How to Start a Job Search at 55: From a Hiring Manager

This is Part III of Glen Bradley's blog series. Read Parts I and II here.

There are comments you hear that will make you cringe. “The test results are positive” or “we’re downsizing” or even “the wedding reception band plays rap music”. It can also be the case with the bittersweet phrase “you have an interview”. Bittersweet because yes, this is what the job seeker is working diligently to obtain, but there is a sweatiness that almost instantly forms in the palms as you consider the event.

How to Start a Job Search at 55: From a Hiring Manager

In my situation, I haven’t had an interview external to my company in about 20 years. However, there was a period in the early 2000s where I was an IT Director and did a significant amount of hiring. So, I sat down in my home office next to the trusty Golden Retriever to think what advice my hiring manager side would give to my job seeker side.

First, I should say there are mountains of advice columns, books, blogs, etc. where true recruiting experts can advise. I will also say that if you tried to keep up with all the tips and tricks that are given you would be reduced to a pool of water in the interview as you try to remember it all. This is a topic where I don’t consider myself “best in class”. On the other hand, I’ve done a lot of it, so I can provide a look into my internal conversation.

The most important thing I tell myself is that I only get one shot at the first impression. I was in an executive roundtable discussion this week and there is some scientific evidence where the “visual” stimulus in the interview may be as much as 60% of the information gathering. I agree with this. How the candidate was dressed, grooming, posture, and body language provided important signals to me as we would step through the questions. That may seem unfair to some, and maybe hiring managers shouldn’t admit it, but as much as I hate it, I have to get those leisure suits and polyester bellbottoms out of my closet for some updated threads.

The next thing I remember is that the hiring manager's chief goal in the interview is to cut through all the candidates' coaching to find out what they would really be like when they show up for work on that first Monday morning. Authenticity, I feel, is the holy grail of the interview. Everyone has numbers. They’ve reduced x percent, increased by y percent, added customers, eliminated waste, etc. Truthfully, as a hiring manager, I didn’t get caught up in the math on the resume, as it seemed many of the candidates calculators would misfire on the actuals.

Usually, I could start to get to the real person by talking about weaknesses. My administrative assistant had to pad my office with rubber because every time candidates told me their weakness was they “worked too hard”, I would begin to bang my head on the wall. Candidates who were honest and thoughtful about how they worked through their warts and freckles moved to the top of my list.

The other question I utilized was the discussion on mistakes. I once had a project manager candidate who had never missed a deliverable or key timeline. Really?? Then you couldn’t work here because our business people can’t make up their mind on requirements, the delivery timelines from our customers are ridiculously short, and my IT partners generally have a fire to put out rather than meet our agreed-on project task for that week. No, I needed a project manager that had been through Viking pillages if they were to cope and succeed in my shop. So, despite the great coaching I’m getting on interview techniques, how do I keep it real?

And finally, I tell myself to embrace the moment. Interviews are stressful, no way to get around that. But, I look at it this way: someone is giving me time to talk about the great teams I’ve shared tears and celebratory beers with, and all the wonderful experiences that I’ve had in my career. As I reflect, I have a lot to offer a new company, so pull up a chair and let’s sit and talk about it.

About the Author: 

Glen Bradley is an executive with a diverse background in IT, Logistics, and Commercial Operations. He is passionate about getting stakeholders aligned to deliver the strategic goals that help companies win in the marketplace. Learn more about Glen or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Job Seeker

HSA: The acronym that will save you and your employees big money

If only I had a nickel for each time a conversation came to a halt when someone in a social setting asked me what I did for a living...

Let’s face it. Health insurance isn’t exactly an exciting topic. (I appreciate that you readers have made it this far!) It may not be exciting, but it can be very expensive, and can be disastrous when you don’t pay it enough attention. HSAMedical bills are the biggest cause of US bankruptcies, and insurance premiums can cost you more than your monthly mortgage payment. The market has evolved, attempting to keep premiums from climbing higher than the usual double-digit yearly increases, and now we are all facing higher deductibles and creative attempts (think “wellness plans”, etc.) at plan design.

Enter Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). HSAs were introduced over 10 years ago, as a pre-tax savings tool for participants in a qualifying high deductible health plan. These tools weren’t very popular then, in the good old days of full-coverage health plans. I remember introducing an HSA-qualified plan in 2007, and we had one lonely enrollee. As deductibles have risen over time, HSAs have gained in popularity and I’m happy to say that our HSA plan is overwhelmingly our most popular health plan at MATRIX. If you want to optimize your benefits (and who doesn’t?), humor me for a moment while I tell you why this handy tool can potentially revolutionize healthcare, or at least put some money back into your pocket.

Not to be confused with an FSA, (the HSA’s outdated and overly restrictive stepsister), HSAs are like a 401(k) for healthcare. You sign up for an HSA-eligible health plan (with a high deductible and no ‘first dollar coverage’, which means you pay for everything but preventative care until the deductible is met), and you fund your HSA to help pay for your medical (or dental, or vision) expenses. Unlike FSAs, the maximum yearly contributions are higher ($6,550 in 2014), and your balance can earn interest and/or be invested (gains aren’t subject to taxes as long as you use this for qualifying medical expenses). If you’re lucky enough to work for an employer offering an HSA, you can enjoy convenient pre-tax contributions (which can be changed at any time) in your paycheck, or you can open your own HSA account at a bank or brokerage house and claim the deduction at tax time. The money is yours to keep (this plan is not use-it-or-lose-it like the FSA) and can be taken with you if/when you leave the plan or your employer.  You or any immediate family member can use the balance, even if you eventually aren’t on an HSA-qualified plan (though once you try it, I think you’ll stay).

The logic is fairly simple. You will enjoy lower premiums because HSA-eligible plans have high deductibles with no first dollar coverage (except preventative coverage – a nice bonus). You can take the savings from the lower premiums, and fund your HSA with it. When you have a claim, you swipe your debit card (which is loaded with your HSA balance) at the pharmacy/doctor and that pays for the claim…..pre-tax! If you have more money in your HSA than you do in claims cost, then that money is yours to keep. That sure beats just sending it off to the insurance company every month in the form of a premium payment. I face intimidated employees all day long who are afraid of making a jump to a high deductible. I like to highlight that the difference in cost of the non-HSA plan is more than the deductible on the HSA plan. Why pay $3,100 extra in premiums to avoid a $3,000 deductible? Think of it this way: with that kind of premium savings, each month that you don’t have $250 in healthcare spend is money in your pocket that you get to keep!

If your company doesn’t yet offer this plan, don’t hesitate to speak up and request it. Employers enjoy lower claims experience on these plans, which leads to lower premium increases from the insurer. Employees benefit from another pre-tax savings opportunity. Win-win for everyone!

If you have any questions, or just love talking about healthcare, feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at benefits@matrixes.com.

About the Author: 

Susanne Baskin is the Benefits Manager for MATRIX Resources. She has 18+ years of experience in Human Resources and Benefits Management in the financial, banking and staffing industries. For more information on the subject, you can contact Susanne and the HR department at benefits@matrixes.com.

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Hiring Manager

#IfIwere22

Last week the saying, “If I were 22 again”, began trending all across the country. Leaders from many industries penned advice to their past self in hopes that others may learn from their experiences. For those 30+-year-olds like myself, the concept resonated. How quickly we forget when you’re 22 the mantra is “You can’t tell me nothin”, and whatever we say will likely fall on deaf ears. Hence, generation after generation of young professionals make similar mistakes. Regardless, after 10 years in the tech talent business I feel entitled to share my thoughts. 22-year-old engineers and recruiters, this is for you.

Build relationships.
It is the most important thing you can do for your career. Reality is that managers hire and promote people they know and like. They also hire and promote people recommended by those they trust.  The more people you invest in, the more people will want to invest in you. For many of us, this is uncomfortable and awkward. Wear this shirt if you want, but it will not help you build your network and grow your career. At 22, I was arrogant and self-absorbed. If I were 22The concept of pay it forward was foreign to me because it provided no instant gratification. As a result, I was stuck underpaid and undervalued for a period of my career. Despite exceeding every expectation put in front of me, there was no one with a vested interest in seeing me take on more. No matter how awesome you are, it really does not matter if only you know you are awesome. Don’t make this mistake. Build relationships and invest in others. Step out of your comfort zone. It is worth the effort.

Take risks/Trust your instincts.
Five years ago I had a sweet job. Problems to solve daily, challenging work, and autonomy to innovate and implement new ideas. However, in my gut, something was missing. I knew I was capable of doing more and expanding beyond my niche expertise. So, one week after getting married I took a big risk and quit my job to take on a delivery organization in need of big change. It did not look sexy but the opportunity was huge. And man, the success was sweet. Any recognition at my old job could never compare to the fulfillment and respect I garnered from overcoming new, big, and very real challenges. The story does not always end that way. But I promise if you are a good java developer, someone will give you another chance to be a good java developer. Don’t miss out on greatness due to fear of losing mediocrity.

Be intentional with free time.
What do you want your legacy to be? How can you positively impact others? Know the answers to these questions. Hard to believe, but there will come a time when your beer pong and Call of Duty skills will not be that important to you. I wasted too much time chasing selfish desires that did nothing to help others or advance my career. Have fun and enjoy the ride, but be intentional. Create something.  Volunteer. Be passionate about a cause or mission. When I realized life was not all about me and invested in something greater, I finally found joy and peace in all my circumstances.

Cheers to your future accomplishments. Technology business today is as exciting as it gets. Make the most of it.

About the Author: 

Justin Thomason is the Director of Recruiting for the MATRIX Western region. His expertise includes hiring, training, and leading world class recruiting organizations. With a focus on innovative delivery strategies, Justin's recruiting teams specialize in leveraging social media to develop lasting relationships with talented IT professionals.

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Fun

How to Start a Job Search at 55: The Waiting Period

This is Part II of Glen Bradley's blog series. Read Part I here.

If there is a silver lining to a job search, then it may be the time of self-reflection. It is just a natural point to look back on the experiences from the past and to understand again what is really important to you as a person and what brings satisfaction in terms of work and life. What I’ve learned about a job search is that one of the first recommended activities is to develop a personal brand statement. The creation of the image that defines you as a person or contributor and what “it is” that sets you apart.

I have to say that I found this to be a difficult concept at the start. I’m from a generation that predates selfies and it just seems that “tooting one’s horn” was frowned on by the generation ahead of us and we shied away from it. I began to work through the process and as difficult as it was at the start, I shifted gears somewhere and suddenly it seemed that I couldn’t turn it off. I found myself in the produce section thinking:

Glen Bradley is an experienced and demonstrated selector of the freshest, most succulent lemons. He has the unique ability to discern which zucchini will melt in your mouth as it makes its way to that most critical hosted dinner party.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t need that much nudging to get to this point. In addition to the branding statement, I continued to massage and scrub my LinkedIn statement until there was a level of satisfaction. I nibbled at my resume to choose better verbs and tightened up on phrasing. So there I am – all dressed up and waiting for a suitor.

But then a certain irony sets in. With all that work to put your best foot forward and despite the intense networking that you may be investing, there is the lonely wait. Steven CoveyA day goes by and maybe someone viewed your profile on LinkedIn. Then another couple of days where the email inbox is sparse and your voicemail is begging for a message…and then a week goes by.

All the time spent putting our image in the best light can be toppled by the frustration of “the wait.”

This is a time where doubts can begin to eat away at our branding exuberance. It is a time I found that you have to connect with your personal values that drive (or should) drive your self-worth. For those of us who were in executive roles, it is easy for your mindset and value to be built on your job title and respect you’ve gained from your position. When it is taken away, it’s important to be able to fall back on true core values that drive our being.

As I seesawed between doubt and confidence, I was reminded of the one business book that I would say was truly career-altering for me. That is Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which is now amazingly twenty-five years old. There are no tips and techniques to be found here. No three ways to do this or top ten methods for that. The core of the book is about living inside out. We always have a choice when it comes to how we react to a situation. In a period of joblessness it is really easy to react to circumstances, people, and our situation in a way that is governed by being the victim. Covey’s instruction is that we always have a choice when it comes to our attitude, our actions and to how we live out each day.

The email inbox is much quieter these days. The voice messages are few. There is no frantic gulping of lunch to make that 1 pm meeting. It’s easy to feel that you’ve lost relevance. But self-worth shouldn’t be built on a title or the job itself. It transcends the job and it starts by taking the focus off of “I” or my situation to others and how do I affect their situation. As Covey suggests, “Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” May not be easy when in the throes of doubt, but I find if each day you make one or two attempts either in your marriage, or family, or with your colleagues in the job search, it begins to bend your confidence back to the person captured in the branding statement. For me, getting reacquainted with the seven core principles has been a cool drink in a time of reflection. Did I mention there is a silver lining in a job search?

About the Author: 

Glen Bradley is an executive with a diverse background in IT, Logistics, and Commercial Operations. He is passionate about getting stakeholders aligned to deliver the strategic goals that help companies win in the marketplace. Learn more about Glen or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Posted in: 
Job Seeker

A Recruiter Walks Into a Coding Conference

So a recruiter walks into a coding conference…sounds like a joke, right? Well, that’s what happened when I went to the Lone Star PHP Conference a few weeks ago. I was in line to register when someone asked me where I work. Given how I was in a line where people were close together, I braced myself.Photo Credit: Lone Star PHP

“I’m a Technology Recruiter with MATRIX in Dallas.”

There it is. They probably think I’m here to pass out business cards and collect resumes. One guy in line actually asked me if I was there for that reason, and was a bit weary to talk to a recruiter. A couple of guys were surprised to hear that I was there to just learn more about PHP and find out what they do on a daily basis in order to better understand their roles. MIND BLOWN. That is the reaction I got when they figured out I wasn’t trying to weasel my way into figuring out their e-mail address, asking for a resume or asking them if they were looking for a new job.

Between learning about PHP, objects, and arrays in the PHP beginner course, I got to have a few conversations with developers about what made them tick. In the end, it seemed to boil down to applying new technologies to meaningful work. To many, coding is not about the dollar signs attached to a project. Working for a great company with a sound purpose to create great things was the takeaway for me as I learned more about these unique individuals. Of course, at the same time, developers know their value and expect to be compensated for it. I was also surprised to find that a good number of people at the event were from out of town. One of the instructors that helped me in the Beginner’s PHP class came from Sweden! Such a diverse crowd attended the Lone Star PHP conference, and I was really happy to be well received.

Overall, it was a great opportunity to learn about PHP and meet great developers who are consummate professionals dedicated to their craft. Oh, and the free gear they gave away wasn’t too bad either.

In our line of business, it’s important to understand the people that you’re working with. I will probably never be a programmer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take a walk in their shoes to get a better idea of what they do. At the end of the day, this is what helps me find a candidate their next great opportunity.

About the Author: 

Neel Patel is a Technology Recruiter with MATRIX that has placed candidates throughout the DFW Metroplex. He enjoys learning more about prevalent technologies and strategizing on how to build strong relationships with consultants who put new technologies to work. Feel free to reach out to him on LinkedIn!

Posted in: 
Development