Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When Job Hunting Actions Speak Louder Than Words

When I interview people, I am very aware that they are on good behavior in every sense.  They will answer questions truthfully, but always with a spin that they think I want to hear.  I have always believed that while an interview will provide about 70% of the information I need, the other thirty per cent will come while I am working with candidates on an actual opportunity.  That's when I am able to understand how they comport themselves, how they organize, how they handle and respond to other people and whether they are truly interested in the opportunity.  Sometimes during this phase, I am even able to determine if they are truly interested in changing jobs at all.

It is important for hiring managers to assess candidates’ verbal and non-verbal communication.  I am not just talking about body language, but about how people act and behave.  Do they call when you tell them to call?  If they are unavailable when you call and leave a message, how quickly do they return your call?  Do they exude enthusiasm or are they la-de-dah?

I learn more about candidates during this phase of the relationship than I do when I am interviewing.

You can tell the relative interest of a candidate in an opportunity by the way they respond.  For instance, I always call my candidates rather than email (I may email and ask them to call me) because I want to hear their voice and judge their reaction to what I have to say.  The tone of their voice speaks very loud.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I called a candidate on a Wednesday to tell him that, based on a previous conversation with him, I had introduced him to an agency and the client wanted to meet with him.  I told him that I had just gotten off the phone with the client and I knew that he was available at that moment so that the candidate should immediately make the call to set up an appointment.  His response was something like, “I’ll get to him.”  I knew then that either my candidate was not interested or that he was simply unresponsive.

Sure enough the following Monday I received an email from my client telling me he had not heard from the candidate. When I was able to get the account person on the phone, he told me he had been very busy and also traveling on Thursday and Friday.  I knew then that the interview would come to naught.

Many years ago there was a wonderful account guy named Robert Patton who was the designated account management HR person at Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor (predecessor agency to Arnold, New York).  He did the screening of all the account management applications.  He instructed his administrative assistant to tell candidates who contacted him to call back in a week.  If they didn’t call within nine or so days, she was instructed not to schedule them.  His point was that he only wanted to see people who were determined to see him and responsible enough to do what they were told.  I learned a lot from Bob.

When a candidate is very interested, they will make the time to call no matter how busy they are.  I recently told a candidate about a job opportunity, but it was the afternoon she was leaving for a European vacation.  I don’t like making appointments for candidates simply because I don’t control schedules.  In this case, I offered to do so.  My candidate replied, “No.  I will call.  I can do so from a taxi and if I fail to get the client, I will call from London tomorrow.”  Now that candidate was definitely interested.

Responsiveness is indicative of personality.  It shows enthusiasm or lack of it.  It shows commitment to the job search or lack of it.  It shows interest in the specific job or lack of it.  I have often had to tell candidates who have not made the call that they are giving a not so subtle message of disinterest.  Some get it, many don’t.

It is always fascinating to me that when I get feedback from candidates on their interview (I always ask for feedback, as every recruiter should), I can tell from the thoroughness of the debrief both the level of interest and the very nature of the candidate.  I always ask if there were any issues that came up so that, if possible, I can handle them.  Very often there are issues which arose during the interview.  Part of the purpose of debriefing a recruiter is discuss those things while they are still fresh (that is why I ask, no, beg, candidates to call me immediately after an interview so that those things are still top of mind).   If a candidate fails to inform me or ignores those things, I cannot manage the client’s perceptions, nor can I try to resolve those issues.  Quite often, if I can discuss those issues with the HR person or hiring manager, I can solve a problem before it festers.  I have “saved” a lot of placements over the years because a candidate told me about a fluff or misstatement.  However, when candidate fail to inform me, I learn a lot about the personality of the candidate.  This non-verbal lapse in communications is often telling of the kind of executive they really are.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Recruiters Don't Return Your Calls

Let’s start with a simple concept:  Anyone who does not return a call is bad-mannered.  That said, I hear all the time from candidates that some other recruiters don’t return calls or emails.   In order to explain why your calls do not get returned, you have to understand how recruiters work.

On any given day, a recruiter will see from one to five or six candidates.   The average, at least for me, is fifteen or so per week.  Some of these people will be candidates I know and have not seen in a while, but most will be people I have never met.  I’m pretty sure my interview load is reasonably typical of all recruiters.  I am aware that there are many recruiters who simply do not meet their candidates.  I meet everyone, even if I have to do a Skype call, which is pretty much like meeting people.

Now you have an idea of how many people a recruiter deals with.  It is just impossible to keep up with the call load, so many recruiters rely on their candidates to follow up with them.  I have written about this in the past. 

Add to this load, the other half of our business - clients and assignments.  At any given time, every recruiter has far fewer jobs than candidates.  All recruiters are the same. In the best of times, we will get about three or four new jobs a week, sometimes more.  So that means that while we are seeing fifteen people, if we are lucky we only get four or so jobs.  That would be in a normal economy.  In today's market, the number of new jobs is severely limited.

Do the math and you can see that the number of candidates far exceeds the number of jobs.  And, of course, those jobs will be at different levels and for people with different backgrounds and skills.  Most recruiters have some kind of computer data base.  When we get a job, we check to see if we have an appropriate candidate.  Surprisingly, much of the time we have to start calling people to see if they know someone who matches the job specs. That’s why recruiters are always either interviewing or on the phone.  I do my searches on the computer at around 8am and again at 6pm. 

Inevitably, if a recruiter has an appropriate job for you, they will call or email you immediately.  They don’t call when they have nothing.  However, if you haven't spoken to a recruiter in a while, it is always good to bring them up to date.  Your voice mail should say that you have new information for them.  When a recruiter doesn’t return your call it means that they don’t have anything for you, but that doesn’t excuse not calling back.

Most candidates don’t understand that it is difficult for recruiters to have to tell people that they don’t have the right job for them.  Many candidates mistakenly believe that once they meet a recruiter, there will be jobs or, at least, the headhunter will go out and try to market them.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Good recruiters generally work on assignment.  Because of the huge number of people we meet, it is impossible to network most of the people we meet, no matter who they are or how good they may be and no matter what their title has been.  It is not possible to continuously network candidates on a “go-see”, especially in this economy.  We just meet too many really good people.

Recruiters who don’t return calls and emails do so because it is easier than saying they don’t have anything.
But that is no excuse for rudeness.  Returning calls and emails is part of the business.  Just like in advertising, returning the calls of media reps or others who have ideas to sell, is part of the job. 

We have a rule at my company.  Everyone who calls or emails deserves a response within 24 hours, sooner if possible.  I was once an account person and know how frustrating it can be not to have a call returned by a headhunter.  It is one of the reasons I got into this business – I knew I could do it better and nicer.  I still don’t understand how recruiters don’t know how to multitask.  Returning an email or call is easy and requires little thought or creativity.

I always encourage my candidates to contact me as frequently as they feel they need to.  I just cannot tolerate rudeness.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thanking Candidates for Interviewing and Providing Them with their Status is Common Courtesy

I am constantly hearing from candidates who complain that they interview at agencies or companies, are sometimes promised next steps and then hear nothing.   Often, these people get passed on, interview with hiring managers and then hear nothing.  Their calls go unreturned. Their emails go unanswered.  It is really uncaring and callous.  Yet the people who did the interviewing don't even realize that they are being irresponsible - no one told them that if they promised follow up, they have to deliver.

We all understand that people are busy, sometimes even frantic.  But, honestly, it only takes a couple of seconds to return a call or email.  Calls can be made at times of day which will pretty much guaranty getting a voice mail, which means all that has to be said is, “Thank you.  It was nice meeting you, but we have decided to go in another direction.”  Ditto emails.

I received the following email recently from a candidate.  It is typical of the frustrations of interviewing:

            …. I want to see a blog on courtesy and respect of candidates.

            Since I saw you two weeks ago after going to see [so-and-so], not a single word, after
            follow up e-mails to the hiring manager.

            Also, I meet [sic] with [company] about a Brand Director position before Memorial Day, with
            the hiring manager telling me they want someone in place by July 1st. Well, guess what,
            not a single response.

            I think there needs to be a "cut-off" or some indication based on who you've met with. For example, 
            if it is only HR,   no response necessary, but if you've met with a hiring manager
            or even worse, the extended team, I would think courtesy dictates some type of update
            after 2 weeks time.

            Thank you for letting me rant!!

In companies where there is a human resources department, it should be their responsibility to track candidates, keep them informed of their progress and, ultimately, to let them know where they stand and what their status is.  Most of the good HR departments do this automatically and intuitively.  But many do not.  It is very easy for a candidate to get lost in the cracks.  It should be the policy of every company to insure that a candidate who has interviewed is properly thanked for their time. I have previously written about how important feedback is.  But even recruiters often aren't given the status of their candidates. (I have been called a pain in the you know where for my persistence and have even lost one or two clients because of it).  I have also written that companies should write thank you notes; this was the subject of one of my Ad Age columns in 2010.
In this day and age, even an HR intern can make thanking candidates and letting them know their status as part of his or her responsibilities.  It will go a long way towards doing great public relations for a company.

Getting emails like the one quoted above, are just plain unnecessary and can easily be avoided.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Advertising Executives Could Learn A Lesson From "Undercover Boss"

The other night I was watching CBS’s “Undercover Boss” and I had a fantasy.  It was that agency management actually spent time with their own account and creative managers – you know, not their senior cronies, but the ones who actually do the day-to-day work - writers, account managers, planners, even their media people. I was thinking about the CEO's and COO's of the holding companies as well as the management people at the largest of their agencies. Do these people even know their day-to-day people?

If you have not seen “Undercover Boss”, the premise is very simple.  The CEO or other senior executive puts on a disguise and works incognito with several of his or her company’s operating departments in order to learn firsthand about his/her people, their jobs and their job issues.  Inevitably it results with the executive developing a much greater understanding of his or her own people, their company and how it functions on a personal level.  More than that, it gives the CEO an appreciation for the jobs and the issues which his/her people perform.

If holding company (or the most senior people at their ad agencies) senior management would spend time with their own troops, they might be surprised at what they learned.  They would be shocked at the hours their people spend (I often see candidates who tell me that their normal week is 60-80 hours).  They would be disheartened that committed and productive executives have not had salary increases in years (it is not unusual that I meet executives who have not had a raise in three or four years).  They would be disturbed by the amount of wasted time due to errant direction by clients who were unqualified or who had not gotten their management to agree to the direction they provided (I hear this story virtually every day).  Every one of these situations can be corrected by the CEO, even the client issues – assuming the CEO has a proper relationship with client senior management.

There will always be false starts and changes in direction.  That is the clients’ prerogative and it is part of the business.  (I sometimes think, however, that when agencies are losing money on an account, if the client purchasing people actually saw that the agency was being given poor direction by its own people that the situation could be improved.)  And that is where senior agency management can step in and deal with those issues. 

It is a natural tendency for the senior account directors to assure their management that things are going well and under control.  But I honestly believe that senior agency management, especially at the largest agencies, are often out of touch with their own people and accounts.  I know a wonderful story to this effect. 

Many years ago, a very well known agency president was told by one of his largest clients that he was not involved enough with the business.  Of course the president vociferously denied that he was uninvolved and told his EVP on the account. (This story was told to me by the EVP.)  A few days later they were in a NY management meeting and there was a knock on the conference room door.  A gentleman walked in and asked the EVP to sign something.  When he returned to the table, the president asked the EVP who it was who had disturbed them.  “That,” replied the EVP, “Is your senior vice president, account director.”  He had been with the agency for three years.  The president started attending meetings both at the agency and with the client.

Now that may be extreme, but I do not believe it is terribly unique.

Case closed. 
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