Women in Finance

September 20th, 2010 No comments

I find this to be a surprisingly haphazard article from the Wall Street Journal. The data it cites from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is striking: from 2000 to 2009, the number of women working in financial services fell, even as the number of the women in the overall workforce grew.

Like Felix Salmon (whose post brought this article to my attention), the explanations cited range from the unsupported:

…technology likely accounts for some of the shift.

To the downright offensive:

They’re always perched on this edge, and if the value of staying in a high-pressure job goes down just a bit, then that might make a big difference in the number that jump.

Buried in the second to last paragraph of the article is what I see as the most plausible explanation of this trend:

Many women report that sexism is still rife on Wall Street, albeit less overt. Sexual-discrimination charges by women at finance companies dropped 28% from 2000 to 2009, according to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But the number of charges per woman in the industry climbed during the recession in 2008 and 2009.

A 28% drop is significant, but it’s not zero.  So it stands to reason that this sexism is a disincentive for women to enter financial services.

This trend puts them squarely on the wrong side of America’s changing workforce gender demographics.  For an industry whose success is based on hiring the best and the brightest, it would seem obvious that this is an urgent problem.  Given the self-delusion that we’ve seen from the industry in the last 10 years, I won’t hold my breath that they’ll admit to it.

Hiring and Social Media

August 30th, 2010 No comments

Last week German legislators introduced a bill to limit how employers could use publicly available information about candidates in their hiring decisions.  Although I have personal sympathies with the intent of the bill (more below), it’s ultimately a futile exercies.

Beyond the philosophical argument against this bill, there are the practical difficulties:

  • How will the German government differentiate between private social networking and job social networking? You can link your personal Twitter account to your LinkedIn account-does that put your whole LinkedIn profile out of bounds?  Lines will only become more blurry.
  • Candidates will have virtually no way to know if social media was consulted in their hiring decision.
  • How much enforcement resources will actually be devoted to this? If I were a German voter, I’d be disappointed if it were a lot-the government should have better things to do with its money.

From my perspective as an American this is all fairly moot, as I think our job market is far too neoliberal for something like this to ever pass.

One other point. As a I said above, I actually agree on some level with the intent behind this bill.  Social media is a poor evaluative tool in the hiring process. Lurking on someone’s Facebook page is akin to eavesdropping on conversations in a restaurant: at best you get a snapshot of someone’s life.  You simply don’t get enough information to draw strong conclusions about people.

So to recruiters and HR people that use social media as an informal reference check: please stop, you’re making us look like nosy fools.

Categories: hiring, hr Tags:

Hiring Transparency, ctd

August 27th, 2010 2 comments

I’ve written about transparency in the hiring process before, and this post lays out simple things recruiters can do to ensure candidates know what to expect and when.

Two things always strike me about lists like this:

  1. It really should be simple to have an easy to understand hiring process, shouldn’t it?
  2. An undervalued skill needed for effective hiring is project management

Since the first point is fairly self evident, I’ll expand a little on the second. The general thrust of the post is that it’s important to clearly articulate the job and the hiring process, and provide regular updates.  Sounds an awful lot like project management to me.

As recruiters, I don’t think we’ve done enough to build these skills.  And I think it does us a disservice-we tend to think that our work is all about a successful hire, and the way we get there isn’t as important.  Hence a lot of sentiments towards us like the ones in the comments section to this post (via TS).

Categories: hiring, recruiting Tags:

Education Matters

August 11th, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been struck with a case of writer’s block for some reason or another.  It may be because I decided I needed to write the hell out of this article since it left such a strong impression on me, but for whatever reason I haven’t found the right inspiration.

So a breakdown of our current unemployment by the BLS, nicely represented graphically by Matt Yglesias, nicely crystallized a few loose thoughts I had on the subject of education. Yglesias’ simple bar graph of the differences in unemployment is striking – the Great Recession is so different for people with degrees than it is for those without.

My personal experience drives this home for me (as stories about ourselves often do).  I was laid off from a great job last year, and experienced a bit of the anxiety and uncertainty of being unemployed. But I can’t claim much kinship with the long term unemployed, because I was unemployed for almost exactly 6 weeks. Good luck explains a lot of that, but I also have a bachelor’s degree, and work in the services sector. Exactly the kind of person that our new economy favors.

I struggle with the common idea that a degree has intrinsic value beyond the knowledge it should represent. A finance director I used to work with summed it up nicely when he said (roughly) “completing a degree shows drive and commitment, which are important attributes for a financial analyst.”  He then dismissed a candidate who had the right experience, interviewed well, and for whom the only reservations were the lack of a degree, and an apparent lack of interest in completing one.

I won’t argue with that sentiment because I agree that spending 2, 4, or more years completing a degree takes drive and commitment. But I don’t think the converse is true, that those without degrees are lacking these things. Using degrees as a proxy for these and other intangibles is lazy, and has uncomfortable implications around race and achievement.

Of course this is a complex issue, and I don’t have any real answers.  But I think it’s important that recruiters and HR folks think long and hard about what we’re actually trying to get from educational requirements.  They’re a blunt instrument at best.

Update (8/17): a friend who’s looking for work just had an interview cancelled because she doesn’t have a BA. She’s been working on completing it while working full time, so I’d submit that it shows she’s extra committed. She’s been working in accounting and finance for 10 years. Does the fact that this company noticed her BA is pending change anything about the relevance of her experience? Nope.

Managing People

August 9th, 2010 No comments

There is a lot of received wisdom around how to build a successful career, and one of the most common is that promotion to a leadership role is a requirement professional growth.  I’m skeptical.

This postfrom the Bayt blog (via Claudia) managed to get me nodding in agreement one sentence:

“…successful management requires skills entirely separate from the job skills that got you promoted.”

And irritated the next:

“In all likelihood, you have demonstrated these skills during the course of your career in order to secure the promotion in the first place.”

 Although it’s kind of obvious, I don’t think people realize that managing others performing a set of tasks is very different than actually performing those tasks.  Keeping people motivated, setting expectations, managing consequences are things you simply don’t have to do as an individual contributor.

Hence my frustration with the second sentiment.  HR folks and people in management roles conflate high performance with management potential, and they’re just two different things.  I can’t know if this particular person has leadership skills, but he or she certainly doesn’t seem to have thought much about it.  It’s just a part of advancing in the company.

What’s particularly concerning about this feeling that management = career growth is that it often elides the question of whether management is for everyone.  I’ve seen numerous examples in my career of people that were seen as good individual contributors, were promoted to leadership roles, and then failed. And they often took months and even years to rebuild their self confidence. 

The solution is pretty simple: you don’t have to manage others to be a successful, strong contributor. If you want to manage people, great. Let’s help prepare you. If you don’t, great. Let’s help make sure you stay challenged in your job.

None of this is helpful for this particular person, of course.  Theyr’e in the job-I hope they figure it out, and that the management thing works out.  That’s all I can do.

Categories: career, hr Tags: , ,

Gender and the Future Workforce

August 5th, 2010 No comments

I serve on an advisory panel for the Seattle University Career Services team, and this summer the panel was asked for our thoughts on the imminent gap between college graduates and jobs requiring degrees.  That Seattle U takes the time to think about these things is a big part of why I enjoy working with them.

I had a hard time not being a skeptic though, because this crisis just doesn’t ring true to me.  Setting aside the fact that this has apparently been looming for decades, I also think it misses an important fact: people aren’t necessarily going to retire the way they have in the past.  I think it’s likely that people will hit 65, stop working full time, and pick up part time or project work from time to time.  Plenty of others agree with me.

On the other hand, I found this article in the Atlantic Monthly about another trend in college completion very compelling. In it, Hanna Rosin details the ways that secondary educational achievement for me is lagging behind that of women.  It’s long, but well worth a read.

Since it’s such a big topic, I’ll focus on one thing here:

The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true.

We constantly hear about how the future of our country is a knowledge-based economy, and Rosin puts her finger nicely on what that means with these two sentences.  Although much of the discussion we hear is about educational attainment being the key to success, I’d argue that looking for degrees is really a proxy for seeking these kinds of skills.  In turn, the way that we as recruiters screen for these skills will become increasingly important.

A former colleague that worked on diversity hiring once joked that he would get a perverse pleasure in being able to say about a particular job “we need to figure out how to attract more white males.”  That scenario may not be far in our future, and it will be interesting to see how academia tackles this challenge.

On Networking

July 19th, 2010 2 comments

Early in my recruiting career I was baffled by networking.  I was told by everyone that I worked with that “networking” was how I was going to find the best candidates, and how I’d be able to gain access to new clients.  So I dutifully attended various “networking events”, and I generally met two types of people: (1) active job seekers, many of whom had already applied to a position in my agency, and (2) other recruiters

This was an inefficient way to meet both these types of people, and I decided I was doing something wrong. This post from a recent college grad struck a chord with me when I read it, as it captures that feeling better than I ever could.

I was laid off in 2008, and was able to find a contract position and then a full time position that year through people I had worked with.  Exactly what people would call “networking”.  What happened in those 8 years? I didn’t become less introverted, or work hard on being better at networking. I simply met and worked with a bunch of people. I therefore had a larger group of people I could ask for help.

Many thoughtful and well-written pieces of advice assume that everyone can and should become a networker extraordinaire. They conflate my situation in 2008 with networking, and would probably cite it as an example of success.  I think that’s confusing and unhelpful.

Here’s why.  Networking is something that you do to build a large contacts list.  It involves putting yourself in situations where you will meet new people, establish a connection, and maintain some kind of relationship/dialogue over time.

What I do during job searches isn’t networking. I think of who I know that might be able to help me find a job. And I ask them if they can help me find a job.  The people I focus on, and those that are most helpful, are individuals that have actually seen my work. They’re the most likely to give me a meaningful recommendation.

Being well networked (i.e. knowing lots of people) certainly helps this process.  But I would contend that having a large number of people in your network has limited value in a job search.  Most of them don’t know you well enough to do any more than send job postings they see to you. Which you can do yourself.

Categories: job search Tags:

Career Advice

July 14th, 2010 No comments

I’ve been mulling over this article from the NY Times since it was published last week. The punch line: an unemployed 24 year old turns down a job offer with no other options, rather than “waste early years in dead-end work.”

The reason I didn’t post anything right away is that I need a little time to get past my first reaction, which was to write Scott Nicholson off as a spoiled idiot. I mean, really? You’re just going to find a better job in the midst of the worst job market for 60 years?

After thinking about it, I’ve realized that Scott Nicholson is, in fact, a spoiled idiot.  But the interesting part of this story to me isn’t so much him (he’s never had a real job, how does he know a recession from a depression), it’s the lack of credible advice he’s getting.

Granted, his father didn’t agree with the decision.  But the fact that only now, after months of searching, Nicholson is “beginning to realize that refusal is going to have repercussions” shows what a disservice his family has done him.  When he turned down that job offer, his parents should have locked him out of the house until he went back and begged for the job until he got it.

Relatives and friends often give bad career advice because, as in Nicholson’s case, they may hesitate to deliver a hard message.  So here are the things I think are important to look for when seeking career advice:

  • Balance. Pessimists sometimes need reinforcement and encouragement, optimists sometimes need a dose of sober reality.  All Nicholson seems to be getting is reinforcement of his natural optimism.
  • Relatability. Someone that knows the current job market in an applicable field, and so can offer much more realistic advice. Nicholson’s parents have successful careers, but they built them in a completely different era, and admit they don’t know how to help him.
  • Practicality. Tips and advice on how to manage a search day to day. It’s great that Scott’s grandfather thinks he can go abroad to find work, but back in the real world an international job search is degrees of magnitude harder than a domestic one.

I don’t worry about the Scott Nicholson’s of the world, since they obviously have a strong safety net in their families.  It would be nice if I could be confident that people are getting good advice in this market, but I’m not so sure.

Categories: hiring, job search Tags:

Unemployment Insurance

July 13th, 2010 No comments

I promised myself I’d update more frequently once the World Cup was over (viva Espana, by the way).  So here goes.

As Daniel Indiviglio illustrates better than I ever could, extending unemployment benefits just plain makes sense.  It’s simple math: more unemployed workers competing for a constant number of jobs results in long term unemployment. 

However, Ezra Klein points out an interesting nuance that’s been lost in the politics of this debate.  Ben Nelson, A Democrat Senator that opposed extending benefits, argued that his state doesn’t need extended benefits.  He’s probably right, but he’s being disingenuous, because there are triggers built into extended benefits that solve this problem.  If your state doesn’t have unemployment above the national average, extended benefits don’t come into effect.

So unemployment insurance is, as it turns out, a pretty well-designed system.  And extending beyond 99 weeks is just plain the right thing to do.

UPDATE (7/14): Ezra Klein posts this pithy summary of how little the UI extension would cost.

The general: a cautionary tale

July 3rd, 2010 No comments

The World Cup has just completed the quarterfinals, so now I can come up for air. Don’t worry, this won’t be a soccer analogy post-it’s been done, blandly.  Wow guys, teamwork is great.

Anyway, in addition to being a soccer fanatic, I’m also a little bit of a politics junkie.  So when I haven’t been watching 6 hours of soccer a day (not a joke-the group stages are a big commitment), I’ve been reading about and thinking about the General Stanley McChrystal mess.

For those of you that don’t obsessively follow this kind of thing like I do, a brief summary: McChrystal “resigned” on June 23, after a Rolling Stone article detailed unflattering remarks from the general and his staff about the White House and State Department.

If you go beyond the vacuous mainstream press coverage and read the original article, a nuanced picture emerges. McChrystal is insubordinate and crass, but it’s because of his single-minded devotion to a new strategy. He’s a serial rebel, a guy that has reshaped every unit he’s been responsible for; he’s pushed the establishment farther than it’s comfortable, but not quite far enough to lose his job–until now.

And that’s what connected this back to hiring for me (this blog being about hiring, after all). So many times in my recruiting career I’ve been asked to find someone that can challenge the conventional wisdom, that can push an organization to change. Too often they leave, voluntarily or otherwise, after hitting wall after wall.  In the always special case of one of my former employers, the iconoclast encounters the icon directly, because they’re the same person.

When I am asked to find these magical employees that make everything better (MEMEB for short, TM pending), I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how much the organization can actually handle. This is what makes the job of a recruiter fascinating, frustrating, and complicated. To do the job well requires one not just to manage tactics, but also to be able to think philosophically about the change-readiness of the organization.

One last thought. Gen. McChrystal fits many of the stereotypes of a corporate savior: irreverent, innovative, driven. But it’s worth remembering that General David Petraeus, the man left standing in all of this is, in Rolling Stone’s words “kind of a dweeb, a teacher’s pet with a Ranger’s tab.”  The dweebs often seem to be around when the rebels have long since gone.