Finesse: The secret sauce of recruiting

In the March 21, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager complains about losing a candidate to another employer, and blames the headhunter. Was the manager in too much of a hurry?

I used a headhunter to help me fill a position in my group, but it didn’t turn out well. The good news is that the headhunter found us a great candidate, and we made a good offer. But after some back and forth, the candidate decided to take a job at another company. This was our #1 candidate. I stopped working with the headhunter after that because I was pretty upset. Now I’m wondering, did I shoot myself in the foot?

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!)

What I’m about to tell you is a story out of the ordinary. But it reveals the importance of cultivating relationships, staying in touch with people, and reading between the lines.

I had a client that made an offer to a candidate I found. As in your situation, the candidate turned the offer down, and took a job at another company. I thought the candidate had made the wrong choice, so I didn’t walk away from the deal. I applied some finesse.

I put my client on hold as the next week played itself out, and I left my candidate alone as he got oriented at his new company. Then I called the candidate at work, and asked him some detailed questions about “how’s it going?”

Knowing more than he did about the company he’d joined, I was not surprised to learn things weren’t perfect. I let him talk. He’d had no one to talk to about his first week, and now he gave vent to his disappointment. I just listened. He soon made it clear that he was unhappy with his choice… [The rest of this advice is in the newsletter. Want more? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which will tell you more each week.]

…And then I gently pounced. “I think you could have another shot at that, if you want.”

He wanted. What I then explained to him was that I had not disclosed to my client that he had taken another job. The offer was still active. He accepted it and spent several happy years with the company.

Someone might accuse me of not fulfilling my obligation to my client, because I didn’t disclose that the candidate had accepted another job… My obligation to my client was to find and deliver the best candidates I could. And I did. It just took a little longer in this case, because some finesse (and a bit of gambling) was necessary.

A bit of discretion on my part got the job filled. That was the secret sauce. (It’s just another insight about How to Work with Headhunters.) In a recent blog comment, reader Chris Walker (a training and placement specialist himself) shares a related experience:

“I have had 2 clients in the past year who were hired after being rejected because the new hire didn’t work out, one just 2 weeks after her rejection letter. That’s why candidates should always send a thank you in response to a rejection.”

When you’re the job candidate, remember that There is no sure thing. Don’t move so quickly to turn off other opportunities, even if you’ve accepted a job offer… My client got the candidate “because the new job didn’t work out…”

…Sometimes patience and a bit of diplomacy can get you where you want to go. Don’t let job boards and high-speed decision making deter you. Slow down, think, and exhibit some finesse, because even “final decisions” are subject to change.

Did you ever get rejected (whether you’re an employer or job hunter), and still make the deal happen? How did you turn No into Yes?

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Readers’ Forum: Ask The Headhunter in a Nutshell

In the December 21, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks for ATH in a nutshell:

Can you please summarize the Ask The Headhunter strategy and explain the main differences between ATH and the traditional approach to job hunting? Thanks.

Normally, I publish only a short excerpt of the newsletter here on the blog. But this is the last newsletter of 2010, and it’s a summary of some of the main ideas of Ask The Headhunter. I’m posting the entire December 21, 2010 newsletter online: Click here for the full edition of  Ask The Headhunter in a Nutshell.

The 4 “nutshell” tips are:

1. The best way to find a good job opportunity is to go hang out with people who do the work you want to do.

2. The best way to get a job interview is to be referred by someone the manager trusts.

3. The best way to do well in an interview is to walk in and demonstrate to the manager how you will do the job profitably for him and for you.

4. The best way to get a headhunter’s help is to manage your interaction for mutual profit from the start.

For the details behind each tip, please see the newsletter… And as always, please post your comments here on the blog!


Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers?

How to Work with Headhunters

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What more do you need?

That’s the Readers’ Forum question this week. All through the year, I try to teach the nuts and bolts behind the four main ideas discussed in today’s newsletter. Your questions help me flesh out the details of these ideas — and that’s what every edition of the newsletter is about!

In this week’s Readers’ Forum, The Headhunter Asks You: What more do you need to be successful at job hunting and hiring? What daunting problems or challenges can I help you deal with in your job search (or if you’re a manager, when hiring)?

Merry Christmas!Please share your questions, problems and challenges, and I’ll do my best to help, right here on the blog, and in next year’s newsletters. I welcome you to pile on — please tell me where I can help!

Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what holidays you celebrate or where you celebrate them), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

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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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The Nobel Prize for Jobs: The artifacts of Duh-oyyyy!

This week three men shared the 2010 Nobel Prize in Economic Science. Here’s the problem they’ve been working on for decades:

The researchers spent decades trying to understand why it takes so long for people to find jobs, even in good economic times, and why so many people can be unemployed even when many jobs are available. (Economists Share Nobel for Studying Job Market, NY Times)

Blind leading the blindThese researchers took the classic, academic “long away around” and still haven’t figured out what simple common sense tells us.

People don’t find jobs. They don’t search for jobs. They post some information about themselves online and then wait like doofusses for jobs to come along.

Employers don’t search for new employees. They post job descriptions (a decade ago they ran classified ads) and teams of HR “recruiters” sit on their duffs in front of computer displays waiting for who comes along.

“Who comes along” usually isn’t worth hiring. So, what are these researchers really studying?

They’re studying the artifacts of Duh-oyyyy! They’re not studying the behavior of markets or the behavior of job hunters and employers. They are distracted and mesmerized by the artifacts of the mechanical process of sorting data.

The failure of job hunters and employers to come together “even when many jobs are available” has nothing to do with economics.

It has to do with the mindless process that promotes random job hunting and random hiring. Where in the Nobel Laureates’ reports is a description or analysis of the machine that grinds up job hunters and employers alike, without spitting out “matches?” Where is their prescription for beating the system to get the job done?

Life is short, for people and for companies. The prescription is simple. Go find the people you really want, and go find the companies you really want to work for. Don’t take what comes along.

These researchers’ explanation addresses the complications that come from searching for jobs and job candidates: it takes time for unemployed workers to be matched with the proper opening, since people are not identical, cookie-cutter units, and neither are jobs.

It takes time? Time is wasted because no one acknowledges that the Employment System we rely on has no clothes. I love the total failure to attribute any responsibility to anyone or anything: “it takes time for unemployed workers to be matched…” Duh-oyyyy! Why is that? Why does it take time and who or what is responsible?

How do you get a Nobel when you fail to answer that basic question?

Gee-whiz. “Neither people nor jobs are cookie cutter units?” Gimme a friggin break. The Employment System treats both exactly as cookie cutter units: records in databases, sequences of keywords, lists of skills, bits of data waiting to be matched at the level of letter combinations.

The scientists working on this problem need to pull out Occam’s Razor and start cutting through the bullshit. They problem they describe is not an economic phenomenon. It’s an artifact of the systemic robbing of employers and job hunters. Employers are systematically deprived of their workers, and job hunters of jobs, while everyone is off blindly roaming the jobs and resume databases.

This is not Nobel science. If you want a job, figure out who does the work you want to do and go hang out with those people. They will quickly help you determine what additional training you need, introduce you to the right people, guide and advise you toward a job.

If you want to find a good worker for your business, go hang out with people who do the work you need to have done. Learn from them who can do the work, ask for recommendations, and then go to the person you want and talk shop with them.

Stop washing your hands with gloves on. Get out of the databases and go talk to the actual people and companies.

The idea that Nobel laureate economists are missing the simple explanation suggests no Prize is warranted. The researchers are blinded by the process business uses to find new hires. Yet they don’t say one word about the fact that today, in the midst of what is arguably the biggest glut of unemployed, talented workers we have ever seen, employers and job hunters alike rely almost exclusively on a system that does not work. The Nobels aren’t seeing or reporting that the emperor has no clothes.

I mean, what are Nobel scientists for, if not to point out The Naked Embarrassment?

This is not an economic phenomenon. It’s a simple racket. Employers are being scammed by the behavior of an HR profession that is content to “interview who comes along,” and by the likes of CareerBuilder, Monster.com and an Employment Industry which is glad to deliver “what comes along.”

The researchers spent decades trying to understand why it takes so long for people to find jobs…

Duh-oyyyy!

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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

Toilet paper resumes: More feels better?

[Some bloggers cleverly carry a theme from one post to the next. I’m not into that. Honest: I wasn’t looking to flow the theme from Pissing on the applicant into today’s post. Toilet paper just kinda backed up into the system when JaneA posted a comment on Readers’ Forum: HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?]

Businesses that are hiring are so intent on gathering as many resumes as possible that they forget “more is not better.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal (that paragon of Job Board Journalism), Mike Michalowicz touts his method for diving into the resume dumpster. When Michalowicz posts a job, he tells applicants to include — word for word — a certain sentence from his ads in their job applications. Then he lets an e-mail filter find the applications that include the magic sentence, and he deletes the rest.

“I only consider applications that contain the sentence, which cuts the number of résumés I have to look at by upwards of 80%.”

Nice trick. He wouldn’t need it if he’d stop solicting thousands of applications by posting job ads.

Employers like Michalowicz have themselves to blame for the “overwhelming response from unqualified applicants.” If you ask to have a dumpster full of resumes delivered to your e-mail bin, you’ll get them. Job boards like Monster.com, CareerBuilder, TheLadders and even the WSJ’s very own job board are ready to charge you for garbage delivery. You get what you pay for.

Then I noticed that Michalowicz is “the author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. He is an advocate of a business philosophy by the same name.”

I believe it. Toilet paper resumes seem to fit right in. More feels better.

I pose this question to Michalowicz and to every employer (which I believe is the majority of employers) that consider recruiting and hiring a pain in the ass:

If you can ask job applicants anything you like — including asking them to include this sentence in their submissions: “It is with my utmost respect I hereto surrender my curriculum vitae for your consideration.” — why don’t you just ask them to tell you how they’d do the job profitably?

You’d have a lot more fun reading those submissions once your e-mail filters cleaned up the mess you made when you flicked open the sewer valve. Or, you could avoid the resume sewer altogether. And you’d get a free bonus: You won’t have to wipe.

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Why HR?

Uh-uh, Bill Taylor.

I just read Why We (Shouldn’t) Hate HR on FastCompany.com. I wish Bill (one of the brilliant founders of FastCompany magazine) hadn’t questioned the intent and meaning of Keith Hammond’s original 2005 article, Why We Hate HR. If anything, it’s more valid today than it was 5 years ago because today budgets are tighter and employers must hire and manage people with even more care. HR is still the focal point of the problem.

I don’t think pushing the HR problem onto a company’s employees “because they are the human resources” works. I think that’s another issue and another article. Hammond was talking about the Human Resources department, not the employees. Let’s stick to the subject.

Perhaps time prompts us to recast the original question: Do we really hate HR? I don’t think so, but HR bugs us. We’ve seen all the ways that HR as an organization — generally speaking — doesn’t work very well. Some HR departments flourish and represent a return on investment to their companies; but I think the majority of us agree that most don’t. Hence our “hatred” for HR. I think that since you Hammond that big question to us 5 years ago, it seems the more important question today is, Why HR?

I don’t think there’s a good answer that supports the existence of most HR departments. Sure, some good HR departments pay off, but does any company really need an HR department?

Even if we set aside the truly productive HR departments, the problem is all the other HR departments that are unnecessary and counterproductive. Let’s look at what HR does, and how it could be done better by another corporate function:

1. Handle regulatory matters. Most companies have legal departments. The answer seems simple: Let the legal folks grow an implementation and compliance team for human resources matters. Keep the responsibility close to the department that does the work.

2. Employee training and development. Where does this role really belong? At home in each business unit or company department. Create a position that enables managers to decide how to educate, train, and develop their workers. Implement it locally, where bureaucratic nonsense is less likely to interfere. How many questionable “consultling firms” do HR departments hire and foist on business units, without the unit really wanting the service? I can count on two hands and feet the number of pedantic consulting firms I’ve seen hired by HR because they wine and dine and flatter HR execs. Let the business units decide how to invest the funds for a return the business units are accountable for. (When is the last time you saw HR reprimanded for hiring a crummy consultant or trainer?)

3. Organization design. If this is a business science, I’ve never understood why it is a separate discipline. Any business unit’s management team is responsible for structuring its operations, and it should hire the experts it needs to help it do the job. I’ve seen one disastrous organizational design after another created by people who are not expert in the business being designed.

4. Workforce analysis and data management. If ever there were an administrative role in management, this is it. I believe performance and workforce planning problems start when the department (HR) responsible for them is not measured on… workforce performance. Show me a company where HR is measured and judged based on the actual performance of all employees, and I’ll eat this column. This is a perfect role for oversight by the finance department, which also rounds up departmental budgets each year. But make each business unit accountable for its own analysis and planning.

5. Employee relations, social programs, and events. Gimme a break. Companies don’t need den mothers. Rather than pay big bucks for big programs, big mission statements, and big public relations initiatives, spend a few dollars to hire a specialist for each business unit who is responsible for monitoring and coordinating employee programs. Make sure these specialists learn your business first. Retired high school vice principals are good candidates.

6. Compensation and benefits management. Don’t waste that great finance department you have. Those people are really good at numbers. Invest in some further training and develop some specialists to handle competitive compensation and effective benefits programs. Gathering and analyzing competitive market data is not rocket science; get your department managers involved. Why does any company need an entire department — whose performance isn’t (can’t be?) measured — making decisions about competitive compensation practices?

7. Recruiting, processing and hiring. Let’s consider some facts. Last year one of the biggest online job board’s revenues were around $1.3 billion. Your HR department is the source of most of that revenue. But your company made only about 4% of its hires from that job board. Is your board of directors aware that your HR department is shoveling company cash to “recruitment advertising partners” whose services don’t work? Unless you’re one of the handful of lucky companies that has internal recruiters who get out from behind their computer screens and actually go out into the world and seek, find, seduce, cajole, and otherwise steal good workers, your HR department is costing you not only money — but your lifeblood. While critical, profit-producing jobs go undone — and HR’s performance goes unmeasured — your HR execs are telling the world there’s a “talent shortage” while we’re experiencing the greatest glut of unemployed, highly-educated and skilled workers in history. (I wrote my own “Why We Hate HR” column earlier this year: Time for HR to exit the hiring business.)

Bill Taylor says, “The real problem is that too many organizations aren’t as demanding, as rigorous, as creative about the human element in business as they are about finance, marketing, and R&D. If companies and their CEOs aren’t serious about the people side of their organizations, how can we expect HR people in those organizations to play as a serious a role as we (and they) want them to play?”

I don’t agree. I think successful organizations are very rigorous and creative about getting profitable work from their employees, their managers, and their business units. The problem is, those organizations don’t expect as much from HR, hence HR is usually not overseen, not measured, and not judged for its performance. It’s the department no one wants to be responsible for. It’s the department that is not subjected to outcomes analysis. Anything goes. And we know it does. That’s why we hate HR — though we shouldn’t. After all, HR does what the board of directors permits it to do.

The best HR people I know find ways to embed themselves into business units. They become part of a business team. They don’t hide behind “company overhead.” More than anything else, it’s the success of those precious few “HR folks” that makes me ask, Why HR?

I still haven’t heard a good answer.

[I originally wrote this column for FastCompany.com, which published it under its Leadership section. It got little notice. Something tells me the Ask The Headhunter audience will have a lot more to say about the topic.]

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Readers’ Forum: Spanking HR

Discussion: April 13, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s Q&A: (Well, it’s not a Q&A!) This week I printed comments about the corporate Human Resources function that bear thinking about. A seasoned HR manager says HR should get out of the business of hiring and recruiting and go back to making sure paychecks have the right amount of money in them.

I agree. I think HR has no business handling recruiting and hiring. In fact, I think HR has a conflict of interest.

What do you think? Can companies get by with managers doing their own recruiting and hiring? Would these functions be better served if HR stopped doing them? Is HR actually doing companies a disservice by mucking around in the hiring process of corporate business units?

I’d like to know what you think. (The full article from today’s newsletter is here: Time for HR to exit the hiring business.)

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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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