Monday, August 30, 2010

Don't Force References on People

Many candidates who I have out on interviews ask at me at some point in the process if they should have someone call the company to put in a good word for them. Often they know someone who knows the CEO, head of human resources or another senior executive at the agency or company. My answer is always a resounding, “NO.”

I just had it happen last week. A candidate who was doing well at an agency is friendly with the general manager or president of that agency’s west coast office. She asked me if she should have the GM call the hiring manager to put in a good word for her. I told her it is bad form for several reasons.

First, no hiring manager or agency executive likes to be put under pressure. It could also be embarrassing for the person being called if the candidate is not right for the job. The person making the call undoubtedly does not know what the job is really about and whether the person they are calling for is right for the job.  Consequently, the call might actually reflect negatively on the candidate. Second, the chances are good that the person you may know does not know the hiring manager and calls someone else in the organization; those people are then put in a difficult position because they generally do not want to interfere with or are not involved with the hiring process. Finally, despite what one may think, you never know about the relationship between these executives.

I had a not so funny incident a few years back. A candidate who was the lead to get a job as the senior most executive running a major account asked if he could have his former boss, the chairman of one of the country’s largest agencies, call the CEO to put in a good word for him. I said no. I told him my reasoning. But my candidate insisted that the two executives were good friends and that it would be a good thing for his candidacy. I begged my candidate to save it until a reference was asked for.

Well, you know what happened.

A few days later the CEO of my client agency called me and told me he would no longer be pursuing my candidate. He told me that the chairman of the other agency had called to give an unsolicited recommendation for my candidate. The CEO was offended by the call because the hire was much too important to the agency to have another agency executive push him without knowing anything about the issues of the job. He did not want another agency executive interfering with his business. But most important, the CEO told me that he thought the Chairman who called him was a “horse’s ass” and that therefore he would take a pass on the candidate.

It may be stupid. It may be petty, but why take a chance? If they had wanted to check references prior to making an offer, the Chairman would have made a good reference.
The point of all this is not to give a reference before it is asked for.

Do any of my readers have a reference story to share?   I would love your comments.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Adventures in Recruiting: My Shortest Placement

About twenty years ago, when the wonderful agency, Wells, Rich, Greene, had the Continental Airlines account, I had an assignment to find an account supervisor.

I met and interviewed an account person who met the job specs.  His name was Ralph.  He had retail; he was passionate about creative and maybe even had a little airline experience. He was nice looking, tall, well built – about six feet, maybe 190 pounds. At the end of the interview I asked him something I generally ask people I meet: Is there anything else I should know about you?

His answer was interesting. He told me he was formerly a morbidly obese person who during the past year or so had lost over 200 pounds. I told him I thought that was wonderful and sent him to Wells with no discussion about his weight.  My client at WRG was a wonderful EVP named Jim Lawrence.  Ralph was quickly hired and scheduled to start in two weeks.

The week prior to his start date, Jim called me and told me that an important client meeting had been scheduled for the day my candidate started. Jim did not want to have a new person walk into the room not knowing anyone on his first day. He asked me if the candidate could start the previous Friday so that he could get his paperwork finished, meet the entire team, and be able to meet the client at 10am on Monday. I arranged it.

My candidate went to Wells on Friday morning to start his first day. At about 2pm Jim called me. “We have a problem.” I couldn’t imagine what the issue could be so soon. Jim went on to say, “You know Wells, when he arrived this morning his office was not ready and so I couldn’t show him where he was going to sit. He threw his stuff in my office and off we went. Ralph spent the morning meeting and greeting everyone. We took him out to lunch. After lunch, I brought him into his office and introduced him to his officemate. Paul, he actually turned around and, right in front of the other person, looked at me and said, ‘I cannot accept this office. I must have my own space.’”

I never had a candidate before or since refuse an office.

The candidate went on to explain to Jim Lawrence that he had lost all this weight and, that as part of his therapy, he did primal screams several times a day. Jim didn’t know what a primal scream was and asked the guy about it. Right there, standing in the hallway he let out this primal shriek. It was deafening. People came out of their offices to see what was going on. Jim was completely nonplussed. That’s when he called me wanting to know what to do.

I told him to let the guy go. He lasted at wells from about 9am until 2pm.  Wells paid him for the day and I found someone else.

You can’t make this stuff up.

I would love to hear other weird stories of people who didn’t last long at a company. Please send them to me so I can share with my readers.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Don't Do Your Children's or Neighbor's Bidding

Last week I actually received a call from a father in Mumbai, India. He told me about his 26 year old son who lives and works in Chicago. I know he was just trying to help his son, but come on….

While this is extreme, every month people I know call to ask me to help find jobs for their kids or the children of friends or their neighbors. They often forward me their résumés. Every executive gets these kinds of calls, especially human resources people.  It drives us all nuts.

Although their parents or friends have the best of intentions, the truth is, it is really a turn-off.

If someone wants to call me to tell me to expect a call, that is perfectly fine with me. But to call me and do the bidding of their kids or nieces and nephews or friends of the family is actually a mistake. I really believe it works against the people they are trying to help. After all, if they are in college or, worse, have graduated, they are too old to have mommy or daddy do their bidding - even to just send me a résumé.  I am a recruiter and am happy to meet anyone appropriate (although we don’t do entry level).  I also know that the same people who called me are calling executives at companies who might be in a position to actually do hiring. If these people feel as I do, then it is indeed a mistake.

By the time someone is old enough to work, they are old enough to fend for themselves and make their own calls. They are, presumably, adults and shouldn’t need their parents’ help to get an interview.

I have asked a couple of other senior executives, both recruiters and hiring managers, for their opinions about this and every one of them agrees with me.  Mostly they agree to see people or to have someone in their organization see these people, but it starts the interview with a negative frame of mind.

When I get these calls, I rarely say anything to these well meaning relatives or friends. Sometimes I think I should. But I always tell them to please have their son or daughter or whoever they are calling about send their résumé and phone me directly. Usually that works, but occasionally the parents are pushy actually try to make an appointment with me or go so far as to ask me what companies I will be calling on behalf of their kids - some actually tell me what companies they think would be right for the people they are calling for.

The funny thing is, that when I interview these people, I often find out that they are seeing me out of courtesy to their parents or whoever.  Many are not interested in advertising, which is what I do.  Sometimes, when they are interested in advertising, I find out that what their parent or friend told me about them is 100% off base; the parents tell me that the kid is a natural creative or would be a great account person, but kids tell me they want to do something else.  It happens all the time.

So if you really want to help young people you know, give me (or anyone else) a call to tell me that someone will be calling to set up an appointment.  I will happily see them.  But, leave it at that.  

I would like to hear your comments and share them with my readers.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Never Bring Coffee On An Interview

I know that many of you will think I am nuts after reading this post. But bringing coffee on an interview is a no-no.

It is one of those pet peeves. We all have them - your nice neighbor who leaves their kid’s tricycle in the middle of the hallway for you to trip over or the cab driver who is talking on his cell phone, and you think he is talking to you or, as one executive told me, the person who sends you an email thank you note and uses email abbreviations like u instead of you. These things shouldn’t bother you, but they do. Well, that is the way I feel about bringing coffee on an interview.

People bring coffee or soda  into my office almost every day. In New York, Chicago and most other major cities, Starbucks and other coffee vendors, are so ubiquitous that buying coffee in the morning is a given. It is so automatic that we don’t even remember that it is in our hand as we go up on the elevator as we go to work. And when we go on interviews we think nothing of bringing coffee with us.

But it is wrong. And I am not the only one to think so.

A few years ago, the recruiter at one of the major agencies agreed to see a candidate of mine at 8:15am. My candidate was an excellent prospect for the agency and the account she was interviewing for. When the interview was over, my client called me and told me she wasn’t passing my candidate on because she brought coffee on the interview. The HR manager thought she was rude for bringing it.  If the candidate had brought an extra cup for the interviewer or had called to offer to bring coffee, it would have been ok, but she didn’t. The corporate recruiter told me that about half the people who came to see her first thing in the morning brought their own coffee and she was tired of it.

I feel the same way.

I wouldn’t bring coffee or soda to your house. Please don’t bring it to mine. None of us would go to someone’s home to visit carrying a cup of coffee or a soda. We might if we called first, but going to an office is somehow different. A coffee cup or soda can has become so much a part of work “attire” that we don’t think twice about it. If you are on an interview, drink your coffee or soda before you go, simple as that. It doesn’t matter if it is a recruiter like me or a corporate human resources person or a senior executive. Or even a client.

I once took my staff to make a sales call on a client agency. When we arrived the client offered us fresh brewed bean coffee and commented (without my prompting) that he hated it when people came to see him and brought soda or coffee with them.

Am I being petty? Maybe. But if bringing coffee has a five or ten percent chance of turning someone off, why take that risk? You are supposed to be on your best behavior for an interview or a sales call – nothing should be taken for granted. If only a small percentage of the people interviewing you would be offended, why risk blowing a good job over those odds?

Besides, I always offer all my guests great fresh brewed espresso or coffee.

If you are going on an interview and they don’t offer you something to drink, suck it up for half an hour and have some when you leave.

What do you think?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Name Changes have Screwed up Ad Agencies' Own Branding

I would like to thank Al Ries for inspiring this blog. Yesterday, August 3, AdAge.com published his prescient article entitled, “Two Names Are Better than One”. The subhead said, “Marketers lucky enough to have a nickname shouldn’t abuse it”. http://bit.ly/dh8YWt The gist of his article is that brands that have nicknames (Chevy, Coke, etc.) should recognize the strength of those names and use them wisely.  He made a point of saying that General Motors was wrong to tell its employees not to call Chevrolet Chevy.  I couldn't agree more.  It made me think about ad agencies and their names and nicknames.

I had been thinking about a blog post on just this subject because so many ad agencies have messed around with their own identity, some successfully, but most, in my opinion, not.

When Ogilvy & Mather was called Ogilvy it was a sign of familiarity and even esteem.  Young &; Rubicam was always Y&R.  The shorter version of their names were/are terms of endearment.  Which brings me to my point. I can’t for the life of me understand why some ad agencies have walked away from their own equity and heritage by unnecessarily changing their names. J. Walter Thompson became JWT, Doyle Dane Bernbach, when it merged with Needham more than twenty years ago became DDB/Needham,  and now is just DDB – in its case, I wonder if people even know what the initials stand for.  Pity.  All of them should have left well enough alone.

I can certainly understand why some agencies actively use or used shortened versions of their names.   Bartle Boggle Hegarty is called BBH, Batton, Barton, Durstein and Osborne was always BBD&O (They dropped the & many years ago). Most agencies were named after their founders with good reason. Their founders were talented, smart and had something to say to clients.  As those agencies became successful their founders became icons. Fairfax Cone at Foote, Cone, Belding is a perfect example. With few exceptions, Grey and Publicis being the ones which come to mind first, ad agencies almost always became successful with the names of their founders on the door.

I believe that ad agencies work best when the principals' names are on the door - just like law firms. Clients need to know who and what they are buying. As those agencies grow or when the founders sell or retire or pass on, their names connote a sense of what the agency is about. Jay Chiat set a tone for his agency which was so strong that even today people refer to TBWA as Chiat, at least in the U.S.  Agencies should revel in and perpetuate the names and persona of their founders.

The first thing that seems to happen after a purchase or merger is to obliterate the names of the founders of the less dominant agency.  Then there are the newer agencies which seem to eschew the names of their founders all together.

The contemporary agencies, in order to communicate their modernity and fashionability, are now called names like Mother and Taxi and Strawberry Frog. No clue as to who runs time.  I wonder if those names really have staying power.  Calling an agency Iris or Blue Dingo is an attempt to circumvent the problem of individuals. And in and of themselves, these names need to be explained and because no one's name is on the door there is no one to become an icon.  Perhaps this is why so many of the agencies founded in the last decade are having trouble gaining traction.

I understand why the big agencies changed their names. I can hear the deliberations in their respective board rooms. “We need to modernize.” “People call us by our short name, anyway.” “Our old name is stodgy and does not connote all the great new communications tools we are now using.”

A great lesson was learned by Y&R when it changed the name of Wunderman to Imperic about a decade ago. (For those of you new to the business, it lasted about two years before they had the sense to change it back). The business should have taken note.  They literally walked away from their identity and their heritage.   Lester Wunderman stood for and still stands for all that is good and innovative in direct marketing.  And, indeed, he is an icon.

It was perfectly permissible that people referred to J. Walter Thompson as Thompson or Jay Walter. I for one can never remember calling it JWT and still, like most people, call it Thompson. Leo Burnett is still referred to as Leo or Burnett, but that doesn't mean they should  officially change their name to Leo.  One could argue that no one knew the Mather in Ogilvy, but there was something strong and indestructible about Ogilvy and Mather which is missing now, which was Mr. Ries's point.

In advertising, it is the work which creates the meaning of the name.  If anyone doubts that this is so, just take a look at what Grey has done in a few short years. Advertising people are begining to recognize that Grey is no longer gray.  Ad agencies are still all about the work. And the work makes the name, not the other way around.

I would love to hear your opinions about agency names. Please share them with my readers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What To Expect From A Recruiter

A while ago I posted “How to work with a recruiter”. I thought it would be appropriate to post the corollary – what you should expect from a recruiter.

I divided this post into two segments, for clients (meaning the hiring company) and for candidates. They are both inter-related. But since I have never seen these “rules” written anywhere, I thought I would write them. I understand that there are nuances and differences among headhunters, but what follows are the basics, at least from me.

For client companies
One overriding thought: a recruiter should be your partner and an extension of your human resources department or, if you are the hiring manager, the recruiter should be an extension of yourself.

• Recruiters should understand your company. They should know your culture. They should know your work environment so that they know what kinds of people succeed there.

• Recruiters should fully understand your job specs.

• Recruiters should screen candidates to insure that they meet those specs and are appropriate to your culture.

• Recruiters should be told about issues with the job so that candidates can be screened accordingly.

• Recruiters should only send qualified candidates. Their initial submission should be two or three candidates. Feedback on those people will help give direction on further submissions.

• Recruiters who are in proximity to your location should meet with you in person periodically.

• Recruiters should have recently met in person with any candidate who lives in proximity to your location. There is no excuse for not meeting the candidates they submit unless those candidates are from out of town.

• Recruiters should be able to give an honest appraisal of anyone they submit. They should certainly be able to compare and contrast the candidates they send.

• A recruiter should be your ally and partner, not an adversary

• Recruiters should be in constant communication with their client companies during the interviewing process so that there are no surprises.

• If recruiters do reference checks, they should provide in writing the verbatim comments of the people they called.

For Candidates
A recruiter should have your best interests in mind. To that extent, recruiters should work for the companies who pay them. However, they cannot do a good job for their company clients unless they do a good job for their candidates.

• Candidates should be interviewed in person by a recruiter. If you are within commuting distance of the recruiter, you should meet him or her. If you are from out of town, the phone interview should be thorough and candidates should be comfortable that the recruiter understand their needs.

• Your résumé should never be sent anywhere without your express permission. That also means that you should not be discussed with a company unless you know the recruiter is doing so.

• You should always know what jobs you are being submitted to a company for; if it is for a speculative interview, you should know that as well.

• You should only be sent on interviews appropriate for your interests, skills and abilities.

• A recruiter should brief you before every interview so that you are prepared (this means you have to be in constant touch with your recruiter).

• After every interview, candidates should be debriefed. A recruiter should know how the interview went and what issues arose so they can address those issues.

• Salary expectations should be discussed before you are submitted and again during the interview process.

• Recruiters should promptly return your phone calls and emails.

• You must have trust in your recruiter so that you can be candid and feel that your interests and needs are being fully represented.

• Recruiters should not discuss your candidacy with anyone else. They should not gossip.

• The longer you know and are in contact with a recruiter, the better they should understand your needs.

• Because recruiters are constantly meeting new people, you cannot expect them to be in touch with you on a regular basis. That is up to you.

I would love to hear comments about this post from hiring managers, HR and from candidates. My readers would enjoy sharing expectations.
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