Recruiting: Have employers put on their thinking caps?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Joe Light (Recruiters Rethink Online Playbook) suggests employers may have put on their recruiting thinking caps. Light discusses whether employers and recruiters are shifting their focus away from job boards and towards more personal (and productive) recruiting methods.

“About 24% of companies plan to decrease their usage of third-party employment websites and job boards this year,” reports Light.

Duh. Why this change?

“We need to reach candidates earlier, before they’re being pursued by competitors.”

Duh.

“Now, the company is hiring different types of recruiters who specialize in headhunting, including finding candidates to poach from competitors, rather than those who are good at processing and filtering applications.”

Duh.

Companies are dumping the job boards, and instead putting recruiters out in the field, to talk to people. Duh.

Why is it so difficult to understand that smart people prefer to do business with others they know and trust, or with folks who are personally referred to them by trusted contacts? While most “headhunters” don’t hunt (just dial for dollars), the best earn their $40,000+ fees (per placement) by going out into the world and talking to, meeting with, forming relationships with, the shining lights in the fields they hunt in. This should tell any job hunter something important: It’s the people, Stupid!

Joe Light is shining the light (sorry!) on a sea change in recruiting. The smartest companies don’t even need headhunters, if they put their best managers out there to find great candidates. This isn’t rocket science. But, nor is it the stupid database game that most seem to think it is. You can’t get a job by having a machine plaster your resume all over kingdom come, using “keywords” and “semantic analysis algorithms.”

TheLadders, Monster, CareerBuilder and that ilk are fascinating businesses — they make wads of money while their products don’t work! (They represent the “source of hires” about 0.7%, 4%, 3% of the time, respectively, according to annual surveys done by CareerXroads.) Yet personnel jockeys continue to throw cash at them.

While the trend seems to be changing, I worry about one of the last bits in Joe Light’s article:

“Instead of using senior recruiters to filter through the company’s applicants, lower-level screeners process them first and only hand off the most-qualified.”

Really? Just how does a company get better candidates, when it uses lower-level clerks to sort out the best candidates? Gimme a break. Sometimes the problem of “mindless recruiting and hiring” is a bigger part of a problem corporate mindset than we realize…

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Readers’ Forum: How much should I pay a new hire?

In the December 7, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an employer asks how to set the salary for a job offer.

I’m an employer, and I need some information on the average salary I should expect to pay an experienced (5-10 years), degreed individual to manage part of my software company. I am looking for someone who can take over and manage with little or no supervision. How do I set a salary on this?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

No salary database describes your position, or the particular manager you want to hire. You might find some data that appear to be relevant, but just one factor could throw off your entire calculus and lead you to make a terrible mistake.

I know that you need to set a range for your budget, but why not think about this person’s salary in a new way that might attract the best candidates? (Why would you want to focus on average salary? Do you want an average hire?)

Ask yourself, Is my hiring strategy to limit my costs, or to boost my profits? That is, are you willing to pay more to get more? This requires some analysis that few employers consider.

How much added profit could a candidate add to my business? In the interview, ask candidates to discuss their abilities in those terms. How would they increase your profits by 10%? Decrease your costs by 15%? Create products that increase market share by 20%?

Then, pay based on added profit.

(You say you can’t calculate profit for a particular position? Well, then your business plan is totally screwed. But don’t feel too badly — few employers have any idea how a single job contributes to profit. Think about that: How can anyone run a company rationally if they don’t know how each job contributes to the bottom line? My suspicion is that this problem is a fundamental cause of business failure.) 

A candidate who can answer those questions in a compelling way may be worth more than the market—or any salary survey—suggests. So, think out of the box. Turn your interviews into working meetings where you and the candidate roll up your sleeves and tackle ways to improve the job to make it more profitable.

This sort of interview turns into a business planning session…

(If you’re a job candidate, don’t let salary surveys limit your job negotiations, either.)

Maybe HR told you there’s $X in the budget for the job you want to fill. Maybe you checked the industry averages and set the salary range accordingly. Maybe you picked a number out of a hat.

Maybe you have no idea how the job is supposed to contribute to your bottom line!

Which is it? How do managers decide what salary to offer a new hire? Let’s talk dollars. How do you think they should do it?

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Readers’ Forum: Do I have to say it?

In the November 2, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager makes a complaint and a request. Listen up:

I am speaking both as a frustrated hiring manager and as a job hunter. When I was job hunting, I always made it clear that I wanted the job. I expressed this verbally during the interview and in my thank-you letter. Now, as a (beginner) hiring manager, I want to ensure that positions are filled by qualified candidates who I know, undisputedly, want the job.

Can you discuss the importance of this basic and obvious technique in interviewing that is often overlooked? That is, the applicant must always say to the potential employer, “I want this job.” Of course, this must be based on a sincere desire for the position. What are your views on the importance of this statement?

A truncated version of my advice:
(For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

There’s a footnote in one of my books about a sales vice president who interviewed for a job and failed to get the offer. He argued to me that making such an explicit statement is awkward and that it shows the candidate “has no class.”

My response to him: Failure to say you want the job indicates you aren’t worth hiring because you don’t have enough interest in working for the employer.

“Of course I want the job,” he exclaimed. ” That’s why I’m interviewing! The manager knows that!”

No, the manager doesn’t know that. Most jobs people interview for are jobs that come along, not jobs they really want. Most candidates don’t know they want a job until after they’ve met and talked with the manager at length. When the candidate makes a decision, the manager needs to hear it.

When you interview for a job and decide you want it, do you say it? “I want this job.” No, I don’t mean do you hem and haw and mince your words. I mean, do you say, “I want this job?”

I think if you don’t, you don’t deserve to be hired. (Would you expect someone to accept your marriage proposal if you don’t say, “I love you?”) If you’re a manager, I suggest you watch your next candidate, and listen carefully. Does she tell you she wants to work on your team? No? Hit the EJECT button. On to the next candidate!

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Now THIS is a job description

I still think the best way to find great people to hire is to go where they hang out and talk to them.

But if you’re gonna post something online to tell people about your organization and to get them interesJob descriptionted… Joey deVilla over at Microsoft Canada has a good idea.

Just tell people about your business.

Check it out: Developer Evangelist. Toronto Area. Now Hiring. Maybe You?

Don’t post a job description. Well, deVilla does provide a copy of the thing — he stuck a link to it near the top of his posting, so you can look at it if you want to. But it doesn’t get in the way of his message. I mean, if the rest of what deVilla says about the job doesn’t get your motor running, why bother looking at the spec sheet from HR?

This ain’t rocket science. Here’s why deVilla scores major points with me. This is a guy talking about a job he loves doing himself. He’s telling you what gets him up in the morning, about his boss, about the cool gear you’d get to work with, about the team’s philosophy, and much more. The sort of stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily find out til you showed up for an interview.

Job description 2And that’s the point. deVilla is telling you up front what this gig is really like. Yah, he makes it look great — there’s definitely some selling going on here. But lordy, there’s no selling at all going on in that other document. If deVilla’s posting makes it look like working with his team is a party, that HR word pile up above makes it look like life in a straitjacket!

HR departments take note: Don’t waste people’s time with bureaucratic job descriptions that read like every other employer’s boilerplate. We all know what’s really in that tiny print: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua…”

The key thing about what deVilla is doing is that he’s doing the recruiting himself. He’s not waiting for some personnel jockey to post a job or run an ad. deVilla is the guy in the department who does the work, telling the world what the gig is all about and what it’s like to work there.

One last comment about the job description itself, which, as I mentioned earlier, is found via image and link at the top of deVilla’s post: Bleahhhh. Take a look at that thing.

What, Microsoft doesn’t have any web designers doing work for the HR department? I mean, this looks like the drug interaction notice on that medical sheet the pharmacy gives you along with your new prescription. Gimme a break! Why doesn’t it look like deVilla’s posting? Blah blah blah 6-point type?? I barely got through the first two sentences. Does anybody believe anybody else reads this stuff? Come on — tell the lawyers and the compliance people to go home. A typeface and a layout like that tell you one thing: There’s something snarky and legal hidden in here and if you find it you’ll never apply. So, let deVilla write and format that thing so it says something.

Yo! Does this make sense to anybody? HR should get out of the recruiting business. (See Why HR? and REJECT! How HR engineered its own funeral.) Let the people who own the job tell the story. In fact, don’t let anybody else do it.

Recruiting. It’s the manager’s #1 job. And if managers aren’t doing it, they’re not doing their job. Kudos to deVilla and to his boss, and to Microsoft Canada.

My only advice to deVilla: Add an e-mail link, so interested applicants can talk to you directly. Don’t leave them with that dopey application form, because having inspired the best of them, you’re going to lose them if they can’t get in touch with you now. Please re-read the first line of this post. Now that you’re getting them to come hang out where you live, Open the door and talk to them.

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Why you should offer job applicants more money

In the last post, The Ethics of Juggling Job Offers, we talked about accepting a job offer, then rescinding the acceptance if a better deal comes along shortly thereafter (or even before you start the first job). The discussion was from the candidate side.

It begs the question, What can an employer do to avoid losing a new hire?

A company will sometimes work too hard to keep the salary offer as low as possible, virtually challenging the candidate to accept it. If the candidate gives up on negotiating a better deal and accepts the offer, the company has instantly set itself up for a quick resignation if the candidate can find a better deal elsewhere.

That’s why I advise my corporate clients to do what company presidents like to insist that their employees do for their customers: “Don’t just satisfy the customer. Delight the customer!”

Why not delight the candidate?

What does that mean? Read more

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Readers’ Forum: Is this company worth working for?

Every January, pundits publish their predictions for the new year. I don’t make predictions because I prefer not to be judged when I’m wrong ;-)

But it’s not hard to surmise that if the economy improves this year, the employment shoe will be on the other foot. The personnel jockey who has routinely been spitting rude questions at job applicants and challenging them to accept 20% lower salaries will likely wind up swallowing bile in 2010. Time to get out the kleenex and wipe up the drippings.

Computer World's Between the Lines by John Klosser

My favorite IT (information technology) publication is ComputerWorld. The first 2010 edition includes a cartoon from the very pointed pen of John Klossner that every smart employer should take a look at. (And if you’re a job hunter, take note: Employers can whip you only so hard in job interviews before you instinctively tell them to shove it.)

There are two messages in this cartoon. First, challenge employers to assess whether they are qualified to hire you. Maybe the company isn’t a good place to work. Second, Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.

While the demoralized guy in the applicant’s chair says he’s “looking for someone,” he’s really looking for a company.

A sound company.

And that’s the point. You may need a job and a paycheck, but you also need a future that doesn’t require going job hunting again in a few short months. While you’re sitting across the table from that interviewer, figure out, Does this company suck?

Yah, there are other ways to say what the guy in the cartoon is saying. What are they? How do you politely but clearly challenge the employer to make sure it’s a company worth working for?

[Computerworld does not seem to publish the cartoons from its magazine in its online edition, or I’d link directly. Credit where it’s due: Computerworld, January 4, 2010.]

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Readers’ Forum: Ability or credentials?

Discussion: December 8, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

The Q&A column in this week’s newsletter asks whether employers are too hell-bent on hiring only “the perfect candidate,” when ability and talent might be the more efficient path to getting a job done. How long will a manager wait until perfection arrives?

Do employers really want only someone who has already done the exact job? Am I nuts, or is there something wrong here? Do credentials matter more than ability to ride a learning curve and come up to speed?

(Oops! Maybe ability is harder to assess than credentials, eh?)

How can you get an employer to hire you, if you haven’t already done the exact job?

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The Monster-ous quality of choice

A recent post, Congress to Employers: You’re not proctologists, drew a comment that reveals the dangerous new cracks in our employment system  — and hints at the problem employers need to address if the quality of hiring is to improve.

In a comment on that post, dated October 19, 2009 at 6:52 am, reader Nic says:

This to me is all about people fuelling their new crackpot ideas for business modelling and human resources; and in my view, it is all lunacy. What does this really mean? The quality of employee has declined drastically over the past 20 years. Does this mean a further dumbing down?

I don’t think the quality of the employee has declined. Rather, the quality of the selection process has declined. It has become so automated that it is now counterproductive.

The personal judgment of managers no longer filters the best job candidates into the final interview process. The first cut of candidates is made thoughtlessly using key word searches and is further dumbed down because the pool itself is limited to people who list themselves in data bases. Gone are the candidates a manager seeks out for their rare and relevant qualities.

The Human Resources Soup Kitchen waters down the quality of the hiring process by ladling resumes out of the huge job-board swill pot — and those are the candidates the hiring manager is permitted to choose from. That’s where the “talent shortage” starts. When your head is stuck in the swill pot, all the world is a mediocre candidate — and you always have an excuse for mediocre hiring: We use the latest technology but today’s candidates just suck!

I was recently on Minnesota Public Radio to discuss trends in job hunting and hiring and to take questions from listeners. Joining me was an executive from Monster.com.

A caller who runs a management consulting firm challenged Monster’s Doug Hardy over the “task matching” — or “keyword” — method of scanning resumes for matches to jobs.

Listen to the question and to Hardy’s response: Read more

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Turn down the volume

When I give a presentation, the first thing I tell the audience — whether they’re job hunters or hiring managers — is, “Everything you know about job hunting (or hiring) is wrong.” Shoulders relax. People giggle nervously. They are so relieved to hear they’re not crazy. They know the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Then I tell them that a mistake everyone makes when job hunting or hiring is volume. We are all taught that it’s a numbers game. You have to wake up every morning and get 50 resumes out before breakfast. Apply to as many jobs online as you can. Then you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something before lunchtime! Or if you work in HR, keep your pipeline full of candidates so you’ll have a lot to choose from.

Bunk.

Let me give you a specific counter-example that blows the fallacy of “volume” out of the water.

I had lunch with John, a client, to discuss a position he wanted me to fill. It was a $125,000 marketing job. We spent two hours talking. For the next two weeks, I talked to several people who worked for John, and to others at his company who knew him. John had no idea I was doing this. I learned a lot about what his operation was like and about how his staff worked.

Then I talked to a handful of people around the country — a handful — who are experts in marketing and who work with experts in marketing. I didn’t run any ads. I didn’t solicit any resumes. I conducted no in-person interviews. I called John back and gave him a name and a phone number. I told him to call Joe, the guy who could do the job.

John and Joe talked and scheduled a face-to-face meeting. In the meantime, I put together a very simple resume on Joe using information he had given me and information I gathered from his references. I sent it to John so he’d have some background on Joe, to fill in the blanks.

They met. John offered Joe a job and Joe accepted it.

One job, one meeting, one candidate.

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Readers’ Forum: How do we identify the good guys?

From the September 22, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter (sign up, get your own!):

A manager’s question: How difficult is it to gauge character and personality in the typical job interview? No doubt this accounts for many of the pointless questions that are asked. Of course, the more manipulative a person is, the more likely they are to score the best answers to trick questions that reveal honesty and character. How do managers and job candidates deal with accurately assessing character?

Forum: Managers, how do you check a candidate’s personality? Her honesty? Candidates, what methods have you been exposed to? What do you do in the interview to demonstrate what a fine person you are?

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