The First Step to Wooing Talent

(Published on LinkedIn on Jan 26, 2015)

The other day I got a call from someone part of a company’s recruitment team. As she read out the job description of the role in discussion, I realized she had not even read my resume completely. When I politely inquired as to whether she had my latest resume, she airily brushed me off saying how big the company is (which the company in question definitely is), and that how rigorous their hiring process is. By the time she was done, I got the impression she couldn’t care less whether I was interested in the job or not. “Take it or leave it”, was the unspoken statement. Till I talked to her, I used to regard very highly the company in question. After this “interview”, the sheen had dulled somewhat.

Why is it that some companies spend a significant amount of their budgets in marketing and promoting their brand, but seem to ignore or dilute their first step towards acquiring talent?

Courtesy, the forgotten skill

This is one of my pet peeves. Why can’t we be nice to candidates over the phone? Many years back when I was part of a smaller company, I did not have the luxury of an assistant when I had to hire my team. As we were a small company, I was conscious of making a good first impression. To me, the candidate was the customer and I was aware that I was the first point of contact from our company. As the company grew we took care to ensure our recruitment team continued to take care of every prospect they called and briefed over the phone.

I guess sounding snooty might make one sound exclusive and important especially when screening on behalf of a big company, and there are people who might feel privileged that they even got a call. I also agree that the economic downturn has resulted in more eager jobseekers desperate for employment. However, times do change and the tides do turn. And people never forget how they were treated. They don’t remember the recruiter. They remember the company.

Till date when I interview people I think of how important this job must be for them and how worried they might be about the outcome. While most of them might not make it, I always go out of my way to make sure they have a positive interview experience. I have had my share of positive experiences as a candidate too, and I still regard those companies highly.

The importance of homework

I remember another recruiter who called me up a few years back for a senior level position as an e-learning team lead. As he asked me various questions, there is one that really surprised me: “I understand you have developed e-learning projects, but have you done instructional design?” It clearly demonstrated to me that he was simply “scanning” my speech to see whether it matched the job description instead of truly understanding the role!

The importance of researching the role and understanding the industry in question cannot be emphasized enough. When I was hiring instructional designers for my team at a time when e-learning was new in India, the recruitment team I was working with did not know much about the e-learning industry. We scheduled many meetings to give them an overview of the industry, besides showing them how e-learning courses looked like and what goes into developing them. We also provided them a list of skills, jargon words, keywords and the likes to help them understand the various terms used. This helped the recruiters not only in selecting the right resumes and identifying some of the best candidates, but also widening the search to other sources.

Putting the best person forward

As a candidate, I form an impression about the company depending on who talks to me first about the job. If I’m someone with 10 years of experience being considered for a mid-level senior role, I would like the recruiter to understand the role from my perspective. For that to happen, the recruiter needs to have the necessary experience and confidence talking to candidates about the role. Too often we have recruiters struggling to match pace with the candidate’s seniority during phone screening. Either they sound too deferential and in awe, or too immature. I have seen many recruitment teams putting their junior-most members to the task of screening candidates over the phone. I would recommend that we in fact put senior level professionals in charge of these interactions. Being experienced they would be able to match their tone to that of the candidate, have the confidence to pitch the job correctly, be intuitive enough to ask the right questions, and represent their organizations credibly. They would also be able to instinctively identify the right people without even seeing them face-to-face, within minutes into the discussion, thus saving precious time.

Making the first cut count

Phone screening sounds like a routine no-brainer task, but is in fact an implicit sales call. It is a highly crucial activity which when done right can save an organization huge costs. Do it right, and your candidates will gladly refer you to their friends and contacts.

Job openings are going to be higher in 2015 as compared to previous years if we were to go by most recruitment trend reports. Recruiters are going to be overworked. At the same time, the talent shortage is going to be more acute than ever before. You don’t want to lose out on a great candidate at the first stage itself. As the talent demand versus supply gap widens in 2015, companies should monitor this process to ensure they are represented well in the hiring market.

Good talent is ripe and available for picking. Somewhere in the race for numbers we tend to forget the basics. As the late Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Advertisements

Let’s Fix It: Hire Potential, not Degree

(This article was published on LinkedIn on Oct 16, 2014: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20141016114939-11623865-let-s-fix-it-hire-potential-not-degree)

In my article Are we hiring people or headcount, I had talked about how as leaders we make the mistake of hiring highly qualified candidates for jobs that they quickly outgrow.

Way back in the 80’s and 90’s when the IT revolution was picking up, it made sense hiring candidates from premium B-schools and top engineering universities. Companies were in their upward growth curve and needed bright and entrepreneurial thinkers who would have enough excitement to stick around within the company for several years.

The story has changed today. Engineering and management students join companies with high aspirations only to be disappointed when they realize their skills are barely needed.

Over the past decade, burgeoning companies of the 90’s have exploded into large conglomerates after multiple mergers and acquisitions. The current economy and ever-changing business landscape now demands that companies retain their knowledge capital by hiring more stable players who will adapt and grow with the changing requirements.

Another mistake we leaders make is hire people at peak level talent. Rather, I would pitch in favour of peak potential.

Room for growth

Every designation or role has a minimum tenure during which employees get a chance to learn on the job and pick up competencies. Candidates whether sourced internally or externally, should be selected with a not-yet-acquired skill or competency gap. The tenure for the role should allow the employee to fill this competency gap.

Hire attitude, develop aptitude

Easier said than done, but job descriptions need to detail the responsive traits that are needed to accomplish the job successfully. For instance, a sales team might need candidates who won’t take no for an answer, or a technology team might benefit from candidates with the ability to quickly grasp the root of a problem and be at it till they arrive at a solution. A training coordinator probably needs to know how to think and process requirements in an organized manner while a customer support rep should probably be someone who goes out of her way to help people. Psychometric assessments usually help in identifying these inherent traits, which can be used as a base for building tangible on-the-job skills.

Upgrade and update the job description!

Job description documents definitely need an overhaul during an organizational change. In fact I recommend periodic revisions of this document to ensure that the hiring stays specific and relevant. As hiring managers we should ask ourselves,

  • “Does this role truly require an engineering (or B-school) candidate?”
  • “How can I make the job description more specific and relevant to today’s context?”
  • “Are there specific personality types or behavioral traits necessary for this role?”
  • “What are the non-negotiable or mandatory or must-have skills for this role?”
  • “What is the competency gap or minimum skill potential based on which this candidate could be hired?”
  • “For how long on an average will a candidate need to work in the current role in order to fulfill or outperform the competency gap?”

Investing in an incubation centre

A significant number of high potential candidates get eliminated using only qualification or experience as a minimum requirement. Hiring managers in their immediate business need, try to directly map the candidate profile with the required skill set and select people with an already optimum competency level. Such candidates naturally outperform their current roles within their first year of joining. By the time they are in their second year, they are already updating their LinkedIn profiles! It would help if companies establish an incubation centre where they groom and prepare future candidates for their businesses. These candidates need not necessarily be fresh graduates. There is an enormous amount of untapped and unharnessed potential in the form of women who seek to resume their careers after a break. There are a significant number of professionals seeking a mid-level career change.

Talent shortage is a myth! Talent is definitely available if we look at future potential rather than existing skills. I have also talked in another article about how building a future career roadmap leads to more engaged employees.

#FixIt #recruitment #talentmanagement #leadership

Are we hiring people or headcount?

hiring

As managers and leaders, one of our most crucial decisions is selecting the right people in our teams. There are decisions to be taken at every stage from initial screening to the final interview stage. Unfortunately, hiring is perceived as a number filling game where we don’t look at candidates as people but as profiles or headcount.

What’s wrong with “headcount”?

Like the words “resources” and “headcount” that have replaced the more humane term “employees” in the corporate workplace, candidates are now called “profiles”. A profile essentially indicates a snapshot of the candidate’s skills, experience, and attributes that help us ascertain a candidate’s suitability, just like resources indicate people with the necessary skills for executing a project.

There’s no problem referring to people as “profiles” or “resources”, so long as they are used in the right context. For instance, when we discuss the suitability of a candidate to an opening while discussing the hiring process, using the word “profile” is appropriate as we are describing the individual. Headcount is fine so long as we are talking about the number of people we need.

However, we tend to forget that we need an individual or a group of people with values and skills that align with the organization’s work culture and business goals. It’s more than just filling a spot, and that’s where the term “headcount” is very limiting.

A whole-brained decision

On the face of it, hiring seems to be a left-brained activity. However when we actually delve deeper, it needs to be a whole-brained activity. Filling a number needs little or no decision skills. Checking whether or not a candidate fits into the required skill set can even be automated. However, deciding whether or not a candidate works for the need and determining whether he is going to add value, involves right-brained thinking.

Hire in haste, repent at leisure

One of the root causes of employee disengagement is lack of long-term alignment of the employee’s skills with the company’s business goals and strategy. Note that we’re talking about goals and not targets. The tendency is to hire people for a project or an immediate business need, rather than selecting them for a long-term purpose. Hire in haste, repent at leisure. Okay so I have twisted an old proverb, but that is so true today! Headcount, profiles, resources – all these are terms that make sense only in a temporary context.

Idle brain YouTube’s workshop!

We hire engineers and MBA graduates for jobs that don’t really demand more than 10% of their prolific degrees. For instance, I know of companies that hire MBA graduates for market research that actually involves collecting information using Google search. I have also heard of software companies that recruit fresh engineering graduates who expect to get their hands into coding but generally end up monitoring reports or testing small functions. As these tasks aren’t challenging enough to keep the employees on their toes, we find them with plenty of idle time. No wonder there is heavy traffic on YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, and their likes! In the haste to complete hiring, managers also end up hiring “white elephants” who no longer serve any future purpose or requirement within the organization. Yes, we are talking about folks who are “on the bench” long after the project is complete.

Negativity and conflicts

Finding the right talent is never easy. It requires painstaking effort and a huge process of elimination at the time of short-listing. Unfortunately, the compulsion to “close the position” leads to short-listing of candidates by only considering their job skills. Consequently, the hiring manager ends up with “problem employees” who have an “attitude problem” or become “bad apples” in the team. Having such individuals puts unnecessary stress on the manager as they become overheads rather than assets.

Immediate gains, long-term loss

To understand the heavy cost of recruitment and its impact, here’s an interesting article on a survey conducted by Careerbuilder in2013. India alone had 84% companies reporting adverse impact due to bad hiring decisions. The loss isn’t the bottom-line alone. Loss of employee morale, loss of time in training and induction, reduced business opportunities, dwindling sales, and reduced repurchase from existing clients – all these are a result of poor hiring.

A dearth of talented successors

The tendency to be hasty in hiring also leads to lack of succession planning. A majority of players with talent and potential leave when they realize the company does not have a long term growth strategy. That leaves us with people who may or may not fit the bill as future leaders. And so begins yet another unconstructive cycle – bad managers leading to unhappy employees and dissatisfied customers, and so on.

Hiring ‘em right the first time!

So how do we zero on the right people and not just add to the headcount? Over the course of my career, I have had my share of hiring blunders that have helped me improve my ability to identify and select the right people.

Versatility versus virtuosity

What kind of team do you have? Is it a startup team that has been newly formed, or a team that is already well-established with a more or less well-defined roles and responsibilities? A startup team needs versatile players who can work with ambiguity and have the ability to lay down foundations for future teams. More than qualification, you need strong entrepreneurial skills and out-of-the-box thinking. People with experience in working for startup or small scale companies would usually best fit this requirement as they have the ability to deal with the unexpected. Mavericks would do a great job here. However, people with this profile are restless and would need to be provided challenging roles once the team eventually settles down to becoming an established center.

If you have an established team, then you probably need people with the required skills and experience for the job. You also need them to follow instructions and be diligent. Knowing that your team may not expand significantly in the coming years helps you pick up dedicated individuals who feed on job security and are happy being team players.

Global skills

If you are hiring for a global team with a matrix reporting structure, then communication and collaboration skills are a must. I would any day opt for a strong and persuasive communicator over a highly skilled individual, provided the job does not demand high-end skills.

Visualization helps!

A job opening is always your need for a problem solver. Look at the job description and try to imagine a person with these qualities. Does it seem like your chosen candidate would be able to solve your problem? Visualize your team working in the office. Can you picture your chosen candidate as one of them? If you cannot, chances are that the person will not fit into the team.

Trust your gut

Intuition is one of the most needed abilities for a hiring manager. Here you have a dream candidate. She has the right skills and the right experience. Except that you are unable to decide. Whether or not you believe, your intuition is trying to tell you something. One of my managers taught me, “When in doubt, reject!” This has always helped me. There are times when I have doubted my gut-feel and felt tempted to close the position. Nine times out of ten, I have hired the wrong people when I did that. Don’t worry about the ageing days or the follow-ups from your recruitment team. Wait for the right person to come along, and no matter what, listen to your intuition!