Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Best Interview Feedback I Ever Got

I love the fact that an HR Director shared her complete feedback with me.  I also love that she asks her own people to keep a record of their interviews so that she can do quality control.  I thought I would share this feedback with you.  It was very helpful to me so that I could understand the reasons why a candidate blew the interview.

Not long ago, a candidate interviewed at a company for a social media job.  She was well in to the process and was interviewing with her contemporaries who she would be working with.  She did not do well.  The HR Director, one of the best I work with, was kind enough to give me exact feedback so that I could learn what went wrong. These verbatim comments were helpful to me and I hope you like them as well.  Getting them was rare and wonderful.

I thought I would pass an edited version on to my readers so that they could learn both how to give feedback and how to properly handle an interview.

Here it is:

Question: Tell us about your experience.
She focused on what her companies did instead of what she specifically did.
Feedback Commentary: Consequently, she gave the impression that she maybe doesn’t have a lot of experience to talk about.  
My observation: It isn't always what you say, but what you don't say

Question: Why are you leaving your current company?
Answer:  She is looking for more exciting work; she was disappointed when they lost her previous account and now wants to work on a brand she was passionate about. She does not like her current assignment.
Feedback Commentary: Good answer, but didn’t convey that she is passionate about our business throughout the interview.
My observation: Companies want to know that candidates want them.

Question: Tell us about your social media experience.
Answer: She said that she doesn’t believe in social media experts because it is always changing.
Feedback Commentary: We were not satisfied with this answer given that our client always expects us to step up and be experts. So we followed up with:

Question: What do you bring to our social media team?
Answer: Ideas, humor, strategy
Feedback Commentary: There just wasn’t enough substance to this answer.  She had the opportunity to give us a lot more hard core information about her knowledge, experience and successes.
My observation:  Answer the question asked. And answer the question with specific examples

Question: Tell us about a moment with a difficult client:
Answer: She responded by telling us about her difficult CEO.
Feedback Commentary: Left the impression that she might not have a lot of client interaction.  Not a good response since our clients expect us to be quick on our feet.  And we didn’t ask about her CEO; she didn’t answer the question.
My observation: Not only did she not answer the question, but she blew the opportunity to show how she handled difficult issues and problems.
Question: Name your favorite social media campaign of ours that you have seen.
Answer: She liked our current focus but wondered why we didn’t interact with our audience more.  She asked why we don’t do more of that since social is all about conversation.
Feedback Commentary: She clearly had not seen our most recent postings on Twitter and Facebook, which were all about conversation. During the month that she has been interviewing with us, that is all we have done.  It was almost as if she was trying to make us wrong.
My observation: She had an opportunity to show her interest (she really wanted this job), but she did not prove it by her actions.

I shared a lot of this with the candidate who confessed that she had her mind on other things, had not done her homework and was nervous during the interview.  She also confessed that she was complacent because these were her contemporaries and she thought that this interview was merely a formality.

If you are interviewing, you must always be on your A game.  You can never take an interview for granted and, most importantly, do your homework and answer the questions as asked. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What An Executive Recruiter Can And Cannot Do For Candidatres

I wish I could help everyone who comes in to meet me.  Unfortunately, there are misconceptions about what a recruiter can and cannot do.  I thought I would write about it.  

There are all kinds of recruiters.  But in broad strokes here is what most of us do and don’t do.

1.    Recruiters don’t get people jobs
One of the great misconceptions is that recruiters can get candidates jobs.  We can’t.  (See number 4, below).  Recruiters are almost like wholesalers.  The best we can do is understand our clients and their needs and then send candidates we think are appropriate for that position.

2.    Recruiters don’t market candidates
I have written about this many times.  The notion that if you meet a recruiter, he or she immediately make introductions is mostly wrong.  Most reputable recruiters work only on assignment which means that they only send candidates appropriate to the specifications of that assignment.

3.    Recruiters don’t network candidates
Many candidates misunderstand recruiters.  They assume that even if the recruiter doesn’t have a specific job for them, they will network them to friends and associates.  Most of us meet far too many candidates to do that.  We get paid to place candidates, not to network them. 

4.    Recruiters do work for their clients, not for their candidates
We are paid by our clients.  They pay us to find people who match the criteria they give us.  While we can stray from this slightly, especially if we know the client well, we cannot send candidates who we know are wrong; that would be wrong for our clients and hurtful to our candidates.

5.    Recruiters work on assignment
See numbers 2, 3 and 4, above. 

6.    Recruiters, especially single industry recruiters, can help with your career
Recruiters who specialize in an industry can be very excellent mentors and guides.  They know companies and who they hire.  And they often know many of the people.  They understand the nuances of hiring.  They can be wonderful sources of information and guidance.

7.    Recruiters, can help you with your resume
It doesn’t matter how senior or junior you are, a good recruiter can help with your résumé.  They understand what clients are looking for and may have you adjust your résumé for a job. Without your specific permission, a recruiter cannot and should not make any changes to your résumé.

8.    Recruiters can and should brief you before an interview
You should expect a recruiter to tell you about the company, the job and the people you will be talking to.  They should also send you written job specs if they have them.  They can help you position yourself for the job.  They can also help facilitate the entire interviewing process.

9.    Recruiters should follow up to give you feedback
I have written that my pet peeve is when I cannot get feedback from a company after an interview. Unfortunately, it happens too frequently.  However, as a candidate, you have a right to know how you did and if there are any next steps.  If you did not do well, you should receive constructive criticism as given to the recruiter by the company.
10.    Recruiters should either negotiate for you or help you negotiate
Many companies, even when using a recruiter, like to cut them out during negotiations (they wrongly think we are trying to get candidates higher salaries when, in fact, just the opposite is true, especially with good clients).  Candidates should always keep their recruiters informed of all discussions.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Adventures In Recruiting: Guaranteeing Candidates

Did you know that when a recruiter introduces you to a company, they are guaranteeing that you will and can perform? 

Almost all contracts between recruiters and companies include a guarantee.  In the case of contingent recruiters, the guarantee is in effect for a limited period of time – 90 days is common.  For retained searches, the guarantee can be a year or longer.

Often, in their original, client-generated form, these guarantees are totally and 100% unconditional.  If a candidate leaves or is fired for any reason whatsoever, the recruiter is held responsible.  This means that if a recruiter places an advertising executive on an account on, say, February 1st  and on March 1st  the agency loses its biggest account and they decide to terminate the account person who was placed in February (last in, first out), even though he/she didn't work on the account that was lost, the recruiter may have to return the fee; it doesn't matter if the recruiter spent a week or a year working on the placement.

In all the years I have been recruiting with all the hundreds (if not thousands) of candidates I have placed, I have only had three or four leave of their own accord before the end of their guarantee period.  I have only had one who got fired for cause, but I replaced her at no charge, even though it was shortly after the guarantee period had expired because she had misrepresented herself to both myself and the company and I accepted that responsibility.

I thought I would share with you a couple of absurd instances of client invoking the guarantee clause.  Every recruiter has these stories. In fairness, the vast majority of clients handle this issue with grace, tact and fairness. But occasionally, they become intractable, often forced to do so by their finance department.

Fortunately for me, in all my years of recruiting the invoking of the guarantee has only happened a handful of times.  Most of the time when a candidate leaves a company within the first few months, it has nothing to do with the recruitment job or properly screening the candidate.  Generally it has to do with the job itself or issues within the company; sometimes, jobs turn out not to be as they were originally described.  

I once placed a candidate at an ad agency on a major soft drink account.  They told the candidate there would be “some” travel. She was an account person who loved travel and production.  She was so excited to take this job on an iconic brand; they told her (and me) it would be 40-50% travel). It turned out that the account was in production at various locations about forty to forty-five weeks a year and the candidate was expected to be there, no matter where .  She was a newlywed.  After her first five weeks on the job she had spent exactly two nights at home.  She realized that it would always be this way and they had misrepresented the job.  She resigned.  I replaced her, but on the second placement, I found someone who wanted to and was able to travel.  The truth is that the company misrepresented the job and I should not have been held responsible, but it was a good client.  It certainly would have been so much easier and more efficient if I were told the truth in the first place.

Then there is the boss who is lovely on the interview but turned from Dr. Jeckyll into Mr. Hyde once the candidate was hired. This happens with some frequency.  In one case, the manager was so abusive that he even called this person’s spouse and told her that her husband was a numbskull (for no substantive reason).  When I called the president of the company, his response was that the hiring manager was a necessary evil and was good with clients.  He did not apologize.  His attitude was that I should find someone with thicker skin.  The candidate I had placed resigned after only a few weeks on the job.  The agency wanted to hold me responsible; I would not refill the job.  Why the client would not have told me in the first place that I needed to find a candidate who was tough and could handle a difficult boss is a mystery.  The truth is always easier to deal with.

Once, I placed someone an ad agency which is now out of business.  The day the candidate started work, they lost a huge account, Burger King.  Two days later, on Wednesday, first thing in the morning, they called the candidate to HR and fired him, despite the fact that he did not work on that account (HR did not even bother to tell this person's manager or group head).  My candidate had resigned from a good job to take this one.  When I called to complain, their response to me was, “What, we should fire someone we know? Last in first out.”  They had not paid me, nor did they.  They made no apologies to the candidate or to me.

Once, an agency called me after about 60 days and said they were not sure the candidate was competent.  I asked if they would like me to work on a replacement. They said no, not yet, but they wanted me to be on notice.  The candidate remained at the company for over a year. After about 14 months they called and told me they had terminated the employee and invoked the guarantee and asked me to replace him, because they had put me on notice.  You know what my response was.

And once, when I was first recruiting, a company fired an employee on the day before the guarantee period expired and invoked the guarantee.  They had not yet paid.  It was a very intentional act.  They had the gall to ask me to replace him. I found out afterward from another former employee that this small company did this to recruiters frequently.  Now this is rare, but it does happen.

I know that most human resource professionals understand that the guarantee it is mostly a crock.  But the company’s corporate lawyers and some finance people make the human resources specialists bow to their will.  The guarantee is often an excuse to delay payment for services rendered.

Consequently, I don’t work with companies who don’t pay within 30 days and I have inserted a clause in my contracts which basically excludes loss of business, change in management, the sale of the company and jobs and bosses who/which are not as described.  Interestingly, this clause almost always gets approved.

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