Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When Is It Time For A "Plan B" In Your Career?

Last week I was approached by a lovely man.  He has essentially been out of work for two years.  He is in his early fifties.  I have watched his career since the early 1990’s, when he was in his thirties.  He is smart, strategic, entrepreneurial and he is a good advertising person.  At one point he was making almost $300,000 a year.  What happened to him?  Why can’t he get work?

In his case, he never had a mainstream career.  He didn’t work for one of the big name agencies.  While he worked on a few well known accounts, those jobs were primarily at smaller, relatively unknown agencies.  He even had his own shop for a while, but, while it produced significant revenue for him, it never cut through to achieve notoriety within the business.  It has become his biggest impediment as he looked for a job.  The big agencies rejected him because they did not understand what he had to offer.  Smaller agencies felt he did not offer enough.

When I suggested to him that he consider a career plan “B”, he stopped returning my emails.  He just didn't want to hear it.

For the most part, the large agencies look for other big agency experience. That is because they all understand each other.  And when they are interested in someone from a small agency, then it has to be a known entity or, at the very least, where its accounts are is immediately recognized and the advertising well known.  It goes back to my constant rant about companies hiring résumés rather than people.  Unfortunately, ad agencies, mostly, don’t hire out of the box, especially senior executives. 

By the very definition of a career and the nature of all business, most people will reach a point where they become aware that they have reached a dead end.  You can, like my friend who I wrote about below, forestall the inevitable and move to another similar job.  But eventually the reality will hit home.  The truth is, your career has to both make sense and be identifiable in terms of what you have done and achieved.  In that way, a new company knows exactly what you have done and what can be expected of you if they hire you. Someone who is an expert in one field, say pharma or high tech, will probably be able to find work, even if they have to take a salary cut.  But for the average generalist, finding work after twenty or thirty years in the business is hard.

I am constantly hearing from candidates that they will take a cut in title or salary in order to get work.  Unfortunately, that rarely works.  Generally, a person cannot work for someone who should really be working for them.  Just last week I had an assignment which required a specific number of years in the business.  The HR director articulated that it couldn’t be more or it would threaten the hiring manager and it couldn’t be less because it would threaten the more junior people.

So I always advise people that when they are in their forties, no matter how successful they are, it is time to start thinking about a career “Plan B”.  You don’t have to leave the business – in fact you may never leave the business, but it doesn’t hurt to think about the future.

A really wonderful friend of mine worked at one of the big agencies.  He was making close to $200,000.  His title was account director.  About every three years he was cut from his job.  Not because he lacked anything or wasn’t good, but because he was simply vulnerable to staff cutbacks.  Finally, after about the fifth time, he followed his dream.  He sold his house in Fairfield County and moved to one of the Carolinas where he bought a house on a golf course.  He opened up a book store and used all the marketing knowledge he had learned over the years to build his business.  Ironically, within about three years he was doing better than he ever did in the agency business.  And he was having more fun, working fewer hours and playing golf multiple times a week.  He had a “Plan B”.

Another friend of mine was a successful EVP at a major agency.  When he was cut back for the third time he didn’t hesitate to follow his dream – he opened up a cooking store in Westchester and his been doing it successfully for many years. The point is, you have to have an idea of what comes next.  I believe that is true of all businesses, not just advertising.

It is never too early to think about a second career.  That doesn’t mean you lack commitment to what you are doing now.  It simply means that you are realistic and have a direction in your life.  I know tons of college professors, high school teachers and even a couple of doctors and lawyers whose second careers have far exceeded their first careers.

That includes me.  But you got to have a dream and then a plan.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hints for interviewers: Be Sure You Actually Interview

My last post addressed the issue of telegraphing answers.  Essentially, this means feeding the response you are looking for to the interviewee as the question is asked.  This often happens when a candidate is very senior, very well known or has a résumé which suits the job perfectly.  Another thing that happens under these circumstances is that the interviewer is so impressed by the résumé that they chat rather than interview.

An agency president told me a story recently about a well known recruiter who, many years ago when this president was an EVP, asked her for breakfast.  The then EVP brought her résumé, had a lovely conversation but was never interviewed.  The recruiter never asked key questions which had been expected – why she was looking, her career objectives, her current compensation.  The recruiter was so overwhelmed by the candidate’s title and position, that she forgot to conduct a proper interview. 

This happens at companies all the time.  The late, wonderful character, Jim Michaelson, (one of the ad business great new business gurus during the sixties, seventies and 1980’s) had an expression about some people who are less than fabulous but who keep getting more and better jobs.  He called it, “falling up.”  I think this is a wonderful term which describes all too many executives.  They seem to go from job to job, always getting better titles and more visibility, but they have little to show for it.  This happens because we have all seen reasonably incompetent people who keep falling up.  It is because someone is hiring their résumé and credentials.  They are so impressed with the background that they don’t  interview to find out what makes the candidate tick or whether they will be a good fit for the company or its culture.

This also happens during courtesy interviews which tend to be a chat rather than a real interview.  The result of this kind of talk is often a missed opportunity – on both sides.

When a candidate shows up for an interview, they love to talk, but they expect to be interviewed.  Simple as that.  Over the years, I have had many a chairman or president tell me that they couldn’t understand how they hired an incompetent senior executive.  They tell me things like, “ he was so successful at his last company.”  And after they are hired, it is discovered that the person cannot do the job.  My answer is that they didn’t interview him or her.  If they had, they would have discovered their shortfalls. 

I can think of one agency president who hired someone to run a subsidiary company.  It was a disaster and the subsidiary agency actually closed about a year after the bad hire which was the result of an entire board of directors merely chatting rather than interview.  The point is that no matter how good the résumé, it is essential that the candidate be thoroughly interviewed and nothing should be taken for granted.

This isn't just true of senior executives.  It happens with writers and art directors with good portfolios and with account managers who have seemingly great credentials.

Got any good falling up stories to share with my readers?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hints for Interviewers: Don't Telegraph Answers

Sooner or later, all of us hire someone.  I thought I would create a series of posts on how to interview. 

All too often, companies do what I call, hiring résumés.  What this means is that when a job is open and a résumé is received, if the résumé matches the job, the candidate is practically hired before the applicant walks through the door for the first interview.  It is what happens when you see a résumé you love.

I have seen this happen many, many times.  Mostly, it leads to disaster, especially when the candidate is the CEO, COO or Executive Creative Director or other executive who can truly influence the direction of the company or account.

I can remember an agency with a large cereal account looking for a senior manager to run their business.  A person I know told me that a recruiter had sent his résumé.  He was working on a directly competitive brand at another agency.  He had his first interview on Monday, came back Tuesday and Wednesday and received a job offer on Thursday.  He was "snowed" and immediately took the job.  No one really interviewed him and he was so anxious to leave his old job that he never interviewed them.  The problem was that he had never worked for an agency with a culture like the one he went to.  In none of his interviews was this ever explored.  Consequently, he never fit with the new agency and was dismissed within six months.

How could this have happened?  Simple.  They hired a résumé, not a person.  They were so impressed with his background that he was, indeed, hired before his first interview.  It is really important to remember that perfect résumés do not make perfect candidates.

When a great résumé shows up, and the candidate comes in for an interview, it is critical to remember to conduct an interview.  It is human nature to let one’s guard down and ask questions which lead to the answers that you want to hear.  But this doesn’t get to the facts or to the essence of the candidate.  Questions are asked in such a way as to telegraph the responses the interviewer is looking for.  For instance:  “I presume you have done lots of television production supervision, haven’t you?”  Or, “I know you know the category; I presume you were very involved with the development of the strategy for the new campaign?”  Or, “XYZ is such a great company; you must have really liked working there.”  It isn’t even a question.

Questions like these beg the interviewee to give the answers that the interviewer wants to hear, but really do not lead to the discovery of the essential nature of the candidate.  Much better questions might have been,  “Tell me about your involvement with the production of your current advertising.” Or, “What was the market situation that lead to the development of your new commercial?”  “What was your role in development of the strategy?” “Tell me about your experience at XYZ” with a follow up on why he/she left that agency.

Just because someone worked on Cialis does not mean that they are right for Viagra. It is critical to get to the core of the candidate so that a determination can be made as to how they work and what they really can contribute.  Every interview should be approached in the same way, no matter what the candidate's background.  All the issues in the job specs should be covered with every candidate who is interviewed.  It may be a far better move to hire someone without specific category or brand knowledge than to hire someone who may know it but lacks other more essential qualifications for the job. Companies tend to overlook
really important issues when they are interviewing a résumé and not a person. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Interviewing Is A Flawed Process

How many of us have come back from an interview and said to ourselves, “I could have done better.  I wonder if I blew it.”  I tell my candidates not to over-think or to rehash their interviews.  What is done is done.  However, I have always believed that interviewing is a flawed process:  It doesn’t matter who you are, but you only get a few minutes – half an hour or, if you are lucky, an hour to strut your stuff and tell who you are and what you can do.  All too often the words just don’t come out right.  Or, even if the words are right, they sometimes get misinterpreted.

It isn't just the candidates who blow interviews, sometimes it is the interviewer.

So much on an interview depends not just on the interviewee (candidate) but on the interviewer.  I often hear feedback that during the half an hour or so, the interviewer talked almost all the time, asking very few questions.  My candidates tell me they barely had time to talk. Then, often, I get feedback that my candidate was, “too quiet”.

When I know an interviewer does that, I counsel my candidates to be sure to interrupt so that they can talk and let the interviewer know who they are.  But interviews go bad for other reasons. All too often, an interviewer asks an ambiguous question and the candidate chooses an answer, but it is not the response the interviewer wanted to hear.  Or, a candidate answers the question and the interviewer picks up on only a small detail of the response and blows that detail all out of proportion, making the candidate wrong for the job.  Recently, I had a candidate mention something in his background which had little to do with the job he was interviewing for, but which he thought might ultimately be relevant.  The agency president who was interviewing him concluded that he did not have the right perspective for the job.  His background, personality and outlook made him perfect for the agency, but he was rejected because of a simple miscommunication. 

Of course, interviews get blown for reasons which could have been controlled.  I have heard about interviews blown because a candidate brought coffee without bringing it for the interviewer.  Interviews have been blown because someone answered a cell phone call.  Candidates often screw up an interview because they were unprepared.  All too often, people go on interviews without checking out the agency's website or otherwise doing their homework.  (A candidate at BBDO once talked about loving their MasterCard campaign.  Or the creative candidate who interviewed at JWT and told the interviewer that she wanted to work at a creative agency like Chiat, Mother or BBH, never mentioning JWT.)  These are valid reasons to reject a candidate.  But interviews get blown for reasons which make the process unfair. 

Many interviewers, particularly non-professional interviewers, often make the mistake of  what I call confusing adjectives.  They assume that because someone is quiet that they lack energy.  They assume that because someone is thoughtful in their responses that they are not quick on their feet.  Or because they are soft spoken they are not strong.  I recently had a southern candidate get rejected because of her southern drawl. The interviewer assumed that she was neither forceful nor aggressive because of her southern laid backness.  Ironically, she is one of the most aggressive and persuasive people I know.  Unfortunately, I could not get her another interview.  A very successful creative person was once rejected by a creative director because she did not go to the School of Visual Arts, despite an award winning portfolio.  And because creative people are often hired only because of their “book”, the interview counted for very little.

In the fifties and sixties, many corporations resolved these subjective issues by administering employment tests.  While these are mostly out of favor today, there are actually a few advertising agencies which still use them to determine personality “fit”.  I won’t even bother to comment on the absurdity of this.
Perhaps the worst part of failing an interview for reasons which have nothing to do with the job itself is that, especially these days with computerized records, a candidate can be scarred for life depending on the notations made in the company’s computer.  The laid back southern person might be labeled as “meek” by an unthinking interviewer.  Then, next time she is submitted, even if years from now, she might be prevented from interviewing because of the mislabel in her file.

I would like to suggest that this is one time when I actually believe in the committee approach to interviewing.  I am not talking about the nine interviews that the old Chiat/Day used to do. And I am not talking about having any single person on the interviewing committee able to reject a candidate outright.  Rather, there should always be two or three senior people who do the screening of senior people and two or three less senior who might see and evaluate more junior potential employees. After the interviews, the committee should meet, discuss candidates, the available jobs and reach a consensus on appropriateness.  Every manager’s fear is that either the person below him or her or human resources will screen out a very good candidate.  The approach I am suggesting would help insure that good people are not passed over for bad reasons. 

I would love to hear your ideas of how to evaluate potential employees people fairly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turnabout May Be Fair Play

I had a really interesting exchange with a candidate that has left me perplexed.  The more I think about it, the stranger it is.

Here is the back story.  I placed a gentleman in a fairly senior director position.  He was scheduled to start his new job mid-month.  His new company’s insurance would kick in on the first day of the month after he started.  I asked him when he was going to resign so I could counsel him on how to do it gracefully and tactfully and in such a way that they did not make him a counter-offer.

His response blew me away.

He planned to resign on the Wednesday or Thursday of the week before his start, effectively giving his company only two or three days notice.  I asked him why he did not want to give them two weeks notice.  Since he was offered and accepted the job during the previous month, he told me that he wanted to wait until the new month before resigning.  That way his insurance from the old company would be in effect all month and his new insurance would kick in the following month with no loss in coverage.

He told me that he liked his current job but the opportunity he had taken was better on many grounds.  I told him that only giving his existing company a couple of days notice was unfair.  While there is no law that says two weeks notice is mandatory, it is customary, a policy in many employment manuals (although they are customarily given out only after people are employed) and it is also common courtesy, especially since he liked his current job.

He went on to explain his reasoning.  He commented that the offer letters of all companies now say that he is an “employee at will”, which, in his interpretation, means that he can be terminated at any time, for any reason and not necessarily be given any notice. That termination may or may not include severance, which companies, for the most part, do not guarantee.   He therefore felt that the company where he currently worked had now become, an “employer at will,” meaning that he could leave at any time, for any reason and not give notice.  He said, “Turnabout is fair play.”

I questioned him at length.  His logic was inescapable.  He explained that he had witnessed many companies terminate employees and ask them to leave the building immediately.  He felt this was devastating, demoralizing and unfair.  He also explained that many employees sometimes resign with two weeks notice and are then immediately terminated and asked to leave with no pay for the two weeks.  He went on to say that he felt most companies design their benefits to protect the company rather than the employee – stock options and employer contributions to retirement plans that vest over very long periods of time, thereby insuring that the company will probably not have to make the full contribution; no guarantee of severance is given, nor is guarantee of notice of termination; commissions on new business generally are not paid immediately, thereby leaving the issue open as to whether they will be paid if the employee leaves. And, of course, health insurance is paid only one month at a time.

His words left me breathless.  I am wondering if this is the beginning of a trend.  Employees have become jaded.  Companies have shown very little loyalty, even to long-term employees.  Perhaps, in his past, this candidate had been burned by a former employer – as many people have.  And now it is payback time.

Ironically, after this happened, I had a candidate who gave two weeks notice and was terminated with no further pay the next day. In the above case, the employee did the right thing, ultimately giving his current employer proper notice.He is a good guy and will be a fine employee.

One of the reasons why people give two weeks’ notice is because they want to preserve their references and leave on positive terms.  But the truth is, lawyers counsel companies not to give references.  And since references come from individuals, rather than the human resources departments, maybe the employee’s logic is that being nice to the company doesn’t really matter. Could this be the start of a trend?  Is this the result of years of employees feeling that their companies really have no particular loyalty to them?

I would like to know what people think.

Food for considerable thought.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adventures in Recruiting: A Cover Letter To Make You Laugh

Anyone who receives cover letters knows that there is no such thing as a perfect cover for a resume. Most cover notes don't even get read because screeners go right to the resume to see where the person worked, how long they were there and what they worked on. Those elements determine the eligibility to work at a company or on as specific job. Cover letters, in my opinion, should be short and to the point.  I just received this unsolicited email.  Aside from being too long as to be exhausting, it is so badly written as to have made me laugh out loud.  I think it is amusing enough for you to work through it in its entirety.  It appears verbatim below, but is edited to protect the not so innocent.

"To Whom It May Concern,

I would like to apply for a position as my goal is to further my career in Media and/or Hospitality Marketing, Branding & Management and this position would be an excellent opportunity for me. I am willing to grow into a new position where I can devote a lot of my time and efforts towards.

I have not just spent most of my life pursuing a career in the entertainment industry but I have been surrounded by it my entire life. Having worked numerous jobs in this industry with a heavy focus on marketing and production, I have enabled myself to build my own business, [name and company website]. Though a small company,[company name] is well-positioned within the entertainment industry, via strategic professional relationships with family members whom are former long-term, high-ranking executives at [talent agency name]and current executives {another talent agency] (references furnished upon request). Though I have this company I started, I am needing to learn more and expand my knowledge with new opportunities. With all the projects that I have continued to work on have been extra convenient having a travel agent license which helps in research and booking experience for all types of projects where travel is required. Over the past 15 years I developed several databases with over 250,000 contacts and keep it all up to date.

In the past 2 years, I have been concentrating on developing marketing opportunities with a focus on product placement, licensing, digital distribution, sponsorships, and cross promotions and will continue to expand my efforts as new opportunities develop. With my experience and knowledge, I have established important relationships and have organized databases that will continue to grow as I grow with each opportunity.

In the area of production, I have recently received a Producers credit on the feature film [" name of film"] (2009), produced by [name]. I was responsible for the marketing of this film and am currently working closely with the Director and other Producers....on future projects.

Most recently, I have taken on the management role working with a few musicians, actors as well as other media and entertainment clients. As a manager, I have worked to secure a national campaign deal for a "Back to School" promotion with[company] throughout North America. With this deal, I was able to develop the partnership, negotiate the terms and am leveraging the opportunity to bring increased awareness to my client [name].

In an effort to target a younger audience, I have begun working as a freelance consultant with a company called [name and website] a creative digital content company that produces music, animation and apps for kids. I have been researching and staying on top of new trends that appeal to a younger audience and work with the company CEO to develop marketing platforms that reach their target demographic.

I am strongly invested in the world of entertainment, digital media and hospitality management & marketing and would like to continue to grow in this area.

I would be very appreciative for any and all efforts and have attached a copy of my resume, which more fully details my qualifications for your company. Thank you very much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Have a great day." 

Phew.  Anyone interested?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Never Take A Final Interview For Granted

This post is written for hiring managers and companies.  It deals with a critical part of the interviewing process – the final interview with the most senior person in the interviewing chain.  It should never merely be a formality or a matter of courtesy.  It is an essential part of the process.  Its purpose should be to determine the “fit” of the candidate within the group and within the organization.

It is the job of every senior executive to insure that the culture of their company remains intact.  While the final interview should also be a double-check to insure that a candidate meets all the important criteria of the job specs, the most important aspect of this particular interview is to insure that the candidate is right for the agency. 

About a year ago, the president of an agency told me that she had just rejected two account director candidates (not mine).  As a result, she knew that the two group account directors who had approved them and passed them on to her for final approval were angry with her for rejecting them.  Her rejection was based on two factors, one having to do with seniority and one having to do with where these prospective employees fit within the company.  The president’s logic was that she felt that the agency’s account directors should be capable of stepping up to the plate at those times that the group director was unavailable.  She did not feel that these people had either the presence or the seniority to do this even though they were perfectly capable account people. 

Most important, she had questions about these two candidates that overrode the issue of seniority.  She felt that the two rejected candidates did not embody the culture of the agency – smart, passionate and committed.  They were, in her opinion, just competent account people, good for handling the problems of today on their accounts, but perhaps not right for their long-term growth within the agency.  I applaud her decision.

In hiring people, it is critical for an agency to insure that people are competent in terms of the job specs.  But if they are to grow within the agency, they have to be the kind of people who are right for the culture.  Simply put, creative agencies should hire writers and art directors who can produce according to that agency’s standards.  And those same agencies should hire account people who understand how to work in that kind of environment.

Finding those kinds of people can be difficult.  The old Chiat/Day (before TBWA) used to have account candidates go through nine or more interviews.  They saw other account people (both senior and junior), planners, creative people, anyone of whom could “ding” the candidate.  (My record was a candidate who did 17 interviews there before being hired.)  While this may be somewhat cumbersome, it insured that their passionate and committed culture remained intact.   Except for the extreme number of interviews, I never had an issue with this process.

In interviewing and hiring, it is easy to lose sight of the culture in favor of a short-term
“fix”.  I call this my theory of ten percent.  It goes something like this:  Two people go into business together.  They can agree on 99% of all issues.  The company grows and it is time to hire.  They try to find an employee who is just like them.  It is difficult.  After much interviewing, they find a candidate who is 90% of them.  The three of them work together for a while. Time goes buy and now the new person is going to hire someone to work for them.  After a long search, the third person finds someone who is 90% of himself/herself.  And so on.  By the time of the third and fourth hire, those candidates could be thirty to forty percent of the original owners, clearly diluting the culture.  It is the responsibility of the senior people to insure that the people they hire are as close to the core company philosophy as possible.

This is a challenge of all big companies, especially those which are so large as to have multiple groups within.  And it is the responsibility of all senior executives to insure that their group culture remains consistent and intact.

This assumes that the philosophy and culture are clear, communicated and understood by everyone within the interviewing chain.  All too often candidates and hiring managers forget that the final interview of the candidate they have chosen to hire may not be a lock. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Agencies Should Hire The Best Talent No Matter Where They Live

The issue in recruiting is always candidates.  I learned this when I was first recruiting.  Finding the right person for a job is like completing a jigsaw puzzle.  The fit has to be just right.  The most successful recruiters are those who understand their clients and, within the client organizations, understand the nuances among the accounts and are able to place the right people in those jobs.  Agencies still mistakenly believe that there are loads of people roaming the streets and they can have their pick of candidates as a result job specs continue to be specific.  

Good candidates are hard to find. 

Ironically, we often find a great candidate who lives in another city or even another country.  Unfortunately, some agencies reject great people simply because of proximity without having met them or even talking to them.
These days a Skype interview is almost as good as meeting someone in person.  And it makes perfect sense for a preliminary chat for someone who lives elsewhere.

Over the years I have had candidates rejected simply because they live in another place and the agency does not wish to become involved with relocation, even if the candidate is paying for it.  Agencies often bypass excellent candidates from both Canada or abroad, not only because they don't want to get involved with waiting for the move or for visa applications, but because coordination can be difficult.

This is a business of talent.  Good talent can be found in lots of places.  No candidate should be rejected simply because they don't live conveniently.  I am not just saying this because I am a recruiter.  From the company’s point of view finding the right people can make the difference between keeping and losing an account, so why not go for the best possible person?   

There are many agencies, particularly among the top twenty, who tell me that they will not accept candidates from other markets.  And they forbid me to introduce candidates who require a visa application, visa transfers or sponsorship, even those from Canada.  They tell me that, after all, there are plenty of well qualified people who live right here and do not require any extra work to bring them in.  They also tell me that visa sponsorship is too time consuming and too expensive.   Yet they may spend weeks or months trying to recruit locally when the best candidate could have been found and hired long before the local person appears.
There is also another bias which I cannot understand.  Many Americans relocating back home from abroad are rejected because the screeners - sometimes human resources but often other people who they meet within the organization - have absolutely no concept of what goes on in another country.  I meet lots of Americans coming home who tell me that they have a difficult time in even getting interviews, no less getting hired.  They are rejected simply because what they did abroad is not understood here.

I once had a candidate who was sent to Japan by his management.  He did really well at this agency's Tokyo office - he saved one of their largest international accounts.  Because he was so successful, he was promoted several times in Japan, eventually becoming director of account management.  Then his wife got pregnant and he decided to come home.  When he arrived back in New York, the president of the agency, who was the one who sent him abroad, told him that he would only bring him back at his previous salary and position from five years before, "I don't really know what you did in Tokyo and I am not sure it is relevant."  Of course he left the agency quickly.  I have heard that story many times. 

This issue was once brought home bay a very professional and very wonderful human resources person who told me that she didn’t trust foreign experience because she did not quite know how they worked or what they really did abroad.  The answer, of course, is that they work pretty much the same way we do here. In many cases they are better because they have had to become far more resourceful in dealing with clients and getting work done. This problem applies to people who live and work at agencies outside the three or four top advertising markets here in the states.  As silly as that sounds, as a recruiter, I come across it all the time.  It sometimes isn't verbalized, but it is there.

Some agencies, even those with senior management who are foreign nationals, are reluctant to hire people from abroad because they may require visa applications or transfers.  My understanding is that H-1 visas require almost no time and effort to process and are easily transferred between companies.  Initial applications for people who have never worked here may be more cumbersome but are not difficult.  Intra-company transfers are very simple.  

I am not advocating hiring people from other countries simply because they are foreigners.  I am advocating that advertising is a business of talent and all companies should simply be looking for the best people, no matter where their experience comes from.  And I am certainly saying that an American who has worked abroad should not be discriminated against because they worked abroad.

Each day the world gets smaller.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ten Things Your Recruiter Won't Say

The title of this posting is not mine.  It comes from Smart Money.  They published it on October 25. The premise of the article is that recruiters mislead their candidates in many ways.  I believe that the author, Will Swartz, was confusing low-end employment agencies with legitimate executive search consultants.  I cannot speak for national recruiters.  I cannot speak for recruiters in other businesses.  I cannot even speak for other recruiters in the advertising business.  However, for myself, this article is just plain wrong.

In fairness, there are many different kinds of recruiters.  We are executive recruiters.  We work on assignments on behalf of our clients.  We are not an employment agency.  There is a big, big difference between executive recruiters and employment agencies.  And I hate when clients refer to us as an "agency".
While there is a grain of truth in what he says, I cannot agree with the essence of his article, that recruiters have an interest in not telling candidates the full truth about how they work and what they can and cannot do.

One point in the article is important.  Candidates should know who is representing them.  They should know the background and reputation of the people who are working on their behalf.  There are lots of good, reputable executive recruiters.   I don't know how this article was researched, but they didn't talk to me.
I thought about the best way to refute this article and decided that it was best to list his ten points and then respond to them.  I think it is important for my readers to understand both how I work and how a good recruiter can work on their behalf.

1) "There are better ways to find a job"  - This is a true statement. There are lots of ways to get a job.  I tell my candidates that networking accounts for about 80% of all jobs.  At best, recruiters account for an estimated 10-15% of all jobs (ads and postings account for the bulk of the rest).

2) "We don't work for you" - This is also a true statement.  But in the context of the article it makes it seem that we don't do our best for our candidates.  A good recruiter works for the people who pay them - their clients.  I always tell my candidates that that I have to do a good job for both my candidates and my clients or I would be out of business.  The article makes a point that because companies are already paying a fee to a recruiter, they are reluctant to negotiate for higher salaries.  Not so.  While I do represent my clients, if I think they are low balling the salary they are offering, I always tell them.  There is always a little dance that gets done between recruiter and the company. The truth is that at most companies, particularly firms with over 50 or so employees, the recruitment budget is separate from the salary budget.  One thing rarely has anything to do with the other.

3) "Until a year ago I was a car salesman" -  This is also true.  Candidates should vet their recruiters.  Every candidate should know who they are dealing with and what their background and credentials are.  Even when I first started recruiting in advertising, I had a twenty year history in the business, was well known and knew most of the ad agencies and companies I was working for.

4) "The job we advertised may not exist" - I can't speak for other recruiters, but we rarely advertise.  Occasionally we may post something on the Ladders, but those jobs surely do exist.  Every candidate has a right to know and ask questions about any listing.  Reputable recruiters don't post fake jobs to attract candidates.

5) "We already know quite a bit about you" - I was actually horrified by this statement. I cannot conceive of real executive recruiters doing credit checks and background checks on candidates, particularly ones they have not met.  We do not ask candidates to fill out applications or forms.  I have never done a credit check on a candidate in my life.  We see and meet 20+ candidates a week - the major recruitment firms see hundreds.  We do conduct reference checks when appropriate.  The idea of recruiters checking personal information is abhorrent.  Perhaps this is done by some "agencies", but I doubt it.
6) "Our jobs aren't so hot either" - I am not sure how the economy or volume of jobs should affect the quality of recruiting.  Or why big firms are more effective than smaller ones.  Recruiters - of any size - get jobs of all types.  The economy has not affected the quality of jobs, just the quantity.  Candidates need to be able to assess jobs to determine if they are appropriate for them.  A good recruiter should help candidates assess the opportunity and should never force a square peg in a round hole.

7) "You are at the mercy of computers just like on-line job board users" -  All recruiters who use computers know their shortcomings.  Key word search is and can be a problem.  But not for candidates who are met and interviewed.  Once again, I cannot speak for other recruiters, but we get to know our candidates and enter them into computers ourselves.  Long ago I learned that key word searches are insufficient for the purposes of identifying our candidates.  We treat each person who we meet as an individual.  Many other recruiters do this as well.  Key word search cannot cover all contingencies.

8) "The temp to perm carrot is rotten" - We rarely do temp jobs so I have no idea if this is true or not.  But no recruiter should lie about the possibility of moving from temp to perm.

9) "If you have a job I could get you fired" - A reputable recruiter will never and should never send your resume anywhere without your express permission.  Period.  There is always the possibility in a job search that your current firm can find out you are looking, but a recruiter being the cause of that is so rare as to not even be a consideration.

10) "If I'm in Virginia, I will probably not help you find a job in Nebraska" - True. It is important for a candidate who wants to relocate to determine if a recruiter can help them find a job outside of the recruiter’s home market.  Recruiters tend to work most in their home area.  However, speaking for ourselves, we receive advertising assignments throughout the country.  We have placed people in such faraway places as Birmingham, Alabama,  Evansville, Indiana, Germany, France, London and Singapore.  Many recruiters do not "market candidates" by making unsolicited calls to companies.  Candidates should determine how their recruiter works and whether they can help them in other markets.  Many recruiters, like us, have affiliates in other markets and other countries.
Creative Commons License