Thursday, March 19, 2009

Supply vs. Demand -The AIG misnomer

Why isn't anyone asking the relevant and pertinent question about the AIG bonuses? Why isn't someone asking what the turnover rate is inside of AIG and what the supply of talent there is to fill the open positions if someone was to leave AIG? The answers would likely tell us that there is no reason to provide these bonus payments right now. If you work in the financial industry and you have a job, you are not giving it up easily. As Mayo said in Officer and a Gentlemen: "I got no where else to go!" Our representatives in government show how much they don't know about business when these types of decisions are made. In that backroom with Senator Dodd cutting the deal for one of his largest contributors (excuse me, don't I remember campaign promises saying that the backroom decisions wouldn't happen anymore?) someone should have piped up and said, "What does it matter if someone threatens to leave, there aren't other jobs for them to go to, and if they do, there is so much financial industry talent available that we could pay for the recruiting fees 50X times and still not scratch the surface on the amount of payments for the bonuses". The other thing that I just don't understand is why if these payments were really about retention that they didn't create deferred income bonuses that each of these people would have had to stick around to a defined time in the future to receive. Those are real retention bonuses. Paying someone $1MM now to stay, makes no sense. Even if they created these 6 months ago, it still doesn't make any sense in that the CEO of AIG is talking about the need to keep people long-term. It is times like these that I cringe at the credentials of the people who are our representatives and I am astounded by the lack of their reaching out to those who could help them understand the issues so they can ask the right questions to get the right answers.

Staying Competitive

This blog of mine was posted today on where I regularly contribute:

Staying Competitive: Tips for Interviewing in Today’s Market
Posted on March 19th, 2009 by Guest Contributor

It doesn’t take a PhD economist to know that supply and demand create all kinds of different outcomes. The job market is no different. We are now in the stage of what I call an “arrogance of supply” - meaning companies are more often looking for “the perfect fit” rather than hiring “the best athlete” who can be trained to become the right fit. When unemployment is low, companies embrace the “best athlete” model of hiring where they will take a chance on a person who is smart, ambitious, accomplished and shares the values of the corporation. Best athletes are people who employers would say, “have all the right stuff, now let’s train them to do what we need them to do.” In times like these with oversupply, companies often lose their progressive thinking and adopt an attitude that each and every person must be “the perfect fit.” This means it is more important than ever to stand out and be unique in a job interviews because if you aren’t a “perfect fit” you aren’t going to get the job.

Here are five ideas for you, beyond the standard advice, that can make you stand out from the rest:

* Come prepared with a solution to a problem. You are a smart person, you can use your functional area of expertise and evaluate the problems of a company and come ready with a plan to help them solve the issues. Example, if you are in marketing and you read from the news or the company website that their customer base is eroding, then you should come with a one page PowerPoint that provides the five ideas you have to stop the erosion. Even if you are wrong, or you misread the problem, you will have done something others won’t.
* Offer to start on a probationary period. Let’s face it; if you are already on the inside, then you have a better chance than someone else on the outside. So offer to work on a temporary/probationary period and allow your confidence in your own abilities and your belief in performance-based rewards to be seen. Offer to start on Monday and sign whatever they would like to be signed that you will leave voluntarily and positively at any time during the “try-out” period for any reason that they ask. This approach might be just what the hiring manager and the HR person needs to get the job filled quickly at a lower risk.
* Use the language of the company. Every company has a lexicon of buzzwords and acronyms that are unique to them. Before the interview, read the company website thoroughly, use sites like Glassdoor to read what employees talk about and how they say it, talk to someone/anyone who has worked at the company before or now and ask them for some of the buzzwords and “language” of the company. We all like people who we think know us and act and sound like us. Knowing and using those buzzwords can create confidence in the interviewer that you are a perfect fit for the culture.
* Know something that the interviewer cares about and then apply yourself to that interest. Most everyone you interview with these days has a LinkedIn profile or some type of web presence. Find just one thing about the interviewer that you can apply your skills/talents to. It could be that you are talking in the interview about how to adapt the company’s offering to Gen Y. You could say, well, imagine if we were to go back to your alma mater, (insert University name here) and do focus groups. These focus groups….” You get the point. It might be that you find that the person coaches AYSO soccer, is involved in their church, reads books like crazy, and does Tai-Chi. It doesn’t matter; just get one conversation thread going that connects you to them in some way.
* Give examples of how you make other people better. In an interview we get plenty of time to talk about ourselves and detail our accomplishments but rarely is there enough time for the interviewer to ask about how well you play in the sandbox. Come prepared with a story to tell her/him on how you have made others better on your team, on other teams, for the company as a whole, whatever it is, but something that leaves them with the impression that you will be a great teammate.

Keep at it. Just because you don’t get one job, doesn’t mean that there isn’t another right one out there for you. And always remember, you are talented!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Sad Third Place...Perfect For Staring

Back in the day, Howard Shultz founded Starbucks and created what he called the "the third place". Starbucks was not to be work or home. It was to be the place in between. For a very long time that worked perfectly, although a lot of people made it their work place like salespeople and free-agents. But, yesterday, I would say that Starbucks has returned to the third place, but it's not the place it once was. In the heyday Starbucks hustled and bustled. It was full of vibrant conversations, business meetings, rendezvous, small groups, etc. It was a great place. No one cared that the coffee was too expensive or the smell of roasted beans was replaced and gone. The place was about the place to hang out. A few days ago I was in a Starbucks in downtown San Francisco, in the financial district. I was between meetings and had about 90 minutes to kill so I went into Starbucks, grabbed one of their pre-made lunch assortments and a Berry-Chai and sat down with my laptop and did some work. After a few minutes, I noticed that something was different. First of all, the store was not as crowded as it would have been a year or a few months ago (or any Starbucks would have been). That is to be expected. The price of a cup of coffee is more discretionary now than ever so less people are paying up. Understandable. But that was not the change. The change was in the spirit and feel of the people who were there. Those who were there together were not the usual "up talkers" where you could normally overhear about "this deal" or that "opportunity" or "the next new thing". Instead, conversations seemed muted and softly spoken. But the real difference I saw were the, and I counted them, five "starers" who were there. They were four men and one woman, all who looked to be in their late 40's to late 50's. These five people, all dressed nicely, each had a cup of coffee or drink in their hand, a briefcase or knapsack with them placed on the floor or in the other seat. Nothing was out of the their packs on the tables, only their drinks were on the the table or in their hands. Each was alone not waiting on anyone else. All five of them sat at their table, with their drinks and just stared into space. This had been going on since before I got there and continued for the 90 minutes I was there. For a moment, as I observed this, I thought maybe this was some sort of psychology experiment that was going on, but after a while, it was clear to me that this was not a test, this was the real thing. What I was watching were people who didn't have anything else to do. These were people who didn't have work to do and didn't have any work that they could find to do. As I projected their stories, I saw men and women who had spent their day trying to network into a new job, had done all they could do for the day, didn't want to go home and instead headed back to the place that they could be most comfortable, their third place. We all migrate back to where we think is comfortable when we feel lost. The third place may not be the hustle and bustle of before, but for some, it looks to have become a refuge. It is a sign of our times.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Start Putting Our Mouth Where Our Money Is...

Anyone who makes an investment, whether personally or professionally, will usually, at least at the onset of the investment, be very positive about the company receiving the investment and the prospects for the future. Now that the U.S. Government has become an investor in the financial, automobile and insurance industries it is time to start hearing that these are good investments and build some confidence that those of us who have paid for those investments will see a return. It seems totally nonsensical to me that we will on one day send taxpayer dollars into an institution and the next day publicly slam those who are receiving the investment. What is going on? If Washington wants to make a difference then they need to go into these investments wholeheartedly and with the same excitement and vigor that any one of who writes a check would do. Let's put our best minds and people to help the banks, the car companies and the insurance companies to not just survive but to grow and prosper. Let's start publicizing the good things that these institutions do and can do and celebrate wins and successes, no matter how small those would be. Let's have the CEO's of bailed out companies post a monthly report on detailing the successes that they are seeing. Let's start putting our mouth where we put our money and talk the same talk out of both sides of our mouths. President Obama is a great motivator and could bring about the confidence change we need. But, he won't do that if he thinks that it is better to bring Congress to their feet by continually beating down the companies and people where he just invested our dollars. I want to hear that we are with them win, lose or tie...not just win or tie. If we aren't then we are wasting precious taxpayer money and our projection of failure will become a reality.