Monday, December 17, 2012

Handling Holiday Small Talk

The economy and job market have seen little change in 2012, and little change from the last few years. The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for people who have not yet secured a position and find themselves still out of work. Ah yes, then there are the holiday gatherings. And what is the first thing you hear...“How’s it going?”  So this time of year it is particularly important to consider better ways to conduct a conversation at these gatherings. While preparing to rattle off a series of paragraphs discussing this topic, I stumbled across this well thought out and well written article in the Wall Street Journal. It's a must read and I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to read it over.

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group

Friday, November 30, 2012

Contract Employment - Pros and Cons?

Contract Employees have traditionally been used as a way for companies to fill needs during peak production periods or special projects. During an economic downturn companies have also used Contract Employees as an option to help them in the transition period from recession to recovery. We've seen this to be true the last few years and as we look at the economic outlook going into 2013 it would appear that Contract Employees will continue to be a solution for hiring managers. Because in these economic times companies don’t quite have the confidence to hire permanent employees. Contract workers allow a company to address their current needs without making long-term personnel decisions.

An interesting change has taken place of recent as well. A transition that seems to have changed the overall composition of the employee make-up. And appears to be a change that is here to stay. Companies are integrating their traditional employee talent with contract workers. They are using contract workers for positions that were traditionally viewed as permanent employee roles previously.

Technology and changing demographics both play a part in this change in the make-up of the workforce at companies. In addition, many insurance professionals are by choice changing their status from permanent employee to free agent. Some Contract workers feel contract work provides them with a better work/life balance; others want to create or design their own careers by choosing the kind of work or projects that create a unique set of skills, making them more desirable prospective employees. Contract work assignments can provide individuals a broad variety of challenges, demanding constant learning and new skills, which can make work more interesting.

Some reasons why companies use 
Contract Employees:

  • Outsource recruiting efforts
  • Benefits administration is reduced
  • Contract employees are a variable cost
  • Employee payroll tax issues are outsourced
  • Labor accounting is reduced
  • Permanent hiring process is too long 
  • Overall cost of hiring is reduced
  • Bring back a retiree

While the Contract Employee may choose Contract work as a permanent alternative to the traditional employment status because of the flexibility and work life balance it can provide. And an opportunity to gain valuable and interesting experiences not always available in a traditional employment arrangement. Naturally the downside of Contract Employment for a long term career is the lack of any benefits and the instability of not knowing when you next assignment will come along as you end the current assignment you may be on.

From a worker standpoint there are definitely pros and cons. From an employer standpoint it appears to be a pros and largely no drawbacks arrangement. In the current economy for some workers contract employment provides that badly needed bridge between permanent positions.

This discussion is well suited for participation from both the employer and the contract employee. I’d be interested in your input on your experiences on this subject. 

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Active Listening in an Interview

My son likes to argue. He calls it debating. However, we have explained to him over and over that debating is a discussion in which reasons are advanced for and against some proposition or proposal. He on the other hand does not discuss, he argues. It’s his way or no way. Our bet is that he will either be a politician or a lawyer. We were even looking at a DVD from when he was two years old. He and his sister were pulling laundry out of a hamper and tossing it into the laundry room. While recording the event I told him that he missed a couple pieces in the bottom of the hamper. At two years old he looked at me straight in the eye and rattled off some jabbering which was clearly him arguing even then! So it’s always been that way. As he’s gotten older he pulls out what he considers facts & figures to back up his position yet no source to back up this information he pulls out of thin air. At times it is actually quite comical.

Besides the arguing he also has a habit of talking over people. Mostly us but on occasion others as well. We have tried over and over to explain that he cannot listen while he is talking. So instead of listening to someone he instead is formulating what he wants to say and then will start talking over the person before they have finished what they were saying. Because he is in a Communications class at school this semester it seems like a prime opportunity for him to hear from someone else besides us that he simply cannot listen while talking. So I told him to ask his Communications teacher. He said he would, however when I followed up with him last week he still had not done so. His response, “I don’t need to because I know I’m right.” I told him to do some research on his own then to find the answer to whether it is physically possible to listen while you are talking. No response.

While this rages on with no clear conclusion in sight it does bring up some very important points when you are engaged in an interview. From time to time when following up with a client after interviewing a candidate the feedback is:

1. The candidate tried to control the conversation.
2. The candidate talked over me.
3. The candidate wouldn't let me finish my questions.
4. The candidate went on too long with their answers.
5. The candidate seemed preoccupied and not listening.

Sounds like my son was interviewing. These are very real pieces of feedback I've received. And every time the candidate was not chosen for further conversation. So active listening skills are indeed critical in an interview. Thoughtful and to the point responses are critical to it being successful. Knowing your role in an interview is also a critical key to a successful interview. And being prepared with questions is another key piece.

Now taking each item one by one.

Active listening: The way to become a better listener is to practice "active listening." This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.

Thoughtful and to the point responses: Be thorough in your responses but be to the point. Don’t go on and on. You may need to ask a question to better understand exactly what the interviewer wants to know by asking the question you are responding to. This allows you to relay the relevant information they seek.

Knowing your role: You are the one being interviewed. Absolutely you should have questions prepared. That is expected. However present your questions as appropriate. Never try to control the interview. Granted there are interviewers that would rather not be interviewing but would rather be attending to their work. And in these situations you may need to “guide” the interview to an extent. But typically the interviewer will be guiding the interview.

Be prepared with questions: While I touched on this already I can’t stress this enough. Do your homework. Being prepared makes a statement that you are interested. In addition your questions should allow you to extract information from the interviewer that will allow you to provide pointed and informational answers. Your questions will allow you to be in a better position to interact beyond just the interview questions. Will allow you to learn what is critical to them. What do they want to see in a person’s background. What has allowed people to be successful in this role.

While my son doesn’t think I know what I’m talking about….rest assured this information will indeed help you in an interview.

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


New construction sales are up. Resale housing sales are up in certain price points. But it is still a buyers’ market in housing sales. I finally sold my house after 2.5 years on the market. It was far from an enjoyable experience and frankly I feel a bit violated. I’m told an offer is coming. Expect it to be low. Of course it will be low I think to myself. But that’s the negotiation dance. So they present their offer. Okay the offer is low. I expected that. What I didn’t expect is that they wanted furniture, electronics, cabinets, shelving. Heck they asked for everything it seemed like except our kids! So I’m caught off guard a bit certainly and counter. The response back….nope. The offer stands. No interest in my counter. No concessions on their part. Want, want, want. No give. So what happened to the negotiation process??!! They knew they had me in a corner and I knew if I didn’t fold I was going to be paying two mortgages.

Some job seekers believe that companies will offer well below the market value for their skills because the job market is poor. My response to that…..would you want to work for someone that does that? But I also understand that many good people have been unemployed far too long and something is better than nothing. The good news: I truly believe however based on my experience working with many companies across the US, a company actually undercutting someone is much more rare than one might think.

Companies are paying a fair & competitive salary for a person’s skill set & experience. Granted salaries are not being inflated certainly. At least companies are not trying to take advantage of the job market.

So how about negotiating when you get an offer? Or how do you complete a job application on salary?

As for the job application, what are your salary expectations? You could complete by saying “a far & competitive salary for the position.” If a number is required, I’d recommend that you do your homework prior to completing the application and through research determine an idea as to what is the range for the position you are applying for. Then do not exceed the midpoint of that range but answer with a response such as, “As close to $X as possible.” Now if you are working with a recruiter they should be able to consult with you on these questions of course, so use them to help you. They are your advocate.

How about when you get an offer? Well if you like it, accept it. If it falls shy of your expectations then your response could be:

“Thank you for the offer. I truly appreciate the potential opportunity to join your company. I will review it and get back to you by tomorrow at noon.”

Now do your number crunching and determine an acceptable figure. Base your reasoning on facts not on simply because I’d like more. You need to go back to the employer and give them reason to increase their offer. Perhaps there is a difference in the cost of the benefits over your last position. Perhaps the bonus potential is less than your last position. Perhaps the travel expenses are higher for your commute. These are logical and acceptable to figure into the equation. And if presented properly the employer will not be offended.

So at the agreed upon day/time you call back. You explain that you are sincerely interested in working for them. Of course only say this if you truly are. Don’t play games with them. And don’t play one offer against another. Burning bridges never pays off in the long run. Then you explain your reasoning and ask if they could get close to $x figure on base. If they can you will accept their offer. Okay, you’ve given them your sincere interest, commitment and logical reasoning for asking for the figure you gave. If they can do it they will. If they can’t you can still accept on good terms or decline on good terms.

There is the art of negotiations.

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back to school and Interviewing 101.

Here in the Midwest we have had several weeks of record breaking temperatures and heat indexes. Now we have experienced a cooling and on a couple days it has gotten down right chilly. Kids are back in school, temperatures are changing and the sports section of the newspaper is pretty much dedicated to football. Must mean only one thing, we are headed to fall. With summer quickly becoming a speck in our rearview mirrors, hiring managers are becoming more available with summer vacations all but done. Searches delayed by schedules and thoughts returning to filling critical staff vacancies brings about a refocus on hiring decisions. This is a perfect time to refresh on interviewing 101.

You are never too experienced in your profession, never too high up the org chart to not take time to be prepared for an interview. Presentation in an interview is critical to securing an offer. Doesn’t matter if you are a File Clerk or a CEO. Why take chances? Taking a lax approach to an interview never ends well. The details count. Every last one of them. That’s why I felt coming across this article was perfect timing. It articulates very well things to avoid in an interview. What are some other suggestions you can think of?

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Technology has changed how we prioritize our time.

Managing your time given the demands technology has placed on us seems like a constant battle. Years ago when “email” was a new thing and I worked for a staffing firm we were instructed to block out our mornings and to not even view incoming emails. As time has passed email, and even texting, has become engrained into how we do business. Just returning from vacation I am reminded on how technology has changed our lives both positively and some may even say to a degree negatively. My vacations are working vacations. I’m okay with that. My family is okay with that. I enjoy what I do and want to not only be accessible to those I serve but also make certain things continue while I’m away. My most recent vacation became more challenging than past trips due to the time zone difference. The combination of the time zone difference and our activities made it very challenging to keep on top of things on a timely basis. So I found myself having to prioritize. I had to pick & choose who I got back to. I found this to be a
very uncomfortable situation. A situation created by technology and the demands it places on us. Relatively new in the grand scheme of things.

As we go about our daily lives both at work and away from work, it is wise to have a plan to manage technology so it does not control you. After all it is a tool that if used wisely and effectively should enhance how we do business and in other ways as well.

Harvard Business Review recently had an interesting piece that directly relates to this topic: Two Lists You Should Look At by Peter Bergman. It is definitely worth a read.

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Four Skills that Every Insurance Account Manager or Account Executive needs to Prosper in their Career

Throughout the years I’ve noticed that there are several traits that employers look for in account managers and below are the top ones that seem to be almost universal.

1.  Client Facing Experience

I realize that this is something that you either have or don’t but it is one of the things that my clients continually ask for.  Great account managers have experience meeting directly with clients to present renewals, gather information, conduct enrollments or just to follow up.  The reason agencies and producers like these skills is because it takes the load off of the producer and allows them to go out and focus on new business.  If you don’t have this experience you should start asking for it.  Not only will it make you marketable but it will also make you indispensible. 

2.  Marketing Skills

Having great marketing skills goes much farther than knowing how to put a submission together and getting it out.  Great marketers know that not all risks are created equal and that some risks are better suited for better carriers and underwriters.  I always imagine this to be like in those legal shows in TV where the lawyers do whatever they can to get in front of the judge that is most sympathetic to their cause.  When conducting references with underwriters I’ve noticed two key things that seem to make someone successful with them.  The first is that they always send in completed submissions and never have to be chased down.  The second is that when additional information is needed they are responsive and get it back quickly.  Off the record many of the underwriters I’ve spoken with recognize these traits and will give preferential treatment.  So remember – treat your underwriters well!

3.  Strong Organizational Skills

It should go without saying that a good account manager should be well organized.  A great account manager is better than organized.  You know how your mom used to have everything ready to go for you so that you could walk out of the door to school on time.  Lunches were ready, bags were packed, clothes were washed… you get the picture.  A great account manager is the same way.  They know what the producer needs before they ask and have it ready. Typically these people create their own systems and can produce results almost immediately.  More than this they always meet and even exceed deadlines.  Probably the most important in this realm is the ability to shift priorities based on current needs while being able to get everything accomplished.

4.  Great Customer Service Skills

I saved this one for last but it is probably the most important.  I’m sure that you know some really good service people that do everything we discussed above right – they run their book efficiently and there are never problems.  BUT – they are lifeless, unenjoyable people to talk to or even worse they just aren’t nice.  Truly great account managers are extensions of the sales producer in that they continue to make the experience terrific for the client.  Some of the key traits are:
  • A great phone presence – you don’t need to sound like you are on the radio but you should sound like you are smiling.  Believe me, if you roll your eyes on the phone it comes through in your voice.
  • Responsive to the client or producer – it doesn’t matter what the request a good account manager gets back to people in a timely manner – most of them anticipate these questions as well
  • Patience – most great people in these roles realize that their clients are not skilled insurance professionals like themselves and have patience.
  • Builds a personal relationship with clients – you don’t need to be your client’s best friend.  But the good ones get to know their clients well.  How many kids?  Married?  Hobbies? Vacation?  Learning these things creates a bond.

Scott Thompson, CPC | Senior Search Consultant
Capstone Search Group

Email Etiquette for job seekers

I recall a few years ago composing an email and sending it off without much thought. The sender unfortunately misinterpreted the message I wanted to convey, and what should have been a pleasant exchange went horribly wrong. I learned a lot from that experience. You see, I get hit once with a rolled up newspaper and that’s all it takes for me to learn a lesson for life. I must have been a very easy child to raise. Not that my parents used rolled up newspaper on me.

From that day on I read and re-read every email I send out regardless of the message. And I will now sit on emails that could be more prone to be misinterpreted due to the subject to be certain I take a step back. Sometimes I will have another person in my office review to get another eye on it as well.

Now there are times, naturally, where no matter how careful you try to be your message will just not be interpreted correctly. Or the person literally reads something there, that simply isn’t there. But you can reduce the risk of email damage by composing your messages with great care. In addition, it never fails to amaze me at the emails that go out with improper spelling, grammar or punctuation. Especially these days with spell check. And I’d recommend not over using punctuation that creates emotion such as the exclamation mark. And the silly little cute icons are best left for personal email. So no smiley faces doing jumping jacks in your business messages.

In some instances text messages are even being used more for business interactions related to job opportunities. While texting has an entire different language, still the same basic principles apply to texting a business contact. I just got myself in the dog house with my wife two nights ago. I sent her a text that I thought was clear and funny. She didn’t read it the same way and I got in hot water.

Here is an article from Business Insider that goes into more detail regarding emails. Good information. So, what are some of your email horror stories?

E-Mail 101: 8 Etiquette Rules for Job Seekers

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Basketball, Bodybuilding, and Conducting a Job Search

Basketball, bodybuilding and conducting a job search. Anything in common?

Last night while working on my laptop logged into our work network at my daughters basketball practice I took pause as I heard the coach stop the girls during a drill to gather them around him. He talked about details. He talked about in particular being disciplined to the details of the shot. And how critical it is to be aware of your foot position, hip position, body posture, arm & hand position, and where your eyes are while shooting. He stressed how important it is each day to practice these details to move towards each player’s goal, making their shots.

This morning I did something I don’t do often and never used to do. I woke up at 3:30 and reset my alarm for 5:00. I stayed up to watch the Thunder/Heat game. No excuse but I’ll take it. So I’m coming into the gym at 6:00 and Chuck, someone that has known me for years, stopped me to ask why I was just getting there. I told him I guess I am getting just a bit lax. He said you need to get that discipline back. There is the word again - discipline. You see, Chuck knows me from the days of when I competed in natural bodybuilding shows. I was fortunate to have fared well in the contests I entered winning five overall titles, placing first in my class at the Natural USA, and competing professionally in New York City. That took a great deal of discipline and he saw how crazy disciplined I was back then. Enough reminiscing about those glory days.

So where am I going with this whole thing? The common theme naturally is discipline. A job search takes discipline as well. It takes coordination, strategy, planning and discipline. The goal is obvious, getting the job. The process can take a lot of discipline. Today when a job search can take longer than in years past it is a wise idea to set shorter term goals to help guide you and keep you motivated and moving towards the ultimate goal. Perhaps it means getting a planner and each night jot down five or ten people you will make contact with the next day. Jot down five to ten company web sites you will check for applicable job postings. The purpose of this conversation is not necessarily about the actual details of the strategy/process but simply that discipline is required to reach your goal just as discipline is required to reach any goal.

It’s important to not lose site of the goal. It is important to keep moving toward the ultimate goal every day by taking some sort of action. The details are important. Being disciplined to pay attention to those details and taking action towards each daily goal is critical.

How are you structuring your day? Are you incorporating an action each day to move towards your goal? Is your process detailed? Do you plan? Do you have the discipline incorporated into your search process?

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group
Contingent Search | Retained 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Five Common Interviewing Blunders

Today I’m going to go back to interviewing and talk about some of the mistakes that people commonly make.  Interviewing is almost like a fine art or craft rather than a skill.  What I mean by this is that you will never, ever get one perfectly right.  Below are five mistakes I see people commonly make.  Take a look and let me know your thoughts.

1.  Answers Questions with Yes/No Answers
You’d be surprised but this is a way too common problem.  When companies interview you they are looking for substance and depth.  In contrast they are not filling out a survey.  So when someone asks you a question you have to give more than just yes or no answers.  Truly you need to give more than one sentence answers.  How do you do this?  It’s really pretty easy. 

When you are preparing for your interview you need to brainstorm and come up with five accomplishments that you are proud of from your career – that’s the easy part.  From there you need to think about what these accomplishments say about you as an employee and person.  After that you need to practice talking about them.  It doesn’t need to be a five minute story but it needs to be detailed.  Familiarize yourself with these examples and then be prepared to throw them in when you answer questions. 

2.  Assumes that the Interviewer Knows about your company/industry/career?
As a culture we are very egocentric and often times we assume that the person you are meeting for the first time already knows all of your basic information.  Here’s the scoop – they don’t.  In a perfect world interviewers would devote the same amount of preparation to getting ready for your interview that you do.  They would research your previous companies, study your resume and look you up on-line.  When you are asked to discuss your career you should operate under the assumption that they have not read your resume before meeting you (they probably haven’t), that they know nothing about your industry and that they don’t know what someone in your position does.  Don’t be condescending or patronizing – just explain the basics to them before getting more in depth.

3.  Hijacks the Interview
OK – so I understand that I just got done talking about how you should give additional information and be very detailed.  This is true.  However, there is always too much of a good thing.  A great interview typically  resembles a conversation instead of a presentation.  Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
·        People have a short attention span – keep on  point
·        Keep your answers to 2 – 3 minutes at best
·        Ask questions of the interviewer – people like talking about themselves

4.  Doesn’t follow Interview Protocol
I’ve written extensively on this one in the past and will continue to.  For some reason there are people out there that either think they are better than everyone else or don’t think that the rules apply to them.  This line of thinking will submarine your interviews.  There is a laundry list of items but some of the most common ones are:
·                     Wear a suit
·                     Show up five minutes early
·                     Send a thank you note
·                     Don’t chew gum
·                     Turn your cell phone off
·                     Wait to sit until the interviewer does

The list goes on an on.  Just do your best and use common courtesy and you should be alright.

5.  Isn’t prepared for Common Interview Questions
This is one that is really inexcusable.   You can Google “common interview questions” and find thousands of lists of  the most common questions asked in an interview.  Take a look at all of these.   Below you’ll find some of the common interview questions I ask that should be know but somehow still trip people up:
·                     Why are you looking to leave your current job? – I get that you might be happy and just looking to grow your career – However, you are the one interviewing.  Tell them that you are motivated to improve your career and are from time to time you are willing to explore select opportunities.
·                     Why did you leave that job? – Read some of my other blogs – but just be honest and direct
·                     How much were/are you making? (I’ll give you a hint on this one – I’d rather not share is not an acceptable answer)
·                     What do you want to do next in your career? (Again – I don’t know is not going to help you)
·                     Why are you interested in this job? – you better know this
·                     What do you know about the company? – do some kind of research

I can virtually guarantee that 90% of these questions will be asked of you in an interview.  So… prepare for them and have an answer ready to go.  You can’t memorize the answer and give it verbatim – people don’t like hiring robots.  Instead, you need to think about these answers and practice answering them in different ways

Monday, June 18, 2012

So You Got Fired… What Do You Say in an Interview?

Today I wanted to touch base on a subject I get asked about a lot.  How to handle your reasons for leaving a job.  This is a really difficult subject that many people get tripped up on.  The truth is that people leave jobs.  It’s a regular part of life like death and taxes.  However, when we are asked about it we start sweating and usually words start spewing from your mouth.  The good news is that you can handle this question easily if you prepare for it.

The first part to how you answer this question is literally how you answer it.  If you are confident in your answer and you own the reason for leaving there is a good chance that the future employer will be comfortable and move on to the next question.  However, if your body language responds negatively and you stammer your way through the answer the employer may feel  that you are trying to hide something and think negatively of you.  Here’s how not to answer it:

Interviewer:  “So, Milton, why did you leave Initech?”

Interviewee:  Before answering the interviewee looks around nervously and begins to answer without making eye contact.  “Well you see… it just didn’t work out”

Interviewer:  “Why?’

Interviewee:  Takes a long pause and a deep breath.  “Well, I, um, I, you see my boss, he took my stapler, it was a Swingline and I um, uhh set the place on fire.”

Here is how he should have answered it:

Interviewer:  “So, Milton, why did you leave Initech?”

Interviewee:  “Well, Bob.  My boss and I had some confusion about what stapler I should be using.  So I took matters into my own hands and burnt the whole place down.  That’s the kind of take charge guy I am!  Plus I learned that I need to be a little more flexible in the future.”

Obviously this is an extreme reason for leaving – I’m not sure that you could overcome arson in any situation, but you get the picture.  Milton owned his reason for leaving, was confident about it and made it a positive.  One other thing that you want to avoid here is to make sure you don’t minimize it either.  If you make a mistake that is a fireable offense you shouldn’t start by saying it wasn’t a big deal or end the statement with some false laughter.  Just say that you made a mistake, you learned from it and that it made you a better person and employee.

The second part of this is what you actually tell the interviewer.  In most cases I believe that you need to swallow your pride and just tell the truth in an objective manner.  The key word here is objective.  Don’t be angry, don’t be sad, don’t be flippant.  Just say I was fired because this occurred.  I feel bad about the situation and I accept it.  Even if it was total BS that you were fired act this way.  Nobody wants to hear a sob story.  They want to know what you learned from it and that you handled it maturely. 

But in some cases you legally can’t share the truth.  What do you say now?  In this case you need to craft a very specific message and practice it.  It needs to be something that goes like this:

“Company X and I entered into a mutual agreement that resulted in me leaving the organization.  As a part of this I agreed not to divulge anything about the nature of my departure.  What I can tell you is that they are a great place with great people and I’m ready to move on to the next step of my career.”

Most places will understand something like this but be prepared that sometimes they will push you for more.  In this case just share what you can and apologize for not being able to share more.  Some people won’t accept this and it is just a reality you may have to deal with.

The final part is just good interviewing in general.  Think about your answer here and practice it in front of the mirror.  If you do this it will come out smoothly and eloquently and will make it effortless.  This ties in to the first part – you just need to sell it and move on. 

I have one other thought that goes with this.  These tips are equally applicable if you voluntarily left a position for another one or to look for a job as well.  You just need to have a story and stick to it.

That’s all I’ve got for today.  Have a great week and as always feel free to check out all of my articles at

Scott Thompson, CPC | Senior Search Consultant
Capstone Search Group

Wrestling With Low Offers

Offers that come in under the salary expectations of a job seeker is a tough position for both the company and the applicant.  These situations are becoming more common within the insurance industry.  Margins are low.  Development positions are cropping up but companies have smaller budgets to build them from.  Now is an especially important for insurance professionals to understand how to navigate low offers in the right way.   

What Leads To A Low Offer?
1. Career transitions.  Companies cannot pay someone without relevant insurance experience the same as an accomplished professional with career experience.

2. Equity.  Companies have salary ceilings for every position.  Rarely do they want a new employee's salary to start out at the top.  There is no room to give raises and it jeopardizes internal equity with tenured employees.

How to Present A Low Offer
As the employer you set the table early and often with the applicant that its going to be tough for you to compete with their current salary.  You ask, "What other factors besides salary do you place value on?"  Then you use those items- PTO, Benefits, Retirement, Schedules and Expenses- as ways to put together a competitive package.

You also acknowledge the bonus opportunities.  You point out the way bonuses are factored (tenure, performance, position) and the earliest the new employee is eligible for one ("Our review period is only five months after your start date!").

You remind them of advancement opportunities.  Job seekers want to go where they are wanted.

How to Receive a Low Offer
As the job seeker you don't have to apologize for making more money than the offer.  What you should do is remind the employer of your flexibility and the non-monetary factors that impact your decision.

You decide early on what your bottom dollar is.  There is always a Want vs. Need battle.  Low offers don't stack up to the "want" but they might meet the "need".

Make your decision based on this simple question:  "What is more important to me- the perfect position or the perfect company?"  If its the first you'll decline a low offer because the perfect role pays exactly what you demand.  If its the latter you'll take the lower offer because progression is always possible with a perfect company. 

Mary Newgard, CPC, AU | Senior Search Consultant
Capstone Search Group

Monday, June 11, 2012

Completing Employment Applications with a Cautious Eye

Before you fill out a company’s application for employment you better read this.

This certainly has to be the wildest thing I have ever experienced in my 16 years in this profession. Let me paint the picture for you. Our client is a leading international broker & risk management firm. Well respected. We’ve worked with them for years. The professional we are assisting is a well-respected & accomplished broker. The broker client HR Recruiter requests that the candidate complete their employment application. Offer extended. Offer accepted. Background check completed by third party company at client’s request. Third party company reports three discrepancies. Offer revoked. Here are the discrepancies:

1. Candidate worked for a broker previously in their career that was acquired by another broker. Instead of breaking the two brokers out the candidate listed their employment as continuous from date of original broker through end date of acquiring broker. Background check found that the candidate was employed with a different start date naturally.
2. At two previous employers the candidate’s job title per offer letter and stated on business card provided by each respective employer stated one title. Upon background check the “official” title on record in HR department records was different.

Upon being told of found discrepancies the candidate produced offer letters from both of these past employers stating title they used to complete the employment application. Candidate also was naturally able to easily explain the discrepancies in employment date regarding the merging companies. So all should be well, right? Nope. Even after the HR Recruiter at our broker client requested the documentation to clear up the discrepancies found by this third party company, they still would not reinstate the offer. Come on, why make this professional provide this supporting documents believing the offer would be reinstated only to not reinstate? This entire fiasco simply boggles my mind.

It certainly has served as an inspiration for this blog topic however. So here is the message to all of you out there completing company employment applications. Be absolutely certain that you complete everything on the application in 100% accurate detail. Be absolutely certain you use the same exact title for a previous position that can be confirmed by your previous employer’s HR department not necessarily what you think your job title was. Be certain if you worked for a company that was acquired by another that you list these out separately with exact dates.

While this is about completing employment applications, I would certainly say that this also applies to your resume and LinkedIn profile. Leave nothing to chance. This was an extremely unfortunate situation for this person. One that frankly should never have happened. However it serves as a reminder to be absolutely certain to have all information on your resume accurate and detailed out, be certain your LinkedIn profile is also accurate and that you complete employment applications with a very cautious eye.

Any similar experiences from any readers?

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group

Counter Offers – The Worst Mistake You Will Ever Make!!!

Late last month I was working with a candidate who I had helped secure a new job.  This individual was really excited about his new company and was going to be starting in a week.  Five days before he was about to start his old boss called him into his office and offered him a significant raise, a change in duties and a new job title.  They pleaded with him to stay, promising that there will be big changes and that they couldn’t bear to lose him.  After careful consideration he accepted the counter and informed his new employer that he would not be joining them after all. 

As a recruiter in the trenches I see this situation everyday and shudder whenever a company makes a counter offer.  I do my best to prepare candidates for these and let them know that they typically work out in the long term about 25% of the time.  Still they happen all of the time and candidates accept them with regularity.  When this happens I will question their reasoning and make them aware of why counters don’t typically work out.  However, I usually bite my tongue and avoid telling them how I  really feel about counters – at that point they are not in a position to hear what I’m saying.  Ultimately I end up congratulating them on their promotion and tell them to keep in touch.  Full disclosure – What I want to say is “Why are you being so stupid?  This has a low probability of working out and you will be screwed!”

Back to the story from above.  After my candidate accepted the counter, I sent him an email congratulating him on his new position.  Three weeks later he responded to this email asking to talk.  The same boss that called him in and talked him out of leaving had called him back into his office on Monday.  He was really sorry.  The company didn’t have the funds to come through on their promise.  Nothing was going to change – but he was still valued as an employee….  Let that sink in.  What an A@#$# - That company not only broke a promise but they prevented him from bettering his situation.  The worst part – his potential new company just hired someone to replace him the week before.  He is now at square one in a job he hates even more than before and less options. 

Let me tell you something.  This is the norm!  I’m sure that some of you will email me and tell you about all of the times you accepted a counter and it worked out.  That’s great – you are nothing but lucky!  I can even tell you a story of one of my other candidates that accepted a counter and ended up winning a major award.  Just remember that for every one of these that does work out to the positive there are four times as many that leave a trail of broken dreams, broken promises and ugly exits.  They just don’t work.

So… Why don’t counter offers work?  Below are the five reasons I don’t think that they work out:

1.  The Company is Just Buying Time
Of all reasons this is quite possibly the most wicked.  Sometimes companies make a counter offer and have no intention of following through.  Essentially they make the offer out of spite because they are angry that someone is leaving or so they can get their ducks in a row and not have their business interrupted by you leaving.  Either way it is cold hearted and inconsiderate.  This probably has something to do with why you are trying to leave in the first place.

2.  Money Doesn’t Solve All Problems
Blah, blah, blah.  Money doesn’t buy happiness.  Mo Money Mo Problems.  I get it.  This is a pretty tired argument when you put it that way coming from some moral high ground.  Let me be the first to tell you – Money is important.  Very important!  However, there is a diminishing return to the value of money when you have a boss that screams, a horrible culture, you are working 80 hours a week, etc.  When companies make counters usually the first step is to throw a ton of money at the employee and beg them to stay.  While an extra $5K - $20K annually will make you happy in the short term – eventually you will get tired of the crap again.  On top of that many companies will hold up the money they gave you as a reason to treat you terrible saying things like – “We gave you all of that money and you’re complaining again?”

3.  The Feeling of Trust is Irreparably Broken
This is one of the biggest reasons that things eventually fall apart.  Even though they won’t say it a company will never forget that you tried to quit.  Never.  When you make a mistake they will maybe be less forgiving.  When you decide to dress a little nicer for work – just because – they will wonder if you have an interview scheduled over your lunch.  Eventually this will damage the relationship enough that one of you decides to move on. 

4.  People (Specifically Managers) Can’t Change – Same with Culture
All of you people out there that are married (or were married) should appreciate this.  My wife is fond of telling me when we fight, “You know who you married!”  What she means by  this is that there are certain core personality traits that can’t be changed about a person and by marrying that person you need to accept them and lose your right to get mad about them.  The same goes for companies and managers.  I don’t care how valuable of an employee you are.  Your resignation is not the epiphany that is going to stop your boss from being an a@#$#$!  These types of personality changes typically only occur in Dickens novels after a visit by three spirits on Christmas or after a severe brain injury.  A company might be sincere in wanting you to stay but you need to be realistic, try as they may companies and managers can’t make radical changes about who they are.  If that is why you are leaving then you should just go.

5.  Job Searches Open Up Wounds that Don’t Heal
Do you remember how it feels to have a mosquito bite?  It starts as a small itch – but the more that you itch it the worse it gets.  Eventually it gets big and red and it really hurts.  This is what a job search does to all of the little gripes you have about your current employer.  However, unlike a mosquito bite – it doesn’t completely go away when you take a counter offer.  All of those gripes that you thought of sit in  the back of your head and weigh you down.  The problem is that you rarely are able to put the genie back in the bottle and it just stays with you.  Eventually you will get fed up and decide to look again. 

Scott Thompson, CPC | Senior Search Consultant
Capstone Search Group

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Five Things You Should Know When Working With a Recruiter

1.  You Should Work With More Than One Recruiter

This is an area that really upsets me.  There are some recruiters out there that will ask you or give you the impression that you should only work with them.  They will give you reasons such as:

  • They’ve got all of the orders and relationships
  • It will prevent you from being accidentally submitted to a company twice
  • They only work with people that they exclusively represent

The fact of the matter is that you should be using all avenues to get a job.  Working with more than one recruiter insures that you get full coverage.  I’ll be honest.  I don’t have all the jobs out there and while I pride myself on being an out of the box thinker I miss stuff as well.  Different eyes can bring different opportunities.

2.  You Should Know Where Your Resume is Sent

This is another important thing to be aware of.  You own you job search and you should know where your resume goes.  Most recruiters are very good about this.  However, there are ones that will either take your resume places without your permission or will refuse to share their clients names because of trade secrets or something like that.  Please bear in mind that there are sometimes specific situations that require complete confidentiality.  You recruiter should be up front about these.  Regardless of the situation you should be proactive and ask how they work.  Ask them to let you know who they send a resume to and request that they ask for permission before sending a resume.

3.  Recruiters Make Money Off of Placing You

I bring this up for two reasons.  The vast majority of recruiting firms have their fee paid by the company.  However, you should still ask and make sure that it isn’t a firm that get’s paid by the candidate.  Most places will be very up front about this but it never hurts to protect yourself. 

The second reason is more important.  If a recruiter tells you that you are not a fit for a position it is because they believe that their client won’t hire you from them for a fee.  However, I can tell you from experience that recruiters are like all people and they do make mistakes and miss things.  Don’t take no for an answer every time.  Listen to the reason why they say no and if they are wrong respectfully disagree.  Now you can’t really disagree if the recruiter has it right – situations like the company wants 20 years of experience and you have four.  But you can challenge them in situations where they missed something on your resume or you didn’t put a key piece on your resume in order to save space.  Remember that you catch more flies with honey  than you do vinegar though.  Instead of telling them that they are wrong (not many people respond well to this.)  Ask them a question like:  “Would it make a difference if I had this experience?”  Recruiters are in sales and like making money – they will be open to this.  Just make sure you bring it up in a way that they can hear.

4.      Follow Up Regularly ( 2 – 4 times a month)

This is one from experience.  I talk to between 10 – 15 people a day.  I take great notes and am lucky to have a great computer system that helps  me remember people.  That said I forget about great candidates from time to time.  The law of averages suggests that most others do to.  The only to way to make sure that you keep on the top of the pile is to follow up regularly.  Now remember there is a fine line between stalking/annoying and regular follow up.  Following up 2 – 4 times a month should do the trick.  My boss always says that the keys to opportunity are time, place and state of mind.  If you follow up regularly you give yourself the opportunity of catching the recruiter when they are in different places where they might think differently.

5.  The Process Takes Time

This is another experience one.  The fastest time I’ve ever placed someone was a 24 hour turnaround.  I spoke with an individual on a Tuesday afternoon.  The client responded immediately with an interview request for the next day and made an offer on the spot at the interview.  This isn’t normal. 

Depending on the situation a company can take between 1 day to 3 weeks to respond to a resume.  The hardest part about this is that it has nothing to do with their interest level.  Just remember to have patience and that if you receive a no news update it is nothing more than a no news update and often times does not mean that there is something wrong with your resume or credentials.

That’s all I’ve got for today.  Please let me know if you have questions or comments.  Feel free to leave them below or email me at

Scott Thompson, CPC | Senior Search Consultant
Capstone Search Group

Monday, June 4, 2012

Things You Do Wrong on LinkedIn
I’m not certain of the original intent of LinkedIn. I do recall vividly how I was first introduced to this professional networking site. A Product Manager I know sent me an email and told me I should check it out. I was on vacation at the time with my kids at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. We were staying in one of the Worlds of Fun cabins. As usual I had my laptop and checked it out. This goes back several years and at the time there were not that many insurance professionals on LinkedIn. It was interesting enough that I created a profile and sent some invites out to a few professionals I knew that were also on LinkedIn. As I spoke to others it seemed as though the majority were on LinkedIn to stay in touch with other professionals with similar interests and to share ideas.

Oh how LinkedIn has changed. Obviously LinkedIn has had something to do with that. However the fact remains it is a great tool for sharing ideas with other professionals. However like it or not it has become a powerful tool for career networking. And yes, there are right ways and wrong ways to utilize this tool. And do remember it is just another tool in your networking tool box. Because I’m all about giving credit where credit is due verse simply reinventing the wheel, I’d like to point to what I found to be a very good piece in regarding the proper use of LinkedIn. Any questions or thoughts, please share.

8 Things You Do Wrong on LinkedIn by Molly Can,

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group

Title: Baby blue suit with Bullwinkle tie. What Do You Wear for a Job Interview?

When I first entered this profession after ten years working for an insurance carrier, I went through a very detailed & thorough training period. My employer was interested in me being successful in my position. To be successful in my role I had to learn how to help people. How to be their resource, their consultant, their counselor and their advocate. I had to learn about details. Things that many people take for granted. I had to guide executive candidates with many years of industry experience. What I found was an appreciation from my audience. The professionals I coached and counseled found what I had to say very useful. Often it seemed overkill, but I figured if I can provide just an ounce of useful information it was well worth it.

In those days business casual was not quite generally accepted business attire as it is today. In those days there was never a question of what you wear to an interview. Well, in most cases. Though believe me, I have lots of very interesting stories on what not to wear. Even then baby blue suits were not okay. Today the question of what to wear to an interview has a whole new meaning.

These times of business casual leave much open to interpretation. What is acceptable to one company may not be to another company. Therefore dressing in business casual to an interview leaves too much to chance. Why take chances? As is said you only get one chance to make a first impression. Competition is tough. Jobs are scarce. Why take chances on your first chance at your first impression?

I am often asked the question, "If the employer is business casual shouldn’t I dress in business casual to the interview?" As outlined above, short answer is no. But what if the employer tells you it’s okay to come in business casual? My answer is the same. Even if they tell you it is okay what if you interpret business casual differently than they do? An acceptable option would only be if you wore nice slacks, nice dress shirt and a blazer/jacket. Anything less, is just leaving too much to chance.

However, in the majority of situations I would recommend dressing the part. But it is about details. The suit should be up to date. It should be pressed. No buttons missing. No stains. No frays. The socks should not be stretched out. They should match the suit. They should match each other. Shoes should be clean and free of major scuffs. Soles should not have significant wear. Shirt should not be frayed on the collar. No stains. Solid colors are okay, but nothing too loud. White is always the best bet. Wear a tie that is up to date and matches. No character ties. Leave your Bullwinkle tie at home.

If your interviews span a couple days be sure to bring two sets of clothing. I had a candidate that had an evening dinner interview. They spilled sauce on their shirt. Couldn’t get it out and wore it the next day through all their other interviews. What do you think the feedback was?

Get a fresh haircut. Trim and neaten any facial hair. Trim finger nails. Details, details, details. Remove earrings. Cover tattoos.

Okay women, business suit. Which kinds of business suits are acceptable? No shorts suits, no skirts above the knee, but skirts below the knee are okay with no tattoos showing, etc. As far as shoes... professional flats, pumps and heels, peep toe, and boots are acceptable. Acceptable shirts would include high neck blouses and shirts. It is also important to point out that fingernails should either have no polish or be completely polished with no chipping in a conservative color (i.e. no blue, green, purple, etc.). Keep jewelry classic, but not over the top. Earrings okay for women. A watch always adds a nice touch.

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Contingent or Retained?

I’ve been working on CFO search for a property casualty carrier client I’ve worked with for many years. The President of this company reached to me directly about the search and seeking my assistance. I collected the necessary information from the client and began my process of sourcing, screening and referring. One of the candidates I’ve been speaking with about the opportunity asked me, “Do you have this on a retained search or contingent?” My response back was, “This is a contingent search. Why do you ask?” The response back was, “Just wondering.”

Not the first time I’ve been asked this question naturally. And it is a good question. But I always pause and wonder, why do people ask? Does it make a difference to them? And if so...why? What would be the thought process where this would make any difference? Then I must always remind myself, oh right, there is this long standing perpetuation of the idea that somehow in some way the “retained” search has an elevated status. But why does this continue to exist?

I believe it continues to live on due largely to the retained firms fueling the perception of the retained search as being a more sophisticated search. Apparently retained only firms feel they must create this perception to justify or create a different class of recruiting. Who knows. But just for fun I did a quick internet search on retained verse contingent search and the first two hits were retained firms toting their service and dismissing the contingent service as for only clerical types of positions. They paint the picture of the retained recruiter being more experienced and the contingent recruiter typically inexperienced. Wow! How interesting. I’ve been recruiting for over 15 years and have been around the insurance industry for over 25 years. We work largely technical to executive. Rarely, rarely anything considered clerical.

I’d say I’m uniquely qualified to bring this to discussion as while we are traditionally largely contingency based we also do retained. We even have clients on a combination of retainer & contingency.

So what is the difference between contingency & retained?

Retainer firms receive a portion of their fee up front regardless of whether they present the candidate that is ultimately hired or not. The arrangement is exclusive between firm and client company. Contingency firms only receive a fee for their service if the client hires the person they refer. More often than not, contingency firms are hired on a non-exclusive basis.

The bottom line however is that there is no wrong and there is no right. One is not better over the other. They are simply just different. Not all retained searches are executive level. As not all contingent searches are clerical. We make a conscious choice to do most of our work on a contingent basis. We are set up to operate very effectively on a contingent basis. Our relationships with our clients make the arrangement work. The way we do business makes the arrangement work.

We are proof that contingency does not automatically equate to clerical. In fact the majority of the members of NIRA work contingency and they all work on technical to executive searches just like our firm.

While retained firms are able to put you on a shortlist of candidates, contingency firms can give you more exposure. So it is often a very personal decision based on your expectations out of the search process. If you are actively seeking opportunities the decision is clear, contingency. However, whomever you work with, one rule remains the same: Cultivate a long-lasting, give-and-take relationship with your recruiter and you may find the best prizes come to those who are patient.

Scot Dickerson, CPC | President
Capstone Search Group