Your Job Search in 2018

The economy is HOT-HOT-HOT.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the unemployment rate in April was 3.9% following 6 months at 4.1%.

Unemployment is low, jobs are everywhere – but why is it so hard to find a job? Simple reason – the economy is hot so people are looking to move which means that the competition for jobs is significant.

If you are on LinkedIn and use their jobs function to look for work, do a simple search for PROJECT MANAGER for the United States. LinkedIn returned over 131,000 listings. Of those, I took a look at only the top 3 listings shown:

  • Project Manager for Adobe in Boston, MA. Posted May 11, 2018. At 8:50pm PST there were 266 applicants. Of those 38% had Bachelor’s Degrees, 34% have Master’s, 26% have MBA’s.
  • Project Manager for Perficient in Atlanta, GA. The posting is about one-week old. There are 199 applicants.
  • Project Manager for Hays Recruiting in Houston, TX. The posting is about one-week old and has 214 applicants.
  • Project Manager for Amazon in Seattle, WA had 206 applicants and has been online for about two-weeks.

If you are looking to move into a large, well established company – the competition is fierce. Even when I looked at postings from smaller companies or start-ups there are still many applications. For example Home Depot had over 90 applications for a project manager position.

What this means is that you need to stand out. The first step is to get past the ATS (applicant tracking system) with a killer resume that has the right number of keywords so that the ATS doesn’t reject you automatically. Then your cover letter needs to tell a story, not simply restate what is on your resume – you need a disruptive cover letter. Something that an internal HR recruiter will look at and instead of putting it down, will take a second look because it is different from every other cover letter.

If you get past the initial screening and get to the phone screen, and recruiters have told me that they will spend maybe 6-15 seconds per resume then you need to kill it on the phone screen. Get past that then you still need to kill it in the in-person interview.

Today most companies are not satisfied with one interview. Chances are you will speak to multiple people over several weeks before a final decision is made.

Companies are investing tremendous amounts of time in the interview process to ensure that they get someone that is a good culture fit. A bad hiring decision can be disastrous for the company and the morale of the team. According to several articles I read, it can cost anywhere from 24% to 30% of an employee’s first year salary if you need to replace them. This is only the monetary value and doesn’t include the soft costs of lost productivity, decreased morale and having your HR restart the process either internally or use an external agency — which has its own costs (most agencies charge 18% of the salary as their fee and this will increase for more specialized and technical roles).

So companies have to get it right the first time.

As a job search candidate what can you do to ensure you make it past the ATS?


While you need to ensure keywords related to the industry you work in are on your resume, look at the job description for the position you are applying for and look at what they require. I would recommend printing out the posting and using a highlighter identify the keywords that are important to the company.

In the Amazon advertisement, here is what I saw as key to have on the resume:

  • Oversee content creation
  • Comprehensive understanding of online and offline creative development and execution
  • Creating project estimates
  • Product management
  • Coordinate and support designers, producers and production teams
  • Seamlessly manage multiple projects, own schedules, outline (identify) key milestones
  • Thrive in a dynamic, fast-paced environment
  • Implementing processes and interfacing (liaison) with multiple internal teams
  • Excellent project management skills
  • Strategic thinking & problem solving
  • Strong communication skills
  • Self-starter
  • Ability to work independently with cross-functional teams

There is a lot more that I could have picked out, however you get the idea. The job for you will be to weave the keywords into your resume so when you send it through LinkedIn or into Amazon’s ATS your application gets flagged for review. You build your story into the bullet points that tells your experience from previous positions.


The resume templates you see all over Google – crap. Total crap. Everyone is using them and they are heavily formatted using layouts that may not get past an ATS. Your resume needs to be clean, simple and effective.

What seems to be working is your details in the header (leave out your address), include an e-mail address, contact phone number and VERY IMPORTANT – your LinkedIn profile address.

Next section a quick overview of your experience 6 – 8 points like “Process Improvement”, “Agile Project Management”, “Operations Management”, “Strategic Thinking & Planning” — basically some of the keywords (from that Amazon posting, for example) that truly describe you. DO NOT LIE because you will get caught.

In the same area, list the technologies you have worked with and understand for example, Microsoft Office, Google Apps, JIRA, Slack or any other specialized tools.

Next up is your work history.

The format should be


Under each heading tell your story in bullet points. Prove to them you are work $150k or whatever you are asking for.

Finally show any relevant education – college, university. What is important is to show that you are a continuous learner, companies want to know that you want to grow, and will grow.

Cover Letter

The disruptive cover letter is key to securing an interview, your skills are equally as important lets not forget that. Cover letters of old are just restating your resume – nobody will read it. You need to really tell a story in your cover letter.

According to J.T. O’Donnell (LinkedIn) CEO at Work It Daily (visit the site after you’ve read this post and shared it) the disruptive cover letter has four key components:

  • Paragraph 1 – Make the pitch that you are perfect for the role
  • Paragraph 2 – Get them excited
  • Paragraph 3 – Hard hitting highlights
  • Paragraph 4 – Say goodbye while refreshing their memory

Continuing to use the IT Project Manager example:

I am confident my ability to lead million-dollar projects from end-to-end and jumpstart those long-stalled could benefit ABC Company. Thank you for your time and consideration.


There are jobs out there, but you need the right tools and use the right methods and processes to get your foot in the door then WOW them into hiring you.

If you found this information useful, please share it using our share buttons. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. You can find links to my profile on the right, under Social Media. Looking forward to connecting with you!

Document Security For Your Business


In today’s competitive environment, securing your data is critical and not just your online data that has been shown to be easily accessible by the right individuals but you also need to think about your documents – the pieces of paper that we still rely on.

I read an interesting article on ARS Technica the other day about AT&T Fined $25m for Data Breach after employees at an outsourced call center stole and subsequently sold customer data. While outsourcing is popular, how do you know how your data is being handled? Is someone making note of the data? Are there any safeguards in place to monitor (abnormal) data usage/queries?

In recent years another trend has been BYOD or Bring Your Own Device. While this may appear to cut costs for companies trying to eek out higher and higher returns and profits BYOD brings with it many hurdles for IT departments. Just search Google for the risks and benefits of BYOD to read both sides of the discussion.

Fact is we still rely on paper, and print out documents to simply pass them around and finally they end up in the garbage or recycle bin (hopefully in the recycle bin). But that paper could be gold in the right hands – paper creates risk.

According to DataLossDB (DataLossDB – Open Security Foundation), statistics published found that incorrect document disposal accounted for 6% of data breaches, e-mail accounted for 3%and stolen computer or laptop accounted for 14%. So paper handling while seemingly insignificant accounted for 6% of data breaches.

Who was committing these breached? Insiders – when looking at incidents by vector, accidental breaches by organization insiders accounted for 18% of the breaches. While the statistics do not point out what information is breached or how your people are part of the risk equation.

Overall the trend (according to DataLossDB) seems to be going down in terms of data breaches. Since 2006 data breaches escalated to a high point in 2012 from 643 reported to over 1,660. In 2015 that number fell to 1,037 – so either we are getting better at protecting our data or fewer organizations are reporting their breaches, hopefully the former. Public companies may report on data breaches to protect their customers (such as Target, Adobe HomeDepot US) but smaller companies and private companies are probably not reporting these breaches.

Document security – not just digital security but paper – needs to be an important part of your overall risk strategy, consider the type of documentation your business may be producing:

  • Sales figures and presentations
  • Contracts
  • Employee information
  • Business strategy
  • Plans, designs and blueprints
  • Proprietary procedures, processes and methodologies
  • Legal documents
  • Training documentation

While at first glance these may not seem important, but they can be. Consider presentations that are given for internal use, information found on these might be valuable to competitors or may provide insight into how the company is run and open the door for competition where there may be little to none currently.

Contracts are also critical, since they generally provide the key working information for all parties involved, including such confidential items such as pricing, or terms. Contracts may also include information about insurance, subcontracting and may even list client information.

Securing and destroying paper is critical in any business, and like every other asset should be handled correctly.

Destroying paper securely should be an easy proposition, but consider what you are doing today:

  • Is it being put into the general recycle box?
  • Are you using secure recycling services?
  • Do you use a commercial grade cross-cut shredder?
  • Do you just throw it out?

The simplest, and most cost effective method is to use a shredder, for business use a good quality cross-cut shredder should not cost more than $1,000.00.

If you decide to use a recycling service, ensure that it is a secure service rather that putting paper into your local municipalities recycling program.

It is also a good idea to put in guidelines for what type of documentation should be printed, and how it should be handled – what may seem like common sense can sometimes be far from it.

You may want to consider putting your networked printers behind a password for the general office so that all requests to print can be monitored

If you move to a paperless office, then ensure you have the right tools for your employees to make that leap. Online document storage and management allows you to track who is looking at documentation that may be critical to your business operations. Tools like PDF creators allow employees to convert their Office documents to more secure PDF formats that can contain encryption and a higher level of password protection.

Data security isn’t only protecting your online data – but also protecting the offline data, namely the paper that is being pushed.

How To Discipline Your Employee

anger boss and woman

Lets face it, having to discipline an employee is tough especially if you are a new manager even seasoned managers may find it difficult. There can be many reasons to discipline an employee:

  • Performance issues
  • Behavioral problems
  • Excessive absenteeism
  • Tardiness
  • Failure to notify on an absence
  • Rude or abusive language in the workplace

The list of reasons to discipline an employee are endless, and probably only limited to the employees imagination. Some of the reasons for discipline can be negated somewhat if you let your new employee know what is expected of them during the on-boarding process, such as providing the organizations policy regarding sick, late and other common events. Once you have identified an issue that requires you to take action, two important steps need to be taken before meeting with the individual.

  1. Investigation. Don’t falter on this step, and ensure it is concise. This is the most important part of the discipline process. As the manager you are going to gather facts and evidence to determine what has taken place. You may need to gather evidence such as witness statements from other team members, documentary evidence. Most of this evidence will be gathered by speaking to those that may have witnessed the incident and remember to include the employee that is part of the investigation – you need to hear their side as well.
  2. Once you’ve completed your investigation, and have your facts organized the decision to discipline can be made. It is important to note that discipline should never be done in a vacuum – you should consult with other people in management including Human Resources. You need to take a lot into account including things like the employee’s past record, the severity of the incident and whether the employee was provoked. Discipline can be administered verbally but should always be followed up with something in writing.

There are two methods frequently used to handle discipline:

  1. Corrective discipline
  2. Progressive discipline

Corrective discipline would typically be used in cases of absenteeism or tardiness – the employee is expected to correct the behavior immediately – not over time. Progressive discipline involves working with the employee through a series of corrective actions, and coaching and is typically used with performance or other job-related issues. Progressive discipline also follows a set of procedures, hence the term “progressive”:

  1. Coach the employee about the issue
  2. Verbal warnings
  3. Written warnings
  4. Suspension or termination – depending on the situation
    • ALWAYS done with HR in tow!

The actual discussion with the employee can also be handled in several ways, typically going from verbal discussions, to written warnings, suspension and finally termination – again, remember to keep HR involved. Terminating an employee should be a last resort you always want to try and salvage the relationship. No matter what method you use it is important to document the interaction, this is done to protect employee rights and prevent legal action. Documenting the issue, and resulting disciplinary action also makes it easier to move from one step to another – for example from a verbal discussion regarding tardiness to a written warning. Miss one step and you have to start from the beginning. Getting off the initial stage fright can be easy with a little bit of preparation. There is only one thing you need to absolutely remember when having the discipline conversation with an employee: get your facts straight. If you have your facts and can back them up then your conversation will go over much better than if you go in without all the facts and try to establish authority. Getting your facts straight is one of the most important part of the conversation, if you don’t know have your facts you will come off like an idiot and will undermine yourself – believe me, your employees will talk among themselves and none of it will be flattering. When you have decided that you need to talk about a certain behavior (also lets get this straight, you are disciplining for the BEHAVIOR not the individual – you should never be attacking the person), you need to keep several things in mind:

  1. Get your facts straight
    1. What is the incident in question?
    2. When did it happen?
    3. Who else was present?
    4. What was the result of the incident?
  2. Remember that you are going to discipline for the unwanted behavior, these conversations should never attack the individual. As a manager you need to be above reproach and lead accordingly.
  3. Involve HR early in the process. You should keep HR in the loop with what is going on, depending on your reporting structure you could find your conversation in HR. They will be able to provide tips to you and may help with structuring the meeting with the employee.
  4. Document, document and document. This goes hand-in-hand with number 1 – always document the incident. As you speak with the individual, document. Once you’re done document.
  5. Keep copies of the conversation for your records, for HR and for the employee.

As you work through the discipline process, you also need to remain consistent. Any slip-up means you may need to start the process all over. You also need to remain consistent from one employee to the next, any deviation will be seen as favoritism and make dismissal that much more challenging – either before or after — remember the employee has the right to see a lawyer regarding their dismissal and will present the facts to the lawyer. As a company your minimal severance could become something substantial (see also this website, and also this website, oh and this story also and finally here is an article on a large severance paid out by the City of Vancouver to its terminated City Manager – and finally if you want to do-it-yourself without hiring a lawyer visit the Fired Without Cause website). Disciplining an employee can be difficult, however with the right amount of preparation and getting the support of your senior managers and HR the task can become less stressful. It is always important to remember that you are trying to correct a behavior, and the goal is to salvage the employee-employer relationship – terminating the employee should always be the last resort.

Meet Charles Holland on LinkedIn

Meet Charles Holland on LinkedIn. You can find him at –

Charles is having a difficult time health wise and he’s using LinkedIn to get help:

If you are willing to help Charles Holland he will donate the sum of 5,500,000.00 Million Pounds to the poor.


I’ve reported Charles Holland. Hope you take the time to report him to, if he solicits you.

It’s disappointing to find so much SPAM on LinkedIn but I guess a huge database of professionals will attract spammers.

Toughest Interview Question

job search seeking employment concept word cloud background

What is the one question that most people dread on the interview? It is one that I like to ask, as do most recruiters:

Where do you see yourself in 5-years time

While there is no right or wrong answer, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. When I ask this question, I am hoping you will tell me that you want to be with my company and either on my team, or move around to another position. If I’m paying a recruiter $6k (or more) to hire you, I want to recover that cost over several years.
  2. I want to know that you want to grow in the company, maybe you will say “I want to be the Manager/Supervisor” or if you’re very bold you will tell me “I want your job”.
  3. I want to know that you will do what it takes to learn the job, the products and about the company. One great answer I got when I interviewed someone was “I want to become a supervisor, but I’d like to know my job well before I do”.

Here are some answers you should consider:

1. “My goal right now is to find a position at a company where I can grow and take on new challenges over time. Ultimately, I’d like to assume more management responsibilities and get involved in product strategy. But most importantly, I want to work for an organization where I can build a career.”

2. “I am driven to be the best at what I do and I want to work somewhere where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills, take on interesting projects, and work with people I can really learn from. Some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work here and that’s a big reason why I would love to build a career here.”

Visit the site for reasons why these two are great answers to give.

Regardless of how you answer this question, think about it and be prepared for it. Do not be too vague but also not too specific also do not raise red flags:

“I am a musician, and love playing the piano. I would like to do this full time at some point.”

Not a good answer.

Growing Your (Small) Business

Recently I was led to an excellent article on LinkedIn called “5 Ideas to Stay Motivated in Your Work At Home Business” written by Vladimir Ninov (link to his LinkedIn profile) and contributed a comment to a well written article.

Mohamed BhimjiThere were two points made in the article that made sense for offline businesses, and the example that I had provided in my comment on the article was that of a laundromat. But you can easily take small (incremental) ideas and expand them to other types of businesses. These incremental ideas lead to bigger ideas and help grow your business. As a business owner perhaps you are not looking to run dozens of locations and are satisfied with one – but growth doesn’t always mean more locations – growth also means greater profits.

Here is another idea that I had given to a local businessman. He had a truck, and advertised on Craigslist and a few other sites his junk removal business. It was the least expensive and in fact said that if I were willing to help he would charge less (saves him from calling a friend to help, and paying him in pizza and beer which ultimately would result in $0 profit from my “order”). I didn’t really need junk removed, but some furniture taken to someones home.

I needed to get rid of old furniture because I bought something new, and the retail outlet I bought the furniture from didn’t have a take-away service or delivery service. So I was stuck with a small home filled with furniture that I could never use.

Once we had moved the old furniture to where it was to go, we got to talking and I found out a lot about him: he quit his job as a welder so he could work for himself, he’d been running his business for a few years on/off and now wanted to concentrate on growing it. Right away I made a suggestion to him: talk to local furniture stores (both large national and smaller merchants) and offer his services to them — not to deliver, but to pick-up and dispose!

This is one conundrum most homeowners face, they are buying new furniture but need to get rid of the old stuff. Sometimes it can’t be donated, and if they chose to discard it they need to arrange with someone else to come by and pick it up. If he is able to team-up with local furniture stores (or anyone that is in the service delivery business that does not want to deal with taking away old items) he can provide a superb value added service: homeowner gets new furniture, on the same day and potentially same time he takes away the old furniture (or whatever the item is).

Win-win-win for everyone.

The retail outlet can offer a value-added service, the delivery team doesn’t have to deal with moving the old item(s) into a garage or elsewhere (so they can get onto their next delivery) and the homeowner gets everything taken care of in one shot — no waiting or figuring out what to do with items that will be disposed of.

Regardless of the type of business you run there may be small incremental changes that you can make to help grow your business (either in terms of size or revenue). The changes you introduce should be complimentary – like offering dry cleaning services if you are a laundromat, or offering pop/snacks to your captive audience (who may have brought their kids with them). Make use of Google or other search services to see what other businesses are doing and see what you can use in your own.

If you find this post valuable, please share on Twitter or Facebook. Handy share buttons are just below…

A Tale of Customer Service

We all want it – service, usually at any cost which is why some people tend to take it out on the innocent Customer Service Representative — whether it’s over the phone, or in person at the retail outlet.

HINT: Yelling doesn’t help get your problem resolved any quicker.

Here is a tale of four issues that I had and how they were resolved.

Issue #1 – The Tale of Worn Out and Tired Shoes

stacy99z logoI purchased several pairs of shoes from a local retailer, the shoes were manufactured by Stacy Adams. Two years (yes TWO YEARS) in both pairs fell apart, now I figured it’s just wear and tear but went back to the retailer as I had to buy some other items and mentioned this to them. They were willing to take them back but I felt a bit guilty, so they suggested contacting Stacey Adams. What have I got to lose?

Contacted them and they over delivered. They said “pick out what you’d like from our website”. So I did. They replaced them.

Who provides a warranty on shoes? Apparently Stacy Adams. They want their customers to be happy. Guess who I buy my shoes from now? @StacyAdams. Why would I even consider anyone else?

Issue #2 – The Tale of Headphones That Just Don’t Work

b436aa94-1c6e-482c-884d-6c98f6889265.png._V326648485_My son plays Minecraft and it feels I’m always buying something better or the latest.  He needed new headphones, so we did some research and Turtle Beach looked like a good choice. I bought him their $60.00 headphones (X12) given that everyone I spoke to highly recommended them and the research indicated this was the way to go.

About a year in and they failed – a lot of hissing, and just not usable. So I contacted Turtle Beach and they suggested a few things, but in the end they said “too bad, so sad. PFO” (OK, PFO is my interpretation of how they handled my issue).

I agree that the headphones were out of warranty but so were my shoes (in fact as I said, who warranties shoes?).

What could Turtle Beach have done? Replaced them. They were only $60.00.

Won’t be buying @TurtleBeach again.

Issue #3 – The Tale of Another Pair of Headphones That Just Don’t Work

logitech_logoAt the same time I bought the Turtle Beach headphones, I also bought a pair of Logitech headphones.

Around the same time the Logitech failed.

I contacted Logitech. They suggested some remedies but quickly followed up with “actually they are still under warranty, we’ll just send you another pair”.


Guess whose headphones I’ll be buying forever and ever. Yup – Logitech. In fact just bought an $80.00 mouse from @Logitech. Who offers a 3-year, no questions asked warranty on headphones or mouse? Logitech does. @TurtleBeach – maybe you ought to learn a thing or two from @Logitech.

Issue #4 – The Tale of the Mouse That Ran Away and Died

Razer_Snake_Logo.svgBought a Razer Naga 2014 from Razer less than a year ago. The mouse shuts down my laptop and desktop (yes, I know – a mouse should not do that, I’ve been building PC’s for 20+ years so know what I’m doing and talking about).

I tried everything: updated drivers, downgraded drivers, removed drivers, updated the laptop chipset drivers, tested every possible combination I could think of.

There was a bit of back and forth with Razer but in the end, Razer stood by their product (probably because it was under warranty – though I’d like to have seen what they would have done had it not been under warranty) and will replace the product. Thank you @Razer for making the warranty execution flawless (well, so far). Though I just bought @Logitech mouse, I also bought the Razer DeathAdder Chroma… what can I say? I’m impressed by bright, flashy and shiny. 😉

Some companies (@TurtleBeach) have a long way to go to help their customers, given that one person (me or anyone else for that matter) will simply go to social media and complain about the product. It’s also not limited to just social media – hit the gaming forums and complain there and then you’re getting to the heart of the users that use some of these products – hardcore gamers that expect the products that they purchase will last.

If good customer service policies are not part of your organization, and you are not monitoring social media and responding accordingly – you are in trouble.

Flying Economy Class

GST 825-07It would be great if we could all fly Business Class – or even Singapore Airlines Suites Class however I suspect not everyone has the $18k to fly a better than Business/First class seat. Perhaps when I make my 2nd million, I’ll give it a go. Check out their site by clicking on the link here.

So you’re resigned to flying economy class. It can be bad, but there are some rules you should follow. Some are just common sense…

Rather than get into more economy rules of etiquette as they can be found all over the place here are a few that I live by. So should you.

If you are planning on drinking a lot and will be getting up to use the washroom every 30-minutes – DO NOT book a window seat and inconvenience the people to your right or left. Pick an aisle seat.

business-insider-number-sevenEveryone hates the middle seat – but depending on the plane configuration (2-3-2 or 3-3-3 or whatever it is) if you’re on the window or aisle, please DON’T HOG the arm rests! What’s a guy in the middle to do? You can’t sit with your arms folded the entire trip. In fact according to Business Insider if you’re in the middle YOU get BOTH the arm rests. Hey it’s not me saying this…

…if you’re in the middle, and there are two guys on either side of you and you are decidedly hetro this is probably the only time ever that it’s OK to be touchy-feely with the guy(s) beside you. 😉

Oh yah – if you have kids, we know they can get ancy on a flight but please take care of them. During take off and landing, keep them in check. In fact keep them in check all the time.

If you are flying economy, please wear cologne, deodorant and antiperspirant. You probably don’t want to sit for 4+ hours next to someone that smells like they have not taken a shower for a month. Be kind to your flying buddy. Smell nice but don’t douse yourself, too much can be just as bad.

I’m an introvert. Leave me alone. I don’t mind a bit of small talk, but once I clam up – that’s a sign I’m done talking. If you’re the kind of person that can’t shut-up — learn how to. Thank gawd for the iPod and other electronic devices, I can simply wear my headphones and everyone leaves me alone. Thank You Sony for the Walkman. Thank You Apple for the iPod.

Do you have some rules that you live by? Share them!

…oh, and another great article on Gizmodo about flying first…

Managers Guide to Terminating an Employee

Terminating an employee is not easy, no matter how many times you may do it.

But you’ve decided that it’s time to let someone go. Hopefully you’ve documented everything just in case the individual decides to sue — and of course, there are significant differences in Canada and the US when it comes to terminating an individual.

Regardless of where you’re located, hopefully you have consulted with your HR department and everything has been checked, and double-checked.

In Canada at least, ensure you’ve given the individual sufficient severance. Go above and beyond – but remember that doesn’t guarantee a suit or complaint to Human Rights, or Labor Standards.

In Canada quite a bit needs to be taken into account: age of the employee, what they are doing, current market conditions for a similar position – these are just three things to consider. Frequently employers will go above statutory requirements, providing what is common law. Depending on the individual it can range widely but providing up to 1-year (or more in some cases) of severance + benefits is not unheard of.

Once you’ve figured everything out, and if your HR isn’t going to be doing the actual termination – JUST DO IT. Seriously, it’s easier to get it done then allow yourself to deflate/de-stress or whatever you need to do.

Whether this is your first, or you’ve done hundreds it doesn’t get easier (in my opinion).

The actual termination should be quick. You’re there to tell the individual that their job is gone. Be respectful of the individual, this isn’t the time to bring up anything. The actual discussion shouldn’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes (even 10-minutes might be too long).

This is going to be a shock to them — actually, it should not. If as a manager you’ve done your job properly terminating an employee should never be a shock to them. Hopefully you and HR have tried to bring the employee around — it is expensive to terminate.

Typically once the discussion is complete, HR may step in to talk about the termination papers.

Escort the individual to their desk, let them get what their personal belongings (only do this if you are certain that they will not create a scene – otherwise have someone get their personal belongings OR you could have them come back after most employees have left) and then show them out. Be respectful of the individual!

The termination process is difficult, not only the act of terminating the employee but dealing with the aftermath (questions from other employees, the rumor mill). You’re not just terminating an employee, but an individual who may have tied their worth and self to that job and title and you’ve just taken it away from them. Hopefully everything has been done to salvage the relationship.

Just remember, be respectful through the entire process.

How To Hire Better Call Center Agents

customer-support-imageWhether you run a small, or large call center the blood of your center are your agents.

Your goal as a leader is to minimize turnover, and to ensure when you do hire you are getting the best you can get. Having led my small center for the last 9-years I’ve seen all types of applicants, I’ve hired directly by posting job advertisements on places like Craigslist and the HRDC (Canada Job Bank run by the Gov’t of Canada) and have even hired based on personal recommendations from agents on my team and from others outside of the team (Sales, Marketing, IT).

In recent years the decision was made to use agencies as they do have access to a much larger labor pool that we do.  Our company actively posts jobs on our corporate website and has started to use social media to market and promote those positions but this route will take time to generate the type of leads any contact center needs in order to ensure they also have a solid pool of applicants. In the past we looked for a warm body.  Someone that could sit in the chair, and take calls.  The quality of applicants was hit and miss.  Not the ideal scenario given that it can take up to 3-months for an agent to become proficient enough that they are taking a high number of calls on their own without any assistance except for those oddball calls that come through. If you have hired this agent directly what is it really costing you?

  • Your time and/or your trainers time and/or your Manager/Supervisor or Team Leads time.  What are you paying them hourly?
  • The new agents time – remember during training, they are still getting paid.
  • Other agents time – chances are your new employee will also engage those around them when help is needed.
  • Indirect time lost – what are you not able to complete?  This is also known as missed opportunity costs.
  • Customer satisfaction (or dissatisfaction with service being provided)
  • Increased workload on other agents
    • More sick days being used due to increased workloads
    • Overtime costs due to being short staffed
  • Team morale

The contact center has one of the highest turnover rates of any industry – an incredible 26% of agents are replaced annually depending on the industry.  Some industries may see an even higher turnover rate.  Consider the direct cost to hire these individuals: most agencies charge 15% (or more) of the yearly salary to place an agent.

Given an average annual salary of $32,000.00 (source: that’s $4,950.00 just to bring that employee in the door. If you are using an agency you should only be getting the top agents – however this may not always be the case.

If your contact center isn’t paying well in relation to others operating in the area you might be getting lower quality agents from the agency.

You want agents that are are driven to succeed and are naturals in the contact center.  They are the ones that know instinctively what to do, how to do it and know how to fill in any time they may have between calls.  These are the same folks that will become the leaders in your contact center, they are always asking for more and are always learning and have incredible critical thinking skills.  These are hard to come by, and when you have a few of these you don’t want to let them go.

Then you get floaters (as I like to call them – they exist everywhere, not just in the contact center).  They come in, do the job and go home.  They are not driven at all.  They’ll take on additional work when it is given to them, but they will never seek out work.  Between calls or during slow periods they can be seen chatting it up with those around them, in the staff kitchen or always on health breaks.  These are not even the worst!

Finally you get those that are OK.  They are eager, they want to do a good job but they just don’t get it and as a result you will have issues with them all the time: sick, late, low productivity, poor performance.  They have negative attitudes and spread their negativity to everyone around them which impacts team morale.  If you have these in your contact center – get rid of them.  If you are working through an agency, hopefully they have done their job and screened these types of individuals out and do not even send them to you – but truth be told, I am certain we have all worked with these types of people.

What is Your Recruitment Strategy?

I’ve already mentioned a few methods when looking for agents.

  • Utilizing hiring agencies and working with various hiring models
    • Direct hire
    • Contract to hire
  • Job boards
  • Company career page
  • Referrals from existing employees
  • Craigslist
  • Social Media
  • Schools (high schools, college, university)
  • Minority organizations
  • Job fairs
  • Outplacement programs

The list could go on.  Each method above has pro’s and con’s — it’s your job to mitigate the risk and find those that work for you and your contact center.

What Makes The Perfect Contact Center Agent?

Over the years I’ve found that prior experience in a call center is key, when I’ve broken that rule it has been difficult to recover.  You either have to let the individual go (hopefully within their probationary period) or if you find out too late and they are now permanent employees it costs you in terms of what is mandated by your Employment Standards Act — in reality this isn’t all that it is costing you, don’t forget the indirect costs where the biggest is team morale and productivity. One strategy which I’ve employed to find the perfect agent is to create an agent profile. This strategy is simple in that you detail what you are looking for in an agent.

I’ve shared my agent profile with agencies that I work with.  This way we know that the individuals that they send us have not only been vetted through their own process but have gone through an additional review through our minimum requirements. The profile should contain a list of what you want the perfect candidate to have, their personality traits, skill set and core competencies.  The best way to create this is to look at the top agents in your contact center today, and develop your agent profile based on them. In addition to having an agent profile, you should also have a job description that accurately reflect the roles and responsibilities of the position.  It does not have to be 3-pages long but needs to accurately reflect what the agent will be doing. Some of the things that I look for:

  • Able to show empathy
  • Strong critical thinking skills
  • Willing to wear multiple hats
  • Ability to think on their feet
  • Outgoing personality — introverts may do well, but depending on where they are on the scale
  • Ability to listen
  • Calm
    • Won’t fly off the handle the moment they get an angry caller or someone who swears
  • Exceptional telephone skills
    • Not monotone and able to fluctuate their tone accordingly
  • Experience
    • Have they worked in a call center before?
    • Do they have office experience?  While office experience isn’t a must I have found that those that have worked in an office know how to conduct themselves, they understand and can deal with office politics and know what business casual means.
  • Strong language/communication skills
    • Not only on the telephone, but written skills in addition to being able to interact with others on the team and outside the team
  • Conscientious

Great resource for behavioral questions is – there are some awesome questions here along with “answers” (well – what you should be listening for).

Once you have developed your agent profile, and have determined what your hiring strategy is hopefully you start getting resumes to fill those open positions. Working with agencies we now conduct a telephone interview first, this allows us to hear the individual over the phone and to test their language skills.  The telephone interview should not take more than 30-minutes, this is the chance for you to tell the prospective candidate about the company and the position — when I conduct the telephone interview, my goal is to “scare the individual away”.

I only want those individuals who are serious about the job and role to come in for a face-to-face, I don’t want tire kickers. During the telephone interview you should ask a small subset of questions from your master list, this is to determine whether you really want to meet the person face-to-face. In my contact center we focus on behavioral questions in the interview, this forces the candidate to think about a response and tie it into their work experience.  While personal responses, and responses related to volunteer work are acceptable chances are the candidate will go above and beyond in those situations since they have a greater personal role.

I have read about telephone screening processes where the candidate calls into an automated system  or employment information line screening system which sounds very appealing, especially if you are doing more direct hires.  This method allows you to screen unqualified candidates, and listen to their telephone voice.  If you use this method, I would like to hear from you as to its effectiveness – contact me via Twitter, or LinkedIn or leave a comment.

If the candidate has made it past the pre-screen telephone interview then it is time to bring them into the office for a face-to-face and really grill them.  Remember your goal is to hire the best, and a thorough in-person interview will either scare the candidate away or they will shine as they have the experiences you need in order to be successful on the job.  My goal even in the in-person interview is to see if I can scare the individual away, the questions will tell me if they are serious about the opportunity or are they filling in time until something better comes along and will be coasters.  I don’t want coasters, but engaged individuals that are excited about coming to work.

Agent Testing In The Contact Center

Many contact centers swear by agent testing, this is not something that we have implemented but it is on my radar.  In lieu of this we rely heavily on the in-person interview and use of behavioral questions to learn about the prospective candidate.

Reference Checks

If after all of this you have narrowed down your candidate list to one or two individuals the final step should be to check references.  Too often this is an after thought – again if you are using an agency, they will take care of this for you however if you are hiring directly you need to check references.  In the reference check you want to “interview” the previous employer by asking specific questions about what the candidate did for them, questions to consider asking:

  • What project(s) did the individual work on?
  • What was the environment like?  Small or large team?
  • What were their job duties and what technologies did they use?
  • What was their technical performance and ability like?
  • How are their non-technical skills?
  • What are some of their strengths and areas for improvement?
  • What was their attendance and reliability like?
  • Would you rehire them?

Companies which have strong HR departments or hiring and documentation processes will be able to answer these questions easily.  These questions will also help weed out those candidates that decide to list their next-door neighbor as a reference because they will not be able to answer these types of questions. It may also be beneficial to fax and/or e-mail the questions and request them to be returned in the same manner so that the responses can be kept in the file for that individual.

Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills

In reality you will never find the perfect candidate, they will always be lacking something which is why you want to hire for attitude and train for skills.  You can train the prospective candidate on your products, services and tools — you will not be able to train them to have a better attitude. You do not want mediocre talent, as they will produce mediocre results.

There are two things that differentiate CSRs – these are attitude, and aptitude.  You should be looking for someone that has passion, energy and enthusiasm.  Answers should roll off their tongues, and their subtle body language will tell you whether they truly have the customer service orientation that is required to be successful.  Were they laid back, nonchalant when answering questions?  Or did their ears perk-up, eyes widen and sparkle and grin cover their face when you asked them “tell us about a time where you over delivered to a customer” or “tell us about a time when you resolved a difficult situation and were commended by your manager”.

If you have any strategies that you can share with readers, please send them over via Twitter, LinkedIn or leave a comment on this post.  If you found this post helpful, share the knowledge!

This was originally posted on August 8, 2014.