On the edge of the curve

I’ve chided companies for using mundane recruiting methods and salary scales that result in hiring people on the fat part of the bell curve. Management guru Tom Peters suggests recruiting and hiring weirdos — people on the thin, leading edge of the curve; people who will upset the balance at your company and take you in new directions. Those people cost money — lots of money — because they’re (surprise!) on the leading edge of the curve.

Some companies use headhunters to recruit good people — for whatever reason: their HR department can’t do it well; they like to spend money; they like an outsider’s perspective; they like the networks that good headhunters maintain.

But the same bell-curve problem exists when a company hires a headhunter: You hire the best — out on the edge of the curve — or you use a mediocre headhunter to save money (and time, if you’re too lazy to go find the best). The problem is exactly the same: you’re buying mediocrity. Read more

Getting your butt kicked?

In an effort to make recruiting and hiring more rational, objective, logical, impartial, non-discriminatory (now, there’s a word that’s been bastardized: it used to mean keen, discerning, judicious), dispassionate, and fair… companies have learned to administer tests…

What’s the deal with these profile tests some companies are using? The ones where they ask the same question several times by changing the wording around. How are they used to determine if a candidate’s profile matches? Are they just a way of weeding out candidates who answer certain questions the wrong way? As a hiring manager, the only way I know of to see if a candidate’s profile matches is to actually talk to the person. Something that HR recruiters seem to want to avoid.

These tests are merely correlational. They don’t predict anything. They are based on responses of a known population, to which a job candidate’s responses are compared. The population is broken into sub-groups, and each sub-group is defined based on its responses and other known characteristics. For example, if a candidate’s responses correlate highly with responses from base subjects who are known to be lazy, for example (I’m exaggerating here), then the candidate is assumed to be lazy. Or, the candidate’s responses might correlate with a sub-group that is defined as architects. If you respond like an architect, then you are considered to be like architects.
 
Is that enough to judge a candidate? Of course not. While certain correlational information can be useful, it is certainly not sufficient to make or break a hiring decision.
 
Like you said, you have to talk to the person. My concern is, HR weeds out candidates based on these tests before a manager ever talks to them. All in an effort to be fair, objective, and impartial — and to avoid talking to people and judging them. How many good candidates are falling through the cracks as a result? It’s scary.

Go talk to people. It still works. The competition is doing it, because the competition isn’t worried about fair, objective, or impartial. It’s thinking only about kicking your company’s butt.

This might help: Employment Tests: Get an edge.

Roasting the job description

Last time, I talked about Hiring people who will succeed. Of course, this implies that a manager knows how to hire, or it doesn’t matter how good the stream of candidates is, or how well they perform on tests or in interviews. Sorry to insult a few million people, but in general I think most managers suck at interviewing and hiring. It’s not because they’re dopes; it’s because they act like dopes because the process is dopey.

Take a random manager. He or she probably does a pretty good job running their operation and managing their team. They get the product — whatever it is — out the door. Now, cut to the hiring process, and they open The Rules of Hiring Handed Down by the HR Gods. We quickly shift from getting the work done to acquiring the talent. The manager fills out the HR form — the job description. HR massages it. The objective is to find the perfect candidate who fits the specs and can hit the ground running on day #1. Now the job description has less to do with the job, and more to do with who is The Perfect Candidate.

Trouble is, The Perfect Fit, Isn’t. None of them are. Even a headhunter never finds the perfect fit, and we try. So, now the poor manager is left to acquire the talent, as defined in the job description, and the incoming talent is busy trying to slather itself with key words from the job description. Presto! Everyone is now on the spit, the coals are stoked, and we’re all about to get burned.

I wanna roast the job description. Toast it black, because the damned thing is full of words that distract the manager and the candidate from the work. In The Words We Choose, engineer David Hunt skewers seven juicy sacred cows, and delivers a satisfying take-away meal for every manager who wants to avoid Fast Food Hiring with HR Sauce. His essential message: Stop dehumanizing the hiring process and the interview discussion. Respect the candidate. These ain’t flank steaks — they’re people. And dimes to dollars none of them has ever designed a urinary catheter… keep reading…

Hunt borrows from the world of linguistic determinism — the idea that language shapes thought and the words we choose determine our actions. When we’re interviewing “the talent” and “acquiring the human resources”, we get stupid and distracted and we make dopey mistakes. I love the example job description Hunt highlights: “Wanted: Urinary Catheter Design Engineer. Must have at least five years of experience designing urinary catheters.”

Imagine the poor sucker manager who tries to find The Perfect Candidate for that job. We could bring in 50 talented engineers, but we might as well run a job description that says, “Wanted: Cow with five years’ experience being roasted for dinner.”

Filling a job isn’t about the job description. Candidates are not key words. You cannot identify a candidate’s ability to do the job if you’re interviewing for a Perfect Fit. The job description, more often than not, is a fantasy cooked up down in personnel-junkie land. So, let’s play a little game. You’re a manager. Job descriptions are illegal. How do you attract people who can do the work?

Hiring people who will succeed

My good friend Tom is a software developer. He’s incredibly smart, and he has one dominant criterion for hiring people. They must have a high IQ. A very high IQ. He considers other attributes, but IQ is the first hurdle. Many employers put job candidates through various tests, and make the first cut of applicants that way. Some use skills tests; others go for aptitude; some even start with personality.

I’m not big on tests in the hiring process. I want to spend time with a candidate, and I want to talk to people who know them and to people who have worked with them. (The candidates won’t necessarily know who I’m talking to. I want my own picture. But that’s just me.) Often, I won’t even meet a candidate if I don’t already know all about them. Some managers won’t interview candidates until after they’ve seen test results. (Erica Klein’s excellent article, Employment Tests: Get an edge, is a good start to researching this topic.)

If I had to use a test, I know what it would be. I would give it only after checking after the individual’s reputation (which includes intelligence). It’s the test of optimism that Martin Seligman provides in his outstanding book, Learned Optimism. Read more

Rickety, leads nowhere

Since the first job boards came online, entrepreneurs have been trying to find ways to create a true headhunter-class service for job hunters and employers. The objective: to be able to charge the top fees headhunters do. Hey, a smart, no-barriers-to-success business mind should be able to figure it out. So it began. Bill Warren’s Online Career Center — the true granddaddy of job boards — launched on a gopher system, quickly followed by Monster.com and others. Niche boards followed, and “executive” services sprouted — and came and went, and came and went. No one was able to crack the headhunter code. No online service has been able to charge, say, $30,000 to fill a position.

So, these wanna-be’s started to do the next best thing: Lie. Headhunter.net offered a higher-class service, based on nothing more than its name. More recently, TheLadders was launched as the job service offering “the most $100k+ jobs.” For $180 per year, you get access. To what? Well, it’s not clear.

TheLadders uses the term “$100k” — $100,000 — 23 times on its About page. $100k appears four times in one paragraph of just three sentences. This is headhunter country, and Ladders comes right out and says it caters to “executive-level” people — and to HR departments seeking them. The message is that Ladders isn’t your run-of-the-mill jobs site. It’s “expressly for the $100k+ job seeker.” The promise is that, “Never again will you find yourself trolling through mid-level or bogus job listings on other, less-targeted job boards!” Read more

IYFQ’s: Answers #2

In my last post I tried to tackle half the In Your Face Questions folks posted recently. Let’s get on with the rest…

JB King: If a recruiting firm only gets paid once someone is placed, why wouldn’t they want the company to have a churn so that they place more people there? Maybe the company would wise up and expect more, but how can that be worked out so that the company gets a good hire and the recruiting firm isn’t trying to pull something?

Headhunters have no control over whether a company has high employee churn. A headhunter should not be recruiting from his or her clients, and the agreement between them should ensure that. A good headhunter (yah, that’s a loaded term) would not want to continue to place good people in a company where there is high turnover, because it would have an adverse effect on the headhunter’s reputation. That’s why it’s important for companies and job hunters to check out the headhunter — how good is the reputation? Then prepare a solid written agreement.

JB King: Why does it seem that there are places that like to stockpile resumes and not really do much with them?

This is a sign of sheer bureaucratic idiocy. HR departments run job ads and collect resumes even when they have no job openings. They seem to think that the more resumes they have on file, the better off they are. But resumes have a shelf-life of about three months. After that, key candidate factors are likely to change: motivation to interview, availability, salary, location, and more. When a person submits a resume about a specific job, they’re not likely to jump at a different job a year later just because HR calls. Read more

IYFQ’s: Answers #1

In IYFQ’s: Why you can’t get hired or hire good people, I asked readers to post In Your Face Questions about job hunting and hiring for which there seem to be no good answers. You came through in spades — I cringed often enough while reading them that I know you know what I mean by IYFQ’s.

The responses, advice, and comments from readers are what I was really looking for — good ideas! My favorite astutely-cynical posting is Groucho’s answer to a question with another question: “Do you really think the people you’re interveiwing can’t make up stories?”

My job is to answer IYFQ’s, and while I didn’t want to dominate the thread, I’m going to attempt a marathon Q&A session. If you find one useful idea below, I’m happy. If my suggestions arouse your ire, well, there’s a Reply button down there, too… Read more

Beyond mediocrity: Hiring teams

What’s the trend in hiring today that desperately signals the need for a new trend? Hiring mediocre people.

The clearest sign that companies make too many mediocre hires is the prevalence of garbage-in recruiting methods, all centered on the online seine fishing technique. Companies cast a wide net and pull in anything they can get. This in turn promotes random applications from job hunters who are looking for a job, any job. Rather than targeting smart problem-solvers they’d love to recruit, employers limit themselves to the lesser-of-evils. Is it any wonder businesses find themselves in trouble? They’re not hiring the talent they need; they’re hiring who comes along. So, where’s the desired talent? Busy working, not trawling the job boards for random jobs.

Which brings me to what I believe will be the next hiring trend. Companies will hire teams of people rather than individuals. Why? Because companies need solutions, not just more hires. They need concrete plans and schedules for getting a job done, not resumes that describe past history.

Consider what happens when you shove your resume in a manager’s face (or e-mail box). You’re not solving the manager’s problem. You’re telling the manager, “Here I am. Here are my credentials. Here’s my history. Here are my achievements. Now, you go figure out what the hell to do with me.Read more

IYFQ’s: Why you can’t get hired or hire good people

A good event sparks good ideas, whether you’re a speaker or in the audience. And a recent gig I did for the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) left me with a thought-provoking challenge I’d like to share with you.

In 2007, Microsoft asked me to participate in a webinar titled Ignite Your Career. I’ve listened in on some webcasts over the years, and they typically taste like dry bread… no thanks. This event was satisfying (and not just because I was in it). The MSDN team in Canada did a great job of assembling a panel of speakers who didn’t pull punches. Key to the quality of the thing was that one of our Microsoft hosts continually gave us questions he was receiving from the audience, and encouraged candid dialogue. I enjoyed it so much that I actually did two of these for Microsoft Canada (Building Your Skill Set and Career Opportunities for IT Pros — no matter what line of work you’re in, I can almost guarantee you’ll learn something useful).

The challenge came up during the post-mortem the panelists did after the second webinar. We were talking about what we did right and what we could have done better. One of our hosts — the guy who was reading us questions from the audience throughout the 90 minutes — sheepishly apologized to a panelist for “throwing you an in-your-face question without giving you much time to think about it.” Read more

H-1B or not to B?

Having covered the information technology and electronics industries for a long time, I’m very sensitive to the H-1B visa controversy. This is the government program whereby foreign nationals can be hired by U.S. employers under a special visa.

H-1B exists because industry claims there’s a labor shortage in the world of technology. On April 1, the 2008 allotment of H-1B visas will likely be used up in a matter of hours. Bill Gates says more H-1B workers should be allowed to work in the U.S. because industry needs special skills that domestic workers can’t always deliver. Many tech folks believe this program siphons valuable jobs away from U.S. workers, and that companies use H-1B mainly to cut labor costs. H-1B opponents say U.S. companies should focus more on talent and less on skills. The controversy rages on. In the current InformationWeek, Rob Preston takes the most responsible view of H-1B that I’ve read to date. Read more