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The Art of the Preface

The Pietrack Press

The Art of the Preface

One luxury I have as an executive recruiter is that I get to interact with some world-class communicators. I have truly benefited by hearing how these exceptional people express their ideas. I’ve noticed that the best communicators have a disarming way of asking tough questions. They have an artful way of prefacing their questions so that you know exactly why they are asking. This translates well into the interview setting, and so I wanted to explain it further.

One of the toughest questions I have to ask anyone is what they are currently earning. Most of the time, I am inquiring within minutes of introducing myself. The next time you are at a dinner party and you meet someone new, within the first five minutes of meeting them ask what they W2’d last year. As you play that scene through in your mind you might be filled with anxiety. I know how you feel, because I have that feeling a few times a day.

To alleviate this anxiety, I have to do an excellent job of prefacing my question before asking it, and this is the way I like to do it, “John, I want to bring to you only the most relevant and career advancing opportunities. I would never want to bring an opportunity to you that was too junior financially and waste both of our time. So, with that said, can you give me some direction about how I should screen out positions for you in regard to money?”

If I ask the question this way, the usual response is, “Well, I certainly don’t want to make less money than I am now, and my base salary is…” Because the preface was utilized in such a way, I didn’t even have to directly ask him what his salary was. Now, let’s make this work in an interview.

Root Question: How will I be evaluated?

If you ask this question, what might be going on in the interviewer’s mind? Perhaps they are thinking that you are running from unreasonable metrics. Maybe they would be thinking that you’ve had trouble meeting expectations before. My suggestion is to preface your questions artfully to avoid any mystery about why you’re posing the question, especially with a hiring manager that tends to read into everything you say.

The Preface: I strive very hard in my current role to exceed expectations. It means a lot to me exceed the goals that are set for me, and so, what does one need to do to meet expectations in your organization—and then how have you seen people exceed expectations?

Of course, you might use different language, and that’s fine. The key take away is that there is no mystery about why this person is asking the question. In the end, this person will find out not only how they will be evaluated but how to be a superstar. Also, you have dissolved any chance of them speculating that you are asking for any negative reasons.

Root Question: What is the territory?

If you ask this question, what conclusions might the interviewer be prone to infer? Maybe they will assume that you have travel limitations. A candidate’s questions uncover their concerns or what is important to them. If travel and territory is of major importance, the interviewer is going to want to find out why OR they are going to invent a reason. Why not just share the reason with them?

The Preface: Over the years, I have had the great privilege of getting to work with the top thought leaders in the Southwest Region, and as you can imagine, those relationships are meaningful to me. I know this role is supporting the Southwest, which is exciting, but how does XYZ define the Southwest exactly?

Again, this is just an example. The key thing is that with the preface it is clear that the question is about impact and has nothing to do with travel. Plus, the preface strengthens your candidacy, whereas going without it may weaken it.

These are a couple examples of how prefacing your questions can clear up confusion and avoid the chance of speculation, while strengthening your candidacy. I’ve been saying for a few years now that the better the questions, the better the candidate. The consistent feedback I get on the best interviewers is that they had the best questions. I’m confident that prefacing those questions will make you a stronger candidate instantly.

Michael Pietrack

Is Enough, Enough?

The Pietrack Press

Is Enough, Enough?

As an executive recruiter, I make a living by filling positions, but I make a difference by helping my clients get better. That is the spirit of this article, because I have found that there is a single word that leads to more companies failing in the area of staffing. It is a simple word that is only two syllables long, but it can mire a company in mediocrity. The word is enough.

Allow me to explain:

We have enough candidates.
I worry when I see companies evaluating their candidate pool quantitatively. Let’s say I’m engaged to find and attract candidates for a company, and I find them three qualified and motivated candidates who fit everything they are seeking on the job description. After repeated phone calls, I get the absolute rock star candidate to call me back. This candidate is better than all the other people I’ve presented, but I end up hearing from my client company, “We have enough candidates.”

The second scenario is that I bring this rock star candidate to a company who already has a candidate pool from another recruiter, and they tell me, “Your candidate sounds excellent, but we already have enough candidates in consideration.” In each scenario, the company ends up hiring the lesser candidate. What is worse, their competitor ends up hiring the rock star candidate.

As a balancing statement, I would stress that a company needs to make a decision so that a vacancy doesn’t persist. My point is to encourage companies to keep evaluating resumes with care up until the point an offer is accepted. It takes very little time to look at a resume to make sure that the decision the company is making is the best possible decision. Someone at the company has enough time to look.

We don’t have enough candidates to make a hiring decision.
Sometimes I can only find one candidate that has everything a company is seeking. Sitting in their building is the dream candidate, but because he is the first or only candidate they’ve interviewed, they can’t hire him. So, they pursue other candidates to get to the quota they’ve set for themselves, but during that time, another company hires the candidate out from under them. Now the company has a couple lesser candidates to choose from, and their competitor has the best candidate available. They lose the candidate because they didn’t move fast enough.

Great companies have the ability to rate candidates, whereas lesser companies have to rank candidates. What that means is the best companies can recognize an A-Player without seeing anyone else. They have an internal benchmark for greatness. Companies who struggle in the area of hiring have to see a few candidates and choose the best they see at the time.

We have enough recruiters on our vendor list.
You would be shocked how infrequently recruiting firms are thoroughly vetted before contractually engaged by a company. Only once did I go through a screening process, where I had to rigorously explain how I was the best possible resource in comparison to competitors. Recruiting services are not a commodity. Not all recruiters possess the same skill sets and abilities to drive results. As an example, look at the sales team at your company—varying levels of success and skill sets, correct? What if you hired the first sales people that came to your company or the ones that would work for the cheapest salary? Do you think you would have the best sales force in the industry? Of course not, but this is exactly how staffing agencies get chosen by most companies. Many companies either choose the first agency that calls them or the cheapest option. My suggestion is to have your company interview recruiters as thoroughly as candidates.

I can think of other examples of how enough can plague a company, but the one that comes to mind is actually a lesson my father taught me. He used to say, “Good enough is never good enough.” I hope this information keeps you at the top, so that this one little word doesn’t begin to worm its way into your company. If you’d like to discuss any of the topics in this article, I’d be happy to make myself available.


Michael Pietrack
The Alpine Group

Between Jobs?

The Pietrack Press

Between Jobs

As an executive-level recruiter, I see two different types of job searches. One is a job search when the person is gainfully and relatively happily employed. We typically call this a passive job search. Sometimes we categorize this person as actively listening.

The other job search is when someone is actively looking for a new position. An employed person can certainly be actively pursuing new opportunities, but I’d like present best practices for those who are either between jobs or those who fear they may be laid off soon. If you find yourself in this situation, I recommend the following steps:

Step 1: The first thing you should do when lay-offs are rumored or eminent is to contact the top three executive recruiters in your particular field. Talk to them all by phone and coach them on how to keep you updated effectively. A mass email to 50 recruiters is not your ticket here. Be selective and targeted, and remember that less is more. Make sure to let them know what companies interest you and which companies already have your resume. Be clear about your compensation and anything else that is specific to your profile.

Step 2: Now you can’t just sit around and wait for one of these recruiters to call you. You are going to hit the job boards, and I don’t blame you. You also don’t want to apply to every job you see because you’re going to end up competing against the recruiters you just called. A recruiter can’t present you to a company that already has your resume. So, before you push the send button and distribute your resume, remember that you might be blocking yourself from working with a recruiter with that company. When you see a posting that fits your background and you feel inclined to apply, call around and see what recruiters represent that company. If no one seems to be working with that company, then apply.

Step 3:The third thing you can do is utilize the advanced search function within So, click “Advanced,” then in the “Company” field type in your company. Below company select “Past.” Essentially, you are searching for everyone that USED to work for you company to see where they are now working. Then you network with them and see who might be hiring. This is a great way to network quickly with people who know your specific set of skills. I would caution you to be very conservative about giving out your resume though. This exercise is about lead generation. If it is a real opening, then you can send your resume directly to the manager when they request it.

I hope these three steps help you get your job search launched. The most important point is that no recruiter wants to be competing against someone they are trying to help. So, follow these steps, and you’ll be in a new position very soon.

Michael Pietrack

The Pietrack Press

Offer Anxiety

As an executive recruiter, I recognize that some candidates will tell me what they think I want to hear.  For the most part, I give people the benefit of the doubt that they are being truthful, although there is one statement that candidates say that I no longer allow myself believe, “Money is not that important.”


I used to love hearing “money isn’t that important” because I thought it meant that the candidate was truly evaluating the job without dollar signs in their eyes.  Ironically, too many times when we were at the offering table I’d find myself on the phone with a seemingly different candidate than who first uttered those words.  Over the years I’ve learned that money is always important.


Now, I don’t think anyone is being untruthful; it is just that people get uneasy when a big decision is being presented to them, especially when money is concerned.  Considering a job offer is foreign territory for most people, and they want to make sure they don’t leave money on the table.  So, I wanted to answer some routine questions I get around offer time with the hopes that it will ease the pressure of this big decision on unfamiliar footing:


1.  Money aside do I want the job?  This is the most important question to ask yourself throughout the interview process, but it is especially important right after the final interview.  The answer you’re trying to avoid is, “Well, if the offer were really great, yeah, I’d probably accept it.”  I would hesitate to recommend taking a job because of money.  My recommendation is going after the job you really want as long as the compensation is fair and reasonable according to market standards.

2.  How do I negotiate the best offer?  First, I want to say that offers are generated with careful consideration and extended with the expectation that no negotiation will take place.  The best time to influence your offering is before the offer is even formulated, not after.  What most candidates don’t understand is that your recruiter makes a professional recommendation about what to offer.  The challenge for the recruiter is that most candidates aren’t candid and want to see what kind of an offer the company will generate hoping that is will exceed their expectations.  My advice is to set a reasonable expectation and share it so that you’ll get an offer that you’ll accept.

3.  Should I accept their first offer?  A major misconception out there is that it is a best practice to never accept a company’s first offer.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Yes, the company might be able to get you a couple more thousand dollars on your base salary, but what you’re spending in political capital makes it an expensive endeavor.  The easiest way to show a lack of gratitude is to ask for an offer to be increased when there is not a legitimate reason for doing so.

4.  If the offer is unacceptable but I really want the job, how do I politely ask for the offer to be increased?  If the offer is not acceptable but you really want the job, then that is a separate topic than just asking for an increase without well-founded reasons. The simple way to get them to an agreeable set of terms is to tell them exactly what you would accept.  Don’t allow them to generate another offer without them clearly knowing what you would accept. 

Here’s a script, “Mr. Manager, I am very grateful that I am the person you want to hire, and I am excited to be on the team.  I can’t wait to get started on PROJECT-A and PROJECT-B.  The only hesitation I have at this point is that the financial part of the offer was below what I was expecting, and at this level it isn’t acceptable.  I wanted to say clearly what I would accept so that we can get started on these projects.  I would, without hesitation, accept an offer of __________.  The reason I think that is appropriate is___________.  Do you think that is possible for XYZ to do?”

I hope this insight is helpful to you as you work your way through the interview process.  I recommend that you trust your recruiter and confide in them about what would be an acceptable and unacceptable offer.  The key to a successful recruiter is to not allow unacceptable offers to be extended.  So, be candid about your expectations so that your recruiter can broker the deal.  Also, keep in mind what you said in the beginning about how money isn’t the most important thing.  If you want the job and like the people, be fair and reasonable as you consider their offering.  This will assure that you start this new journey on the right step.

 Michael Pietrack

The Job Change Calculator

The Pietrack Press

The Job Change Calculator

Making a job change is a big decision, and I’m humbled to be intimately involved in such an important part of someone’s life. I’ve also noticed that making this decision is challenging for some people. So, I devised a calculator to help you quantify if making a job change, even for equal compensation, is worth it. I call it the Job Change Calculator.

Some of the ideas shared in this article are piggybacking off an earlier article called Why People Change Jobs. Here is the link to it to refresh your memory:

The Job Change Calculator has four columns. Populated in the first column are the letters of the acronym CLAMPS from the above article. I would recommend reading the article to get the most out of the Job Change Calculator. In column two, we assign a dollar value to each letter. The dollar values will vary per person, and only you can assign how valuable each category is to you. For instance, some people might heavily weight the “A” or chance for advancement, whereas other people might assign no dollar value to that.

The third and fourth columns are where you decide where the value gets allocated. For instance, please look at “L” or Location/Travel. Let’s say you assign the dollar value of your territory to $10,000. Since your current territory is slightly better than the new company’s territory, you might allocate $6,000 to your current company and $4,000 to the new company.

After you go through each Key Issue and assign/allocate, total up the numbers into the subtotal. Then plug in your current compensation and either your offer or projected offer. Add the subtotal with the compensation to get the Real Number where you can more clearly see what the better opportunity is.

If you look at the above example, notice the offerings at each company. This is a very little increase in pay. On the surface, this alone might not be enough to make a job change. When you look at it through the Job Change Calculator, you can see that the new company is a better situation. The Real Number helps you evaluate each offering holistically. The key to using the Job Change Calculator is to be honest. Remember, you assign the values.

I hope this is a helpful tool when you are considering making a job change. Take care with each section so that the Real Number is accurate, and if so, you’ll make a great decision.


Michael Pietrack

The Interviewing Introsepctive

The Pietrack Press

The Interviewing Introspective

As an executive recruiter, I have seen people dealing with some of the hardest decisions in their lives—making a job change. It is not an easy decision, and it is in every sense a life-changing event. I wanted to give you five questions to ask yourself while you’re in an interview process. These questions will help you do an on-going introspective that will help you make a sound decision.

Money aside, do I want the job? : One of my favorite questions to ask a candidate is, “Money aside, do you want the job?” This is probably the most important question for any executive recruiter. I wanted to share this question with you so that you can ask yourself throughout the interview process. Ask yourself, “If they were to offer me the exact money I am making now, would I accept?” If your answer is “yes,” then you clearly see that the situation at the new company is better than where you are. If your answer is “no,” then I would suggest doing some serious soul searching to see if you should be in the interview process.

Is this a lateral move? : I feel blessed to say that I’ve helped many companies hire hundreds of people, and I would guess that between 75-85% of them changed for the same title they had in their previous position. Are all of those lateral moves? I would argue that they are not. If the overall situation is better at the new company, then moving for a like title or like pay is not a lateral move. I would call it a strategic move. The blunt direction I would give you is if you wouldn’t make a change for a like title with a like company for like pay, then you really don’t have enough pushing you out of your company.

Would I accept a counteroffer? : If you would answer “yes” to this question, then I would wholeheartedly recommend pulling out of the interview process. If changing jobs does not alleviate the pain you are feeling in your current job, then go to your manager and see what can be done to better your situation. If you wait to have this conversation until during your resignation meeting, then you are risking staying at a company where the relationship is irreparably damaged. If the problem can be fixed at your company, go and try to fix it, but don’t run from it. If you’ve tried and it can’t be fixed, then it’s time for a change.

Which job would I chose if I were unemployed? : When a candidate is struggling with the decision of staying at their company or joining a new one, I often ask what they would do if they were between jobs. If you answer the new company, then it becomes apparent that they have a better overall opportunity. If you answer your current employer, then my professional advice would be to stay. I would also recommend that you pull out of the process before an offer comes from the new company. Turning down an offer is a very good way to burn a bridge, but bowing out professionally before an offer comes secures the relationships you’ve built during the interview.

Is this move going to be easy to explain in the future? : I try to get my candidates in the mindset of thinking long-term. If they get the job their seeking, what might be on the horizon for them in X amount of time? At that point in time, if they are in an interview, how the switch from company A to company B be perceived by the interviewer? Is it explainable? I also advise my candidates to actually build out what their resume will look like if they get the job. Sometimes seeing it helps make the decision one way or another.

I hope by asking these questions to yourself you’ll make a sound decision. A job change is never easy, but getting the answers to these questions are vital to see if you’re heading in the right direction.

Michael Pietrack
The Alpine Group

5 Job Search Myths

The Pietrack Press

Job Search Myths

Being an executive search consultant, I am privy to many job search myths that seem to never go away. I hope to expose these myths and replace them with the reality of the situation.

Myth 1: The recruiter is working for me: During a search process, the recruiter is going to interact with the candidate far more than their client. Because of this, the perception is created that the recruiter is the candidate’s agent, but this is a myth. The recruiter’s fiduciary responsibility is to the company who is paying their retainer or their fee. Through the entire recruiting process, I am evaluating the candidate pool for my client. By the end, I make my recommendation to them about who is the best person and the most likely to accept our offer. Candidates would be well-served by knowing that recruiters represent the company, and the candidate should be interacting with the recruiter as if they were another person in the interview process.

Myth 2: Resumes get read: I can tell you honestly, that I spend about 10 seconds on a resume before I determine if the person is a candidate or not. I asked my internet researcher, and she said she spends about 20-30 seconds on a resume to try to determine fit. The take away from this is that resumes aren’t read like a narrative. The person receiving your resume scans over it to see if your last one or two positions were relevant or attention grabbing. So, on the first page of your resume, have a hook. A hook is something that is easily found in the first 10 seconds that will get them to spend more time reading the resume. If I see a resume with a good hook, aka relevant work experience, I will spend several minutes reading it. If a recruiter can’t find the relevant experience in a few seconds you are either not a fit at all or your resume is organized in such a way that the hook is hidden.

Myth 3: I’m an individual contributor at a large company, so I’m a fit for a manager job at a small company: I want to explode this myth with full detonating power. I have filled many manager-level jobs at companies of varying size, and never once have they told me to go and find an individual contributor. No company is looking to promote another company’s individual contributor over their own. In the case when a small company doesn’t have an internal person to promote, I see them being more selective than big companies about who they hire. A small organization can’t afford to miss on an employee or take a risk on a new manager. The small company is likely to be searching for a candidate with who has built-out teams, developed SOPs, and developed training programs. So, if you are searching for a management role, I would recommend targeting small growing companies. Remember though, you’re going to have to join that company within the same functional job as you’re leaving.

Myth 4: If I make a job change, I should get a 15-20% increase in salary: MYTH! In only the rarest cases do we see this type of increase. It is usually when someone is grossly underpaid to begin with, and the new company doesn’t take advantage of that person’s situation. In most cases, people who make job changes can expect a 4-8% increase. This is the way I explain it to my candidates. First, I ask them what their last merit increase was. They usually tell me 2-4%. At that point I explain that making a job change is like a double merit increase. Changing jobs is not a get rich quick scheme. Candidates who say they won’t change jobs for anything less than a 10% increase either need to be educated or need to stay in their current job. From a recruiter’s perspective, candidates who have unrealistic money expectations are candidates I am unlikely to move forward with in an interview process.

Myth 5: My resume is complete: A mistake I see candidates committing is that they only have one version of their resume. Your resume is a presentation about yourself, and each company and each opening is a new audience. Tailor your resume per position just like you would tailor a presentation to different audiences. For example, change the “Objective” and bring out relevant skillsets that are applicable to the specific job. If this seems like a ton of work, you are sending your resume to too many places.

I hope this helps you when you find yourself in a job search or when you are giving helpful advice to a friend.


Michael Pietrack
The Alpine Group


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