On Becoming a Better Recruiter

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.58.56 AMImprovement begins with I. – Arnold Glasow

Congratulations to the great recruiters out there who work hard day after day to find the people required to build great companies. Examples:

Like your IPad or your BMW? We recruited the engineers to make them a reality. Use Word or Excel? The folks we recruited made it happen and their efforts have changed the face of how we do business. Blog or tweet or fly in a plane or stay wired all day long? You can do that because great recruiters built the workforce that built the technology to keep us all productive and connected.

Identify and hire nurses, airline pilots, and executive chefs? We do that too as all good things start with the recruiting of great talent. We are the magic behind the miracles in everything from the astonishing efficiency of Amazon to the recruitment of interim CFOs who can support liquidity events or take a company through an IPO. We staff the phone stores that sell the smartphones you can’t live without. We hired the folks to design and build those phones as well. I can go on but I think you get the point.

With the new year starring us in the face, we need to be many things in order to get ready for the challenges that are to come. We need to be on our game in terms of understanding the business in which we work. We need to think both short and long term to maximize the value we bring. We need to be proactive, fast, and connected as we chase the very best people. With this in mind, I suggest that we consider the following as a to-do list for those who want to take their game uptown and create more value:

  1. Learn to engage: Recruiting is far more then matching candidate skills with job descriptions. Recruiting is a business of influence from both the client as well as candidate side. We need to take the time required to understand the forces/politics at work within our organizations in order to be more successful. We need to learn what is really important to our hiring managers. (Beware the hiring manager who simply hands you a sheet of paper and expects you to fill a role.) We should meet with our hiring managers,, ask questions, and try to really understand what is required to create a great hire. Having these conversations will help all of us.
  2. Tell them what and why: Let me tell you a bit of a secret. Most hiring managers will tell you that they know exactly how to hire. In reality, most do not. I, like you, have seen them say and do things with candidates in terms of interviewing, evaluation, and offer development that is simply stunning in its ability to derail and blow up deals. Do not let this happen to you. Tell the hiring manager how you work, why you do what you do, and how to best move forward in terms of making the hire. If you sense they are not comfortable, back off a bit and probe. Ask questions and seek out any objections to your methodology before it gets downstream and bites you later. Do this and you will have an easier road to travel.
  3. Understand the business and the possibilities: We do not recruit in a vacuum. One of the ways that recruiters go from good to great is by understanding the business, knowing the types of people who tend to be successful within that business, and seeking out those candidates who will really be a great fit. We owe it to ourselves to remain current on our organization, its place within the marketplace, and the overall realities of how we conduct business. Great recruiters communicate far more than just about jobs. They create and shape the vision of what is possible down the road to the candidates they seek to hire. Great recruiters want more then an acceptance from a candidate. They want excitement and commitment. Sound like marketing to you? If so, you are right on the money.
  4. Form relationships: In life, we very often have to make a choice. We can be effective or we can be right. Let me make this easy for you. Be effective, because being right seldom adds up to much. If you can accept that simple reality, then please accept this one as well: recruiting is always easier in the presence of relationships as opposed to the absence of relationships. Take the time required to get to know the folks with whom you work. Identify the quirks and the oddities and learn to accept the things you can’t change. Never fight unless it is a last resort in an attempt to do what is right for the organization. Learn to look the other way if possible and do not let the little things make you crazy.

I can write and speak endlessly as to the things we need to become great but time and space preclude it. If we go into the new year understanding that recruiting is a game of people and influence and style as opposed to just interviewing and technology and reading resumes, we will come away with more wins and achieve some of the greatness we so richly deserve.

Recruiting the Hunger Games Way

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Ten million skilled labor jobs went unfilled in the U.S. last year alone. 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day. Do the math and something needs to happen to put the odds in your favor if you are a recruiter. Here are a few to consider.

Be Memorable

Advantages came to the contestants in The Hunger Games who were the most memorable out of the 24 who were competing. You’re probably not Google, Facebook, or Apple. You don’t have instant name recognition that helps to sell your brand. But you do have a story to tell. Psychologists have been studying the impact of sharing stories and how they directly impact a person’s attitudes, values, hopes, and fears. But somehow, in the recruiting world, we haven’t grasped that power yet.

So much of recruiting today is creating a job description with an unending list of bullet points and communicating what they company demands of the candidate. Very little emphasis is placed on telling the candidate about the company — what it does, why it does it, what impact it makes, and the causes that company supports. Once a company can have interested parties visualize themselves working there, the battle has been won.

In addition, an emphasis on that candidate’s experience is mandatory. It’s a no-win situation to tell a remarkable story and have a candidate envision themselves working there … and then totally disregard the candidate through the rest of the recruitment process. Common human courtesies will help to make your company memorable.

Alliances Get You Further

As with any good movie, you have the good guys and the bad guys. The Hunger Games was no different. As the battles began, individuals quickly aligned with each other to try to defeat the others.

In this battle for talent, new, fresh, innovative thinking is required — a business alliance. For some, it might mean aligning with a firm that can focuses on sourcing and driving candidates to your recruitment team. For others, it might be a marketing ally that help you to tell your story — online, print, video, social, etc. Some will choose an ally that is focused on recruitment optimization — taking your current strategies, processes, technology, and team and fine-tuning it to make it run more effectively and efficiently. Or you might align yourself with a totally outsourced recruitment partner that delivers on your behalf.

I have been warning recruitment leaders for the past few years that a major transition was about to take place in the way that recruiting is executed. This is mostly because of the generational shift of our candidate base. Two main reasons why this change will take place:

  1. It is the first generation to grow up with the Internet accessible to them every day of its lives. It has reshaped communication skills. It has reshaped problem solving. It has reshaped how businesses operate. It has reshaped just about every aspect of our lives. But somehow we think we can still recruit with the same tired strategies and processes that we used 5-10-15+ years ago.
  2. This is also the generation where everyone got a trophy and we quit keeping score. Candidates have a deep need for communication and reassurance … and having an ATS with knockout questions that eliminate the vast majority of applicants within 30 seconds of their application being submitted doesn’t really feel good to these candidates.

The role of recruiter is changing to more of an influencer … and that means alliances must be in place: Networking alliances. Campus alliances. Referral alliances. Optimization alliances.

Your Mentor Changes Everything

In the movie, each Tribute had a mentor assigned to them. One of the most appealing things that a company can do to draw in new talent is assign that new person to a mentor. Someone to show them the ropes, answer their questions, and give the newly hired person a very personal sense of dedication and appreciation. It will take some screening and training on your part to find those who will truly embrace the role of mentor, but this commitment is well-worth the extra effort when competing for a candidate with a competitor.

You may not be the biggest company. You may not have the most resources. You can, however, put the odds in your favor by developing and executing on a plan based around these ideas.

Are You Wasting Your Time Sourcing Top Talent?

In this week’s roundup I address the issue of succession planning. Please pay attention, There will be a pop quiz. (Or not.)

As a talent acquisition professional (“recruiter” is so yesterday), your role in succession planning and workforce management is indirect, even if it falls on your shoulders to only source and present candidates who are the absolute best at doing the job for which you have a req.

Stick with me here for a minute as we walk through this hiring and succession moraine to reach the point where you will agree that the best plan is to fill promotions purely at random, while discovering that you and your colleagues are the only ones in the organization hiring people who must convince you they actually can do the available job.

Now, about that req that lands on your desk: it embodies the dreams of the hiring manager who lists skills, experience, and achievements no earthly human possesses. But still you find the three or four or five people who not only fit the req to a T, but who have shining personalities and abilities the hiring manager dared not even hope for.

It isn’t long before that hire makes the hiring manager look so good that when the director job opens up, the manager is promoted. That’s the nature of the meritocracy most companies profess to follow.

So now your talented candidate who has done so well at the job you specifically sourced them for is promoted into the manager’s slot. In a year, your shining star is gone (or maybe it’s the former manager who became a director who’s gone), having failed at a job for which they were not hired.

That’s the Peter Principle at work. We promote people until they reach the level of their greatest incompetence. Once they no longer merit promotion (based on success in their current job), they remain at the position until they leave or perform so poorly they get fired.

Basing a succession plan on merit and nothing more, means that over time, the most important company management jobs will be occupied by people who did really well at the job one or two rungs down. More than a few studies have demonstrated that promoting based on success in the current job leads to a reduction in corporate efficiency.

Recognizing that as the natural consequence of the Peter Principle, researchers at the Universit´a di Catania in Italy tried some alternative methods of promoting individuals to see what would happen. Using computer simulations (hey, it’s how they test new drugs, design planes, and plan for terrorist attacks), they discovered that if they promoted people purely at random that got better results and improved company efficiency.

Their conclusion:

..the strategy of promoting the best (workers) induces a rapid decrease of efficiency, while it works well only if members would ideally maintain their competence at each level, an hypothesis that, although in agreement with common sense, seems in practice very unrealistic in the majority of the real situations. On the other hand we obtained the counterintuitive result that the best strategies for improving, or at least for not diminishing, the efficiency of an organization … are those of promoting an agent at random or of randomly alternating the promotion of the best and the worst members. We think that these results could be useful to guide the management of large real hierarchical systems of different natures and in different fields.

One last word before you go shrugging off the results. Two management professors at the University of Texas came to a similar conclusion when they looked at four different promotional schemes:

The newly promoted may actually suffer from poorer performance in their new positions due to outdated memories and knowledge building processes. Thus, there is this irony: promotion of best performers may actually degrade the overall organizational performance, when compared with just promoting a random member of the group.

My work here is done.

Talent Wars at Big Law? It’s Already Happening

Big Law, the collective name given to firms with dozens, hundreds, and some with thousands of lawyers, is discovering something its clients have known for years: there’s a war for talent.Law firm hiring

The traditional career ladder — summer associate to first-year associate to junior partner and, after 20 or so years, full partner — has given way to a dramatic rise in lateral hires and a sharp reduction in the number of entry-level lawyers. The emerging organization looks more like a diamond than a pyramid.

So much of a change has occurred over the last three decades that in 2008 the number of partners employed by the 250 largest firms outnumbered the associates. In the 10 years since 2002 when law firms hired 11,302 summer associates — the interns of the legal profession –  their numbers have fallen by half, to 5,584 in 2012.

In their place firms have upped the number of lateral hires, bringing them in as senior associates or other titles, or as non-equity partners, meaning they don’t get to share in the annual profits. A 2012 survey by American Lawyer made it plain that lateral moves were on the radar of large law firms. According to the survey, 74 percent of the managing partners of these firms saw an increase in the number of lateral hires of both associates and partners. Only 15 percent saw a similar increase in hiring entry-level lawyers.

The hottest pursuit now is for associates with at least three years of experience, and skills in specific areas of the law.

Besides the profound influence this has had on law firm economics, it has also meant a significant change on how law firms handle recruiting; for example:

  • It has expanded in-house recruiting, in many cases taking management of talent acquisition out of the hands of senior partners and turning it over to experienced, professional recruiters.
  • It has prompted even some of the most prestigious law firms to use temps and contract attorneys to handle work once performed by junior associates.
  • The number of students entering law school this year is the lowest since 1975. The 39,675 students is well off the high water year of 2010 when 52,488 first year students began school.

The growth in lateral hiring, plus the changed economics of Big Law, says James Leipold, executive director  of  the National Association for Law Placement, is escalating the competition. As firms do more hiring of experienced attorneys, and especially of partners, Leipold said they will, “at least in the short term,” find themselves competing for talent.

Just as firms have moved to hiring professionals to manage departments as varied as accounting and marketing, they’ve been doing the same for recruiting.

There’s “a large trend in the last five years to professionalize management,” Leipold said, including recruiting. “Firms are trying to rely more on their (internal) recruiting.”

“They are building a deeper expertise,” he said.

Especially in demand are associates with three to five years of experience, says Joe Ankus, president of Ankus Consulting, Inc. and executive director of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants. He described lawyers with that level of experience the “sweet spot” of a legal recruiter’s business.

They are “a mainstay of my business,” he says, adding that he suspects other legal recruiters who place attorneys would say the same. “That’s where the majority of the hiring is.”

He hasn’t seen much of an increase in searches, probably because law firms are keeping a lid on hiring. However, firms are hiring for certain expertise. Bankruptcy is dead, Ankus says, but real estate “is strong.”

Last week, the American Bar Association reported that first-year law school enrollment had dropped to the lowest level since 1975. The ABA said 39,675 students entered law school this fall, well off the high mark year of 2010, when 52,488 first year students enrolled.

The drop in enrollment, plus the greying of senior law firm partners, will only worsen the  competition for talent.

Read more

Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Strategic Talent Leaders

The New Year is the perfect time to reexamine and refocus your talent efforts. The coming year will see a surge in economic growth, but it will occur in a business environment with continued volatility. Succeeding in this environment will require a new approach. So before all of the activity that accompanies any new year begins, take at least an afternoon off for some “strategic thinking and planning time.” In order to guide your thinking, I propose 10 talent resolutions or focus areas which are likely to have high strategic and business impacts.

10 Strategic Action Areas in Talent Management

The actions with the highest potential business impacts are listed first.

  1. Increase your measurable impacts on strategic goals – start by dropping the outdated “align with business goals” target. Instead work with the CFO’s office to identify, measure, and then strengthen the talent areas that have a direct link and a measurable impact on the corporate goals (these goals usually include increasing revenue, improving new product development, and increasing market share). The most impactful talent areas to focus on include improved hiring, retention, faster learning, and more precise internal movement into product, sales, and revenue-generating positions and teams.
  2. Increase workforce productivity — rather than an indirect approach, there needs to be a dedicated talent program that has a laser focus on increasing the productivity of your employees. Start with the simple workforce effectiveness measure of revenue per employee as your productivity success measure. Next, have the leader of the productivity function identify the factors that increase their productivity. The chief talent officer must then charge and hold every talent function leader accountable for changing and influencing the factors that inhibit or increase employee productivity. And finally compare your revenue per employee results at year end to those of your competitors (marketwatch.com is one of many sources that list revenue per employee on company profiles).
  3. Increase innovation – innovation may have up to a five times larger impact on corporate revenue than continuous improvement. Because of the higher impact, talent managers first need to identify the barriers to innovation, and after minimizing them, work to increase any additional factors that drive new innovation. Note that innovation efforts can’t just be focused on product development, because the entire organization must be innovating together at the same rate if you expect to dominate your competitors.
  4. Convert HR impacts to dollars – traditional HR metrics often have a minimal impact because they are reported using only HR terminology (e.g. annual turnover rate or quality of hire). However because the language of business is money, you must work with the CFO’s office to ensure that all HR results are accurately “converted” to their dollar impact on revenue (i.e. the 12 percent turnover reduced our revenue by $2.3 million).
  5. Adopt a data-driven retention approach – Retention will heat up and become the major talent issue for the next year. Unfortunately there is no evidence that most current retention efforts have any measurable impact on turnover. What is needed instead is a new data-driven retention approach that generates data to prove what works. This new retention approach should focus on high-impact individuals and jobs and also unambiguously prove to the CFO’s and the COO’s satisfaction that talent efforts measurably increase both retention and productivity, as measured in dollars.
  6.  Rapid best-practice sharing — The one highest impact thing that HR can do to dramatically increase its business impacts is to develop an effective “best talent practice sharing process.” Of all strategic actions, this is the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to dramatically improve people-management results and business impacts. Talent leaders must develop a process to continually identify, quickly share, and convince managers throughout the organization to adopt the most effective talent approaches throughout the organization.
  7. Prioritize – if you really want to increase your business impact, drop the all-too-common “everyone is equal” approach to HR. The more business-like approach is to instead prioritize and focus your limited resources on the jobs, employees, and business units that have the highest impact. HR must also prioritize its programs, tools, and budget to ensure that the most and the best resources are allocated to these higher impact areas.
  8. Increase learning speed – continual fast learning may be the most single important corporate competency (as Google has found). Unfortunately, most development functions don’t even measure organizational or employee learning speed. In order to ensure that your employees are always on the leading edge of knowledge, talent managers must first identify and then widely share the best ways to learn fast.
  9. Competitive advantage – talent leaders who realize that talent is a primary business advantage must take steps to assess and compare the talent management practices and results at your firm directly with your competitor firms. You must be able to prove to skeptical executives that everything your firm does in a side-by-side comparison in each talent area is clearly superior to the approaches and the results of each of your product and talent competitors.
  10. Alert managers about the future  most of HR relies exclusively on historical metrics, which tell you what happened last year. The time has come for talent managers to follow the lead of the rest of the organization with a shift to metrics that predict problems and opportunities months before they occur. Managers make significantly better talent decisions when they are provided with a combination of “real-time metrics” (what is happening today) and “predictive analytics” (what will likely happen soon).

Final Thoughts

Almost everyone that I advise in talent management strives to be more strategic. Unfortunately, “being strategic” is just mostly talk. Less than 1 percent of talent leaders have found the time to conduct a “strategic audit” to actually assess how strategic they have been during the last year. Talking strategically is not enough, because in order to be strategic, you must act forward-looking, produce measurable impacts on business goals, and provide a competitive advantage for your firm. If you are not sure whether you are meeting each of these three characteristics, I hope you find this list to be a helpful starting point.


CareerBuilder Jobs Forecast : Cautious Hiring Ahead

Influenced by the budget uncertainty in Washington, HR professionals and hiring managers in CareerBuilder’s annual survey of hiring intentions said they expected to increase headcount in 2014, but the numbers and the rate of hire would depend on Congressional action about the debt ceiling.CB job forecast 2014 hiring change

The budget bill President Obama signed last week resolved only part of the national fiscal uncertainty. The debt ceiling, which is due to come in February, is a different matter. Both parties has so far signaled their intention not to compromise on raising the federal borrowing limit.

That has cast a pall of uncertainty over hiring plans, said respondents to CareerBuilder’s survey. The survey released this morning reports that 23 percent of the participants said they’ll either slow the pace of hiring or simply wait until after Congress resolves the debt question. Overall, 24 percent of companies expect to increase their permanent, full-time headcount in 2014, not much different than last year’s 26 percent.

CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson said, “What we saw in our survey
was reluctance from some employers to commit to adding jobs until the outcomes of debt negotiations and other issues affecting economic expansion are clearer. As these stories play out and employers find their footing in the new year, there is greater potential for the average monthly job creation in 2014 to exceed that of 2013.”

CB 2014 Jobs forecast in demand jobsThe survey found hiring to be most robust for sales (30 percent) , IT (29 percent), and customer service (25 percent) positions.  More companies in this survey said they expected to hire part-timers; 17 percent saying that this year versus 14 percent last year. Slightly more companies said they expect to hire temp and contract workers — 42 percent versus 40 percent last year.

Besides the part time hiring, CareerBuilder listed four more hiring trends in 2014:

  1. More companies plan to onshore jobs (26 percent v. 23 percent reporting they did so in 2013).
  2. Viewing it as evidene of a widening skills gap, CareerBuilder said 51 percent of just the HR managers surveyed reported having open jobs they can’t find qualified workers to fill. Forty-six percent said the positions go three or more months without being filled.
  3. Because of the skills issue, 49 percent of employers will train workers without the experience to fill these jobs. That’s up by 10 points from last year.
  4. A quarter of companies say they will promote their career opportunities to high schoolers.

Salary increases will look a lot like last year. About half the companies will offer raises in the 1-3 percent range. A quarter will offer no raise at all.