The Mature Solution to Mentoring

September 22, 2014

Last week I watched an interview with Jane Fonda. The 76 year old actress and activist was talking about her role in a new movie entitled This is Where I Leave You. At one point, the discussion turned to mentoring. Jane admitted that when she was young, she had access to so many talented actors, but she never reached out to any of them. She went on to say that in all of her years, only one actress has to come her for advice and council. She seemed disappointed that the life lessons she’s accumulated over her 50+-year career haven’t been shared with more people.

This weekend on CBS Sunday Morning, Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett were talking about their new album. She’s 28 and he’s 88. They’re an unlikely pair and yet they have much in common. They’re both jazz lovers, art lovers, they’re Italian Americans and they only live a block apart in New York. Around Tony, Lady Gaga seems softer and more approachable. It was clear that Tony Bennett had impacted he life. When asked what she brought to Tony, she said, “I hope what I’ve given to Tony is a moment for him to bask in how many people’s lives he’s really changed.”

Earlier in the week, I spoke with my friend who plans to enter politics. She’s 30 years old and wanted to understand what steps she should be taking now to prepare for the journey. She told me that her mother suggested that she contact the retired governor of the state. He agreed to meet and suggested they get together for coffee the very next day. After a two-hour meeting, my friend went away with invaluable information. He gave her advice that could only have come from someone who had been in the trenches. And, he was at the stage in life where he didn’t have anything to protect. This kind of connection could have never been obtained from a company-assigned mentor.

It made me stop and wonder if companies aren’t trying too hard to forge mentoring relationships. I’m not dissing company-sponsored mentoring programs. In fact, in theory, I’m a huge proponent. What I am saying is that a truly meaningful mentoring relationship may be the one you find for yourself. And, the very best mentor may be retired or within a few years of retirement. People at this stage of life are more available, more reflective and appreciate being asked.

Whether you’re a student, a recent graduate or an experienced professional, don’t wait for a mentor to be assigned to you. In my experience, the best mentoring relationships aren’t a result of a program; they’re the result of initiative. No one can give you a meaningful mentoring relationship – you have to make it. So, take a risk and reach out to someone with a world of experience who’s ready to give back to the world.

The Reluctant Candidate

July 25, 2014

By now, my clients are sick of hearing me say that they should walk through their own company’s hiring process.   I believe it’s the only way to truly understand the candidate experience. So, this year I stopped preaching and decided it was time to take my own advice.

I didn’t apply at my own company. Instead, I went on LinkedIn and Indeed and looked for jobs that I felt were a match for my level of experience and skill set. Over the last 12 months, I’ve applied to 30 positions.  Ninety percent of the companies failed to respond. Not an acknowledgement. Not a rejection. Not a word. According to The Talent Board, a non-profit organization responsible for the Candidate Experience Awards (CandE), I’m in good company. Over 70% of online applicants never receive so much as a canned reply. While these statistics should have made me feel better, they didn’t. Statistics are what happen to everyone else. This was my experience. And, it was demoralizing.

I’m not a recent graduate and I’ve been working for myself for 20 years, so my experience and perhaps my marketability are different. But, we’re all human, we all want to be valued and none of us wants to be treated with disrespect or indifference.   Applying for a job is a humbling experience so to all the job seekers in the world, I can now honestly say — I feel your pain. Here’s my reaction to the whole thing:

  • Ouch! No matter how skilled or talented you are, when you go through the job search process, you’re vulnerable. It’s all about being accepted or rejected. Do everything in your power to make the candidate feel appreciated — regardless of whether you hire them or not. Scrutinize every step in the process to see how to make it more streamlined, more individual and more human. Make every word and every action count.
  • Ugh! Applying for a position feels like dating. I may not want to go to work for your company and you may not want to hire me, but it would be great if we could still be friends.   It’s a small world and someday I just might turn out to be your client, your customer or your boss.
  • Oops! Make the process personal, not institutional. Hiring requirements shouldn’t be set in stone. You’re likely to miss an exceptionally talented candidate if you remain inflexible. There has been enough research on the value of hiring introverts and right-brained thinkers to suggest that organizations should expand their scope. Creative types aren’t just for advertising agencies anymore. And, introverts have finally been vindicated. If you don’t believe me, then read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain or A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink.
  • Ha! You can reject me as a potential hire, but I can reject you as a viable brand. I have to admit that my opinion of the organizations that failed to communicate impacted the way I see them. Are they disorganized, discourteous or clueless? If I’m a stockholder, I can’t help but wonder if they’re treating customers the same way. If you’re not paying attention to the candidate experience, you’re wasting company money and you’re tarnishing your corporate and employer brand.
  • Seriously? Don’t make assumptions based on age or experience level. I recently interviewed over 50 professionals aged 45+ about the job search process. Here’s what they told me. And, by the way, I agree with them:
    • I don’t want your job. I’ve had it. I just want to contribute and continue to grow in my career.
    • You may be 20 years my junior, but I still want to learn from you.
    • I’m happy to share my experience, but I’m open to doing things differently. I’ve lived out of my comfort zone since I graduated from college so don’t assume I’m set in my ways.
    • I don’t think a task is beneath me just because I did it ten years ago.
    • I’m less afraid of failure – I’ve failed.
    • I don’t have mouths to feed except for my own which means my financial requirements aren’t what they used to be. Make me an offer.
    • I’m more tolerant and compassionate than I was 20 years ago. You have no idea what I’ve seen and done.
    • I’m all done with crazy – I’ll put up with just about anything, but spare me from mean people.

Maybe it’s time to evaluate more than just the candidate experience. It’s time to broaden your view of what makes a candidate viable.  During a focus group several years ago, I asked participants what advice they would offer companies to help them improve the job search process. One candidate said it best, “Put a face with the name and show there’s a heartbeat inside.”



Transform HR. Transform the organization.

May 29, 2014

Psychologists have discovered that humans have a limited amount of self-control to exert each day. Self-control isn’t just about cutting out carbs or going to the gym. It’s about the energy we need to make choices, manage fear and frustration, experience change, learn something new or control stress.   As employers, every time we require employees to use some level of self-control, we’re depleting their energy. And, when our energy’s gone, we’re less creative, we lose our focus and we lack the drive needed to bounce back from frustration or failure.

It occurs to me that Human Resources should be responsible for harnessing and maintaining human energy. In the world of business, the majority of our energy should be focused on doing our jobs – not filling out reports, attending meetings or responding to hundreds of emails. We’ve all heard companies say that people are their greatest asset and yet most do little to protect their employees from the countless distractions that turn work into drudgery.

Think of how efficient and effective an organization would be if its employees could actually do what they love — their jobs. Recruiting costs would plummet, attrition rates would fall, healthcare costs would decline and productivity and engagement would rise exponentially. I believe HR should look for every opportunity to increase and protect their organization’s greatest asset – human energy. Of course, many employees would say that HR is the biggest self-control abuser.   They’re seen as the gatekeepers, policy setters, corporate bureaucrats and time wasters. That’s all the more reason for HR to take on this transformation.

Here’s how to start.

  • Know your employees: Find out what activities or experiences cause employee dissatisfaction and which are motivational. Start by looking at Herzberg’s Hygiene and Motivational Factors for clues.
  • Remove roadblocks within HR: Make the decision to reduce non-job-related distractions by 25% within 12 months. Get rid of redundant paperwork, simplify forms and processes and reduce the number of initiatives that require employee time and attention outside of their jobs.
  • Look beyond HR: Seek out and find those areas within your organization that zap energy. Educate leaders, managers and supervisors on how to maximize energy and reduce employee dissatisfaction. Enact a zero tolerance policy for unnecessary initiatives and programs and build a culture that simply won’t abide employees who create chaos and dissatisfaction.
  • Increase energy: Be a resource to help your company identify ways to energize and motivate employees.   Unless you’re dealing with a sales force, money isn’t a motivator. Pay people competitively and then focus on those things that truly matter. Read Drive by Daniel Pink for more ideas.

Employee engagement results when we reduce the things that deplete our energy and increase the things that energize it. It’s that simple.   A single focus – increasing energy – should drive every decision HR makes, every single day. It will reduce choices and illuminate a path that will lead everyone in the department, and ultimately, the organization to something truly important.

For more information, contact Sue Keever Watts at

Why Not You?

February 6, 2014

Originally posted on The NACE Blog:

sue-keever-wattsSue Keever Watts
Owner, The Keever Group
Twitter: @SueKeever

It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Latino, Asian…it doesn’t matter if you’re 5’11”.  It’s the heart that you bring.”  Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks Quarterback

Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Super Bowl winning Seahawks has had his detractors.  squareThe 5’11’ QB was a third-round-draft-pick whose 2013 salary was less than what his Super Bowl opponent, Peyton Manning, makes per game.   He shouldn’t have won the Super Bowl.  In fact, he shouldn’t have even played in the Super Bowl.

When asked how he accomplished such a feat, Wilson said that when he was young, his father would tap him on the shoulder and say, “Russ, why not you?” Those four words became his mantra and his message to the Seahawks team.

We’ve all had set backs, we all have detractors, and we all have bouts of self-doubt…

View original 126 more words

Your next hire may be at an industry event

December 17, 2013

I recently served as interim global events manager for a large corporation and attended conferences all over the world. It was a fascinating experience and what struck me was how many qualified students were in attendance. Many of them had been sent by a company they had interned with or had received a scholarship from a student organization so that they could attend. And, the overwhelming majority were highly qualified, diverse students with undergraduate degrees, master’s, or Ph.Ds. They were all interested in finding a job.

Organizations spend millions of dollars each year at industry conferences. If yours is already planning to set up a booth, I strongly suggest that you consider sending a few university relations team members to staff it. Here’s why:

Why industry events?

  • ROI—Opportunity to leverage your organization’s current participation in industry events, resulting in enhanced ROI.
  • Marketing—Opportunity to announce to a global audience of highly targeted, industry professionals that your organization is a viable, successful company that is hiring.
  • Expanded presence at the booth—Opportunity to field career inquiries that would otherwise tie up technical and sales staff.
  • Name generation—Opportunity to capture names of highly qualified graduates (for use post-event) via badge-scanning technology.
  • Career discussions—Opportunity to market to and network with potential candidates before, during, and after the event.

Ways to participate:

  • Staffing the stand—Recruiters (and possibly hiring managers) staff the exhibit stand throughout the conference to field questions.
  • Collecting names—Recruiters collect names from participant lists and/or badge scanners (or similar technology) to build a list of potential candidates for follow up post-event.
  • Marketing openings—Use event marketing opportunities prior to and during the event to drive candidates to the stand for career discussions or to your organization’s career website for further information.
  • Preselecting candidates—Market to attendees prior to the event and set up interviews during the conference.

Getting started:

  • Reach out to your business to discuss participation:
    • Staffing the exhibit stand
    • Marketing
    • Sponsorship
    • Graphics, handouts, and giveaways
  • Reach out to conference representatives to identify opportunities and restrictions:
    • Badge scanners
    • Recruiting restrictions
    • Marketing and sponsorship opportunities
  • Establish goals and budget
  • Determine marketing strategy (before, during, and after event)
  • Select team (recruiters and hiring managers)

Why should your organization consider you consider sending university relations team members to staff your booth at an industry conference? The heart of recruiting lies in creating a strategy that balances tried and true recruiting methods with less-traditional techniques.

Sue Keever Watts is founder and president of the Keever Group.

- See more at:

Let’s Be Real (Posted on NACE Blog)

November 12, 2013

I began my career in public relations and learned the fine art of “packaging” content. My friends still tease me about my ability to take negative information and turn it into a tidy, if not murky, message. “I hit your car” turns into “While the circumstances of our meeting are less than ideal, I’m so glad we had the opportunity to share our contact information.”

I got out of PR as quickly as I could, but I still recognize BS (business-speak) when I hear it. Unfortunately, most companies still use business-speak on their websites, in presentations, and even during one-on-one discussions with students. It’s the number one reason why candidates look outside an organization to find out what’s really going on inside of it.

Recently a new radio station was launched in the Dallas area. It was named the best radio station in the city and when I tuned in, found that the reception was a little dicey. I turn it on occasionally and when I tuned in yesterday, I heard the announcer say, “KHYI – if you can’t hear us, then move!” No apologies, no BS – just the truth, but in a humorous way.

A few years ago, I worked with a company that was in the middle of fall recruiting when their CEO announced that the company was being bought. Recruiters wanted to know if they should discuss the merger and how to respond to student questions. The answer was simple. Yes. Bring it up to students, professors, career services and all of your campus contacts because I can assure you that your competitors will be using it to their advantage. Be honest. Avoid using packaged responses. Tell them what you know and admit what you don’t. Showing a canned video from the CEO about the merger won’t cut it. The best way to deliver difficult information is in person.

Keep in mind that you still need to give students a compelling reason to join your organization. Part of that involves giving them the language they need to explain why they accepted an offer with an organization in transition to their parents and friends. You’ll also need to be prepared to answer the following questions:

-What will change and what will stay the same?
-Will there be a shakeup of leadership?
-Why did the organization decide to merge?
-What’s the upside of joining the organization now?
-If I join the organization, is there a chance I’ll be laid off after the merger?
-Will you be able to keep your job?
-Is there a chance that my position, reporting structure or responsibilities will change after the merger?
-Will my benefits package, compensation and training/development be impacted (negatively or positively)?

Feel free to use humor or to speak candidly about why you’re staying with the organization. But, whatever you do, leave the BS out of it.

Motivate your team! Now.

September 20, 2013

The Heart of Recruiting: Motivate Your Team, Now!
by Sue Keever Watts
Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals
September 18, 2013

It’s week four of college football, classes have begun, and campus recruiting is officially under way. By now, most of you have set your goals, established metrics, determined your strategy, and brought together your campus recruiting teams for a kick-off meeting. Like any other season opener, we feel a sense of anticipation, excitement, and energy. And, following every new beginning, there’s the dreaded middle. The middle is the most critical part of the journey, and yet it receives the least attention.

I encourage you to take the time, now, to motivate your team. The best way to do that is to be very intentional in your communication. Look for little ways to keep the momentum going, offer words of inspiration and gratitude, and remind the team where you’re headed. Go to to see a sample of a tactical communications plan that I created for a large employer.

It’s my experience that the little things are what truly matter to people. Participating on a campus team is time consuming and it’s rare that an employee’s workload is reduced to accommodate the extra hours. But, when you make people feel like part of something significant and acknowledge their contributions, then it’s worth the journey. The heart of recruiting involves keeping an eye on the end result, but never forgetting that the most important part is in the middle.

Keep it simple

August 13, 2013

The Corporate Executive Board reported that brands that simplify customer decision-making are 115% more likely to be recommended. By way of crowdsourcing, its time to let students inform organizations around the best way to simplify their decision to select one employer over another. Organizations want to be “employer of choice,” but research tells us that they might have more success if they find ways to simplify the decision-making process. By soliciting ideas, content and contributions from students via an online crowdsourcing campaign, an organization will show it’s technological savvy while soliciting ideas that may change the way they recruit students – for the better. New, improved and designed by students is a true differentiator. #NACESocial

If your company is unique then why are you hiring the same people as your competitors?

August 7, 2013

Flexible. Strong Communicator. Leader. Team player. Problem solver.

Do any of these competencies sound familiar? That’s because almost every organization lists two or more of these as attributes of a successful employee. It begs the question: If an organization goes to great lengths to differentiate itself from its competitors, why do they hire the same people?

Mission statement or corporate propaganda?

February 13, 2013

Corporate vision, mission and value statements. Why do we roll our eyes when we hear these words? It’s because so many employees will tell you that in their company there’s no evidence that the culture, processes or leader behaviors are aligned with the mission. A mission statement has to be created in a way that motivates employees to drive towards something important, believable, relevant and achievable. It should meet the human need for relatedness and meaning. While it should be ambitious, the mission statement must accurately reflect a company’s culture. Processes that evolve into habits over time have to be designed to reinforce the mission. Further, employees and customers have to witness behaviors that support this mission every single day. Employees (humans) want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to feel connected and they want to do work that is significant. This is why a mission statement is important. It’s aspirational in nature. It sets the bar. It sets the tone. It informs everyone in the company of why their work is important. And, it influences what habits and behaviors are necessary to succeed. Anything less is just corporate propaganda.


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