Receive daily articles & headlines each day in your inbox with your free ERE Daily Subscription.

Not logged in. [log in or register]

Randall Birkwood

Randall Birkwood is a former director of recruiting at T-Mobile USA, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft Corporation, and HR at Intermec Technologies. While at T-Mobile his organization was listed in an ERE article as a top 10 benchmark firm in recruiting and talent management. He has been an advisory speaker at General Electric and AT&T for VPs and directors of HR, and spoken at a number of conferences in the U.S. and UK. He was the subject of a cover story on the "War For Talent" in Internet World Magazine.

Randall Birkwood RSS feed Articles by Randall Birkwood...

The 17 Things to Think About Before Picking an Applicant Tracking System

by May 21, 2013, 6:07 am ET

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 9.47.38 AMYou post, you tweet, you activate social media, yet all the work you do to attract talent can go to waste if your applicant tracking system is too burdensome for candidates and your recruiting team. If you choose a strong applicant tracking system, your results will improve, candidates will have a great experience, and hiring managers will see more on-target resumes. A poor decision will have serious adverse effects costing you unhappy hiring managers, lost candidates, money, time, and frustration.

The following is a primer on things to take into consideration when making your decision on an applicant tracking system. It takes time and research, but the payoff will be well worth the effort. keep reading…

Avoid the Yugo Trap and Identify Your Culture

by Mar 26, 2013, 5:21 am ET

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 4.30.34 PMRemember the Yugo? Yugos were cars built in the old Yugoslavia, in the 1980s. They were sold solely based on their low price. More than 100,000 cars were sold in an eight-year span, but their poor quality and service resulted in zero buyer retention.

When it comes to hiring talent, most companies place too much emphasis on compensation competitiveness and not enough on their cultural brand. They may have flashy careers websites and other candidate attraction materials, but these are generic and not reflective of the company’s unique culture.

In this article I will give you tips on how to make your company more competitive by taking the vital first step of identifying your culture. Only after this step will you be able to successfully attract candidates who will fit your values and be successful in their roles. Without it, you will be stuck in the Yugo Trap, continuing to hire mismatched candidates leading to poor retention. keep reading…

Hires That Will Transform Your Company

by Jan 17, 2013, 5:39 am ET

Steven Tyler-PRK-032194You have staffed your team with all the right people: they graduated from top universities, worked at leading companies, stayed at each company the requisite length of time, and exuded intelligence in the interview process. Yet you see other companies with far less surface talent achieving incredible results and outstripping you. Why is this?

The most likely reason your company is failing to progress is that you still hire based on standard interview processes that have been followed for decades. You focus on qualifications only, and ignore focusing on the individual attributes that will help you find superstars, or game changers.

A game changer is a person who thinks outside the box and approaches problems differently from the rest of us. They approach problems with passion, a unique perspective, and their thinking inspires others to build on their ideas.

With game changers on your team you can move from average to an industry leadership position. Good examples are Apple and IBM, which transformed themselves from fading brands into dominant positions by adopting the ideas of leaders who were game changers. Three football teams have had great success this year bringing in game changers. The Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson), Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III), and Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck) have seen vast improvements after they drafted rookie quarterbacks who have the unique attributes of game changers.

An example of a game changer in the music industry is Steven Tyler. In his entertaining autobiography he discusses how he approaches the four elements of writing a song: melody, words, chords, and rhythm.

He explains, “You know right away if a song has that magic. It has to have those extremes — the one thing it can’t be is okay. Okay is death.

He adds: “Never mind the melody, never mind the chords — no, no, no. You start with infatuation, obsession, passion, anger, zeal, craze, then take a handful of notes, sew them into a chord structure, create a melody over that, and then come up with words that fit it perfectly.”

His diverse way of thinking is completely different from standard music writers, but as a game changer, his unique perspectives have resulted in incredible successes.

If we analyze the way the majority of companies hire, we see a system that is designed to hire okay performers. We focus solely on the tangibles: the candidate’s job history, education, and interview performance. We ignore the intangibles like diversity of thought, work ethic, intelligence, and common sense.

As an example, diversity of thought means approaching challenges using varied thought processes based on personal creativity and different life experiences. If you can combine diverse thinking with a strong work ethic, intelligence, and common sense, you have a game changer. The results of game changers can often transform the way we do business.

To hire game changers, you will need to make modifications in the following areas:  keep reading…

Find the Best Candidates Faster

by May 2, 2012, 7:42 am ET

The most important part of the recruiting process is the recruiter’s initial meeting with the hiring manager. With the right approach you can save an incredible amount of time and energy, and hire better candidates. In addition, you raise your standing with hiring managers to that of a true business partner.

In any profession, whether it is in business or sports, one must study the best to learn what they do that sets them apart. In sports, athletes like Kobe Bryant, Lionel Messi, and Lance Armstrong are legendary for their relentless drive for perfection and extraordinary work ethic in training. In recruiting, we can study executive recruiters who are given key assignments by business leaders and regularly command large commissions.

I recently spoke with Robert Fong, a managing Partner for the Global Advanced Technology Practice at Nosal Partners, an executive search firm in San Francisco. We discussed the importance of the first meeting with the hiring manager.

Two key factors that set them apart are the time reserved, and the order in which they approach gathering information:

  • An hour to an hour and a half is typically reserved for the meeting.
  • The recruiter spends the first part of the meeting learning about the business and what priorities the position will address.
  • The position description and how it relates to the business priorities is then addressed.
  • Only after learning the above, does the recruiter gather information about the candidate qualifications.

This is the diametric opposite of the approach taken by most in-house and agency recruiters. They:

  • Spend 10-30 minutes at most in the intake meeting.
  • Focus almost solely on the candidate qualifications.
  • Spend little time on the position description.
  • Spend no time on learning or understanding the business.

Let’s break this down step by step: keep reading…

Our Most Effective Source of Hire

by Apr 5, 2012, 5:53 am ET

We started measuring quality of hire a couple of years ago. What started out as a simple exercise to see how we were doing turned into an interesting experiment. We realized in order to save the company money and increase productivity, we needed to measure quality of hire and sources of hire together. The results were interesting, and in one case the result was actually surprising.

There are a few hire-quality formulas out there, and you can make it as simple or as complicated as you deem necessary. In our case, we took the simple route.

Quality of hire is defined as the percent of new hires who pass their one-year anniversary and score at least “meets expectations” on their first review. For example, we grouped together all the new hires from the first quarter of 2010. We then ran a report dating to the last day of the quarter a year later, 2011. We determined what percent of those hires were still employed and were not on performance improvement plans, etc. We did this on a quarterly basis.

This is simple but effective. It doesn’t matter whether the employee was a poor performer, an excellent worker who was disillusioned, or a job-hopper.  Ultimately, the business is negatively impacted if it loses talent in the first year, or is dealing with a poor employee.

The results of our experiment have been illuminating. keep reading…

Recruiter Incentives: It’s Time for a Change

by Jan 31, 2006

“Recruiters should get paid for what they produce!” These are the words of a trailblazer in the corporate recruiting world, Michael Homula.

For those of you who are unaware of Michael, he first came to prominence as the director of recruiting for a small banking firm, FirstMerit (he’s now director of talent acquisition at Quicken Loans). His aggressive, business-focused approach to recruiting caused a stir in the recruiting community as he firmly placed his team’s emphasis on personal relationships and passive candidate sourcing. Today, less than five percent of corporations give recruiters incentives beyond the standard employee bonuses that others in HR receive. This is not surprising, as the majority of recruiting departments reside in HR. Obviously, the expectations for recruiters aren’t aligned with the compensation plans paid. Recruiting is akin to sales, as we are expected to source, build relationships, and get results — usually under heavy pressure. Agencies understand this, and skew their compensation heavily toward the number of hires a recruiter makes (often to the detriment of relationships).

Michael Homula strikes the balance between both worlds. At Quicken, Michael has found leadership that understands the importance of quality hiring to the bottom line. He sits on the executive committee and meets on a regular basis with the CEO. “Our leadership believes in making the recruiting culture like the mortgage banking culture,” he says. “Mortgage bankers are rewarded for productivity, effort, and quality. I believe in the same for the talent acquisition team.” Let’s start with productivity and effort: All recruiters receive a base salary. However, that’s where the similarities between Quicken Loans and most corporate recruiting teams ends. At Quicken, recruiters receive a cash payout for every candidate they hire. The payouts vary based on the how the candidate was sourced:

  1. The first tier is for “company sourced” hires. These candidates come from the company applicant tracking system, referrals, company recruiting events, online job postings, and advertisements.
  2. keep reading…

Recruiter Incentives: Are They Helping or Harming Clients?

by Nov 8, 2005

The phone rang in my office a few months ago. When I picked it up, a male voice asked, “How are you today?” Even before he identified himself, I knew I was speaking with an agency recruiter. After warily telling him that I was fine, he proceeded to jump into a monologue that did not involve commas, periods, or, as far as I could tell, any intakes of breath. He told me he had seen a web posting of an open position of mine and that he had the perfect person for the job. I actually happened to know the candidate he was selling me. The candidate was not qualified and did not have the work ethic required to succeed at my company. This did not deter the recruiter. He continued to push the candidate, suggesting that all we had to do was meet him and we would see he was perfect for the job.

After finally putting down the phone, it became apparent to me that this conversation was not the recruiter’s fault. The problem with his approach could be traced to the agency he worked for and its flawed incentive structure.

Incentives in Recruiting: Corporate vs. Agency

There are two prevailing methods that are used by corporations and agencies to motivate recruiters. Both are complete opposites when it comes to incentives. Unfortunately, neither method promotes the right activities for successful hiring. For the purpose of this discussion on incentives, I will refer to them as the Corporate Method and the Agency Method. The Corporate Method treats recruiters like any other employee. Corporations believe that since recruiters are in HR, they should be paid a straight salary and periodically receive bonuses, just like their co-workers in finance, IT, engineering, and other functions. The Agency Method, on the other hand, is based on paying a minimal wage (if any at all) and offering hefty commissions based on the number of people recruiters place at their clients’ companies.

The downside of these two methods is that corporate recruiters are given little incentive to aggressively recruit talent, and agency recruiters are given little incentive to build long-term partnerships with their customers. Neither incentive system promotes the recruiter activities that are necessary to ensure successful hiring practices for the companies served. In this article, I will focus on the problems inherent in incentives for recruiters working at agencies. Let me start by describing a successful hire. A successful hire is someone who joins a company, excels in his job, and stays for an extended period of time. In my previous article on talent suitability, I discussed how the key to a successful hire is hiring someone who is a strong match for the right job, group, and company — and where the job, group, and company are a strong match for that person. We do not pat ourselves on the back and say we have made a successful hire the week a new hire starts. The real determinant of talent suitability success is what happens weeks and months after someone starts. What you want are new employees who are productive and stay a long time. When it comes to addressing this issue, agency recruiting incentives are a disaster. Agencies pay commissions to their recruiters based on the number of people they place. Their recruiters typically get paid a percentage of the newly hired employee’s first year salary. Agencies will usually have an agreement with their customers that any new hire who leaves the client company in the first 90 days (in rare cases up to six months) will be replaced free of charge. Based on this incentive system, the Agency Method is detrimental to ensuring quality hires. It cannot build fruitful long-term relationships and can only survive by the “hit and run” tactics utilized throughout the industry. Let me explain. By focusing on quantity, agency recruiters work aggressively to fill as many positions as possible. If recruiters are working on 20 positions concurrently, they will focus on the positions that are fastest to fill and will typically ignore the more difficult or longer cycle positions. As an example, if one company makes slower hiring decisions than a second company, the agency’s recruiters will focus on the company that makes faster decisions, to the detriment of the more thorough customer.

Annie Rihn, head of recruiting at in Seattle, has engaged several local agencies to help meet the hiring goals of the pre-launch start-up. She says, “We offer a unique and challenging opportunity and have an incredible culture. But having a very high bar when it comes to talent standards has caused frustration for several of the agencies we’ve worked with. Some agencies are less motivated to work with us because they can’t get as quick of a hit. The few that have been most successful are clearly focusing on building longer-term relationships and feel much more like a trusted business partner.”

Agency recruiters usually make two other costly mistakes. First, because they are competing with other agencies, and sometimes the customer’s internal recruiter for candidates, they will call and screen candidates quickly, without much attention to detail, as they want to win the “race” for candidate submittals. Second, they will take an aggressive tack with hiring managers to get their candidates interviewed, making comments like “you must see this candidate,” or “he is absolutely perfect for the job.” If hiring managers interview candidates who have not been well screened and who are not “perfect for the job,” the agency recruiter’s credibility is ruined. But with the focus on quantity, not quality, and so many prospects out there, agency recruiters simply move on to the next opportunity. Another poor practice of the Agency Method is the 90-day replacement guarantee. There is absolutely no incentive in this guarantee to ensure the hiring manager and candidate have a happy and productive relationship over an extended period of time. If a recruiter is only worried about a new hire staying for 90 days, there will be minimal effort given to principles of talent suitability.

Fixing the Agency Method

So if talent suitability equals successful hiring, what concepts would agency recruiters need to embrace in order to improve?

  • They need to build long-term relationships with their corporate customers. Customers want to work with their recruiters over an extended period of time, as it takes a while to learn the nuances of the job and the manager’s hiring expectations. Agencies who invest in their customers’ success over the long term are more profitable.
  • keep reading…

Talent Suitability

by Aug 18, 2005

I recently came to the realization that we emphasize all the wrong habits in staffing. We are rewarded and compensated for finding hotshots in the shortest time possible. If we do, we are lauded as superstars. If we don’t, we are shown the door. How did it get this way? Why are we a closer kin to salespeople in the used car business than HR business partners? I bring this up because none of us are rewarded for hiring talent that raises the bar on productivity and retention. Yet this is what matters most when it comes to hiring. If we find people who are exceptional and want to stay a long time, millions of dollars are added to the company’s bottom line. This should be our biggest point of emphasis as recruiting professionals. Instead, we emphasize putting “butts in seats” in the shortest time possible. This is an extremely short-sighted philosophy that practically guarantees a track record of bad hires. Quality of hire must be emphasized. Focusing on quality means we must shift our attention to attracting and retaining talent that fits the unique needs of our company. Months ago, a colleague and myself came up with a term for finding these outstanding people. We called it “talent suitability.” What is talent suitability? Simply put, it’s a hiring methodology that focuses on improving quality of hire. It is defined as ensuring an applicant is a strong match for your company and your company is a strong match for the candidate. If you practice talent suitability, you will hire employees who perform better and stay longer than previous hires. Talent suitability is the practice of being realistic about what the job requires, what the hiring group is really like, and what the company culture has to offer. The intention is to recruit, assess, and hire employees who will be successful both in the role and the work environment. This is achieved by giving a realistic view of the job they will be doing and of the environment they will be working in. This will ensure continued success with the company. This is a huge departure from the way most companies hire today. Practicing talent suitability, companies will move away from sugar coating and giving only a limited view of opportunities. They will also provide applicants with far more information than they have done in the past. Let me give you an example. In order to be successful in a marathon race, you need a durable pair of running shoes. You wouldn’t look for — or even try on — a bunch of merely attractive shoes not suitable for the race, would you? Attractive but uncomfortable shoes would hurt your feet and give you blisters within a few miles. You need to determine the right specifications so the shoes are sporty, comfortable, last a long time, and can perform in the right environment. When I was at T-Mobile, we had a theme to describe our hiring program: “If the Shoe Fits.” We defined it as hiring “the right person, for the right job, for the right group, in the right company.” If all the pieces match, the shoe fits. If they don’t, managers are unhappy with the hiring choice, or the new hire is unhappy. Either way, it is a short marriage with unsuccessful results. This concept is simple, yet how many companies interview for the wrong requirements and give candidates unrealistic or limited views of their cultures, work settings, and job opportunities? Most do, but why? What do they fear? What they should fear is hiring people who are not right for the job, group, and company. The result of hiring the wrong people is poor productivity, poor retention, or both. Getting rid of poor hires also ends up being expensive, difficult, and frustrating. The implications of bad hiring decisions far out-weigh the necessity of bringing people in quickly. So how do you get started with this concept of talent suitability? Very simply, you must:

  • Learn the real factors that will make someone successful in a particular job.
  • keep reading…

Metrics for Executives

by Mar 10, 2005

One of the greatest lessons I learned in recruiting came years ago, when I was a director of recruiting at Cisco Systems. I was presenting quarterly metrics to a group of executives at one of their staff meetings. I reeled off some impressive statistics like time to fill, cost per hire, and average requisitions filled per recruiter. I smugly showed them a series of graphs and diagrams, an excellent sampling of our performance that quarter. After the meeting I was quietly approached by a project manager who worked for a senior executive. He asked me how I thought the presentation went. My smugness turned to uncertainty, as it was obvious he had not approached me to pat me on the back. After I told him I thought it went well, he proceeded to tell me I had wasted everyone’s time. I was stunned by his rudeness, but he continued. “Not one person was listening to you in there,” he said. “They were either doing email or thinking about something else. Next time talk about something relevant.” I have thought about that day for many years. It was a slap in the face, but it was also a lesson well learned. The executives I was working with looked upon recruiting as a tactical function that did not add value beyond filling positions. With this in mind, I focused on integrating recruiting business practices with leaders’ priorities. More focus was put on projects that gave the company a competitive advantage. Progress was measured and reported to executives. Of course we must get our requisitions filled in a timely manner; that’s a given. But what other kind of projects and reporting can we do to ensure executives will view us as strategic business partners? What will get their attention so we can get investment dollars too? To start, we must report numbers that executives can relate to. One example is cost of turnover (COT). This number is derived by taking the number of replacement positions filled in a quarter or a year, and multiplying it by the average cost per hire. For example, if you fill 100 replacement requisitions and the average cost per hire is $6,000, your cost of turnover equals $600,000. Now your executives are feeling the pain of poor hiring decisions! Business leaders are motivated by statistics that are relevant and can give them a competitive advantage. They measure and report what they do, and you should do the same. If you are working on an initiative that requires investment of funds and time, make sure you can effectively measure your progress. Your next step will be to report your findings in a professional presentation with facts and figures. Let me give you two examples. At T-Mobile, we measure quality of hire by measuring what happens after our new hires start. This metric is a combined measure of performance and retention. We determine how well one group of hires has done from a performance and retention standpoint versus other groups brought in during the same quarter. We measure this group versus their peers at three-, six-, and nine-month intervals. In one example, we measured quality of hire of a sample of new retail sales employees who took an online pre-employment assessment versus previous new hires who did not. In another example, we compared the quality of hire of new college graduates versus all other sources of hire that same quarter. In both cases, we compared performance and retention of the case study group and the other sources of hire at the three-, six-, and nine-month intervals. The measurements proved that both the new college graduates and the group who took an online assessment were performing significantly better than their peers. These findings were relayed to our executives. Because they could see that our work was affecting their success, they provided funding for more investment in these important initiatives. Many of you may be asking yourselves, “But how do I measure quality of hire for positions that are not metrics based, like sales or customer care?” It can be done. Let me give you an example. Let’s say we want to measure the performance and retention of hires from an online job board versus other hires for the first quarter of 2005. We give hiring managers a questionnaire with what they expect their new hire to achieve at the three-, six-, and nine-month marks. At each milestone, we check in with them to determine if their new hire is meeting or not meeting the expectations they set. We then calculate the quality of hire based on their responses, and use it to compare the job board new hires versus the other sources of hire. (For longer-term studies, you can compare performance review scores and retention against sources of hire.) Recruiting is absolutely critical to the success of a company. If we hire poor performers, the company is out of business. If we hire mediocre performers, the company stumbles along. If we hire awesome performers, the company is a leader. It is our job to be tactically superior. It is also our job to give our executives confidence in our strategic importance. We must work on initiatives that will make a difference. When it comes to reporting, we need to report the progress of our initiatives to executives and hiring managers. Reporting cost of turnover, showing quarterly trends on how we are improving average days to fill (because now this number means lost revenue to them), and demonstrating quality of hire by source puts us firmly in a seat as their business partner. These statistics are vitally important to them and will stop us from falling into the metrics trap I fell into those many years ago at Cisco Systems.

Peeling Back The Onion

by Jan 11, 2005

What does “peeling back the onion” mean to you? For you who have not heard the expression, it refers to learning more about something or someone by peeling back the layers. It’s unfortunate that we don’t do a very good job of peeling back the onion when it comes to hiring people. We make only the slightest effort to know what a candidate is made of. We typically bring them in for a round of interviews and ask them only the most basic of questions that refer to their experience and knowledge. We then make them an offer and ó voila! ó they’re hired. Can you imagine if you did that with a prospective spouse? I don’t mean spending only four hours interacting with him on dates; I mean spending only four hours asking him the most basic questions about dating experiences, whether he likes kids and pets, etc. Well, folks, that’s how deep we get when it comes to hiring. We make a decision that will affect our company’s future based on a few disorganized meetings with a candidate ó and we haven’t even peeled back the first two layers! So how do we go about peeling back the onion so we can truly learn about the candidates we interview? First of all, we have to determine what we want to learn about them. Will their past work experience be a predictor of their success at your company? Sometimes, but not always. Is their knowledge a good predictor of their success? Sometimes, but not always. Are their behaviors an important predictor of success? Always. So why do we relentlessly focus on someone’s experience and knowledge, but seldom learn about what makes her tick? I have rarely seen anyone get fired for poor knowledge, but I have often seen people let go because of a poor attitude, laziness, or unwillingness to work with others. When you put a recruitment strategy together, I suggest you consider these questions:

  1. What attributes and behaviors can we consistently assess to ensure we make a hire who will be more productive and stay longer?
  2. keep reading…

Communicating Your Strategic Value to Hiring Managers

by Nov 16, 2004

Changes are coming to our profession, changes that mean your job may no longer be safe ó unless you can prove your business value to your customers. At the moment, outsourcing seems like a distant threat, but you need to take notice of it. More and more companies are doing it, and once momentum builds, change happens quickly. Ignoring the signs now could put your job in jeopardy down the road. Why would companies outsource rather than use their highly qualified in-house specialists? Mainly because recruiting professionals are not willing to sell themselves. They are not actively displaying their strategic value. Does the following comparison-shopping scenario seem familiar to you? At Store A, the salesperson learns little about what you want but gives you plenty of irrelevant product information. Store B’s salesperson, on the other hand, gets to know your needs. She explains why her store’s product will benefit you and provides relevant data to help you make your decision. You wind up buying the product from Store B, even though Store A’s product may be better. Of course, you will never end up knowing, since the value of Store A’s product was never effectively conveyed to you. Consider how your own value as a recruiter is being conveyed to your customers. Your hiring managers may perceive your skills as good, but their perception of you as a strategic partner is probably poor. You probably work extremely hard for them. You know your company like no one else, and you can find, assess, and sell to the best candidates out there. But beyond your ability to fill positions, do hiring managers really understand your value? I would venture to say no, particularly if you are providing minimal or irrelevant strategic information. As 2005 approaches, we are constantly hearing about emerging trends. Blogging, online assessments, and another frightening trend…outsourcing! You think to yourself, “There is no way outsourcing will catch on. Recruiting has been the same for decades. I am irreplaceable. My employer will never outsource my role.” Unfortunately, if you aren’t selling your role strategically, you are setting yourself up for quite a shock! If an outsourcing vendor is providing facts and figures demonstrating a guaranteed statistical return on his customers’ money and you aren’t providing similar information, you are placing yourself at a disadvantage. Your hiring managers may like you personally, but business is business. They care about their bottom line. Unless you can clearly demonstrate your impact to their business, they will not understand your relative value as a partner. This may cause them to consider outside resources (vendors) who have positioned themselves more effectively. The outsourcing trend is gaining momentum. In a 2000 survey of 225 employers by Buck Consultants, 38% of respondents had outsourced recruiting, up from 8% in 1996. I don’t see this trend dying, as outsourcers continue to convey their value proposition to business leaders. Few recruiting leaders are doing the same. So what can you do to allay this potential disaster? The answer is simple: build your own value proposition. Display your strategic value as a business partner by providing your customers with meaningful metrics. These are not, however, the same metrics we all know as measures of recruiter performance. You must start using metrics that are relevant to your customer. You must measure beyond what your organization does (which is tactical). In other words, you must be strategic. Most recruiting leaders measure what they think is relevant, which is the performance of their recruiting staff. Unfortunately, they report the same metrics to their hiring managers. This is a mistake! Just as Store A’s salesperson in our example above did not give information about the product that aligned with the customer’s needs, you do not want to give information that is irrelevant to your hiring managers. They will stop listening! So what information is relevant to your hiring managers? Three things:

  1. Can we hire people when they are needed?
  2. keep reading…