Month: September 2015

Another of Ted’s LinkedIn Posts

Another good post by this guy here, I have some comments to offer, with quotes extracted I will comment on, but the gist of the post is that productivity has gone up quite a bit from the 1950s, but we’re still working minimum 40 hour weeks.

“So: what does all this mean?”

What does working the same 40 hours – and to be honest usually consistently way more – per week, and being dramatically more productive while getting roughly the same pay in real terms, mean? It means you’re getting screwed big time, because while your productive output has skyrocketed relative to the 50’s worker, your pay is roughly the same in real terms; buying power, or the standard of living you can afford.

“Why are we still so concerned with a 40-hour+ work week?”

Because it sets an arbitrary standard allowing for control over people corporations otherwise wouldn’t get, basically a holdover from the industrial revolution. Managing to performance and outputs would make more sense, but it’s way easier to make sure someone puts in their 40 hours – again, usually way more these days too – per week than it is to make sure they actually do their job well. Plus employers always think a productivity gain means more for them over a given time period. It never, or rarely occurs to them, that people have limits or that labor carries dis-utility, and as such their employees might prefer and expect a little more time for themselves as non monetary compensation, especially considering as their increase in output is almost never matched with an increase in compensation.

Basically when you look at stats and analysis like these, it paints a picture of a labor force that is increasingly robbed of the value of its output, which is usually redistributed to the famed 1%.  Of course, a decent economist will tell you a relative difference in wealth isn’t indicative of a problem in itself; why complain X has five yachts and you only have 1?  However, I think such people are too dismissive of the fact that these wealth differences matter to people.  When you see your boss pull up in a new BMW on the day of lay-offs, it makes an impression.  Plus, I feel people know inherently when they’re being screwed, or when the value they’re receiving is not necessarily in line with what they’re giving in return.

It’s my contention that via monetary, fiscal, trade, and other policies and protective legislation businesses have protected themselves from competition and produced what amounts to a permanent jobs shortage, forcing a devaluation of labor and what amounts to real wages that aren’t rising commensurate with the labor force’s increase in productivity over the years.  As labor gets more productive, it should become more valuable in real terms.  That is, nominal salaries may go up or down, but the buying power/standard of living received in return for work should have a secular trend upward along with productivity.  As that value received has, by most measures I’ve seen, stagnated or fallen, that’s a serious indication that something is massively fucked up with the system.  To the extent you can trust econometrics, George Carlin was right.  It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.  In the waking world, people are working more and more for increasingly lower returns, and sacrificing their health and families and friendships on the altar of 60+ hour work weeks.

… And Yet More “Recruiting is Sales!” Bullshit

Yet another article, again predictably on LinkedIn, claiming recruiting is sales.

And yet another blog poster blaming HR for shitty results.  Now, to be fair to the author, Lou Adler, I have found his techniques very helpful in recruiting.  His Performance Based Hiring system is something I’d recommend everyone take a look at, because you’ll invariably learn something useful.  But when you read his stuff, it’s always a lot of anecdotal ‘evidence’ and very little actual evidence.  Up until recently he was one of those people who always claimed ‘passive’ candidates were better, but he and that view in general took a big enough beating recently that it seems even he backed off of that in a recent post.  Specifically because there’s literally zero evidence to justify that view.  Passive candidates are more numerous at any given point in time, that’s all.  How they have performed or will perform in the future is completely independent of their job search status.  I like to think my and others’ heckling of this bullshit on sites like might have helped lead to this shift in rhetoric.

So, here in this article Lou wants recruiting to report to the CEO.  Here I’ll have to go Lou’s way and speak in anecdotes and experience, I’ve looked and I’m not sure the evidence on this subject.  My suspicion is he could be right, but there is a deeper problem; assuming recruiting is sales, and a lack of accountability, and sales people are aces at avoiding accountability.

The idea that HR is some obstacle is really not the case.  As both an agency and corporate recruiter, I’ve worked with HR departments that were helpful, and others that were obstacles.  I’ve worked with hiring managers that were helpful, and others that were obstacles.  In the C suite I’ve worked with execs who were helpful, and others that were obstacles.  The reporting relationships were generally not the issue, the issue was no one gave a shit and no one was accountable.  My suspicion is the problems with recruiting stem from the fact that no one really gives a shit about their employees, plain and simple.  Here in the US you’re “lucky to have a job,” our hours worked are up, our benefits are down, our PTO is basically non existent, and our wages are largely stagnant.  This does not indicate an environment that values employees, but rather one that sees them as disposable.

There are two views of sales in my world: good sales people are into needs fulfillment and will advise and consult with people to make good decisions, bad sales people are scum bags chasing a commission, who will do anything to get it.  The majority of recruiters, in my experience, fall into the latter category.  And even for the existing ‘good’ ones, few companies out there are concerned enough with meeting the needs of their employees in order to get them engaged and retain them, much less recruit them.  More often than not, they just work them to burn out and then replace them.  There’s just not that much to sell when the preferred approach to employment is churn and burn, to be blunt.

More ‘sales’ does not solve the problem.  Sales people are not accountable in good organizations because they’re good sales people, they’re accountable because there’s a good manager there bringing objective reality to the situation, so when they say their numbers aren’t at quota, s/he can look at their excuses and say objectively if they have a point or not.  There are objective stats to go over and measure against.  More sales will not bring that to recruiting, nor will changing the reporting relationships, but accountability will.

In Lou’s own method, you have to justify a ‘No’ vote on a hire as much as a ‘Yes.’  ‘No’ can cost the company as much as ‘yes,’ if it’s the wrong move.  But it takes an accountant to realize that, not a sales person.  Sales people are notoriously blind to opportunity cost, and the concept of accountability is often in direct contradiction in their minds with the customer always being right.  What’s missing from recruiting is supply chain and accounting principles that let people spot the cost of not hiring and bad hires, or poor retention, not a lack of sales.  They need to understand the cost of not having what you need when you need it, or having the wrong stuff there.  If anything there’s too much damn sales of the bullshit kind in recruiting, and too little objective reality, too few people calling bullshit on bad hiring decisions, whether it’s not hiring or hiring the wrong person.  A buyer in a factory who refused to buy materials needed to keep it going, and who gave vague ass reasons about ‘fit’ and ‘culture’ as to why they didn’t buy when the factory ground to a halt, would be fired.  As a manager or recruiter, you get praised for doing the same thing, and sales people facilitate this bullshit, they don’t check it.

As for reporting to the CEO, well you can go that route or not, I don’t think it will make a difference one way or another.  The real truth is the costs of poor recruiting and poor management are not captured by most companies except in the vaguest, most diffuse ways, much less are they factored into the bottom line calculations, so the costs of poor decisions are unacknowledged and unseen by most.  We live in a world where labor is increasingly seen as disposable, where the costs of treating labor as disposable aren’t even tallied in most cases, and yet where every company, regardless of how horrendously it treats its employees, expects to get Top! Talent! at bargain basement prices, and then to expend no effort whatsoever in the retention of that talent.  And they think this way, in large part I believe, because a bunch of sales people taught them too.

“No, no, Mr. Manager, it makes total sense to not hire someone because their degree is from a school that has a football rivalry with your alma mater, we’ll get you someone else…”

“Absolutely, Mr. Manager, turnover of 500% is normal, especially when your preferred method of managing people is screaming at them and calling them names, we’ll get you some more people for that position shortly…”

“No worries, Mr. Manager, paid time off is for pussies, and it’s totally alright to fire someone because their parents were killed in a car accident and they needed to attend the funeral.  Don’t worry, we’ll have a replacement for you soon…”

“You’re right, Mr. Manager, how dare that lady take PTO to see her child in the E.R. after an accident when she didn’t have enough time accrued in her bucket, we’ll get you a replacement by tomorrow…”

These are all real life examples I’ve either experienced myself or heard first hand from other recruiters and HR people.  I truly don’t think people like Lou are clued in to how horrendously bad most companies treat their employees and how little they give a shit about their ‘talent.’  And because of that lack of value, there is a lack of accountability in obtaining and retaining talent.  The reporting relationship doesn’t matter in the end, no one gives enough of a shit about the goal for it to matter.  They say they care, every company gives lip service to caring about its employees, but actions are what matter.  And, in action, most companies couldn’t care less about their employees.  They’d happily throw them into a wood chipper if it meant higher quarterly profits.

That is the root of mediocre hiring, not reporting relationships.  If Talent Acquisition reported to the CEO, they would still have jack shit to work with in terms of stats to convince the CEO that there was an issue, and the CEO will likely consider himself or herself a God among people, generously dispensing jobs to the lucky, and how dare they speak about market rates for labor, or paid time off for vacations, etc.  The new modern worker is expected to work 90 hours a week, never take a vacation, never work remotely, never leave the office, never get a raise, never have a medical problem, never have to do anything, ever, which might require leaving their desk for one picosecond.  That is the problem, and it’s not one a different reporting relationship will solve.

Again, my opinion.  But after ten years in this business, I feel confident saying that most employers couldn’t give a shit less about their ‘talent.’  And I also feel confident in saying that a lack of acknowledgement of the ‘sales’ aspects of recruiting isn’t the problem.  If anything, it’s too much sales and not enough incorporation of the principles of accounting, engineering, and management into the recruiting process.  We need fewer sales types in recruiting and more who are ready and willing to start using data and stats to hold people accountable.  When a hiring manager leaves a position open for months on end, they need to stop being praised for being ‘picky’ and an objective assessment of who they’ve interviewed and not hired, and what that’s cost the company, needs to be made.  When a manager has high turnover they need to stop being praised for being ‘demanding,’ and to start being held accountable for the extra cost of replacing people on their team more often.  When clients don’t return your calls or don’t give feedback on candidates you’ve sent, you need to stop labeling those accounts as ‘challenging,’ and instead drop them and find new clients.  When a company keeps losing people due to the fact that their hours or their PTO policies suck dog ass, it’s time they acknowledged that and were called out for what they are – sweatshops – instead of glossing it over or claiming people just don’t want to work hard anymore.  None of these things require more ‘sales’ or a different reporting relationship, they just require someone in a key position to give a shit, which very few do.

That is the problem.

EDIT: Also, Lou did make one incredibly good point in the article: the lack of a good system.  Most ATS systems are cumbersome pieces of shit, barely adequate for their purposes.  Most HR people work to make them even worse, requiring people to type and retype their life story forty ways from Sunday before being able to submit an application, after which sometimes a resume screener just looks for key words and kicks them out if they don’t match a profile.  The nature of most ATS systems is compliance oriented, they are not designed to get better performing hires.  If they were, it wouldn’t be so hard to apply for one, and they would be action oriented for another, with regular automated reminders built in.  One of the main problems, at least with agency recruiting, is the sheer number of people you deal with goes way pas Dunbar’s number, and it’s up to you to do everything in terms of scheduling follow ups, etc.  A simple ATS that just reminded people to call candidate X, or Hiring Manager Y, for a follow up would likely blow all the others out of the water with that functionality alone.

Edit Again: Also, if you read the comments in Lou’s post, you’ll see a lot of bitching about HR.  Usually along the lines of how stupid they are, or how they are incompetent because they aren’t experts in the field in which they’re recruiting.  The latter is certainly correct, they can’t be experts in everything. However, over the last few decades they have been expected to be, and have performed pretty well living up to an impossible task.  At my last job, in order to truly hire for the company, I would have had to have been an expert in: accounting, project management, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, manufacturing engineering, supply chain, customer service, order entry, information technology, and likely some departments I’m forgetting.  How the fuck can anyone do that?  The answer is they can’t, and the fact that HR generally has done well, if not great, having to cover all those bases is pretty fucking spectacular when you stop to think about it.  And it again goes to the root of the problem, the fact that they have been tasked with that, when in fact it really is the unaccountable almighty managers who are supposed to be the technical experts when hiring their staff.  That they have sloughed off this responsibility on to HR and then blamed them for every fuck up while claiming credit for every success only goes to show how little talent is truly valued.  And the next person to complain about HR should consider that.  Those people have been hiring reasonably successfully for all areas and departments in your company for years, and that they’ve done that kind of shows they’re a hell of a lot more talented than you’re giving them credit for.

The Broken Window Fallacy and Sales and Recruiting

The broken window fallacy is simple, yet most people don’t get it.  Most news anchors will commit this fallacy whenever there’s a hurricane, and in the aftermath they say something along the lines of, “But at least the rebuilding will lead to a boost in economic activity for the area…”  It goes like this:

A kid breaks a window, the glazier comes and repairs it, and everyone shames the kid, but one person says, “No, look at the money the glazier earned, so the kid actually committed a ‘good’ for the economy.”  This comes down to what is seen vs unseen.  People see the transaction between the window’s owner and the glazier, they don’t see the suit, or the computer, or anything else he might have bought if he didn’t have to repair his window.  At the end of what’s seen, he just has a window.  He had to expend resources to the simply get to where he already had been.  If the kid hadn’t broken the window, the guy would have had the window and something else; a suit, a computer, etc.  The opportunity cost, in other words.  The opportunity cost is always unseen.

This is somewhat applicable to sales people who perpetually go after bad accounts, a massive problem in the recruiting industry.  They always want to ‘get in’ to that account, as if it’s the end all be all of existence.  Sometimes this works, they get in, and one in a million times the account starts to generate revenue.  The problem is most times, this does not happen.  The sales person is perpetually trying to ‘get in’, and wasting time and resources that are unrecoverable.  And even if they invest thousands of man hours and untold monetary resources ‘getting in’ with that account, even one placement is enough to make the Sales guy say, “See?!  See?!  I told you we could get in there!”  They’re so fixated on the moment of closure that they literally think that erases all the previous losses. Now, imagine the resources spent ‘getting in’ with that one account were spread over accounts with higher response rates, or developing new accounts.

It is necessary to be aware of opportunity cost when managing people and processes.  Sales people have no concept of opportunity cost, that is why they make such shitty managers.

More “Recruiting is SALES!” Bullshit

Here again, and predictably on LinkedIn, we have more Recruiting is Sales! nonsense.

First off, while the market has shifted a little, the labor participation rate is still absolutely fucking dismal, and many people are still under employed, or in jobs they hate and want to leave ASAP.  The market is not that good, and it is not a candidate driven market.  There are still way more people who want jobs than jobs for them to have.  Employers were bitching about a candidate ‘shortage’ when unemployment was over ten percent, so give me a fucking break on this shit already.  Please.

Second, what’s not mentioned once in the post? Honesty!  No, you need to get people excited about your Opportunity!, whether or not it’s something to be excited about is another matter.  This leads to a massive problem for companies: the branding gap.  There’s how they brand themselves in general, and with regard to specific jobs, and then there’s the reality, and the distance between them is the branding gap.  And, for most companies, it’s absolutely fucking massive.

The reality is most people don’t love, or even like their jobs, and never will.  The division of labor and comparative advantage dictate that what you have a passion for is not very likely to be where the market directs your efforts as most valued and most productive.  In reality people don’t follow their passions for the most part.  If they’re lucky they learn to get passionate to varying degree about what they do, for most what they do is mildly enjoyable to tolerable, and they’re willing to do it for a good while.  Most people work to live, they do not live to work, and trying to hire only people who live to work is a recipe for abject failure.

Reality and honesty are the two things that never get introduced into the recruiting process, and which are desperately needed in there.  Less bullshit Sales!, more raw reality.  You’re not going to get someone excited and passionate about an order entry job.  The guy who cleans the toilets generally does it to earn money, not because he loves other people’s shit.  So, my advice to companies is very simple:

Do an honest assessment of your culture using a third party who can measure it via some objective framework.  You will hear things you don’t like, if you gloss them over or ignore them, you will fail.

Do an honest assessment of your salaries and benefits offered.  If your salaries are low, raise them.  If you can’t raise them across the board, raise them in a targeted fashion for top performers.  If you can’t even do that, you have to deal with the fact that you won’t get or retain top performers.  They know what they’re worth, they will go elsewhere.  There’s no reason why anyone should be killing themselves to work for you to get compensated at the same rate they would be elsewhere for just showing up and having a pulse.  Don’t like that?  Too fucking bad, it’s reality.  Do the same assessment with all other benefits like PTO and health, if you’re significantly below average this will lead to problems no amount of Sales! bullshit will be able to offset.

If you’re working your employees consistently more than 40 hours a week, cut back.  You are burning them out and will deal with higher turnover as a result.  Don’t like that?  Once more, too fucking bad, it’s the way the world works. There’s about a billion years of accumulated evidence to support this at this point in time, get the fuck over it.

Assess the actual desirability of working at your org using a tool designed for doing just that, a recruiter named Keith Halperin developed one just for that purpose.  Accept the results for what they are, if you are the private label toilet paper manufacturer that offers no PTO and low salaries, and you’re located next to Google, you are not going to poach their employees.  Fucking deal with it.

Now, armed with all this information, go after the candidates you can actually attract and retain.  Use structured interviews, do not trust your gut because it’s wrong.  Use validated tests of intelligence and integrity, and put the metrics from the interviews and tests together to view each candidate through something resembling an objective framework, and hire the best people you can out of the pool you interview.  And, above all else, do not use bullshit Sales! techniques to try to convince these people that working there entails something it doesn’t.  They will see the mismatch within minutes of being there and leave ASAP.  Long term relationships are built around honesty with diplomacy and tact thrown in for good measure.  If you work in a shit hole, you need to hire people willing to work in a shit hole, which are generally people who know they can’t get better jobs.  If you work in an average organization, you will get average people.  There’s no shame in this, the population of the world is mostly average by definition, myself included, and we do just fine running the majority of companies on the planet by showing up and doing our jobs reasonably well.  And if you’re lucky enough to work at one of those A+ corps, well you’re set and don’t need advice.

Point being, you’re not going to outsmart the market with Sales! bullshit without first taking a good, long, honest look at what you’re truly offering.  Ferrari doesn’t market the same as Honda, nor do the makers of those weird little cars they use in the third world market the same as Honda or even Hyundai.  And you need to know if you’re hiring for a Ferrari company, a Honda one, or a rickshaw one before you start trying to get a Ferrari candidate excited about working in a rickshaw company.  Because it’s not going to work long terms between you two, trust me.  There is an aspect of sales to recruiting, but it’s well past time recruiters dropped this Recruiting is Sales! bullshit and started learning from other fields, like supply chain and production planning.

Get a Degree?

An interesting post on LinkedIn asked a question: why is there no recruiting degree?  The reason is frighteningly simple: there’s no degree to be offered in bullshit this blatant.  Let’s go through the writer’s suggestions for courses to see why:


A good course to take, but the problem is you will learn about all aspects of business, not just Sales!, which will put most recruiters out of business.

Computer Science, Economics, Finance/Accounting

Excellent choices from my perspective, anathema for most recruiters and recruiting managers. If there’s one thing they don’t want recruiters to have, it’s critical thinking capabilities, which all these courses teach or instill via activity.

Marketing, Psychology, Sociology

Perhaps useful, but again the problem is people will learn things that will expose significant portions of recruiting as complete and utter horseshit.

Public Speaking

I agree with this one, good call.  But the weak links can be seen more clearly in the suggestions for additional courses.  Particularly these two:

Employment Law, and Talent Acquisition Data, Metrics, and Analytic

Most employers except the really large ones couldn’t care less about employment laws.  They refuse to understand the basic distinction between exempt and non exempt employees, there are endless numbers of companies out there that have everyone classified as exempt just to avoid paying overtime.  As for Talent Acquisition Data, Metrics, and Analytics, that might be useful in a corporate setting, but right now recruiting is dominated by agencies, all staffed by people who are outright hostile to data, metrics, and analytics.  They are intent on keeping recruiting a Sales! function regardless of the reality that there is much more to it than sales, because Sales! is where the bullshit lives, and as long as you can make a living bullshitting, why work?

Recruiting is sales in as much as anything involved with needs fulfillment is sales, however it is more akin to a supply chain job than anything else.  It’s certainly those analogies, and the practices of that field, that can be applied to recruiting to help people understand why it’s so fucked up.