Archives for November 2016

8 Ways Job Candidates E-Sabotage Themselves

The Internet has become such an important part of the job search process. It is the most powerful tool any job seeker has for identifying career opportunities—even at the executive level for which I recruit. Job search platforms have made it easy to seek out and apply for opportunities. However, like any powerful tool, it needs to be used wisely. Otherwise you could end up hurting your chances for roles or even damaging your reputation in the workplace.

Here are eight ways candidates sabotage themselves with their online presence:

Having negative comments or unflattering images on social media. Your social media presence is your image to the public. Manage it wisely. It should be common sense, but people often fail to realize how much damage they can do to their professional life with the information they share online. The golden rule to follow here: Do not share anything online that you would not share at work. You never know who will forward your information to someone else or where the information you post might end up.

Clicking the “Apply” button without reading the details about a job. When LinkedIn or a job board sends you an e-mail with a list of jobs you may be interested in, they generate those lists based on key words in your profile or resume. That doesn’t necessarily mean these jobs match your qualifications. Hitting “Apply” without reading more than the title could create a negative impression on the other end. Look at each role and determine if you are really qualified or close to being qualified. Make sure it is something you really want to pursue. Multiple applications to the wrong role could hurt you when a role opens that you really want.

Reading e-mails quickly and not following the instructions. Employers and recruiters put details in our job postings or e-mails that are important. Often, a candidate will skim the e-mail and send us a question about something that was in the information presented. Or candidates will not follow instructions carefully for an interview and end up in the wrong place or delayed, or worse. Lack of attention to detail makes you look careless. Many hiring managers will reject you outright for that.

Applying too often to one entity. This makes you look desperate or unfocused on your true ambitions. It says, “I will take any job.” That is not the message you want to convey to potential employers. If an organization has multiple jobs open, apply for the one that best suits your background and career goals. If someone on the other end thinks you are qualified for another role, they will reach out to you or share your information with others in their organization.

Sending a resume to any recruiter you can find on the Internet. Lately, my colleagues and I are seeing an uptick in this activity. We get e-mails with a resume attached and a request from the candidate for help in identifying a new role. My specialty (and my firm’s focus) is health care and higher education. It is rare that I have a client willing to look for candidates outside its industry, and often the candidate will have skill sets that are not even close to the types of roles I fill. Submitting to multiple recruiters is a waste of your time and mine, and it also makes you look careless. Look for recruiters who specialize in the types of roles you are seeking in your field.

Arguing via e-mail with a recruiter or employer. At my firm, we try to send a note back to candidates we are not moving forward with in a search. Sometimes a candidate will e-mail me back with a request for more information about why he or she is not being considered. This is a reasonable question, and I usually take the time to give some of the specific reasons he or she did not meet an employer’s requirements. On occasion, I get an angry e-mail back stating that the requirements are invalid or not necessary. Ultimately, the requirements are set by organizations in good faith and for good reasons. Arguing about them will not help, and argumentative behavior does not help your image. It also could prevent you from consideration for other roles.

Not submitting a resume and asking the employer or recruiter to look at your LinkedIn profile. As comprehensive as some LinkedIn profiles are today, they are still not a substitute for a resume. Asking someone to refer to your LinkedIn profile says you are not serious about applying for the job.

Being careless about a Skype/Facetime/video interview. Interviewing is an important step in the process. It is important that you present yourself in a professional way. Just because you are interviewing from your home doesn’t mean you should be casual about your appearance or the setting. Dress appropriately. Make sure there are no glaring lights in the eyes of your interviewer. There should not be other people or pets in the room. Go somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Look at what will be in the background behind you. Sit at a desk or table in a regular chair—not in a recliner. Look into the camera when you speak to the interviewer. If you have never or infrequently used Skype or Facetime before, make sure you test the technology before your interview and make sure you are properly set up to receive a call. Keep the camera stationary and don’t move it around. You want the interviewer to see a polished professional without any distractions.

The Internet gives us great tools to explore career opportunities. Use it to your best advantage.


AUTHOR: Diane Nicholas is a consultant with WK Advisors, a division of executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. WK Advisors specializes in filling innovative mid-level and other critical executive positions in health care, education, and the not-for-profit sector. 



‘Tis the Season: Use “Guerrilla-Style” eLearning to Train Holiday Hires

Holiday season magnifies the challenges of onboarding new employees. Businesses face increased pressure from an influx of customers, enormous volumes of orders or deliveries, or simply juggling regular workloads when many regular employees are away. Getting seasonal hires up to speed, fast, can help. Doug Stephen, senior vice president of the learning division at CGS, in New Brunswick, Canada, shared some best practices for creating what he called “guerrilla-style learning”—cost-effective, mobile-friendly eLearning.

Minimize, then contain, training

The best thing a company can do, according to Stephen, is no training—by rehiring from previous years. “If you can retain even a small amount of those that have been successful the year before, you’re going to maintain or increase customer service, the cost is going to be less, and you’re going to have more stability in the workforce.”

Of course, it’s unlikely that a company can retain a full complement of seasonal hires from year to year. Conceding the necessity of training some new hires, Stephen emphasizes the key to efficient training of people who will be around for only a couple of months: planning. “It’s best to contain the training,” he said. “And once you contain the training, to simplify it.” Planning allows a company—of any size—to prioritize and train only essential skills.

Turn top-performing employees into video stars

Stephen’s solution enlists valued permanent employees—and everyone benefits. “Take a look at your top regular performers that are doing what the seasonal people will be doing. Find out from them what are the ‘gotchas’ in the work that need to be addressed. Because you can’t teach seasonal employees everything,” he said.

Once crucial skills and topics are identified, those top performers “teach” the new hires—informally. “We decide what is important before we do this kind of ‘guerrilla-type learning,’” Stephen said. “We use mobile devices, and we create little tiny vignettes, under two minutes. We can either have [the selected employees] do a selfie and explain, or they can have a manager film them while they’re talking about it.”

The resulting short videos become tips and training for new seasonal hires—“the mechanisms and the methods to find out what they need to know to be able to do the job best.” As an example, Stephen described working with a home goods store, a chain with about $800 million in annual sales. Employees recorded vignettes on topics like how to properly fold a small rug for a floor display, after-hours procedures for ensuring that the stores were pristine and organized for opening, and the correct way to process customer returns.

“We take our best person or best people to explain the key to being successful,” Stephen said. “We take that information and post it on a YouTube channel.” The vignettes, tagged and categorized, are available on YouTube where new hires can search by scenario, task, and job role.

“There is still that human interaction, but we extend it out into the digital space so that people can learn it,” Stephen said. This solution “proves to be very cost-effective, and you can move very quickly as well. You don’t have to be able to set up plans to put it into the LMS and SCORM it. You just create a YouTube channel and put it up there. And it’s really effective.”

It’s a low-cost solution that any company can implement easily. “This can be a poor man’s option or a rich man’s option that can get the same results,” Stephen said.

It’s also scalable. “Name me a small company that doesn’t have an iPhone,” Stephen said. Any company can do this; the key is planning. “The issue is, even small companies need to take the time to prepare” and focus only on the most essential tasks and skills. And keep it short. “If it’s more than two minutes, we lose them.”

Engaging top-performing permanent employees has an additional bonus: “People love that. People want to be recognized as someone who is valuable to the organization. What better way to do that than to go home to your family and say, ‘The manager asked me to help the new people. And oh, by the way, let’s go to YouTube and take a look at what I’m doing,’” Stephen said. “You’re bringing in valued regular employees and really giving them kudos and something to be proud of; they’ve been selected to impart their skills to others. It’s very empowering within an organization.”

Employees or contractors?

Some seasonal or temporary hires are employees; others may be freelancers or contractors. The difference is legally significant; when providing training, employers must be careful not to treat contractors or freelancers like employees. In some locales, requiring or even providing comprehensive training, or requiring employees to perform specific tasks in defined ways, can cross that line.

For this reason, Stephen advises posting the videos to a public YouTube channel. “We can create a private area and we can provide user names and passwords to contractors if we wish,” he said. But “if you want to make it public, the advantage to that is it could help you if you bring in a person as a contractor.”

With a public YouTube channel, the vignettes become “tips that anyone in the world can view,” and contractors can access them using their own devices, on their own time. That can help establish that those individuals are not employees.

Look at new sources of seasonal workers

Cast a wide net when looking for those seasonal hires, Stephen advises. “We all have a tendency to look to students, to try to bring them in. Expand it, and look at some fantastic people who might be retirees who would also be interested—and you might have more stability there as well,” Stephen said, since more of the retirees might return year after year. “There’s a pool [of people] that are willing and just as able to do that type of seasonal work.”

Or consider staffing through an agency: A staffing agency can take on some of the training burden, screening temporary hires for needed skills and providing needed eLearning and training. “I have found that a staffing agency can be very effective in terms of pre-screening the candidates, administering safety training and assessment tests, etc.,” said Melanie Kim, a staffing consultant at AppleOne in California. Some agencies handle payroll as well. “There is, of course, a higher cost associated with temporary services versus finding the employees on their own. However, many companies find the time they save on qualifying and onboarding candidates is worth the additional cost,” Kim said.

Remember: It’s a two-way street

Posting short tips or training to YouTube works for all hires: seasonal employees or contractors; students or retirees. “Everyone goes to YouTube, believe it or not,” Stephen said. “If not, you can show them. The younger people just go there first. The others might say, ‘Where’s the booklet?’ But once you show them, and they see a real example instead of reading it, everybody embraces it. It’s a video world now; it’s all video.”

And once they’re on board, keep new seasonal hires engaged: Ask for feedback and show appreciation. If the new hires feel welcomed and as if they are a part of a bigger effort, they’ll engage more with both the training and the work. Once the season ends, Stephen advises investing a small amount of effort to stay connected using a Facebook page or other social media. When the next hiring season rolls around, reach out to previous hires and consider using incentives to get top performers to come back, Stephen suggests. That will take you full circle, back to his first suggestion: Minimize and contain training!



Should STEM Include An ‘A’ – For Art?

Science may be the basis of technological innovation, but art is what makes it appealing to the masses.

Amid companies’ focus on recruiting talent with hard technical skills in areas such as computer science and engineering is a renewed push for the arts. The development is most reflected in an effort by the Rhode Island School of Design to include “art” in the STEM acronym, widely used to describe education’s focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The University of Iowa’s College of Engineering recently jumped on the STEAM bandwagon as well. It now requires engineering students to take at least three credit hours of creative arts courses. The “Be Creative” requirement is recognition that these students will be better engineers if they are more creative artistically, according to Alec Scranton, the College of Engineering’s dean.

Scranton said that although engineering is inherently a creative field, today’s engineers need to have a broad understanding of the role art plays in design. “This type of broader exposure to the arts just helps develop that more rounded engineer that will be more prepared for success upon graduation,” he said.

It also helps the products that engineers design become more successful. Think of the success Apple has had with its products. A big reason Apple has out-performed its competitors isn’t that its products are technically better — although some certainty are — but that they are built with an intense focus on design.

Where to Start

Including the arts in business can start with something as simple as having an event. A 2012 Arts & Business paper, “The Value of Arts-Based Initiatives: How to combat the recession for Business,” showed that Arts-Based Initiatives, or ABIs, are a way that “businesses can generate value from existing relationships with the arts, as well as an opportunity to establish new relationships, by exploiting the knowledge and skills within the sector for their own competitive advantage.” ABIs, the paper said, are interventions to the organization using at least one art form to have employees experience art and embed it as a business asset. These are often experiential learning events that encourage people to be innovative and take risks.

Some companies have found unique ways to inject art in their cultures to positively influence performance. Scottish Widows, an investment firm, started its Arts@Work program in 2007, which brought together workers from two separate locations through gallery tours, art workshops and employee-produced art. Of those who participated, 38 percent said the program increased their productivity and 43 percent experienced business benefits from the creative work.

“ABIs target the businesses’ infrastructure and personnel as well as demonstrate and develop these higher-value sets” of employee satisfaction, such as engagement, meaning of work and flexibility, according to the Arts & Business paper. And when employees are more satisfied and engaged at work, their productivity rises, leading to better retention and fewer sick days reported, the paper said.

Bolstering Team Performance

But business leaders can take this effort further. Meshing art-focused talent with different fields can also boost team performance by making them more agile, according to Denis Lacasse, executive vice president of Momentum Design Lab, a user-centered website and software design agency in San Mateo, California.

Lacasse previously worked as an executive producer at Zynga, a video game developer, and when faced with a shortened timeline for a game’s development, he said getting the project accomplished required agility. So the leadership team decided to set up a “pod” structure that included workers from different disciplines and backgrounds — artists, game designers, engineers, etc. — in each of the four pods, but they shared a common link of being passionate gamers focused on the end goal.

“I think creating that environment and making them autonomous and responsible for the outcome of that specific area really allowed them to take ownership, feel like they really had an ownership and a stake in the outcome and that they were in control,” Lacasse said.

This is important because teams with more diverse backgrounds tend to make more productive decisions, Lacasse said. “Having too much of similar thought is not going to push you in the right direction, so underlining that you have to have these different points of view is important.”

The game ended up taking only four and a half months to finish, Lacasse said, whereas the company’s other games could take between six and 12 months to complete. While he said the success of the game and quick turnaround couldn’t be solely attributed to making thought-diverse teams autonomous, “I think empowering our people and having that diversity definitely was a big part.”


AUTHOR: Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy.

Reprinted from TALENT ECONOMY

Got Skills Gaps? Partner Up

Adults are struggling to learn in today’s fast-paced world, and leaders are having a tough time finding employees who already have both the technical and soft skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. But Mika Nash said learning leaders can find ways to elevate workforce knowledge. Nash, the Academic Dean of Champlain College Online in the Division of Continuing Professional Studies, spoke with Chief Learning Officer about how to address skills gaps and how to create an online curriculum that is highly relevant, career-focused and immediately applicable.

Chief Learning Officer: How severe is the skills gap in our knowledge-focused age? Why is it so great?

Mika Nash: Because the landscape is changing so much, particularly in technical areas, there are employees coming in, prospective employees, who don’t have more advanced expertise in the technical areas. [Employers are] hiring folks with potential and putting them through training and education to get them to the place they would like them to be. But what we hear most often is perhaps even much more serious, and that is around the softer skills — critical thinking, problem solving, troubleshooting — which [are] central to an employee’s ability to be valuable, contribute and produce. A lot of organizations and institutions aren’t teaching to fill those skills gaps in an integrated way.

Chief Learning Officer: High-growth job categories tend to require higher social skills, analytic savvy and technical prowess. What’s one way today’s learning leaders can build these skills?

Nash: Create an environment in your workplace where you encourage fast failure. It’s okay to make mistakes. Fast failure is one of those ideas that’s used in business a lot where you want people to make mistakes quickly, learn from it and move on. That kind of environment creates innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and energizes people because they don’t feel paralyzed with this fear around “what if I make a mistake?” or “what if I don’t hit some kind of arbitrary standard?” Once you release people from that fear, people often work at a much higher level.

Chief Learning Officer: Adults want meaningful ways to grow their skills and advance their careers. How should corporate learning leaders partner with higher education programs to get what employees want and what the business needs?

Nash: If you’re struggling to do something — maybe you’re not hitting numbers or there’s an issue that continues to be thorny in your work environment — a wonderful way of managing that is working with someone who is an expert in the field, and those folks are at higher education institutions all over the country. Bring those folks in to help do a gap analysis around what we have, what do we need, and then to start making connections. Where can we get those skills, those competencies? Are there programs that offer these types of outcomes, certificate programs, etc.? When we start being very deliberate and mindful about our approach to support employees, and we bring higher education into the equation, there’s such an incredible benefit to employees but also to employers.

Chief Learning Officer: How can learning leaders make sure their curriculum is career-focused, highly relevant and immediately applicable in the workforce?

Nash: The best way to manage this both for learning leaders who are internal to the business place and working in higher education organizations is, have a really free flow of information and communication happening. I’m very uncomfortable with that firewall that can sometimes exist between the “pure” education and business; like, somehow, we shouldn’t be engaging with one another. The goal is to create lots of opportunities to hear what are the problems cropping up in the workplace. Make sure your curriculum is responsive and agile to be able to respond to those changes.

Chief Learning Officer: Is there a foolproof methodology CLOs can use to create rigorous online curriculum that promotes critical thinking skills and lifelong learning?

Nash: Nothing is ever foolproof, but there is an equation that makes sense. Have curriculum that is highly applied, relevant and current, and I truly mean highly applied; we’re not living in a land of theory here. Every theory, every idea should be attached to something real. If you have that and you have faculty who are, in the best of all possible worlds, practitioners in the field, asking critical questions and engaging student in ways that makes them think very deeply about the materials, you will have a curriculum that is immediately useful in the workplace. It’s not foolproof, but it is darn near perfect.


AUTHOR:  Alice Keefe is a Chief Learning Officer editorial intern.


Why HSAs Are an Underutilized Retirement Vehicle

Lorna Sabbia is managing director and head of retirement and personal wealth solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. She recently shared her perspectives on how employers can help employees prepare for retirement, including her take on the high medical costs retirees face even when covered by Medicare. Highlights of that conversation follow.

Employee Benefit News: In talking to plan sponsors, do you perceive that they generally understand the financial educational needs of their employees?

Lorna Sabbia: I have a lot of great friends who are incredibly talented who work in other industries. Despite their talent, I’m often surprised by how little they know about some very basic financial topics, like managing debt, budgeting, the impact of inflation, compound interest and similar subjects. My point is those of us who are focused on benefits and retirement planning sometimes just want to jump right into that topic without laying the foundation of a more basic education in the fundamentals of personal finance.

EBN: When are employees most receptive to financial education?

Sabbia: That depends on what’s happening in their lives at any given time. While you need a strong communications framework around financial education and financial wellness, it’s equally important to have an on-demand education delivery mechanism. Individuals become interested when they have a need at that nanosecond. Some certainly enjoy the opportunity to become educated on a broad variety of topics over time, but when it becomes important, it’s because something has happened in their life, and therefore they’re reaching out for a specific topic.

EBN: How do you do that?

Sabbia: It has to be a combination of online tools — interactive sites that are pretty intuitive for folks to become better educated. For example, we built apps, which we want to be fun to use, around topics like inflation. More broadly, we think it’s important to help employees overcome emotional barriers both to learn and to make decisions. Automation can help with that.

EBN: I know you’ve focused quite a bit on health expenses in retirement and HSAs. Are HSAs underutilized as a form of retirement savings vehicle?

Sabbia: Yes. When you talk to employees and employers, you can see that health and health savings are key areas of concern. When you think about living expenses in retirement, healthcare is a wildcard, and people are concerned about it. What we try to do, in partnerships with outside subject matter experts, is to bring ideas like longevity and its health-expense implications to the table. Employers often say, “Yep, that’s something we think our employee base would benefit from.”

EBN: Are employers and employees thinking about HSAs as a retirement vehicle?

Sabbia: I think we’re on the front end of having employees really understand what the vehicle can do over time. It’s similar to back in the ‘90s when 529 college savings accounts were beginning to be introduced and eventually really took off. Today, with HSAs, folks are still trying to understand what they are and what they’re not. This is a topic that needs to be incorporated into the overall employee education about finances and retirement.

EBN: When an employer puts an HSA in place, should the message to employees be to contribute as much as they can, regardless of what they’re doing with their 401(k)?

Sabbia: I think we would always suggest that you max out on their 401(k)s, and to the extent that you can contribute to your HSA as well. But the “triple tax free” tax benefits of HSAs help to motivate employees to take advantage of them. We have a “health care discovery app” that deals with what Medicare covers, with dental, vision and long-term care, and cost estimates under different scenarios. It’s the most popular app that we have, even more than Social Security and lifetime income, in employee interest.

EBN: Most people with access to an HSA spend most if not all of the balance every year. Do you expect that to change, and for more employees to see it as a longer-term savings and investment vehicle?

Sabbia: The more education that happens, I do believe the balances over time are going to increase. One estimate I’ve seen [is that] of out-of-pocket health costs for a retirement that lasts 25 years is $220,600, or $318,800 for a 30-year retirement. That gets people’s attention.

Other research I’ve looked at, based on the top 100 HSA providers, indicates that about $4 billion of the $30 billion in HSAs is in longer-term investments. I do expect that proportion will grow.

I do believe that many employees will make the maximum contributions each year when they fully appreciate the benefits — pre-tax dollars that come out tax free, both principal and earnings, even better than a Roth IRA. I believe we’ll see the same evolution that we’ve seen in the 401(k) space, as far as the growth of investment choices. For example, in our program, once an employee has $1,000 in their account in a liquid vehicle, they can make subsequent contributions into 26 different mutual funds.

EBN: The maximum employer plus employee contribution for an individual who has an HSA in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan in 2016 is $3,350, and $6,750. Those aren’t big numbers.

Sabbia: Well, the limits are inflation-adjusted, but we also support the idea that they should be raised more over time. Even so, it’s a great way to save, particularly with all three tax benefits. We do make a major effort with education so that employees know the purposes and time horizons for different asset classes. You can pool diversified portfolios for long-term savings in those types of platforms.



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