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Your Next (Possible) Employer's Generational DNA

We discussed in the previous chapter how candidates from four different generations are competing for different positions and how it might affect you. Well, hiring authorities are affected as never before by the different generations in the employment marketplace. And it makes hiring much more difficult.

When boomers were younger, there were, for the most part, only two or, maybe once in a while, three generations of workers available to hire. Now there are at least four, and they are, as we have seen, very different in what they are influenced by, their general attitudes, and how they might be managed. This poses a challenge for most hiring authorities.

A company, for instance, interviews a traditionalist with a loyal, strong work ethic who doesn't want to retire but merely redirect his or her efforts. This person's main motivator in life may be to be involved with grandchildren and those grandchildren require a lot of time. If grandpa is working, the role of work in his life is different than it is for the Gen X'er or the Millennial.

A boomer who hires a Millennial who expects the same sort of idealistic, optimistic, 60-hour week might just get a different type of employee. The latter may very well complain about the antiquated technology the company has and communicate a confident, pragmatic "I was looking for a job when this one came along, and I can find one just like it at any time" attitude. Throw more people like this together and you have a real workplace environment challenge.

Most hiring authorities and employers, in general, are just getting used to this kind of environment. If there will be fewer potential job applicants available, then hiring authorities are going to have to figure out how to create an environment that can accommodate the attitudes and approaches to work that most, if not all, generations might have.

To give you an idea of just how differently employers and employees see the world, a survey reported in Business Briefing, 2006, asked employees to rank these traits as most important in their job:

1. Appreciation

2. Feeling informed

3. An understanding attitude on the part of management

4. Job security

5. Need for good wages

Amazingly enough, employers in this same study—that is, the people who actually employed the workers who were surveyed—ranked these traits on behalf of their employees totally opposite and in reverse as the employees ranked them. In other words, management didn't see the world the same way their employees did.

Here is another snapshot: A 2005 Conference Board survey stated that 57% of the employees polled didn't like their jobs and were planning to leave them. And management thinks everyone is happy!

Personality Styles and the Individuals You Will Meet

Understanding the different personality traits in business will help you answer tough questions and ask better ones in the interviewing process, so let's briefly review them.

Hippocrates in 370 BC defined four basic types of personalities. Since then, literally thousands of philosophers, theologians, and psychologists as well as business teachers have recognized the same defining elements of people's personalities.

If you recognize the differences and/or likenesses in personalities in the interviewing process, your answering and asking questions will be much more successful. The four basic personalities are analytical, driver, amiable, and expressive. (Hippocrates called them, respectively, melancholy, choleric, phlegmatic, and sanguine.)

Like the name denotes, the analytical type of professional has a tendency to see things in very analytical ways. He likes facts, details, and numbers and is oriented to the "bottom line." Analyticals have a tendency to be well organized; they stick to specific schedules, and they are sticklers for detail and are usually not risk takers. Their personality traits tend to be trusting, patient, not assertive (even somewhat passive), easy going, even tempered, motivated by their own internal recognition, and calculating. Professionally, they have a tendency to be engineers, mathematicians, accountants, scientists, chemists, and other technically oriented people, and work in positions that require high degrees of exactness and patience.

The driver-type professional likes to be blunt, right to the point, is mostly limited on time, is always busy, looks for immediate results, makes decisions very quickly, likes to be in the power position, is very independent and forceful, and is usually a really "can-do" person. She has a tendency to be assertive, distrusting, impatient, energetic, high energy, motivated mostly by an external recognition, impulsive, and fast-paced. Drivers are plant managers, CEOs, CFOs, and managers in general. Driver types of personalities who also have an analytical style would more likely be engineering managers, CFOs, controllers, accounting managers, etc. Drivers coupled with an expressive personality (discussed below) would more likely be presidents, vice presidents of sales, sales managers, etc.

The amiable-type professional likes relationships, likes to be liked, is easygoing, is not a big risk taker, looks for the support of others, makes careful decisions, and can appear to many to be "wishy-washy." Amiables also, as with many analyticals, have a tendency to be trusting, patient, somewhat passive, easy going, even-keeled, and motivated by their own internal recognition. They have a tendency to be involved in low-pressure sales, sales support, customer support, customer service, etc. If they are amiable, along with the expressive style, they can be great ombudsmen, as they are the type of people who understand everyone in the organization and have a tendency to "bridge" between people and departments.

The expressive-type professional has a tendency to be a dreamer, use hunches to make decisions, is gregarious and outgoing, "follows his gut," makes quick "feeling" decisions, takes risks regularly, focuses on the big picture, and has a tendency to be relationship oriented. If an expressive is also somewhat of a driver, he probably likes sales, sales management, leadership in the sales type of organization, and leadership positions that require a lot of interaction with other people. If an expressive also has amiable traits, then she would have a tendency to excel in customer service management, sales support management, and human-resources director types of positions.

The major reason that you want to know all of this is that you had better have a good idea of what your own personality traits are and how they're going to mesh with the people who will interview you. If you are an outgoing expressive type of salesperson who, as part of the process of being hired, is interviewing with an analytical/driver CFO, you'd better be ready to come across a little more driven and bottom-line oriented than you normally would.

If you are an analytical type (systems programmer, accountant, controller, etc.), and, as part of the interviewing process, you have to interview with a V.P. of sales or sales manager who is expecting support from you in the way of reports, etc., or will interface with you in any way, you'd better be ready for an aggressive interview. To get that person's support, you need to know that she sees the world differently than you do.

This whole thought process is really simple, but lack of awareness of it blows more interviews than you can imagine. So, as you practice the questions and answers to the toughest questions you will be asked, think about the different ways you might answer them depending on your personality and the ones you will be interviewing with.

It isn't that difficult to assess the personality type of the person you might be interviewing with. If you are in sales and are interviewing with the sales manager, V.P. of sales, or anyone in that department, you are likely interviewing with a driver or expressive type. If he or she has been successful in sales, he or she almost has to be one, if not both, of these. If the expressive person has a leadership personality, like a V.P. of sales, likely he or she has a driver personality as well.

An accountant or controller is obviously an analytical-type person as would be anyone in the information technology department of a company. Customer service managers, marketing directors, and H.R. directors are usually amiably oriented.

The interviewing process, fortunately, involves managers who have probably been in their position or profession for some time. A controller doesn't get the job if he or she isn't very analytical.

Where most candidates fail is when, in the interviewing process, they have to interview with someone who has a totally different personality than theirs. They don't recognize the difference and blow the interview. It is not uncommon for companies to have candidates interview with different managers in different departments (spending the risk). If candidates don't watch what they say to those "different" personalities, they can get eliminated from contention by the opposite personality type manager.

For instance, I had a very aggressive sales candidate who was in the interviewing process with a $150 million software distributor. The director of customer service was one of the people that he had to interview with. Now, keep in mind that this was a very aggressive, but very successful person. Admittedly, the candidate had a bit of a strong ego, but he was a top performer. He didn't do very well with the director of customer service because she was left with the idea that he was way too aggressive for her customers and she didn't feel he demonstrated enough care and concern for the customers that he was to sell to.

This person had a fifteen-year track record of phenomenal sales success. If he hadn't been sincerely interested in the success of his customers with his products, he would never have performed very well. But in the interview with the director of customer service he neglected to take into account her amiable nature and came across as too much of a driver. He apparently didn't communicate enough empathy and compassion for the customer.

He got the job, but he had to go back and interview with her again, and for a week or so it looked like she would stand in the way of his being hired. The vice president of sales, who was directly hiring my candidate, was so convinced of my candidate's ability to do job, he "negotiated" another interview with the customer service manager.

My candidate toned down his aggressiveness and became more amiable in the second interview. All of this could have been avoided if my candidate had recognized that customer service managers are probably more "amiable" than he was. Now he didn't have to change his personality, he just needed to recognize that with a more amiable person he needed to soften his approach.

A candidate can usually detect the kind of personality the interviewing authorities may have by the kinds of positions that they hold. No one should try to change his or her personality for an interview. But candidates should take into account how the interviewing authority sees the world and communicate with them in a way that makes sense to them.

Fear of Making a Hiring Mistake

One of the biggest concerns relating to the nature of a hiring authority is the fear of making a mistake. Next to losing money or customers, the biggest fear that most hiring authorities in companies have is the fear of making a hiring mistake. No one likes to make mistakes, but making a mistake in hiring is one of the greatest fears that businesses have. Mistakes cost money and time—and can affect the credibility of the hiring authority. All of this can add up to a lot of anxiety on the part of the hiring authority.

Most hiring authorities will never outright admit to the fear of making a hiring mistake. This is a great driver in the decision-making process. Face it: No matter how sophisticated the interviewing process might be in hiring someone, hiring someone is still something of a crap-shoot. No matter how calculated the interview process and subsequent decision-making process might be, it is a very big risk.

You don't have to be around business or in business or have worked for someone very long to realize what a disaster a hiring mistake can be. Hiring authority egos and reputations are on the line whenever they hire anyone.

The four, foundational, gut-level questions that any hiring authority or company is trying to get answered when he or she interviews you are:

"Can you do the job?"

"Do I/we like you?"

"Are you a risk?"

"Can we work the money out?"

We will discuss the impact these four questions have in subsequent chapters, but after "Can you do the job?" the most crucial question in any hiring authority's mind is, "Do we like you?" No one is going to hire someone he or she doesn't generally like as a person. After you are "liked," the hiring authority will ask, "Are you a risk?" (i.e., Am I going to regret hiring you? Are you going to quit soon after I hire you? Will I have to fire you? Are you going to embarrass me? Am I going to look bad to my colleagues after you have been here six months?)

So, you need to realize that since the hiring authority is trying to minimize risk, your liabilities are going to be analyzed (and you thought you didn't have any!). Your job in the interviewing process is to assure the hiring authority that he or she is not making a mistake and that he is going to look good to the rest of the world by hiring you.

How These Things Affect You

You need to realize the nature of the companies that you are interviewing with as well as the individuals within. Many often are unorganized, illogical, and don't operate with great business acumen. Their expansion and contraction is more erratic than it has ever been because their cycles of business are shorter and their competition is worldwide. These organizations have to try to attract and retain four different generations of people in the workplace. And often, sadly, companies and the individuals who run them apparently don't understand their employees.

This may sound harsh or disappointing, but recognizing all of this will help you better understand the kinds of answers you're going to have to give in the interviewing process in order to be successful. You'll also need to be aware of the different personality styles that you might interview with as well as recognize that part of your goal in the interviewing process is to mitigate the fear associated with hiring either you or anyone else.

Simply understanding and recognizing that most all of these are traits of the organizations and the people with whom you were going to interview will empower you to answer questions more effectively. The organizations you are interviewing with don't care about you as a candidate. They care about what they need and only what you need to an extent that you could help them get what they want. This mindset also will empower you to ask better questions.

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