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Why Failure is Good for your Employees

April 13th, 2018

You’re been coaching your team of employees for a while now, and you’ve recently watched them put together a project for which they’ve pulled out all the stops. They’ve stayed late, they’ve demonstrated teamwork, and they’ve brought all of their hard-earned skills to the table. They’ve done their very best on their respective parts of the project. And they’ve utterly failed.

The disappointment is palpable, and the dark cloud in the office is fanning the flames of blame, mistrust and recrimination. The failure was so epic that some members of the team are rethinking their talent for this work and others are thinking of leaving the company. So as a manager, what should you do? Should you yell at them? Should you tell them they should have tried harder? Or should you view this as a valuable teaching moment? Consider the last option. Here’s why.

They are upset because they care.

Deep disappointment after failure is a strong sign of engagement, which should always be valued and encouraged in the workplace. Remember that, and respect and appreciate that if your team is gloomy, embarrassed, or wracked with self-doubt after the episode, you (and they) are doing something right. If they just shrugged it off, you’d have more cause for concern.

Put the episode in an appropriate context.

If your company is solely driven by profit and sales, let your teams know that this is just business, and growth in business comes at a cost. The more you fail, the more you learn to face failure and move past it. When you don’t fail, you don’t learn and you don’t grow. If, on the other hand, putting things in a context deepens the pain of the loss (for example, if you work in a hospital instead of an office) take a philosophical approach. Get some help from relevant therapist or healthcare management expert if you need to.

Speak privately with those who are experiencing self-doubt.

Give special attention to the employees who believe they lost the day through their own mistakes or skill deficits. These employees, separate from the team, will need a cleared-eyed assessment from you. If they’re mistaken about their abilities, let them know. If they’re correct, help them bolster their areas of weakness with appropriate training, exposure, and advice.

Keep an eye out for toxic behavior.

These difficult moments present opportunities for bullies, back stabbers, blame-placers and credit stealers. When you see subtle signs from bad actors (those who push others under the bus or deny their own share of responsibility) don’t fall for it. Give credit where it is rightfully due.

For more on how to pick up the pieces after a failure and make the most of the episode from a management perspective, contact the staffing and coaching experts at Merritt Staffing.

Candidates: Prepare to Answer Questions About Past Employment

March 23rd, 2018

As you sit down with your prospective employer during your interview, you can expect to answer questions about the future; you’ll be asked what you want to do next, where you see yourself in a few years, and what you’ll contribute to the enterprise after you’re brought on board. But you’ll also be asked about the past, and your interviewers will want to know what you’ve been up to, and why, and for whom. Here’s how to handle questions about events you can’t change and decisions you’ve already made.

Don’t be relentlessly positive.

If your entire past comes across as one unbroken, blinding ray of sunshine and unmitigated success, your interviewers will naturally assume you aren’t providing the full story. In an interview, it’s better to let your honesty shine then your “success” (however you define that term). Managers are familiar with the type of smoke that gets blown in the interview setting, and they won’t be impressed by a candidate who seems never to have experienced a single mistake or setback. But they will be impressed by a candidate who tells an honest story, appears refreshingly self-aware, and feels comfortable with his or her unique set of likes, dislikes, strengths, and limitations.

Demonstrates these two core skills.

As a candidate, you’ll stand out if you can do two things, things that far too many candidates can’t do at all: connect and learn. If you can treat your interviewer as a friend and respected colleague who deserves to see you as you truly are, you’ll instantly set yourself apart. Small things like eye contact, honesty, engagement, and fearlessness can further this effort. You’ll also stand out if you show the ability to learn from mistakes and problems. If you cling to platitudes or myths instead of trusting your own experience and listening to what it tells you, you’ll have trouble gaining your interviewer’s confidence.

Stories carry more weight than explanation and exposition.

If your employer asks why you left a previous job, you can answer in either of two ways. You can explain, or you can tell a story. If you explain, you may say something like “I had no voice with upper management. I had useful ideas, but they were not implemented.” If you choose the other route, you’ll tell a story about a specific appearance of this specific workplace dynamic. Your story will leave a greater impact and last longer in your interviewer’s memory than your explanation. The same applies to questions about your accomplishments. Set the stage and tell the tale, don’t just share your accomplishment as if you’re reading it from a list.

For more on how to impress interviewers while describing your professional past, turn to the job search experts at Merritt.

Traits to Look for in Top Talent

March 9th, 2018

As an experienced manager, you already know that hiring is an expensive process, and you recognize the risks involved in making a serious hiring decision based on a simple resume review and a few rounds of 30-minute interviews. If you examine this limited data and make the right decision, you send your company down a path of growth and positivity. If you make the wrong choice, you can pay a high price only to end up with a struggler who contributes little and leaves within one calendar year. This simple choice comes with very high stakes. So how can you size up your candidate and make smart assumptions based on what you see? Look for these visible qualities.

Communication

Some hiring managers embrace a theory that goes like this: “Job skills” are all that matter, and any skills that fall outside a narrowly defined, job-specific list are irrelevant. A plumber needs to connect pipes, end of story. A data analyst needs to analyze data. A surgeon needs to use a scalpel– and nothing else– in order to do a good job. But buy into this logic at your own risk. If your candidate can hold up her end of a lively and interesting conversation, or if he can write a cover letter that grabs and maintains your respect, that’s a good sign. If he speaks in monosyllables, can’t write, and can’t make himself understood on the phone, those are all red flags regardless of the job description.

Adaptability

Great candidates (for any job) know how to keep things in perspective and recover quickly from surprises and setbacks. Don’t cancel or reschedule your interview at the last minute just to test a candidate’s ability to adapt (this is rude), but if you need to shift gears for unexpected reasons, observe how the candidate reacts. A last-minute meeting room change or a surprising question from left field can serve the same purpose. Great candidates take things lightly and stay on their feet.

Self-Motivation

It might seem nice to hire an employee who does exactly what he’s told, on time, every time. A can-do attitude and an obedient smile might seem invaluable, at least on the surface. But before you sign on with such a person, make sure he knows what to do when clear instructions are not forthcoming. Great candidates don’t just do what they’re told and then check out; they keep track of the company’s larger goals and they find productive ways to contribute, even when their bosses aren’t telling them what to do. Choose a candidate who can see the big picture and who will independently find ways to apply her skills and time.

For more on how to choose the candidates that are most likely to succeed in your workplace, contact the Stamford recruiting and management team at Merritt.

Employees: Make Yourself Indispensable

February 23rd, 2018

After a grueling job search, you’ve finally received an offer, and it’s one you can happily accept. Congratulations! Now it’s time to put that exhausting search behind you, prop your feet up, and take a well earned relaxation break. After all, your new employers have already indicated that they’re impressed with you and pleased to bring you on board. Mission accomplished! Right?

Not exactly. Instead of treating a job offer like a chance to relax, treat the next few months as an opportunity to insert yourself into a new system, weave your way into the social fabric, and quickly make yourself indispensable. Gain a foothold now, and you’ll thank yourself later— Especially on the day you miss a beat and you need to rely on your bank of established capital to protect you.

Meet everyone and remember their names.

Don’t just let yourself be introduced; make an effort to shake hands and exchange names with as many new faces as possible during your early weeks on the job. Say hello and greet people by name when you see them. Now is the time. Turn this minor gesture into a solid habit. As you walk around, keep your eyes up and your expression friendly.

Be responsive.

Especially at the beginning of your new job, respond to every message and call. Eventually this may become impossible, but keep up this expectation as long as you can. When you start to fall behind and delete messages as a matter of course, learn to filter and prioritize the messages from those who need you most. But at the beginning, give everyone a chance to experience your best and most responsive self.

Don’t do everything.

You may have been advised never to use the phrase “that’s not my job”, and instead to rush forward eagerly, obey every command, and serve the needs of everyone around you, no matter what they ask. This is bad advice. Don’t roll up your sleeves and grab every single wrench or mop that’s handed to you; instead, prioritize the tasks that require your unique skill sets. First, do the things that nobody else can do. When you finish those, then move on to the areas in which you don’t excel, have minimal training, or aren’t as qualified. Your cheery can-do attitude won’t be welcome when you really can’t or shouldn’t handle the task in question.

Be kind.

Be kind to the busy manager who can’t give you clear instructions. Be kind to the frazzled direct report who needs a deadline extension. Be kind to the rude person in the hall who rushes past you. Be kind to the client who needs help, even if they aren’t part of your account. Be kind to people who behave in ways you don’t understand. You’re new here, and many of your questions will be answered in time. Your patience at this stage will serve you well later on.

For more on how to adjust to your new job and make the most of your first few weeks, contact the career management experts at Merritt.

What Role Does Culture Play in Retention?

February 9th, 2018

For the sake of your business, and for the sake of its long-term health and sustainability, you want your workforce to be happy. Job satisfaction isn’t just a nice perk that you, as an employer, hand out with benevolence; it’s a signature aspect of any successful and functional business. Of course you can still make money with a miserable team—some companies do—but not very much, and not for very long. Poor satisfaction means high turnover, and high turnover means high costs and low productivity.

Long story short: It’s hard to stay competitive when your employees sign on reluctantly and spend their short tenures with one foot out the door. And a positive, thriving culture can keep that from happening. Here’s how.

Culture works like a magnet.

The impact of a positive culture starts long before the hiring process even begins. When talented candidates hear about your workplace and are motivated to apply, your overall applicant pool begins to improve. Your average candidate becomes nicer, smarter, more reliable and more highly qualified. Why? Because the best candidates always have plenty of options, and they won’t reach out to a company with a weak workplace reputation. They want the best, and they know they’ll find a welcome anywhere they go.

Culture knits people together.

A positive culture doesn’t just attract great candidates; it attracts candidates who already fit in and belong. Why? Because happy employees want to bring their own friends, family, and trusted colleagues onto the team. When those highly qualified friends apply and join the organization, they won’t have to build every relationship from the ground up. They’ll have a pathway to trust already in place.

Culture is contagious.

Once the best, smartest, and friendliest people are encouraged to sign on, they spread their positive energy and personal example to everyone around them. There’s much talk of how a single bad apple can ruin the barrel—and there’s truth in that folksy wisdom—but the opposite is also true: One great hire can bring cascading benefits to the entire team. Even better, these benefits can last for years after the person leaves.

Culture means stability.

A great employee will leave an average workplace within about two years (and that timeline shortens significantly in a below-average, toxic workplace). But when the boss feels like a friend and coworkers feel like family members, good people stay. Sometimes they stay for a long time, and they may even turn down offers from higher paying competitors.

A better culture means better relationships with vendors, clients and partners, a better product, a general sense of pride, and an upward spiral that brings long term benefits to the bottom line. Learn more by contacting the staffing and management experts at Merritt.

Recruit Candidates Who Will Shine

January 26th, 2018

Experienced hiring managers know that a successful staffing process is built upon several pillars. In order to round out the year with a winning employee who started out as a top candidate, hiring managers need to focus an equal degree of attention on all the pillars: sourcing, recruiting, resume review, interviews, background checks, and finally, a smooth onboarding process. So for now, let’s isolate just one of the links that crucial chain: recruiting.

Once you’ve targeted a population of likely stars through your sourcing efforts, how can you encourage these potentially excellent candidates to apply? And just as important, how can you inspire them to feel genuine excitement about the company and the prospect of working there? Here are a few moves that can help you light a spark in a population of candidates who best poised to shine when they walk in the door.

Clearly separate your “must-haves” from your “pluses”.

Understand the nature of the job well enough to recognize the difference between needs and wants. To do this, you’ll need to communicate clearly with all stakeholders, including the future employee’s coworkers, boss, clients, and customers. Use appropriate channels to glean critical information from all of these corners. Then give the “must-have” skills and credentials top billing in your job post.

Ask the right questions—Not just smart questions.

Yes, you want a candidate who has a can-do attitude, a winning smile, high energy, and loads of loads of ambiguous brilliance and charm. But most of those aren’t real things. Take a closer look and shape your message around the actual candidate who you actually need. Instead of all-around “winner”, you probably need somebody who can design a marketing plan, code in XTML, or stand on his feet all day long. Maybe you need someone isn’t disgusted by a menial task, driven bonkers by unpredictable clients, or turned off by periodic episodes of lonely travel. Focus your targeting efforts around these specific needs. Can the candidate meet them or not?

Partner with a great recruiter.

Experienced, established recruiters make use of a wide network of contacts and an array of tools that can help them reach out to your target audience—and only your target audience. Using both online and real-world methods, our team can head out into the marketplace and bring back a wide pool of highly qualified candidates. Even better, we know how to target the prospects who are most likely to accept your offer, join the company, contribute, and stay.

For more on how to find and pursue the candidate population that best meets your needs, reach out to the expert CT recruiting team at Merritt.

If You’re Not Learning, You’re Falling Behind

January 12th, 2018

As you work your way through an average day, hour by hour, how many of those hours find you facing down a daunting, confusing, or excited new challenge you’ve never faced before? During an average week, how often do you find yourself getting nervous about a big task, sweating in front of a critical audience, or tackling a project with higher stakes than you’re used to?

If none of these scenarios apply to you, and you’re spending your days moving through a series of simple tasks and challenges that you could do in your sleep at this point, maybe it’s time to wake yourself up. You may be trapped in a comfort zone that will hold you in its soft embrace for the rest of your working life—If you’re lucky enough to keep this job forever and if your ambitions extend no farther than these walls. If you’d rather not see yourself in the same chair in 20 years, it’s time to start learning some new things…and that means discomfort. Face that discomfort head on and power through by keeping these tips in mind.

Nobody else will do it for you.

Your boss might gently chide you into reaching for a higher bar, but it’s not her job to coach you or take the wheel of your career. That wheel belongs to you alone, so if you’re waiting for her to come over to your desk and sign you up for a training course, or shove you beyond your familiar boundaries, you may be waiting a long time. You’ll have to do this yourself. And you’ll have to start today instead of waiting until all the conditions are perfectly in place. (They never will be).

Opportunities exist in this workplace and also beyond.

You can go to your boss and ask her to sign you up for that course if you choose, and that’s a great start. But if she can’t or won’t, or has nothing to offer you, your mission isn’t over. There are plenty of online and local community courses available all around you, and your company may even be willing to foot the bill if you declare your intentions and ask.

Bite off more than you can chew.

Sometimes the best way to learn to swim is by jumping in over your head. Accept a project or a task that you aren’t totally sure you can sleepwalk through. Put yourself in the path of trouble, then be your own hero and save the day.

For more on how to get out of your rut and explore new branches of your industry, new software platforms, new technical skills, and new opportunities, contact the career management experts at Merritt.

Can I Turn a Temporary Position into a Full Time Opportunity?

December 22nd, 2017

Your recruiter has a job opportunity that they think might be great for you. With one glance, you can tell that they’re right, for the most part. The job is located close to where you live, the schedule and hours work well for you, the conditions and culture seem great, and the responsibilities of the role fall directly in line with what you’ve done in the past and where you’d like to take your career in the future. There’s just one problem: The job isn’t meant to last.

This is a temporary role, and the employers only need someone who can step in while their regular employee is on leave or reassigned to another project. If you take the job, you’ll step in—and probably thrive—but you’ll have to find something else once the contract period ends. So what should you do? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t immediately say no.

All jobs are temporary (when you think about it) and there’s nothing wrong with extending your search for full time work while you hold down a position, meet some new people, collect a paycheck and learn some new skills. In work, just because something doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean you should avoid the experience altogether. Just go in with your eyes open.

Talk to your recruiter about the changes you’d like to see.

Simply ask your recruiter to find out more about your options. Will this company consider taking you on permanently if the employee doesn’t return? Are there any other possible scenarios that might result in changes to the timeline of the role?

What will you gain for your troubles?

A short-term job (even a very short-term job) might come with some big benefits for your long-term career. If you can gain some assurance that your managers will give you a recommendation or if there’s a chance you can be shifted to another role or department when your contract ends, a gamble you take at the beginning of the process might pay off in the end.

As with all professional decisions and paths that diverge, ask plenty of questions before you make your final decision. If you need help crunching the numbers, contact the Connecticut expert career management team at Merritt.

Are You Taking Too Long to Hire?

December 8th, 2017

As you launch your hiring process, you probably start with a few clear goals in mind; you want the right candidate, at the right salary, and you want the person to start at a time that’s convenient for your own schedule and the company’s needs. If you adjust your focus and think into the long term, you also hope for a few other things: you want a candidate who will stay with the company for at least a year or two, and you want someone who will leave the place in a better state then they found it. But as you strive for these goals, keep one thing in mind: your candidate has goals as well. And if she attains hers, you’ll be more likely to attain yours.

In addition to a suitable salary and employment terms, most candidates are making their plans around a timeline. If they left their last employer, they may be concerned about securing a new form of income. If they’d really like to leave their current employer ASAP, a few days can make a big difference, not to mention a few weeks or months. So to respect your candidate’s goals and timelines, make sure your hiring process stays efficient and on pace. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Move it or lose it.

If your timeline doesn’t keep pace with your candidate’s timeline, they may be scooped up by a competitor or simply lose patience before your formal offer materializes. If you find yourself constantly bringing your second, third, and fourth choice contenders on board, this may be why.

Just ask.

During the selection and interview process, ask your candidate about her timeline and availability. You may not get a complete answer (some of the story may be personal) but you’ll gather some data points that can give you an accurate sense of urgency.

Clear the red tape.

Don’t let an offer or a contract gather dust in the HR office while key personnel are on vacation. Transfer the task to someone else and move the process forward.

Recognize big obstacles ahead of time.

The biggest and most immovable roadblocks in your path should not come as a surprise. If you know the lab moves slowly to process hepatitis test results, consider contracting with another facility. If your background checks seem to account for the lion’s share of your delays, find out why.

Partner with a recruiter.

If paperwork, tax accounting, insurance forms, approvals, clearances, background checks and other administrative hassles are holding back key stages of your hiring process, hand them off to qualified recruiters like the local staffing professionals at Merritt. This is what we do, so let us take this burden off your shoulders so you can get back to running your business.

Stop Relying on Your Manager for Performance Reviews

November 17th, 2017

Are you waiting all year long for your annual performance review in order to get feedback on how you’re doing at work? Have you ever given a huge presentation or a high stakes project in June, only to hear in December that you aced it or didn’t quite hit the mark? If you have no idea how successful you are at your job, and you’re waiting for your boss to tell you how well your projects are being received, how widely you’re respected, or how likely you are to climb the ladder, that’s not great. Instead of relying on your manager’s opinion (especially if that means waiting all year for a formal review), change course and find alternative ways to evaluate your performance. Consider these moves.

Read the room.

You’ve worked for weeks on your sales pitch and you’ve lost sleep and stayed late at the office to make sure every detail is perfect. But during the actual presentation, you’ll need to stop thinking about your sweaty palms long enough to look around. Take the focus out of yourself and place it on your audience, and do this in the moment whenever possible. You will never receive a more honest and useful response then the expressions in the room while your performance is underway. But reading real-time responses will require a degree of self-possession and calm that may take some effort to summon.

Ask your direct reports how you’re doing.

Asking your boss for daily reviews of your performance can come off as needy and insecure, and asking your coworkers for constant feedback can come off as a confidence problem. But asking your direct reports won’t entail that type of baggage. You’re there to support the people who work for you, and asking them how you’re doing (and how you can do better) is usually received as a welcome sign of strong and engaged leadership.

Check the numbers.

Numbers don’t usually lie, and if your projects are consistently coming in on time and under budget, that’s a strong sign that you’re doing fine, at least on paper. But if your missed deadlines and overbudget projects are starting to creep above the average for your position, something’s wrong. Even if you had a good reason each time you missed the mark, you still missed it, and there’s probably something you can do to get your numbers up.

Even if you’re doing well, there are ways you can do better.

Remove your sense of harsh self-judgement and take a step back. Even if you’re doing a perfectly adequate—or exceptional—job, there must be at least one area in which you can focus your efforts on growth and improvement. So which area is it? If you have to pick one, which one would it be?

For more on how to conduct your own honest performance reviews instead of relying on feedback from others (especially your boss), turn to the career management team at Merritt Staffing.

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