Five To Seven Years Experience Required: Part 2

“When we last left our intrepid hero, Atomic Recruiter, he was being held captive in the Dungeon of Repetitive Tasks and Meaningless Efforts by the evil Lord Everything-Over-You, Master of the Hiring Managers of the Doomed. With only minutes left and tons of paperwork yet to be completed, in triplicate, our plucky hero realizes that all is not lost! If only he can reach his…” Okay, so maybe you think HR/staffing is too serious a subject to take so lightly, and that it deserves more reverence in professional journals such as ERE. But maybe if we lightened up a little and made our interactions with hiring managers a more interesting part of their daily lives, we wouldn’t need bribes or threats of blackmail to get them to participate more fully in the process. Nowhere is this more apparent ó and critical ó than in the development of position skill profiles that are used to develop search criteria. In the last installment I gave a hypothetical position skill profile and challenged you to develop search criteria using elements other than years experience. I would like to take a moment and make special note of two of the responses I received:

  1. I am informed by one reader that, in Australia, the use of “years experience” in any position description is illegal. “Down under,” they understand the potential for age discrimination here. For those who believe this may be an overreaction: imagine, if you will, that you are being deposed by a candidate’s attorney in an age discrimination lawsuit where you advertised and screened candidates based on “five to seven years experience” required. The attorney then asks, “Of the 75 resumes you reviewed using your own mandated criteria to prescreen and eliminate resumes, how many candidates remained in the process who were 45 years or older (protected class)? How many were Vietnam-era veterans (protected class)? How many were under thirty? Where is your documentation on the relevance of using five to seven years experience as a legitimate, non-biased criteria indicating likelihood of a particular candidate’s ability to succeed? How many candidates over 45 have you hired this year (EEO stats)? How old are you?” Not a good day to be the stationary target on the stand, don’t you think? Consider this: whether by intent or by accident, using “years experience” has the potential to create civil legal issues. It doesn’t have to a “against the law” to get you in court; it merely has to appear that way.
  2. Another reader successfully challenged my own sincerity by pointing out that in my “bio” I brag about having “over 20” years experience. But I wonder, in this day and age of our “anti-age” society, if bragging about being over 40 (alright, 50) is actually a good thing. I have asked the editor to change my bio to reflect, “with an extensive career of diversified experience” to replace “20 years experience.” (If somebody wants to believe I am a 25-year-old marathon runner with rock hard abs, so be it.)

But, back to the issue at hand: My original intent was to make this a two-part series with the second part dealing with keywords other than “years experience” as search modifiers. But based on the responses and questions I received regarding the basics of breaking down a position profile into search criteria, we are going to insert a piece on basic skill review and developing the essential components of a position description here. To some of you this may appear “elementary.” But not all readers are at the same level of development, and many who assume they have this basic step under control may be surprised to discover they need a little refresher as well. That, by the way, includes this author. After all, learning is like breathing. When you stop ó you die. To successfully develop search criteria that ensure you the best possible candidate pool from which to screen (either by human eye or by “Boolean”) you need a position skill profile that makes sense and truly reflects the actual needs of the position ó not one that merely sounds good or has been used before. Nobody likes to develop position descriptions, and yet they are the cornerstones of recruiting. The description gives us the skill profile, and the skill profile give us the search criteria. It harkens back to one of my favorite expressions, “checkbook error syndrome.” Every uncorrected error in a checkbook becomes a constant factor in the accuracy of any other entry. Even if each subsequent step is flawlessly executed and meticulously calculated, the error continues to carry through to the end result. So it goes with position descriptions and recruiting. Flawed descriptions result in flawed hiring, no matter how perfectly the rest of the process is executed. All too often I feel the basic position description development process is 50% based on obvious assumptions, 50% based on past practice, and 50% based on believing everything the hiring manager tells you is true (I know, I know, that’s 150%. Just trying to keep you awake). So using last week’s hypothetical example, let’s work through developing the critical skill criteria for the position. Let us assume you are seeking a candidate to work in the customer service department of a highly automated financial services company supporting primarily layperson customers. In other words, those with “investments” who are not in fact “professional investors” and often lack the vocabulary or sophistication to understand the products and rules under which they operate fully. This is not an entry-level position, but at the same time it doesn’t have any supervisory responsibility. The level of decision-making authority is managed by the limitations imposed by your online support systems. The environment ranges from managed workflow to hectic, based on the time of year or bad stock market news. The group supports retirement based products and uses “Greyhair” customer support software (a fictitious brand). It is a three-shift operation in a cubicle environment. There is a “working supervisor” for every 20 customer service representatives, who usually spends 80% of his or her time dealing with higher-level issues “bumped up” by the online system. The manager supports three such supervisors. Initial training is handled by a one-week program managed at the division level, followed by OJT within the group supported by the manager, supervisor, and designated mentor. Assumption #1. Many respondents assumed the first critical skill criterion was a candidate pool from within the financial services industry. But is this a financial services position? The hiring situation stipulates that the candidate will be working with “non-investors” using automated support tools that “bump up” issues outside the person’s level of responsibility, training, or knowledge. There is a corporate training program in place for all hires and OJT in the form of managerial and supervisory support, as well as a mentoring program. Further, as this is a retirement fund support group, the issues are primarily focused on administration-based, not investment-based, issues. That was one of the “dirty tricks” in this situation scenario. Many of you have been asked, or will be asked, to develop descriptions on positions of which you have little first hand knowledge. It is all too easy to merely rely on the information provided, or go back to the original source, the hiring manager, and ask questions, or assume you can use the data you have to construct “obvious assumptions.” But the best source of information is the people already working in an identical or related position. But what do you do when you have a position that is new to your company? Be creative! If your company has a pension program or a 401K, you either have onsite administrators and customer services representatives or the 800 number of the third party organization that supports your retirement plan. If you were to go to the members of a large automated customer service organization in the financial services industry supporting a retirement program they would inform you the most frequent issues they face are:

  • Change of address requests
  • Change of beneficiary information
  • Change of distribution request
  • Change of deduction
  • “My check is a day late!”
  • “Why is Federal Tax deducted? I thought retirement plans were tax exempt.”
  • Questions about Enron or Arthur Anderson

The lesson learned? Be a “Colombo” and investigate every position as a mystery to be solved. Look for clues other than the obvious and seek out possibilities other than the “usual suspects.” Assumption #2. The next common error was to assume that customer service is a generic title that fits all potential candidates. There are those who deal with the public face-to-face, voice-to-voice, or online-to-online. There are those who deal with customers at the high end (in Las Vegas, the customer service person who deals with “whales” ó i.e., big spenders ó has a large budget and a lot of personal authority in making allowances for the big spenders) and then there are those who deal merely deal with the next call logged in with no authority to resolve beyond data error correction (“I’m sorry, we had the wrong zip code,” versus, “I will authorize a full refund immediately.”) In the world of customer support there is problem resolution, problem processing, information gathering, solution support, solution management, and many more categories. A customer service person may be part of an interactive customer support team, or a “cog” in a “boiler room” environment. They may come from an environment where a customer can ask for a “favorite” person or must just accept luck of the draw. Some customer service people live to follow though the resolution process, while others just want to fill in the required data fields and move on. Customer service experience alone is not enough information to give you the correct base of potential candidates. Other often missed clues:

  1. In a three-shift environment, there is certainly less opportunity for overtime, but also less of a chance that a rep will be asked to stay late unexpectedly. Can this be turned into a search criteria?
  2. The use of an automated tool to support the work indicates “assembly line” customer service. The absence of any supervisory responsibilities gives a clear indication of the daily workload: answer the phone, hang up, answer the phone, hang up.
  3. The high employee-to-supervisor ratio indicates both a need for people who do not require constant supervision as well as limited growth opportunity.

The bottom line: the position you have to offer will lack appeal to a financial services professional due to its lack of involvement in real financial services issues. The limited growth opportunity combined with limited involvement with customers, as persons, will likely make this position less attractive to a person with a developed career as a true customer service professional. On the other hand:

  • This position will have appeal to persons looking to work hours other than nine to five.
  • The limited career development potential combined with the limited involvement and stress of the job makes this opportunity attractive to a person seeking just an income, a second income, or “school income” rather than a person seeking a career development position.
  • Being a large organization, consequently offering better benefits, this is also an excellent opportunity for a person whose primary goal in working is not providing “the family income,” but providing “the family benefits.”
  • There is also the “returning to work” workforce, the “looking for a lifeboat” workforce, and the “not looking to conquer the world anymore” workforce.

In other words, setting up a position description and the subsequent keyword search assuming the obvious criteria of a financial services customer service professional with prior knowledge and experience working with customers in an automated support tool environment would develop a pool of highly overqualified candidates who ultimately would not want the job you have to offer. So, “once more unto the breach”: Rethink the position, and rethink the search criteria. Develop the search “string” that you feel will develop a candidate pool of candidates who could do the job and would want to do the job. Remember, cut-and-paste recruiting can be done by anybody with training in Microsoft Word and access to a resume database. But great recruiting requires the soul of a salesman, the heart of a social worker, and the brain of a detective. A sense of humor goes a long way as well, because in this job, sometimes you just have to laugh. It’s that or go nuts. Have a great day recruiting.

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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