Welcome to SixFigureStart®

Career Coaching by Former Fortune 500 Recruiters

True Confessions of a Recruiter

Last week, I posted my “True Confessions of a Campus Recruiter”.  Here are my True Confessions of a Recruiter (of experienced candidates).  I hope you enjoy reading it:

Forgive me, job search candidates, for I have sinned.  It’s been 20+ years since my last confession.  I ran recruiting efforts for Fortune 500 firms that included Citigroup, Warner-Lambert, and most recently Merrill Lynch and during that time, I committed many sins.  I seek atonement through this article.    

Sin #1:  I made instant judgments about what types of candidates they would be in the first three seconds I met them.  It’s true, I sized them up.  I’m guilty. 

I wanted to tell them that they should have tried that suit on two days before the event, so they could have gotten than stain off of their tie or jacket.  I wanted to tell them to look me in the eye versus over my left shoulder. I wanted to tell them to use breath mints, because they were leaving dead bodies in their wake. 

But alas, I sinned and said nothing.  I just selected the candidates that had polish, that prepared, that took care in their appearance from their hair to their nails to their shoes.

Sin #2:  When candidates asked why they didn’t make the cut, I never truly answered them.  Instead, I avoided any potential litigation and simply said “It was a competitive process.”

I lied.  I didn’t tell them they didn’t answer my questions directly, or completely, or enthusiastically, or in a “results oriented” way.  I didn’t tell them that they should have clearly identified how they solved problems for their past employers – how they eased their pain!  I didn’t tell them that I heard negative comments in their responses to my questions because any mention of anything negative will immediately shift me to the next candidate.  I didn’t tell them it was because they were five minutes late to the interview and I feared they would be late to a client meeting as well.    

Instead, I sinned and gave no feedback.  It wasn’t my job to give them feedback.  It was my job to hire the best candidates who mastered the art of the interview and who answered my questions directly, effectively and in a results oriented manner.  I hired the person who proved why they would be indispensible to my firm.

Sin #3:  When I asked the question, “tell me about your strengths”, and “tell me about your weaknesses”, if a candidate looked like they hadn’t a clue, I would move on to the next person.  If they aren’t self-aware, they could never truly improve as an individual.  And I didn’t hire anyone who wasn’t in a constant state of improvement.

I sinned and said nothing.  I didn’t give feedback, because it wasn’t my job to do so.  It was my job to award the job to the person who did a self assessment in a meaningful way.  I hired the person who invested in being the best interview candidate possible. 

Sin #4:  If candidates didn’t maintain good eye contact, I silently shouted “NEXT!” in my head.  If they didn’t look me in the eye when they shook my hand, they received a negative mark right off the bat!

I wanted to tell them how body language speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what they are saying, and that the more you looked me in the eye, the more I trusted what you had to say.

But I sinned and said nothing.  Instead, as they looked over my shoulder while talking to me, I turned to see if there was someone behind me.  There never was.

Sin #5:  If a candidate didn’t ask good, thoughtful questions at the end of the interview, I went on to the next candidate.  Not having insightful questions shows a lack of preparation and interest.  It’s a rookie mistake that I won’t overlook. 

I wanted them to know that a little research goes a long way.  They could have walked into the interview with 5 – 7 questions written down on their portfolio pad, and they could have easily referenced those questions at the end of the interview.

But my sin was my silence.  I just hired those candidates that were thoughtful and prepared, and that impressed me with their questions.

My atonement has been found in my past three years as a career coach.  I tell the truth now:  the good, the bad and the ugly, so candidates can improve, and so they can launch effective and successful job searches.  My clients can now find the job of their dreams because I give them immediate tactical and strategic feedback from my 20+years of hiring thousands of individuals.  I can rest easier now as my clients are landing the jobs they want.  Amen.

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Take Your Child to Work Week is Here!

Gen Y has been the lucky recipient of “Take Your Child to Work Week” where kids can observe business first hand.  This perspective is great, and typically not what we experienced as Baby Boomers, and Gen Xers. 

Here are my comments when I was recetly interview about the topic by iVillage:  http://parenting.ivillage.com/mom/workfamily/0,,gtfffk4f-p,00.html

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SixFigureStart Quoted In The Dallas Morning News

With 7.3 million jobs lost from December 2007 to October 2009, everyone “starts competing down the line,” says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, owner of SixFigureStart, a career-counseling service. “If you have to look for people, why not look for the unsolicited, more experienced people who are coming in droves?” They take the entry-level jobs. That means people who would normally seek entry-level jobs compete just to find “survival jobs.”

Read more about the effect of this tough market on Generation Y in Laura Vanderkam’s piece:  Why recession won’t mean lost generation


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SixFigureStart in KoreAm on The Young and Unemployed

“There is definitely a sense of anxiety for students, recent graduates,” says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of SixFigureStart, a career-coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters. “People are hearing that jobs are picking up, but they’re getting mixed messages. And, a lot of them have some very big decisions to make—having to settle down or move back home.”

Read more of my job market insights, as well as anecdotes from Gen Y jobseekers in Smriti Rao’s The Young and Unemployed:


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SixFigureStart in The Roanoke Times: Catch 22: Need experience to get experience? Here’s how to solve the age-old career conundrum

“In bad economies, employers can be choosy so they can afford to be pickier,” says Caroline Ceniza, a partner at the New York City career and consulting firm SixFigureStart. “I have clients who have very good general experience who lose out because they don’t have experience in that specific sector.” Entry-level positions in sought-after industries such as media, financial services, consulting and advertising and for companies with well-known names often require experience. “Bigger brand names can be more selective than the local mom-and-pop or even a mid-sized company,” Ceniza says. “Size and market cachet is also a factor.”

Read more of my advice and other great tips for new graduates in Melanie Wanzek’s article, Catch 22:  Need experience to get experience? Here’s how to solve the age-old career conundrum


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“The new” Resume … How to Get Noticed!

I was recently interviewed by Forbes.com regarding how to make your resume stand out from the crowd (the link to the article is below).  The truly new thing about resumes is this:  you don’t need anything new –  just stick to the fundamentals:

1. Make sure your bullets prove your worth to your employer.  Did you decrease errors by 25%?  Did you increase client satisfaction by 50% … PROVE your worth!

2. Keep your format simple:  Name and contact info on the top, followed by perhaps a “Professional Summary” that quantifies your accomplishments.  Followed by a chronological list of positions (most recent first), followed by Education, followed by “Skills and Interests”.  It’s quality, quality, quality in every single line. 

3. Don’t use fancy paper – it’s not necessary.  And by all means, don’t have color.  I recently saw a resume with red in it … not a good move! 

4. Don’t fabricate a thing on your resume … everything on your resume is fair game to an interviewer.  Also, everything must be authentic but you can guestimate details from a while back.  We all don’t remember the minute details of improvements we made in the past.

5.  Keep it to one page if at all possible:  If you’ve worked for over 10 or 15 years, you can think about a 2nd page.

So now that you have my top 5 tips for a great resume … here is my article from Forbes.com:  http://www.forbes.com/2009/12/01/resume-writing-guide-leadership-careers-employment.html

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Enhanced Brazen Careerist Is Valuable Destination For Generation Y

Brazen Careerist (they’re on our blog roll) has relaunched their site with a host of new features, including more ability to customize and share your ideas.   If you are a Gen Y/ Millenial or communicate with that space, check out the site.   I host the Ask A Coach group and find the discussion to be engaging, inspiring and friendly.

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Top 10 Ways to Succeed in Business

I started to write this piece about career advice to Gen Y’ers … then realized it’s truly career advice to all. Follow this and good things are bound to happen!

1. Quality preempts quantity, at all times: Never hand in any report that hasn’t been reviewed for accuracy two or three times over. Ask a coworker to review with care. Spell check everything. Proof everything yourself because spell check doesn’t catch everything.

2. Create a powerful personal brand: be known for the person who puts in 150%, follows up when they say they will, and who produces quality work. Let your reputation precede you and everyone will want to work for you.

3. Network, network and network: network with your peers, with folks in other departments, join cross-business taskforces, with people that do your function at other companies (you meet these folks by attending conferences). Be the person who knows the most amount of people and make connections amongst them. You’ll be seen as a person of quality and “in the know”.

4. Learn something every day: we come to work to make each other smarter. There are plenty of people who can teach you something – people that are more senior, more junior or on your level. Be open to those opportunities and give credit where credit is due.

5. Lend a helping hand whenever you can: people remember others that help them along the way. Look for opportunities to do so.

6. Have an updated resume at all times: you tend to forget some of your quantifiable accomplishments and updating your resume every 3 months ensures you capture the very best projects you’ve worked on … and should a position present itself outside of the company, you can interview without hesitation and without rushing to put together a powerful resume. It also makes you feel more confident and professional.

7. Lead whatever initiatives you can: United Way Campaigns, Corporate Responsibility Taskforces, Softball team organizers … this allows you to get to know a lot of folks and putting on quality initiatives are always a good way to shine.

8. Find a mentor or a few mentors: mentors can help you navigate a very rocky landscape and having their input could make all the difference in the choices/decisions you make. They also watch out for you when you aren’t around, putting in good words for you when they are needed the most – like in a roundtable talent discussion

9. Ask your boss for feedback: it shows you are mature and willing to learn. Never get defensive, and LISTEN carefully to what is said. Work to improve in a passionate way, take advantage of whatever internal trainings are offered.

10. Enjoy your day: we are at work for 8 – 10 hours and sometimes more. Enjoy your day. Get along with people around you. Don’t take things personally. Ten hours is a long time to spend not liking other individuals … look for ways to like almost everyone you can. It takes a lot less energy than disliking them!

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Creativity and the Job Search

When I coach clients, I often times help them map out their major strengths and areas they are looking to develop, because these are top questions that are asked in an interview.

The pre-work is very important to the interview. I suggest individuals list their top 10 strengths, and in the column next to each strength, list an example of how they excel at this, and in another column quantify the example in some way, shape or form.

Creative problem-solving is a characteristic that is greatly valued by any company. Let’s face it: business is all about solving problems, and the more creative you can be, the more successful you will be. This applies to any discipline: marketing, finance, human resources, the law, operations, etc.

Here are some examples of creative problem-solving:
1. You are tasked with creating a technology-tracking system for new accounts. Your boss gives you a 2-month time frame and tells you that you are the lead project manager.
-A creative move could be to find someone else in the company who’s worked with the technology group and ask them to be an “advisor” to save time and money that they perhaps wasted because they didn’t know any better.
– Another creative move would be this – if you had a friend who worked at another company who had a similar program, perhaps they could share it with you … as long as it didn’t violate any confidentiality or privilege rules.

2. You are tasked with creating a new campus recruiting brochure at your company. You have to decide what “hot” colors are in.
-You could go to the closest Gap store and check out their color arrangements. Gap pours tons and tons of marketing dollars into the latest colors and this could appeal to your exact demographic.

3. Your manager asks you to significantly decrease the error rates on the opening of new accounts:
– A creative move could be to do some research on how errors are decreased, both on the web, and perhaps at Barnes & Nobles. There’s a book about everything!
– You could also do a survey of the new account-opening reps and ask for the last 100 issues with new accounts, and create a short but succinct error analysis.

During an interview, it’s important to highlight your creative moves and the results. For example, the new brochure gave you strong accolades from your new recruits, so note that. Your approach on new accounts decreased errors by 25%. And your new technology program came in under-budget and on time, and the users are raving about how easy it is to use and how helpful the info is.

Remember during your interview to identify these success stories and use them to “ease the pain” of the employers who are interviewing you. It’s always about what you can do for them, so be confident about your background and clear in your explanations…and quantify EVERYTHING!

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Go to Grad School or Not Go to Grad School … That is the Question

I coach a lot of summer interns and recent grads on how to find a job and so many of them want to just opt out of their job search completely by going to grad school.  Some can afford to do so and others cannot.  Here is what I all of them, regardless of their resources:

1. Unless you know exactly what you want out of grad school, do not go.   You don’t grow as an individual or as a professional without having work experiences that give you clear indications of what you like and do not like.  For example, if you work in business doing mostly grunt work, perhaps you’ve always gravitated towards marketing.  In fact, in several of your past responsibilities, your comments and ideas were well noted and/or incorporated into a magazine cover design, or a graphic for a news program.  If you weren’t doing the grunt work, perhaps you wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to make a comment/suggestion and you would have never known that you love marketing.

2. Degrees follow you wherever you go.  So having a graduate degree in marketing, when marketing turns out not to be of interest, seems more than silly.  More importantly, a recruiter will not see a logical flow to your activities and interests….red flag!  Even if you don’t want to report the degree, you will have to explain why there was such a time gap in your resume…another red flag!  Be focused, targeted and tenacious and it will help you land somewhere.

3. If you are a recent grad, or a summer intern, you are mostly likely from Generation Y.  Harness the strength of your generation and get through this tough time.  Your strengths include: a) teamwork – get a group of job seekers together every Tuesday for coffee and help each other, b) technology – social media sites are landing so many jobs these days, c) networking – half of the jobs aren’t even posted, so build your network and keep it going until you land something.

For some, grad school is absolutely the right choice.  But you have to have a clear WHY if you are going to expend the time, energy and resources necessary to attend and succeed.  Don’t “go the easy route” and think that you can just sail through this tough job climate.  That which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!

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