Archive for the ‘Recruitment’ 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.

When Do You Need a Recruiter?

January 28, 2014

During one of the recent polar vortex induced cold snaps which included a 14-inch snowstorm, our winterized cottage offered up quite a surprise.  After shoveling 4-foot-high snow drifts to dig out the front door, I discovered our heating system was running, but blowing out cold air.  The temperature inside the cottage was a brisk 19 degrees.  Needless to say, all the pipes and fixtures had frozen and burst.  While sizing up the magnitude of this calamity, I managed to compose myself enough to compile a working list of recommend plumbers.  Of course, this sort of thing always happens weekends, doesn’t it?

I called no fewer than seven plumbers.  One called me back fairly quickly and offered to stop by within an hour.  Another called back shortly after that and offered to stop by as well.  The others never returned my call – not even during the ensuing week.  Of the two who responded, I gave my business to the one who was the most prompt and communicative, and who could best assure me that he knew how to tackle the situation.  He and his team did a great job.

The point is I didn’t know when I’d ever need a plumber until I found myself right in the thick of it.  The same holds true in the recruitment world.  When do you need a recruiter?  Often when you least expect to and are least prepared to work with one.

By the time hiring clients and I discuss their hiring needs, they’re already behind the curve.  They’ve missed their target hiring timelines, no doubt trying to do the recruitment work themselves.  They soon realize that in this candidate-driven market, recruitment is a full-time job and not something that can be easily accomplished by reaching out to those in their network or by engaging in reactive recruiting (i.e., posting a job on the career websites).  The money these hiring companies thought they’d save by doing their own recruitment quickly put them in the red by way of opportunity cost from not hiring, onboarding, and ramping up their much-needed new employee within the timeline their business requirements dictated.

On the candidate side, by the time most candidates and I discuss their needs to find a new position, they have already been laid off, see layoffs looming right around the corner, or for a variety of reasons, can’t bear another day with their current employer.  Generally, this doesn’t bode well for job searches and interviews.  In these circumstances, candidates may feel more desperate than they ought to be, resulting in less compelling interviews or settling for a less-than-ideal career move.

Worse yet are the hiring companies and job-seeking candidates that do engage with recruiters, only to mismanage the engagement by not committing the time and accessibility necessary to bolster the chances of a positive outcome.  Have you ever been met with radio silence when trying to follow-up with someone you’ve been in touch with?  Perplexing, isn’t it?  Exasperating as well.  Granted, hiring managers and job-seeking candidates don’t have the luxury of putting aside their many other responsibilities until they have this one taken care of.  Yet, not responding to your recruiter for days or weeks at a time is nothing short of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Ultimately, the optimal course of action is to line up your resources before you actually need them.  I’m not necessarily talking about tapping into your crystal ball to gain sagely premonitions on upcoming needs for a recruiter.  It’s more a case of treating recruiters like other valued networking contacts throughout your day-to-day endeavors.  Get them on your radar and get on theirs.  Treat them respectfully and well, just as you’d want to be treated (i.e., return their calls and reply to their emails!).

Meanwhile, I think I better line up a good electrician and carpenter.  Not that I need their services right now, but you never know when the next calamity may hit.


Action items:

1.  Whether a candidate or hiring manager, don’t wait until you’re behind the eight ball to source a recruiter.  Do it before the need arises and keep in touch.

2.  When engaged with a recruiter, don’t go radio silent on them.  If you’re going flat out, simply reply back, letting them know you’re booked solid and try to schedule a time to speak.

3.  On an ongoing basis, treat recruiters as networking contacts.  You just might need them sooner than you think.

The Road to Networking Roadblocks

November 27, 2013

Everyone talks about the power of networking.  It’s pervasive in many facets of our society, and with the addition of online resources, has gone into overdrive.  No matter what motivates us to network, we must do it.  Too bad there aren’t college courses on networking as they just might prove to be more relevant to the real working world than “How to Watch Television” (Montclair State University), “Getting Dressed” (Princeton) or “What If Harry Potter Is Real?” (Appalachian State University).

What kind of networker are you?  If Woody Allen is correct, and 80% of life is just showing up, then perhaps you don’t need to be the world’s most prolific networker.  In this Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter riddled world in which we all show up, the real question is to what extent do you enable and promote networking?

Last month, I found a highly qualified candidate for one of my searches.  Looking forward to having a discussion with her regarding this career opportunity, I went to her LinkedIn profile.  Lo and behold, I was dismayed to see that she didn’t allow for any contact.  So I had to some heavier lifting and found other means to reach her.

Sure enough, she was quite interested in new career opportunities.  After conducting a phone interview with this candidate and receiving her updated resume, I moved ahead with presenting her to my client company.  She’s now in the throes of the interview process with them.

Just yesterday, I was contacted by a highly accomplished C-level executive who just left his position and is now actively seeking his next move.  Once again, in perusing his LinkedIn profile, I see that he does not allow for any correspondence.

Similarly, I found what I thought might be a potentially strong candidate on The Ladders.  This candidate didn’t upload his resume or even provide a general overview along with his contact info.  What’s going on here?

One can only surmise that people who go to the trouble of establishing a presence on a business networking site would enable networking opportunities.  Similarly, on a career site, where you’ve already given your name and current position, why would you inhibit potential contact?

On the surface, disabling contact due to concerns over protecting one’s current job may seem plausible.  After all, you don’t want to give your current employer any signs that you’re looking to fly the coop.  Yet, given LinkedIn’s ubiquitous state as the de facto business networking standard, the issue of concealing intentions has all but dissipated.  Even if your employer has too much time on their hands and resorts to scanning employees’ LinkedIn profiles to see what kinds of contact they’re amenable to (the default being all kinds, by the way), what can they prove?  Besides, being contacted by fiendish recruiters like me to discuss career opportunities with arch rivals or companies in tangential spaces can be considered to be pertinent and potentially valuable market intelligence.

At nearly every networking event I attend, I meet handfuls of interesting people.  Invariably, at least one out of ten has mysteriously “run out” of business cards.  How can that be?  Amazing what can happen if you pack three measly business cards to bring with you!  And no, networking neophytes aren’t the primary offenders as this syndrome seems to occur more with seasoned mid-level professionals on up. Perhaps these folks don’t intend to give off an air of networking being beneath them.  But it’s either that or an utter lack of planning, forethought and organization skills.  Whatever the case, it doesn’t reflect favorably.

No matter your impetus for establishing and maintaining a networking presence — online or in person, it behooves you to treat every potential networking opportunity as valuable.  I’ve learned over the years that by taking an extra few minutes to engage with someone new or to introduce people to each other for mutually beneficial purposes, I’ve planted seeds more times than I can account for.  These seeds have sprouted into happenings I never would have anticipated – new business, new friendship, new mentoring, new support…even a new career.  The point is if you’re going to merge onto the networking road, be prepared to drive.  And make networking occur because of your efforts, not in spite of them.

Action items:

1.  Networking is less about being good at it and more about being open to it, committing to it on an ongoing basis and fully enabling it.

2.  Double-check all of your online networking settings and ensure that people can contact you.  Giving the wrong impression about your networking interests, combined with being prone to spam, are fair concerns.  But unless you’re a candidate for the Witness Protection Program, the long term benefits of being an open networker outweigh any potential short term drawbacks.

3.  If you block the road, then you’re blocking everyone, including potential visitors that you would wholeheartedly welcome.  And those visitors just might come bearing gifts.

What Good is a Recruiter, Anyway?

September 27, 2013

It may not seem this way, but there are many high quality search professionals out there.  And the good recruiters more than make up for all the ones who don’t provide much value to their hiring clients and candidates.  Why are there so many less than awe-inspiring recruiters?  The same reason that there are so many mediocre salespeople – because anyone can become one.

Beyond the low barrier to entry, many recruiters have never walked a mile in their clients’ or candidates’ shoes.  They just don’t have direct experience in the fields they endeavor to serve.  Moreover, many recruiters live a myopic, transactional existence.  It’s all about filling slots for the current searches on their docket and nothing else. They aren’t knowledgeable enough to take a holistic view to link managing hiring objectives with attaining business goals.

The more effective recruiters take a longer term view of the landscape.  They make themselves accessible to many people with the knowledge that the world is only getting smaller.  They bring a strong understanding of the industries they serve, often from prior direct experience in those fields.

Regardless, many hiring managers and candidates alike take a dim view of recruiters in general.  So what good are recruiters…even good ones?   Aren’t they just ambulance chasers for employment?  Far from it and here’s why.

For Hiring managers, quality recruiters offer:

*  Counseling on hiring strategy, including setting expectations on timelines, methodology, prioritization, processes, roles definitions, and interviewing/hiring/onboarding best practices

*  Input on the talent market for a given role, including size of the potential candidate pool, compensation levels dictated by current market demands, and the “fillability” of the prospective search

* Development of job descriptions and messaging/positioning needed to attract top talent

*  Execution of the search in a proactive outbound model (as opposed to reactive job postings, which hiring companies can easily do without any external help)

*  Manage the entire interview process and play an integral role with reference checks and negotiations

* Provide additional insight into candidates’ motivations, preferences and tendencies

*  Keep candidates engaged throughout the process, especially during scheduling delays

*  Shrink down hiring cycles and save managers time by providing fully qualified candidates who possess the right combination of aptitude and attitude (quality vs. quantity)

For candidates, recruiters:

*  Give honest feedback and coaching on resume, interviewing prowess and attitude

*  Provide additional insight into the opportunity, not covered in the job description (e.g., hiring manager’s hot buttons, personality, interview style, and overall company culture)

*  Offer counseling on relevant parts of background to accentuate vs. less relevant areas to de-emphasize

*  Provide helpful post-interview feedback

*  Assist with offer negotiations

*  Provide honest assessment of how candidate stacks up in the marketplace as it relates to experience, aptitude, attitude, intangibles, compensation, career track aspirations

*  Assist with networking

If it were easy for companies to find, attract, scrutinize, and hire top talent, then there would be no need for recruiters.  Building out an organization in a scalable, repeatable manner, all while adhering to hiring timeline objectives, is exceptionally challenging.  This is especially true given the many other business demands that don’t pause for hiring managers to carry out the interviewing and hiring process.

Similarly, if candidates always found it effortless to discover great opportunities, attract interest in their candidacy, sail through interviews, and get hired, they wouldn’t need the benefits provided by search professionals either.  Top tier recruiters are one of a very limited number of resources that can give candidates the honest assessment needed to help build self-awareness.  And aside from common sense, the other vitally important quality that appears to be all-too-lacking in candidates (and people, for that matter) is self-awareness.

Every occupation has its share of incompetent fools and jerks and unfortunately, they taint the picture for the highly effective and caring professionals in their field.  Think of the people you know and the professions they’re in.  I’ll bet the vast majority of lawyers you know are not shysters.  Most doctors are not quacks.  Not every car salesperson is sleazy.  Most police officers don’t shirk their duties.  Many professional football players are not criminals.  Not every general contractor is a corner-cutting, short-changing cheater.  Not every member of Congress is a power-hungry, two-faced, corrupt politician.  Hmmm…Did I take this one step too far?

The bottom line is there are a number of high quality recruiters out there.  I strongly encourage you to get to know them.  They just might prove to be one of the most valuable resources available to you.


Action items:

1.  Quiz prospective recruiters on their history.  Have they actually worked in the industry they now serve?  What about their methodology?  Do they simply post jobs and scan the career sites for candidates or do they engage in true proactive outbound recruitment?

2.  Good recruiters want to learn as much about their hiring company client as possible – well beyond the position they’re looking to fill.  They’ll want to know about all facets of the business – its financials, product/services roadmap, customers, competitive landscape, business direction, new initiatives, recent changes, challenges, culture, people, etc.  Take note of how inquisitive they are when learning about a new prospective client company.

3.  The best recruiters clearly convey their knowledge about their client such that they effectively represent themselves as an extension of the company.  They know how to optimize the positioning and messaging to give an honest, yet compelling picture.  How detailed is that picture they paint when discussing an opportunity with a prospective candidate?

Respond to a Recruiter?

April 24, 2013

Nearly everyone receives unsolicited contact from a recruiter, sometimes multiple recruiters, touting new and exciting career opportunities.  Some of these positions sound better than they actually are while others don’t seem all that interesting to begin with.  Putting aside the apparent quality of the opportunity, not to mention quality of the recruiter, what do you do when a recruiter reaches out to you?

In the last decade, there has been something of a shift.  Whereas many prospective candidates used to reply to recruiters’ outreach, thanking them for the contact while basking in flattery, today it often brings a decidedly different sentiment.  Nowadays, many people don’t respond at all and when they do, they don’t necessarily view it as a mutually beneficial event.  Why the change?

Let’s look at some of the most likely reasons why individuals decide to forgo contact with recruiters:

  • Not looking to make a move right now
  • Distrusting of recruiters
  • The opportunity presented does not map to specific career interests and preferences
  • Since companies pay recruiters for placements, candidates presented to companies via recruiters must surely be deemed less desirable as they will be more expensive to hire
  • Too busy to engage with recruiters; not considered a valuable use of time
  • The best positions will come via network referrals

Granted, recruiters come in all shapes, sizes and levels of competency.  Some recruiters may not bring enough value to the table to warrant the time spent with them.  However, there are many high quality search professionals out there, some of whom even come from the space they now serve.  Along the way, many of these recruiters have themselves been candidates as well as hiring managers.  Although recruiters typically make contact because of a specific search they’re working on, these are exceptionally well-networked people who can help you now as well as potentially down the road.

Thus, if an individual is not looking to make a career move at the moment, there’s always a year or two from now when the situation may change.  By engaging with a recruiter, you’ve potentially planted seeds for later.  And even though recruiters are focused on their current searches, quality recruiters know when they’re speaking with a bright, talented individual who could become a highly sought after candidate when the time is right.

Some people do not trust recruiters.  Often times, they’re viewed as carnival barkers, spouting off at any length just to fill a slot.  True, such animals do exist.  However, search professionals worth their salt know that poor quality hires reflect poorly on themselves.  It’s in a recruiter’s best interest to ensure a win-win.  Of course, there are situations that go well beyond a recruiter’s control or vantage point.

Two years ago, I placed two highly intelligent and savvy senior sales individuals with an early-stage, well-funded SaaS-based software company that appeared to be growing and becoming true thought leaders in their burgeoning space.  Unfortunately, just a few months after placing them, the SVP Sales left the company and soon after, the CEO and CMO were ousted.  The company quickly became an insurmountable mess.  These things happen.  After all, when dealing with companies and careers, there are multitudes of variables that can impact the viability of a given position.

If a recruiter contacts you regarding an opportunity that doesn’t quite match up with your skills or aspirations, why give them the cold shoulder?  Instead, try engaging with the recruiter to learn of their areas of focus while discussing the types of opportunities that could be more relevant to you.  If the recruiter works in your field of interest and appreciates all you bring to the table, you will likely get on their radar screen for more appropriate opportunities as they crop up.

Everyone is busy.  We get that.  Yet, even if you gave a recruiter just 5 or 10 minutes to establish a connection, you’d be surprised about how that connection could pay off.  Given how well-networked recruiters tend to be, perhaps they can help you make contact with a company or individual.  As always, one hand washes the other and top tier recruiters keep this in mind when trying to engage.  If they offer to help you, perhaps there may be an occasion when you’ll be able to help them.

As for the increased expense of coming to a prospective employer via a recruiter, let’s back up a little.  In many cases, hiring companies have already tried to do the hiring themselves and are finding that they’re falling way behind in their hiring objectives.  They then make the conscious decision to partner with an external search professional.  By this time, the hiring company is happy to receive quality, well-vetted candidates.  The price a company pays a recruiter pales in comparison to the cost of either a bad hire or months of wasted time not hiring at all.

Finally, it’s true that many solid career opportunities can present themselves directly from your own network.  Yet, relying solely on your network to connect you with desirable positions represents the mere tip of the iceberg for relevant opportunities in the market.  The higher quality recruiters tend to work on more exclusive searches – ones that may not be posted or widely advertised.  Thus, your network isn’t even privy to many of the quality career opportunities.  Also, just like you, your network is populated with busy people.  As much as they’d like to help you, they’re consumed with their own affairs and are not in the business of career matchmaking.

Ultimately, it is in your best interest to respond to recruiters, even if you’re not looking to make a move.  They can help you from a networking standpoint, both now and in the future.  They can give you a helpful snapshot on current market conditions as well as an approximate valuation on you as a prospective candidate.  Recruiters may provide you with valuable feedback on your career track, resume and interviewing style.  They can bring to your attention relevant opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about.  The next time a recruiter tries to contact you, think twice before discarding what could be an important and useful connection.


Action items:

1.  Recruiters are like other networking connections.  They may not be in a position to help you right now, but you may very well have a need for them and their expansive network in the future.

2.  Even if you’re not looking to make a move, talk to recruiters when they reach out.  They can provide you with a snapshot of your value in the marketplace, perhaps giving you some ammunition when negotiating your career track within your current employer.

3.  Getting into an opportunity via a recruiter is truly an advantage, not a drawback.  Recruiters can supply their candidates with valuable insight into the company, its people and their hot buttons.  Recruiters can also provide counsel on resume and interviewing best practices.

Focusing on Focus

January 21, 2013

When I engage with candidates for a specific opportunity, I’m trying to ascertain the extent of a fit.  There was something about that candidate that initially caught my eye.  Yet, like most recruiters, I’m seeking more specific information beyond the data dump that makes up a LinkedIn profile, resume or phone call.  In its simplest terms, search professionals are chartered with identifying, engaging, qualifying, and presenting candidates.  Granted, the way they go about it, let alone the level of quality and effectiveness, varies widely.  Nevertheless, despite the full spectrum of recruitment competency, search professionals are try to focus on determining the match with their hiring client’s needs.

As a candidate, your job is to help the recruiter understand the fit with the opportunity in question.  How can you do this most effectively?  First, take notes on the key distinguishing points the recruiter provides you when detailing the opportunity.  Make a list of the unique aspects of the opportunity.  For a Sales or Sales Engineering candidate, here’s a sampling to consider:

  • The space the company plays in (i.e., the type of solution and the corresponding problem it addresses)
  • The key verticals the company sells into, or, if a horizontal play, the business demographics of the company’s target audience
  • The types of contacts and contact levels the company usually targets
  • The nature of the company’s solution and how it’s delivered
  • Selling method and model
  • Deal sizes and sales cycle process/length
  • Company size and state of evolution (e.g., small early-stage A-round funded vs. mid-sized public company)
  • Specific technologies employed or integrated with
  • Specific selling methodologies

After I present the details of an opportunity to a candidate, I typically ask them to walk me through specific aspects of their background that map to the opportunity.  What I get back can be all over the map.  Many times, candidates take this as their cue to spew out every nook and cranny of their career history.  Lovely.  Thanks for playing “This is Your Life.”  The more polished professionals make a list of distinguishing points while I describe the opportunity, and then use it as a springboard to focus on connecting the dots with the relevant facets of their experience.

How well a candidate connects the dots gives me several clues about the strength of their candidacy.  It demonstrates strong listening skills, organized and effective thought processes, solutions selling savvy, and capable communications and presentation skills.  This is not to imply that people who know all the “tricks” of interviewing will come out ahead.  This has nothing to do with tricks, but rather actions and attributes that a sales professional would naturally employ on a regular basis throughout their sales career.

In most cases, a given opportunity calls for a subset of your career’s body of work.  For example, right now, I’m working on a Sales Engineer opportunity with an innovative, high growth company that sells predominantly into highly regulated industries with healthcare being front and center.  My hiring client and I do not expect sales engineering candidates to have done this and only this through the entirety of their career.  What I do expect is for candidates to be able to offer up details of the parts of their career that are directly applicable…without skipping a beat.  In this particular case, this means walking me through several points in their career where they sold into healthcare accounts, including name-dropping successful marquee deals, the types of solutions sold, size and scope of the deals, quota attainment numbers, and the exposure to regulatory compliance issues.

Whether you’re discussing an opportunity with a recruiter or in the throes of the interview process with a hiring company, help them envision the fit by bringing focus to the picture.  Sure, the other parts to your background will likely be covered and could bear some relevancy as well.  Yet, the more you spotlight the pertinent points of your background and skills, the stronger your case of a fit will be.


Action items:

1.  Focus, focus, focus.  For every one aspect of your background that applies to a given opportunity, there are likely a good four or five that need to be de-emphasized so as not to dilute the positioning of a fit.

2.  When you’re first learning of an opportunity, jot down a quick and dirty list of the differentiating factors so that you can concentrate on those when making the case for your candidacy.

3.  Don’t leave it up to recruiters and hiring managers to discover the fit.  Help paint the picture for them, just as you would in any selling opportunity.

What Kind of Recruiter Are You Working With?

November 26, 2012

As with real estate agents, there is a wide variety of recruiters out there.  Some have very little experience.  Others have been in the game for years.  Many are client-focused with strong listening skills while others are out to close quick, easy deals.  Some hold ethics next to godliness while many others don’t let that get in their way.

If you’ve ever had the distinct pleasure of dealing with an unscrupulous and/or uncaring real estate agent, then you’re ahead of the game when it comes to sorting out the recruiting wheat from the chaff.  I’ve handled my fair share of unprofessional and incompetent real estate agents, hence the need to draw the analogy.  It’s more perilous in the recruitment world as there is, if you can imagine, an even lower barrier to entry than in real estate.

Anyone can call themselves a recruiter.  They don’t have to be a former hiring executive.  They don’t have to have prior business experience.  And they certainly don’t have to have knowledge of the industries they serve.  The recruitment world is littered with career-long recruiters who have never walked a mile in their client’s shoes.  In addition, any seemingly reputable recruitment firm can hire recent college grads and instantly deem them recruiters.  So what kind of recruiter are you working with and what is their modus operandi?

It seems that the vast majority of recruiters are transactionally fixated.  They find out about a slot that a company needs to fill and, along with several other competing recruiters, make a mad dash to win a chaotic race by throwing as much spaghetti against that hiring wall as quickly as possible.  How do they turn around and present candidates so quickly?  Many simply recycle the same candidates out of their database over and over until they stick.  In addition, they do what companies can do themselves – post jobs online.  Others paint an unrealistic picture of the opportunity or even worse, don’t gain authorization from candidates before presenting them to hiring companies.

Clearly, none of those methods prioritizes quality over quantity, let alone ethics and confidentiality over a quick hit.  In fact, many of these recruiters don’t even take the time to learn about the hiring company, the hiring manager or additional details and nuances of the position not included in the job description.  Multiply that by 3 or 4 crazed recruitment firms frantically trying to fill the same slot (because many hiring companies are under the misguided belief that the more recruiters involved, the better), and you have a cacophony of headhunting noise representing your business with inaccurate information, unprofessional messaging, dodgy actions, and off-putting first impressions.

Granted, there are no guarantees in the business world.  Yet, you can stack the deck in your favor if you engage with a different kind of search professional.  Here is a good working list of characteristics typically found in higher quality recruiters:

  • Prior experience as both a hiring manager and candidate
  • Prior direct experience in or tangential knowledge of your industry
  • Along with conducting research, takes the extra time to learn as much about your company as possible so that they get the messaging and positioning both accurate and compelling (e.g., asks questions about your solution, target market, differentiators, value prop, competitive landscape, financials, recent news, people, culture, history, short and long term business objectives, tangibles and intangibles associated with the hiring manager’s perspective on the role, prior employees’ performance in the role or the impetus if a newly created role, etc.)
  • Exhibits strong listening, written and interpersonal communications skills
  • Treats each search as a new endeavor (i.e., starts each search afresh – no candidate recycling as the default mechanism)
  • Conducts specialized proactive outbound sharpshooting to identify and seek out both passive and active candidates (as opposed to passive, job-posting centric inbound recruiting that only attracts active job seekers)

These points are equally relevant for candidates looking to engage with recruiters.  As a candidate, have you ever experienced a phone call with a recruiter who couldn’t wait to get you off the phone?  That’s because you didn’t fit the specific profiles for the current searches on their desk at that moment.  Many recruiters function in a myopic vacuum, such that anyone who doesn’t fit the job spec isn’t worth their time.

The more professional recruiters understand that networking with intelligent, talented individuals is tantamount to their long term effectiveness in the search business.  Exciting new positions crop up all the time and just because there many not be a fit at any given moment doesn’t mean there won’t be one in the future.  Besides, a candidate one day may soon land as a hiring manager another day.  Ideally, a recruiter who is helpful and makes a favorable impression now may be remembered and rewarded for it down the line.  Yes, the laws of karma are alive and well in the world of recruitment.

Recruiters come in many permutations.  Don’t assume we all have the same background and operate the same way.  Think about what you want in a recruiter and ask questions so that you can truly determine what kind you’re working with.


Action Items:

1.  Know the difference between your typical transactional, passive recruiter and one who can bring to the table considerably greater value and quality.

2.  Remember that experience you had with a poor quality real estate agent and the sour taste it left in your mouth?  It’s all too easy to be subjected to the same issues with recruiters.  Ask around for others’ experiences with recruiters.  You may hear about ones to seek out as well as ones to avoid.

3.  Whether you’re a hiring company or candidate, the recruiter is representing you.  How comfortable are you entrusting your brand to this person and counting on them to help you with one of the most important matters:  building your team with top talent / helping you further your career?

Scary Stories from the Dark Side

October 25, 2012

All I need to do is walk down my street to realize it’s that time of year.  As I duck from a low slung gargantuan spider web, my heart skips a beat when I suddenly set off a motion detecting battery powered skeleton, yelling something forewarning yet unintelligible.  Ah yes, Halloween.  The festival of shaving cream, poor manners and noise.  Actually, it’s not that bad.  Besides, the wide-eyed wonderment and innocence emanating from those little kids with their cute costumes more than makes up for any unsavory activity.

Do you like horror shows?  In the spirit of Halloween, let’s review several real world scary stories from the dark side of recruitment.

An ideally suited candidate interviewed at a boutique technology consulting firm.  The fit was quite apparent to everyone.  Indeed, the candidate fared well in the interview process and it was quickly on to the offer stage.  The hiring company was duly prepped on the candidate’s compensation level and what it would take to get him on board.  So what does the hiring company do?  They produce a low-ball offer that not only comes in considerably lower than the candidate’s current comp level, but also lower than the market currently commands for this specialized and in-demand skill set.  Needless to say, the candidate was sufficiently spooked and didn’t even bother coming back with a counteroffer.

Next up, a security company has been trying to hire a pre-sales engineer.  The internal recruiter functions as a gatekeeper, forbidding external recruiters from speaking with the hiring managers.  That’s enough to scare me away from working with them.  One of the recruiters in my network decides to work with them, only to find that the communications between the internal recruiter and the hiring managers is all too lacking.  In terms of the role and its responsibilities, compensation plan, and org structure, they can’t seem to get their story straight.  Thus, the job spec is a moving target.  As a result, several strong candidates were presented and interviewed, only to find that what was initially deemed a fit suddenly morphed into a role with different prerequisites.  Then, three weeks later, they change their tune and the candidates they mishandled and disposed would now make for potentially strong fits again.

Now it gets ugly and frustrating.  Two sales candidates go into the same software company for interviews.  One did all the research and preparation you could imagine.  Yet, for some inexplicable reason, he apparently drank a witch’s brew and transformed from a confident sales professional to a spineless apologist.  The other candidate went into the interview with plenty of confidence, but hardly spent any time researching the company, figuring the topic of discussion would be himself.  I’ll bet he does 10 times the research investigating which front load washer to buy.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!  Put these two candidates into a blender and switch it to high!

Another candidate did very well in the initial interview.  He came off as articulate, professional and engaged.  Unfortunately, he had one too many skeletons in his closet.  The hiring manager called a few contacts in common, including one the candidate brought up.  Unfortunately, these back-channel references painted a Jekyll & Hyde scenario – seemingly impressive on the surface, but with a less than stellar performance, suspect work ethic and negative attitude.

Ready to scream?  The hiring manager of a software company has finally found the right candidate for his team and decides to move forward with reference checks and an offer.  His HR organization denies him the ability to move forward with this hard to find candidate because it was sourced through an external recruiter.  They suddenly institute a new rule, proclaiming that hiring managers can only go with candidates sourced externally after 60 days of working with candidates sourced from the HR team’s internal recruiters.  According to the extremely frustrated hiring manager, this position has already been open for months and none of the candidates presented by the internal team came close to fitting the spec.

Please change the channel.  This show gives me nightmares!

What do all these scary recruitment stories tell us?  Myopic decisions, mixed up priorities and inconsistent approaches aside, the common thread is we’re dealing with human beings.  Qualified candidates are not akin to commodities on the store shelf that are easily replaceable, readily substituted, or able to wait three months for it to go on sale even though it’s needed now.  In a similar light, prioritizing protocol and stringently budgeted headcount over progress does not make for a sustainable growth strategy that centers on building teams with top talent.

These recruitment stories are scary because they’re real.  And what makes matters even more terrifying is the thought that those at the center of these stories will likely repeat their errant ways, producing more tricks than treats.


Action items:

1.  As a hiring company, what message are you sending out to the talent pool when you mishandle the interview and offer stages on a regular basis?  What does that say about your company’s communications, organization, priorities, and value placed on people?

2.  It’s true that hiring companies shouldn’t treat candidates as commodities.  Yet, candidates shouldn’t treat themselves as commodities, either.  Your resume is not a soup can label, providing ingredients and nutritional information.  Go into an interview with the mindset that you are special.  And special candidates go the extra mile, such as conducting extensive research about the company and its market, preparing salient questions to ask each interviewer and drawing upon prior experience to demonstrate the fit and value to the organization you’d bring.

3.  Everyone’s their own worst enemy when it comes to both hiring and job hunting.  Take a good introspective look in the mirror and be afraid of what you see.  Be very afraid.  And use that fear to be honest with yourself while seeking input to become better.

The Not So Secret Ingredient to Sustainable Growth

March 22, 2012

My hiring client gave me the perfunctory checklist of candidate prerequisites for a senior sales search.  It contained many of the typical tangible attributes, such as: a proven history of over-quota achievement, experience selling into a particular vertical, specific type of software sales experience, educational pedigree, and commutable distance from the headquarters.  In prodding for intangibles, I ferreted out the importance of creativity, entrepreneurial mindset, resourcefulness, personal drive, autonomy, and planful nature.

So what happened when I presented a candidate with very strong intangibles, but worked outside their software realm and would need to endure a long commute?  The hiring manager’s knee-jerk reaction was to disqualify the candidate outright without even speaking with him.  In pushing back on this hiring VP, I learned that the commute was important only for the first couple of months during the ramp-up period.  Beyond that, the new hire wouldn’t need to be in the office more than once a week.  In addition, although the candidate hasn’t sold their type of software, he did sell a solution that was tangential to the company’s space.  Upon reviewing these points, the hiring executive changed his mind and agreed to interview this candidate.  Sure enough, the interview went well and the two bonded furiously.

In a similar vein, candidates regularly come to me with their checklists for the ideal next step in their career.  Yet, with few exceptions, they’ll find that no opportunity is a black or white proposition.  When it comes to people, there are numerous variables, making each career opportunity as well as each candidate unique.  I like to give candidates the benefit of the doubt that above anyone else, they know best what their optimal career next step looks like.  How realistic their expectations are, combined with how marketable their candidacy is, usually leaves plenty to interpretation.

Sadly, there is no one secret ingredient to companies achieving sustainable growth.  Similarly, there is no secret ingredient to candidates achieving sustainable career growth.  Despite our human inclination to categorize and itemize nearly every facet of our lives, some things cannot be defined by a list.  There are simply too many dependencies that will sway the direction of one’s company or career.  Having said that, it all starts with a foundationary element: open-mindedness.

Open-mindedness implies truly listening, trying ideas on for size and genuinely considering other perspectives.  Even more critical, open-mindedness is the gateway to seizing opportunistic events that otherwise would have been summarily rejected or gone unseen.  After all, how can we think out of the box when we’re spending so much time reinforcing the boxes that already exist?

What does this have to do with job hunting or hiring?  Everything!

The greatest hiring executives I’ve worked alongside had a penchant for identifying and ultimately hiring top-tier, non-traditional candidates – people who didn’t fit the spec to a T, but came to the table with immense aptitude and attitude.  They tried these candidates on for size, unearthed attributes and capabilities that would have otherwise flown under the job spec radar, and brought them on board.  Often times, non-traditional candidates can bring in fresh ideas, implement new processes, solve longstanding problems, and help perpetuate an innovation mentality throughout the organization.

Non-conforming job opportunities offer similar potential benefits to job seekers.  Perhaps a candidate had it in her mind that a mid-sized, well-established company would provide the necessary level of stability and personal growth.  However, up crops a position with an earlier stage well-capitalized growing company, in which everyone on board wears multiple hats, plays a high impact/high visibility role, and needs to build out teams around them.  Without open-mindedness, this career opportunity would be dismissed due to the mere size and stage of the company.

Two of the greatest determining factors in a company’s ongoing quest for sustained growth are:  1) Ability to innovate, and 2) Ability to attract, retain, and develop talented people.  If I were a candidate, I would give these considerable weight in assessing hiring companies.  As a hiring company, I’d explore ways to invest more in people who can transcend the bounds of status quo thinking and usher in the next wave of innovation and refinement.  Once again, it all centers on people.  And given that all people are uniquely gifted and bring different perspectives, this is where open-mindedness comes into play as an ever-present catalyst for sustained growth.


Action items:

1.  Job descriptions, complete with their list of candidate preferences, should serve as an initial guide, not the Ten Commandments.  As a hiring company, you really don’t want everyone cut from the same cloth.

2.  It behooves candidates to seek objective counseling from mentors, trusted colleagues and recruiters on the efficacy of their career preferences.  With most candidates, there are multiple potential career roads to take.  It’s important to identify and consider as many of them as possible – even the ones that initially appear far-fetched.

3.  Both candidates and hiring companies that submit to staying the course, riding past trends and adhering to “safe” decisions, will likely find themselves dangerously behind the curve.  These are highly dynamic, fast-moving times with no let up in sight.  Open-mindedness is one of those magical elixirs that promotes agility, opportunistic events and innovation.

What Comes Before Workforce Retention?

January 23, 2012

Last week, I attended a seminar on workforce retention.  Just the notion of having such a meeting topic sparked the question:  Is this a sign that the job market pendulum is shifting in the other direction?

Actually, the pendulum shifted back in candidates’ favor early last year.  It’s just that virtually no one was willing to proclaim such a milestone.  It seems that such declarations are done while looking in the rear view mirror.  Over the recent months, a substantial number of the long-term unemployed and underemployed have gotten hired into new positions and this trend appears to be accelerating.  Many of those who have been employed all along, albeit under duress, are now seeking better opportunities in a highly selective fashion.

No doubt, the job market is tightening in the other direction.  High growth companies with aggressive hiring objectives are already hitting pain points around not finding enough qualified talent to support their growth plans.  It strikes me as both humorous and disingenuous that companies are now scrambling to address workforce retention.  Not that they’re off base in doing so.  After all, it is far less expensive to retain your good employees than it is to be forced to replace them.  And that doesn’t even take into account the invaluable tribal knowledge embedded in current employees that could easily walk out the door at any time.

The last three years saw companies hold employees hostage.  Given the stormy economic climate, employees were, to a fair extent, afraid.  After seeing many of their colleagues caught up in workforce reductions, they could envision being next on the chopping block.  On top of this enduring angst, employees whose jobs were saved were rewarded by inheriting additional workloads and work hours.  Their positions were transformed into ones they did not sign up for, all the while not being compensated at levels commensurate with the additional load and responsibility.

That’s why workforce retention talks that are occurring now come off as disingenuous.  During the last three years, why didn’t managers and executives reach out to their front lines, listening to their concerns and ideas?  Why didn’t they offer more flexible work schedules to offset increased workloads?  Why didn’t they step up their recognition programs?  Why didn’t they promote a culture of loyalty?  Sadly, the answer to all these questions is because companies could get away with it.  There is no loyalty.  And now, in an environment that enables sweet revenge for all those pent-up feelings of being unappreciated and exploited, it’s the employees’ turn to vote with their feet.

Yes, let’s talk about raising the game regarding employee retention.  But first, let’s do it with consistency, regardless of the economy.  Let’s do all we can to protect our most valuable asset – people.  But first, let’s make sure we get the recruitment, hiring and onboarding phases right.  What good is an employee retention plan if your front-end processes are marred with delays, unresponsiveness, empty promises, and incomplete, inaccurate job descriptions?

Addressing workforce retention now implies that it wasn’t valued before.  It is being instituted reactively to put out preventable fires.  Where there’s no loyalty, there’s no trust.  One of my very first sales managers told me that the mark of great sales professionals isn’t how they perform during good times, but rather how they think and act during tough times.  That always stuck with me.  So why shouldn’t that adage apply to companies?

It’s all too easy for organizations to proclaim their care and concern for their employees’ welfare and thoughts during good times.  The real test is how adept they are at employee relations during tough times.  Better times may indeed be at our doorstep.  But before rushing off to avert unwanted employee attrition, put some serious thought into why people may want to leave.  In doing so, you may gain actionable corrective insight that ultimately may help encourage people to join…and stay.


Action items:

1.  Before you fully address employee retention, make sure to get all that comes before that tightened up.  This includes solidifying roles & responsibilities, interviewing & hiring, and onboarding.

2.  Workforce retention should be a company initiative that is ever-present and worked on consistently, whether in good or challenging times.  Otherwise, it can come off as disingenuous and ultimately backfire.

3.  Make sure that workforce retention strategies are ones that can be sustained and followed through on.  To not deliver on retention programs is far more deleterious to employee morale than not having any such programs at all.