Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Should Companies Have Junior People Interview Senior Candidates?

More and more, I am seeing companies who are hiring senior executives having their subordinate  people meet with candidates during the interview process.  In most cases I am told that this is because the more junior people are long-term, trusted employees and they want to be sure they are good with the hire.  One client said to me, “We are a close knit family here and I want to be sure the new person meshes with the group.” 

It is a good idea, but it can be a double edged sword.

While an account director may not have the ability to hire a group account director, they can influence the decision.  Recently, we had a group account director candidate who met with an account supervisor who would be reporting to her.  The first interview, with the head of account management, went well enough so that the candidate then met with the supervisor who would be reporting to her. It appeared to be an innocuous twenty minute meeting.

The account supervisor dinged the potential employee.  By telling the hiring manager she did not like her new potential boss, she put the manager in a position where should could not easily hire this person. What she told her manager was that she felt that the candidate was somewhat condescending; she also thought the candidate was dull.  Was she?  Or was the supervisor just uncomfortable with a new person coming between her and the existing director.  That is the chance a company takes in this situation. 

Junior people, who are the ones who do the day-to-day work, have a good perspective on what they need from a potential manager. Their opinion often counts considerably.  No candidate should ever take one of these interviews for granted since people on the team can help to determine if there is good chemistry.  This determination can flag potential future problems. (This is also true of more senior people who are in the interviewing loop, but who may seem irrelevant and the interview is deemed a courtesy - never take these interviews for granted.)

Meeting the team can be good for the senior job applicant as well.  We had one case where a very senior financial person had to interview with a fairly senior person who would be reporting to her.  During the lunch a number of issues came up. The result was that the candidate felt that the person who would be reporting to her lacked certain knowledge which she felt should be known by a person at her level in this position. I discussed this with the hiring manager who confessed to me that he knew of this issue and was aware of the missing pieces.  He said that the person who lacked knowledge was a long term, loyal employee and the candidate, if hired, would not have the ability to change this person.  Subsequently, the candidate turned the job down feeling that she would have responsibility but no authority.  I believe that for her it was the right choice.

Surprisingly, few candidates ever ask to meet the people they will have working for them.  They also rarely ask to meet the tangential people they will work with. In the case of advertising, account managers rarely ask to meet the planners or creative people who will interact with them on a day-to-day basis.  I recently had a candidate request to meet with these people and the hiring manager was reluctant to allow it to happen because it would merely take more time and delay hiring.  I was able to talk the hiring manager into allowing the meetings and all worked out quite well; the candidate loved the group and the group loved her. However, interviews with the group are the exception rather than the rule. 

Meeting as many people as possible gives potential employees a wide perspective on the company and the job. It also gives the company an equally wide perspective on the candidate.

The more a candidate knows about a company and the more the company knows the candidate, the better the likelihood it will be a good fit and a successful hire.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Evaluating Multiple Job Offers

I have often wondered why many candidates tell me that they have to think about an offer, usually over a weekend or for a couple of days.  If a candidate has asked the right questions and met all the people they need to meet, they should be able to accept or reject an offer pretty much on the spot (accepting a job is a big decision and should certainly be discussed with family or other close advisors). I have written about accepting job offers previously, but I wanted to put it in a different perspective.

Often people hesitate because they are contemplating multiple opportunities.  Be careful.  As they say, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  When interviewing at multiple companies, it is vitally important to obtain comparable information from each so that you have the proper information to accept or reject offers.

A surprising number of people evaluate offers based on the wrong criteria.  Title, salary, even vacation should play only a minor role in the decision making process.  The key thing is always the opportunity.  Never be greedy or you will end up like the dog in the Aesop tale of the dog and the bone.  The story goes something like this:

It so happened that a dog had a fine bone and was carrying it home
to chew on in peace.
   On his way, he had to go across a plank over a stream.
   As he walked across the plank, he looked down and saw his reflection
in the water.
   Thinking that it was another dog with another bone, he made up his
mind to have that bone, too.


But when he snapped at his reflection, his own bone fell into the water and was lost forever.
Moral: The greedy often lose what they have.

I was recently quoted in Bloomberg.  The essence of what I was talking about is how to interview properly so that you can evaluate an offer.  During the interview process, especially when seeing multiple people, a smart candidate will ask each of them the same questions and look for variations in the responses.  That is smart interviewing.  If you are lucky enough to be interviewing simultaneously at multiple companies, the same thing applies.  You want to be able to compare apples to apples.

It is important to ask tough and smart questions while interviewing.  Asking things like why the job open may actually generate different responses from different people who interview you (I have seen this happen) which can then be evaluated and, if the responses seem to be in conflict, they should be challenged.  Asking about both the opportunity and the likely career path can generate surprise answers; I once had a candidate who was told that every single person who had succeeded in this job had been promoted quickly. It turned out that this was a very important job and was watched closely by management.  Finding out how your success will be measured and determining what the criteria for success can make all the difference.  I always tell candidates to determine if they can succeed; this means determining how performance will be evaluated and insuring that you have both the responsibility and authority to succeed.  That is information which should weigh heavily in decision making.  And it doesn’t matter if you are interviewing at one company or ten, this is critical information.

The best way to evaluate multiple offers (as well as any single offer) is to determine if you can succeed in the job.  I once had a president who was considering three possible offers.  When we discussed them, it turned out that he could be successful in only one of them.  The choice was easy.

When an offer is made, the response should come quickly and easily.  If a candidate is evaluating multiple jobs and both are in relatively the same timetable, asking the right questions should make the decision almost anti-climactic. If the information gathered in two different opportunities is not comparable, it is critical to a career to obtain comparable information so that you can determine whether you can succeed..

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Should One Have To Anglicize Their Name To Get Hired?

Name discrimination is something I never thought about at all until recently.

I saw something on the news which bothered me terribly.  A man named José was out of work and having trouble getting interviews; he changed the name on his résumé from José to Joe and started getting positive response (http://bit.ly/1s5fraY) . A couple of weeks ago this was all over the internet and the television news.  Much has been written about this kind of discrimination (see: http://bit.ly/XqD1km as a typical article.) But what has been written is very academic; what I keep thinking about is the human side of this issue.  Name discrimination is apparently as prevalent as other kinds of discrimination but it is much more insidious.

I think it is awful.  But name discrimination may be a sad fact of life.

I once had a candidate who used the name William, although his given name was Guillermo.  He was successful in his career.  He then made a decision not to anglicize his name.  That was twenty years ago and we lost contact.  I understood his decision, but he paid a price for going back to his Hispanic name.  

To change or not to change, to anglicize or not to anglicize?  That is the question.

Advertising, marketing and other white collar jobs aren’t like show business where Archibald Leach becomes Carey Grant or Francis Gumm becomes Judy Garland or Caryn Johnson becomes Whoopi Goldberg, all to increase box office appeal. This is still a country of mainstream ideas, principals and names, particularly in business.  In service businesses like advertising and marketing, do companies actually believe that one's given name could effect client relationships?  It is sad and surprising.  It would appear that companies want to be seen as mainstream, even in terms of the people and talent they hire. Name discrimination is as bad as any other kind of discrimination.

There is both risk and reward in making the decision to anglicize one’s name.  The risk is the loss of identity and, possibly, self-esteem as well as pride.  The reward may be that an Anglicized name is an easier path to career success. It shouldn't be, but it is.

It should be that one has nothing to do with another.  But that may not be the case.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Is Matthew McConaughey An Appropriate Spokesperson For Lincoln?

When I was an account person, the first thing I was taught about celebrity endorsements was that the celebrity had to have something to do with the product.  And I always thought that was the right way to approach an endorsement.

Matthew McConaughey is the spokesman for Lincoln’s MKC, a family crossover car. Clearly, he is the star of the moment; he is a fine actor and is reputed to be a good family man, but somehow, I don’t believe that Mr. McConaughey actually tools around Beverly Hills or Austin, Texas in an MKC (They may have given him one as part of his deal, but if so, what did he drive before, despite professing to have driven a Lincoln in one of the commercials?).

I don’t believe this any more than I thought that Tiger Woods drove a Buick (a although his endorsement of that brand was as much about rallying the dealers as anything else).  On the other hand, Tiger endorsing Nike was a stroke of brilliance (pardon the pun) because his endorsement works for the company’s entire product line – shoes, clothing, equipment – and is totally believable and plausible.  And, despite his current golfing and health issues, he continues to be a great spokesperson.

Looking at commercials and deciding on who are appropriate and inappropriate spokes-people is a fun thing to do.

One of the classic campaigns for Volkswagen in the heyday of Doyle Dane Bernbach was having basketball player Wilt Chamberlain as a spokesperson for the VW Beetle.  It, too, was a stroke of genius.  While he never professed to actually own one, the point was that at 7’1”, he could fit in one – which helped solve a marketing issue for the little Beetle.

Today, for sure, Taylor Swift will be a perfect spokesperson for Coke, Beyoncé may drink Pepsi and use L’Oreal; and Catherine Zeta-Jones may use T-Mobile (why not?), but does Paris Hilton really go to Carl’s Jr (has she ever been to one and does anyone really care?)?  I suppose there is some justification in Florence Henderson touting Polident (does she really have dentures and why would she admit it?).  Does Jessica Simpson really go to or use Weight Watchers products, despite her huge swings in weight?  The list goes on and on. 

There are dozens of celebrity endorsers out there who have little to do with the product, but they feed the client’s ego. Often these deals were/are driven by senior clients or agency people who want to meet and hang out with stars. In my opinion, they are inefficient and may, in fact backfire. 

Last year,  Charlize Theron endorsed Raymond Weil watches, but was then caught wearing another brand at a major event. It created a lot of negative publicity both for the star and for the brand.  She was clearly borrowed interest (how much interest is questionable in the first place). Years ago I worked with Elgin watches as an account person.  They wanted desperately to have a celebrity endorsement.  They managed to negotiate a deal with a popular actor at the time, Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou, The Dirty Dozen).  When he showed up at their offices he was wearing a Rolex; they had the good sense to cancel the deal.  Companies should think twice about asking for an endorsement which is not a natural fit.

I think in advertising parlance it is called borrowed interest.  And borrowed interest never lasts long.
Matthew McConaughey is, in my opinion, borrowed interest. What do you think?

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