What Color Is HR's Parachute?

Author: Bob Rosner

This article was published in Workforce's September 1, 1998 Issue. 


Written when Parachute had sold only six million copies (it now has sold over 10 million).  I was 71 then; now I'm 87 going on 88. But not much else has changed. The interviewer, Bob Rosner, was a friend of mine then; he still is.

An excerpt from the article:

Bob Rosner:  Can we do word associations?
Dick Bolles:  Sure.

BR: Outplacement.
DB: A dying art, I think. Companies now seem to be concentrating on the services they give to those who remain, not just to those who are downsized.

BR: Corporate training programs.
DB: A mixed bag. Some HR people are excellent at identifying their organization’s training needs. Others just run after the latest fad or the latest buzzword.

BR: Coaching.
DB: A well-intentioned attempt to give brief help to people, after brief training. Sometimes, its emphasis is unfortunately on bailing people out of a dilemma, instead of teaching them how to solve it for themselves. Only the latter is worthy of the name of coaching.

BR: Downsizing.
DB: Always saluted by the stock market, always decried by the people who lose their jobs. As a trend in society, it has produced great profits but at the cost of tremendous human suffering. Downsizing often shatters people’s trust -- they never trust again.

BR: Mergers.
DB: Well, there’s a hostile merge and then there’s a marriage desired by both partners. Big difference. Shotgun marriages are to be avoided both in the home and in the business world.

BR:  Consultants.
DB: The best are those who ask all the resident managers what decisions they would reverse if they were in charge of that place, sifting those [decisions], and then recommending the best. In other words, in most cases, the best consultants are those already inside the organization. The best outside consultant is one who knows that and uses it -- rather than coming in with a ready-made solution, one size fits all.

BR:  On a personal note, I’ve found it’s impossible to mention your name around without someone saying, “He turned my life around,” or “That book changed my life.” Tell me about life as a cult hero.
DB: Well, let me first of all comment on that last phrase. A young priest was once asking his mentor what to do with all the praise he received after every Sunday’s sermon. The wise, old priest replied, “Listen, but don’t inhale.” If anyone starts to think of him or herself as a cult hero, the person has got more problems than he or she knows. A certain humility -- a certain sense that God is working through one, and therefore, the credit belongs to Him and not to us -- is essential to growing old gracefully. And I’d like to grow old gracefully."

The full article can be found here.

How Not to Advertise a Position

Author: Pete Weddle


Recently, we put on our job seeker hat and visited one of the more popular recruitment sites on the Web. Acting as an employment candidate, we searched the site's job database to see what kind of opportunities it had available. The site's search engine was easy to use and was accompanied by clear directions that were written in English, not techno-babble. Basically, all we had to do was identify the search criteria or key words that were important to us and then designate an industry, desired location and salary objective.

We entered the term "Manager" in the key word area and selected the Telecommunications industry, a engine brought back 26 pages of information, listing 648 jobs, each one described by its title, location, employer, salary and date posted.

And that's the rub. There was virtually no descriptive information among the job titles to help us (or any job seeker) determine which positions were most interesting or appropriate.

Among the first 15 positions listed from our search, there were 2 Product Managers, 2 Area Managers, 3 Account Managers, 3 Marketing Managers and 4 Sales Managers. Although the employers and locations varied, the job titles had obviously been drawn from internal position descriptions or print ad copy. They were standard institutional names, offering no context or sizzle that would help to differentiate any one of the opportunities. As a result, all of the positions looked alike, leaving us with but one option when trying to determine which job to open and read: we flipped a coin. 

Such is the nature of on-line recruitment advertising. Unlike with print ads, where you can quickly scan the text beneath the title to see what an opening is all about, the search engine in most on-line job databases forces job seekers to select jobs based on their titles. And while a rose by any other name may still be a rose, a job title in a list of 647 other titles needs some color and fragrance to help it stand out. Indeed, creating an original, entertaining, enticing title for each of your job postings is a key factor in maximizing your return on investment in on-line advertising.

What sets a title apart? First, remember that these titles are not going to determine a position's size or level of accountability. They will not appear on an organization chart or be used to assign salary levels. Instead, their purpose is to sell your opportunity to prospective candidates. Second, these titles are not simply the electronic rendition of something developed for a print ad. They are not immediately followed by nor do they lead seamlessly into a text description of a job. Rather, they act as one-line billboards that must quickly capture the interest or pique the curiosity of readers as they scan through a (sometimes very long) list of similar position openings. In short, good titles tempt talent. Here are some tips that will make your titles more tempting:

  • If your organization has a special or unique culture, describe it in your title. For example, "Sales Manager, fast growing, entrepreneurial company."
  • If your location is a key factor in attracting new employees, include it in your title. For example, "Marketing Manager, great company, great fishing in Idaho."
  • If your opening offers an attractive financial benefit, say so in the title. For example, "Sales Manager, $50K+ bonus opportunity."
  • If your organization is a leader in its field, highlight its reputation in the title. For example, "Product Manager, #1 telecommunications company in the Midwest."
  • Or, if the job, itself, involves extraordinary responsibility or challenge, capture that aspect in its title. For example, "Account Manager, start-up sales team for exciting medical product."

So, what's in a title for an on-line job posting? Everything. It's the element that transforms your job into a job seeker's brass ring.

Trees and Companies

Author: Dick Bolles

Went for a walk in the woods, the other day. It was toward sunset, and there was a breeze. I'm something of a dunce. I do not always remember that trees are actually alive, when I walk among them. It is easy some days for me to forget that, and think of them as impersonal "things" rather than living "beings." But not this day.

Each tree was in constant restless motion, and was dabbed with golden color from the West. The sound – the rustle and murmur of the waving branches in the breeze – made it sound almost as if they were talking. And I understood why our ancestors, some of them anyway, thought there was a spirit in every stone and a spirit in every tree. I understood also why theologians long ago, some of them anyway, argued that the various parts of Nature are not merely alive but are actually creatures, going through their own life cycle from birth to death. And, how Nature (taken as a whole) was endowed by its creator from the beginning with a certain freedom of will, as all creatures are. But had, over time, "fallen from grace," and degenerated from its original design and plan.

The story is a myth, of course (eternal truth wrapped in a temporal story), and represents an attempt to explain the two sides of Nature that puzzle us all: on the one hand, the Nature of sweetness and beauty, of flowers, sunsets, butterflies, rainbows and trees; and, on the other hand, the Nature of petulance and destructiveness, of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, plagues, pestilence and famine. The myth is trying to say that this schizophrenic creature isn't Nature as it was intended to be. Somehow, it has degenerated from its original design and plan. 

Science laughs such mythology to scorn.

And I'd love to agree with the laughter – chemical engineering and physics were my majors in college – but frankly when I'm out walking in the woods my sympathies are with the poets and theologians. 

They at least are trying to explain, through myth, fable and story, two things:

  1. How the "things" in this world that are alive, and are fellow creatures with us, are more in number than we normally think.
  2. And how the greatest danger facing living "things" is not that they will die, but that while yet alive they will degenerate into something that is so far from their original design and intention, as to become a grotesque caricature of their former self.

Those are themes worth thinking about during a walk in the woods, among the trees.

They are also worth thinking about when we are at our place of work.

For, often we tend to talk about a company the same way we often talk about trees: as though a company were an impersonal "thing," more akin to a car than anything else. The reality is that a company is, in a very real sense, "a being" or creature. A company has the familiar life cycle of living things: conception, birth, infancy, growth, maturity, illness, and death. And, like all living things, its greatest danger is not that it will fail and go out of business (die). Its greatest danger is that while it is yet alive, and theoretically thriving, it will in its interior life, its character, and values, degenerate into something that is so far from its original nature, design and intention, that it becomes a hollow mockery of its once vital life force and energy. My ear is bent week after week with phone conversations from acquaintances, detailing how this company or that "is no longer the place it used to be." 

I've concluded that those running a company get to decide many important things, but none so important as how to keep a company from degenerating.

That's what the best owners and managers always pay attention to: what's happening to the company's soul, and character. 

They ask themselves questions like: "Once known for our admirable commitment to principle, and honesty, do we now tell lies without even blinking, in order to sew up contracts and riches?"

"Once known for intense loyalty to our employees, do we now treat them like dirt, scrambling over their bodies in our fixation to get to some pot of money down the road?" "Once known as a place of laughter and playfulness, are we now "all business" – dead serious and joyless – a place our employees now hate to come in to, each day?" 

And if the managers see, by such questions, that the company has indeed wandered far from its original character and values, they resolve to make new choices that will put the company back on track to its original generosity and caring.

Henry Thoreau stated the pathway back, for owners and managers alike. The formula is simple: "Be true to your work, your word, and your friend."

The 3 Communities of Relationship Recruiting

Author: Peter D. Weddle


As we have noted in past issues, the Internet is the perfect medium for relationship recruiting. Its technology provides a "mass one-to-one communications" capability which, for the first time in history, enables you to reach out and touch hundreds, even thousands of individuals with a message that is custom tailored to each and every one of them. It is an efficient and effective way to nurture the long-term recruiter-candidate relationships that are the bedrock of successful staffing.

But what relationships are we talking about? Ironically, the answer to that question has a greater impact on the outcome of your recruiting than does the technological power of the Internet.

Not surprisingly, many organizations focus on building relationships with candidates who are qualified for today's open positions. Time and resources are limited, and this approach gets the job done. But does it? Surveys and press reports have, for some time, documented widespread difficulty in meeting recruiting requirements. While full employment is often cited as the culprit (and it obviously plays a role), there is another factor that is exacerbating the situation: recruiters are selling their relationships short.

The 3 Communities of Relationship Recruiting

To be most effective, you should use the Internet to build relationships with not one, but three groups: your organization's employees, those who are candidates for your current job openings and those who are not in the job market but may be interested in a new position which they view as career-enhancing.

Your Own Employees. If your organization is like most, it now includes an employee referral program in its recruiting effort. The Internet can help you to extend and enrich this program and thereby expand its contribution to candidate development. For example, use e-mail to pro-mote the employee referral program, to announce awards and to thank those who participate. In addition, use your corporate Web-site as the platform for program participation. It should be the location where open positions are posted (so that employees can see what's available right from their desktops) and referrals are made.

Another way to build relationships with employees is to engage them in "selling" the organization to prospective candidates. Cisco's Friends program is a case in point. The company has en-listed its employees as "peer recruiters." They follow-up with visitors to the Cisco Web-site who have expressed an interest in learning more about the company and registered to be contacted. Their interaction with these candidates helps to personalize the recruiting process and gives them a psychic boost, as well.

Candidates for your current openings. Ask all respondents to your job postings to include an e-mail address with their resume. Then, use that medium to (a) respond to every application you receive (including those from individuals deemed not qualified for a current opening, as they may be a legitimate candidate for another vacancy in the future); (b) keep active candidates continuously informed of their status; (c) direct candidates to company information at your own Web-site or to articles in publications that appear on-line; and (d) continue the "selling" process by sending them a candidate newsletter or other regular communication about the organization.

Those who are not yet candidates. Build long-term relationships with high caliber individuals in a wide array of fields. Use the Internet to expand your networking from those you know (i.e., your Rolodex or Palm Pilot) to those who know you. Don't bombard newsgroups and other virtual communities (e.g., on-line discussions hosted by professional, trade and affinity organizations) with e-mail solicitations. Instead, join and participate in these groups, offering your expertise as a career resource for its members.

Similarly, transform the employment area of your corporate Web-site or your stand-alone recruitment site, if you have one, into a different (and more appealing) kind of job board. Make it a rich trove of job search and career management information and assistance that is open to and designed to serve everyone. Wherever possible and without being intrusive, capture individual information so that you can continue to interact with visitors after they've left the site. Focus on helping these proto-candidates to be successful, and they will eventually want to work with you.

The technology of the Internet enables you to conduct such mass 1:1 communications at a fraction of the cost and effort associated with conventional print and telephonic media. More-over, each interaction can be custom tailored to each individual so that it contributes to a positive and meaningful relationship ... and gives you a competitive advantage in recruitment.