Thursday, August 5, 2010

"I'm Afraid of Americans"

“I’m Afraid of Americans!”

I know half of my audience will be thinking of the P-Diddy song from a couple of years ago when they read the title although I took the title from a David Bowie song of the same name. I’m not even sure if it is the best title for my ensuing blog; perhaps I’m afraid for Americans would have been more suitable. In any case, this fear has been brought on by what I’ve seen from American’s during the downturn and what appears to be a current slow turn-around in the job market.

The last two placements our firm made (and the hearing of the Bowie song at a local café) inspired me to share these stories. Names have been changed to protect their identity (and myself from them). The first person that scared me was Michael, a supposedly savvy veteran with nearly 20 years experience including a VP role at prestigious financial services firm while the other, an up and coming superstar, Carlos worked at a major financial services software vendor.

Michael and I began our courtship via LinkedIn where he was a part of my extended network and had the looking for career opportunities section checked on his profile. When I first contacted him and gave him my phone number he initially questioned – “Who are you, how do you know me and how did you get my information?” I was a bit taken aback since it was clear that he was part of my extended network and I had his phone number because he gave it to me in his reply – this should have been my first clue that something was off with this person. Once I was able to make him feel comfortable enough with me to discuss his background and learn about the position I was certain he was a great fit for the position and I presented him.

Soon after the client requested an interview and within a couple of weeks he met with 6 people and he got 5 very strong endorsements. The 6th person was the decision maker who was on the fence and decided he would prefer to offer Michael the position as a contract-to-hire rather than direct hire. Michael eventually decided contract to hire was OK as long as everything regarding the contract and his permanent offer be received up-front in writing. This included vacation time, guaranteed bonus and a title of Director (which would be equal to Sr. VP - a step-up from his previous position). Michael would call me every day, sometimes 2 or 3 times to see if I received his offer in writing.

Michael and I eagerly anticipated receiving the dual-offers. He was relentless in his pursuit; there was the time I was at my company softball game and Michael called, then Easter Sunday (how did he know I was Jewish) and then there was the time I was at the Pharmacy. My personal favorite was the time he called me to tell me that the client made someone else a Director and that his co-workers were laughing at him because he was only going to be an Associate Director. He was serious. The hold-up all along was because of his demands. Eventually my contact called to tell me that they couldn't do it because legal objected. I shared the news with Michael and he went ballistic. He sent me a very nasty e-mail about me, my client and their hiring process. I was so upset I sent the note to my client and they hired him anyway. He eventually did go full-time and I hope that he pans out. Actually, most of all I hope that I don’t see him on the news.

Next was Carlos, the rising superstar about 26 years old from what I could tell. Carlos was very nice at first although he was tough to reach – he was working 60 hours a week (he claimed). He also was very concerned about his current project and couldn’t start for a couple of months because he had to finish the project – what a nice guy! Then he grew frustrated as his company’s client, a bank in South America delayed the project again and then again.

After the second delay he called us and said that he had had enough and was ready to join our client whenever they wanted. The offer was for $120k, which he demanded even though he was currently making $96k and was bumped up to that in January from about $80k. He was sure he was worth it and deserved it and because he had such a unique skill my client obliged. The investment bank offered this 26 year old (at most) kid $120k plus a bonus and 4 weeks vacation…awesome! It wasn’t good enough for Carlos. He had earned 5 weeks vacation at his current company and didn’t want to give up that 5th week – he earned it! Eventually, he accepted the position and during his final few weeks before he started and after work (between band practices) we were able to meet. He was a very nice guy in fact and very likeable. As much as I liked him I still can’t quite get over the entitlement of him or Michael. All I could think is scary…I’m afraid of Americans.