I love it when companies announce they are going to “reorganize.” There is plenty of hoopla and fanfare, and a bazillion dollars are spent on new logos, advertising, press releases, employee meetings, reorganization charts and the like. Imagine their disappointment when, about 18 to 24 months later, they are still reorganizing, and reorganizing, and reorganizing… Eventually, the senior executives who started the whole thing start looking for scapegoats to shoulder blame for the whole change fiasco. Why does this always happen? While organizations are willing to spend big money on consultants, training, and workshops to reorganize workflow and processes, HR is either unwilling or unable to spend anything on hiring. “What does hiring have to do with reorganization?” one so-called “OD” consultant asked me. Duh! Just about everything. Interview-Based Hiring Will Let You Down Suppose you were not feeling well, so you went to your doctor. After careful examination, he proclaimed that your physical “humours” were out of balance and that he would need to lance a vein (or two) to let out the “bad blood” so you could get better. What, you say? You’d be out of his office before you could say “quack”! But before you run, you might want to know that bloodletting was the physician’s treatment of choice for almost every illness for about 2500 years! It was still actively practiced through the early 19th century ó perhaps even your grandparents received the treatment. Think about it. Bloodletting was almost worthless, but tradition kept it alive until science finally demonstrated the cure was often as fatal as the illness. Most interviewers don’t “bleed” their applicants looking for evidence of job skills among the four bodily humours. But using interviews to accurately predict performance is almost as worthless. For one reason, a smart applicant knows how to say or do anything to get hired (i.e., skills and accomplishments are totally self-reported). For another, some interviewers tend to think of themselves as pop-psychologists and seldom, if ever, follow up on their hires to determine their accuracy (one recruiter told me he measured accuracy by whether the employee stayed on the job six months). Once you eliminate applicants who are too dull to figure out the right answers to interview questions (“Tell me, Dr. Lechter, what is your favorite food?”), predictive accuracy for the remainder is no better than chance. Need proof? Look at your last 100 hires. If you’re sure you only hired the best producers, how did all those duds get through your screen? Did you conscientiously hire a few losers just to balance out the winners? Be honest. Companies only hire people who interview well, don’t they? Doesn’t this tell you something? Variable Quality Workforce By now you should be uncomfortably aware that interviews, panel or otherwise, are not accurate enough to effectively screen for consistent employee skills. That’s where organizational systems take over. Some organizations belong to the “Mark Burnett School of Performance” (Mark Burnett is the developer of the TV program “Survivor”). That is, “Mark selects the initial contestants, but one gets voted off the island at the end of each program.” Man! Maybe I’m just sensitive, but that seems like a brutal (and expensive) way to correct bad hiring practices. Not only do you have the expense of hiring and training a new employee, the survivors would tend to either turn cutthroat against each other or against the company. Not a nice place to work. Organizations that don’t follow the Mark Burnett school of thought tend to follow the Darwinian attraction-selection-attrition (ASA) approach described by Ben Schneider at U. Maryland. ASA means that organizations tend to attract people like themselves (attraction), these people tend to get hired and stay (selection), and those who are different tend to leave (attrition). Put these two theories together and you get an organization filled with people with variable skills, yet who tend to think alike. Now, who wants to try to change that environment using workshops and re-engineering? Can you turn a process-oriented company into an entrepreneurial one? Command and control into self-directed teams? Risk averse into innovative? Sure. You’ll have just as much success convincing Tammy Faye Baker to cut back on the mascara. Selection Either Helps or Hinders Organizational redesigns have to flow downward. If you believe the press, a large technology company executive group decided the company had lost its competitive edge. There was too much process and not enough innovation. It was time to return to the “garage environment” where the founders got started in order to rekindle the spark of invention. Nice talk, but it you were put in charge of recruiting and staffing, how would you change their hiring model to accommodate the new company vision? Remember, the new company was staffed by established old-company people (remember ASA?). Would you use interviews? (“So tell me, Nancy, are you creative?”) How much creativity can the “new” culture tolerate? What new demands will be put on employees? We all know that entrepreneurial organizations are the antithesis of established ones. The two styles mix like oil and water (guess which one will survive). I’m pretty sure if their “new” HR department does the same-old, same-old, the spin-off will be almost indistinguishable from the parent within a few years. Why? Interviews are flaky, and unrelenting ASA pressure will slowly push the ship back on course. It helps to think of your present workforce as a house built by a totally color-blind builder. The house is constructed of red bricks, blue bricks, yellow bricks, and green bricks. They all looked alike to the builder a few years ago, but if your boss wants to only build houses made of red bricks, you will need to screen out all future green, yellow and blue bricks. How To Get There From Here The first step toward organizational change is to simplify the whole job description thing and think of jobs as families with similar competencies. No, I’m not talking about a C++ competency versus a Visual Basic competency (both these subjects be combined into a general competency called “Technical Knowledge”) What I’m talking about is to look at jobs that require intensive learning, complicated problem solving, extensive planning, etc. Don’t worry if this idea is too “abstract” to absorb, there very few people who know how to do this well. Next, examine each family for “pre” and “post” competency states. For example, a company moving from process-oriented employees to entrepreneurial employees will need people who generally think in abstract terms rather than concrete terms. They will also need people with better interpersonal skills to present their ideas to coworkers, like making suggestions and being dissatisfied with the status quo. There will be many key competency differences that need to be thought through. Each should be clearly identified and mapped out. This will become the fundamental blueprint for change. Can you do this without help? Tell you what. Send me a check for $19.95 plus $5.95 shipping and handling and I’ll send you a brand-new penknife, a mirror, a sewing kit and an anatomy book so you can remove your own appendix (you will be just as successful). Now, decide how much change the organization will tolerate. People don’t like change, and any competency that is too extreme will encounter serious pushback. A new employee with a head full of suggestions expects someone to listen (go figure!). If his or her manager is not ready to support and encourage innovation, the manager will quickly transform that once highly motivated employee into a highly discouraged one. A good rule of thumb is to hire for competencies that will be appreciated and rewarded 18 months to two years “ahead.” Finally, determine how best to measure the competencies you are looking for. Sometimes this will include behavioral or situational pre-screening questions. More often than not, it will require some kind of one-on-one interaction, group exercise, test or simulation. Whatever is used should be validated (no, not by someone else, validated by your organization). Think of simulations or group exercises as behavioral-style interviewing without the interview. That is, you control the situation, you observe the behavior, and you evaluate the response. Same three parts, just more control. Piece of cake, right?
Recently I have been asked a question which, although simple, is still critical for the success of any staffing department: “How can I explain to my IT department that staffing is not only a department that we try to squeeze as much as possible?” Or, “How can I make sure we get the support that we require to deliver value?” This question is critical in our times, as CFOs are looking very closely now at spending and are of course trying to cut everywhere. They even might be considering an outsourcing model where it may be conceivable. So the lack of visible benefits and tools to deliver value will possibly reduce staffing to a less and less important department, and could even go as far as outsourcing your world as a whole. How can I explain to my CFO that human capital is the key to our business? One technique that can clarify the value of human capital to the corporation is to ask your VP of Sales the difference between his or her top performer and an average performer in an equivalent position. Then show your CFO the difference. A study from McKinsey & Company showed how high performers generate more results than average performers: corporate officers they surveyed believe the average difference in impact for sales positions is 67%. How can I explain to my CFO that staffing shouldn’t be seen through the cost-control compulsion, but instead through the asset creation view? The previous calculation should give you a persuasive way to explain the anecdotal example, supported by observations from a reputable consulting firm. Now let’s use a more global view to establish that your firm’s return to your shareholders is impacted by your human capital practices. For this you can cite Watson Wyatt’s recent Human Capital Index study, which shows that companies either with good human capital practices or that are in the top quartile of the Human Capital Index generated, on average, a 64% total return to shareholders over the last five years ó versus 21% for the lower quartile or the companies expending less effort on human capital. How can I explain to a CIO that I need some good tools? Hopefully you have made the business case for a quality staffing function and the impact it has on the success of your business. The second element is to arm your team with the tools to achieve this. But in the CIO’s mind, you are not the only one who needs tools. The VP of Sales may present a big ticket CRM item with clear ROI. Similarly, as we explained for the CFO, you have to be able to show your CIO that what you are providing is the foundation for subsequent strategies with high ROI. At iLogos we have worked on the ROI of staffing solutions for the past two years and I can tell you that the bottom and top lines are very impressive. We should have no qualms about comparison with the ROI for any other type of application. Yet we still hear this from some HR professionals: “Okay, this is all good, but my CIO is really down to earth ó financially-driven, not value-driven. How can I explain that I need a good tool? The best answer I believe is to make sure you speak the language the CIO can relate to. For instance, explain this to your CIO: If it is so critical for you to cut costs, why don’t we put all of your team on 133MHz PCs instead of upgrading to those fancy 1GHz machines? You’ll probably hear that it is not the same thing ó speed is of the essence. So tell him that it’s the same issue for you: speed is of the essence! If there are objections to new applications, for example, tell your CIO, “Frankly, is this last version of the Windows operating system really making such a difference? Why don’t we keep all of our company on DOS?” If your company and its IT department use maintenance tools and support software, then ask, “Why don’t we keep the version from three years ago for this year?” In other words, use a context your CIO understands as a metaphor to express your department’s needs as a way to challenge and overcome objections. With this method, you should get some response. I hope you get the idea. I look forward to hearing some of the reactions along with your additional arguments and positioning as you strive to utilize the best staffing tools to obtain maximum enterprise-wide results.
Workforce planning is currently one of the hottest topics on the planet?? and with few exceptions, recruiting isn’t. Unfortunately, most recruiters see workforce planning as something that occurs beyond their scope, when in fact it could be their ticket to job security during these tough economic times. Why Is Workforce Planning Hot? Don’t take my word for it. Look at any survey of senior managers or VPs of HR and you’ll find workforce planning (or one of it’s many variation like succession planning, HR planning, or building bench strength) consistently listed among their top five issues. There are a variety of reasons why workforce planning is becoming the next key competency in HR and why it is among the hottest business issues. Economic and Business Factors
- Being ready for the economic upturn. Accurate economic forecasts are even more necessary during a downturn because senior managers want to “explode out-of-the-box” with the right talent as soon as the economic recovery begins.
July is nearly over, and we are now on the down side of 2002. How is the year shaping up for the industry? Are companies hiring again? What’s the buzz in the technology area? Is the search industry back on the upswing? How are companies approaching their recruiting? While the industry hasn’t jumped back as quickly as we all would have hoped, I do believe that 2002 is shaping up to be a year of positive change. Based on the companies and recruiters I’ve spoken with, the general trend seems to be that companies are focusing on evaluating the past in an effort to make positive changes for the future. Sorting through the mess of the past is not easy. As frustrating as it may seem today, the ultimate result will be better for all. Specifically here is a summary of the top five trends I’ve recently observed: 1. Companies are taking a step back in an effort to move forward. While companies have not ramped up their recruiting efforts to the levels we all would have hoped (particularly the underemployed), it does seem that many companies are making a concerted effort to recruit smarter. Looking back on their practices of 1998 through 2000, many companies now realize that hundreds of thousands of dollars were virtually wasted on hasty spending decisions. In 2002, though, companies are doing more workforce planning, building in stronger accountability measures, evaluating metrics more sensibly, and strategizing on ways of improving each step of the recruiting process. I am confident that once the hiring picks up again, measurable efficiencies will be realized. Of course there will always be those companies that will never get it right. They will never figure out the right mix of spending, or how to most effective work with their internal clients or even how to write a decent job ad. For some, the more things change, the more they will stay the same. 2. Realization that technology is a tool, not a recruiter. At last, technology is being recognized for its true capabilities and not as the be-all and end-all solution to recruiting woes. Over the past five years we have observed companies implement technology because they felt they needed to, without really thinking through the best ways to maximize the benefit to their organizations. This phenomenon seems to be changing. Companies are now taking a more serious look at how to use the technology to truly improve efficiencies. They don’t seem to be as jaded about thinking that the technology will do their recruiting for them but are beginning to realize that when used correctly they create opportunities for recruiters to make better use of their time. But it is important to recognize that, just as with other software products we use, such as Word or Outlook or even Quicken, only a small percentage of users will ever realize the benefits of all the software features. With the current sophistication of many recruiting products, there will always be opportunities for users to improve their effectiveness. 3. Pre-screening tools are taking center stage. It’s not new news that companies are struggling with the dramatic increase in resumes that they receive for each open position. Overwhelmed by the need to look at every response in an effort to find the perfect candidate hidden among the hundreds of submissions, recruiters are looking for ways to quickly streamline this step in the recruiting process. The technology winners are those companies that are offering the “intelligent” screening tools. Basically, companies have adapted the artificial intelligence, collaborative filtering, and predictive matching tools used for other industries to the needs of the recruiting industry. Companies like Burning Glass Technologies, Engenium, and iXMatch are beginning to build strong market niches within the recruiting industry. While the jury is still out on whether these products do an optimal job at ranking candidates most effectively, they do seem to help quickly narrow the field to a manageable number. When a recruiter receives over 500 resumes for each opening, these tools are very helpful at filtering out the bottom 75%. It is highly unlikely that these products will generate perfect results any time soon. Some great candidates will get passed over in the process but most likely fewer than are being missed right now. The pundits need take into account the reality that not many recruiters ever generate perfect results with every search. 4. Recognition of internal talent. There seems to be a more collaborative effort between the organizational development and recruiting departments within corporations to understand the skills and career aspirations of current employees. Historically, the OD departments were the keepers of the career-planning tools, providing limited access to the recruiting departments. Now, with the help of more sophisticated applicant tracking technology, companies are beginning to include current employee profiles in their candidate databases. Rather than wait for an employee to “bid” on an internal opportunity, recruiters are now actively pursuing internal candidates. When a search brings up a current employee, there is more effort to introduce them to internal opportunities and more willingness for managers to let them move on. Territorialism will always exist and employees will always be passed over for an external candidate. The optimistic news here is that companies are taking a big step in the retention direction. 5. Outsourcing is becoming a major consideration. Three trends are taking place that are leading companies to consider outsourcing significant pieces of the recruiting process. First, the recruiting headcount simply no longer exists. Recruiters were laid off, and even though hiring may be ramping back-up, the recruiting departments are not getting back their headcount. Second, the pressure to keep search firm fees minimized is still very high. Finally, companies are beginning to look more strategically at the recruiter’s role in the organization and are seeking ways to make the most effective use of their time. The result is a bigger push toward outsourcing the front end of the process. Companies are beginning to realize that with the right outsourcing partner in place, they can effectively streamline processes. Recruiters now need to work only with the most qualified and interested candidates. The outsourcing teams will post the job ads, manage the responses, perform all the advanced internet searching techniques, direct source candidates, mine resume databases and provide detailed pre-screens. Rather than spending their day leaving voicemail messages and sorting through lots of unqualified paper, recruiters have more time to do what they do best?? recruit. Both the hiring managers and the most promising candidates are getting more attention. While outsourcing services are not cheap, the result is generally significant cost savings over previous strategies and a more satisfying experience for the candidates and hiring managers. What It Means What does this mean for the recruiting industry in general? For vendors, the money may not be flowing in the door in 2002 as quickly as you had anticipated. If you deliver a top quality product, provide excellent customer service, have a strong lead list, and can keep your investors placated for a bit longer, you will prevail. In the short term, the key is maintaining sufficient cash flow. In the long term, I do believe that business will pick up to “normal” levels. Unfortunately, if your products or services are not top notch, you probably will continue to struggle. Companies are being much more selective about how they spend their money. If the deliverables are not there, the business won’t be there either. The corporations that are committed to building recruiting departments whose business practices mirror the sophistication of any other business unit in the organization will realize significant cost savings, lower cycle times and increased retention rates. The trend seems to be moving in this direction, albeit slowly. Don’t let the naysayers diminish the progress being made by visionaries that see recruiting as a business process akin to any other supply chain process but with an added ingredient of significant personal touch.
Last month I asked readers to complete a survey aimed at gathering information needed on the adoption and use of online screening. My survey sought to examine trends in three specific areas: 1) the current state of use for online screening, 2) the identification of obstacles to the adoption of online screening, and 3) the future of online screening. First of all, I want to thank everyone who took the time to complete the survey. I received enough completed surveys to provide some meaningful results. In fact, I got so much good information that I decided to split up my findings into two articles. This article is the first installment and provides details about the characteristics of my sample as well as some interesting findings about the current usage of online screening by respondents’ organizations. Sample Limitations Before I begin discussing my findings, I think it is important for me to bring up the fact that the conclusions reported in this article may have been influenced by several characteristics of my sample:
- Those persons who are presently using screening may have been much more likely to take the time to complete the survey because they have made an investment in screening technology.
In a recent report released by the American Organization of Nurse Executives, it was estimated that by the year 2010 the average age of a registered nurse in the United States will be over 45, and approximately 40% will be over 50 years old. At the same time, the first of the countries baby boomers will begin to retire and become eligible for Medicare, greatly increasing the demand for medical services. Thousands of nurses are expected to be among those retiring, resulting in an unprecedented shortage of nurses. Hospitals and long-term care facilities have already begun to feel the pressure of this shortage and have turned to outside recruiting firms to help them with their staffing needs. But where and how do recruiting firms find these nurses when hospitals cannot? To be a nurse recruiter, it takes a lot of creativity, a strong understanding of the medical world, and persistence. With the sinking economy, many recruiting firms have moved into the healthcare industry to keep themselves afloat during these hard times. But even the best recruiters may have a hard time recruiting nurses. Here are some of the ways that experienced nurse recruiters go about finding and recruiting nurses every day. Understanding the Candidate With good reason, nurses demand the respect that they have earned. If you cannot communicate with them on a professional and clinical level they will not trust you to help them advance their career. If you do not know the difference between a nurse practitioner and licensed practical nurse you will insult them. If you don’t understand the difference between the emergency room and the critical care unit, your clients will not trust you. To be a successful nurse recruiter, you must have a clear understanding of the medical field. The best nurse recruiters are often those who have worked in the healthcare industry in the past and can relate to their candidates on both a personal and professional level. Most recruiters rely on the Internet to provide them with qualified candidates. With so many niche sites popping up everyday, it is often assumed that nurses would use them to help advance their career. This, however, is a great misconception. Internet sites like Monster.com, Hotjobs.com, Hirehealth.com, and Nursinghands.com are always helpful in locating qualified nurses, but they cannot be relied on alone. Nurses in general aren’t avid users of computers or the Internet. Often, they do not even have an updated resume, if they have one at all. Posting jobs and pulling resumes off of job boards can help fill jobs every now and then, but recruiting from the Internet alone will spell failure for you in the long run. Back to Basics To be a successful nurse recruiter, you need to get back to the recruiting basics that so many of us have recently abandoned. Finding qualified people is often very difficult. A hospital is not going to provide you with a list of their employees so that you take can pilfer from them. So where do we find them? A hospital might give you someone’s name if you can provide a reason for them to give it to you. This can often be difficult. There are some recruiters who are very good at this form of name gathering and can spend an hour or two on the phone calling hospitals and other healthcare facilities to produce a list of potential candidates. The Internet can also come in handy for name gathering. There are many healthcare organizations and societies that have web sites. These sites often have membership directories. By gaining access to the directories, you will gain a list of potential new candidates. Take time each week exploring the Internet to find new websites and resources. Getting in contact with local chapters is a great networking tool. Getting the job orders is the easy part of nurse recruiting. But if you cannot fill them, your clients will look elsewhere for help. It is important to remember that a healthcare facility is not going to give you an order for a position that they can easily fill on their own. Generally, a hospital will ask for help filling management and senior level positions. In New York City, the average nurse manager will earn somewhere between $70,000 and $90,000 a year. As recruiters, we are often motivated in selling the idea of career advancement to our candidates. A Nurse Manager is not an easy job. They have 24-hour responsibilities, which include handling their unit’s budget and making sure that their unit is fully staffed (something not so easy with the shortage of nurses out there). It is a very stressful job that many nurses simply do not want. The average staff nurse in New York City, with several years of experience and a Bachelor’s Degree, will earn close to 70,000 dollars per year, and they will not have any of the added responsibilities. When their shift is through they go home and do not have to think about work until the next day. A large majority of staff nurses do not want to be a unit manager, and no matter how much money you offer them, they will not accept the position. The best way to recruit a Nurse Manager is to find one working somewhere else, and offer them the opportunity to work in a facility that has better resources or a better salary. Cold Calling Cold calling and networking are the best ways to fill these positions. If anyone has forgotten what cold calling is, cold calling refers to picking up the phone and calling someone with whom you have never spoken, getting them interested in a job that you are currently trying to fill, getting their resume, and sending them out on an interview. Anyone who has spent five minutes doing this knows it is easier said than done. Not everyone is comfortable with cold calling. There is a lot of rejection involved in it, and at times pride and ego are put on the line. Cold calling does not have to be scary. It needs to be looked at as a game, and you need to believe in what you are selling. As recruiters, all we are selling is the idea of a better job, more money, a better facility, and better benefits. You need to believe that this is so. If you do not believe in the company you are working for, it will reflect in your voice, and no one will believe in you. You need to be able to answer questions that your candidate might ask you. You should always know how many beds are in the unit they will be working on, what the nurse to patient ratio is, and whom they will be reporting to. By providing your candidates with as much information as possible, you will have significantly better results on the phone. If you do not know the answer to a question raised, never lie and make something up. This will always come back to haunt you. Simply tell them that you are not sure but you will find out for them shortly. Honesty is always the best policy. As much as we would love to send everyone we speak with on an interview, this will obviously not happen. When recruiting nurses, a successful cold call can be looked at as introducing yourself to the nurse and gathering information about them that you do not currently possess. Often, a nurse will tell you that they are very happy where they are or that they are not interested in the position that you are describing. There are two important questions that need to be asked: “What would entice you to make a move?” and, “Do you know anyone who is qualified for this position that might be interested in hearing about it?” These are important questions that can provide you with new leads, and can give you valuable information about your candidate that you can you use down the line. You might not have the job they are looking for today, but you might tomorrow. Just remember that people will hang up on you, people will not return your calls, and people will be rude to you at times. Is this really so bad? Is there any reason that your ego and pride cannot handle this? If there is, you are probably in the wrong profession. The opposite will also happen. For every 20 calls you make, if you find that one person interested in learning about new career opportunities, then the first 19 hang-ups and unreturned calls were worth it. Keeping Up the Relationship It is important to be in constant communication with the nurses that are responsive to your phone calls. As simple and obvious as this may sound, we often lose touch with some of our candidates, and they can often our best resource. Make sure that everyone you speak with has your business card. Call them once a month to see how they are doing and if anything has changed at worked, and run a couple of jobs that you are working on by them. See if they know anyone who would be interested learning more about them. Always ask them if they know of anyone who is looking. The goal is to essentially have them do the recruiting for you, and you want to be the first person they call in the event that they decide to look for a new job. The more persistent you are, and the more you treat the people you speak to with respect, the more they will respond to you and refer to you their colleagues. Being a successful nurse recruiter is never going to be an easy job. It takes patience, creativity, and an understanding of today’s demands on the healthcare world. But through persistent work developing a network of contacts and getting back to the basics of recruiting, one can make a difficult career a little less complicated.
In my work with some of the top staffing executives in the country, I constantly hear about their biggest concern: that many of their recruiters lack good fundamental recruiting skills. Somehow the Internet, coupled with the slowdown, has made many recruiters overly reliant on passive recruiting techniques like advertising and resumes databases. This will become even more serious as the economy recovers. More proactive, hands-on recruiting skills are again needed to find and attract top candidates. In Part 1 of this series I described the eight essentials of great recruiting and indicated that I would address each of these topics fully over the next several months. This time, I’ll focus on applicant control. While good recruiting starts by developing a list of top names to call, the real challenge comes into play when you make your first call to one of these unsuspecting people. You first wonder why they’re not overly anxious to talk to you. Sometimes they won’t even return your voicemails. If you do get one on the line, you’re often quickly forced into a sales pitch when the person asks you to describe the job. If the job isn’t up to the person’s standard, you’re quickly dismissed ó despite repeated protestations. The best recruiters don’t allow this to happen. They know how to effectively control the process from the first phone call all the way through the negotiation and close. How well you handle this first phone call will be the difference between being a good recruiter or great one. This is the start of applicant control. Let’s first consider your call from the perspective of a top candidate. Whether the person is active or passive, he or she will always have multiple job opportunities ó either competing offers or a potential counter-offer. A top person like this treats your call as an intrusion. While they might eventually want to talk seriously about your opening, they’re first considering if they should talk to you at all. To determine this, they want to know the job title, the compensation range, the company and the location. If this is good enough, and if the recruiter sounds professional enough, they might talk to you for 10 minutes. The best recruiters know that they’re really not calling this person about the job at all. They’re calling this person to begin the networking process. While the job is not unimportant, it cannot be the total focus of the first few minutes of your call. A good recruiter needs to get the candidate to begin talking about him or herself right away, before much is known about the job. This way, the recruiter can determine if the candidate is qualified or not. If the person is qualified, then you’ll need to present some information about the job to move the process forward. If the person is not qualified or too strong, you must then begin networking with this person. You’ll never be able to do either of these two important things if you’re doing all the talking and trying to sell the candidate first. While there are multiple ways to pull this off, here’s what I do, and what we’ve trained some of the best recruiters and researchers in Southern California to do over the past 15 years. Start the call with a scripted opening like this: “Hi, my name is ________. I’m a recruiter with [organization] and have been given the responsibility to find a senior-level marketing executive for a top [consumer products company, for example]. During the process of this search, your name came to my attention as someone I should contact. Rather than waste anybody’s time, let me ask you this direct question: would you personally be open to explore a situation if it was clearly superior to your current job?” While you’ll need to tweak the words to fit your situation, we’ve discovered that if you sound professional most people will say yes to this question. Then immediately go on with the following: “Great. Let me first ask you just a few questions about your background, it will take a minute or two, and then I’ll give you an equally quick overview of the position. If it makes mutual sense to seriously explore this situation, we can then schedule a more detailed discussion.” Then go on and conduct a quick five to ten minute interview obtaining the candidate’s essentials. If the person is worthy of consideration, provide a quick general overview of the job and then schedule another call, or continue the phone screen. The key to making this process work is to be a bit vague about the job. It must be big enough to interest the candidate right away. That’s why “executive level” or “senior position” are good choices. Candidates tend to make quick decisions on superficial data ó title, location, etc. If you’re too specific, many will quickly remove themselves. Instead, engage them and change their decision from thinking about the job to just exchanging information. It’s also essential that you obtain their profile first. This way you can determine if the candidate is qualified or not, rather than having the candidate decide. If you let the candidate decide on superficial data right away, you’ll lose 75% of the best candidates! Equally important, if you don’t spend at least 10 minutes with the person on the phone, you won’t get one decent referral. Even for those candidates who balk at this process, it’s important to engage with them for about 10 minutes. You can tell the person you’d still like to obtain a quick profile of their background for a future assignment, even if they are not currently interested. This sometimes works. If the candidate really balks and says he or she is not interested under any circumstances, then you’re forced to give them an overview of the job. Engage with the person, telling them you’d like to provide a quick overview of the job, in the chance they might know someone qualified. Then describe the key challenges and the compensation range. Use a vague title ó senior manager or senior executive position works well. Titles are often used to filter in and out candidates; that’s why it’s best to be vague. Try to still probe about the candidate’s background. You might be able to get the person to reconsider if the job is compelling enough. If not, you’ll still be able to obtain referrals. Applicant control is important. You want the candidate to seriously consider your job opportunity. If he or she bases the decision to move forward on titles, compensation and location, you’re not fulfilling your role as a recruiter. In this case, your clients and your candidates are being ill-served. Top candidates are always willing to explore a situation if it’s clearly superior to their current job. The best recruiters make sure that every person called obtains all of the information they need to make a good decision. They won’t, if you begin selling too soon. Applicant control is all about asking questions, not selling the job. Learning how to do this is the first step in becoming a great recruiter.
Jane had just completed an exhausting week with her team. They had spent three days locked up in a conference room mapping out their recruiting processes, looking at how they were structured and deciding which technologies they felt were effective and which were not. The team was excited to see some order emerging from what had looked like a real mess a few days before. Now they could see how systems fitted together ó or didn’t fit at all ó and could begin to plan changes and improvements with a big picture in mind. In the scramble to get competitive over the past few years, few recruiting functions had the time to accomplish or even think about what Jane’s team did. Most just accumulated technology and threw together recruiting ideas and processes with little coordination or deep thought. When you’re in the midst of a war for talent it becomes very difficult to approach things in an orderly or careful way. Good ideas are grasped as they arrive, with the thought that someday you will take the time to integrate, evaluate and eliminate. Well, the time has come. One of the good things arising out of the slow economy is the time to look over all that you are doing and make changes that streamline and integrate your recruiting function so that you’re ready when the next battle occurs. Whether or not the next six months will bring us out of this economic slowdown, we do know one thing: the slowdown will end and we will be asked to suddenly start recruiting again. A house in order is not only a splendid thing, it is also efficient and will make this start up ó whenever it comes ó happen smoothly. Here are some things to consider over the next few weeks. Know Your Recruiting Process Well The first step in getting the function organized is to map out your current recruiting processes. Start with the hiring manager’s need to recruit someone and work your way through each step in the process. What does the manager have to do, when, to whom and so on? How does a recruiter get the requisition? When? What is the first thing she does? The second and the third? Go through everything until you end with a new employee on the job. While this is an exhausting process, as Jane found out, it is so worthwhile that I highly recommend it. I help my clients do this and find that at the end they know exactly what needs to get fixed and what can wait. If you have never done this, it would be very wise to attend a seminar on business process improvement or business process mapping, which are frequently offered at local colleges and from many independent seminar firms. There is also a good book on this topic called “Business Process Mapping: Improving Customer Satisfaction,” by J. Mike Jacka and Paulette J. Keller. Or get the delightfully simple book by Dianne Galloway, “Mapping Work Processes.” There are many other good books as well, the point being that process mapping is a powerful tool and a way to get your arms around what looks like chaos. Also, if you work in a technology, manufacturing or engineering-type firm, I am sure one of your engineers knows how to do this. Manufacturing managers have used these techniques for years to identify bottlenecks and fix problem on the line. A small, cross-functional team assigned to map the current processes can make good progress quickly. Once the current steps are clearly identified, it is a logical next step to make the process better by eliminating redundancies, integrating steps, or simplifying the administrivia. After this first step, you can look at whether you have the right structure or the right tools, and you can base your decisions on how things really work. Fix (or Create) Your Recruiting Website Make sure your website not only looks good but is also functional at several levels. Almost everyone has a recruiting website ó whether static and text-oriented or interactive and graphically exciting ó but few have sites that really deliver good, pre-screened candidates to the recruiter’s desktop. The goal should be to make the website work well behind the scenes for both the candidate and the recruiter. For the candidate the site should be easy to use, informative, and filled with useful information. It should offer a straightforward path to potential employment. For the recruiter, the site should deliver pre-screened candidates and offer a way to establish ongoing communication and build relationships. This means you need to take the time to evaluate your current site and rate how well it does both of these things. This is part of the process mapping I mention above. But it is also a separate process that may require you to rethink what software you are using, how it might integrate into the site, and at what difficulty and cost. This is the time to build a plan to improve the website and to lay out the time and budget it will take. By setting yourself some targets for improvements and building a project plan, you can make big improvements with better integration than you have had before. Aim To Build Relationships, Not Just Communicate A third way to improve your function is to continue to find ways to build relationships with candidates, not just send them emails once in a while. Relationships happen when there is an exchange of meaningful information and when a level of trust is established. While email is a part of that, providing candidates with feedback on their skills, helping steer them to the right position within the company for those skills, and being honest about opportunities at your company (or the lack thereof) is also essential. Take a look at my article on customer relationship management (CRM) for other ideas on how to build relationships and make your website serve you well. Don’t forget to keep the relationships that already exist with those who have recently left your organization (voluntarily or not) ó the so-called corporate alumni ó and with those who have interviewed for jobs but have not been hired. Even though they may not have been a match this time, they may be the next time. The better they feel about your company, the easier they will be to hire. If you have read carefully, you can see how all these tie together and how all hinge on having a careful look at what you are actually doing today. The time is now for improving your processes and making sure you really know what you are doing and why.
We are in the influence-peddling business. God knows, with the limited authority granted HR/staffing, influencing is usually our only hope of affecting and impacting events and outcomes. Just because you consider yourself a full-time HR professional, you are still an influence peddler. Hopefully you use your influence to ensure that your hiring managers, clients, and candidates are making the best possible decisions based on their real needs and the best possible outcome for them. It is a difficult and tricky world in which we work and our best and most vital tool in the influence peddling game is our ability to communicate. Communicating is a skill that not only supports you in your day-by-day function, it is also the key to your career and its successful development. The contacts you make, how you are perceived by others, and the effectiveness of your networking efforts are the sum total of your ability to communicate effectively ó your ability to write and speak with the intent of influencing and without alienating. I have written in the past that effective communication, not unlike radio, requires someone to speak (the transmitter) and a listener (the receiver). The transmitter may be all “warmed up” and broadcasting like an FM station, but if the receiver is not listening or is operating on a different frequency, then it is just a lot of sound waves moving through the air on their voyage to the outer reaches of the universe. (I wonder what Martians think of Madonna?) In the “old days” most influence-peddling communicating was face-to-face. The best sales representatives were those who were not only able to speak effectively and with the unfailing ability to influence an outcome, but people who also knew how to “read the room.” So it goes for effective staffing professionals. Use whatever title you prefer, but never forget you are a salesperson. “Reading the room” is the ability to determine your audience’s preferred communicating style. It involves mimicking that style, or at the very least meshing with it so as to be taken seriously and to not offend. Many years ago I had a sales route on the Boston waterfront. Half the buildings were remodeled high-rent locations with prestigious (translation: stuffy) businesses, and the other half were still old warehouses with the more traditional “cigar chomping” clients, who had fewer aesthetic needs. I would call on one set of clients with my suit coat on, shirt collar buttoned, and tie pulled up tight. I would put on my best Harvard accent ó a challenge considering I never went to Harvard ó and speak in hushed tones. Five minutes later I would have my suit coat over my shoulder, collar unbuttoned, tie pulled down and be yelling across a noisy warehouse, “Hey Lou! How the hell are you?” To confuse the two communicating styles would have been either a “faux pas” or “dumb,” depending on who the receiver was. But this level of communicating was based on the level of intimacy that I had achieved over time building a relationship with my leads, prospects, and clients. I kept or developed the business based on my assessment of exactly what level of intimacy I had achieved. Of course, reading the room is easy when you are actually in the room with your intended “receiver.” Although we still have written and verbal communications, a new form of communicating has arisen over the last decade, email. It has the properties of the written word, but the ease and less formal feel of verbal communications. In essence, it is the third form of communication, “write-speak.” With the proliferation of email we have entered a new age of communicating. Often it is used to replace or supplement “face to face” communications free from the more formal rules of written communication. The Internet and email have given us the ability to reach a vast audience faster, with more detail than ever before in the history of influence peddling. With that power has also come the ability to alienate more leads, prospects and clients than ever before. Like a power saw, it has the power to make cutting wood faster and more dangerous. There is nothing more dangerous for an influence peddler than to “over step” their bounds. To assume the ability to communicate also assures desire on the part of the “receiver” to be communicated with, at, or to. If you want to build a business base combining the ease and speed of the Internet and email, here are a few simple guidelines to remember:
- You are not alone. You are not the only person sending a plethora of emails introducing yourself and your services. Yours is not the only “helpful website” out there for people to visit. Consider the person and the volume they are dealing with when you plan your online strategy.
My sister, a lighting decorator, recently went through the interview process with a lighting company. After submitting her resume she received an acknowledgement, followed by a phone call a few weeks later and two initial phone screens. Based on this initial screening, they asked her to take up to two weeks to complete a personality test. The test included complex behavioral scenarios and some brainteaser word problems. Based only on the results of the test she was invited for an interview. The company then pulled out the red carpet by flying her to their headquarters, putting her up at the best hotel in town, and taking her to a group dinner. She then had an all-day interview agenda where she met with five hiring managers and members of the HR staff. After this long journey, my intuitive sister shared with me that she suspected she might not be a good “fit” in their eyes. A few days later, she got a letter saying there were no positions that “fit” her background. At first, her reaction was positive, because she thought they had customized a special response regarding her “fit.” But when she read me the letter, I explained that this is one of many form letters that can be programmed and sent out by an automated system. She was disappointed that for all her time and effort, the story ended with a form letter. My sister’s reaction seems typical of anyone who is an individual but is treated like a number. In recruiting, this treatment really exhibits itself in the various letters that get generated and sent out by hiring management systems or auto-email generators. Form letters affect how candidates perceive a company, its integrity, and the process. How can we make the necessity of form letters be a more effective function in the recruiting process? Let’s examine some issues and ideas around form letters. The Love/Hate of Form Letters Given a choice between receiving and not receiving any letter at all, most informal studies show candidates prefer some type of acknowledgement at action points in the process. If a candidate doesn’t receive an acknowledgement they often perceive that they’ve just gone into a big “black hole.” With that in mind, here are a few reasons to love form letters:
- Scalability for the recruiters. Responding to each applicant personally is usually not feasible for most recruiting operations. Auto-responders or system-generated letters give recruiters a break and provide consistency to communication protocols.
During tough times, recruiters need to do all they can to improve their internal image among senior managers and budget-cutting CFOs. Unfortunately, most recruiters and recruiting departments miss a great opportunity to build their internal brand when they outsource the recruiting of high-level jobs. Recruiting has it “bass ackwards”! From an image, branding, and power-building perspective, it would be smarter to outsource the high-volume (but low importance) non-exempt jobs and instead focus on the high exposure and high impact executive jobs. But for some unexplainable reason, recruiting functions almost invariability choose to spend their limited resources on the jobs that have the absolute least business and brand-image impact! Get smart: Focus on the high-level, high-exposure, and high-impact jobs. Politicians know it, salespeople know it ó but HR recruiters don’t seem to understand the political realities of business. Maybe HR people think they are “above it all,” but when they have a choice, smart managers always choose the projects and jobs that:
- Have the most impact on the business and stock price
Recruitment advertising can often be characterized as the inability to distinguish one employer from another. Despite research that has shown us that employees are as attracted to strong brands as consumers are in their product purchases, many employers are still in “Help Wanted” mode when it comes to their advertising and employment website content. In other words, employers are using their advertising solely as a way to generate immediate applications instead of using it to build a strong employer brand that brings them more applications over time or makes their offers more likely to be accepted. (For a more detailed overview of your employer brand, please see my previous article, Building a Winning Employer Brand.) Let’s start by taking a walk through the history of recruitment advertising. The Golden Age: “Help Wanted” In the good old days, the extent of recruitment advertising was putting up a sign that said “Help Wanted” in your lobby or storefront. Candidates ó who were limited in their job search to those companies within a five square mile radius of their home ó filled out paper applications in droves. At some point, however, an employer or their marketing department said, “We need a call to action!” This became the impetus for a new tagline, “Help Wanted, Inquire Within.” Candidates, inspired by this dramatic call to action, began to inquire within and fill out even more paper applications in droves. At first, the novelty of this approach was appealing to candidates. Instead of having to walk in and see if a company was hiring, they could easily identify those companies that needed employees from those who did not. But as “Help Wanted, Inquire Within” signs became more common, candidates were incapable of distinguishing one opportunity from another. They began to make often inaccurate correlations between the companies’ consumer brands and their employer brands. Turnover increased as a result. A revolution in recruitment advertising was about to occur. The Age of Collaboration: “Join Our Team” When it became clear to employers that “Help Wanted, Inquire Within” was losing its effectiveness as a recruiting tool, a new way of thinking emerged. Corporations grew larger, markets became more competitive, and a large portion of the economy had become service-driven. Knowledge capital became the foundation for competitive advantages, and thus, a hot commodity. Employers, in their pursuit of top talent, began to position themselves as more attractive places to work by using terms like “collaborative, team environment,” “open door policy,” and “empowerment.” They showered their employees with such perks as casual dress, ping pong tables, basketball courts, onsite child care, workout rooms, VW Bugs, and stock options to reduce turnover and gain competitive advantages for new talent. Employees, seeing new, feel-good headlines like “Join Our Team” and “Come Grow With Us,” felt compelled to apply, whether in person, by mail, or even via a new form of communication, email. A new breed of job seeker ó the “passive job seeker” ó began to apply for opportunities while already employed (especially those with autocratic bosses who didn’t make them feel part of a team). The overuse of these themes, however, has reduced them to nothing more than lip service to the team concept. They end up being nothing more than a touchy-feely, politically correct version of “Help Wanted.” Employers can no longer use them to establish competitive advantages, reach out to passive job seekers, or build winning employer brands. Good advertising is about establishing a personal connection, and this connection has been lost in the vortex of employers saying the exact same things in the exact same ways. Evidence of this can be found by doing a simple search on Monster for “Join Our Team,” which yields over 3,800 jobs. In the last month and a half alone, over 5,000 postings have gone up that mention “team environment.” And “Come grow with a leader!” is being marketed to everyone from housekeepers to Research Managers to Loan Officers. Employer Branding: The Age of Enlightenment? In product advertising, there is a parallel to be drawn. While there are many “immediate action” advertisements with large pictures of products and phone numbers to purchase them through, the best and most memorable advertising inspires, informs, and amuses to the point that we will take repeated action. Furthermore, this advertising must be connected to a real value proposition that is supported once you purchase the product. As a result, you are typically more likely to buy a product from and refer your friends to that vendor over longer periods of time. Although the messages are vastly different, these same subtle forces are at play in employer branding. Many employers have begun to see advertising ó whether online, on the air, or in print ó as more than just a way to collect resumes. They are turning their advertising and websites into branding tools designed to influence perceptions, build relationships, reach out to in-demand passive job seekers, raise the quality of their workforce, and ensure a solid, sustainable competitive advantage in their recruiting/retention efforts and in their overall business strategies. They don’t just pay lip service to the fact that “people are our most important asset,” they back it up to current employees and candidates alike with employee-focused actions and innovative, inspiring advertising messages. They articulate audience-targeted messages based on real value propositions, and make measurable improvements to their perceived value as an employer over time. These employers act as true recruitment marketers, concerned with raising the talent bars in their organizations and becoming strategic business partners who add value rather than incur costs and process paperwork. By taking a marketing and technology-driven approach to recruitment ó using the principles of branding, a little creativity, the right mix of media, and implementing the technology to support all of these efforts ó you can position your company as more than just a “Help Wanted” sign in the window!
In recent weeks, I have repeatedly heard recruiters rejoicing over the fact that the “War for Talent” is coming to end. After all, there are plenty of candidates for every position and given the current economic climate this trend will continue, right? Wrong. According to estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 10 million more jobs than people in the workforce by the year 2007. In short, the cause of this is linked to the aging of baby boomers, who are beginning to leave the workforce with lower populations of later generations to fill their positions. By the year 2006 there will be two employees leaving the workforce for every one added. In light of these facts, savvy staffing professionals will start assessing their own “homeland security,” and deploying an aggressive battle plan in response. To make this difficult undertaking more manageable, start by breaking the assessment and battle plan into the following four key components.
- People. Starting with people, determine whether your organization truly has a commitment to talent. Are you taking steps to develop your employees and offer them a challenging and rewarding employment experience? Are you offering programs that attract the best talent for your organizations? How’s the morale of your existing workforce? How are you perceived in the marketplace? A survey by WetFeet revealed that while 36% of employees are happy with their current jobs, they would still be willing to make a change within six months.
Recruiters… Go to the closest mirror, take a look ó not a quick look, a good hard look ó and ask yourself this question: Am I credible? I’ll bet most of you answer, “Yes, of course I am.” And some of you are wondering, “Credible with whom?” Okay, let’s run the list:
You should hear the garbage associated with competencies. Some people define them as trainable, others make them up from scraps of nice-sounding terms, others say they are identical, and some search for the perfect “benchmark” set. What a pile of nonsense! The Tower of Babel is not just an Old Testament story, it is alive and well, and living in HR. Competencies are much more complicated than people imagine. They are like the Siren’s Song in The Odyssey. They sound attractive, but inevitably lead your ship onto sharp rocks. Improper understanding of a competency can lead to BIG (read “expensive”) mistakes in hiring, management, and job placement. It can also lead to a major loss of confidence in HR’s ability to assume a strategic role in developing the business. But let’s begin with the formal definition of a competency. Merriam-Webster defines competency as “the ability to perform.” In a business context, we take that to mean a competency is the ability of a specific individual to perform the skills required of a specific job. Competency Basics There are really very few “core” competencies ó only about three or four. Core competencies are “basic” to the individual. They are the personal toolbox each employee brings to work. How do we know this? Have you ever taken a long survey and after a while, notice that you are giving the same answers to similar questions? The same thing happens with job tasks. When you take hundreds of individual tasks and run them through a statistical analysis, all those nasty job details have similar answers that reduce to about four major areas. These are:
- Cognitive ability (i.e., thinking, learning, technical knowledge, problem solving, etc.)
Although the slow economy, slumping stock market and uncertain future have led to a slowdown in campus recruiting, we must be fleet of foot because things are changing. Corporate demand is down for many majors, including marketing, business, management, and the arts in general. Even the engineering and technical fields have had slowdowns. (Actually, there has never been much certainty of a job after graduation. Arts majors and “generic” engineers with little or no work experience have suffered mightily over the years. How many of you had a job in your pocket the day you graduated?) With a marketplace temporarily awash in experienced talent, many corporations are asking why they should spend scarce dollars trying to attract inexperienced new grads who will not be productive for months. Having been on the short side of the talent war for several years, organizations are now finding it easy to say “no” to a college recruiting program. After all, an experienced professional recruiter can most likely figure out how to contact and interview the soon-to-be graduated. Job boards and the Internet have opened all sorts of new channels to get in touch with students and to build an online relationship. Is anything gained by the campus face-to-face involvement? Do placement offices add any value? Add to this the fact that, contrary to popular thought, college recruiting is not cheaper than professional recruiting (although it probably could be). When the fees involved in promoting the company and sponsoring special events to attract minorities and to woo scarce engineering and technical majors, costs can soar. But as a matter of fact, there are many reasons why a college program makes more sense than ever right now. First of all, there are simply fewer college students in the pipelines than before. I have written extensively about the talent shortage that exists, particularly for technical graduates. I believe that organizations need to do all that they can to increase the potential pool of technical talent. This means investing in high school programs that encourage students to major in critical fields; it means working closely with colleges and universities to develop the programs that make their graduates employable; and it means hiring the fruits of that work. This is sometimes expensive, but always cheaper in the long run than the wage escalation that results from a short talent supply. We saw some of that escalation a couple of years ago, and the situation will get worse as we emerge from this slowdown and face the huge gaps that exist for computer scientists, programmers, almost all engineers, and many of the hard sciences. Accounting and healthcare are also suffering from talent shortages. A few thousand dollars sprinkled over a few campuses could decrease your overall employment costs significantly in coming years. Ask HP, IBM, Texas Instruments, and all the other organizations that have had college programs through the good and the bad times. Secondly, college is the only really cost effective way to get minority talent. But because of less-than-needed funding for scholarships and high school programs, we still do not have enough blacks, Hispanics and women in technical majors. We seem to prefer very expensive competitive bidding wars for the tiny supplies that are being graduated. In the 1999-2000 school year, fewer than 800 blacks and fewer than 900 Hispanics received a Master’s degree in an engineering-related discipline. When you consider that many will go on for a Ph.D. and that others will never practice engineering at all, you have a very small pool to draw from. The only logical approach is to encourage more young people to study in these fields and reward them with jobs at the end of the long cycle of study. And finally, college hires bring freshness to any organization, and can be effective transferees of academic theory and emerging research. They also bring networks and connections that can be tapped into for future recruiting. Yes, college recruiting is worth “it,” but we can certainly learn to do “it” better. Here are a few ideas, and I’d love any of your comments as well.
- Focus. Stop the general recruiting programs that cover many disciplines and many schools. Choose two or three disciplines that are most needed by your company and then match that need to a few campuses as close to your physical location as possible. Start coupling recruiting with internship programs and get employees involved on campus in laboratories or in the classroom. Internships and co-op programs return the greatest ROI of all programs.
Imagine that last year your company spent hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of dollars to overhaul the technology platform that supports the recruiting function. As the director of recruiting operations for this company, it’s your responsibility to make sure that all the recruiters are using the systems and tools correctly and that the data required for reporting is there. But it seems like every week you have to manually adjust the reports to make the numbers gel. You hear that some division manager is complaining that he is being charged for a system his recruiters don’t use. You just found out that another division is out evaluating new recruiting software packages. You have provided training, you have put out detailed user guides, you have offered one on one support. “Why can’t those lazy recruiters get it?” you think. Sound familiar? It just might, because it’s happening at more and more companies these days. The battle lines between the corporate recruiting operations function and the recruiters on the front line have been drawn for some time now, but recently the stakes have gotten much higher. The spotlight is being shown on the recruiting function, as companies are demanding more accountability and demonstrable returns for the sizeable investments they’re making in recruiting technology. The recruiters who are aligned with the business have been faced with a tight labor market, a scarcity of top talent, and are under increased pressure to deliver the goods. They’ve even been forced to use the dreaded staffing agency and pay contingency fees (well, maybe not as much as of late). But the operations team is pushing the line recruiters more and more to enforce utilization and reduce those agency fees, while the recruiters themselves could care less about the system ó their main concern being how they will fill their vacancies. Recruiting operations thinks the recruiters are just lazy, too afraid to change, or not very computer literate, while recruiters think that operations has its head up in the clouds or has no clue about the needs of the business. The heat of this battle may rage at different temperatures in any given organization; however, some degree of friction almost always exists. The mere fact that one of the purposes of a recruiting operations group is to monitor system usage and compliance practically guarantees it. But I have been involved in hundreds of recruitment automation projects over the last 12 years, and I’ve found that the effectiveness of the operational support group (or individual, as the case may be) will make or break the success of a system implementation. So what can be done to mitigate this risk and stop the infighting? Here are some approaches and techniques that I have found to be essential in creating operational effectiveness. Customer Service There is no other way of looking at a recruiting operation group other than as a customer service center. In the heat of battle we often lose site of this and start pointing out all the things that recruiters are doing wrong. Well, a long time ago I learned some rules from a wise man. Rule number 1: The customer is always right. Rule number 2: If the customer is wrong, see rule number 1. Over the last ten years, with the evolution of the various shades of TQM, most of us have been taught how to identify who our internal customers are and how to identify and address their needs. These techniques should be applied to the recruiting operation. The most effective way to get your operation to turn out better customer support is to make sure the person running it has been a customer before. If you have been a recruiter, it is much easier to know what would be acceptable when it comes to system usage and procedures. Someone who has been a recruiter will have better ability to get creative and do their own acceptance testing before rolling out ideas to the team. It is a difficult position to fill because it can be a thankless job, and the compensation range for the role is nearly never enough to get the quality you need. When you finally get the right person in the role, they will eventually want to advance and move on. You can address this issue by making it a rotational assignment so that all your recruiters get to appreciate what its like on the other side of the fence. If all else fails you can outsource it. Alignment I cannot stress enough the importance of aligning the people, the process and the technology to reduce friction. If the tools are not in alignment with the way recruiters do business, they will slowly but surely slip back to their own means to track candidates. The good news is that we are doing a much better job of process alignment during the implementation in recent years. Alignment is not an event, however. It’s a continuous and never-ending task. Don’t underestimate the complexity of the dynamics embedded in recruiting. The details of a recruiting process will vary by business unit within a company, they will vary by candidate type (college vs. experienced, etc.), and the will vary by the experience and personality of a recruiter and the chemistry they create with a hiring manager. We can map processes by business, we can map by candidate type, but just try to predict the chemistry that will exist between a given recruiter and a manager. I am not suggesting that we need to cater to every idiosyncrasy, but we must identify the obstacles on an individual level and make every attempt to remove them and to find the “best practice” for that situation. But as always, one recruiter’s “best practice” can be another recruiter’s worst nightmare. There are a lot of recruiters out there who can be extremely successful with or without your technology, so you have to help them figure out how they can use your tools to be even more effective, or else the battle will rage on. Change Management One thing is certain, change is imminent. Whether it is mergers and acquisitions, re-organizations, or the turnover within recruiting ranks, this change must be managed to create any long-term success. Here we are in the middle of 2002, the dust is starting to settle, and everyone is anticipating the next wave. Over the last 12 months many organizations have decimated their recruiting organizations, and recruiting operations most likely was the first to go. For those companies that had a well-defined operational support plan, it will be relatively painless to pick up where they left off. For those without one, it will be like starting all over. It might take 3-4 months before anyone realizes there are systems in place to support them, but once someone needs to sign off on the maintenance bill or monthly fee, you can be sure a mandate will follow: “Thou must use the system, now!” This of course is the battle cry that will put the operation and recruiters at odds once again. During mergers, acquisitions, and re-orgs, the operations group should be heavily involved and sophisticated enough to make sure the new organization can be supported effectively. Innovation If we have learned anything in the last decade it’s that there will always be an onslaught of new tools in the market. The people who believe early adopters will gain the most benefit will race to acquire the latest gadgets and gizmos. The more conservative will wait for the early adopters to figure out what gets the best results and follow. Either way, if your recruiting operations group is not constantly monitoring these innovations and figuring out ways to integrate them into your technology platform, your recruiters will figure out how to use them outside of your system. Recruiting operations should also proactively benchmark how other companies are using these tools, stay plugged into user groups, and foster the sharing of information and success stories within the recruiter community. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the true value of the role of recruiting operations, and very rarely is there an adequate budget to staff it correctly. But it is the single most important success factor for attaining and sustaining your desired return on investment. By investing properly in the recruiting operations function, you can prevent your state of the art recruiting technology from becoming obsolete.
Now come on, tell the truth: you know there’s such a thing as a stupid question! We’ve all cringed at one time or another listening to one of them. There you are, sitting at a conference concurrent session, training session, or a team meeting, and the speaker, instructor, or team leader utters those immortal words: “Please feel free to ask any questions you may have, as there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Doesn’t your heart sink, just a little, when you hear that? You look around the room, assessing which vacant-eyed colleague is already cranking away to come up with a real beauty. The statement is like giving some people a blank check! Now, I realize that in an age of consensus management and nurturing it is not considered very open minded to claim that some questions could be stupid. It is a word that we avoid using to maintain our “enlightened” status. Questions may be deemed non-essential, but never stupid. Nevertheless, stupid questions do exist, and after over 20 years in HR/staffing, I have certainly heard my share of them. Agreed, most questions are not stupid. They are tools by which we learn, reaffirm, have explained, or discover a new path which as of yet is obscured by doubt or missing information. To me the origins of good questions include (but are not limited to):
- The speaker was obscure or failed to provide sufficient detail to allow you to develop a clear concept.
Ever wonder what happens to the people you recruit after they begin their jobs? Strange as it may seem, most recruiters never actually follow up on the progress of their recruits on the job. I call it “dropping them over the wall and running away.” Why Follow Up? Failing to follow up on your hires runs counter to one of the most fundamental aspects of any system improvement process: the need to follow up and get feedback on your work. Remember that high turnover, frustration, and low productivity are direct results of not talking to (or listening) to new hires. But there are many other reasons why a recruiter should follow up on the candidates they recruit. Some of them include:
- To identify which sources produce the best candidates.
In my experience in the recruiting space, I am continually amazed at the “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship that exists between applicant tracking system vendors and their customers. As I write this, companies across the country are locking into agreements and contracts that put their respective organizations and the reputation of their internal buyers on the line. While there seems to be an art to this process, the reality is that the ATS selection and purchase process should be more of a science. For the initiated, this may be a refresher. But for those novice purchasers, take heed! Below are some issues to be watchful of as you review and ultimately sign on with an ATS vendor. This is by no means a complete list. We will assume for the purpose of this article that the ATS you have selected has all the bells, whistles, and features you are looking for in an e-recruiting solution. This list, at a minimum, can serve as a recap before you sign on the dotted line. Pricing When drilling down into negotiations, think of one word: “collaboration.” If your vendor wants to charge you on a “per-seat” basis, then negotiate a different pricing model, or find another vendor. This may be an unorthodox point of view, but advances in the technology in this space mean that now more then ever, collaboration is a requirement. The larger the organization, the greater the benefits of collaboration. Some of you may think I am crazy for bucking the “good old” model, but one of the basic fundamentals of an ASP-based applicant tracking solution is its ability to capture, manage, and share candidate, requisition, and reporting data enterprise-wide, real time, with anyone in your organization. A vendor that charges on a per-seat basis in this space is only penalizing you on the full use and potential of an applicant tracking system. If per-seat is the only pricing model available, the application being pitched to you was not designed for enterprise-wide collaboration. We are in the digital age, not the stone age. Fostering real-time collaboration between recruiting or HR folks (i.e. the influencers) and hiring managers (i.e. the buyers) is critical. Even in this down economy, the fight continues among most companies in winning the war for top talent. If your organization is highly decentralized, like many companies, then many hiring managers, recruiters, influencers, and executives are in remote locations all over the globe, and the need for collaboration becomes even more critical to your business. On a side note, Most applicant tracking systems are rules based anyway, so adding or deleting users within the application with varying degrees of security and user access should be as easy as pie. If most users in the organization were loaded during your deployment, then additional maintenance would only be incremental for your ATS administrator. Hosting Bring it in house if you can. The trend in the late 1990s for buyers was a move towards the ASP model. However, many companies became “at risk,” because their vendor’s hosting provider closed shop one day with their data. (Do I have to mention how many hosting providers are either in or near bankruptcy?) Yes, you may have signed a service-level agreement with your ATS vendor including downtime and/or disaster clauses ó but what about your ATS vendor’s service-level agreement with their hosting provider? Let’s say your ATS vendor does their own hosting, how do you really know what you are getting? Are you planning on visiting the vendor’s facility and operations? Yes, I know what you’re saying now: you have clauses for these protections (which is indeed important) and probably even have some type of money-back guarantee or such. But if your ATS is truly mission critical to your recruiting operation, then you can’t go dark for 10 minutes, let alone 10 days. Does anyone really care about the money-back guarantee if your recruiters can’t access the data and workflow for days? If you think this doesn’t happen, think again. As a consultant, I have unfortunately seen this scenario happen more than once. Keep it simple: If you purchase an ASP-based ATS, host it yourself. It may be a little more work for your IT staff, but the security will be there. ASP vendors and hosting providers generally double or triple redundant back-ups for you. However, the data is rarely sent to the customer during the life of the contract. Be smart, put in the contract that you want your data monthly on CD in a format that’s easy to import if you don’t opt to host your ATS. Don’t wait until the contract is finished to request your data. If you have been unhappy with the solution over the life of the contract, the vendor may not send you your data until the contract is paid in full. Be aware and don’t fall into this trap. You may be cutting a large check just to get your data in the end. Disaster Clauses You must have heard the rumor that technology companies go out of business too. What happens to you if that’s your vendor? Make sure that some unforeseen event doesn’t take your recruiting operation out with it. At least have a disaster recovery clause in your contract that puts the code in escrow in an event of disasters on part of your vendor. Again, if the ATS is in-house, you are better off. In recent events, several ATS vendors (including one that has been in the space since the early 1990s) closed their doors with little or no warning to customers. Don’t assume vendors will always be working in your company’s best interest. Financials Ask for and obtain a copy of your ATS vendor’s financials. If you are going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a recruiting solution and commit to a vendor, make sure they will be around three months after your go-live date. In this economy, there’s no guarantee that even the financially sound vendors will be around tomorrow. If your vendor holds the line, then there may be something more to the story than they’re telling you. Investigate, research, and ask for this information. References This is one of my favorites. Most vendors will offer up references to you. These references, not surprisingly, usually come from companies that are happy with the application. Before you sign on the dotted line, take a look at their client list and pick three companies from that list to speak with in person and in a timely fashion. Don’t settle in letters of reference. True, no one vendor is perfect in the software industry. As a buyer, I would say that a 90-95% positive account reference rate is not too shabby (yes, we all shoot for 100% ó but I am also a realist!). If you get three decent references from three attempts, you probably can sleep better at night knowing your ATS vendor will probably delivery on their promises. Support Generally, when financials are bad, vendors cut support first. Make sure your ATS vendor is holding their contractual obligations on support issues. Find out what the escalation process is for support and if you have any dedicated resources. Find out when within the escalation process critical issues get the attention from upper management. Ask if your ATS vendor has a CRM or knowledge-based library for reference support. If not, you may find your users calling support often with the same technical and customer support issues continually. Many buyers fail to thoroughly consider the ATS vendor support model on the front end because we don’t expect to have issues and problems on the back end. The Actual Contract Get it in all in writing! Much can be promised during the sales cycle and then forgotten during the services/delivery cycle. Sometimes, the participants in each cycle can even be different groups altogether on the client and vendor sides. The bottom line is that expectations are set during the first contact with an ATS vendor and should be managed to your satisfaction throughout the entire process. If a sales rep tells you that an ATS will be able to do “this or that” in the next release, or a custom job can be done without discussing pricing, get it in writing ó ALWAYS. The signed contract, including the service level agreement, is your bible. Make sure you know exactly what is “in scope” for your ATS deployment and what is out of scope. If not, you may find yourself paying for custom development and enhancements down the road. One last thought. This isn’t an ATS vendor-bashing article ó quite the opposite. Most ATS vendors provide solid solutions with high ROI, not to mention many of the intangible cost savings that are difficult to measure. No, the purpose of this article to help better inform buyers on some of the more common pitfalls that we can all land in when searching for that perfect ATS and vendor. The ATS will be your partner in the war for talent ó make sure your vendor is as well!