It’s 2013: Time to Reinvent Your Business

February 1st, 2013

It’s now 2013, and if your small business is still afloat, it means either of two things: 1.) you had what it takes to survive one of the worst economic crashes in recent history, or 2.) you recently launched your business, and you’re ready to do whatever it takes to ride out rough patches in the future. In either case, you know that staying competitive means staying flexible. Smart business owners adapt quickly to change, and they’re ready to make adjustments at a moment’s notice in order to stay ahead of a shifting landscape.

With that in mind, 2013 may be a great time to consider a reinvention. Take a close look at your market, your brand, and the strength of your financial footing, and consider making some of the following changes.

It’s Time for Some Fresh Air

Change your product (or service)

What would it take to improve the value of your product? Can you add more features? Can you produce deliverables faster without sacrificing quality? What are some of your most frequent customer complaints, and how can you make these complaints disappear?

Change your profit structure

Consider making your product more appealing by lowering your prices. In order to do this, you may need to cut some of your profits and pour the savings back into your business, but if you make this move correctly, you’ll strengthen your company’s foundation and long-term stability. Which matters more, putting the customer first and running a sustainable enterprise, or pleasing your shareholders over the short term and making your customers wait in line?

Change your marketing philosophy

You know that running a profitable business means keeping a close eye on your target market, and target markets tend to shift and blur over time. When was the last time you closely analyzed your core audience? Who buys your product and why? Refresh your marketing plan and update your advertising and sales campaigns to reflect your current demographic, not the one you pitched to when you first launched your business.

Relocate

The cost of a total relocation can be high, but look closer. You might greatly increase your profits and cut your costs by following your customer base, or moving closer to the source of your raw materials and strategic partners.

Revamp your staffing strategy

Are your employees the true engine of your business and the real force behind every ounce of your success? They should be. For every profitable business, the most valuable capital is human capital. Make sure your employees have the training, the support, and the motivation they need to keep your company moving. If you need to make some changes to your workforce, talk to the NC staffing and personnel experts at PSU. We can help you find and keep the talented, hardworking employees you need to drive your business forward.

New In the Office? Brush Up on your Conversation Skills

January 25th, 2013

Kids make friends everywhere they go. College students make friends just by sharing a dorm and sitting beside each other in class. Young adults get entry level jobs side-by-side with other young adults and they go on ski trips and take Zumba class together. But as we make the final transition into real grown-up-hood, the social world around us becomes less homogeneous and when it comes to making and keeping new friends, we’re on our own.  If you’re stepping into a new workplace in the middle of your life, what can you do to establish yourself and start forming new connections? Try these tips.

Conversational Rules for New Employees

1. Be positive. Of course you feel positive on the inside– You’re making a fresh start and you’re happy and excited to be here. But make sure this shows in your speech. For the first week in your new position, make a conscious effort not to say one negative thing. Not about people, your old job, or even the weather. After the first week you can relax and reveal your blunt, forthcoming side, but wait for seven days. Call it the “first week challenge”.

2. Play it cool. Don’t force your company, your jokes, or your opinions on anyone just yet. Listen more than you speak for a little while, and you’ll learn about the backstories and ongoing drama that underlie the projects and relationships happening around you.

3. Ask questions, but do so diplomatically. If you have someone who’s willing to provide you with background and fill you in on the technical and political details that shape the workplace, appreciate this person (or people). Try to make the most of this resource without becoming a burden.

4. Make an active effort to stay relevant. When you see a movie, be ready to talk about it at work. Actually think about what you’ll say if and when the subject comes up. The same rule applies to current events and sports. When you speak about these topics, follow the rules above. Try to stay positive, don’t force your personality on anyone, and keep your remarks from going on too long and becoming speeches or rants.

5. Look for ways to make your presence a welcoming sight to others. Help people who are doing things (from moving boxes to cleaning the breakroom). In conversation, protect people from embarrassment and help them look good in front of those they hope to impress. Try to steer clear of sour apples, negative types, and jerks. These might be complex and interesting people under the surface, but find this out during your second or third week, not your first.

For more on how to polish your image and start your professional relationships off on the right foot, reach out the staffing experts at PSU.

Take a Closer Look at Your Underqualified Candidate

January 11th, 2013

Rejecting candidates out of hand can become an unfortunately common trend in a weak economy. When some managers see a line of applicants winding out the door, they develop an inflated sense of confidence that makes them decide to “hold out for the best”, or toss out one highly qualified candidate after another because these applicants don’t present themselves as stars. But if you’re tempted to hire only applicants who are currently employed, or only those who have PhDs, or only those who are currently making the limit of what your company can offer, think twice. It may be wise to adopt some flexibility. Here’s why.

Hire for Skills, Talent, Attitude, and Work Ethic, Not Star Status 

You’ll pay a premium for every measureable element of candidate star status. Everything from a four year college degree to the completion of a software training program comes at a cost. At the same time, candidates who possess these credentials and can charge these premiums have no specific reason to cultivate gratitude or loyalty once they come aboard.

On the other hand, if you hire a candidate who hasn’t yet learned to write code or hasn’t completed her level three certification, you’ll be taking her on at a slightly lower rate. And if you provide her with this training in-house, she’ll have every reason to stay, invest, and appreciate a symbiotic relationship for what it is.

Aptitude can be taught, But Attitude is in the Blood

Inflexible managers use a rigid check-off list to measure candidate success potential. Does the candidate have exactly three to five years of experience? Does the candidate have exactly three glowing references from upper managers at Fortune 500 companies? Lists like these are self-limiting and don’t actually measure the real qualities that predict a great hire. While interviewing a candidate and reviewing his or her background, use your non-verbal communication skills, experience, and intuition to discern a genuine work ethic and honest eagerness to learn. Everything else can be taught.

Don’t Voluntarily Overpay for Candidates with Attitude Problems

Taking on a bona fide “superstar” is, in and of itself, a recipe for trouble. Not only are you likely to overpay (market value doesn’t always dictate substance), but you’ll be taking on a candidate who may not see any reason to adapt to your culture, accept your methods, or cease her search for better opportunities elsewhere. Think before you try to pry a candidate away from her current job while an eager, intelligent, and inexpensive alternative happens to be knocking at your door.

Where can you find these qualified, inexpensive candidates with great attitudes? Start by arranging an appointment with the NC staffing experts at PSU. We have access to a broad pool of talented applicants who can help you drive your growing company forward.

Fact Check Your Resume!

December 28th, 2012

If you think potential employers will glance over resume and take you at your word on every item and every claim, you might be right. But if you’re wrong, and a few simple calls and Google searches can verify that you stretched the truth on your application, your resume and cover letter are 100 percent likely to end up in the trash. Even if your false claims go undiscovered and you step into a great new position, your resume will be placed into your personnel file and you’ll be shown to the door the day the truth is eventually revealed. Is an ego-inflating fib on your resume really worth losing the job of your dreams?

In a word: No. It’s never a good idea to lie or stretch the truth on a resume. Resume fibs are harder to pass off than they may seem—after all, your potential employers have been in the business longer then you have, and they know a questionable claim when they see one. And the embarrassment that a few fibs can bring your way may have a damaging impact that can follow you for the rest of your career. Take these quick steps to fact check and clean up your resume before you click send.

Resume Fact Checking Tips

1. Be prepared to answer questions about every item in your education section. Every institution attended and degree earned can be easily verified. If you list your GPA, employers probably can’t obtain this information from the university without your permission. But they can simply ask you to provide proof. And if you can’t produce your transcripts when asked, you may reach the end of the road with this employer. 

2. When it comes to work history, don’t exaggerate your accomplishments. Just don’t do it. It may seem impossible for an employer to independently confirm that your raised department call-completion levels by 35 percent in 2004, but again, managers usually know what kinds of claims align with the rest of your profile and which claims stand out as unlikely.

3. Recognize that some information and claims don’t need to be verified, and an employer who seeks proof is crossing the lines of privacy and respect. For example, if asked about your salary history, you’re allowed to answer however you choose. But at the same time, the truth is usually your best bet. As your grandma may have mentioned, when you tell the truth, it’s easier to keep your story straight.

Remember, most of the skills you claim to possess (from typing speed to foreign language fluency to software competency) can be tested. And if they bear any relevance to your job performance, they probably will be tested. Be ready for a cross examination… or better yet, just stick to the facts from the beginning. You’ll make your own life—and your potential employer’s job– a little easier. Contact the NC staffing experts at PSU for additional job search guidance.

 

New Hire Orientation: A Check-Off List

December 21st, 2012

Once the screening and selection have come to an end and you’ve settled on a first choice candidate for your open position, you’ll need to make sure the onboarding processes goes smoothly. After all, the first few days on the job can have a lasting impression on your new employee and can shape the direction of her long term relationship with both the company and her manager. Check each step off the list below and make sure your newhire receives the personal attention and guidance she needs to get started on the right foot.

1. First, be very clear with all written communication prior to the start date. Give the employee an opportunity to fully understand her new healthcare plan and compensation package. And of course, be very clear about all the conditions and contingencies related to her employment. In the worst case scenario, an employee may walk in on day one without having fully understood all drug test, background check, or health screening requirements expected of her.

2. Arrange to have someone waiting for her on the morning of her arrival. Make sure this person is expecting the new employee and is on the site and ready to greet her when she comes in. This can be the employee’s manager, an HR staff member, or a coworker. But in any case, this person will be the one who shows the new employee to her workspace and introduces her to those with whom she’ll be interacting on a regular basis.

3. Have a printed employee handbook ready, and provide a training schedule that clarifies where the employee will need to be and when during every hour of her first full week on the job.

4. Make sure IT personnel are on hand and available to sign the new employee into the system and help her establish passwords and access codes.

5. Be ready to incorporate the employee seamlessly into ongoing team projects. For example, have a printed schedule available that indicates which meetings she’ll be expected to attend and whether she’ll be playing an active role or just observing. 

6. Encourage both the HR team and the employee’s manager to maintain an open door policy for the new employee as she learns the ropes. Both parties should respond quickly to her questions and be very clear about company policy and manager expectations. 

For more information and advice on creating a smooth and positive onboarding experience for your new hire, contact the NC staffing and HR pros at PSU.

Great Leaders Start Out as Great Followers

December 7th, 2012

Everywhere we look in our culture, we hear praise associated with the qualities of “leadership”. Great leaders are the ones who are bound for the highest destinations in this life, according to these messages. And they’re the ones who are most likely to attain their goals and leave an impact on the world. But a closer look reveals a few additional dimensions to these blanket statements about the glories of leadership.

First, every leader is also a follower. Everybody in this life has a boss. Even CEOs have to report to a board of directors, and the members of the board report to shareholders and customers. Second, every great leader starts out as a great follower. Before we lead anyone, we have to impress those who lead us with our ability and willingness to follow and do what we’re told.

To become a great follower, consider adopting some of the traits below. And recognize that these traits can speed our progress up the never-ending ladder of leadership. 

1. When bosses say jump, great followers ask how high…for a little while. But as they master their jobs and gain a more complete understanding of the big picture, they begin to take more initiative. When the time comes, and they’ve earned the knowledge and the right to do so, they start making suggestions about what the team should do and when.

2. Great followers add to their own list of responsibilities. They learn how to create their own jobs and expand their own sphere of influence, and they do so with minimal direction.

3. Following means listening carefully when we’re coached or corrected. In order to get where we need to be, it’s necessary to put our egos aside. This means letting go of shame, resentment, excuses and other defense mechanisms that rise to the surface when we’re criticized. The goal should always be performance improvement, not pride or self-protection.

4. Great followers think ahead, and they keep the big picture and company goals in mind. They don’t just struggle to keep up with an endless list of small orders and demands.

5. Finally, great followers are those who don’t just execute orders, they anticipate them. The best way we can help our bosses reach their goals is by keeping work off their desks and doing whatever it takes to make their lives easier.

Great followers don’t stay at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder forever. In fact, they tend to zip up that ladder as if they’re on an escalator. But ironically, the ladder never ends. We always have the opportunity to look to those above us and take steps that help us move in that direction. For more ways to get ahead and stay ahead, reach out to the NC staffing and career development experts at PSU

 

Assess Your Candidate’s Teamwork Skills: Sample Interview Questions

November 23rd, 2012

The position you’re offering will require tenacity, industry knowledge, public speaking savvy, basic math skills, and a willingness to travel. But more than any of these things, this position demands a strong sense of teamwork. Your candidate will have to spend long days head-to-head with a closely knit group of peers, solving complex problems that can’t be tackled by one person alone.

A great team player will integrate seamlessly into this job and become invaluable within a week. But a candidate who’s stuck on “lead” or “follow” mode just won’t cut it. Neither will a candidate who’s emotionally unintelligent, stubborn, or insensitive to social cues. How can you tell which candidate you’re facing when you look across the interview table? Here are few sample questions that can help you find the information you need.

Sample Interview Questions Targeting Teamwork

1. Do you prefer working with a team or working by yourself? (Give the candidate a chance to elaborate.)

2. Have you ever worked with a team that failed to meet its timeline or budget goals? What went wrong and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Tell me about a group project you completed that went well. What made the outcome a success?

4. In your opinion, what are some of the features of a great team? What kinds of factors contribute to team success? How about the members of great teams—what kinds of qualities do they share?

5. Have you ever had to work with a group that faced direct competition from another group in a different department or branch of the company? How did that go?

6. When your fellow team members outshine you or pull more than their share of the load, how do you usually react?

You don’t have to ask every one of these questions, of course. But after each question you choose to ask, allow the candidate to speak for a while in an open-ended way and glean what you can from her words. Listen to the way she speaks of her teammates, her competitors, and her own contributions.

For even more reliable insight, offer group interviews instead of just one-on-one interactions between yourself and each candidate. A group setting can provide a real life demonstration of how your applicant interacts with others. Meanwhile, reach out to the NC staffing experts at PSU for additional questions that can help you assess a range of candidate skill sets, from self-direction to leadership to resourcefulness.

Salary Negotiations: Be Prepared!

November 16th, 2012

You’ve made it through the first round of a challenging application process, and as you walk out of your interview, your confidence levels are high. You’re pretty sure this job is yours, if you’re willing to accept the conditions of the offer and the salary that comes with it. But be ready: Your hiring manager may not provide a clear number, and may instead ask you to propose a potential salary and open the floor to negotiation. Here are a few tips that can help you prepare.

1. Know your market value inside and out. Research average salaries for this position in your area, average salaries with competing companies, and salaries for similar jobs with companies in other industries.

2. Once you know the averages, determine where you stand in relation to “average”. What’s the monetary value of your specific experience, accomplishments, and training?

3. Stand your ground. You don’t know your new employer very well, so you won’t be able to read his or her expressions and you’ll be at a slight disadvantage. Meanwhile, you’re one person going toe to toe against a large established organization. But don’t be flustered. Take a stand and get what you deserve.

In a second scenario, the end of the year lies around the corner, and as the date of your performance evaluation draws near, it’s a good time to be ready for another necessary conversation: your yearly salary negotiation. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you head into your manager’s office and begin to make your case for higher compensation.

1. Don’t expect to be asked. If you feel it’s time for a raise, you may have to broach the subject on your own. Time the moment properly, and keep things formal. The best approach: ask your boss for an official meeting with an established time, don’t just ambush her in the elevator or the cafeteria line.

2. Know your value. See the research tips in the first scenario above. But since you already have a relationship with this company, you’ll be in a better position to outline your accomplishments and contributions.

3. Don’t corner, blackmail, or make demands. Managers don’t usually like this. Instead, enter the negotiating process in good faith and give your manager the same respect that you expect from her.

For more detailed negotiating tips that apply to your specific situation, reach out and arrange a consultation with the NC staffing experts at PSU. We can help you navigate the challenges of this difficult but important conversation.

Use Personal Branding To Land Your Dream Job

October 19th, 2012

Small acts of branding can have a powerful impact on a potential consumer’s emotional reaction to a product. This is just as true when the marketer is a job seeker and the product she’s selling is herself.

As they hire, interview, and screen candidates, most potential employer decisions are conscious, and represent a logical response to available data. For example, does the candidate have a four year degree or not? Can she or can she not perform the duties of the position, from drafting department budgets to speaking fluent French? The culture surrounding the position is extroverted and highly competitive—will the candidate be able to adapt? Most of these questions come with black and white answers, and the candidate can and should control how she’s directly perceived. But subconscious decisions are also part of the process, and a savvy candidate can control the outcome on both levels—or at least try. Consider color, for example. As a job seeker, are you working a signature color into your branding strategy?

Color and Your Personal Brand

Every time your potential employer sees you in person, consider wearing an item of clothing or carrying a portfolio that displays one chosen color. This will be your signature color. You don’t need an entire outfit in this hue—just a scarf, tie, or shirt will do.  But be consistent. And choose carefully.

Green will suggest innovation, flexibility and ingenuity. Yellow will project a sunny and positive disposition. Blue will suggest that you’re focused and studious. And red is the color of passion, which can translate in a workplace setting into determination, aggression and personal dedication. It might seem smart to present all of these qualities to a potential employer, but if you want to be remembered, choose just one.

Now, as you scan postings for a new position with an employer you have yet to contact for the first time, make sure you consider your signature color before every single interaction you have with this employer. Every time a potential hiring manager encounters your brand, she should experience the impact of your chosen color.

Type the text of your resume, cover letter, and all of your emails in basic black only. But before you write, pause and think for a minute about your signature color, and let that color influence the tone of your message and the words you choose. Your thoughts about your color will have an impact on the consistency of your brand, your message, and the story you’re attempting to tell. Will you carefully gather all the facts before making a decision (blue)? Will you be a pleasure to work with every day (yellow)? Will you make any sacrifice for the company, no matter the cost (red)?

This all may sound like magic, and it is. But it’s also marketing. Put these principals to work for you and see what happens. Meanwhile, reach out to the NC job search experts at PSU for additional help and guidance.

When to Make an Offer to Get a Resigning Employee to Stay

October 5th, 2012

Your staffing strategy has never been better. Your last four hiring decisions have been brilliant, and your managers and employees appear to be thriving busily in an atmosphere of respect, trust, and shared dedication. When you walk through your workplace, you see cheerful workers in every direction, and your bottom line suggests that you’re clearly doing something right. But you haven’t done this on your own. You can easily count off a handful of people throughout the company who hold this entire operation together. Regardless of their management level, these invaluable employees are natural leaders and you know perfectly well that you wouldn’t be where you are without them.

Just as you’re patting yourself on the back for the efficiency and productivity of your staffing strategy, one of your very best employees walks into your office with a dreaded announcement. She’s about to leave.

Counter a Resignation: Simple Steps

First, don’t give up just yet. There’s a strong possibility that your next few moves can change her mind and keep her onboard. But be careful. There’s a fine line between a happy, productive employee and resentful, conflicted prisoner trapped in golden handcuffs. Ask a few tactful questions, then act accordingly.

First, find out why she’s leaving. And listen to her tone, not just her words. If her answer is abbreviated and dismissive, you’re odds of keeping her are slim. A strong personal component, like a family obligation, may also elicit a clipped and determined explanation. But if there’s any chance that she hasn’t fully made up her mind, her answer will be longer and more detailed, and may even sound open-ended, as if she’s not making a declaration but asking for advice.

If another local company is luring her away with a higher offer, ask her to give you twenty four hours to counter it. Then work with your accounting and HR departments to see what you can come up with. But you’ll be lucky if her decision is only about money. More likely, many factors will be involved, including her long term career goals and how they may conflict with the opportunities she’s finding here. She may also be unhappy with some aspect of this job in ways that she’s kept hidden or handled on her own until now.

If she’s dissatisfied for one simple reason, pounce on the problem, and do it today. If her relationship with her manager isn’t working out, for example, take decisive action to open communication channels and resolve the issue. If she has commuting difficulties or workplace access problems, don’t just wave goodbye. If you do, you may be letting a simple obstacle take away one of your most valuable company assets. Is she struggling with housing, childcare, or a health issue? Test the limits of your creative problem solving skills and find a way to restructure her benefits and perks to bring her back on board.

Just don’t make promises you can’t keep. In your rush to secure this employee, consider all long-term costs, and don’t set her—or yourself—up for a future of resentment and compromise. If worse comes to worse, just have faith in your staffing strategy and remember that whatever you did to find her, you can probably do again.
 
Before you put together a last minute deal to keep a valuable employee on your team, contact the NC staffing experts at PSU. We can help you limit potential mistakes as you move forward.

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