A Coach’s Insider Advice for Filling Open Positions

As a coach and a mentor, I’m often asked for advice from job seekers. We are in a unique job market right now, a recent survey by Bankrate shows that 55% of Americans anticipate looking for a new job over the next year. This phenomenon has been nicknamed the Great Resignation by media outlets.

In response to the pandemic, “there have been a lot of epiphanies and reckonings that have occurred … with respect with how we’re prioritizing ultimately our values, and of course how work fits into that,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate, the company that conducted the research. Americans are prioritizing flexible work arrangements, higher pay, and job security in their search.

Flexibility is now the fastest-rising job priority in the U.S., according to a poll of more than 5,000 LinkedIn members. Working parents want to adjust their hours to suit their parenting schedules, single people want the freedom to change cities, while still keeping the same employer. Freedom and personal control within a job feel like much more vital priorities.

And yet, there hasn’t been much change in the hiring and recruiting process. As companies look to fill roles, there are too few people for open positions.  Hiring managers and staff are investing more of their own time and paying recruiters, but jobs remain open. It’s time to shake up the process and hire for aptitude and then invest in training good people.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings surged to an all-time high of 10.1 million at the end of June, outnumbering the 8.7 million unemployed individuals. Given these stats, you would think that companies would be trying hard to connect with job seekers and make the right fit to fill these open positions. But companies and hiring managers need to think outside the box and expand their horizons. Are you actively looking to recruit women who have taken a break from the workforce with flexibility and daycare options? Are you proactively reaching out to diverse talent sourcing and recruiting associations? Have you considered making your educational requirements less stringent to open the pool of candidates to those with relevant life experience? Are you considering the value of older candidates who can bring years of knowledge and mentorship to the position?

Rather than stick to the way your company has always done things, focus on aptitude, empathy, and coachability. Here are some insightful questions that should prompt real conversations about success that can be accomplished if the company and candidate end up working together.

  1. Tell me about an achievement that you are proud of – either personal or professional – and what you did to make that happen. This is very open ended and lets the candidate demonstrate goals and success.
  2. In your research on our company, what is something you found that we could change or do differently to be more successful? This will let the candidate know you are open to their input and will may uncover some new ideas from a fresh perspective.
  3. How do you think you can make a difference in our organization? Again, it gives the candidate a chance to show big picture thinking and define what success could look like.
  4. What skills are you working on improving, and how do you plan to get there? The opposite of the “weakness” question, this is a positive spin on skill development and opportunities, and shows if someone is a lifelong learner.
  5. Do you feel that you would be a good cultural fit here? If not, what could we do differently? This can start discussions on diversity and supporting all employees. Although some candidates may not feel comfortable opening up, if the interviewer lets the candidate know they are striving to be inclusive, it may go a long way.

An interview shouldn’t be an interrogation or include tricks or puzzles to solve to make it to the next level.  Adam Grant, organizational psychologist at Wharton, recently wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal, titled, The Real Meaning of Freedom at Work, in which he states, “For several generations, we’ve organized our lives around our work. Our jobs have determined where we make our homes, when we see our families and what we can squeeze in during our downtime. It might be time to start planning our work around our lives.”

As you are recruiting to fill open roles in your organization, do so with the goal of truly assessing the fit of this person for this role and your organization – and do so with an open mind toward hiring for aptitude.

MIT delta v 2017: Ready to Change the World!

demo day pic 2017Are you ready to be inspired? MIT’s student venture accelerator, delta v, revealed itself to the world at our 2017 Demo Day on September 9. It was a fantastic culmination to this year’s program and our students are ready change the world with their startup companies.

I want to thank the students, our speaker Shireen Yates from Nima, the staff at the Martin Trust Center, and our live and online audiences at Demo Day. I invite you to watch the video and view the entire program to see our entrepreneurs pitch their startups.

This year, delta v hosted the largest cohort to date with 21 teams.  In addition to bringing a wide range of skill sets to the program, our 2017 cohort was the most diverse in gender and ethnic background, and had a worldwide perspective with representation from many different countries. This had a tremendous benefit in terms of networking and the teams helping each other solve challenges, supporting the philosophy that diversity fuels innovation. The teams took their skills in science, technology, design, management, and entrepreneurship to tackle everything from fresh water scarcity, climate change, and different ways of producing energy to the opioid crisis, soaring healthcare costs and gender inequality in healthcare to global financial transparency – all big problems in need of innovative solutions.

At delta v, our goal isn’t to tell the students how to do things, our goal is to lead them to their own conclusions. We are looking for students with the “heart of an entrepreneur” who are looking to solve the world’s really hard problems. We give them the opportunity to fail and get feedback in a safe environment. Plus, they learn from each other. Our value add is to help guide students who are ready to positively impact the world.

demo day 2Here’s a brief overview of each startup that presented at Demo Day (in alphabetical order). Remember them. It’s likely you’ll be able to point back and say, “I saw them when they were just a startup at MIT…”




Focused on empowering women to achieve their goals, Alba is a care giving marketplace for parents in Latin America.

Biobot Analytics

Biobot’s mission is to equip cities with data to build healthier and safer communities. Biobot Analytics’ first application is generating a new type of data on the opioid epidemic. (See recent coverage of the team in Boston Magazine.)


Blockparty tackles food insecurity through fun, engaging cooking classes where young professionals can learn a new recipe while also providing meals to our neighbors in need.

Bloomer Health Tech

Bloomer Health Tech is transforming heart health and quality of life for women suffering from, or at risk of, heart disease. Bloomer delivers effortless and comfortable medical-grade sensors embedded in a woman’s bra to monitor multiple biomarkers using patent-pending advanced fabrics and algorithms.


Divaqua is committed to making water scarcity yesterday’s problem. They are developing and commercializing higher performing, safer, and more cost-effective technology to treat wastewater.


Power plants, the US’ largest water consumer, use 139 billion gallons of fresh water every day, which amounts to 50% of total US freshwater withdrawals. Infinite Cooling captures water in evaporative cooling tanks and reintroduces it into a powerplant’s cooling cycle.


Klarity’s vision is to provide widespread access to concise and trustworthy legal advice through intelligent technology using machine learning to reduce the time spent on contract review.

Mayflower Venues

Mayflower Venues enables customers to create one-of-a-kind weddings and events while helping preserve unique open spaces across New England.


Mesodyne is bringing portable power to those who need it most. Its breakthrough technology enables ultra-portable, reliable, and affordable energy generation for the military and beyond.


Octant’s data curation platform uses deep learning to accelerate autonomous vehicle (AV) development. Equipped with Octant’s solution, innovators can spend less time collecting and managing data, and more time improving the future of mobility.

Pine Health

Pine Health helps patients follow through on doctor’s orders by using patient data to trigger conversations with an AI-augmented health coach.


ReviveMed is a precision medicine platform that aims to improve people’s health by unlocking the value of metabolomics data, allowing the right therapeutics to be delivered to the right patients.

Roots Studio

Roots Studio is a for-profit social enterprise that curates, digitizes, and markets culturally iconic artwork from indigenous and isolated artists to a global marketplace.

Sigma Ratings

Sigma Ratings is the world’s first non-credit risk rating agency and helps companies more effectively and efficiently navigate increasing regulatory challenges.


Sophia connects patients with the right therapists for them using a data-driven matching process, creating stronger therapeutic relationships.


TradeTrack aims to improve personalized customer services in the fashion industry. Their solution increases brand loyalty and helps to improve customer retention.


W8X helps athletes to become their best and strongest selves with strength training equipment that adapts to their specific needs. Inspired by robotics, W8X has developed a weight lifting system that creates resistance electrically.

Waypoint uses augmented reality (AR) to help frontline workers rapidly capture, access, and scale expert knowledge.

The delta v teams also present to alumni and investors in New York City and San Francisco – quite the exciting month!

See more coverage of Demo Day in the MIT News and MIT Sloan Management newsroom.

demo day 1

Closing the Opportunity Divide … one person at a time

Francilia Jones, my Year Up mentee

Francilia Jones, my Year Up mentee

Watching your child succeed at something important in life tends brings that choked up feeling – pride swells your chest and you blink away a tear or two. Well, Francilia Jones is not my child, but I’ve mentored Francilia over the past year, and I felt all those same emotions as I watched her give her graduation speech at this year’s Year Up graduation ceremony.

Year Up is an organization that empowers urban, low-income young adults to go from poverty to professional careers in a single year. As a mentor at Year Up in Boston, every year I’m amazed at the transformation of these young adults. They come to the program with talent and motivation – but, unfortunately, lack skills, experience, and opportunities. However, with the help of Year Up, these young people can gain six months of professional training in IT, Finance, or Customer Service, a six month corporate internship with a respected company, and up to 24 college credits – all in the course of one year.

The program’s success rate is impressive; 85% of Year Up graduates are employed or attending college full-time within four months of completing the program. Those employed earn an average starting salary of $16 per hour – $32,000 per year for salaried employees.

In Francilia’s case, her family was supportive and she was accepted into her dream school, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, a family illness and other misfortune meant that she could not afford to attend the school. She tried working to save money to do it on her own – and one day, Year Up’s Director of Student Services for Boston, Rob Fladger, entered the branch of the bank where she was working and told her she looked miserable. He told her about Year Up and she even attended an information session.

However, Francilia still wanted to do this on her own and tried attending college for one semester while working 70 hours per week. Needless to say, that didn’t work out. She still had Rob’s card and gave him a call. By joining the Year Up program, Francilia completed an internship at Harvard University and gained a passion for technology. She now hopes to attend community college and then gain her bachelor’s degree in computer science. She is also looking to work part-time to fulfill her goals. In the entrepreneurship program I help to lead at MIT we call it “escape velocity” and Francilia is on her way, but finding a job still is not easy.

In her graduation speech Francilia states, “I always knew that I could be more than by current situation. I always knew I could be better than my struggles.”  I couldn’t agree more.

I believe this really summarizes the Year Up program, and how it helps bright, motivated young people overcome their current situations. Year Up calls this the “Opportunity Divide” – millions of young adults in the U.S. have talent and motivation, but lack opportunity. They estimate that 6 million bright young people are without access to opportunities to connect to the economic mainstream. Meanwhile, over the next decade, American companies will face a shortage of over 14 million qualified workers. Year Up’s mission is to close the Opportunity Divide.

I wanted to share this experience because being a mentor is one of the most fulfilling things that I’ve done. It puts your personal issues into check, and you just feel good helping to guide someone who is so motivated to succeed. Year Up is always looking for more mentors, so I encourage others to share their time and talents and learn what it takes to become a mentor for Year Up – they have locations in many cities throughout the U.S.

Plus, I’d also like to put a shout out to my network – Francilia is looking for her next job opportunity, preferably in the technology space. Any interest in hiring a hard-working “go-getter”? Please let me know and I will make the connection.

Year up logo

10 Ways T-Shaped Training Is Affecting American Industry Right Now

The year 2020 is now just six years away. Perhaps because it’s such a nice, round number, predictions for 2020 are building steam. What will businesses look like then?


The view from 2014 suggests that the workforce will be more T-shaped than ever. T-shaped employees, as you may recall, have a specific area of deep knowledge (the vertical line of the T) along with a broader understanding of a range of areas, as well as “soft skills” like emotional intelligence (the horizontal line) that they can connect to their specialty.

Support for this point of view comes from a Palo Alto think tank, Institute for the Future (IFTF). Their research seems to place the lion’s share of responsibility for the T-shaped trend on the aging American workforce: “As extended life spans promote multiple careers and exposure to more industries and disciplines, it will be particularly important for workers to develop this T-shaped quality.” The report coincides with related developments that are underway right now — from the transformation of traditional learning methods to challenges to the traditional top-down leadership style — that are paving the way toward a T-shaped future. With that in mind, here are ten ways T-shaped training is affecting American industry right now.

1. Professional education is being revolutionized, but without specific leadership

Not every revolution has an acknowledged leader. Still, it is something of an irony that T-shaped skills, which are sure to be a critical force for management in coming years, seems to be developing randomly and organically, without any clearly ascertainable paradigm or process. Bill Gates was met with the derision of academics when he proposed to overhaul the methods used to teach analytics and big data skills. The reflexive, almost defensive response from traditional universities was that Gates was being too much the “engineer.” As The Chronicle of Higher Education noted, “Academic researchers who have spent years studying higher education see their expertise bypassed as Gates moves aggressively to develop strategies for reform.” The tug-of-war between corporations and academia isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Students may be keener to listen to Bill Gates than inhabitants of the ivory tower. As a result, learning’s center of gravity may end up slipping way from academia and toward industry.

2. Increased globalization is creating the need to lead across cultures.

Jeff Barnes has been tasked with articulating GE’s notion of “global leadership.” As part of his approach, Barnes has come to describe and emphasize the importance of globalization. Barnes sums up the new age of management and training simply: “There are no boundaries any more.”  As a result, a broader level of knowledge (“boundary-spanning”) is more critical than ever.

3. CEOs are predicting and planning for “whitewater” conditions

GE’s Jeffery Immelt argues that management capabilities for this century will require an “ability to handle ambiguity.”  T-shaped skills fulfill this demand. The bad news for American businesses is the very low number of workers who seem to have this ability. One frequently cited study suggests a meager eight percent of all managers are currently operating in a T-shaped manner. What’s notable about the low rate of T-shaped management adoption is the huge competitive advantage that it gives to the businesses that actually do use T-shaped management systems. It is as if only eight percent of all baseball players on a team are allowed to use aluminum bats, with the rest still using wood against the best pitchers from around the world.

4. Specific management “skills” are being replaced by “characteristics”

In many ways, this set of changes is very much a matter of replacing the “old ways” of managing. Research by Dr. Phil Gardner of Michigan State University underscores how T-shaped traits are beginning to take root, including the integration of studies from divergent academic areas (from sociology to psychology) to help define personal ethics and character.

5. Companies are more frequently absorbing full costs of new training techniques.

“Learning” won’t mean the old-fashioned method of just telling someone how to do something. The Institute for the Future notes workers (especially younger workers) are using social networking to learn about and understand new ways of doing things. Video, digital imagery and the web are offering a visual, interactive method of teaching with few if any historic parallels (unless you count cave paintings).

Fortune magazine has highlighted the growing importance of government funding in what can only be described as “experimental” training techniques for today’s data-driven economy. Historically, the federal government has had a profound impact on the overall health of the American workforce in eras of widespread transition. Yet as employment demands continue to evolve, a growing number of companies are likely to bear the full costs of training in bad times as well as good.

Morten Hansen (now at University of California at Berkley, formerly of Harvard University Business School) and his colleague Bolko Von Oetinger found in their pioneering research in 2001 that while T-shaped managers can help companies of any size, they are “particularly crucial in large corporations where operating units have been granted considerable autonomy.” Large companies have deeper pockets for employee training than smaller ones do, and hence a disproportionate level of resources are likely to be dedicated to T-shaped training as a result.

IBM has invested extensively in the T-shaped model and will host the T-Summit 2014 in San Jose, Calif. in March. Jim Spohrer, Director of Global University Programs at IBM, explained it this way: “Projects teams at IBM often span multiple disciplines, sectors, and cultures – and so we need T-shaped graduates who can work well together to co-create solutions for a Smarter Planet.”

6. A new era of innovation in leadership development has already begun.

There is not just one rigid type of T-training, since it appears that most businesses— high tech or not—can benefit from T-shaped management. Put another way, the “T” may be of many different fonts and applied in an endless variety of ways. The coming era in management will also be defined in part by exactly “who” will be managed. The Institute for the Future notes the increasing replacement of mundane human tasks with smart machines.

7. Increased focus on ‘vertical’ instead of ‘horizontal’ development.

The traditional top-down leadership style has been challenged by many factors in recent years, and T-training is likely to further contribute to its replacement paradigm. For that matter, leadership itself is no longer viewed as a personal characteristic that you either have or don’t, but as more of as a deliberate process of “big picture” decision-making (McCauley & Van Velsor, 2004).

The Institute for the Future takes an even longer view on trying to define the shape of organizations as they grow organically, and calls these future, successful organizations “superstructures.” The ability to manage these superstructures will be beyond the ability of single managers, and will rely instead on teams of T-trained employees.

8. Transfer of greater developmental ownership to the individual.

One of the reasons this is among the most fascinating changes is the way it forces an organization to learn from “failure.” Managers in the “T” are expected to be able to explain what is happening across several areas. You can see this aspect of emphasizing development in organizations such as Google (using Rypple) and IDEO, where there are bonuses for positive development as well as for traditional performance competencies.

9. “Change” via T-shaped management is being resisted.

As with any revolutionary paradigm shift, the “T-shaped” transformation is already facing predictable sorts of resistance, and this is likely to continue. One transformational group, Implementation Management Group (IMG),  suggests that when it comes to resistance, the toll can be very high. IMG estimates that 25 percent will “jump on board” change and 50 percent will “eventually” embrace change, with support and encouragement. But a stunning 25 percent “won’t make it” and will, because of the change in culture, leave the company.

10. The decline of individual leadership is causing a rise of collective leadership.

In a 2009 IBM survey of over 2,500 CEOs, the most widely cited skill expected for a future leader was “creativity.” Creativity and T-shaped management go hand-in-hand. Big picture thinking requires a broad understanding of all of the parts that contribute to it. Envisioning “what’s possible” necessitates a good understanding of “what is.”

Conclusions: Resisting the Rear View Mirror

Hindsight may be 20/20, according to the old cliche, but experts in new management techniques have a special word of caution about hindsight. As the change cycle continues to accelerate, we are finding that what happened in the past is increasingly less likely to be instructive for the future. Still, what Bonheoffer had to say in the 1940s still seems to echo with where we find ourselves today. Bonheoffer wrote, “The ‘polymath’ had already died out by the close of the eighteenth century, and in the following century intensive education replaced extensive, so that by the end of it the specialist had evolved. The consequence is that today everyone is a mere technician, even the artist.”

As Samuel Arbesman notes in Wired, “the most exciting inventions occur at the boundaries of disciplines, among those who can bring different ideas from different fields together.” The challenge we face today, and will certainly face in 2020, is to train our workforce to think both as technicians AND as artists, combining deep practical knowledge with creative thinking to navigate the ever-changing seas of the future.

The Opportunities and Challenges Facing T-Shaped Employees in Today’s Enterprises

375-initial-letter-t-with-dragons-q90-500x495Do you have Google Envy? With Google shares soaring past $1000, you may be looking at your own company and wondering what their secret sauce is.

For one thing, Google employees really like working there.

In workplace satisfaction surveys for the last four years, Google has consistently been near the top of all high tech companies. In 2012, Google managed an enormous jump in employee satisfaction, up almost 40 percent and moving in front of Facebook employee satisfaction.

Is this because Google employees are getting rich off of their stock options? Actually, those high stock values and salaries are relatively low considerations in employee satisfaction. The Huffington Post has reported that only 9 percent of Google employees and 10 percent of Facebook workers considered salary as their top incentive.

Identifying T-Shaped Hiring Prospects

One key to Google’s high employee satisfaction is likely due to Google’s prowess at using data analysis to hire the right kind of T-shaped employees in the first place. T-shaped employees, as you may be aware, have a specific area of deep knowledge (the vertical line of the T) along with a broader understanding of a range of areas, as well as “soft skills” like emotional intelligence (the horizontal line) that they can connect to their specialty. This model enables employees to collaborate in ways that spur creativity and innovation that a more traditional “siloed” organization structure does not.

Google’s interview process is so unique (and in my opinion, successful) because it is self-consciously data-driven to precisely identify the essence of T-shaped skills. Even the Washington Post has taken note, praising the way employees from across the Google workforce are used to interview prospective teammates, even though they may never actually work with the person again.

Developing Employees Through T-Shaped Training

When T-shaped training was first proposed in 1991, it was on the basis of a psychological study suggesting it would increase job satisfaction. A more recent study mentioned last year in Psychology Today suggests that T-shaped employees are also more productive and able to “hit the ground running.”

In an increasing number of workplaces, the concept of T-structured training is becoming more widely adopted for employee development. One company places enough value on the idea to say it in their employee handbook. Valve, Inc., a Bellevue-based software company, states they “believe” in T-shaped employees, but discourage any “formalized” employee development, opting instead for a more informal, collaborative model.

Once a company decides to hire T-shaped employees, those employees often have their own creative, individualistic ideas about what their particular shapes means. Adria Saracino, for one, cautions about falling into what she says may turn out to be a “T-shaped Black hole.”

Put another way, T-shaped employees aren’t going to work very well in cookie cutter positions.

As T-shaped training becomes more a part of an employer’s expectations, employees also develop their own expectations for becoming T-shaped. One question is whether T-shaped teams are making it easier, or harder, to get work done.

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control called overwork a virtual US epidemic, with almost a third of workers getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night. Unfortunately for T-shaped employees, creative collaboration does not tend to thrive in the midst of perpetual workplace stress. Not only that, what happens when some team members don’t pull their weight?

The only answer here is probably to expect more from universities, who need to train students about team responsibility and successful collaborative skills that are essential to being T-shaped. One study of college students, done by North Carolina Sate University, shows great benefits in the idea of T-shaped teams, but also suggested that if the T-shaped teams are dysfunctional or ineffective, they may even cause more harm than good.

Bill Gates was a pioneer in taking time to just think, taking what he called two “think weeks” each and every year of his tenure at Microsoft. Employees who are given some time “off the grid” to think and talk about their t-shaped role and how it fits into the larger organizational framework are more likely to be productive for the company and fulfilled as individuals.