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.

Wall Street Journals' 'Still Out of Work?' How to Handle Holiday Small Talk

Tuesday, November 20, 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. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What is Considered Business Casual?

A question I come across somewhat regularly is “what is the definition of business casual?” These times of business casual leave much open to interpretation. Here are my thoughts…

The definition of business casual varies from organization to organization as each has its own workplace standards and expectations. Companies that rarely host customers or clients may offer employees a casual work environment. But increasingly, even workplaces that host customers offer employees the option, if just in the form of a casual Friday.

Business casual clothing for men means a shirt with a collar such as a casual shirt, Cotton long-sleeved button-down shirts, a polo shirt or a golf shirt worn with pants whether khakis, cotton pants neatly pressed such as Dockers, or similar good looking brands.

For women, it means casual skirts, dresses, pants and blouses. Khaki, corduroy, twill or cotton pants or skirts, neatly pressed. Sweaters, cardigans, polo/knit shirts.

In general, denim, spandex, sweatshirts and pants, t-shirts, exercise clothing, sundresses, and sandals are inappropriate in a business casual workplace.

Check out Capstone's "Business Casual Attire" boards on Pinterest. We have pinned multiple pictures of acceptable interview attire for both men and women. Let me know if you have any questions and/or thoughts. If there are any other examples we missed that you would like us to include just let me know.

Here are a couple examples of what we have pinned on Pinterest:


Women's Business Casual Blouse                          Women's Business Casual Sleeveless Blouse


Men's Business Casual Oxford/Button Down             Men's Business Casual Sweater

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Zeroing in on Opportunities

This morning I was speaking with an accomplished reinsurance veteran. This professional has been employed by mid-sized reinsurers to the largest reinsurer in the world. I always enjoy meeting new insurance/reinsurance professionals. We chatted about the market. We chatted about trends. We shared all sorts of stories. He asked me about all the icons below my email signature line. I told him that when I got into the business we hand delivered resumes when the company was local or we faxed if not local. In some cases we even mailed US Postal Service. Then came along email. Then there was this new thing called the Internet. With every new technology I’ve looked at how it can be used as a tool to enhance how I can be effective. The more effective I am in what I do the better positioned I am to partner with an insurance company seeking talent or the reinsurance professional looking for their next opportunity for instance.

When the Internet was a relatively new concept I saw it as a way to exceed my then current reach into the market. An opportunity to expose myself to areas and people I could not have before. I saw the potential of postings. I utilized these tools to enhance how I could assist those I serve.

One day while on vacation I get an email from a long time Product Manager friend. He told me to check out LinkedIn. At that point there was very little out there. But there again I saw the potential of this new tool to once again enhance how I can serve.

With every new technology I look at it as an opportunity to further increase my abilities to assist people and companies. A big part of that as I explained to this reinsurance professional was simply by building out my networks. Hence the icons. Each represents a network opportunity.

Our conversation continued and he made a comment about our web site. He was complimentary and made an observation about how he felt the Current Opportunities page in particular was easy to use and how you can really zero in on the opportunities you are seeking. I appreciated that feedback as we actually just launched our new web site just a couple weeks ago. Please check it out. We took a great deal of time in considering every aspect of what we put out. Our goal being creating an easy to navigate site with informative and useful information for the insurance community.

Please feel free to share your thoughts. Check us out: at or just click on the logo below.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Key Pieces to a Successful 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.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Art of Negotiation

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.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Find Something You Have in Common

When you think about it, it can be amazing what we can learn from every day occurrences that happen around us. For example, recently my daughter started eighth grade. Overnight she seemed to be grasping at some sort of transformation that frankly absolutely puzzled me. This is a child that operates under the “I’m my own person” philosophy. Great sense of humor. Creative. Incredible natural athlete. Marches to her own drummer. Then came eighth grade. Something changed. The kid that would rather wear her hair pulled back in a pony, wear baggy basketball shorts and T-shirt with something basketball related on it tossed it all to the side. No more pony. Skinny jeans, etc., etc.

But the transition did not come without challenges. I could sense she was not 100% comfortable with the new look. But then again, being a teenager she was not one to come running to us to share her inner most feelings and thoughts. So we could only feel as though there was something not quite right. Perhaps we are fortunate, however, as given enough time she typically will share with us. Fortunately she did this time as well. It wasn't just about her wanting to change her image. Instead it was more about searching for a common thread that would link her to others at school that dressed a certain way. A way she typically did not dress. It wasn’t about fitting in but about searching for something she could have in common.

What a perfect reminder to me of a technique I had not thought much about for quite some time. Okay, so allow me to make this relevant to you as a job seeker. You have an interview scheduled. You’ve done your research. You have a level of comfort about the company and their business and their products. You have a level of comfort regarding the position you are interviewing for and your experiences and skills as they relate to the role. You have your resume and references ready. You have your interview attire ready to go. All prepared for a successful interview. How about a little tidbit that just might help as you enter the office of the interviewer? Sure, who wouldn’t want that, right? Here’s where it all relates. As you enter the office quickly scan the walls, shelves and desk. Often times you will see photos or items that will identify something you & the interviewer have in common. Perhaps it’s kids. Perhaps it’s fishing, golf, boating. It could be any number of things. But if you can quickly identify such a common interest it can make a great ice breaker to kick things off.

“I see you enjoy boating. Do you get out on the lake much? Where do you typically go boating?”

“I noticed your daughter is in dance. My daughter is in dance as well.”

The possibilities are endless. But it will not always work naturally as you might be interviewing in a conference room or someone else’s office. So if the situation allows you to lead into the conversation with something you may hold in common it can be a great way to kick things off. After all, we are all people with interests and many times common interests.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

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?

Kiplinger's 7 Job Interview Pet Peeves

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Prioritizing Your 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 Your Should Look At by Peter Bregman. It is definitely worth a read.

Monday, July 23, 2012

No Substitute for Résumé

Okay, here’s one for you. In my last blog I discussed proper email etiquette. Let’s take that another step. I receive a very nice email from a job seeker. The email is professional and well written. They used proper spelling, grammar & punctuation. They did a nice job outlining the reason for them contacting me. So the message was clear, understood and well received. Perfect, right? Typically when I receive such a message the sender also includes their resume. So as usual I read the message and then open the attachment. To my surprise is a recipe for chocolate chip cookies!

Then there are the emails I receive, again the email text is well done, however they attach a resume and cover letter(separate attachments). The cover letter is addressed to a different company and different contact than me. Now for me these aren’t huge problems. However for a potential employer receiving these boo boos it could easily eliminate the job seeker from being considered.

So the message here is quite simple. First, keep your recipes in a separate folder. Second, proof your emails for accuracy in every way before sending them.

To illustrate my point even further take a look at this interesting mistake made by this job seeker…

No Substitute for Résumé, The Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Email Etiquette

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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dragging Out Hiring Timeline Can Be A Dangerous Game

To all those hiring managers out there here is a little tidbit for you……heads-up, candidates are being lost due to multiple offers. Within the last two weeks I have had clients lose their number one candidate due to multiple offers. There are two good points from this scenario to bring to light.

First, timing, timing, timing. Over the course of the last five years or so many companies have developed the belief that candidates will be available longer because of the poor economy and job market. So we have seen many of these companies drag out their hiring time line double or triple to what was the norm prior to the economic downturn. Well folks, you are playing a dangerous game. Both of these recent situations each company could have avoided if they would have shortened their time frame by even just a couple weeks. Of course there are unavoidable delays that can occur. What I am suggesting and actually recommending is that you do not stall out the process just for the sake of stalling it out. If you can make a decision in four weeks, do it instead of sitting on it for eight.

Second, is the job marketing turning? I am not suggesting that and frankly I don’t believe it is. But there is one consistent theme throughout any economy good or bad. Good people are hard to find. Your top candidate is likely a top candidate for other companies as well. Many who may be your biggest competitor(s). Why risk the chance of your competition getting the person you want if it simply means moving a little faster?

Every candidate dreams of having multiple job offers. These days it is not the norm no matter how in demand your skills may be. What is more common is offers coming in staggered. Because of the uncertainty of the market, the offer that comes in first is the offer typically accepted. Don’t come in second place when you could secure your candidate by moving quicker. Hiring decisions are important and the selection process must be thorough and well planned. I respect the process. But just throwing out a little heads up, if you want the candidate move towards that goal by making sure your timeline is as short as reasonably possible.

Any similar experiences you’d like to share?

Monday, June 18, 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?

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?

Friday, June 1, 2012

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.

Check out Capstone's "Interview Attire" boards on Pinterest. We have pinned multiple pictures of acceptable interview attire for both men and women. Let me know if you have any questions and/or thoughts.

Here are a couple examples of what we have pinned on Pinterest:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Actuarial Profession at 0% Unemployment?

One my staff popped into my office the other day anxious to share some sort of news. Big smile on his face. Now seeing Scott beaming with excitement is not unusual. However what he had to share was quite different than the typical tidbit about one of his three young children. He proudly exclaimed, “Hey Scot you should do more actuarial recruiting.” Intrigued, I asked why. He said that he just read an article that his wife forwarded to him stating that the actuarial profession has 0% unemployment. My immediate reaction was to chuckle. So I asked him to forward the article to me. He did and after reading it, I chuckled again.

Zero unemployment? So I’m wondering where the writer gathered their data from? What source? While I do not recruit exclusively within actuarial and in fact it is a much smaller part of my business than in years past, I do know many actuaries both seasoned in experience, more junior, recent grads and even those preparing to graduate. And I know many quality actuarial candidates that do not have jobs. Recent grads still looking for their first job. Those preparing to graduate with no job lined up. I know many good quality college graduates that have been looking for their first actuarial job for a year, two years, three years or more. I know some that have given up on following their dream.

The actuarial profession is relatively speaking a profession within the insurance industry that is less effected by economic downturns. And certainly a very admirable profession, but 0% unemployment is not a reality of what is actually happening in the job market. Read the article and let me know your thoughts.

4 Degree With 0% Unemployment

Tuesday, May 15, 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,

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Networking in Your Backyard and Other Ideas...

We all hear and see about networking as being a key strategy in one’s job search. And it is true that most job seekers do secure their next position through their networks. A professional recruiter being a close second. But an active job seeker must use all the tools in the job search tool box these days more than ever before. So this whole networking thing has been talked about and talked about. But no way getting around it, networking is a key resource. I took pause this morning to reflect on some recent things that have occurred with me personally and it made me realize just how interesting a person’s networks can be.

My daughter plays for an AAU basketball team. Everyone looks a bit different out of their business setting, but I thought I had recognized one of the parents of the other girls. Sure enough, this dad happens to be the CEO for a local life & annuity carrier. One of the moms is the head coach for a local university track team. Another father - Assistant Athletic Director at a university. Another in prosthetic sales(artificial hips, knees). Not all of these are relevant to what I do professionally, but interesting just the same. And certainly makes me want to learn about what the other parents do.

Then I meet my new neighbor two doors down and find out that he is staff attorney for a local property/casualty carrier. One of my daughter’s friend’s parent is IT Director for another property/casualty carrier. I wonder what the occupations are of the people I see every morning at the health club? As the result of another networking opportunity my daughter gets an opportunity to meet with a basketball star from the ISU team whom has declared eligibility for the NBA draft. Pretty exciting stuff and all the result of networking.

While on a spring break trip in March with my family we meet another family. The dad is a partner with a large asset management firm in NYC. I’ve been networking with him recently trying to come up with some ideas for a risk management professional who has a strong background in real estate. Another opportunity to network.

Then as timing would have it, one of my staff passed along an interesting article related to networking from this morning - 5 New Ways to Network (That You Won't Dread).

Check it out. So, who do you know?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Change, Evolve, Diversify...What else?

I was catching up with a professional the other day who I had not spoken with for quite some time. He asked me how things were going for me. When asked that question I always answer it in reference to Capstone Search Group verse myself personally. I answered by explaining by telling him of course the last five years have definitely been challenging. Our carrier projects are down at least 75% from 2007 and prior. While business has no doubt been down across the board, I think this is very likely reflective of most businesses and certainly the search & recruitment business. I personally know of firms that have unfortunately not survived the economic downturn.

While talking I was reminded of a show I had just seen this week prior to my conversation with this individual. I was flipping through channels as I often do while ending my early morning workouts with 30 minutes of cardio. I paused on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC with Joe Scarborough just long enough to hear him talking about how our country needs an optimistic leader. And whoever comes across as optimistic out of the two leading candidates for President will more than likely get elected. I’m not personally a political type person at all. Right or wrong I’m just not. So I’m not making any type of political statements here. Only reflecting on what I had heard from that show that morning. Joe talked about how each decade the US sees a major challenge. And how the US has pulled through each time. But it takes optimism and optimistic leadership.

I take pause as I believe that's a quality deeply entrenched into our culture within our organization. I believe this largely comes from our people, though. I consider my quality helping me pull through these tough times as more of my competitive nature. Never giving in or giving up. Finding ways to survive. That coupled with the ever present optimism from our staff helping us evolve as an organization. Which finally leads me to my actual point. Diversification. Change, evolve, diversify.

As an organization we have had to evolve. We’ve had to diversify. We’ve had to rely less heavily on our carrier partners for business and find other channels. We expanded from purely a perm staffing firm to a firm that offers perm staffing solutions, contract employee staffing solutions and also RPO solutions(Recruitment Process Outsourcing). We have partnered more heavily within the broker world. We have partnered with insurance industry vendors and information suppliers. We have developed systems and new ways of doing business.

And this very idea of evolving and diversifying can be applied to the job seeker as well. There are so many extremely talented professionals seeking jobs. We know that we are in the long haul given the economy and job market. We see reasons to be optimistic certainly but the reality is, often securing a suitable position is still a very long venture for so many. So what do we take from all this? Above all, optimism. Optimism and a positive attitude and outlook will carry you so much farther than gloom & doom.

What else? Diversify? Evolve? Perhaps so. But how? What are your core skills & abilities? What other positions can these translate into other than what you’ve done previously? For example, a strong technically oriented underwriter that has an understanding of the interaction between systems and the underwriting process could make a nice transition into a business analyst role. Who hires business analysts? Insurance Companies, IT solutions providers for the insurance industry, etc. This is just one example. Also consider doing contract work. Contract work brings in income, keeps your skills fresh and looks good in an interview process.

What are some other ideas? Please share.

Thursday, April 12, 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 I am on the board of a national insurance recruiting association and the majority of the members 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.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Positioning Yourself for Promotion

I recently discussed environment; poor work environments are a big reason why employees leave organizations. This observation created a lot of interest and discussion. I have another observation...Would you agree that when a company has an internal candidate and an external candidate with equal experience and skills, they will promote from within verse hiring from outside? One would hope anyway, right?

This can make it very challenging for those professionals who are looking to make a move from their current employer to a new employer in hopes of actually progressing their career. Are there companies that lack the experience they need internally and need to go outside to make a hire? Absolutely, but more often than not a company will have employees willing and able to take on a new challenge. So making the career progression transition by changing companies is not as common as one might think.

I bring this into discussion as I do from time to time speak with individuals that seem frustrated because their company appears to not have any promotional paths available for them, yet they cannot find success in changing employers and gaining the immediate promotional progression they seek. My advice to these out a company that positions you for promotional opportunities. What does that mean? Companies that are growing are the type of organization such a person should target. Companies that have retirements pending in the near future are companies that one should target as well.

The individual must realize however that this means you may have to take a lateral move position wise to better position yourself for the near future. Many seem hesitant to make such a move. Perhaps it’s pride. Perhaps they just are seeking immediate gratification. However I believe that is a very realistic route for someone that seeks promotional opportunities. You can stay at your current employer frustrated, or you can make a change that positions you to reach your goal.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Not Always About the Money...

It’s not always about the money. In fact over the years in this business I’ve found that rarely is it about the money. Typically instead it’s about the environment (assuming the job seeker’s job is not being eliminated). Environment can be created by a supervisor, by the overall culture, by lack of resources, by old systems, by unrealistic expectations, the list goes on. Here is a very well written blog post by one of my staff that relates directly to this very topic. In fact it is so well written, need I say more…

Insurance and All That Jazz: Life Happens.....Does Your Employer Know This?
By Mary Newgard

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Timing is Everything

Let’s talk about timing. Timing has so much to do with many things in our everyday lives. For example, we knew that we wanted to trade in our vehicle due to ongoing problems. We met with the dealer on Thursday last week. Identified another vehicle they had in stock. Talked numbers, trade etc. I had been hoping for less of a difference so told the dealer sales rep I would sleep on it. The next morning the “check engine” light came on. Took it in to get checked. Found out that, in simple terms, the transmission went bad. Conservative estimate was $3,500 to repair. Talk about timing. If I had traded the day before I would not have been in that situation. To make matters worse, the warranty had literally just expired. Again, talk about timing.

So timing does indeed play a significant part of our daily lives. This holds oh so true in the job search as well. And that is why I like to discuss timing when I speaking with professionals seeking new opportunities. So much is about timing. When we speak with a professional we may not be aware of anything that particular day. That can change the next day or the day after. Or it may be weeks or months. Now more than ever timing plays a critical factor in the job search. Identifying opportunities is to a great extent all about timing. No doubt this needs to be kept in mind. However being certain you are positioning yourself is an important element to your search. Here is a helpful article from

LinkedIn: 5 Changes to Make to Your Profile Today (click on link to view full article)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's a Small World?

I was speaking with a candidate today and we were sharing stories. I had been working until 10:00pm the night before and up at 3:30am the next morning. I told him that I just can’t go to bed until my In-Box is empty. Which lead us to sharing more stories about remote access while on vacation...we are always truly connected! While we both admitted that was not anything we were personally concerned with, we are certain it drives our wives and kids nuts at times. This conversation was quite timely for a couple reasons. First because I’m getting ready to head off on our annual Disney Cruise for spring break. Staying connected at sea is about as challenging as it comes. Not only is the connection painfully slow, but expensive. I always get a bit anxious this time of year with the anticipation of that connection battle. As I am thinking about Disney I come across an interesting article in Rough Notes that not only talks about our technology-driven environment, but in the first paragraph even refers to the classic Disney song, “It’s a Small World”. Wow, that’s a little scary! But, the article is interesting and brings up some very good points:

"Skype, social networking, and instant messaging have made the world much smaller—but in this super-charged, technology-driven environment, what has happened to customer service? Are insurance professionals doomed to dwindling importance and eventual removal from the sales and service process?"

Check out the article. It's a good read.
High Tech, Low Touch: What's Happening to Customer Service in the Digital Age? by Jaye Casper

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Nonverbal Cues - Fingernails and Relaxers??

Oh the stories. Finger nails and pre-interview relaxers...

This week’s Quick Tip reminds me of a couple more stories. These are not typical, but as I said last week...definitely a testament that I’ve seen it all throughout the years! Things not to do in and before a personal interview are illustrated by these two real life examples.

So I get a call from an industry professional. They are traveling through my state and said they’d like to stop in and see me. So we set up a time. The individual arrives right on time, we enter our conference room, sit down across the table from each other and began to talk. Immediately I noticed that the person would not make eye contact with me. Okay, something they definitely needed to work on, but not too alarming. I was thinking to myself this is coachable behavior. Then, not too far into the conversation that individual began to pick at their finger nails. By the time we wrapped up, they literally had a pile of torn nails on the table in front of them...

Next up, the pre-interview lunch including a drink to relax the nerves?? So the candidate is set-up for a face to face interview. Everything is confirmed and ready to go. After the interview the client contacted me and told me that the candidate smelled of alcohol. Not a good first impression of course. I spoke to the candidate and they told me that they had stopped for lunch on the way to the interview. They told me that they had one drink to calm their nerves. Whether it was one drink to calm the nerves or something else, it was not a wise decision to go in smelling of alcohol.

While these are extreme examples, they are real life stories that illustrate very important points. Here is part 2 of my Quick Tip on face to face interviews. For additional ideas and suggestions for preparing for an interview please visit our website at

View Quick Tip: Part II of Face-To-Face Interviews
(Follow link, or copy and paste the below link into your browser)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Improving Your Executive Presence

I recently read an article on The Wall Street Journal online titled “How to Look and Act Like a Leader". It was written towards individuals already employed and how to change their leadership image within their organization. However, much was applicable to conducting yourself in an interview. The concepts and principles are the same. For example specific listed tips included:

Perfect Presence

To Improve Your Executive Presence:
• Sit on one hand if you gesture excessively
• Avoid interruptions by counting to four before you reply
• Stand or sit large to demonstrate you take up space
• Use few qualifiers as they imply lack of confidence
• Don't clasp your hands behind your back because you'll look deceptive
• Practice a firm handshake

Well, I can’t suggest sitting on your hands during an interview, but being conscious of excessive gesturing is certainly a good interview tip. This all reminds me of feedback I received from an executive who interviewed a candidate I referred to him years ago. After the interview this executive called me and said, “Scot, such & such is no doubt highly qualified for the position. I have to tell you, however, they sure were relaxed during the interview. In fact they leaned back in their chair and propped their feet on my desk.”

Through the years I’ve heard just about every story you can imagine. I’ll share one more... A hiring manager calls me after a candidate completes an interview. Once again the hiring manager explained that the candidate certainly appeared to be qualified, but went on to say, “Scot, I just can’t get past the scratches all up and down such & such’s arms. They should have at least worn a long sleeve shirt. It was very distracting.”

Preparing for a face to face interview is a very important part of the process. Careful attention must be given to every detail. This week’s Quick Tip is Part 1 of Face to Face Interviews.

View Quick Tip: Part 1 of Face to Face Interviews
(Follow link, or copy and paste the below link into your browser)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Will Phone Conversations Become a Lost Art Some Day?

I heard a statistic this morning - During the Super Bowl game this Sunday people will text 5 times more than they did last year. We’ve all been out and about at the mall or movie theater only to see a group of teenagers or middle schoolers texting each other while they are standing or sitting beside each other. Then there is texting while driving. Texting, texting, texting. There is an entire language for texting. My son asked me the other day as he heard his mom on the phone, “How does mom talk on the phone for so long?”... I think to myself - now there’s someone going old school.

Will being able to conduct a phone conversation become a lost art some day? Time will tell. But for now, it is still a vital part of the job selection process. The phone interview is often the first step in the process. However, the candidate does not always come prepared as they would if it were face to face. Some people are simply just not comfortable talking on the phone. Other people see it is simply a first step, not thinking through that it is also a screening tool. Never look past the phone interview. If you don’t properly prepare and properly conduct yourself with your “A” game there may not be the next step. Here are a few tips for preparing for a phone interview in my next “Quick Tip”.

View Quick Tip: Preparing for a Phone Interview (Follow link below, or you may have to copy and paste into your browser)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Football and Insurance Interviews – The Salary Question

I was watching ESPN while doing my early morning workout the other day and heard about the passing of legendary coach Joe Paterno. They were speaking about the instability of the coaching profession and how often college football coaches change programs. However, Paterno had been at Penn State his entire career with one exception. He had been head coach of the National Football League's New England Patriots for three days. He had been making a base salary at that time at Penn State of $32,000. The Patriots offered him over $3 million. He resigned after three days, however, as he felt that no coach should make that much money. I find that amazing and quite admirable. I’m certain when he was interviewing for the job the “salary” question never came up. You know, “What’s your salary expectation?”, or "How much money will it take for you to join us?”... No matter how it is asked, it can be a very uncomfortable question. So like anything when entering an interview you must be prepared for this question. Which leads to my next Quick Tip, The Salary Question.

View Quick Tip: The Salary Question (Follow Link Below)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Trends of 2012

A professional recruiter can be a valuable resource. They can be a trusted ally. They can be a true advocate. And they can be a legitimate counselor on one’s journey through their career. Changing technology touches every aspect of our lives and how we do business. It also continues to change how we conduct job searches as a job seeker. However I maintain that every job seeker must have at least one relationship with a trusted recruiting resource available to them in their tool box. How do you select the recruiter that can best benefit you in your career? This week’s blog introduces our next Quick Tip on how to select a recruiter. Below I’d also like to share some thoughts from Dr. John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University. He states that 2012 will be "The Year of the Mobile Platform".

He forecasts these significant trends during 2012:

• Intense hiring competition will return in selected areas such as medical technologies and social networking services

• Employee retention issues will increase dramatically as turnover rates in high-demand occupations will increase by 25% during the next year

• Social media increases its impact by becoming more data-driven

• Remote work changes everything in talent management as it now makes it possible for most knowledge work and team activities to occur remotely

• The need for speed shifts the balance between development and recruiting towards external talent searching.

• Employee referrals are coupled with social media

• Employer branding returns

Dr. Sullivan states that the talent management leader must be more strategic, more proactive and more business-like, and that means getting the entire staff to begin thinking about and planning for the game-changing events, trends and opportunities.

Quick Tip: Selecting a Recruiter

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Great Managers

There is a saying that states, “Behind every great manager is a great staff.” Another variation, “Great managers surround themselves by great staff.” And similar variations of the same. I am fortunate to be surrounded by the best staff in the insurance recruiting profession. In my opinion anyway. In addition, I also have on my staff one of the most colorful writers I’ve run across in the recruiting & staffing profession. So it seems only appropriate to pull out one of her gems from the archives for your enjoyment. There is a purpose & message to her article that is timely and applicable to most I’d venture to say.

So enjoy this light take on new year’s office cleaning. In addition, I’d like to introduce the next video in my Quick Tip series also timely and applicable as we enter into a new year entitled, “Launching a Job Search”.

Clean Out the Clutter by Mary Newgard

Video: Launching a Job Search Quick Tip

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Quick Tips

Technology allows us to serve our client companies and candidates better than ever before. I’ve come up with a series of short tips we’ve titled, “Quick Tips”. While the present series is geared more towards the candidate/job seeker, our intent is to continue to expand on the series and also include Quick Tips for the hiring managers/clients as well. I’ve created these tips to be just a little over 60 seconds in length. I hope you will find some if not all these tips to be helpful in some way. If you have any recommendations for topics for future tips, please let me know.

Quick Tips - View our Videos!

Capstone Search Group Quick Tips Intro
Resume Writing Quick Tips