My business is part of the unemployment problem in this country. I've had ten people in my company for as long as I can remember. And that's not going to change anytime soon. That's because I, like so many other business owners, feel that I can get more work from my existing people... and outsource to make up the difference.
But most of us are still optimists. And as the economy recovers and demand builds I very much hope to hire more people in the next decade or two. Not that you'd want to work for me. I can be unstable, demanding, argumentative, indecisive and frequently insensitive. My jokes are not funny. I'm often inappropriate. By mid-afternoon I begin to... well... smell a little. And those are my strengths.
Still interested? You're crazy. But OK. Here are 11 things I'm looking for in a prospective employee.
I don't care about your college, I care about your skills. I've come across a ton of grads from many lesser known but perfectly good academic institutions in my area who somehow shook off the thousands of beers they consumed during their college years and are today leading productive and successful lives. And I personally know plenty of "brilliant" professors at our local Ivy League university who can't even make a cup of coffee. Business owners want that person who knows how to run their die machine or sell jewelry in a recession or upgrade that Windows server. We don't expect you to know ALL the answers and we don't care if you can recite Plato. We just want someone who will, on their own and without any babysitting, figure out the answers. It's the ability to solve a problem that makes the difference. Be that guy and you'll never be unemployed.
You are not working for IBM, OK? "Jarod", a client of mine who manufactures packaging materials had a great interview with a great candidate and was on the verge of hiring the guy. The problem was that the guy had spent the last fifteen years in operations at a large multi-national. Imagine Jarod's surprise when the candidate emailed him his employment agreement from his last job and requested the same terms from Jarod. Terms like "non-compete" and "waiver of liability" and "long term disability." Pass. If you want a job at most small and medium sized companies you'll need to remember that they're small and medium sized companies. Want an employment agreement? Apply to IBM. Want to work for guys like me? You'll likely need to settle for a handshake. And you'd be well advised to supply the Purell too.
Show your entrepreneurial side. Business owners like me are not looking for just another employee. We're looking for a partner. The last thing I need is yet another person in my life expecting a handout. I get enough of that attitude from my kids. So offer something that a business owner wants: some skin in the game. Offer (oh my God) a few weeks of work... for free. Offer to work for a time at a lower salary with the stipulation of a bonus or an increase if you deliver on your objectives. Tie your compensation to profits, sales, goals or other quantifiable things. This is what my clients are demanding from me a thousand times a day. I have to earn my pay by delivering on what I promise. I'm looking for an employee with the same attitude. Or alternatively, someone who's willing to share their Eagles season tickets. Either is fine by me.
Know a lot of people... or have a lot of family. Small business owners like me hate to hire people we don't know. We much prefer to get recommendations from friends and family. Even in a big city like Philadelphia I estimate there's only three to four degrees of separation between myself and say... DeSean Jackson. And that includes the bouncer outside of his favorite club. LinkedIn has proved that most of the people that I know are indirectly connected to most of the people you know. Hone your network and get ready to drop a few names. If you're looking for a job, then ask your friends and family for introductions.
For God's sake, clean up your Facebook page. I keep telling this to my kids and they keep not listening. It's all there for anyone to see. Your drunken party video. That Halloween picture in the (really?) Lady Gaga costume. That profanity laced rant after Ryan Howard made that last out in Game 5 against the Cardinals. And with Facebook's new "Timeline" feature the situation will only get worse. Many employers are now requiring to see a candidate's page. And you know what? I plan to do the same. Not fair? Tough. Just because you look all fancy-schmancy in your business suit this morning doesn't mean you're not a complete d-bag the rest of the day. Facebook happens to be the best place in the universe for an employer to find out what a candidate is really like. And trust me... that Lady Gaga costume was a bad idea dude.
Show up on time. Think your dad drove you nuts? Count your blessings that you're not my kid, where the motto in my house is "you're either late or you're on time." There's no such thing as too early. I get to the airport three hours before my flight. I get to clients' offices 30-60 minutes beforehand. I arrive for my commuter train 15 minutes after the scheduled time (which is still 25 minutes early). People who are chronically late are too selfish to realize they're screwing up everyone else who's waiting for them. Be on time for your appointments and interviews. Respond to emails fast. Return your calls immediately. Want respect from a prospective employer? Then respond to them like the employer responds to their prospective (and current) customers.
Do your research and feel free to give me good information. Don't just browse my homepage ten minutes before you email me. Offer five specific ways you will help me make more money. It's not that difficult: how can you help me increase sales... or decrease expenses? And once we've communicated, stay in contact. Don't just send a resume and wait for me. Add me to your email list and keep your suggestions coming. Send me news. Ideas. Thoughts on my business or my industry. Dieting tips. Anything useful that'll keep my attention.
Don't BS a BS-er. Please. Like you really think you're fooling me with all that corporate-speak? Like I really believe you when you tell me about how your "passion" and "work ethic" will "serve to fulfill my company's mission." Barf. Maybe that works in the big corporate world. But in my world here's the mission: make money, go home, drink beer, try not to think of Ryan Howard making the final out in Game 5 against the Cardinals. In the small business world we don't buy that line of you-know-what. So don't even try it. I want to get to know you, not some plastic interview figurine. Be yourself. Don't hide your faults. Be real. And tell me how you're going to help me solve my problems. I won't believe you. But I promise I'll try.
Oh... and lose the earrings. And the tattoos. And that hipster beard. And the spiky hair. And whatever else that makes you that independent, lovable you. I'm not sending out someone who looks like that to my clients. Because they don't care about the independent, lovable you either. You may be smart, but let's face it: you're no Lisbeth Salander. So stop trying to look like her. And no, you don't have to wear a starched up business suit either -- that looks just as terrible. In 2012, business people dress corporate casual. A button down shirt. A nice pair of slacks. A bottle of body wash. And one final word on this topic: altoid.
Keep your home life at home. Federal law requires that I can't let a candidate's personal situation come into my decision to hire. So it's only fair that the same candidate's personal situation, if it's disruptive, doesn't come into my company at all. So here's a warning: if I do find that a candidate's personal life may infringe on my company's productivity I'm not going to hire that person. You can practice Hinduism, Catholicism or Sadism for all I care, just as long as you don't bring it into the office or bother anyone else in my company. You can be purple or green, single or divorced, a top or a bottom... just don't let it affect your job. And stay away from my daughter too.
My final advice? Please read A Message To Garcia by Elbert Hubbard. This little tale pretty much sums up the feelings of every business owner I know.
Don't be discouraged if I don't hire you. I can see thirty good people sitting across from me and sadly when decision times come I'll probably wind up just taking a stab. It's sad but true. But look at it this way: if you don't get hired by me, it might actually wind up being your luckiest day ever.
Another version of this post appears on The Philly Post.