“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” – Confucius
“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” – Alexander Graham Bell
There are hundreds of quotes about success depending on preparation and I could fill pages with these quotes and some will still never be quite prepared for their next job interview. Myself included. In my younger days, I was adamant that I could “wing it” and come out of an interview unscathed and get the job. As I got older and sat in some interviews, I learned that you can no longer “wing it” and that I had to be prepared.
When you’re younger or perhaps less experienced human resources or the hiring manager may give you a bit of leeway when you’re in an interview. They may overlook the way you’ve dressed, or if you’re not quite certain on how to answer a question. They are still looking for a good fit — but for culture and for experience, and for the ability to learn. However as you get older and progress in your career you can’t “wing it” and you need to be even more prepared.
At this point of your career the hiring manager is looking for someone that can perform the job and presents themselves professionally. This means dressing for the interview in your absolute best, but also knowing about the company.
Today with the resources available on the Internet including sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor there should be no reason to not be successful in an interview — even if you don’t get the job. In addition to being able to research companies to no end you can find hundreds and thousands of interview questions. Many companies ask behavioral questions during your interview, not only are they concerned with the technical aspects of a job, but also concerned with how you will react in specific situations.
Lets break this down a little for you and see just how you can use LinkedIn or Glassdoor to research a company that you have been interviewed for.
Using LinkedIn to Research Companies
LinkedIn is h-u-g-e. According to their website (http://press.linkedin.com/about):
- LinkedIn counts executives from all 2013 Fortune 500 companies as members; its corporate talent solutions are used by 94 of the Fortune 100 companies.
- LinkedIn members did over 5.7 billion professionally-oriented searches on the platform in 2012.
- More than 3 million companies have LinkedIn Company Pages.
- There are more than 1.5 million unique publishers actively using the LinkedIn Share button on their sites to send content into the LinkedIn platform.
- LinkedIn members are sharing insights and knowledge in more than 2.1 million LinkedIn Groups.
- In the second quarter of 2014, mobile accounted for 45 percent of unique visiting members to LinkedIn.
- Worldwide membership – LinkedIn operates the world’s largest professional network on the Internet with more than 313 million members in over 200 countries and territories.
Many companies will be on LinkedIn so this should be one of your first stops when you get an opportunity to interview with any company.
If you are not on LinkedIn yet – you should create an account, while you can still make use of the information here it is geared towards someone that has been using LinkedIn for sometime and has built a healthy number of contacts, has joined groups and contributes to those groups.
Your first stop should be the search bar:
Search for the company you’re interested in (I’ve used the company that I work for).
If you have been on LinkedIn for some time, you can even try using an advanced search by clicking on Advanced in the toolbar.
If you are trying to get specific information you can click on the icon next to the search box to get more options:
Leaving it as All gives you a much wider search range.
As you type, LinkedIn will present some items to you:
Just a few more options for you to better target the results that are returned.
If you’re satisfied, press ENTER or click on the magnifying glass icon to the right of the search box.
You should now see a list of everyone that has worked at InComm or that currently works at InComm. The list is long.
But using this list you can search for contacts that you may be connected with either directly (1st level) or indirectly (2nd or 3rd level) and try to connect with individuals. Another secret tactic you can use to connect to individuals is to see what groups they belong to and join those groups. Not everyone will be active in a group, but it is usually easier to connect to someone if you are linked together in some way (I find that groups work best).
Once you’ve been able to connect with someone, you can start asking questions. Be wise about it, send out an introduction then see their response and then follow-up. There is never a guarantee that this will work however you have nothing to loose by trying.
Many companies also have company pages on LinkedIn. The company page provides an overview of the company, along with recent press releases. This is a good place to start to find out more about the company and to get a glimpse into its future. The company page also provides insight into how you may be linked with others from that company.
LinkedIn gives you the basic facts about a company — the shining star.
What’s Glassdoor All About?
If you really want to see what it’s like to work at a company, then you need to head over to Glassdoor. WARNING for you though – you need to take the information with a grain of sale, however if you’ve got hundreds of employees talking about a company and the sentiment is decidedly negative there is probably something to the reviews. But again everyone’s situation is different and others may not like the environment, but you may thrive in it.
To get details at Glassdoor it is best to register for an account. If you do I would highly recommend that you use a pseudonym and an e-mail address that is not your primary address.
Getting to their main page I was greeted with three random companies on their main page – I was shown Allstate, Oracle and Yahoo. Being a ex-tech guy, I clicked on Oracle as I’ve used their products before and I figure that this would be a good company to work for. I also know others that work there that have only had good things to say about working at Oracle.
What makes any company review more relevant is the number of reviews. Oracle has over 5,500 reviews which rate the company around 3-stars.
Employees (both current and former) also have provided some additional valuable information – salary details. If you register for an account you can see the full details otherwise you’re only shown some teaser information, but it will give you an idea of what they pay their people. Finally the gold on Glassdoor – the interview questions asked. As of this writing there were 1,260 comments made about the interview process and questions. This is definitely GOLD as it will give you real insight into what their HR is looking for, spend some time here but again take everything with a grain of salt as there is no way to know how much is valid and how much is not.
The key to being successful in any interview is being prepared for it:
- DRESS THE PART — actually dress for more than the part!
- I cannot stress this enough. Dress the part. Dress the part. Dress for MORE than the part. When I interview, I expect my prospective agent to be dressed well — I don’t mind business casual, but I do not like the casual laid-back look or sweats. I don’t care that you are interviewing for a call center job but I could also be looking for a Team Leader, Supervisor, Trainer or Manager 6-months down the road. Did you think about that? I don’t expect a suite and tie (though it is a nice touch).
- Get there early.
- Gives you time to straighten up, use the restroom and generally look presentable.
- Learn as much as you can about the company, search Google and/or Bing. Don’t forget LinkedIn and Glassdoor.
- Try and connect with current or previous employees if possible.
- Using what you’ve learned on LinkedIn, Glassdoor and other research prepare a list of questions that you can ask (5, 10 15 — just make sure they are relevant and make sense).
- I have read that you should give the questions to the person interviewing you, I’m not so sure about this but then I’ve not been looking for work for sometime so this might be a new trend.
- See what types of people make the organization function.
- Use this information during the interview to WOW the interviewer, everyone LOVES to talk about the company they work for. This tells the interviewer that you have done your homework, and you know something about the place you want to spend the next few years of your life.
- Join LinkedIn groups to try and connect to people that work at the company, it’s usually easier when you are connected to someone in some mutual way.
- Look at related industry websites to see possible pain points or at minimum what is driving the industry and what trends are emerging that they may be pursuing.
- Look for behavioral interview questions and study these, and practices these.
- I absolutely LOVE these types of questions, yes even for my call center I will use these to better understand a candidate. When I follow these format of questions, the people that I hire are 100% successful.
In today’s highly competitive workplace you need an edge among all the other candidates, while education and experience may shorten the gap being prepared will help close the gap.
I welcome any other suggestions you may have, leave me a message here or find me on Twitter at MohamedBhimji.
Whether you run a small, or large call center the blood of your center are your agents.
Your goal as a leader is to minimize turnover, and to ensure when you do hire you are getting the best you can get. Having led my small center for the last 9-years I’ve seen all types of applicants, I’ve hired directly by posting job advertisements on places like Craigslist and the HRDC (Canada Job Bank run by the Gov’t of Canada) and have even hired based on personal recommendations from agents on my team and from others outside of the team (Sales, Marketing, IT).
In recent years the decision was made to use agencies as they do have access to a much larger labor pool that we do. Our company actively posts jobs on our corporate website and has started to use social media to market and promote those positions but this route will take time to generate the type of leads any contact center needs in order to ensure they also have a solid pool of applicants. In the past we looked for a warm body. Someone that could sit in the chair, and take calls. The quality of applicants was hit and miss. Not the ideal scenario given that it can take up to 3-months for an agent to become proficient enough that they are taking a high number of calls on their own without any assistance except for those oddball calls that come through. If you have hired this agent directly what is it really costing you?
- Your time and/or your trainers time and/or your Manager/Supervisor or Team Leads time. What are you paying them hourly?
- The new agents time – remember during training, they are still getting paid.
- Other agents time – chances are your new employee will also engage those around them when help is needed.
- Indirect time lost – what are you not able to complete? This is also known as missed opportunity costs.
- Customer satisfaction (or dissatisfaction with service being provided)
- Increased workload on other agents
- More sick days being used due to increased workloads
- Overtime costs due to being short staffed
- Team morale
The contact center has one of the highest turnover rates of any industry – an incredible 26% of agents are replaced annually depending on the industry. Some industries may see an even higher turnover rate. Consider the direct cost to hire these individuals: most agencies charge 15% (or more) of the yearly salary to place an agent.
Given an average annual salary of $32,000.00 (source: http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/customer-service-representative/salary) that’s $4,950.00 just to bring that employee in the door. If you are using an agency you should only be getting the top agents – however this may not always be the case.
If your contact center isn’t paying well in relation to others operating in the area you might be getting lower quality agents from the agency.
You want agents that are are driven to succeed and are naturals in the contact center. They are the ones that know instinctively what to do, how to do it and know how to fill in any time they may have between calls. These are the same folks that will become the leaders in your contact center, they are always asking for more and are always learning and have incredible critical thinking skills. These are hard to come by, and when you have a few of these you don’t want to let them go.
Then you get floaters (as I like to call them – they exist everywhere, not just in the contact center). They come in, do the job and go home. They are not driven at all. They’ll take on additional work when it is given to them, but they will never seek out work. Between calls or during slow periods they can be seen chatting it up with those around them, in the staff kitchen or always on health breaks. These are not even the worst!
Finally you get those that are OK. They are eager, they want to do a good job but they just don’t get it and as a result you will have issues with them all the time: sick, late, low productivity, poor performance. They have negative attitudes and spread their negativity to everyone around them which impacts team morale. If you have these in your contact center – get rid of them. If you are working through an agency, hopefully they have done their job and screened these types of individuals out and do not even send them to you – but truth be told, I am certain we have all worked with these types of people.
What is Your Recruitment Strategy?
I’ve already mentioned a few methods when looking for agents.
- Utilizing hiring agencies and working with various hiring models
- Direct hire
- Contract to hire
- Job boards
- Company career page
- Referrals from existing employees
- Social Media
- Schools (high schools, college, university)
- Minority organizations
- Job fairs
- Outplacement programs
The list could go on. Each method above has pro’s and con’s — it’s your job to mitigate the risk and find those that work for you and your contact center.
What Makes The Perfect Contact Center Agent?
Over the years I’ve found that prior experience in a call center is key, when I’ve broken that rule it has been difficult to recover. You either have to let the individual go (hopefully within their probationary period) or if you find out too late and they are now permanent employees it costs you in terms of what is mandated by your Employment Standards Act — in reality this isn’t all that it is costing you, don’t forget the indirect costs where the biggest is team morale and productivity. One strategy which I’ve employed to find the perfect agent is to create an agent profile. This strategy is simple in that you detail what you are looking for in an agent.
I’ve shared my agent profile with agencies that I work with. This way we know that the individuals that they send us have not only been vetted through their own process but have gone through an additional review through our minimum requirements. The profile should contain a list of what you want the perfect candidate to have, their personality traits, skill set and core competencies. The best way to create this is to look at the top agents in your contact center today, and develop your agent profile based on them. In addition to having an agent profile, you should also have a job description that accurately reflect the roles and responsibilities of the position. It does not have to be 3-pages long but needs to accurately reflect what the agent will be doing. Some of the things that I look for:
- Able to show empathy
- Strong critical thinking skills
- Willing to wear multiple hats
- Ability to think on their feet
- Outgoing personality — introverts may do well, but depending on where they are on the scale
- Ability to listen
- Won’t fly off the handle the moment they get an angry caller or someone who swears
- Exceptional telephone skills
- Not monotone and able to fluctuate their tone accordingly
- Have they worked in a call center before?
- Do they have office experience? While office experience isn’t a must I have found that those that have worked in an office know how to conduct themselves, they understand and can deal with office politics and know what business casual means.
- Strong language/communication skills
- Not only on the telephone, but written skills in addition to being able to interact with others on the team and outside the team
Great resource for behavioral questions is http://www.zendesk.com/resources/10-interview-questions-for-hiring-great-customer-service-reps – there are some awesome questions here along with “answers” (well – what you should be listening for).
Once you have developed your agent profile, and have determined what your hiring strategy is hopefully you start getting resumes to fill those open positions. Working with agencies we now conduct a telephone interview first, this allows us to hear the individual over the phone and to test their language skills. The telephone interview should not take more than 30-minutes, this is the chance for you to tell the prospective candidate about the company and the position — when I conduct the telephone interview, my goal is to “scare the individual away”.
I only want those individuals who are serious about the job and role to come in for a face-to-face, I don’t want tire kickers. During the telephone interview you should ask a small subset of questions from your master list, this is to determine whether you really want to meet the person face-to-face. In my contact center we focus on behavioral questions in the interview, this forces the candidate to think about a response and tie it into their work experience. While personal responses, and responses related to volunteer work are acceptable chances are the candidate will go above and beyond in those situations since they have a greater personal role.
I have read about telephone screening processes where the candidate calls into an automated system or employment information line screening system which sounds very appealing, especially if you are doing more direct hires. This method allows you to screen unqualified candidates, and listen to their telephone voice. If you use this method, I would like to hear from you as to its effectiveness – contact me via Twitter, or LinkedIn or leave a comment.
If the candidate has made it past the pre-screen telephone interview then it is time to bring them into the office for a face-to-face and really grill them. Remember your goal is to hire the best, and a thorough in-person interview will either scare the candidate away or they will shine as they have the experiences you need in order to be successful on the job. My goal even in the in-person interview is to see if I can scare the individual away, the questions will tell me if they are serious about the opportunity or are they filling in time until something better comes along and will be coasters. I don’t want coasters, but engaged individuals that are excited about coming to work.
Agent Testing In The Contact Center
Many contact centers swear by agent testing, this is not something that we have implemented but it is on my radar. In lieu of this we rely heavily on the in-person interview and use of behavioral questions to learn about the prospective candidate.
If after all of this you have narrowed down your candidate list to one or two individuals the final step should be to check references. Too often this is an after thought – again if you are using an agency, they will take care of this for you however if you are hiring directly you need to check references. In the reference check you want to “interview” the previous employer by asking specific questions about what the candidate did for them, questions to consider asking:
- What project(s) did the individual work on?
- What was the environment like? Small or large team?
- What were their job duties and what technologies did they use?
- What was their technical performance and ability like?
- How are their non-technical skills?
- What are some of their strengths and areas for improvement?
- What was their attendance and reliability like?
- Would you rehire them?
Companies which have strong HR departments or hiring and documentation processes will be able to answer these questions easily. These questions will also help weed out those candidates that decide to list their next-door neighbor as a reference because they will not be able to answer these types of questions. It may also be beneficial to fax and/or e-mail the questions and request them to be returned in the same manner so that the responses can be kept in the file for that individual.
Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills
In reality you will never find the perfect candidate, they will always be lacking something which is why you want to hire for attitude and train for skills. You can train the prospective candidate on your products, services and tools — you will not be able to train them to have a better attitude. You do not want mediocre talent, as they will produce mediocre results.
There are two things that differentiate CSRs – these are attitude, and aptitude. You should be looking for someone that has passion, energy and enthusiasm. Answers should roll off their tongues, and their subtle body language will tell you whether they truly have the customer service orientation that is required to be successful. Were they laid back, nonchalant when answering questions? Or did their ears perk-up, eyes widen and sparkle and grin cover their face when you asked them “tell us about a time where you over delivered to a customer” or “tell us about a time when you resolved a difficult situation and were commended by your manager”.
If you have any strategies that you can share with readers, please send them over via Twitter, LinkedIn or leave a comment on this post. If you found this post helpful, share the knowledge!
Image at the top of this post is courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
First off this is by no means an exhaustive guide to severance packages, also I’m not offering or providing any legal advice and the information here should not be considered a substitute for seeing a lawyer. Different legal circumstances can result in generate different results. If in doubt – SEE A LAWYER if you’ve been terminated!
If you have been terminated, down sized, right sized or whatever by your employer then this guide will give you some information. Also do know that companies structure severance packages in various different ways, rarely are they structured for the benefit of the employee (that is the former employee) which is why you almost always should get an employment lawyer involved to review your package and fight for a better package for you.
Severance Packages According To Your Provincial Labor/Employment Standards
Just as there are various ways an employer can structure your severance package, there are different methods for calculating and providing severance according to the various provincial guidelines. For instance if a company is terminating of a large number of employees, then they need to follow certain guidelines which do not exist if they are terminating a smaller number employees.
If you want to do a Google search, use “Employment Standards Act <your province>Severance”, however here are links to the Employment Standards Act of various Canadian provinces that talks about severance, and termination. Most provinces to provide easy-to-read English fact sheets that are written for the average individual but if you want the details you can also read what is written in their Employment Standards Act.
BC Employment Standards Act with respect to severance can be found at http://www.labour.gov.bc.ca/esb/facshts/termination.htm
The maximum payable under ESA is 8 weeks
- After three consecutive months of employment – one week’s pay;
- After 12 consecutive months of employment – two weeks’ pay;
- After three consecutive years – three weeks’ pay, plus one week’s pay for each additional year of employment to a maximum of eight weeks.
Alberta Employment Standards Act with respect to severance can be found at:
- http://work.alberta.ca/documents/Termination-of-Employment-and-Temp-Layoff.pdf (NOTE this is a PDF document that may download to your PC/device or open in a new window)
Ontario Employment Standards Act with respect to severance can be found at http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/pubs/guide/severance.php
The ESA for Ontario with respect to severance is a little more details, you should visit the site directly.
Saskatchewan Employment Standards Act Severance & Termination
Manitoba Employment Standards Act Severance & Termination – http://www.gov.mb.ca/labour/standards/doc,terminate-employment-after-apr-30-07,factsheet.html
Prince Edward Island Employment Standards Act Severance & Termination – http://www.gov.pe.ca/labour/index.php3?number=1025373&lang=E
Quebec Employment Standards Act Severance & Termination – http://www.canlii.org/en/qc/laws/stat/rsq-c-n-1.1/latest/rsq-c-n-1.1.html
Nova Scotia Employment Standards Act Severance & Termination – http://novascotia.ca/lae/employmentrights/endingemploymentfaq.asp
New Brunswick Employment Standards Act Severance & Termination
Newfoundland and Labrador Employment Standards Act Severance & Termination – http://www.gov.nl.ca/lra/faq/ls_termination.html
I’ve Been Terminated – Now What???
So you have been terminated because your company decided you were redundant, or they have moved the functions to the US as your company was bought out or they’ve decided to outsource it. Regardless of the reason they have decided to give you a package.
All companies are required by ESA to give you what is mandated by the employment act and nothing more, however there is more to it than that. There is something called common law — this is where an ex-employee has gone to a lawyer because they felt that what the company has offered them is not sufficient. The case has gone to court, and the courts have determined what an appropriate level of severance should be
Yes – you CAN fight your company.
You may be thinking that if you fight your company, you won’t get that reference letter.
You know what, in all the cases I’ve seen the company never offers a personal reference letter from the employees immediate manager. They will always provide a “Dear John” letter which simply tells the prospective employer that the employee worked with the company from one date to another and what their job title was and possibly the reason they were terminated.
Most managers are coached to never respond to a reference request directly, and to always go through human resources. I’ve never seen it done any other way, because the employer does not want to have any liability once you have gone and they do not want a manager saying something they should not – it could land them in hot water (and legal trouble).
Short and sweet – depending on your position, you should see a lawyer.
If I was working fast-food and was terminated, I probably would not bother with a lawyer unless I felt that my rights were somehow violated. Most lawyers will not charge to review your case, as well there are resources available on the Internet that you do pay for in order to get some assistance. In British Columbia (where I am located) there are a few resources available to you:
- http://www.workershelp.ca/ (added 8/7/14 @ 3:47pm PT)
If you’re on the other side (the employer), FiredWithoutCause also offers an employer site at http://www.fairdismissal.com/
If these resources don’t satisfy you, simply do a search for “<your province> termination lawyer” or “<your province” employment lawyer” – they all want your business. Of course if you are in the United States or elsewhere substitute <your province> with <your state>.
SIDEBAR – Can I be fired for being sick? The answer will surprise you! Read more at http://bcemploymentlawyerblog.ca/2014/04/03/fired-sick-flu-disability/
What Will A Lawyer Do???
What your lawyer will do is look through common law to see if there has been a situation similar to yours where the courts have determined what amount of compensation is sufficient given certain situations.
For example the courts will take into account many factors when deciding what amount of compensation is acceptable:
- Age of the employee when they were terminated (the older you are, the more you may qualify for)
- Labor market trends in the area (low/high unemployment)
- Availability of a similar job (if you’re an senior manager, it will probably take you much longer to find a similar paying job)
- How long you have been working with that employer
- Does your job require specialized skills, or is it in a highly specialized environment where your skills are not easily transferrable to another job
The company may also have other obligations that have to be met, such as:
- Group benefits
- Bonus payments
- Stock options or equity compensation
- Pension plan contributions
- Other fringe benefits like car allowance, or club memberships
Many senior managers (Directors, Vice-President, CEO, etc.,) end up with an employment contract where their severance pay is written into their contract, it is folks like you and I that end up having to ‘fight’ for what is fair and equitable.
How Can Severance Packages Be Structured?
Companies can try several ways of structuring severance packages, some really like packages which are given monthly until such time as the employee has found a new job, but the length of the package is limited.
For example your company has given you 12-months of severance however will not give it to you in one lump sum, instead they have decided to provide you with salary continuation until such time as you get a job. Supposed you find a job within 3-months — GREAT news for you, but you’ve “lost” 9-months of severance. Although salary continuation may be preferred by companies, I have not heard of it being used very much.
The other method of delivering severance packages is in one lump sum payment.
So your company has decided to let you go, your lawyer has worked out a sweet deal for you. You walk away with a 6-figure severance, and after taxes you have enough to last you at least 12-months. The market picks up, and you find a job paying 6-figures within 4-months. Congratulations! You’ve got 8-months of severance and just paid down your mortgage, topped up your RRSP or picked out the Porsche you’ve been eyeing for quite some time now.
While the Porsche would be a nice toy – you probably should talk to your financial advisor about what to do with your new found windfall. They should be able to structure or shift the money accordingly so that you end up getting a nice refund from the government — but that’s an entire different topic.
The topic of termination and severance packages is very broad and ideally should be discussed with an employment lawyer that specializes in this area. If you have been terminated, remember that you do not need to sign paperwork provided by your employer right away – in fact, the employer should advise and encourage you to seek legal advice before signing any waivers and accepting the package they have provided. Once you accept the package they are providing, and sign off on it you have very limited recourse.
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