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fish in waves

BIG Fish, small pond?

We are not going fishing but we are going to play a short game of “Would you rather…” in which you get to pretend to be a fish! Whether you choose to be viewed as a BIG fish or a small fish is all relative to the size of the body of water you choose to swim in. You may choose a little pond or small company versus Lake Michigan or a large company. Knowing the size of the pond that best suits you in the work world is important. Understanding whether you are at your best leading and setting the pace or whether you prefer to work as part of a larger team with common goals can determine your overall happiness and satisfaction with work and with your organization.

In my most recent work experience, I accepted a leadership position with a small company which was almost immediately gobbled up by a larger company. Overnight, my pond expanded without any input from me. In past work lives, I’ve worked for each a small, a mid-sized, and large company. Although I performed well within the different environments and I believe that I am very adaptable, each experience taught me something different about myself. The experiences provided insights into the types of environments in which I believe I excel best. Understanding that the position I accepted was no longer the position I held, I had to revisit a few questions that would determine my level of happiness with my future work. If you are facing a similar quandary, start your evaluation by asking yourself these “Would you rather” questions.

Would you rather be the architect or the builder? An architect designs and makes the decisions on the structure, whereas the builder follows the architect’s plans to bring the structure into existence. How much input do you need to have in the major decisions of your work? This question focuses on impact, the impact of your contributions. How critical is it to you to see an immediate or fairly swift impact in your work? In a smaller organization, you may be able to leave at the end of each day knowing and seeing the impact of your actions and your decisions. If that means a lot to you, it can be frustrating waiting for others to consider incorporating your input in a larger organization. But, perhaps you do enjoy knowing that you were part of a team that helped bring a project or plan to life? A builder’s team most certainly looks over a structure at the end of a construction project with a sense of pride.

Would you rather be MacGyver or James Bond?  This is in reference to resources. MacGyver didn’t do too poorly with string, duct tape, and a Swiss Army knife. However, Bond had the support of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, with fairly unlimited resources and state-of-art equipment.  This is not to say that well stocked small ponds do not exist. In general, larger ponds have a more ready supply of both physical resources as well as intellectual capital from which to draw. I’m certain there are many who love the ingenuity and creativity required to work with limited resources and still excel within small organizations. But it can be very appealing to have the road smoothed out so that you can move at a faster pace. Speaking of pace…

Would you rather be a tortoise or an antelope?  See how I avoided the hare? Okay, the pace of progress and the ability to be nimble varies greatly between the small pond and Lake Michigan. You can row across the small pond in minutes. In crossing Lake Michigan, we’ll see you…. I’m not really sure how long it would take but I can safely say it will take MUCH longer. Communications and decision-making can move quickly if all you need to do is travel down the hall a door or two. Within a larger entity there are levels of hierarchy that must be traversed, buy-in that must be gained from a larger span of people. If you are accustomed to moving swiftly to take advantage of an active market or address an unexpected complication or challenge within a smaller organization, you are going to have to become acclimated to the time-lag that is part of swimming in a much larger body of water.

The questions above were the essential starting point for me in evaluating, BIG verses small. There are others that will be specific to your situation but may revolve around new responsibilities, development and growth, as well as future opportunities for advancement within each environment. Your personal choice of small or BIG company should center on what fits you best, the magical pond in the woods or Lake Michigan where I hear the sailing can be very good!

Best regards,

Vivian L. Mora, MSS, SPHR

Vivian L. Mora is certified as a senior professional in human resources (SPHR) by the Human Resources Certification Institution and holds a master’s degree in sociology and economics. She is the founder and managing partner of Mora & Associates, a retained executive search and human capital consulting firm based in Katy, TX.

Vivian offers leadership development workshops as well as individual mentoring and coaching sessions (http://morahr.com/ExecutiveCoaching.aspx and http://morahr.com/CultivateSuccess.aspx). For more information, please contact her directly at (877) 310-6553, ext. 702.

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Here in the United States, we’ve now witnessed the greatest loss of jobs since the Depression. In the past two years, organizations found themselves seeking means of reducing expenses while they watched revenues dwindle. For many (I could probably say most) reducing jobs was one of the primary routes taken in this quest. Some took this route early and quickly while others took every other possible route before making the choice to eliminate jobs. Some companies handled this with skill, diplomacy, and a humanistic touch. Others did not. Tales of email notices and security escorts have run rampant. Organizations eventually reached what they term as efficient staffing levels given the current state of the market. Hmm, it’s the latter part of that statement that will pose the most trouble in the coming year or two as employees embark upon what I can only tritely refer to as The Great Job Hop of 2010.

The Great Job Hop is in the embryonic stage at this point but the signs are clear. The “high performers” that many organizations have worked diligently to retain over the last couple of years are starting to “look around”. For organizations, the traditional break-up line of “it’s not you, it’s me” would be a lie. It is you. However, for some, there is very little you could have done to prevent the pending break-up. You were not the only company to make layoffs and eliminate jobs. The company to which your “high performer” is moving may have made even more cuts than you did. The difference is — he or she did not experience it first-hand with XYZ Company. 

Organizations have done a great job in the past few decades of building cultures that encourage closer associations at work. One of the questions in the ubiquitous Gallup Q12 is “Do you have a best friend at work?” Our associations at work don’t fall along neat little lines where my best friend just happens to be my fellow “high performer” in the next cubicle or nor do all occupants of the “most crucial positions” go to lunch together daily. No, with all these close associations forming at work, many of your high performers watched their BF at work lose his or her job. They then rode the emotional rollercoaster with their BF as he or she looked for work in a very tough market. The high performer’s feelings towards the company that he and his best friend at work loved a year or so ago have changed. There’s probably a high degree of survivor’s guilt mixed in with some resentment.  Now, I’m not a psychologist so that’s about as far as I go into the psyche but I am a sociologist so I can tell you what the resulting behavior will be with a high probability of being correct.  An exit is the course that most will take when faced with this quandary. There will be a great urge to remove oneself from the environment that has brought about these feelings. Fortunately, for them, high performers and individuals occupying crucial positions generally have options when the employment picture begins to change for the better, as is predicted for the coming year. 

Companies who have looked ahead and have seen the writing on the wall are beginning to take steps to “re-engage” with their present staff to help mitigate the potential damage. Organizations who took the humanistic route have an advantage. These companies’ actions will not have caused as much guilt or resentment and may even be viewed positively if separated employees were provided with adequate severance benefits and communications remained open throughout the changes. The re-engagement should be approached much the same way as initial recruitment campaigns were approached. What are the positive attributes that attracted employees to your organization? Do you have a unique value proposition (UVP) for your employees? In business, every organization has a unique value it offers to its customers. It’s the reason customers will want to choose do business with you rather than your competitor down the street. You will need to make certain employees know what UVP you have to offer them and that the attributes which brought them to you are still very much a part of the organization. Do you conduct “internal” marketing? If not, you would be wise to quickly develop your messages and a campaign for getting the message into the ears, minds, and, hopefully, hearts of your most valuable asset, your people. 

If you sincerely want to keep your high performers and crucial staffers in place during the Great Job Hop, the most important part of your messaging will be that it rings true.

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The recession has brought the unemployment rate to 9.5%. That number equates to 14.7 million unemployed individuals across our nation according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. How companies chose to handle those job losses will greatly impact the reputations of those organizations as we come out of this recession. It is anybody’s guess as to when we will emerge from the current recession but, emerge we will.  How each organization conducted itself during this recessionary downturn will matter greatly to both those who lost jobs and those who remained in jobs within those organizations.

The two factors that will weigh most heavily in employees minds are communication and consideration. How were pending job losses communicated? Who communicated it? What sort of personal and/or financial consideration was extended? Jack Welch, author and former head of GE, spoke at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2009 Annual Conference this week. During his speech, he recounted the story of how a friend of his was notified of his job loss by an outplacement firm hired by his company. The organization’s leadership did not even face their own employees. Can we guess how this company is now viewed by each employee who met with the outplacement firm as well as his/her peers who remained but knew how this was handled? 

Who comes up with these plans? My fervent hope is that it did not originate in HR. Regardless of that, travel with me a bit, back to a favorite childhood television commercial. Can you image the meeting and conversation to decide on this plan of action? It probably went a little like this: “Are you gonna do it?”  ‘No, I’m not gonna do it. You do it.” “I’m not gonna do it. Hey, let’s get Mikey!” Some may not recall the commercial, but, you get the picture. I’m guessing that each player in the decision to let Mikey (the outplacement firm) do it stopped maturing at the same age as the actors in that Life cereal commercial exchange. I’m certain the decision makers thought it was very considerate to hire an outplacement firm so why not allow them to communicate the news. There, they said, both communication and consideration is covered in one swoop.  This company scores in the basement on both communication and consideration.

Employers, face your employees. Look them in the eyes and let them know things are not going well for the company. Communicate along the way. Involve the people closest to the work in helping to increase efficiency or save dollars. Plan your steps as you review your business results. Conduct scenario analyses for potential outcomes. When you’ve exhausted all other means of achieving efficiencies and/or cost savings, tell your employees straightforwardly that staff cuts are needed to pull through. They will respect you for the honesty. They will also know that it is a reality and just may be there for you when you need them again.

And, yes, despite running the earlier organization into the ground, hiring an outplacement firm is a welcome consideration when provided in the appropriate sequence.

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We are all professionals in whatever endeavor we have chosen and we are also multidimensional human beings. There are so many things that define who we are.  This can make developing and defining yourself on the web somewhat tricky. There are so many web and social networking tools available for “putting yourself” out there. It’s difficult to not scatter yourself in every direction. I am on Facebook and LinkedIn. I have 3 websites. I blog at WordPress and I tweet on Twitter. I even have a MySpace page that I haven’t visited in months. This entry was inspired by a recent invitation from someone I think highly of to connect with them on Namyz although we are already connected on LinkedIn. When I received the invitation, I followed the link to Namyz. However, as I contemplated setting up another social networking profile, something held me back. I couldn’t do it. It had nothing to do with Namyz itself. I came to realize that I am spread too far already which explains why my MySpace page languishes without any interference from me. I’ve reached my limit of what I am capable of maintaining with any level of quality while still putting in several hours of “real” work each day. I urge you from a professional and a personal standpoint to also examine your current web presence. Have you excercised discipline as well as a healthy level of caution in defining yourself on the web?

Our lives are made up of a series of choices and the behaviors that result from them – the things that we do and things that we don’t do.  My professional expertise lies in the practice of human resources and I am a masters-level sociologist by academic discipline. Given this background, of course, I believe that behaviors define who you really are. When considering a job candidate, I focus very sharply on the things the canddiate does as well as the things the candidate does not do – the choices he or she has made along the way. With so many companies utilizing your social networking presence to find you and to then determine whether or not you may be a good fit within their organization, exercising discipline in establishing and maintaining your web presence can be critical to your career. For others, like me, who are either entrepreneurs and business owners or who work independently, your web presence can help an individual or organization decide whether or not to conduct business with you. Does that not make your web presence something you consider very carefully each time you sign on?

My WordPress blog, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, website content, and Twitter tweets all define me to those who don’t know me personally. I want ensure that definition is one of quality not just quantity, so should you. Choose carefully!

“No choice ranks a man so quickly as his skill in selecting things that are really worthwhile. Every day brings the necessity of keen discrimination. Not always is it a choice between good and bad, but between good and best.”  A.P. Gouthey

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You hear it more often than you want to and maybe you’ve said it at least a couple of times in the past year when faced with a situation that called for an immediate and urgent response. The situation was your “fire” and your response was to jump right in and put out the fire as soon as humanly possible. Going into it, you had little or no time for planning. As you look back over it, in hindsight, you wish you had handled things differently. Hindsight is 20-20.

When we hear or state “Hindsight is 20-20”, it is most often said with a sense of resignation, as if to say that there’s nothing we can do about it now. We’ve just become fatalists destined to repeat this again. We then race off to the next fire that needs fighting. That’s where we all go wrong. Hindsight is 20-20! It should be stated with a sense of optimism! Guess what?! We’ve just been handed a gift! An opportunity to, not only, learn from the situation but to now plan for it!

Hindsight is one of the most useful planning tools you will encounter. Making good use of hindsight means taking stock of the past year (or more) and reviewing the major issues and concerns you encountered. Take a look at how you handled them then consider how you wish had handled them and how you will handle them in the future. Did you notice a common thread or pattern? Ask yourself, what can you do now from a strategic standpoint that will help you prevent or minimize these issues in the future? After you have completed these steps for your various areas of responsibility, you will have a good start on planning for a “fire-free” future. Use 20-20 hindsight to your advantage!

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No, not personal names. That’s a completely different subject and is way touchier than what I want to cover today. I’m not feeling all that controversial today. The sun’s shining out the window and I’ve just finished reviewing 80 resumes for a position my firm is working to fill for a client company. That’s why the subject of names has come up. Shakespeare quoted, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  In his writing, it is asserted that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention. In a job search, I would not be so fast to assert this!

So, what is in a name? I received 200+ resumes for this one position referenced above. Not all of the candidates met the qualifications for this particular position. However, what stands out to me is that almost 20% was eliminated due to a name; a cute name, a sexy name, no name, or a clever but inappropriate name. Some might say this is a superficial justification. Is this elimination from the candidate pool based on “an artificial and meaningless convention”? It’s not, in this case (or I’m justifying it as not). This is a top position for a function within an organization. It requires strategic thought and good judgment.  Of the 80 job seekers’ resumes currently under review, all used an email address that most people would classify as professional and a straightforward or functional name for their resume file. Cute and not so cute names in an email address (snuggles777, coocoo4cocoa, jessiesgirl, nightrider99, 2kofun, etc) should be reserved for communicating with friends and other loved ones, not the person who may hold the key to your next career move.

Set up an email address just for the purpose of job hunting if your customary email address is less than super-professional (you can put super in front of almost anything to up the level, right?). Based on the number of email addresses that are available to a single account these days, you can’t run out unless you’re a spammer. In that case, maybe you shouldn’t get the job anyway (please spare my inbox). Given the tight competition for scarce jobs today, don’t guess as to whether your customary email address is or isn’t professional enough. Use your name or your name in combination with your location if you don’t want to use your name alone (“jonathandoe” or “jdoe-houtex”). Whatever you use, try to avoid being cute, sexy, or overly clever. I know you want to show your personality but just being you works best here. That’s who the recruiter wants to see, not Snuggles or Jessie’s Girl.

My next comment concerns the name you allocate to your resume file. More than a dozen email resumes for this one position arrived with the name “Resume[1].doc” or something similar. Why? It’s the first resume in the resume folder on your computer so you named it “resume[1]”. It makes sense in that setting. Let’s shift to you now sending this file to a recruiter in a company or an independent firm, someone like me.  Remember, it’s now the 149th for the open position and the 10,000th for the recruiter’s overall database. Assign it a name that will have significance to the recruiter. Would “jondoe_civil engr_PE” work better than “resume[1]”? The first example gives the submission meaning and actually makes it easy to consider, not only for this position, but for other positions calling for a civil engineer with PE certification. 

Final note on this, most recruiters including those who use applicant tracking systems (see my last post if you are not familiar with these) save resume files to a folder for later review or as backup after the system extracts information. When this occurs, only one file named “resume[1]” can be saved. Will it be yours? There is definitely something in a name. Don’t risk elimination because of it. Set your resume apart from the crowd with a name that tells the reviewer who you are immediately. Stay in the gene, uh, candidate pool.

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Darwinism, in the modern sense, is used to describe evolutionary concepts.  Most commonly, when used, it is weaned down to the single concept of natural selection. Of course, Charles Darwin covered way more territory than this but since we are going to discuss “the resume” this is fitting. The resume, after all, is a selection tool. You pull together a collection of detailed information about your career. You format it in a standard fashion. You locate a job of interest. Finally, you send it off to a company to be reviewed along with many others and you hope that from among that group, yours is selected for follow up of some kind.

Now, let’s go back to the concept of natural selection. Natural selection is defined (answers.com) as “the process in nature by which only the organisms best adapted to their environment tend to survive and transmit their genetic characteristics in increasing numbers to succeeding generations while those less adapted tend to be eliminated.”  This applies well in screening resumes because so many candidates permit themselves to be eliminated by simply not adapting to the environment. Every job, which is the “environment”, is different. When you choose to not customize your resume submission to the job for which you are applying, you allow the law of natural selection to go to work in eliminating you from the gene, uh, applicant pool. Yes, it’s more work – more work than merely sending the same resume (and cover letter) for every job. But how’s that been working? By customizing your submission and showing the recruiter or the applicant tracking system (we’ll discuss this) that you are a perfect fit for the job, you allow the law to work in your favor. You get to survive and possibly transmit your genetic characteristics, also known as work efforts, to succeeding generations! The process I described at the end of the above paragraph actually should be applied in this order: You locate a job of interest. You pull together a collection of detailed information about your career based on that job. You format it in a standard fashion. Finally, you send it off to a company to be reviewed along with many others….

All job seekers need to understand applicant tracking systems (ATSs) and how they work.  ATSs are designed to accept your resume in electronic form, then, screen and sort them based specific inputs or keywords which usually come from the job description. MOST companies use these. As an independent recruiter, I use one. Therefore, if you did not customize your submission or, at least, review it for fit against the job description, it doesn’t stand a chance of getting in front of a recruiter or hiring manager. The ATS will eliminate you from consideration before any human can intervene. Put some work in your resume. The strategic use of keywords and position-specific terms found in the job description can get you past the ATS and possibly get you that follow up you’ve been seeking.

Take or leave this nugget of information but remember, Darwinism is always hard at work even it you aren’t. Survive.

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