Archive for the ‘Recommendation’ Category

Service of Recommendations That Make it Easy on Recruiters

Thursday, August 24th, 2017


Recently headhunters have sent me electronic forms to fill out on behalf of a job-seeking colleague. One reminded me of what CVS sends after I’ve visited a branch or used the online ordering system. To answer questions I graded the candidate from 1 to 10. I was appalled. The recruiter got numbers from the program all neat and collated in seconds but learned little about my colleague. Sometimes my answer didn’t fit any number without explanation. I grade the effectiveness of this system 2 out of 10.

A second one took me longer to do but I felt gave me a chance to describe the candidate. It also took the reader longer to absorb but the information was more valuable. I imagine that some of the copy, if well written, is used by the headhunter to describe a candidate to prospective employers, saving him/her time in the end.


My colleague said she met one of these recruiters and filled out forms for the company. She spoke to the other on the phone, no forms required.

I posit that some recruiters will learn the most from a phone call interview as inefficient and time consuming as that is for them. The New York Women in Communications scholarship vetting process includes phone and in-person interviews for finalists. The phone interviews require time to prepare for, conduct and write up but the results tell plenty about a candidate.

Francesca Fontana wrote about recommendation letters requested of MBA candidates’ friends this summer by NYU’s Stern School of Business. They are “trying to get a better sense of what its applicants are really like.” Where most such letters “focus on analytic acumen or leadership skills,” they expect a pal or co-workers letters will “comment on the applicant’s social skills or emotional intelligence.”


She reported in “Dear Friend, Tell Us More” that “about 40% of MBA applicants said at least one manager asked them to draft their own recommendation letter.” This statistic came from an Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants 2014 survey. I believe it. Another job-seeking colleague is often asked to write letters about herself by former managers and bosses.

Fontana reported that 24 business schools “collaborated with the Graduate Management Admission Council to create a common recommendation form.” This is easier on recommenders and as they are asked to keep their answers short, means that readers don’t have to pour through pages of copy.

One of the questions was smart: “Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant.”

Can you learn much from a recommender you’ve not spoken with? Have you been asked to write your own recommendation by a boss or colleague? How secure would you be in evaluating whether you wanted to meet or interview a candidate by phone based largely on responses to a 1 to 10 system? Are there valid shortcuts in the recruiting process?

Service of No III

Monday, April 28th, 2014


I’ve covered this powerful two letter word from the viewpoints of saying and hearing it. This time I’m addressing people unable to absorb the concept.

It’s a Landslide

Take the citizens of Oso, Wash. who built homes where they were told not to because the area was a potential landslide zone. Build they did, the horrific natural disaster happened and now we read headlines such as “Leveled by Landslide, Towns Mull How to Rebuild” datelined Oso. I scratch my head.

Can’t Top This

The old saw about climbing Mt. Everest because it is there has a questionable ring to it after 16 sherpas died in an avalanche. mount everestSome love taking risks. I get my thrills from juggling too much work and meeting deadlines, so I don’t relate to the need to put my life in jeopardy to feel alive. I’m glad the sherpas are on strike, closing down mountain climbing for the season, although I don’t think better benefits and pay can mitigate the potential of death for a frivolous cause.

Trying to Be Cool Can Kill

I landed on an obituary for a 37 year old Wikipedia editor who died from head injuries in a rock climbing accident in Joshua Tree National Park. Adrianne Wadewitz had only begun the sport “in the past couple of years.” What was this brilliant scholar of 18th century British literature trying to prove? According to Noam Cohen who wrote her obituary in The New York Times, she “became one of the most prolific and influential editors of the online encyclopedia.” Cohen wrote: “She described the thrill of creating ‘a new narrative’ about herself beyond that of a bookish, piano-playing Wikipedia contributor.” What a terrible loss. Maybe there were more sensible, 30-something appropriate ways of doing this.

Didn’t Like You Then, Won’t Like You Now

yelling bossRob Walker counseled Laurie in his “The Workologist” column in the New York Times Business section. She had asked for a reference from a former boss with whom she didn’t get along figuring enough water had passed under the bridge since they’d worked together. Laurie was surprised by the unenthusiastic recommendation [which she learned about when she didn’t get the job]. What happened to her “no” reflex, when going through the list of potential candidates to ask for a recommendation. Laurie claimed to have “28 years experience in [her] field and a strong track record.” Apparently common sense isn’t necessary in her line of work.

Can you share similar examples? What is it that inhibits the “no” or “not a good idea” response in some especially when there are so many other more sensible options?

bad idea


Service of Board Service

Monday, May 16th, 2011


My friend Erica Martell urged me to read about the City University of New York’s board of trustees and its reversal about giving playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree. First the board voted no. Subsequently the executive committee voted yes.

I read the coverage in The New York Times that Erica sent and The Wall Street Journal and finally a New York Sun editorial. The short story: Kushner was being proposed for a doctor of letters at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Right before the vote, a member of the 17-member board, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, objected to his receiving the honor based on what he described as Kushner’s attacks on Israel.

counterpunchAfter the 6-member executive committee reversed the board’s decision, Winnie Hu in The New York Times wrote: “After the vote to approve the degree, Dr. [Matthew] Goldstein, CUNY’s chancellor, said ‘the basic misstep was there wasn’t a counterpunch’ to Mr. Wiesenfeld’s remarks.

“I’m not sure why the appropriate people didn’t chime in at that time,” he said. Dr. Goldstein, who was present at that meeting, said the presidents of the various colleges are generally expected to address specific questions.”

Translation: Somebody put Kushner on the list. Why didn’t he/she speak up?

Hu noted: “Mr. Kushner later disputed Mr. Wiesenfeld’s characterization of his views and said he is a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist.”

In The Wall Street Journal Ruth King quoted Benno Schmidt, the president of the board of trustees: “‘I would not ordinarily ask for reconsideration of a decision so recently taken,’ said Mr. Schmidt, who was once president of Yale. ‘But when the board has made a mistake of principle and not merely of policy, review is appropriate and, indeed, mandatory. As it happens, Chairperson Schmidt was on hand when this ‘mistake of principle’ was made but didn’t raise a voice at the time.”

An excerpt from a New York Sun editorial: “But if principles are the issue here, what is the logic of the decision of a full board of trustees being overturned a few days later by a subset of the trustees?

“So far it looks as if the only person who has acted on principle in the CUNY affair is Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the trustee who first objected to the idea of giving an honorary degree to Mr. Kushner. He came to a meeting, and he stated his objection forthrightly. It had to do with Mr. Kushner’s views in respect of Israel. Mr. Kushner is entitled to his views and Mr. Wiesenfeld is entitled to dissent from a proposal to give him an honorary degree. The whole thing was filmed and is available at a CUNY Web site. Mr. Wiesenfeld comprehended he was making a dissident statement. Our guess is that he was as surprised as anyone when the trustees acted on his objection.”

decisionmakingI think that what happened is not as much about whether a person accused of speaking out against a foreign country should be given or denied an award by a New York City university as it is about how boards work. It’s typical of what I’ve observed as a board member. I’ve been on many–industry, charity and co-op apartment boards. Many board members sit like lumps. Are they afraid to speak out? I have not always been popular as a result but feel that my job is to point out hurdles or issues for the board’s consideration. For that reason, I commend Mr. Wiesenfeld for stating his view and wonder about the other board members. Not all of them agreed with him, as it turns out. They didn’t want to face him with their argument.

Who are the villains here? Did anyone do anything right?  Why do people take the time to sit on boards if they don’t plan to participate? Do those who bring up touchy subjects risk being treated like whistleblowers? What is it about a board that seems to stifle discussion?


Service of Grades

Monday, August 16th, 2010


Grades will always touch a nerve which is why I was fascinated with a story, “Little as They Try, Students Can’t Get a D Here,” in The New York Times earlier this month.

dgrade2Winnie Hu wrote in her second paragraph: “The way the Mount Olive school district sees it, its students should not be getting by with D’s on their report cards, either. This fall, there will no longer be any D’s, only A’s, B’s, C’s and F’s.”

The “either” referred to Hu’s lead: “Who wants to pay for ‘D’-quality plumbing? Fly the skies with a ‘D’-rated pilot? Settle for a ‘D’ restaurant?

We need a way to distinguish and reward work. But so much about grades in certain subjects is subjective. Are grades on an English essay or history thesis much different than book or movie reviews by credentialed reviewers or your friends? How many books or movies have you adored that respected pals and reviewers have felt lukewarm about or vice versa?

scholarship1I’m on a committee that gives $100,000+ in student scholarships. Two members grade each entry, which consists of an essay, resume, grade transcript and recommendations. You’d be amazed how far apart we come in on some even though we all work in different parts of the same industry.

Should high schools follow the pass/fail model that some colleges use?

Or instead of spending time worrying about the letter D, how about instituting a tutoring program to help move the Ds to Cs and Bs?

As for Hu’s reference to a D restaurant, we enjoyed the best service ever in an always-jammed restaurant with the most horrific food and the converse happened a month later-deliciously prepared food served with lackadaisical aplomb described as “family style.” What grades would you give each?  

I wouldn’t go near an airline with D-rated pilots-I’m a chicken-but we don’t grade pilots, I don’t think. There are on-line businesses that rate services like plumbers but how do you know that cousins, uncles and aunts haven’t sent in the reviews leading to top ratings?

What do you think about the elimination of the D grade? In the spirit of “every child wins a trophy just by breathing and showing up to a sports event,” why not add a grade-M–and give M a new, positive persona? Maybe the letter M could be a new client–think of the social media opportunities and the marketing/PR campaign!


Service of Jealousy

Friday, July 23rd, 2010


Jealousy serves to do at least one thing: Eliminate viable candidates to make it easier for decision makers to pick people.

I just heard of a high school senior with a 4.0 grade point average, good SAT scores, the appropriate participation in student government, athletics as well as impressive internships, who didn’t get into a single one of her first choices of college.

After looking into it for her, her guidance counselor broke protocol and shared with her that the teacher she’d asked to recommend her had written “________[Name] used her looks to get where she is.”

According to the person telling me about this–the competition, a fellow student–nothing could be further from the truth. The young woman is stunning. Can she help that she’s 5’8″, has a stupendous figure, incredible skin and hair and a beautiful face? Regardless, she works hard and earns her grades and awards. My conjecture: The teacher was jealous.

airforceAnother instance is job-related. A friend reported to an Air Force lieutenant colonel who, after flying through college in three years earning high honors, shot up through the ranks making each promotion faster than most. The man was smart and respected.

Suddenly, his career screeched to a stop. He almost had to leave the Air Force before retirement age because of a bad report that squelched his next promotion. [If you were passed over for promotion three times, you were forced out of the Air Force.] We all thought:  The superior who gave him the negative review was jealous.

In no way do I resemble either of these people and yet I’ve experienced similar disappointments. In retrospect, I see what happened, although I was flummoxed at the time. I thought you were supposed to do outstanding work.

I don’t think that there is a thing you can do about it but move on.

The young woman did. She’s excelling at her safety college, gets top flight internships and has learned early that life isn’t fair and to keep on trucking. The lieutenant colonel squeaked into the bird colonel slot with cheers from all who knew and worked with him. He never acted bitter nor did he take out his plight on his squadron or family during the career-teetering years.

Do you feel that often the wrong people rise to the top? Do you think that jealousy is one of the reasons, if not directly, then because nobody is threatened by mediocrity and the less outspoken and safe politicians dodge all bullets? Have you observed or experienced a situation where a colleague, boss, client or instructor became a spoiler for someone else out of jealousy?


Service of Follow-Ups

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Have you ever watched a movie and had to leave early–so you don’t know the ending? I like to know what happens. So here are some follow-ups to four previous posts.

Postal “Service”

Mervyn Kaufman wrote about his excruciating US post office experience in “Service of Ho Hum,” December 8, 2009. The who cares attitude he described struck us in other ways this Christmas, the first year that the postal service lost two packages-one we sent and one destined for us, mailed from the Midwest.

All we have from our lost package is the address and return address ripped from the book mailer packaging and sent us, with a printed form letter postmarked Atlanta, noting that the package had fallen apart and sorry, but the contents [wrapped gifts] were lost. The package, mailed from upstate New York, was slated for New Hampshire.

In addition, a letter with a check in it that we mailed to Brooklyn in mid-December has yet to arrive or be returned, and we hear from a friend who lives in the Midwest that she hasn’t received a bill from a credit card company for the past two months. All this happens as USPS business continues to drop off while staffing doesn’t. 

Fur Flying

We left Catherine C’s story in “Service at the High End,” November 23rd, up in the air. Did the furrier find and return her lost coat? No. This is what she reported:


“I got a check from my insurance company, which will duke it out with the furrier.  I had to ask the furrier to give me a refund for the storage, cleaning, and relining of my coat (shouldn’t have had to ask), and I never got any kind of written apology.  I still believe the latter knows what happened to my coat.  

“I’ve learned some things that make me question their quality and make me thankful I’m no longer dealing with that firm. I’m glad I didn’t take their offer of a more expensive coat if I paid the difference in value between the new one and my coat. 

“I am in the process of having a new coat made at a furrier that was recommended by the style editor of my client, Departures magazine.  It happens to be a close friend’s furrier, too.  And I’ve triangulated and heard only good things.  This furrier stores on premises, which is good.  It’s taken me a little while to get my head around the whole idea of making a coat because there’s an element of faith involved in what it’s going to look like.  It’s starting to come together.  Wish I had it now!” [Catherine wrote this on a frigid day.]

Ring Up a Great Deal

On a cheerier note, I visited the same T-Mobile phone store that was the subject of the January 28, 2009 post, “Good Service is In the Air, Isn’t It?” Last year, I bought a cell phone with charger, earphones and 1,000 hours of service for $130–$10.83/month for 12. The purpose of the visit last week was to renew the account, which I did for $10-there were 700 phone hours left to use. This brings the monthly cost of the phone and service to $5.83-for what I hope will be 24. The charming and efficient young woman helping me had me in and out of the store in minutes.

Cup of Joe from Sam

And Sam in his coffee cart– “Coffee Service with More than a Smile,” December 15, 2009–is as welcoming as ever. His music transitioned this month from seasonal Christmas to energetic music with a Middle Eastern twist. He’s added a variety of cold cereal to his breakfast offerings and his prices remain reasonable–75 cents for a cup of coffee.

We missed him when he left a substitute coffee person to tend his cart on the southeast corner of 44th Street and Third Avenue so he could visit his family in Egypt. The substitute had no interest in any of us–didn’t bother to remember if we took sugar, skim or regular milk and could be sour and rude. He also left each day hours before Sam does.

Do us a big service: Share some follow-ups either from one of our post topics or your life.


Service: Genuine vs. Groveling

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

West Mountain Inn, Arlington, Vt., from the side

West Mountain Inn, Arlington, Vt., from the side

Two recent experiences help describe the intangible difference between genuine and groveling service. The authentic kind makes you feel welcome; the unctuous, uncomfortable.

We had dinner at an attractive restaurant in Dutchess County, New York last weekend. The food was tasty, the prices reasonable, the courses came quickly and were served efficiently, but the waitress turned us off. She acted as though she’d known our friends for years-which she hadn’t-and as though my husband and I were invisible. The next morning we chatted about the otherwise wonderful evening and agreed that while we liked the food and ambiance, the waitresses’ tooth-achingly saccharin chumminess was unattractive and made us squirm. We don’t plan to return in anticipation of either being ignored or fawned over.

You know you’ve arrived in a special place when you drive by the planters filled with impatiens before climbing the hill to the inn.

You know you’ve arrived in a special place when you drive by the planters filled with impatiens before climbing the hill to the inn.

If your room doesn’t overlook the majestic mountain view, there’s a row of Adirondack chairs from which to enjoy it.

If your room doesn’t overlook the majestic mountain view, there’s a row of Adirondack chairs from which to enjoy it.

It was a different story entirely at the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vt.  Amie Emmons made us feel welcome in a quiet, natural, understated way from the moment we arrived. Amie’s son, Owen, who is four years old, greeted us as well. He was charming, articulate, smart and endearing as he punctuated Amie’s welcome tour of the public rooms and bedroom suites (we could choose from) with appropriate comments, warnings and instructions.

It may be unfair to compare an innkeeper to a waitress, but Amie also served our dinner the first night. When she was away the second night, her staff echoed her composed, unhurried, gracious yet efficient and engaged approach. One of the dinner guests who said he knew Amie’s mother, Mary Ann Carlson–the previous innkeeper who shared the role with her husband, Wes–teased Amie incessantly. She remained unfazed and friendly, never familiar.

Chiselville Covered Bridge, East Arlington, Vt, a short drive from the inn.

Chiselville Covered Bridge, East Arlington, Vt, a short drive from the inn.

A word about the inn on the Battenkill River, which started out as a farmhouse some 160 years ago, became a gristmill and a lumber mill before, in the 1970s, Wes and Mary Ann Carlson transformed it into a  classic Vermont inn. Each room is lovingly decorated with country antiques; guests leave with a potted violet to remind them of their stay along with a remarkable sense of calm and peace. Guests prefer board games and chats with others over watching TV in the bar. For breakfast and dinner there’s hearty, plentiful, honest American fare. Always on hand is coffee, tea, homemade cookies and during our stay, muffins too.

We can’t wait to return to the West Mountain Inn. Can you tell us about a similar oasis–whether restaurant, inn, hotel or spa–where the art of service equals the surroundings?

This pocket garden is outside the dining room on the path to the inn's front door.

This pocket garden is outside the dining room on the path to the inn's front door.

Service of Word-of-Mouth Recommendations

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Mention some places and people interrupt you to say, “Isn’t that a great store/museum/restaurant/city? I love to shop/visit/eat or be there.”

Lee’s Art Shop on West 57th Street in Manhattan is a great example. Speak about it and friends from Memphis and Mount Kisco to midtown Manhattan share upbeat, enthusiastic memories or simply exclaim, “Amazing store.” Far more than a purveyor of art supplies–and it’s a good one–Lee’s, half a block from Carnegie Hall, also sells stunning greeting cards, stationery and gifts. The staff is accommodating and smart. Guards at the door who store totes and shopping bags for customers are super polite.

Have you ever been to B & H Photo in NYC? It advertises extensively here but I heard about it most effectively at lunch in Florence, Ala. when a client praised the discount camera/electronics store as a highlight of his visit to NYC. He was speaking to a table of colleagues along with this New Yorker. I’m checking it out next time I need something.

Do you try out spots that people rave about?  Do you need to know  the source? What are some of your favorite no-fail places?

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