It's that time of year again. The days are short and dreary; your job seems tedious and boring. Staggering mountains of holiday bills convince you that career advancement should be a springtime priority.

We've all seen the TV commercial in which a prospective employee receives flowers and fruit baskets from CEOs trying to lure him to work for their companies. All he did was post his resume on the Internet. If he can do it, you think, so can I. A mountain of fruit baskets waits in your future! Who's not thrilled about the prospect of your potential advancement? The human resources department at your present employer. As the clever commercial suggests, the HR game is getting tougher and tougher these days. It is not too strong a statement to say that successful hiring can directly affect a company's bottom line.

In fact, Frederich W. Ball and Barbara B. Ball say the most critical battle waged in business today is the war for talent. They address this hot topic head-on in Impact Hiring: The Secrets of Hiring a Superstar. Today, these recruiting and interviewing experts say, job candidates aren't interviewing to try to get a job; they interview to see if they even want a new job. Superstar candidates know that for every offer they receive, there are two or three more corporations queuing up to court them. This happened to a friend recently. Following an MBA program at a top school, he was offered seven jobs with different corporations; all considered him a superstar candidate. Each post offered significant pay and an array of wonderful benefits. All offered to help his spouse relocate, find childcare, even pay for closing costs on a new house. Ultimately his choice hinged on what the Balls call "knowing the candidate's agenda." The financial strength of the company, the entrŽe to an interesting and challenging position and the strength of the senior management team led him to choose a job with a company whose culture reflected his own beliefs and whose corporate vision was filled with future possibilities. CEOs and human resource directors, as well as upper level managers with hiring responsibility, should read this book. Ball and Ball offer insight into the secrets of tapping and, more importantly, attracting superstar candidates. With keen understanding and years of corporate experience to boot, they outline the crucial steps every recruiter (for businesses big or small) needs to succeed when bringing a superstar player on board. While Impact Hiring offers insight into how to attract the best new recruits, Winning the Talent Wars: How to manage and compete in the high-tech, high-speed, knowledge-based, superfluid economy by management expert Bruce Tulgan traces the reasons companies lose their best talent. Tulgan says company loyalty is a thing of the past. The corporate downsizing and restructuring of recent years sent a clear message to employees: individuals must take responsibility for their own careers. Free-agency is an existing mindset for employees, and it will drive a more efficient market-driven economy, Tulgan believes.

Winning the Talent Wars explores the macro-level employment forces at work in the economy and confronts employers with the reality that they need to reevaluate their compensation systems to best attract and retain talented employees. Tulgan says employers must embrace the new economy and come to understand its effect on current employment trends. He stresses pay-for-performance approaches and wants businesses to turn managers into coaches, leading the team to perform. He challenges corporate leaders to "create as many career paths as you have people" and restructure the traditional notion of climbing the corporate ladder. His is an exciting proposition, one that will appeal to many 25- to 40-year-olds seeking jobs.

Winning the Talent Wars tells the stories of corporate executives who have gone to battle for talent and are beginning to win the war. "More and more of your best people are leaving, or talking about it, or thinking about it," Tulgan says. Learn strategy that allows retaining employees and hiring new ones to be a win-win situation.

In recent years, newspapers have seen a decline in classified advertising revenue as employers put more want-ads on the Internet. But not everyone, and certainly not every company, is taking advantage of the Internet revolution. Poor Richard's Internet Recruiting: Easy, Low-Cost Ways to Find Great Employees Online by Barbara Ling is a great introduction to both looking for employees and looking for your own new job.

Why recruit on the Internet? For most businesses the advantages are easy to see. First, Ling says, it's often free. And who doesn't want to free up money for R&andD or salary incentives or customer research? Just look at the bottom line. The Web is quicker, can be read 24/7, is easy to use for both prospective employees and employers and is an easy form of corporate advertising.

Ling knows her subject area well. An online columnist for the Boston Herald, she has written on Internet recruiting and led seminars on the subject. After you've finished her comprehensive guide to web recruiting, you'll be one step ahead of the competition.

Staying ahead of the competition is the idea behind Richard C. Whiteley's Love the Work You're With: A Practical Guide to Finding New Joy and Productivity in Your Job. What causes people to leave their jobs? Increasingly, personal satisfaction ranks high on the list of reasons. Employees, however, often find their new jobs also fail to offer an advanced level of personal enrichment. He likens this syndrome to a failed relationship. How many people walk away from one relationship only to make the same mistakes again in another? Whitely convincingly helps employees and their employers recognize unconscious patterns of attitude and behavior that mark unchallenging and passionless workplaces.

Sometimes, Whiteley says, employees live in fear that they will be downsized, discarded or laid off. They never develop their potential to enjoy their job because they go to work every day wondering, what next? Whitely encourages employees to see themselves as positive forces at work, responsible for their own level of job satisfaction.

Both employees and employers can benefit from Whiteley's insights. In the competitive marketplace, he says, each employee, each CEO and each manager has to infuse the workplace with a spirit of energy. He offers a series of exercises and self-evaluations for employees. They should also be required reading for human resource professionals who watch long-time and long-sought employees walk out the door in search of the "perfect" opportunity.

Briefly noted: The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, one of design firm IDEO's leaders, offers a rich and exciting ride through the mindset of a unique company. A leadership book with style, charisma and fun, this book also demonstrates how to capitalize on fresh ideas.

 Entrepreneur America: Lessons from Inside Rob Ryan's High-Tech Start-Up Boot Camp by Rob Ryan. From Roaring Lion Ranch in Montana, the founder of Ascend Communications infuses this model of how to start a business with his unique humor, wit and practicality. Ryan shoots down entrepreneurial wannabes but goes on to tell them how to get up and continue the battle.

The PR Crisis Bible: How to Take Charge of the Media When All Hell Breaks Loose by Robin Cohn is the definitive source for what to do when the worst case scenario unfolds at your company. How to handle public relations crisis, how to prepare for them and, most importantly, how to handle them honestly is the goal of this deft manual. Required reading for every CEO.

Sharon Secor, who helped jump-start two businesses, is a Nashville-based writer.

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