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With many potentially qualified applicants from which to choose, how do recruiters know who represents the best candidate? One method is to identify "Employable Talent": individuals who are aware of their own unique contributions as well as their blind spots.



The Evolution of Employability

A profound shift in how people earn their living is occurring. People have always had to earn their living, starting from the time when proficiency with the bow and arrow and the ability to collect berries were critical. When humankind gravitated to agricultural economies, people learned to grow crops and raise livestock. Later, industry began to dominate, and workers made their way into cities for factory jobs. As the information age took hold, more people began working in offices and remotely from home offices. 

Whatever your situation, whether you are within a large organization or a small work team, you know you have to get a job done with the work force as it exists. The work force as it exists today is crowded, varied, and unevenly talented. No characteristic of today’s work force is more important than this: It is multi-generational. No characteristic is more challenging. And little in the training, practice, or world view of company or agency HR managers, corporate officers, or entrepreneurs running their own ventures has prepared them for the challenge of recruiting and managing talent from so many and so different generations. Yet, meeting this challenge and being successful at attracting and retaining needed talent are critical to an organization's current and future success. 

The corporate ladder of yesteryears served as a way to grow talent over time and offered places to warehouse the hires who proved unable to grow into higher level positions. Since the 1990s, this age-old structure has steadily yielded to one less populous and flatter—one with lateral rather than vertical paths. It has yielded to what some call the “jungle gym” model. This change has impacted the organization’s obligation to its employees, shifting from “we’ll take care of you and your career” to “we have a responsibility to help keep you employable.” A dramatic shift! Even this is being reinterpreted as business competition evolves. 

This new reality of flatter organizations implies a shared contract. No longer does an employer owe an employee a job in exchange for hard work and loyalty. No longer are employees entitled to jobs simply because they have done nothing to lose them. Employers are obligated to help employees maintain viability in the workplace as long as the relationship is mutually fruitful. To create a win/win situation, employer and employee must share the responsibility for maintaining employability. 

The overriding mission for entrepreneurs, talent managers, and HR managers is bringing into the organization Employable Talent who have the skills and awareness to succeed today and gain the trust and respect of others in tomorrow’s ever-changing environment. While organizations do not need to take responsibility for anyone’s long-term employment or career trajectory, they can help key staff exercise their talents in the short term and stay employable for the long term. 

In this new era, many employers have only a sketchy understanding of how to succeed in the talent game. Many understand that, because they are offering employment, they’re in a monopoly position. They think, “Since I’m the one offering the job, these people have to meet my requirements and specifications, or I’ll find someone else.” That can be true in some respects; certainly, more people are competing for jobs than there are jobs available. 

Much like the individuals who are applying to work for them, most employers don’t fully comprehend their responsibility when it comes to “employability” in this era of the “new employment agreement”. This responsibility entails how to keep an individual employable so that a person can continue to add value to the organization for the life of the employment agreement—generally 18, 24, or 36 months. 

In essence, your professional responsibility and role as a talent-management recruiter shifts from that of previous years. You are now charged with (1) finding Employable Talent who can succeed for the duration of their working agreements with you, and (2) supporting them in ways they might not even realize they require. Not offering such support contributes to higher, undesirable turnover, which is never in anyone’s best interest. 

Keeping Employable Talent employable requires solid knowledge of the Four Pillars - Resilience, Balance, Strategic Career Planning, and Financial Planning. At its core, Employable Talent is finding the right balance between the Four Pillars and these pillars are vital to help keep more people employable as opposed to simply employed. 

So what is the right blend of each of the pillars? Well, it's not as cut and dry as you would think. Each company, CEO, or recruiter will look for different blends of the pillars depending on the type of business the company is in, the type of market it operates in, the stage of company growth and development, and current market situation. Even today, Employable Talent looks completely different than it did before 9/11.


Identifying Top Talent

Progressive organizations will embrace this new concept of keeping employees employable to maintain profitability, the health and well-being of their Employable Talent, and effective business practice in the global marketplace. This new thinking requires understanding the Four Pillars of Employable Talent and recognizing their importance to each of the people you employ. This proactive approach to your Employable Talent represents the key tenets of today’s employment agreement.

Resilience in the workplace -

My research of executives who have experienced unplanned but successful career transitions indicates that they prevailed because they possessed a high degree of resilience. Resilience is akin to when a tree faces a strong headwind and bends but does not break. Whether an individual has learned or acquired or simply possesses a natural tendency to be resilient, the trait demonstrably enhances that person’s adaptability to unwelcome developments along the career path.  

I’ve seen that resilience enhances one’s adaptability to change. While this truth is applicable to positive transitions, it’s more evident when people face adversity. In these situations, resilient individuals are able to respond in self-supporting ways. They can objectively assess the situation, identify a potential strategy for moving on, and make the hard decisions that many people end up postponing indefinitely. Resilient people are willing to “pay the price” to get back on the road to success and are motivated to do so.  

Consider the issue of termination. At least once, nearly every senior-level executive has had direct responsibility for terminating employees. As one executive pointed out, “I am wondering if we’ve forgotten somehow what it is like to be that person on the other side of the desk. When it comes time to have the separation conversation, it’s important to remember how the conversation is impacting the other party.”  

At the same time, executives who believe that they are innately resilient feel that, in a tough career situation, such as a termination, people will have a far better time getting through the process if they are the type of person who can look objectively at a situation, plan, and prepare.  

Without the aid of their employers, individuals who’ve recognized in themselves the capacity for resilience often do not understand exactly what they possess. One executive exclaimed, “I don’t know how to characterize my quick emotional rebound; I think I am just me. I had to do something, and I wasn’t going to sit around and feel sorry for myself. It’s as simple as that.” Another executive who had been terminated from his position showed resilience as he unemotionally commented, “I can do it. And I realize that there’s no sense in dwelling on this.”  

You can emotionally toughen yourself by looking toward the future, anticipating your next move, and establishing an alternative game plan. The people who do the best once receiving such shocking news tend to maintain a strong sense of self. They stay relatively optimistic. They have an ability to analyze the situation objectively. They are comfortable taking appropriate risks, and they keep an eye to the future.  

Such career professionals strive for buoyancy. One executive joked to his wife saying, “What’s next?” Another made the observation, “Life’s got to go on... I’m the way to make it happen.” Clearly, it is to one’s advantage to carefully observe how other individuals cope with unexpected and perhaps undesirable career changes and to make mental notes on the successful strategies upon which people have relied. Thus, making observations and assembling lessons learned can help to strengthen one’s resilience.  

Among some resilient individuals, each career and life challenge is viewed as if it were all a game. Challenges and obstacles are to be embraced. They are springboards to greater accomplishments and a more stimulating existence. A downturn on the job—even summarily being fired—is a big challenge. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s one of the many challenges that life presents. Survey some of the top leaders and executives in all industries and professions, and you will find that nearly everyone has a story about a job at which they failed during some aspect of their careers.  

Spotting a High-Resilience Individual

One of the biggest blind spots and most difficult of the Four Pillars to ascertain in an interview process is resilience. It is much easier to assess the remaining pillars through external sources such as background checks, financial checks, and conversation, but to truly evaluate a candidate’s resiliency takes practice. But, having a highly resilient employee on your staff is to your benefit as they can see an obstacle as guidepost along the path to a project or their career success.  They are able to adapt in various situations making them viable and gravitating toward optimal solutions. 

How can you tell if someone you’re interviewing is likely to have a high resilience factor? While there may be no foolproof test, the following questions will yield a wealth of information: 

  • How empathetic are you with others?
  • Are you a good listener?
  • Do you have a well-developed sense of intuition, and do you trust it?
  • Are you able to read and quote other people easily?
  • Have difficult career or life experiences helped you become stronger?
  • Are you able to find positive aspects in a bad situation?
  • Can you convert an unfortunate experience into something positive?
  • Can you calm yourself in bad situations and focus on effective actions?
  • Are you usually optimistic, expecting things will turn out for the best?
  • Do you regard most difficulties as merely temporary?
  • Can you proceed in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty?
  • Do you have a healthy self-concept; are you generally self- confident?
  • Are you able to improvise when things don’t go according to plan?

Positive responses to eight or more of these questions signify that you’re in the presence of a resilient individual. Positive responses to four or more questions reveal average resilience with the potential for increased resilience through learning and adopting new outlooks. Less than four positive responses likely indicates low resiliency skills. 

What a Resilient Organization Looks Like

What makes for a highly resilient organization? Organizational resilience is an ongoing process not well-defined in the literature. Commonly observed and accepted characteristics of the resilient organization include a commitment to its human resources, a focus on balanced talent management, an active role in the community, an effective PR/communications office that disseminates timely news and information about the organization, competence in the delivery of its products and services, and good corporate citizenship, as evidenced by social awareness. In addition, the organization must demonstrate and continue to seek other ways to support the environment in multiple ways.

Resilient, successful companies tend to adroitly handle two opposing demands:

1) They achieve consistent performance and satisfactory growth by optimizing short-term efforts, streamlining operations, and reducing waste.

2) They adapt to shifting situations by maintaining a long- term focus, creatively approaching challenges, improvising and experimenting when necessary, and anticipating market shifts.  

Resilient Leaders

Resilient leaders are a vital part of a resilient organization. This is because organizations don’t necessarily attain resilience merely by retaining resilient individuals; organizational resiliency trickles down from top management to the rank and file.

In general, organizational resiliency can increase the relative level of resilience across the organization’s top leaders, managers, and staff. A resilient, nurturing organization can directly influence its leaders’ capacity for resilience and indirectly assist them in identifying and enhancing their personal assets.

Top-down resiliency can also help executives and key staff maintain a broader sense of optimism, appropriately manage risk, and uphold and support the positive values upon which the organization was founded and built. The resilient executive who is committed to the values of the organization is likely to have a greater appreciation of other individuals’ experiences, capabilities, and talents and is better able to serve as a mentor to others.

The resilient executive can have an impact on new hires. New employees might not have fully embraced its values and culture; still, some may adapt the outlook and can-do attitude they observe in their supervisors, despite questioning their own capabilities in the first days, weeks, and months on the job.

The impact of a resilient supervisor, for example, could well enable a new hire to recover quickly from early setbacks and even serve as a model for developing resiliency without the new staff member even being aware that the process is taking place.

Leaders, as well as other Employable Talent, who increase their resiliency are better able to meet the variety of challenges they encounter. They can persist when confronted by complex challenges and figuratively pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to ultimately succeed despite the obstacles. As a person’s resiliency continues to develop, it positively impacts that individual’s range of experiences, arsenal of available tools, and potential for future success.  


Work/Life Balance -

The second of the Four Pillars is maintaining a balance between personal life and professional activity. What is career balance? This vital pillar essentially means, “I am more than what I do at work. I am not defined by my job. There are other vital aspects of my life. My work is satisfying, but my life is satisfying as well.”

The people who try to use the workplace to obtain the bulk of the life rewards that they desire invariably feel let down. There has to be a balance between personal and professional lives. Particularly for Baby Boomers, the unarticulated credo often became, “I am because of what I do.” The lesson of balance must be learned and integrated. 

Increasingly, employers are beginning to realize that the key to effective hiring is to bring on people for the genius they bring to the table and their contributive value—not for the title they happen to possess. As one HR executive noted, “We don't hire people for airtight resumes with no gaps.” In fact, organizations have to look increasingly to the gaps to find value. 

Those who are able to separate their roles at work from their total being use distinctly different language when they describe the positions that they've held. They will say, “This was the role I served," or “This was the chairmanship that I occupied.” Moreover, evidence suggests that, in the face of sudden job loss, some individuals are able to view their situations, support systems, and potential options with pragmatism, if not optimism. 

Rather than feel immobilized or stuck, terminated executives who were in balance reported that they were simply a part of their companies. Yes, they were an important part, but they recognized that their companies would go on without them. They had no illusions of omnipotence. 

Empowering Employable Talent

The nugget for HR professionals—and all others who play a part in the new employment agreement—is that when we can empower our Employable Talent to regard themselves holistically— as separate entities from their organizations—and to maintain balance in all aspects of their lives, then any unexpected job loss is likely to have little or no impact on their self-esteem. 

As an executive recruiter conscious of the Four Pillars, you should assess the level of balance each person you interview demonstrates, regardless of the individual’s level of awareness. A candidate who embraces all Four Pillars is more likely to be successfully employed.

You’re looking for a match between your organization and the candidate before you. A good match results in longer employability, constant and pervasive feelings of satisfaction with the work situation, and near-optimization of the relationship. That is the essence of the new employment agreement. 

Characteristics of Balance

In general, Employable Talent with a predisposition to seek or maintain personal balance display many of the following characteristics. Not everything applies to all individuals who have achieved a sense of balance; still, the odds are, some or most of these attributes are present.  

  • General satisfaction with life
  • Understanding their own genius
  • Work-life balance
  • Self-reliance
  • An effective past and future orientation
  • Living in reality
  • Balance, comfort, and risk

Strategic Career Planning -

Each day, the world becomes more complex. Neither organizations nor individuals can be as confident about their future as we could be 30 to 40 years ago. To maintain continuing viability, growth, and prosperity, organizations around the world have long relied upon strategic planning. On a departmental or divisional level, strategic plans are prepared as a supplement to the organization’s overall goals. 

What does strategic planning offer? Why bother at all? Organizations that do strategic planning are often able to produce healthy returns on assets for shareholders and stakeholders. The top executives of such organizations employ strategic planning to ensure that divisions, departments, teams, and employees use their resources, time, and effort in a manner that supports optimal productivity and profitability. 

Having a plan in place—even if it is less than perfect—helps minimize the potential for wasted time, misdirected funds, and misplaced efforts. In business, things change at a moment’s notice. Forward-thinking organizations led by savvy, critical- thinking managers have contingencies in place should things not go according to plan. 

A good strategic career plan includes options for events or occurrences outside both the individual’s control and even the employer’s. After all, industries are born and eventually grow, mature, and decline or die. Mergers and acquisitions are a common fact of business life. Within companies, downsizing and other logistical and strategic shifts happen. 

Strategic career planning need not be relegated to an annual, semi-annual, or quarterly routine. Make refinements to your strategic plan activity list regularly. Why? The business world is dynamic. Managers come and go. Clients are won and lost. Government regulation or deregulation can dramatically impact an industry or an individual business. You want to have a strategic career plan in place that reflects your goals and that encompasses the latest changes in your external environment. 

Having a plan in place—even for the short-term only—is a valuable career tool. Used properly, your strategic career plan can help guide your days, weeks, months, and years. During periods of doubt or uncertainty, misdirection or challenges, your plan will help you stay on the high road to your goals and aspirations. 

The lesson for HR professionals, counselors, executive recruiters, and anyone involved in hiring and retaining Employable Talent is to encourage people to develop career strategic plans because, indeed, no one can guarantee—let alone predict—the future. It is in the best interest of your career, organization, and Employable Talent that a strategic career plan is in place.  

Active Financial Planning -

The fourth pillar of Employable Talent is active financial planning. Everyone wants to be financially secure. No one lives easily or well if constantly suffering from want and worry. We all need to pay our bills on time and have enough left over for a decent standard of living. We want to put funds aside for retirement or a rainy day. 

Yet, the 50-year-old American has assets of less than $50,000—and that includes the net value of their home. Many people have not saved adequately for retirement. At least a third of adults knowingly spend more than their means; two out of five households spend more than they earn in a year’s time. 

From my experience, only 10% of job candidates engage in active financial planning and have their finances and records under control. It’s a feather in the cap for the job candidates who have already done their own financial planning. Those who demonstrate leadership, ask the right questions, convey that they’ve undertaken a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis, and hint that they have their finances in order are highly attractive candidates.

How does Employable Talent convey this to you, the interviewer? When discussing compensation and the various benefit options, they may chime in with, “I already have disability insurance” or “I already have a whole-life insurance policy.” Employable Talent with active financial plans maintain a sense of composure at job interviews. These individuals are able to realistically approach the salary that they could entertain. 

Fortunately, tools and consulting resources abound for assessing one’s personal finances, including software, spreadsheets, online tutorials, charts, books, pamphlets, and articles. Unfortunately, few people will address this crucial activity in advance. Those who manage their financial planning beforehand represent a very small fraction of the population. 

It’s not too late to initiate a plan; active financial planning is valuable to any worker at any age. By making small contributions to savings and investments, people can see their funds build up to notable numbers.


Learn more about the Four Pillars of Employable Talent!  


Selecting Top Talent

The fact is that most senior leaders are better at evaluating someone in their organization to then say they are not delivering, than it is for them to evaluate a person in the interview process to see if they will be able to deliver what they are looking for. The problem here stems from the poor foundation of interview management evaluation and process. 

One major hindrance on properly evaluating Employable Talent is emotional attachment. In our culture, we are socialized to want to like people and people to like us. So, we avoid asking definitive, directed questions that could cause one to fail in their answers. If one has enough courage to ask these questions and then the interviewee stumbles the interviewer is more likely to change the question in order to assist the interviewee. Instead, when one stumbles with their answer, the interviewer should prompt, "Take a few minutes to collect your thoughts as this is an important question." It's been found that people avoid this tactic as to not earn the reputation as a "mean interviewer", however, not getting the answers needed in the interview can cause a wrong hire, which does more damage in the long-term for both the new-hire and the organization. 

The essence of Employable Talent is for one to use this concept to enhance their interview skills and see the value of how to look for such talent proactively versus reactively. Once you understand the context of employability today, many of your actions and activities will spring forth naturally. You’ll be better able to recognize individuals who can make specific contributions within your operating culture and to look past traditional indicators, such as what college they attended, what classes they completed, or the other tickets they punched. You’ll be able to identify individuals who can enhance your organization’s mission and generate contributive value. 

With many potentially qualified applicants from which to choose, how do recruiters know who represents the best overall? One method is to identify “Employable Talent:” individuals who are aware of their own unique contributions as well as their blind spots. 

Most people are not willing to admit that they don’t know where their own true genius lies. They may be aware of the types of jobs and tasks that they don’t like to do and may even be able to rattle off their career-related weaknesses. But do they know— and can they describe—the unique and precious contribution that they bring to a team, department, or division? As an employer, you must identify those who understand their unique contributions as well as their weaknesses and blind spots.  

Winners Answer Candidly 

During interviews, job candidates are often asked, “What are some of your strengths?” Invariably, people can easily rattle off their strengths. Then they’re asked, “What are some of your weaknesses?” Most how-to books and articles advise job candidates to mention weaknesses but immediately turn them around and show how they’re actually strengths. 

That might have been a useful technique in years past, but today you want job candidates who are willing to objectively discuss their true weaknesses. We all have them. The candidate who avoids the issue is not being honest with you. Similarly, you should be candid when job candidates ask you what doesn’t work so well within your organization. 

A healthy percentage of the Employable Talent you will encounter started off in some other line of work. The prudent ones had perhaps already been evaluating their options. Such individuals have already done the hard work of determining where they should focus their attention and why a career in a new field would be motivating and inspiring. Ask them through the use of open-ended questions, why they chose their current field of endeavor. Ask in particular why they chose to interview with your organization. They’ll likely have more well-developed answers than others who merely are seeking to leave a particular industry or to land a new job quickly. 

Employment Interrupted 

The stigma of evolutionary job change is gone: Everyone is faced with it proactively or reactively. Learning and achievement are what counts—along with the skills that people acquire along the way that make them even more valuable, employable, and ready to add value to the next position or post. 

Suppose a job candidate has some periods of unemployment and you want to explore what he or she did during that time. You can ask open-ended and probing questions about their positions with other companies. You might ask, “In hindsight, what would you have handled differently today?” Or, you could ask, “What career experience was not as successful as you hoped it would be?” 

By asking open-ended questions, you get to explore their thought processes, their natural leadership style, how they express themselves, and what lessons they’ve learned. That opens the door to what I call the “contributive-value interview.” 

The Contributive Value Interview 

With advances in technology replacing routine positions, along with the globalization of competition and new ways of operating effectively, the career-ladder and accomplishment- based interview presentation styles do not effectively showcase the types of skills, knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and adaptability required to succeed in today’s workplace. 

Enter the approach highlighting the candidate’s “contributive value” and “critical thinking.” An estimated six or more candidates compete for every available position, compared to one or two historically. If a candidate hopes to be selected, this new style of job search must carry through the entire search and interviewing process. 

However, one thing many candidates fail to do is to look at the job requirements from the point of view of the CEO, what is the company looking for and how can the candidate then add value to the organization. Rather, they look at it from what they've achieved historically. They tend to authenticate on what they can do rather than how they think. It's important for candidates to realize what balance of the Four Pillars this employer is looking to hire. 

During such an interview, your job as the employer is to look for the non-verbal cues that tell you how far along the job candidate is in terms of the Four Pillars. 

You’ve known the more obvious cues for years. Does the candidate arrive on time, dress appropriately, and appear prepared? Is the individual nervous or calm? What is his or her demeanor? How does he conduct himself? How well does she connect with you? How professional are his or her communications skills? 

While the old ways do not necessarily need to be thrown out, this new approach, emphasizing critical thinking, logic, collaboration, consensus building, and core values can build trust and respect across all cultural lines and boundaries. 

This new way of processing involves more than simply focusing on end results. Employers now factor an applicant's employment journey into their resume and interviewing approaches. Today's well-written Executive Summary will present an insight into this journey and will open up a dialog during the interview to probe the thinking, logic, and actions that were taken to add value to an organization. 

More than ever, one’s approach to daily operations at work and references take center stage. If they hope to land new positions, candidates need to present themselves as coordinated “packages” on paper and then again in the interview. Different thinking is necessary for a new age of sustainable global competition. 

Winners Follow Instructions 

A young man arrived at an interview for a part-time position and was disqualified as soon as he arrived. The problem was that the job candidate arrived wearing a jacket and tie, which would normally be a fine gesture. However, during the phone conversation before the interview, the job candidate was told several times that the company maintained an informal working atmosphere. 

What’s more: Following this phone call, the job candidate received an email reiterating the company’s relaxed atmosphere as well as explaining where to park, how to enter the building, and so on. When he arrived overdressed, he indicated that he had not listened and had not read, signaling that the young man would, in the future, likely head down his own path, oblivious to the directions that he received. 

Winners Come Prepared 

When HR recruiters or hiring executives are evaluating job finalists, the criteria shift from objective position specifications to subjective criteria. Subjective criteria can be as subtle as a handshake. Job candidates would shriek to learn that interviewers often rate a candidate’s clothing, handshake, level of eye contact, and vocabulary highly. Although perhaps only 5 percent of the criteria for potential employment opportunities are subjectively driven, these factors are key in deciding whom to hire from the final few. 

The extent to which a job candidate prepares and researches your respective position can tell you a lot about that person. A candidate with knowledge about your company and its objectives makes for an impressive interviewee, making your hiring decision easier. Determining whether such candidates represent Employable Talent is invigorating. 

Leadership Signals 

When someone has an appropriate professional appearance and speaks the right jargon, the efforts don’t go unnoticed; an impact is surely made. Impressive job candidates aptly demonstrate leadership during an interview without dominating the conversation or being overly aggressive. 

Suppose a job candidate is seated in the lobby, waiting to be called in for the interview. You arrive and say, “Hi, we’re ready to start.” The job candidate extends a hand, addresses you by name and says, “Thank you. I appreciate you spending time with me today for this interview. I understand that we have 45 minutes. Is that correct?” By offering an interrogatory not a declarative statement, this candidate is already engaging in relevant dialog. 

Suppose the candidate says, “I understand we have approximately 45 minutes to interview for the position of regional director.” Now, the job candidate has mentioned the name of the position and has helped to ensure that both of you are on the same page. When interviewing dozens of people, it’s possible for recruiters to get out of sync on occasion. So, when a job candidate mentions the position involved, it can prove to be helpful. 

Winners Self-Assess 

I was working with a client, and I said to him, “You’re going to meet the CEO for the first time. This person is going to cordially greet you but be looking for negatives. What might this person see?” So, my client assessed himself as objectively as possible and came up with three possible negatives. 

I was working with another client who was going to interview with a large, publicly traded company for a senior-level position. He would be encountering multiple days of interviews with individuals, groups, and boards. It was a rigorous process. Finally, on the last half of the final day, he would meet the CEO for several hours. 

At the end of the CEO discussions, as the job candidate bade the CEO farewell and was walked down the corridor with an assistant, he was asked one more question. I call it the “Columbo Question.” In virtually every episode, Columbo would make a person feel as if the questioning were done. Then he would say, “Oh, one more thing...” and ask a question to put the person off- guard and perhaps offer a crucial piece of information withheld during the earlier discussion. 

The Columbo question that the CEO asked of the job candidate who had just spent multiple days being rigorously interviewed was, “Are you over getting fired after 15 years at your last company?” As you might guess, this caught the individual off-guard. The first word out of his mouth was, “No.” Then he went on to say, “I’ll never forget my 15 years there.” 

The problem was that he led with the word “No.” Consequently, he didn’t get the job. Why? The organization was a highly visible public company. Suppose the company ends up in the public spotlight after a negative event, and a news reporter sticks a microphone in front of a senior executive and says, “Are you concerned about this situation?” If the executive leads with the word “No,” the company is in trouble. That “No” becomes a sound bite on the news. The reporter will go on to say that the company does not care about the impact of the situation or the people affected. 

Throw Them A Curve Ball 

Your job is to be on the lookout for candidates who seem to exhibit the Four Pillars. During job interviews, you could ask questions that you anticipate could have a negative impact on the interviewee, to see how that person will respond. 

Why ask job candidates difficult questions? Why try to catch them off-guard? If candidates are thinking only about their own experience, the response tends to be, “No, I’m still grappling with that,” or “I really didn’t get fired,” or another similar statement of resistance. If candidates pause for a moment and consider how a particular answer impacts other people and how it reflects upon themselves, they are more likely to answer in a way that will be supportive of the organization. 

More often than not, such a candidate represents someone who has a strong personal sense of balance. Especially in the case of senior-level positions, it is important for an executive to respond in ways that help people feel good—even when reporters are sticking microphones in his or her face. Such an executive will provide a response that you could run with on the evening news. 

Confronting Failure, Seeking Closure 

Is there a way to identify individuals who are not adept at coming to closure or achieving completion? This is where contributive-value interviewing comes into play. We all have had a project or outcome that wasn’t as successful as we had hoped. It is vital to know why a project failed and how we could have impacted that. 

In contributive-value interviewing, you may ask a job candidate to pick a project—successful or unsuccessful—that he or she worked on in the past. Job candidates who can explain how and why their projects worked or didn’t work and what they would do differently provide solid ground for ongoing discussions. 

I suggest asking a job candidate to explain a situation when he or she was in charge and things didn’t go according to plan. What would the candidate do differently in the same situation now? If an individual can’t give you a coherent answer, he or she may not be a viable candidate, particularly for a leadership or management position. People who offer well-reasoned responses as to what they would do differently have the potential to learn, grow, and flourish.


Retaining Top Talent

An Introduction to Work Force Generations -

One of the biggest frustrations that CEO’s and leaders today are experiencing is effectively managing across the five generations within the work force. Surprisingly, this one pain point effects a multitude of facets within an organization such as company effectiveness, recruiting, retention, turnover, and compensation, just to name a few.

The notion that generations have distinct personalities extends back to at least 1991, when Wade Strauss and Neil Howe introduced this approach to understanding human resources in their book, Generations. The authors proposed that a generation must span at least a 20-year range to establish a personality and that individuals within each generation share a significant number of attributes. These shared attributes help make identifying, recruiting, and retaining workers for optimal gain an easier task.

Among sociologists, defining historical events are regarded as major clarifying factors in understanding the generations and what their impact might prove to be within business and organizations. While a range of years generally classifies each generation, these act more as guidelines, as there is much debate and no distinct “cut-off” as to when each generation begins and ends.


The first or oldest generation of workers in today’s workplace, depending on what source you consult, are known as “Veterans,” “Matures,” or “Seniors,” as we will call them for our purposes. The approximately 46 million members of this group were born between 1920 and 1945. While admittedly there are fewer than 5% remaining actively employed, they still have a significant influence on our work environment and business.

The decade-long Great Depression and the calamitous events of World War II have influenced Seniors along every step of their career paths. Serving today in advisory and leadership roles, Seniors provide critical organizational memory and serve as pillars of stability and continuity.

Seniors are known for their loyalty to their spouses, employers, community, and country, among other things. They have a vested interest in maintaining personal privacy and financial security. Some observers characterize them as less flexible than other generations. That might be less true today than it was in earlier times, as Seniors have begun to adopt social networking in surprising numbers.

Baby Boomers

The next generation in the work force is the Baby Boomers, a group so widely reported on over the years that some consider reading about them painful. They are the most analyzed and characterized generation the world has ever seen.

Most sources agree that the Baby Boomers were born between 1946 (the end of World War II) and 1965.

In their early years, Baby Boomers were experimenters: “drugs, sex, and rock and roll” is more than a catch phrase. Baby Boomers lived through the death of JFK, the U.S. civil rights movement, Woodstock, the moon landing, Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, among other huge events.

The Baby Boomers number 76 million. Prior to the Millennials, this had been the largest U.S. generation. Boomers were profoundly shaped by the sheer size of their generation, which forced them to be competitive in every aspect of life. Baby Boomers currently serve as senior managers and executives helping to formulate strategy, policy, and new organizational initiatives while focusing on growth and expansion. Some of the Boomers are now retiring or seeking encore careers.

Generation X

The third group, known as Generation X, or Gen X for short, includes individuals born between 1966 and 1987; some sources use 1985 as the endpoint for Generation X.

Generation X is small in number compared to the Baby Boomers preceding them and the Millennials following them. There are only around 36 million Gen Xers, making them a scarce commodity within the work force and presenting numerous logistical and hierarchical issues for organizations everywhere.

This group grew up amid legions of Disney characters, Pac Man, talk-show celebrities, and such rock legends as Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Culture Club, Madonna, and Prince. Gen Xers have been called “latch-key kids” because many of their mothers worked outside the home to help support the family, leaving their children to make do. Thus, Gen Xers are seen as resilient, innovative, and independent. They are also more global in their thinking and accept broad diversity as a norm.

Generation X represents a departure from its elders, having experienced endless rounds of technological innovation and cultural change.

These workers populate the ranks of supervisors, middle managers, and moving frequently into executive positions. They are system architects who understand how things fit together and how they’re supposed to work. They maintain an innovative predisposition.


The newest and largest generation at 84 million, the Millennials include individuals born between 1987 and 2005. College-educated Millennials will undoubtedly become the knowledge workers and future leaders of organizations, large and small, for generations to come.

Raised by Baby Boomers, Millennials have been coddled in ways unknown to the previous three generations. Millennials have a positive, can-do attitude coupled with a free-wheeling approach to employment and career direction. More than other generations in the workplace, Millennials are adept at on-the-fly learning—and why not? They’ve grown up with easy access to digital resources and the ability to gather information quickly.

Now rapidly entering the ranks of organizations and management, Millennials have already established themselves as workplace innovators, particularly in harnessing technology to achieve objectives. They’re predisposed to having enjoyable experiences, achieving some form of self-fulfillment, and feeling as if they’re making a difference.

Because of their gargantuan numbers, the particular way they were raised and nurtured, and the vagaries of today’s economy, Millennials are destined to have a more dramatic workplace impact than any previous group has had.


The Information Generation (the I-Gens) was born in 2006 after the last of the Millennials joined us. This generation will continue to increase until 2025. As predicted years ago, the Millennials now number more than 84 million and are—by far— the largest birth group we have seen in the past 70-plus years. By contrast, we expect the I-Gens to be a much smaller group.

With all the changes going on domestically and around the globe, I-Gens are navigating this sea of changes more rationally than the Millennials.  Not unlike their parents, Gen Xers, they are attempting to make pro-active choices versus reactive emotive responses.  They have learned foundational rational analysis with critical thinking using instant information gained by judicial use of e-media and technology driven information.

Work Force Generations and the Four Pillars -

Understandably, each generation involuntarily regards its own views as the norm. So, too, organizations well-practiced in the art of employing Seniors and Baby Boomers tend to assume that applying the same principles and standards to Gen Xers and Millennials will yield similar, desirable results. Often, such presumptions lead to pervasive tunnel vision that impacts Employable Talent in ways that are often misunderstood by all parties.

As a talent manager is it vital to be aware of the strengths and values— as well as the challenges— of each generation in the work force as each brings a different perspective to an organization. An organization needs to understand, respect, and appreciate each generation that contributes to its performance. Just as each employer and organization places emphasis differently on the Four Pillars of Employable Talent, so does each generation. As you can see below, what is important to Seniors isn't necessarily important to the Gen Xers or the upcoming I-Gens.  While all candidates and current employees across the various generations have different motivators, there are still a set core factors that are of value to all. There are essential steps to be taken even before you hire a candidate to ensure they are entering a work situation which they will find of value and want to stay with your company while maximizing their efforts and potential while under employment.


Generational Emphasis on the Four Pillars of Employable Talent


Proactivity Pays Off -

Most people interviewing for a job are happy to gain employment and receive a decent salary. Yet, you want to proactively discuss your organization’s policies on all benefits, whether the candidate brings it up or not, because it’s in everyone’s best interests. 

The Proactive Employer

Some employers offer retirement plans. Their Employable Talent will receive a percentage of their annual incomes in a modified 401(k) retirement fund or some other vehicle. These funds supplement Social Security and, in part, replace the long-term pension that was available when people stayed with an organization for an entire career.

Progressive corporations who understand the new employment agreement offer such incentives to attract top talent. They know that these benefits will help nurture and support Employable Talent. Most younger individuals (below 45 years old) will not make personal/voluntary contributions to their retirement funds. It’s easier to attract somebody with a $60,000 per year offer and no benefits vs. $50,000 in salary and $10,000 worth of company-paid benefits. People realize they need the benefits, but they don’t want to deal with the hassle of selecting options, securing them, and paying for them.

Today, many companies are moving away from the traditional full-time employment with benefits and are placing the burden on the employee to purchase their own health and welfare insurances. The proactive employer will support, usually through a third party, information and training on how to select health and welfare benefits to best meet your particular needs today and over the next 5 –plus years. There will be many changes to available options driven by the affordable health care act. This ever-changing landscape is in significant flux and requires further review based on a cadre of issues. 

Counseling Counts

The further that business and society move away from the era of lifetime employment, the more important active financial planning becomes in the lives of Employable Talent. Insurance and estate planning are part of the overall picture.

All else being equal, the organizations that proactively offer financial, insurance, and estate planning are more attractive to Employable Talent than those that do not. Depending on what your organization is seeking to achieve—and the availability or scarcity of talent in this particular endeavor—you may well need to have this ace up your sleeve to attract prime candidates, even if it’s only for 18 to 36 months.

The savvy HR professional understands the different types of coverage, planning, and counseling required—or finds out about it. Perhaps these haven’t been everyday issues for you, but now they need to be. Being able to offer Employable Talent options— straight salary, lesser salary with benefits, or a higher base salary with no benefits—is a strong incentive. Some people already have policies in place. Some people have spouses whose employers provide for spouses and the family.

Retaining Talent Through the Generations -

Today, companies, organizations, and institutions offer fewer opportunities for individuals with education and skill, as they are accomplishing more with fewer people. HR officers and all others with the daily responsibility for identifying, attracting, recruiting, and retaining Employable Talent are under more pressure to make the right hire and make it the first time. There are harder choices to make among applicants and no place to hide the choices that don’t work out.

In this new era, employers must embrace new responsibilities, as do the individuals. The new organizational responsibility—impacting organizational stakeholders and shareholders—is to keep individuals employable so that they can continue to add value to the organization and lead it into the future. 

While a company can’t offer anyone the potential for lifetime employment, it has a responsibility to help people maintain employability and grow within the organization to meet the vast array of ever-present and future challenges. This benefits all.

Individuals employed within your organization already know some or all the ropes, the jargon, how to work with your software, and how to navigate within the culture. This is everyday human endeavor. With turnover, you waste weeks, if not months, seeking to identify, attract, recruit, and retain new people who then need to be brought up-to-speed regarding the organizational culture as well as their new jobs. 

Avoiding turnover while maximizing your employee’s potential is the ideal situation for any HR manager and CEO - and it doesn't have to be rocket science.  Obviously, offering competitive compensation attracts and helps to retain your talented employees. Beyond money, what can you and your company do to hold on to your top talent? 

Training and Continuous Learning

While each generation's motives for continuing education may be different, it is clear that additional training and learning opportunities are valued highly among all. Offering a variety of learning experiences and training will help to appeal to all learning styles within your organization.

Seniors, just as much as the Millennials and I-Gen's, appreciate new opportunities for learning. They’re as likely as anyone to participate in interdepartmental meetings, conferences, training programs, webinars, and other venues for making connections, acquiring new skills, and serving as solid team members.

While Seniors, Boomers, and even Gen-Xer's find comfort in traditional-type training programs held in classrooms, such extended sessions often feel like dramatic overkill to Millennials. The training they seek is not usually one week away at a conference center. They have learned to acquire their knowledge in clumps. Because of their familiarity with most things technical, they can hop online to gain instant access, as needed, to numerous on-demand learning resources. They adapt well to technology delivered programs. On-demand programs are highly valued.

Coaching and Mentoring 

For most employees today, it holds true that they prefer to be managed by supervisors who serve more as coaches than as overlords. They are more likely to respond to personable, effective bosses and give their allegiance to those people rather than to the organizations. Many regard their immediate supervisors as vital to their experience in working for your organization. If they have a strong relationship with managers directly above them, odds are, they’ll stay on longer. Strong relationships individually yield greater loyalty to the organization.  

A unique approach to mentoring is to link Seniors or Boomers with Millennials and I-Gens through coaching, formal or informal mentoring, or job shadowing helps to maintain a continuity of knowledge, skills, and organizational know-how. You want the other generations to glean from Seniors their accumulated wisdom and to benefit from their insights, maturity, and balanced approach to everyday situations. The lessons that Seniors have to impart and examples they can provide about stamina, collaboration, cooperation, and teamwork can prove to be valuable to work force newbies, who are predisposed to pursue narrow self-interests.  

Work Environment 

Often companies who employ younger generations don’t comprehend their ways. Instead of nurturing their individual personalities and aspirations, they confine them to cubicles, shackle them with regimen, and burden them with personnel policies and procedures.   

What do these younger employees have on their workplace wish list? They are a high-energy group, and they derive that energy from the atmosphere surrounding them. They want to arrange their workspaces to reflect their personal style and to adorn it with the art and artifacts that are comfortable and reassuring to them. 

Organizations with more lenient dress codes—that acknowledge that professional staff are adults fully capable of making their own decisions with regards to appropriate dress— will be looked upon more favorably than those with less flexible policies. These younger generations also appreciate an open-door atmosphere in which they can appropriately but freely voice their concerns without having to pay homage to long-standing protocols. They also want the higher-ups to listen—and act on their ideas—when they present valid concerns along with practical solutions.  

Offer more control over work time. Telecommuting can make sense on many levels, offering flexibility to complete tasks and projects. Allowing employees control over how and when they work can boost morale considerably. The emphasis is on the results — not the face-time, not the hours clocked, not the 9-5 mindset. For this to succeed, senior management needs to buy into the process and have defined goals and expectations of their staff. Companies that offer employees more control tend to experience higher satisfaction and less turnover.   

Provide meaning

Ask your talent not only to contribute to goal setting, but the path it will take to complete the goals. In addition, remind your staff about how their part of the process benefits the company — and themselves. People who feel meaning and competency behind their work are more likely to want to do the work, do it at a high level, and look for ways to benefit the company even more. 

Recognition and Rewards

Make sure that you trumpet your talents and successes, through company-wide communications and meetings. Your customers matter and your staff matters. Make your employees feel valued, and your customers benefit. Listen to your employees, find out what matters to them, and recognize and reward your go-getters. 

Similar in some respects to Millennials, Baby Boomers crave recognition and in some cases, constant praise. They want to be acknowledged for their achievements, both privately and publicly. They were raised in an era in which everything—jobs, mates, parking spots—was subject to vigorous competition. As a result, their need to be acknowledged for their contributions, hard work, and results will stay with the Boomers for the duration of their careers. All employees want and need to be heard. Listening to what they have to say and the potential solutions they have to offer goes a long way in making your talent feel valued, respected, and needed. 

Competition is Good! 

Company-wide or department-wide contests feed the need to succeed and shine in high-performing employees. Not only is competition between people, it is often within the individual. Offer facts, statistics and challenges to your top talent and watch them strive within themselves to produce more.  


Final Thoughts

As an organizational leader, your job is to bring top talent into your company and integrate them with the five generations in the work place, retain your best employees, and to keep your organization moving forward. To do this, it is imperative to understand and assimilate the Four Pillars of Employable Talent as well as contributive value interviewing in your company practices in order to have a balanced and successful work force.  

Being resilient, maintaining personal balance, devising a strategic career plan, and having an active financial plan in place can help promote the health and well-being of each employee in your work force. Among your Employable Talent, a greater level of knowledge of these Four Pillars and how they work with one another is a major component of solidifying and bolstering the new age employment agreement. 

Studies in recent years have confirmed the wisdom of acknowledging the differences among generations and accounting for their unique needs and aspirations.

Lumping tens of millions of people into the same general category based on their birth year has its shortcomings. Yet, generational cohorts can have enough similarities in their inclinations to work that such stereotyping also has its benefits.

The generational personalities are shaped in part by the major events that transpired during their formative years. Thus, the experiences, observations, and values of today’s five work force generations differ vastly. Understanding these generational differences will only help leaders and HR professionals to evaluate candidates appropriately and recognize what is of value to them – benefiting all parties.

Executives and professionals with talent-management and recruiting responsibilities—for organizations large or small—might have success without an adequate understanding of The Four Pillars of Employable Talent, but it will be slapdash and largely unpredictable. All too often—corporations are hiring talented people who, for identifiable reasons, don’t quite fill the bill.

Without knowledge of the framework offered by the Four Pillars, seeking to recruit Employable Talent will be like putting a bandage on an 8-inch gash. It will do some good, but it’s insufficient for the long term. Eventually, the injured person might bleed to death.

Unless recruiters, CEO’s, and management change their traditional frame of reference regarding employment and understand it in today’s context, they’re going to continually face disconnects with members of the talent pool, less-than-desirable results, and unexplained turnover.

In an ideal scenario, an organization with Employable Talent that pays homage to the Four Pillars will enjoy a vibrant, energetic, and highly productive work force. This is an ideal that may never be obtained, but it certainly makes for excellent HR and talent-management objectives—a worthwhile goal.

“David provides tools and advice that help us recruit and retain top talent across all generations. A copy should be in the hands of every HR professional.”


Mike Gilliland

Mike Gilliland, Director of Human Resources Foster Fuels

“David brings thoughtful insight to the process of acquiring and retaining talent within an organization. He provides a clear and actionable road map to navigating the modern workplace.”                 

Denise Haselhorst

Denise Haselhorst, SVP, Human Resources Blackboard, Inc.

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The Ultimate Guide to Recruiting & Retaining Top Talent coverMore people are chasing fewer jobs than ever before, including legions of downsized executives and newly college graduates. In this e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Recruiting & Retaining Top Talent, David C. Miles, Ed.D., SPHR, CMF, shares how organizations have changed their recruiting processes and what talent managers should be looking for in job candidates. 

Author David Miles argues that the new employment agreement between employer and employees has put a premium on what he calls "The Four Pillars of Employable Talent" - Resilience, Balance, Strategic Career Planning, and Active Financial Planning.

In this e-book you will learn:

- How to better able to identify, recruit and retain job candidates with unique sets of skills needed to support organizational objectives.

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- How to help talent recognize their own genius and the specific contributions they can offer your organization.

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