Posts filed under ‘Civil Engineering Issues’

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Refreshing Lemonade

With much success comes a certain amount of failure.  Over the course of my career recruiting civil engineers I have not only had to turn lemons into lemonade myself, but I have been fortunate enough to coach candidates to do the same.  Here are some tips from two decades of recruiting civil engineers on how you can turn lemons into some freshly squeezed, refreshing lemonade:

Bruised LemonLooks Do Matter.  When you are at the grocery store hand selecting the right lemon to buy, you pick it up, give it a little squeeze, look at the color, look for soft spots, bruising, etc, all before you put it in the cart.  The same concept should apply to your resume before sending it out.  I have talked to some great candidates over the years who were having difficulty generating any interest from any firms.  After evaluating their resume, I understood why.  It has been documented that hiring managers view resumes in seven seconds or less; so no matter how great your experience is, if your resume is sloppy, dis-organized, and generally unappealing to the eye, it may end up in the big stack, and not the short one, if you know what I’m saying.  So take your lemon of a resume and organize it well; be consistent with your font and font sizes; use a mix of bold, italics, underline, and bullet points (but don’t go overboard), and turn it into a tall glass of cool lemonade that anyone would enjoy picking up and sipping on.  Taking the time to do so shows you care.

Lemonade Taste TestThe Results of the Taste Test Matter.  Unfortunately, not every interview will lead to an offer; on those occasions where they do not, one should ask for honest feedback from the hiring manager, or if you use the services of a recruiter, from the recruiter.  Informing a candidate they did not make the “cut” is never an enjoyable experience, but I try to provide honest feedback so they can improve their interview skills and learn how they fell short.  It could be simple items like not making eye contact or seeming dis-interested; it could be lack of energy; it could be failing to do the necessary due diligence on the firm prior to the meeting; it could be failing to sit down the night before your meeting to reflect over your career, projects, roles, etc in order to properly prepare yourself to answer all questions that come your way.  In the end, you just did not come out on top in the “taste test.” Whatever the case may be,  reflect on your experience and gather all the information you can to turn that sour tasting cup into some sweet lemonade which will take first prize in the next “taste test.”

Dropping a LemonDon’t Just Drop The Ball (or Lemon).  I recently had a really strong candidate who was a finalist for a position to lead a new office that my client was opening.  Part of the final evaluation between the final two candidates was to have them develop a business plan that would show what the first, third, and fifth years would look like.  One particular candidate spent a good twenty hours doing research and reaching out to peers and business contacts, only to end up taking second place…and it was a strong plan.  Now that’s a lemon.  But lemonade could easily be made over time by proactively reaching out to other like firms who may have an interest in opening an office in that particular market, and actually marketing your plan and ideas to them.  If one takes the time to put a plan like that together, it is safe to say that their level of excitement is pretty high.  The detailed plan, along with the passion that would likely come through in presenting that plan to different organizations is bound to appeal to at least a few organizations.

Garbage can

Toss the Sour Lemons.  Chances are you will encounter some “sour lemons” over the course of your career, and no one likes sour lemonade.  Inept managers, unethical firms, stagnant or toxic work environments, inflexible employers,  brutal commutes, old-fashioned or uncreative cultures…all are viable examples of “sour lemons.” Everyone’s palate is a little different, but don’t be afraid to toss those sour lemons and move on.  As you progress in your career, you will be able to refine what you believe to be the best lemons to generate the perfect glass of lemonade, and hopefully you find that recipe sooner than later. The sooner you create that recipe the longer you will be able to enjoy it.

 

 

 

I love hearing and sharing stories, so if you have a story to share about how you turned a lemon into lemonade, please let us know below in the comment section!

Barcus headshotMatt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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June 1, 2016 at 8:13 am Leave a comment

Self Belief & Embracing Your Inner Badass

“The moment you have the audacity to start believing in the not-yet seen, your reality will begin to shift…you have to change your thinking first, and then the evidence appears.  Our big mistake is that we do it the other way around.  We demand to see the evidence before we believe it to be true.” ~ Jen Cincero, Author

 

 

In my world of civil engineering executive search this is a very powerful statement.  I have the privilege of working with civil engineering executives, leaders, and consulting firm owners who have a vision for growth.   These leaders have successfully built businesses or service lines, but they are looking to further expand into new geographies or new service lines, and they seek our guidance in identifying top talent in the industry to help them achieve that vision.

The challenge is, not necessarily findingInner Badass the candidate who meets the desired skill set, but finding the candidate who meets the desired skill set AND who is able to “believe in the not-yet seen.”  That is, the civil engineer or civil engineering executive who is able to buy into the vision, and who can look themselves in the mirror and say to themselves, “yes, this opportunity does pose some risk, but my past experiences and the success that I have earned up to this point in my career will SQUASH that element of risk!”  In other words, finding candidates who have the level of self confidence to successfully pull off an exciting, and often career changing professional feat.  So many times I interact with folks who rather than seeing the opportunity set before them as  true “game-changer,” they become apprehensive and need to see some sort of evidence that things will work out, when in fact they are the ones who have the amazing opportunity to write the story, or create that evidence THEMSELVES!

Those who have the self-awareness and know how to kick ass and take names, but who don’t come across like a bull in a china shop are the one’s who can TRULY make a name for themselves and make sizable impacts in the growth of an organization.

Let me give you an example.  Right now I am conducting a search for a client – a small firm in the Southwest US who is looking to expand into a brand new geography.  The company president has spent the last 18 months performing his due diligence, getting all the necessary certifications in place, meeting with all the right people and developing relationships with potential clients and partners within that marketplace.  He is now ready to pull the trigger.  We have uncovered half a dozen candidates who love the idea of leading an office, sharing in the profits, and taking an ownership stake in the firm in two years.  They have all the tools, a business plan is in place, financials are out on the table, but in the end, they fall back into the trap of being “comfortable” where they are.  A psychological “flick-of-the-switch” would make ALL the difference for some of these folks.  If they were truly able to assess all they have accomplished up to this point in their career, and then maybe puff their chest just a little bit, their career could end up being quite different.

What keeps me going is that I have indeed been fortunate enough to place dozens of civil engineers in leadership roles where they have been tasked with starting a new group, opening a new office, or turning around a struggling operation..and they have KILLED IT!  It is a great honor to watch some of the professionals we work with really take the “bull-by-the-horns” and make considerable contributions to the vision of our clients.  In the end, it was their “inner badass” that played a big part in their achievements.

As a recruiter, it is frustrating to see some really good candidates turn down some amazing opportunities; not because we lost out on a placement, but because we catch a glimpse of greatness in these candidates, and we only wish they would have caught that same glimpse themselves.

 

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Matt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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May 4, 2016 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

Stuck In “No Man’s Land?” Here Is One Way To Get Out…

No mans land

No man’s land.  You all know what that is, right?

Literally speaking, it is a piece of land that is unoccupied, or under dispute between parties who leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty.  You may also understand it as that place in the ocean, usually thigh deep, where when a wave rolls in you are not far enough out to “jump” the wave, but you are in a safe place where you won’t completely be pummeled by the wave either.  Or that spot on the tennis court between the service line and the back base line where if you find yourself standing when a ball is hit to you, it can be very challenging to make an effective shot.  Whether you are knee-deep in the ocean, or stuck between the service line and base line, you can certainly survive the situation, but you are in a position where you are not reaping the full benefits of having put yourself in the ideal location.

Have yCivil Engineers are not inherently sales peopleou found yourself in “no-man’s land” with your civil engineering career?  Is the piece of “land” that you presently occupy in your career allowing you to merely “get by?”  There are plenty of ways to get yourself out of “no-man’s land,” but I am here today just to suggest just one of those ways.  That way is to master the art of selling.  Many civil engineers cringe with the idea of having to cold-call or strike up a conversation at networking events, but by investing time in sales training or sales activities, you will break out of that professional purgatory within which you currently reside.

Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most talented and well known artists to have ever lived, produced 900 paintings and 1100 sketches over the course of his career.  Of those 2000 works of art, Van Gogh only sold one during his lifetime.  So even though he is considered one of the greatest artists in the last 2000 years,  his work did not generate any revenue until long after his death due to his inability or unwillingness to sell his artwork.  You may be able to engineer and manage the hell out of a project by being creative and by getting the project out the door within schedule and within budget – you may even save your client’s money on a regular basis.  But that will only get you so far.  Unless you are climbing the “technical” career ladder which exists in some firms, you will find yourself stuck between the service line and the base line.

So how do you break through and find that sweet spot where you can jump the waves and reach their peaks?  You master the art of selling. I’m no civil engineer, but here are some ideas off the top of my head as to where to start your mastery:

A.  Find a mentor.  In this case, a civil engineering professional who has mastered the art of “pursuit-and-capture.”

B.  Find training.  There are many sales training programs out there, the first one that comes to mind is the Dale Carnegie Training program.

C.  Become a great speaker.  Did you know there are over 15,000 Toastmaster clubs – I would bet there is one within 20 minutes from where you live.

D.  Self directed learning.  Books, blogs, audio books for your commute, magazines, podcasts.  Find an author or blogger or motivational sales trainer that you enjoy reading or listening to, carve out time every day for some self-directed sales training, and then implement the ideas that appeal to you most.

No man land sucks.

If you look at the leaders in your profession – those who are business owners, partners,  or company executives – one of the main reasons they were able to elevate their careers to that level is due to their commitment to sales and business development.  Commit to mastering the art of sales and business development specific to the civil engineering industry and your career will know no bounds.

Take the necessary steps required that will allow you to rush the net and make that overhead slam!

crush your civil engineering career

 

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Matt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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April 19, 2016 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Missed Career Opportunities & Diminishing ROC

Timing the stock market is impossible…no matter what anyone tells you, it just can’t be done on a sustainable basis.  The same can be said when it comes to career opportunities.  Take a look at this chart:

Missed opportunities

There are a number of different directions I could go comparing your career to the stock market, but my message today is that if you try to perfectly time your career moves you will spend the rest of your career with the same organization.  If you miss out on opportunities that are presented to you for no other reason then “the timing is not right,” then you are diminishing your ROC (Return on Career).    Diminishing returns on career – here is what I am talking about:

  • Exposure to salary compression
  • No exposure to new people, new clients, new cultures, or new types of projects
  • No breaking out of your comfort zone
  • Missed growth opportunities passing you by
  • Creative and lucrative retirement savings programs

I’m not suggesting making a move every couple of years, because I still believe the “job hopping” mentality will catch up to you, at least in the civil engineering consulting world.  But if an opportunity presents itself, and I don’t mean one that is just  doing the same thing with a different company for a little bit more money, those are a dime-a-dozen, but something different and challenging that can take your career to new levels; don’t you owe it to yourself to at least explore the opportunity?  It does not have to be on company time, as most executives and hiring managers we work with are willing to meet first thing in the morning for breakfast, out for drinks or dinner after regular business hours, or even on the weekends.

Quite often when I approach candidates with career opportunities with clients that I am extremely passionate about I am told that “the timing is not right.” I get it, on the surface the timing is rarely right because:

  • You are in the middle of a project – but aren’t you always going to be in the middle of some sort of project or task?
  • You would feel guilty leaving your boss with challenging task of having to replace you or pick up your work that you are leaving behind – don’t you think if your boss was presented with a great opportunity he/she would consider it?
  • You feel as though you deliver great value to your employer and you would feel bad about leaving them in a bind – other valuable employees have moved on before you, yet the company managed to survive, and often thrive!
  • You are waiting on a bonus – there is a strong likelihood that that bonus can be equalized with a signing bonus from your new employer.

It is a great time to be a civil engineer as there are tremendous opportunities available with firms that are creating new positions due to growth, expanding into new services lines, and opening up new offices in new geographies, all of which present enormous upside for experienced professional.  Guess what? The folks that take on those new and exciting opportunities are in turn creating some quality opportunities within the firms they left.  So take a step back and reflect upon all you have accomplished, what your current career situation looks like, and what the future holds for you with your current firm.

Take a good, hard, honest look.

If you do not see that defined path for advancement, or if you find that you are too “comfortable” or “content” in your current role and see that that level of contentment is leading to complacency, then shed the “not the right time” excuse and take some time to explore what other opportunities may be out there.

Wayne Gretzky

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Matt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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February 29, 2016 at 11:30 am Leave a comment

Hiring 55+: That Silver Hair May Be A Silver Lining

Goerge Burns
Back in 2012 I started a discussion on LinkedIn, and then wrote a blog in response to that discussion that revolved around the employment of those 55 and older.  The idea that employers shy away from hiring those with 35+ years of experience is disheartening and unfortunate, and in fact, in the line of business that I am in of recruiting civil engineering and land surveying professionals, this line of thinking is not necessarily uncommon.  The perception often is that those 55 and older are “riding off into the sunset” and lack the passion and energy.  Though this very well may be true for some, there are PLENTY of civil engineers and surveyors who are vibrant, passionate, extremely knowledgeable, and remain very competitive who see themselves working until their mid 70’s, or in the case of Bob Vollmer, until nearly the century mark…take a look:

In that LinkedIn discussion that I alluded to earlier, one of the participants commented as follows in regards to the “seasoned professionals” he works with:

“I am presently working with a group of seasoned professionals that can handle just about any problem with little direction. What a difference in the caliber of design product! The client knows and appreciates that quality and I am confident they will continue to use our service. Managers should be aware of the value of that quality and the little comparative cost difference as a percentage of the entire project it represents. “

That said, as the war for talent in the civil engineering and land surveying profession continues, don’t be so quick to toss aside that resume that shows a graduation date from the 70’s or early 80’s,

THAT SILVER HAIR MAY VERY WELL BE A SILVER LINING!

 

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Matt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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February 1, 2016 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

Honesty & The Exit Interview

Exit InterviewsExit interviews are rarely an enjoyable experience – for the company, or for the employee.  Now, from time-to-time “high fives” are given when sub-par, poorly producing employees resign. Or employees skip out to their car and begin gleefully singing and offering up a rapid fire of fist pumps in the air excited about moving on to a new employer. But I believe that in many cases, when someone resigns, a good, quality relationship is broken and the exit interview can be difficult.  That said, resignations and layoffs are a part of life, and companies and employees live another day and continue to prosper no matter how awkward that moment in the exit interview may be.    So often I hear about how exit interviews are a complete waste of time, and that they are more of a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” process and mentality, and really just a necessary evil.  But WHAT IF those employees who were leaving were REALLY honest, and that leaders conducting the interview truly ENCOURAGED honesty during the interview.  A true dose of honesty could make a great impact on many organizations, big and small, but a high level of commitment to the evaluation of results of exit interviews must be made.  Many organizational leaders are already stretched thin as it is, I get it, and putting in the time to undertake such a task likely presents great challenges and can easily be put on the back burner as other priorities take precedence…but what if?

If honesty is encouraged where as those leaving your company would actually feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, consulting firms and organizations who employ civil engineers could truly continue to evolve and better themselves.  Certainly there will be those employee experiences and comments that will be considered outliers, but if you are hearing a steady dose of what really works and what they really enjoyed, and continue to enhance that culture or those programs or those projects, you will continue to retain your top talent.  Typically employees are much more inclined to share the positive than the negatives , as they do not want to burn any bridges or hurt any feelings.  But by having an honest conversation with those exiting the building for the last time where they feel comfortable ALSO sharing the negatives can be of great value to an organization.

  • **Maybe a manage or director who is great and widely liked by clients shows a completely different persona to his employees, which leads to resentment or diminished morale.
  • **Maybe some of the systems that you have in place are antiquated and prohibiting you from keeping up or passing by the competition.
  • **Or maybe a branch or satellite office is not getting the attention from corporate leadership that it so desires, and as a result the staff working there feel like the ugly duckling.

There is a saying that I have heard a couple of times recently that states, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”    Try looking at exit interviews not  merely as a formality when turnover occurs, but try REALLY using them as a learning tool and a way to provide future value to your organization.
This was the third entry in our HONESTY series.  The first two entries in this series are as follows:

What to Expect as a Candidate from your Recruiter

What to Expect as a Client from your Recruiter

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Matt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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January 22, 2016 at 12:18 pm 1 comment

What To Expect As A Client From Your Recruiter

Honesty

An experienced search consultant can be many things to a client they are working with above and beyond just recruiting: adviser, provider of market intelligence, resume screener, reference checker, recruiting coordinator, and expert negotiator just to name a few .  One thing you should always expect from your search consultant as a client is honesty.  Here is how your expectations of honesty should play out when working with a recruiter:

The Job Order.  You should always find a recruiter who is an industry expert.  Often times recruiters take any positions that arrive on their desk and have a hard time saying no.  A good recruiter should be honest and should be able to say “no” when an opportunity is presented to them that falls out of their wheel house.  I appreciate all the calls I get from existing and new clients requesting my services, but from time-to-time I must be honest and tell them they would be better off selecting another recruiter who has the true expertise they are looking for.  For instance, I specialize in recruiting civil engineering and land surveying professionals mainly in the areas of land development, transportation/highway engineering, bridge engineering, water & wastewater engineering, and water resources.  There are a number of specialties that are on the fringes, that may seem logical areas for our continuum of expertise, but are not.  These areas might include construction management, structural building engineering, or environmental (site remediation) engineering.

The Time Frame. Often times I have new clients that approach me with exciting new searches, and they ask me how long they think it will be before I can deliver some solid candidates.  If a recruiter can make you a promise like that I would be skeptical at best.  The honest truth is we do not know.  In our business timing is everything, so it is about catching the right candidate on the right day with the right opportunity.  Now, from time-to-time we may have readily available candidates that we are actively working with they might fit, but normally speaking, those situations are few-and-far between. Searches are customized and tailor made to uncover candidates with specific skill sets that meet your requirements.

The Word on the Street.  Honesty can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow, but a good recruiter will be your firm’s eyes and ears, and an honest recruiter should be able to have a professional conversation with you when your firm’s reputation is not so great.  When recruiting for a client, if I continually hear the same objections from perspective candidates specific to my client’s reputation, I feel as though I have an obligation to report that to my client.  This market intelligence will allow the client to truly evaluate their public perception and make changes, or it will lead to a conversation that will allow me to overcome those potential objections.  For instance, I have a client who from time-to-time is considered a “sweat shop.”  I approached my client with this information, and in fact they produced a report for me showing that their average hours hovered around 45-46 hours/week.  Hardly a “sweat shop” in the consulting civil engineering world.  This honest conversation provided me with the needed ammunition any time the topic surfaced and to have some honest conversations with my candidates as well.

Salary Expectations.  Every so often I will have a conversation with a new client revolving around salary for the proposed position they are looking to fill.  Because we are experts recruiting civil engineers, we talk to civil engineers all day long and have our “finger on the pulse” as to the range of salaries that are being offered to the different experience levels and specialties underneath the civil engineering umbrella.  If our client is being tight on the purse strings, we will let them know, and nine times out of ten they are appreciative of that honesty.  They often have to go by different salary surveys they find on line or through national organizations, but salaries and compensation plans tend to be very parochial in the civil engineering community.  Sub-market salaries can absolutely kill any chance of finding that civil engineering rock star that is so desired, so don’t be afraid to ask your search consultant his or her opinion of the salary range you have earmarked for the open requisition.

Interview Feedback.  No one enjoys being the bearer of bad news, hence the old saying “don’t murder the messenger.”   Your firm may have a GREAT opportunity, but if your interview process is not a well thought out process it will come back to bite you in the rear end.  Many firms fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to interviewing, and in the end, an unprepared interviewer or team of interviewers can derail an interview process and turn off a really good candidate, leading you back to square one.  A good recruiter will extract honest feedback from their candidate, and if that feedback ends up being negative as a result of an uncomfortable interview environment, an ornery line of questioning, etc, he/she should let you know about it.  Granted there are two sides to every story, but use that feedback to better position yourself the next time a strong candidate walks through your door and sits across the desk from you.

Over the years I have developed many strong client relationships based upon trust and honesty, and it is a two way street.  The ability to put everything out on the table will go along way when working with an experienced search consultant and will lead to far better results in securing the quality talent that is so desired.

This blog is the 2nd in our Honesty series.  The first in the series is titled ” What to Expect as a Candidate from your Recruiter.”

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Matt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner :: CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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January 12, 2016 at 2:39 pm Leave a comment

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