Friday, May 15, 2009

The Affluence Gap

Our economy is about to deliver a bountiful gift to small businesses around the country. However, this gift must be unwrapped like that poisonous fish I saw on the Discovery channel the other day... cut it wrong and you die eating it - cut it right, and it is a delicacy.

The gift that I'm going on about is the gift of talent. There is a glut of talent out there looking for work right now, and willing to step down the pay grade ladder for a stable check and half decent benefits. Gone are the days of the fat expense account and company car... these folks just need to eat and keep a roof over their family's heads.

So, what happens when you interview and hire a new employee who might have both more years, and more experience in the business then you do? Oh yeah, and they are/were making way better money then you are/will.

Pleasure or Pain? ...the choice will be yours

In order to make a hiring decision that includes a potentially valuable asset such as the person I described above, you need to put some serious thought into the hiring process. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

·         Can you handle a strong asset like this as a part of your team?

·         How can you help them to fit into their new (lesser) role?

·         Are they really committed for the long term, or ready to jump ship if someone drops that ladder back down to them?

·         Beyond the usual complexity surrounding age and gender, etc. -  what aspects of the employee/employer relationship will be affected by this, 'affluence gap’ as it enters your HR process?

There are certainly other aspects that need to be considered in any hiring process, regardless of the scenario I've presented to you here, but I want to concentrate on my last bullet point: The Affluence Gap.

If anyone has already coined this phrase, I apologize - I seriously just made it up.  It seems a fitting name for this aspect of the discussion.

The first thing I would like you to consider are your feelings. Yes, this decision has much more to do with you then it does with the prospective employee.  How will you 'feel' having someone working for you who might be considered more capable and experienced than yourself in your own business, in your own industry?

The second thing I would like you to think over is how you plan to work with this potential employee to ensure that you retain control over yourself, your operation and your employees attitudes, the new one included.

So, it's interview time...

As you sit down to the interview with your overqualified applicant, you begin to sense an impending inferiority complex coming on. At the same time, you start thinking about how great it could be for your business to bring on someone with the kind of talent that is sitting across the table from you. What you don't know is - can you handle it?

One of the great things about running your own business is that you have control over your work life (since you have no personal life if you're busy running the business). Now is no time to give up that control. Talk openly and honestly with the applicant, perhaps conduct the interview informally over coffee to keep it from taking on the boss/employee feeling that might overcome you at the office.  If they have the experience that I'm talking about, they have hired and fired before... they have made decisions with authority before... and they may even have been in your shoes before.

Lay out your interest in them transparently.  Let them know about your fears and hopes related to the possibility of bringing someone of their stature and reputation on.  Be blatantly honest about how long they will last as an, ‘usurper’ (i.e., employment at will – your will)

This scenario boils down to your ability to move forward as the leader of your team into some uncharted waters.  The concept is foreign to most, uncomfortable to all, and potentially extremely rewarding.  Thinking about this from the point of view of the newest guy on the unemployment list… if someone like you steps up to help out someone like them – the potential for loyalty to your team is astounding.

If you do choose to add such an individual to the team, remember the following:

·         You chose them

·         Don’t discount their ideas in order to try and seem smarter than them (you hired ‘em because they were smarter-er than you, silly rabbit!)

·         Expect some bumps in the road, and behind doors conversations about how things are going

·         Don’t ever forget that they are like foster children and have likely come from a rough past.  Be sure to praise their efforts and keep that transparency going from the interview forward.

In summary – your personality and maturity in your life and your business will determine your level of success in this kind of endeavor.  Do not try to fool yourself into thinking you are ready if you aren’t.  It is time for a healthy dose of ‘introspective reality check’.  If you don’t feel confident in your self evaluation, seek the advice of a mentor or friends who have had a solid amount of experience in the hiring side of HR and who you trust to give it to you straight.


  1. Logan nice job on the post. People need not get hung up on length of employment. Millennials move in a heartbeat if they do not feel connected with their company, boss, or work. Why demand someone with the talent we are talking about to stay if the market turns around. Should not even be part of the conversation. Why force the prospective team member to lie to you to get the job. Not a good way to start off. Better would be to work to connect them with the company, you, and the work and give them a path to grow and prosper. And you are right, if the employer has an ego problem, might as well scrap the idea now. They will only tick off the professional they are about to hire.

  2. June 30th article:

    'Layoffs Allow Small Firms to Attract Big-Company Refugees' by Dana Mattioli of the Wall Street Journal