I have some swamp land in Georgia to sell you for residential housing development

Don’t believe everything anyone tells you. Well, I mean, have SOME trust in people or you’ll end up a miserable, friendless old cynic. What I’m referring to are reviews on the Internet, possibly biased friends, potential future colleagues, company websites ….expounding on jobs, companies, salaries…

Company websites: I may be stating the obvious here (never stopped me before) but companies want to portray themselves in the best light, for future business, public relations, attracting the best staff. Even if it’s on the whole pretty good, and in fact can be excellent when the CEO remembers to take his medication, these are not particularly powerful selling statements. Websites emphasize the positive – the awards they won, the revenue they produce, the awe-inspiring education of the hedge fund management team. They don’t mention the high turnover rate of staff; they can’t even really say anything like, “And our staff turnover is much less than the competition.”
What’s your point, Margaret?
It’s a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, but it isn’t enough by itself to tell whether it’s going to become a seascape or skyscape. At the moment, it’s just a few nice blue jigsaw pieces.

Review websites. Shouldn’t really mention any by name, one of the best starts with a letter near the end of the alphabet. These reviews are unfiltered, Doris Lessing-like stream of consciousness and should be taken for what they are. Sometimes true, and accurate, either praising or criticizing the service they were given, sometimes horrendously off kilter. Who knows what the motivation is:
For the 5 stars out of 5 reviews:
a) It really was a 5 out of 5 service and the world just has to be told.
b) They are related to the owner of the establishment.
c) They were somehow paid to write a good review (“Want a free dinner?”).
d) Their standards are low (“It was the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had. And I didn’t see a single cockroach all evening”).
e) They want to see their name in print.
f) They want to make their names as blog writers.

For the 0-stars-and-big-raspberry out of 5 star reviews. Let’s say X has criticized a staffing service. In fact I’m going to make it X and Y, because I’d have to keep writing he or she to keep it grammatical and I’d go nuts trying to re-word it not to do that.
a) They came in with unrealistic expectations about what sort of jobs they wanted. A million reasons, no point in enumerating them, the poor souls were just unrealistic. The agency couldn’t find anything. Not the agency’s fault. If they can place and earn a fee, they’ll do it. So X and Y take to the Internet about how useless the agency was. Or even “I’ve been to several and none of them gets back to me. What’s their problem?” Now, class, join up the dots here….. what’s the common factor in not being sent out for interview by several agencies? That’s right – X and Y. But they don’t listen to well-meaning advice about their resume, wearing their gang beads under, not over, their T-shirts, or refusing to brush up on their computer skills. Many agencies, Merit of course being one, can give you free tutorials for you to practice MSOffice at home. Take us up on our kind offer, don’t look at us as though we have two heads: we’re trying to help.
b) The economy has been, how shall I phrase this without using profanity, not good for several years now. It’s getting better, but it’s still problematic, and the job landscape in New York has changed, so it’s more of an uphill struggle that it was. If we get the jobs, we’ll ask our clients to consider you, but please don’t be writing on blogs/websites that the staffing services were useless.
c) No-one’s there to say, “That’s rubbish”, explain to you why your review is indeed rubbish and get you to take your comment down. So it stays there forever, giving people the wrong impression.
d) Gosh, sometimes the comments are valid. But how can you separate out the gold from the fool’s gold (who remembers from chemistry class that’s iron pyrite?)
e) and f) above still apply.

So read everything on the Internet with a pinch of salt. Even Wikipedia gets it wrong quite a bit because it’s written by people like you and me, and they don’t employ enough editors to fact check (Note to self: Maybe I should send them that three bucks they keep requesting). Use your judgment, ask people you KNOW who have had direct contact with the agency. I suppose since this is a blog I’m putting up on the Internet, I’m including myself in all this. Oh gawwwwwd. If you do disagree with my blogs, then write and tell ME and I’ll listen. Of course, if you love them, write and tell me and I’ll listen with a smile on my face.

Questions You Wish They Wouldn’t Ask At Interview. Episode 1.

What salary were you making at your last job/last three jobs?
Thanks to NYC legislation in November 2017, it’s illegal to ask that question. It’s also a no-no in Oregon, New Orleans and Puerto Rico. If a potential employer asks you because they didn’t know the law had changed, or they didn’t care, try to swat them off respectfully. “I’m not comfortable answering that question. It’s against the law now to be asked… then put on cheery, upbeat smile… “ But I can talk about my salary requirements if you prefer.”
If for some reason they repeat the question with a “But it would be very helpful to us to know where you would fit on our salary structure,” then repeat the answer. I mean, they repeated the question. “I’m just not comfortable answering that question. Sorry. But I think my salary expectations are in line with the market rate.”

Simple really. There are going to be NO problems whatsoever implementing the new legislation. Hahahahahah.

Problem # 1
The salary of the job after which you’re lusting. It has a range in their budget of eg $80,000 – $125,000, or $55,000 – $75,000 depending on a whole slew of factors. The company doesn’t have a clue what to offer you. They don’t want to offer too low, “Will $80,000 be exciting? “ and have you storm out their offices insulted. To make sure they don’t lose you, they say, “Will $115,000 be exciting?” You answer graciously, as though having seriously considered it, “Yes, that seems fair, thanks.” And then high-five everyone on the 6 train home because you are currently making $78,000. The company may or may not find out but, MY, will they be ticked off if/when they do. Also if they could have got you happily for $ 85,000, that’s $30,000/annum they have frankly wasted. Overpaying several employees is not the way to keep your overheads low. Firms have budgets and are also not in the business of being Fairy Godmother social workers.

Problem #2
Why is the range $80,000 – $125,000? Good question. Because the company will pay someone with, say, five years of experience $80,000 but they have to accept that people with 20 years of relevant experience have earned the right, and clawed their way to earn it, to make $125,000. Their experience is PROVEN. Potential is good, proven can often be better…
The numbers $80,000 – $125,000 and $55,000 – $75,000 were chosen arbitrarily to make my point. Such a wide range though is not unusual, whether it’s for e.g. EA/PA to a hedge fund Managing Director, CFO to a $billion outfit, or Junior Account Manager in an advertising agency.

Problem #3
a)I’m underpaid, have been for years. How do I catch up, and get the market rate?
b)I’m actually paid more than the top end of the range. I know I can’t get that again but how much of a pay cut do I have to swallow without shooting myself in the foot, or getting caught up in mixed metaphors?
c)How do I get reliable intel on salary ranges for my job? Can staffing agencies help? How do THEY get their information?
You’ll just have to do your research e.g. Glassdoor/SHRM surveys. Recruitment agencies have access to all this stuff through the job assignments they get, and having a good relationship with their clients. Sometimes advertised jobs on sites like LinkedIn, CareerBuilder, The Ladders, when they’re not annoyingly writing “Salary doe”, will give specific numbers. It helps enormously to have a recruiting service act as an intermediary bwtween the client and potential employee. If you have to negotiate on your own behalf with no outside help… we feel your pain.

What salary are you looking for?
If asked by the recruitment agency, that’s easy… just say what you want and let the chat begin. A good recruiter will talk you through whether you are realistic, sometimes even tell you, “You’re worth more”, and what to say at their client/your future employer interview. With luck, your answer can be along the lines of, “My recruiter deals with all that.”
If you found the company without a safety net aka staffing service…we feel your pain. Do your research, don’t be greedy, don’t be a door mat, and show you are flexible, not rigid, in your thinking.

How to find/how to apply for jobs

This article could be 10,000 words long. Consultants charge fees, actual MONEY you might not want to part with if you are unemployed, to give you training sessions.
This article, on the other hand, will be shorter. And free. None of it will be brain surgery.

How to find jobs.
Use the Internet; it’s your friend. For the most part. There’s LinkedIn, and potential employers put their jobs up on it. So, if you want a job in a Manhattan hotel, google “Manhattan hotel”; 764 come up. Google “Manhattan hotel jobs” and frighten yourself with the number that come up. Pick a few specific hotel names and check them out on LinkedIn – as I said, many put their jobs on LinkedIn. Sending resumes to resume@, jobs@, careers@, info@, HR@ often equates to BlackHole@ but don’t get disheartened. It works sometimes, otherwise the companies wouldn’t do it.
There’s Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com and a slew of websites that cull from a variety of sources. I think of them as Dog’sBreakfast.com (British slang for “a complete mess”) because they’re such a hotchpotch but, again, sometimes they work.

Staffing Services. Wasn’t I virtuous not putting this first, even though I work with one? We have lots of jobs, some of them already on external websites but, often, only available through us. Clients (clients to us, potential employers to you) don’t have the time/expertise to do their own recruiting, so they come to us. We know the clients, their needs, their salary thoughts, the specific minefields and so we can basically often be your best bet to finesse your way through the process.

Prepare a 30-second positioning statement /elevator pitch about yourself of where you were, are and want to be, and try to get contact interviews with executives who can help you with leads and useful intel. “I’d really appreciate 20 minutes of your time to help me with my job search” will more likely than not work. It is NOT a meeting to ask for a job. It’s networking and eventually may lead indirectly to a job. Networking to find a new job could be an article by itself. If anyone is interested in my expanding my thoughts, let me know.
Keep in touch with former colleagues, both senior and junior, send them reminders every so often – once a month is more than enough – to let them know you’re available for work if they know of anything through their contacts. Hallmark has made billions selling cards so that people can stay in touch; thanks to the Internet, you can do it for free.

How to apply for jobs
•To keep this less-than-book-length, I shall not treat you, my regular readers (regular readers? Hahaha) as though you have never applied for a job before. I shall merely highlight a few of the pitfalls.
•Read the job spec. Apply only to those jobs which approximate to your own particular experience and qualifications. If they’ve written “must have a PhD in Neuro-Linguistic Programming” they probably mean it. If you truly, truly think your experience equates to the job’s “must have” requirements, then explain why you’re right and they’re too rigid, in a cover letter. You have one bullet point and three or four lines to make your case. Make it compelling.
•Talking of compelling, it is worth spending time on your cover letter to highlight the particular experience or achievements that will be specific for that job. Changing resumes for each job is time-consuming, won’t necessarily have the same impact as a very specific cover letter and may well leave you confused if you’re applying for a ton of jobs.
•“Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” (Jean Kerr, 1957) — a humorous book written by a harassed mother of six. On a rare evening out, she left instructions (“Don’t kill the babysitter”) that she thought were all-inclusive. It hadn’t dawned on her to tell the children not to eat the daisies from the flower arrangement on the dining room table. Some stuff shouldn’t have to be stated but alas….
•For example, check that the details in the cover letter match those for the job. Can’t believe I had to write that sentence. “Dear Mr Smith… the Acme Roofing Company… administrative assistant” when it should be “Dear Ms Jones… Tony’s Auto Repair Shop… office manager”. I have changed the names but I didn’t make it up.
•A general cover letter that clearly is being sent to everyone for every job is nearly as bad. Personalize them.
•One page is sufficient. Make it concise and easy to read i.e. use bullet points – four or five are optimal. At the end, thank the recipient for the chance to apply and politely suggest you will be following up with a telephone call (unless you’ve been told no telephone calls). “I await your response” is more likely to lead to tears at bedtime. When do you decide that no response for a few days/couple of weeks means they will never respond.

Staffing agencies + LinkedIn can help you find a job…

At the risk of taking oomph away from the help that staffing agencies can give to job seekers, there’s a nice synergy sometimes between us and LinkedIn.

Basically I’m saying, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (oh dear, and avoid clichés like the plague). If you have decent LinkedIn details, agencies are much more likely to try to get in touch with you for suitable job assignments they have. Of course, annoyingly, so can the hiring companies who can get to you direct, and cut out us, the middle man with our middle-man fees – sigh. But one of the cornerstones of civilized society is competition, so it’s up to agencies to prove the world needs us. There ya go.

A photograph or not? Sadly (I have low self-image so have as few photographs of myself over the years as poss) your chances of being contacted are GREATLY increased with a photograph. LinkedIn, it seems to me, is somewhere between Facebook (social) and Monster (100% I-want-a-new-job). Lately though, more and more people are using it to let the world know their background should an exciting job opportunity present itself. Still useful for other stuff, let’s not forget, like contacting old school friends, joining like-minded groups, reading Richard Branson’s latest thoughts…but awfully handy for helping you job search.

Put a reasonably corporate photograph of yourself up there. I had one candidate whose photograph was taken by the side of a pool. He was wearing a very tight, very brief swimming costume and nothing else; please tell me I don’t have to explain why that was not a good idea. Don’t have it obviously cut out from a bigger photograph, with unidentified half faces, arms and legs as a surround. And remember the background – I can tell if you were in a rowdy bar or a Social Security office when it was taken.

Your Profile is crucial. Let the world know succinctly what you are (EXCEPT FOR UNEMPLOYED – more of that in a minute). Mine says “Recruitment Consultant (& NY-Scottish volunteer activities)”. Sums me up in a nutshell. I don’t actually have a more enlightening paragraph under that, and maybe I should. A good pal has expanded on her short profile thus, “Career Guidance and Counseling. Assistance with resume revision, social media job search techniques, interview preparation and follow-up. Strong relationship with clients. Training and development for Career Services Counselors. Over thirty years in Staffing/Career Services; keen ability to listen effectively, act quickly and compassionately. Member of the following Committees: Student Success, Community Service, Retention, Social Media. Mentor for Leadership Berkeley Program. Customer Service Champion, Graduation Coach. Specialties: Job search coaching and guidance; interviewing techniques, preparation and follow-up. Workshop presentation.” Blimey, we know what SHE does for a living…makes me think I should do something for myself and follow her lead.

If you’re unemployed, think of a better, less dramatic way to show you’re on the market. Companies tend to read “unemployed” as “unemployed loser” so don’t encourage them. Let them know subtly…e.g. you won’t have a current job in the profile. If you’re a consultant, that’s fine, though – it’s just when “consultant” can be interpreted as “temping while desperate” that the alarms sound. By the way, if you have your current permanent job in the profile, no-one will ask to connect with you for a temp or temp-to-perm job…just sayin’. If you ARE employed and looking for a job, don’t be specifically writing that down t-o-o obviously; again, try to be subtle about it. Human Resources or your manager might see it and realise you’re looking.

If you are using LinkedIn as a mechanism for letting the world know you’re available for employment, then the Profile is crucial. The rest will read like a standard resume, and you’ll also have the opportunity to write a bit more than you would in a standard resume about outside activities such as volunteer work or creative outlets. And if it’s a half-way decent attempt, then staffing agencies, including moi-même, and companies will be asking to connect. Which is one of the main points of LinkedIn. Remember, I’m writing this article as much for myself, a recruiter, as for you.

Resume advice – the real deal.

And it’s the real deal because it comes from ME, Margaret. I’ve seen enough of ‘em in my time, and so I know whereof I speak. (ok, sometimes other views are valid too, but let’s focus, and not get sidetracked with trivia).
Here are some of the comments that other people have given Merit’s adorable candidates:

To executive/administrative assistants: “Leave your Master’s/MBA off”. What? You spent a fortune doing a graduate degree, it took blood, sweat and tears to study for it, you’re a better person for it and yet you shouldn’t put it, one of your proudest achievements, on your resume? Sorry? It proves you are well-educated, had the tenacity to study for it, possibly while working a regular job, have the knowledge gained from it (duh), and are therefore better qualified than candidates who don’t have it.
Shout it from the rooftops.
Now, to be fair, you MAY have to explain in a cover letter why you are not expecting to be promoted out of the job for which you’re applying because of your graduate degree. Moreover, if the MBA is in something unrelated, you may well have to explain why you do NOT intend to change careers as soon as you can – you are someone who constantly wants to improve your mind and therefore did an unconnected, fun, expensive degree in Art History/Social Work/Accounting/Sanskrit to keep your brain from rotting. And all of that has to be the truth. If indeed you do want to change careers, and are using the position for which you have applied as a stop gap, then fancy footwork is in order. Speak to your agency counsellor to figure out how to pitch yourself to your, with luck, new employer.

“Resumes can only be one page”. This is a comment last heard as appropriate advice in a black-and-white episode of “The Twilight Zone”. If you’ve been with the same company for 20 years, you can probably do yourself justice with one page. Since 2008, it is increasingly difficult not to be downsized no matter how good you are. Nobody said life was fair. And therefore with several jobs because of a couple of layoffs, a couple of good internships you don’t want to drop from the resume, temp work, looking after a sick relative blah blah, one page is going to look very, very busy, with the smallest font known to MSWord. Two pages is more than fine.

“Put everything in chronological order”. Well, yes, for the most part, of course… but if the resume starts to look as though you’ve job hopped all over the place, you might find it helps the look of the format to have all that “Temporary Experience” as a separate heading so it doesn’t mess up the perm stuff. If you’re more-or-less entry level, it can look at first glance to harassed HR Co-ordinators as though you’ve had a ton of jobs because there were summer jobs at Hooters and two internships jumbled up with the perm stuff. Put all that under e.g. “Other Work Experience” after your “Professional Experience.”

“Resumes should only go back 10 years”. Oh stop it. Much more realistic to have 15 – 20 years from the 25, 30, 35 you actually have. The stuff from 20+ years ago won’t help you, in fact may be held against you by naughty employers who haven’t read employment legislation, but 10 years is often just not enough.

“Write your reasons for leaving on your cover letter”. Wrong. Your cover letter should be about why you are specially good for the job for which you’re applying, not an apology about why you left previous jobs. Also you think the HR departments keep the cover letter glued to the resume, and read the two as a whole? Haha. No, what you do, don’t argue, is write the reasons for leaving jobs on your resume. In very small font, in italics next to the company or job title, just a couple of words (laid off, company folded, manager left, career move and so on) so that HR don’t think “That’s a lot of jobs”, without immediately thinking “Oh, ok, laid off, relative deceased, company relocated out of state”. You want them to have those thought processes while they’re reading it, so they can decide to interview you. Once they’ve made their minds up it’s too jumpy, you can never get them back.

“Education should come first”. A variation of this is “Education should come last”. My reply? HK- Hoo Kares? If you’ve got a wonderful degree and it’s relevant and reasonably recent, yes, put it at the start. If it’s cough, cough, not your USP, (Unique Selling Point), GPA of 2.1 and all that, probably best at the end, along with Computer Software and Other Interests.

By the way, if you haven’t finished a degree but have some college, don’t write the words BA BS etc; it totally implies you have the degree. That’s a fib and I shall strike you off my Christmas card list. However don’t leave out any college you HAVE done, or everyone will assume you’ve done none at all. Lots of ways of writing it e.g. “30 credits towards degree in journalism”, “30 credits short of degree in journalism”, “some college courses in journalism”.

If you’re cautious or paranoid and don’t want to write all your contact information on your resume, just remember, agencies and companies have to be able to get in touch with you easily. Write the town, so people will know whether it’s commutable or not, “New York, NY” or “Moose Droppings, PA”. Incidentally, not putting a distant town fools no-one who e.g. needs someone more local for emergencies. If you don’t want to share your telephone number, to ward off the stalkers, then we’ll need an email. If even that scares you, make up an email specifically for job searching.

Yeesh, I could go on for pages.

2017: A New Year – Same old problems or not?

I work for a staffing service so I tend to think in terms of candidates, clients, and of course staffing services. What are the continuing issues?

Staffing services. Naturally, Merit never does anything wrong, ever, but as for the others? Oh dearie me… in 2017, it’s going to be a) Return candidates’ phone calls promptly. b) Remember to give candidates some feedback. I’m thinking specifically when clients don’t return OUR calls; we have to remember to let the candidates know. “No message to relate” often becomes “forget to tell the world it’s no message”. c) Give good advice about resume writing and thank you letters. As a quick rule of thumb, if an agency tells you something I disagree with, I’m always right, and don’t listen to anyone else who tells you otherwise (er, cough, cough). e.g. Who are these recruiters out there who still say resumes can only be one page? Puh-leeze.

Candidates. a) You don’t always follow up often or quickly enough with the agency. We CARE how the interview went. b)You have to proof your resumes and thank you letters really carefully. You’re not always going to get anal Margaret to do it for you, so please quadruple-check everything. c) Take it all very seriously if you really want a job. Return phone calls as quickly as possible, be on time for interviews (you’d think that would be a DUH one), look and act the part, do your homework, keep the agency in the loop.

Clients. At the risk of annoying any of my clients who are all FABULOUS, btw, other agencies’ clients sometimes take f-a-r- too long to get back about resumes, interview times, interview feedback, and final decisions, especially when, alas, it’s a no. We know they have all sorts of other priorities but still…

Finally..2017. What are the new-ish issues? a) NYC doesn’t allow credit checking anymore. Woo hoo. b) Companies more and more these days are expecting a four-year degree for accounting, administrative, reception, sales and customer service jobs. Previously it was advantageous, not essential. What to do if you don’t have a four-year degree? Find a staffing service that can persuade the client that they’re being silly. c) We’re seeing more jobs at last becoming available than we did in 2015 and 2016, especially in the administrative and accounting fields. Long may this trend continue.

Sigh….Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read this blog

If I see that phrase “time out of your busy schedule” one more time in a thank you letter to potential employers, I shall SPIT. It is such a cliché, there is no excuse for using it ever under any circumstances. Whatsoever. Remember, this blog on the Merit website is called “Margaret says” and this is one of those times when Margaret says and isn’t going to listen to any “Yes, but what if”s”…Please don’t ever use it. Actually, if I had ten dollars for every time I’ve read it in a thank you letter/email, I’d be sunning myself on a beach, not listening, for example, to the sounds of the OWS, Occupy Wall Street, protesters who were noisily marching past the building as I first wrote this blog a couple of years ago.

Ok, that’s my harrumph grumble harrumph over. What do you say instead? There are different ways to say the same thing…I mean, it WAS good of the interviewer, who will indeed probably be very busy, to give you some time to explain the job and listen to you. So… just phrase it differently. “Thank you so much for meeting me; I really appreciate it”, “Thank you for your time”, “Thank you for being so generous with your time”, “Thank you for the time you to took to explain to me…”.

As for the rest of the letter – and these days, that usually means an email. With luck you’ll be back for second interview before the snail mail letter would have arrived – Less Is More. Write about what you learned in the interview. “I was pleased to hear that your department has a system of tracking…”, “that you’re going to expand”, “that you interface with…” . and then of course relate that information to your own skills and experience. Explain what you can do for the company – you have a chance to help the department be successful by bringing your skills, experience and personality to the job. That’s going to resonate with them more than the fact that you want a challenge. It also proves, incidentally, that you didn’t just copy and paste a template thank you letter from the Internet.

Sometimes one paragraph is enough, sometimes two. There are exceptions to this but, if you’re using a staffing service, a good counselor will talk you through it all.

By the way, address the person as Mr, Ms, Dr in a thank you. Not first names. Even if they’ve been very friendly, it’s still better to be more formal in written correspondence. And for heavens’ sakes, proof your thank you letter. More than once. A company doesn’t know and love you yet; all they have to go on is your resume, how you performed at interview and your thank you note. Mistake-ridden isn’t going to help your chances.

That’s it, class! If you do have any questions, “But what about when….” then please let me know.

What fresh hell is this?

A super line attributed to Dorothy Parker –if you don’t know who she is, check her out on google, and even better, read some of her stuff. Brilliant. She used the line, apparently, in the office whenever the telephone rang.

Things were puttering along nicely in the early years of the new Millennium, those first few years of the noughties, as the BBC called the years between 2000 and 2009. But then, in about 2007, there were signs that the economy was changing, and not for the better. It got worse in 2008 and some of us began to panic – we weren’t financiers so we had no idea what it was about, we just knew it wasn’t good. I started to learn phrases like Collateral Debt Obligations. Shoor enuff, unemployment went at one point from about 4.8% to 5.0%; my friend-and-colleague and I (he very soon became my still-friend but ex-colleague as my previous employer went pfft) realized it wasn’t going to level out, the little increase of 0.2% wasn’t a nothingy bubble, it showed we were on top of a volcano, that was a bubble of lava, and it was going to blow. Being a non-financier with no idea what it was about, I hoped it would all get better in about a year. Hahahaha. Unemployment topped 10.3% before it finally started to come down.
So… here we all are in 2015 with unemployment, as I write this, at 5.4%. Are we nearly back to where we were at the end of 2008? I have absolutely no idea, because I’m still not a financier. I can tell, though, that the job market, especially in New York, has morphed. A lot. The following are my observations. You may think they are hugely insightful, in which case you are clearly related to my mother… I could do no wrong, or you may think I’m spouting rubbish – in which case, why not email me and let me know.

There just isn’t anything like the same number of financial services jobs around in Manhattan that there used to be. Technology, outsourcing, moves out of Manhattan, mergers and Murphy’s Law got rid of a lot of them. T-h-o-u-s-a-n-d-s of jobs disappeared and I don’t think they’ll be coming back anytime soon.

Similarly there just aren’t the same number of legal secretary jobs out there that there used to be. Law firms merge, disappear into the ether, attorneys make do with fewer admin staff to help them. Some lawyers type at 70 words per minute because they took typing classes in High School! – I mean, what’s THAT about. It means they don’t need to dictate hours of stuff to their secretaries, they can type it themselves and amend it as they go along – it can often be more efficient than the old way. Where do you learn shorthand in New York these days? Beats me. Presumably people thought there was no longer enough of a need of it. Heavens above, even some of the secretarial training schools disappeared, never mind their shorthand classes.

Talking of secretaries, where are they now? Went the way of Miss Moneypenny, retired to Florida or to the Typing Pool in the Sky. Colleges give 2 and 4 year degrees in Business Administration to train you as administrative assistants, where your knowledge of business is much more profound than it ever was allowed to be in the past. Administrative and executive assistants can be indispensable to their managers – they do immensely complex calendar management, arrange international travel without the help of pesky travel agents, have the telephone number for reservations for all the best restaurants on speed dial, know way too much about their boss’s medical profile, financial status, children’s schooling. If they work for someone amazingly senior and important (translation: major revenue-producer) then they only have one boss, but these days that’s rare. On the plus side, there is a career path for administrative/executive assistants that there didn’t used to be. Titles like Chief of Staff, Estate Manager, Administration Director are there for the taking. Of course, job titles don’t pay the bills, but potential salaries can be a lot higher than they were in the past.

On the negative salary side, post-2009, some of the salaries have stayed flat or actually gone down. Yup, a few cheapo bosses know that they can get away with paying what you just have to accept as better than nothing.

More importantly as a factor though is the very noticeable increase in temp-to-perm positions. Why would companies only consider temp-to-permanent hire? Presumably because they have a few months’ grace period before they start paying expensive benefits. It gives them an extra safety net in case they make a bad hiring choice and the owner wants a head to roll. To be fair, they also just might want longer to test someone out. And they can get away with it because there are still more unemployed support staff out there than there used to be. Try to be positive about it. You get to have a safety net too, and you can walk away from them, if you were the one not making the right choice, without feeling you have to explain away leaving a permanent job.

Oh, and do most of you work longer hours as the norm than you used to? Remember when 9.00 to 5.00 was a phrase that tripped off the tongue? There are probably a few jobs out there that are still 9.00 to 5.00 but the people in them are not going to leave unless they’re dragged out screaming, leaving claw marks on the door.

I have to think of something upbeat to finish the blog. Don’t I? This last year, year-and-a-half there has definitely been an upward swing in the number of jobs out there, both that agencies are being given, or that companies are advertising directly (dear me, I hate companies that don’t use staffing services. But that’s for another blog). And the signs (house building increasing, foreclosures decreasing) are that life promises to continue getting better. Works for me.

Dealing with agencies: Old hand or total novice?

We had a nice candidate walk through our doors the other day, charming but clueless. She had never been to a staffing service before and presumably didn’t know what to expect. When told about a rather fabby job we had, she somehow didn’t believe her luck and started grilling us; e.g.
Us: “Billions in assets”.
Her: “Well, it has to be a major corporation”.  
Us: “Unless you think we mean billions of quetzbogs, not billions of dollars, we can assume it’s a major corporation”.
Ok, conversation didn’t go 100% like that, but the naive woman clearly had a trust issue there.
Staffing services are there to pluck you out (poor unemployed / unhappily employed wretches that you are) from the ether aka Monster, social websites, referrals. We have also managed by magic to find clients who ask us to help them fill positions they’re too frazzled to do themselves — long may their frazzledom continue. We do our due diligence with you, the candidates, – finding out your requirements, what you absolutely insist on, what you’ll settle for. We marry you up with the open positions we have, we persuade our clients to meet you, we help you through the process – never underestimate the amount of help we can give – and with a bit of luck and a following wind, help you through the offer process.  In an ideal world, you get the job and are thrilled, the client fills the job and is thrilled, we get our fee and are thrilled, and our children don’t have to go to the poorhouse. Sounds simple but of course gets a lot more complex in practice.  
For your part, all you have to do is be open with us – if there’s something you’d rather not tell us e.g. a vacation you’ve booked, the restricted hours you can work, the fact that you haven’t quite finished your degree, a spot of bother with the background check, the fact that you were fired for whatever reason, sorry, you have to tell us. Not telling us won’t help you get the job; sometimes alas, you may not get the job if you have a deal-breaking restriction, but sometimes, and indeed quite often, we can help you overcome it. Just be prepared to answer a lot of our questions with, “Look, here’s the scoop…” and we’ll figure it out together. Oh by the way, if we try to help with your resume, listen to our advice and either take it or not  – your resume, your life – but recognize that we see thousands and thousands and thousands of resumes so we tend to know what the clients want.
Rightie-ho, that’s the newbies taken of.  What about those who have been to many agencies over the years and have become a bit, cough cough, jaded with the service they’ve been given? Try to analyze whether it’s your fault or the agency’s!  If each and every one of us says e.g. your resume is too prosey, too long, not long enough, then the chances are we’re right, so you’d be advised to go home and change it. If ever there’s a scenario where I, Margaret, recommend something and you say, “But another agency told me such-and-such”, please remember that I, Margaret, am always right. It’s a gift I was given and I’m here to share the benefits of it with you. You won’t go wrong.  
There is a range of quality amongst agencies, some are wonderful, some you wouldn’t let into your home, some you would trust with your daughter, some you wouldn’t trust with the milk money. Please don’t judge all of them by comparing with the worst. I hope you don’t do it with humanity, and it’s the same concept with agencies. Find a couple of nice recruiters who tell you The Good, The Bad and The Ugly about a job, so you can decide if it’s for you. Learn from both the good stuff and from your mistakes, and listen to your friends and colleagues for agency referrals. In the course of the interview process, you’ll have a chance to verify that the job/salary/benefits are what you were told. However, dear readers, perhaps a word of advice is to have some ready answers when they ask you questions about other job interviews you’ve been on. The scuzzbuckets want to know so they can phone up the company and get the job for themselves. “I’m not comfortable telling you at the moment” is a wonderful phrase to learn off by heart.  Of course, please do tell them general info e.g. “I’m going back for third interview on Tuesday” will help the agency know where they themselves are in your interviewing schedule and they can possibly hurry their client along.  
The old hands know what to do, which in one phrase is “keep the agency informed”.  No going MIA or into a transcendental state of meditation that won’t let you answer the telephone or email. If you don’t want to speak to an agency for any reason, this is a stunning thought here, let them know in advance. Have emails ready such as: (i) I’m taking myself off the job market. I’ll contact you again if I need to (ii) I got another job and I’m happy there, thanks. I’ll contact you if I need to. (iii) I’ve withdrawn from the process for EA to the CEO at The Truth Makes Us Nauseous PR Company, thanks. I’ll contact you if I need to.
If you do this you will save us hours of angst trying to track you down, wondering if you’re ill, off on vacation, still interested in dealing with us. We can put you onto the backburner and move on, and not waste precious time.

Working with staffing firms is a bit like trying to find your prince, you may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find him. But be selective, use your common sense and good judgment, and it will be well worth it. They often have the keys to the castle.

Let’s not tell the agency

Lord love a duck.***(***Stupid English i.e. not British, specifically English… expression uttered when nothing else will fit… often used when stunned or dismayed.) We sit here day and night searching for candidates and clients and suitable jobs, try to put everything together in order to make a few pence, keep the wolf from the door, stop us ending up in the poorhouse. And what thanks do we get?
In no order of importance, here are some observations about the rôle of staffing services, what we do, what we shouldn’t do, what the candidates should do, what the candidates shouldn’t do…. My last blog was a bit of a cathartic download of emotion, so let’s keep this one upbeat.
1)  When you have been temping with a client — client to us, potential employer to you —  and it comes to the knotty question of being hired permanently, and hoping the company can afford you, it sometimes transpires and occurs that the company is not exactly flush with extra cash. They may take you into their thought process, “Well, we can’t give you $X,000 per annum this year – remember there’s the agency fee we have to pay”. Smile sweetly and say nothing; their cash flow isn’t your problem. You do not, let me re-type that, YOU DO NOT helpfully suggest that you and they don’t have to mention it to the agency. No-one will ever know, and when the agency call you up to find out why you’re no longer temping with their client, and what’s the scoop, you just don’t answer the phone to them. Ever again.
Do you see, chaps, how this isn’t cool? You think you’re being helpful, or of course, you think you’re being cleverly devious, as a way to ensure employment. Nope. It’s dishonest, and will usually come back to bite you in the posterior. If the client really is having difficulty finding the cash, they can tell US, the agency, and we’ll find a way round it; it’s called negotiation. With luck, they’ll reply, “No way. Known her for years, wouldn’t dream of cheating.” They might just say, “Ooh, yes, please” in which case you deserve each other, (though the agency STILL deserves its fee).  
If the company is the naughty one that says, “Don’t tell the agency”, you have to wonder, dontcha, about joining a company like that. If you’re desperate for employment and feel obliged to go along with it, email me and I’ll tell you how to deal with it – it’s ok, it doesn’t involve violence and keeps your integrity untarnished.
Right, that was the worst one. What else do you not want to tell the agency?
2)  “I don’t actually have the degree that my resume falsely claims I have.” I’ve listened to all sorts of stuff over the years – well, not that often, fortunately – to explain away why the candidates can’t quite prove they have the degree (“The dog ate the certificate,” “My ex tore it up,” “The college didn’t keep computer records then,” “The college records department burned down”). It’s all rubbish if it isn’t true. You’ll get found out and we’ll all feel bad for assorted reasons. If a company insists on a degree for a job and you don’t have one, then you’re not getting the job. Sigh deeply and move on. The agency is here to help you though this type of scenario, including trying to persuade the client not to be so dam’ picky, and trying to get you to tell the truth on your resume in a positive light (“did some college but ran out of money”).
3)  “I live a long way out of Manhattan so I am not writing my address on the resume in case the employers won’t want me.” Think this through, dears. It might get you the first interview but you’re going to have to ‘fess up when they ask where you live. If the company wants you to live nearby, then living in Moose Droppings NJ won’t get you the job. Neither will leaving off the resume the fact that you live in Moose Droppings NJ.
There is an exception, I suppose, for those who don’t want to write down their address lest a crazed stalker finds their resume (I really have to stop watching so much Investigative Discovery Channel). You still have to write down the town, “Bronx NY”, “Westport CT” will suffice.
4)  Reasons for leaving your previous jobs. You totally have to tell us. Positive spin on all sorts of scenarios is one of my specialties, “Ooh, say that again please, so I can write it down” is a comment I hear often from candidates. Do I get them to lie? No, I most certainly do not. There are ways, though, to tell the truth in a sensible light that will have the client looking bored (absolutely the best response because it means it’s not important to them) and move on to the next question. Therefore to your staffing service you give the whole l-o-n-g story, “No no, I tell a lie, it was a Wednesday.” We can tell you what’s important to the client, what’s not, and how to give your reason in an upbeat 10-15 seconds or less.   
5)   Some candidates, now you just won’t believe this, no, no, really, don’t want to give us their current salary. “I googled it. I don’t legally have to”.  No, don’t suppose you do. But a potential employer has an equal right to ask for your W2 and if you want the job you’ll have to give it to them. So why won’t you tell the agency? We’re here to help – could you all please remember that? – and for that we need the facts. One of our tasks is to help you get the maximum salary the company will be prepared to pay without their feeling aggrieved and we can’t do that if we don’t know what you earn(ed). Why wouldn’t you tell us? Beats me… Perhaps you think the company will base an offer on what you earn and not the top range of what they think the job is worth. And you’d be right; it’s their call to do that. They may have it in their budget to pay – making these numbers up here – $80,000 – $100,000, just in case a high-earning superstar applies for their job, but you’re only earning $62,000. They are not necessarily going to offer $80,000, never mind more. They tend not to like paying more than a premium of about 10-15% more than your current salary (lots of exceptions, thank goodness). We look after the client companies as well, of course, but we want them to hire you and have you become a happy bunny in the job. That way you’ll stay there for years, give all your friends to us as referrals, and the company will give us lots more jobs to help them fill. It’s called nirvana.

Why have I written all this annoying stuff? Most people out there know that agencies are there to help them find a job, and that they can be the difference between acing the job search and failing. Some staffing services aren’t as good as others, but I’m talking good ones here, Merit and all the others who care about their clients, their candidates and doing a good job such that they feel they earned their fees with integrity.  Help us help you by being upfront, telling us what we ask, and taking/at least listening to our advice. And then we all win. No, I do not intend to become a motivational speaker, that last sentence just made me sound like one.