ALC Consulting

October 8, 2009

From the Other Side of the Table

Written by a medical device recruiter, but the recommendations apply to any situation working with a recruiter.

For more information, go to:

Confessions of a Medical Device Recruiter (Posted for all my Recruiter Friends – do I hear an Amen?)

How to Get the Attention of Your Favorite Recruiter

I love the recruiting business. Nearly 25 years in the medical industry and I’m still like a junkie about the newest Gee-Whiz device or “inside scoop” into what’s going on in … your company…

But, in the past few months, with this oddly strong need for fearless and unflinching leaders in our Client companies, I find myself struggling to keep up with staying in communication with viable candidates I’ve known for years who are among the unfortunate thousands being laid off through no fault of their own.

My daily email drawer has swelled to 200 – 400 per day – not counting the Viagra and WOW ads nor the 1000 or so emails that go to our general mailbox or to one of my staff. It’s daunting to open up Outlook and see that 329 emails have come in since I left the office at 9pm the night before. Incoming phone calls have increased to a dizzying pace and I hear the urgency in the voicemails of many of the candidates.

To combat this, I’ve increased my average of 20-40 telephone appointments per day by decreasing the average time on each call and tacking on an extra hour or two to the day. My team is charged with reaching out to 80 people per day “live” on top of their other responsibilities which include research, staying current on industry news, email and writing up the final 2-5 candidates that they will submit for open positions.

I try to talk fast and listen faster and feel like I’m in “auctioneer training” half the time because the sheer velocity of the conversation.

Like most of you, I’m now working 70-80 hours routinely in the office despite having added two more employees to try to stay responsive to the candidates and clients that have built our company into such a player in the industry.

But I feel bad when I can’t get to you as quickly as either of us would like. Why? Because we really do try to help and there’s just not enough hours in the day. Most good recruiters – and all the great ones – want to create that “Perfect Storm” of matching executives to the right companies.

So here’s some tips to get your message out to your favorite recruiter(s):

1. Be succinct in communication. I do care. But if I can get a 16 second voicemail with your basic information and purpose of the call, I can get back with you faster. Name, most recent company, phone number (speak clearly and/or leave the number twice so I don’t have to replay) and purpose of the call are fine. Hopefully, you’ve checked my website and can give me the title or Job ID so we can get to the point quickly. And chances are, if you’ve been laid off, I probably already know the reason – and that it’s not a reflection on you. I understand.

1A. Be flexible. Please don’t leave a rambling 8 minute message and then tell me you’re available between 4 and 4:15pm next Tuesday. I do want to communicate with you, but like you, schedule my appointments a week or so in advance to be as productive as possible.

2. Email when possible. I can answer emails late at night even when I can’t phone you.

3. If possible, ALWAYS “apply” online on my website for a position you’re interested in rather than asking me to look over your resume and see what I have that may be a fit. When you express an interest in a position, it “flags” one of my recruiters and puts you at the top of the heap to be contacted – generally within a day or two. If I receive a general “please let me know what you think” query, I save it for the weekend and then assign it to one of our administrative staff – and currently – as of today there are 3291 resumes in queue for general processing. Actual number. And we can only process 100-200 per day per staff person. By applying online and telling us what you’re interested in – you’ll generally get a response (either phone or email) within a few days on most positions.

(Note to self: hire another recruiter).

4. Look at our forum
Medical Device Guru. There are nearly 5000 articles, resume tips, news stories and tons of ideas – that we update daily. You may also want to join the Linkedin Group of the same name or on Twitter .

5. On that same topic, make sure your resume is pristine – and descriptive, including not only your current/most recent company and a brief description- but the website as well – embedded in your resume. If you list your company as “Tyco” or “JNJ” rather than the division or SBU, I can’t as quickly assess where we might have a spot for you. By embedding the URL that best reflects your role, or describing the functional areas of responsibility you managed, my staff and I can have a greater understanding of your career relative to your total organization.

6. Link to your favorite headhunters – like me – on LinkedIN

7. Be generous in recommending other people to us if a position we present to you is not a fit. If it’s a confidential referral, we will honor that. Interestingly, you should know that the single biggest referral source I have for the most senior level positions that I typical work on – is YOUR BOSS. Of course, I can’t tell you this, but more often than not, if you’re talented, but have no room for promotion in your current organization, your boss will confidentially share your name. There’s a lot of good people in medical – and it’s such a small world, is it not?

8. Be patient with us – and any recruiter you work with. The medical device world is still hiring a strong pace. The New York Times reported on January 24, 2009 that white-collar unemployment is 4.6% as opposed to 11.3% for blue collar workers. This is little solace to the 4.6%, but I believe that medical device will continue to fare well in the near future. Even at our company,we’re fortunate to have more opportunities today than this time last year. But the bar is higher and candidates that are difficult, uncooperative and demanding are not getting in front of our clients. It’s human nature. There’s a great saying in my business… “People are hired for what they do – but fired for who they are.” In this environment, as everyone is trying to do more with less, your work-place demeanor and ability to work – and play well – with others is being assessed throughout the interview process. Right or wrong (though it doesn’t happen often) I’ve pulled candidates that were egregiously rude to my adminstrative assistant simply because they could be an HR nightmare to my clients. (Remember that the title of this blog is “Confessions of a Med Device Headhunter… I’m just telling the truth…)

9. It’s OK to “touch base” every week or so if you’re in active consideration for a position and haven’t heard anything. We’re not perfect and sometimes things DO fall through the cracks – especially when the hiring manager is taking a few weeks to set up interviews because he/she is working 70 hours+ per week and doing three jobs – or has lost admin help – or is travelling. We do try to communicate the process, but so much of it is out of our control. By the same token, give us a little breathing room. Noone want to place you more than WE do.

10. Do your homework once we have an interview scheduled for you. While we will do a verbal prep with you and send you materials on our client, you can increase your odds by doing your own homework on the company. We’ve created the Interview Prep Guide for Medical Device Careers as a help – it’s 24 pages packed with medical career interviewing ideas. And its free.

Finally, every day – many times a day – I get asked how the job market looks – quick answer – it’s very strong in many niches within medical device. The smaller companies seem hungry to add top talent and even some of our Fortune 500 clients are planning responsible additions in Q1. Frankly, no company is going to grow without smart, dedicated, and creative talent to weather the next few quarters. While Legacy MedSearch is but one executive search company (and there are alot of great companies like ours), we had a 40% growth last year and are already ahead of plan for 2009 as of May with a week left to go. My guess is that we’ll place 4 people again this month and at least as many in June

I really hope one of those people – is you.

Thanks for working with us. We really are trying our very best.


July 14, 2009

Wrapping up Interview Questions

Filed under: Interviewing — Anne Cloward @ 2:39 pm
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There is one crucial question that you do need to be prepared for:

Do you have any questions for me?

You had better have some questions. It’s your last time to impress everyone with your qualifications for the job.

Some good questions are:

  1. Are there any other qualities you are looking for in a candidate that we haven’t covered?
  2. Are there any more questions you have about my qualifications for this position?

    (This gives you a chance to once more restate your ability to do the job.)

  3. Where are you in the hiring process and when you plan to make a decision.

DO NOT ask about salary, hours, benefits or vacations. This is totally inappropriate at this stage.

Here are the last of the wacky questions

  1. What’s the best movie you’ve seen in the last year?

    (Are you asking me for a date?)

  2. What is your favorite memory from childhood?

    (You are not my shrink and you had better not send me a bill for a therapy session!)

  3. What is your greatest fear?

    That I would have to go through these questions again with you, for any reason!

  4. What are your lifelong dreams?

    Not to be answering questions like this all day.

  5. How would you feel about working for someone who knows less than you?

    Since that has been the case many times, it comes with the territory.

  6. Why is there fuzz on a tennis ball?


  7. If you were at a business lunch and you ordered a rare steak and they brought it to you well done, what would you do?

    Jump up, drop to the floor and start a tantrum! Come on, it’s only a lunch.

And the last question is (drum roll, please!)

How do I rate as an interviewer?

Now just wait a cottonpicking minute here. If I tell you the truth, that you suck, then you won’t hire me. If I lie and say you were great, I lose all respect for myself and you.

This is a no win situation.

But be prepared. They can often slip that one in.

One last item.

Go to The Portland Examiner and start reading Susan Tait’s Unemployment columns. Today’s was especially good concerning this topic.

Or follow this link.

June 11, 2009

Interviewing—The Phone Screen

Filed under: Interviewing — Anne Cloward @ 8:42 pm
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Once upon a time, there was a TV show called Laugh-in. It was edgy and irreverent and terribly funny. Ernestine, played brilliantly by Lily Tomlin was a star in her own right.  Ernestine had her own agenda and stuck to it, no matter who was on the line. And her laugh was pure snarkiness.  Today’s topic deals with the phenomenon of the Phone Screen.


I do have a phone screen story to tell from my tech writing days. I applied to a Very Well Known Company in Salt Lake. They were famous all over the world for their seminars, books and planners. I won’t name names, but they did have a stadium named after them at one time.

I received a call from someone. She had one question for me.

“How low will you go?”


“How low will you go for a salary? If you answer with too high a number, we won’t call you in for an interview.”

I could not believe that was their main requirement for selecting a technical writer! So the Well Known Company in Salt Lake City missed out on having my talents define their seminars and other products. Their loss, I am sure.


For those of you who think that the phone screen is a preliminary call made to weed out people and once you ace it you are on to the “real interview,” don’t dismiss it lightly. The Phone Screen is becoming a tool of choice for hiring managers these days.

Sarah Needleman of the Wall Street Journal has a great article on the subject this week.

Job seekers, beware the telephone.

For years, the phone interview was a preliminary step that allowed an employer to give a candidate the once-over and schedule an in-person interview. But these days, many recruiters are using the phone interview to pose the kinds of in-depth questions previously reserved for finalists. What’s more, job hunters say the bar for getting to the next level has been raised much higher, catching many of them off-guard.

In a recent first interview for a senior marketing job, Robyn Cobb was grilled by a hiring manager for an hour and a half on topics ranging from her work history and marketing philosophy to her knowledge of the company and its industry.

“I thought it was never going to end,” says the 45-year-old Ms. Cobb, who lives in Alpharetta, Ga., and was laid off in December from a midsize communications firm.

Until recently, candidates could often breeze through most phone interviews in 10 minutes or less by answering a few softball questions. Little preparation was necessary, and most people could expect to be invited for a “real” interview before hanging up.

These days, job hunters are finding that they need to reserve an hour or more for a phone interview. They may be asked to discuss their full work history, including the exact dates of their experience in various business areas. They may also be expected to cite examples and exact stats that illustrate their strengths and offer details on how they would handle the position.

During a call earlier this year about a director-of-Internet-marketing job, Jaclyn Agy of Wheat Ridge, Colo., says she was asked to describe about 10 different marketing initiatives she’s worked on, plus provide metrics resulting from each. “I didn’t have those stats off the top of my head,” she recalls of the hour-long conversation. “I expected to be asked that in a face-to-face.”

Ms. Agy, 30, says she assumed she’d need only to describe two or three past accomplishments in general terms. “I was taken back by how specific [the interviewer] was getting,” she says. Ms. Agy was better prepared for a follow-up phone interview. She was later invited to meet with eight members of the hiring company in its Denver office, though she didn’t land the position.

Employers say they’ve raised the phone-interview stakes in part because they’re attracting more candidates who meet their basic qualifications. They’re digging deep to identify the best ones, and in some cases adding second-round rigor to phone screens as one way to accomplish that.

“You can be pickier,” says Joyce A. Foster, vice president of human resources at Hilex Poly Co. LLC in Hartsville, S.C. Salaried job openings at the company’s 10 U.S. locations have been attracting up to three times as many qualified applicants — including more candidates with experience in Hilex’s niche, plastic film and bag manufacturing and recycling — than during more robust economic times, she says.

“Before, if a person had only recycling experience in paper, we might have said OK,” Ms. Foster says. “Today we can be more specific. I’m going to find someone who’s an even better fit.”

Recruiters are also seeking to weed out those who seem likely to change jobs as soon as the economy turns around. “We’re trying to determine whether what we’re offering truly meets their long-term objectives,” says Paul Newman, assistant vice president of human resources at OppenheimerFunds. And when it comes to candidates who were laid off, recruiters for the New York-based asset-management firm want to know the circumstances behind what happened. “Was this person a high-performance, talented individual who was let go because of the economics of the business,” he says, “or an average employee let go in the first round” of layoffs?

For many firms, evaluating candidates over the phone also serves as a way to save on recruiting costs. “In this economy, you can’t afford to fly every person out for an interview,” says Jeff Cousens, vice president of organizational development at Patrick Energy Services Inc. in Lisle, Ill. After joining the energy concern in January, he instructed recruiters to complete up to four comprehensive phone interviews with candidates before inviting finalists in. Previously, they made just one brief call, mainly to schedule in-person interviews. “When a candidate comes in to meet the hiring manager, recruiters have already gone through every detail to make sure they’re a fit,” says Mr. Cousens.


Job seekers should prepare for a phone interview as seriously as they do for an in-person one. When asked about your qualifications, for example, you can craft a better answer by asking what the company wants and why, says J.T. O’Donnell, a career strategist in North Hampton, N.H.

If you’re asked how many years of experience you have with a program you have used extensively, but not for years, you could reply by asking how much is required and at what level, says Ms. O’Donnell. Maybe the company chose a number based on how much experience the last person in the position had, and you might have just as much, but in a condensed time frame. You can then provide a convincing reason as to why you should be considered for the job even if your answer doesn’t match exactly what the recruiter is looking for.

You should also prepare to answer more complex and detailed questions in phone interviews by creating a list of key statistics and abbreviated answers to commonly asked questions, says Bill McGowan, founder of communications-coaching firm Clarity Media Group Inc. Some examples: What do you know about the company? Why do you want the job? What are your greatest strengths? What are your career goals? How do you see yourself fitting in?

“What traps a lot of people is they think and talk at the same time. They make up answers on the fly,” says Mr. McGowan. “It’s better if you know your conversational path.”

Don’t expect to defer answering questions to your first meeting with a hiring manager, says Maureen Crawford Hentz, a talent-acquisition manager at Danvers, Mass.-based lighting manufacturer Osram Sylvania Inc. That may have been the case in the past, but not now. “People think if you’re talking to someone in HR, this isn’t a real interview,” she says. But these days, it might be your only shot.

Be sure to brush up on your phone etiquette, too. Ms. Crawford Hentz says candidates have put her on hold while they answered another call or tended to their children. Once she could tell a candidate was visiting a drive-through restaurant during a call because she heard a loudspeaker requesting the person’s lunch order.

Finally, be mindful of common faux pas, such as giving long-winded answers that go off topic. “Sometimes the longer you talk, the more it sounds like you’re trying to explain your way through something,” says Mr. McGowan. “The most confident people don’t need to drone on.” Another common flub: answering recruiters’ questions before they’ve finished speaking. Not only does that show disrespect, but it “makes it seem like you have stocked, canned answers,” he says.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at

April 23, 2009

Boutique Recruiting

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 8:49 pm
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When I lived in the Twin Cities, there was a grocery chain called Kowalskis. They have nine stores, and shopping there is an unforgettable experience. They carry only the best in local and imported groceries. They have an in store deli, an outdoor café, a spa, a floral department and more. Fresh seafood is flown in daily. If you are so inclined, you can schedule a massage, and while you are being pampered in the spa, one of their personal shoppers will select your groceries for you from your shopping list. When you emerge from your massage, invigorated, you may sign your charge slip, and drive off with your groceries neatly packed in your car. Their stores are only located in the upscale suburbs. Nothing ever goes on sale there.

At the other end of the scale was the local Safeway, who just sold plain groceries with none of the frills. I shopped their specials and stocked my pantry with the basics at their stores. The fancy place could be more expensive for my every day needs. Each had their place in my life and budget. They knew their niche customers needs and met them.

Recruiting firms also run the spectrum from very fancy to down to earth shops. Each has their strengths, but you may find yourself working with both kinds depending on your circumstances.

First of all, understand that one size does not fit all. No firm can place you at any company in town. For example, one of the largest chip manufacturers is located in my town. They have a large complex operation. They hire thousands of contractors each year. In order to streamline their process, they have a preferred list (Tier 1) of recruiting firms who get their job requests and submit candidates for these positions. Likewise, the large athletic shoe manufacturer nearby has its Tier 1 contracting firms that they work with. The two lists of firms are not the same. None of the local recruiters do both of them. So they can’t represent you to the chip company and the shoe company.

What if their client lists overlap and they both can submit me for a job at a company? Wouldn’t my chances double if both of firms could submit me for the same position?

Nope. It doesn’t work that way. If two different recruiters submit you for the same job, when your name hits the client’s system. your application is kicked out so fast and NEITHER firm gets to submit you. Don’t ask me how I know this unpleasant truth.

So, how do you work with a number of contracting firms and still be fair with all of them?

As I build relationships with contracting firms, I ask them for a list of their main clients, (their niche). I keep track of them on a spreadsheet. When an opening comes up at the chip people, Company A can submit me. For the shoe guys, Company B can do it. Most recruiters understand this and will work with you, if you are honest with them. Some of the firms are great at finding positions for tech writers and trainers; others are big on placing developers and project managers. They know how to talk the tech talk with the IT managers, but don’t have a clue as to the skills needed for documentation. I have done a lot of educating of recruiters on what makes a good tech writer and what to look for in a trainer or instructional designer.

There have been times when I have found a job listing on my own for a particular firm. I will ask my recruiters if this firm is one they work with. It may take some time, but I can usually find one from the major contracting firms in town. I could just submit my résumé online, but having a recruiter representing me often gets my résumé read and then the interview.

When I have worked with a client for a contracting agency and there is an opening there again, I owe that firm the courtesy of having them represent me. For example, I had a wonderful contract at a health insurance company that a local staffing firm found for me. If another position comes up at that client, I will definitely go with my original company.

When I am looking for a contract and visit with a recruiter, I am also honest about which jobs I have been submitted for and by whom, so that everyone knows what is going on. The recruiters in my town know each other, and often have worked together in the past. It’s a small community and I try to maintain positive relationships with all of them. A relationship based on honesty and respect is the best way to keep working and have recruiters working for you.

April 15, 2009

Dear Abby

Filed under: Contracting,Networking,Recruiters — Anne Cloward @ 1:24 pm
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Dear Abby,
I am a reasonably attractive single woman with a degree and a good job. My friends all say I am reasonably well adjusted. My problem is why can’t I find a guy? You know, “the one?” Where do I begin to find him? Can you suggest some places to look for him?

Lonely in the Northwest

For years I have read variations on this post and Abby’s advice is to get busy, start hanging out with people who share your common interests, and even go to church. She suggests avoiding bars.

The same problem exists when you try to find the good recruiters. How do you find the good ones? Where do they hang out? How can you meet them?

They hang out in their offices, on the Internet, at professional meetings such a local special interest groups, and anywhere people are prone to gather to conduct business. I have a secret for you; they are just as anxious to meet up with you, if you are a well qualified candidate and work with you. Good recruiters are always willing to add new people to their list of candidates.

Over the past 11 years, I have worked with many recruiters and they have come into my life in various ways. Here are the most successful ones:

  1. Ask contractors you know for the names of their recruiters. Ask them if you can use their name and then contact the recruiter. Since many recruiting firms offer a referral bonus, contractors are willing to recommend you to their recruiters.
  2. Ask for recommendations on Linkedin from any of your contacts and groups. People are willing to share their experiences and help. If they are in Linkedin, that’s a sign they are open contacts with new people.
  3. When looking at job openings on the Internet, take note of companies and recruiter’s names. Contact them. Recruiting firms often have their niche, and you want to find the ones who place people who do what you do. Have a well-crafted résumé ready to send to them.
  4. Attend networking meetings, both general and specialized. Often recruiters are featured speakers. If a recruiter is speaking, get his or her card and contact them. Introduce yourself to the recruiter. Give your 30 second speech. Hand out your business card and produce a hard copy of your résumé if asked. Follow up with a brief email and electronic copy of your résumé.

Or, contractors may find you. If you have posted your résumé on any of the career boards (Monster, Dice or CareerBuilder), you will have contractors calling and seeking you out.

After initial introductions, a recruiter may want to pursue a relationship with you. The next step could be a phone screening interview. During this time, the recruiter tries to get to know you and may ask you more detailed questions about your work experience and history.

You may instead be asked to come into the contracting firm’s office for a face-to-face interview. Handle this as you would any formal business interview. Dress accordingly. Just because you won’t be working every day with this person, he or she is trying to decide if they want to present you to potential clients. Even if you meet off site somewhere, as in a restaurant or coffee shop, this is still a business meeting.

Avoid the temptation to badmouth past bosses or companies. No town is too big for them not to know someone who works there. Like ex-spouses or boyfriends, casting dirt on them will only get some spread on you. The boss who drove you nuts with his passive aggressive behavior or the one who never reviewed your work should not be mentioned.

It’s also fine for you to interview the recruiter. Ask about the company. How long has the recruiter been with the company? Who are their major clients? How many people have they placed in the past few months? What types of workers do they place? What is their general philosophy as a company?

After your meeting, follow up with an email or written thank you note. Trust me on this one It’s just good manners to do this.

A sign of a poor recruiter is the willingness to skip this step. Recruiters who call you from across the country and don’t take the time to screen you, but ask for your résumé and permission to submit in a first email or phone call, are usually not very good. Know these for the frogs they are, and hold out for the real thing, a prince or princess.

As with a dating relationship, maybe you may never hear from a recruiter again. But you may hit pay dirt and find some excellent ones who having met you, will go to bat for you and help you in your job search. I have met recruiters who had nothing specific for me at the time, but called back weeks, or even months later with an opportunity, remembering me from our first meeting. As one excellent recruiter once told me, “It’s not about the job; it’s about relationships.”

If you honestly don’t like the recruiter or just feel that you cannot work with him or her, then politely let them disappear back into the woodwork.

Following these suggestions should start you on building your network of recruiters, and eventually finding contract or full time work.

Next: Boutique Recruiting.

April 2, 2009

The Farmer and the Cowman (Contractors and Recruiters)

Filed under: Contracting,Recruiters — Anne Cloward @ 11:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,


I participated in drama and public speaking in high school, which lead me to participate in the yearly musical. Since I don’t sing all that well and was not a long legged dancer, I got to work backstage. I like to boss people around, manage and organize things, so I was the stage manager. During my sophomore year, we put on Oklahoma, that old Rogers and Hammerstein chestnut, Some of my duties included feeding lines to actors and filling in for missing actors. By the time the final curtain came down, I knew every line of the play.
The story is set in the Oklahoma territory, just before statehood. There seem to be two groups of settlers there; the farmers and the cowboys. The thrifty farmers build fences and families, while the footloose cowboys want to roam free on the range. Things come to a head one night at a barn dance, where the two factions confront each other, at what is supposed to be a community building event. Being a musical, they spar throughout the song. Ike is a Farmer, as is Eller, and Annie is a lost soul who likes everyone).

(Ike Carns):

The farmer and the cowman should be friends.

Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.

One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,

But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.


Territory folks should stick together,

Territory folks should all be pals.

Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,

Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals. (repeat)

(A Farmer)

I’d like to say a word for the farmer,

He come out west and made a lot of changes

(A Cowboy)

He come out west and built a lot of fences,

And built ’em right acrost our cattle ranges.

(A Farmer)

The farmer is a good and thrifty citizen, no matter what the cowman says of things.

You seldom see ’em drinkin’ in a bar room

(A Cowboy)

Unless somebody else is buyin drinks.

(Another Cowboy)

But the farmer and the cowman should be friends.

Oh, the famer and the cowman should be friends.

The cowman ropes a cow with ease, the farmer steals her butter and cheese, but that’s no reason why they can’t be friends.


Territory folks should stick together,

Territory folks should all be pals.

Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,

Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals.

(Aunt Eller)

I’d like to say a word for the cowboy, the road he treads is difficult and stoney.

He rides for days on end with jist a pony for a friend.

(Ado Annie)

I sure am feelin’ sorry for the pony!

(Aunt Eller)

The farmer should be sociable with the cowboy if he rides by and asks for food and water.

Don’t treat him like a louse make him welcome in your house.

(A Farmer)

But be sure that you lock up your wife and daughters!

(At this point, mayhem breaks loose and Aunt Eller clears the air by firing shots in the air and forcing everyone to sing.)


Territory folks should stick together,

Territory folks should all be pals.

Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,

Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals.

I am using this example to cite how we view others through our filters and assign stereotypical characteristics to each other.

Only the two groups I am talking about here are Contractorsand Recruiters. I was at a networking meeting recently in which a job seeker stated he just might have to talk to a recruiter one day soon. And he sure did not seem happy about it. He seemed to regard recruiters just as negatively as the farmers did the cowboys.

Get over it. Recruiters can be your friends. They can be your lifeline to getting interviews and eventually getting hired.

This is the way the system works:

  1. Clients have needs for people with skills.
  2. They contact recruiters with their needs.
  3. Recruiters screen and find the best candidates for the clients.
  4. Clients hire candidates and pay the recruiters for their services.

I was stunned when a friend recently that a recruiter had called him and said for $1500, he could find him a job.
You should never pay a recruiter to find you a job; you should thank him, but it is not your job to pay him.

Recruiters vary in their abilities and backgrounds. But their way of making a living is the same. Clients pay them to find people to work.

So Candidates, quit thinking of recruiters as the enemy. They are your friends.

For my next few posts, I am going to discuss the nuances of good candidate/recruiter relationships. There are things you can do as a candidate to help the recruiter do their jobs. There are also characteristics that you should look for in good recruiters.

Coming next: How do I find recruiters?

March 30, 2009

It Ain’t Necessarily So. . .

Filed under: Contracting,Networking,Networking Meetings,Recruiters — Anne Cloward @ 11:26 pm
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Way, way back when I was expecting my first child, “Natural Childbirth” was all the rage. We women were supposed to free ourselves of the tyranny of the medical establishment, reclaim our bodies and enjoy the experience of bringing a child into the world without any drugs, all on our own. Well, we could have our husbands nearby, as coaches, but the doctor and nurses were just supposed to be in awe of us as we brought our young ‘uns into the world without their help. It was supposed to be this joyous, amazing experience, available to any woman, any woman ready to throw off the shackles of the oppressive male dominated medical system.

I bought into that construct with all my young enthusiastic heart. After all, if I was going to be the mother of a dozen children, this would be the way to go, right.

So I got pregnant with my first child, and everything went great. Until my due date, in the middle of the summer. Simmering in a 3rd floor apartment, I canned apricots and the day passed uneventfully, except for the men walking on the moon. Two weeks later, I was still pregnant and miserable and hot and not sleeping. On a Thursday morning I went in to see my doctor, tired and crabby and ready to have this baby. I was having contractions, but after one false alarm at the hospital, I was waiting to get my doctor’s OK before going in again. If nothing happened by Friday, go in on Friday night, he said. I went in on Friday night, having good contractions and they put me to bed to wait and see what would happen. Finally, late Saturday night, they decided to do a C-section and get the kid out of there. I woke up a few hours later, hurting and got to see my 8 pound 10 ounce baby boy, who could never have survived a “Natural” delivery. His two brothers and sister also came into the world that way.

I had a condition called “non-progressive” labor, due to some anatomical issues.

Now what has this got to do with careers? Well, we often get the idea that there is only one way to hunt for a job and we wear ourselves out following that path, and sometimes, it seems as though we are in the throes of non-progressive labor ourselves. For those of you who have had to venture out into the job seeking world lately, it is not a pretty sight. There is new conventional wisdom that is being dumped upon us, new ways of finding a position and if you don’t get with the program, you will never get a job. After a while, it begins to sound like a broken record.

I agree that the least productive way of job hunting involves applying online and sending your résumé in response to a job posting. Yours will join the hundreds of others who are also sitting there. And I agree that agreeing to let someone in Bangalore represent me for a job some several thousand miles away is not the way to go either. But what about all the rest of the suggestions?

You go to job seekers meetings, week after week, month after month. You connect with recruiters and even get submitted for positions by some of them. You sign up on Linkedin and reconnect with all your old co-workers, employers and anyone else who wants to. You go to focus groups. You join any association remotely connected with your field that may provide access to others. You clean up your web presence, getting rid of any embarrassing photos. You rewrite your résumé five different times, trying to make it stand out. You email it to everyone you know. You attend some support meetings to commiserate with others, and find you could be going to many more of them throughout the week.

In short, you follow all the advice, and still nothing happens. Then you just burn out.

Just as I had had it when, after all those hours of labor, the doctors finally decided another course of action was needed to get results, some days you are ready to throw in the towel and give up.

This happened to a friend of mine last Friday. After a very stressful week, at the end of another job seekers networking meeting, she just had had it. She started crying and started verbalizing her complete frustration at the situation. She is one of the most talented people I know in her field, with a great job history. She is working for a local company for peanuts just to keep her name out there. Yet nothing is happening for her. In spite of all of her efforts, connections and hard work, she was completely frustrated. All I could do was to sit by her and listen. I could not offer any great advice, because I know just how she felt. Some other guy who knows her came by, with his comment that as tough as things were for her, his situation was much worse, he was sure. That was not the correct response in my book.

Oregon’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average. It’s a great place to live, and there is a well educated population here vying for jobs. These are unusual times, and even though there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel, it hasn’t trickled down to some areas yet. There are still those hiring managers who believe that developers can develop, debug, test and document their creations, since they created the applications (Right!). When will there be a turnaround and our phones start ringing with recruiters at the other end who have real jobs in real companies? I have no idea.

In the mean time, my friend and I just put one foot in front of the other and know that we are there for one another. We know that when we reach the end of our rope, the phone may still not ring, because right now, not much is out there.

It will pass. Things will get better, but right now we aren’t seeing much action. Lots of words are out there, too many to absorb, but no jobs.

March 17, 2009

Attending Networking Meetings and Actually Networking!

Filed under: Contracting,Uncategorized — Anne Cloward @ 11:39 pm
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So you heard all about networking, and you are ready to attend a meeting, but wonder how to make the best of it?

Unlike a 12 step meeting, you do NOT want to remain anonymous. You want to be recognized and talked about. The purpose of a networking meeting is to meet people, people who know other people and who can help you make contacts that can lead to jobs. You also know people who are working and you should be prepared to share your information. Networking is the exchanging of information.

There are some ways to maximize this experience.

Prepare yourself

Before you go to such a meeting, sit down at your PC and be ready to do some printing. First, print out your résumé. Make several copies. Check it for typos and accuracy. Then print out some business cards. You don’t own a business, so why should you do that? Because you are going to meet people who will want to connect with you or people you want to connect with. If you don’t have any, go down to Office Max and buy some blank business cards. Avery makes nice one. They also have some templates online at their website that you can customize. All you have to do is select a layout, enter your contact information and print. Just enter your Name, your Job title, and contact information, including email address. Most serious job seekers have a separate email address that is reserved for work. Get one. Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail are all free. Skip the cutesy name, (Joesixpack, suszeebutterfly). You are an adult looking for a job, sound like one.

If you haven’t already, prepare your 30 second—one minute introductory speech. Use positive language; say what you can do, and what you are looking for. If you worked for one of the larger firms in the area, mention that. Avoid negative language. See if you can get that chip off your shoulder. It shows. Your body language should project confidence.

The night before your meeting, lay out your clothes or at least check them out. Dress as you would for a business meeting, since this is one. A clean pair of slacks, a nice clean top, something with buttons all the way down. Put on some better shoes than the running shoes you have been living it. Shave, take a shower and clean up a little. Women should also dress accordingly. You want to show you are serious about your search.

Plan to meet lots of people

Some people have the idea that job networking meetings are only for people who are out of work. That’s not true. I can honestly say that there has been one person at every meeting I have attended who is NOT a job seeker, but someone who is hiring. He or she may be looking to meet people just like you. They are hiring managers, project managers and recruiters. They attend these meetings to get to know who is out there looking.

Work the room

There are certain things you can do that can call positive attention to yourself and help you get more out a meeting. Come early and find a seat in the front of the room. Bring a notebook and pen to take notes. Listen to the guest speakers. You can always learn something that will help you. Accept and pass out business cards. When it comes time to introduce, yourself, stand up. Face the direction of the greatest number of people. Speak clearly and project your voice. Be specific if you need to know something or someone. (I am looking for contacts from XYZ corporation, since they need a project manager.)

When someone makes a request that you can respond to, offer to help and meet up with the person after the meeting. You might have a neighbor who works at XYZ, or your poker pal does. Offer to introduce them to each other. Speak to the guest speaker. Tell him or her that they did a good job. Even if a recruiter doesn’t have a position for you, new job orders come in daily. Get a card to send your résumé. If someone asks if you are on LinkedIn and wants to link up, decide if you want to meet that way. If you haven’t joined Linked in ( ), put that on your to do list. If someone hands you a business card, make a note on the back if you discuss something and promise to help.

Follow up leads and commitments

After you get home, you are not done with this meeting. Empty your pockets, wallet or purse and take all those business cards you picked up. Sort though the ones you promised to connect with and do that right now. Send information, your résumé, and links, whatever. Remind people of where you met and that you are following through with your commitment to send them this information. If someone promised to send you something, send that person an email reminder.

Do this each time you meet. After a while your inbox will be buzzing with links, contacts and leads.

Read the materials passed out. These contain the distilled wisdom of people who know what they are talking about. Learn from them.

And come back next week.

March 10, 2009

The Care and Feeding of Contractors

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 8:28 pm
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I regard recruiters as being essential to my livelihood. Many companies will not hire contractors unless they come through a placement agency. Most recruiters are excellent professionals who really do want to match contract workers and clients successfully. The purpose of this piece is to put down my thoughts on the Recruiter—Client relationship.

Recruiters make their living by placing good candidates with clients. Their company’s reputation comes with each contractor they place, so they want you to do well. The good ones have good networking and people skills, since they spend all day trying to make good matches.

I do not know all goes on from the recruiter’s side of the table, but have worked with enough of them to know the qualities I want someone who represents me to have.

I am a technical writer with 20 years of experience, and have also taught in public schools, private colleges, and corporate training programs. I have worked as a Business Analyst and several of my projects have included SOX compliance work. My skills are pretty solid, and I generally have good reviews from clients. Most of the time, when I interview, I get a job offer. With this wide variety of experience, I can be easy to place.

Recruiters I Tend to Ignore

I prefer working with local contracting firms; ones who have a working relationship with hiring managers are authorized to submit candidates. I don’t like to work with companies who are not even in the same area code as I am.

These recruiters do not know the ins and outs of the local market. They are not a preferred vendor or even Tier 1 provider for the large employers. They have a job order they found on a Monster or Career Builder site and then have done a search and matched job titles to the req. Often, they have not taken the time to read my résumé and have no idea if I really do meet the requirements of the requisition.

Some positions presented to me (when I lived in Minnesota) by these dubious recruiters include:

    One in Detroit (doesn’t MI stand for Minnesota?)

One in Atlanta for a senior tech writer for $45,000 a year, FTE.

One for a help desk position in downtown Minneapolis at $16.50 an hour. (How could I pass up such a great opportunity?)

Some recruiters may not even be based in the US, and their companies never have a website. I generally know when a requisition has come out from a major employer in the area, since my mailbox fills with emails (often bad cut and paste jobs) or my phone rings constantly from area codes that are many states away.

After a two minute conversation, I had recruiter guarantee me a job at Nike at a phenomenal rate, if I would just give her authorization to submit me in the next ten minutes.. Her company had an in that no one else had. Since they were located in New Jersey and were not even remotely connected to Nike, I passed on this one.

Several times I have been contacted by recruiters for a job that didn’t exist. When I have checked with a legitimate Tier 1 provider for this employer, no such position has been posted.

Several recruiters have sent me emails with a job description requesting I respond to the email (skip the phone screen) authorizing them to submit me. They also request the last four digits of my Social Security number. This is a dangerous practice and goes against all the advice about giving personal information out to strangers over the Internet.

Know Your Contractors

Get to know the people you are marketing. Many skilled recruiters do good phone screens, and is a good first step. A face to face meeting is better. (Lunch would be nice.) But I (and most consultants I know) would be more than happy to come into your office and meet you. Meeting at Starbucks or Caribou gets old. You can see how I present myself, look over my portfolio and judge my interviewing skills. You have a chance to ask me more questions about my experience and skill sets.

Good honest feedback can help us contractors improve how we present ourselves and interview. I do not think it is realistic to expect recruiters to do major career development consulting, but good constructive suggestions are appreciated.

I will meet with recruiters even when they don’t have an outstanding req. They are building their network and it can work for both of us. I also am willing to connect with them on Linkedin.

Don’t submit me for positions that I am not qualified for. I am willing to stretch some out of my comfort zone, but will not lie about my skills. I can always learn to use new tools, but do not like to be misrepresented as being an expert in an application that I have never used before.

Don’t lie on my résumé. One contractor recently wanted to submit a candidate for a position, but he had some gaps (periods of unemployment) in his résumé. She was willing to manufacture some jobs for him and even had names of people who would pose as his managers in those fake positions. He wisely turned her down.

Talk up my strengths. Many IT workers and tech writers are not good at selling themselves. A good recruiter can help the contractor identify his strengths and play to them. I understand recruiters are not résumé writers, but I also am able to tailor my résumé, to a particular job, or rewrite it to focus on past experience specific to a particular position. It’s my job to rework my résumé, but guidance from a recruiter who knows the client is helpful.

Go to bat for your candidates. I remember one situation where a friend of mine was up for a position as a tech writer for a major hardware manufacturer. I had referred him to the contracting firm. I got a call from the recruiter asking me what she could say to the client who had interviewed for a tech writing job that required a heavy technical background in Engineering. They interviewed him, but had some reservations. Most of them were technical engineers. My friend was a laid-back Hawaiian who did not come across in interviews as being very intense. He had an Engineering degree and really did understand their business. He was also an excellent writer. The recruiter focused on his strengths and convinced them he would do a good job. On her word, the client took a chance on him. The client was so pleased with his work that six months later they offered him a full time permanent position. Because the recruiter knew the contractor’s strengths and style, she was able to market him successfully.

Know Your Clients

How obvious is that? I know that this is not always easy, but at least get the basics down. Get to know managers and hiring people. This is not always easy with some of the big places that have you work through their submission system. Every company has its way of doing things, and it helps to learn as much as possible about how they do it. The better relationship you have with a client, the better you will be able to place contractors (me). If you have other contractors there, pump them about the company.

There are companies who don’t let recruiters talk to hiring managers or limit to them to responding to poorly written job requests, which is a real challenge. Good long-term relationships and feedback from other contractors can help a good recruiter get a leg up when a req comes in.

Learn to read (interpret) the reqs. Like Tarot card reading or divining meaning from tea leaves, sometimes a request can be difficult to interpret. Do they use standard boilerplate that may not fit this particular job? Do all of the requirements make sense? Is this request based in reality, or is it a list of requirements that no human could possibly fill? There can often be a real disconnect between what the req says and what the client has in mind.

Sometimes a request comes through that is very clear and you can easily tell exactly what skills the client is looking for. Others are not so clear and you must guess what the client wants. I was sent one recently with the title of Technical Writer. About four lines into the description, it said, “this is really a position for a training developer.” Then about three lines later, it said, “needs to write test scripts for an application.” This carne from a large firm with lots of roles, and both the recruiter and I were confused as to which of the three roles they were trying to fill

I saw a job listing for a technical writer that had a requirement of a BSEE in electrical engineering. It’s very rare to find someone with that kind of degree doing technical writing, since engineers require a different skill set and a combination of a BSEE and technical writing experience is rare. I have also seen requirements for a technical writer who is has extensive background in specific programming languages. Again, this is an unrealistic request.

Separate the “must haves” from the “nice to haves.” Clients get hung up on tools and require experience with certain specialized ones. Others put together a laundry list that no one can fill. A good recruiter can make the call and decide when to submit a candidate who may have good experience, but not experience in every single application listed.

I had an experience where I was submitted for an instructional designer position. The standard company boilerplate was there asking for several years of experience, in Instructional Design. I was rejected because the hiring manager was looking for someone who had a PhD in instructional design, and she that was obvious in the req. When it was pointed out to her that there was no mention of a doctorate, she had to admit she had grabbed the standard material and had not read it carefully.

I was submitted for a training position for a large PeopleSoft rollout. My first response was that I have no experience with the PeopleSoft and so did not think I would be a good fit for the position. The recruiter said it was a “nice to have” but not necessary. Five minutes into the interview, I was asked about my PeopleSoft experience. When I said none, there was an awkward pause. Feedback from the client was they would pass on me since I had no PeopleSoft experience and the interviewer (who may not have written the req) considered it essential. It was a waste of time for the recruiter, the client and me.

Treat Contractors with Integrity

Don’t present me to a client saying I have experience that I don’t. My résumé is a truthful representation of what I have done and should be strong enough on its own merits.

Don’t ever submit me for a position without my permission. Some recruiters will ask for my verbal permission and I have given it. Others will send me an email and ask that I respond. Some use a combination of the two. There is always an acknowledgement on both sides of what we are doing and on what terms.

Keep me in the loop. You submitted me for a position, I interviewed and you got positive feedback. But a more qualified candidate showed up. This happens. It is not fun to make the phone call to tell me I did not get the job. Make the call anyway and let me know what is happening. As an adult, I can take the bad news and I respect you for letting me know. It happens, it’s part of the contracting game.

Be ethical. I had a nightmare experience with a firm for an excellent position with a major firm that was known for its high standards in the financial community. In the course of 72 hours, they:

  1. Submitted me for one rate and then tried to reduce it by 20%.
  2. Lied to me about the client’s time table, trying to force me into making a decision on the spot.
  3. Continued to phone me throughout the next two days telling me that I had to accept their offer. (I was trying to decide between their offer and another one). One day there were five messages on my machine from them, each one saying something different about the terms, often contradicting earlier information. It bordered on harassment.

I did not accept the position. I would have loved to work for the client, but the idea of having to deal with people who could not be trusted nixed the deal.

Pay your contractors promptly. Most large contracting firms have a time keeping system set up, and the money goes into a contractor’s bank account with direct deposit. I don’t worry about them. But some of the smaller ones have do not have a workable system and can’t pay until they get paid by the client. I cannot wait 60 days after submitting my timesheet to be paid.

Follow Up With Your Contractors

Once I have been placed in a position, I do appreciate communication to continue. My personal practice is to file weekly status reports with my boss (onsite) and cc the account manager. Any issues quickly surface and can be resolved. I always track my accomplishments so everyone knows if things are on track. Daily handholding and checking in is not required, but good communication makes for a better relationship.

Lunch away from the office is a nice break. If there is good communication between contractors and account managers, opportunities for additional business can happen. I may be able to work out an extension, or a raise. I had one six-week assignment last for a year, because the client kept finding more work to do.

Your contractors are often in a position to see other needs a client may have, and can pass that information on to you. Contractors are often a good source of referrals. We have friends who do what we do.

Anne Cloward

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