This week's Q&A
Try people out before hiring them:
How third-world farmers beat corporate HR
The demise of modern hiring
This column is
usually a Q&A where we tackle a reader's problem. Today we're
going to tackle a problem faced by virtually every manager: How to
There's no way to
start this except to call a spade a spade and look at how not to hire—because
not hiring the workers they need is what many employers seem to
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Don't understand what I mean? Just turn on your computer and
wind up any Human Resources department by submitting your resume for
any job in the world. Personnel jockeys malnourished from drinking
only from the job-board trough will spend the entire HR recruiting
budget buying, downloading, scanning, processing and key-word-checking
the resumes of thousands of "applicants" who are summarily
rejected while some manager is dying for a daily dose of common sense
in recruiting and hiring.
Once upon a time, America was a third-world country. A colony. Once
upon a time we used our brains because we were trying to get
somewhere. Today, we often leave our brains in the drawer when we whip
out over-defined, over-wrought and byzantine systems to do a simple
job: Hire people.
Consider the dominant
hiring methods human resources departments feed their managers: job
descriptions, job postings, job ads, resume-processing software, the
Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions, employment tests and pages of
application forms. All designed to attract anyone who can push an
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New York Public Radio:
The Brian Lehrer Show
A special shout-out to Brian's audience for the record
numbers of new subscribers to this newsletter since we did
the summer series of Ask The Headhunter segments on WNYC radio—and
the repeat on Labor Day. Welcome!
For those interested in hearing all four archived segments,
(And if you want to hear more Ask The Headhunter on WNYC
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Brian a note and let him know!)
Consider the massive
cost of filtering millions of inappropriate applicants who are glad to
in, garbage out and apply for any job on the Net just because it's
self-defeating practice of selecting a hire from a pool of people
that's limited to only those who show up in the queue. Forget
the manager would like to hire. Let's hire from who comes
Then there's the
method HR swears by: The
Behavioral Interview. Drag in someone from a job board and ask him
to give you some examples of problems he has dealt with in the past
and to tell how he handled them. (I'm still trying to figure out
where is the behavior in The Behavioral Interview, if all we're doing
crippled by armchair recruiting and arm's-length decision making when
picking hires. Managers can personally go look for the people they
want, but they let personnel clerks post ads so they can interview
what the cat dragged in. Managers can ask job candidates anything they
want—but they make hiring decisions based on answers to questions
the legal department says they can ask. (I'd love to meet the legal
eagle who signed off on, "If you could be any animal, what animal would
But recruiting is
another topic. I want to talk about judging candidates in order to
make a hire. HR has many methods to find needles in a haystack that blew in from the job boards,
then asks some magic questions that will indirectly reveal
the best candidates. You know the drill: Where do you see yourself
in five years? What's your greatest strength? Why are manhole covers
round? If you needed to move
Mount Fuji, how would you do it?
Why is hiring so complicated? Why do companies need HR consultants
to invent hiring practices, interview protocols and selection
criteria? The answer seems to be, Because the more complicated we
can make it, the more rigorous and valid the process must be.
The solution is much simpler. But it requires managers to tell HR
to get its nose out of the hiring business and back to managing
internal employee matters. It requires telling the lawyers to stop
erecting policies against common sense and to start finding ways
to enable managers to hire intelligently and effectively.
The solution is ancient, low-tech, obvious and in violation of the
book of HR policy. But if you don't find a way to implement this
solution, the competitor who does will eat your lunch while you try to
figure out how to fire the ineffective and marginal hires you've made.
How to hire like it matters
Chris Hogg is an employment counselor in Columbus, Ohio who works
with an interesting clientele. He teaches the basic approach and
methods I've been talking about on Ask The Headhunter for 15
years—but he has validated these methods in ways I couldn't dream
of. Better yet, he demonstrates that these methods were invented out
in the field by managers who have been getting the job done for
Chris dropped me a note recently that distilled the answer every
company needs to consider adopting, if only because bureaucratic
hiring costs too much.
I assist refugees and immigrants new to the
U.S. with finding employment.
One gentleman from a war-torn part of Africa had a large
farm and employed workers at various times of the year. No tractors, no machines, just hard physical work and oxen when available.
I asked him how he hired employees throughout the year. He said he'd bring folks in for a day or two and watch them
work. Were they honest, did they treat the animals well, did they show up on time, do the work when he wasn't there, do good work and so on? The ones that did the job to his satisfaction got hired for the month or three that they were needed.
I don't think he ever read your book, but his
approach sure sounds familiar, doesn't it?
I hear similar stories from the Middle East and various other places.
Many new arrivals to the U.S. are bewildered by our interview process. They are used to showing up, doing the
work and being hired long-term if they perform well—and we're talking a wide range of professions, from farming to IT to engineering to tailoring and more.
I just thought you'd like to know.
I refer to what Chris is describing as doing the job to win the job.
Managers can eliminate waste and cut down on hiring errors by hiring people
who prove themselves. Yah, I know that's a corporate sacrilege, and the lawyers, personnel jockeys and
HR consultants will have a
field day with this. Corcodilos, Hogg and that African farmer are naive
Try people out before you hire them.
- Select your candidates carefully. You don't want to waste two or
three days' time working with marginal candidates.
- Cancel some HR consultant contracts. Set aside the money you
save to pay
your on-the-job candidates a reasonable fee for their work even if
you don't hire them.
- Talk to your insurance company. The money you pay to cover
short-term liability (assuming you even need it) to have these folks
on-site is a good investment. Think of what you'll save by avoiding hiring
HR consultants and corporate lawyers will come up with plenty of obstacles to this approach,
but managers need to remind them that their job is to enable
managers to hire effectively. Have a policy problem? Change the
policy. Managers do not exist to support HR policy; HR policy should
support managers. And hiring like it matters should be the new
In a time when being nimble and smart can mean the difference
between surviving economic pressures and closing the company doors,
would do well to consider that they used to hire the
same way third-world farmers hire today. Once upon a time in America there
was no room for bureaucracy. Anyone want to argue that it isn't
killing us today?
Special thanks to Chris Hogg for sharing his experience and common
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I just downloaded
How to Work with
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comprehensive treatment of every aspect of recruiting, search firms, career management firms and more. I especially like the
Back of the Napkin section at the end. Looks like you thought of everything!
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Too Old to Rock & Roll is the best, and I mean the very best, article that I've ever read on the subject of advice to older job seekers. I'm 62 and have been out of the workforce for a couple of years due to a rather serious health problem, but I am recovered now and do see the need to work to at least 70 years of age. ("It’s the economy, Stupid.")
As a writer/editor, I really must commend you on your excellent writing ability and style. Your articles are always well-organized, and your points are well thought out and expertly written with finesse and humor. I have always found your website content easy to understand, and I will keep coming back to your site for more, even when I am "gainfully employed" in the near future. You are one savvy dude!
Kudos to you and I look forward to your future articles.
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How to Say It
A reader says: I just attended a professional seminar and
I met people from several companies—two are places where I'd really like to
work. Your suggestion to "hang out with people I'd like to work with"
really works! Now I need to call these people up. I don't want to sound like I'm
begging for job leads because I'm not ready to make a move right now. I want to
learn more about their companies and get myself in the door. How do I make
friends with them? What should I say?
How to Say It: You can break the ice by asking things that have
nothing to do with getting in the door. Introduce yourself and remind them where
you met. My favorite requests are, "What have you read recently that you've found particularly useful in your work?" and, "What companies
in our industry do you respect the most?"
Those questions can lead to lengthy conversation and to follow-up contact.
It's up to you to share related, useful information by e-mail and to stay in
touch. Later, if you decide to approach someone's company about a job, you can
ask for introductions to managers who might give you advice and insight about
the jobs. Bingo, you're there. Don't forget to offer introductions if your new
friends need them.
How would you say it? That's is the topic in the How to Say It section of The Blog.
on over and offer your advice on How to Say It!
Don't know How to Say It? Send
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Do the job to win the job: Today's newsletter will
raise some hackles. Bring candidates in to work for 2-3 days before making a
hiring decision? You might as well break eggs on the boardroom conference table.
What do you think? Would you agree to work for a few days for a
prospective employer if the company paid you to see if you're a fit?
If you're a manager, what do you say? Would your decisions about
hires be improved by working with them for a few days? Would you spend a few
bucks to find out?
Forum: This could turn the hiring process upside down. Join
us on The Blog and share your
Got a topic? Something to get off your chest? Something on which you'd like input from other readers?
Send it here.
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