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Opinion

Opinion

By Alex Zlatin

A company’s intention in a job interview is to find the person who best fits a particular position. But quite often, the candidate who is hired fails, and usually their exit is related to attitude issues that weren’t revealed in the interview.

That raises the question: are interviewers asking the wrong questions — and consequently hiring the wrong people? Some traditional styles of interviewing are outdated, thus wasting time and resources while letting better candidates slip away.

It still astounds me to meet HR professionals who lack the basic skills of interviewing. In 2019, ‘tell me about yourself’ is still a way to start an interview, and that’s absurd. The only thing you get is people who describe the outline of their résumé, which you already know.

Here are some interview approaches to help HR leaders, recruiters, and executives find the right candidate:

• Make it a two-way conversation. Traditional interviewing focuses too much on the candidate’s skills and experience rather than on their motivation, problem-solving ability, and willingness to collaborate. Rather than making most of the interview a rigid, constant question-and-answer format that can be limiting to both sides, have a two-way conversation and invite them to ask plenty of questions.

• Flip their résumé upside down. Surprise them by going outside the box and asking them something about themselves that isn’t on their résumé or in their cover letter. See how creatively they think and whether they stay calm. You want to see how a candidate thinks on their feet — a trait all companies value.

• Ask open-ended questions. Can this candidate make a difference in your company? Answering that question should be a big aim of the interview. Ask questions that allude to how they made a difference in certain situations at their past company. Then present a hypothetical situation and ask how they would respond.

• Don’t ask cliched questions. Some traditional interview questions only lead to candidates telling interviewers what the candidate thinks the company wants to hear. Interviewers should stop asking pointless questions like, ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ or ‘why do you want to work for this company?’ Candidates rehearse these answers, and many of them are similar, so that doesn’t allow them to stand apart.

• Learn from the candidate’s questions. The questions candidates ask can indicate how deeply they’ve studied the company and how interested they really are. A good candidate uses questions to learn about the role, the company, and the boss to assess whether it’s the right job for them.

• Don’t take copious notes. The tendency by interviewers to write down the candidate’s answers and other observations is a huge obstacle to building a solid two-way conversation because it removes the crucial element of eye contact.

 

Alex Zlatin is CEO of dental practice-management company Maxim Software Systems.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

Massachusetts is about to undertake the most sweeping restructuring of public-education funding since 1993. What does it mean for employers?

The 3,500 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) who depend upon the public schools to prepare the workforce of the future support education reform that contains specific and measurable performance objectives. Anyone who owns or manages a business tracks return on investment, and the investment we make in our public schools and students should be no different.

However, employers do not support the sort of reform being promoted by some advocates who have been calling at rallies for a ‘blank check’ of billions of dollars of state aid with no accountability.

While the National Assessment of Education Progress indicates that Massachusetts has the best public schools in the nation, that same assessment shows significant achievement gaps between white students and black and Latino students. Massachusetts finds itself in the bottom half of states with respect to black-white achievement gaps across almost all grades in reading and math and in the bottom third of states with respect to Latino-white achievement gaps across all grades in both reading and math. The achievement gap matters to employers confronting a persistent shortage of qualified workers in an economy running at 2.9% unemployment.

Reforming the school funding formula will probably cost taxpayers around $1 billion. Employers understand better than anyone the importance of making strategic investments, but they also know that pouring money into a broken system is not the answer. Employer support for education reform hinges on the establishment of clear and measurable standards that will allow everyone to determine whether changes are working for students, teachers, and the Commonwealth.

The evidence is clear that more money does not equal better educational performance. AIM insists the following accountability measures be part of any education funding reform:

• Fully implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission through a multi-year, fully funded revision to the Chapter 70 formula that will achieve adequacy and equity for all students.

• Maintain and enhance the state accountability system to ensure new funds go to those students who need them the most and are used effectively to close achievement gaps, set statewide and district targets for closing those gaps with annual reporting on progress, and collect and report on data related to college and career readiness.

• Add a new Chapter 70 enrollment category for Early College and Career Pathways to enable replication and expansion of these high-school reform strategies.

• Provide significant and supplemental funding for innovation and the implementation of best practices in underperforming schools.

• Enact Innovation Partnership Zone legislation to provide communities with a new tool for empowering schools and educators to address persistent low performance and encourage innovation.

John Regan is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Editorial

In the U.S., 150,000 tons of food is wasted every day.

This equals about a pound of food per person, or about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes. What may not be totally obvious when we throw out that banana with a brown spot on it, or the slightly mushy red pepper, is that all this food waste contributes to a much bigger problem in America — the waste of about 40% of country’s food production.

This shocking fact shared by the Center for EcoTechnology is a testament for just how serious the food-waste epidemic is.

In addition, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, wasted food is the single biggest occupant in American landfills. The food we throw out affects our lives in more ways than one, including our own financial resources and a bigger carbon footprint.

Thankfully, while food waste remains a huge problem in America and the world, more and more awareness is being brought to this subject, and more action is being taken to significantly reduce this problem. This includes organizations like Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a nonprofit dedicated solely to food rescue and distribution in Massachusetts.

Lovin’ Spoonfuls picks up food from more than 75 vendor partners in refrigerated trucks and serves more than 40 cities and towns across Massachusetts. It focuses primarily on perishable foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy, which are the most likely to be wasted, and provides meals to more than 30,000 people a week.

Aside from organizations like this, there are simple ways families can do their part to significantly reduce food waste — everything from planning meals for the week before going to the grocery store to freezing foods that won’t be eaten right away. Looking in the refrigerator and cabinets and cooking food already on hand — and saving leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day — are other habits that add up over 128 million American households.

Businesses are increasingly implementing food-waste reduction strategies as well — spurred in many cases by state regulation. The bottom line is, if everyone tries a little each day to help, significantly less food will be wasted and dumped into landfills.

While Massachusetts in general has been a national leader in addressing food waste, it is important that individuals do their part by implementing their own strategies. With the help of organizations like the Center for EcoTechnology and Lovin’ Spoonfuls, we can only hope those shocking food-waste numbers begin to go down in the next several decades.

Opinion

Opinion

By Christine Palmieri

September is National Recovery Month. ‘Recovery’ is a word that gets used a lot in the world of mental health and addiction services, sometimes so much so that I think we can easily lose sight of what it represents. In my role with the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA), I often have the opportunity to talk to newly hired staff about the idea of recovery. We discuss what it means and what it can look like in the context of working with people who have experienced trauma, homelessness, psychiatric diagnosis, and substance problems.

When I ask new staff the question, “what does it mean to recover?” I frequently hear things like “getting better” or “getting back to where you were” or “having a better quality of life.” Although I tell staff there are no wrong answers to this question, secretly I think there are. They’re common and easy, but insufficient.

As with many things, I think it’s easier to talk about what recovery is by defining what it isn’t. For me, recovery isn’t a cure. It isn’t a finish line or a place people get to. It isn’t a goal that can be neatly summarized in a treatment plan. I believe recovery is a process that is unique and intimately personal to the individual going through it. Ultimately, though, I think the answer to the question “what does it mean to recover?” should be “it isn’t for me to say.”

I believe recovery is a process that is unique and intimately personal to the individual going through it.

As providers of services, or as loved ones, community members, and policy makers, I don’t believe it’s up to us to define what recovery means or looks like for people going through it. Each person needs to examine and define what it means to them. For the rest of us, I think the more important question is “what makes recovery possible?” When the question is posed this way, we are able to engage this idea of recovery in a much different and more productive way. This question offers the opportunity to share the responsibility and partner with those we support.

The analogy of a seedling is often used when describing this process of recovery, and one I use when I talk to our new hires about their roles and responsibilities as providers of service. Seeds are remarkable little things. For me, they represent unlimited potential. A seed no bigger than a grain of rice contains within it everything it needs to grow into a giant sequoia. But no seed can grow without the right environmental conditions. No amount of force or assertion of control can make a seed grow. It needs the right soil, the right amount of water, and the right amount of light.

In the same way, within each person who has experienced trauma, homelessness, psychiatric diagnosis, or problems with substances, I believe there lies unlimited potential for growth, and each person needs the right environment for the process of recovery to take place. As providers, loved ones, community members, and policy makers, we very often control that environment. Metaphorically, we provide the soil, the water and the light.

Soil is the place where recovery begins. It offers a place for the seed to grow roots, to gather strength, security, and safety. Soil is what keeps trees rooted tightly to the ground through storms. It is our responsibility to offer environments where people in recovery feel safe and secure, to try out new ways of coping and new ways of managing the difficulties and challenges that life presents to all of us.

Water provides a seedling with essential nourishment. We need to find ways to support people in recovery to discover what truly nourishes them. The work of recovery is hard. It requires taking risks and feeling uncomfortable. We cannot do the work of recovery for anyone else, but we can and should work to help people in recovery find the supportive relationships, meaningful roles, and reasons to do that hard work.

Light provides the energy necessary for growth. In recovery, I believe light is offered through the hope and understanding that every person has within them the potential to live a full and active life in the community, whatever that means for them. As providers, loved ones, community members, and policy makers, it is our role to shine the light of hope for people who have experienced discrimination, loss of power and control, and in many cases a loss of their identity. We hold this hope and offer this light because we know, without question, that recovery, however it is defined, is not only possible, but is happening, right now, all around us.

Christine Palmieri is vice president of the Division of Recovery and Housing at MHA.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

A so-called ‘beach party’ set up recently outside the State House by education funding advocates was a disrespectful and frivolous stunt carried out by people who should instead be focused on the well-being and economic futures of Massachusetts schoolchildren.

The point of the beach party, complete with beach balls and shaved ice with flavors such as ‘accountability slime lime,’ was to excoriate the Legislature for going on summer recess without passing a massive restructuring of the funding formula for public schools.

The fiscal 2020 budget Gov. Charlie Baker signed last month includes a $268 million increase in state assistance for K-12 education, but activists want a multi-year commitment to ramp up education spending and address gaps in the quality of education from one community to another. The beach party was the latest in a series of questionable antics perpetrated by the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance and allies who want billions of dollars in additional education spending with no accountability for results.

In May, Massachusetts Teachers Assoc. President Merrie Najimy posted a photo to Facebook of herself and three other women smiling and clutching fake pearl necklaces with a caption that read, “Alice Peisch, let go of the wealth and #FundOurFuture.”

Rep. Alice Peisch, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, often wears pearls, and the prop suggested she could not understand the circumstances of poorer students because she lives in the wealthy suburb of Wellesley.

Members of the teachers union have also been observed at public meetings carrying blank checks to signal their distaste for any measurements to accompany additional spending.

The 3,500 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) who depend upon the public schools to prepare the workforce of the future support education reform that contains specific and measurable performance objectives. Anyone who owns or manages a business tracks return on investment, and the investment we make in our public schools and students should be no different.

The stakes in the debate are enormous, beginning with an estimated price tag in the neighborhood of $1 billion. The governor and the Massachusetts Legislature deserve credit for proceeding cautiously on education reform. u

John Regan is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Bringing the Message Home

When you talk to Kirk Jonah about his son Jack’s death from a heroin overdose and his work to educate and inspire people since that fateful day, you don’t sense anger, frustration, bitterness, or even embarrassment — emotions that are all perfectly understandable and probably there somewhere.

No, all you see is determination, which is exactly what is needed as this region and this country continues to battle one of the worst epidemics in history — the opioid epidemic.

One can argue forever how we got to this point with this epidemic, one that is killing tens of thousands of people a year, and it’s clear there is plenty of blame to go around — from the makers of prescription painkillers to the doctors who prescribe them carelessly, to people young and old who take them irresponsibly. But what’s really needed now, in addition to treatment of those who are addicted, is plain, old-fashioned talk about the need for everyone — from parents to young people — to make smart decisions.

And that’s exactly what Jonah provides.

As the story on page 10 details, Jack Jonah and his family became statistics back in the spring of 2016, when Jack was found dead in his room of an apparent heroin overdose, a tragedy that seemed to come out of nowhere because there were no easily recognizable signs that he was using and abusing the drug.

Those statistics are related to the number of overdose deaths in this country, and statistics related to the number of families torn apart by such tragedies.

But Kirk Jonah was never content to be merely a statistic, and he wasn’t about to let his son become one, either.

Indeed, they have become so much more than that. They have become inspirations and, yes, leaders in the ongoing fight to stem the tide of substance abuse and overdose deaths by bringing others into the fight.

That’s what Kirk Jonah will tell you he does. He brings people into the fight by compelling them to recognize that choices have to be made, and they need to be smart ones.

These decisions involve everything from how and where parents should store their prescription drugs to whether and how young people should tell the parents or other loved ones of someone they know is on a collision course with tragedy about what they know.

This work started with speaking engagements before a wide variety of audiences — from smaller gatherings at schools to a huge audience at Mercy Hospital’s Caritas Gala — and it has expanded to a foundation and fundraising activities. Soon, there will be a movie made about Jack Jonah, his family, and the work to prevent more tragedies like this.

The working title, from what we’ve gathered, is Making Courage Contagious, which is exactly what Kirk — and Jack — have been doing over the past three years.

A key part of Kirk Jonah’s presentations to the groups he addresses is the death certificate mailed to him several weeks after son’s death. It’s a powerful document, especially when one focuses on the words written above the cause-of-death line: acute heroin intoxication.

Those are words that, as we said at the top, should induce anger, frustration, and embarrassment. What they’ve produced instead is determination — as in determination not to let another parent receive a similar piece of mail.

At this time of crisis and epidemic, that’s what this region, and this country, needs most.

Opinion

Opinion

By James T. Brett and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal

Core to the premise of the so-called American Dream is the idea that, if you work hard over the course of your career, you’ll get to enjoy a secure retirement. Unfortunately, for far too many Americans, that simply is not the case.

Consider this: nearly half of U.S. households with people age 55 and older have no savings for retirement. And almost 50% of private-sector workers — some 58 million people — do not even have access to a retirement plan through their employer, including small-business workers, self-employed workers, and gig workers.

Yet a typical Social Security check covers less than 40% of pre-retirement earnings, and that number is projected to drop to less than 28% within two years. At the same time, people are living longer. According to the World Economic Forum, a baby born in 2007 stands to live to be 103 — 36 years beyond Social Security’s current full retirement age. To further complicate matters, the student-debt crisis is also having an impact, with younger workers putting off saving for retirement because they are struggling to pay off student loans.

So how do we address this problem and ensure that all Americans are prepared for their golden years? There are several steps we can take that would have a tremendous impact.

First, we must continue to preserve tax incentives that encourage individuals to save for retirement. Allowing workers to contribute pre-tax wages to a 401(k) or other qualified retirement plan is a simple and proven way to encourage savings.

Second, it is critical that we take action to increase financial literacy — and that needs to start at a young age. It’s important that young people appreciate how student debt will affect them later in life, that younger workers understand just how much they need to be saving to be prepared for retirement, and that all employees are aware of the various tools available to them to invest in their own future.

… a typical Social Security check covers less than 40% of pre-retirement earnings, and that number is projected to drop to less than 28% within two years.

Finally, we must take steps to expand access to and increase participation in retirement-savings products and plans. In particular, we must make it easier for small businesses to offer retirement-savings plans by eliminating barriers for such businesses to band together in multiple-employer plans, thereby simplifying administration and lowering fees. It is also important to provide incentives for businesses to offer plans with automatic enrollment, and to require them to allow long-term part-time workers to have access to retirement benefits.

Congress must take bold action to bolster retirement savings and ensure that all Americans have access to the tools they need to save for their golden years. This crisis presents an opportunity for leaders in Washington to work collaboratively toward bipartisan solutions. The good news is that there already are bipartisan, bicameral efforts underway in Congress to pass legislation to bolster retirement savings.

The business community and our leaders in government must continue to work together to address and resolve the retirement-savings crisis facing our country. We owe it to the millions of Americans who work hard each and every day to keep our economy growing. We are hopeful that Congress will indeed take action on this important issue in the coming months so that all Americans will be able to realize the dream of a well-earned, secure retirement.

James T. Brett is president and CEO of the New England Council, a non-partisan, regional business association. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal represents Massachusetts’ First Congressional District and is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Opinion

Editorial

We’ll probably never know how far the talks went between Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts concerning the acquisition of the $2 billion casino in Everett supposedly ready to open any time now.

We’ll just say that we’re glad — and the state should be glad, and the city of Springfield should be glad, and Everett should be glad — that those talks are over, and that MGM will stand pat (yes, that’s an industry term) and not pursue that property.

Had those talks continued and a sale been forged … well, let’s just say we don’t want to go there. And, again, we’re glad the state doesn’t have to. The status quo is working quite well in Springfield, thank you, and if there’s one thing the state and its Gaming Commission don’t need to bring to the picture right now, is question marks — or more question marks, to be more precise.

In case you missed it — and it was hard to miss — word leaked that Wynn Resorts, which is now licensed to operate a casino in Everett under the Encore brand, was in what were called “very preliminary discussions” about a sale of that property to MGM.

Media outlets across the Commonwealth then printed stories laden with conjecture about whether the sale should take place and what might happen if it did. Most of those quoted blasted the concept and projected that it would create something approaching chaos at a time when the state needed just the opposite from its still-fledgling casino industry.

“This isn’t a Monopoly game,” former state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, a key author of the state’s gaming law, told the Boston Globe as news of the talks broke, adding that a sale of the Boston property, which would force MGM to divest itself of the Springfield facility, was far from a slam dunk. Carlo DeMaria, mayor of Everett, went further, saying, “it’s not going to happen.”

Turns out he was right, because amid that wave of negative commentary and gloom-and-doom conjecture, MGM announced that it was playing the hand it was dealt.

Whether that’s the best move for company, we can’t say. But we can say it’s the best move for the state and this region.

MGM is a known commodity, but whichever entity would buy the Springfield casino is not, and while there are plenty of good casino operators out there, we don’t need an unknown commodity at this point.

Especially in Greater Springfield. Communities, businesses, nonprofits, and other constituencies have forged solid working relationships and partnerships with MGM. They haven’t forged them with a casino on Main Street, but instead with a company, one that has come to be a trusted stakeholder in this region.

So we’re glad MGM is not seeking potentially greener pastures in Boston.

But while this threat has passed, we have to wonder about how it materialized in the first place. The fact that Wynn Resorts fought a long, hard, very expensive battle to open a casino in Everett and then explored a sale just as it was set to cross the finish line is a head scratcher, to be sure.

But there is a lot we don’t know about this industry, and maybe a sale makes sense on some levels, especially if Wynn, which desperately wanted into the Massachusetts market, is now intent on getting out.

Just not a sale to MGM.

Now that MGM has backed away, it’s time for the Gaming Commission to determine whether Wynn is still the best fit for the Boston market, and if it isn’t, the state should find another player.

It’s also time to move forward with the next big order of business — sports gambling. As it did with gaming itself, the state is dragging its feet on sports gambling, losing revenue to neighboring Rhode Island with each day that passes.

Thankfully, the state, and Springfield, won’t have to deal with a change of ownership at the casino in Springfield’s South End.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

As the Roman philosopher Seneca observed, “omni fine initium novum,” or, “every new beginning comes from the end of another.” 

As the Associated Industries of Massachusetts prepares to write a new and exciting chapter in its distinguished history, I am reminded at every moment of the wisdom, generosity, and quiet determination with which my predecessor, Rick Lord, has paved the road before me.

Rick never lost sight of where he came from, and he never forgot that trust and respect are the ultimate currency of public policy and service.

To the members of AIM and especially to the board of directors, I gratefully accept your commission to lead this organization, supporting the dreams and aspirations of Massachusetts employers. We must keep as our guiding principle the fact that economic growth remains the only effective method of achieving the social equity that makes our Commonwealth a great place to live and work.

There has never been a more pressing need for businesses to work together with the sort of common purpose that drove 28 visionary companies to create Associated Industries of Massachusetts 104 years ago. AIM welcomes all employers and dedicates itself to serving the needs of the full range of Massachusetts companies working to provide the hope of a better life to our friends and neighbors.

We remain committed to the principals of diversity, equity, and inclusion — on our board, on our staff, and throughout our membership. We assert unequivocally that AIM will be an association in the truest sense of the word, providing an opportunity for everyone — especially those who have historically been ignored — a full voice.

Everything we do at AIM is done to help businesses unlock their full potential. We fiercely advocate for positive public policy that helps to create a strong economy.

We empower businesses with the information, tools, and resources needed to successfully navigate a fast-paced, complex business world. We foster connections, networks, and the flow of ideas between people and businesses.

We believe that business can be a positive force for change in helping to create a better, more prosperous society. And the best part is, we’re just getting started.

This article is adapted from John Regan’s recent address at the Associated Industries of Massachusetts annual meeting, at which Regan stepped into the role of president and CEO.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

Evidence from states that have imposed a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million shows that the policy causes irreparable harm to the economy while generating far less tax revenue than promised. A millionaires tax will cause the same harm in Massachusetts.

Lawmakers have refiled a proposal to amend the state Constitution to impose a graduated income tax, adding a 4% tax (representing an 80% increase in the personal income-tax rate) on all incomes over $1 million. The amendment would dictate that the revenue be spent on transportation and education.

A graduated income tax would eviscerate the small, family-owned businesses that form the heart of the Massachusetts economy. The surtax would take an estimated $2 billion from some 17,000 Main Street businesses and others that pay taxes at the individual rate and who would otherwise use the money to hire additional employers or expand their companies.

These companies are already drowning in more than $1.5 billion in new taxes and fees to pay for a financial shortfall in the Medicaid program and to fund the new paid family and medical leave program.

How do we know that surtaxes don’t work? Because our neighbors in Connecticut just drove their economy off a cliff by raising taxes three times in the past 10 years. Connecticut in 2009 added a 6.5% income-tax bracket for those earning more than $500,000 per year. The state followed up with a comprehensive $1.5 billion tax increase in 2011 to deal with a budget shortfall. A final round of tax increases took effect in 2015.

A graduated income tax would eviscerate the small, family-owned businesses that form the heart of the Massachusetts economy. The surtax would take an estimated $2 billion from some 17,000 Main Street businesses and others that pay taxes at the individual rate and who would otherwise use the money to hire additional employers or expand their companies.

According to information compiled by Pew Charitable Trusts, tax revenue for all 50 states is averaging 6.3% higher than it was at the start of the 2008 recession. Connecticut tax revenue, on the other hand, is only 3.8% higher, despite the three tax increases.

Once the economic heavyweight of New England, Connecticut is the only state in the nation which has yet to recover the jobs lost during the economic downturn. In addition, the state has seen an outmigration of residents since 2013 and the loss of major financial investors. Data from the Internal Revenue Service showed a spike in residents earning more than $200,000 per year leaving the state in 2015, and studies conducted by Connecticut state agencies and commissions have confirmed the loss of higher-income residents to other states.

Income-surtax laws have failed in other states as well. Within three years of Maryland enacting its millionaire tax, 40% of the state’s seven-figure earners were gone from the tax rolls — and so was $1.7 billion from the state tax base.

Similarly, in 2010, Boston College researchers released a report on the migration of wealthy households to and from New Jersey. They concluded that wealthier New Jersey households did in fact consider the high-earner taxes when deciding whether to move to or remain in New Jersey. From 1999 to 2003 — before the millionaires tax was imposed — there was a net influx of $98 billion in household wealth into the state. After the tax was implemented, an increasing number of wealthy families left the state, resulting in a loss of $70 billion in wealth.

Many of the business owners who fled Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey moved to states that have worked to reduce, rather than boost, taxes, including North Carolina, New Hampshire, Georgia, and Tennessee.

John Regan is executive vice president of Government Affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts.