Radio Killed the Interview Star

Mar 25, 2011

Like most top performing recruiters, I’m a multi-tasker. When I’m in the office, no matter what I’m doing, I like to have the radio on in the background. I fall asleep to the television and I always have music playing in the car even when I’m on the phone.  My husband is the opposite. He turns the radio off when he receives a phone call and mutes the television while he has a conversation. He can’t stand having what some people call “white noise” in the background. He wants to focus on one thing at a time without interruption.

As many of you know, I work within a large CPA firm and perform executive search services for our clients. In my office, most of the employees are tax and audit professionals so the offices and workstations are kept quiet, but a few people use iPods with headsets. Some of the partners even have cable television running while they work. (Admittedly, during March Madness there are a lot more TV’s running!) 

Personally, I have no problem with people listening to music or having the running commentary from a television while they work during the day. We put in a lot of hours and as far as I’m concerned, whatever makes it more pleasant for them they should do. However, I am beginning to think my office, and my personal feelings on this subject, may now be in the minority. A few weeks ago, someone we placed last year was let go from a position, and when I asked the client why, the first thing on their list of grievances was that the person listened to their music while they were at work. It wasn’t performance related per se, but environment related.

If a member of my team does something that might damage their reputation within the office, I let them know how their behavior may be perceived by others, even though they have the best intentions at heart. I have one person who closes her door because she likes it very quiet. Others may perceive her desire for complete silence as a sign that she is not being as open, so I advised her to leave it open just a crack so people don’t feel put off and have to knock to come in every time. I have another person who posts non-work related comments on Facebook during the day. I advised him its okay if you’re doing it at lunchtime while you’re eating at your desk but be mindful of the time you post. A good manager ensures their people are on the right track for promotion and don’t create a reputation that they may live to regret later. At the end of the day, what this really boils down to isn’t about performance. It’s about expectations. (Remember, the root of all conflict is unmet expectations…)

I visit a lot of offices and I’ve heard the headphones/music comment from managers in multiple companies over the past few years. As recruiters, we may want to take the extra time to find out about the client’s policy regarding personal music and the use of headphones at the desk or workstation. In the initial interview with a candidate, we might want to ask questions about that person’s work habits to combat this issue. When I’ve had the opportunity to counsel a placement about this in the past, they often tell me that they see other people in the company following this behavior so they should be permitted to as well. I immediately ask them if their supervisor is one of those people and remind them that they should model themselves, and their behavior, after the position they are working towards and the people who currently occupy that position.

The radio/music issue actually brings a bigger concern to light, which is the lack of management training in people who occupy a supervisory role. A manager should have the training to be able to counsel a staff member professionally about their conduct. With higher unemployment the past few years, some managers have come to regard their workers as dispensable and not the valued human resource that they are. Casting someone to the curb for behavior they don’t find appropriate is an easy solution for them rather than discreetly cautioning the person about how their behavior is being perceived and giving them the opportunity to change or improve.

Remember, your success as a recruiter is often measured by the length of your placements’ tenure with your clients, so these issues become very relevant if you haven’t seen the work environments first-hand. Learning what a manager really wants and their personal management style or philosophy can be quite important. Find out their expectations so you can prepare your people to meet and exceed them.

On the flip side, I challenge all managers who have staff with frustrating or annoying behaviors, especially when it comes to music, dress code, or any work habit that may seem disruptive, to identify what expectations aren’t being met. Is the behavior actually affecting their work ,or do you just find it disrespectful in general?

In my book TEN SECRETS TO GETTING PROMOTED I interviewed many corporate leaders and executives about why some people get promoted and others don’t. One thing all the executives agreed on is that once you’ve formed an opinion about someone based on their behavior and actions, it’s unlikely it will change over time. Many of them engage their staff in open dialogue about their expectations and attempt to curb disruptive behavior before cutting someone from the roster, but not every manager is so well trained.

If someone you know is having trouble, you might suggest grabbing a copy from your local library or Why not set someone up to succeed instead of letting them engage in behavior that may eventually sink their reputation? No matter what someone’s title is you can’t fight human nature.

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