How do you communicate passion over practicality in the workplace?

Man holding a red woolen heart concept for valentine's day, busi

By Mark A. Leon

I grew up with an overwhelming amount of imagination. I was the youngest of four and for the most part my parents loved me, but didn’t feel like going through the motions of involving me. From a very young age, I have been on my own to discover the world. This most likely has contributed to my nomadic and creative persona.

For the last decade, I have been motivated by a world of possibility. Not quite in the Houdini manner, but I look at organizations and I see potential outside the walls of accepted practice.

A number of years ago, General Electric (GE) coined the term “boundaryless”. That term has stuck with me throughout my career.

In 2008, the idea of a corporate community page on Facebook was taboo. In 2009, creating LinkedIn groups focused on building a skill specific talent community was silly at best. In 2010, a career experience blog highlighting individual success stories and telling the cultural story one person at a time was shunned upon. “What is the value added?”, “How is this going to help us hire people?” – These were the questions posed by the senior leadership or the naysayers.

In 1998, we had a challenge: How do we support our growth in Engineering and Product Development as a result of a major decade funded government contract? The solution: Let’s show them what we got. The idea was formatted for an on-site career fair and expo.

Here was the pitch:

  1. We reach out to the professional sports teams, museums, theaters and radio stations asking for donations and participation.
  2. We do a picture collage of the last 80 years and focusing on the number of generational families that have worked here.
  3. We show off our state of the art 3D simulation studio.
  4. We have hiring managers on-site to answer questions and do same day interviews.
  5. We offer an inside look at the future of military design and development with plant tours.Impossible they said. You won’t get buy in from all the departments. We can’t interview people right off the street. This will be overwhelmingly expensive.At about $600 per attendee and 21 confirmed hires, this was a raging success. The answer was simple; we brought passion, culture and a very intimate personal touch to the candidate experience. If you drove by our facility, we looked like an old manufacturing plant gated in with no clue what was going on inside. Invite them in and they will come. They sure did. Almost 300 attendees on a Saturday morning.In the last 15 years, I have updated my resume once and have not seen the light of day of a job board. I am approached and on occasion I listen.The career choices I have made have been because of a few common trends.

    1. The recruiter provided me with an incredible candidate experience. Quick follow up, education on the role, deep interest in my background and love of their company.
    2. The hiring managers challenged me. They weren’t looking for a body with some technical or soft skills to fill a role. They were looking for individuals to partner and contribute to the growth and innovation of their teams.
    3. A set of values that were demonstrated in the words and actions of the team.

    I am very good at what I do and I know I have limitations. I work extremely well as an individual contributor, but thrive with a team that shares expertise and values support.

    We all have good and bad days, but the minute it becomes a regiment of mental clock in and clock out the passion dies and the wall come tumbling down.

    Do we need process? Absolutely
    Do we need checks and balances / QA? You bet
    Do we need mandatory training? Hmmmm, I suppose
    Do we need structured hierarchy? No always.

    What companies truly need is a human capital element that thinks and acts with emotion. The ability to care about your team, clients, supervisors, subordinates and cross functional groups is a gift. That gift will reverberate and send positive shivers down the spines of all you are in contact with.



    Start each day with positive electricity and energize those around you.


Biggest Roadblock to Your Dream Career…..YOU!

I have found great satisfaction in providing coaching and consulting on personal brand strategy development.  The idea of matching personal interests and passions with a career that is rewarding, challenging and yields a sense of fulfillment each and every day is worth the price of all the hard work.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.  We live in a world where some countries have a 25% unemployment rate, poverty is at record levels, jobs are less frequent and pay even less than adequate for most and basic survival is taking precedent over pursuit of happiness.

I would be misleading you if I took all the negative economic impact that is hitting the world employment market and made it the sole blame for so many of us wandering through life aimlessly paycheck after paycheck, so I won’t.

This piece isn’t about our current economic situation or the cyclical downturns we have witnessed for hundreds of years.  This is about a bigger tragedy in the true pursuit of professional happiness.

Its you!!  The person that truly wants to find a career that makes them happy and impassioned.

Isn’t that just truly ironic.  Alanis Morisette; you can take that to the bank.

I have been approached through referrals about helping clients find a job.

My initial response is always very similar, “Do you want a job or a career that truly defines you?”  Almost 100% of the time, I get an enthusiastic yes.  The next question often becomes a hiccup for most.

“What are you truly passionate about, what makes you great and what are your true talents?”
If I told you the amount of silence or how many times the phrase “I don’t really know” comes right after that question, you would be astonished.

I love taking on the challenge of shaping, engaging and building a personal brand with the ultimate goal of the perfect career fit.

Of course, I give homework and deadlines.  I have to keep you on task.

Generally, here is what happens:

  • Have the client define their personal passions and interests.  List their talents.  Identify the type of work and daily activities that keep them energized.
  • Define the culture that helps them thrive
    • Teaming / individual contributor
    • Start up / Mature organization
    • Business owner / part of an organization
    • Small, medium or large company
    • Local, regional, national or international
    • Long term goals
    • Types of products or services you want to provide the community
  • List the top ten things they love about your current or previous roles / List the top ten things they did not love
  • List current digital footprint – What networks do they subscribe to or are members
  • How engaged are you? – Do they engage in discussions, start discussions, publish posts or share your expertise with like individuals?
  • Get engaged – Join more professional talent networks, share your talents, make strong connections

Some of you are wondering why I haven’t even mentioned a resume or a CV.  Pointless.  It doesn’t define you, it summarizes you.  That will not win your perfect job.  It may not even get you in the door.  You and you alone will win over your future employer because ideally, when you step foot in the door, you are the square that fits in the square hole.  You just need to shine and show them why.

Back to the list….

  • Obviously reviewing the resume/CV is a necessary step.
  • Write a business plan for individual success.  So many of us go into a job search unfocused.  Many even do the throw it and see what sticks approach to applying.  A little secret:  Employers can see right through that.  If you apply to 25 jobs, they will know and that will never goes away (applications are archived).  Putting together a structured short term and long term personal business plan along with your list of passions and interests will build a case for where your journey will go.
  • List the top ten companies you think you are fit for and why.  That is the big one.  If you know the type, size, services/products, environment and culture you will excel in, this part should be easy.

All that being said, I must go back to my earlier point of why this fails so often; yes you.

Typically, I lose 75% or more on step one.  They walk away with the homework, they commit to delivering the results to me and then gone.  Going, going, gone!!!  I follow up and get the list of excuses:

  • I’ve been really busy
  • I keep setting time aside and things come up with the family
  • I’m not sure where to begin
  • I know I have no excuse, but I promise to do it

The moral of the story is that ideas and motivation are great starting blocks, but if you are looking to build your dream house, you have to see it through to completion.

Why Would you Work for Us? – How to Win the Candidate

Recruitment is a very simple principle:  A need is identified and a candidate with a particular set of skills that can fill that gap is hired.  Cut and dry right?  Not exactly.  If it were that simple, we wouldn’t need incentive programs, bonuses, reward systems and counter offers to keep our best talent.  More importantly, if we utilized that principle, we would hire an entire workforce of “mediocre” talent that is content to come to work each day and earn a paycheck.  You know what that breeds?

You got it:  Redundant behavior, lack of inspiration, death of creativity and an all around halt in progress.  That is why mature and even young companies fail.  Whether we look at the last 100 years or the last 100,000, inspiration has been the spark of innovation.

Now, we need to complicate the principle of recruitment to provide us with an answer to the real question:  How to you win over the best talent in the market place.  If you noticed, I didn’t say “find” the best talent.  That part is easy.  We are “connected”.  The best talent is not hard to find.  We are everywhere.  We can hide, but we don’t.  We are proud of our skills and expertise and have learned how to ignore the spamming of agencies and recruiters.

Back to our dilemma, winning over the best.

For LeBron, it was a homecoming and the promise of a championship to a city that truly deserved to feel that sense of winning once again.  The money didn’t hurt, but LeBron was going to make a difference and he only fell a few games short.

What can I say to make you want to be a part of my team?

  • You will a difference.  Your ideas, research, and recommendations will be part of a team of collaboration, innovation and execution.  Your skills alone will not make the difference.  How you use them and how they will impact lives is the true essence of success
  • The ability to lead.  Does everyone become a people manager?  No and we don’t expect everyone to.  That would make for a very backwards organization chart.  Success is not one idea, but the work of many.  In a teaming environment, if you have an idea that you can drive to execution, that is leadership.
  • Look at your dreams and your reality; Are they connected?  If not, are we a part of where you envisioned your life.  A career will take up 60% of your awake time for over 40 years of your life.  Given those numbers, you should be surrounded by people that give you value and happiness.
  • You will be inspired.  Not everyday, not every week, but over the course of a career, you will find many moments of inspiration.  Look at your possessions; family, friends, creative projects and break down the things that are truly important to you.  Now take that list and find the things that truly “inspire” you.  That list is much smaller isn’t it.  That same principle should apply to a career.  You shouldn’t take any job because you can do it; you should because you are inspired and will make a difference.

I have asked recruiters and hiring managers throughout my career how long it takes you to decide if a candidate is a “fit”.  Most often it is less than 5 minutes.  Ironically, it is the same amount of time a woman on a date knows if she will date or sleep with a man.  So, why do we spend 30 plus minutes interviewing?  Simple, we need to justify our decision to ourselves.  Think about the thousands of hours we would save if we made our judgements early and often.

A marriage is a union of two bodies with a promise to love, cherish and nurture through good and bad.  The same holds true for a career match.  Companies will grow, mature, hit rough patches, soar to new heights and re-invent themselves.  It is the natural cycle of life.  Human will as well.

When I look at a candidates pool, I will always put my efforts into winning over the best.  I want the top talent for every one of my positions.  I won’t get them 100% of the time, but if they know they will inspire, make a difference and affect positive change, I will get most of them.


What makes you great?

By Mark A. Leon

On my flight back from San Francisco, Still Alice was on the screen two rows ahead of me. I did not have headphones, so I could not hear the dialogue, but my knowledge of the film and the unspoken interpretations of the scenes spoke volumes. Alice’s greatness was in her courage and her fight to hold onto her identify. In one poignant moment, Alice, played by Julianne Moore in an Oscar winning performance, was trying delicately to remember how to tie a shoe and had 35MM flashbacks of her childhood.

So often we know what is right in front of us, but we fail to let our emotions generate and guide the right action or response. At Hirepalooza, I made a new professional connection. As the event wrapped up, we started discussing career choices and what defines a memorable candidate.

I asked her, “what makes you great?”

She said she loves to make a difference. I said no.

Then she told me she loves helping others be better leaders. I said no once again.

She laughed and said, “You tell me the right answer.”

I explained there is no right answer and only she could tell me what truly makes her great. It is the emotional passion that drives you and gives you that fire that makes you want to continuously be a better person.

Her responses continued and I still shot them down. Then something happened. Her voice raised volume, tone and pace. Like the Grinch instantaneously growing a larger heart, she burst out a flaming response. She finally told me her true self.

Her friend turned to her and said, “That was it. I have never seen you so focused and passionate about an answer. That is what you need to say in an interview.”

The heart of a great workforce is great people; ones that are an extension of the culture, products and the value system of the organization. In the hustle and fast paced world of technology, client needs, deadlines and life balance pressures, we often have to make compromise. For many, that compromise is personal passion. Why? I’m not going to get into that discussion today because it isn’t about why it lacks, but how to find it once again, use it and hold on to it.

The separation point between a good candidate and a great one or a good worker and great one is a very fine line.

If you can make that separation point, I will take the odds that what truly gives you meaning will be that catalyst.

Every one of you knows what makes you heart pump the desire to live. Let it be a part of who you are as a professional as well.

Are you aggressive enough to kill for that job? (Not Literally)

Exhibit A: The Eager Beaver. She is energized, willing to learn and a true sponge in every sense of the word. You give her a task and she will embrace it and learn it.

Exhibit B: The aggressive go-getter. No need to direction. This one is self-sufficient and seeks out challenges and solutions.

Who do I want to hire?

Candidate A who shows the promise to learn and grow, but will need a tremendous amount of hand holding or Candidate B who is a self-directed work horse.

The only question I need to ask myself as a hiring manager is this: Which candidate will advance in this organization and drive positive results?

Yes, every single reader got that right. But that isn’t the lesson here. The lesson isn’t for the hiring managers or the recruiters, but the candidates.

Cultural Fit

• Personality + soft skills = Cultural Fit
• Soft skills + technical skills + adaptability + cultural fit = Long term loyalty
• Ambition + innovation + research and execution + leadership skills + project management skills = Priceless. You can’t buy that kind of talent. Actually you can.

The formula for success is not mapped out on a flow chart or a process document. This is not a long complex equation built out by a PhD at Stanford University (No intent to snub M.I.T.) nor a detailed research white paper. The formula for success is understanding your business, building a business model that promotes creative and innovative thought management and providing the resources and tools for success.

The heart of this formula is the right talent: the mix of diversification that will bring it all together. In any organization you will have your strong and weak performers. It is the nature curve of life. That doesn’t dictate that you cannot move the curve in favor of the strong.

There is an old adage, surround yourself with good people and you begin to see good results. The principles of the laws of attraction can be applied to the workforce. Find the common thread and build on it.

The common thread is culture. Find people that compliment your culture and you will shine.

The Hiring Manager has made a decision

Back to Candidate A and B. They have been sitting in the lobby sweating bullets waiting for feedback and all we are doing is talking about how to populate your organization with good people.

We know who we are selecting. Do you think they do?

Unfortunately, so many of the eager beavers don’t even realize what is right in front of them. They are nice, energetic, adaptable, flexibility and so willing to learn. Poor saps. The truth is that the big bad business wolf doesn’t want to huff and huff and blow the house down. Translated: they don’t want to put the time and effort into training. They need doers. Hard-nosed and successful doers. That is the business world today.

I was asked once, “How do I get from Wisconsin non-profits to silicon valley?” My response was, “You are adorable. I want to package you up and put a ribbon on top. You are incredibly intelligent and know you stuff, but you are a sweet talking soft spoken Midwest girl. You need a hard shell and soon. The world won’t ever see how much you can contribute unless you assert yourself in that world.” She is now a senior HR leader in the San Francisco bay area.

To all the Exhibit A’s out there, it will be hard to find companies that want to hold your hand in the workplace. Find your direction, develop a strategy and get there.

How Recruiters Saved the World


Recruiters are not expected to end the recession by hiring everyone that is in need of a career, nor are they expected to keep every family out of poverty or a sustained drop in their current lifestyle. What they will do is to identify unmatched, grade A, high level, highly productive talent to help organizations grow and mature to increased levels of success.

Recruiters are superheroes, or perhaps they are heroes. What is the difference between a superhero and a hero? Based on very limited research which entailed my IPad and surveying three friends, a superhero is one that has a supernatural power that is above and beyond the normal realm of folks like us. Therefore, I stand corrected:

Recruiters are heroes.

I know what some of you are saying: “Isn’t that a little extreme!” For those in the space, you are cheering saying “Heck Yeah, we are!” I want to tell you why recruiters stand on the same platform as those that sacrifice their lives each and every day.

I don’t want you to visualize the Olympic podium with a recruiter, firefighter and soldier standing side by side. I want to help you understand the value and importance recruiters play in the lives of others.

Recruiters, like so many of us, find and embrace individual success stories. When an amazing person is matched with an amazing opportunity, it sticks with a recruiter and for some, serves as a form of motivation.


Here is why this statement of heroism rings true:

  • Recruiters do not define culture but they shape and mold it. The role of a recruiter is not to fill jobs with bodies. It is a misnomer that needs to be put to rest. A truly dedicated recruiter understands the culture of the organization, the core values and mission and identifies individuals that will “fit”. By helping to seek out and usher in the high quality talent that fits in the organization, they are building a foundation for success. The right person will be a long term fit cutting down on onboarding, training and recruiting costs. That is a big part of any company budget.
  • Recruiters are on the front lines. For companies big and small, recruiters are the first person you meet and the person you will spend most of your time with until your start date. Creating a strong first impression in any walk of life is critical to establish comfort, trust and satisfaction.
  • Recruiters care and believe in their company. Employee satisfaction is one thing many areas companies struggle with. How to empower? How to challenge? How to satisfy? Recruiters truly believe in the company and that attitude carries forward in their pursuit of talent.
  • Recruiters evolve – With the landscape of talent acquisition changing with the explosion of social engagement, successful recruiters are continuously learning new skills and resources.
  • Recruiters promote trust. Interviewing for a job is difficult. It is one of the most stressful processes one will undergo in their lives. Having the trusting hand of a stranger is crucial in reducing stress and putting you in comfortable place where you can be yourself and allow your background to shine. Recruiters are nurturing.


For these and many more reasons, it is clear that recruiters are heroes. As we look back on our “dream” jobs. You know the one that makes you smile each more and feel valued, think about the person that got you in the door and the effort they put in for you. It is a feat not to be taken lightly.

Why I love recruitment

To find something you are passionate about is a gift.
To find something that grants you fulfillment and reward is simply priceless.

There are researchers and scientists dedicating their lives for the opportunity to find cures and promote a better state of living. Doctors and nurses comforting the bodies and souls and extending life so that we may see our grandchildren grow and smile. Teachers who see reward every day in the glow of a child’s eye when they realize they have made a breakthrough. Firefighters who put their own lives on the line on a daily basis to ensure the safety of others. Clergy fulfill a life mission of extending the word of the Lord to those in need. Writers use the benefit of the written word to share a message.

All of these life changing roles serve a purpose. Whether it is to one or millions, their devotion and commitment is a testimony to life. It is the notion of purpose and legacy that grants us a reason to continue our personal journey.

These are extreme examples. We all have value in what we do each and every day from engineers, to chefs, sales, to drivers to accountants. In the circle of existence, all the work we do contributes to a means. It is the value we contribute to society that keeps this well oiled engine moving.

Why do I love recruitment? What is the uplifting result of my chosen career path?

Given the global economic slowdown and the imminent concern over foreclosures, bankruptcy, basic standards of living, rise in poverty, fear and depression, it seems fair to say that helping others find a job is its own personal reward, but it goes much deeper than that.

There are many facets that complete me as a professional. It is the collective embodiment that gives that zest and energy to tackle each day with commitment and pride.

1. Relationships, relationships, relationships – Life is a series of interactions between individuals. Some grow and harness into blossoming flowers while others pass in the wind. Throughout my career I have spoken to candidates on welfare and those making half a million dollars annually and to this day, each and every conversation is a journey of wonder to me. I love the engagement. Making that initial connection and finding that common bond and then letting it grow from there. There is nothing more precious in all of the business world and I get to do it every day. Yesterday, I was reaching out to some of my old networking connections from business I conducted two years ago and it was so refreshing to hear their success stories and their personal life changes. It is the relationships that don’t make the metrics reports or performance reviews but they are the single strongest element of life and business.

2. The ability to change the life of an individual and/or a family. Helping set the groundwork for a career opportunity has ramifications far beyond the assessment and offer. A new career for many is a life change. For some a rebirth or second chance. For others a new challenge. For a few the chance to fulfill a dream. We open the gates of possibility. We hold the key that can guide individuals to what possibly could be the greatest path they can take.

3. Diversification – So many careers are in a box. You have a core group of businesses you support and a set of roles and responsibilities that are a means to an end. In talent acquisition, your client is the company and the scope of expertise is all skills and roles. One moment I may be focused on understanding processes and requirements in the technology space and another I will focus on financial executives. During my career I have dipped into non-profit, consulting, defense, finance, communications, insurance, domestic and global. I stood face to face with Jon Corzine at Goldman & Sachs learned from hundreds of children during Take Your Child to Work Day. Being exposed to all cultures, socio-economic levels and jobs have given me the portfolio to success in how I look at my core goals.

4. Partnership – Recruitment involves many hands in the pot. It is a collective partnership from identification to on-boarding. The process steps involve sales, negotiation, politics, evaluation, risk, and excitement. Working with resource managers, hiring groups, operations specialists, candidates, IT professionals and vendors makes this so much more than what seems like a well run assembly line. Each day is a new set of challenges and one I look forward to.

At the end of the day, it is never about the numbers but the lives. Human capital is and will always be the most critical element of the success of an organization. As automation and robotics take hold, they can only go so far. It is the people that define culture, experiences and growth.

We as recruiters make a pledge to understand the business and identify the best fit for the candidate and the company. We are pioneers to the promise land and I am proud to pave the path.