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What Today's Job Seekers Need to Know About Today's Hiring Authorities and Their Companies

In order to be successful in the interviewing process, especially when it comes to answering and/or asking questions, a candidate has to understand the audience with whom he or she is interviewing. In the pages to follow, we'll look at a snapshot of how the hiring authorities you will be interviewing with see the world.

Unfortunately, most books on interviewing and the job search don't address at all the nature of the companies you'll be talking to and the people who will be interviewing you. In order to answer questions more effectively and to understand what questions are asked in the interviewing process, you need to appreciate the "world" the way your potential boss does.

This is really important because, as mentioned in Chapter 1, when you are looking for a job, you have a tendency to focus on what you want and what you need. When we are stressed and emotionally uneasy, we have a tendency to be more self-centered than normal. This leads us to focus on our own needs in an interview, when we should be focusing on how we can fill the needs of the employer. So, it is even more important to be conscious of how your prospective employer sees the world because there is a tendency to focus on your needs (i.e., getting the job) instead of his or hers.

This is easy to forget. In fact, one of the most interesting observations I have discovered in my profession is that the vast majority of the individuals I have worked with as hiring authorities forget all about these issues when they themselves become a job seeker. It amazes me that I can work with an individual hiring authority who sees the world from the point of view that I will describe here, but when he or she becomes a candidate of mine and starts looking for a job, the hiring authority who is now interviewing for a job him-or herself totally forgets all about how he or she saw the world as the hiring authority and morphs into a scared, self-centered "applicant." It is one of the mysteries of my profession.

So, even if you think you know this or think that since you've been a hiring authority in the past, you don't need to review this, read it anyhow. You need to be reminded, just like everyone else does—even HR pros. Here is a quick overview of how your perspective employer sees the world and how it affects you.

The Nature of Companies

The vast majority of companies in the United States employ fewer than a hundred people. Small businesses create 75% of the new jobs in our economy and make up more than 97.7% of all employers. Contrary to the myths that companies are run with great business acumen, that's not always the case.

Most of the companies in the United States are run like the people who own them or manage them. They focus on what they do as a business, rather than who does it. They think that if they do what they do well enough, they will have a model business. In general, though, they can be unfocused, disorganized, and ambitious beyond their abilities. Many do not have any real system or set of procedures for doing business and operate with a seat-of-the-pants mentality.

When a recession comes along and globalized competition becomes a reality, things become even more complicated. Competition affects every company, and it has become more and more intense. Businesses come and go more than they ever have, and they expand and contract and move faster than any time in history. This erraticism affects the hiring process.

If you are interviewing for a job with a firm ten years old or less, here are its chances of survival:

First year, 85% Second, 70%

Third, 62% Fourth 55% Fifth, 50% Sixth, 47% Seventh, 44% Eighth, 41% Ninth, 38% Tenth, 35%

The Department of Labor estimates that 3,000 businesses start each day, 2,500 fail each day, and 2,000 change their addresses each day. Erratic or what?

Even if a company has survived beyond its start-up phase, fears of recession often still linger. Today's economy might be rebounding, but business is as difficult as it ever was. Globalization has led to worldwide competition. Technology has made it necessary for companies to expand and contract more rapidly than ever before. Consolidation often leads to layoffs for "redundant" positions. All of these factors affect not just you, but the hiring authority and how a prospective firm views you and your potential as an employee.

Contraction and expansion of U.S. businesses is a lot more erratic than it has ever been. Simply looking at the number of job changes employees of today make would lead one to believe that if employees are changing jobs every two and a half to three years, the companies they are working for are expanding and contracting in the same way.

For example, globalization has dramatically affected the manufacturing sector. Longitudinal studies of building and closing of manufacturing plants have probably the longest history of analysis than any other U.S. industry. The conclusion of a study by Andrew B. Barnard and J. Bradford Jensen, published in May 2007, concludes that "ownership by a multinational firm significantly increases the shut down probability of manufacturing plants." These studies also prove that new ownerships were significantly likely to close more plants. Multiunit, multinational firms have greater flexibility in adjusting to changing market conditions by opening and closing plants often.

Technology has affected most service industries and professions. Competition for most businesses doesn't come from just down the street any more; it comes from all over the world, especially as technology booms outside the United States. Technology comes to my home or place of business from anywhere in the world. The automation of the supply chain has revolutionized manufacturing and assembly. Rarely is anything manufactured by a "self-contained" organization. Subcontractors (or outsourcers) are the predominant "makers" of most parts of the manufactured goods we buy, and these goods often are assembled or even distributed by someone other than the firm or company we actually think we're buying from.

Technology has allowed service subcontractors and outsourcers to be more efficient. Your bank or insurance company, for example, may have dozens of independent service firms providing them services and information that may be transparent to you. Customer service, payroll, accounting, benefit administration, portfolio management, and a host of other services are efficiently contracted out to independent organizations on the part of the "company" you think you're doing business with.

For instance, as of this writing, the Heinz company has thirty-four different subcontractors for the manufacture of plastic tops for its ketchup bottles. These subcontractors and outsourcers will be constantly competing for other business with technology, innovation, and dependability. The people who work for these contractors will be constantly competing with technology, innovation, and dependability. These firms will be hired and fired on a moment's notice if they don't produce results. And so will the individuals who work for them.

The nature of subcontractors or outsourcers to any business is that they can be replaced by other subcontractors relatively easily. So, if your insurance company or credit card company can get better customer service in Bangalore, India, than they can in Bangor, Maine, they "move" customer service. If that program doesn't work very well, then they fire the firm in India and "move" customer service to somewhere else, maybe back to the United States.

Tom Friedman, in his book The World Is Flat (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2005), talks about his computer being "manufactured" and delivered to him by hundreds of different subcontractors. It is pretty easy to see that subcontractors, no matter what size they are, will expand and contract depending on their ability to perform and their ability to sell their services to needy companies.

The world is becoming privatized with subcontractors. In the early 1980s China allowed peasant farmers to grow and sell their own crops. China is now a food exporter. Two-thirds of China's state-owned enterprises are partly or mostly private.

A 2005 World Bank report found that from 1990 to 2003, governments around the world generated $410 billion in privatization proceeds. Even state and local governments are turning over garbage collection, payroll processing, and parks operations to private subcontracting firms.

If we are becoming a nation of individual "itinerant fruit pickers," we're also becoming a world of subcontracting/outsourcing "itinerant" organizations. So, as the world becomes more global, competition becomes swifter and businesses become more erratic in their hiring processes.

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