Corrections or additions?
These stories by Kathleen McGinn Spring, Bart Jackson, and Michael
Schumacher were prepared for the March 7, 2001 edition of U.S. 1
Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Hiring And Firing Without Regret
Even back in the lax old days, when the human resources
department said "Personnel" on the door, certain standards
applied. Interviewing a candidate as both a prospective employee and
prospective date in the same session was generally frowned upon. Now,
if you so much as mention that she looks good in that hair net, your
job candidate may initiate a lawsuit. Hiring is fraught with legal
razor wire, while firing frequently demands a two-forest paper trail
and more time than is left on the employee’s contract.
To help sort out the legal and practical morass of employment, 20-year
human resource professional Ruben Rivera teaches a five-session
course, "Fair, Square, and Legal." The course is co-sponsored
by the American Management Association. The first session is on
March 13, at 7:10 p.m. at Mercer County Community College. Cost: $225.
"A clerk makes an error," says Rivera, "and it costs the
company thousands." The bill for rectifying a mistake by a
man can run to 10 times that amount. "But when a human resources
person makes a blunder," he says, "it costs the company
of thousands — and it doesn’t go away."
Rivera grew up in Trenton, graduated from Trenton State College, and
began work in personnel for Trenton Rubber Company. When it was bought
out by Carter Wallace, Rivera followed that company to Cranbury, where
he spent the last two decades, until his recent retirement, working
in human resources. He is an adjunct professor at Rider University,
where he teaches collective bargaining, labor relations, human
management, and management and behavior.
"Hiring is probably the most important management decision
says Rivera. Better made widgets, faster selling widgets, and better
handling of widget profits all come about as the result of better,
more energized employees. And while legal constraints have made hiring
more difficult in the past 15 years, he says, the whole process in
most corporations has sharpened immensely.
In the old days, all too often the hirer would just stare at the
recalls Rivera. A bad manager would make up his mind in three minutes
— a good one might take seven. "They were looking to just
fill a slot," he says. "They’d go with their first gut
and a lot of mistakes were made." Today the hiring process has
expanded to include more steps and more players. But despite the
complexity of hiring procedures, there remains a simple list of
techniques and must-avoid blunders:
daily file the computer punch cards" can still be found in even
the most progressive firms’ job descriptions. To get it right, talk
with the area supervisor and get in writing every chore and necessary
skill. These must be included not to only match a candidate’s skills
with a job’s requirements, but also to clarify future job evaluations.
with the prospective hire’s co-workers, bosses, and managers to
the more subtle, yet equally valuable, job requirements. Does the
job demand a team player, or a heads-down plow horse who won’t be
easily enticed into office chatter? "A candidate who begins every
sentence of his work history with `I…I…I…,’" says Rivera,
"may not be the information sharer or team player you are looking
lawsuits even while making idle chatter to put the candidate at ease.
You cannot ask a person’s age or religion, of course. Asking if they
speak a language other than English at home (unless it’s job related),
or even how they intend to celebrate the Christmas holidays can make
you a legal bigot, open to both personal and corporate litigation.
You cannot ask if a candidate has a disability — although you
must ask after hiring if she needs special accommodations. You may,
however, feel free to inquire if you are schmoozing with a convicted
felon. In fact, you must determine this later fine point, just so
your other employees won’t come suing you for not maintaining a
says Rivera "too often gets ignored. The applicant’s work record
should establish a steady pattern — not too many jumps, good
for leaving, no unaccountable gaps, no non-referenced employers. Look
for sins of omission."
Once a candidate is hired, she enters the new world of business
In today’s workplace, people must be treated fairly, but not equally.
A Muslim receptionist must be allowed space and privacy for the midday
call to prayer. Even little things must be accommodated, says Rivera.
"I’m Puerto Rican, very flamboyant with touching and use of my
hands. Others thrive in a strictly hands-off setting. If you want
to make better widgets, you will accommodate these employees."
Of course, some individuals in the office seem beyond accommodation.
They are rotters and you just want them out. Typically, such a worker
gets jammed into a "progressive discipline" program —
a fancy term for having him fail the proper number of hoop jumps so
he can be fired legally. "This approach," says Rivera,
assumes that firing is the sole solution to the problem." Instead,
Rivera says, an examination process — although lengthy and
— may reveal the problem is more with the company than with the
worker. In a tight labor market with high costs for hiring, training,
and termination, the examination process could be a good investment.
Rivera favors a course he calls "corrective discipline," with
options at each step. First is to re-evaluate the actual job against
its written description. Are the requests sensible? Has that little
daily side errand evolved into 17 hourly trips upstairs? Only after
you have listed a sensible set of job goals, separating the essential
parts and the secondary parts (working and playing well with others,
for example), does the employee get called in and confronted.
Almost invariably the employee will chant the ancient mantra "Why
are you picking on just me? I’ve done everything you’ve told me to
do." Settle the question first, says Rivera. Assure the employee
that you are working on each employee’s needs individually, and today
is the day to focus on his. Then, respond factually to his insistence
that he’s performing adequately. Allow him time to respond. And
Ending this first session, both of you should work out specific
needs. Make those improvements obtainable and measurable goals. Set
follow-up re-evaluations on a lengthening scale. During these follow
ups, see if he’s the wrong man for the job, and try to determine if
there is a better job for him. Gradually wean him from scrutiny.
if it’s not the wrong job or too many unrealistic tasks — if the
guy is just a slacker — you have paper trails aplenty to fire
him without fear of retaliation.
"Of course, problems always abound," says Rivera. "Simple
gripes grow to arbitrated grievances if you don’t train your
and union committee to be sensibly flexible." For that reason,
Rivera plans to bring in as guest speaker a local labor attorney.
"It’s always nice to get a good look at the guy who might be going
after your hide someday across the table," he says.
— Bart Jackson
Within a few short weeks, gardens all around Mercer
County will be ablaze with tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths as bulbs
planted last fall, or in seasons further past, will once again become
harbingers of more pleasant days to come. But as even the greenest
gardener knows, this year’s quantity and quality may not be the same
as in previous years. It’s not uncommon for bulbs to rot in
soil, or get eaten up by unscrupulous squirrels. All the same can
be said for mutual funds.
"Sometimes the funds that went up the most last year are not the
ones to buy this year," says Michael J. Delehanty, a
financial planner. "One really needs to look at about 20 years
worth of history," he says, "and most mutual funds haven’t been
around that long."
To illustrate his point further, Delehanty suggests one think of it
as a coin toss. "Everyone is an average coin flipper," he
says. "There are no great coin flippers, and the probability is
that for every 10 flips you’ll get five heads and five tails. Within
that span of 10 flips, you may get three in a row of either heads
or tails. And it’s the same with mutual funds; you may see three or
four good years, but that’s not enough time."
Delehanty teaches a three-week evening workshop, "How to Buy
Funds — Taking the Myth Out of Mutual Funds," at Mercer County
Community College, beginning Tuesday, March 13, at 7 p.m. Cost: $48.
Delehanty, who graduated cum laude from Rider University, is also
a principal at Sky Investments, a firm with offices in Forrestal
"In order to take the myth out of mutual funds," he says,
"it is important to focus on the basics and put things in a
perspective." For starters, mutual funds are nothing more than
a basket where fund managers put the securities they buy. "By
definition, a mutual fund is a professionally managed, diversified
portfolio," says Delehanty. "Usually, the portfolio consists
of individual securities.
Three of the main mutual fund categories are stock funds, bond funds,
and a combination of stocks and bonds called balanced funds.
a mutual fund is, in a sense, a basket of securities, the class
on individual securities," says Delehanty. "The first step
in understanding what stock or bond fund to invest in is exploring
what factors affect the price movements of individual stocks and
Delehanty says it is important for investors to understand financial
lingo. "Strengthening our vocabulary helps us to filter through
the often overwhelming and sometimes contradictory information that
we are bombarded with on a daily basis," he says. "The ability
to convert information into knowledge is fundamental to success in
the dynamic world of investing."
"The daily drone of financial information," says Delehanty,
"has helped to create a number of myths about mutual funds."
Some of the commonly held, but incorrect, beliefs about mutual funds
Many mutual fund investors chase mutual fund performance.
last year’s winners may be next year’s losers. Certainly, 1999’s
winners were 2000’s losers and 1999’s value fund losers were 2000’s
winners. While the technology-laden Nasdaq was skyrocketing in 1999,
due in part to dot-com mania, value managers like Warren Buffet and
David Dreman saw their funds actually go down in net asset value.
Those investors who sold their 1999 losers in early 2000 to buy 1999’s
winners only compounded their losses. Had they held on to their
losers, they would have been rewarded if their managers were named
Buffet or Dreman.
money market funds, charge fees. The fees vary from fund to fund.
An example of low management fee is the 0.18 percent charged by
S&P 500 index fund. On the high end is the 1.2 percent charged by
the Kemper-Dreman High Return fund. The performance of the two funds
from late-February, 2000 to late-February, 2001, however, demonstrates
that fees are far from the only consideration an investor should have
in choosing a fund. The first fund handed investors a 3.8 percent
loss, while the second shot up 71.1 percent.
Vanguard S&P 500 fund to the commission Kemper Dreman High Return
fund last year, the commission fund had far superior performance.
However, remember myth number one.
is statistically more reliable to invest in a fund manager with a
20 year track record than one with a two year record. The problem
is that the mutual fund industry has grown so rapidly that the vast
majority of funds do not have 20-year track records. Of 198 funds
classified as large cap growth for the last year, only 67 have even
a 10-year track record.
you think so, try the coin flip test discussed above.
the individual bonds in the portfolio may be backed by the full faith
and credit of the government, the mutual fund is not. A bond fund
has no maturity date, therefore there is no point in the future where
the government can "guarantee" the value of the bonds. The
price of your bond fund will generally move in an inverse relationship
to interest rates.
funds are a basket of individual securities, they generally track
the markets they’re invested in. The stock market has a strong
to the overall economy. As the 1990s was a good decade for the United
States economy, so too, it was a good decade for stock markets in
the United States stock markets. In contrast, the oil shocks of the
1970s created a tough decade for the domestic economy. The Dow Jones
industrial average’s peak in 1969 was 968.9. Its 1979 trough was
That is a 10-year decline of 17.77 percent.
designed for the novice, says Delehanty. "We review the students’
portfolios as though they were corporations," he says. "We
analyze their personal income statement and balance sheet. From within
this framework, a lifetime of investing can flow."
Two or so jobs ago Elaine Kamm was asked to start
up a training and development department for the Fortune 100 company
where she worked. "I did all the right things," she says.
"It was so good, they told me to hire more staff. And then more
staff. And more." Supervising all those people, and managing a
budget that just kept growing, Kamm had achieved a prestigious spot
in her company, and was making lots of money.
"One morning I woke up, and I was miserable," she says.
a consultant within the company, "an individual contributor,"
she had discovered she did not like administration one bit. What’s
more, she adds, "the stuff I needed to do, I wasn’t even good
at." Sure, she says, she would have done a competent job, but
"I knew I would never be outstanding."
Deciding her strength was in coming up with ideas, and not in managing
a large staff and a budget to match, Kamm pitched the idea of an
development department to her bosses. "I designed the function
for a minimal staff, and a big consulting budget," she says. The
new position worked out well, she says, both for her and for the
Kamm, now a vice president with Manchester Partners International,
speaks on "Career Derailers and How to Avoid/Address Them"
on Tuesday, March 13, at 7:30 a.m. at a meeting of Execunet at the
Doral Forrestal. Cost: $35. Call 609-734-3427.
In the 20 years since she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology
from Fairleigh Dickinson (Class of 1981) and a master’s degree in
industrial organizational psychology from the Stevens Institute of
Technology, Kamm has been working in the field of executive consulting
and training. Her husband, Stephen Germany, is a "technology
person," a systems development consultant. They have a son, Adam,
who lives in Colorado with his wife, Kelly, and their two-year-old
daughter, Payton. Kamm, who lives in Hunterdon County and works from
Manchester’s Princeton office, says she flies west four times a year
to see Payton.
Drawing from her years of experience, as well as her own career
Kamm offers this advice to executives who want to keep their careers
is that success is the best predictor of more success, Kamm says.
But the tendency of successful people to think they need only keep
on doing what they’ve been doing to keep on succeeding can be a career
killer. That’s because change is the new constant, and the skills
and behaviors that won praise and promotions in one situation don’t
necessarily work well in another. "Every time you get a new boss,
it’s a new job," Kamm says.
Mergers and shifts in company priorities also can create entirely
new situations. And so can promotions, as she found out in the
job she hated. The killer closing techniques that served a star
so well in the field may hurt him in a sales management role. The
in-your-face style that won points with one manager may backfire with
a new manager who abhors aggressive behavior.
too. Kamm discovered this when an overload of the detail work
in an administrative position stripped the joy from her work.
back to the consulting work she loved allowed her to keep moving
Realistic self evaluation will clarify career direction. Ignoring
natural skills and accepting promotions — or new jobs — solely
because they offer more money or prestige can knock a promising career
off the tracks. Often, Kamm says, "a top salesman is promoted
to sales manager, and everyone asks `what happened to him?’" What
most likely happened, she says, is that the salesman kept on doing
what he was good at — selling — and did not develop as a
but often is not enough. Most people need to turn to those around
them to get a sense of how they’re doing. "People who are really
successful seek feedback," Kamm says. "They really want it.
It’s not just that they’re looking for someone to say `Great
This feedback should come in frequently, and from every direction.
Kamm suggests that work evaluations should be sought not just from
supervisors, but also from co-workers, and underlings.
an acquisition, "a lot of time is spent being angry and holding
on to the past," says Kamm. Don’t waste time this way is her
"People need to ask `what’s different?’ They need to look at
and ask `How can I made adjustments in my behavior to fit in with
the new boss, new acquisition, new job?" This is not easy, she
says, because everyone has what she calls "success factors,"
behaviors that have worked well in the past. "It’s a natural
she says. "Psychology tells us we keep doing things we get
Each year thousands of New Jersey’s small businesses
ring up their last sale. Many started life feeding on advice from
the Small Business Administration, the National Association of Women
Business Owners, or the local Chambers of Commerce. But often the
new business owner becomes completely consumed by day-to-day tasks
and loses sight of the basics of the business plan he crafted with
the help of experienced mentors.
"Individuals often get into their own business to have a job and
gain independence," says Mike Pucciarelli of Bartolomei
and Pucciarelli CPA & Consultants "But often they don’t realize
what is needed to make it grow."
Pucciarelli, along with his business partner, Jim Bartolomei,
speaks on "Making Your Business Soar" on Tuesday, March 13,
at 8 a.m. at the Palmer Inn. Cost: $350. Call 609-396-2480.
Pucciarelli holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Montclair
State College (1981). He specializes in tax and business planning
for small to medium-sized companies.
The goal of his seminar, Pucciarelli says, is to encourage businesses
to stretch beyond their initial goals. "We call this maintaining
a flight plan," says Pucciarelli. "It’s important for a
to know where it is going."
Pucciarelli says one of the top reasons a business loses customers
is perceived indifference, which occurs when customers believe that
they no longer really matter to a company based upon how they are
treated. It’s not unusual, he says, for a business to concentrate
so hard on gaining new business that it gives the impression of
its existing customers. And once a customer has left, at a minimum
it is extremely costly to get him back again. In many cases, it just
Some elements that add up to a perception of indifference are a
to return phone calls, use of voice mail rather than a receptionist,
and not paying attention to customers when they walk in the door.
"Businesses need to keep doing the small things for their
says Pucciarelli. "They need to improve their internal
Then a business can get more business from its customers, and not
be so dependent upon new ones.
"I tell businesses that they are wasting their money by spending
thousands of dollars on advertising if, when someone calls, they get
a company’s voice mail," he says.
The flip side of perceived indifference, Pucciarelli says, is
value. When customers believe their needs are important, price is
less of an issue. "A business can grow," Pucciarelli says,
"simply by adding value to their existing products and
— Michael Schumacher
The Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer
County will run its Project Reemployment program starting Monday,
March 19, from 9 a.m to 3 p.m. at 707 Alexander Road. It continues
on Tuesday, March 20 and Friday, March 23.
This program is for those who are currently unemployed or are facing
imminent job loss. It offers information about self-assessment, skill
development, resume writing, interviewing, and searching for
It is free, but pre-registration is required. Call Rachel
The business council of the Princeton Chamber of
is accepting nomination for its Ninth Annual Entrepreneur of the Year
Award. The candidate must be a chamber member and have been in
for a minimum of three years. The award includes a donation to the
winner’s favorite charity by supporting sponsor, Fleet Bank, publicity
in area newspapers, and CCPA’s newsletter, and qualification for state
and national recognition.
Call the chamber at 609-520-1776 for nomination forms and additional
information. Deadline for submissions is March 16.
The New Jersey Society of Professional Engineers’
Foundation is sponsoring MATHCOUNTS, a math achievement competition
to be held on Saturday, March 10, at the Bell Atlantic Corporate
Center in South Plainfield. The approximate 2,500 New Jersey students
who are participating in the program this year compete for trips to
the Washington, D.C., national finals, to the NASA Space Camp, and
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