The New Golden Handcuff: Employer Contributions for Student Loan Repayment

Trying to compete for talent?  Perhaps thinking outside the box and to create a new program to attract AND retain talent are the way to go.  40% of employees rank student debt as their #1 financial concern. This personally came to light for me as a business owner recently while interviewing candidates for my own firm.  Talking with these sharp, young graduates it became apparent that having a company match for retirement was not the least bit attractive to them at this stage in their lives.  A Student Loan Paydown (SLP) program however, caused their eyes to light up and appears to trump all other benefits.

Companies such as Gradifi and SoFi set up plans for employers to pay money directly towards their employee’s student loans.  With the mounting debt across this nation, some estimate this nation’s student loan debt to be as high as $1.5 trillion dollars according to a recent Forbes article. Many firms see this not only an employee perk, but just good business sense.  According to Gradifi, 58% of employees are more likely to stay at their current job with an SLP than one without.  Even more eye-opening, 90% of those they surveyed said that having an SLP would impact their decision to accept a job offer.  This could be a game-changer in the war for talent.

The costs for an SLP are so minimal to the employer, it really makes sense to be able to offer a program like this and get a step ahead of your competition.  You don’t have to be an AECOM to have a great program that could improve your firm’s ability to attract and retain top talent and improve the quality of their lives at the same time!


Working Remotely

I get this request from potential candidates more often than I care to count: “I’d love to find a position that would allow me to work remotely a few days a week.” Most recently, I had a very enlightening conversation with a very sharp Millennial who said, “I have been looking for a position where I could work remotely part of the time and if I don’t find it in the next 5 years, I am going to start my own company and create it.” He went on to say with WebEx, Skype, email and cloud-based file sharing and software along with putting good reporting systems in place, why do I physically need to be sitting at my desk from 8-5? He even offered that in his personal situation, he could be more productive outside the office than in based on the number of mindless interruptions he faces with people walking by his office to shoot the bull.

He continued with the following example: Last week, my boss asked me about a specific design standard and I shared with him how I did it. He said he wanted to research it further so he went back to his desk, he researched the design standard and found it. His boss then printed it and walked back into my candidate’s office and handed it to him stating that he was correct and wanted to share it with him. So, my candidate said to me that he folded the piece of paper and put it in the recycle bin and said to me, “He could have emailed that to me.”

Next conversation with a VP of HR for one of my best clients regarding telecommuting that started after I shared a candidate who was looking for telecommuting a few days a week so that he could be with his family a few hours away until he could relocate next year. “None of our senior guys like it and it’s a very tough sell for anyone in our organization unless there are extenuating circumstances and even then, they really don’t like it.”

So, we are closing out on 2017, almost 2 decades into the 21st century. We have a major talent shortage. We have congested highways that make work/life balance a challenge when you add 2-3 hours of commuting each day to a 10-hour work day. We have all this fancy technology but no one seems comfortable breaking out of the “This- is- the- way- we- have- always- done- it” mode. Architecture and Engineering firms are competing and fighting for employees. In most markets, it’s akin to trying to fill a swimming pool by dipping water from one end of the pool and pouring it in the other. It begs the question: Do A&E firms shy away from setting up more remote work situations because there is a solid reason for it, or is because “we’re old-school” and that’s the way we have always done it?

Does your firm allow telecommuting? From your professional viewpoint, what are the pro’s and con’s? If you enacted this as a perk, do you think you would be able to attract more top talent to work on your team?

Either way, I’ll be following this young engineer who has a broader vision of how things could be!


Have Salaries Caught Up With The Market?

Last week, I had a conversation with a senior mechanical engineer who said that this year, 2017, was the first year that he made as much as he did back in 2008 nearly a decade after the Great Recession. This prompted me to look back at some of the placements I made back in 2007 and 2008. As an executive recruiter who has specialized in consulting engineering and architecture for more than 15 years, I am not seeing it yet in my practice if I compare apples to apples.

Even though EVERYONE is crying about not being able to find talent, the salaries do not appear to have not caught up with the intense demand of the market. I am getting calls and emails daily from A & E firms of all sizes who are calling me, unsolicited, to ask for my help in finding talent. Many of these firms have either never worked with a recruiter or have rarely had the need to do so yet they are at the end of their rope and considering all options, including paying an executive recruiter to help them attract talent.

If I look back to my high school and college economics courses, the incredible demand for architects and engineers should be driving salaries up, yet I am not seeing that.

So, I ask the question: How does your pay compare to 5 or 10 years ago? Is your firm paying significantly more or slightly more for engineers and architects than they were before the recession?

ShareShare Have Salaries Caught Up With The Marke


Always Be Interviewing?

One of my most favorite clients said to me recently, “Wow, I am glad that I invested the time to meet with your candidate even though we didn’t have an opening because we just had a guy put in his resignation today.” Likewise, I had a candidate say to me a while back, “I am glad I took your call even though I wasn’t looking because my boss resigned last week and I am now being assigned to another supervisor who I don’t see eye to eye with..”

Life offers us but one guarantee: Life is constantly changing. To keep ahead of this curve and not be blindsided, it’s in your best interest to always be open to new situations. If you are in a position of leadership then you know that there’s no guarantee that your rock star engineer will be with you forever so you need to anticipate that change can happen. It’s a good thing to always be interviewing talent even if you don’t have an “opening.”

Even if you love your job and your company, there’s no guarantee. Just ask someone who worked their entire career for URS. I am not suggesting that you remain in a state of chronic unease, but rather, remain open-minded and flexible. Life has a way of throwing us curveballs and when that happens and you find yourself being downsized or moved to another department and manager, it’s not the time to start networking. It also puts the power of decision-making squarely in your control and that’s empowering. Don’t fear change, embrace it.

What can you do?

  • Keep your network healthy- ask a former colleague or someone you know from ACEC out to lunch and see if there’s anything you can do to help them
  • Keep your resume updated– when the dream opportunity lands on your doorstep you can investigate it without having to spend your weekend scrambling to update your resume and project list
  • Interview even when you don’t have a need- when HR sends you a resume that looks like an A-Player, schedule a call to “meet” them or schedule a 30-minute coffee- even if you don’t have an opening
  • Keep your LinkedIn profile updated- connect with people you meet at conferences and meetings
  • Keep an open mind!



Trying to Attract Talent? What’s Your Value Proposition?

As an executive recruiter who specializes in the civil engineering and architecture space, I ask my clients the following questions: If I am talking with a candidate who has his or her head down and is making strong contributions to their firm, what is the value proposition that you offer a potential employee? What sets your firm apart from you competitor and how do I sell your firm? The responses vary but these are some of the most common:

  • We have great benefits
  • We have a good work environment
  • We have been in business for X number of years
  • (**YAWN**)

Those things are a given. No one wants to work for a firm that doesn’t have benefits or a good work environment, that’s expected. Where’s the sizzle? Where are the compelling things that will cause a candidate to pause and listen: One who may not necessarily be actively looking but who would be open to hearing about an opportunity that offered them intangibles that they don’t currently have.

The Department of Labor just released the jobs report for February and the unemployment is 4.7% and that figure is probably much lower if you break down our industry in the A&E market. We are at full employment so everyone who wants a job should be able to have a job.

If you don’t have a solid value proposition, sit down with your people and ask them why they like working at your firm. Ask your clients why they continue to work with you. Develop some key features that are unique to your firm about your people, your culture, the pathways for advancement, the professional development, the charitable contributions that your firm makes in the communities in which you reside, etc.

If you want to attract the best and the brightest, you must have a clearly defined value proposition and you need to be able to convey those things with passion and enthusiasm to potential candidates. If you don’t, your competitors will.


Being Respectful To Candidates in the Search Process

Being Respectful To Candidates in the Search Process

December 14, 2016

By: Anna Peters

The same tools that save recruiters time often make the application process feel robotic and cold, at least from the job seeker’s point of view. As you work to woo people into your company, it would be a bad idea to turn them off. You can use time-saving technology and still be respectful and applicant-centric.

Juli Smith, President of The Smith Consulting Group, agrees that the lack of respect for candidates has consequences. “It can be very devastating to hear nothing. Even bad news can be taken better than radio silence for days or weeks.” Candidates may have gotten used to being treated insignificantly during the job search, but that doesn’t mean they’ll put up with it for much longer. As companies start to figure out how to treat them better, you don’t want to be the last company standing with a humorless, disrespectful and overly-automated job application process.

Click here to view the full article.


40-year old Intern? Re-Entering the Workforce After a Gap in Employment

I heard a great TED Talk on my way to work this morning by Carol Fishman Cohen talking about re-entering the workforce after a gap in employment. I see this quite often with women wanting to re-enter the workforce after raising their kids or even taking time off to care for an aging parent. How do you do it? What are the pitfalls and how can you package yourself to be appealing to a potential employer?


I hear questions from clients all the time like, “What’s she been doing for the past six years?” Or “Why hasn’t he or she worked in five years?” The employer’s concern can range from being afraid that the potential hire will be “technically obsolete” since software changes a lot in a multi-year period to just plain being rusty. I always suggest to put the gap in your employment on your resume as if it were a job with the dates you were out of the workforce and the reason for the gap. That way, the potential employer knows that you took 5 years off to raise your kids.


Prior to the economic downturn, most civil engineering firms were using AutoCad Land Development Desktop and now Civil 3D is pretty much the gold standard. So where do you turn to get up to speed quickly? has hundreds of tutorials on their site: everything from Civil 3D to Revit to the latest versions of Excel and it’s an inexpensive source that you can do on your own time. The onus is on you to try and get yourself back up to speed with technology, not the employer.


The other challenge you’ll face from a leery employer is starting back at your pay that you had when you were fully engaged in the workforce. Fishman-Cohen suggests trying to do a paid internship to re-enter the workforce and cited many Fortune 100 companies who are already setting up programs to hire and re-engage mid-career interns. While you may not be making what you want to make right out of the gate, it’s a great way to “try on” a company for size and allow them to see what you are really made of, too. The advantage to the employer is being able to see someone’s work ethic, their critical thinking skills and all the intangibles that are so hard to find. Software can be re-learned but a strong work-ethic and a great attitude are the gems to grab when you can find them! As the intern, you get a chance to see if the company culture is a fit while blowing the dust off your skills and re-engaging in the 9-5.


President of The Smith Consulting Group, Juli Smith, Featured in GoodCall


President of The Smith Consulting Group – A member of the Sanford Rose Associates® network of offices, Juli Smith, Featured in GoodCall, 40% of Women Engineering Students Earning Degrees Quit or Never Enter the Field, MIT Study Finds

Dallas, 9/22/2016

Engineering remains one of the highest-paid fields requiring only a bachelor’s profession, and much has been done to try to open the field to more women. But a recent study at MIT shows that 40% of women who earn engineering degrees either quit or never enter the field.

Juli Smith, president of the Smith Consulting Group, which specializes in civil engineering and IT, tells GoodCall that she’s spoken with many women engineers and the reasons for leaving the profession often vary by age. “Many experienced women hit the ‘good ‘old boy’ glass ceiling, rarely making it into the executive suite; they become disenchanted and they get into other careers.”

Read more:


Juli Smith, President of The Smith Consulting Group, Featured in GoodCall


Juli Smith, President of The Smith Consulting Group – A member of the Sanford Rose Associates® network of offices Featured in GoodCall, Companies Struggle Finding Workers in Five Fields

Dallas, 9/7/2016

While many college grads lament the difficulties of finding meaningful work with good wages, there’s another side to the employment story. Companies lament the difficulties of finding workers – especially skilled ones – and keeping them. According to Randstad’s 2016 Workplace Trends Report, 79% of hiring managers say it’s difficult to find applicants who meet the job description for open positions.

It’s a sentiment shared by Juli Smith, president of the Jackson, MI-based Smith Consulting Group – especially in civil engineering. Smith tells GoodCall, “If you were going into your freshman or sophomore year of college during the recession or graduating during the 2007-2011 years, there were very few civil engineering firms hiring interns.” As a result, she says many engineers went back to school and earned a degree in another field. “So now, there is a large vacuum for talent in the market for civil engineers with 5-10 years of experience.”

Read more:


Why Engineers Screw Up the Interview…

…because they are engineers and they can’t seem to help themselves?

Engineers by nature and by training (is it nurture or nature?) are trained to look for the reasons why something will fail and too often, this translates right into the job interview.  Too many engineers are looking at the potential candidate and trying to find reasons why they aren’t a fit instead of looking for attributes that add value to the organization, and by sharing a value proposition to make them WANT to come to work there.

Your interview process needs to change based on the current job market.  Look around.  If you haven’t noticed, we are in one of the hottest job markets I have experienced in 16 years as an engineering and architect recruiter.  So, if you are conducting interviews like you did back in 2010, you need to stop and re-evaluate your process.  The candidate sitting in front of you has options.  More options than you do currently, so in light of that fact, if you want to increase your options of actually attracting that candidate to to come work for you, you need to make some slight shifts in your mindset.

I invite you to consider the following:

  1. Interviewing is like dating: Just get to know them first.  Do you even like this person?  Is this someone you would want hanging around your office for 8-12 hours a day?
  2. Screen in, then screen out- too many engineers are screening out first and missing a lot of potentially good people for minor things that aren’t really that important at the end of the day.  Good companies and good managers know that a person with integrity, intelligence and personal drive can learn skills germane to the job.  Would you rather have a person with the exact skills but who has a low personal drive and an annoying personality that disrupts the team?
  3. Know your value proposition and key in on what you have to sell the candidate.  Here’s a tip, folks: your value proposition isn’t having a paycheck to offer and good benefits.  When I ask my clients this question, this is the most common response.  If you don’t know your value proposition, you need to create one.  What is unique about your company in the marketplace?  Why do YOU like working there? What do other people find compelling about continuing to work at the company? Take some time and figure this out and then actually talk to candidates about why your organization is a great place to come and spend 8-12 hours a day!
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