Moving on up

A few years ago I wrote a post about internal promotion and the comparison to external candidates. It is fair to say that it raised quite a bit of debate at the time and a range of differing views. If you don’t have the time, or the inclination, to read the original post, my point was essentially that internal candidates should be given more benefit of doubt when being compared to external candidates.

One of the main challenges that internal candidates have is that their limitations and areas for growth most likely already known. Which, whilst some would argue is a benefit, can often be a reason to look beyond them. So does that mean that as an ambitious internal candidate you have to move on and look externally? Well obviously sometimes that’s the right thing to do, but before doing that, how about trying to address some of those gaps?

Every HR person and recruiting manager is different and of course I only speak for myself here, but when I’m interviewing or assessing an internal candidate I’m quite happy for there to be gaps between the role and the individual, it is only to be expected. But I want the candidate to be aware of that too. And that is particularly true if the role that you’re applying for is a promotion.

To put it more bluntly, no-one applying for a promotion should have nothing to learn. In fact it is entirely counter intuitive to believe that could be the case. Whilst there are always financial and other considerations, and I don’t mean in any way to belittle these, my experience is that the deciding factor for most people is that they want to pick something new up – more responsibility, a different team, a different department or function, a different business area.

Yet the moment you put them in the assessment process, the justification of worth can start and completely overshadow the very thing that I want to see. I want to know the individual has understood the requirements of the role, has assessed themselves against them, has made an appraisal of the areas that they can and can’t currently demonstrate and are willing and able to work on the gaps. I want them to have identified the very best person doing a similar job and asked themselves the questions, “how do I get to be that good?” not, “how do I persuade them I’m good enough?”

Being an internal candidate is hard – for all the reasons that I’ve mentioned in the previous post. No matter how we assess external candidates, they will always have the ability to add more spin and positioning than we will ever fully see through until they’re in post. But at the same time, internal candidates have a whole host of data, information and connections that they can use to their advantage. They just need to make sure that they absolutely do.

Recruiters admitting failure

I’ve previously written about the role of recruiters in the current climate. I absolutely appreciate that for hard pushed recruitment teams, dealing with the volume of applicants that you get in a recession is tough. As people try to get a job, any job, you find yourself dealing with more and more applicants who simply don’t have the experience or knowledge that you need. It is a super tough job, but not half as tough as that of the unemployed.

I’ve seen numerous posts and Linkedin statuses complaining about the use of unnecessary qualifications for selection. I’ve got a long and proven track record of suggesting this is blunt thinking, even in the best of times. And of course that remains to this day – education is not a meritocracy. It never has been. But before I get distracted and start beating my truly old and battered drum, I want to talk about something else.

“We advise you to apply early, because due to volume of applicants we may close this advert early”

I cannot tell you, in how many ways this makes me want to scream. But I’m going to try, because it is raining and I appear to have nothing better to do for the next few minutes.

The vast majority of recruiters and resources will tell you that their job is to find “the best talent” for XYZ Corporation. They will tell you that the main attraction to their job is when they find a truly brilliant hire. I genuinely believe they believe this, however, if they ever use the line above they are admitting that these assertions are a sham. They are only interested in filling a seat and making their own lives easier. A more accurate statement would be, “the best fit from the people who can be bothered to apply”.

In some ways, I’m not against this latter assertion. It is honest, in reality it is what most recruiters do and whilst there is increasingly a level of active search, the goal is more to find an acceptable bum on seat, rather than to find the best talent. However, and it is a big HOWEVER, by closing down a role early, you are absolutely signalling that to the candidate pool. The logic is, “I’m saying this explicitly so the best candidates will apply quicker”, the reality is that you’re reducing your chance of finding the best person or people.

And of course, particularly in early careers recruitment, this also builds in a massive bias towards those candidates with pushy parents, school teachers or mentors and disadvantages those who might come to the recruitment process later or not recognise the importance of acting sooner rather than later.

It is a process that introduces another, non job related, bias filled selection criteria – SPEED.

Life is hard enough for job seekers at the moment, and whilst I really do understand the pressures on the recruitment teams (I used to recruit 18,000 Christmas temps each year) I implore you to put this in Room 101 with the other stupid recruitment practices. If you want to know more about those, you can read them here.

When recruiting gets tough

I’ve mentioned before that I started my career in a recession and how the process of getting my first job was utterly soul destroying. To this day, I still have the rejection letters that I received from the hundreds of companies that bothered to reply as a reminder of how it feel to be on the receiving end. The letters are almost uniform in their nature, with banalities mentioning the number of candidates, the fit to the role, but with little specificity or anything of any help.

A quick scan through Linkedin will show you that many are in that current position. And with headlines in the news about the thousands of applicants for roles it can all feel bleak and difficult for candidates. At the same time, hard pressed resourcing teams are finding themselves faced with increasing numbers of applicants and in many cases, simply do not have the time or resources to handle the new volumes in their existing processes.

It is a tricky mix. But one that those of us in the industry need to work through.

We need to automate but not depersonalise – automation can be a big help, many organisations will have a system of some sort for recruitment. But at the same time, we need to understand the impact that a cold automated email has on the morale of those seeking work. The wording that may have been acceptable six months ago, may seem clumsy and uncaring now.

We need to balance the effort of the applicant with that of the resourcer – there is a temptation to introduce a whole load of exercises or tests to reduce the number of applicants. That’s fine, but if you’re going to ask an applicant to spend an hour of their time to do these, you better provide them with something more than a simple email. The more you’re asking candidates to put in, the more you need to give back.

We need to be open to all – I’ve seen a lot of well meaning people say that they are going to prioritise those who have been made redundant. Others copying and pasting statements about being willing to help “anyone they’ve worked with in the past”. Whilst I understand the sentiment behind these, they’re both discriminatory and unfair. We cannot know the background of all our candidates, so we need to treat them all the same.

We need to ask for what we need – The qualifications shambles that has taken place over the last few weeks should act as a blunt reminder that qualifications are not a good means of selection. Nor is asking for prior experience beyond the needs of the role. Now more than ever, we need to specify only those things that we need, it may increase the number of applicants, but it is also more likely to get you the best hire.

We need to be humble and care – Every applicant is a person, a human being, with a unique story. They’re not a candidate number or a CV. Our focus on candidate experience should increase during this time, even if our approach to it needs to change. We may not be able to handle things in exactly the same way as before, but we should care about candidates equally, if not even more.

It’s more than bums on seats

I’ve always enjoyed resourcing. Well, with the exception of interviewing which I to this day find the most terribly dull activity to spend a whole day on – one or two is my limit. Which makes it more surprising to me when few leaders seem to spend as much time on it as I think they should.

When I was studying HR back in the days of steam engines and the printing press, recruitment was seen as a bit of a transactional process. Our efforts were mostly focused on the how and not the why. Bizarrely, much of the recruitment chatter at conferences these days still focusses on the same, with technology platforms taking the place of strategic discussions.

If we believe that people are a defining competitive advantage for organisations, if we believe that having talented, committed, passionate people in the right jobs is critical, then we have to spend more time focussing on recruitment and resourcing than simply talking about the latest platform to help improve speed/reduce headcount/take out cost. Because ultimately, our job isn’t about any of those things.

Hiring good people should be hard, whether internally or externally. It should make us think, we should put time, effort and investment into it. Our obsession to make it easy absolutely misses the point of why we are doing it. An employee that is paid £25,000 probably has an annual cost to the business closer to double that when you take on costs, occupancy and other factors, if they stay for five years, that’s £250,000. How many other decisions like that would you enter into with such little due diligence?

That’s before I get into the cultural factors, issues of inclusivity,  future needs, team dynamics etc.

If, as leaders, we believe that human capability is one of our key responsibilities, then we need to take resourcing a lot more seriously than we do. And those that work in HR and recruiting teams need to get much better at explaining why. This isn’t a process that can be outsourced or systemised in the relentless pursuit of cost savings, it is a strategic imperative that needs to be understood.