Which managers hire the best?

Which managers hire the best?

In the June 9, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a manager asks how managers hire.

Question

managers hireWhen you’re hiring, how do you know who you want to hire? By that I mean, how do you identify the job you need done, the skills and potential for growth you require in a job candidates? I admit I’ve made some hiring mistakes as a manager, but it’s awfully hard to pinpoint what I’ve done wrong. It’s just as hard to figure out what I did right when I picked my best staff members!

Nick’s Reply

I don’t think the problem for most managers is knowing what they want. If they don’t know what work needs to be done, they have no business managing.

Managers hire for profit

If you have doubts about what a job is all about, here’s a good test: It must involve work that is profitable to the company. If it’s not profitable, question the legitimacy of the job.

Of course, this means you must understand how the work of each one of your employees fits into the big profit picture. Most managers I’ve said this to roll their eyes and tell me they’re not finance managers and it’s not their job. If they really believe that, they need to sit down with their company’s CFO and figure it out. Profitability is every manager’s job. Or, why are you even a manager?

The problems with hiring

But let’s focus on hiring.

I think the challenge for most managers lies in the faulty hiring process they’ve been taught. This process emphasizes talk rather than demonstration, and personality rather than ability. It hampers their ability to hire well.

There seem to be two main problems with how managers hire.

Problem 1: Hiring to the job description

Most managers know what they need to get a job done. However, they are usually saddled with over-written, static job descriptions that better serve the requirements of a Human Resources applicant tracking system (ATS) than the ever-changing needs of their company.

Don’t believe me? Is your own job and the work you do today the same as your original job description? How much has your job changed since you started it? (I’ve asked this question of hundreds of times. All I ever get is bitter laughs.)

When a manager interviews to fill the job description, that may satisfy HR. But is it going to meet the manager’s changing, evolving needs? Worse, is HR sending candidates to the manager just because their resumes and applications contain words that match words in the static job description?

Hiring to the job description is a mistake. (The problem of job descriptions themselves is for another discussion.)

Problem 2: Managers hire people they like

Generally speaking, managers are schooled by HR experts in the art of interviewing, if they’re schooled at all. But, what does HR know about hiring anyone but HR staff? HR is not schooled in specific work disciplines like engineering and marketing. Consequently, HR’s interview instructions tend to emphasize only general attributes, mostly relating to personality and attitude.

Managers that know what they want often don’t dare ask candidates to deliver it because to do so would violate the traditional rules of interviewing. Whoever heard of putting a job candidate in a room with all the tools they need and asking them to demonstrate how they would do the job?

Instead, managers learn to sit and talk banalities with applicants. Even managers who know what work they need done end up hiring workers based on irrelevant rules and criteria that have been hammered into their brains by an antiquated and ineffective employment system.

An executive of a multinational telecommunications firm complained to me that his company keeps making the same mistake. “We hire based on personality,” he said. “More specifically, we hire people we like because the interview methods we use don’t really reveal whether the person can do the work.”

Put another way, managers focus too much on who they want, rather than on what work they need to have done. “To hire” does not mean to acquire a worker; it means to acquire the use of (that is, pay for) certain services to get certain work done. The focus must be on the person’s services and on the work. Unfortunately, most managers have absolutely no concrete proof that a job candidate can do the necessary work until after they hire them to do it. This never comes up in the interview, because the manager is too busy trying to “assess the candidate.”

Can the person do the work you need done?

The hiring process has become warped into a personality assessment. Consider the common questions asked in interviews: What is your greatest strength? Your biggest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years? Such questions are so general and meaningless that hundreds of books are available to teach you how to respond with equally trite answers. But what has any of this to do with the work a manager needs done? Next to nothing.

In what I call The New Interview, the manager and the candidate work together on a “live” problem or task. This maintains a focus on the work that needs to be done, rather than on the keywords in a job description. The best example task is one that clearly affects the profitability of the department. My guess is that, if you were to review your interviews against the success of your hires, either you’ve just gotten lucky some of the time, or your best hires actually showed you they could do the work.

In my experience, if an interviewer conducts such a working meeting with sleeves rolled up and focuses on an actual work task, the candidate will quite naturally reveal their personality, attitudes, skills, growth potential and “fit” on other scales. It comes out in the conversation and in the shared experience of working together during the meeting — just like it does at work. No clever interview questions are required. (You’ll still learn whether you like the candidate, but your opinion will be based mostly on whether they can do the job!)

What’s a manager’s job?

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve heard me say this before. A good manager should be spending 10-15% of their time every week identifying, recruiting and cultivating people to fill current or future positions. Hiring is a key management function and you need to develop your skills to do it well.

A job candidate must be able to do the work. If you don’t — or cannot — directly assess this, why are you even a manager? I mean no offense, but I suggest you think about it.

If you’re a manager, how do you hire? Do you put 10-15% of every week into hiring? Who was the best “hiring” manager you’ve ever known, and how did they do it? What are the worst hiring practices you’ve encountered?

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Should I let HR do it?

Should I let HR do it?

In the September 24, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an entrepreneur wonders if HR is necessary at all.

Question

HRI am starting a company. I have an absolute disdain for HR as a general rule and wanted to get your thoughts on a company running without an HR department. I feel like HR has hoodwinked so many executives into thinking they’re a necessity for any business, but there’s only a subset of things they do that are actually required. For example, making sure you’re not in violation of labor laws.

Which would you recommend: to have no HR department, or to severely limit HR to only those responsibilities that actually help the company (and hence reduce its size considerably)? One thing is sure: HR should never be involved in hiring decisions. I’ve never seen them help there.

Nick’s Reply

Good luck with your start-up. I’m sure HR folks will have something to say about this.

HR options

I think I would try a hybrid of no HR and limited HR. You can cover the compliance bases by contracting with a good HR consultant and by defining exactly what you want them to cover. But be careful – there are a lot of HR hacks out there. The good ones, however, will cost you and are worth what you’ll spend because they’ll advise you as well as do the work.

I understand why you’re so down on HR — you feel it’s not very helpful. You’re not alone — see FastCompany’s excellent Why We Hate HR. Make sure your HR consultant understands that they will have no decision-making authority, that they report to you, and that their scope of work is narrowly defined. Use them as you need them, just as you’d use any good consultant.

Limiting HR

If you find an HR consultant that’s actually good at recruiting, interviewing and managing the hiring process, you’ll be really lucky. There are some very good HR folks out there who work closely with managers to get jobs filled. They will embed themselves in a manager’s operation to learn how it works and what makes the manager tick. A good HR person will help the manager recruit and hire — but will not do the recruiting or hiring. They will process documentation and ensure the process is compliant with the law.

I think you can take care of important HR functions with just a good consultant for quite a while before you need to worry about hiring a full-time HR person.

HR & Legal

Keep in mind that many HR responsibilities are legal in nature, including  compliance. If you hire lawyers to advise you, make sure they have labor and employment expertise so they can backstop your HR consultant when necessary. Just be careful not to let the lawyers and HR gang up on you and rack up huge bills — or hobble your ability to run your business!

There’s a good, simple rule for managing HR, lawyers and other experts. Explain to them what your objective is; that is, what you want to do. They will often respond with myriad reasons why you mustn’t do it, or why it’s illegal, or why it won’t work. Thank them for their advice and cautions. Then instruct them to find a way to do what you want without violating the law, because that’s their job. If they push back, tell them to also provide you with a risk analysis, because that’s their job, too. Your job, as the principal of the company, is to decide how much risk you want to take — legal or otherwise. Never let a consultant make your decisions for you.

Do it yourself

I agree that HR should not control recruiting and hiring. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.)

I think the most important reason to limit any HR function is that being directly involved will force you to understand, grasp and grapple with the challenges of having others working for you. I’ve seen many companies fail because management left that to “experts.” So don’t “let HR do it.” Your people — your workers — are everything. They are your responsibility. The idea that someone else will manage your new company’s “human resources” is akin to suggesting that someone else is going to run your business. Perhaps that’s your goal ultimately, but until you learn the ins and outs of finding, hiring and managing people, you won’t have a business. (See Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.)

An HR function can be helpful if you, as head of the company, manage it like companies used to manage HR — actively. The trouble today is that HR is often left to its own devices because the C-suite sees HR functions as “icky but necessary, so let HR do it…”

Big mistake.

I wish you the best with your new business.

Can a new business operate without an HR department? If you could build an HR department from the ground up, what tasks would you have it handle — and which tasks would you never let it control?

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10 reasons your company’s HR can’t fill jobs

In the April 16, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a job seeker exposes rude HR recruiting practices and 319,000 people take notice.

HRQuestion

Hundreds of LinkedIn users have commented on a clever cover letter someone sent to a company about a job. The reply he got was an unsigned e-mail blast the company sends to all rejects, suggesting his application wasn’t even read. But he got the last laugh. His cover letter was a series of “Arfs.” He posted it and their canned reply. How embarrassing for the employer to be exposed like that! This is yet another example of how employers treat job applicants. They solicit us then ignore us! What’s the solution to this?

Nick’s Reply

Shawn Gauthier (shawngauthier.com) is a copywriter and creative director in the advertising industry. He’s one of the 155 million members of LinkedIn in the U.S. who turn to this “professional networking service” to find a good job match. But, like many frustrated LinkedIn users, Gauthier finds that this jobs-and-people database is more about robots than true networking.

Fed up with employers who solicit job applicants but then don’t read their applications, Gauthier applied his considerable writing skills to create a compelling cover letter to apply for a job at Chewy.com, an online pet store:

The links are to his website and profile. After Gauthier received the reply below, he posted both to his LinkedIn page:

The lesson Gauthier learned is trivial — that this “boilerplate rejection” practice is pervasive. LinkedIn’s 155 million members have all been treated to such robo-rejections more times than they can bark. I mean count. And they’re talking about it. There are over 440 comments on Gauthier’s post.

Who let the dogs out?

Employers are increasingly complaining that they can’t fill critical jobs because of a low unemployment rate coupled with an inadequately trained workforce. In other words, employers claim the right talent just doesn’t exist.

Comments from hundreds of job seekers on this LinkedIn thread, however, suggest the talent problem is in the Human Resources suite, where a troubling brand of clueless disdain for job applicants seems to destroy companies’ ability to recruit the workers they need.

HR bites back on LinkedIn

“Wrong, Shawn. I’m sorry that you feel so entitled to a lengthy and witty response telling you how immature and childish you are…It’s in the company’s best interest to send you the formal, pre-written rejection rather than, again, telling you how moronic you are.”

“why do you assume they didn’t read your letter? They are just more professional then you. So they rejected you on a correct way. And i feel you need to do some growing up in this matter.” [sic]

“Maybe they don’t have a letter crafted in their ATS that would be appropriate to address a nonsensical cover letter. It appears that you tried to set yourself apart as a candidate and it didn’t work. Don’t blame the company…maybe you just weren’t a good fit.”

“HR departments are required by their companies not to give an applicant any reason to sue them for discrimination. Particularly if they aren’t selected. It’s easier to be completely neutral than to respond with humor or give the writer honest feedback.”

Despite the tongue-in-cheek sarcasm in his cover letter, Gauthier continues to maintain an incredibly high level of professional conduct in his many replies to the hundreds of comments he received on his LinkedIn post — even when the commenters are HR managers out to shame him by rationalizing Chewy’s behavior. This has become the mark of clueless personnel jockeys. They don’t seem to realize that their disdain for job applicants destroys their companies’ reputations in the professional communities they need to recruit from.

10 reasons your company’s HR can’t fill jobs

The problem is not a talent shortage. HR itself is the reason so many companies can’t fill jobs.

What’s the solution?

  1. HR should stop posting jobs on cattle-call websites that generate 100s or 1000s of applicants. You want only a handful of the right ones. The job boards are not designed to do that, so stop using them. To ensure you can send personal letters to every applicant you reject, learn how to recruit fewer people by recruiting only the right people. This is not a numbers game unless you’re gambling. (See Why cattle-call recruiting doesn’t work.)
  2. Stop relying on keyword job descriptions. Ever have a job that six months into it matched the job description you were hired for? I ask this question at workshops I do for Executive MBA programs at Wharton, UCLA, Northwestern, Cornell and other top business schools. Everyone laughs. The answer is always Never! — because job descriptions are fabrications of HR. So stop relying on keywords and on any kinds of job descriptions. Move on to #3.
  3. If you’re going to recruit, then become expert in the work of the company teams you recruit for. Be able to mix it up with engineers, marketers, finance people, programmers and production line workers. Understand their work. Asking job candidates what’s their greatest weakness and how they handled a difficult situation isn’t interviewing. It’s fake.
  4. Recruiting means going out into the professional community where the people that you need to hire hang out, talk shop, learn, and teach one another. Everything else is B.S. I know you know that. So stop pretending because some whitepaper published by some HR Consulting Shop told you to waste your time and money on Indeed or LinkedIn. Go out into the world and participate in the professional community you need to recruit from.
  5. Make your hiring managers spend 20% of their time each week recruiting. If it’s not worth it to them, then they’re not managers. They’re individual contributors. A manager’s job is to recruit, hire, train, cultivate, enable, mentor and manage the people who do the work.
  6. No matter who’s doing the recruiting, do it all the time. Those EMBAs always ask me, “My company’s going to merge or get acquired in 6-18 months. My job may be at risk. When should I start job hunting?” I give them a long pregnant pause, then I tell them, “Two years ago.” After they’re done laughing nervously, every single one of them gets it. Likewise, you and your managers must be recruiting all the time. Posting jobs and waiting for “who comes along” isn’t recruiting. It’s lazy.
  7. Do you believe job applicants are too much trouble? Then you’re doing it wrong. You’re not your company’s solution to its problems and challenges. The people you’re trying to hire are. Start treating them with respect all the time.
  8. If you believe it’s okay to insult and talk smack to job applicants, then get out of HR. The next time you feel like being snarky with a job applicant, quit your job.
  9. You don’t need headhunters like me to fill jobs. You need to be an active part of the professional community you need to recruit from and to cultivate sources and friends who trust you and that you trust. NEWS FLASH! We all know how most jobs are found and filled: Personal contacts. So stop spending 99% of your recruiting budget on job postings. Start spending it taking great candidates to dinner.
  10. Please — stop pretending! It looks very bad to those people your company desperately needs to hire. They tell their friends.

It doesn’t sink in

Shawn Gauthier noticed in his LinkedIn dashboard that lots of people at Chewy were viewing his post — and that a lot of other LinkedIn users were sending the link to Chewy employees. So he decided to reach out to Chewy’s HR department directly for a second chance at a job. The best the recruiter could do was “explain” the excuse for why he was treated impersonally:

“…the role had been filled and there were 670 applicants that needed to be rejected. So as you can imagine, it would be a little difficult for our team to send out 670 personalized rejection letters.”

It still doesn’t sink in at Chewy — or in most HR organizations. If you’ve got too many applicants that “need to be rejected,” then you’re soliciting too many of the wrong people — which means you are the problem and your recruiting methods are the problem.

There is no talent shortage except in HR, where it’s “a little difficult” to let the truth sink in. Your team should not need to send out 670 rejection letters to anyone!

I asked Gauthier what this suggests to him. He replied:

“The response from fellow LinkedIn members suggests that this isn’t limited to Chewy. It doesn’t help Chewy’s image for sure… but if it is standard practice (as it seems), they will not stand out for the thoughtlessness. It does demonstrate that there is an opportunity for a business to stand out and win brand ambassadors through an extensive overhaul of hiring and rejection practices.”

Message to Chewy’s Public Relations department: Shawn Gauthier’s LinkedIn post has 319,381 views and counting. Do you know what the world thinks of your HR department and your company? (Hint: 68% of job seekers own pets. How many customers can you afford to lose?)

Why can’t HR fill jobs? Is it because of a talent shortage? I offered up 10 suggestions to help HR fix HR. What else is HR doing that hinders recruiting and hiring? What else should HR do so companies can fill jobs?

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Manager goes around HR to recruit and hire

In the March 12, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a manager reveals how he recruits and hires better by doing it himself.

The DIY manager

managerI’m a hiring manager in engineering and have benefited greatly from your articles as both someone looking to hire talent and as a potential employee. (Most recently: Want the job? Go around HR.) Thanks for the great work and advice.

Things I do differently now:

I do not let HR filter resumes

I review all resumes myself and allocate time to read any that look promising. This was a big change for HR and I was surprised at the initial push-back!

What I found was that HR was hyper-focused on keywords and actually trying to steer hiring managers based on criteria rather than technical skills and relevant experience. It was eye-opening. And yes, doing it myself significantly improved my ability to find great people for my team and the company.

I am always recruiting

I typically spend between one to four hours a week recruiting and interviewing, but it depends on the size of the organization and state of the business. I am always looking for top talent, and I occasionally create openings for the “right” people.

I find it can take months or even years to entice superstar candidates.

Referrals, one at a time

At the moment, I receive most candidate resumes through other hiring managers, directors and V.P.s, who review them individually. Most of my actual hires are referrals from within the company or people I know and go after directly. This is probably not typical of most companies, but we are a small company (50-75 people) doing very specialized work.

I do not apply for jobs posted on websites

Nor do I invest time in random cold calls and e-mails from recruiters, specifically commercial job boards and recruiters that find me on LinkedIn or other websites.

The best access to job opportunities is through your network of current and past co-workers, hiring managers, and reputable recruiters. This can be challenging early in your career, but it also emphasizes the importance of doing good work and not burning bridges.

Thanks again for helping to educate employees and hiring managers everywhere. This stuff should really be taught in school. Do you do seminars for graduating college and university students?

John Phillips

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind note and description of how you hire. (I added some subheadings to emphasize your main points.) I can’t compliment you enough for making recruiting and hiring so personal, and for going around the institutional claptrap.

Going around HR

Taking HR out of the process like you do creates more work for hiring managers – work that should never have been delegated to HR to begin with. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.) While some HR folks are savvy about engineering, for example, only the hiring manager really understands the work and grasps the constellation of skills and expertise that would best serve a job.

A manager’s DIY methods for recruiting and hiring

HR has become such an institutionalized method of recruiting at arm’s length that most managers don’t realize how huge the pay-off can be if they invest their own — significant — time in recruiting and candidate selection. Very few managers are as active as you are in finding, assessing and pursuing the best candidates.

You have outlined a critical process, and I’d like to emphasize the things you do to recruit and hire:

  1. You avoid letting HR “filter” resumes
  2. Read and judge resumes yourself
  3. Devote time to review the most promising resumes in depth
  4. Avoid the distractions of so-called keywords and “criteria”
  5. Choose candidates based on technical skills and relevant experience
  6. Avoid random calls and e-mails from recruiters you don’t know or trust
  7. Avoid database-driven solicitations
  8. Devote time each week to recruiting and interviewing
  9. Personally and actively look for and recruit top talent all the time
  10. Invest months or years to personally pursue and entice the best candidates
  11. Prefer personal assessments and referrals from reputable people you trust
  12. Create new jobs for the best talent
  13. Find your own job opportunities through trusted personal contacts

That’s a powerful deviation from the contemporary, HR-driven, norm — and absolutely necessary if a manager wants to build a great team of the best people. No one can manage finding you a job, and no one can manage your hiring better than you can. I think any manager can learn and benefit from the steps you follow to recruit and hire.

As you’ve found, it’s common to get push-back from HR when you insist on doing your own recruiting and hiring. Hiring is and must always be The manager’s #1 job. And as you’ve also found, the same rules and methods you use to fill jobs will serve you well when you pursue a new job yourself.

“This stuff should be taught in school”

LIVE Ask The Headhunter

On Tuesday, March 19, 2019 7:30 p.m., I’m presenting 30 Contrarian Job Hunting Tips in 30 Minutes at the Career Forum, a program of the Somerset Hills YMCA, 140 Mount Airy Road, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920.

Free, open to all. If you’re nearby, I hope you’ll join us — and please stick around to say hi afterwards!

Thanks again for your kind words. To answer your question, yes, I do presentations and workshops for students and new grads. (Including Executive MBA students.) And you’re absolutely correct: This stuff should really be taught in school.

While schools and professional groups hire me for such gigs, I also make a point of doing as many pro bono events as I can each year — for new grads and seasoned professionals. I like to get people from all parts of the career cycle into a room so we can talk and share ideas — and contacts!

It’s a stunning failure of many high schools, colleges and universities that they don’t adequately prepare students for work, and that includes job seeking and hiring. Although I’m a big fan and defender of a liberal arts education, and of education for its own sake, I don’t think any school can justify not incorporating serious lessons about how to get and keep a job into every curriculum. Perhaps the only thing more stunning is that parents who foot the bill for a college education don’t demand it. (See Your First Job: 20 pointers for new graduates.)

A challenge to managers: Do your own recruiting and hiring!

I want to thank manager John Phillips for sharing his recruiting and hiring practices with us. (And it does take practice!) But I don’t think any manager who leaves these crucial tasks to HR is really managing. Do you?

If you’re a manager, what’s your take on all this? Is recruiting and hiring your job — or is it mostly (or entirely) HR’s? How do you do it at your company? What additional tips would you add to the list above? If you’re a job seeker, how often do you encounter managers who do it themselves? Is it any better when HR is merely peripheral to the process?

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Recruiting scams and job interviews on social media

In the November 6, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries that job interviews via social media like Google Hangouts are recruiting scams.

Question

The Web seems to be full of recruiting scams targeted at job seekers. They often use social media to lure victims. Should we accept interviews using services like Twitter and Google Hangouts?

Nick’s Reply

recruiting scamsIt’s not clear whether you’re referring to being recruited for an interview via Twitter and Google Hangouts, or whether you’re going to actually be interviewed that way. Regardless, social media do indeed seem to be popular for recruiting scams.

Interviews: Person-to-person only

My rule is that interviews should be on the phone or in person, or via Skype — but no video. I’m not a fan of video interviews or automated interviews of any kind.

A recruiter or employer that asks you to invest your personal time to participate in a job interview must be willing to do the same. If they expect you to “interview” indirectly or virtually, I suggest you tell them you want a person-to-person interview, or move on. (See HireVue Video Interviews: HR insults talent in a talent shortage.)

Use multiple online resources to verify identity

If a recruiter uses Google Hangouts (or Facebook or LinkedIn or some other social network) to recruit you and to schedule an interview, I’d politely ask that they e-mail or call you to confirm the interview. I’d insist on at least a telephone call for the interview itself. Then track their contact information to confirm their identities.

If they are going to initiate the phone call, ask them to:

  • provide their telephone number anyway
  • along with their street address
  • their website
  • and their LinkedIn page.

Then look them up using multiple online resources to confirm their identity – and that they are legitimate.

Keep in mind that just because a recruiter claims to be working for ABC Company, doesn’t mean they really are. Make sure the contact information they provide resolves back to the employer whose job you’re interested in.

The gold standard

Here’s the gold standard: If you can independently find the company online, call the main telephone number listed and ask for the Human Resources department. If HR doesn’t recognize the person that’s recruiting you, then you will know there’s a problem. Even third-party recruiters have identities that you should be able to verify.

For examples of questionable recruiting solicitations shared by readers, check the most recent comments on this article.

Legit employers will behave transparently. But it’s still your job to check them out first. There are simply too many recruiting scams out there to trust anyone who cannot or will not provide identity information that you can verify independently.

Don’t let the ridiculous levels of automation in the recruiting and hiring process lead you to dispense with your common sense. Even if it’s legitimate, any employer that’s so disrespectful as to demand your time without investing its own is probably not worth your consideration.

I hope that helps you select good employers and avoid questionable ones.

Have you ever been scammed by a “recruiter?” What tipped you off that it was a scam? Do you agree to job interviews via social media?

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The campaign to kill HR

In the August 21, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we take a hard look at the death of HR at the hands of database firms that make money when you don’t find a job — and when employers don’t fill jobs. Can HR be saved?

hr

La mort de HR

A company’s best hope for finding and hiring great workers is its own managers, because they know the work best

HR (Human Resources) may be a close second — when HR actually goes out to look for and recruit workers.

But ZipRecruiter, Indeed, LinkedIn and a league of database companies have succeeded in killing HR’s recruiting role — and the initiative of hiring managers.

Stripped of the function that once gave HR bragging rights for a company’s most competitive advantage — hiring great workers — HR now serves as little more than the fire hose that overwhelms companies with millions of inappropriate incoming job applications, and as the spigot that pours billions of corporate dollars into the pockets of database jockeys who know nothing about matching real people to real jobs.

Killing HR in 30 seconds

This is what the wildly successful marketing campaign to kill HR looks like:

This commercial — and others like it — have literally killed recruiting because they have replaced it in employers’ minds with a substitute that has no nutritional value.

Here’s how an HR vice president with a Fortune 50 company put it to me when the online “recruiting” industry first launched its brainwashing campaign:

“Executives from the online job boards wine and dine our top executives so relentlessly that virtually every dime of our recruiting budget now goes directly to them. I can’t get a few bucks any more to take a candidate to dinner to actually recruit them!”

A massive marketing campaign driven by database jockeys has replaced people — workers, job seekers, the actual talent — with automated streams of keywords and database records. Employers have de-funded real recruiting to the point where the task no longer has anything to do with actively pursuing, seducing, cajoling, convincing the best people to join your company.

A powerful, long-running marketing campaign has successfully sold the idea that “recruiting” no longer requires talent to do it, like other jobs require talent. “Recruiting” is now the automated churning and turning of databases. (See Job boards say they fill most jobs. Employer says “LMAO!”)

How can a 30-second commercial kill an entire profession?

The insecurity of HR

The success of this campaign to automate recruiting and bury HR is due not only to its persistence, but to the acquiescence of the HR profession itself.

With few notable exceptions, HR executives and professional associations across the board have slit HR’s throat and outsourced HR’s key job to database jockeys who have wowed them with “high tech solutions.” The HR profession as a whole was never very secure in the C-suite, and never very bright, so it folded quickly when fast-talking salespeople embarrassed its leaders with big terms like “algorithm” and “database” and “intelligent agents” and “semantic processing” — terms so misapplied and misconstrued in the HR context that they are laughable.

Loathe to admit their ignorance, HR leaders feigned excitement while their “HR consultant” brethren fed them white papers about the newest “best practices” that should be “implemented in software” immediately. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)

So, HR arrived fully brainwashed into a new era and promptly ran the talent ship aground in the shoals of the job boards, taking big parts of the economy down with it.

The brainwashing of HR

TV commercials like the one above from ZipRecruiter pound four dangerous ideas into the heads of corporate leaders, HR executives and hiring managers.

  • Recruiting and hiring are nasty work nobody wants to do.
  • Recruiting and hiring are very difficult tasks.
  • Nobody is good at recruiting and hiring.
  • ZipRecruiter (and Indeed and LinkedIn and other database companies) will do it for you if you pay them.

The trouble is, none of that is true. Those are some of the most dangerous lies ever created by marketing copy writers.

Count the lies

Recruiting and hiring are mission-critical tasks best done by you and your company — face-to-face, not by diddling a keyboard to pay a middle man who pretends to do it for you. Recruiting and hiring are so critical to your company’s mission that leaving them to firms that have no skin in the game is not only irresponsible — it’s an insane fool’s errand.

So, is it insanity or foolishness that leads employers and their HR departments to buy what the database jockeys sell under the guise of “recruiting?”

Please watch the commercial above. It’s short — 30 seconds. Here’s what the guy says:

“Hiring was always always a huge challenge. Endless hours on job sites with not a lot to show for it. Then, I found ZipRecruiter. They figured out hiring. I post my job. They put it all over the web. And they send me the right people. Because their technology is smart. ZipRecruiter often sends me the right person in 24 hours.”

Count the lies.

1. “Hiring was always always a huge challenge.”

The truth: Hiring is your job; your number-one job. When ZipRecruiter characterizes hiring as something “huge” — something beyond you and your company — Zip disparages you and insults you. It also convinces you that the most important part of your job is a problem you should unload.

2. “Endless hours on job sites with not a lot to show for it.”

The truth: If you’re spending endless hours on job sites, diddling databases, and sorting keywords, then I guarantee you have nothing to show for it — because that’s not where hires come from.

But that’s what ZipRecruiter sells — databases and keywords!

Zip, Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn and countless others of their ilk sell an excuse for not recruiting and hiring.

If you want something to show for your recruiting efforts, invest your time participating actively in your professional community, cultivating and meeting the movers and shakers and opinion makers who know all the best workers. Share valuable experiences with your peers and they will lead you to great people you can hire. No one ever wasted their time talking with peers.

3. “Then, I found ZipRecruiter. They figured out hiring.”

The truth: This is the biggest lie. ZipRecruiter and its ilk have not figured out hiring. They figured out their own business plan: how to make money.

The marketing trick is to convince you they are on your side, helping you do your job. But spend 10 seconds thinking about the business model behind these operations and you will see the blinding flash of the obvious:

  • These companies make money when you do not fill jobs.
  • They make money when you keep searching their databases looking for hires.

If ZipRecruiter had figured out hiring, its home page and its marketing would blare out audited metrics about employers’ success rates when they pay Zip for lists of job seekers. But that’s not what Zip has figured out, and it’s not what Zip is selling you or what you’re paying for.

Here’s what ZipRecruiter blares out on its website — this is what your company is paying for:

ZipRecruiter makes money when you keep paying for job applications — not when you fill jobs. I can find no metrics on Zip’s website and no evidence that ZipRecruiter has “figured out hiring.”

If you work in HR and this strikes you as an unreasonable criticism, call me when ZipRecruiter starts charging you only for the applicants you actually hire.

4. “I post my job. They put it all over the web.”

The truth: If you work in HR, or if you’re a hiring manager — you know, one of those people who pays ZipRecruiter to deliver millions of candidate applications — you can put your job posting all over the web yourself. While it’s true Zip does that, too, you don’t need it. The secret sauce of the web is that it’s designed so anyone can find anyone else easily.

Why would any HR manager with a brain want their job opening posted “all over the web?” What you get for that is 49,106,149 candidate applications. Is that what you really want? Because more is not better. Perhaps the single biggest talent problem HR faces today is overload. Having access to every resume on the planet — but no way to find actual people — has resulted in a kind of catatonia that HR executives disingenuously refer to as “the talent shortage.”

5. “And they send me the right people.”

The truth: ZipRecruiter makes no claims about how often it sends employers “the right people.” That’s left to the actor playing the restaurant owner in the commercial.

Let’s do a reality check. Not to pick on ZipRecruiter alone, let’s check another major “online recruiting service,” Jobvite.

In an April 4, 2018 press release Jobvite “announced that it has surpassed one million jobs filled, with 270,000 hires in 2017 alone.” Then it claims, “Nearly 54 million jobseekers [sic] visited a Jobvite-powered hiring website in the past year.”

We’re looking for success metrics. Do the math. 270,000/54 million is 0.5% — a one-half of one percent success rate for job seekers. While one might argue that there cannot possibly be a job for every job seeker, the more evident problem is that a robustly designed system should not indiscriminately snort 53,730,000 job seekers just so it can spit out a fraction of 1% into jobs.

Finding the best people to recruit is not a database problem.

Hiring is not a database problem.

Let’s do another reality check. ZipRecruiter claims it has “over 8 million jobs.” The U.S. Department of Labor reported on June 5, 2018 that there were only 6.7 million jobs available during the month of April. Ask any job seeker — they already know something is very wrong with all those job postings.

Let’s ask the restaurateur, just who are the “right people” for 1.3 million non-existent jobs?

6. “Because their technology is smart.”

The truth: The manager in the commercial closes his laptop after apparently posting a job.

How has ZipRecruiter solved his “huge challenge” of hiring so quickly? How has Zip made it so easy for him to find talent?

It’s frighteningly stupid. Zip has eliminated the very best filters in the hiring process. Zip has cut out all the humans with specialized training in Human Resources, Engineering, Finance, the restaurant business, and a multitude of other professional disciplines — all the humans who are qualified to judge the myriad qualities that make the best candidate special. None of them are needed in this business model. Zip has made it all easier by replacing expert judgment with recruiting technology so trivial it has generated a false talent shortage.

Yep, the truth is, all you folks in HR are superfluous. All your company needs is someone in Accounting to make an automatic payment to ZipRecruiter, Jobvite, and any of the other databases loaded with millions of job seekers. (See HR’s submission to ZipRecruiter.)

Ask any job seeker. They’ll tell you they feel like a drop of water in a fire hose turned on employers — one of the 49,106,149 applicants delivered in the sales pitch Zip makes to employers.

Except when Zip promises just the one right person, delivered the same day.

7. “ZipRecruiter often sends me the right person in 24 hours.”

The truth: ZipRecruiter doesn’t dare tell you just how often the woman in the video — who just waltzed into the restaurant — gets hired. (The marketing magic implies she gets hired instantly, the first time.)

Zip offers no success-rate metrics (audited or otherwise) about hiring or getting hired. The guy in the commercial does that.

ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel has raised tens of millions of dollars in venture funding for his company (see recode), valuing it at close to $1 billion. While he offers no explanation on his website about how he finds jobs for people — or how he fills jobs for employers that pay him to deliver tens of millions of job applications — he says he wakes up every day thinking about it.

I think he wakes up each day counting the HR departments he has laid to rest while their recruiting budgets have been redirected to his coffers. I’d like to introduce him to the former HR executive who told me, “I can’t get a few bucks any more to take a candidate to dinner to actually recruit them!”

If Siegel and his ilk are to be recognized for anything, it’s for a business model that produces profits without results. They have designed marketing campaigns that have killed off HR and what was once known as recruiting.

They don’t make money when jobs are filled. They make money when you don’t fill jobs and don’t get hired. Their business model requires that you keep paying to search their databases.

If HR is going to be brought back to life, it has to remove its recruiting prosthetics, shake off the ZipRecruiters and Indeeds that are sucking its blood, and flex its hiring muscles again. A company’s best hope for finding and hiring great workers is its own managers and a healthy, robust HR department.

Your turn

I just showed you a TV commercial that I think undermines and insults HR professionals, hiring managers and business owners by trivializing one of the most critical tasks in any business — hiring. But ZipRecruiter is not alone. We’ve discussed the stunning failures of Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder and TheLadders, among others.

Here’s another example of a commercial that kills HR — from Indeed. Can you find the holes in this “#1 job site” and explain to us how the commercial corrupts HR and undermines effective recruiting, hiring and job hunting? Or am I unreasonable and nuts?

Is HR really dead? Is real recruiting a dead art? Are these commercials a marketing plot to undermine the hiring process so database jockeys can profit from the resulting mess? Maybe you think our modern hiring systems are just fine. If you think some other bugaboo makes it unreasonably hard to hire and get hired, please tell us what it is.

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You can’t recruit for competitive advantage if everybody’s got the same algorithm

In the May 29, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we take a look at how companies recruit the same and why it’s unwise.

Question

recruit

I run a sizable company. Like our competitors, we’re finding it difficult to recruit the people we need to grow our business. We all talk about competitive advantage being the crucial factor, and I’ve always believed a company’s competitive advantage comes from its people. But it’s easier said than done to find people with the skills we need. My vice president of HR gave me some of your articles and I find what you say troubling, that the tools we’re using to find talent are leading us astray. It’s easy enough for a headhunter to say that. Can you back up your claims that we’re doing it wrong?

Nick’s Reply

When I do presentations for Executive MBA (EMBA) programs at schools like UCLA, Wharton, Cornell, and Northwestern, I always take the opportunity to ask one of my favorite questions: How do you actually recruit the people you need to hire?

The managers in the audience — who are investing a lot of money to learn how to leverage talent into profits — almost always answer like this: “We create detailed job descriptions and post them, or we use headhunters.”

Then I make them nervous and ask why they pay a headhunter $30,000 to fill a $120,000 position, if they can just post jobs for five bucks apiece.

“Well, sometimes we need help.”

And how many candidates does the headhunter deliver?

“Usually four or five.”

Algorithms don’t recruit

Now I’ve got them. But I’m not trying to sell them headhunting services. I want them to realize that one recruiting method delivers just a handful of good candidates, while the other — automated, algorithmic recruiting — turns on a fire hose of applicants that all their competitors are looking at, too.

Why don’t they go off the beaten track and use a competitive recruiting advantage? I suggest that they should invest the time—personally—to go out into their professional communities and recruit as few candidates as possible, but make sure they’re all the right ones. (See Talent Crisis: Managers who don’t recruit.)

Their answer is embarrassing, and it usually goes like this:

“That’s incredibly time intensive! We have this model: We post a job description, and we get 2,000 applicants. But you want us to risk everything—all this time and effort—on four or five applicants? What about the other 1,995 applicants? What do we do with them?”

“You take a pass,” says Gilman Louie, a venture investor who rejects mass recruiting methods. And I think he’s absolutely right. Don’t listen to me. Listen to him.

What a VC knows about hiring

Gilman Louie is a founder of Silicon Valley VC (venture capital) firm Alsop Louie Partners, which invests in sectors including security and privacy, data and analytics, consumer products and services, and education technologies. In the 1980s Louie licensed the blockbuster video game Tetris from its developers in the Soviet Union. He’s also listed as one of 50 scientific visionaries by Scientific American.

You and your HR department would do well to consider that Louie is probably much more successful at hiring than your company is because he knows how to recruit. He doesn’t rely on LinkedIn, job postings, and the mass recruiting efforts HR departments use.

Employers love to proclaim their goal is to find the unusual, the star, the talent that will lead the organization into the future. So why does virtually every company rely on a recruiting method that’s designed to deliver staggering numbers of “candidates” that are all wrong?

You’re using the same algorithm

Gilman Louie: “Because of the competition for talent, employers are unfortunately using those typical HR filtering systems to put resumes in the right piles and to line up the interviews. The problem with that is, whether you’re an established company or a start-up, everybody has the same algorithm.”

I tested the question I ask EMBA students on Louie: “You can get 2,000 resumes online for about five bucks. Why not just get lots of candidates into HR’s pipeline?”

Louie: “You can’t go through 2,000 candidates! HR processes 2,000 candidates! They don’t look through 2,000 candidates! And at the end of the process, what they get is the same candidate that everybody else running PeopleSoft gets! So where’s your competitive advantage if everybody turns up with the same candidates?”

Eliminate the perfect resumes

You don’t review lots of resumes to find the best candidates?

Louie: “I put a job description out and all this stuff starts flowing in. I lay out those 100 or 1,000 resumes, or those LinkedIn files—and, all the things that everybody has that are the same, I just draw a line through them. What’s left over is what I look at because I’m trying to find the thing that distinguishes one candidate from another candidate. I’m not looking for the perfect resume. The perfect resume is vanilla.”

Louie spends a lot of time in his professional community meeting people. (See The Manager’s #1 Job.) That personal investment in face time yields the best hires for the startups he funds.

Go where your competitors are not looking

For example, Louie teaches MBA classes at Vanderbilt and Stanford Universities. He explains why it’s so important to go out into the wild and recruit in person.

Louie: “I recruited a kid who was a high-school dropout during a presentation we did at MIT. He was clearly different from all the other students. So I went and asked the admissions department about him. They said, when we interviewed him, one of our admission officers recognized the custom bikes the kid made when he lived on the wrong side of the tracks in Glasgow. He said, ‘We need this kid; he’s entrepreneurial! He doesn’t look like any of the other kids. He has a mediocre GPA, doesn’t have straight As, didn’t go to a private school, didn’t have any of the things MIT kids have. The resume popped.’ So he got in because he was different. We hired him, and he’s phenomenal.”

Employers look for their hires on LinkedIn, via job postings, and through the mass recruiting efforts of their HR departments. Louie refers to the kind of thinking that’s behind such hiring methods as too conventional, or “on the line.”

Get off the line

Louie: “The question that Steve Jobs always asked was not about the way the world is going to be, but the way the world should be, based on his point of view, based on his distorted reality. It’s some place off that line. So the trick is to get off the expected path line. It turns out, by the way, if you do the actual analysis, the world never turns out to be on that line. And the reason for that is, all the incentives go to the guy who figures out how to move off that line!”

If that sounds like natural selection—survival of the winner—it is.

Louie: “All the value that you create between the line you are on and the line everybody else is on is yours. When you’re selecting people, you can’t select people who are going to be on that line. You’ve got to select people who are off that line.”

Competency is not competitive advantage

Let’s get back to your question about whether the algorithmic recruiting tools your company uses are leading you astray. Your company’s HR department is not recruiting in some pool of rarefied talent, like Gilman Louie does when he sits in on a seminar comprising unusual participants. (See Smart Hiring: How a savvy manager finds great hires.)

Your HR department is drowning in the same rush of job applicants fed through the same fire hose every other HR department subscribes to — Indeed, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, Taleo, and a raft of other undifferentiated keyword-matching systems. Worst of all, you’re paying dearly for their services.

Louie: “Here’s the problem with the algorithms. The algorithms are all looking for the same. Everybody is fighting for a handful of talent that the algorithm brings up. This jacks up the price, and it communicates that employees are kind of fungible. Employees are not fungible. I’m not saying those tools aren’t helpful. They will get you to competency. But competency is not competitive advantage. Competitive advantage is finding the unusual that everybody else missed.”

It’s personal

Gilman Louie makes it very simple when I ask him to summarize how he hires for competitive advantage.

You just told us three crucial things. One, you recruit by watching people in their native habitat. Two, you find people others missed. Three, you don’t rely on resumes, you go ask someone.

Louie: “Exactly.”

None of those steps have anything to do with traditional or automated recruiting.

Louie: “You’ve got to get there, and it’s personal. And personal is not digital.”

(Gilman Louie’s comments are from a discussion I had with him a few years ago while working on another project. If I thought he was prescient about “digital recruiting” back then, now I think Gilman’s advice is timeless wisdom.)

What does this venture investor’s advice about hiring tell us about the state of recruiting in today’s economy? Can these methods work in normal company settings? If you’re an employer — a hiring manager or an HR exec — can you “get off the line?” How can you put these ideas to work if you’re a job hunter?

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HR People We Love

In the March 6, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who works in HR makes an impact and a great impression.

HRSometimes I fear readers think I hate HR. What I hate is what HR has become in a broad sense – highly bureaucratic; overly, counter-productively and inexcusably automated; and too distant from hiring managers and job applicants. (See 6 things HR should stop doing right now in the PBS NewsHour Ask The Headhunter feature.)

But I also see some shining lights in HR and I’m tickled to show you one in this week’s edition.

While it’s a rare company that has even a decent HR system in place, I get a kick out of individual HR people who apply common sense and business sense to the recruiting and hiring parts of their jobs. They shine! They get the best candidates in front of managers quickly, and their goal is to get jobs filled. When you encounter one of these folks, you know it because they make things happen intelligently, deftly and with a smile.

These are the HR people I love, and I love them even more when they share their insights and practices here on Ask The Headhunter.

Reader Jenn works in HR as a recruiter — and I’m going to let her discuss what I think are some of the best practices I’ve encountered in the rough-and-tumble world of HR. (Jenn posted another version of her comments on ATH. All I did was edit it a bit to fit the format of the newsletter, and to highlight her main ideas. All credit goes to Jenn.)

Jenn’s Rules of HR

Nick, in a recent column you wrote about the risk job applicants take when they wait for HR to judge them based on their resume: “The better risk for a job hunter is to deal directly with the hiring manager…”

1. Make it happen quickly

I couldn’t agree more. I’m a corporate recruiter (regional non-profit healthcare system) and my initial goal is to get the strongest candidates and hiring managers talking to each other as quickly as possible.

I care about the candidate experience and I know the best ones will have the most career options, so I want them engaging with the hiring manager sooner rather than later.

2. Avoid unnecessary screening

Sometimes I’ll have a hiring manager (HM) who is married to the idea that I must first phone-screen candidates, before the HM talks to them. Often this step is unnecessary and wastes valuable time.

I recruit for dozens of different competencies in several areas of the organization. I cannot always field in-depth candidate questions about the role and don’t see a lot of value in this. To me it’s a waste of the candidate’s time (and mine) and serves only to check a box that the hiring manager believes (incorrectly) to be important. And it means the position will go unfilled for that much longer.

3. Put the managers in the game immediately

I encourage my HMs to contact candidates of interest to them right away. I want them to start interviews as soon as possible. Especially if an HM is really excited about a candidate, it doesn’t make sense to insert an arbitrary layer into the process that adds no value, delaying a hiring decision unnecessarily.

4. Make HR’s role short and useful

What information does HR need to judge a candidate?

For me it’s only this: Does the candidate meet the bare minimum requirements? In our business that means the necessary specific healthcare license and relevant previous experience if the position is not entry-level.

That’s all that is needed before applications are turned over to the HM for review.

5. Use human judgement

However, I still read all resumes and cover letters personally. I look for the “nice to haves” that might make a candidate more desirable to the HM. I look for qualities that algorithms are likely to miss.

My goal is to identify candidates who are a stronger fit than most, for both the position and the organization. I look for qualifications beyond the minimum requirements. That requires human judgement.

6. Light a fire under managers

In my organization, the HMs drive the interview process and I don’t have any control over how quickly HMs are engaging candidates. All I can do is consult and advise, and make recommendations on the best way to proceed. It’s frustrating.

To light a fire under HMs, I rely on what applicants submit. I want to see it so I can discuss it with the HMs and encourage them to reach out to the candidates immediately, before they are no longer available.

7. Manage the hiring managers

Some of my HMs are really proactive and great at hiring. I coach the ones who aren’t there yet. My job is to help them make changes to their process that are better for the candidates and for the HMs — to get positions filled more quickly. [For an example, see Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).]

Nick’s Reply

Oh, what a relief to see a bright light in the corporate HR darkness. When companies need to have a recruiting and hiring process in place, they must remember how critical it is to have HR people who use the system rather than let the system use hiring managers and job applicants. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

No corporate hiring system is going to be as potent as I’d like because most are watered down with weak technology. But like the Dos Equis guy who says, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…”

There are HR people I love, and Jenn is one of them. Many thanks to her for sharing her rules. I’d love to add more savvy rules from more HR folks! How about it?

Who do do you love in HR? Who does a great HR job within the confines of a corporate structure? How do they do it? What makes them stand out? What rules should HR live by?

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Job applications are the biggest recruiting scam

In the November 7, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a careful reader gets recruited to fill out a job application. Welcome to recruiting today.

Question

recruitingEarlier this week a recruiter contacted me. The salary was stated as a maximum only, and it would mean a 20% raise from my current salary. Even though I am not looking, I went ahead and applied. Following your advice, I asked who the company was and the recruiter told me “in confidence.”  I disclosed that I know someone there, but didn’t give a name. The recruiter said he could still submit my name, so I gave him a PDF copy of my resume.

Things changed fast!  First, he said I would be required to fill out an online application for the HR department. But I couldn’t proceed with the application unless I put in a numerical value for salary. I asked about this and he said whatever I put in could be discussed later. I put in $0. There was also a short “personality test.” I completed all this by mid-day Friday. By noon on Saturday, I got a rejection notice. BAM!

Could it be my salary expectations were too high? The recruiter recommended I come down, but because I’m not desperate I did not. Could it be that HR was totally offended that I was non-compliant? My feeling is that a junior HR person went over this and saw one thing out of order, and eliminated me. I seriously doubt that this application got further.

The bottom line is that I would not want to work for these people anyway, but I will admit that such a rapid-fire rejection hurts. Maybe I will hear from the recruiter as the week begins, or maybe not.

Next time I will ask if the recruiter’s contact is a hiring manager or HR. If it’s HR and not a manager, I will pass. So this was a good lesson learned. It cost nothing. Insofar as missing out on the raise? No problem there because I am not yet vested with my current company and I would lose the equivalent of the raise if I moved now.

Two last questions: Why does just about every recruiter who contacts me seem like a slime ball? How can they sleep at night?

Nick’s Reply

Welcome to the biggest recruiting scam going: job applications. Thousands if not millions are victimized daily. They don’t even realize it. You didn’t get recruited. You got scammed. And it’s legal. Employers encourage recruiters to scam you every day.

A recruiter contacted you to recruit you. That is, he’s out scouring the world for the right candidates for his client. He identifies the best, and then he goes after them — he pursues them. He and his client still need to interview you to be sure you’re right enough, of course, but they chose you and now they’re approaching you, enticing you, seducing you, cajoling you, trying to convince you — the guy they selected to go after — to consider a job there. They’re trying hard to impress you with an opportunity so you’ll invest your valuable time to talk with them.

Is that how this process felt to you? Of course not.

Recruiting you to fill out a job application

You were not recruited for a job. You were recruited to fill out a job application.

You were recruited off the street to do what anyone does to apply for a job they found posted on a job board. My guess is the employer is not even the recruiter’s client. I doubt they have a contract. The recruiter is hoping to throw enough job applications at this employer, in the hope one might “stick” so the employer might pay the recruiter a fee.

The recruiter led you down the path every other job seeker takes on their own. Like every other job seeker that is summarily rejected instantly, you got rejected. No surprise!

The only difference between job applicants who go through the process and you is this: If by some miracle you had been hired, the recruiter would have earned a big fee for doing nothing but ushering random people through the application process.

I’ll say it again: You were recruited not for a job, but to fill out a job application.

Recruiting to fill a job

Here’s what recruiting really looks like. Last week I finally reached a person I’ve been trying to recruit for almost a month. She’s a good candidate for my client. The president of the company and I carefully selected her because our research showed she fit our carefully defined criteria. I knew exactly why I was reaching out to her.

When I finally reached her, it was to set up an interview with the president of the company. No forms. No online links. No personality tests. No obstacles.

My job for a month was to eliminate obstacles so my client could talk to her. I never asked her for her salary information. I still don’t know it, and I don’t care what it is. When I finally got her on the phone, I spent most of the time trying to impress her. I didn’t want to let her get away.

My goal has been to pursue and persuade her to talk with my client about a job — and to impress her with the opportunity so that we’d have a good chance of hiring her. Why would we risk offending her by making her jump through hoops? That would not have impressed her!

How to test a headhunter

  • Who are some of the headhunter’s clients? Get the names of companies and managers.
  • Who has she placed? Get the names of a few candidates placed recently and a year or two ago.
  • What firm does she work for?
  • Where is she located?
  • Who owns the firm?

From How to Work With Headhunters, pp. 28-29.

Why they do it

Recruiters like this one sleep at night by mentally counting all the lottery tickets they’ve acquired — job seekers they’ve convinced to fill out job applications. Then they dream that a company will pay off on one of them.

The daily recruiting scam is a numbers game. Recruiters play it because sometimes it pays off — just like everyone else plays the lottery.

How to save loads of time

The recruiter’s trick is to get you to spend loads of time applying for a job that pays “20% more than you’re making!” It’s a simple rule of behavioral psychology: The more the recruiter can get you to do, the more you will then rationalize doing even more to comply. So the recruiter’s goal is to get you to start complying.

You ask what to do next time. Here’s a quick and sure way to save loads of time. The next time a recruiter contacts you, ask this question:

“Why does your client want me?”

Then ask this question — and nothing else:

“When does your client want to talk with me?”

For more on this topic, see Why do recruiters suck so bad?
If the recruiter answers with a list of tasks for you to do first — submit your resume, complete online forms, take a test, disclose your salary — tell the recruiter to take a flying leap into a cactus bush.

It takes a mental re-set to realize what that guy did to you. He made you apply for a job. It’s the daily recruiting scam.

How do you sort out the recruiters? What percentage of contacts from recruiters have resulted in face-to-face job interviews for you? At what point should the reader above have recognized what was going on?

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The Truth About Job Fairs

In the January 24, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader blasts employers for job fairs and bogus recruiting. 

Question

I’m sure a lot of employers read this newsletter, so this is an open question to them about job fairs. Maybe they will respond. But I’d like your opinion, too.

job fairsTo Employers:

I go to job fairs to meet your company in person, but your representatives tell me to visit the company website in order to apply for a job. Call me crazy, but I thought the purpose of a job fair was to actually meet you — a real, live hiring manager.

By going to a job fair, I am separating myself from those who are sitting at their computers all day just sending out resumes. I am making an effort to drive (mind you, the cost of gas) to a job fair after getting all dolled up in a great suit and actually seeking to talk to someone to place my resume ahead of someone else’s. I’m trying to stand out and show you I’m serious about working for you.

And my reward for this effort? You slap me in the face and tell me to go home and apply on-line.

Why do you even bother “recruiting” at job fairs? Why is it that your representatives don’t know anything about jobs at your company? Why do they tell me, “We are not taking resumes?” I didn’t need to drive 20 miles to see you only to have you tell me to go home and apply online. What if I’m someone who does not have Internet access at home? What if I’m that person who is strapped for cash and had to decide between paying for groceries this month or keeping an Internet service provider and I chose to forego the Internet?

Come on! Give me a break. I go to job fairs so you can see a face behind my resume in hopes of landing that interview! I attend so I can meet real flesh-and-blood hiring managers. And you send “personnel representatives” who don’t even act like they work for your company! Maybe they don’t! Why are you wasting my time?

(Thanks for letting me vent, Nick.)

Nick’s Reply

Oh, you’re welcome. Venting is good, especially when you’re not the only one doing it. I get frequent mail on this topic. And I’ll tell you, you’ve nailed it. I don’t recall the last time anyone told me they went to a job fair and got a job.

The truth is, job fairs are largely a waste of time.

Companies go to job fairs because HR clearly has nothing better to spend its money on. They send greenhorn HR reps to collect resumes or to direct people to the website. You could do better standing on a street corner handing out your resume.

The other little secret some HR folks have sheepishly shared with me is that job fairs enable them to check off more boxes on federal employment regulation forms. Maybe this is how they identify race, color and disabilities and get credit for entertaining certain applicants. I welcome HR managers to explain their behavior.

You have dispelled one of the key myths about job fairs: that they are a good place to actually meet the hiring managers. Let’s dispel two more job-fair myths.

Job Fairs: Myth #1

You can cover a job fair with 300 employers in one day.

Or some huge number. The pitch is that more is better, so why not go? Even if you slice it down to 100 employers, a six-hour job fair will allow you 3.6 minutes for each employer. (Do you think that if you were to spend anywhere near six non-stop hours at a job fair you might get dizzy and pass out?) Trust your common sense: That’s not enough time for a meaningful exchange.

The alternative to job fairs: Get detailed job-fair information, including lists of employers, jobs and departments that are hiring. Invest that six hours identifying and contacting people who work at three good target companies that are “going” to the job fair. Tell these folks you can’t make it to the job fair, and ask for their insight and advice about their company.

Then ask for introductions to managers who seem to be hiring. Save gas and use it to attend interviews instead.

Job Fairs: Myth #2

Job fairs are a great place to find unadvertised jobs.

Any job openings advertised at job fairs are already old news. Job fairs are often a company’s last recruiting resort. While a personnel jockey is scanning your resume at the job fair booth, my candidate (or some other headhunter’s) is sitting in the hiring manager’s office demonstrating how she’s going to do the job profitably for the manager. That’s who you’re competing with.

But if you really think about it, why would an employer try to fill good jobs with the best candidates at a job fair — when so many of the best potential candidates have jobs and aren’t likely to attend a fair? That’s not to disparage unemployed job seekers; the best candidate for a job may be currently unemployed. But how does the job-fair strategy for hiring make sense for employers? Either HR is goofy, or HR isn’t being honest.

The alternative to job fairs: Truly unadvertised openings are in managers’ heads. Even HR doesn’t know about them yet. So skip the places where HR clerks hang out (job fairs). Instead, go where the hiring managers and their employees go: professional conferences, trade shows, and training courses. Get ahead of your competitors rather than stand behind them.

Sure, bring a resume, but first make some friends. Don’t ask for a job. Ask for the gold ring that smart headhunters reach for: insight about the person’s company and work. That’s what leads to real relationships, real personal contacts, and valuable personal referrals to hiring managers. And that’s where you will learn about unadvertised openings. (For more on this, see Meet the right people.)

Beware of the empty sales pitch

Like online job boards, job fairs are where many HR departments gleefully waste corporate recruiting budgets. Why? Because job boards and job-fair operators are very good at marketing their wares. You’ve seen the promotions: “Hire the best people! Use our service!”

It’s not a stretch to imagine this sales pitch by a job-fair operator to HR: “You can send your greenhorn clerks instead of expensive managers to the fair! Save money and still get applicants!” So HR saves money while appearing busy.

Need I say more? Thanks for sharing your story and ire. I hope your open letter draws responses from HR folks who spend money on job fairs.

Have you been to a job fair? What was your experience? If a job fair paid off for you, what’s the secret? If you work in HR, please give us the straight dope. I mean, the truth.

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