13 November 2005

Learning from executive job search – part 2

In my experience, there are 3 types of companies when it comes to recruiting practices.

Talent hunters: These were the most pleasant to work with but you have to have time on your side. These companies seem to be focused on getting good people in and then figure out what is the right role for you. Unless you are a person who is extremely bothered about what position/role you start with, these are the best targets for you. If your history is like me, if your company is growing, so will you. You will not be holding the same job for more than one year in such environments. My philosophy is not to be too worried about the starting role. Designation (level) may become important if the company has a philosophy of bands of compensation by level.

I came across 2 companies like that. One is a small company in the East coast. When I talked to the CEO, it was obvious he had no outstanding job requirement. But every conversation left both of us with the impression that there is a great potential for both of us. I eventually talked to almost all the leaders in the company and then the board of directors too. One of the advantages of keeping your mind open in a small company is that you are not seen as a threat by any of the existing leaders who might be worried that the new executive will replace him/her.

The second company is a large company in West coast which takes this process one step ahead. Their recruitment process is entirely designed to see if that person is a fit for the company. The secondary question is where. In my case, after 14 interviews, apparently they decided I belong to them. However, before I left them, I had also expressed my opinion that none of the groups that I talked to had a lot of interesting things for me. I was asked to come back and talk to other groups and help find out whether there are other interesting opportunities that will excite them and me. After another 12 interviews, I found something that excites me immensely and I feel I can contribute from day one.

These kinds of companies had the most innovative questions to ask too. My favorite – “So, Rajib, 25 years from now, when your daughter has a 5 year old child and he/she asks – Grandpa, tell me a story from your office – what story are you going to tell him/her”? I had to think for some time. But that night as I thought about my answer, I realized – Man, that was a great way of finding out what is relatively important to me and what is not – what kind of things leave an impression on me and what doesn’t – leading me to understand what is my internal value/belief system. Incidentally, what I remembered first was a Herculean effort put in by somebody against all odds – and my bets – and carried the day for a customer of ours. No point for guessing where that person is after he/she left our company. Yep, same company who was interviewing me!!

Job Fillers: By and large, this is the majority in the spectrum. This is your typical “need to fill a job” recruitment which is usually the result of an executive leaving or the company operations expanding. The aspect of interviewing that struck me most was the amount of stress put on experience. Lot more stress is given on matching the exact kind of application (sometimes down to the exact application), industry, type of companies etc. than an executive search should ever do, in my opinion.

In my philosophy, if you are looking for a lower level job, I can understand the need to seek exact matches. (Actually, even that, I am not totally comfortable with. If you are looking for a Java developer, I will absolutely look at a C++ person and judge the person’s intellect level, ability to learn and work ethics. I can teach him technology quickly). As you start going higher up, you should absolutely be looking at broader skills – not exactly what technology, industry, and application somebody has worked in. Here is a simple fact of life – if you are growing as a company, your business will change, your models will change, and your market will change. You want to get in leaders who can see such changes coming and can actually quickly learn and adapt. Don’t forget that Nokia started as a paper company (and then rubber!), Wipro started by selling soaps and Lou Gerstner knew nothing of hard drives when he came to IBM from Nabisco. Experience can give people data – but you want people who have grown judgment. And yes, it is much harder to interview for these things in one hour!

At the end of the day, the root cause of this issue is that in these companies, recruitment is not looked upon as a strategic tool. You have to keep a good pipeline of candidates. Good people are not going to fall from trees when you have a job opening. Nor will you have a good opening the day you meet a great person. If you have to fill a job in a hurry, you do what I experienced with these companies.

Unenlightened Ones: While I am quite sure these companies have a great strategy for themselves too when it comes to getting talent, they left me with the highest degree of frustration just by their lack of professionalism. Fortunately, I did not have to go thru a lot of them but each and every of the large offshore vendors from India (I went thru 4) fell in that category. I am very well connected in these companies and invariably the CEO or top guy discussions went very well. Then things fell in a hole. The pattern was eerily repeated.

First and foremost, whoever you are talking to is always looking to getting you in their group. When it was evident that there is nothing that fits, there was more effort put with more promises of glorious future of that group than to look out for the rest of the company.

Second, with the exception of one company, there were too many phone meetings that did not happen (one was set and missed 4 times!!!) or started way late. There were a lot of promises of getting back within a stipulated time – which needless to say did not happen either. In case you thought this was happening with high level candidates only, another person from my company who worked in my group (couple of levels lower) gave up after getting promises from one of these companies (where unfortunately, I had referred him to) to finish the interview process for over 4 months!

I have to add that some of the smaller offshore vendors from India came across far better in this regard. At least they were professional enough to say that there was no fit or compensation requirements cannot be met… etc.

One more unprofessional practice you may have to get used to is that many companies of the second category (Job Fillers) just simply don’t tell you after the interviews are over that your candidature just did not work out. Between 3 friends of mine and I who did the job searches in collaboration, we are still waiting to hear from about 8 companies (and we know that those posts have been already filled). About 3 months back, there was a half page article on this in Wall Street Journal. Evidently, this has become pretty common in US.

In any case, those are some of things that I saw. Once again, these are reflections of my experiences. Feel free to send me your comments/experiences.

11 November 2005

Learning from executive job search – part 1

I am in the process of (hopefully) concluding a job search for myself which started in the background about 6 months back but in right earnest about a month or two back. As a background, I am a senior executive who worked for 10 years in a leading software enterprise application company – running global product engineering and professional services – about 800 people across the world. Before that I worked for 4 years in the finance industry.

Here are my learnings. These are entirely based on my experience.

Executive search firms are highly ineffective. At the end of the day, executive search firms work for the company. They are measured on whether a job was filled rather than how many resumes they were able to find jobs for. In the last 6 months, I must have contacted over a dozen executive search firms – including the top 6. None of them came thru. The one executive firm that did put me up at an account is somebody I had not contacted – they found about me from somebody else. Part of their challenge is that I do not think they share the resumes within the company. While many claim to have databases – other than one firm who I saw truly share their resumes – when I talked to as many as 6 people from the same firm – they had not a clue that all of them were talking to a person who is already in their database. My suggestion is to keep your network of the exec search firms up but do not count at all on that. Additionally, I found that the exec firms often help in coming up with the job description and they use their own way of “filtering” people – not necessary wrong or unfair – but very different from what I would do as a practitioner.

Surprisingly, small search firms come thru. I had the best experience with the small boutique companies. Usually, they cannot put you thru to more than a couple of companies but they were able to put me thru to the highest level. They also seemed more hungry for the business. Two out of the top five prospects that I liked best were brought to me by small search firms.

Websites are a good start. Sites like 6figures.com, linkedin.com are a good start. Usually you will find some job descriptions that you may like. What was effective for me was to find out about the recruiting firm or the company from these sites and then I called them up. 50% of the time I was able to reach somebody and then when I explained who I am, was put to the highest level which resulted in a phone call and often interviews.

You will be surprised who will come thru for you … and who will not… When I spread the word around people senior to me with whom I had worked in the past that I am in the market, I was totally surprised who all came thru and who did not. A CMO of our company with whom I had very little – but not substantial interactions was very helpful – she not only got me a few good leads – she followed up on them too! On the other hand, people with whom I was pretty close – some even socially – were not effective/willing at all. Lesson is not to count on people who you think you can count on.

People who were in my division were most resourceful!! By and large, the most high quality leads that led to at least multiple rounds of talk with the company came from people who had worked in my division – in fact none of them were my direct reports except one. Three of the top 5 companies that I liked came from people who worked in my organization at some point of time. I have a habit of wishing people who have ever worked in my division on their birthdays (I put them in my diary). All three followed the same pattern – email wishing happy birthday – reply asking how are you doing – response saying great, I am in the job market – phone call/email asking would you be interested in our company – me asking what do you do? Can you put me thru to your CEO – and the rest followed very quickly!! Lesson for me – Keep up the good habit of the birthday wishes (it keeps your network renewed once every year at least).

VC network. I do not have a strong VC network but while talking to a few startups, I noticed that this network is very powerful. If VCs are impressed with you, their ability to place you in companies that they influence is very high. However, this is an observation more than an experience.

That’s all for today. Next time, I will talk about some of the good and not so good practices of the recruitment process itself that I learn from…


10 July 2005

My baldness

In defense of all bald men

(Or as Shakespeare would put it … Toupee or Not Toupee!!)

Most men are born bald, some acquire baldness and some have baldness thrust upon them. I, with millions of hapless men and handful women, am afflicted with the shining-pate-iotitis!! No amount of cajoling with Selsun (plus and the non-plussed versions), Oasis and Rogaine would coax my deeply rooted follicle to come out of the mean ground level!! That and my underwater options from internet bubble days never saw the light of the day. Even my wife’s misguided effort to get me onto Propecia would not solve the problem. Propecia comes with a self-aggrandizing statistic of working on 99% men. I fell within the other 1%!! Well, Propecia also warns that 1% of the population will have reduced sexual functions. You guessed it!! I fell within this 1% too! Guess who is having more hair-raising experience now – me or my wife? 🙂 I guess this is almost fodder for a new soap opera – “The Bald and the Beautiful”.

I am not the only one with split hair problems. Mine, in fact, split about 20 years ago!! The genesis can be traced back to my engineering days. I realized I was getting bald since every morning it was taking me more and more time to wash my face. While perturbed, I figured I had enough hair to last me a life time. Adolescent stupidity – what can I tell you?

I think, we, the bald guys get the short of the stick (no pun on Propecia intended). People laugh at us. Life has presented me with numerous occasions when I would walk into a party and the host (or the hostess) would stop dead in the middle of welcoming me in whilst his (her) attention got distracted by the halo – a trifle more horizontal I must admit compared to more traditional halos – on the top my head. The customary “halos” take a form of a conversation such as …. “Hi, Rajib! You look…err… bright”!!

I get heckled at my stand up shows by yells from “Put your hat on!! There is too much shine on your head” to almost unbearable ones… “Is that your head or are you standing upside down?” 🙂

I feel nobody in this world is happy with their hair – the curly ones want straight hair – the straight ones want curly hair and we, the bald, want everybody to be blind. However, the bald ones seem to be overly sensitive about their hair – which is strange considering they don’t have any. I have a friend who truly defines optimism – he buys hair restorer and a hair brush from Eckerd’s on the same day!!

It is my well founded observation that we get judged unfairly altogether. We, the bald, hereby proclaim ourselves as the taller, smarter and handsomer version of our brethren – homo hairis. Clearly we are taller since we are bald in the first place because of our unique ability to grow taller than our hair. 🙂 We are definitely smarter – oh! Yessirrreee! May I refer you to Ibid 3 Unum 5 of the Old Testament which ran thusly – “God created a few perfect heads; the rest he covered with hair”!!


Look at the sheer advantages we have in life – we are not afraid of pulling the hood down in a convertible; we get special discounts at Pro-Cuts (although Supercuts has a special “finders fee” for people like me now), we don’t have to track down the missing comb in the bathroom and we don’t have to pull our hair out whenever our wives say “I have a headache tonight, dear”. No, Propecia took care of that!! Thoroughly unencumbered by the problems of the locks and tresses, when we go for a formal meeting, all we have to bother about is to straighten out the tie!! When there is a hair in the soup we yell at others at the dining table – because it obviously cannot be ours.

And we have our moments of insecurity too. In a classical Freudian concept of balancing, we often grow bizarre beards / mustaches like Sam Pitroda, Sean Connery, to keep the attention away from the top. I must confess here that I fell in that trap a year back with tremendous results. The party-entering conversation has moved to a “brighter” note of “Did you forget to shave today?” 🙂

I agree though the homo hairis folks do have certain advantages too – for example, they can rub their hair back and do the Joey-style “How You Doing?” when they meet a girl at a bar or split hairs over trivia at otherwise entertaining parties at the same bar. Even better, they can keep ponytails like Hariharan and truly confuse you about their gender from a distance. 🙂  And a Tamil Brahmin with hair knows where to stop drawing his bibhuti up his forehead.

On the other hand, while our hirsute brothers fret and foment when a bird does the “deed” on their head, we merely wipe with a Kleenex and thank God that cows cannot fly. You see, we believe in the eternal balance of life. As the pirated version of the Bible in China says now “God is good / Good is fair / To some he gives brains / To the others hair”

But we try and take a philosophical look at life – essentially for men, it comes down to two choices of styles of hair – the parted and the departed!! At the end of the day, I do have to sigh and repeat what a few changra chhokras once told me in the mean streets of Kolkata – “Dada, Sobtai Kapal”

(this was composed by me in 2005 after collecting a lot of comments I had to hear in my life and read about other’s same fate 😮 )

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