As I’m nearing the completion of my Executive Coaching Certification from The Hudson Institute, my recent meetings always seem to meander their way to the topic of career pivots. Executive Coaching will be my third career of this lifetime. In more cases than not, whoever I’m speaking with admits that they would love to try something totally different, but they don’t know where to start. So they don’t. But the conversation sparks possibility and they inch open the door to exploration, and ask me how I have successfully pivoted multiple times.
I won’t go into my personal story (if you’re interested, click here), but can share with you what I share during these conversations. Each career pivot has been preceded by a period of feeling trapped and sure that I need to make a change. I fall into a funk, become even more of a homebody than I normally am and slowly start to emerge with inklings of what might re-energize me. I go into adventure mode, and start exposing myself to new ideas and new people in alignment with these inklings. During that exploratory phase, something’s always clicked and I get clear on my new direction. And then I go for it and re-launch myself.
Hudson has a great model that exemplifies what they call The Cycle of Renewal. When we first studied what I now realize is this ubiquitous human cycle, I had one of those “Ohhhhhhhh, now I get what I’ve been going through” moments. You see the line between the words “The Cycle” and “of Renewal”? That symbolizes a shortcut that we all take when we only need a minor life tweak to get us back in action. But career pivots typically take a bit more time to percolate. You can’t rush or cliff note the Doldrums or Cocooning. Sorry.
If you are ready to start exploring, here are some steps you can take:
- Read Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. It deconstructs the process by which many have successfully jumped to new careers, yielding best practices for how it’s done. Not saying it’s easy, or that you don’t have to have a healthy dose of bravery coursing through your veins. But a road map makes that road less bumpy.
- If you are really at a loss, do an inventory of your passions, strengths, unique qualities and experience, and let that inform your exploration.
- Meet new people/do new things.
- Get an Executive Coach – it’s kind of what we do (well, one of the things). You can check out my coaching site here, and I am well networked with other coaches around the country. Happy to help you identify someone that is a great match for you.
I recently pimped this gem out on my social media outlets and it struck a nerve, so I decided it was a good start point for a much-overdue blog post.
“Irony at its best. Approximately 99.9% of my clients ask me to “…only find me “A” players. Like someone out of Google”. 3 of said clients passed on a shot at a recent candidate of mine. And guess who just hired him?”
I really wish I had fabricated that post. But no such luck. It’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the incredibly irritating truth.
People – we are in a very high demand, very low supply market, especially for tech, especially in LA. It’s been this way going on 5 years now. This is the new normal. It’s time to accept it and adapt to it, assuming your objective is to actually hire people and grow your company. Part of that means rejiggering the way you approach hiring. You need to pull your head out of the sand, and stop thinking you have something so special that candidates will be lucky you give them the time of day. You have to start coming from “Why Not?” instead of “Why?” I’m not suggesting that you abolish your standards, but rather that you re-align your expectations with reality. Here are some ways to do it:
- You need to date a person before you can break up with them: Many of my clients are so focused on risk-mitigation that they invariably rule out some killer candidates. It’s totally fine and expected that technical/coding tests will be part of the interview drill. But it’s counter-productive to have candidates do this as a first step. 50% of our candidates won’t do it. It’s not that they don’t love tech, or that they are fearful that they won’t create the most beautiful code on earth. They are simply too busy to invest that kind of time in your company before you have even invested 10 minutes on the phone getting them excited about what you are up to.
- Candidates are like snowflakes: Each is unique, with different motivations, explanations and characteristics. It’s easy to create rules to disqualify potential candidates, but remember – market is high demand, low supply – you need to think of reasons to include them, not exclude them. For example, I have (many) clients that will flatly refuse to speak to people who got a degree at an online university (yes, accredited ones). But I have spoken to candidates who are smarter than their private-school brethren (IMHO), who had no choice but to attend online university while concurrently working FULL TIME because that is the only way they could afford it. That demonstrates two adjectives that bode well for a great hire – motivated and extremely hard working. Educational snobbery is, well, just that. And it’s counter-productive. So stop it.
- Grow your own: Create an internship program and keep some of the amazing CS talent in LA – Harvey Mudd, UCLA, USC, CalTech – get them and train them and keep them.
- Lazypants: Yes, if a person graduated from MIT, chances are they are good. Yes, if Google hired a person, chances are they are good. But that does not mean the jillions of other people that did not go to MIT or work at Google are not equally good. If you are a hiring manager, part of your job is to know how to hire. Not to rely on universities and other companies to vet for you.
- You’re not that great: Expecting a person to forgo other job offers, compensation or any semblance of a life is unrealistic these days. That whole “we want people who are SO passionate about us, they will tattoo our logo on their butts” thing is SO last century. You may be great, but you are not that great. Everyone has a foosball table and free snacks. You still need to assume that candidates will want to a) be paid; b) get benefits; c) see the light of day sometimes.
- A necessary evil?: If you are opt to use an outside agency, please spare us unless you are serious. If you think we are bloodsucking, money grubbing sloths, you are doing us no favor by asking us to help you with one of the most critical challenges of our time – hiring. We will work our tuchuses off for you, and remember, we do this on a contingency basis – we don’t even get paid for majority of the hours we put in. So, in return, give us what we need to do our jobs in this insane market. Earlier this year, I had a potential client reach out to me, and during negotiations was asked to reduce our contingency fee because all other agencies they were working with were at that reduced fee. And I would want to take this client on why? Yay, another client looking for a needle in a haystack skill set who wants to pay us less, while allowing us the opportunity to compete against countless other agencies searching for the same needle. Try these ideas instead:
- Let us talk to the hiring manager. It works better. Trust me. If they are not willing to speak to us, it’s not worth our time. 5 minutes on the phone with a hiring manager will save said hiring manager hours of wasted time speaking to people that are off target.
- Tell us how you sell the company, what’s coming down the pike for growth, what the product details are. Address any red flags or bad press with us, so we know how to circumvent concerns. Tell us a realistic process, so we can set expectations and promote your brand accurately.
- Provide feedback on resumes and interviews so we can course-correct. “Pass” does not work.
- Trust: work with agencies that you trust, and then listen to them. If they tell you that your salary target is under market, it’s under market. I recently had a client get irked with me when the third Big Data Engineer they made an offer to declined. Do you have any idea what a miracle it is that we could find THREE of these people (impossible skill set) good enough for them to want to hire? One got offered 70k more than my client offered. Do you think maybe that was the problem and not the agency?
- Speedy Gonzalez style: move quickly. Period.
- Don’t BS us: Ya know how you want agencies to not BS you? Well, back at ya. If a position is not approved yet, tell us so we can act accordingly. If you are only able to offer 120k for a role, don’t tell us you are open to market, and then have us waste time finding people there is not a chance you can afford, etc.
- Exclusivity: The more we have, the harder we will work on your positions. Anyone who tells you otherwise is fibbing.
Here is to happy and more productive hiring. GO LA!
I am dumbfounded when people tell me “The market seems to be picking up.” Um, where have you been the last 5 years? At least in the world of LA tech, we have been in the midst of a hiring frenzy for at least that long. Demand is ever-increasing and supply is seemingly non-existent. At a certain point, I had to stop using my go-to explanation, which went kind of like this: Typically, once the supply/chain equation starts to level off, the market takes about 6 months to catch up with it. Given that it’s been more like 6 years, I’m ready to admit that the theory which used to apply to the ebbs and flows of market conditions just doesn’t do the trick anymore. Demand remains extremely high and supply remains extremely low, and the normal balancers (hiring companies becoming more lax in their requirements, candidates realizing the market is hopping and throwing their hat into the job search mix) simply are not kicking in. So here is my new theory: This is just the way it is now. And Recruiting, which is still tailored around a market where supply/demand level off, is broken. It simply does not work in the new (incredibly hectic) economy. And here’s why, in my ever-humble opinion:
On the candidate side:
- Recruiters’ emails and calls have become white noise to candidates. They are simply tuning us out as a result of bombardment. This applies to internal and agency recruiters, and even in some cases, to direct hiring managers who might try to tap into their networks to recruit. The more hands-on the person, the more our communication is sequestered into their white noise section.
- Things have gotten too antiseptic. One of the biggest complaints I hear from candidates is that recruiters reach out to them about jobs that have nothing to do with them, or with information that makes it painfully obvious the recruiter has no clue what they are about. If you can’t bother to actually read a person’s profile, don’t bother them with your boilerplate notes. It just exacerbates the white noise issue for the rest of us. (I actually got a note from a recruiter at an agency-that-shall-remain-unnamed asking if I was interested in a Front End Engineering role.) (Twice.) (Not lying).
On the client side:
- Hiring managers have gotten lazy. I used to be a hiring manager in tech, so I’m allowed to say that, right? Yes, if someone graduated from Stanford with a BS, CS and a GPA of 3.95, chances are they are smart and probably a decent coder. But seriously, that is the only type of candidate you will consider? Howz about you actually use your own experience to assess if the person is qualified instead of relying on Google and Stanford to do the qualifying for you? That’s what managers do. Instead of excluding potential candidates due to lack of these credentials, focus on including them until proven guilty, so to speak. Cherry picking does not exist anymore.
- Every search has become a retained search. For every resume a client sees, we have probably weeded through 99 others that don’t make it past us. Which means we have probably reached out to about 100,000 people to yield the 99 we review. The more information a company provides a recruiter, the better that odds of us escaping the white noise section. I’ve gotten to the point of treating all my searches like a retained search. I’m going to start writing those fancy dossiers for Network Engineering roles soon. It’s in your best interest in arm us with the ammunition to set us apart.
I’m brainstorming with myself on the solution to the broken recruiting problem. If I figure it out, I’ll let you all know. But in the meantime, add a personal touch if you are trying to woo a candidate, and figure out a way to broaden the candidate pool by using your own assessments, instead of just saying no if a person is not out of the right University.
Fetch Recruiting Holiday Greetings 2014
Fetch Recruiting would like to wish you and yours the happiest of holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Festivus, New Year’s or a combination of the above. We are continuing in our tradition of donating time and money to various non-profit organizations, in lieu of sending out client gifts. We have found that clients would much rather we support those in need or those focused on growing LA’s tech ecosystem, instead of sending them yet another box of cookies.
Our list of organizations has expanded. Too bad the number of hours in the day has not! But check them out – they are amazing groups doing amazing work.
- Rover Rescue – roverrescue.com – PUPPIES that need people. Dedicated to the rescue & placement of homeless dogs from Los Angeles animal shelters.
- ChickLauncher – chicklauncher.com – Connecting women entrepreneurs with
the resources they need to achieve success.
- Project ECHO – projectECHO.org – Project ECHO provides a year-long program in entrepreneurship for High School children. Its marquis event is the formal High School Entrepreneur’s Business Plan Competition where more than 500 students in teams compete for cash start-up funds. It’s held on campus at UCLA Anderson School of Management in collaboration with the Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
- Girls In Tech LA – girlsintechla.org – GIT LA is an organization focused on women’s innovative and entrepreneurial achievements in technology.
- Geeks and Nerds – http://www.donorschoose.org/project/community-service-project-geeks-nerds/1444174/?givingCartId=3324304 – Per Mr. Toto, “My students create real-world web sites and conduct community service projects for non-profit organizations. We want to build student leaders by encouraging them to give back to the community.”
Happy Merry Fa La La La La!!!
Fetch came up with this “List of Qualities that make Successful Recruiters” as part of our internal hiring process. I wanted to share a slightly modified version of it, since I’m often asked how someone can assess a good recruiter (whether you are a client or a candidate). There are nuances depending on which side of the hiring equation you are on, but the basics apply regardless. Be on the lookout for these qualities. Most of them are soft in nature (The Soft Stuff), but there are also three solid tangible barometers (The Hard Stuff) you can use.
The Hard Stuff:
- Most good recruiters have at least a few decent recommendations on LinkedIn. They speak volumes. The lack of any speaks volumes too.
- Given market conditions (huge demand/tiny supply), if a recruiter is cold calling you to get business, run for the hills. Granted, there are exceptions – there may be a gem that is just working at a Dialing-For-Dollars agency where they are obligated to make cold calls, or it may just be someone junior that has yet to build up a network and reputation that will yield referrals. But most good agencies are driven 100% by referrals.
- Ask your network for recommendations. Both candidates and clients should have 2-3 solid recruiters on tap. If any of them try to tell you that they need your exclusivity (unless it’s for a retained search), kindly decline. No single agency can cover every bit of the LA map, and if they say they can, they are clearly not putting your best interests at heart.
The Soft Stuff:
- Focus on doing the right thing, not making the most money
- Ability to anticipate and answer questions before they are asked
- Ultra organized, able to juggle a jillion things concurrently, and excellent attention to detail
- Excellent follow through and inclination to stay in touch with people long term
- Anxiety that stems from having more than 1 screen of unanswered emails in our inbox at the end of the day
- Rock solid ethics, professionalism and good manners
- Persuasive without being pushy or aggressive
- Hard worker
- Natural curiosity about what makes a person tick or what makes a company function
- Ability to not take things personally. This is never about us, and the people who think it is fail in this business
- Ability to let things roll off you and move on
- Technical knowledge, and/or aptitude and/or confidence to admit you are clueless about something and ask for an explanation
- Creative thinker and problem solver with a great sixth sense
- Good at all kinds of communication – written, verbal, listening, digging – listen for the answer, not the answer you want to hear
- Know when to cut bait
I don’t think anyone is deluding themselves about the lack of available tech talent in LA anymore. The demand is huge (and growing) and the supply is lean, gainfully employed, and reticent to make a move in an uncertain market.
Back in the good old days – the last start up boom in the late 1900s (doesn’t that sound weird?), free snacks, a Nintendo and a pool table were about all it took to lure in the talent. Not so much in the startups of this century.
Here are some pointers to differentiate your company from the pack, get the good ones before they fly off the market, as well as to tap into hidden talent:
- Cut out the phone screen. Get them in and make them fall in love before someone else does.
- Xnay on the Technical TestingNay – well at least before you interview them. About 75% of candidates will just blow it (and your company) off if you don’t at least invest the time to speak with them first.
- Make offers contingent on reference and/or background checks. Get the real deal in their hands and get a verbal acceptance as quickly as you can.
- Don’t low ball. Really. I mean it.
- Know your sell points – remember, it has to be above/beyond “we are cool, and have a pool table and free snacks.” Everyone is cool and has a pool table and free snacks. Points of interest:
- Great investors and/or advisors
- Bonus/incentive based on meeting objectives that land funding rounds
- New development vs. maintenance
- Benefits (as in, you should provide them)
- Telecommute and/or flex hours
For more ideas, shoot me a note – happy to discuss. firstname.lastname@example.org.
I never really think of myself this way, but people keep telling me how well networked and entrenched I am in Silicon Beach’s burgeoning presence in So Cal. And they want to know how I did it. I have built my network over many, many, many years, and I’m not sure there is any secret recipe. Here are some suggestions if you are just starting to build up your network, or you want to expand it into the Silicon Beach space.
- Meetups– there are tons of awesome meetups focused on Silicon Beach in general, as well as niches within the startup arena (whether technical or otherwise). In general, it’s a welcoming bunch. There are some very niche groups that are all business and very focused on a specific objective. But most seem social, open, friendly and happy to share their knowledge and insights. Two Fetch has been personally involved with include the following.
- Eventbrite– ditto to above, just more business-focused. www.eventbrite.com
- SoCalTech – I highly recommend that you subscribe to Ben Kuo’s free daily SoCalTech newsletter (and no, not because we sponsor it). I have always been a big fan since it started – he provides a very easily digestible daily email on So Cal funding and start up news. There are usually related events listed, and some may be great networking events for you to attend. You can also do a paid subscription to the SoCalTech site, and gain access to great databases of startup companies, people, funding, etc. www.socaltech.com
- Startuply – free site for startup recruiting – different avenue to see who is doing what, lots of stealth mode hiring, etc. www.startuply.com
The Perfect Marriage
Having been an LA Tech Recruiter for many years (and having been a Tech Hiring Manager before I came to The Dark Side), I’ve honed in on the qualities that make an effective relationship between Recruiter and Agency.
- Give and Take – no recruiter will excel without detailed feedback, and great communication. Without it, every resume they submit is a crap shoot. In my ever-humble opinion, no company should work with an agency not willing to take the time to come visit in person (assuming you are local), and no agency should work with a client who won’t make the time to meet them. But it can’t stop there. This relationship, just like any other type, has to evolve over time. If you put the time in to provide feedback, you’ll yield phenomenal results. Saying “Pass” on a candidate serves no purpose.
- Telephone Game – remember that game where you whisper something in someone’s ear, and they whisper it to someone and so on, and the final person states what the first person said? Remember how the last person usually says something completely different from the original statement? Same concept applies to a hiring managers’ requirements. Nothing whatsoever against internal recruiters and HR – they are awesome and most make agencies lives easier. However, even if the process is handled by HR, it’s critical that a hiring manager speak directly to the recruiter. It provides priceless information that will save time, not suck it up. A 10 minute time investment to make sure the recruiter knows what you are looking for is far less than the hours you will waste interviewing the wrong candidates.
- Quality vs. Quantity – If you are the type of company that likes lots of volume from the Dialing For Dollars agencies, high volumes of resume submissions may not be a problem for you. When I was a hiring manager, this drove me crazy! But some companies seem bedazzled by volume, and seem to think that means the agency is working really hard. Volume is easy. Efficacy is the gem.
- Chemistry – you have to jive with the person you are working with, plain and simple. If you feel the agency is good, but you just don’t like the Account Rep, before giving up on the agency, see if you can be assigned a new Rep.
- Being Valued – Though this is thankfully rare, I have run into some clients that truly view agencies as a necessary evil. Do us a favor. If you don’t value the service we provide, don’t call us. Don’t misinterpret our ability to pick the perfect person out of thin air as magic. It takes years of experience to build up a network that can yield that magical candidate. We earn every dollar we make, and just like anyone on earth, our sense of accomplishment comes from feeling valued and appreciated. Doesn’t matter how much money an agency can make with your company – you’ll drop to the bottom of their priority list if make them feel like like they are not providing value.
- Working for Free – Contingency agencies are just that. We only get paid contingent on making a successful placement. Which means we work for free much of the time. And we work a lot. This is a very individual thing, but some agencies absolutely sort to the top. If you think you have done a great job by negotiating a rock bottom fee agreement, be aware that your fabulous negotiation skills may land your recruiting needs at the bottom of the heap. Also be aware that it’s very likely that your company has a lot more money on hand than the individual recruiter that may or may not make money depending on success in a search. One of our clients has a very fluid agreement with us – the fee is based on the urgency of an individual position. It’s worked well for both of us. Think creatively to make a mutually beneficial agreement, and you’ll have better results.
I feel extremely grateful to have many long-term clients. We have been working together for years, and have honed our relationships to a fine tuned machines. It’s to the point where they can give me a requirement, and we will nail it with the first resume. But that not only takes our talent and ability to source, it takes the client’s willingness to partner with us, communicate and trust us (which only comes with time and results). Just like any relationship, with effort, it can excel and exceed expectations.
Q: I polled people on Facebook to see what questions stumps them on an interview, and the clear winner was “Tell me your greatest weakness”.
A: There is no all-purpose answer to this question. You certainly don’t want to bring up some skeleton from your closet, but on the flip side, you don’t want to use some cliché response, such as “I work too hard”, “I don’t know how to delegate”, or “I’m just too dedicated”. Barf. I’m a big believer in three things. 1) We can all improve on something or expand our knowledge. 2) Honesty is the best policy. 3) Admitting that you are not perfect is a strength not a weakness. You just need to be careful about your delivery. And while you are being careful about the delivery, be cognizant of your audience. Some people need to hear the cliché to tick that box off their “interview questions list”. But if you can sense that the interviewer wants a real answer, something like this might do the trick: I have never had the opportunity to do _____________ (fill in the blank – public speaking, learning a new coding language, managing staff, getting a particular certification, etc), and would love the chance to pursue that.
Hunting Season is Open
2012 is starting off the third year of continued tech hiring growth in Southern California. There is particularly high growth in startups and web/mobile-based companies. These are real companies with actual business plans that have the intention of being profitable. Imagine that!? They are funded and/or profitable already, operated by professionals with proven experience, and they tend to have decent benefits and work/life balance. The market demand far exceeds the supply, so now is the time to dust off that resume and see what’s out there. Typically in an increasingly demanding market, where the supply is slim and demand is high, companies start to scale back on their expectations of candidates. Not so in this particular recovery. The job market is yours to take by storm, but you still need to be smart about how you present yourself to clients that want 110% of their requirements met. If you do so, you can write your own ticket and easily get multiple concurrent offers to compare/contrast, especially if you are a hands-on technologist. Here are some pointers:
- Networking is still by far the best way to identify new opportunities, whether it’s through your own network or through that of a trusted recruiter. Good recruiters (if we do say so ourselves) are happy to help you with introductions even if it’s not with a current client. Don’t be shy about asking for help – most people are more than happy to shoot off a quick email or make a quick call on your behalf.
- LinkedIn is a favorite tool used by hiring companies and agencies to identify candidates. Make sure your profile is up to date and essentially a ResumeLite – it does not have to be as comprehensive as a full resume, but should have some key highlights of your skills/technologies. (Once it’s up to date, expand that network!)
- The ABCs of Interviewing still have to be followed if you want to get the offers pouring in. Dress appropriately (ask your recruiter or the company contact what is appropriate for their environment). Show up 10 minutes early. Look ‘em in the eye. Behave. No swearing, no off-color jokes, etc.
- Manners always matter. If you are not interested in a company that is courting you, show them the common courtesy of letting them know. Going MIA is not well received and never forgotten. Send thank you emails after an interview. Respond quickly to messages and emails. Don’t counter offer with ridiculous terms. It’s a good market, but a wise market. Companies are growing because they are being smarter, so they will not pull out all the stops for you – just some of them.
- Resumes need to provide not too much and not too little information. Make sure there are no typos. Get a friend to read it over – sometimes we can’t see the mistakes after having looked at it fifty times. Given that companies are picky, take 5 minutes to tailor a Resume Summary section to highlight the skills you have that you know that company is looking for. Be specific and talk about what problems you had to solve and how you solved them. The days of the 1 page resume are long gone. Here is a good guideline (but there are always exceptions). These go for executives as well. In the technology world, information about the technical environment still is required, even if you have not touched anything hands-on in years.
- 0-5 years experience – 1-2 pages
- 5-10 – 2 pages
- 10+ – 3-4 pages