The Sounds of Silence

The numbers around whether or not companies are hiring are all over the map. Our own SmartBrief for CFOs poll on this question indicates that close to 80% of respondents say hiring in their companies is flat. 

That doesn’t mean companies aren’t hiring. It means that the playing field is much smaller, the competition is much stiffer, you must be a high-value target, and what you are bringing  to the table (value) must make the company more money than it costs to bring you on board. 

Even then, the silence can be deafening. In a coaching session earlier this week, my client has at least 4, maybe 5, very viable opportunities on the table. He’s made it to the top of the candidate list, the companies love him and want to bring him on … but he’s caught in the sounds of silence. He is at their mercy as each of the companies wrestle with the decision of whether, in the face of economic uncertainty and waffling or stagnant revenue growth, it makes sense to bring on another employee. 

Notice, I said bring on another “employee.” Not, “hire him.” There is no question in my mind that he is the top candidate for any one of these positions, and he’s been told that if they hire, he's their choice. The questions every company are weighing, and weighing heavily, as part of every hiring decision, are … 

— can we?

— should we?

— what happens if we do?

For this Investment Banker, it’s incredibly frustrating to be so close and yet feel like the end of the road is still so far away. But as I’ve told him, until you get the “NO NO NO and don’t ever darken our doorstep again,” it isn’t over. It’s just that the company is holding all the cards and he is at the mercy of their agonizingly slow decision-making process.

Branded Differentiation & Value

Whenever I come across the same theme multiple times within a short amount of time, I feel the need to write a blog post. That happened yesterday.

First, the Fractional CFO blogged about “differentiation.” Now his post was focused on differentiation within retailers … Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Linens n’ Things; Best Buy and Circuit City; Home Depot and Hechinger’s … but there's a definite pattern. Only one lives on.

“Without a strong differentiation from competitors, a business is much more vulnerable and therefore more likely to suffer from pricing pressures, loss of market share, and eventual failure.”

The word “candidate” could just as easily be inserted in place of “business” in the above quote. 

Then, my good friend and C-Suite Colleague Deb Dib summed up branded value in this tweet …

How good hires happen: 

Brand+value = interview 

Brand+value+ROI = short list 

Brand+value+ROI+chemistry = fit = hired! 

A visible, branded, and differentiated ROI is the key to standing out from the competition while offering something of value that a company is more than happy to pay to get. Whether you live on as a high-value CFO target, get bested by the competition, or disappear in the masses … is a choice.

Whose Responsibility Is It?

I was contacted last week by a CFO expressing great frustration in his job search. Why, he asked, was he the only one who could see how easily he could make the transition back into a private industry leadership role after being out of private industry for the last 10+ years. He was confident those last 10 years only ADDED to his ability to lead a finance department. Looking at his marketing documents, I understood why.

My question to him – and to you – is this …

Whose responsibility is it to connect the dots so your value is obvious? Yours? Or, the prospective company?

There is no question that the job search today is challenging. However, it is made all the more exasperating by, in my opinion, these two things … 

Not understanding your positioning 

It is not what you did (responsibilities) that a company is buying. It is your ability to solve problems, and particularly their problems, that they will pay good money to get. If you aren’t positioned as a problem solver, your positioning is weak, vulnerable, and suspect and relegates you to commodity status.

Maybe you do understand your value proposition, and you can even clearly articulate it. Do your marketing documents convey the same message? Resume writing is about strategy, which is why templates often fail to make the grade. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t a good marketing document strategy, nor is it a good candidate strategy.

–Being all things to all people

Being niched … and branded … I am a bit biased in this regard. Still, my belief is that being a subject matter expert trumps being a generalist; knowing a lot about a little is more valued than knowing a little about a lot; and everyone has one or two things at which they excel and would differentiate them from the competition. Most people just haven’t taken the time to figure it out. Rather, they rush into a job search trying to be all things to all people in order to get that next position. 

If you can’t clearly convey why you are the best of the best at solving a company’s financial/operational problems, the prospective company probably won’t take time to figure it out either. That responsibility is yours as the seller of Product You.

It IS More Than Just Semantics!

If you have to qualify a statement with the word, “technically,” then, at least in a job search, you have probably crossed the line.

Mark Haluska, Founder and Executive Director of Real Time Network talks about a candidate who repeatedly answered “yes” to the question, “Are you employed.” When it got down to offer time, the background check revealed he had actually resigned 3 weeks earlier. When asked about this discrepancy, the candidate said “technically” he was still employed because he still had vacation time left. 

The moral of this story … The truth will always come out. When it does, it will burn you … because, it really is much more than just semantics. If you can't be honest upfront, employers worry what else might get fudged down the pike.

What Does Your Resume Say About You?

If you are a finance executive and you are NOT a member of the Financials Executive Networking Group, you are missing out on a wealth of information … delivered right to your email box several times a week and containing job leads, articles, good news announcements, assistance requests, and meeting notices.  

Now I don’t always agree 100% with Matt Bud, Co-Chair of FENG, but I do agree with him the majority of the time and being a member of FENG is a great long-term career management strategy for every finance executive.

A recent newsletter talked about a recruiter’s response to some resumes sent his way.

One candidate submitted one of the “worst” ever seen with “a lot of words that toot his horn such as outstanding record and exceptional ability,” contained a worthless list of bullets, and was poorly paginated. Another candidate submitted a one page resume … “with type so small [I] needed a magnifying glass to read it.” Rather then pull out a magnifying glass, the resume was round-filed.

Your resume is often your first impression … so what does it say about you? Hopefully the message is that you are crystal clear about your value to a prospective company (what they are willing to pay you big bucks to get) and that you care enough, and are interested enough, to pay attention to details, quality, and readability.

CFOs Paring Payrolls

Cold Cuts posted at addresses the need for CFOs to cut payrolls … in every manner possible. At least the beginning of 2009 is going to be bumpy for a lot of people.

What was interesting to me was this statement at the end of the article …

Is there any bright spot to be found amid all this gloom? Yes, and it appears to be shining directly on CFOs: most respondents said they expect executive management to feel little or no impact from the coming cuts.

The very people surveyed feel their positions are not in jeopardy. Might I suggest they hold that belief at their own peril? Every executive is safe only as long as he is meeting projections. The moment he doesn’t, he is as vulnerable as everyone else.

At the risk of sounding redundant, you are the most valuable as a prospective candidate while employed. It behooves you, while you are feeling secure, to position yourself from one of power and proactivity rather then being forced to react to a situation over which you no longer have any control.

Once you lose your position, even with a big fat severance package in hand, your marketability will take a hit, it will take longer then you can imagine to get that next position, and your ego and confidence will be greatly tested along the way.

Leverage the power of being an employed, accomplished, and contributing executive now, while you still can.