3 Things Applicants Want Recruiters to Know

Whether you’re an in-house generalist or a boutique head hunter, here’s a few things all job applicants want you to know:

Mobile is a Must

If your application process is not mobile friendly, and I can’t complete it within a few clicks and auto-fill, I’m going to move on. Similarly, cumbersome account set-up (third party authentication!), is something else I can’t do easily on my phone.

If you’re recruiting entry-level, restaurant, retail, warehouse – this is even a bigger obstacle to you finding help. Many in your target demographic only have internet service through their phones.

Finally, keep it honest with Quick Apply(s). There’s nothing quick about an essay question.

Don’t Lie, err “Misrepresent” Duration

I’ve worked as a contractor and consultant for a good deal of my career, so I’m accustomed to project work and short-term clients. Unfortunately, many people who have been let go from long-term “permanent” jobs actually believe you when you say the job, “Could become permanent….”

Worse, some unscrupulous recruiters (not you, of course, but you’ve heard of those types) preface the duration discussion by telling the candidate, “If you do a good job~~” the company could, might (has the right to!) hire you…”

These “Could become ‘permanent'” discussions are disingenuous to the job applicant, and it’s one of the main reasons people feel exploited by contract work. If you are NOT filling a head-count position, and only have money for the next quarter, don’t mislead candidates about how this job “could become permanent.”

All employment is at will; there is no such thing as “permanent” work

Agents need to be clear that contractors are employees of the agency, not the client. Contracts could be extended; however, unless it is specified as part of your employment contract, all employment is at will. Duration is a best-guess-timate of the time needed. Most importantly, regardless of job performance, the contractor may never become the client’s employee.

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I stress the importance of not confusing contract work with being an employee. As a contractor, you are an hourly service-provider. You may “feel” like an employee of your client, but you are not.

Publish Under-Market Salaries

If your compensation is below market, publish it in the ad. There’s just no reason to be coy about your budget.

When I accept a interview, I make the assumption that the company is paying a competitive rate for the position. If you’re coming in 30% below market, I’m not interested. Even if I told you I was interested, would you believe me?

Yes, I know that you have limited resources. Yes, I know you are looking for a bargain. I get it. But, don’t spent your company’s money (aka: time), with back and forth emails to up personal interviews just to tell a candidate you aren’t even close to market rate.

Lastly, if you’re recruiting contractors and have been used to hiring FTEs, be ready for a little sticker-shock. Short-term gigs are hard to fill. And, because you’re paying by the hour, not the job, you will pay a premium – just like you would with a plumber or electrician.

***

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

 

Should I Take a Contract Job?

Dear Plume,

I was let go at the start of the Covid shutdown from a job I had for the past eight years. Although they started to recall some of their employees, I’m pretty sure I won’t be one of them.

I’ve been looking at the job boards. There are some positions that seem to be a good fit for me, but the majority of them are only for six months, and most of them are contracts.

I’ve never worked as a contractor before. Should I apply for (and take) a contract job? There’s a lot of them out there, but I feel it’s a step down from being an employee.

I can’t be unemployed much longer, but I dread the idea that I’d have to look for another job in six months. What should I do?

– Unsure

***

Dear Unsure,

I recommend contract work to anyone who has been an employee for a while. It’s a great way to level-up your career!

Downsizing, reorgs, and virtual teams result in a lot of “combined” job descriptions – meaning that the responsibilities listed in the JD were likely accomplished by two or more people. Now, they must be done by one. This is when people are likely to consider someone who could do the job, not just someone who has…

If you’ve been an individual contributor, and think it’s time for you to move into management, or perhaps you want to slide laterally into a space that has more long-term growth, a contract job is the perfect way to do it.

Contract work has a fixed duration because very often contract work is related to a one-time (CapEx) project; there’s a beginning, middle, and end. For example, you hire a carpenter to build a backyard fence. You agree upon a price and anticipated duration, and the carpenter works and bills you according to the terms of your agreement. When the fence is done, the carpenter leaves. Most people don’t need two backyard fences. If you love the fence, and think, “Hey, I need a front fence,” or a neighbor wants a fence, that’s nice. But, for the most part, after the fence is built, the job is done, and the carpenter leaves.

Knowing there is beginning-middle-end allows you to prepare. Employees often have little or no notice of when their job will end.

Depending on the nature of the work, your initial contract can turn into more work or different work (very common). In some cases, the client may wish to hire you (less common, but possible.) If you decide you want to continue working for the client (and you may not), and the client has the money to keep you (often, they do not), great! Mazeltov! If it doesn’t come to pass, no harm-no foul. You made some money, some friends, and gained some new skills.

There are some types of work that must be performed by an employee; however, contract work is NOT a “step-down” from being an employee! In many cases, contract work is more challenging and more lucrative than being an employee, And, if you sell expertise, long-term, you may prefer to work as a contractor.

The only job security is to be employable.

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I stress the importance of not confusing temporary, contract work with being an employee. Although you might feel like your an employee, you are not. When you are a contractor, you don’t have a boss. You have a client, an agent, and a lot of teammates — all of whom need to be managed (by you!.)

If you have a specific expertise, and think you might want to consult, I’d recommend working a few contract gigs to see if you can handle managing a client.

Not everyone wants to work full-time for an employer. If you have a special talent, expertise or own special tools, contracting could be the best way for you to make the most money per hour. If you’re young in your career, it can also be a low-risk way to acquire big-buck skills on someone else’s dime. Contractor or employee? There is no right or wrong choice. Only you can determine what is in the best interest of you and your career.

***

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

***

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

You Just Lost Your Job !

So, you just lost your job (seems to be a bit of that going around). If you’re new to unemployment, being without a job is a huge disruption to a well-established routine. And, if you’ve been a bit of work-a-holic, you could easily find yourself struggling to structure your time and set goals. Here’s a few things to do:

Stop Freaking Out

So, you’ve been working at the same place for 10 years, and thought you were like “family.” You can’t believe they let you go when <your nemesis> is still there doing the same lousy work. Losing that job was like losing a piece of yourself – like a death.

Except it’s not a death, it’s a job. You’ll get another one. Enough with the drama!

Don’t wallow in self-pity about how you’ve been wronged. Don’t think the people who were not let go are somehow better than you are. If you survived previous RIFs and downturns and assumed that your survival was because you were superior to those who were let go, I can assure you that your self-assessed superiority is overrated. People are let go (or kept) for all kinds of reasons. Sadly, most have little or nothing to do with their actual skills or competence.

If you’ve been with the same company for some time (10 years or more), and thought you would NEVER lose your job, I’m talking to you: You’re waay overdue for a bit of unemployment. You’re no better, no worse than anyone else. I also want you to think about the times you may have looked down on someone who was unemployed. Set aside your mistaken and misguided notions of people’s intelligence, competency, or worthiness and practice some self-love and self-enlightenment.

It’s okay to spend time grieving, but losing a job is not a death. People get jobs and lose jobs all the time. Why you? Why NOT you? You may have thought you were better – you’re not – you’re just equal.

Put Together a List and Structure Your Time

I cannot stress the importance of keeping a routine. I recommend structuring your tasks into 1-3 hour blocks for morning, afternoon, and evening with higher-energy tasks at the beginning of the day. In this way, you make progress on a variety of things daily. For example, the AM, when it’s cool and I have more energy, I’ll focus on physical tasks (A run with the dog, yard work, home repairs). The afternoon, computer work, job search, phone calls, writing. Evening: No-brainer food prep, house cleaning, shopping.

Looking for a job is going to take time, but it’s not going to take ALL your time, and when you do return to work, you’re going to be focused on your new gig. Don’t waste this opportunity. Knocking out chores, taking on-line classes, actually getting started on that (blog, certification, novel), losing some weight, will make you feel happier, more confident, and more in control of your life.

Stop Worrying

Eckhart Tolle says that worry is “too much future, not enough now,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Knowing that you are doing everything you can (sorry, worry isn’t action), will lessen the amount of worry and increase your level of confidence. People who are resilient focus on what they can do, and they do it. They don’t worry about things they cannot control.

If you’re worried about finding a job, ask yourself if you are DOing everything you can. If you can confidently say, “Yes, I’m doing everything I can,” then stop worrying about finding a job because you will.

Too often I see people substitute worry for action. They’re worried about losing their job, but not willing to look for another one. They’re worried about their relationship, but not willing to talk about it, or leave it. They’re worried about their finances, but not willing to give up cable or swap out of their $400 a month car payment. But, they’re worried….

No one has every solved their financial problems with worry.

Life is filled with limitless possibilities. As we emerge from this Covid crisis, we see a very different world than the one we left behind. You have changed your health and spending habits. Have you change your thinking or are you confusing worry for action? Are you seeing your unemployment as the end of your career, or as an opportunity to move into something different, more meaningful, less stressful, something that allows you to be all of who you are? Work toward the reward; stop worrying about risks.

Take a Contract Gig

I don’t run into too many people these days who have NOT worked as a contractor – especially in tech or healthcare – two of this country’s major industries. Every once in a while, however, I will meet someone who has only worked as a W2 employee (or only one employer), and of course there are still those who feel that working as a contractor is “beneath” them or that contractors as “less than” employees. If I’m talking about you: Time to move your mindset into this century…

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I devote a entire chapter to Misconceptions About Contract Work. One of those misconceptions is that contractors have no job security. If you’re reading this, and you’re unemployed, I think you see that no one has job security. If you have been with the same employer for a long time, you also may see that your years there aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to finding a new job. The truth is that being employ-able is much more important than being employed. It really is the only job security anyone can have.

You never know how long you’ll be employed, but you always know if you’re employ-able.

Working as a contractor is different than being an employee. You have a client, not a boss. The dynamic is different. And there is very likely a beginning-middle-end to your contract. Contract work can be much more challenging and more lucrative than being an employee, and if you’ve been looking to level up in your career, contract work is an ideal way to get the experience you need.

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

Final Thoughts

Anytime you lose your job, even if it’s a job you didn’t particularly like, it’s upsetting. You feel rejected. You miss your former colleagues. If you’ve been an employee for a long time, you’ll feel overwhelmed by just the idea of interviewing, and petrified at the thought of starting all over someplace new. All these emotions are very normal, and I can assure you that they are temporary.

You will find another job, and you will get past this, and it will happen sooner than you think, so make the most of your time now that you have some.

***

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. 

How Would YOU Caption This?

This cartoon and it’s original caption, “Describe what you can bring to this company,” has gone viral on Twitter and FB. I’ve collected a few hilarious – and a few very pointed – responses off the various feeds, and I would like to hear….

How would you caption this?

~Well, you are the most qualified, but I’m not sure I want to get a beer with you.

~I don’t disagree with your recommendations, but you need to tone down your presentation. You don’t want to sound bitter.

~We are ready to begin the inquiry into the sexual harassment complaint you filed.

~If you work really, really hard and prove yourself, we might consider hiring you full time.

~I’m not sure that the team will respond to your management style.

~The most important thing is we hire someone who reflects our culture and values.

~I’ll have the turkey wrap, and make sure there’s enough cookies and water for the afternoon.

“~~my life debating Republicans in committee each week.” – AOC

~I’m not sure you have the leadership skills for this job.

~We’re looking for a team player. Are you a team player?

~If all you bring is your gender and skin color, then you aren’t worth very much.”

No More Traffic Stops: Police Reform that Could Change Everything

Let’s start with a universal truth: Every single one of us, young, old, rich, poor, white, non-white, city, suburb, bedroom or rural – every single one of us has had an experience with an asshole cop. Most of use have had several. And, that experience almost always began with a bullshit traffic stop.

We know what a bullshit traffic stop is: Tinted windows, no front plate, “illegal” lane change, failure to signal, speeding with no one around, not coming to a “full” stop (aka: the California Roll), jaywalking. Fix-it tickets: Expired registration, broken headlight. These are known as revenue-raisers. You’re more likely to get one toward the end of the month, or the end of a shift, when cops need to fulfill their quota…oh, I mean their “suggested minimum” for traffic tickets.

We know how this works: He pulls you over. (He’s always alone, and so are you). He won’t tell you why you were pulled over. He demands your license, registration, and then walks around the car looking for stuff that could or might be fine-worthy. If nothing is fine-worthy, he asks if you’ve been drinking or using drugs. When you are offended and alarmed, he pokes you again saying you seem “agitated” are you sure you’re not under the influence? (He still hasn’t told you why you were pulled over.) Here it comes now: Step out of the vehicle….do you mind if I search the car? This will make it easier for you…

Any of this sounding familiar?

The multitude of videos showing police harassing, threatening, and ultimately shooting black men and women too often begins with one thing: They were pulled over by a lone, white male cop for some bullshit traffic stop.

If we truly want to stop police violence, we need to do the following:

Remove Revenue Raising and “Suggested Minimums”

States and other municipalities use traffic fines as revenue for their general fund. Why? Unlike raising taxes, it doesn’t require a public vote or legislative debate. Legislatures can silently increase fines, and increase the suggested minimum number of tickets written. This way of funding our government must end.

Making matters worse, for many smaller, cash-strapped communities, these fines are used to fund the budgets of the police departments who are writing these tickets!! This is why we have money for radar guns, but no funds to process rape kits. Moreover, the whole idea of using civil penalties as a primary revenue source for municipality is problematic. It’s clear that what was intended to be a financial disincentive has now become a mechanism for extortion and abuse.

Governments could easily end traffic tickets as a form of revenue raising.

The mission of cops is to protect and serve. They are also supposed to investigate crime. Setting up speed traps and writing traffic tickets fulfills neither of these goals. Moreover, most cops aren’t all too keen on writing tickets anyway – that’s not why they became a cop. What they do like is that bullshit traffic stops give them a multitude of subjective, yet “legitimate” reasons to detain anyone they want.

Speed Limits and Stop Signs Should be Suggested

This is a long held Libertarian battle cry whose time has finally come. I realize that many find this akin to anarchy. However, I would remind you that most people love their cars (and the people in them), and understand that speed limits and stop signs, and other traffic directions are there for the common good and our safety. I think we also know that people abide – or don’t abide– whether there’s a cop present or not.

While it’s easy to get lost in the legislative details of this one, let’s just say this: We, as a citizenry, don’t care too much about speeding and traffic violations. If we did, we wouldn’t be depending on individuals in cars to randomly enforce those violations. With the prevalence of drones, cameras, GPS, tracking devices, and live-stream video, there’s absolutely zero reason for any human being to have to pull-over another human being to issue a hand-written ticket — a ticket that is based on one individual’s “eye-witness” judgement. Again, a structure designed for extortion and abuse.

Stop Asking People to “Step Out of the Car”

Another commonality of many of these cop killings is the cop insists the driver and passengers “Step out of the car.”

Every cop in America knows that an individual has the right to remain in the vehicle unless you are being arrested. (Which is why he’s insisting that you appear under the influence of drugs. See: Intro paragraph above for shake down details).

Once you step out of your car, you are in the most danger you could possibly be.

Time and time again, we see black men and women politely refusing to leave the vehicle – that is their right! The refusal infuriates the cop/bully, an argument ensues, and the cop shoots you because he “felt” you were being “threatening” to him.

Once you step out of your car, you are in the most danger you could possibly be. You are being threatened and bullied by an angry man with weapons. You are almost always alone. You’re often being kicked, shoved, and yelled at, black men are almost immediately hand cuffed – and for what? An “illegal” lane change? Everything about human nature kicks in now – fight or flight – in both cases, you’re going to get shot.

It’s easier to shoot you when you’re outside the car. Regardless, in the case of Philando Castile he was shot inside his vehicle in front of his girlfriend and child.

Any cop who tells you to get out of your car during a traffic stop should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Stop asking to “Search the Vehicle”

This is another no-brainer. Under no circumstances should a traffic stop and vehicle search be part of the same interaction. You need a warrant and that warrant requires a judge to approve that you have probable cause. A traffic stop is not probable cause. Cops need to stop threatening people to “give their permission.”

Always do what the cop says, after all, you’ve got nothing to hide, right? If you have a problem with his actions, you can “hash it out” in court was the sage advice offered by a former NYC cop. This is white people fairly tale bullshit …

Cops plant drugs, cops plant weapons. Cops should not be sniffing around your car without a warrant. It’s proven bad for your health.

Any cop who is insisting that you permit him to search your vehicle and/or threatens to arrest you or tow your vehicle because you refused to let him search your car during a traffic stop should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Who are you? Why did you stop me?

This is another no-brainer change in protocol. The first thing a cop should do is hand the driver a card with his ID and contact info, and then tell the driver exactly why he has detained him. I should not have to provide my “papers.” This isn’t Nazi Germany. I have the right of free movement. If you’ve stopped me, you must tell me why, and you must tell me immediately.

Any cop who is insisting that you provide him identification before he tells you why you are being detained, or any cop who refuses to provide you the reason why you a being being detained (after you’ve asked, repeatedly) should be fired. Not given a warning, or sensitivity training, or administrative leave. Fired. Immediately.

Protect and Serve or Hassle and Fine?

Dallas Police Chief, David Brown, has it right: We’re asking police to do too much. They are forced to deal with homelessness, mental illness, drug problems, fucked-up relationships. These are serious social issues that demand our attention, but they are not criminal behavior. Broken tail lights, expired registration, tinted windows? These are civil statues, not criminal behavior. Why are the police involved at all?

We need to separate the enforcement of civil penalties from the prevention and investigation of criminal behavior

Now is the time. We MUST tightly define and limit the scope of the police. We can do this by removing the revenue incentive that is insidiously intertwined with traffic “law” enforcement. A rolling stop is not a criminal act. And we also must fire those “Bad Apples” who don’t play by the rules. Laws are for everyone, including the cops.

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Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Covid Changes Us All (for the Better!)

Here’s a few thoughts on what changes we as consumers and employees will be looking for from businesses in a post-Covid world. Things will be different …

Self-Checkout or No Checkout

Ahh, yeah…. I don’t want people touching my stuff anymore.

After I’ve put something in my cart, I’m happy to not have anyone else touch it.  Covid caution has me watching the checkout clerk and every other person in the store. And, what I see is that the clerk touches every single thing every person in line has touched.  Them, and all their germ-y, unmasked kids as well. 

Gloves protect the clerk.  They don’t protect me.

With that said, I need to do my part and not pick up every package of chicken to look for a price difference of 40 cents, or touch every apple in the bin before selecting the perfect two. Merchandisers take note. Label placement, font size and produce shelving changes maybe in order.

I’m happy to bag my own things (packing a grocery bag well is as old-fashioned as counting back change), and pay with a credit card – no PIN required. Of course, who wouldn’t prefer the Amazon approach of associating things in my basket to my account so I don’t have to breath on anyone?

Restaurant Take-Out Replaces Fast Food

Fast food isn’t necessarily fast, and it’s not exactly cheap. More importantly, I didn’t miss fast food during my Covid Quarantine, I missed real restaurant food.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my longing for food cooked by a pro (or at least someone other than me!) This is why I was so thankful that my go-to bistros were able to pivot to take out. They got their website in order; they added a cart. They have text notifications. They re-did their menu so food travels better. They started offering “Family” sizes. (You don’t need a family, you just need to love left-overs or have a freezer). Moreover, now that restaurants are opening again, they’re finding that people would gladly pay a few bucks more for their food than the #2 from Carl Jr’s (who makes a fine burger, and chicken sandwich, BTW)

If I can order it easily, and get it in a reasonable time, there’s no reason I won’t choose the Parmesan Brussel Sprouts and Ahi salad take out.

Fast food and similar chains have a great strength, which is the consistency of their menus. That’s exactly why we go there, but it’s exactly why I don’t want to eat at another Five Guys. When bistros and upscale restaurants can provide take-out and delivery quickly and easily, the market for restaurants in fast-food space diminishes.

For me, this restaurant case study provides the most compelling example of change. GrubHub recognized the need, but even with their success, many eateries were unwilling to change. Why? Change is disruptive, expensive, annoying, time consuming, stressful. Moreover, there was no need to change. Things were good exactly as they were; dining rooms were full.

Now that they were forced to change, many are discovering that 1) It wasn’t as difficult or disruptive as they thought it would would be (in their head) and, 2) Take out is here to stay, it’s easier than they thought, and it will provide a revenue stream that will likely prove more resilient to future disruptions.

Office Commutes = Empty Calories

If commuting were food, it would be classified as “empty calories,” and expensive empty calories at that!

Many of us drive to a big, crowded indoor space to sit in a cubicle by ourselves most of the day. Why? Rather than strategically schedule F2F meetings, business was conducted with the assumption that everyone would be in the same place and available M-F, 9-5.

We can still see each other IRL, but it needs to be planned, purpose-driven, and not ad-hoc.

The cost of commuting: Car, gas, tolls. That’s nothing compared to the time, especially if you use PT. Many people spend 45 – 60 minutes commuting to/from their jobs. This comes to about 10 hours a week – more than an entire workday. Time IS Money and commuting is neither billable hours nor training nor investment. For example: If you picked up a retail job for 10 hours a week, you’d pull in an extra $600 a month. If you worked in the trades, that 10 hours a week could easily be $1200 – $2k a month. Neither is a small amount of money. Ten hours a week is also about two college classes, including homework.

The WSJ reported the Covid crisis resulted in a 30% increase in the individual savings rate. Much of this saving was realized by not having to commute. Filling up your tank at $50-$60 bucks a pop adds up quickly. Not having to do that was a big contributor to people’s extra cash.

If we want to save the planet AND save money, we need to stop commuting into an office everyday.

I Want to Live Someplace Else

I rob banks because “that’s where the money is.” It’s also the reason I live in Southern California – one of the most expensive places on earth. Sure, it’s pretty here, but it’s pretty in lots of places. However, the reason I’m here has nothing to do with pretty: I’m here because that’s where the money is.

The majority of us live where we do because if we lived further away, it would be impossible to commute.  Even if we were willing to make the commute, many companies simply will not hire you if they feel you live too far away (or if they don’t like your neighborhood, but that’s a topic for another day). My hope is that Covid makes the requirement all workers reside within a certain geographical radius of some office building as old as the rotary, corded phone.

Where I live, just like my age, gender, or race, shouldn’t be considered when hiring talent.

I want to live where it suits me, my family, and my current life circumstances. I don’t want change my personal and financial priorities just to be 30 minutes away from some leased office building.

I Want to Work for Whomever I Want

Similar to where I live, I don’t want to be limited to working for companies within a 50 mile radius of my home. I want people to be able to hire me and work with me even if I don’t live in St. Louis or Chicago or Puerto Rico. I want to pursue jobs with growing companies, and opportunities that use my skills and experience. I don’t want my career and earning potential to be limited to a few employers with physical offices in my city. 

People will be able to find better jobs and better employers if they are not limited by geography.

Companies who have embraced virtual workers prior to Covid can attest that they are able to attract better talent than they would if they limited themselves to hiring someone who lived within a 30 mile radius (even less for places like NY, LA, and Chicago). It seems logical that if companies can find better talent, talent will find better companies if they, too, are not limited by geography.

Choose How Covid Changes You

A little more than six years ago, I suffered a sudden, and major illness. It required several hospitalizations, and more than year to fully recover. Like most people who come through something like this, they find their life and all the little routines and assumptions upon which it was built have changed – forever. In retrospect, I can say that I would not have chosen my health crisis, but I would not change it either because it has given me a focus and perspective and strength I would not have gained otherwise.

Covid – our collective health crisis — has brought so much change, with so much more to come. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but I don’t think I would change it either…

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Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Leadership 101: The Loose Matrix

Those of us who work in project management or consulting are intimately familiar with the loose matrix. Leading a loose matrix effort requires the unwavering support of project sponsors and a dedicated team. Even in the best environments, loose matrix projects compete with the priorities of functional managers. Ultimately, the resource will chose to align his/her work to the desires of their real “boss.” This is constant source of project conflict and often the root-cause of project failure.

If you’re not 100 percent sure what loose matrix is, here’s a clue:

You’re responsible for accomplishing something — some project, task, or managing some program. You’re not anyone’s boss (you might be a contractor), no one reports to you, you can’t fire or hire or replace anyone or change any of the workload or priorities.

You’re supposed to have people do things for you to support this project or program, but no one really does, and when you ask for assistance, no one really cares. What’s worse: the quality of any work that is done is so poor that you have to (1) Do it yourself, or (2) Ask them to redo it, in which case you catch a rash of shit about how the work is just fine, they don’t have time for your ridiculous nit-picking followed by an outright refusal or a stall in rework, so you probably should have done it yourself, which is what everyone is hoping you’ll do anyway.

You’ve spent a lot of late nights and a couple weekends doing stuff that should have been done by others. You aren’t paid overtime but work for free because you’re afraid of failing, getting yelled at, getting fired, or letting down a whole bunch of people who are depending on you. So, that’s why you’re in your cubical stifling tears of rage while everyone else left early for Miller time.

Does this sound like your life? And on top of all of “help” you don’t receive, and all the work you need to re-do, and all the “you’re-not-the-boss-of-me” back-talk you get, none of this makes any difference to your boss (who doesn’t know what loose matrix is, either).

He just doesn’t get what your problem is. You clearly have no leadership or management skills, and you can’t seem to garner the respect needed from the team to get anything done. He’s been working with these people for years, and hasn’t had any issues. When he says jump, they jump! The problem is clearly: YOU. Your style, your approach, YOU.

Au contraire: Charisma and chocolate chip cookies only go so far. The carrot doesn’t make up for the stick, and in a loose matrix you have neither.

The most frustrating thing about loose matrix is that oftentimes leadership doesn’t recognize that the problem is the matrix structure, not the people. This is where you can help your client/manager understand exactly what you need to be successful. If you find yourself in a loose matrix that isn’t working, muster some courage. Here’s what to say:

“I cannot accomplish <thesegoals> without the time of <name(s)>. I need to have <#ofhours/days> from <names> every week dedicated to me and this project. If <person> cannot accomplish the work within the timeframe needed, I must have <budget/recourse> to replace the resource on my project.”

This is where everyone starts to eye roll, grunt and groan about how they agree, but can’t we do this more “informally” and that this “structure,” is too much, and let’s not, like, harshen the mellow with things like “deadlines” and “objectives.” In other words: Why can’t you just be less high-maintenance, get off my back, and continue to do the work for us, like the girls used to in college group work?

If people don’t report to you – in other words — you cannot get rid of him/her — do not accept responsibility for them or their work. Nagging and harassing people to do their jobs are what a boss does. And, you’re not the boss. If you can’t hold your ground in this kind of situation, you really shouldn’t be managing anyone or anything anyway, so don’t be afraid to put your job on the line. Here’s what to say:

“I’ve documented for you, my <client>, what I need to accomplish <thistask>. Of course, it’s your prerogative to find another resource to do this, but if you want ME to do it for you, this is what I need.”

If you’re in a loose matrix and you don’t have the authority to make decisions, get rid of people, and you don’t have the unwavering support of management, start looking for an exit strategy sooner rather than later. Here’s why:

If you aren’t supported, and you don’t pro-actively leave, be assured your poor leadership will be associated with a failed or poorly executed project (trust me: no one will remember all the help you didn’t get). And, if by chance the project is not a failure, you’ve perpetuated the dysfunction by signing up for more free weekends, more resentful afternoons, and more shiftless work ethic from your “team.” Congratulations. Well done.

I’m not ashamed to say that I have spent more than my fair share of time crying in the ladies’ room and working late nights and weekends because of lazy, disrespectful co-workers and clients in these poorly conceived project structures. No more.

If you are stuck in the matrix, wiggle out and do it quickly. Spend less time being a big coward, covering for others, and working for free. Take your dedication and hard work to a job where you’ll get the money and recognition you deserve.

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Excerpted from The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, 2017 Available on Amazon Kindle or hard copy

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Why Consultants Fail

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I stress how the relationship between you and your client is not the same as you and an employer. The risk involved in consulting is considerable – especially if your task involves bringing change to a mature organization.

Here’s one of the main reasons consultants fail:

I Can’t Lose Weight for You

In many ways, being a consultant is like being a personal trainer. As your trainer, I do want you to lose weight and get fit; but if you don’t follow any of my advice nor do any of the work, there’s not a lot I can do for you. I’m still here, and I’m still billing you for my time, but instead of making progress, you’re crying about how you can’t fit into any of your clothes. Worse: Now you have an attitude! You’ve spent a whole bunch of money, aren’t losing weight, and that’s because I’m not a good trainer!

Consultants aren’t the only ones who deal with the unwillingness of others to change. Very often, companies hire employees to be their internal “experts.” These employees are tasked with implementing change, and take a consultative-approach to help the company modernize and upgrade.

Unfortunately companies, much like individuals, mis-over-estimate their desire and their capacity for change.

Depending on the maturity-level of the organization that miscalculation could be as harmless as a few missed deadlines because decisions were not made in a timely manner, or as significant as a corporate proxy battle to remove the key stakeholder(s) of a transformation project.

In almost all scenarios, it’s the “change agent” who takes the fall. The business group or executive leadership rarely accepts responsibility for the lack of progress. In their mind, they hired you to help them lose weight, and they’re still fat. YOU failed to find the right solution for them. End of story. You pull out your spreadsheet of missed gym dates, point to the candy wrappers in the trash can, and remind them that you are indeed there to help, but you cannot lose weight for them. This doesn’t exactly sink in if the client thinks that shopping for yoga pants is the same as going to yoga class.

No one wants to feel that they are bad at their job. No matter what your circumstance, employees and consultants alike grow weary of being blamed by the fat and lazy for the fact that they are fat and lazy. Ultimately, we either resign ourselves to the job of handing you tissues and peanut butter cups, or we move on to a more committed client.

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Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

So…You Want to Be a “Consultant”?

I’ve worked as a contractor, consultant, and direct employee. Each of these relationships is different; none of them is perfect. Are you ready to ditch your FTE and become a consultant? Here’s a few things to think about….

Can You Run a Business?

I’ve met hundreds of talented individuals who are terrible business people. Consider the great doctor who can’t manage or afford his/her private practice. The finish carpenter who can’t accurately bid out a project or generate an invoice. The full-stack software architect with no ability to write a statement of work or manage a project.

This is where I hear, “Ohh, puh-leeze, I’ll hire someone for that!” to which I respond, “Oh, puh-leeze, no one is interested in working for you!” (Small shops are not competitive employers – don’t think you can hire “some kid” to manage your website). Moreover, hiring help entails huge legal and financial responsibilities, and BTW, where are you going to come up with a weekly salary and benefits and pay taxes when you have one client and can barely support yourself?

Consider the following activities:

  • Marketing/Sales: Finding, qualifying, and pipelining new clients; promoting the business. You.
  • Legal: Licenses, in$urance, banking, taxes. You.
  • $oftware: Updates, equipment, desktop troubleshooting, web page(s), WiFi, Cloud storage. You.
  • Finance: Contracts, proposals, invoices, time cards. You.
  • Overhead: Office rent, supplies, printer cartridges, computers. You.
  • Benefits: Vacations, holidays, sick days, medical insurance, family leave. You.

And that’s before you do any real “billable” client work – which is often >40 hours per week, more if you are juggling multiple projects.

If you read that list and thought, “Ugh!” stay an employee.

Can You Run a Project?

Do you track your time? Do you track your money? Are you disciplined and organized in your personal life? Can you put together a schedule? Can you write a contract? What about a statement of work? Can you track, measure, and demonstrate progress? Can you make a deadline? Can you manage change and say no to difficult people?

When I meet with clients who are dealing with failed projects, high turn-over, and assorted other maladies, my first question is this: How does the team track their time? (They don’t.) Do YOU track your time? (Answer: I’m an “executive.”) Then, I get a big lecture about how hard everyone works, and they don’t have time to track their time.

Here’s my point:

I wasn’t questioning their work ethic, I was questioning their activities.

The inability to assess the value of activities as it relates to time expended is why people fail at consulting – and fail at a whole bunch of other stuff as well.

When you’re a consultant – time is EVERYTHING. Billable time, bizdev time, vacation time, career development time, commute time. And, there’s other things that take your time: Laundry. Food prep. Cleaning. Video Games. Your relationship(s). Did I mention the kids? You’ll need to manage ALL your time like the precious, finite, resource it is. That means you need to say, “I’m sorry, but that’s not a good use of my time,” even to your spouse.

Are You a Push-Over?

If you suffer from people pleasing, or have a hard time saying no, I beg you: For the sake of your personal health, personal finances, and happiness do NOT become a consultant!

Consulting is not all Power Point presentations and conference rooms with killer views. Consultants are small business owners, project managers, and buzz-kill realists. To be one requires a certain amount of cold, capitalist, callousness. How will you handle scope creep? Can you give bad news? Can you graciously deal with getting fired? (coz you will be). What about your ethics? Can you graciously dump a client (coz you’ll need to).

You want to run with the big dogs? You’re going to get pissed on. Consultants don’t have a boss, or HR, or a union, or labor laws – you have client and a contract. What are you going to do if they don’t honor it?

Are You Just Assuming You’ll Get Paid?

Very early on in my career, I worked for a couple of unscrupulous salesmen who refused to reimburse me for almost $2K in travel expenses I had foolishly put on my personal American Express card. This was back in the ’90’s, so that was a LOT of money then, and even more for an irresponsible 20-something who didn’t even have a savings account.

Although I eventually got my money, this whole thing was a huge financial fiasco, and it took me a l-o-n-g time to recover from it. These guys had let me go on Christmas Eve (for real), no severance, no final paycheck. I had to borrow money from family to pay AmEx and rent and bills. I had to go to court to get commissions, expenses, and back wages due me; and I had to freeze their bank account to collect. All of this taught me very important lesson:

No one is more unpleasant than someone who owes you money.

When you are a consultant, you’re a vendor. You don’t have the same legal protections that you would as a W2 employee. Consider the Crystal Geyser guy. If the customer decides to go with Sparkletts, Crystal Geyser doesn’t file for unemployment. If the delivery truck gets stolen, Crystal Geyser still has to service their accounts. They don’t call and ask their customers to buy them a new truck and front them for water.

An employee must be paid no less than twice a month. But you’re not an employee, so your clients will want you to bill every 30 days, and then pay you in 30 days – just like they do all their other vendors. But, what if they don’t pay you? What if they’re late? What if they disagree with the invoice? How long are you prepared to work without being paid? A week? Two weeks? A month? Three months? What if they claim your work is defective and refuse to pay? What about travel? Are you putting that on your personal credit card? What if they don’t reimburse you or take months to do so? What are you going to do about it?

I’ve worked for big, corporations my entire life.

You’d be amazed how many rich companies don’t pay their bills on time.

When you truly work for yourself, you can’t put up with excuses. Other people’s bills, emergencies, sick kids, corporate “process” and vacation time is NOT your problem. If you can’t write clear acceptance criteria for your work, can’t say no, or could never see yourself suing someone, don’t waste time trying to be consultant. I’ve listened to lots of people (mostly women, I’m sorry to say), who thought they could handle this kind of relationship, and ended up being taken advantage of by someone who was really, really, going to pay them when <crisis> passed.

When you consult, you need to track your time and tasks, keep copies of all your work, be prepared to withhold work until you’re paid for it, be prepared to walk out if you’re not paid, and be prepared to sue.

If you have a tough time sticking up for yourself, can’t handle people’s anger, or just can’t be “mean,” being a consultant is absolutely NOT for you!

Final Thoughts

Do you want to consult, or do you want more control over your scope and the direction of your career? Do you want to consult, or do you want more free time?

If you’re a full-time employee, and if you’re wondering if consulting could be for you, I strongly encourage you take a few contract, “temp” jobs. This will give you a feeling for what it’s like to have a client instead of a boss, and also give you some practice at managing the scope of your work and duration of your project.

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

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Copyright 2019 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Take-Aways from TechCrunch Robotics+AI

I attended the TechCrunch Robotic+AI conference at UC Berkeley last month. I’m in tech, but not in this kind of tech; I went to learn more.

The conference had a number of interesting speakers and exhibitors, and gave me a lot to think about. Here are a few take-aways….

Solution in Search of a Problem

The conference was stuffed full with super-smart people who want to build robots. What many would-be robo-teers don’t have is a clear idea of is what, exactly, the robot should do. I’ll admit I was a bit surprised by this early admission, but when I thought about my experience in application development, I agreed that the need for product owners, designers, artists, and SMEs with strategic vision is essential to the successful project/product. Building robots is no exception.

The verticals that will first benefit from robotics: Big agg (already on the leading edge); manufacturing (of course), healthcare (which could benefit from more technology in general) and the home which, given the complexity and commonality of house and yard work, is the most difficult to solve, but potentially the most lucrative.

The irony is that in a room filled with “hard science” people, what they desperately needed were those fluffy “soft science” majors: artists, sculptors, designers, anthropologists, occupational therapists, science fiction writers — someone to guide the linear thinking robo-teers to other life forms. Liberal arts is art for a reason.

Robots Need to Complete the Task – Not Create New Ones

Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, had perhaps the best insight into what it takes to bring a robot to market successfully. Colin left college with a burning desire to build robots; however, he did not become successful until he “started selling selling vacuums ….” He cautioned that it’s not enough that a robot be cool, it cannot add additional tasks or complexity if humans are going to buy one. Robot designers must understand that simply automating the existing task is not enough – they must completely re-think how the task can be accomplished – by a machine – a machine that doesn’t usually have legs or hands.

I was a Gen1 Roomba owner. I loved that the Roomba vacuumed my house, but what was the point if I had to charge, clean and find the thing? Not surprisingly, iRobot had this same realization, which drove improvements in subsequent iterations. The Roomba is now self-docking, charging, cleaning – and cats still love it.

I’m not sure how many cats will be riding their latest product, Terra, a robotic lawn mower, which looks to be thoughtfully designed in addition to being super-cool. No lawn in my Mediterranean landscape, but I did buy some iRobot stock.

Common Platform

Another “yeah, duh!” moment for me was Nvidia’s VP of Engineering, Claire Delaunay introducing the Isaac SDK robotic platform. If you think back to the pre-smart phone dark-ages, you’ll recall that it was the release of the common mobile platform(s) that provided global developers the ability to build flashlights into the future. Robotics is in a similar state of evolution. Claire explained that delivering robotic intelligence has been deterred by a lack of unified platforms for software and hardware development.

Nvidia’s Isaac SDK robotic platform wants you to come build, and there were quite a few people at the Nvidia development workshop who intend to do just that.

Robots Are Coming for Your Job

Ahhhhhhh…..Not anytime soon.

Perhaps the best thing about this conference was the reaffirmation of the amazing human body. The ability to walk, balance, process and instantaneously reprocess new information, muscle memory. No robots for this – not even close. At the end of the day, AI is still an algorithm.

Consider the task of sorting tomatoes or picking strawberries. The ability of the human hand to immediately detect the softness, firmness of the fruit, adjust one’s grip, scan swaths of fruit moving on a belt, detect blemishes, defects, size, ripeness. Toss a sub-par piece of fruit aside (and we’re talkin’ two hands here) while having a conversation with a co-worker. The millions of decisions and actions taken by the body and brain (not to mention breathing and keeping your heart beating) is simply miraculous.

Robots are good with hard stuff – no strawberry pickers here – consistent sizes, repetitive motions, they all have wheels, they need smooth surfaces. Legs can navigate irregular surfaces, climb stairs, slide into Warrior 3. Robots can’t rebalance or adjust to change; they must have consistency. If the task has multiple variations, the robot’s effectiveness is limited or terminated.

Augmentation

The ability to replace humans is much less realistic than the ability to augment their movements. This is where prosthetics and other Iron Man devices really capture the imagination.

For me, the most compelling story was presented by Manmeet Maggu CEO from Tréxō Robotics. Manmeet explained that his journey began with the discovery that his nephew had cerebral palsy. While searching for solutions that could help him walk, he was disappointed to find that exoskeletons were designed for adults not growing children.

Manmeet and his friend Rahul (both studied robotics at the University of Waterloo) set out to change that. Their current product is designed to help children with disabilities walk. The technology provides the wearer a repetitive, physiologically correct gait, which enables a child to exercise by walking.

I loved everything about this. Unlike a Battle-Bot, it meets a real market need. It can be adjusted to each individual. The product exists IRL, and can be purchased or leased. Well done.

Robotic Buzz-Kills

China, not surprisingly, is leading the way in robotics technology. There were cautions to be protective of IP, and that those who choose to partner with Chinese companies should not skimp on lawyers. VC in robotics is also challenging. The ROI period for a robotics start up is long (10+ years), and their burn rate can be much higher than a software startup due to the complexity of industrial design, prototyping, and integration. This isn’t Angry Birds – you need to be ready for the long haul.

AI Thoughts

Brevity dictates my take-aways focus on the robotics side of the conference; however, the AI talks were also compelling. Be warned: Fake news will join Deep Fakes making the policing of social media platforms even more challenging. No doubt, we will see these forces invade our 2020 election cycle like a hoard of White Walkers into Winterfell.

Implicit bias, and other discussions of ethics are important topics of the day, and could easily be a whole separate conference.

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While the Berkeley campus was a bit inconvenient, it likely kept the cost of the event down, and was a nice change from usual hotels and convention centers.

Looking forward to Disrupt in October.

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Copyright 2019 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. Have a question ? Email me at info@piercewharton.com.

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