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How can a CEO stand out from the crowd when looking for a new job?

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How can a CEO stand out from the crowd when looking for a new job? (Or any high-level executive with a profit and loss responsibility, for that matter.) For a recruiter, the typical way to address this is to look at the CEO's CV and check the company's bottom line where the CEO works/has worked with profit and loss responsibility. Red numbers indicate poor performance, and good numbers a good performance. Or do they? The bottom line alone seldom tells the whole truth. For all you know, despite the bottom-line numbers being on the red when you happen to look at them, the CEO in question may have done an excellent job and just saved the company. Again, good numbers may have been good because of an unusually favourable market situation or the management team, not because of anything the CEO did. Who knows, the bottom-line numbers might have been even better without this CEO.

 

In any recruiting process, the hiring manager needs to know the story behind the bottom-line numbers, to check the CEO and his/her role, actions, input, and impact on the numbers before making up his/her mind. (Hiring manager is here a "synonym" for all persons taking part in the recruiting process, e.g., the Board.) The hiring manager must dig deeper. Only the CV is not enough. He/she must meet the CEO.

 

This said, before that happens, the decision to meet the CEO is often based on the CV. In a recruiting process, hiring managers usually start evaluating the candidates they may want to meet by looking at their CVs and cover letters.

 

The CV is an evidence-, and fact-based description of one's career in chronological order. Sounds easy to do, but this is often easier said than done, and how well you succeed may determine your success in a recruiting project. The candidate may have just 30 seconds to make a positive impact from the moment the hiring manager first time lays his/her eyes on the CV. No impact or the wrong impact, and the hiring manager may stop reading the CV halfway, and that's it. You are out! So, no pressure here, right?

 

Anyone can write a standard CV. All media, particularly the Internet (even Microsoft Word), has advice and recommendations on writing a CV. How good you feel this may be, never copy things as such. It is always better to write a personalized CV, to have a "style" of your own, if you like. At best, this may be one of the things that helps a CEO stand out from the crowd. Genuineness is always better than just cloning.

 

Candidates usually assume the readers of their CV know their employer company just based on the name. Well, they often don't, so never forget saying a few words about the company. If you force the hiring manager to check from the Internet, he/she may instead just put your CV away. The same applies to the CEO title. The CEO is by default responsible for everything in a company (we all know that), but what does this mean when you break this down into skills, input, and actions done by the CEO, not to speak of his/her achievements. Don't let the hiring manager second guess. Tell something.

 

During my career in executive search, I noticed that people assumed that the CV speaks for them. Well, rightly made it does, poorly made, perhaps not so much. If a CEO level CV has typo errors, is unclear or very insufficient, this is likely a showstopper. The same if it is six pages long. The ability to focus is essential.

 

CEOs may be excellent at writing business offers and in giving convincing sales presentations of their company's products and services in front of large demanding audiences, but this is about their work. This is what CEOs are supposed to be good at, and this is what they know how to do. It is quite another thing when the product they are selling is themselves. Furthermore, few of us are CV wizards, so to get the best out of our CV, we may need some help from a "sparring partner". Not asking for advice when you feel you may need some may worsen the chances in a recruiting process.

 

For a CEO in the process of a career move, a well-made CV is of utmost importance when wanting to stand out, likewise the cover letter. In the cover letter, you can present the person behind the CV. How you are like, your values, ambitions, goals, what challenges you are interested in, particularly why you are interested in this job/company. If you don't talk about this anywhere, how can the hiring manager know? He/she has not met you yet! (Same thing if you just send your CV to a Headhunter you have never met.)  

 

A well-made CV + cover letter is like a prestigious CEO calling card, at best a game-changing door-opener to a job interview (or a Headhunter interview).

 

It does not matter how good you are if you are not invited to a job interview. It is only by being invited to an interview that one can enter the game. Only here one can truly make an impact, stand out from the crowd, become one of the finalists and eventually the winning candidate. I am not here going to tell experienced CEOs who may lead companies with maybe hundreds, even thousands of employees, how to prepare for, behave or what to say in an interview. They already know. Some reflections, though.

 

In a hiring interview, we sometimes feel so nervous that smoke almost comes out of the ears when trying to present ourselves most positively. This is human. This applies just as well to CEO level people. No matter how tough the CEO is, how big a company he/she may lead, and even though it may not show, they too can feel uncertain and be equally nervous, particularly when the stakes are high enough. And for a CEO in the process of a career change, they often are just that. Especially if a previously successful CEO is now unemployed, the question he/she may keep asking him/herself before a job interview is, “Is this the continuation of a successful career, or is this the beginning of the end of a successful career”? I do not feel a little nervousness in a job interview is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it is a good thing. It shows the hiring manager that you have feelings, are interested, and feel this job opportunity is important. So, don't let this stress you.

 

Showing up too self-assured and overconfident may come out as bragging, arrogance, or even presenting one as an ice-cold candidate with no feelings or emotions for the situation or the job at hand. Perhaps not the best way to stand out from the crowd, at least if one wants to make a positive impression.

 

When a top CEO advances into the final interviews in a recruiting process, he/she knows that all the other finalists likely are top performers too, that they have good business acumen and that the differences between all finalists may be minor. So how can one stand out? Good chemistry with the hiring manager may help to find some common ground. How convincing and successful you are in conveying your business skills, strategic business views, goals, and overall potential to the hiring manager, particularly in relation to the hiring company, certainly has a significant impact, especially so when this corresponds to what the hiring company is looking for. Candidate assessment by psychological and skill tests is a factor that may differentiate you from your competitors to your advantage. Even after all this, it may still be a close race. There may still exist one other finalist competitor on the home stretch.

 

Then comes the references. Everything else being is "equal" between the finalist candidates, the references can sometimes decide who becomes the winning candidate. In CEO level jobs, good reference persons and good references are a must-have. It is certainly worth spending a thought or two at this when you start planning a career change. If one has no reference persons or do not want to give previous superiors and subordinates as reference persons, this is usually considered a loud warning signal. So, if you did not get along with your previous boss, or closest subordinate, this is the place to come clean, talk about it and tell why. It does not have to be a showstopper if there is a good reason for this.

 

Both from the hiring managers and candidates' points of view, it is essential that the reference check is rightly done. One must know who to ask, what to ask and how to ask. Just asking, is this a good guy is not enough. Who asks is also important. The person doing the reference check must have a good understanding of everything relating to this recruiting.

 

It is seldom only one thing that decides who is to become the winning candidate. However, any of the factors above can become a game-changer, so it is worth paying attention to all aspects mentioned.

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Could there be room for improvement in nowadays career thinking and ideals?

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Almost daily, you read in the papers and on social media about people who can no longer cope with the pressures of their job or the expectations other people have of them. Expectations that, for some inexplicable reason, you are forced to live up to, even if you disagree with them. When your resources and the hours of the day are no longer enough, you get feelings of inadequacy and overwhelming stress, fear of failure, your health begins to crack, and eventually, you get burnout.

 

Many people consider a positive public image so important for their self-esteem that they will do anything to maintain it even long after it is clear that they will not make it, or that a distrainor is waiting at the door. No wonder there is also burnout lurking the same door.

 

In many cases, people add social media to the mix, which certainly doesn't make it any easier. The temptation to "fake it" is great for many people. It is easy to present things as better than they are on social media, and you can get hooked at doing that. When the truth comes out one day (as it always does), the house of cards collapses immediately. We regularly read about these cases in the newspapers too.

 

Most of us know these things and their consequences, so why do so many get caught like a fish on a hook? It is good to understand that those to whom this happens are not somehow different from "the rest of us". It can happen to anyone. But what drives us to act this way?

 

Perhaps the ideals, values and attitudes fed to us by the media and business world have something to do with it. To exaggerate a little, one could say that everyone today must be young (including the middle-aged and old), beautiful, wrinkle-free, presentable, fashionable, successful, rich, have a great title in a great-sounding job. We are told between the lines that when we think like this, we become popular and happy and that dissidents are losers. But life and reality do not work like that.

 

When we get/achieve something that we think is "cool and wonderful": a four-wheel-drive SUV, a Samsung OLED 8K TV, we get to go partying in London, we are chosen as person of the month, we get a new title, a salary raise, we are praised in a magazine etc., we want to enjoy these moments. Who wouldn't? But these moments are fleeting, and they don't carry you very long.  

 

Are we perhaps investing too much in the "wrong" things and missing out on something else that is essential to our work satisfaction or wellbeing and happiness in life in general?

 

When people are asked on their deathbeds what they regret most in their lives, the answers are very similar around the world. Few people say they regret not being able to spend more time at work. So, what are the things they regret? Below are three themes that come up frequently.

 

  • Should have been more myself and lived my life as I wanted to, not so much according to the wishes and expectations of others.
  • Too often it was only about "my job and my career". I could have done things differently.
  • I should have spent more time with my loved ones and friends, including 'with myself'.

 

These answers hardly surprise anyone, that's just the way life often goes. But it doesn't have to be this way.

 

Numerous studies on wellbeing and happiness support the notion that having a lot of money, fancy things, an everlasting positive public image, and a forever youthful appearance with the latest designer clothes is not the best route to happiness. Just look at how much is written about the problems of the rich and famous celebrities. It seems they are the ones with the problems. You need something more than this. Well, what then? For example, Dr. Sue Roffey from the UK has been studying these issues for a long time. In the next two paragraphs I quote some of her thoughts.

 

Above all, good relationships support the achievement of happiness. The best relationships are where there is both give and take, where communication and interaction is friendly and respectful, where people are interested in each other, offer support when needed and share their joy when there is something to celebrate. Money and fame are no substitute for this. This goes without saying, doesn't it? We all know this. But oh, how hard it is sometimes to remember.

 

How we treat each other has a big impact on our wellbeing, also at work. Kindness, consideration and collaboration build the positive whereas control, the wrong kind of competition, selfishness, and broken trust are toxic. If we additionally focus on the negative - what goes wrong and what we think is always someone else's fault, what we don't have and what we are missing out on - this is likely to contribute to feeling bad.

 

When life treats you badly, work is hard, or you just need support - money, goods, fame, or the fact that you once again won the company sales competition of the month doesn't help much. But I bet having a good friend or a good colleague we can turn to in our "hour of need" will for sure help. When we're doing well, celebrating a great achievement alone rarely tastes good, it's only when a good friend or colleague is genuinely happy for us that we feel good.

 

When considering the goals and actions in your professional life, as well as in your private life, it is good to be aware that there also exist factors "outside" work that can either contribute to your wellbeing at work or cause distress at work. Obviously, good relationships are a very important factor in this equation. Secondly, don't put too much emphasis on what other people think of you and your career. Surely what you are happy with and what you want to do is good enough. Thirdly, don't let advertising and the media too much influence your ideals and what you want in work and life. Advertising promotes the sale of various products and services, not necessarily our careers, our wellbeing at work or our happiness in life.

 

We take many things that are important to us for granted and often only become aware of them when they suddenly no longer exist. Here are a few tips on how to look at and analyse how we are doing. Are we doing the way we want?

 

  1. Every now and then, sit down at the kitchen table and write down the most important things in your life right now. The ones you don't want to lose, the ones you feel you live for and be a little overdramatic - the ones that are so important to you that you would die for them. Then imagine you will lose these things tomorrow - and how that would feel. 

    Look at the list. Does it say money, title, image, success, good looking body, new BMW, what my neighbour and friends think of my career - or does it say something else? Did the answers ring any bells - did you find anything you want to prioritise or do differently from now on? If so, could this perhaps also increase your wellbeing at work and happiness in life in general?
     
  2. Then a job situation analysis. If all is well, no corrective action is needed. If, on the other hand, work issues seem overwhelmingly challenging, or you strongly feel that it's just not my thing anymore, then something needs to be done. If you don't know what to do, it's worth talking to someone, sooner rather than later because these things tend to get more complicated over time. If you can't or don't want to talk to your employer or colleague, you need to find someone else.

    It is rare for someone outside the workplace to have a silver bullet to your problem, but an outsider will see things differently, and their views may help to clarify your thoughts. Often the person concerned can also give advice, ideas, and suggestions for solutions. This is called sparring.

 

If you don't want to talk about your career or work issues with someone you know, you can talk to a career coach or a recruitment specialist, for example. They have experience and perspective on similar situations and may be able to advise you on how to move forward. Sometimes it already helps just to talk things through with someone. You should not be alone with your difficulties.

 

PS. If you want to spar with someone, check out my one-to-one webinar, more info on my website.

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Why is it so difficult to land a new job?

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When you read about people's job search experiences, you get the impression that many have significant difficulties when looking for a job. Many may wonder whether this is only because of "me". The feeling may become even more pronounced if you happen to be unemployed. However, the job search challenges are largely due to the turmoil in present-day working life, the technological changes affecting how companies operate, the impact of climate change on business, the coronavirus, the recession, the labour market situation etc. Looking for a job is just so much more challenging right now, and it's certainly not only because of "you".

 

Each job seeker has a personal background and starting point - two completely identical job seekers do not exist. The factors and challenges that affect job search are always individual. What is a problem for someone is perhaps an opportunity for the other, and vice versa. Sometimes we may not pay attention to the obvious. However, it is essential to be aware of all factors involved and their impact on a job search process. Otherwise, you can by mistake take wrong actions or make incorrect conclusions about why "you" were not chosen for the job you applied for or even invited for an interview.

 

Below are examples of the so-called "obvious job search factors". I think every reader already knows the factors mentioned. However, I am not sure whether everyone realises the significance and impact they may have on their job search, thoughts, and actions. This short article allows me to briefly deal with only some of the factors that affect job search.  (In my blog => www.camdenpoint.fi => Author's blog, you find more detailed information about many of the factors.)

 

1. Time is seldom a problem when you have a job and are looking for a new one. But, if you become unemployed, the stress starts right away. What am I going to do now, how can I manage, is what most people think. Everybody knows how to look for a job, right? However, when you suddenly become unemployed, your thoughts may no longer be as clear as they were only a moment ago. By paying careful attention to the points below, job search challenges can be better addressed, and it may also calm the mind a little.

 

2. Schedule – many underestimates how long the job search process may take. If you land a new job in 3 months, a little luck is already needed, six months is still perfectly normal, 7–12 months is not uncommon. Sometimes it takes even longer. COVID-19, recession, summer/winter holidays, seasonal variations, labour market situation etc. all impact. There may be big differences geographically and between industries. It's worth drawing up a realistic schedule, so you don't fool yourself. If you can find a new job faster, then all the better. On the other hand, if you think that "I" can certainly find a new job in two months when the realistic schedule is six months, this only causes unnecessary stress and anxiety.

 

3. Always start the job search process by carrying out a thorough situation analysis and self-assessment. You must know why you want to change jobs - all the reasons. Also, make sure you know what kind of work, company, work culture and colleagues you like. I am convinced this substantially improves your chances of landing a new job. Now you "know" what you're looking for and can recognise it when you see it. Not knowing may lead to you accidentally ending up in a job with the same problems and issues you want to get rid of right now. This happens to many.

 

4. Even if we think we know all the right questions, few of us know all the answers. It's good to look around and find out what others are doing and think about job search issues. Thus, you most certainly come across useful information. You may also find that you're not alone with your thoughts and problems. Most other jobseekers likely face the same type of challenges, woes, and thoughts. Knowing this may give some comfort. There are recruitment guides worth reading and good recruitment books - I have also published one :-)

 

5. Most projects require an action plan before starting. A job search action plan is a detailed written to-do list that contains all the dos and don'ts, including milestones and checkboxes, and helps to remember, pay attention to, and do things right. It's also mentally important that you have an action plan.  A clear vision, backed by definite plans, gives you a feeling of confidence. Proceeding with a well-thought-out action plan is always better than playing things by ear. When you do things systematically, properly, you get new information, learn new things, and get ideas about how to improve further.

 

6. Opportunities and pitfalls - when you consider how to perform to your advantage in the job search process, you should also ask yourself what you must not do, so you do not accidentally make mistakes in your disfavour that could easily have been avoided with a bit of thinking. The Internet is full of both types of examples. However, it is worth using common sense and not believing everything that is said out there on the www.

 

7. Pay good attention to the cover letter and a CV. They do not decide the winning candidate, but they may determine whether you are invited to an interview or not. Sometimes the CV is full of short-term employments. This is not necessarily a showstopper. I just read about a recruiter who in a CV like this saw a person who, in a difficult situation, did not shy away from accepting short-term employments or "bad jobs" while searching for the "good job", a fighter who never gives up – and hired this person. So, the story behind the CV is essential. You just must get your story out the "right way". If writing cover letters and CVs is not your own strongest expertise, you should always ask for help. Even if you are good, why not also then spar with someone?

 

8. When the job search starts, and you eventually are invited to a job interview, you are only halfway. You should always prepare carefully for an interview. Practice questions, answers, even in front of a mirror if you like, check the hiring company background etc. It is crucial that both the questions you ask and the answers you give are your "own", that they are sensible and helpful for you, not just something you learned from the Internet. We are often so nervous that our ears are buzzing. Most people are more confident and at their best by being their spontaneous selves. Don't pretend to be something you are not. If you're good at pretending, you may end up in a job that doesn't fit you at all as a reward for your good performance. After an interview, it may sometimes feel like it didn't quite work out as we wanted. Most of the time, however, I believe the interviewer thinks that this went quite well.  If, again, you're sure you messed up, so what. Everybody makes mistakes. Just learn from this and don’t make the same mistake again.

 

9. If you often get to interviews but never to the next step, you should analyse why. Does e.g., your cover letter/CV perhaps give the recipient a too different impression from what you are really like, and when you meet, you do not correspond to the hiring manager’s expectations? If again, you are never invited to an interview, you should consider whether there is something you could do differently or something you do wrong. Are you perhaps constantly applying for "wrong" job tasks or for jobs/companies where the chances of winning are non-existent? For example, if you, e.g., only apply to "top-rated" jobs/companies, there can easily always be 500 other applicants. You must be pretty good to win a race like this. Are you this good?

 

10. Only one person can be selected for one job. Reaching the finals but not being chosen for the job doesn't mean you're a bad candidate. The job interview finals are like a 100m run finale. The differences between the winner and the next runners are hair thin. If you get to 10 job interview finals but are not selected, it still doesn't mean you're a bad candidate: it's the exact opposite. The more job interview finals you are invited to, the more certain you and your skills are appreciated. You don't invite bad candidates to job interview finals. Just keep on doing what you're doing. Sooner or later, you're going to be the winner.

 

11. References are usually asked during the final phase of the recruitment process. References are not by definition a must-have, but if other candidates have references to offer and you don't, the hiring company probably wonders why so.  A few references are always an advantage. Suitable reference persons are, e.g., former supervisors, co-workers, clients. If you didn't get along with your former boss and therefore you wouldn't like to give him/her as a reference, tell that to the interviewer. This doesn't have to be a problem if you have a good reason for this.

 

12. Companies have job advertisements on websites, magazines, social media, etc., and can thus reach a broad audience. This also has its drawbacks. You can reply to a job ad with almost a click of a button. When this is so easy, the same job may suddenly be picked up by 500 other applicants. Companies have announced that one big challenge in present-day recruitment is a large number of applicants, where many of the applicants are not meeting the application criteria. Also, pay attention. If there are typos in your Cover Letter/CV or they do not contain so-called keywords, you can be dropped from the process by artificial intelligence without anyone even seeing your application, even if you're a good candidate.

 

13. Job seekers have several job search channels at their disposal: job advertisements, Headhunters, LinkedIn, CV-databases, HR service companies, cold calls to companies, mouth-to-mouth marketing, network marketing, etc. Stay focused. Proceeding systematically in the various channels available is always more effective than trying to get a hit by just spreading your "job applications" all around by random.

 

14. Sometimes, the work you would like to land is just not available. If so, you must face the fact that you must do something else if you want to work. In a situation like this, you must be careful not to be caught by negative thinking. Instead, try to see a different kind of work as an opportunity. Indeed, many who have had to switch to other kinds of jobs under duress have suddenly found themselves enjoying themselves quite excellently. Although changing the industry/job may be scary, I promise the alternative is much worse if nothing else is available. It might even be a good idea to try something completely new, and it doesn't have to be forever. You can apply for your "ideal" job again later if the situation changes for the better. So, in the meantime, why not give some other work a try.

 

15. Try not to let the status of work, title, status = your professional identity = dignity. If one's work disappears, this is tough enough. On top of this, if you also feel that you also lost your identity/dignity = how you value yourself, you can easily become anxious, depressed, and even collapse mentally.

 

16. It is worth thinking that all jobs are of equal value, just as are all people. You don't have to like all jobs, but if you feel that you're somehow more "valuable" as a person than other people, just because you have a particular title or status, it is worth looking in the mirror. With this attitude, you unnecessarily exclude many job options because they have the wrong title or status. In Finland, where I am located and writing this article, right now (8/2021) there are 300,000 unemployed, and 155,000 open job vacancies. I would imagine there must exist job opportunities for persons keeping an open mind. At the end of the day, people who are “too choosy” may find they stay unemployed longer, while the more open-minded you are, the bigger the chances of finding and landing a job faster. Even though the local employment market situation of course varies in different countries I think the overall situation many times has similarities.

 

17. You should not restrict yourself to thinking that career moves can only be made upwards in an organisation. Career moves can be made in all directions, upwards, sidewards, and downwards – if you feel like it. You can change industry, position level, function, job, even reduce your salary. Also, you should not let what others think, colleagues, neighbours, friends, parents, e.g., determine what kind of work or career you are pursuing. Your life, your decision. If someone disagrees, it is their problem, not yours.

 

18. Don't be alone with your challenges. Asking for advice or help is never stupid. Not asking can be. Everyone benefits from sparring, even the best. If this confirms we know what we are doing, that's good to know. I believe that being in a challenging situation and getting confirmation that you are doing things right certainly calms the nerves a little. We also get new information and ideas helpful in finding and landing a new job. If you can discuss, e.g., with a career coach or recruiting professional, excellent. A person who has interviewed hundreds, perhaps thousands of people certainly has perspective and valuable information for you.

 

PS. If you would like to spar with someone about your job search, but don’t know with whom – maybe worth checking out one-to-one career management webinars by me :-) More info here.

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My yearly hiking trip to Lapland (2021) – an excellent way to get rid of stress

 

Once again, it was such a successful trip that I must share my experiences. You can't bring to life the feelings and moments you are experiencing on a wilderness trip with a few sentences, but please open this article and you can see the enclosed pictures that say more than a thousand words. I feel hiking is one of the best ways to start a holiday. All work- and private life-related stress and woes are removed from the mind as if by pressing a button at the exact moment the hike begins. For those interested, the landscapes of the hiking photos are roughly at the height of Kilpisjärvi, Finland and twenty kilometers westwards on the Norwegian side of the border, a stunning Norwegian mountain area. Kilpisjärvi (järvi = lake) is a village in the most north-western corner of Finland, bordering Sweden and Norway (1 300 km from Helsinki).

 

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Once you've put on your hiking shoes and backpack at the starting point of the hiking trip and take the first step into the wilderness, which starts right out of the parking lot, the world changes as if by magic. All the stress and earthly woes remain in the parking lot, and the head is emptied of any disturbing thoughts. During the whole hike, no negative thoughts enter your mind, not a single one. The phone stays closed, and you don't need to look at it every five minutes for messages or browse on social media. Well, there's no mobile net here, so it wouldn't even be possible. Gosh, how the nerves rest, I can tell you what.

 

You must always face some challenges when hiking. They come with the package, so to say. But everything that happens in the wilderness feels perfectly natural, no matter what it is. In fact, and as strange as this sounds, the more challenges, the better the hiking trip. And what are the challenges? A few examples.

 

The first thing that comes to mind is the physical strain that surprises me every year, even though I have been hiking into the wilderness for over 40 years now. No matter how good shape you feel you are in, when you have been walking up a steep mountainside with a backpack for 3 hours in difficult terrain (this is how this trip started), you realise you have already been sweating liters of sweat, your shoulders are aching, and your thighs are "screaming for help". When you then, day after day, climb up and down 1-1.5 km high mountainsides, you can certainly feel this in your legs. Despite the strain, going up is the easiest part. Try walking down a steep slope for hours, and you will certainly pay attention to the existence of the "brake muscles" in your leg. Sometimes, you must look for a proper path to walk to avoid falling into some ravine by accident. But, if you're careful and play it safe like we always do, there's nothing to worry about.

 

Then the daily washing exercises. Every day you must wash properly - in an ice-cold mountain stream! It feels like walking right into a freezer, then throwing ice-cold water on yourself and closing the door. This is not at all as difficult as it sounds. Because you are more than motivated to quickly take off your clothes and then to even quicker run into the ice-cold stream due to the large gadfly flocks flying around you. This year there were a record number of them, and I can tell you the gadflies were big, and I mean big. I counted more than ten gadflies on just one small part of my shoe tip. However, they leave you alone when you are in the stream and throw cold water at yourself - you can stand in peace in the freezing stream for as long as you want. Wonderful! Then, after your washing, when you, with your blue skin and rattling teeth, walk to the shore, the gadflies leave you alone until your skin warms up again. I can't help telling you how good a shot of whiskey tastes at this moment.

 

You must go to the toilet too when you're on a hike. Unfortunately, there are no toilets on our hiking trails. You must play it by ear, improvise, so to say. I will spare the readers with weak nerves from the details. I will just say that "toilet activities" on steep mountainsides and surrounded by large gadfly flocks creates their own interesting hiking experiences and memories.

 

The food is ok, provided you like "dried hiking food" and cold water as a food drink. Warm coffee flavored with a small amount of whisky helps a little.

 

Then, when you, after a day of heavy exercise, finally go to sleep, this beats everything. Your muscles always stop aching by 3 a.m. at the latest. That's good because by then, you've usually learned to balance on your slippery sleeping mat so you don't slide off it all the time and can start sleeping. By 4 a.m. at the latest, the sun already comes out from behind the mountains and starts to warm the tent wonderfully. We had daytime temperatures of +25 degrees, so the nights were already warm enough without the sun. By 5 a.m., it's over +30 degrees in the tent. At 7 a.m. the tent is like a sauna, you can't possibly stay there anymore, and so you happily get up for morning coffee and to face the new challenges of the next day.

 

And this is how the hike continues day after day. Isn't all this stressing, I can imagine someone thinking?  No, absolutely not. You genuinely feel alive and enjoy every moment. Whatever is happening is entirely up to you! When you are on the top of the mountains with the scenery you can see in the enclosed pictures, you couldn't feel better. As I've said before, it feels like you're one with nature, and you can almost hear nature talking to you. You also understand that the world doesn't revolve around you. It cannot become better than this.

 

When the hiking trip eventually ends, that feels good too – you get your first warm shower, first decent hot food, first doughnut coffee at the local Shell Cafe. However, I have fallen in love with Lapland forever, and we practically start planning next year's hiking trip already in the car on the way home.

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A glimpse into the world of a Hiring Manager

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Many posts and articles on LinkedIn focus on the candidate's perspective and experiences in the recruiting process. And rightly so. It is always the candidate that is the weaker party. Because, regardless of what the candidate does, at the end of the day, it is the company that makes the hiring decision. As there always are many candidates applying for one job, it is only natural that we hear of the experiences and opinions of the candidates perhaps more often. But here, I like to reflect on the recruiting process from a hiring manager’s perspective, so we also get "a glimpse" into what is happening on the other side of the table. 


I here use the title hiring manager as a "generic title", meaning the person/s in charge of hiring a new person in a recruiting process, typically the CHRO (or HR-manager, recruiting manager, etc.) Often the future superior of the new employee to be is also involved in the process. Both parties' day-to-day job includes many responsibilities. Therefore, it is worth pointing out that this is a simplified run-through of the work of a "hiring manager", focusing on and restricting itself to the responsibilities, tasks, and actions related to the recruiting process when you are hiring a new person to a company. 


Sometimes hiring managers are talked of as if they only were cold, calculating actors deciding everything in the best interest of the hiring company. Of course, they always try to consider the company's best interest. That is their job. That said, I am confident any hiring manager also keeps in mind the best interest of the candidate. Any other way would be counterproductive for the company. And whatever they may be, cold, calculating actors they are not. That I know from experience and I have a lot of experience! Behind every hiring manager, you will always find a real-life live person, breathing and all. A person with emotions, skills, strengths, weaknesses, values, goals, and responsibilities, just like all of us. Who is doing his/her best to do a good hire, which is often a much more challenging job than is believed by the general public. 


My background is from Executive Search, which is different compared to advertised recruiting. In Executive Search, simply put, the search consultant/researcher first researches the recruiting market and develops a long list of candidates. Then we choose the ones we want to approach and interview. Mind you, nobody in the target group is applying for a job here, so you never know in advance how many persons you must contact. Eventually, we have a shortlist of 4-6 finalist candidates, corresponding to the job profile and interested in the job, which we present for our Client, the hiring manager. He/she interviews the finalist candidates. They are maybe tested, references are checked, and a decision is made. The winning candidate is chosen. Piece of cake. Or is it? It is a long, challenging, and demanding process for all the parties involved, all through the process. And it is never over before it is over.


All finalist candidates are usually excellent alternatives. It is seldom, if ever, an easy choice for the hiring manager. The hiring manager interviews all finalists one or two times, and the two last competing finalists perhaps three times. When the hiring manager finally makes his/her decision, the very candidate he/she would have liked to recruit may unexpectedly withdraw from the process! It happens. When so, it may be difficult or even impossible to return to the other competing finalist not chosen. 2 months may now have passed and nothing!  It does not sound so easy anymore. In the worst case scenario, the whole process must start all over again from the beginning. For all I know, it is not necessarily any easier in advertised recruiting. The same can happen there, too, in the very last step of the process.


Most have taken part in an advertised based recruiting process, so you know the drill from a candidate's perspective. Sometimes it helps to understand the other party better if you try putting yourself in their shoes. So dear reader, I now ask you to imagine being a hiring manager. 
 

Suppose you until now only have been thinking this is a difficult task for a candidate who must compete with perhaps hundreds of other candidates in the recruiting process. In that case, you will now, as a hiring manager, relatively fast find out it may be equally challenging to select the "right" candidate among all the applicants.  Imagine getting 300 job applications in front of you and that it is up to you to make the right recruiting decision. You have limited time at your disposal and have 300 cover letters and 300 CVs to read. 300 alternative candidates. What if you make a wrong choice after having done everything the best way you know how? That would be a disaster for the hiring manager, the company, and the candidate. It happens. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. So, no pressure on you in your new job as a hiring manager!

 

Nowadays, the trend is that there tend to be ever more applicants per recruiting process, on top of which many are not fitting the candidate profile. Why this is so, is difficult to say. Due to technology, it is easier to send in your application for a job. It is also easier for the employer to advertise the job on an ever-growing number of digital media, thereby enabling reaching out to a greater number of people. All it takes for the employer and the candidate to make their "move" is often just a click on the enter button on their PC. Maybe this is the reason for the growing number of applicants. To cope with this, companies have all kind of recruiting software and technology, spiced with Artificial Intelligence, to help them. The bigger the company, the bigger the personnel, the more likely the company depends on recruiting technology in its recruiting processes. Trying to locate, process, analyse information and candidates faster. Screening, testing, assessing, sometimes even automatically selecting candidates. 


Now, dear reader, as our imaginary hiring manager, your job is to decide what recruiting software and technology to use, how and by whom, in your recruiting processes. Not necessarily an easy task. As we all know, no software or technology is 100% infallible, so big mistakes can happen here, too, in the recruiting process. Technology certainly gives us much good, but the more we hand over our recruiting-related decision making to technology, the more we may also increase the risks of a mistake happening. In my mind, we are technology-wise slowly closing in on the border, after which there sometimes is a risk for not seeing the trees for the forest anymore. If things go wrong, it is not the software that is to be blamed. I feel it is always the person who chose the "wrong" software that is responsible for what happens. That would be you, our new hiring manager. I have worked a lot with recruiting databases, so I know it can be challenging. You have my sympathy. That said, it is still your responsibility.


Choosing the right recruiting software, checking the cover letter, CV, professional skillset, references, and employment test results is not enough. The person-to-person chemistry, personal values and professional opinions also matter a great deal. Anyone hiring a person who will become an important colleague for him/her must take this into account. Hiring someone is not quite like marrying someone, but there are similarities. We likely spend more time with our colleagues at work when we are awake than we do with our spouses. So, it is important we get along well and have a good relationship with our work colleagues, both in good times as in stormy weathers. Also, checking the suitability to the company culture and values is important - two crucially essential parameters. 


For a casual onlooker, a recruiting process is slightly like standing beside two chess players and watching their game. It is easy to advise or criticise as an onlooker, but nothing is easy anymore once you are in the game. The same applies here. Dear reader, in your role as an imaginary hiring manager, you may now have realised that being a hiring manager is no easy job at all. In any recruiting process, any candidate does his/her best to get the job he/she wants to land. On the other side of the table sits the hiring manager, who again does his/her best to choose the most suitable candidate available for the job, I am sure. 


Of course, for any candidate, it is disappointing not to get the job you want. Often, there are many excellent candidates, but only one person can be chosen for one job. Here I would like to quote myself: "In my mind, reaching the finalist interviews is a good performance and indicates your professional expertise is appreciated – reaching the second position is an outstanding performance, even though it might not feel like it" - a little comfort, perhaps.


We have all heard of companies with "bad" recruiting practices and bad hiring managers mistreating their candidates. Unfortunately, they do exist - always have, always will - but in my mind, they are a minority. I am 100% certain that the great majority of the hiring managers act in good faith, have only good intentions, and do things the best way they know how. Most hiring managers I had the privilege of meeting during my career were like this.

 

If you want to get more aquainted with the dos and dont's in the work of a hiring manager, I can warmly recommend reading "How to recognise excellence in Executive Search" where I cover also this subject in detail.  You can find teaser pages and reader ratings on the homepage.   

 

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What if the Executive Search process fails?

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Some time ago, I was asked what comes into my mind from the header question - here is my answer. My experience is from senior executive management executive search, so I look at this from this perspective. However, I believe my reflections below apply to any level of recruiting.

 

What if the executive search process fails because the hiring company made a judgement error and chose the wrong person for the job? What if the candidate made a judgement error and chose the wrong job, wrong superior, or wrong colleagues - this can also happen - what then? What if the fundamental reason for the wrong recruitment was that the Executive Search Firm was not up to its task? Errare humanun est – to fail is human. In everything we do, we can fail, also in an executive search process. Despite only good intentions and best efforts, things can go sour even if no one intentionally did anything wrong or was careless. Every executive search process is of its kind. The starting point and the situations are always different, the parties taking part in the process are different, the process itself is different. Therefore, there does not exist a universal answer to the header question.

 

That said, the only acceptable outcome of an Executive Search process must be success (in any recruiting process, for that matter). Everyone taking part in the process must have this starting point, the hiring company, the executive search firm, and the candidate. In other words, at the end of the executive search process, the hiring company recruits the person they wanted, with the right skillset and from the candidate's point of view, he/she precisely land the job he/she wanted.

 

When everyone has a successful recruiting as their goal, everyone taking part in the executive search process must be honest, open, transparent about their experience and skillset and all their doings and goals. No one can do better than this, so this is enough, but less is not acceptable. This way, we can avoid misunderstandings, minimise the risks, and ensure, at least in most situations, successful recruitment.

 

The Hiring Company

The hiring company must have a clear understanding of why they are recruiting, what kind of a person they are looking for, and to what kind of a job. The recruiting brief must be a well thought out, extensive, informative, and truthful company presentation. Including, e.g., the candidate profile, job description, goals and expectations, stakeholders, challenges, and problems areas. It must contain all relevant information needed. It may be that some information cannot yet be presented at the beginning of the recruiting process due to confidentiality reasons, but what is presented must be truthful. No piece of information should be distorted or sugar-coated. During my career in the Executive Search Industry, I met several business leaders who told me that they were disappointed that the job/conditions were not like they were told in the recruiting process. The presentation was sugar-coated. And needlessly so. Everyone understands that there are no perfect companies or people. The truth would not have scared any candidate and would not have changed their decision to land this job, but now their confidence in their employer was “damaged” already the first week on the job.

 

One of the key tasks of the hiring company is to choose the right executive search firm. A wrong executive search firm may lead to wrong recruitment. Not all search firms are good, and not all good search firms are a perfect choice if they do not have experience from this kind of job/industry we are now talking about. Also, the hiring company must ensure that the executive search consultant has a correct understanding of the needs and wants of their client.

 

No one should ever recruit an executive-level director without a proper reference check. The reference check must always be done in the best interest of both the hiring company and the candidate. For instance, if something comes up that implies the job might be a risk for the candidate, this issue must be put on the table and be discussed with both parties. Also, of course, should it be the other way, a potential risk for the company. The goal must always be a win-win situation. I have done hundreds of reference checks, and in my mind, this is the only right way.

 

The Executive Search Firm

All executive search firms sell their services the best way they know how. After all, they are business companies just like their clients, but one should never give groundless promises that cannot be fulfilled to get a search assignment. Everything said and done must be based on honesty. I too, have, during my career, declined a search assignment when I felt I did not have the expertise needed for the job. The hiring manager was not exactly glad by my answer but highly respected my honesty, even to the degree he came back later and became a client of mine. It is also important to point out that an executive search firm is no parrot that repeats what the client is saying. On the contrary, a good search firm brings value added to the search process by its professional expertise and knowledge of the business world and recruiting market. The search consultant must ensure that he/she has the same understanding as the hiring company of the search assignment and the candidate they are looking for. At the end of the process, the executive search firms must ensure that the reference checks are made. Many executive search firms require that reference checks be part of the search process when they accept the search assignment.

 

The Candidate

Every person is responsible for his/her doings, they say. And so it is, also in an executive search process. I believe that management group level executives know what executive search is about, what happens in the search process, whether it is worth joining, and what to pay attention to.

 

However, the "candidates" in an executive search process are not actively looking for a job. So, when a Headhunter calls them, this may have a strong “positive” impact on their self-esteem. On top of that, this may unexpectedly lead to the finals and even to becoming a winning candidate. Therefore, it is essential that they do things right, so you do not make a wrong decision by mistake.

 

The candidate should do thorough due diligence of the hiring company and the job (why not also of the executive search firm) and do their reference check of the hiring company, e.g., It is also vital that the candidate tells the truth about him/herself. Never pretend to be something you are not. If you are a good actor, this alone might lead to wrong recruitment when the hiring company thinks you are something that you are not.

 

If you are offered the job, you must have a crystal-clear understanding of what you are doing and what the job is about. If you have not even considered a job change before the Headhunter called, and if you have been fully satisfied with your present job, you should think twice if this is the right time for a job change. Otherwise, chances are that the only reasons for your job change are the Headhunters phone call and its impact on your ego and a little higher salary. This potentially leading to you landing a job not at all corresponding to your expectations. 

 

Summary

When everyone acts in good faith and give it their best try, the result should be successful recruitment. Mostly this is the case, but unfortunately, not always. We all make mistakes, and sometimes someone makes a mistake in the recruiting process. No one has deliberately done anything wrong or been careless, but just the same, someone feels there has been wrong recruitment.

 

Even the best search consultant can sometimes fail. When this happens, it is very unpleasant for the executive search firm in question. In a good company, I am confident they thoroughly analyse what happened and do their best to prevent this from happening again. One should be open and transparent in every direction. If a mistake has been made, one should not try to hide it. Maintaining confidence in a situation like this requires full transparency. All said, it is the executive search firm that "suffers" the least. It might have to do a new search assignment for free, its reputation certainly takes some damage, but that's about it.

 

If the hiring company is the party that feels it has made a mistake, an error judgement in this recruitment, it is a grave matter. A critical recruitment has failed. They must yet again change a member of the management team. This is a financial issue, a work atmosphere issue, a reputation issue, and a human issue. When the hiring company = the hiring manager acknowledges that this has been their error, a good company accepts its responsibility and tries to solve an unpleasant situation the best way possible. It e.g., tries to agree with the person in question on a severance package, supports his/her efforts to find a new job, acts as a reference. It is also here essential to analyse what happened to prevent it from happening again. Unfortunately, there also exist companies that, despite this being explicitly their error, coldly ends the employee contract during the trial time, a tragedy for anyone. Some time ago you had a good job. Now you are unemployed.

 

However, it is always the employee who is most vulnerable when he/she suddenly finds out that he/she made a wrong decision. Genuinely thought this was the right job but has now found out that the chemistry between him/her and the management group/the superior does not work at all, even though everything felt so fine during the interviews. And fact is that nothing will become better by talking about it. So, what should one do? If you resign during trial time, you are immediately free to search for a new job publicly. But you are also immediately unemployed. If again you decide to stay, if only long enough to find a new job, chances are things become worse, and then, you may suddenly be fired. I want to think that I would resign at once and thus minimise my bad feelings, accept what happened and leave it behind me as fast as possible. However, this is pure theory. In reality, I might very well sit at my table counting my paychecks and evaluating how much they impact my finances. Every person must make his/her own decisions.

 

The examples above are about situations where everyone has acted in good faith, done their best. Unfortunately, there also exist people who do not feel distorting things, exaggerating things, not telling everything, sugar coating things, even lying about things in a recruiting process is a big deal. I think this is cheating yourself and other people, cheating with a big C, and reprehensible behaviour. Someone may have to pay a big prize for this.

 

The honest will inherit the earth, the saying says. Open-mindedness, honesty, transparency, and genuinely being yourself in a recruiting situation are, in my opinion, things that increase the likelihood of the right recruitment and concerns equally the hiring company, the executive search firm and the candidate.

 

In my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search, I talk about the executive search process and approach the dos and don'ts in the recruiting process from all parties' perspective, the search firm, the hiring company, and the candidate. I advise on how to avoid mistakes and how to maximise success.

 

If you are interested in knowing more, you can, via this link, get a more detailed description of the content of the book. Also check out the "readers' ratings" in the Web Shop in order to see what people think about the book!

 

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Executive search nowadays compared to yesterday

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As I entered the Executive Search industry in 1984, all work was manual, and for many, the database was an excel spreadsheet. Nowadays, it feels like living in a recruiters Disneyland, where you can go shop for any “recruiting tool” you can wish for. So, has this changed how Executive Search professionals work? The answer is a big YES, but there are also things that have NOT changed that much.  Let´s start with some YES examples.

 

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

The Nowadays Recruiting Toolbox

  • The new IT-, and digital technology, network technology, mobile technology, hardware and software, networking services, have enabled new ways of working beyond anyone´s wildest dreams.
  • There are advanced recruiting databases, stretching from large databases for globally operating companies to dedicated in-house one company databases for local use and everything in between.
  • There are software tools for every recruiting-related purpose imaginable: For Sourcing, Applicant Tracking, Automatic Email-Finders, Employer Branding, Job Board Posting, Recruitment Marketing, CRM for Recruitment and Talent Management, Online Candidate Testing, Background and Reference Checking Systems, Video Interviewing, to mention a few.
  • Many available both as in-house solutions and Cloud-Based On-Demand Services and at best even integrated with programs you use in your everyday work, like, e.g., Office 365 and Google Calendar.
  • We now also have the Internet, social media in general, and LinkedIn in particular.
  • VR (virtual reality) is opening opportunities for companies to showcase their working environment.
  • On top of everything, we have AI, which pretty much impacts all things mentioned above.

 

All Executive Search Firms have benefitted from the new technology. The new tools in their working toolbox have enabled developing and improving the search process for the better, from A-to Z. The steps in the search process are the same, but every piece of work done during every step has benefitted. Talent sourcing and screening is more efficient. Knowledge Management, processing and analysing information is more efficient. We can faster produce better reports and business intelligence. By increasing all over efficiency, we can reduce time to hire, to mention some examples.

 

The Competition - The competition in Executive Search is much fiercer. There are more competitors in the market, and ever more new search companies see the light of day. Today, also, many Companies have in-house Talent Acquisition Experts that compete with the Search Industry. Today, some Search Firms also search for lower lever people, even entry-level and advertise; some even have Job Boards. There exist Search Firms whose primary Search strategy is called LinkedIn, which is a quite different approach compared to senior executive management level search. This is no value judgement for or against neither approach. Different kinds of “businesses” demand different measures. The threshold for entering the Search Industry is nowadays lower due to the technology available, and therefore there also exist Search Firms that are not in everyone’s best interest. All this has made what Executive Search “means” more diffuse in the public eye.

 

Outsourcing – Outsourcing is popular, also in the Executive Search industry. Some have outsourced their research, others their marketing, business development actions, reference checks. Some even more. Many have done all this simultaneously. The more you outsource, the greater the risk that you one day, by mistake, outsource the very thing that once made you good. If I were a Client, I would always check which parts of the search process a Search Firm has outsourced. Worst scenario, the very expertise the Client is looking for may have been outsourced, which might mean you are now talking to the wrong person. Talking face to face with the person doing the job always feels better in my mind. That said, outsourcing is not by definition a bad thing or wrong. Rightly done, outsourcing may be an excellent business decision. Many Executive Search Firms have outsourced some activity and explicitly, therefore, can offer excellent high-quality service.

 

WHAT HAS NOT CHANGED?

The Business Principles – The underlying business principles of the Executive Search Industry and the framework that guided our thinking and our actions in the past are still the same. The business focus is to always act in the best interests of both the Client and the Candidate. The starting point and the only acceptable outcome for any Search Assignment must be success. In everything we do, we do our best, we maintain high quality, high ethical standards, and high confidentiality. We are always in compliance with the data privacy regulations, laws, local habits in the country, and the market where we operate.

 

The Business Focus - There must exist strategic clarity. There must be a clear understanding of who the Search Firm’s Clients and Candidates are. Are we in the middle-, executive management, CEO, board director-level business or perhaps in lower-level business? Are we generalists or functional or industry experts? The answers directly affect the Search Firm’s very business fundamentals, what kind of professional expertise and experience the search consultant/researcher must have for the job, how the job is done. No one is a top expert in everything. You must choose the business you operate in. Technology has not changed this aspect.

 

The Human Factor – Those who expect technology to do all their work for them may be up for a surprise. Despite all technology out there, the human factor is still as crucial as ever. Top search professionals must still have an in-depth knowledge of the business world and be able to advise the Client on business issues. Any Search Firm worth its salt still needs top-talented and highly skilled people. It is still the person behind the steering wheel that drives the car. No Formula 1 competition has ever been won by the car, regardless of how advanced it is. It is the driver (and his/her support team) that makes the difference. In Executive Search, it is the search consultant/researcher that make the difference.

 

Furthermore, in my mind, you can only develop into a top search professional and become an expert in human nature and the business world by interacting eye to eye with top-level business leaders. Meeting them, talking to them, listening to them, learning from them. This will not happen by, e.g., only looking at candidate lists produced by AI. I also believe the Client prefers a “human” counterpart – someone with outstanding business acumen. The Client is looking for a Strategic Business Partner and a good and trustworthy person to person relationship. A person with whom he can confidentially spar both his/her business and private thoughts. The Search Consultant genuinely cares for the Client; technology seldom does.

 

Confidentiality - When I started my career, Executive Search was almost exclusively used to recruit middle or executive level management, CEO’s, and board directors, with emphasis on senior executive management. The Search process was always done in complete secrecy. For Top End Executive Search Firms specialising in senior executive management Executive Search, this is, also nowadays standard practice.

 

These were just some reflections that came into my mind. There is more, but it is only so much you can talk about in an short article. If you want to know more, just read my book, and you will learn everything there is to know about Executive Search :-)

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Humour at your workplace - advantage or disadvantage

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I have lately seen people commenting on and questioning humour in various situations, so I thought I too reflect a little on this subject. I feel there are a place and time for everything. This also concerns humour. In most situations, humour is ok, but in some not - anyone who has got a good upbringing at home knows without saying when humour is improper. If someone sitting down at the coffee table at work tells that my dog died last night, my phone was stolen or I was fired yesterday, everyone knows that this is not a situation where you start telling jokes.

 

Definition and purpose of humour (my definition):

I feel good humour is warm, goodhearted, funny, and respectful. The goal is to generate a "feel good" mood for other people (and yourself), and without intentionally offending or hurting anyone.

 

If you ask people what good humour is, the beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder. But if you follow my definition of humour above and understand what good behaviour means, I think you manage well in most situations. (Unfortunately, there exist also people practising bad, tasteless, and offending humour. Ignore them, and they will stop or walk away.)

 

Good humour, defined as above, is, in my mind, one of the most important "skills" we can have. Humour helps us through many difficult and challenging situations in our life, both at work and in our private life.

 

Personally, many of my best memories from work relate to situations where good humour has been strongly present. And when I recall the many good lifelong friends and buddies, I have got over the years from various workplaces, I can only say that here humour has had a tremendous impact. We would today hardly have much contact with each other if we at work only had sat with a wrinkled forehead and solemn mind only wandering about dead serious work issues from dawn to dust.

 

In my first job, I stayed for seven years, in the second 11 years, in the third 22 years. I am proud of my career and what I achieved. When I look back, what do you think I remember? Sure, I remember my job was both motivating and rewarding, how I conquered many challenges and made many victories. But what I count as my most significant memory is, I remember how darn fun I had working together with my all-fantastic work colleagues.

 

Of my last workplace, I can say:  Not a day passed by without hearing laughter from some room. This was true for all the 22 years I worked there. We had good days, we had bad days, we had stormy days – but we never had a day without laughter. There is no law saying that demanding, challenging, sometimes very hard work is not allowed to be fun. If you take away the word "fun" from the equation, what remains left is rather boring, don't you think? Everything said, I feel good humour at work is an advantage and a benefit.

 

I would even argue that good humour in a company, is a strategic competitive advantage compared to workplaces that do not have humour.

 

Sometimes humour is born out of situations, that at the moment are anything but funny, but, which, besides giving you a good teaching, also, later, may give you many good laughs.

 

Three examples from my career:

As a young consultant, I was once with an older colleague of mine, on one of my very first sales visits to a customer. We were trying to sell a service product to the sales director of a small company. We decided to give a little lower price because we thought a small company could not afford us otherwise. However, when we arrived, we found out that a big multi-billion company had just bought the company we were visiting and that the board of the buyer company was on the premises, checking out what they had bought.  The board wanted to meet us too. When they asked for our price, for some inconceivable reason, I started thinking that a big company has a lot of money, and I felt I needed to show that good quality costs more. So, I gave them a price that was double our standard price. There was a terrible silence in the room.

 

I felt, my forehead sweating, that everyone was looking at me with big eyes, including my colleague. Then the board chairman said, that is a relatively high price, how do you justify it. My problem was that there was no way I could do it. I had drawn the price from the hat, so to say. But I had to say something, so I started talking. The little processor that I also call my brain only had room for five words simultaneously. I did not have a clue, as to what to say when I had completed the last word. I thought I was going to faint. However, somehow, after a deep breath, five new words always appeared from somewhere into my processor. I knew that this was not going to be the best performance of my life for sure. I was certain no one understood anything (my colleague confirmed afterwards that he did not understand anything either). I think it was only the board members' excellent upbringing and the fact that they felt sorry for a young unexperienced consultant that stopped them from giving me the lesson of my life. As you can imagine, we did not get any sales that day, but we survived – and I got good teaching of how one should not do on a sales call.

 

And my colleague kept laughing in the car with tears in his eyes all the way back to work. And when my other colleagues at work heard of what I had done, they laughed. Finally, after I had recovered from the shock, I too laughed, and I have also laughed many times later, to what happened.

 

Another story. I was visiting a client with a colleague of mine. We were checking a group of potential candidates in a recruiting situation, among them a person we both knew well. Then the client said, “You both know this person. Could he suit this position?” I can still remember how we answered. We answered simultaneously. I said NO, and my colleague said YES. My colleague and I looked at each other. I believe both were thinking, do you perhaps want to continue from here? Then the client said, well, how is it, YES or NO? It turned out that my colleague had some information about this person that I did not know, which explained our difference of opinion, so it was not such a big disaster after all. But we learned that simultaneous NO and YES answers in a customer meeting are perhaps not to an advantage.  I think we have had a few good laughs about this experience too.

 

Then the last example is about how you can come out of an awkward situation as a winner.  I visited the daughter company of a big international multi-billion company to report what I had done. The Finnish CEO, the Director of Europe, and the company's global HR-director were present at the meeting. I started my presentation by walking to the whiteboard, took a marker pen in my hand and started writing text on the whiteboard. Suddenly I realised that I had an ordinary marker pen in my hand, not a whiteboard pen, which meant that the text I had written on the whiteboard was not going to be erased anytime soon, if ever. Everyone else noticed this too. I can tell you it was embarrassing. I stood right in front of the coffee thermos on the table, seeing that all the coffee cups were empty. To get out of the situation, I asked if I could fill them up. I started pouring, but the thermos was unfamiliar and a little unbalanced, so when I poured, the coffee came out with force, not going into the cup, but over the cup and straight on the white tablecloth. I could have died right there. But everyone started laughing. They knew what I was experiencing.

 

Finally, I got to give my report, and with that, they were all extraordinarily satisfied. I continued to work with this client for many years, and we later had many good laughs together about what happened to me that day. So did my colleagues when I told them about what had happened.

 

Even though all the situations I talked about here were embarrassing and should never have happened, they have also given many good laughs afterwards. These three short stories illustrate how humour can mend difficult and painful experiences and turn them into" funny" memories that make you laugh.

 

I read somewhere that someone was asking if humour is ok in an interview situation. I feel it is perfectly ok.  I have been present in thousands of interviews, and I cannot remember even one, where we did not have a few laughs or at least a few smiles. A smile does not cost anything. When you smile, others smile back. I believe a friendly smile always has the potential can create a good atmosphere, while a completely humourless dead solemn approach may do just the opposite.

 

At last, I like to repeat what I said earlier:

I would even argue that good humour in a company, is a strategic competitive advantage compared to workplaces that do not have humour.

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Career Change 2021 – The job search action plan

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It is challenging enough to land a "good" new job in normal circumstances, let alone when COVID-19 is messing things up. Luckily, we can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. Most have applied for a job, taken part in interviews, and got a job, so landing a new job should be a piece of cake. But, when you are neck-deep in an active career change process, the world suddenly looks different, things are no more as clear as they seemed a moment ago. Few of us knows everything about recruiting and job search, and if years have passed since the last time we changed jobs, our job searching skills may have got rusty. Where can we find the means and advice to help us get where we want?

 

There is no shortage of information, advice, or advisors. The Internet and various media are full of them. Many also offer personal consultation help. All this is good. We are not all top-level job search or interview professionals, or CV writing masters, and it is always worthwhile sparring with and listening to others. Most of the "advisors", (of which I am one) genuinely strive to help and be useful, but that said, we should always exercise caution. You should not headlong follow every advice you hear or see. Even all the "good advice" does not suit everyone, and not all advice is good advice. You must not be a top recruiting expert to separate the wheat from the chaff. Check out "the advisor". Does the advisor look like knowing what he/she is talking about and does his/her motives feel sound?  Already common sense takes you a long way here.

 

Most projects require an action plan before starting. This also applies to job search. A job search process contains numerous factors that can either enable or hinder a career move. Many may go unnoticed, simply because one is not aware of their importance or even existence. A job search action plan is a detailed written to-do list that contains all the dos and don'ts, including milestones and checkboxes, and helps to remember, pay attention to, and do things right. When you first make an action plan, it is also much easier to look for information and advice, because now you have a better understanding of where you might need help.

 

A job search can be very time consuming and challenging, with numerous interviews and "second places". During my career, I took part in over 1 000 executive search assignments. Very often there were four excellent finalist candidates on the home stretch. Whom all performed well in the finalist interview, so their interview performance did not impact the winning candidate's choice. In practice, only one candidate could be selected, though. Like in 100 meters running final, the difference between the winner and the second position was hair thin. In my mind, reaching the finalist interviews is a good performance and indicates your professional expertise is appreciated – reaching the second position is an outstanding performance, even though it might not feel like it at the moment. A well-made action plan can give you the comfort of knowing you did your best. Knowing this, you do not perhaps spend too much time grieving about your second position, because, deep inside, you know you performed well and can faster move on to the next competition. You cannot win all competitions, but you can one day be the winner if you get to the finals often enough. It might just be that it is your action plan that gets you to interviews and finals.

 

Many write good CVs and cover letters. People usually inform some headhunters that they are available and start following "open job" advertisements in newspapers, social media etc. And then, if nothing happens, they wait. I feel this is leaving what happens to chance. If no-one "comes knocking at your door" you must be active and go knocking on doors yourself. A well-made action plan forces you to look at things thoroughly, from many perspectives and gives information, ideas, opportunities, spin-offs you otherwise might miss. A good action plan also tells which doors to knock on and how.

 

If you never get to a final or even interview or always get to the final, but never win, an action plan helps to analyse why so? Is there perhaps something I do wrong, where can I improve? E.g.:

 

  • I am very active and send hundreds of applications, but nothing happens, what is wrong?  Do I maybe always send my applications to companies looking for something entirely different from what I represent? Is there perhaps something I do not understand here?
  • I am very active and send hundreds of applications, but nothing happens, what is wrong? Do I perhaps apply for jobs (and companies), for which everybody else is also applying, where there are always 500+ applicants? If so, do I believe I am good enough to win them all or do I always join competitions I cannot win?  Might I be more successful somewhere else, where?
  • I often get to an interview, but never further, why so? Do I perhaps not correspond to the hiring manager's pre-expectations from my cover letter and CV? Can anyone help me here?
  • In interviews, do I too strongly emphasize skills I do not have or am I perhaps too modest and stop short of telling about all my skills? Who could help me out here?
  • Do I perhaps prepare too well to interviews, not acting spontaneously anymore, which leads me to overact and mess up my interview performance? If so, how can I correct this?
  • Do I perhaps have a poor idea what kind of a job I want to land, and just send out applications everywhere on random, hoping something will catch. How can I find the job of my liking?

 

We all have question marks, and there can be many. A well-made action plan helps to find the right questions/answers, correct mistakes and remove obstacles in a challenging job search process.

 

Lastly, a piece of advice. Do not pay much attention to what other people think of your career moves or what kind of career moves others make. We all have our starting point and dreams, so everyone's motives are different.

 

  • Some are in it because they like this job.
  • Some for the big money or fame and glory.
  • Some because this is what my dad, mom or wife/husband wants me to do.
  • Some because this is what all my friends do.
  • Some because they think woman/men feel this is a sexy job.
  • Some were offered the job and decided to give it a try.
  • Some do not have a choice, there are no other jobs available.
  • Some just get food on the table; their real passion is elsewhere.
  • Some decided to start somewhere and see where it takes them.
  • Some do not have a clue.

 

There are as many motives as people, and they are all "equally good". No matter what you do, there is always someone who does not approve. Forget these people and focus on the very person whose career dreams are important for you – yourself. When you are happy with your life, you have a better chance of making those around you happy.

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Customer Service vs Customer Experience – some reflections

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You do not have to be Albert Einstein to understand the interdependence between a good customer service and good customer experience. Good customer experiences are a must-have for a company aspiring for a good reputation and long-term profitability. Bad customer experiences tend to give you the opposite.

 

Creating good customer experiences is equally important in any industry, be it manufacturing, trade or service, for big companies and small companies alike.

 

Yet it is incredible how often companies fail to understand the importance of good customer experience and how bad customer service impact on the customer experience, and especially in the long term, on the reputation, image and eventually profitability.

 

There is a lot of marketing lip-service about how well we treat our customers and how we deliver as promised, but the reality sometimes looks very different.

 

Why I wrote this in the first place is that I have recently had several bad customer experiences. And unexpectedly, from companies, I had considered being "good companies". All companies I would most warmly have recommended to anyone before this. Now, I don't know anymore. All have agreed to provide a specific service to me. And then nothing! I have contacted them to remind them of this, and yet I am still waiting. With mixed feelings, (because I know these days COVID-19 has the potential to create problems for companies), I try to give these "good" companies the benefit of the doubt – so I am still giving them more time to deliver. However, if I have to wait much longer, they will eventually in my mind turn into "bad" companies. If that happens, I will not use them or recommend them to anyone anymore. Instead, I will caution people from interacting with them. Bad customer experiences always have consequences.

 

Due to my long experience in the Executive Search industry, I also look at this from a recruiting service provider perspective. Taking part in a recruiting process as a candidate is the most personal and sensitive experience.  You take part in perhaps many interviews, where you try your best to give a good impression – checked, monitored, tested by several people, who evaluate if you have got what it takes and if you fit their expectations. It is not at all irrelevant how you feel treated during this process.

 

Becoming the winning candidate in a recruiting process gives a positive customer experience to anyone. But, what about the other finalists, who also did their best, wanted the job but did not make it. What about the candidates who did not even make it to the final. Everyone understands that this is a "competition" and that there can only be one winning candidate. Still, it is natural to feel disappointed not getting something you maybe wanted much. Therefore, it is essential to pay attention to them too getting a good customer experience. It is not as difficult as it may sound. Three things. Firstly: I believe everyone appreciates to be notified soonest possible in the recruiting process when a decision regarding them has been made, one way or another. At best, by phoning them in person, giving them a chance to discuss the matter shortly. Secondly: You can always choose your words, but people expect you to tell the truth behind your decision.  Thirdly: No one understands if all you get is a letter three months later, informing you that "Sorry, we chose a better candidate. Thanks and have a good day." Unfortunately, not a very uncommon practice.

 

We all make mistakes. I too, have made my share of mistakes in my time. If you make a mistake, simply put - if you mess things up, what you do is you call the other party concerned immediately and inform about this. Besides being the only right thing to do, this is how you build trust. This is also called good customer service. Never hold back or try to hide this kind of information. Your "customer" may not like what he/she hears, but I can promise your "customer" appreciates you contacting him/her and usually gives you a second chance without any hard feelings. And then, when you make everything right again, you build even more trust. It is in stormy waters that we are truly tested.

 

I advise everyone to pay attention to their customer experience when interacting with companies and people in general. Some are in it just for money and fame and could not care less about you. And never land a job in a company mistreating you in the recruiting process. Your customer experience is an indication of how they appreciate you – or do not. Of how they appreciate their employees – or do not.

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