Job Hunting

What Employers Are Looking For

What factors do employees rate highly when considering candidates for a job? Well, a good cover letter beats a good education.
Ronald FinkJuly 1, 2003

Ivy leaguers of the world, take note.

A recent survey by Society of Human Resource Managers asked 286 randomly selected human resource professionals to rate the influence of a number of attributes in deciding who gets hired for jobs. The results seem to turn the adage “it’s not what you know, it’s whom you know” on its head.

The criteria most frequently rated either “very influential” or “influential” are all related to here and now. That is, they directly reflect a candidate’s ability to fit the job in question — not a candidate’s connections.

Interview performance and professionalism in interactions were tops with 95 percent of surveyed HR managers, while only 53 percent of HR managers showed a preference for candidates referred by a current employee.

The more specifically related to ability, the better. For instance, while employee referrals were named by only about half the participants, internal candidates (78 percent) were highly valued, presumably because of familiarity with the candidates’ performance. Similarly, advanced degrees per se don’t mean as much to HR executives as relevant certifications (57 percent verus 82 percent).

The least frequently named criteria were those that bear little application to a candidate’s potential as an employee. These include quality of the cover letter (cited by 50 percent of survey participants), total years in the workforce (49 percent), and test scores (43 percent).

Interestingly, it seems HR executives care the least about where a candidate comes from. Twenty-eight percent named previous employer’s prestige, while 26 percent cited familiarity with a candidate’s previous employer. And get this: d only 23 percent cared about the prestige of a candidate’s educational background.

Aside from interview savvy and professionalism, what do HR professionals value most? Years of relevant work experience (90 percent), fit with the company culture (89 percent), and the passing of relevant background checks (79 percent).

Good references (73 percent) and the ability to add diversity to the workforce (60 percent) were also frequently cited by the HR manages in the survey.

Write Stuff

Glenn Schaeffer, president and CFO of Mandalay Resort Group, came to corporate finance only after testing his fiction-writing skills in the MFA program at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop in 1976. But in a class with such budding stars as T.C. Boyle, Allan Gurganus, Rita Dove, and Jane Smiley, the then-21-year-old Schaeffer quickly concluded that his own talent was third-rate “at best.” With a college minor in economics and a head for numbers, he quit the workshop and returned to his native Los Angeles to pursue a career in business.

After working as a stockbroker, he joined Circus, Circus, a Las Vegas casino, in 1983, and by financing the acquisition or construction of one additional property after another — including Mandalay Bay — helped turn it into one of the country’s largest.

Three decades after abandoning the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, however, Schaeffer hasn’t lost touch with the literary world. He still socializes with some of his former classmates, owns a large collection of first-edition poetry, recently donated $1 million to the workshop for a new annex, and three years ago founded the International Institute of Modern Letters at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas to support writers subject to censorship and persecution.

With the help of such literary luminaries as Smiley, Nobel prize-winning Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka, American novelist Russell Banks, and Salman Rushdie, the institute so far has provided Sierra Leone poet and novelist Syl Cheney-Coker and Chinese dissident writer, painter, and art critic Er Tai Gao with living quarters, stipends, and an otherwise more-hospitable working environment.

Schaeffer says he first thought of establishing the institute in a more-traditional locale like New York, but that UNLV English professor Richard Wiley talked him into Las Vegas by noting that the unusual location would garner more media attention. “He was right,” says Schaeffer.

Maybe Wiley should switch to business, too.

Power Struggles

In an era when CFOs are fired for even the appearance of impropriety, DPL Inc. is jolting shareholders with a controversial promotion. The Ohio energy company recently named insider Caroline E. Muhlenkamp, who oversees DPL’s troubled $1 billion investment portfolio, to be its fifth CFO in as many years. She replaces Elizabeth M. McCarthy, whose resignation was announced after an acrimonious shareholders’ meeting in April.

Although Muhlenkamp, 38, was appointed on an interim basis, shareholders and observers are already questioning why the head of a fund that contributed a 77-cent-per-share loss last year, forced an earnings restatement, and sparked 11 shareholder lawsuits got the spot. Shareholders are further irked by claims that she flies to the company’s Dayton headquarters from her Florida home on a corporate-owned jet.

“We find [this appointment] questionable at best,” says Ric Marshall, CEO of independent research firm The Corporate Library, which recently rated DPL as having one of the worst boards in America for its lack of stakeholder representation. He speculates the appointment may be part of a larger strategy to give investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. more control of the company.

KKR already has access to a 20 percent equity stake and two official board seats.

Meanwhile, DPL has done little to ease shareholder concerns. Company spokesman Jim Prendergast says DPL “has fully disclosed its relationship with KKR and there is no conflict of interest,” but he declined to answer questions about Muhlenkamp’s background.

“A situation like this makes you really realize how powerless you are as a shareholder,” says longtime DPL investor Bob Maxey.

CFOs on the Move

  • Vincent Cook was named CFO of AccentCare Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based in-home care provider to the elderly and disabled. Cook joined AccentCare in April 2003 from Comsys, a Houston-based company, where he served as SVP of the West division.
  • ITT Industries named David Bland VP and controller of its electronic-components business, ITT Industries, Cannon. Bland previously worked at Flextronics as a divisional SVP of finance and administration. He also served as director of finance and business services at Hewlitt-Packard.