Recruiting Revolution

The Real Recruiting Revolution Has Nothing To Do With Recruiting

I modified a comment I made on Ere.net slightly to make it a post here. I feel it’s right on the money, other opinions vary of course.

It’s not a revolution in recruiting that’s needed. There’s plenty of people out there, it’s getting easier and easier to connect with them via old and new school methods. What’s needed is a revolution in the interview/hiring process. It’s there and then that the process is most likely to go off the rails with multiple, sometime endless interviews, tests, and endless requests to, “see more people,” well above and beyond what should be necessary to fill one position. We need to start pushing back against poor managers, bad decisions, and out of control processes as much as possible. As long as our role is to facilitate the bad practices and decisions of others, we won’t be taken seriously as a profession. So, as a profession, we need to take a stand and start pushing for a quality process as much as possible. My suggestions would be these:

1) Any vetting method with no clear evidence supporting its effectiveness should be dropped, period. Credit checks and drug testing come to mind immediately, with the latter allowing exceptions for sobriety testing in safety critical situations. Nor should this step be limited to such ancillary processes; if interviewing itself is found to be ineffective, then drop it or change it so it becomes effective. I only recently looked, but I’ve yet to see evidence that interviewing itself does much if anything to ensure a good hire and subsequent good performance.

2) Push for standard, open salary requirements. Throwing money at people doesn’t solve problems, but lack of money does create them. Honesty and openness in the realm of salary from both companies and candidates is necessary and the topic should lose its taboo status. “Competitive compensation and benefits,” is a phrase that’s on par with, “cozy,” in real estate; the latter means small space to house/apartment hunters, the former means low pay in the world of the job hunters.

3) Develop evidence and research based standards for a more regular hiring process. We need hard research demonstrating what techniques work and where diminishing returns kick in. Otherwise the hiring process will continue to be an out of control monster with 1 step in some companies and 40 in others, one or two interviews here, ten to twelve there. And real research based on effectiveness is what’s needed, not LinkedIn surveys for God’s sake.

4) Treat recruiting and employment as steps in the same life cycle process for all employees. Accountability needs to be on the managers for engaging in the hiring process, accountability beyond the date of hire needs to fall on recruiters too for quality purposes. There should always be a presumed DSLA in place, and there should be hard research done into when and where in the process accountability for retention shifts from the recruiter finding a good person to the manager/company being able to keep them.

5) Push for better treatment of workers in the US. Recruiters and HR leaders need to stop being Yes men and women for the whims of whoever happens to be in charge and develop professional standards based on evidence for how much time off, hours worked, etc., should be offered. As the workforce increasingly globalizes people in the US are inevitably going to notice that their European counterparts get twice the time off and then some, and yet, through some miracle, the companies they work for don’t collapse into dust when they take a week off and don’t answer their cell phone and check email every ten minutes. In the US we are burning out our workforce with lower and lower pay, fewer and fewer benefits, and more and more hours worked. When people are dealing with capital equipment they know the machine’s limits and tolerances and maintenance schedule, and respect it if they want the equipment to last. But people are considered to have no limits, no need for real down time, no maintenance, and are just terminally pushed for more and more and more with no regard to burn out. We treat our machines better than our workers, that has to change.

Recruiting feeds people into a machine that is largely beyond our control. There is no talent shortage, there is no lack of willing and able people. There is a severe problem with hiring; it’s a meandering, standardless maze of conflicting and redundant and often useless processes that people get thrown into and it grinds them down. That’s where the revolution is needed.

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Recruiting Revolution?

Nice essay here, but is there any evidence that, “[t]he recruitment industry has gotten lazy and a revolution is upon us?” Revolution usually means a shake up of some sorts – advancement, new technology or processes, etc., – whereas here, revolution seems to mean acting like we’re still in the seventies. There are a couple problems with that, I see.

‘Lazy’ recruiting is effective as far as many corporations are concerned. If you took two batches of resumes, one into which you poured your heart and soul, and the other which you sourced real quick with minimal work via a mass email campaign, they’re likely to get the same consideration from the client, or the hiring manager for those already on the corporate side. Put another way, the ability to jump on the phones and cold call is not the rate-limiting step in the recruiting process.

I don’t know of anyone who removed their resume from a database because they were worried about being seen as “active.” In fact, few outside the recruiting industry even know what the jargon of “active” and “passive” means. Resume databases lost their effectiveness because they lost their newness, the initial crowds of people who went there because they were active are now passive, but still in the database. The postings which were once new are now ubiquitous, and buried among thousands of others that look much the same.

There has been no revolution in recruiting, all I see is more of the same. Job boards are just hopped up versions of the white pages and corporate directories. LinkedIn is more of the same. Social media outlets are a slightly different version of the same thing. These are all just means of contacting people, and many of these people won’t pick up the phone when called, so these means of finding and contacting people compliment cold calling, they don’t replace it. If communication is key, then one form of communication doesn’t trump all others. The one that’s the most effective for a given situation is what should be used. Calling ten people from warm leads gotten via an email campaign and then cold calling some of the desirable candidates I wanted but who didn’t respond is way more effective than cold calling 70+ people a day from scratch, in my experience.

Here’s what a genuine revolution in recruiting would be: Honesty with candidates and clients.

To start, explain to everyone that salary matters and it can’t be ignored. This is not a statement on low salaries, but one about the inherent taboo in even discussing the topic. I can’t count the amount of times people have nearly had heart attacks when I’ve discussed salary ranges openly and honestly with candidates and clients at the start, or near to it, of a conversation. “Why would you do that?!” I recall one person asking me. Apparently you’re supposed to speak to people for an hour and get their life story, and then find out they’re making 10-20K more than your client is willing to pay. Also, you’re apparently also supposed to take any job at any price and not even mention to your client that since they’re targetting a salary that’s 30%+ below market rate, it might take a while and/or they might need to sacrifice quality. When this BS ends and both candidates and companies honestly face their own worth on the market, that will be a revolution in recruiting.

Further, being able to have a greater effect on, and potentially fix dysfunctional hiring processes would be revolutionary. Having had to do this myself for two companies now, I know how difficult it is, and being back on the agency side I’ve felt the effects of ones I couldn’t change. As long as the majority of hiring processes are dysfunctional, that will be the rate limiting step in recruiting. An unwillingness to get on the phone is not necessarily the problem with recruiters today. I’ve seen the best firms put the best candidates into the meat grinder of a dysfunctional hiring process, and that is the rate limiting factor in recruiting.

The real revolution in recruiting will be taking as much of the ‘art’ – BS in other words – out of the process as possible by outlining standards and best practices for hiring that are based on evidence, and not merely plausible sounding rhetoric or the pontifications of people like Steve Jobs, and then having honest conversations with those who come up short, both companies whose processes are deficient and candidates who think they should be hired with no vetting whatsoever.

One of the first moves toward that end of evidence based hiring is for someone to actually present evidence that so called ‘passive’ candidates are better. Evidence would be direct evidence of better performance and longer tenure than so called ‘active’ candidates. Unless that’s presented then it’s a marketing distinction for targeting different audiences, not one that’s linked to actual candidate quality or subsequent performance.

A further revolutionary step would be stop looking at Employers of Choice uncritically, assuming all their methods should or even could be adopted by companies without the brand pull they have. Most companies operate with far less brand recognition and far tighter budgets and human resources. Truly revolutionary methods will work to improve hiring regardless of the company that uses them.

I’ve used the term rate limiting in this post a couple of times. In chemistry and biology a rate limiting step is basically the slowest step in a process that determines the speed of the rest of the process. If you’re talking mechanical systems, you could say be dealing with a pump that pushes 10 gallons of water per minute. If you want more per minute then it won’t matter how much water you add to reservoir, it will still only pump 10 gallons a minute to the destination. The pump is what needs to be changed. In recruiting the rate limiting step in most companies is the hiring process. And we as recruiters are constantly trying to put more water (candidates) in the client’s reservoir in the hope that more will end up hired, but it doesn’t work that way. The pump is too slow, and in many cases is broken. What’s more, a good number of companies engage in such poor hiring and management practices that they actively work against their own ability to hire quality people by destroying their reputation as employers.

To finish, we also live in a highly managed market, and it’s mostly special interests, those with money and thus political pull, who manage this market. Companies, from small to large, all have more pull politically at the local, state, and federal levels, than individual workers. That’s why politicians never raise the minimum wage until the currency has devalued to such a point that raising it is essentially a meaningless act. That’s why industries often write the legislation that gets passed. And, whether actively or simply as a byproduct of pursuing their own interests in the political process, businesses have essentially managed the labor market into a permanent surplus of labor. And as long as there is this perceived plenty of labor, and businesses think there’s always someone new ready to replace anyone they don’t like, they won’t put any serious resources into getting good people or keeping the ones they already have. They will continue to run people ragged and then replace them when they burn out. They will continue to demand loyalty from their workers while they show none. They will cut labor in seconds if the bottom line dictates it, but if an employee makes the same decision based on a better offer they are black listed.

This imbalance of power in the employer-employee relationship dictates the quality of the process in the end. This imbalance is the result of economic reality, because employees are disposable and easily replaced in many cases – but also critically the result of social mores. The ‘entrepreneur’ is deified even though no such thing exists, while the laborer is considered a loser of sorts. The entrepreneurial function is an economic concept that just differentiates the profit of risk taking from the capital return of funding a production process, minus the uncertainty and risk, for pedagogical purposes. In reality all people serve all economic functions to varying extents. Those who tend more toward the entrepreneurial function take on more risk, but they are also usually a mix of private entrepreneur, one who makes money by taking risks and satisfying customers, and political entrepreneur, which is one who makes money by using the government to turn the arm of his potential customers by limiting competition. There is no pure, Ayn Randian ‘producer’ or ‘entrepreneur’ in reality. But, thanks to rhetoric from both the right and left wing, and well meaning but somewhat theoretical economists of various stripes, we are taught to deify the entrepreneur a no one else. The owner/CEO of a business and his cohorts get a pass on poor, immoral, and unethical behavior, while everyone else gets held to a higher standard.

Once that stops, maybe then a revolution is recruiting is possible. Until then, it isn’t, because the peasants have no power.