7 Body Language Job Interview Mistakes

As I sat at the reception waiting to be called in for my meeting with the CEO, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the interview that was going on in the conference room a few steps away from where I sat. I turned my head slightly to the right so I could see their silhouettes through the milky glass walls.

The candidate was obviously nervous as her voice was several decibels higher than normal. I couldn’t hear the questions the interviewers asked her but from her responses I could guess what they were. She kept fidgeting and apologizing because she was ‘under the weather’ and would give a shy laugh every now and then. I couldn’t help but notice the mistakes she made at the interview.

I came across this infographic that totally encapsulates my thoughts about mistakes most people make at interviews.

If you have an interview or a series of interviews lined up, this information can be what helps you land the job. You could also share it with family and friends who will benefit from it.

 

Photo credit: E-Learning Infographics

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Setting the Tone of A Workplace: What Makes A Healthy & Happy Workplace?

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In their ground breaking book, The Discipline of Market Leaders, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema gave the concept of strategic style an exciting new twist.

Organizations are classified according to the type of value they sought to present to the market place. Each discipline had its own ideal type of organizational structure, type of employee and culture.

In my experience, improper mixing of the elements of strategic styles can have a dramatic impact on the look and sound of a workplace.

I had the opportunity to experience a workplace that seemed to have a perfect mix of organizational structure, type of employee and culture according to their strategic style.

You could feel the positive energy radiating from the foyer. The company was located on the 5th floor yet you could sense their presence all the way from the ground floor. As I stepped into the elevator, a smiling face greeted me, asking how I was. The young man was clad in a blue t-shirt with the company logo branded on the front. I couldn’t help but grin back as I responded. The company had recently moved into the building and hosted guests to a little ‘office warming’ party.

As I walked into the reception, I could hear the hum of activity which reminded me of the workers in the film, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I was guided from the reception and was given a tour of the office. It was such a happy place to be – the people, the ambience, the colorful walls and aesthetic furnishings.

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The tour guide described the significance of each office we passed and how most employees go home late because they get lost in the exhilarating environment. The jovial ambience was infectious as I found myself being excited for no particular reason.

As I mulled over that experience and the numerous offices I have been opportuned to visit, I was able to identify some pointers that indicate a company has a healthy and happy workplace.

 

Employees are given the tools to do the job

When employees are given a task or responsibility without the right tools, data or equipment at their fingertips, it can be frustrating and demoralising. It might also turn out to be symptomatic of deeper problems within the company. Most times employees who don’t have the necessary tools for the job tend to face some form of stress or anxiety and if left unchecked, it might turn into despondency and ultimately a lack of respect or care for the company they work for.

Employees are encouraged to give their best

Employees who are assigned roles they are good at, often tend to be happy. Using your skills to the best of your ability enables you to do a good job and feel more fulfilled. There is also less resentment among staff who feel they could do the job better than their colleague.

They receive recognition for the good work they do

Putting in a lot of work and getting recognition for the extra effort you put in is an important factor when it comes to happiness on the job. Employees who work under a boss who praises and motivates, rather than constantly finding faults are a lot happier.

They are treated as people, not just employees

Companies need to look beyond the tasks their employees perform and find ways to create an atmosphere that isn’t just about work but also about the welfare of the team as a whole. Work-life balance is also very important as most people have to juggle responsibilities at home and in the workplace.

Staff retention

On the whole, a firm with a high turnover of staff is unlikely to be a happy one. Job progression is also very important and can be linked with staff turnover. Do staff need to move on in order to move up, or can they progress within the firm?

Everyone at the office feels the same

When everybody on the team is happy, they work together as a team and socialise naturally with each other. There’s less tension and people are allowed to voice their opinions, thoughts and ideas.

How happy do you feel at your workplace? Please share your experience in the comments section below.

Look out for my next article on why some workplaces are dull and how to remedy such situations.

The New Kid On The Block

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We were expecting a new colleague to join the team at Human Edge. As I listened to the various arrangements being made for her arrival and smooth assimilation into the firm, my thoughts strayed to my own first days on my very first job.

I was a rookie industrial relations officer assigned to work at the giant Gulf Oil Company (now Chevron Nigeria Limited) oil terminal at Escravos, near Warri in Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta region. The role was a newly created one. In 1980, the Nigerian oil industry was characterized by tense industrial and employee relations. Shut-down strikes and work-to-rule protests were the order of the day and the oil majors in the country were desperately seeking solutions to a problem that threatened to spiral violently out of control.

Gulf Oil had a unique problem in this respect. The Escravos terminal, from where most of the company’s crude oil exploration and production activities were coordinated at the time, was located in a remote area along the coast that could only be accessed by sea or by air. Flights to the terminal stopped at 6.00 p.m each day and inbound flights typically didn’t arrive before 9.00 a.m in the morning. This, of course, was music to the ears of the company’s unions. It meant that a strike could be called late in the evening after the last flight for the day had come and gone, and production could be halted for nearly 12 hours before anyone from head office in Lagos could fly in to try to negotiate with the striking workers. To an oil-producing company such a loss of production time could be very costly and the unions were determined to maximize the leverage they could exert whenever industrial action was planned.

To counter this threat and to give itself a greater chance of nipping potential trouble in the bud, Gulf Oil management decided to establish an industrial relations unit at Escravos itself. The unit would consist of two industrial relations officers who would alternate in seven-days on, seven-days off shifts just like their operational counterparts. Their brief would be to pay regular visits to all operational locations in the Escravos/Warri operational area, including the offshore rigs and platforms, in a bid to pro-actively deal with front-line grievances, identify policy issues that needed to be referred to Lagos, and generally take the pulse of the workforce from time to time.

This was to be my job for the next three years, and if it sounds like a dream job for someone fresh out of national service, you’d be right.

My partner was Joe Odunuga, a somewhat older gentleman who’d been a prominent member of the junior staff union before being promoted into the senior staff cadre and transferred to the industrial relations department where he could bring his wealth of union experience to bear on behalf of management. Despite the differences in age and education between us, Joe quickly became my mentor and friend, and never failed to make his deep industrial relations knowledge and experience available to his rookie partner without reservation.

It was a tough first job to have, but I eventually came to love every minute of it. However, in time I moved on from my industrial relations role at Escravos and eventually left the company altogether. It had been a very exciting time of my life and I remember feeling rather relieved that there had been no major incidents on my watch, a fact I attributed more to a healthy dose of luck than to any great performance on my part.

My erstwhile partner, Joe, continued in his Escravos role for a few more years. He then retired, but sadly died a few years after leaving the company. A year later, I attended a remembrance ceremony in his honor and that should have been the end of the story of Joe and myself; little did I know that there was to be one more twist in the story, a twist that would leave a lasting impact on me both as a person and as a manager.

Shortly after Joe’s remembrance service I visited some ex-Chevron colleagues, all of whom had been at Escravos around the same time as Joe and myself. While we were reminiscing, one of them casually remarked on the unusual friendship that had developed between Joe and myself, and how surprised he’d been that the week before my arrival at Escravos, Joe had taken it upon himself to visit all the operational locations to inform them of my appointment and to appeal to them not to give his new partner any hassles, but rather to reserve any contentious issues for when he would be on duty.

Wow! I always knew that Joe was a large-hearted fellow who went out of his way to be as helpful as he could, but surely his actions had gone well beyond what might be expected in trying to help a new colleague find his feet as quickly as possible. I felt humbled, and there and then I decided that I too would always try to go beyond the expected to help a new colleague have only the most pleasant experience when joining any organization I was a part of.

I suspect we’ve all come across a ‘Joe’ at some point in our careers. Someone who went out of his or her way to unselfishly make us feel welcome in a new job and to help make those first few days just a little less daunting. Now, its your turn. See if you can identify that new kid on the block who could do with a friendly hand and then look for a way to make an unsung contribution to his or her progress. I suspect you will discover the same thing as my good friend Joe, all those years ago – when everything’s been said and done, the true beneficiary of your act of kindness will be you.

Good luck.

**The New Kid on the Block was first published in 2010. 

Early Career Blues: Why Quitting Your First Job Isn’t Always the Best Option

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These days, I seem to be meeting quite a lot of people in their mid-20s and early 30s who want to quit their jobs.

Now, I know that times are hard and there’s quite a bit of stress flowing freely around the workplace, but I’m beginning to wonder if unrealistic expectations and a failure to understand the true nature of working life aren’t the real reasons why so many young people are feeling increasingly disenchanted with their jobs.

To illustrate my poimages (1)int, lets take a look at my most recent visitor, a rather pleasant young man who I’ll call Tony for now.

Tony graduated with honors from a well-respected Nigerian university before proceeding to the UK where he picked up an MBA from a prestigious business school.

On returning home, he served his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) with a fast-growing Telecommunications company. On completion of his service year, he was offered a job in the company’s marketing department. He quickly established himself as one of the company’s young guns and, with an early promotion under his belt, he soon came to be regarded as one to keep an eye on.

However, as things sometimes go, much of Tony’s rapid rise to prominence appeared to have been down to his working in a top performing team headed by another high-flier who took a shine to him. It also helped that the team itself had the good fortune to be handling a number of fairly active accounts.

A few months before our meeting, Tony’s boss and mentor had been re-assigned elsewhere within the company and his new manager was obviously not quite as enamored with Tony as her predecessor.

A shake-up of the team’s account portfolio had resulted in Tony losing some of his best performing accounts in return for some newly acquired accounts with seemingly rather dodgy prospects.

As you can imagine, Tony was less than pleased with this development. His vigorous protestations soon led to fiery confrontations with his manager and relations between the two quickly deteriorated. Now, Tony was sitting in my office wondering if he ought to be looking for a new job.

“Perhaps” I said, “but before we accept that all is lost, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

First, I asked him if he thought the organization he worked for had stopped being a good place to work? “No”, he said quietly, “the company is doing quite well and overall prospects for the immediate future seem quite promising.”

“Okay” I said, “What did your new manager actually say when you complained about the recent shake-up of accounts?” He thought intensely for a moment and then said “Well, she said I was one of her top marketers and that she felt my skills were better utilized in trying to raise the performance of the new accounts she’d assigned to me rather than baby-sitting my old accounts.”

“I see. So is it possible that she might actually have believed that handing you the more difficult accounts in the portfolio was actually a way of recognizing your abilities and encouraging you to stretch yourself a bit?” Tony grudgingly acknowledged that this was indeed a possibility.

I had one more question for Tony. “Do you have any doubts that you can turn these so-called ‘dodgy accounts’ around” I asked? “No, I know I can do it, but I feel I’ve already paid my dues. I worked really hard on my old accounts and it just isn’t fair that they were handed over to other members of the team who had put in far less than me.”
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I let Tony feel hard done by for a little while longer and then enquired if he was ready to listen to my take on the situation? When he nodded his assent, here’s what I told him:

  1. From everything he’d said so far, it appeared that Tony was fortunate to work in a company with strong growth prospects.
  1. In many ways, Tony had also been lucky to work for a high flier who believed in him at the start of his career with the company. Such ‘Super bosses’ often go out of their way to nurture and protect younger colleagues, and having a successful and demanding mentor had contributed immensely to Tony’s rapid career growth at a time when many of his peers were still struggling to establish themselves. Under such circumstances, it is easy to succumb to the erroneous belief that our success is due solely to our own abilities and not to recognize the helping hands of others.
  1. Over a long career, most people end up working with a number of different managers. The awful, painful truth is that some will be great to work with, while others may turn out to be our worst nightmares. Tony’s new boss, however, didn’t sound much like a nightmare at all. In fact, she reminded me of one of my best managers – a small, hard-nosed Indian Vice-President of indeterminate age. ‘MMB,’ as he was known, taught me nearly everything I know today about managing people. He was ultra-demanding in terms of performance, very thorough and had absolutely no qualms about telling you what he thought of your slightest slip-ups in no uncertain terms. Most of my colleagues and myself wondered if he had been an Army drill sergeant in an earlier incarnation. To be honest, my first few months with MMB were exceedingly painful. But, as the years have rolled by, I am increasingly appreciative of the fierce intolerance for any form of mediocrity, both in terms of efforts and results, which he displayed. If Tony’s new manager was anything like MMB, then he was truly blessed!
  1. In my experience, the best organizations tend to push us to the limits of our endurance, particularly at the early stages of our careers. The rewards for persevering and not quitting are usually real competence and a sense of quiet satisfaction that comes from recognizing that our true performance limits are actually much higher than we could ever have imagined.

As I shared my insights with Tony, I could see him relaxing and becoming more thoughtful. I didn’t have to ask him if he was ready to change his mind in any way about his situation; that was quite obvious. What I really wanted was for the decision to reconsider his intention to quit his job to be his alone, and one that he would make without any prompting from me or anyone else. So, I simply wished him well and asked him to stay in touch.
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Postscript

It didn’t take me long to discover that I ‘hated’ my first job as an industrial relations officer with an international oil company.

I didn’t like having to take a noisy, bumpy and frankly rather dangerous air trip twice a week. I certainly didn’t like being away from home for seven days at a stretch, twice a month; and I was quite sure that my boss, who was based comfortably in the company’s Lagos head office, was bent on killing me with his insistence that I undertake daily trips by helicopter to numerous offshore production platforms and drilling rigs.

To be honest, I was ready to quit after just three months in this horrible job. Fortunately a friend’s older brother, who had had worked on Wall Street at some time in his own career, talked me out of it. Along the way, he gave me some of the best advice of my life.

“Give it a year,” he suggested. “Everything tends to look difficult in one’s first year in a new job, because you’re encountering new things all the time. By the time you start your second year, you’ll have seen most things at least once and as you become more familiar with the job and its routines, things will get easier. Once that happens, I’m sure you’ll change your mind about quitting.”

He was right. By the end of my first year, assisted by a  great partner (see my earlier blog post, The New Kid on the Block), I was feeling much more at home with my responsibilities. By the end of the second year, I was positively in love with my job and beginning to understand just how lucky I was.

So, if you are experiencing the ‘early career blues,’ my advice is to hang in there. Things will get better. Trust me.

Career Advice for CIPM’s ‘Class of 2015’

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going the other way…”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. 

Liberal Arts graduates and lovers of English literature will be familiar with the famous opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities written by the English author, Charles Dickens (1812 -1870).

The peculiar writing technique employed by Dickens is known linguistically as anaphora, the deliberate repetition of a phrase at the beginning of consecutive clauses to achieve an artistic effect. It is also often used to illustrate or depict tension between two forces.

Now, you might be wondering what triggered off my adventure into the realm of linguistics and why I’m writing about it today? Well, a couple of weeks ago, two important events took place in the CIPM calendar. The first was the Investiture of Mr. Anthony Arabome FCIPM as the new President of the Institute’s Governing Council. The second was the Institute’s 19th Induction Ceremony for new Associate members. I wasn’t able to attend either event in person, but both were covered fairly extensively in the local media and as I browsed through the various newspaper reports I found myself reflecting on what might lie ahead for the new members as their careers unfold over the years. 

A Golden Age for the HR Profession in Nigeria

Some people believe people and HR management in Nigeria are entering a golden age in Nigeria. For example, enrollment into CIPM’s various certification programs witnessed an increase of over 35 percent between 2013 and 2014. Active membership has also risen steadily over the past few years and is now at an all-time high.

At the same time, HR has quietly taken its place among the critical organizational functions that must be resourced when a new enterprise is being conceived. Only the bravest organizations today are prepared to sally forth into turbulent economic waters without some form of human resource management presence.

The growing importance of HR has increased the dynamics of demand and supply in the labor market, and so it is perhaps hardly surprising that the profession has become a well-regarded career destination for increasing numbers of talented people who might previously have opted for other disciplines.

Proliferating Entry Points, Several Paths to the Top

Another interesting development over the past few years has been the growing diversification of entry points into an HR career. In my opinion, this has led to the emergence of three distinct areas of HR practice:

Corporate HR

Perhaps the largest group of practitioners can be found working in organizations in the public and private sectors of the economy. These are the human resources management specialists who give their organizations with a wide-range of in-house HR services.

Progression is usually from HR officer to HR director and may take many years to arrive in the top position. Interestingly, the concept of ‘cradle to grave’ employment with a single employer finally seems to have died a natural death and, with the possible exception of people working in the public sector, most corporate HR practitioners are likely to work for a succession of employers during their careers.

HR Consulting

Probably the fastest-growing segment of the profession, recent years have seen an explosion in the number of people working in one form of HR consulting or another.

The term itself is used somewhat loosely and now covers everything from the one-man independent consultant all the way through smaller entrepreneurial start-ups to the more established indigenous and foreign-affiliated consultancies employing comparatively large numbers of consultants. hrThe services provided vary from boutique or specialist consulting services to those of a more general nature.

Progression is typically from trainee/analyst to director and many consultants eventually end up founding their own firms and working for themselves. However, as with several other professions, there is a considerable amount of movement between corporate HR and HR consulting roles as practitioners seek to acquire varied experience and to optimize their earning capacity.

Regulatory HR

Globally, there is growing interest in ensuring that professionals in various fields of endeavor maintain proper standards of performance. In Nigeria, CIPM is the principal body responsible for developing and regulating the practice of human resource management in the country. In this capacity, CIPM works closely with practitioners in corporate HR and HR consulting. At the same time, the Institute is also expanding its service offerings and practitioners may now find themselves working in areas such as Professional Development, Learning and Development, Membership Services or Consultancy Services to name but a few.

Whereas it might once have been common for practitioners to move into regulatory HR at a later stage in their careers, today it is now seen as a viable career option for talented HR practitioners at both the early and later stages of their careers, testimony perhaps to the success that the Institute has had in developing its ‘brand’ in the eyes of the public.

Progression is typically from officer to director, and practitioners can expect to be moved around the various directorates as their careers progress

Each of the three entry points offers a different kind of work experience. For example, a successful career in HR consulting requires a willingness to accept the rigorous commercial demands that go with the territory. I often meet young people who are excited by the perceived glamour of being a consultant, but who are also totally unprepared for the demands involved in combining high-level technical skills with unrelenting business development and revenue generation expectations, not to talk of the significant work-life balance challenges that come with the job.

On the other hand, a career in corporate HR requires practitioners to develop the ‘political’ skills needed to succeed in large organizations. Although many young people often see this as a negative, I think that it should be recognized as an integral part of the job. Large organizations typically consist of equally large numbers of relationships that must be continually negotiated to do one’s duties effectively.

I’m less familiar with the realities of a career in regulatory HR, but I can already envisage the need for strong balancing and influencing skills on the part of practitioners who choose to work in this area. Here, the need is to be able to balance the temptation to coerce practitioners into enforced desired behaviors using the considerable powers enshrined in the Institute’s Charter with a sensitivity and feel for how to bring about lasting change through cooperation and collaboration.

Career Progression

So, now we have an idea of where the class of 2015 will probably start out their careers in HR. But, how might those careers progress over time?

At Human Edge, we use the 4-Stages Model of Career Development (see Figure 1 below) developed by Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson of Harvard University to identify key performance expectations for people at different career stages. Although the class of 2015 has most likely come from varied backgrounds and will almost certainly include people with different levels of experience, each new member can expect to enjoy a career that will at some time or the other require spending time in one of the following career stages:

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Figure 1: The 4 – Stages Model of Career Development

Stage 1. Apprentice. This is where most of us get our start in the profession, typically entry-level positions. The most useful thing we can do for ourselves is probably to learn how to be a good learner. Exercising patience and willingness to learn from just about anyone are the keys to success in this stage. Finding a job where you can learn from more experienced professionals might also be a good idea.

Stage 2. Specialist-Expert. At some point in our careers, we stop needing high levels of supervision. We are becoming specialists (and later experts) and are able to work largely independently. Our technical expertise and ability increase significantly, and we begin to enjoy a growing reputation for the quality of our professional work. What’s the best thing that can happen to us in this stage? Probably working with a supervisor or manager who believes in us and gives us the room to explore our abilities.

Stage 3. Manager. Our first managerial position brings about a qualitative change in the way and nature of the work we are expected to do. In my experience, most HR practitioners in this stage will experience one of the following scenarios. First, we may find ourselves supervising the work of one or more reports – typically apprentices and/or specialist-experts. Importantly, we are now expected to meet results through others and our personal ability to do the work is no longer as highly valued as before.

Some practitioners, however, will still find themselves flying solo. One-person HR departments are still quite common in smaller organizations and in such situations HR managers may have no direct reports of their own. Whilst there is some debate over whether such roles qualify for the designation, I personally have no doubt that these are true managerial positions. The goal is to work closely with line management to make sure consistent application of people or HR policies throughout the organization. Access to top management may remain limited in Stage 3 and our much of our contribution to organizational success will take place within our functional area.

Stage 4. Senior Executive/Advisor/Strategist. For most of us, this stage represents the zenith of our professional careers. Organizationally, we are now in a position to make a more strategic contribution to the organizations we serve. In particular, we will be expected to help top management to appreciate the HR implications of business initiatives and devise the most effective means of implementing corporate strategy. Most of us will also find ourselves being called upon to represent our organizations to key external groups on critical strategic issues.

HR work at this level can be deeply satisfying as we typically find ourselves with responsibility for preparing the organization’s future leaders. The demands of work in Stage 4 can be quite enormous but most people know that it’s usually a time of great personal satisfaction thanks to the depth and breadth of the impact we can have on our organizations and our local environment.

Time to the Top

The 4-Stages Model provides a useful template for monitoring our progress towards the top of our profession. Obviously, there is no standard timeline associated with movement through the different stages. Time, chance and ability will likely decide your progress.

However, progress within the Institute may be a little more predictable. Records show that, on average, it takes about 13 years to progress from Associate to Fellow – a minimum of six years as an Associate and a further seven years as a Full member before one can be considered for Fellowship. Movement through the various grades is not automatic and certain requirements must also be fulfilled.

careerSome Final Thoughts

I’ve been associated with the HR profession for close to 36 years. During this period I’ve worked in corporate HR and HR consulting. It’s been a very rewarding journey and I’ve met some very interesting HR professionals along the way (in my next post, I’ll share my thoughts about what I believe the very best have had in common).

I’m convinced that the class of 2015 has some unique advantages. For better or for worse, the deteriorating business environment will make their unique contribution even more valuable to current and prospective employers.

There are now more career options than ever. I suspect that ultimately some form of convergence will occur and that senior HR roles will increasingly be reserved for practitioners who have worked in all three of the areas outlined above. This means that more thoughtful career planning will become de rigueur for anyone aiming for the top.

Finally, I hope my brief my review of the stages through which an HR career progresses will have been sufficient proof that success in HR is like a fine wine that matures slowly. No shortcuts here, I’m afraid.

*This post was first published on July 24, 2015 on http://www.cipmnigeriablog.org   

What Are Your Financial Expectations?

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In an earlier post (Negotiating Win-Win Job Offers), I outlined some of the factors that I believe employers and their prospective new hires should consider when seeking to negotiate win-win job offers. While there are many factors to take into account, one of the most important decisions a candidate must make is where to pitch his or her salary expectations. Sadly, far too many people seem to have no real idea about how to set up realistic financial or salary expectations for a given job situation.

So, here are a few things you might want to take into account in arriving at your personal asking price.

First, if you have no real job experience and are new to the labor market, your educational qualifications will almost certainly play financea large part in determining how much you can expect to be paid in your first job. Generally, the better educated you are, the higher your starting salary will be. For example, the type of degree earned (i.e. graduate, post-graduate, MBA and so forth) and the colleges attended are usually major determinants of how much fresh graduates are offered. However, qualifications can influence the pay levels of more experienced people as well. With growing concerns over rising training costs and the negative impact of high levels of staff turnover, more and more employers are willing to pay a premium for new hires who can show evidence of having received extensive training somewhere else, presumably at another employer’s cost.

Second, consider how much your experience might be worth to a prospective employer. In most cases, the more specialized and relevant your experience, the more an employer will be willing to pay for your services. Bear in mind, however, that what really interests employers is the extent to which your experience translates into performance on the job. If you can show evidence of a successful performance track record, then you can probably raise your asking price another notch. Location can play a big part in determining how much you can realistically expect to earn. In Nigeria, jobs in Abuja, Lagos or Port Harcourt (the main urban and commercial centers) typically attract higher pay than elsewhere in the country. Internationally, assignments in New York or London will most likely be better remunerated than similar assignments in Madrid or Amsterdam.

In many multinational companies postings to certain locations are considered ‘hardship assignments’ and a premium added to the standard pay for the job in question. In a similar vein, the industry in which you are seeking work is often a key determinant of the level of pay available. At the moment, jobs in oil and gas, banking and finance, or telecommunications tend to be higher paying than similar jobs in other industries. Some jobs require relevant industry-specific experience, but for others no added value is attached to specialized expertise. Ask yourself if this is an important consideration in the job opportunity you are currently considering.

Third, recognize that the prevailing economic climate will inevitably impact the desire and willingness of a prospective employer to meet a given level of salary demand. Right now, even the best paying employers are taking a hard look at just how much they need to offer to attract, motivate and keep top talent. You may need to adjust your expectations accordingly. Do your homework. How much do other people get paid for doing the same or similar jobs in the organization in question? Most companies benchmark their pay against their industry peers or competitors. If you can’t get specific data from your prospective employer, perhaps you imagescan find out what the going rate is for people doing similar jobs within the peer group. All the factors listed above work together and it’s generally not a good idea to try to isolate any one of them.

You should look at a potential job offer through the filter of the factors discussed and then fix your financial goal. However, please remember that what makes a satisfactory offer overall may well include other elements of reward such as the work environment or learning and growth opportunities available.

Are you ready to make trade-offs where necessary to arrive at the best fit? Your goal should be to arrive at a win-win outcome for both yourself and your prospective employer, one in which both parties feel comfortable with the pay level ultimately arrived at. You should also try to avoid creating unrealistic expectations on either side. Failure to do so may sow the seeds of future dissatisfaction.

**What Are Your Financial Expectations was first published in 2010. The post offers useful advice to candidates trying to determine their financial expectations before entering into discussion with prospective employers.

Negotiating Win-Win Job Offers

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These days, I’ve come to dread the phone call from a client or candidate letting me know that yet another job offer didn’t work out.  Months of work can go down the drain in a moment, leaving all parties feeling frustrated, angry and bruised. Last week, the phone rang twice to announce the unsuccessful end of two major recruitment campaigns, hence my musings today on why so many recruitment assignments seem to stumble at the last hurdle – negotiating the job offer.

Although it’s always difficult to figure out why or where exactly twin winhings go wrong, I believe most of the  sticking points can be found in three key aspects of the negotiating process: the goals and assumptions held by prospective employers and candidates, their respective levels of preparation, and the approach taken to negotiating the job offer.  Here are a few tips on how both parties can  increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

1. Objectives

The Employer: the typical employer’s aim is to fill each vacant position with the best person that can be found, within a given time period, at the lowest cost.  How each of these requirements is presented will impact on the negotiations that follow.

To start with, an employer’s idea of the ‘best’ person for the job is usually laid out in a set of specifications called a job profile. The profile describes the responsibilities associated with the job and the type of person (i.e. in terms of qualifications, track record, and personal characteristics) most likely to be able to do them to the desired standard. Unfortunately, even the best job profiles rarely capture everything we would like to see in a candidate and sometimes represent more of a wish list than an accurate description of what is actually needed to do the job.

Similarly, most recruitment assignments recognize that there’s a finite amount of time that can be devoted to the search process. As a result, the ‘successful’ candidate who emerges from this process is essentially the best person that could be found within the time allotted to the exercise. Finally, the prospective employer is usually working within a set of financial constraints that influence how much can be spent on the search process itself, as well as how much can be paid to the successful candidate.

b. The Candidate: the typical candidate, on the other hand, hopes to secure the best job, within a given time period, offering the best rewards.  Here, too there are likely to be significant differences from one person to another about what makes up the ‘best job’ or  the ‘best rewards’. However, nearly everyone who sets out on a job search has some idea of the ideal time-frame within which the new job is to be secured.

In other words, both employers and candidates arrive at the point of negotiating a job offer with distinct goals that are more or less clarified. The extent to which each party believes the other can satisfy their primary aim has much to do with how the negotiations are ultimately conducted.

2. Assumptions

Both employers and candidates may make certain assumptions about the others’ intentions:

a. The Employer: all too often, employers assume that prospective employees are predominantly motivated by monetary considerations, thereby subscribing to the view that “everyone has a price”. This is an erroneous view. For example, many talented people are also fiercely career-oriented. Each potential job opportunity is assessed on the its ability to to contribute to various long-term career goals, not just financial gain. Some people are very particular about a potential employer’s reputation and the organization’s mission. Others are more concerned about the learning and growth opportunities the job may offer.

The failure to understand what motivates the person sitting across the table nearly always results in a job offer that simply ‘pushes the wrong buttons’. This is one area that I’d like to see greater collaboration between employers and their recruitment advisers since the latter often pick up information about a candidate’s deepest motivations during the preliminary interview phase, something that doesn’t always surface during the formal interview process.

b. The Candidate: this is tricky because everyone brings a unique set of assumptions to the negotiating table. However, many candidates, irrespective of age or experience, display a certain degree of naïvety. Such candidates often assume that a prospective employer will automatically have their best interests at heart. Now, please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not suggesting by any means that an employer deliberately sets out to harm or exploit a prospective employee during the negotiation process – not at all. However, as a candidate, it’s your responsibility to know what you want, to think about your strengths and achievements and to prove their value during the negotiation process.

3. Preparation

a. The Employer: I’ve already highlighted the need to ‘profile’ a candidate to identify his or her core interests and key motivators. This can be immensely helpful in putting together a  personalized employee value proposition. However, it’s equally important to assemble all relevant data about the candidate’s current job title and responsibilities, pay and so forth. I’ve seen  many job offers that were actually below a candidate’s current financial status, apparently for no other reason than someone on the employer’s staff “forgot” to check what the person was currently earning. This is sloppy work and creates a very poor impression of the employer’s organization.

Where no major hiring has taken place for some time, say six months or more, I usually recommend that an employer consider conducting a pay survey.  Having up to date data can help to moderate the shock employers often experience when they come face to face with the pay levels  now prevailing in the market. Employers  should also bear in mind that the candidate is someone they want to be an enthusiastic member of their team. Preparing a serious offer on time goes a long way to reassure a candidate that you mean business.

b. The Candidate: In addition, after the tips already given, it’s important to take the time to research a prospective employer thoroughly. What sort of organizational structure do they have? What’s the prevailing leadership style and overall culture? Where is the organization’s current pay positioned within the market? How much do people already performing a similar job or role earn? What sort of career progression can you expect? Virtually all companies have some sort of web-presence these days and you can also research the organization’s footprint through your local media. You have no excuse for not walking into a negotiation armed with as much information about your prospective employer as possible.

4. Approach to the Negotiation

Over time, organizations and people develop their own unique approaches to negotiating the job offer. However, even if you’re a veteran of the negotiating process, there are still a few things to be gainfully borne in mind:

  • Remember, this is a negotiation, not a battle. Both parties must come out of the negotiation feeling satisfied that their mutual goals are recognized. If either party feels bruised, cheated or exploited the offer is likely to be rejected or withdrawn. If either side succeeds in ‘ramming’ its way through, the long-term prognosis for satisfaction and productivity will be poor.
  • Be courteous. If there is one truism in business, it’s that you never know where you are going to meet someone again or need their help. Besides, recruiting is often described as the greatest sales process. Typically, both parties continue to negotiate right to the point that an employment contract is signed and even then the candidate still has to show up on the agreed date. Even if the deal eventually falls through, there’s always another day and I’ve certainly been the beneficiary of relationships developed with candidates who ultimately never took up my offer of employment.
  • Be flexible. I’ve seen serious employment offers rejected or withdrawn over seemingly insignificant issues. Differing interpretations or definitions of key elements of the reward package can lead to a breakdown in the negotiating process, so it’s usually a good idea to thrash out any areas of ambiguity at the beginning of the negotiations.
  • Consider discussing a tentative offer first. To avoid the sort of problems raised above, many employers prefer to first make a tentative offer in person or over the phone. I think this is a great idea. From the employer’s perspective, it allows for an early determination of the candidate’s seriousness and diminishes the risk of the offer being used as a bargaining chip with the candidate’s current employer. From the candidate’s point of view, it provides evidence of the employer’s interest and intent, and gives more time to consider the offer thoroughly before responding.
  • Most things are negotiable. Here are a few items that either party may legitimately bring up for discussion:

o   The expected date of reply to the offer

o   The expected date of resumption of employment

o   Proposed pay/compensation/salary

o   Fringe benefits (including benefits-in-kind)

o   Performance targets, bonuses and commissions/incentive pay

o   Promotion and merit pay

o   Probation period/early salary review

o   Indebtedness to current employer/take-over loans

Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but I think it gives an idea of the range of issues that an employer and a candidate should be able to discuss openly once a tentative job offer is on the table. Failure to do so can have dire consequences. Take the last topic on the list: indebtedness to the candidate’s current employer. Most employers are willing to ‘take-over’ a new employee’s outstanding liabilities as long as the indebtedness is discussed in advance. Surprisingly, many candidates never mention such indebtedness during the interview or negotiating process and so feel bitterly disappointed when their new employer refuses to take-over their outstanding loans.

Every day, thousands of employers and prospective employees  around the world negotiate their way through job offers without incident. Hopefully, thanks to my advice your future job negotiations will be equally successful.

**Negotiating Win-Win Job Offers was first published in 2009. The post offers useful guidance to employers and candidates trying to reach agreement on matters of pay.

Want to Attract Talent? Be Worthy, Be Known

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Employers around the world are becoming aware that the rules for finding and keeping top performers are changing rapidly. Fierce business competition and equally fierce competition for top talent mean that good people are becoming more mobile than ever. Indeed, it seems to have become standard operating procedure for many workers to keep their résumé permanently updated and in circulation.

Not surprisingly, this means that the people most likely to leave their jobs are those who can most easily find jobs elsewhere. Unfortunately for those whose businesses are struggling to meet intensifying competitive challenges, it also means that the people most essential to their future success – talented managers, knowledge workers and revenue producers –  are also the ones most likely to walk off.

Clearly, we are no talent managementlonger competing for just a larger share of the market, we are also competing for talent. In today’s talent market, the best people seem to have the upper hand and are exercising their right to choose the workplace in which they will deploy their talent. To be worthy of that choice, businesses have discovered that they must now offer much more than just good pay.

Talented workers are also insisting on ‘a good place to work.’ Typically, this involves more than just good pay and benefits; it also means a place that provides a welcoming work environment, creates opportunities for professional development and advancement, treats employees with respect and dignity, and enables them to feel valued, both as contributors to the organization’s success and as human beings.

Given a choice between comparably remunerated positions, an increasing number of high potential people are indicating a preference for organizations that offer the greatest opportunities to develop and do their best work. Obviously, this trend must be kept in perspective. A business that is foundering or heading towards bankruptcy will certainly have a difficult time competing for talent, no matter how wonderful its internal culture.

Nevertheless, its obvious that the long–term success of any organization is now heavily dependent on its ability to recruit and keep the best talent, and to enable its people to develop to their highest potential. The term ‘employer of choice’ is commonly used to describe a company whose status and reputation as a great place to work, make it the first choice of top class people.

Ongoing research suggests that organizations that are able to attain this status enjoy certain advantages. To start with, the greater the public awareness of an organization’s reputation as an employer of choice, the greater the pool of talent it will attract and have to draw upon. This, in turn, should help to make the search for top talent more of a selection process. Finally, the increased quality, value or performance of better people combined with expected savings on recruitment costs should, in turn, more than repay any costs associated with the process of becoming and remaining an employer of choice.

Some Key Issues

For reasons similar to those identified above, an increasing number of organizations are choosing to identify with the employer of choice strategy. Unfortunately, as with so many deceptively simple concepts, it is not so easy to convert theory into practice. We believe there are a number of reasons for this.

First, there is growing recognition that to compete for market share, an organization must first compete for talent share i.e. those talented future leaders, knowledge workers and producers who will enable the organization stay competitive. The decision to become an employer of choice is a strategic commitment.

Second, becoming an employer of choice requires employers to see their people as valuable assets, to invest in them as assets that can appreciate in value, and to treat them as human beings who have a range of personal and professional needs or preferences, and who can walk out of the door if those needs and preferences are not satisfied.

Third, and most important, there areEmployer of choice two elements involved in becoming an employer of choice – being worthy and being known. As we have already seen, being a worthy organization requires policies and practices that support people in doing their best work and developing to their fullest potential, both professionally and personally. However, it is also important for organizations to be known and recognized for creating environments that enable people to succeed and to develop behaviors and skills that will position them for greater success in the future.

It seems likely that to be well-known, but not particularly worthy might create a discrepancy between people’s expectations or experiences that could ultimately lead to the loss of high performers whose expectations are not being met. On the other hand, to be worthy but not particularly well-known would also be largely ineffective as it would result in the organization’s failure to leverage a critical success factor i.e. having the best people. We believe both of these elements are necessary to attract the most desirable people to the organization. Neither is enough on its own.

Human Resource Managers Have a Critical Role to Play

Creating a worthy organization or employer of choice isn’t the responsibility of Human Resources (HR) alone. In fact, I would argue that the intention to do so begins with the owners of the business and devolves through the Board of Directors down to the Chief Executive and his or her management team. Nevertheless, much of the day-to-day implementation of management strategies required to meet this lofty goal will eventually fall into the lap of HR.

Fortunately, today’s HR managers understand the vital role they must play. Their preferred weapon of choice is the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) i.e. the set of organisational values and people practices that are used to positively answer the unspoken question from current and prospective employees alike –  “Why should I (continue to) work for you?”

At the heart of the EVP concept is something that all HR managers would do well to keep in mind: talent always has options, always has a choice.

What the Best Human Resource Leaders All Have in Common

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As a Human Resource (HR) practitioner and management consultant, I’ve met my fair share of HR leaders. Most are dedicated professionals trying to do their best under often difficult organizational conditions. A few, however, have been able to reach loftier heights. These are the HR leaders who are able to make a lasting contribution to the long-term success of their organizations.

While the people I’m referring to may vary greatly in terms of age, gender or personality, they also share three traits that I’m convinced play a role in facilitating their extraordinary accomplishments.

Uncommon Leadership Ability

The etymological roots of the word ‘leadership’ are believed to have their origin in the Middle English word leden, meaning leadershipamong other things “to guide” or “to show the way or path.” Popular usage over the centuries seems to have adapted this definition to describe a leader as one “who goes first” or who “knows the way.”

All the top HR practitioners I know seem to have an innate sense of the direction in which they want to lead their organization’s people practices. They also have one other leadership quality in abundance – courage.

According to Winston Churchill (former British Prime Minister and revered war-time leader) “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities…because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” John D. Maxwell, an American expert on leadership and prolific author on the subject, also puts it well when he says “Great leaders have good people skills, and they can get people to compromise and work together. But they also take a stand when needed.”

As HR practitioners, we are often called upon to take a stand in our everyday work. We may find ourselves having to show courage by standing up to management colleagues over a new staff policy that we are convinced will cause unrest within the workforce. On the other hand, we might need to explain to employees why the organization can’t afford to introduce a much-desired new welfare benefit due to its financial position. In both cases, the best HR leaders are willing to step up and take a stand, even at the cost of personal gain or popularity.

Managerial Prowess

We’ve all met and perhaps worked with managers who “talk a good talk, but can’t walk a good walk.” Such managers typically lack managerial prowess or the ability to get things done. This is particularly challenging when the manager in question happens to be an HR leader himself.

Fortunately, the best HR leaders are invariably very good managers. They take the time to plan their moves, think hard about how best to organize the work that needs to be done, know how to get the best out of their people, and don’t take their eyes off the ball until the results they want have been accomplished.

The top HR leaders are also very effective communicators. By this I don’t just mean that they have a superior ability to speak well or even to give the odd downloadinspirational speech, although many of the HR leaders I’m describing do have superb interpersonal skills. Rather, I’m referring to their innate ability to ‘create understanding’ whenever they must communicate with others. Whether they are explaining management’s position on a particular issue to employees or helping management colleagues to appreciate the employee perspective on a contentious new policy or program, the best HR leaders know exactly how to make sure that everyone involved “gets it.” It’s a rare quality that all good leaders share, but one that has added significance for the effective HR practitioner.

One of the best HR managers I ever worked with had an uncanny ability to constantly show me the big picture of our work while somehow managing to give guidance in even the smallest areas of detail.

I believe such managers are able to inspire tremendous effort on the part of those they lead for exactly this reason – they keep you looking upwards and trying to be your best self all the while providing you with the support you need when you run into difficulty. No little ‘Black Book’ for them.

Soft Hearts and Hard Heads

It’s often assumed that the most important qualifications for working in HR are the innate desire to ‘work with people’ and good ‘people skills.’ Indeed, many parents, teachers and career counselors still offer well-meaning career advice based on the extent to which they believe their children or wards have these very qualities.

Imagine, then, the surprise and sometimes utter dismay of many new entrants into the profession when they are rudely introduced to the “Realpolitik” of HR in many organizations.

Today’s top HR leaders may well be humanists at heart, but they are also realistic enough to recognize that they must be seen to play their proper role in ensuring that the organization is battle-ready. In practice, this means that the best HR leaders are keenly aware that management’s primary responsibility to employees is to create an enabling organizational environment for personal opportunity. Once this has been done, it then becomes HR’s responsibility to support employees who are willing to grasp the opportunities created or to rapidly replace those who can’t or won’t.

There’s a great admonition from Richard S. Sloma, author of No-Nonsense Management, that I try to keep close to heart: “One should manage an organization as nature would by showing neither malice nor pity; abhor a vacuum, whether of power or action.”

In the end, the best HR leaders are almost indistinguishable from any other leader within their organizations. They all share a burning desire to build a winning organization by practicing good management principles. The difference between them raceand the average HR practitioner lies in their ability to balance a hardheaded approach to business with the know-how required to get the best out of people by creating the right organizational environment.

Conclusion

It would be impossible to describe the many facets of all the great HR leaders I’ve been privileged to meet over the years. However, the differences are often more about style than function, and I believe the three traits described above will, if practiced diligently over time, equip the serious-minded practitioner with a set of skills that will stand him or her in good stead no matter the organizational circumstances.

Aptitude Testing in Nigeria: Is There a Better Way?

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The use of aptitude testing is widely employed as a key step in the recruitment process of many large corporations. The goal is to improve hiring decisions and reduce the cost of hiring mistakes.

Unfortunately, the field of Psychometrics (i.e. the technical term used to describe the scientific measurement of mental traits, abilities and processes that is underpins all psychological testing) is quite complex. As a result, there is growing concern over the largely unregulated and often inappropriate use of psychological testing in the workplace.

In this very interesting post Opeoluwa Ojo, a former Human Edge consultant who now works with the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, Nigeria takes a personal look at one of the most common applications of psychological testing, the aptitude test. Enjoy. Ope

Aptitude Testing In Nigeria: Is There a Better Way? by Opeoluwa Ojo, ACIPM

During a recent conversation with a friend, discussion turned to our mutual experiences with the use of aptitude testing for employment purposes. My friend strongly believes that as a Communication Arts graduate, when she sits for an aptitude test in Nigeria, she is usually put at a clear disadvantage by the emphasis on testing numerical aptitude adopted by many employers.

Reflecting on my experience and those of other friends, I can certainly empathize with her. Our reactions have typically ranged from “How on earth do they intend to test our abilities with this?” to “Okay, this seems fair.”

Now, you might think that what the person being tested thinks of a test has nothing to do with his or her performance on the test. Perhaps, but if there’s one thing that HR professionals now acknowledge, it’s the fact that talented people still have a say about where to deploy their abilities. So, developing a screening process regarded as fair by all concerned should be a key part of an organization’s employee value proposition.

Back to our subject, I believe the main problem with the aptitude tests I’ve been subjected to is the assumption that “One size fits all.” Irrespective of the job or role in question, the type of test employed rarely seems to change.

Unfortunately, I believe this position runs contrary to current best practice in the field of psychological testing. Indeed, current thinking recognizes aptitude tests as tools that are used to decide a person’s abilities and competences to do a given job. Furthermore, tests should be designed and employed judiciously using proper scientific methods as part of the broader recruitment process.

With this in mind, I suggest that organizations reconfigure their use of aptitude testing when assessing potential fresh entrants into the workforce along the following lines:

Step 1: Apply a General Aptitude Test: These type of tests should be able to test the general thinking abilities of candidates; they can also be used to assess candidates in one or more of the following knowledge areas:

  • General Knowledge/Current Affairs: Topics that an average University graduate would be expected to be familiar with
  • Residual Knowledge: Topics that candidates would normally become familiar with over a period of learning
  • Simulation/Scenario Based Knowledge: simulations that help to show the thinking patterns and likely behavior of candidates in particular job-related situationsaptitude testing

General Aptitude tests help to reduce the likelihood of some candidates having an undue advantage over others by focusing on their general thinking abilities and not their technical abilities

Step 2: Next, Apply a Specialized Test: Specialized tests seek to assess a person’s technical abilities. They recognize that different jobs require different competencies for best performance. Consequently, it is important to design specialized tests according to the particular job or role in question.

Step 3: Conduct a Personal Interview: Typically, personal interviews are used to assess candidates’ interpersonal skills, educational background and so on. They can also help to assess the fit between the candidate and the organization in terms of values, character and other personal characteristics.

Recent research reports suggest that a growing number of corporations are moving away from their former heavy reliance on aptitude testing towards a more balanced suite of screening techniques to identify top candidates for their graduate/management trainee programs. Hopefully, this practice will become more widespread in the future.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m all for aptitude testing when it’s used properly (i.e. right time, right place, and right content). My argument is simply that employers must do a better job of matching the tests they use to the real aptitudes they are seeking to measure. If they do, I am confident the accuracy of their selection decisions will improve and so will their organizational performance.