Thursday, December 17, 2015

Until We Meet Again

There is this great quote that sometimes pops into my LinkedIn feed:

“Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them…Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.” – Simon Sinek in Start with Why

Sinek is a smart man (I’m not just saying that because we share the same alma mater, Brandeis University) and that sentiment is so true…and so lost on most employers today.

When I started in the working world, I thought I would work someplace for my entire life. My uncle had, my dad had, my mom had. That was, until 2 out of 3 didn’t have those jobs anymore. Loyalty in the workplace, as I would soon find out from life experiences, was a thing of the past.

But I’m not a total pessimist in this subject matter because of one company: Astron Solutions.

Let me back up a bit and say how I got here. It’s a bit convoluted.

Through my first three summers of my collegiate life at Brandeis University, I had an internship at a big, international bank. For my three undergrad summers, I would intern there and I thought that would happen for a fourth summer in between my undergraduate and graduate years—and then I would get hired there right out of college and go on to work there for 50 years.

Except, at the last second, they didn’t have an internship for me that last summer. I had some other good interviews but no offers. So at the last second I scrambled to find a summer role. I ended up at a local real estate company thinking that would be good experience to learn about real estate (at least that’s how they sold it).

Boy was I wrong. My first day was spent doing a whole lot of nothing. The second day was promised to be more exciting, and that ending up meaning that I got a chance to use the copier. Except that I couldn’t use the copier without instructions on how to use the copier and multiple check-ins. 22 years old, about to earn a Masters degree, and I had to have multiple check-ins to make sure that I was using the copier correctly. It wasn’t that I was an unmotivated person (I actually think of myself as highly self-motivated—even to a fault) but to say that this role was going to be inspiring me was a huge stretch.

I decided to take a walk at lunchtime (to decide how I could possibly do this any longer) when my cell phone rang. It was Jennifer Loftus, the Founding Partner and National Director of Astron Solutions. We had the best interview of my entire life a few weeks before and I had been bummed not to hear back.

“I wanted to offer you a Summer internship,” she said. “Hopefully you didn’t take another role, though!”

“Actually I did take another role,” I started to say as I heard Jennifer start to sound upset, so I quickly stammered, “but I was thinking of quitting anyways so this is perfect timing!”

“Okay…” Jennifer said. “I’m sure there is some story here that you’ll have to tell me. Looking forward to you starting.”

I walked back into the office where the person who “taught me” how to use the copier was waiting to scold me for trying to copy too many pages at once.

“We’re going to have to go over the directions again,” she started to say.

“Actually, I’m sorry to let you know that today is going to by my last day,” I said. “I received another offer that is more in line with what I want to do this Summer.”

“Well,” she said, “if you’re going to have so much trouble using the copier, I’m not sure that you’re the best fit here anyways.”

With that very weird exit, I got a chance to join Jennifer and the rest of Astron Solutions.

At the end of the summer internship with Astron, I was bummed as I thought my time there was done. I had a great summer and felt like I had been a big contributor to Astron but like the bank before (and like many jobs to come), I thought my time had come to an end.

But Astron had other plans for me. How would I like to continue working for them on some of their marketing or social media material? For someone who was about to become a poor college student for another year, this was more than enticing financially. But, more significantly, for someone who didn’t have a ton of faith in the working world, this gesture was really important to restore that faith.

So for almost 10 years, I got to be a part of the Astron’s tight-knit family, despite the fact that I was, at best, a distant cousin. I got invited to every holiday party. I got all the company updates. I even got to take part in their supplemental insurance plan (and walked into Aflac in a different role many years later with that fact to help close them as a client). Despite the fact that I didn’t work a day in their office in 9 years, I always felt like I was a part of the team.

That wasn’t because of some fantasy world I lived in—it was because the team at Astron Solutions made me feel that way. When I showed up at the holiday party, it was like I just worked in a remote office. In fact, I had better treatment at Astron than a job where I was actually a remote employee. I was inspired to do a good job not because of some pep talk or seminar I went to, or because I had some financial carrot dangling in front of me; I was inspired because I wanted to help contribute to this incredible group.

And because of that will to help, I didn’t want to outstay my welcome. Now in my fifth job since that internship summer, I’ve come to the point where my primary job made doing this amazing secondary job pretty much impossible.

So it’s with great sadness that this serves as my official notice that I am resigning my role as Blogmaster and Social Media Specialist at Astron Solutions. I want to thank Mike and Jennifer for almost 10 great years of employment, which extended to Brendan and John who provided 10 years of warm smiles and laughs, and lastly to Cassandra who has been the first smiling face I see when I stop by for the past few years (and provides your great Astronology articles). You five have built a fabulous organization and you’re all lucky to be a part of it—I think my biggest sadness now is that I won’t officially be part of this family going forward.

So with that I leave with great thanks that Jennifer called me back that one day (and that we’ve been able to keep this going so long). An extra callout to Jennifer for serving as a mentor, friend, and overall calming influence over the past 10 years through my other 5 jobs. Thanks to all the blog readers and everyone who helped contribute along the way. It’s been very educational and a ton of fun.

Until we meet again.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Some Monday Humor...

Monday, November 02, 2015

How Not To Answer Series

Really love this series from The Muse looking at the best way to answer the most common (and worst) interview questions:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Do Your Hiring Practices Reflect Your Organization’s Culture?

Organizational culture has become a greater focal point for employees, candidates, and employers in recent years. According to the 2015 Best Companies to Work For list, most of the top employers appear to apply the Marriott philosophy: “Take care of the associates and they will take care of the customers.”  By ensuring that associates feel like they belong to their organization, employers ensure that employees are able to do their best at work.  In this issue of Astronology, we will explore some unique hiring and recruiting practices that focus on workplace culture.

The Marriott Hotel chain has for some time used gamification to stir recruitment. In 2011 the organization created a Marriott themed game called “My Hotel,” in which potential employees are exposed to the usual challenges of running a hotel, starting with multitasking in a hotel kitchen. Quixey, a mobile technology company focusing on mobile apps, created a game called “The Quixey Challenge.” NBC reported that “Hopefuls can register for one of the site's challenges, which are created and run by job recruitment platform Readyforce. If they can fix the challenge's programming bug in less than a minute, they win $100 and a chance to interview with the company.” uses a simple game of Jenga. Prospective employees are invited to a game of Jenga with their potential managers. Each Jenga block has a question on it that has to be answered by the person who pulls it. This particular ice breaker game opens up discussion and allows for everyone to see how well they could possibly work together. also uses game-like rapid-fire question sessions.

Peer Evaluation
          utilizes a “bar raiser” program in their hiring processes for non-warehouse workers. Current employees nominate themselves to essentially take a second job as “bar raisers.”  The “bar raisers” perform an estimated 20 work hours related to this role, on top of their usual workloads. Five to six bar raisers will interview one candidate on their own, either in person or on a phone call. At some point during the process, the candidate may be asked to respond to an interesting and intense question such as “Why shouldn’t you work at Amazon?”  Bar raisers who’ve interviewed the same candidate will meet, discuss, and make a decision on whether the candidate is a good fit. Any objection to the candidate by any of the bar raisers means the candidate is eliminated for consideration. The goal is for every new hire to ‘raise the bar’ for the next hire, giving Amazon a continuously improving talent pool.  Says Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s CEO) in a 1998 interview, “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”

Overall Experience
          takes a totally different, all-encompassing approach.  The potential employees (applicants) are encouraged to complete a profile on the company’s social media site. They are urged to “show Zappos their true colors” by including video recordings on the profile as well as using Twitter to follow Zappos recruiters. The company then uses screening software and recruiters to find the best candidates. When a position needs to be filled, Zappos creates a candidate pool from those existing profiles.  After selecting some candidates for follow up, the interviews are conducted with the team the potential employee would be working with. This is done to ascertain if the candidate has the needed skills.  A second interview is done with Human Resources to ensure the candidate also has the organization’s core values at heart. Typical questions include “how weird are you?” or “who’s your favorite superhero?”.  This interview is to ascertain cultural fit, which carries a heavy weight in the decision making process. If hired, regardless of the position, onboarding includes training in different departments.  In addition, Zappos offers $2,000 to new hires to quit if the new hire truly does not want to be a part of the organization. Few actually take the offer.

Many of the organizations listed here have the wealth to support their unique, and even possibly risky, hiring and recruiting practices. Understandably, for smaller organizations, more can be at stake during the recruiting process. For many, the typical approach to hiring and recruiting in their particular industry can seem the most reliable. Astronology wants to know, does your organization have any unique hiring practices? Have there been talks to possibly change those practices? Share your thoughts with us and we may publish it at a later date!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Job Rotation: Can it Work for Your Organization?

In this issue of Astronology we explore job rotation. Has your organization used job rotation as an employee development tool?  If not, now is a great time to learn how it can help your organization to be successful!

In short, job rotation is an employee development tool used to help employees develop skills in a wide variety of areas in an organization.  After spending some time learning a position, the employee moves to another role in the organization.  This pattern may continue for several months, or perhaps a few years, depending on the employee’s skill set and level in the organization.  There are many advantages to job rotation, including

  • Overall employee development,
  • Development of knowledge, skills, and techniques for how to handle various levels of responsibilities,
  • Minimization of job boredom / job dissatisfaction,
  • Promotion preparation,
  • Decreased work burnout, and
  • Increased employee motivation and appreciation of organizational roles.
Workers’ Compensation expert Jon Coppelman remarked that when implementing job rotation in the garment industry, “The somewhat hidden benefit in this was that, when the workload increased in one area, or when someone went out sick, they had people who were cross-trained on a variety of machines so they were not short-staffed in one particular area; I don’t see any downside to people having a wider skill set, other than perhaps, increased training costs.”

What are some drawbacks of job rotation? From a labor relations perspective, experienced employees may not be pleased with revisiting entry-level positions.  Organizations that have unions may need to look into how collective-bargaining agreement clauses could encumber some job rotation programs. Naturally, overtime pay also can be an issue if not handled properly. Another concern can be work quality. Work done by a new trainee vs. work done by a trained worker can be completely different.  Depending on the type of work and the sensitivity of the end result, some positions may not be well suited for job rotation.

Things to consider when establishing a job rotation program
·       “Job Rotation must start with an end goal: If the goal is for all employees to be cross-trained to do every job, the structure will have to be carefully created to avoid issues related to overtime and unions. If the goal is to train employees for eventual promotion, or to decrease job boredom, the structure will be different in regards to frequency and extent of work.
·       “Job rotation must be carefully planned”: This links back to the original program goal.  One series of questions to consider are
·       How will the program measure employee participation?
·       Will it be mandatory or optional?
·       What restraints will be placed on it?
·       Will employees pick out the areas where they would like to learn more?
·       What policies will need to be put in place to avoid abuse of the program, as well as protect employees from becoming overwhelmed?

Of what legal obligations do I need to be mindful? 

  • Employees are able to assess whether the job rotation is achieving the goals”: Making the program transparent will help employees to see how well they are doing. How will you make the program transparent enough for employees?
  • A mentor, internal trainer, or supervisor / trainer is provided at each step of the job rotation plan”: This additional support communicates seriousness and can assure to the employee that his / her time is valued. It also ensures for the organization that the employee completes the goals outlined for the job rotation program.
  • Written documentation, an employee manual or online resource enhances employee learning”: Job descriptions are a must, but outlines for job rotation will also be helpful.
Now that you’ve learned more, will you consider job rotation as an option for job development in your organization? If so, how do you plan to implement it? Share your thoughts with Astron!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

3 New Rules to Protecting Employer Brand in the Social Era

Amazon’s employment practices were under fierce scrutiny last month after the New York Times published a scathing piece on the company’s “bruising workplace,” as described in full testimony by ex-Amazon employees. Their accounts portray an Amazon workplace culture defined by overwork, sabotage, and in-fighting.

The news was shocking. What was not shocking was how these harrowing tales of Amazon work-life all came from former employees.

The 2015 CareerArc Employer Branding Study found that 38 percent of survey respondents, who were once terminated or laid off, left at least one negative review of that former employer on a review site, on social media, or with a personal or professional contact.

Just about a decade ago, employer review sites and social networks did not exist.  With these innovations come immense opportunities for you to both amplify and protect your employer brand. While navigating this relatively new landscape, here are three new rules to keep in mind:

  • 1.     Organizations big and small are more vulnerable than ever to threats against their employer brand.

Attacks against your employment brand need not be delivered through a headline, nor written by the hand of a reputable journalist. Today they can come in the form of anonymous ratings on an employer review site, remarks left on an online forum, or posts on social media. On the web, these words are searchable and may never expire.

  • 2.     Social media and review sites are the new tools-of-choice for the modern job seeker.

Social media and review sites have become staple research tools for job seekers who want a real peek into the culture and workplace practices of an organization. The CareerArc study found that 62 percent of job seekers visit social media channels to evaluate employer brand. Moreover, 75 percent of job seekers consider an employer’s brand before even applying for a job.

  • 3.     Vying for top talent grows more difficult and complex.  Employer brand strategies must evolve to answer these challenges and complexities.

Traditional employer branding and marketing practices focus on the candidate experience, often overlooking those who can potentially be your harshest critics--employees exiting your organization. However, in the digital and social era, this oversight is a luxury employers of any size cannot afford. Employers who build a comprehensive employment brand strategy will have the highest chance in covering all points of brand vulnerability.

Focus on Points of Vulnerability: Treat Your Transitioning Employees Right

Waiting for bad reviews to surface, then reacting, is not a strategy--it’s a firefight. The most impactful way to protect your brand is to prevent bad reviews from sprouting up. Although employers cannot control employees’ opinions, there are several ways to truly improve processes and influence employee outlook.

One common point of employer brand vulnerability is at the end of employment. As observed through the CareerArc study, terminations and layoffs can leave a strong, negative impression on your workforce. Improving the experience of employees who exit your organization can positively impact the way they perceive and share your brand at their next employer.

If you are preparing for a separation event, below Robin D. Richards, CEO of CareerArc lists his key pointers on how to successfully handle a reduction in force:
  •   “Be organized. Dismissals can bring shock and stress to an employee, so it’s important for companies to try and ease any uncertainties they can by preparing them for their transition down to the details: Know how much unused vacation time the employee has, and provide paperwork for benefits like COBRA and outplacement or career transition assistance.”
  • “Dismissed employees all have one question on their minds: ‘What’s next?’ These days, you better have an answer. Help them take that next step: provide career transition assistance to everyone affected. These services have become more accessible thanks to tech advances ushering an end to outplacement reserved only for C-level execs. The days of costly job hunt workshops across town are fading away. If the long-term unemployed are indeed more vocal about their negative views of employers, getting employees transitioned to their next job quickly will benefit your employees and your employer brand.”
  • “Be human. Even when it comes to turnover, for whatever reason, treat your departing employees the same way you’d like to be treated. Showing compassion and respect during this difficult moment will go a long way. How you treat employees at this difficult moment will be the last impression you leave with employees transitioning out of your company and into another. Be remembered as an ally to their future success.”

CareerArc is the leading HR technology company helping business leaders recruit and transition the modern workforce. Our social recruiting and modern outplacement solutions help thousands of organizations, including many of the Fortune 500, maximize their return on employer branding.

Learn more about CareerArc’s award-winning outplacement solution at

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Developing Meaningful Performance Goals

An essential part of a successful performance review is developing meaningful performance goals for employees to achieve in the following year.  This positive approach to performance development cannot be applied universally, however.  Rather, one must tailor performance review goals to take into consideration the size of an organization, the variety of departments / specialties, the personality of the staff, and the organization’s culture. In this issue of Astronology, we provide helpful tips for how to develop performance goals that will be meaningful for your organization and, more importantly, your employees.

Know your System

As mentioned in a previous issue of Astronology, the most effective approach to the performance appraisal process is one that facilitates communication and professional growth.  One size does not fit all.  Rather, each organization’s performance review system must give consideration to the size of the organization, varying work specialties and departments, and the organization’s culture and staff.  The facilitator / supervisor of an employee’s performance review must be able to comprehend how the appraisal system works, and explain it clearly to each employee.  Through that process, the employee comprehends how he / she is being measured. Clear communication helps open the door for open assessment and a more productive review.

Be Prepared

Employees expect honest feedback on their work efforts. BEFORE the performance review, review the employee’s record of employment, which should include both achievements and moments of misjudgments.  Managers should reflect on their own interactions with the employees.  Select the areas to highlight for the employee based on his / her strengths and noticed weaknesses, and integrate into potential performance goals for the coming year.

Recognize that Goal Developing is an Interactive Process

Although the employee expects to receive feedback both positive and negative, he / she should never feel like the performance review is one-sided. Be prepared to hear where the employee thinks she has succeeded and perhaps fallen short. Ask the employee open ended questions to get his opinions if an employee may be hesitant to share his viewpoints. When establishing future goals, allow the employee to voice where he / she would like to improve and how he / she sees that improvement coming to fruition.  Managers must be willing to find areas where they can help employees become better.

Make Sure the Goals Align with Both the Organization and the Employee

Developing meaningful performance goals requires keeping in mind not only the employee’s work pace and personal goals, but also areas where the organization would like to grow within the next year.  Are there areas within the organization that management would like to see further explored or developed?  These organizational opportunities should be presented to the employee to determine interest in participating and associated developmental goals.

In addition, perhaps the employee sees other areas within the organization where he / she could provide value and insights during the upcoming year, for both organizational and personal growth and success.  If so, these areas are another opportunity for mutually beneficial performance goals.   

Make Sure to Schedule a Follow-Up

Depending on the type of goals that are set, and the organization’s frequency for performance reviews, follow-ups need to be scheduled throughout the relevant time period.  Managers must ensure they schedule follow-ups when establishing new performance goals, so that employees stay on track, unanticipated resources can be allocated, and goals can be adjusted in light of previously unknown information.  During the following quarter, the manager and the employee might see that goals need to be adjusted.  Be flexible for success!

Developing performance goals can be an enjoyable experience for both the employee and the supervisor / reviewer.  To make the most of the process, ensure that open communication permeates all discussions, and be prepared to offer insightful highlights, constructive criticism, and actionable suggestions.  Through this process, both individual managers and the organization at large will surely watch the employees & the organization grow and enjoy mutually beneficial success.

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