School of the Ages


author interview -- Russ Hovendick, employment expert and military supporter

Posted by Matt Posner on June 27, 2014 at 2:40 PM

I meet many authors on Twitter these days, and Russ Hovendick is one such. I offered him an interview in order to ask some tough questions about the job market for young people (and ex-teachers). He's a great friend to veterans, and is giving college scholarships with his own funds. Read on to find out more about both.

Your business is located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. What is it like there? What activities would you recommend for visitors?

I live in Sioux Falls, SD, a city of 180,000 people that has seen dramatic growth within the last few years. At the heart of Sioux Falls is the actual water falls themselves, which have become a tourist destination, due to their beauty. Our zoo is regionally recognized and their collection of preserved exotic animals is rare, and considered to be one of the best in the world. Many would expect the major economic driver to be coming from the agricultural sector, however, Sioux Falls is the headquarters for a number of national financial companies and also boasts two of the best medical centers in the country, which have now expanded operations worldwide.

Where did you grow up, and what was it like?

I grew up in Minnesota on a farm with six other brothers. We raised hogs, cattle, chickens, and operated a large dairy farm. I love to hear people complain of lack of work life balance. I can assure you that work life balance was never considered by my father, who instilled a tremendous work ethic in each of us. He believed that if you were going to kill time, then you needed to work it to death. There were times we were sure HE would work us to death. But I survived, as did all my brothers who have gone on to be successes in their chosen professions.

Tell an interesting story from your non-professional life.

In high school we were playing a team from Evansville, MN. I was on third base when the opposing coach went out to talk to the pitcher. My coach pulled me aside and advised me to steal home on the first pitch. He said just focus on home and don’t let anything stop you. The pitcher wound up, my eyes were locked on home and away I went, sliding perfectly before the catcher caught the ball. Everyone in the stands and on the field started roaring with laughter. I looked up to find that they had switched pitchers and the new pitcher had just thrown his first warm up pitch. Quite embarrassing! The coach then told me to wait until he finished his warm ups and then steal home. I did and then turned to the crowd and said, “Well he was warming up and so was I”. This prompted a lot of laughter as well.

Tell an interesting story about interacting with readers or other writers.

My books were created to make a difference in the life of each reader. One of my readers, an Army veteran of the military conflict in Afghanistan, was struggling to find work after his return. He advised that he had done 17 interviews and not one had gone to the next interview in the process. After reading my book and working with him on interviewing skills, he discovered a new found confidence. This confidence carried him to a final corporate interview with a Fortune 500 company, in which he received 3 of the 5 required votes to be hired. Although he didn’t get the job, he was able to capitalize on this experience and landed a job within the next week. It’s a passion within me to help people find out that they actually can be more than they thought possible. It’s really cool!!

You’ve done some significant TV interviews. Any good stories to report from those experiences?

One of the local TV stations did a story on my book Deployment to Employment. They were so impressed with the book and our efforts to help veterans, that they donated their anchorman and studio, to let us record several videos for free.

You have taken a particular interest in military transition – where does that strong commitment come from? What caused you to write Deployment to Employment?

I own an executive recruiting agency and was recruiting for a Fortune 500 company. They informed me that they were a “Top 100” employer of military veterans and advised me to consider bringing veterans to them. I shared that I had spoken with a number of veterans, but didn’t understand them and typically just set their information aside, but if they wanted them, I would bring them. After this conversation, in a later interview that I did with a veteran, I started to probe deeper into what made him the leader that he was. At first he had been unable to communicate these traits to me, however, when we started to dig deeper, he and I both had the proverbial “Ah ha” moment, where he began to see what he brought to the table and I realized his value. From there I started placing a number of veterans and they were in deep appreciation of my abilities to help them interview. It just seemed to be wise to write a book that could affect the lives of hundreds, as opposed to my one at a time approach. Even though I am not a veteran, I believe that we owe veterans everything that we have, so it’s out of a deep appreciation for them that I moved forward with the book.

How does post-traumatic stress affect veterans’ job placement efforts? How does it affect employers’ perceptions?

PTSD takes all forms. Unfortunately, it seems to have been exploited by some of the media. TV shows depicting a PTSD veteran unable to cope, is a shame, when so many veterans have learned how to cope with this condition and have gone on to be very productive members of the workforce.

What makes veterans such good hires?

Veterans have performed under some of the most difficult situations imaginable and have succeeded. They bring a tremendous loyalty, coupled with self-discipline and a passion to do their best. Because of their military experience they also bring a maturity level and vision that brings great value within the workplace.

Your company Directional Motivation is free for users but “for profit”? How does that work exactly?

My life has centered on helping people have greater success in life. An example is being a volunteer prison, jail, and juvenile chaplain for over 20 years. Directional Motivation was created to provide services that could be used by anyone, without cost or obligation. I didn’t want to establish a non-profit organization, because in the future there may be products or additional services that may generate a profit of some kind. At present, the services are free and scholarships monies have been paid out of my pocket.

How does the psychology of a job applicant in general affect that person’s success? Does it matter more than skills?

As I coach job applicants, I find that most don’t realize the value that they bring to the marketplace and that they also have a difficult time in communicating these values to a prospective employer. Once these two issues are addressed, we find that they have a better understanding of what they need to concentrate their improvement efforts on. Numerous candidates, as well as employers, have stated they have seen the level of self-accountability increase. Employers continue to state that the soft skills outweigh the job skills, as job skills can be taught easier.

I used to teach job interview skills in the early 2000s, but you are far more expert than I have ever been. What have been the changes in proper interview preparation and interview behavior since then?

Today’s interviews focus much more on the soft skills and general communication abilities. We have an increasingly diverse workforce that requires more attention and development, than in the past. Interviews are now directed toward behavior based techniques, which require the interviewee to provide specific examples of performance behaviors, which employers believe will be indicators of future behavior within the work environment.

Just one specific question about interviewing. How should one best answer “what are your weaknesses”?

Answer: I am always striving to improve. For instance, I realized that I was lacking in _____ area. I have made a concerted effort to improve in this area by taking the following classes. I now have the ability to obtain a level of ____ performance in this area. In fact, I have now started on focusing on _____ to improve these skills in this area, as well. (Shows that you are willing to not only acknowledge a weakness, but self-driven to overcome. This can be very impressive – but don’t fudge on the answer!)

You’ve written a book about negotiating raises. However, it seems to me that outside a high-demand field like computer technology, employers are more likely to fire people with high salaries or invite those who want more money to go find it elsewhere. Am I too pessimistic? Set me straight.

Yes, you are way too pessimistic. Read my book!! Employers are not against giving increases, but self-accountability has to be in place first. The chances for a raise are greatly enhanced by taking a very pro-active approach in your own personal development, thereby, raising your value in the marketplace. By taking this action, even if an employer doesn’t acknowledge your development, a future employer is much more likely to see this.

As you know, my main reason for interviewing you is to ask about the job market for upcoming college graduates. I read this article from al-Jazeera which introduced to me the term “post-employment economy.” It describes a situation in which employees get the least respect, security, or pay that they have had within living memory. Is this a correct perception?

I am always careful not to classify individuals into certain social classes or to use blanket statements. It is my belief that each individual brings unique talents and abilities to the workplace. However, if I were to note a frequent trend in these newly entered job seekers, it would be that many have a tendency of taking a self-centered entitlement approach to employment. Does everyone take this approach? Certainly not. However, I see a continued widening of the gap between those who are appreciative and respectful within marketplace and those who definitely want to live by their own standards of operation. This may spawn a feeling on the part of some employers to withdraw from caring as much about their employees, which in turn, affects benefits and long term job stability. It has the appearance of a vicious circle. Even with this said, I find that many progressive employers are trying to find new ways to entice employees to stay, whether through improved benefits, increase in pay, or the creation of improved workplaces by offering various alternatives that fit the needs of the employee.

My research has suggested that most college graduates in the next decade need to anticipate unpaid work, constant job shifts, unstable professions, regular retraining, and little connection between their degrees and their employment. Do you agree with this to some extent, or is it media fear-mongering, or what?

I believe that our workplace is one of constant change, due to the influences of economic pressure. Employers are continually being challenged to do more with less, while that employee has the challenge of bringing more value to their workplace. I believe that the employee will need to focus on the future trends affecting the workplace and take a pro-active approach to defining their continuing education to meet the needs of employers. I believe that you will also see employers taking a much more active participation in the continued educational needs of their employees. The traditional degrees will see a decline in value, while coursework directed toward future needs will provide increased value.

Is it the case now that most traditional college majors are useless for post-college employment? Should all young people be in career-specific college programs? Do even those help?

It is my belief that you will see the value of traditional degrees continue to decline and many colleges will struggle to prepare many graduates for the employment world. However, I also believe that the type of degree does not always influence the hiring prospects of future graduates, nor is a career-specific degree the right approach for everyone. I believe that careful consideration should be given to type of future employment that they are seeking.

 If you were advising a group of high school seniors about how to prepare for their future in the workforce, what would you say? I will pass it on to actual high school seniors, of course!

The world is changing very quickly. Seniors need to realize that with the acceleration of change, future needs of employers will change as quickly. What may seem to be a great career track, can quickly diminish with the creation of new technology. I would challenge seniors to take a very active interest in finding areas of interest through internships and shadowing programs. I would also advise them to refrain from accumulating a lot of debt. With debt comes a lack of freedom and flexibility to change. I found this with many individuals that were displaced during the recent economic downturn. Those that were heavily indebted had an extremely difficult time in being able to shift to accommodate the change within their family units. Those without debt or with limited debt pictures, often had many more options to pursue, due to the economic freedom provided by not being servants to debt. I would encourage seniors to consider taking classes while working, to avoid debt. As an employee, many employers will consider participating in the costs of education, provided that they see your future value. Yes, it will take longer. However, you will be positioned to adjust with the continuing changes of the workplace.

It seems like massive forces are aligned these days against American teachers, as the powers that be fiercely work to strip away our job security, our salaries, our classroom autonomy, our belief in our own abilities. Do you have a vote of confidence for us or any positives for the teaching profession?

Just as changes are occurring within the private workplace, so are the guarantees that have accompanied the teaching profession. When I counsel employees in private employment that are facing downsizing or reduction in benefits, I advise them not to allow themselves to be caught up in the negatives of the issue. Instead, I challenge them to focus on the future and to work on creating additional value. In this case, it would be to not engage in the discussions surrounding these issues, but to focus on being the best educator possible, to win the hearts and minds of the students and to prepare them for the challenges ahead. Yes, it may mean doing this with a decrease in benefits and possibly pay. But was your love more for the benefits associated with that of your profession than the students you instruct? If it is, then I would suggest, just as I would to the disenchanted plant worker or supervisor, leave your present employment and find the thing that satisfies your internal needs. Scary? Sure. It is for anyone in this position, whether teacher, plant manager, or factory worker, but the satisfaction of doing that which you truly love, will in many cases, outweigh the economics. Watching the success of students that you have had a personal hand in developing, is still one of the greatest rewards there is. If your passion is there, continue to pursue it with the right focus.

Do it for love and accept the loss of money, hm? Well, I didn't enjoy that answer, but I asked, and you gave an honest reply.

What can teachers who are forced out of their jobs do to transition?

First I would recommend an exercise that I created for displaced workers. This can be found on the Directional Motivation site I would also encourage them to see this as an opportunity or a new door. Yes, it is very frustrating, but approaching this change with a positive attitude is the key to finding future success. Then I would suggest that they reach out to professionals to get guidance in discovering the skills that they bring and then work on developing great interviewing skills. A great resource would be my book How to interview: what employers want to hear in today’s competitive job market. (Had to get a personal plug in…right???)

Personal plugs are part of what we do here. (My book here.) What would you like to say to readers to close this interview?

My heart is to make a difference in the lives of the people I come in contact with. Whether high school or college students, or participants in today’s employment world, I believe that I can provide a number of helps and resources to really affect lives. I would encourage individuals to check out our site at for the free resources offered and also to apply for scholarships. They may even choose to get a copy of one of the books that I offer.

Thank you for the privilege of interviewing with you.



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