Archive for May 31, 2012

What NOT to do at the Job Interview

One of the most memorable awful interview experiences I ever had with a job candidate occurred circa 1988 but I recall it as if it were last week.

Back in those Banking Industry days of mine, I conducted 25+ interviews each week, having the need to staff open positions across a number of branches and corporate departments.  One hot and steamy day when the temperature was well into the 80’s by mid-morning, ‘Monica’ came in for a scheduled interview.  As we were sitting in my office an announcement came over the building-wide intercom (extraordinarily unusual in and of itself; I can’t recall any other time in the many years I worked there when this was used): “Would the owner of a tan Mercedes Benz with the license plate ‘Rocky’ please report to the bank lobby.”

Needless to say I wasn’t the owner of a Mercedes; I worked in HR after all, not the Mortgage Department.   And Monica didn’t blink an eye.  So we carried on.

5 minutes later – announcement #2:  “Would the owner of a tan Mercedes Benz with the license plate ‘Rocky’ please report to the bank lobby.”

“I wonder what that’s about?” I said as way of conversational chit chat.

“I wonder too,” said Monica.

Within a few short minutes, a knock came at my door.  I opened the door to find the VP of Operations (responsibilities includes security and facilities management) and the CEO’s Executive Secretary.  They glanced right at Monica and Mr. VP asked “Ma’m – are YOU the owner of a tan Mercedes Benz with the license plate ‘Rocky’?”

“Not mine,” said Monica.

“You’re sure?” asked Mr. VP.

“Yes,” said Monica.

“Sorry to disturb you then.”  And they closed the door.

Before I barely had time to pick up my pen, they door opened again.

“Ma’m,” said Mr. VP “I’m pretty certain that you are the owner of the car and I suggest you come with me right away as the police have been called.”

And up she stood, grabbed her purse and scurried on out of my office.


Chaos ensued.  The building buzz became a roar.  People crowded by windows to glance out at the parking lot trying to get a glimpse of the tan Mercedes Benz with the license plate ‘Rocky.”  Everyone from up and down the hall came into the HR Department to see what I knew about Monica.

And then the story became came out.

Monica, as one can guess, was indeed the owner of the tan Mercedes Benz with the license plate ‘Rocky.’  It appears that when Monica arrived for her scheduled interview she parked in the visitor’s lot – leaving her window cracked open as an accommodation to the 80+ degree heat. But also as an accommodation to her infant daughter slumbering in a car seat.  A bank customer, arriving to conduct some business, parked next to the Mercedes, heard the baby crying and came scurrying into the building to alert bank staff.

Bad move and bad judgment.  Heartbreaking each and every time we hear stories of parents or caregivers who leave children in vehicles on hot days.  These things never turn out well.

Monica, apparently, wanted (needed?) to keep this appointment even though it meant putting her child in danger.  The thing that got me however was the fact that she did not go jumping from her chair the very first time they paged the owner of the car.  There wasn’t a muscle on her body that even moved reflexively.

She was given a citation/ticket from the police.  She’s fortunate she wasn’t given something much worse when she opened her car door.


Oh…and the next day she called wanting to reschedule the interview.  As she pointed out to me – “we got interrupted.”


What are they Saying . . . After You Leave the Room?

This week’s Mad Men episode was one of the most distressing episodes ever.  Suffice it to say that if you watch the show you were probably as disturbed as I was.  If you aren’t a fan, let me just tell you that it positioned 3 of the lead female characters in situations where they were faced with making choices that altered the trajectories of their lives.  Their decisions/actions also placed them in positions where what they ultimately chose to do had a major impact of how others viewed them and also had the potential to ‘disappoint’ a number of people.  It was a tough episode to watch.

Obviously not everyone reading this watches the show or cares one whit about the characters.  But unless you pay zero attention to pop culture you’ve certainly heard of Don Draper – he off the suave suits, the snap-brimmed fedora and the easy morals.  A conflicted gent in many ways, Don is quickly finding his oh-so-secure world-changing as the 1960’s roll on.  One trait that Don possesses was on grand display in this week’s episode – he believes that he will always have the last word and seems confident in the belief that his final pronouncement on a topic is “the last word.”  He cannot fathom the concept that a discussion might carry on without him once he leaves the room.

But isn’t that just a bit true for all of us?

  • We make a wise declaration at a meeting and consider that the end of the discussion.  Everyone else leaves the meeting, heads off to lunch, and rehashes/debates/questions-our-wisdom while enjoying their chicken quesadillas and diet Coke
  • We issue a policy memo email to all concerned and assume since we know what-we-mean everyone else now gets it too
  • While in some situations the buck may indeed stop here, there are times when we’re just one-fifth of the decision-making group.  Stating our answer as though it were the definitive one and then leaving the discusion..quite possibly means we’ll be surprised at the eventual outcome (Don!)

Personally, I always gain some wisdom and insight when watching Mad Men – it’s not just douchebags and martinis.

Career Development: An Ongoing Maintenance Program

This post originally ran on SHRM’s We Know Next blog.


During the economic downturn and continuing post-recession there has been an increased need for career development programs and services as individuals who were laid-off, some after many years in one career, found themselves faced with an uncertain future.  Many began the often challenging task of re-assessing and creating new career patterns and determining how to integrate their work style, their personal needs, their values, and their sense of self as they planned for their future.

Some individuals were fortunate in that they continued to work for organizations who structured internal career progress for their employees, providing assistance as employees managed their careers, including growth and succession opportunities.  And other workers, whether receiving this kind of support from their organizations or not, have always maintained a watchful eye on their careers – regularly checking under the hood and performing ‘maintenance’ –  keeping their skills sharp and up-to-date, networking and building strong relationships, and continuously being aware of their personal goals and aspirations.

Oftentimes, when we toss about the term “Career Development,” we envision white-collar or professional employees, whether they’re starting out in their field or have hit a mid-career snag.  The need for career development and planning, however, applies to others who many times we don’t consider:  individuals with disabilities, low-income workers, and single parents who are sometimes the first in their families to hold steady employment.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the years speaking at Job Readiness Workshops or meeting one-on-one with folks who fall into these latter groups, and I’ve assisted through groups such as Louisiana Rehabilitation Services, the U.S. Business Leadership Network, Dress for Success, and local non-profits that work with single parents.

While the educational levels, desired salary and earning potential may vary amongst the job seekers mentioned thus far, all of them can benefit from evaluating some basic items as they ponder issues related to personal career development.

  • What interests and motivates me?  Am I energized by working with the public or does it exhaust me?  Would I enjoy working out doors or perhaps doing something that requires mechanical or technical prowess? Am I interested in travel or long hours, or do I want to work a strict 8 – 5 schedule?
  • What am I good at?  What are some of the unique skills or personality traits that I bring to the workforce?  Do I have a realistic understanding of my job readiness in regards to the basics –  reading, writing, math and my technology skills?  And if I work in a fast-moving field, is my skill set up-to-date?
  • What can I do that will blend these two together? What type of organization/industry and what type of job will allow me to do what I’m good at – and what I like to do?
  • How will I take charge of my own journey? Finding a job is but the first step, so what are some things I will be responsible for doing to stay on the right path?  What skills will I need to further develop, perhaps on my own and at my own expense, as the years progress?  What is my end goal and do I have a plan to get there?
  • How will I manage my career into the future? How will I continue to juggle and balance the challenges that everyone faces – work, family and personal needs?  Am I prepared to handle conflicting demands and do I have personal resilience as well as a good support system?

Whether someone is starting out or starting over, the first step of any career development planning starts with the individual.  But just as when we drive a newly purchased car off the lot, we need to make a commitment if we want to keep our career running at peak level by performing regular, ongoing maintenance.

Reports of the Performance Review’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The awesome folks at People Results asked me to write a guest post the other day so I opted to give my take on Performance Reviews; one subject we all never seem to get sick of discussing.  See what I had to say about it below.  Then head on over and check out some of the neat things they have to say on the People Results blog – they’ve got super content from a variety of smart smart contributors!


There’s a lot of handwringing and kvetching in the business/HR world about the value of employee performance appraisals. Good? Bad? A necessary evil? The spawn of Satan? Some folks say we should toss out the whole mess while others valiantly try to maintain control.

I fall somewhere in the middle. Obviously it’s important to ensure that managers are having regular conversations with their staff members and the old-school performance appraisal, for all its faults, ensures that happens – at least sporadically. Plus, the reality is that we need to have records of hits/misses in performance during an employee’s life cycle – woe to the company rep who arrives sans documentation at an unemployment hearing. And while there’s moaning and groaning over the use of subjective/arbitrary rating scales, we look for some sort of numerical system when correlating pay to performance.

The cry for the end to performance appraisals is, IMO, a call for an end to the horrible manner in which the process has been handled. Many existing processes treat performance management as a one-stop destination – not as the continuous ongoing cycle that it is. And no one, least of all managers, enjoys completing what they see as yet another chore mandated by the ninnies in HR.

Nope – what people want is a meaningful, understandable and SANE way of reviewing performance.

So how do we do that? How can we, as HR professionals, ensure that everyone realizes the value that can be found in a performance appraisal? If the time has come to re-vamp, re-design or even just re-communicate your process here are a few key STEPs:

Strategy – It’s critical to outline WHY you believe formally appraising performance is important. While the focus should always be on continual feedback, coaching and helping employees identify next steps you may, for example, define a need to correlate individual goals to organizational strategies/goals and KPIs. If, however, your strategy is merely to have a record/piece of paper – you’re doing it wrong.

Tools – You want to examine what will work best for your organization. A snazzy new collaborative channel with peer reviews and 360 degree components? Or, based on your industry, IS a paper form appropriate? Because it just might be – no kidding.

Engagement – Performance feedback is all about conversation – talking with people instead of talking to them. If your employees are accustomed to merely being given a written review, being told how they’re doing and then ‘signing off,’ you’ll need to devise a plan to tackle user adoption and employee/manager training. How can you ensure conversations are occurring and ideas are being exchanged?

Planning – It’s critical to determine how you’ll track and measure performance by identifying the metrics/deliverables that are important. Widgets produced?  Competencies/behaviors demonstrated? Goals met? Does a rating scale make sense – and – is the one you’re using conveying the appropriate message?

I recently attended a program where the presenter mentioned an HR Department that developed an appraisal system using a 100-point rating scale; managers were expected to differentiate, by this level of minutiae, the performance of their direct reports. “I’m going to give Bob a 73 on Building Relationships but Susie – meh – she only warrants a 71!”

Death by HR – no wonder people want to put an end to performance appraisals.