Recruiter Chronicles: Five years, Five Lessons — Part 1

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Jul 26, 2011

In a wonderful parable called “The Station,” Robert J. Hastings said, “Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.” While the main point of the article is understanding that life’s greatest pleasures come from the journey itself and not the destination, a secondary moral of the story is that if you live your life with a clear conscious you will have peace of mind, and anything is then possible. Hastings said, “It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. Rather, it is regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow.”

Truer words cannot be spoken about any such thing in the universe. Recognition of regret as wasted emotional energy is a simple concept to understand. Actually living without regret is something I can’t fathom. I simply make too many mistakes not to want some do-overs. However, to lift some of the burden of regret, one can learn lessons from mistakes and take strides to not let history repeat itself.

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of my career in recruiting which will pass this week, I would like to share with you, over the coming weeks, the five biggest learning lessons I’ve experienced thus far during my time at the Aureus Group. For goodness sake, please promise me you will learn from my mistakes and won’t do these things.

#5 – Story of the “One Year Search”

Early in 2010 the banking job market in the Ag belt was going crazy. All along the I-80 corridor in Nebraska/Iowa were these smaller conservative banks that had stockpiled reserves to protect against loss associated with bad credits and the financial crisis of 2007-2008. When very little loss trickled in, these rural Ag banks were sitting on surplus cash that needed to be lent.

In the middle of this frenzy I got the call every recruiter loves, where the first thing I heard when I picked up the phone was, “Nate, we need to hire two Commercial Bankers right away and I was told you were the person to call!” I sat in somewhat stunned silence still processing what she had said. “Well, of course I am, let’s talk,” I replied confidently since we had seen so much activity in this market. We knew of several movable targets at the time, and felt very good about our chances to capitalize on the strong Ag sector of the local economy.

The caller was someone who was referred to me by another HR person I had worked with in Banking. We walked through every nook and cranny of the need (or so I thought at the time), and I began to close the call by saying, “I have no doubt we will find candidates you can hire.” Not exactly a good “expectation management” start for me, but hey, I was moved by her strong come on. This prideful moment would blind me from so many obvious issues and be my ultimate undoing in this situation.

The bank was in western Nebraska, in an area with a very low population base (red flag #1). Of course, the client wanted someone reasonably local, and did not want to pay relocation (red flag #2). Also, the positions themselves did not offer inherent advancement opportunity (red flag #3). A sane recruiter likely would have dismissed the search as soon as these facts became evident. I, however, was “the person to call”, so I blasted right through those mental hurdles.

Location, location, location

We burned through about 50 local targets in the first week or two with only one lead. (The reasons why we could not drum up more led us to a whole other hiring challenge to overcome, but more on that in a minute.) I am a proud Nebraska native, and as much as I love my home state, I fully realize there are just not that many people trying to move to western Nebraska. Once we seemingly exhausted all the local possibilities, we started to turn our attention to candidates willing to relocate themselves (bad ideal!!).

Reputations matter

Before embarking on a quest to find a banker willing to move to the area for these opportunities, we took a look at what we had to that point. Probing deeper into why we were being turned down, we found that the bank president and senior lender had a somewhat negative reputation in the area. The prevailing perception was that they were hard to work for, and the bank had strict lending guidelines that would make their growth goals unreasonable (red flag #4). This should have been the final straw.

I decided to call the president of the bank to explain our lack of success, and disengage from the search. I told him about the feedback we were getting, and he became upset and defiant of this feedback we were getting (red flag #5). Instead of running, I hung in there are fought back after he questioned my methods and resolve on this search. I let pride suck me back into a search that we, as a team, had concluded was no good. So for the next ten months, much to the chagrin of my recruiting partner, we soldiered on.

We actually got one candidate into a final interview after several months, but he ruined his chances by talking too much about desire for leadership. Go figure, a candidate not being desirable because he wants the chance to evolve (red flag # 784). In the end, we were pushing a boulder up a mountain and did not have the sense to let it fall. Granted, we did not prioritize this search like we had early on, but we kept working on it with a definite sense of resignation which can’t produce positive results….EVER! I have no idea how much money I left on the table by continuing to spend time on this search. Slowly however, the client and I mutually faded away from each other. We mercifully disengaged nearly one year from the day I took the order, with the client still needing two lenders.

The lessons I learned from this search were:

  • This should have been offered by me as a retained search. I would have found out sooner that they were contingently engaged with multiple firms, and perhaps they would have declined and I never would have started at all. It was a rookie mistake and I truly regret it.
  • Clients that are desperate should be profiled much tougher than others. If it were easy to find someone they would not need me, but “hair on fire” intensity to find someone should not always be seen as quality urgency.
  • Clearly, trying to find candidates for a client with a bad rep and no advancement opportunity is a steak without any sizzle.
  • Lastly, never led pride alone keep you in a search too long. Even if you close it, the time spent may have prevented you from closing two or three other searches.

I’ll be back in a week with Part 2!

image source: Hey Paul

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