Shooting yourself in the foot, the recruiter way

The term, “war for talent” is both divisive and massively open to interpretation. But I can tell you that, if there is one, a lot of recruiters are busy taking aim and shooting themselves in both feet.

Over the ten years I’ve been blogging, I’ve come back to this topic again and again, yet little seems to change. Now that could be a reflection of my lack of influence, or the inherent failings in the recruitment industry.

Most of us have started our working lives doing part time, temporary employment – maybe whilst at school, college or university. It’s our first experience of the world of work and the first experience of recruitment. When I was a teenager that might have been with an independent shop, pub or restaurant but with the changing face of the high street it’s increasingly likely that a young person now will experience this with a chain.

A chain that will hopefully have this young person not just as an employee, but as a consumer. Yet my observation of their collective recruitment practices is one of woeful inadequacies and systemic failure.

Let’s be clear, recruitment is not the same as bidding for an item on eBay, it is a deeply personal transaction. Rejection in recruitment is rejection of a human being, not a bid. It simply isn’t good enough to have an automated acknowledgement and then radio silence. It isn’t good enough to have a line saying, “unless you’ve heard from us within 14 days, assume you’ve been unsuccessful”. And to even think it is, suggests a deeply flawed understanding of the consumer/candidate interface.

Let’s flip it on it’s head. Can you imagine receiving an automated response from a candidate saying, “Thank you for your job offer, if you haven’t heard from me In two weeks assume I’ve rejected the offer.”? What would you make of them? Arrogant?

See where I’m going with this?

That’s before we unpick the detailed connection between the treatment of candidates and their relationship with your brand. You can talk all you like about candidate experience, but unless you define the experience you want to give and transform your processes to deliver it, you might as well be talking about the price of coal.

Recruiters, my ask of you is this. Treat candidates as you’d want a love one to be treated, regardless of their stature and status. Your summer or Christmas temp could one day be your CEO, that is if they haven’t started a new enterprise that will eventually put you and your company out of business.

Recruiting stupidity

Sometimes we get an unexpected lens on the profession. Too often we look from our own position of knowledge and insight and not often enough do we put ourselves in the shoes of a user, whether as an employee or candidate. We talk about “candidate experience” and the role of technology in providing this and  we applaud ourselves on the implementation of systems that improve our speed to hire.

And then we have the chance to look at it from the position of the candidate.

I had this opportunity to do this recently as my daughter applied for Christmas temporary roles with some of the biggest brands on the high street. And I’m here to tell you that your approach well and truly sucks.

Hold in your mind that we are talking about temporary roles here. Maybe four or five weeks. We are talking part time, low paid, customer service roles. We are generally talking about roles that get little training or direction and that are insecure and  disposable.

Which of course is why you need to have an application process that takes on average an hour per role, that includes psychometric testing and situational judgment tests and that results in a standard email telling you that someone will contact you. Which they never do.

Could it be that she just has bad luck? Maybe. But when I talk to her friends they all have experienced the same treatment. And two years ago I had the same experience with my son, resulting in this brilliant message exchange (it was January).

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So of course, your brand just looks a bit stupid and a bit out of touch. When you’re 16, 17, 18 you don’t understand why companies use such laborious and clunky approaches and particularly not as part of an exchange that doesn’t feel fair. You want me to complete all these hoops and hurdles for a minimum wage job with a life expectancy of weeks? No thank you very much.

So yes, it might make life easier for your resourcing teams, but frankly it makes you look stupid. Many years ago I was responsible for recruiting 20,000 Christmas temps for a UK wide high street brand. We put posters up in store asking candidates to speak to the manager inside – ridiculously old school, but funnily, that always seemed to work. And the candidate ALWAYS got to speak to a human being.

Now that’s candidate experience.

 

 

 

 

The myth of the external candidate

I’m always slightly nervous when it comes to comparing internal and external candidates. In many ways it is like moving house. On one hand you have you have the wonderful description of a potential property and beautifully taken photos and on the other, you have your current abode, lived in and known.  You can take a few visits, have a look around, you can even get a surveyor’s report, but it will never amount to the knowledge and experience you have from years lived within, learning the good the bad and the indifferent.

Of course there are ways you can be more objective about the comparison, you can run aptitude tests, profiling and be as structured in the assessment as possible. But I’m not sure you can ever completely counterbalance the opportunity of being unknown. Let’s take something like stakeholder management. An external candidate will give you examples of where they’ve been successful, how they’ve managed competing demands and ultimately you can only assume this to be true. The internal candidate may tell you the same, but you’ll also have the feedback from the stakeholders themselves.

The only way I’ve found to approach this situation is to add in the equivalent of a balancing number. On one hand assume that the external candidate will be 15-20% less good than you assess them to be. On the other add a factor for growth to the internal candidate, based on your knowledge of their current performance.  Then look at the two adjusted performances and try to make a comparison based on this revised approach.

Ultimately, if an internal candidate can get within distance of the external candidate based on this assessment it feels like the right thing to do to allow them to develop and grow. It’s not the most scientific approach, I grant you, but in the absence of anything genuinely more objective, I’ll be sticking to my old school ways.

That’s not a gap, not if you look from over here…

The BBC ran an article this weekend highlighting the gender pay gaps of a number of companies that had already reported. The original article is here.

Already we’re starting to hear some interesting responses to the debate that it has raised:

It’s the wrong metric
The situation is complex
We shouldn’t confuse this with equal pay
Women aren’t as good at asking for raises
Sorting this could be bad for women

The over intellectualisation of the situation runs a massive risk of missing the unmistakable point:

The world of work has been designed to be discriminatory.

That’s not to say that individual organisations have gone out to structure their workforce in particular ways to discriminate against any specific group, just that the world of work over a number of decades has become biased in many different ways and we have been complicit by failing to interrogate it with the level of granularity that it required.

It is absolutely right to say that the issues are systemic in nature, for example the gender imbalance between pilots and crew isn’t (I would imagine) the result of direct discrimination. But, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong and that it doesn’t need tackling.

My biggest fear on this issue is the level of mansplaining that is taking place to justify the figures. We are immediately looking at criticising the data, rather than embracing it. At the same time, we need to support and not belittle companies that are publishing gaps. Ultimately progress will be achieved over the next two or three years and that is when we should be judging people based on progress.

The factors that have led to the current situation are multi-faceted and complex. The solutions will be equally complex and multi-faceted. You don’t change a system overnight. But we will make absolutely no progress unless we accept the basic truth that we have a problem.

And that problem isn’t just about gender, it’s about race, disability, it’s about socio-economic background and ultimately it is about fairness. So let’s not try to explain it away, let’s walk forward together with confidence, courage and a single unifying purpose, to make our organisations better and fairer, for now and for the future.