Recruit Confidently

Nov 11, 2010

Recently, I heard a hiring manager comment that she would “Prefer not to hire anyone at all.”

Her company is growing. They are actively looking for people. At the same time, this manager who has been tasked with building up her team is openly telling candidates that if she has her way, not one of them will be hired. Indeed, given the choice, it’s hard to imagine candidates accepting an offer if they did get one, compared, say, to an offer from an enthusiastic and confident employer.

While making the observation that this woman lacked confidence might be something of an understatement, it is only a start.

Confidence begets confidence, just as lack of confidence begets lack of confidence. This manager was demonstrating a lack of confidence in herself, her company, its hiring process, and in the candidates. That, in turn, makes it extremely difficult to attract top people: if the hiring manager doesn’t seem confident, what does that tell the candidate about the company?

While most businesses viewed the Great Depression as a time to hunker down, cut everyone possible from the payroll, and hide under the bed until things got better, one CEO took a different perspective. He saw the Depression as an opportunity to find the best people, build their loyalty and commitment, and stockpile equipment and material against the day the economy turned. Tom Watson’s confidence that things would get better propelled IBM into becoming the global powerhouse it remains to this day.

In another example, a recent news report featured an economist claiming that hyper-inflation and total social collapse is just around the corner. Is that likely? I’m no economist, but I have to wonder how many people today remember Dow 36,000? James Glassman’s book was published at the height of the Internet boom: in October 1999, just a few short months before the market crashed in March 2000. The predictions of a rosy future stretching into forever were loudest, and most believable, at the top; what does that say about the news today?

In the end, though, while this woman’s lack of confidence may have been made obvious by the economy, and helping her reframe the news was an important step, further investigation revealed the economy wasn’t the actual cause. The actual cause was both more immediate and less obvious: she fundamentally didn’t trust the hiring process her company used. If you don’t trust the process, it’s hard to have confidence in it, and the more vulnerable you are to surrounding influences such as the news. In a strong economy, her lack of trust could easily go unnoticed simply because the positive news flow would allay her fears; without the positive backdrop, however, her fear and her lack of confidence in the system were fully exposed. Sadly, this lack of confidence appears to be the case in a great many different companies.

It’s a topic I write about in the next Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership. In that article, I specifically get into some ways to address the problem. While it’s certainly true that we don’t control the economy, we can control how we react to it. We control as well how well our recruiting systems are designed and how well trained we are in using different parts of it. Understanding what we control and how to exercise that control well is the key to true confidence.

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