What Can (Should?) Your Employer Do for You?


I’ve been there; you’ve been there. You’re eager (bordering on desperate?) to land a new job. Maybe you’re unemployed, or maybe you just really want to get out of your current role. Regardless of the reason, you’re laser-focused on what you need to do to land your next gig. You find yourself thinking of every little thing that you can do to make sure they know that you’re exactly what they’re asking for. You know what they need, and you know you can give it to them. You are the solution for this company’s problem. And that’s all that matters to you in that moment.

It’s at this exact moment, when you’re thinking most about what THEY need, that you should take the time to be a little selfish and ask yourself what YOU need and want in a new role and a new employer. And once you’ve figured out what you need, make sure that this is an opportunity that can give it to you.

Of course there are the basics, which we all look for and ask about during the interview process: salary, health insurance, vacation time. But there’s more, and the best companies are already leading the way on employee-friendly benefits, perks and culture. They know that the best employees are the happiest employees; that respecting their people and treating them like adults has a positive impact on their bottom line. They understand that one employee who WANTS to be there and is inspired to do his/her best work is worth 3 employees who are only there to collect a paycheck until something better comes along.

So what are these things you should be looking for? Here are a few:

  • Vacation Philosophy: You know how many days off you get; but do you know how your prospective employer and boss feel about people actually taking those days? Is it expected that you’ll still be connected and productive in your time off? Is it really OK to go off the grid? What if you wanted to take a vacation longer than a week at a time? Is that frowned upon or are they OK with it?
  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Is the occasional work-from-home day something that they’d be open to down the road? Is this a clock-watching culture or is it more about just doing great work – no matter when or where you do it? Does working more hours get you bonus points with the boss, or is working smarter more valuable than working more?
  • Employee Wellness: Outside of insurance, what else is the company doing to ensure the overall health and wellbeing of its people? Are healthy food and drinks offered? Is there other wellness programming available like gym reimbursements, smoking cessation programs, group wellness/fitness activities? Some employers even offer healthy office spaces (there’s a certification for that!) with good lighting, climate-controlled fresh air, clean/filtered drinking water, non-hazardous materials, etc. How much does your prospective new employer care about your health?
  • Professional Development: Is there any kind of formalized training program, or do they support you pursuing training and development outside of the company? What about fee reimbursement if you want to take a workshop or a class to improve your skills?
  • What’s the social vibe? The “culture” question has become standard fodder for candidates to ask – usually in response to the interviewer saying “So, do you have any questions for me?” – but it’s something you should know, and care about. Is this a team/company that all hangs out together after work and on weekends? Do they have families, or are they swinging single and sowing their wild oats? What’s the social feel, and is it right for you? There’s no “right” vibe or culture, but there is a right one for you. If you need to get home to your kids right after work, you don’t want to feel like the odd person out if literally everyone else is hitting the bars together after work. The opposite is also true. If you’re new to town and/or looking for your work colleagues to become your social circle, you don’t want to find yourself somewhere that’s full of folks who aren’t into hanging out.

There are countless other things you can, and should, be looking out for. You need to figure out what’s important to you, and to make sure you focus on those areas when you’re digging into your potential next career move. Keep in mind that you’re unlikely to get perfect answers to everything – most companies are moving in the right direction but still may not have everything you want. So take the information you have, and make the best decision for you. What’s important is to remember that you do have a say in whether this is the right fit. It’s not a one-sided decision that a company gets to make on its own.

A little disclaimer here, that there will undoubtedly be times for some of us where we just have to take what’s there and we don’t have the option of being picky. Financial and other responsibilities sometimes mean that we sometimes have to be happy for any opportunity and to jump on it. But even in that situation, it doesn’t mean you can’t ask. Even if you know you’re going to take the job if it’s offered, wouldn’t you rather know ahead of time what you’re getting into and what kinds of offerings you can expect? It can’t hurt to ask – you might be pleasantly surprised by the answer!

Feel free to comment, and share what kinds of perks or needs are important for you. What can (or does) your employer offer you that stands out? I’d love to know.


How Pushy Should My Thank-You Note Be?

A reader writes:

I interviewed for a job with a company I used to work for. I know many people still at the company & am friends with the VP who interviewed me. Yesterday she emailed saying I did not have the typical experience that they’re looking for and thus the higher-ups in corporate would not accept my candidacy.

 Question: Should I write her a letter/email explaining why I am better than some average candidate just because their resume has the traditional boxes checked off? Or does that seem desperate somehow?


In typical HR fashion, I’m going to say “it depends.”

On one hand, it’s natural and expected to follow up an interview with a concise pitch for why you’re interested in, and perfect for, the job. That said, you’ve already received feedback that you won’t be seriously considered for the role. Whether you should continue to make a play for the job depends largely on your relationship with the VP who interviewed you. If you think she’s a fan of yours and might go to bat for you given the right information and tools then you should definitely give it a shot. Maybe she just needs to see the indisputable facts and arguments for why you’re the perfect fit for the job – all spelled out before her. If you think this is the case, do it. Write that note and make your case.

If, on the other hand, the VP isn’t likely to make the case for you with the rest of the management team, it’s a different story. If she either isn’t necessarily a huge fan and won’t stick her neck out for you, or if she just doesn’t have the sway or decision making power to influence the original assessment of your candidacy, then it’s probably a waste of time to try to re-sell yourself after being initially rejected for the role. If this is the case, a well-crafted thank you note would be a better option. One that lets her know how you appreciate being considered initially even if you are an “out of the box” candidate, and expressing an interest in exploring other appropriate jobs with the company. 

If she’s a fan of yours, it can’t hurt to make one more effort to see if she’ll stick up for you with the bigwigs. If you don’t think she can or will affect any kind of change of opinion when it comes to you, it can come off as a bit out of line, if not desperate.  So I can’t tell you what to do with this one, but if your relationship with this VP is one that you want to continue to nurture then let that be your guide on what to do. Put yourself in her shoes and figure out what you’d want if your situations were reversed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Would you try to re-sell yourself or would you write it off as a done deal? Please leave comments below.


The Player-Coach Phenomenon

When reading job descriptions, I’m sure you’ve come across the term “player-coach” more than once. It’s a designation that employers use for positions that have management authority but are also expected to get their hands dirty on some day-to-day work. Seems reasonable, right? Especially when you’re talking about the junior-management levels where employees are in a team lead role, mentoring and managing others, but still doing the job themselves.

One thing that I find interesting about the term “player-coach” is that although it’s obviously based in sports it’s not something that I’ve EVER seen on an actual sports team. In sports, you’re either a player or a coach. Going back to my earliest sports memories – from toddler soccer leagues to little league baseball to high school football – we had players and we had coaches. But we never had a player-coach.

Businesses, however, have adopted a very different mentality. They have fully embraced the idea of a manager who isn’t too managerial to roll up his/her sleeves, and a front-line worker who is capable of thinking strategically. Two birds with one stone! Or more specifically, two jobs with one salary.

This hybrid role can be a great opportunity for employees and employers alike, but it’s not without its challenges. In its best format, it’s a way for star individual contributors to move into management without completely being removed from their comfort zones. It gives them a chance to lead by example, to grow into role models, and to develop their management style all while still getting to work in the area of their greatest strength. At the same time, the employer gets to bring a superstar into management ranks and mold him/her in the company’s image, while not overpaying for a more experienced manager if that’s not what they need. In this situation it’s a great arrangement for both the employee and the company, but lately I’m seeing more and more examples where the player-coach position is not being used quite as effectively.

As companies are bouncing back from recent recession woes, they are starting to hire and organize staff with the intention of doing more with less. Especially in small and mid-sized companies, executive level positions are being asked to pitch in at the line level, and junior and mid-level managers are being given increasing responsibility and autonomy – regardless of whether they’re ready for it. This can present problems for both parties – companies are having a harder time finding the right talent, and employees are having a harder time succeeding in these roles. It’s very tempting for employers to hire too senior or too junior for the role they need to fill, and both have serious risks. Going too senior, you risk making a hire that is not going to remain engaged and effective in the line-level work and will either leave for greener pastures or under-perform. If you hire too junior you run the risk of giving your new hire decision making authority and autonomy that s/he’s not ready for, which can lead to poor strategic decisions and a loss of morale – both of which can have serious negative effects on the overall organization.

So what’s a company to do? First and foremost, be honest and upfront. If you’re hiring for a player-coach role, emphasize and stress the nature of the role to your candidates. If someone seems too senior or managerial, dig deeply in your interviews to find out if they really are. Then go with your gut. Even though a candidate might seem perfect “if only there was less execution involved” then don’t make the hire. These roles should be a stretch for the person you’re hiring, but an achievable one. In today’s job market, lots of candidates are making compromises to find a solid job with a solid company. But these same employees will jump ship at the first opportunity for more of a “real” management job.

And if you’re a job seeker, how do you navigate this territory? First, be honest with yourself. If a job seems like a step down, or feels too junior for you, don’t take it just because it’s a job. There will be more. And wouldn’t you rather wait for the next one than spend the rest of your career explaining your bad choice? Conversely, if you’re more of a player than a coach, be realistic about how much of a stretch is appropriate for you. Never managed a budget before? Then that multi-million dollar one in the job description might not be for you.

For recruiters, hiring managers, and job seekers – ask questions. In the interview; after the interview; throughout the entire process. Make sure that you know what you’re getting into, and that it’s the right thing for you. Too many bad hires are made because of wishful thinking instead of thorough investigation.

The role of the player-coach might be right for you, but “might be” isn’t enough. Know for sure before making a decision you might regret.


More Ways to Not Be an Idiot

I recently read an article by Jennifer King of Software Advice (which I am in no way affiliated with nor endorsing) entitled (in typical SEO optimized format) Job Seeker, Beware: 5 Ways You Could Damage your Reputation Online. The article isn’t breaking any new ground, as there are daily entries into the “don’t be an idiot” collection of articles and blog posts. But I’ve chosen to highlight this one because I think it clearly and concisely illustrates its point and, frankly, this stuff just can’t be overstated.

The five ways are:

  1. Polarizing Email Signatures – because not everyone wants to “have a blessed day” and not everyone finds your kissy-face emoticon as charming as you do.
  2. Fishy LinkedIn Recommendations – because we can tell when they’re made up, and not having them at all is better than having a load of crap.
  3. Friends, Followers and Connections That Don’t Line Up – because sometimes it’s about the company you keep. And if you’re not going to “network” on your social networks you’re probably better off not being there at all.
  4. Inconsistent and Out-of-Date Profile Info – because if your information isn’t consistent I’ll have to assume that you’re lying somewhere.
  5. Unflattering Posts on Others’ Sites – because not only should you not be an idiot, but you should also not be an asshole. These things have a tendency to follow you around.

To read the original article and to see these points illustrated with a bit more tact than I’ve illustrated here, check it out. It’s a nice read. And we can all use these reminders every once in a while.


Because a Gazillion Facebook Users Can’t Be Wrong

Hey folks! In the interest of creating a forum that’s more conducive to conversation, I’ve decided to join the magical world of Facebook with the official HR Dave page. It’s there for asking questions, sharing insight, and generally having a real dialogue about job search and careers. Check out the page at http://www.facebook.com/hrdave1. I hope you’ll join us there. Thanks, as always, for reading.


How to Stand Out (the Right Way) at a Job Fair

For years, I held onto the notion that job fairs were a complete waste of time for everyone involved. For job seekers it was a waste because you get to meet a bunch of companies that you probably don’t want to work for, and have to suffer through your “elevator pitch” and your whole dog-and-pony show for each one. Then as a reward for your efforts you get to go home with more company-logo pens and flash drives than you know what to do with, never to hear from anyone again.

For employers, job fairs were a chance to meet candidates who were either not qualified for anything, or at least not qualified for anything you were hiring, and who probably don’t know what they’re looking for and are generally clueless about how to get a job in the first place – I mean, why else would they be at a job fair in the first place?

Yes, to me job fairs were something that companies felt obligated to attend and that job seekers felt were a legitimate way to feel like they were taking action on their job searches.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I did some real thinking about the few job fairs that I’ve attended as an employer/recruiter, and what I’ve discovered is that if I thought they were a waste of time I wouldn’t have been there in the first place. I’m sure that there are some that are still a complete waste of time and energy for everyone involved, but I’ve gotten some great candidates from job fairs.

What made them so great? What allowed the good ones to stand out from the crowd? It’s actually pretty simple. So job seeker, here are some things you can do to ensure that you’re making a good impression at a job fair. Be warned in advance, this isn’t rocket science.

  1. Dress appropriately. This doesn’t always mean a suit, and it never means a suit that looks like you borrowed it from your mom or dad (splurge on a good tailor – it’s so worth it). It means know the field. If it’s a general job fair, a suit never hurts. But if it’s for a more casual industry such as technology, you can still look nice. Don’t look like you just rolled out of bed. And don’t smell like the bar from last night.
  2. Focus your efforts. I’ve seen job seekers go from table to table at a job fair, talking to all kinds of companies that are all looking for something different. Do yourself a favor and skip the ones that aren’t right for you. Not looking for an overly corporate environment? Stay away from the big banks. Want to work at a startup company? Just talk to the startups. Each time you give your pitch to a new table, you lose some energy and enthusiasm. Don’t waste it on the companies you don’t really want. Save it for when you want to be your best self.
  3. Know what you want to say. Have your pitch rehearsed and ready to go. Be able to talk what you do and what you’re looking for quickly and effectively. Know what you want to ask (hint: it’s more along the lines of “as an employer, what differentiates you from Competitor X” than “So, um, what do you guys do?”) This isn’t an interview, it’s an in-person cover letter.
  4. Bring your resume. You’d be shocked by how many people don’t do this. Shocked.
  5. Follow up, but not too much. Recruiters at job fairs are inundated with faces and names, and generally will be pretty judicious about giving their contact information/business cards out. If you get someone’s email address or phone number, it probably means they wouldn’t mind hearing from you. Once, or twice at the outside. Before you call or email, make sure you’ve gone through the appropriate steps with the company. Check out their job openings on the corporate site, apply through the right channels, and THEN you can contact whomever you met at the job fair, let them know you’ve applied and thank them for their time at the event. If they were truly interested, they’ll remember you and will get back to you. If they don’t get back to you after 1 or 2 communications, they were never that into you in the first place.

Job fairs can be great tools in your job search arsenal. But like any tool, they’re only as effective as their user. Following these basic but often overlooked tips can help you to make sure you don’t get lost in the crowd at your next job fair. So before you head out to your next one, just do yourself a favor and think for a minute. Recruiters remember the best and the worst, and forget most of the middle. So think about whether, and how, you want to be remembered.


Why I Do It

By far my favorite email in the HR Dave inbox right now comes from the reader who inspired my overqualified post. She writes:

Hi Dave,

Overqualified [name witheld] here–just wanted to give you the fantastic heads up that after following your advice and drilling in my willingness to do administrative duties beyond any level of reason, I very promptly landed a full time EA position at [a great National magazine]! I wouldn’t have thought that downplaying my experience and accentuating the opposite would be the key to finding success–thank you so much for your help and feedback. I can’t tell you what a difference it made and how much I appreciate it! This is something I’ve been working to achieve for over two years, despite constantly hearing the same things, so there’s no question your input made a big difference.

Thanks again!

It absolutely warms my heart to see someone’s hard work pay off like this. Kudos to you, and congratulations on a well earned victory!