Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

August 2, 2011

Are You Too Old to Get Hired?

Filed under: Employees and Human Resources — Tags: , , — Mike Van Horn @ 4:48 pm
My response to BNET post by Suzanne Lucas, the “Evil HR Lady,” on 7.29.11 advising older workers (over 40!) how to get hired, when they likely face tacit age bias.
Here’s another suggestion: Look at job opportunities in smaller companies. I advise owners of small and growing businesses. Few of them are UNDER 40. When hiring for professional-level jobs, they want the best professionals. These owners have often been burned by younger employees, many of whom have poor work habits (e.g., spending too much work time on the iPhone), and an unrealistic viewpoint on job perks and advancement.

Here’s what these owners look for in a candidate. Many older people have a strong edge in these:
— Know the ropes. Good work ethic.
— Professional demeanor and appearance.
— Ability and willingness to master new systems and technologies. Not Facebook and Twitter, but accounting and inventory control.
— Practical experience handling varied situations. Not just book learning.
— Strong customer service personalities. Customers like maturity. So do vendors.
— Used to taking initiative, solving problems, and then telling how they solved it. Not asking how to handle every unfamiliar thing.
— Likely to stick around. Not constantly shopping their resume around.
— Seen as a wise and mature person by other employees, especially subordinates.
— Kids are older or grown. Fewer sudden absences because little Johnny has the sniffles.
— Can see the managerial picture. Good understanding of what the owner is up against. Able to take the viewpoint of the company, rather than acting like a “shop steward.”

Many owners I work with are looking for a strong #2–someone with the capability of taking a leading position in the company, to free the owner up to focus on strategic concerns. One of my clients recently hired a woman in her late 40s to become the ops manager of her 10-person company. They are now negotiating for the manager to buy her out, so my client can retire.

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August 13, 2010

Neglecting HR Costs CEO $1,000,000+

Here’s a story with a moral. A business owner was driving her red Beemer convertible along a beautiful stretch of straight road, when a four-way stop intersection came into view.  Her passenger saw the rapidly approaching sign and said, “Do you see the stop sign?  Are you going to stop?”  She replied, “ I see it.  I understand the law.  But there is no other car coming from any direction within my view.  I think I won’t stop.” And they continued on.

A bit later a second business owner, alone in his Lexus, came along and drove right through the intersection.  Unfortunately, a CHP car was hidden behind a boulder, stopped him, and said, “Sir, you ran that stop sign.”  The owner replied,  “What stop sign?”

This illustrates the plights of two CEOs that have made the news recently.

1. A civil suit for discrimination was filed in a California court against Lucasfilm by a woman who had received a job offer, then before her start date informed the company she was pregnant. She claimed that in response to this news the company representative who had hired her kept pushing back her start date, finally withdrawing the job offer, just because she was pregnant.

As you know from your Unlawful Harassment training (ahem), discrimination against a person who is pregnant is sexual discrimination and unlawful harassment under both federal and state law. And can any businessperson honestly say that he or she has not heard of unlawful retaliation – and that withdrawing a job offer after a prospective employee tells you she is pregnant sure quacks like the retaliation duck?

George Lucas, head of the company, was called to testify in the suit and basically said “Huh?” when asked how this could happen.  He indicated that he really did not get involved in hiring decisions on that level, had had no interaction with the claimant, and left all those matters to his staff.  His testimony didn’t do the Lucasfilm case much good, and the woman was awarded a judgment of over $120,000 and her high-profile attorney will be pursuing recovery of legal fees over the million dollar mark.

Based on what was reported, I presume that Lucas illustrates a dangerous mindset.  Why was some project manager, aided by a “personal assistant” of Lucas, in charge of hiring at such a high-visibility company?  Had that person been trained in lawful interviewing, job offers, discrimination law?  Why was the process not in the hands of a well-trained HR professional? Did Lucas permit a culture of disregarding HR in deference to operational or financial pressures?  As head of the company, Lucas is responsible for everything that happens even if he never lays eyes on an applicant.  It seems like an expensive lesson that should have been learned much sooner, and should have become part of the organization’s culture early on.

2. The second incident involved the head of Joie de Vivre properties, Chip Conley.  In addition to being an astute and visionary businessperson, he is somewhat of a free spirit.  He posted some less-than-conventional  (although not risqué or objectionable) photos of himself at Burning Man on his Facebook page.  His HR Director gave the opinion that the photos were “a cause for concern” and advised they be removed.  Conley listened, considered the opinion, and then decided the pictures stayed posted as per his philosophy of life and business.  So far, no ill effects have emerged from the decision; but if they had, it would have still been an informed decision and a considered risk taken.  It seems clear that Conley expected his HR person to be his trusted advisor and partner in ensuring the safety and prosperity of his operations –and therefore to speak freely about possible hazards to that safety, advise how to address them, and to have the serious and respectful attention of the CEO when such matters are brought up.

Now for a short quiz:  Based on the two drivers described in my story, which one was Lucas and which was Conley?  Which are you?

B.J. Van Horn is Senior Professional in Human Resources at The Business Group. She helps CEOs and other top execs avoid such expensive lessons.

October 5, 2009

How Can Small Business Compete for Top Talent with Large Corporations

(From question in Small Business Forum)

Let me count the ways!

Small companies have many advantages in attracting top people. Here are a few. (I work with owner-run firms from 5 to 100 employees.)

— Shorter commute. One 50-person client just hired a COO for $120k who’d received a $150k offer from a corporation in the city. He opted for a local 10-minute bike commute over the hour+ daily grind each way. He figured the extra two hours a day added to his life was worth $30 grand a year.

— More opportunity. Another client hired a GM away from a much larger competitor. The guy saw that he’d reached the top where he was, and in the new job, he’d get to lead a major growth push. Big fish in a smaller pond.

— Less travel. Many professionals in their 40s and 50s switch to smaller, local firms because they’re tired of constant travel they’ve had in their corporate jobs.

— Flexibility. “Yes, we can bend your schedule around your kids’ soccer games.”

— More diverse opportunity. They see they’ll get to take on a much greater variety of projects and responsibilities.

— Get to work directly with the principals. Small companies may be headed by much more innovative and leading-edge people, and it’s a great opportunity to work with them.

— Less corporate bureaucracy and politics.

— Un-retired. Here’s a big growing trend: Senior people retire from the corporation, then go to work for smaller companies. They trade less money for lower stress and flexible hours. The oldest guy working with us is in his mid 70s.

Attracting top people is a marketing job. You must look at your company through their eyes, see what you offer that will attract them, and how you can make yourself more attractive. It’s about much more than just offering more money.

However, many small business owners discover that the people they’ve lured away from large organizations aren’t a good fit. These people may be accustomed to narrower duties, superiors telling them what to do (thus uncomfortable taking initiative), having a lot of support staff (thus not resourceful at getting things done). But by far the worst quality is exhibiting “employee mentality” rather than the “entrepreneur mentality” needed in a small, dynamic firm. And I’m talking about top-level managers!

So it’s essential to make sure that the “corporate escapees” you hire are comfortable in your small business culture.

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