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Job hunting for the risk manager.

MERGERS, ACQUISITIONS, divestitures, industry downturns and management downsizings these, and a multitude of other factors, create job insecurity. And considering the persistent recession that's plaguing the economy, and the number of middle management positions it has sheared from U.S. organizations, many executives are haunted by the prospect of finding the dreaded pink slip lying on their desks.

This trend to downsizing has also affected risk managers. For although the risk management profession has grown in stature over the last decade, and many risk managers enjoy positions of prominence in the upper tiers of corporate management, various internal and external environmental changes have forced some firms to either eliminate the risk manager's department or downscale its role in the company. As a result, some risk managers are now either unemployed or unhappy in positions with diminished or limited job responsibilities. Those who find themselves in this position - and even those who do not-should prepare for that awesome task: the job hunt.

GETTING STARTED

Looking for work is in itself a full-time job: It takes a great deal of organization, patience, perseverance and plain hard work. Many job seekers turn exclusively to the help-wanted sections of local and national newspapers, believing they are conducting a full job search if they use The Wall Street Journal and the National Job Weekly. This passive, haphazard approach seldom succeeds.

A total job hunting strategy requires developing a specific plan. This systematic approach involves identifying skills, talents and weaknesses, preparing a resume, then seeking out those companies with needs that match. It is also important to develop a "delivery system" to convey the qualifications to those companies. When a meeting with a company has been secured, the next steps are to prepare for the interview and, if an offer is made, to make the negotiations necessary to procuring desired benefits and nailing down the job.

Before beginning, the risk manager who is looking for work must turn him or herself into a marketable commodity; this means not only knowing the intricacies of the profession, but also having demonstrated professional competence by teaching at the local college in courses such as ARM, CPCU or other IIA programs, publishing articles in trade publications, or participating in risk management seminars or conferences. Similarly, the risk manager should have a network of contacts accumulated through various business functions as well as community activities such as the United Way, chamber of commerce committees and social service events.

As a starting point, risk managers should obtain a popular book on the subject of finding a job. There are several good ones available; perhaps a librarian or book store employee will recommend one. Many of these books outline a system or method for finding the right job; others deal with a particular aspect of the job hunt, such as resume preparation or interviewing techniques. These books will give a general idea of how a well-organized job search is conducted.

THE SKILLS GAME

Job seekers must realize that it is their responsibility to discover their skills and aptitudes. As a result, identifying one's basic skills is the first, crucial step in any successful job search. The popular book What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles contains a section on identifying skills and ranking them, from elementary ones such as taking instructions and helping and serving people, to sophisticated skills, such as supervising and networking. By pinpointing definite skills, the job seeker can find the types of positions that would best fit his or her abilities. This approach also allows the job seeker to explicate these skills in a job interview; for example, a person who determines that he or she has excellent organizational skills can say to the interviewer: "I can keep things organized and on track even when I'm faced with great distractions."

Besides determining work skills, the job seeker should also uncover any weaknesses that he or she may have. Although this tactic may seem self-defeating, it actually allows for the elimination of certain jobs that are not suited to his or her strengths. For example, a person who lacks good communication skills would probably have limited success in a position that requires a large amount of interpersonal contact; similarly, a person who is deficient in mathematical skills or aptitude would not likely be a great success in a position that requires the analysis of numbers or financial trends. Overall, the skills/weaknesses exercise should provide a road map for the most suitable types of jobs for each particular person.

RESUMES

Although career consultants tend to differ on what constitutes the essential elements of a resume, most would say that a resume's main purpose is to stimulate an employer's interest in the candidate, thus leading to an interview. The resume should therefore communicate the job seeker's skills in a cogent, interesting and truthful manner. A well-written resume will also contain certain key elements. First, the resume should contain factual information that is packaged in a brief and concise manner. Second, job accomplishments should be clearly delineated, without making reference to any failings.

The Robert HalfWay to Get Hired in Today's Job Market covers the issue of resume preparation. Among the book's most important recommendations: the resume must have "sell," be letter-perfect, be photo-offset on a substantial-looking 8 1/2 inch x 11 inch bond, convey accomplishment and be easy to read and follow.

NETWORKING

Risk managers would do well to target those companies or industries that could utilize their area of expertise. Personal contacts are the best method for finding companies that may be hiring; well-positioned business contacts often know of job openings, or of positions soon to be vacant. The main purpose of networking is not solely to obtain a job directly from the principal contact, but to pick up advice and referrals. Indeed, a well-constructed network can offer a wide range of contacts that helps locate opportunities.

First, the job hunter should compile a list of contacts and store them on index cards or in a personal computer data base so they can be organized in a systematic manner. In the early stages of the process, every personal encounter should be considered as a potential contact source, even chance encounters. If, for example, a risk manager sat next to the chairman of Acme Fasteners last April on a plane to Chicago and enjoyed a good business-oriented conversation with him, this may be enough to include him in the networking chain. Contacts can furnish the names of other people who are potential sources for employment; this process will increase the network geometrically, and therefore increase the chances of contacting someone with a tip on an available position.

Networking can also be accomplished through direct marl. Using the list of companies created earlier, job seekers can send out up to 1,000 resumes with accompanying cover letters to appropriate companies. In his book Rights of Passage at $100,000+, John Lucht explains the following standard success ratio for a direct mail campaign: 1,000 letters should garner six responses; in turn, these responses should generate three or four interviews, which will result in two or three job offers at firms that will be a perfect fit for the candidate.

IDENTIFYING TARGETS

In addition to networking, risk managers should research companies that seem interesting and may have employment opportunities. Libraries have reference books that will facilitate this research process. To start, consult Appendix 1 of Rites of Passage at $100,000+, which contains a compendium of profiles and descriptions of U.S. companies. For example, "America's Corporate Families" contains information on more than 8,000 U.S. parent companies, including addresses, fines of business, standard industry codes and the names of officers and directors. Thomas' Register of American Manufacturers profiles 123,000 manufacturers and their major products and services. Reference books on specific industries are also available: for example, Directory of Chemical Producers-U.S.A. or World Directory of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers. By using these directories, risk managers can obtain some background on companies that are a close fit with their expertise.

Consult registers or clearinghouses as another resource; these are organizations that set up contacts between employers and job seekers. What Color Is Your Parachute? lists several of these sources in Chapter 2. Among them are "General Clearinghouse Listing Present Vacancies: The State Employment Offices in 48 States," "Register for Teachers," and "Register for Nonprofit Organizations." To find companies that are hiring, recent college graduates may be able to take advantage of college placement services, which usually have listings of available jobs. College professors can also be a fruitful information source, especially if they are active in their fields through professional associations or consulting.

Executive recruiters are another resource. These agencies fall into one of two categories: "contingency" recruiters and "retainer" recruiters. The contingency recruiter is compensated only if a candidate is selected by the employer client to fill the position, whereas the retainer recruiter is compensated regardless of the outcome of the search.

Rites of Passage at $100,000+-includes an exhaustive discussion of the two types of recruiters and suggests ways of dealing with both. The book mentions that if an employer has hired a retainer recruiter to fill a position, but the candidate is introduced to the employer through a contingency recruiter, the cost to the employer to hire the candidate could equal two-thirds of the first year's guaranteed compensation - one-third to the contingency agency and one-third to the retained recruiter. A fee this high could turn the decision to another candidate. The book makes note of another interesting fact: A candidate will be off-limits to any recruiter that the candidate's company has used over the last two years; major recruiting firms have up to 2,000 or more client firms that are off-limits for current searches. Finally, if one recruiter in a particular firm has pulled a candidate's file to review for a placement, the candidate will not be considered for any other job the firm is working on at that time, even though the requirements of another of their assignments might be a better fit for the candidate.

When dealing with recruiters, a wise policy is to develop a systematic distribution technique, For example, a risk manager can identify several recruiting firms that have or may have risk management positions and send them resumes and appropriate cover letters. The risk manager may then wish to request that the resume be presented to a prospective employer only with the risk manager's prior agreement. This could avoid the double-fee situation mentioned earlier, increase confidentiality and avoid having the resume shown to employers for which the candidate has no interest.

THE INTERVIEW AND THE OFFER

Once the job seeker's labors result in an interview with a prospective employer, preparation for the interview must move into high gear. Although securing an interview may seem to be a cause for celebration, this can actually be the toughest part of the job hunting process. A successful interview hinges on the candidate's ability to communicate his or her strengths and aptitudes to the interviewer, as well as to project the proper image.

After the second or third meeting, it can be assumed that the interviewer thinks the candidate is a pretty good fit for the position. If the company makes a job offer and the candidate accepts, the deal is effectively done. However, the last part of the job hunting process is still to come: resigning from the current position.

The risk manager should type up a short letter explaining that he or she will be leaving the company on a specified date (generally two or three weeks from the date of the letter) to work for another company. This letter, which is submitted to the immediate supervisor, should not be used as an opportunity to express any complaints about the boss' personality or failings, work conditions or the company itself; this temporary venting can create a lifetime enemy who cannot be counted on to give a favorable recommendation in the future.

Some may use a job offer to tempt the current employer to increase compensation. However, besides the ethical question, studies show that a large majority of employees who accept counteroffers leave their companies within one year because the conditions that initially sparked them to look for another job have not fundamentally changed. Also, those who use this technique will no longer be considered loyal employees by their companies.

A departing employee should also refrain from taking reports or documents that are confidential. Before removing any material, the risk manager should get approval from his or her supervisor. Failure to do so could lead to trouble later on if the risk manager's ex-employer contacts his or her new company about obtaining the classified material.

Finally, to ensure favorable recommendations in future job searches, the candidate should call or send a note of appreciation to his or her boss. Essentially, the message should convey that the employee has learned a great deal, and through his or her relationship with the boss, the risk manager is now a more capable, knowledgeable professional.

INTERVIEWING

At long last, on to the new job! successful interview doesn't happen automatically: It's the result of careful planning and organization. Here are some pointers:

* Conduct research on the company prior to the interview. Investigate sources such as annual reports, 10(k)s, proxy statements and Dun & Bradstreet's. Bring a newsletter or other information on the company or industry to the interview; it can be used as a topic of conversation.

* Wear proper attire. For men, the best outfit is a dark business suit with a dark tie (leave your power tie at home), black shoes and socks and a white shirt without a monogram. Women should also wear a dark suit. All clothing should be clean and neatly pressed. Jewelry should be kept to a minimum; cologne should not be used to excess.

* Bring copies of resumes and any work samples.

* Avoid being too late or too early. Arrive at the building early, but use this additional time to prepare both physically and mentally. Arrive at the office about five minutes before the scheduled start of the interview.

* Don't chew gum.

* Don't smoke, even if the interviewer is doing so.

* Give a firm handshake when introduced to the interViewer, smile and say you've been looking forward to meeting him or her.

* Refer to the interviewer in formal terms - Mr., Mrs. or Ms.- unless asked to do otherwise.

* Smile at the interViewer while maintaining direct eye contact. Lean slightly forward in your chair to convey a sense of attentiveness.

* Answer questions such as "What is the reason for your success?" with personal anecdotes that demonstrate, for example, the ability to motivate subordinates and use their ideas to help solve company problems. When asked about a past or current position, respond by saying that everything at the job was wonderful; a negative answer could be construed as an "anti-employer" stance. When asked about the reasons for leaving the current job, answer with a statement such as, "I'm looking for greater opportunity to develop and to use my skills in a new environment."

* Avoid a negative answer if asked to reveal a weakness. Instead, take a personal weakness or shortcoming and turn it into a positive response. For example, "Some time ago, I had problems with some people who worked for me that didn't give their all to a project. Since then, I've learned how to motivate others to apply their energy to a project as I do."

* Do not hesitate to answer a question with a question in instances where greater clarification is needed. This will give you more time to organize a thorough answer. Also, avoid letting the interViewer control the interview; you should ask good, pertinent questions to find out more about the company.

* Don't ask about salary or benefits during the first interView. At this early stage, interviewers form their opinions of the candidate, his or her capabilities and whether or not this person would fit into the company's atmosphere. A candidate might be construed as being money-hungry and give the wrong impression about his or her priorities.

* Send a thank-you note to the interviewer after the interView. The candidate who is thoughtful enough to send thank-you notes can end up as the front-runner for the job.

* If the interViewer is impressed with the candidate - and the candidate is excited about working for the company - a second interView is inevitable. This is the time when benefits can be discussed, Since at the executive level benefits are typically negotiable, be advised to have hard data on them. Although most employers will expect an emphasis on salary and performance bonuses, health care and retirement benefits are becoming increasingly important to employees, so these issues should not be overlooked. Besides wages, bonuses, health care coverage and pension plans, new hires should also discuss stock options, company 401 (k) contributions, tuition reimbursement plans and, if applicable, company car expenses.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Risk Management Society Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on interviewing
Author:Belfiglio, Gerald L.
Publication:Risk Management
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Words:2827
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