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Monthly archive for May 2017

Stupid Recruiter Story #2: How employers waste your time

In the May 23, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader tries really hard to satisfy a stupid recruiter who doesn’t give a rat’s batootie about job applicants.

Background

stupid recruiterWe’re going to skip the regular Q&A column in this edition. Instead, I’d like to highlight a problem that I think most job seekers face: Stupid recruiters (and employers) that waste your time. (For another example, see Stupid Recruiter Story #1.)

An Ask The Headhunter subscriber applied to a job posted by a major defense contractor in Silicon Valley. The job description is detailed and includes a list of qualifications. What happened next is an object lesson in how corrupt recruiting has become.

Here are the e-mails between the employer and applicant. Names have been redacted.

From the recruiter

[Dear Applicant],

Thank you for your resume submittal to Requisition Number: XXXXX – [Job Title – the job is in communications].  I have some additional questions for you in regards to this specific position.

Please take a few moments to review and respond to the questions below. For your reference, a copy of the job description is provided at the end of this message.

  • What is the primary reason you are seeking a new opportunity?
  • How does your background relate to this specific position?
  • How would you describe the role of internal/employee communications in terms of adding true business value to the company?
  • Briefly, what are some of the unique approaches or tools you have used to execute an internally focused communications plan?
  • How do you measure success?
  • What is your salary expectation (please provide a specific amount or range)?
  • Are you willing to work in United States>California>Sunnyvale?
  • What is the best way to contact you during the day? Please provide an email address or phone #.

Thanks again for your interest in this position and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Best regards,

[Recruiter’s Name and e-mail address]
Talent Acquisition

Those are some pretty heavy-duty questions if you’re the candidate — and your answers could make or break the opportunity. If it seems these are the kinds of questions you’d get in a face-to-face interview, it’s because they are.

How much time has the recruiter invested so far? Well, how long does it take to copy/paste?

The applicant responds

Happy Friday, [Recruiter’s name]!

Please see answers to questions below. The fact that I put much thought into these answers, as you will soon see, is an understatement. :)

[Applicant]

The applicant answers all the questions thoughtfully and in detail. He estimates he spent 45 minutes to an hour answering all the questions, plus time submitting the application.For our purposes, the answer to only one question is relevant.

  • What is your salary expectation (please provide a specific amount or range)? As in life, everything is negotiable, including salary. I’m sure there is a salary range in mind HR has budgeted for this role, and that will suit me fine. For me, waxing poetic about the job is more important right now. That said and major hint alert, Sunnyvale is in the heart of one of the most expensive places on the planet, Silicon Valley.  :)

This qualifies as, “I’ll show you mine, if you’ll show me yours first.” It’s an insulting way to entice, attract, recruit… or to start any personal interaction with another. (Here are more examples: 2 really insulting interview questions.) The applicant demurred politely.

From the applicant

Five days later, having heard nothing back, the applicant sends this e-mail:

Hi [Recruiter],

Haven’t heard from you in a while. Would love to take next steps.

Regards,

[Applicant]

From the stupid recruiter

Another day goes by. It’s clear why the recruiter has not responded already. But now she “circles back.”

Hi [Applicant],

My apologies on not circling back with you.  To your point on the expensive price tag of Silicon Valley, we really need to understand a candidate’s salary requirements prior to proceeding.  We have had a few too many cases of getting well down the road (even to offer), only to find out that our salary expectations do not line up.

If you could please circle back with me regarding where you currently are in salary and what your expectations are if you make a move, I will be able to let you know if that is within our range.

Best regards,
[Recruiter]
Sr. Talent Acquisition Business Partner

That e-mail could have taken as much as 2 minutes for the recruiter to write. In half the time, all the recruiter really needed to say was: “Salary range on the job is $X-$Y. If that suits you, let’s talk. Otherwise there’s no need for us to go farther down the road.”

But she didn’t do that. Having lured the applicant into investing a lot of time providing thoughtful answers to important interview questions, the recruiter now tries to get the applicant to compromise his negotiating position.

“Circle back?” Or, keep going in circles? “Prior to proceeding?” The applicant has proceeded pretty far already with nothing to show for it.

The recruiter says she is avoiding “getting well down the road.” But the stupid recruiter has sent the applicant well down the road already while she’s still ensconced in her personnel office, having invested nothing.

From the applicant

The applicant blind copied me on his last response to the recruiter.

Hi [Recruiter].

Happy Thursday. Hope this message finds you well. I’d like to introduce you a recruiting friend of mine, Nick. I think he has the answer you’re looking for.

Best Regards,

[Applicant]

Nick’s Advice

For the full effect of the applicant’s answer, you have to click the link he included.

What’s corrupt about this recruiting episode is that the recruiter teased the applicant about a job opportunity by asking him to deliver detailed answers to serious questions. These are questions that would normally be asked in a face-to-face interview. But the recruiter didn’t invest in an interview. She lured the applicant into wasting his time interviewing himself.

The recruiter doesn’t give a rat’s batootie about the job applicant. That’s stupid.

Let’s interview by e-mail!

The applicant never heard back from the recruiter. (See Rude Employers: Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m.) But he says he had a similar run-in with a recruiter at another defense contractor.

When I was on the phone with the in-house recruiter, she asked me about my salary. I said “negotiable.”

The response I got was criminal:

“That’s not good enough, [Applicant]. You’re going to have to tell me your range. Let’s start with your current job. How much are you making now?”

That’s not recruiting. That’s an interrogation by a hostile attorney. That’s not an interview. That’s a waste of time. Don’t interview by e-mail.

What qualifies this as a Stupid Recruiter Story is, of course, the recruiter’s abject stupidity. She chose this applicant from all submissions because he made the cut. He’s desirable. There’s nothing smart about insulting a job applicant you think might want to hire.

If you’re the job applicant, what can you do? Let’s talk about that.

Is you is, or is you ain’t?

After you’ve submitted an application or resume to an employer, either they’re interested in you, or they’re not. When employers respond after you apply, that means you made some kind of “cut.” You passed a test. You stood out enough. Expect an interview, or cut them off. When they try to take several bites of the apple by e-mail, they’re wasting your time.

When the recruiter replies to your application with more requests for more information, try one or more of these responses — which tests whether they’re really interested:

  • “Thanks for your interest. I’m glad you have more questions for me. I have questions not answered by your job description, too. When would you like to interview face to face?”
  • “As my application indicates, I’m interested in interviewing. If you are, too, let’s talk in person.”
  • “I applied, and you responded, so there’s mutual interest in discussing working together. When would you like to meet?”
  • “I applied for the job and you responded with interest. The next step is to meet. Sorry, but I don’t conduct interviews by e-mail or even on the phone. Since we’re both interested enough to contact one another, the next prudent step is an interview. If I don’t receive a date and time from you, I’ll expect you’re not really serious.”

If they is, good — have a meeting. If they ain’t, that’s good, too — it frees you to move on. Don’t let anyone waste your time.

So, why do job seekers do it?

Are we all crazy? You know as well as I do that this is how most “job opportunities” play out. So, why do job seekers do it? Why do they consent to wasting their time, when the employer invests no time? What could job seekers do to change all this?

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College Students: Start job search freshman year

In the May 16, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how college students can turn a degree into a job upon graduation.

Question

When I graduated high school at age 19 I tried to find a job in the town where I live. Well, I couldn’t get anybody to hire me so I made a resume. A couple of employers have my resume and are keeping it on file. So now I’m 20. I just started college. I enrolled so I could have a better chance at getting a job. Can you please give me some advice about how to make sure I have a job when I graduate?

college studentsNick’s Reply

Every job seeker I’ve ever known would love to have four years to find a job. College students do, so start now! I’ll try to show you how.

A college degree is the wise choice

Good for you for going to college. There seems to be a movement nowadays to skip college and either get a job immediately out of high school, or go to a trade school. Unfortunately, this is being cast as an either-or choice. It’s not. College is not just about getting a job. It’s about getting educated. But that doesn’t mean colleges can afford to ignore students’ need to get a job when they graduate.

While a college’s first mission is to deliver a good, well-rounded education, there’s no reason a college cannot also help its graduates get jobs. Sadly, few colleges provide effective career services. At best, they offer pedestrian tools and poor job-hunting advice delivered by inexperienced staffers, and a place where employers can post jobs for students. Telling students to “Make sure you visit Career Services!” is not enough — and colleges can do much, much more. Students and parents who pay for college should demand more.

Let’s look at what you can do from the first day of college to help ensure you’ll get a good job when you graduate. More important, let’s consider how every college and university can help every student do these things — and why every college and university must.

College Students: Start thinking about jobs now

College is a good move for you. But many people who finish college complain they still can’t get a good job. I think the reasons are clear. During college, they don’t do internships or get part-time jobs in good businesses. They don’t meet people who might hire them later.

I’m not saying to work so much during college that your studies suffer – don’t do that. For example, if you can study 100% of the time during your first year, that’s good. Get comfortable with your studies and learn to manage your education. But start thinking about jobs, too, and plan on experimenting with different kinds of work.

Experiment: Pick some companies

By the middle of year two, you should be thinking about what kinds of companies you might like to work for when you graduate. It’s more important to pick a few reasonable ones than to pick the ones you’ll ultimately start a career in. That is, you can change your mind later, and you’ll probably change it more than once. The point is to choose some kind of work you’d like to try part-time, and see where it leads you. (See Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.)

What’s important is not to pick the right job or company. It’s to learn how to experiment with work and to learn from each experiment.

An experiment might be a job at a deli or an internship with a company’s marketing department. But it must be something where you get your hands dirty doing real work, even if it’s just a little work for a little while. And, more important than having a job is meeting people in the world of work.

It’s all about people

Most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts, not through job postings, career centers, or employment agencies. College students’ first job is to meet people — preferably people who work in companies and on products and services you think you’re interested in. Those people will educate you about work and about jobs and employers. The sooner you start developing these contacts and learning from them, the better. (Do you think you have no contacts? See I don’t know anybody.)

Find people who work in the companies you think you’re interested in.

  • Ask your friends and fellow students if their parents or older friends work in those companies.
  • Ask to be introduced to those people – then ask those employees what it’s like to work there.
  • Or, ask your friends where their parents and friends work — and start selecting companies to explore that way.

Don’t be nervous. These are people who’ve been introduced to you. Talk to them.

How to say it
“I’m a long way from graduating, but I’m starting to learn about companies I might be interested in working for. You mentioned your brother works for ABC Corp. Do you think he’d be willing to talk with me about the company and his job — what it’s like to work there? Please keep in mind, I’m not looking for a job! I just want to learn about the company.”

Not everyone will be willing to talk with you, but my guess is most people will simply because they love to talk about their work — and they love to give advice to college students.

If you get these conversations, talk shop.

How to say it
“What’s it like to work in sales? (Or marketing, or engineering, or product development?)”
“I’d love to hear about your work. What do you actually do every day?”
“Is there something you’ve pulled off — a cool thing you’ve accomplished — that made you glad you have this job?”
“What does your boss look for when filling entry-level jobs?”
“What courses and training would be best for such jobs?”

You will learn a lot and, if you pay attention, these conversations are what will show you how to prepare for those kinds of jobs.

Meet the juniors and seniors

There’s one special class of people who can really help you if you will invest the time: College students more senior than you. They will graduate first, and they’ll have jobs while you’re still going to school. They’re the perfect channel for learning about many employers.

  • While you’re a freshman or sophomore, meet all the juniors and seniors you can at your college.
  • If you’re at a two-year school, meet second-year students.

These people are gold! Once they’re employed:

  • Hang out with them.
  • Go visit them at work.
  • Join them for lunch in their company cafeteria.
  • Meet them after work at local joints where employees hang out.
  • Become part of their group and make more friends among the employees.

Try to meet their bosses – not to ask for a job, but to ask about the business and about the work. This shows you’re motivated, but they don’t have to hire you now, so there’s no pressure on them.

You’re just making friends – with people you’ll work with later! All these people will remember you. While they’re tossing incoming resumes of people they don’t know in the trash, they will remember you. That’s where jobs come from. It’s very likely this is how they found their own jobs — via personal referral. (See Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why).)

Cultivate friendships now

Once you meet all these people, don’t lose the new contacts you make! If you stay in touch, you’ll become a known entity to the insiders you become friendly with. Personal relationships can take years to develop before they might lead someone to introduce you to their boss about a job.

The point is, if you start doing this early, there’s no hurry. You have loads of time while you earn your degree. And by graduation, you should have loads of good, personal contacts — people who have gotten to know you well enough that they’re comfortable recommending you for a job to their company.

If you’re nervous about “networking,” don’t network. Never say or do anything that feels awkward. But I think you’ll never feel awkward if you approach a new contact by asking them about their work. People love to talk about themselves, so help them — and you’ll make new friends. (See “Make personal contacts to get a job? Awkward…” Get over it!)

Connect school to work

Whether you’re taking an Early American Literature course for fun, but want to be an engineer, or you’re studying accounting and you’d really like to be a social worker, there’s something in every academic course that can be applied to the work you’d like to do.

Writing a good Lit paper requires logical thinking and being able to show how premises A, B and C clearly lead to the conclusion you’re trying to make. You might laugh, but that’s how digital circuits work, too. Try to map the argument for your Lit paper using a circuit diagram. Show it to your engineering professor and to an engineer you meet through your friends.

Social work is usually funded through public sources of money. If you’re studying accounting, try to map out a business model for a social services agency. Go meet the manager of such an agency and ask how its success is calculated. Better yet, ask your accounting professor to invite the head of a social services agency to give a talk to your class.

These are just two examples of how to stimulate useful discussions. That’s how you make friends who have the kinds of jobs you want!

college studentsColleges have an obligation to deliver ROI

Colleges don’t like to make these connections. They claim it detracts from time spent on a course’s subject matter. Bunk. Colleges are good at teaching what, but Colleges fail How. They don’t make the connection between education and how to do work.

I tell college administrators that every course should include one class session that features someone from the work world talking about these connections — no matter how far-flung or weird they are!

If all college students had one class period in every course over four years where someone from the real world of work came to discuss how an academic topic could be related to a job, those students would meet dozens of people who could help mentor them into jobs upon graduation. (They’d have some fun discussions, too!)

That’s where job opportunities come from!

Colleges love to cite job placement rates and salaries of new grads (when the statistics suit their marketing campaigns), but they don’t like to talk about their second big obligation. School is not just about getting educated. Colleges also have an enormous obligation to show return on investment (ROI) to those students who want to get a good job after graduation. Imagine any college or university administrator explaining to the parents who fund an education that, “This isn’t about college students getting a good job.”

Start small

These methods for meeting people and talking shop — you can start using them freshman year — should lead you to opportunities for part-time or summer jobs or internships. But, what kinds of jobs should you pursue?

It almost doesn’t matter. Start small and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. If a company you meet this way will let you work part-time, take the job, even if it’s not exactly the kind of job you’d want after graduation. The point is, once you’re in there, you can meet people in the departments where you really want to work. Once again — it’s all about the people you meet. The more, the better! You have four years to parlay these relationships into a job.

Ask them about their work – make friends with them. Let them see you’re a dedicated worker and really interested in what they do. (Just be careful. Don’t be a pest and don’t stalk them!)

The point is simple: Take any job you can get, to meet people in the companies where you’d like to work later. They’re the ones who will recommend you for jobs you really want when you graduate.

Invest

You can already see this takes time. It can take quite a bit of time. It can take even seasoned professionals two or more years of getting to know people before they consider you seriously for a job. I know how that sounds, but it’s true. It’s why it’s so hard for college students to find a good job from job postings — there’s no one you can get to know by filling out forms online. If it hasn’t dawned on you already, the “people approach” is a lot more fun than responding to ads!

People who just submit resumes and fill out online applications get passed over because the hiring managers don’t know them. Managers hire who they know. (See Why am I not getting hired?)

While you’re in school, take advantage of this fact and circulate widely among people who do the kind of work you want to do. Invest. Rack up all the time you can being around people you’d like to work with. Try to meet their bosses – they will remember you later.

Why this works

Smart managers tend to hire people they know, or people known to their employees. While this might bother you because it seems unfair, consider that it’s prudent because it lowers the risk of getting a lousy worker. Would you loan money to a friend, or a total stranger? Would you trust your business to someone a friend vouched for, or someone you don’t know anything about? This is just basic human nature – but it’s not unfair. It’s a good survival mechanism.

So, your challenge while you’re in college is to get to know people who know people at the places where you want a job in a few years. Start now. You’ll get hired because someone that knows you vouched for you.

(To learn more about what to do when you get in front of a hiring manager, see Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course.)

Be honest and give back

Never do what I’m suggesting just to get what you want. Make real friends. Only hang out with people you’re really interested in – and be a good, honest friend yourself.

Don’t just expect something from others – do things to help them, too. Give back. This is not about manipulating anyone to get what you want. It’s about making real friends in places where you’d like to work. It’s about building a good reputation long before you get hired. It’s about creating trust.

Once you’ve made friends in the work world, it’s natural to ask them for advice when it’s near time to get a job. One (or more) of them will introduce you to your next boss. Not all of them, of course. But you need just one.

The four-year job search

I think college will be a wonderful experience for you. And if you find your college doesn’t do much to prepare you to get a job, go talk to your college president. Ask why your career is not high on your school’s priority list. Then suggest that every course should include one class session that features someone from the world of work exploring connections between the course topic and a job. Ask why your college does not regularly, and as part of the curriculum, introduce you to alumni who can show you how your education applies to work.

To ensure you’ll get a good job when you graduate, start your job search your freshman year. I wish you the best! Study hard — and meet lots of people who do the kinds of work you think you’d like to do!

Should college prepare you to get a job? If you went to college, what help did your school provide to start your career? What do you think colleges should do — above and beyond delivering education — to ensure graduates get jobs?

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CEO to job applicant: “Hiring is not my job!”

In the May 9, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader discovers that a company’s high turnover problems start with the CEO.

Question

In a recent column (Consulting Firms: Strike back and stir the pot) you said we should contact a company’s CEO if the HR department’s hiring process is nutty. So I did. The CEO actually called me back!

ceoFirst, a little background.

Let us bother your references

I talked with a hiring manager who, despite having my resume, told me that I was required to fill out the online application in order to go further in the hiring process. When I got to the section for references, there was no way for me to proceed until I had typed in names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and where my references work.

I called the hiring manager and politely explained that I cherish my references and don’t want them bothered until a job offer looks like a real possibility. He fobbed me off onto HR, saying it was “government regulations” that required them to ask for references. I know better. There are no government regulations that require applicants to list references.

I also remembered one of your previous newsletters which discussed how some employers are outsourcing reference checking to third parties, sending references e-mail forms to fill out instead of having the hiring manager telephone the references and talk to them about the candidate. But the manager wanted me to discuss it with HR, so I did. HR refused to budge, and the hiring manager caved to HR.

I even asked HR how they handle reference checks, and I was told that wasn’t any of my business, so that clinched it for me. I walked away since there was no offer on the table.

Come back!

A few weeks later the hiring manager called me back, asking if I was still interested! I said, “Yes, but…”, reiterating my concern about disclosing my references. He started sucking air, complained that there’s no good help out there, and that everyone has to provide their references up front because of “government regulations.” Once again, I walked away.

That’s when I e-mailed the CEO. I was shocked when he called me, but we had a very pleasant chat. You were right, Nick — he was unaware of HR’s requirements in order to proceed to an interview. But I also learned that he was perfectly content to leave all aspects of the hiring up to HR.

CEO: Out to lunch

He seemed puzzled that there are no government regulations requiring applicants to list their references and their contact information before an offer is on the table, much less accepted. He breezily informed me that he doesn’t worry about hiring because that is HR’s job, that he doesn’t believe in interfering in the hiring process, and that HR knows best because that is what they do!

That tells me a great deal about the company — much more than I could have gleaned from an interview. No wonder the hiring manager seemed so rattled! The company is small, there is a lot of turnover, and little to no guidance from the CEO. He’s out to lunch! It isn’t a start-up, but they’re flying by the seat of their pants, putting out fires as they break out — and they are breaking out with greater frequency as people get disgusted and leave.

So I thanked the CEO for calling me, told him that I was no longer interested, and wished him and the company luck in their future endeavors. (You might recognize that as standard fare in kiss-off letters HR sends to rejected job candidates.) I already have a wishy-washy boss who can’t make even simple decisions such as hiring extra help. We are constantly short-staffed and the underlings are putting out the fires.

I decided not to go from the frying pan into the fire (assuming that I’d be hired at the other place).

A stinky company

The other concern I had about the laissez faire CEO is that, when you’re that disengaged from the day to day goings-on of your business, that’s a recipe for a company to go belly-up, because the person who is in charge isn’t involved.

Although I made the decision to walk away when HR refused to let me proceed without providing my references, my conversation with the CEO confirmed my decision.  I have no regrets and don’t give it any thought. You’re right: On to the next!

I have learned so much from your comments and advice, and from the other readers’ comments.  I feel that I’m a better educated job hunter now than I was before I signed up for your newsletter.

I think you could have a whole new job educating CEOs about the importance of sane hiring practices.  Or maybe teach this subject as a graduate course in business school — then you’d get them before they become CEOs and abdicate their authority to HR.

I concluded that HR in this company does what it does because the CEO doesn’t care. Fish stink from the head down.

Nick’s Reply

Wow — what a story! We touched on the problem of top managers avoiding recruiting and hiring tasks in Small Business Owner: I’m too busy to hire help!

I’m not sure the employer in your story wins a prize for citing “government regulations” as the reason for demanding references so early. That goes to employers that demand salary history before they’ll interview anyone. But this CEO wins the prize for taking a career-long lunch!

It sounds to me like you did the right thing. The company gave you some clear signs that it’s not worth working for.

  • Management is indecisive and powerless. (The manager had your resume but insisted that you regurgitate your work history in an online form.)
  • Management doesn’t woo good candidates. (The employer wanted you to deliver references before it bothered to invest in meeting you first.)
  • HR doesn’t know the law.
  • HR sacrificed a candidate the hiring manager was eager to interview (twice!) because there’s no good help out there.
  • Turnover is high.
  • The CEO thinks hiring is not his job!

While the hiring manager defers to HR, the high turnover suggests the problem is higher up than HR. You found the problem in the C-suite. The CEO might find another way in Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants.

Your experience highlights two key rules about picking an employer that we discuss here again and again.

  • First, judge a company by its hiring practices.
  • Second, talk to top management before taking a job.

What you see at the interview stage is what you’ll get on the job. When the CEO doesn’t care about hiring, middle managers leave it up to HR, and HR takes its cue from the CEO.

Oh, yeah: The lesson

Thanks for sharing your experience, and my compliments for drawing the right conclusions. You showed us what it means when a company pushes a job candidate unreasonably, and how important it is to talk to a company’s top management. But there’s actually a more subtle lesson in your story.

When they’re job hunting, people rationalize. They’re afraid they won’t get picked, so they tolerate all kinds of niggling abuse. Making someone jump through hoops — online forms, silly rules about when references are due, eating dust when HR serves it — is not right, smart, or good business. But job seekers will probably jump through hoops because they want a shot at a job. Or that’s what they tell themselves. It’s for a shot at the job. So they tolerate demeaning and meaningless demands.

That hiring manager who wanted to hire you so badly that he called you after you rejected the company wanted you to rationalize the company’s behavior because he rationalizes it.

The lesson is, don’t. Being asked to address a challenge about how you’d the job, or about your work ethic — that’s legit. But when an employer demands something demeaning from you, it tells you it’s a demeaning employer. The lesson is, as Marcus Aurelius once said, “to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Have you ever rationalized a company’s nutty hiring practices to get a shot at a job? Yah — I’m needling you. I’ve caved to such treatment, and I’m not proud of it. Maybe by sharing our blunders we can help one another avoid them!

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Small Business Owner: I’m too busy to hire help!

In the May 2, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a doctor’s small business suffers from hiring the wrong people.

Question

small businessI’m a doctor running a solo medical practice. How do small businesses like mine get good managers and staff? I have two medical assistants I’m dependent on to keep work flow steady.

I caught the new assistant doing something very inappropriate! I was livid, but there were patients waiting and I needed them to get back to work. So, the next morning I had a talk with them. My instincts told me to fire the old assistant on the spot, because she makes a lot of errors and isn’t very conscientious, but I need her until I can hire someone new.

So, I’m scrambling to find someone. I’m too busy running to look up. I may have found a good prospect but she needs to give notice to her current employer. There ought to be some semi-structured ways to find under-employed business managers and great employees. Any suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

I know the fire drill: Small business owner is too busy to hire good help. Meanwhile, the business burns down.

Small business is too busy

Employers kid themselves that they’re too busy to recruit and hire good people. My rule of thumb: If you’re not spending 15% of your time recruiting — even if you’re not ready to hire immediately — then you’re not managing your business. Your business depends on good employees.

It’s clear that the staffing problems you describe are the result of hiring the wrong people to begin with. If you were devoting 15% of your time to recruiting, you’d have good people in your hiring pipeline. Yes — you read that right. Even a business with just two employees needs a candidate pipeline! When you don’t have a short list of very good potential hires in your desk drawer, you’ll wind up hiring the wrong people and pretty soon you’ll need to fire them (if they don’t quit). That’s no way to run a healthy business.

Good sources keep your candidate pipeline full

Small business owners rely too much on a sort of “just in time” hiring strategy — posting ads at the last minute and interviewing random applicants who come in over the transom. That’s no way to hire.

You must maintain a pipeline full of the kinds of people you’d be happy to hire. This means you must go out into your professional community to meet and and recruit them yourself. Posting jobs and waiting for candidates to appear when you need them is a fool’s errand. You already know that. I want you to realize it.

But stop looking for job candidates. The people you need to hire will come to you mostly via trusted referrals — so learn to identify sources of good candidates. One good source will lead you to worthy candidates again and again.

Make sourcing your business

Make it your business to source good managers and employees. I’ll start you off with a few examples.

As part of your 15% recruiting time, you should regularly attend a local chamber of commerce breakfast. Ask the attendees and event coordinators – not for referrals to possible candidates, but for referrals to possible sources of good candidates. A handful of reliable, trusted sources is an absolute must for any small business that can’t afford to be down 50% of its staff. That’s where the best job candidates always come from.

Go to that chamber meeting. Chat up who you meet. These are the movers and shakers in your business community.

How to Say It
“If you were trying to fill a job like this, who would you go to for some good referrals? Who do you know that knows under-employed business managers? Would you be kind enough to introduce us?”

I’m talking about local lawyers, accountants, retailers, building contractors, bankers, technology consultants — all the people who gather to feed one another business. As a group, they know everyone — including people you need to hire. If you feed this channel of referrals regularly, it will be there when you need to hire. By feeding, I mean returning favors: Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why). Stay in touch with them. They know who’s under-employed, who’s talented, and who may be looking for work.

Recruiting: A small business necessity

You can recruit anywhere, any time. That 15% recruiting-time suggestion isn’t so outlandish if you consider that you can do it while doing other things. You can source potential hires while chatting with a patient who might know local talent. Or in the grocery checkout line. Or while talking with a pharmaceutical sales rep who calls on other medical offices and knows who’s happy at their job and who’s not. (Meet the right people offers tips to help job seekers network. But any employer can use the same tips to recruit.)

Don’t make sourcing and recruiting a last-minute fire drill in your business — especially if it’s a small business. If you think you can post a job ad and wait for instant job applicants, you’re going to hire more wrong people – “because they came along.”

Take the medicine now

I’ll bet you tell your patients, “Take the medicine now. Change your diet and behavior now. Or suddenly it’ll be too late.”

Start devoting 15% of your time to keeping your staff at 100%. If you’re too busy running to look up, you should see what it’s like to wind up flat on your back with no support staff.

For more tips about how to recruit like your business depends on it, see Recruiting: How to get your hands dirty and hire.

Once you find good candidates, know what to do with them! Read Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).

Still think you need help to hire good help? Check Talk to Nick. (No, I’m not going to sell you headhunting services. The offer is to teach you the basics of being your own headhunter for your own small business!)

How do you maintain 100% staffing for your small business? Do you rely on job postings and just-in-time hiring? Or do you make recruiting personal?

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