolefins and Elastomers Business now represents a significant percentage of the total value of The Dow Chemical Company, and is once again a crown jewel.
That's not too bad, coming from a commodity business which prior to 1991 was being considered for divestiture, and which itself believed there was little that could be done to create value from new products in polyethylene and elastomers.
Helpful for other corporations
The breakthrough approach that the Dow Polyolefins and Elastomers Business developed over the last 10 years is one of the most deliberate and rapid cultural transformations ever documented. By comparison, it took Jack Welch over 20 years by his own reckoning to get GE 50-60 percent of the way towards being more innovative and agile.
The approach is relatively simple, highly effective and straightforward to implement:
•First, assess the fit of the personalities of your key employees to ensure that Starters and Finishers are in the right job roles. Adjust their job roles to fit their personalities as needed. (Don't waste your time trying to change their personalities, because these are determined to a large degree by genetics!) •Then, modify the group culture as needed. For example, bring in more creative types of decision makers when more innovation is needed. •Finally, use a structured but non-linear new business development process to ensure that the groups' creativity is focused on things that will bring value to your potential customers. This approach could help many organizations - as it did Dow's Polyolefins and Elastomers Business -reinvigorate their new product development efforts and thus, strengthen corporate profits and success.
By Greg Stevens, President, WinOvations, Inc.; James Burley, Professor of Marketing, Central Michigan
University; and Kurt Swogger, Vice President, Polyolefins and Elastomers R&D, The Dow Chemical Co.
By Sherri Begin, Crain's Detroit Business
You can't skimp on employee background checks
Marketing Intelligence / Joanna L. Krotz
A few years back, two armed robbers were caught ransacking an upscale California home and they wound up shooting the owner. The thieves hadn't expected anyone to be there.
That's because they knew a lot about that house and its security. The pair had spent hours in the home, as carpet cleaners for a service that caters to wealthy homeowners.
The cleaner-robbers had a clever scam. Most affluent owners don't hang around when house cleaners arrive. So, typically, one guy worked while the other roamed, casing the contents, alarm systems, doors and windows. Then they left, only to return several months later to rob the place. Victims never made the connection to the carpet service — until the shooting.
When the robbers were found, the homeowner sued the service. It turned out that the men had criminal records and felony convictions before they were hired.
The company was found guilty of "negligent hiring." Its owners had to pay $11 million in damages.
When you tally the dollars and time it takes to recruit, interview, hire and train an employee, it doesn't make sense to cheap out on verifying background details. That may be especially important for smaller businesses where staffers often have multiple responsibilities. Even tiny employee lies can hurt your firm's reputation or bank account. And one bad hire can do enormous damage.
You do the math
Today, it costs roughly $50 for a professional pre-employment screening. Such searches ran $200 a few years ago. Prices are dropping as technology takes over.
Most third-party background checks are now completed in three to five days via expert searches of computerized public records and personal databases. When red flags are raised, investigators follow up the old-fashioned way, by phone and wearing out shoe leather.
There also are Web sites that offer access to public and commercial records, including Informus and KnowX. So you can gather background information for yourself.
This, of course, falls into the category of being careful about getting something for nothing. Such sites aren't necessarily trustworthy. You might end up with incorrect information and/or legal liability.
Lately, the efficient price and worries about safety brought on by Sept. 11 have led to more frequent employee screening in Fortune 500 and other large corporations. For instance, at PeopleWise, a Hollister, Calif.-based screening provider that helped with the hiring of 70,000 people at the Salt Lake City Olympics, president Gary Cornick says business is up 32% since September. The company is averaging 5,000 checks a day.
By contrast, midsize and small firms are still reluctant to spend resources on screening. Yet hundreds of job seekers fudge facts or outright lie about their skills, experience or education. That goes for seemingly inconsequential details and for VIP candidates, too.
Remember short-time Notre Dame football coach George O'Leary? He was forced to resign in 2001 for fabricating details on his résumé about his playing record at the University of New Hampshire and about having a master's degree in education from New York University.
Checks and balances
The need to investigate potential hires seems obvious for certain positions, such as security and law enforcement, health care and child care.
More broadly, you should consider screening any potential employees who will interact with the public, work in customers' homes or offices, or handle financial or other sensitive information.
"You don't need a criminal background check for every hire," says PeopleWise's Cornick. "But at a minimum, you should check information on an application form and verify basic information on a resume."
The key to protecting yourself is doing your best to verify information provided by candidates. Keep some written document of your efforts, including whoever you talk to, the dates and the questions you ask, while making every reasonable effort to check employee statements.
Keep it legal
State and federal laws police the kinds of information employers can use when making employment decisions. Most states follow federal guidelines, but there are variations, with California being the most complicated and New York a close second. Check your state's requirements before proceeding.
"When doing background checks, employers are between a rock and a hard place," says Steven Ludwig, partner at Fox, Rothschild's Labor & Employment Department in Philadelphia. "If they do too little, they can be sued. If they do too much, they may be violating federal and state law by making prohibitive inquiries."
The majority of federal protections for worker privacy and rights are overseen by the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1971 (plus significant amendments in the late 1990s), the Privacy Act of 1974, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, among others.
Most regulations kick in only when you hire a third party to do the investigation. If you verify information yourself, many laws do not apply. Even so, research the issues or talk to an employment lawyer or a veteran human resources consultant before beginning. You want to set up clear company policies about screening and select positions that require background checks.
Do not, for example, investigate random candidates or applicants who make you suspicious. That appears arbitrary and discriminatory and could lead to legal trouble. The idea is to consistently screen for a position, rather than investigate any individual.
Before beginning, you must gain written permission from the candidate. There are strict guidelines about that, too. Permission must be on a separate sheet of paper and in a specific size of type and so on.
Overall, says Rob Ghio, who heads the employment section of Arter & Hadden law firm in Dallas, "figure out what information you really need and what you will do with it once you get it."
What to look at
Reports range from simply verifying social security numbers to full-dress investigations, much of it from public records, including:
•Education records •Arrest, court or criminal records •Credit reports or bankruptcy filings •Driving records and vehicle registrations •Medical records and workers' compensation •Military service records •Property ownership •State licensing records •Character references or interviews with neighbors
There are specific regulations about investigations that result in an "adverse employment action." In other words, legally, you can refuse to hire people for some things and not others. You must also let the candidate know what you've learned, in writing, and give him or her "reasonable" time to rebut the information.
And, by the way, if a previous employer will only confirm dates of employment and offer no other information, don't assume the worst. Employers are now so concerned about liability that they routinely adopt such reference policies, even for valued ex-staffers.
All this is why third-party investigators earn their fees. Good ones understand the nuances and know all the rules.
Choosing an investigator
Before hiring an employment screener, carefully check their references. Your liability is on the line. Ask where their information will come from, and how they make sure it's current. Court records, for instance, change daily.
"If they say the information is 'proprietary,' or they can't tell you sources, then you should probably walk away," Cornick says. "There are no secrets here."
Despite the legal complications, pre-employment screening and background checks seem cheap at the price. Is it really smart to put your firm at risk to save 50 bucks?
Marketing Intelligence / Jonna L. Krotz
Your Business small business advice
Things to know before you fire
Letting an employee go is not something to be undertaken lightly. Sometimes the state of the economy demands layoffs, and that's generally understood, if dreaded, by workers.
Then there are the for-cause terminations, which is where problems can arise.
Wherever the "at-will" theory of employment applies, either the employee or the employer can terminate employment at any time, and for any reason except those involving illegal discriminatory action. But there are exceptions.
Many states have enacted legislation protecting workers under certain circumstances, such as those serving jury duty or performing military service. Workers who report employer misconduct also are protected in some places.
Also if you've told an employee that he or she will be engaged for a certain period of time, or even implied such, then you'll probably need justification to terminate the employee.
Acceptable causes include neglect of duty, dishonesty, misusing trade secrets or theft. Lacking a solid argument, be prepared to be sued.
Worker Shortage Forecast -- In 2010
By Margaret Steen
As Silicon Valley wraps up what is likely to be its third year in a row of job losses, it's difficult to imagine soaring demand for workers. But that's exactly what is predicted when the baby boomers retire and a smaller generation takes its place in the workforce.
According to government projections, the U.S. labor force will grow 12 percent from 2000 to 2010; during the same period, the number of jobs will grow almost 17 percent. Many experts predict the resulting competition for workers will drive up wages, especially for skilled workers.
And the decade that ends in 2010 may be just the beginning: The oldest baby boomers will turn 65 in 2011, so even more retirements are likely after that.
This worker shortage, assuming it happens as predicted, is unlikely to come in time to help those looking for jobs today, although shortages are already starting to appear in some fields, such as health care. And the actual extent and effect of the shortage will vary by industry and by location.
California, for example, has a younger population than the rest of the country, so the gap between the workers available and the number of jobs may not be as great here. This, economists say, could increase the state's competitiveness.
"It's a huge opportunity for California," said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.
There's one big caveat: The workers will need the right skills. Immigration is one reason California's population is younger than the nation's, and recent immigrants may struggle with English, making it difficult for them to get highly paid jobs.
But Levy points out that in another one or two decades, it will be the children of today's immigrants who are entering the workforce. They will have been educated here and will probably not face some of the obstacles their parents did.
"Everybody isn't a recent immigrant forever," Levy said.
However, it's still unclear whether the workers who are available will be able to fill the jobs that companies have.
"It's better defined as a skills gap in California. That's the impending crisis," said Tim Rainey, policy director for the non-profit California Workforce Association.
Many of the job categories that are predicted to grow require specialized training, such as those in health care. And some of them will probably be in emerging technical and scientific fields such as nanotechnology.
This last point is one reason it is difficult to determine how overall predictions of a labor shortage will affect the tech industry.
"Some of the jobs are leaving; people are being displaced," Rainey said. "You're going to have folks who are being laid off in certain industries, then other industries that are going to be having a serious need for skilled workers, insatiable, in the next 10 years."
In addition, the tech industry is relatively young, so it may see fewer retirements than others. The workforce is global; no one knows how much the trend toward sending work offshore will affect the demand for tech workers in the United States.
And even the predictions of a national shortage depend on a number of variables.
For example, the effect of the baby boomers' retirement may be delayed if many of them put it off. There are several reasons this might happen: The minimum age for collecting full Social Security benefits is rising. Many have seen their retirement savings depleted during the recent downturn. People are living and staying healthy longer. And some experts predict that companies will make part-time work more attractive in an effort to keep these skilled workers on for a few more years.
Even delayed retirements, however, would postpone, rather than eliminate, the gap.
"The baby boomers are a large generation, and eventually they're going to retire. And when they retire, it will be noticed," said Dowell Myers, professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California.
Demographers point out that it's difficult to make predictions, especially about the size of the labor force. Women's growing participation in the labor force over the past several decades, for example, has greatly increased the number of workers. Immigration, especially in California, is difficult to predict and could affect the number of workers available. And some people move in and out of the labor force depending on the economic times.
"Labor market projections are like navigating before there were satellites," said Richard Moore, professor of management at California State University-Northridge. "Human behavior is just really hard to predict.".
Can Your Personality Get You Fired?
Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com Editor
Job candidates rarely admit to being fired for poor performance...and they might just be telling the truth. A Harvard University study found that for every dismissal based on failure to perform, there are two dismissals due to personality and communication problems. With the high costs of employee turnover, it's no surprise companies are turning to personality and behavioral assessments to help evaluate job candidates, build teams and resolve workplace conflict.
The Right Fit
Ann Taylor Loft, the world's fastest-growing women's retailer, recently began using testing to fine-tune its hiring process and bring in top talent. Through a partnership with the Gallup organization, Loft has developed a tool that profiles employees who have been highly successful and identifies candidates who have similar traits.
Desired characteristics vary by position. If you're applying for a floor sales manager job at a Loft store, for example, you would be asked to complete an on-line assessment gauging your talents, traits, attitudes and behaviors related to assisting and helping wardrobe clients. Your results would then be benchmarked against profiles and test results of the stores' best performers to help judge how you would fit into the organization.
"We want to learn more about candidates as individuals," says Wei-Li Chong, Ann Taylor Loft's vice president of organizational effectiveness. "We want to know what makes them tick.
"Once a candidate is hired, this same information helps us understand and maximize their talents specific to the role they have," Chong adds. "And we continue to work on developing employees' self-awareness throughout their careers to help create an environment that ensures success."
Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
Hundreds of companies including Hewlett-Packard and GM use testing to take advantage of existing staff strengths and avoid personality-based conflicts. And though there are a myriad of test instruments to choose from, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) remains the standard-bearer of all personality assessments. According to its publishers, Myers-Briggs is used by roughly nine out of 10 Fortune 100 companies and is administered to more than 2.5 million employees a year.
Developed 60 years ago based on the theories of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, the MBTI endures because it does a great job of improving team relations by pointing out differences between how personality "types" perceive and process information.
"People have different ways of making decisions and dealing with stress," explains Lynn Ronchetto, human resources administrator at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. "The Myers-Briggs tool offers a conceptual framework for understanding those who are different from us and helps bridge differences between team members by showing there is more than one way to get things done.
Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com Editor
By Don Straits, CEO and Dragon Slayer, Corporate Warriors
Employer Hot Buttons - Focus on the Needs of the Decision Maker
By Don Straits, CEO and Dragon Slayer, Corporate Warriors
All too often the job seeker is focused on what he or she is looking for in a job (i.e. income, benefits, location, function, responsibilities, title, stature, drive time, industry, and corporate culture). On the other hand, hiring executives have an entirely different set of standards for what they are seeking in candidates. If you, as a job seeker, fail to recognize the difference, you will be history in terms of being the candidate of choice.
Let's explore the minds of decision makers and find their hot buttons. When you focus your search on these factors through your resume (or resume portfolio, see my article titled Burn Your Resume) and through your interviews, you are more likely to become the standard by which all other candidates will be measured.
Employer hot buttons:
1. Ability to do the Job.
Sounds simple enough, but you would be amazed how many people apply for jobs for which they are not qualified. Before the decision makers dig deep into a candidate's background, or invite him or her in for an interview, they must first confirm this very basic criteria. Establish your ability through your resume or resume portfolio by placing your emphasis on accomplishments, results performance and insights into emerging trends, opportunities and challenges.
Unless you are entry level, most decision makers are looking for someone who can "hit the ground running." They do not want a long learning curve that requires costly training and where the new hire cannot produce quick results. Today's decision makers have very little patience. Demonstrate how you quickly identified a problem or need project, initiated an action plan, and produced bottom-line results.
3. Job Growth.
Decision makers look for people who go beyond their defined "job description." Show that you are adaptive and willing to take on additional responsibility and that you will go the extra mile to achieve success. You don't want to be perceived as someone who is stuck in the comfort zone and always content with the status quo.
Decision makers want to know that they can totally put their trust in you to perform the job and produce the desired results. They develop this trust by seeing your confidence. Confidence can be displayed in numerous ways. Here are just a few of the things that decision makers look for: A) Speak with authority. Use phrases like "I can," "I will," and "I know." Avoid phases like "I think," "In my opinion," and "I feel that." B) Demonstrate a commanding presence by your appearance, posture, eye contact, and body language. C) Show your track record of ongoing success. Decision makers will not have confidence in you if they can only see a few accomplishments scattered over several years.
Leadership is not reserved for senior executives or managers. For example, a janitor can show leadership by finding a better way to do his/her job, by setting a great example for his/her peers, or by finding ways to cut costs through more effective cleaning equipment or a new supplier for less expensive cleaning materials. Leadership is a rare commodity. Show decision makers that you have the courage to take a leadership role, regardless of your level or function.
Much to the regret of some people, decision makers look for a certain amount of conformity. This does not mean you must be the quintessential "Dilbert." Rather, organizations seek people whose personality style and behavior match the requirements of the job and the corporate culture. For example, we all know about the employee who is never happy with anything, is a continual whiner, and always finds fault with everyone else. During your interviews, avoid criticizing your former employer or placing blame on others for why things didn't get done. Always demonstrate your positive mental attitude (PMA).
OK, we wrapped up number six by mentioning your PMA. Let's build on that. If you want to be the standard by which all others are measured, then walk in the door with a high energy level, tons of enthusiasm, a zest for living, and the determination to be the very best at whatever you do. Enthusiasm is infectious. Others feed on it. It is motivating and drives others to higher levels of productivity and success. Show your enthusiasm every chance you get and you dramatically increase your chances of being hired.
8. Social Skills/Interests/Involvement.
In today's business world, it seems that professional courtesy and conduct are from another era. You can never say please and thank you enough. Give credit and praise to others. During your interview talk about the team's performance and the contribution that everyone else brought to your projects or your job. Show your interest in what others were working on and how you were willing to help. Show your involvement in organization activities—both social and professional.
Over the past few years we have witnessed the tragic abuse of authority and total lack of integrity by many of our nation's top senior level executives. Many have gone to jail and others will probably soon follow. Needless to say, this is a powerful message to everyone. Demonstrate your uncompromising integrity, professional ethics and personal morals. If a decision maker wants you to "wink" at laws or professional conduct, you don't want to work for that company.
10. Communication Skills.
We can't ever communicate too much. I admit that companies often have too many meetings, but I don't equate those meetings to communication. A good communicator possesses outstanding written and oral skills and knows how to use them effectively. Demonstrate to the decision maker how you continually use communication skills to achieve your goals. There is a lot of information here to absorb and it is difficult to hit all of these hot buttons through your resume and interviews. But by being aware of these hot buttons you can consciously try to touch on as many as possible. Instead of focusing on what you want, focus on what the employer wants and you will land that next job.