Sandy Reynolds

Recent Posts

Applicants, Companies Say the Darndest Things During Job Interviews

Posted by Sandy Reynolds on Jan 27, 2012 9:58:00 AM


Job applicants say and do the darndest things during interviews.

Job interviewCome to think of it, so do companies.

The employment interview is a unique social kabuki dance that allows employers and prospective employees to learn about one another. It is also a serious business where funny things happen as applicants attempt to distinguish themselves and companies use baffling questions to find the most creative and intelligent people available.

The online job board surveyed hiring managers about their funniest experiences. The responses included:

  • The candidate who was fired from several jobs but included each one of them as a job reference.
  • The applicant who included her dog as a reference.
  • The candidate who had things a bit backward when he promised the more he was paid, the harder he would work.
  • The applicant whose email address on the résumé had "shakinmybootie" in it.
  • The applicant who insisted his time is valuable, so the company should pay him for his time spent interviewing with them.
  • The applicant who said he was arrested for assaulting his previous boss.
  • The candidate who only used his first name.
  • The resilient job applicant who bragged she survived a bite from a deadly aquatic animal.
  • The candidate who shipped a lemon with the résumé, to illustrate that "I am not a lemon." Chances are the hiring employer quickly soured on this applicant.

But employers are not above adding their own brand of fun to the job interview.  William Poundstone’s recent book Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? documents the efforts of a growing number of companies to emulate the practice at Google of challenging applicants with brain teasers, logic puzzles and mind-bending riddles.

Here are some of the toughest and most off-beat questions, as compiled by

  • “How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday?” – asked by Google Inc.
  • “If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?” – asked by Hewlett-Packard Co.
  • “How would you cure world hunger?” – asked by Inc.
  • “How many different ways can you get water from a lake at the foot of a mountain, up to the top of the mountain?” – asked by Walt Disney Co.

Other companies ask applicants how many ping-pong balls would fit in the Mediterrean Sea? Can you swim faster in water or syrup? When there’s a wind blowing, does a round-trip by plane take more time, less time, or the same time?

Technology companies such as IBM were the first to use logic puzzles in job interviews, but the trend has recently spread to companies in non-technical sectors of the economy.

The best thing that a job candidate or an employer can do when confronted with an unusual approach to the interview is not to rush or get flustered. Take your time, take a breath and concentrate on your objective or the answer.

What funny or unusual stories do you have from job interviews? We invite you to share them in the response area below.

Topics: Human Resources

Some Strong Medicine for Reducing Health Insurance Costs

Posted by Sandy Reynolds on Nov 23, 2011 10:22:00 AM

Sandy ReynoldsI have spent the past month visiting with many of you at AIM Human Resource Roundtables around the state about the rising cost of providing health insurance to employees.

These visits have underscored for me the degree to which health insurance increases during the past decade have left employers with a sense that they have no control over the issue. It is also clear that while some employers are moving beyond traditional cost-shifting to try more creative ways of controlling premiums, others are curiously reluctant to move away from the status quo.

Employers shopping for health insurance coverage this fall and beyond will find tiered network plan designs that moderate costs by encouraging patients to seek care in community settings that produce quality outcomes at reasonable prices. Also on the menu are limited network products like the one recently announced by Steward Health System that promise savings of 15 to 30 percent for patients who use Steward facilities for the majority of their care.

Why the hesitation by employers?

  • Switching to a tiered or limited network plan design is a major change. Major change is rarely welcome or easy – for employer or employee.
  • Some believe that tiered networks represent a benefit take-away for employees.
  • Successful implementation of tiered or limited networks requires employers to develop an ongoing communication and education program to help employees become good consumers of health care.
  • Some employers believe that tiered and limited networks will place a disproportionate burden on low-wage workers.

Tiered networks are far from a take-away. They typically retain full freedom of choice, though an employee’s share of the cost increases when higher-cost providers are utilized. The purchase of health-care services begins to resemble what happens with other types of purchases.

Attorney General Martha Coakley noted in two recent studies that there are dramatic differences in the amounts health-care providers are paid by insurance companies for the same services.  She goes on to say that the differences cannot be explained by the quality of care - higher cost does not equate to better care.

And the real burden on low-wage workers comes from the long-term suppression of wage increases caused by soaring medical premiums. If employers really want to reduce health insurance costs, they must be willing to engage with these new plan designs and make the tough decision to educate their employees and make the plans work. Otherwise, expect more of the same.

AIM looks forward to an ongoing discussion with employers during 2012 on the cost of health insurance. We are, as always, interested in what you have to say.

Topics: Health Care Costs, Issues, Human Resources

Renewing Your Health Plan? New Options Allow Employers to Cut Costs

Posted by Sandy Reynolds on Sep 27, 2011 2:30:00 PM

The Massachusetts health care market is moving back to the future, putting employers back in the driver’s seat to control the cost of providing health insurance to workers.

Health Care CostsRelentless cost increases are pushing the health insurance system away from the “every doctor in every network” model back to a modified version of the managed care structure that dominated the market during the 1990s. The shift is creating interesting opportunities and challenges for employers that will make upcoming health plan renewals, open enrollments and benefit communications much different from those in recent memory.

Employers shopping for health insurance coverage this fall will find tiered networks that moderate costs by encouraging patients to seek care in community settings that produce outcomes comparable to those of academic medical centers. Also on the menu will be limited networks like the one announced by Steward Health System on September 16 offering discounts of 15 to 30 percent for patients who use Steward facilities for the majority of their care.

“The degree to which employers embrace these new models will determine our ability to reduce health insurance premiums in Massachusetts. It’s important for employers and employees to realize that tiered and limited networks can provide good medical care at a less expensive price than traditional plans with open access,” said Eileen McAnneny, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

Employees covered by tiered networks are free to seek care anywhere but pay additional money for care received in high-cost settings. Employees who seek care in lower-cost, high-quality settings pay less money.

Limited networks require employees to seek medical care from specified doctors, hospitals and other facilities.

Tiered and select network products have been around for some time, but the price differential between these products and standard networks was not large enough to attract many employers. Massachusetts lawmakers jump-started the move to alternative networks last year by passing a health cost control law that requires insurance company to offer restricted-network products that cost at least 12 percent less than standard health plans.

Insurers report that initial response from both employers and workers has been encouraging.

Managed care networks present challenges as well, especially for geographically isolated employers who do not have access to reasonably priced doctors and hospitals in their communities.

The opportunity for companies to employ new approaches to health insurance comes as the cost pressures driving health care accelerate. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported today that premiums for family health insurance plans jumped by 9 percent this year after rising modestly by 3 percent in 2010. The most recent increase brings the annual average price of a family insurance plan purchased through an employer to $15,073.

Massachusetts employers and their workers pay the highest average health insurance premiums in the country.

The advice for employers? Rethink the purchase and renewal process for health insurance. Educate your employees - the end users of health care services - about the cost of providing health insurance, the plan design decisions they make, and the rationale(s) behind them. If you use an insurance or benefits broker, make sure to maximize that relationship, ask right questions, obtain all the information you need to make a good decision.

AIM will conduct a Webinar on October 13 from 10-11 a.m. to provide an overview of the new cost-control options available to employers. The sessions will include practical pointers on working with brokers and optimizing the open-enrollment process. The Webinar is free to AIM members and costs $75 for non-members.

Click me

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Health Care Costs, Health Insurance

Do Regional Accents Affect Your Hiring Decisions?

Posted by Sandy Reynolds on Jul 26, 2011 1:16:00 PM

Do hiring executives show bias against people with strong regional accents? A study suggests the answer is yes - job applicants who drop the "g" from words ending in "-ing," or who stretch out the sound of the "a" in "car" and "park," may encounter significant barriers to landing positions that match their qualifications.

Regional AccentsThe study of 56 hiring professionals by University of North Texas researchers Patricia Cukor-Avila and Dianne Markley resonates heavily here in the area near Fenway Paahk and Haavahd Yaahd. It also holds personal interest for me given the fact that I was raised in South Carolina and have spent most of my HR career in the Midwest and Northeast.

According to a release, Cukor-Avila and Markley created a CD-ROM for human resource directors and others who hire new employees. The researchers recorded 10 males reading the same 45-second passage. Each speaker was from a different part of the United States — Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina, Minnesota, California, Boston, Chicago and New Jersey. Each had an accent common to that region.

The hiring executives listened to the readers and made judgments about them based solely on how they sounded. The study participants were asked for their overall positive or negative impressions of each speaker, as well as whether the speaker seemed educated or uneducated, intelligent or not intelligent, energetic or lazy, uptight or laid back, outgoing or withdrawn, and assertive or docile.

They were also asked to classify each speaker as rough or refined, charming or irritating, and friendly or unfriendly, and to determine whether the speaker's background was urban or rural, cultured or earthy, and advantaged or disadvantaged. The participants then concluded whether each speaker would be competent or incompetent on the job and would fit into their companies' cultures.

The speaker with a California accent was rated the most positively, followed by the speaker from Minnesota, the speaker from Boston and the speaker from Texas. The speakers from Louisiana, Georgia and New Jersey were rated the most negatively.

So while a Boston accent is apparently not quite the sure-fire job boost that a California lilt might be, we still score better than New Jersey and the deep South.

As I hope you all know, every one of us has biases. The important thing is that we are aware of them and how they affect the decisions we make. Give some thought as to whether this could be one of yours, or others in your organization. Stereotypical thinking could cause you to pass up some great candidates in this time when employers are still having trouble finding the right individuals to fill open positions.

What do you think of the study results? Are your hiring decisions affected by language or cultural assumptions? Please share your comments.

Meanwhile, time to go practice my long “i’s” and “ings.”

Topics: Human Resources

Massachusetts Officials: Report People who Choose Unemployment over Work

Posted by Sandy Reynolds on May 4, 2011 3:35:00 PM

Few issues frustrate Massachusetts employers more than unemployed people who turn down job offers in favor of collecting jobless benefits.

Unemployment Insurance“Extended Unemployment benefits are an extreme challenge for employers seeking to hire for lower-skilled jobs,” one employer said this week.

“Our company is finding it extremely difficult to recruit for these positions. Candidates will come in for interviews and boldly state that they can make as much through Unemployment benefits as by working. In our company's experience, the very generous and extended Unemployment benefits have a negative effect on motivation and drive to work. We have also seen rampant fraud and abuse associated with Massachusetts Unemployment benefits.”

A second employer responding the AIM Business Confidence Index Survey echoes the sentiment: “We can’t hire qualified or experienced employees, or they are not willing to work because of unemployment.”

A third puts it more bluntly: “There are jobs out there but most of the people we interview seem to be entitled to something better.”

Don’t despair - the people who run the Massachusetts unemployment system are just as frustrated as you are with people who choose benefits over work and with cases of outright fraud. Officials with the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance are asking employers to report cases of UI abuse.

DUA Director Judith L. Cicatiello told the agency’s Employer Stakeholder Group recently that DUA welcomes information from concerned citizens who know of workers who continue to collect UI benefits while they are employed. Cicatiello said employers may report cases of fraud or refusal of job offers by unemployed applicants in one of several ways:

Employers may also download the AntiFraud Poster in English and Spanish.

“Unemployment benefits are too important to the people who need them to allow a small minority of people to abuse the system. We applaud the DUA for its willingness to address these issues,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for AIM.

The association interacts frequently with DUA on behalf of Massachusetts employers. I am pleased to serve on the DUA Employer stakeholder group, along with executives from six AIM-member companies. Regan serves on the DUA Advisory Committee.

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Unemployment insurance

Group Health Policies from MA Carriers Must Cover Dependents to Age 26

Posted by Sandy Reynolds on Sep 1, 2010 2:32:00 PM

AIM has confirmed with the state Division of Insurance that group health plans purchased from Massachusetts carriers must cover employees’ dependent children up to age 26 - even if the health plan is “grandfathered” under federal health care reform.

health care reformThe federal reform law contains a dependent eligibility provision that is similar, but not identical, to one that became effective on January 1, 2007 under the Massachusetts reform.  The federal rule covers all group plans, both self-funded and fully insured, and is effective with plan years that begin on or after September 23, 2010. It requires coverage up to the 26th birthday. There is a special consideration for “grandfathered” status, allowing such plans to deny coverage, through 2013 only, to adult children who have access to coverage through their own employers.

AIM staff identified a provision in Massachusetts Division of Insurance (DOI) Bulletin 2008-01 stating that, “Carriers may not impose any limitations on eligibility for dependent coverage, other than limitations defining familial relationships under the policy . . . and any other limitations that may be permitted under the (Massachusetts reform law).” That language would make the state rule potentially more favorable to the dependent and take precedence over the federal provision for grandfathered plans.

Representatives from the DOI have responded to AIM’s inquiry and confirmed that consideration of the availability of other coverage is not permitted under Massachusetts insurance law.

The bottom line for Massachusetts-insured employers for plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010:

  1. Dependents must be offered coverage up to their 26th birthday - period. There is no longer any consideration of parental support and, as of April 1, 2010, no imputed income application.
  2. This applies to both grandfathered and non-grandfathered plans.

Please note that this information applies only to group health insurance plans purchased from Massachusetts carriers. It does not apply to “grandfathered” plans that are either self-funded or that are purchased in other states.

Stay informed about the evolving world of health care reform by signing up for AIM’s biweekly Health Reform Fridays webinar series starting September 17, 2010. Contact Melissa Daly at for more information on these programs.

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Health Care Reform, AIM, Health Care

Federal Health Reform: What is the Upshot for Mass. Employers?

Posted by Sandy Reynolds on Apr 22, 2010 12:19:00 PM

President Barack Obama signed landmark national health reform legislation last month.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (HCERA) require major changes to health care insurance practices and impact employers in several significant ways. 

Here's the upshot:

Beginning in 2014, employers with more than 50 employees will be assessed a fee of $2,000 per full-time employee (in excess of 30 employees) if the company does not offer coverage and if at least one employee receives a premium credit through a health care Exchange.  (Exchanges are the mechanisms created by the health reform bill to help individuals and small businesses purchase health insurance coverage.)

Employers who do offer coverage, but have at least one employee who receives a premium credit through an Exchange will be required to pay the lesser of $3,000 for each employee who receives a premium credit or $2,000 for each full-time employee.  Additionally, if an employee opts out of an employer plan because coverage is "unaffordable" (premium exceeds 9.5 percent of family income), the employer must pay a $3,000 penalty for each full-time employee who receives a government subsidy and purchases coverage through an Exchange.

Several elements of health reform will take place in 2010 with significantly implications for employers and HR professionals:  

Effective September 23, 2010, all existing health insurance plans:

  • are prohibited from placing lifetime limits on the dollar value of coverage;
  • are prohibited from rescinding coverage except in cases of fraud;
  • are prohibited from employing pre-existing condition exclusions for children;
  • must provide dependent coverage for adult children up to age 26

Please Continue Reading 

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Health Care Reform, AIM, Health Insurance, Health Care

President Signs Extension of COBRA Subsidy, Jobless Benefits

Posted by Sandy Reynolds on Apr 16, 2010 9:50:00 AM

President Obama last night signed a bill extending the 65 percent COBRA subsidy through May 31 and pushing back to June 2 the deadline for jobless people to file for federal unemployment insurance benefits.

The president acted after the $18 billion bill passed the Senate by a 59 to 38 margin then sailed through the House in a bi-partisan 289 to 112 vote.

"Millions of Americans who lost their jobs in this economic crisis depend on unemployment and health insurance benefits to get by as they look for work and get themselves back on their feet," Obama said in a statement. "But as I requested in my budget, I urge Congress to move quickly to extend these benefits through the end of this year."

An estimated 9,200 Massachusetts residents lost access to federal jobless benefits when the extension bill stalled in the Senate on April 5 amid partisan disagreements over how to account for the cost of the program. The unemployment rate in Massachusetts declined from 9.5 percent to 9.3 percent in March, driven by hiring among retail and financial services companies.

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, AIM, Massachusetts unemployment

Reports say President to Make Becker Recess Appointment

Posted by Sandy Reynolds on Mar 24, 2010 11:51:00 AM

President Barack Obama plans to use a recess appointment to place union lawyer Craig Becker on the National Labor Relations Board, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin told Congressional Quarterly yesterday.

"It's going to happen," Harkin told CQ. The Iowa Democrat is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Congress begins a two-week recess on Friday. Senate Republicans blocked a vote on Becker's nomination last month in one of the first votes taken by newly elected Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.

AIM and other business groups have opposed the nomination because of concerns that Becker, associate general counsel of the Service Employees International Union, might seek to impose administratively the most anti-employer sections of the stalled Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA would deprive workers of the right to a secret ballot in union elections.

Economist Anne Layne Ferrar has estimated that EFCA would cost 600,000 American jobs per year.

"The appointment will unquestionably change the balance of the NLRB away from employers," said AIM's Michael Rudman (, who has spent 30 years working in the area of labor relations and union negotiations.

"The message I stress when teaching labor relations seminars or working with AIM member employers is that good management is the best defense against unionization. The new landscape in Washington DC underscores that approach." 

The five-member NLRB has operated with only two members since January 2008.

Topics: Employers, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, AIM, Employment Law, Employment Law, Organized Labor, Benefits, Employee Free Choice Act

COBRA Subsidy Extension – DOL Releases Updated Notices

Posted by Sandy Reynolds on Mar 17, 2010 5:05:00 PM

The Department of Labor (DOL) released updated model notices today (March 17, 2010) reflecting changes to the COBRA subsidy program enacted by the recently enacted Temporary Extension Act (TEA).

The most significant change under the TEA is the expansion of the definition of Assistance Eligible Individual to include people who:

  • Experienced a COBRA qualifying event that was a reduction of hours occurring on or after September 1, 2008, AND
  • Subsequently experienced an involuntary termination of employment occurring between March 2, 2010 and March 31, 2010

These individuals must receive a special notice and may have a second opportunity to elect COBRA continuation.

AIM is reviewing the DOL releases and will provide information and administrative guidance as soon as possible through this blog and our regular newsletter and Web site channels.

An AIM Webinar to be conducted Thursday, March 18th from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. EDT will include a review of the model notices and employer obligations under the TEA - it is not too late to register for first-hand information.

Register for the AIM Webinar
DOL Web Site - COBRA

Subscribe to our blog

Posts by popularity

Browse by Tag