Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Yep, I went there. Teamwork makes the dream work. A bit of a tired cliché, but frankly, teams are the very essence of most organizational cultures. We know the benefits of working in teams: enhanced employee engagement, improved relationships with colleagues, more creative solutions, gaining an understanding of different perspectives, and the list goes on. Whether it’s a new team that comes together during a merger or restructuring, to tackle a specific project, or a collaboration between different departments, these steps can help turn that new team into a dream team.


Establish a team leader. In some teams, this will be the person managing the individuals. If this is a cross-functional team, it still helps to have the team assign a leader or two who keep everyone on track.


Leverage Diversity: Diversity can mean a host of different things. When it comes to a team, yes, having people of different backgrounds and genders is critical, but diversity can also mean including people with different skill sets and business expertise and levels of experience. Look at the boards of some of the most successful companies and you may notice that there is diversity of expertise. Take a cue from them when assembling teams.


Establish ground rules. While it may sound simple, establishing expectations, deliverable dates, and responsibilities up front will help the team in the long run, as this way each individual understands the importance of their contributions to the larger group.


Course correct: It would be lovely if teams came together, did what needed to be done, and all got along swimmingly. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but it rarely happens! Personal agendas, office politics, challenging personalities, and egos so often get in the way. When that happens, have open conversations to remind people that this is a group effort and that everyone’s input and efforts are important to the outcome.


“R before T” (relationship before task): I credit this tip to my favorite professor from graduate school, who started each class with a time for us to share personal updates and catch up. It did bring us closer, and helped us to understand each other beyond our studies and view each other as human beings!


Celebrate team success: It can be something as small as a round of applause, a personal thank you note to each team member, a team lunch or happy hour. Marking milestones is crucial, as it lets the team know that they are on the right path or have accomplished what they set out to do.



Hire the best! With personalized service and proven results, Pillar Search & HR Consulting provides recruiting/search services and human resources consulting for exceptional non-profits and socially responsible for-profit firms. A woman-owned business, Pillar is based in Boston, MA, and works on the national level. To learn more about how Pillar can assist with your hiring and human resources needs, please contact

Mistake Mastery (Because Your Professional Life Does Not Come with a Magic Eraser)

An executive who I do leadership coaching with recently shared that a member of her team made a colossal, astronomical-amount-of-money, public relations nightmare mistake. She values the employee, and understands that mistakes happen, but the employee did not own up to the mistake, which only made it worse.


We have all been there. Making a mistake sucks. BIG TIME. And it can cost you – your job, relationships, reputation, credibility, monetary fines, and more. What can you do

when you make a major misstep on the job?


  • Own up to it.   I have seen this done well, and I have seen people try to assign blame to others when it was clearly their own wrongdoing. Being honest – and doing so quickly – is always the gracious way to own up to a mistake.
  • Be part of the solution. My first manager out of college used to tell the team “Do not come to me with a problem unless you also have a solution”, which made telling her that I had erroneously withdrawn $1,000,000, not the desired $10,000, from a client’s mutual fund account and was on my way to the mailroom to search high and low before it was mailed a bit easier to swallow. Oops. Have at least the framework of a solution so that steps can be taken quickly to work towards resolution so that you are remembered as much for being part of the positive outcome as you are for the source of the issue.
  • Apologize, and really mean it. Sounds obvious, right? Shocking, but there are many for whom saying the words “I am sorry” or “I was wrong” is a foreign concept. Humility and grace will get you far in life. And do it face-to-face, if possible. Just do not say it multiple times, or you run the risk of looking like you cannot handle the mistake.
  • Say thank you. To clean up the mess, several people may need to get involved. Thank each and every one for doing the extra work to help fix your mess.
  • What did you learn? The difference between a mistake and an epic failure is figuring out what the key takeaways are. Analyze what happened and use that knowledge to improve.
  • Document it. It will come up in your review if it was significant, so when the dust settles, write an accurate and unemotional as possible overview of the problem, what you did to correct it, could prevent in the future, and what you learned from it. That way, you leave nothing out and if and when it comes up again, you have the information at the ready. As a bonus, putting it in writing may help you to see holes in the process or workflow, which provides the opportunity to be more innovative.
  • Do not let it define you. Even if the outcome of this mistake is that you lose your job (and I’m sorry if this is the outcome), remember that mistakes are not labels. You are you and the mistake is the mistake. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. If you let it define you, you run the risk of operating out of fear, which will only result in being risk-averse and complacent.
  • Be kind to you. If someone came to you and told you that they had made a major error, you would likely show them compassion and understanding. Extend this same kindness to yourself.


Life does not come with a magic eraser, so there is no do-over, but everyone, even the most successful legends out there, has a mistake or two (or more!) in their professional history. How you handle the mix-up and how smoothly you move forward is what will leave a lasting impression.


Cindy Joyce is the CEO of Pillar Search & HR Consulting. Pillar provides executive search services for non-profits, foundations, and socially responsible for-profit organizations desiring top talent looking for an occupassion, not just an occupation. In addition, Pillar works offers a full range of human resources consulting services. A woman-owned business, Pillar is based in Boston, MA and works on both the local and national level. For more information, please visit or email





Onboard or Onward: Ensuring the Success of Your New Executive Hire

“About 40% of executives who change jobs or get promoted fail in the first 18 months.”

Fortune Magazine

Where does it all go wrong? Too often, the onboarding process is where things fall apart. I am not talking about “orientation”, which often is done day one and generally involves the basics of assigning a building pass, conducting a benefits overviews, meeting the team and reading a few policies. Onboarding is a longer process, and if done well (typically in partnership with Human Resources and managed by the new executive’s manager, or the Board Chair if they report to the Board of Directors) can almost guarantee fit. It is holistic and gradual. It is also very deliberate, and will require constant check-ins and open communication.  Here are five key activities that will help to ensure that your new executive will be successful in their new role:

Start to Onboard Before They are Actually ON BOARD!

The time between an offer being accepted and the executive starting is sensitive. They may be dealing with a counteroffer, having to say goodbye to much-loved colleagues, and are nervous about this new venture. Keep in touch. Reiterate your excitement to have them joining the team, and have a few people in the organization reach out. If there are organizational overviews, annual reports, strategic plans or other things that that they can read up on ahead of time, get those to them during this time so that they start to feel like part of the team.

Send an announcement out to the staff and the board a few days before their start date explaining their background and the job they are filling. This will help make them seem more familiar to the team when they come through the door, and as an added benefit they will not have to review their resume and background with absolutely everyone in their first week or so.

Relationship Before Task 

Ideally, new executives will meet with their team and people across the organization. One-on-one meetings are great, but remind those who will be meeting with the executive to get to know them before delving into the inner workings of their role or the issues they face. Building rapport with new colleagues and direct reports is critical in the early days.

Learn By Doing 

Too often, in an effort to get all the information to a new hire as soon as possible, they are introduced to processes way too soon. Guess what? They will not remember how to do an expense report or change their password or complete a sales report 30 to 60 days in when they actually need to do it if they are taught how to do it their first week. Have the right people meet with them at the start to review the process at a high level, and then have them set up a time to do it later when they can sit down with real data and learn from it real-time.

The Buddy System 

What we learned in grade school still applies: the buddy system works when the new kid starts. This should not be the executive’s manager, but a peer or high-performing direct report who has longevity and the personality to be an effective buddy. The buddy can manage the nicety of taking them to lunch on day one and being available to explain the intricacies of culture, relationship dynamics, and certain pitfalls to avoid, which are things that the executive may not be comfortable asking of higher-ups.

Check In Early & Often

I too often hear that executives join, get a ton of attention the first day or two, and then are largely left on their own. It does not feel welcoming, and it runs the risk of them going in a direction that is difficult to course-correct later on. Meet with them daily, even for 10-15 minutes, in the first few weeks. Move on to twice weekly, weekly….you get the point. Let them know where they are doing a great job. Let them know where they need to take a different approach. But LET THEM KNOW. Being clear on what is a success will lead to more success.

While by no means a complete onboarding process, following the steps above will help to ensure that your new executive hire is one of the 60% who will be a success in the first 18 months.

Cindy Joyce is an Executive Recruiter and the Founder of Pillar Search, an Executive Search and HR Consulting firm located in Boston that works with clients nationwide. She can be reached here.

Lights…Cameras…Your LinkedIn Profile Picture!

In the acting world, headshots are a must for actors and actresses, whether they are just starting out or have reached “celebrity” status.  Headshots are their calling cards.

Treat your LinkedIn profile picture as if you were in Los Angeles or New York chasing a big acting job and as if that picture were your calling card. It is often the first impression that you will make on potential clients, employers, and vendors.  Make sure that the impression you leave is a positive one.  Plus, you may not be actively looking for a new job, but you never know when a hiring manager or executive recruiter will be looking around on LinkedIn and come across your profile.

I recently updated my own profile picture, and in the process did my research asked some friends who are photographers and in the image business to give their suggestions for a great headshot.  Here are some tips for a winning profile picture:

  • Hire a professional, or ask a friend who takes good pictures to help out
  • Thou shalt not take a selfie.  Deb Liljegren, NYC-based photographer, tells me that your outstretched arms may not be visible, but you are not fooling anyone.  Selfie sticks do not help, either. There is a clear difference between a DIY picture and one taken by someone else
  • Susan Tran, a photographer in Boston who did my recent photo, suggests that people smile big but not TOO big.  According to her, too big a smile can look forced.  Think of someone who makes you happy so that you capture your most natural smile
  • Boston photographer Stephanie Olsen says to BREATHE! Stephanie points out that everyone holds their breath when being photographed. This makes their shoulders rise up a bit and does not let their true smile come through. Stephanie guides people by telling them to exhale a smile. This also make them a laugh a bit and the smiles that follow are the most natural.
  • Wear professional attire suitable to your industry.  Dark colors work well so long as you do not have a dark background, in which case you would want lighter attire.  Contrast will make the picture “pop”.  Avoid prints, which can be too busy and could blend into the background
  • According to Brad Duncan, Boston’s top skincare guru, you should exfoliate your face a few days prior to the photo and drink tons of water in the days leading up to the photo being taken.  This will help skin look smoother and more even in the photo
  • If you wear makeup, go for a lighter hand for a soft effect.  Pretend you are going for that soft, fuzzy, super-forgiving Barbara Walters interview lighting
  • Speaking of lighting, Deb Liljegren also suggests shooting outside or near a window with filtered lighting


Remember, LinkedIn is a professional networking site and your photo should reflect that and portray your best you.


Keep It Clean: Tips for Sprucing Up Your Personal Social Media in the Job Search

When you embark on a job search, you likely will immediately update your resume and spruce up your cover letter template. These are all incredibly important to do, but you may want to go further into your social media. Potential employers may Google you, so go ahead, do a search on yourself and see what comes up. They may do this search prior to interview selection, so you will want to ensure that you are making a good online impression and setting a positive tone.

Privacy, please: Set your Facebook and Instagram to private. Click here for instructions on changing your Facebook settings, and here for instructions on your Instagram settings.

Keep it clean: Make sure that any photos that you have posted or that are posted of you are not in questionable taste. You know which ones I mean. If you would not want your grandmother seeing it, you should not want it out there for potential employers to see. Going forward, when posting photos on Facebook, select the option of photos only being viewable by “Friends”.

Remove any rants: Twitter, by nature, is where you can spout off in 160 characters or less. If you tend to tweet, scroll through and remove anything that could be construed as a negative sound-off, especially if it has to do with your frustrations related to your job, organization, boss or colleagues.

Learn to leverage LinkedIn: LinkedIn is probably the first place that a potential employer will look. Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is impeccable. Here’s how:

  • Start with a polished photo. Ideally, use a professional headshot. If this is not feasible, we all have that friend who takes amazing photos. Ask them to take one.
  • Look professional.  Avoid photos that obviously have cropped someone else out, or where you are wearing your favorite sports team gear. Ladies, I love a strapless dress or spaghetti strap as much as anyone, but in a headshot it will make you look underdressed or, even worse, not dressed at all, and that is not the impression you want to make as a professional.
  • You know where you have worked. Others may not. Take the time to write up a blurb about what each company you have worked at does. It helps the profile to flow better, and tells a more complete story.
  • Similarly, do not just list your job titles. Explain, even briefly, what you did in each job. This is your chance to shine and give a narrative of your work history.
  • List accomplishments, awards, volunteer efforts and anything that will demonstrate how talented and passionate you are. Do not be shy. This is the time to showcase what sets you apart.
  • Ask people for recommendations. It helps build confidence in both your work abilities and your relationship building skills.
  • Network, network, network. Some people are better at networking than others. If you are not one of them, take a deep breath, click on the “People You May Know”, and proactively reach out. Not only do higher numbers look better (as stated earlier, it shows that you are adept at building relationships) but some hiring managers that I have worked with will not even look at candidates with less than 500 contacts.
  • Ask people whose professional opinion you trust to give you feedback on your LinkedIn profile. This could include trusted colleagues, former managers, mentors, or a recruiter that you may be working with. They may see things that need improvement or accomplishments that you would be well-served by highlighting.

Your resume is just one piece of the puzzle. Make sure that your social media fits the brand that you are building or have built professionally to ensure that prospective employers view you in the best light.

Interview Impact: The Art of the Thank You Letter

Congratulations! You nailed the interview. The company is checking references, and in your head you are composing that resignation letter and mentally calculating when your start date with the new firm will be.


Then, the call that it came down to two candidates and they went with the other one. But…you nailed it! How can this be?


The Secret

Pillar Search does searches for non-profits, foundations, and small, rapid growth for-profit firms. In our years of experience, we have worked with lots of very savvy and knowledgeable hiring managers. I will share one secret that I have heard time and again from them: all things being equal, “the candidate that takes the time to send a thoughtful, reflective, and well-written thank you note will always have a bit of an edge.” Yes…the thank you letter packs a whole lot of wow, punch, and impact.


How to Stand Out From Other Candidates

Remember what your parents taught you: manners will get you everywhere, and saying thank you goes a long way. When is the last time you received a thank you letter?  Now, imagine if you were the hiring manager and were receiving tons of them by email. How much more thoughtful and unique would a hand written note of thanks feel?


Look at your own mail today. In the pile of pre-addressed bulk mail, what will stand out? A new bill, the latest flier from your local market? Personally, when I see a hand written envelope, it is what I will always open first.


You see, too often, people do not send them, or they send one that is so perfunctory that it almost screams “I am not interested in the job, but know that I am supposed to send something”.   The thank you is a perfect time to wow them with your enthusiasm, fit for the job, interest, manners, and stellar writing skills.


Pillar’s Thank You Letter Checklist

  • Keep it short. Two to three paragraphs should suffice.
  • Make sure that it flows well and highlights why you are the ideal candidate. Include the following:
    • A statement of gratitude, such as “thank you for taking the time to meet with me today to discuss the open sales position on your team. I so appreciated your time.”
    • Add something showing that you were paying attention in the meeting, and remind the interviewer of what makes you the ideal candidate, such as “I was excited to hear that your company is expanding globally over the next year. My experience working with X, a global bank, gives me a unique skill set that would lend well to this exciting new chapter for you and the firm”.
    • Interviews can be tricky, as you can easily run out of time when sticking to the interview agenda. When you replay it in your head, there is likely something that you wish you had highlighted about your skills and experience. This is a perfect time to get that point across.
    • A call to action. Before signing off, reiterate your interest, and give them something of a call to action.   The message that I find to be most effective is the short and sweet “Thank you again, and I look forward to hearing from you”. True, it is not elaborate, but it leaves the ball in their court and shows that you are confident that you will be hearing from them.
  • Be a snob when it comes to your stationery. High quality card stock reflects well on you. It shows discerning taste and a certain je ne sais quoi Cutesy notecards will negate the goodwill earned by even sending it. If your stationery depicts your love of the beach, cats, puppies or your favorite sports team, step away immediately! When in doubt, buy cream colored notecards from Crane & Co.
  • Write out a draft first, proofread that version, and then transcribe it onto the good stuff. Trust me, I have wasted a ton of expensive paper because I dove right in. To quote my father, “measure twice and cut once”.
  • Stick to the 24 hour rule. Much like a thank you for personal reasons, it is best to send it within 24 hours. If you are in interview mode, keep a supply of stationery and stamps at the ready.
  • Before licking the stamp and strolling to the nearest mailbox, consider this: who else should you send a thank you note to? It may seem like a lot of writing, but if you can, send one to every interviewer, and put a personal spin on each note that reflects your interaction with that person. Do not forget to include Human Resources if they were included in the interview agenda, and if there was someone particularly helpful, such as an Executive Assistant who arranged travel or someone in Marketing who sent you helpful information prior to the meeting, send one to them as well. It shows that you are appreciative, a team player, and inclusive.


If (and when!) you get the job, send a hand-written note to your new manager thanking them for the opportunity and letting them know how excited you are about the opportunity. This is a personal touch that will go quite a long way.


Good luck!


Cindy Joyce