Archive for the ‘Hiring Manager’ Category

Which Side of Trust are You On?

November 21, 2015

As a search professional, I am surrounded by trust issues. Hiring executives find many recruiters’ modus operandi, let alone competence, to be suspect. Wary candidates, who have been steered in the wrong career direction by recruiters in the past and continue to be bombarded with inappropriate opportunities, are justified in thinking twice before engaging with a recruiter. On the flip side, I have to trust that hiring executives are presenting the company and position with full transparency. Similarly, I must ensure that candidates’ credentials and abilities are what they are purported to be.

In most all human interactions, trust is the cornerstone by which all relations are valued and business is decided on. As part of the human condition, it appears that depending on the circumstances, when people engage with someone new – whether it be a potential new client, service provider, or personal acquaintance, they enter the relationship on one of two sides of the trust issue.

One approach to trust starts people with a full bag of marbles. In other words, trust is assumed at the onset and can be either sustained or taken away, one marble at a time. The other side of trust starts people with no marbles in the bag. In this dynamic, people must earn trust, marble by marble. In conducting business, it’s of great help to understand which side of the trust equation both you and the people you engage with fall on.

As a search professional and former hiring executive, I’ve found myself trending towards the full bag of marbles mentality. As I scrutinize candidates, I take them and their collateral (i.e., LinkedIn profiles, resumes, and other supporting documents) at face value. I start with a clean trust slate and go into my interactions with a “trust but verify” mindset. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is for candidates to lose my trust and ultimately, empty their bag of marbles.

Let’s look at some of the criteria that can make or break trust between people:

* Consistency – Assessing how unwavering people are in their messaging, explanations, skill set, behavior, and actions. Here, I look closely for any conflicting data points that may threaten credibility. There are many examples around this point. It could be as simple as inconsistencies between their verbal description of their career path and their resume. Or, when interviewing senior sales executives who profess to be the walking embodiment of sales savvy and business acumen, I may ask them to walk me through a complex enterprise deal they managed. If they struggle to convey the client’s business objectives that they’re trying to address, the challenges of the situation, and their sales strategy and supporting tactics implemented, then clearly something is amiss.

* Clarity – Measuring how clear, detailed, and on point the messaging and explanations are. Any vagueness, omission of details, or dancing around the issue will surely challenge trust.

* Honesty and Humbleness – As a past mentor said many times, “The truth will set you free.” Providing honest glimpses into one’s intent and motivations can go a long way towards gaining trust. In a similar vein, any inkling of ulterior motives or hidden agendas suck marbles out of the bag faster than you can count.

In addition, as humans, we are imperfect, flawed beings. When people reveal their warts and pimples to me, whether it be an unfavorable situation, poor decision, or less than ideal character trait, I’m more apt to believe the other points they make. This doesn’t mean that as a candidate, you must summarily throw yourself under the bus during interviews. This has more to do with believability. The corollary to this is the higher and more polished the pedestal you put yourself on, the more suspect it becomes.

* Listening – The more attentive the listener, the greater the likelihood of engendering trust.

* Inquisitiveness – Asking thoughtful questions denotes forethought, interest and care – three intangible qualities that can bolster trust.

* Time – The willingness to invest the time needed to advance relations. This comes in the form of doing homework ahead of time (e.g., research, preparing discussion points and questions) as well as committing enough time to enable discussions to run their course.

Trust is not only a two-way street, but a dynamic, delicate, living organism that must be fed, cared for, and regularly assessed. Trust can disappear as fast as it emerged. We’ve all had experiences when we established trust with someone, only to have it vaporize with one unforeseen misstep. Trust is an imperfect science at best.

With this in mind, it’s easy to suggest that the best approach to trust is to start with an empty bag of marbles. Yet, the mere act of forcing someone to earn your trust over and over can in and of itself jeopardize trust. And sadly, starting with a full bag of marbles can expose vulnerabilities, such as letting your guard down when it comes to spotting deception.

This brings us back to “trust but verify,” an age-old axiom that has been used in many arenas, most notably foreign policy. Ultimately, trust must exist between both parties in order for it to do what it’s intended to do: further relations.

 

Action items:

  1. When interfacing with people, especially for the first time, get a sense of their approach to trust. Are they a full bag of marbles person or do they have an empty bag approach?
  2. Find out what’s most important to the people you’re trying to interact with. They may give you clues to the criteria they use to assess trust.
  3. Ask people how they’ve experienced broken trust in the past. This is especially helpful in identifying trust-related hot buttons that deserve extra attention.
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No Candidate Hits the Bullseye

April 30, 2015

Even the most ideally suited candidates generate concerns on the part of the hiring team. I don’t care if the candidate is God’s gift to humanity, or in this case, the hiring world. Every candidate has a chink in their armor.

Quite recently, I worked with a finalist senior sales candidate for a great opportunity. He’s everything the VP Sales could ask for – specific domain experience, successful over-quota track record, relevant industry contacts, demonstrated longevity in roles, compensation in the target range, strong intangibles, interviewed well, demonstrates genuine interest, etc. Sounds like a slam dunk, right?

Well, of course there’s a hitch! The VP Sales’ boss, the SVP, likes the candidate, but is concerned about his coachability and ability to hit the ground running and ramp-up rapidly. Funny how so many hiring executives, usually quite senior themselves, routinely come up with this coachability question for senior level candidates. It’s as if age and experience equates to being set in your ways. Seems like a double-standard to me as I’ll bet that many of those same senior-level hiring executives would be challenged with the coachability concern as well.

In any case, nearly all finalist candidates will have a concern or two raised about them, often without their knowledge of it. This is where recruiters can come in handy as they can ferret out these concerns and then work in concert with the candidate to address them head-on.

Ultimately, this is where back-channel references provide immense value to the hiring process. In this age of connectedness, there stands a high likelihood that the hiring executives know someone who knows someone who can speak to the concerns they have regarding the candidate.

And then there are the formally submitted references. While some companies don’t put much emphasis into reference checks – amounting to not much more than the proverbial two-headed monster check, others take reference checks quite seriously. They’re a great opportunity to drill down into any and all remaining concerns about the candidate.

Of course, these formal references were handpicked by the candidate. So going into it, we know that they’re likely to bring noticeable biases in favor of the candidate. However, a business mentor of mine once said that a great reference is good and a good reference is poor. So yes, formal references should be taken with a grain of salt. Yet, that does not preclude the hiring team from really challenging the references, especially related to the outstanding concerns.

Beyond back-channel and formal references, hiring managers can also discuss directly with the candidate. Asking behavioral questions, such as “Give me a specific example from your recent past that demonstrates your thirst for coaching and self-development.” Or “Tell me about a time you started up in a new role. What did you do to facilitate a rapid ramp-up?” These questions should evoke answers that outline specific circumstances and actions taken as opposed to generalities (hypothetical “woulds” and “shoulds.”

If a candidate is privy to the concerns the hiring teams has, that candidate can provide additional targeted references who can address those concerns in no uncertain terms.

Concerns about finalist candidates will arise. The more effectively these concerns are addressed and sufficiently mitigated, the greater the likelihood that candidates will move on to the offer phase.

 

Action items:

1. Candidates: Even if the feedback is all positive, assume that there are concerns. Whether through a recruiter or direct with the hiring manager, take proactive measures to inquire about any concerns and then address them head-on. The last thing you need are lingering doubts or elephants in the room.

2. The higher the quality of references, the greater the chance that any outstanding concerns will be alleviated.

3. The bullseye is a myth. No candidates ever hit the center of the target.

Age Discrimination — Not Part of a Sustainable Growth Strategy

March 31, 2015

Age discrimination is alive and well. There. I said it. Believe it or not, there is a law against this sort of practice. Yet, by and large, it goes undetected and unenforced. It reminds me of that FCC law that went into effect several years ago, prohibiting TV programs from broadcasting commercials at a louder volume than the program itself. A lot of good that did. I’m finding myself doing what my grandpa did when I was a kid – mute the commercials.

I wish I could mute the hiring executives who insist on hiring sales reps or marketing managers younger than 40. What’s the matter with prospective employees who are 40 or older? Is 40 when the warranty expires? Is it akin to pro football or baseball, in which many players over 30 are deemed high-risk damaged goods?

Let’s step back and look at some of the misguided reasons why hiring companies continue to engage in age discrimination.

  1. Concerns over cultural fit — I was told that the average age at my software company client’s headquarters is 29. Well, of course, we all know that it’s impossible for a 48-year-old to fit in, thrive, and interact constructively amongst younger peers. Unbelievable! Every sales organization I’ve ever managed included a healthy mix of twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, forty-somethings, fifty-somethings, and some with sixty-somethings. Not only did they all manage to play nice in the sandbox together, but they all brought to the table a fresh blend of perspectives, insight and recommendations. And yes, they all performed equally well.
  1. Concerns of being overqualified – Oh no, we don’t dare hire people with rich experience and wisdom! This concern is usually code for, “Your 50-year-old candidate may be highly qualified for the role, but he’s bound not to be coachable and will likely bring plenty of baggage, including all his nasty habits ingrained over the years.” It seems as though these hiring executives prefer a subservient, moldable ball of clay over a fine wine. The other reason for this concern stems from hiring executives’ belief that no one in their 40s or 50s would really want to pursue the position and stay in it. Funny thing, though – most 40- and 50-year-old candidates have demonstrated more longevity and loyalty in the roles they’ve taken than their millennial counterparts ever will.
  1. Prefer a high-energy up-and-comer athlete over someone on the downslope of their career – Because as we all know, older professionals are devoid of energy, drive, enthusiasm, and the ability to perform. What are we talking about here…ED? Do we really need to invent Viagra for Salespeople? Well, guess what – the person on the “downslope of their career” has just as much to prove (and gain) as the proverbial up-and-comer.
  1. Older candidates inherently have greater demands both inside (i.e., higher compensation) and outside of the workplace (e.g., caring for an elderly parent as well as kids). Well, actually, we all have demands that pull us in conflicting directions at any given time. That’s life. As for compensation, perhaps older candidates are at a different place in their life. Maybe their kids are done with college and the mortgage has since been paid off. That doesn’t preclude them from wanting to make as much money as possible, but it could mean that their priorities have shifted a bit — more interested in the role, company or industry instead of just focusing on the base and OTE. Last time I checked, this can be a good thing.
  1. Older candidates don’t bring the same level of career focus – In other words, because professionals who have been around the block have ostensibly accumulated a greater breadth of roles or permutations of the role in question, they are deemed less desirable. Granted, some “seasoned” candidates bring this upon themselves by emphasizing how they’ve done this, that, and everything else…for over 20 years. They’re trying to be all things to all people. Yet, hiring managers are equally prone to dinging candidates for keeping to the same kind of role throughout their career. They would be viewed as complacent — not seeking advancement or developing themselves beyond their comfort zone.

The current demographic shift in the U.S. population is quite dramatic. As baby-boomers hit their 50s and 60s, there aren’t as many qualified candidates in the more recent generations to continue fueling the hiring and growth objectives that employers seek to attain. That’s not to say that there aren’t viable candidates in their 20s or 30s. Oh, they’re around, all right. But in this highly candidate-driven talent market, they’ve become a hyper prized and increasingly expensive commodity. They’re expensive in two ways. First, all this attention to younger candidates has driven up their comp levels, in some cases to egregious levels not commensurate with skills, experience, or performance track record. They’re also expensive because as hiring companies hold out for that perfect up-and-comer, there’s an opportunity cost for taking four months to fill the role instead of just one.

Companies whose aim is to build their organizations with younger, mirror-image people of the same ilk are bound to compromise the sustainability of their growth plans. Not only will it take longer achieve their goals, putting them behind on their hiring objectives, but they will end up with homogenous groups of people who could never learn as much from one another as they could from a more diverse grouping of experience and skill sets. Yes, age discrimination is alive and well. Yet, it is the very companies that continue to practice age discrimination that end up suffering as much, if not more than those they discriminate against.

 

Action items:

  1. It’s the same 50- or 60-year-old C-level executives, who would be (justifiably) appalled to be discriminated against for their age, who are leading organizations that routinely engage in discriminatory hiring practices. Stop the hypocrisy!
  1. If you will not hire an older person because of concerns over the cultural fit, then it’s high time to reassess your culture.
  1. Attention older candidates: You’re not doing yourself any favors by using terms such as “seasoned” or “25 years’ experience.” In addition, you may have taken on a wide variety of roles throughout your career, but don’t forget to tailor the resume and your speaking points in an interview to the position you are vying for.
  1. “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

Managing Through a Crazy Time of Year for Interviews

December 22, 2014

I’m often asked about the seasonality of hiring. Many people have concluded that along with the summer doldrums, the holidays are another time when interviewing and hiring go on sabbatical. Nothing can be further from the truth. From this recruiter’s perspective, there is no seasonality whatsoever.

Instead, both the summer and December holiday periods reflect a similar challenge. Despite ongoing high priority hiring needs, vacations and holidays throw a big time wrench into the process. And needless to say, this time of year offers up a double whammy as companies are also fully consumed with the push for quarter-end and year-end business. Actually, it’s a triple whammy as for some unknown reason, strange things seem to happen to people around the holidays.

As a microcosm of this difficult period, in which preserving interviewing and hiring momentum appears to be an exercise in futility, let me give you a glimpse into the last week alone:

* A hiring manager had to drop everything because his son was rushed into emergency surgery

* A leading Director-level candidate has postponed his second-round interview because the night before, his mother who lives overseas, suffered a heart attack

* The hiring SVP had to cancel an interview due to a last minute trip to help close year-end business

* A finalist candidate had to postpone final meetings in favor of the emergency room due to severe back spasms from a car accident two weeks ago

* The CSO missed a scheduled phone interview and has been unresponsive due to immersion in year-end business efforts

* The hiring VP, who was quite interested in a particular candidate, unexpectedly went radio silent for over a week because of high-level meetings with executives who had just acquired his company. And although he’s now back from those meetings and ready to resume, we’re now on the doorstep of the holidays. So, he wants to delay the interview process until the holidays are over.

I had to talk a candidate off the ledge because the hiring executive has been so unresponsive throughout the interview process. The candidate took it as a sign of disinterest and/or lack of prioritization. Good thing he didn’t summarily abandon the opportunity as he ended up getting the job. This brings to mind a general point about the interview process: it never goes as planned or anticipated. Even during other times of the year, when there are fewer reasons for problems to arise, I’ve found that delays persist on a regular basis.

For both candidates and hiring managers, the question is how will they act when interview postponements crop up due to unforeseen circumstances? Naturally, it’s frustrating for everyone involved. When I tell my hiring clients that the average search lasts eight weeks, they nearly die. In a vacuum, eight weeks seems like an inordinate amount of time. Yet, in real life, where unanticipated scheduling conflicts occur with great frequency, eight weeks isn’t so bad.

The holiday season is stressful enough. Adding to that the expectation that things will go as planned is setting the stage for discontent. Even though interviews may be deemed a high priority for all involved, the world doesn’t stop for them to be completed. Candidates still have their current jobs and families to tend to. Hiring managers already had a full plate before interviewing and hiring were added to the mix. Combined with the holidays and push for year-end business, we have all the trappings for pure havoc.

The antidote for getting through this crazy period for interviews and hiring is to readjust expectations. Let’s expect unexpected delays in the interview process. It may not solve the issue at hand, but it will lessen the crazy factor. I can see why many people believe that interviewing and hiring ceases during the summer and December holiday period. Yet, it’s not for a lack of activity. It’s because of too much activity.

 

Action items:

  1. When interview delays or compromised communications occur, don’t read too deep into it. It’s likely that external issues are at work.
  1. Adjust expectations to reflect that the interview and hiring process will take longer than anticipated…because it will.
  1. Try to enjoy the holidays as best you can. Fortunately, they end just in time for us to regain our sanity and carry on with our lives.

Of Course It’s About Compensation!

October 24, 2014

In this era of spin-doctoring, I continue to be amazed by both hiring companies and employment experts who downplay the importance of compensation in the eyes of candidates and employees. The latest hiring company touts their industry-leading innovative solutions and thought leadership, only to be outdone by their transformative modern culture. Sounds impressive. Too bad I’ve heard the same thing from nearly every other organization. Meanwhile, management consulting experts point to the many employee surveys that rank the importance of compensation below nearly all other critical factors, coming in just above Tacky T-Shirt Tuesdays, Red Sox ticket raffles and ping pong tables.

One VP Sales told me how he took a pay cut to join the company and expects others to do the same. Well, bully for him! I’m sure he’ll offer candidates the same generous equity allotment he gladly accepted. News Flash: It is no longer 2009! We are in the midst of a candidate-driven market, one that has raced past prior employment surveys and compensation benchmark studies.

No doubt, all the trappings of a great gig need to be in place: discernible career advancement paths; supportive and constructive culture; phenomenal product or service in a growing space; equally phenomenal people; acknowledgement for work well done; attainable goals; openness to new ideas; absence of politics and needless bureaucracy; sensitivity to work/life balance; strong financials; growing customer base; and leadership that embodies passion, vision, and ability to execute. Yet, nearly every hiring company paints a reasonable facsimile of this picture. That brings us to the elusive issue of compensation.

My hiring clients that have been winning the talent wars are the ones who prioritize getting the right people on the bus over managing to a rigid line item in a budget spreadsheet. I’m not suggesting that hiring companies abandon fiscal responsibility altogether and approach the talent market with a blank check policy. Rather, I strongly encourage companies to take a more accurate pulse of the market right now and at the same time, build in the flexibility needed to craft a compelling offer to the right candidate. While hiring companies have been flaunting everything except compensation, I’ve noticed how candidates are bringing it back front and center.

Of course, compensation means different things to different candidates. The weighting of base salary, variable compensation (e.g., bonus, commission), equity, and benefits gets distributed differently from candidate to candidate. Some prefer the perceived security of a stronger base while others desire greater upside via an uncapped variable with accelerators. There is another group that gravitates towards early-stage companies for the equity lottery ticket, betting on an exit event that could yield a far more significant material impact.

The point is we all work for several reasons, with making ends meet and achieving personal financial goals at or near the top of the heap. And in the current candidate-driven talent market, hiring companies can ill afford to sweep this reality aside. There are many exciting companies to work for these days. They offer promising futures, positive environments and best-of-breed innovative solutions. They have very compelling stories to tell. However, for every one of them, there are twenty others offering up the same attributes. At the end of the day, one of them will win out on hiring the candidate five others were also vying for. And it won’t be because of Halloween costume parties or Call of Duty tournaments.

 

Action items:

1.  It behooves both candidates and hiring companies to gain a real-time snapshot of the current market conditions as it relates to compensation. Ask trusted recruiters who work in the same space. Ask other hiring executives. Ask other candidates who have recently accepted a new position.

2.  The inability to attract and hire top talent in a timely manner is by far the greatest barrier to achieving business objectives. Companies ought to assess their recent hiring performance and come to grips with why open reqs are taking months instead of weeks to fill.

3.  Upon putting together an offer for a finalist candidate, don’t just send an offer, hoping it gets accepted. Take the time beforehand to engage the candidate in an open and honest dialog about compensation and what it would realistically take to get them on board. Socializing an offer first allows both parties to fully understand what’s important to one another while facilitating a verbal meeting of the minds. By the time a formal written offer is sent to the candidate, the offer terms should be no surprise.

What do the New England Patriots Offensive Line, Candidates and Hiring Managers Have in Common?

September 23, 2014

Despite their respectable 2-1 record to start the season, the New England Patriots are struggling. There are several key reasons for their sputtering offense. Some point to Tom Brady’s age and declining abilities. Others point to his less than stellar stable of pass receivers. Many point to the offensive line and their inability to consistently and cohesively provide Brady with adequate protection.

It’s hard not to agree with the offensive line issue, yet there may be a reason behind the reason. Gone are the Patriots’ long-time offensive line guru and coach, Dante Scarnecchia and six-time Pro Bowl veteran lineman Logan Mankins. Granted, Mankins is entering elder-statesman status as a 32-year-old and has likely lost a step or two. However, there’s something both Scarnecchia and Mankins brought to the offensive line that is not easily replaced: mentorship.

Ok, enough with the sports reference as I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The point, however, is there are people in our lives who provide immense inspiration, guidance and influence. One of the strongest, most valuable and often overlooked forces is that of mentors. And sometimes, as in the case of the Patriots’ current plight, we don’t realize the full impact of mentors until they’re gone.

Some of the brightest and most impressive people I’ve met are those who all along, have sought out and continue to seek out mentors. So what does this have to do with candidates, hiring managers and the hiring process? Quite a bit.

Candidates’ motivations for making career moves span across a broad spectrum, from compensation to company culture, and product to profitability. All these impetuses are important and deserve respect and attention. Yet, when a candidate includes the yearning for greater mentorship, my ears perk up. This alone speaks to several important intangible attributes that hiring managers ought to prioritize: coachability, sense of initiative, resourcefulness, self-awareness, and self-development.

These candidates get it. They understand that as people’s careers progress, they themselves need to evolve as well. They appreciate how learning doesn’t stop with school and that the day someone thinks they’ve attained the pinnacle of knowledge and vision, they’ve lost their edge.

For hiring managers, mentorship ought to take on multiple connotations. First, they should tune in to candidates’ interest in and drive for mentoring as it speaks to thought processes, priorities, and a variety of intangible attributes. Secondly, as part of the onboarding process for new hires, some sort of an assigned mentor program would likely produce a number of benefits for all involved. Most notably, it would spark an expedited employee ramp-up period as well as send a strong message to the employee that their new employer truly values them and cares about their behalf. Taking it to the next logical step, ongoing mentoring programs within companies can bolster both job satisfaction and employee retention.

Specific to the job search, interviewing and hiring processes, both candidates and hiring managers can help themselves by seeking out mentors. Candidates can rely on former managers, colleagues, career coaches, and trusted recruiters to provide helpful job hunting, interviewing and career direction guidance. Similarly, hiring managers should turn to other hiring managers, colleagues and trusted recruiters for interviewing, candidate selection and offer negotiations advice.

Just as the Patriots’ offensive line contends with different scenarios and unique challenges on every play, no two hiring processes are the same. There are simply way too many variables involved to make it predictable and cookie cutter. Thus, candidates and hiring managers can greatly benefit from relying on others’ perspectives to help them navigate through the many nuances found in every resume, interview and offer situation.

For multiple reasons and countless circumstances, mentorship should be on the forefront of every candidate and hiring manager. As for the Patriots, perhaps some mentorship from Matt Light and John Hannah couldn’t hurt.

 

Action items:

  1. For candidates, proactively seek out coaches who can help you optimize the development of your career. Be prepared to discuss with hiring managers how you’ve sought out mentoring along the way and how you’ve integrated mentors’ advice into your approach.
  1. If candidates don’t bring it up, hiring managers should ask candidates about mentors and specifically how they benefitted from them.
  1. If anyone knows of a stellar, stout offensive lineman in need of a job, please give Bill Belichick a call.

The Magic Elixir in Interviews

August 25, 2014

Of all the ingredients that make for a successful interview from both the interviewer’s and candidate’s perspective, there’s one ultimate element guaranteed to ensure a next step. Rapport, interest, honesty, consistency, credibility, suitability, inquisitiveness, intellect, self-awareness, passion, vision, drive, listening skills, and respect – they all lead to one must-have destination: trust.

People buy from people based on trust. In the interview setting, it’s no different. Both hiring executives and candidates go through mental checklists – either consciously asking themselves questions or tapping into their own intuition. Let’s look at some of the common checklists that help to determine trust.

* Is the candidate telling the truth? Short of a polygraph, there are specific attributes interviewers assess to help determine honesty. Consistency is a good starting point. Does the resume align with the LinkedIn profile, back-channel reference feedback, and answers to interview questions? Have answers to similar questions from all members of the interview team been consistent? When answering questions in a face-to-face interview, does body language vary much from answer to answer?

* To what extend is the candidate exuding candor? It’s one thing to tell the truth. It’s another thing to tell the truth in a forthright manner. When asked about areas of improvement/personal development as well as to recount specific times when they faced adversity, do candidates answer in an open, complete and humbling manner, revealing all related warts and pimples? By contrast, are the answers more guarded, delivered less naturally compared to other answers, and presented with minimal detail or with glaring omissions?

* How deep is the candidate’s expertise? Interviewers are looking to see detailed answers, flowing naturally and staying on point without too much thought. They want to see someone able to articulate the inner workings, nuances, and inherent challenges of their role. They need to be convinced that the candidate possess a deep understanding of the space the role serves (e.g., target audience, industry players, market dynamics and trends, etc.). When discussing specific scenarios from past experience, are candidates providing complete fact-based pictures? In asking how the candidate would approach the new position, interviewers are seeking detailed, organized and logical thought process in the candidate’s response.

* Does the story make sense? Every candidate has a career story to tell. Yet, does it all add up? There’s an implicit credibility check that every hiring manager conducts in their mind, at least to some degree. For example, does the candidate’s purported extensive experience and ongoing success in a particular discipline match up to their ability to convey an equally deep understanding of the role and all related intricacies? With such broad, real world experience that the candidate supposedly brings to the table, they should be able to present themselves as a subject matter expert with ease and authority.

* Will they fit in? From a personality, communications and interpersonal skills standpoint, candidates must help interviewers envision a cultural fit. Hiring managers need to be convinced that the upbeat, charismatic and personable communicator they are interviewing will remain so once they’re hired. Even the most subtle signs of a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome in the interview process could threaten trust of a fit. Most interviewers are quick to pick up on candidates’ personality and communications style that include occasional hints of negativity, abrasiveness, crudeness, or air of superiority. While nearly all candidates have experienced troubling situations that caused them to leave a company, it’s the way in which candidates recount these events that can have a significant bearing on the cultural fit determination. For example, a candidate who reflects back on such career moves with negativity, a victim mentality or resentment, is not helping their own cause.

Interestingly, all of these questions apply to the other side of the interviewing fence. Candidates need to believe that hiring managers are being open and honest about the opportunity. Does the company’s story make sense as well as the reason why they’re hiring for the position? How credible is the hiring manager’s depiction of the company’s culture, financial well-being, and vision for sustainable growth? Can they back it up with specifics? And every company has its share of warts and pimples, too. Are they willing and able to describe those candidly?

In the hiring process, establishing trust is key to risk mitigation. Whether a manager making a critical hiring decision or a candidate seriously considering a new career opportunity, there is plenty at stake for either side. A manager’s poor hiring decision can result in a multi-faceted setback – opportunity cost to the team’s (and company’s) growth and momentum, deleterious effect on cultural health and team cohesion, and decreased confidence from others in the organization. Likewise, a candidate’s ill-fated career move can reflect poorly in terms of an unsavory job hop, questionable judgment and inability to handle difficulty.

In the interview process, trust is more than a nice-to-have, warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s a critical milestone that must be attained in order to proceed forward in the hiring process.

 

Action items:

  1. Consistency and candor go a long way towards engendering credibility and preventing the proverbial BS meter from activating. Tune in to these attributes when engaged with others.
  1. Every candidate has a career story to tell just as every hiring manager has a company story. Focus on the elements and progression of the story to see if it makes sense and that there are no glaring elements missing or conflicting elements. Check with other people who can corroborate the story.
  2. Trust is a two-way street, and for both parties, it is in their best interest to ensure that trust justifiably exists on both sides.

Seven Mistakes Hiring Companies Make

June 30, 2014

Many hiring companies seem to have missed the talent market pendulum shift. News flash: It’s no longer 2009! We are in a full-fledged candidate-driven market and a company’s competition is not just others that play in their space. It’s every other company that’s vying for the same talent. The companies that adapt to market conditions will win the talent war. As the legendary recruiter, turned talent acquisition thought leader Lou Adler states: “You can’t use a talent surplus model in a talent scarcity situation.”

As both a long-time hiring executive and recruiter, I’ve seen (and made) a fair number of hiring mistakes. Some were process shortcomings while others were misguided priorities. Whatever the case, it’s vitally important to identify them and make course corrections, aimed at improving hiring effectiveness. While there are many hiring problems that companies bring onto themselves, here are some of the most prevalent and debilitating ones I come across.

1) HR IN A VACUUM

Ah yes, our good ol’ trusty Human Resources comrades. Some of them get it. They realize that it’s not all about them and their own stringent rules and processes. Ultimately, it’s about results and catering to their internal customers’ hiring needs. What better way to cater to a hiring manager’s needs than to fully involve them in formulating the candidate profile as well as truly understanding what a person needs to do to be successful in the role. Moreover, hiring managers must have a direct tie to the recruiter throughout the entirety of the hiring process. Unfortunately, many HR folks take an exclusionary stance, pushing their own agenda as both the gatekeeper and soothsayer of all things hiring.

2) COMPENSATION INFLEXIBILITY

Many of the most successful and forward-looking companies understand that for any given position, setting a rigid compensation level based on a budgeted line item in a spreadsheet represents a needless self-inflicted wound. The best companies prioritize getting the right person on the bus, and in doing so, let the market dictate what takes to acquire top talent.

The talent market is highly dynamic, meaning that compensation levels from candidate to candidate are all over the place. They will vary from week to week and candidate pool to candidate pool. Thus, setting an inflexible arbitrary compensation level is bound to be incongruous with what the market will bear. Naturally, all hiring executives need to set budgets and manage to them. That’s where external resources, like search professionals come in real handy when it’s budget-setting season as they can provide a realistic compensation range based on current market conditions. And yes, compensation includes non-cash components, such as equity and differentiating benefits – all necessary to help bolster competitiveness in a candidate-driven market.

3) FITS AND STARTS

Understandably, both hiring managers and their HR colleagues have much more on their collective plates than interviewing and hiring candidates. In many high-growth environments, interviewing and hiring could be a full-time job. Regardless, companies should not endeavor to hire top talent unless they are willing and able to commit the time and priority to make it happen.

All too often, I’ve been approached by companies desperate to hire for what is deemed a critical position. And as usual, they’re months behind on their hiring timeline. After completing the candidate development phase of my search, I present several strong, well-qualified and engaged candidates. But then, when the rubber needs to meet the road, schedules become too full and calls and emails go without response, resulting in interviewing delays and multiple rescheduling. What do you think this says to the candidate? “This company doesn’t have their act together.” “I guess this is not a critically important hire afterall.”

4) GET VS. DO

Simply put, many companies make hiring decisions based on candidates who can get the job (i.e., polished interviewees who say precisely what interviewers want to hear) instead of those who can do the job. They ask their very clever (and sometimes tricky) interview questions, looking to hear the “right” answer. Instead of treating the interview like a game show, interviewers would be better served to focus on performance-based criteria, such as behavioral and real-world situational interviewing. By the way, sometimes the most talented and qualified people are not necessarily the most polished interviewees, especially if they haven’t been out there interviewing much over the last several years.

5) INTANGIBLES CHALLENGED

It is far too easy for hiring companies to base their decisions on tangible elements in candidates’ backgrounds. Examples include educational pedigree, number of years in each position, specific domain experience (e.g., worked for a company in the same space, marketed/sold to the same target audience, coded the same type of software, etc.), and big (or small) company experience. While some of these factors may bear relevancy for a given role, they do not encompass the universe of hiring criteria. In addition, some of these areas – such as software and target market, can be taught.

One of the biggest mistakes I see hiring companies make is hiring based on tangibles, only to end up firing for the lack of intangibles. As a hiring executive, I quickly learned to prioritize hiring based on the attributes I couldn’t teach: passion, drive, inquisitiveness, coachability/self-development, aptitude, positive mental attitude, and self-awareness. More times than not, this led to the greatest hires.

6) NOT A THROUGH STREET

As an adjunct to intangibles, many hiring companies will not consider candidates who took the road less ventured. Many of the top talent took a circuitous path to greatness. Perhaps they took a chance with some early-stage start-ups that only lasted a year each. Or maybe they started in a technical role, but discovered along the way that they were more effective in sales than the salespeople they were supporting. These highly talented “non-traditional” candidates aren’t even given a chance by many hiring companies. Big mistake.

7) YOU HAVE TO SELL ME

Granted, candidates must keep their sales hats on throughout the interview process to make the case for their value and fit. But again, this is not 2009 anymore. Companies that act as though they are the only high-growth, innovative place where people are clamoring to join are simply delusional. The interview is a two-way street and in these current times, it is difficult enough just to engage with top talent. By and large, companies do a masterful job at marketing to their prospective customer base to generate revenue and market share growth. Yet, they tend to do a lackluster job at selling to the very candidates who could help drive further growth and favorably impact the shape and direction of the company’s future.

No doubt, there are plenty of other mistakes hiring companies make. And candidates are not without fault, either. I’m amazed by all the great talent out there, many of whom do such a disservice by not positioning and promoting themselves in the most flattering light possible. It’s as though they’re leaving it up to hiring companies to discover the diamond in the rough.

Ultimately, a hiring company that is behind the curve on attaining their hiring objectives (i.e., most every company out there), would be best served to do a deep dive assessment on their current hiring practices. Perhaps consider bringing in an objective third party who can evaluate with a fresh perspective and cast a light on every facet of the hiring process – warts and all. With a constructive and open approach, mistakes become opportunities.

 

Action items:

1. What are your hiring objectives, associated hiring timeline goals and employee retention figures? What is the delta between your goals and actuals?

2. How well are the new hires working out long term and why did the ones who left or were terminated not work out?

3. Take an honest look at your hiring practices and compile a list of processes, mindsets and tendencies that might be inhibiting desired results. Start working on these issues internally or with the help of an objective third party resource.

The Ebb and Flow of the Interview Cycle

April 23, 2014

In the last two weeks, one of my candidates was in the throes of closing on a new home. Do you remember going through that major life event? I surely do. The process involved multiple specific milestones that had to be accomplished within a stringent schedule – everything from getting an attorney to review the P&S, getting a home inspection done, and compiling stacks of paperwork – bank statements, tax returns, paychecks, etc., required by the mortgage company. All parties involved operated with a heightened sense of urgency. I even recall those specific words being emphasized at the beginning of the process.

Needless to say, my candidate has been completely unavailable. I’m sure that in his few spare moments, his mind was consumed with this home-buying checklist, let alone contending with the angst of making such a monumental financial commitment. I remember those sleepless nights like they were yesterday. Actually, they were yesterday, but were not talking about spousal snoring.

The home-buying/home-selling process is not unlike the job interview process. The difference, however, is the two parties – candidate and hiring company, are rarely in sync on the urgency front and don’t have legal documents and accompanying attorneys formalizing and pushing the process. Candidates have their current workload, family emergencies, planned vacations, and unplanned illnesses. Hiring managers have their current workload, fires to put out, Board of Directors and senior leadership meetings, quarter-end push, business trips, planned vacations, and unplanned illnesses.

There are simply too many reasons why the interview and hiring cycle can get delayed or completely derail. And behind the scenes, companies slow down the process for all kinds of reasons that candidates usually aren’t privy to. Here are the most typical examples I’ve seen:

* An 11th-hour candidate came into the fray and the company needs that candidate to catch up to the other candidates who are farther down the interviewing road

* The position’s scope and requirements have changed midstream, requiring all involved to take a step back and re-evaluate the candidates currently in the running

* The position itself is being called into question – is this the right role, right time to hire, right priorities organizationally?

* The company delivered poor operating results for the past two quarters, necessitating a halt to new headcount and reassessment of current roles and future hiring

* The company discovered an internal candidate who could potentially take on the role, making for a more cost-effective alternative than hiring externally

* The company decided to make a strategic shift in direction that renders the position irrelevant

* Product release date slipped, causing a domino effect that impacts new hires needed to support the product

* The company can’t get their act together on committing the time needed to manage the entirety of the interview cycle – due to being overbooked, unforeseen all-consuming situations, being poorly organized, or some combination thereof

While it is a widely accepted truth that time kills all deals, a lack of urgency/prioritization and sustained momentum on the part of both hiring companies and candidates hits more to the point. When I, the recruiter, find myself operating with the greatest sense of urgency compared to the candidates and hiring managers involved, I know there is likely trouble ahead. Inevitably, most interview cycles succumb to some hiccups throughout the process. After all, this is not a legally binding, formalized process like buying and selling a home. Yet, the more all parties involved operate with urgency and dedication, the more likely mutually acceptable results will occur.

 

Action items:

1. While it is unfortunate that the world doesn’t stop for candidates and hiring managers to get through the interview process, prioritization is key to a successful outcome. Don’t commit to hiring if you and your interview team cannot carve out the time and attention needed. Don’t commit to throw your hat in the ring for an exciting new position if you cannot make yourself available for phone and in-person interviews, let alone the time to research and prepare for them.

2. Hiring companies can delay or stop the interview process in its tracks for seemingly no legitimate reason. As a candidate, be aware and wary if such delays occur. Ask your recruiter or trusted contact for the inside scoop as to what’s really going on.

3. Hiccups do occur. Be careful not to overreact or read too deeply into them. With the first or second occurrence, give people the benefit of the doubt. If hold-ups and cancellations keep happening, then consider it emblematic of a more deeply-rooted issue.

Interview Preparation for Both Sides

March 28, 2014

This last week, one of my candidates did a dry run drive-by to the hiring company’s headquarters a day before her interview. On the surface, this may seem needless, but on several levels, I see her taking that extra step as brilliant. It got me thinking about the secret sauce both candidates and hiring managers use for effective interview preparations. Let’s talk about candidates first.

For better or worse, the interview is like a dance. If you don’t follow the right steps, you’re not doing the dance correctly and your dancing partner will be thrown off and frustrated. As silly as it may be, many hiring managers assess candidates on how well they do the interview dance (i.e., follow interviewing protocol). It’s rather unfortunate that despite their best intentions, these interviewers end up hiring people who can get the job instead of those who can do the job.

Regardless, there’s much candidates can do in preparation for the big dance. First, there’s the matter of having answers ready for those all-too-trite interview questions, such as “What is your biggest weakness?” or “Where do you see yourself in 3 years?” I’m not going to spend time on these and the other typical interview questions. Candidates can Google “interview questions” and in short order, see the common ones appearing on multiple lists. The point is that it’s important to have well-thought-out answers ready to be recited on a dime.

More importantly, candidates need to conduct deep dive research into the company. They need to take the time to fully understand its solutions and associated value prop/key differentiators, the markets it targets, the competitive landscape, its people, its financials, and latest news/press releases. When an interviewer asks, “So, what do you know about our company?” candidates should be ready to provide a clean and crisp response.

Moreover, it behooves candidates to research the interviewers. It shouldn’t be hard to find their LinkedIn profiles or executive bios. Speaking of LinkedIn, candidates should see who in their network or extended network is connected with employees at the company. Those people could potentially give the inside scoop on both the role and hiring manager. And of course, candidates that have the benefit of working with a recruiter should tap that resource to gain insight into the interviewers’ personalities, interviewing tendencies, past hiring decisions, and current hot buttons.

After all that research, the next step for candidates is to anticipate role-related interview questions and prepare specific examples that substantiate a solid job fit. After all, a candidate’s job is to help the interviewer envision a fit, both with the role and with the company’s culture. For example, for a technical support position, the interviewer may ask, “How do you diffuse a frustrated customer?” Instead of answering with generalities or philosophies on handling irate customers, candidates would be better served to give a specific example from their past. Briefly outline the situation, explain the task, point out the specific actions taken, and give the result (hopefully a turned around happy customer).

Finally, candidates should prepare poignant, thoughtful questions to ask interviewers. Questions should vary from day-in-the-life inquiries about the role, to current events (e.g., latest news about the company, current financial performance, company culture, biggest company challenges, etc.), and on to forward-looking matters such as company direction, product roadmap, anticipated growth, and career advancement opportunities. I always recommend that candidates print out these questions in advance. Not only does this demonstrate preparedness, forethought and organization skills, but since candidates tend to get at least a little nervous in interviews, it’s helpful to have a cheat sheet. Naturally, other questions will likely come about from the discussion itself. Yet, it’s nice to have plenty of questions ready to go, if needed.

Speaking of nervousness, it’s imperative that candidates really tune in to their demeanor. The more self-aware, the better control. Generally, nervous people tend to talk too much. Thus, I regularly advise my candidates to keep their answers concise. They can always ask the interviewer if they’d like additional detail. My rule of thumb is if it feels like your answers are too short, then they’re probably about the right length. Nervousness can be channeled into enthusiasm and positive energy, if properly harnessed. And as for the candidate who did the day-before-the-interview-drive-by, that left her with one less thing to be nervous about. On the day of the interview, she knew precisely where to drive and where to park. The building was familiar, too, making it appear less intimidating.

Interviewers are not exempt from preparation, although many seem to think they are. Viewing the candidate’s resume 5 minutes before the interview does not constitute preparation. I recommend taking the extra time to fully examine the candidate’s credentials. Beyond perusing the resume, review the recruiter’s synopsis and visit the candidate’s LinkedIn profile to spot any additional (or conflicting) information as well as seeing if there are any contacts in common.

Next, interviewers should formulate specific questions to help flesh out any concerns, holes in the story, or simply areas that need probing for greater detail. Use experience-based behavioral interviewing questions to explore how the candidate dealt with relevant situations. This also helps to give insight into a candidate’s thought process.

Ask them what they love to do and take note of their heightened enthusiasm. Generally, people cannot fake passion…and they can’t hide it well, either. Ideally, the things they love doing tie in to the position they’re interviewing for. Ask about times they received critical feedback and what they did with it. Along the same lines, explore their self-development goals and what they’re doing to achieve them. These kinds of questions help to shed light on intangible qualities, such as self-awareness, personal drive, initiative, coachability, and positive mental attitude.

For candidates and interviewers alike, preparedness doesn’t foster staleness or over-thinking. Rather, it signifies that considerable care and thought have gone into the interview, making it clear that this is a high priority event. And who wouldn’t want to feel like the person on the other side of the table considers this meeting to be a high priority? Progressing one’s career and making a critical hire are right up there in the pantheon of major life events. To progress through the interview with the desired outcome, effective preparation is the not-so-secret sauce – a lot of little things add up to increased focus, greater organization of thought and bolstered confidence.

 

Action items:

1. Interviews are by nature unnatural, contrived and protocol-ridden events. The more candidates and interviewers conduct effective preparations, the more productive and less nerve-racking interviews will be.

2. I’m amazed by how little research is done on the people with whom both candidates and interviewers will be meeting with. Between LinkedIn and other online resources, there’s a wellspring of information and potentially valuable insight to be gained about the person. Aside from the professional implications, this can also help with the personal side insofar as helping to establish rapport.

3. Preparation can make a big difference, helping to diffuse nerves while bolstering both poise and confidence. That extra bit of research about the company, taking a bit more time to anticipate interview questions, and printing out thoughtful, poignant questions ahead of time, can help to give an edge.