BY: Joseph R. Caplan, CPA, Managing Director FinSoft, LLC
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This White Paper will be updated periodically to reflect input from readers like you

Last revision Date: July 12, 2002
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The view from here looks like a dream. High portfolio growth, record bookings and outstandings, and up to now, record earnings. Time for a cigar and a place to mark the time, the late 1990’s capped off by the year 2000.  To quote a friend from a large national institution, "If your think it’s good now, when things are bad it’s going to be better." He’s right, banks will turn the deals to the ABL departments when things change, things always change.  But, all is not well on the employment front, we have some catching up to do, without any more growth or pending doom.   Personally, I hope that any recession that occurs is mild, because the talent pool in ABL is thin and few officers have been through a work-out cycle.


While the numbers look good for the bean counters, the recruiters are having a very difficult time finding someone to fill what Dr. Seuss may have called "lots and lots of slots."  As we all know by now, there are shortages of qualified candidates to fill the need for auditors and account executives in most major cities.  How bad is it?  The executive recruiters can’t find anyone!  Not being one to let a simple problem go to waste, I spent a good part of 1998 taking notes, talking with my peers and finding out what seems to be working.  I've continued the updates herein for 1999 and 2000.


This White paper protects the names of all contributors and there are almost 100 people to thank for these ideas.  You know who you are and I offer my sincerest thank you for your intelligent, often insightful and downright brilliant input.


Account Officer’s

Can’t seem to find em’, then raise em’. This is the traditional banking career model where: a teller, credit analyst or field examiner becomes a junior and then full fledged lender.  It takes time, we lose some along the way to frustration, loathing and competitors.  What to do?

Field Examiner’s

If ever there was an ABL position to fill, this would be it! Simply put, "not enough to find" and the executive recruiters have given up on some searches.



If the answer to the above question could be diagnosed, the cure would be possible, with enough time. In reality, we have multiple problems for account officer’s and auditors:


AO and Auditor Shortage:

  • Rapid portfolio growth and not enough hands

  • New ABL groups (competitors) are hiring experienced ABL staff

  • Existing Banks are creating ABL groups with niche products (i.e., healthcare, hi-tech, riskier deals)

  • Factoring and Leasing companies are expanding into ABL, healthcare financing, etc.

  • Attrition

  • Promotion without available replacements

  • Defection to Competitors

  • Salary / Benefits at Competitors

  • Stressed-out and getting out

  • Boss is a jerk, why work for the jerk

  • Believe that education value of a competitor is a better resume builder.

  • Constant feelings of fear from having too much responsibility and not enough support

  • Not enough college graduates know about ABL career path.

  • Mergers: lets not forget the fallout from consolidation, overlapping management and staffs.

  • On a larger scale, we have retiring baby boomers leaving the workforce.

  • Smaller towns may have less trained talent to take from others.

AO Shortage Specific

  • Portable client base moves with AO to competitor

  • Some lenders want to work for only largest (resume builder) institutions

  • Occasional travel disrupts family life

  • Can’t book enough new business to stay on board

  • Lack technical skills to handle larger deals and workouts

  • Not enough auditors to move into the AO position

Auditor Specific

  • CPA firms are gobbling up accounting students before Senior year

  • College grads have no clue of what ABL is or why it’s a great career path

  • ABL auditor position lacks prestige of large CPA firms

  • Attitude of management makes auditor feel like second class citizen

  • Constant travel disrupts family life.

  • Pressure to fill "quota" of audits gets old (treadmill syndrome)

  • No new challenges, look to move on to AO slot

  • Accounting firms are hiring ABL examiners to fill niche service for ABL



I was speaking with a national lender from the Northeast area and he asked "how do you find good people that want to stay in their job?"  My initial answer (from a year of interviewing people) was that auditor’s that stay have a high threshold for pain and that account officer’s that stay just think it's a sexy job.   In reality, the answer is to identify the gene that makes good auditors and account officers.  These genes have not been identified, but as soon as a test is available...


Again I come back to the word "strategy."  Why does your recruiting strategy fail? Is it money, is it benefits, is it too much travel, is it opportunity, is it reputation, is it quality of life?


This is not the time to punt.  Let’s look at what some people are doing:


Hire College Grads and Train Them

Not a bad strategy if you have the resources and the training programs. One of the key weaknesses here is that your training will be lost to competitors that tend to act like vultures after you’ve made a substantial investment. Account executives typically receive 6-10 weeks of bank training and then a two year rotation through several departments, only to be snatched up for higher salaries by competitors.


One organization was successful hiring an "engineering economics" major from an engineering school; there are alternatives. Yes, training costs can be high. For account officer's with an internal bank rotation, this is fine if your bank has it. For auditors, it means costly travel, double teaming, in house training, etc.). Build a farm league, make them into pros and retain them.


Hire Different College Grads

The CPA firms are getting the best accounting students and many of the Account Executives are getting a Masters Degree right after undergraduate studies.


So this strategy gets you someone -- maybe. There are other problems. First, the CPA firms are getting all of the accounting majors. Perhaps a twist in the strategy would help. Some lenders are turning to smaller colleges and finance majors that are willing to relocate to new areas. Training is still required, but the finance majors are every bit as bright and talented as the accounting majors.  Making offers before senior year is another possibility. Broaden your search scope.


Intern Jobs

As a graduate from Drexel University with a double major in Accounting and Finance (yet another shameless plug!), I can speak personally on the value of hiring college interns.  Many colleges have 6 month cooperative education programs that offer students the opportunity to work in their areas of study.  I learned and increased my career interest more in 6 months of co-op work than in my first two years of college. 


Upon graduation, many students are offered jobs by the people that they interned with over several 6 month co-op cycles.  Look at and hire college interns.


Prepare the Grads - The Marketing Approach

My mother still doesn't understand what I do! College graduates have probably never heard of asset based lending.  As an industry, we need to educate and inform the college population of teachers and students what this industry is all about.  You heard it here first!


I propose that the ABL community put together an effort to educate professors and students on what ABL is all about.  The following general ideas could be tested:

  • Speak at Accounting and Finance Society functions at colleges.

  • Become guest speakers in finance and accounting classes.

  • Prepare literature (handouts and brochures) that can educate prospective new hires

  • Prepare a standard presentation that could be used by many people in the industry

  • Prepare a web based presentation

The education of students may attract more people to the profession, through increased awareness, participation and interest.  One ABL shop that I spoke with noted that "We went deep into the college campus' to find recruits."  This particular ABL shop personally educates the students through college associations, guest lectures, etc. (Bravo!). 


Since I am also in the seminar business (a shameless plug for Clear Choice Seminars, Inc.), I would be happy to put together a program that could be used by industry members for presentation purposes. Contact me at with your thoughts on this.  Educate the colleges and students.


Prepare the Grads - The Alternate Future
A typical college student has been focused on graduating and paying back loans.  Potential recruits are often in the fields of finance, accounting, economics, marketing and management.  What are their future dreams formed upon?  Probably a career path such as:

  • Public accounting (staff - senior - supervisor - manager - partner).  Sure most leave and become a controller or a CFO.  A year 2000 study by the AICPA showed few college student graduation candidates willing to take time for the CPA exam, lower CPA pay and lost MBA opportunities when weighed against immediate income from the MBA path.

  • Management (intern - worker - supervisor - manager - associate - VP - president)  Sure some leave and run another company and few make it big on stock options.  

ABL is no different than the above choices.  "It's not a career, its a choice!" (sorry no bumper stickers available).  But most graduates don't know about ABL's "psychic income" or the career path.  We all need to sell the job where you can see the whole company, make financing decisions in the millions, learn how companies operate, etc?  Sure you can stay in audit or become a class-act account officer.  You can also someday leave with tons of hands-on knowledge about running different companies and still become a CFO, controller or business owner.  It's not sexy, but it's colorful.  Let them see our true colors.


Steal From Your Competitors
Who said life was fair?  Let them spend the money on travel, training, bank rotations, etc. and then throw money (and opportunity) at them. Finding these potential targets is the largest problem.  As mentioned above, the recruiting firms are having a hard time finding these people too.  Newspaper advertisements are expensive and the resulting resume pile rarely has the gem that your looking for.  What strategy do we employ to get our competitor’s people? Have a strategy to get the people you need.


Offer Incentives by Day

Some lenders are doing day incentives for the auditors.  This can be done in many ways, but here are a few examples: Quarterly pay incentives for spending more that 25 nights per quarter on the road.  One large national lender pays over $80.00 per day per diem for overnight travel (excess over IRS allowed is taxable).  The income portion creates a variable bonus based on days on the road.  This form of auditor compensation is becoming more popular with lenders that are competing for scarce audit resources. Implement variable bonus pay for travel.


Offer Incentives by Year

Like the above daily / quarterly incentive, some institutions are offering annual bonus pay if you stay through some time period (i.e., stay until August and we’ll pay you $4,000.00).  The bonus potential becomes the carrot to stay. As you may have guessed, the bonus needs to be renewed to improve the staying power numbers.  Implement service appreciation bonus pay.



Writers note:  I hate this idea because mediocrity is not good enough, but here it goes:  If you don't counteroffer, then you're going to end up hiring the same level of talent for more money and more aggravation, plus recruiting costs and time.   It can be frustrating, against your better judgment to be cornered like this, but lots and lots of people are doing this.  It can strain your personal ethics, but counteroffer to save time and money.


Referrals-Part I

Word of mouth is a good way to go. Some of the lenders we talked with have raised the referral fees from employees into a new realm of over $2,000.00 per head. The existing $500.00 policy at most banks is simply not working. Several of the people interviewed noted that referrals are not easy to come by. When probed and asked about speculating on possible reasons, the answers included: "not enough money incentive," "with our reputation it’s not easy for people make recommendations," and "our employees love it here, they can be good recruiters." With a broad range of answers such as this, it seems that happy employees are a recruiting asset. Create referral incentives that get results.


Referrals-Part II

Increase the effectiveness of referrals by having the person that made the referral work on the orientation and some follow-up activity such as a first quarterly review.   Pay the referral in halves, first at 90 days and then at 180 days.  Get better referrals by spreading the fee over time.


Referrals-Part III

Hot jobs should command more money.  Boost referral fees for the hot jobs.  Some companies are offering up to $5,000 for the really hot jobs.  Inc. Magazine ran a special report in the 10/98 issue on recruiting that included a reference to a company named i-Cube offering TV's, mountain bikes and more as referrals increased (ahh--generation-X-appeal).  The i-Cube recruiting incentives include housecleaning, laundry services, vacations and if you make eight successful referrals, a Jeep Wrangler.   Incentives can and should be more than monetary.


Referrals-Part IV

Recruit from customers and clients and vendors.  Many of your associates have kids in college, friends looking to switch jobs, etc.  You can offer them incentives too.  Let customers, friends and vendors know you need their help.


If I could Work for You

When I started my professional career I wanted public accounting experience for my resume.   When I went into ABL, I wanted a top tier firm to add to that resume. I checked out the organization and it was clearly a leader.  The audit manager that interviewed me was clearly a top notch manager too... I said, "If I could work for you, it would benefit my career." A student of mine was moving to a new city and wanted some leads for jobs, I gave her 5 leads, but noted the one that represented the best opportunity for education, personal growth and future growth.  When you present your company to a candidate, tell (sell) them about the "legends" of the business that work for you, how long they have been there and impress upon the candidates the learning opportunity of working with the best. Make people want to work for your people.


Management Leadership

Get management involved in the process.  This can include a directive to have more public events sponsored by your company and a requirement to have everyone make 2-5 recruiting calls per week.  Forget theory, in reality everyone has high and low time periods to switch jobs.  Frequent calls and contacts plus public events will improve your chances of finding people in a high need state.  Get out there, be seen, be heard.


Web-Pages-Part I

The web has some job pages available. FinSoft, LLC and Clear Choice Seminars, Inc. sponsor one at https://www.finsoft.net/jobspage.htm

We’d be glad to list your job available, just e-mail us at: E-Mail Us:

Definitely post a "jobs available" link on your own home page. Get on the web.


Web-Pages-Part II

Newsgroups have emerged with job opportunities and references.  Check out www.dejanews.comGet on Newsgroups.


Decrease Travel

Account officer’s and especially auditors tend to travel which leads to burnout. Sure it’s fun when you start out, but the job requires you to do laundry, car repairs, relationships and everything else on the weekends...it get old fast.  Under these circumstances, some audit managers will alternate local and overnight travel or new business for "cookie cutter" audits to give the stressed examiner a break.   However the personal sacrifice of being on the road and spending the weekends scrambling to fit in some "life" are often not rewarded.


There is a growing trend to open regional offices that can decrease the travel for everyone. While the large national institutions are getting regional by merger, the savvy small and middle sized lenders are putting offices, auditors and support where the action is. Open regional offices.


Stop Growing

Growth has advantages, but safe growth means staffing and systems to handle the load.  Sure you can outsource some of it, but in the long run, "insiders" are needed to maintain quality and control certain costs.  So, stop the growth, don't book more deals and level off for 90-180 days until the infrastructure is ready.  Slow down and don't grow until your ready again.



Yes, radio!  We've recently seen this in several articles and can point to some local stations (at least here in Maryland) that have advertisements for Information Technology professionals.  Why not advertise on the radio for "Accountants and financial analysis looking for an exciting career with new challenges on a daily basis?"  Advertise on the radio.



If you hire every recruiter in America you’ll come up empty handed. One national ABL shop has done that and the results are just not there.  More people looking does not seem to be a great strategy, probably because salaries and the tight market make it hard to find anyone willing to switch for the same general benefits.  What strategy do you have for benefits and what can you offer that the competition can’t?


Recruiters have contacts and it takes only one bad episode with a client, weeks of travel or a bad boss to make someone want to jump. Have your recruiter check up on people regularly.


Human Resources Department

Lately, the HR departments at some institutions (mostly banks) are saying no way to the benefits and compensation for the ABL departments. The no way attitude is understandable based on guidelines from management, normal account officer and internal audit salaries, and overall budgets. However, reality gets in the way of this comparable bank salary theory. The ABL departments typically produce 2-3 times the net interest rate yields of the overall bank per asset dollar. The travel and underwriting pressure, the large loan business development underwriting process and the general intensity of ABL monitoring are getting higher salaries, paid for by the higher net interest yields. Lobby, remind and educate executives and HR personnel about the yield of the portfolio and the competitive factors (many of which are outlined herein).


Exit Interviews

Ask questions and ask for honest answers.  Not just the people leaving, but the people that turn you down.  Adjust your pay scale if money is a factor.   Adjust all other objections as needed.  Find out what went wrong.


Define the Career Path

Some professions, such as public accounting have a defined career path from staff accountant or Tax-1 to supervisor, to manager, to associate to partner.  Some work in audit, some in tax some in MIS.  ABL is no different.  Some stay in audit, some move on to officer positions and some move on to regional managers and more.  It helps to know that your career path has steps ahead.  Some recruits are looking to move-on to better things over time and a pre-plan can be useful to get new recruits on staff.  Be sure to boast about promoting people and drive the point home by making introductions to promoted staff during the interview process. Show them the future.


Lease Me

With the miracle of the law (just kidding), it is possible to lease employees.  Smaller finance companies should consider this option to compete with larger players.  Small finance companies could find a benefits administrator, but a small group size would likely offer few benefits.  It is easier, less time consuming, more cost effective and generally more robust in features to lease employees through a company that can offer a broader and more impressive package.  You lease to get more of a car, why not lease yourself? 


Captain of my Destiny

At some of the fastest growing companies (and ABL providers), the employees work on a management by objectives basis.  Each employee sets their own growth objectives and goals while the corporation has standards for existing performance.  This pressure cooker environment weeds out those that can't work for objectives and forces the company to grow in creative ways.  Retention stays high in the long run and thus less new hiring is needed over time. Let the employees lead from the bottom up.


Old Resumes Never Die

Go through old resumes and get home numbers when you interview prospects.   Pull out the old pile from time to time, even the ones that are two years old.   Call the people, find out what they are doing and note what new experiences they have had.  Find out about their computer skills and job skills.  Keep in touch over time, they may have referrals for you.  Old résumé's lead to renewed contacts.


Create Your Own Recruiting Company

You can incorporate overnight for almost nothing.  Take a recruiter that has done a great job for you and set them up in business.  They make more money, you get the cream of the crop.  This idea is feasible for medium to large lenders.  Recruit from your own private firm.


Interview Quickly

Be thorough and focus on key skill sets, but have all parties ready to do the same.  It is rare to have three interviews these days because candidates are gone by the time you call.  Try to get it all done in one interview by having all parties ready to talk business and ask the key questions.  Be ready to interview with all parties first.


Streamline Systems

Since we own a software company and specialize in building automated systems for clients, we may have a minor biased toward streamlining work through automation.


Back office operations can be automated with better software, A/R aging analysis done on the computer (try AssetReader) and better reporting systems for management.


Field examination software (yet another shameless plug for AssetWriter field examination software), can improve accuracy, cut down on fieldwork, reduce report writeup time and decrease overall report completion times. How much time does it take to print and writeup your reports; how about multiple examiner and multiple location exams?  By the way, new PC's don't improve speed, but software does.  We have one account that went from 9 auditors to 6 and they still get all of the work done...Now That's Savings!


Some lender’s are pre-auditing the deals with updated spreads, tighter back office reporting that can become part of the field examination and more emphasis on planning. This lets the examiner focus on problem areas, variances and key issues, rather than spend field time compiling numbers, adding credit memos and performing basic accounting work.


Both the AO and audit staffs can benefit greatly from reduced report size. Trends, financials, ratios, tests and quantitative data need not change, just reduce the writeup size, change the reporting style to bullets and listings of key points. With a bit of trimming and automation, the work load can be handled with fewer staff additions. Automate and streamline the field examination report process.


Allocate Resources Better

Do more with less. If you only knew how? Schedule field exams in advance, reduce travel for the account officer’s too. Develop risk based monitoring procedures that allocate more auditor and AO time to the problem accounts and not all time to all accounts all of the time. Work on ways to cut down meeting time, travel time, report preparation time and silly wasted steps that have been in place for years. By freeing up time and allocating resources in a more disciplined way, it’s possible to save enough time to get by with the resources that you have or maybe two new hires instead of four. Allocate resources based on risk assessment.


Stand Outside

Put yourself in the shoes of your competition and the shoes of an incumbent new hire.   When they look at your organization, what do they see?  When they look at your benefits what do they see? When they look at your office managers, what do they see?   What are your weaknesses?  Exit interviews should include better and more direct questions about why a person is leaving.  Don't forget to ask new hires what won them over.  Fix, remove, polish and destroy your weaknesses. When others look in or hear about you, it should be a complete package, a package making others want to come in.


Be Prepared

We should have learned this in college, but you need to be prepared to look good.   Kill the clutter in the office, prepare materials for the recruit and let them "see" the company in a good light.  A well prepared summary of benefits, vacation days, company outings, etc. can go a long way to that all important first impression.  Since you may be recruiting from Generation-X, it can help to dress down for some recruits.  Let your charms and benefits be seen.



Loosely defined, a "Boomerang" is a person that leaves your organization and then comes back.  This happens when you keep in touch with old employees that find the grass to be tainted on the other side.  These same loyal returns can make it easy to recruit from the former "other side."  Boomerangs happen because the former alumni members miss the office that they helped to make so good and you never made them feel like they left.  The consulting group Gensler actually gives returning employees an official company boomerang for their office wall.  Boomerangs also allow you to sell loyalty when you recruit, by pointing to those that left, but came back from your competitors.  Keep in touch with old employees, they are often a loyal alumni association for your recruiting efforts and may boomerang back.


Create a Great Place, "Where Everybody Knows Your Name"

One of the most overlooked things is office morale, employee satisfaction, the team.   Organizations are going to a more casual dress code, a more relaxed office atmosphere and more team play systems.  Some people are letting the employees bank extra vacation time for overnight travel nights, for weekend crams to get the job done and for personal travel time.  The new workers and the ones that jump ship don’t always want more money, they want a fun place to work, with people that they can get respect from and with people that they can grow with.  Do you want people to say "sweat shop" about you or "fun and challenging?"  Referrals are far more likely when you offer a complete package and have a reputation that says "people matter."  Reputations like this take time to mature and bad reputations take a longer time to correct. Correct your office reputation problems sooner rather than later.


Remodeling your employees office says, "I care."  Sending someone to New York with theater tickets says "thank you" for your hard work. People are more interested in opportunities for life enhancement, enriching experiences and a feeling of community at work. The newest workers are reliving a part of the 60’s, this may be the summer of love man.  A great place to work sells itself.



Some Companies are providing dry cleaning services, massage, gyms or fitness club memberships, theater ticket purchases, travel purchases, and other "hotel concierge" services to employees.  With people being so busy, its often tough to complete personal tasks on the weekend alone.  These benefits help to retain employees due to convenience and quality of life factors.  It may be the workplace, but it's nice to have a concierge.


Dispose of Bad Apples

Some companies or job positions within a company have bad managers, bad work loads and bad management practices. As noted above, the worker that is heading for the Year 2000 is looking for a place that is part of their life not a part to dread.  Sometimes pruning the bad apple from your tree can improve the atmosphere and the reputation of the office. Hire and keep good apples.


Rethink Your Budget, it’s People that do the Work
Financial institutions seem to try to rely on the old stand by of newspaper advertisements, money for executive recruiters and other resources to get people into asset based lending.  There is some money set aside for company picnics, company Christmas parties and the occasional pizza and suds bash. Some money is spent on training and some on "retreats" to go over corporate strategies. How much do you spend or have you even considered spending money on retention? There are hundreds of possible solutions for training, incentive pay, travel rewards, trips, team building and employee satisfaction building. Budget for retention, not just recruitment.


Offer Golden Apples

The strategy is often called "golden handcuffs." You hire great people and then pay them more than the market. They have the pay, the car, the benefits that make them feel appreciated. What kind of benefits. The most competitive packages include some or all of the following: Signing bonus (usually in escrow and paid over time). Good base pay, car allowances, variable quarterly travel bonus pay or high per diem for overnight travel, annual bonus, first class travel, sports club dues, excess travel bonus of time off after a certain number of nights per quarter, recognition awards, regular training requirements, masters degree reimbursement, 401K matches of over 100% on first n%, fully paid medical, tax and legal services, reimbursement or discounts on computer equipment, spousal travel privileges, and on and on. Your benefits may also be better than the accounting firms competing for auditors.  With benefits like these, it’s easy to be happy and easier to attract talent. Make it hard to leave.


Stock Appreciation Rights (SAR's)

This will require an accountant and an attorney (no jokes please).  The idea is to allow the employees to earn a piece of the company over time.  The rights are a form of profit sharing that are valued by the CPA's each year.  Invest in loyalty by vesting in SAR's.


Equity Share for Relocation

In some cases a high-end position will require a relocation of a key position to an expensive market for real estate.  To induce the candidate to move, an equity share in their real estate purchase can be made.  For example, 20%-25% of the purchase price of a home could be paid in cash by the employer as ownership.  Upon sale, the company would recoup their equity on a first out basis, plus their share of any profit.  Equity share when real estate prices are interfering with the talent search.


Match Benefits

People are offering signing bonuses, commissions and higher pay.  So should you.  The tendency to be looking for cheap labor is going to cost time and frustration.  By matching benefits, pay, commissions and the signing bonus, you look at least as good as the next player and may have some of the advantages noted above.   Match em' to catch em'.



Lots of ABL shops and Factors are outsourcing the field examinations, legal work, work-outs, appraisals and benefits administration.  Outsourcing frees up office space, recruiting expenses, benefit costs and may allow costs to be passed directly to the Borrower.  Outsourcing can improve quality by allowing experts to handle do what they do best.  Unfortunately, in some cases, the depth of internal reports, corporate culture, propensity to accept risk and other quality factors can be lost when outsourcing.   The largest academic problem with outsourcing is that the competition can do the same and thus real savings and real innovation toward growth may not be realized.  On the other hand, outsourcing can free internal resources to focus on growth and quality management.  Outsource when is makes sense, saves costs, but maintains quality.


A Word of Caution for Auditors

Since this white paper is likely to be read by workers as well as recruiters, the auditors should consider the following. Some institutions are offering "golden handcuffs" that will pay travel and annual bonuses, high salaries and other nice perks.  AO slots may open up or the audit staff may be so understaffed that senior level examiners need to stay in that role "a while longer than expected."  In addition, a move to an audit job with less travel or a junior AO slot could also decrease the dollars paid, since the travel and annual bonus may not apply to the new position.  Golden apples can be tough, but you'll still learn a ton in ABL.


Conclusion (a.k.a. "Whatever?")

The traditional methods of newspaper advertisements, executive recruiters and employee referrals are simply not enough with this hot, growing and understaffed market in ABL.   A great workplace, benefits and opportunities are more likely to get results.   You need image, great mentors, a reputation, quality of life, money, benefits and luck. You need a plan.

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