Management Minute: Boss or Leader

One of my mentors often spoke about the distinction between “positional authority” (Boss) and “relational authority” (Leader). What he was referring to, at its root, was very similar to what is described in the image here.


Most of us aspire to be leaders (who doesn’t, right?) but the truth is we are each a mix of both. My challenge to you each in the coming week is to think about each of the points in this image and reflect on your own patterns.

  • Where are you doing well at leading?
  • Where could you use improvement?
  • What is one thing you can start (or stop) doing to improve in one of these areas?

On my Team: the Traditionalist

“We have always done it this way.”

“That’s just the way it’s done.”

We think of these phrases as the killers of innovation. And, unchecked, they are. If we hear, “It’s how we have always done it,” and stop, questioning no further, we do a disservice to the organization as a whole and everyone in it. But if we ask, “Why have we done it this way?” we learn things we may never have discovered otherwise. This is why the Traditionalist is someone I am interested in having on my team. Not a whole team of Traditionalists, of course, but one or two? Most definitely yes.


Tradition! Tradition!

I love working on process improvements. I love finding ways in which we can do things just a bit faster or a little more accurately, or even, with the same speed and accuracy, more consistently. I love building tools and systems that enable individuals and teams to do their jobs more efficiently, therefore freeing up time for more strategic work or more personal development.

That said, such tools/processes cannot, and should not, be developed in a vacuum. In order to change a system for the better, we must first understand the system that was in place before and the reasons for each component of said system. Otherwise, we revise a Benefits process to make it easier for the Benefits Administrator without realizing that the step which seemed so meaningless was vital for accurate payroll processing.

This may seem extremely similar to what we discussed regarding the Old Guard, and in your team, the Old Guard and the Traditionalist roles may be held by the same person. The distinction here is that the Old Guard is on our team because they have organizational memory. They know what is meant when someone refers to “Sarah’s* Prom.” The Traditionalist may be of the Old Guard, but they may also be someone who is newer to the organization and lacking in cultural memory, yet has deep knowledge of and loyalty to the processes and procedures which are currently in place.

*Actual reference, with name changed, for obvious reasons.

Job Seeker Series: Agency Recruiters (Part 2)

Now that you know how agency recruiters make money, let’s talk about how to best work with them.


Take the time to meet with your recruiter. When you initiate contact with an agency, a recruiter will generally respond to you and request an in-person interview. This may or may not result in an immediate job lead, but it is vital to establishing a base relationship. When you meet with them, treat every encounter like an interview and/or business meeting. Conduct yourself in the way you want them to represent you to potential employers.

PRO-TIP: Some recruiting agencies are part of a firm that periodically hosts special events. Plan to attend the event and contact your recruiter in advance – say “I’m attending XYZ event at your office on W date and would love to swing by to catch up with you for a few minutes before or after.” Keep it short and sweet. Your focus here is reinforcing the relationship.

Check in regularly. After your initial meeting with an agency recruiter, you may not hear anything. Do not despair. Rather, check in with them periodically. Recruiters see a great many candidates, unless they are in an incredibly niche firm. When you check in from time to time, it keeps you in the forefront of their mind and it affirms that you are serious about your job search. Every few weeks when you’re actively job hunting. 2-3 times a year (at least!) when you’re not. There is a not-so-fine-line between being a pest and remaining engaged on their radar. Once a week is the tipping point. Unless you are actively working on a specific opportunity, a good frequency is around 2 weeks. Tell them where you have applied recently, what you are doing in the interim, and what your current availability is.

PRO-TIP: If there is a role open at a company that would be your dream job, reach out to your agency recruiters and ask if they have a relationship with that company. It tells the recruiter that you value the relationship and it can potentially lead to an “in” with a company that you might not have otherwise.

Register and establish relationships with multiple agencies. Some agencies are specialized in specific industries (such as manufacturing vs. medical) or specific job categories (such as accounting vs. human resources), while other agencies are more broad, and still others are focused on specific tiers of workers (such as day labor vs executives). Many of the large, international staffing firms have multiple different internal brands that have specific foci.

Find a couple that are appropriate to what you are looking for and establish relationships with each of them. As an example, I currently have relationships with a regional HR-specific agency (because that is my career focus), a local boutique agency (local, low-volume, diverse industries/job categories), the HR arm of another local agency, as well as two (competing) international agencies. At each, I have a specific recruiter with whom I have established and continue to maintain what will be a long term relationship.

Be open to temporary and temp-to-hire contracts. Even “temporary” contracts, that were never meant to be a long term role, can turn into a job offer. If you are currently employed, this is less of an issue and you can insist on only direct hire roles, but if you are between jobs, it is generally unwise to snub a role just because it is currently labeled temporary.

The above represent things that you can do to make your relationship with an agency recruiter more effective, but I also want to share with you one big “do not ever.”

DO NOT EVER APPROACH A COMPANY INDEPENDENTLY WHEN YOU KNOW THAT YOU HAVE BEEN SUBMITTED BY AN AGENCY RECRUITER FOR THE SAME JOB. Similarly, if one agency has submitted you for a job and another agency approaches you about the same job, be honest with the second agency and tell them you have already applied for/been submitted for that role.

I mean it. This is a big deal. At worst, whether you get the job or not, it creates a really ugly situation (in multiple ways) between you, the recruiter, and the company. I have seen this happen before and it does not end well for anyone involved. At best, you get the job but it undermines the trust relationship between you and the recruiter and the bridge is permanently burned. JUST DON’T DO IT.

About the Job Seeker Series
The Job Seeker Series is a set of weekly reference materials developed for a Facebook group that is dedicated to Job Seekers providing mutual support to each other through the taxing and uncertain journey of pursuing new employment. Topics for these posts are selected by a vote of group members on a weekly basis.

Job Seeker Series: Agency Recruiters (Part 1)

There are a variety of things that help when working with agency recruiters, however, I think the first thing to do is explain the core business model for agency recruiting. Until you understand this, any suggestions about how to work with recruiters can seem a bit arbitrary.


It is important to understand that you are not an agency recruiter’s primary client. You are their client, but more than that, you are their product. Their job is NOT to get you a job. Their job is to fill their customers’ positions with qualified candidates. This may seem harsh but it is reality and it is essential for you to understand. I am not saying that Recruiter Stacy is purely self-seeking and does not care about you, I am simply saying that Recruiter Stacy also has to pay the bills and put food on the table.

So how does Recruiter Stacy make money? In many cases, she works for Super Duper Staffing Agency, along with Recruiter Bob and Sourcer Jolene. Their roles are a each a little different. Bob and Stacy are primarily responsible for working with Super Duper Staffing Agency’s corporate clients. Sourcer Jolene is focused on finding candidates and helping funnel candidates to Bob and Stacy for current openings.

Openings are generally one of three types and each type works a little differently.

  1. Temporary (“Temp”): These roles are set at an hourly rate and are generally short or fixed-term contracts. Short term contracts may have an open ended duration but are generally not intended to last more than 3-6 months. Recruiter Bob specializes in temporary staffing and may also be referred to as a “Staffing Manager.” Super Duper Staffing Agency charges Corporate Client a percentage markup on your hourly rate. The markup can range from 30-60% depending on the agency and their agreement with Corporate Client. That markup pays for Recruiter Bob’s wages, Sourcer Jolene’s wages, Super Duper Staffing Agency’s overhead costs, and your access to benefits such as healthcare, 401k, etc. while you are on assignment.
    During a temporary assignment, you are the employee of Super Duper Staffing Agency and they have loaned you out to Corporate Client. Bob’s pay rate will be based on how many candidates he can keep working under Super Duper Staffing Agency’s clients at any given time. He is more likely to obtain more positions to fill if his current candidates are doing great work on their assignments.  If an assignment goes bad, Bob can lose both current and future income as a result (which means he also will have fewer jobs in which to place you and other candidates). He wants you to be happy in your job, but the more important thing is that your happiness contributes to his clients’ happiness.
  2. Direct Hire: Direct hire roles can be at any level and can be set at either an hourly rate or a salary. The distinct thing about this job is that you will never be the employee of Super Duper Staffing Agency. Instead, when hired, you go directly into the employ of Corporate Client. This is Recruiter Stacy’s specialty. Corporate Client pays Super Duper Staffing Agency after they hire one of Stacy’s candidates, which means Super Duper Staffing Agency and Stacy are not going to get paid for all their hard work if you biff it in the interview. Kidding, kidding! Well… not really. The other part of this is that if Stacy is good at her job, she is not going to send you to interview at Corporate Client if she doesn’t think they would hire you. She’s going to wait to try with Other Client, because after interviewing you herself, they would be a better fit. The markup for Direct Hire positions is a little bit lower than for temporary wages, it’s more like 20-40%, but it is also based on your entire first year expected earnings and it is usually paid in 1-3 installments. Here’s the gotcha, and why Corporate Client could consider such an investment worthwhile: Super Duper Staffing Agency guarantees their placements for 3-6 months when it’s a direct hire. That means if you do a crappy job and Corporate Client fires you during the guarantee period, or if you do a great job but then jump ship for a “better” opportunity before the guarantee runs out, Super Duper Staffing Agency has to pay a pro-rated portion of their fee back to Corporate Client. This usually burns your bridge with Super Duper Staffing Agency, Corporate Client, and Stacy herself. Don’t let this happen!
    How do you benefit from Direct Hire, versus skipping past Super Duper Staffing Agency and going straight to Corporate Client? 1. Stacy has a relationship with someone at Corporate Client. She is your “network” working for you. 2. Stacy is motivated to get the best possible rate of pay for you, because her wages are directly impacted. She also has inside info on what the company is willing to pay, so she can help make sure you don’t lose the opportunity by low or high-balling it. 3. If things go well, you can reach out to Stacy again in a few years, even if she is no longer working at Super Duper Staffing Agency and she might help you find your next job too.
  3. Temp-to-Hire: This is most simply described as “try before you buy.” Corporate Client pays the hourly markup described above for Temporary roles, and when they do hire you, they pay a pro-rated reduction of the fee described in Direct Hire roles. What they gain in being able to try before they buy, is balanced out in the form of sacrificing the guarantee provided with Direct Hire roles. For roles like this, you could be working with Recruiter Stacy or Recruiter/Staffing Manager Bob, or both.

I hope this helps you better understand the business model for most (not all) staffing agencies, as well as providing some insight into how they work and why they do what they do, the way they do it.

Tomorrow, in Part 2, I will outline some tips on how to work effectively with agency recruiters such as Stacy and Bob.

About the Job Seeker Series
The Job Seeker Series is a set of weekly reference materials developed for a Facebook group that is dedicated to Job Seekers providing mutual support to each other through the taxing and uncertain journey of pursuing new employment. Topics for these posts are selected by a vote of group members on a weekly basis.

Let’s Meet! East Coast Tour


This is a little different from my usual posts, as I am asking you for something.

I am currently in the job market and looking to expand my network.  To this end, I will be traveling to the East Coast at the end of September to meet with as many people as possible in business and/or specifically HR.

Like beer? Let’s go to happy hour, my treat. Prefer coffee? Sandwiches? Staying in your own office? I am happy to meet you where you like. I would love to learn about what you do, what your business needs are, your perspective of the local market, or anything else you would like to talk about. I’m even game for discussing pink elephants and the economy of circus peanuts, if that’s what you’re interested in.

Current plans have me in Baltimore/DC area from Sept 19-22 and Boston area Sept 26-30.  I will be driving the route between on Sept 18 and 23/24, so if you are in Philadelphia or New York, I would be able to meet you on your home turf.

Interested? Send me a message through LinkedIn, Twitter, or the Contact page on this site.

On my Team: the Analyst


Data analysts can sometimes be left off the team until we want them to prove our case or “make the numbers work.” This is a traditional and normal way to deal with analytics related to strategic work. Another way to deal with them is to let the Finance department drive strategy, putting all of our eggs into the numbers basket. Neither approach is optimal, or even aligned with the realities of business in the real world.

I have been talking a lot about analytics over the past few months, as my most recent employment was in a contract role as a Benefits Analyst and I have had a few interviews lately for roles that are data intensive.

Along the way I have found that a few principles about analytics have been forefront in my mind:

  • Data can be manipulated to say anything you want it to.
  • When data says what you want it to, it might not actually be saying anything meaningful. Or helpful. It can be counterproductive by reaffirming existing prejudices.
  • Approaching data analysis with a question to answer as opposed to a thesis to prove may result in unexpected insights.
  • Unexpected, even undesirable, answers to our questions bring us closer to a real solution than simply proving a case.

When strategic planning initiatives partner operations and analysis, the end result is more powerful and more relevant than either of the disciplines working independently. It is far more efficient for a team to face objective realities of both practice and data along the way than it is to construct a plan that is doomed to fail by way of negligence.

On my Team: the Fresh Meat

steak-1081819_1920By “Fresh Meat,” I am referring not to someone who is young or early career, though he could be. What I am talking about here is the person who is new to the organization, even as little as 6 months tenure.

When we think about forming strategic planning teams, we don’t normally think to ourselves, “You know who would be perfect for this project? The brand new specialist on the division Sales team!” We are more likely to say, “We really need folks who know this organization inside and out.” And we’d be right.  But that naivete about this specific organization is exactly why Fresh Meat needs to be on our strategy team.

The “newbie” is the one that comes in with current and relevant experience with what other organizations are doing. Your new employee has all the comparisons to their previous company fresh in mind: what worked at Starbucks, what didn’t work at Twitter, how adidas approached this problem, while Nike did it this other way.

Don’t get me wrong. The team doesn’t need the ultimate surf and turf of newbies. Hopefully, your strategy team members already hail from a variety of other organizations and industries. What this person brings is not necessarily organizational diversity so much as recency.  I was on a team a few years back that had members hailing from some big players in the Northwest. It was a diverse team with representation from Nike, TMobile, Starbucks and others. What the Fresh Meat brought us was current experience, untainted by internal expectations about what was possible.