Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ten Absurd Reasons Why Candidates Got Rejected For Jobs

Last week I wrote about why perfect candidates don’t exist.  I thought it might be fun to list some of the ridiculous reasons why really good candidates, who met the client’s job specs, have been rejected.    It should make everyone laugh or, at the least, smile.

These are not people who have been rejected for screwing up an interview or needing a visa or some other possibly justifiable real reason.  These are candidates rejected after a final interview when they should have been hired.  

1)  A candidate had moist cat food experience, but not dry
It is true, I swear.  They loved the candidate but were looking for “perfect” so they continued to look.  Six weeks later they wanted to hire the candidate but he had already taken a new job.  It was one of the big agencies and went out of business.  Hmmm.....

2)  A candidate too long a commute - one hour
It was a new business person and the agency was afraid that his commute would take away from his need to be in the office (like it doesn’t take an hour for some city dwellers to get to work).  Today he is one of the most successful new business people in the country and still lives an hour from the city.

3)  A candidate was too upbeat and perky
I guess smiling and being nice was too much for this agency.  They felt her personality would intimidate their client. At least that is what they told me

4)  A candidate was too pretty
Yes, she was gorgeous, but she was a great account manager and had the right personality for the agency.  The head of account management actually told me that if he hired her and had to travel with her, his wife would be jealous and give him a hard time.

5)  A candidate had dated the head of account management ten years earlier
I guess this is a legitimate reason to reject a qualified candidate.  The prior relationship didn’t bother the candidate, but she was rejected.  Perhaps she had pictures.

6)  A candidate who had worked at an agency that the agency CEO did not like
This has actually happened many times.  Huh?  I guess a good candidate got painted with the wrong brush.

7)  A candidate who had to meet the client and the client then decided that she was too senior for the account.
This is the danger of having clients meet candidates.  It is also the danger in clients paying fees – it puts them in charge of their own business. The agency swears it never let a candidate meet a client again. 

8)  A very senior candidate had dinner with the CEO and his wife.  The Wife dinged him.
It turns out that thirty years prior, when the candidate was eight years old, he knew the CEO’s wife. It was not discovered until mid-way through the dinner.  I was never told the reason for the rejection.

9)  A candidate who had mostly imported car experience and was rejected from a domestic car account.
Today he is the president of an agency which primarily handles a big domestic car brand and he runs the business.

10)  A candidate who was rejected because he was “too New York” for their Midwestern client.
The candidate actually grew up in the Midwest.  This is the truth: Today he is president of an agency that has that same account with the same Midwestern client – which he pitched and won.  That is great poetic justice.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why The Perfect Candidate Does Not Exist

This post is the result of reading a wonderful article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “Don’t Hire The Perfect Candidate.”  By Lance Haun.  It was sent to me by one of my favorite candidates and I can honestly say, I wish I had written it. 

I have often written about companies giving me virtually inactionable job specs.  Just recently, I received a three page document from an integrated ad agency that was looking for a very senior person.. Not once did it mention the media skills – traditional, digital, promotion, etc. – required to fill the job! Instead, it was loaded with platitudes.  They were looking for a candidate with “great training”, “excellent education” specific “category experience”, but, believe it or not, it never mentioned the category. This was a wish list of what the perfect candidate looked like; but it had nothing to do with the job, nor did it give me any direction as to where to search. The list of desired traits was extensive - and virtually impossible to find.   If such a candidate did exist, it would take months to find him or her.  Mr. Huan refers to this as "The purple squirrel candidate."  Purple squirrels don't really exist, although everyone wants to see one.

I recently got a job from a fine agency, one I am very fond of, for an account executive, $50k salary, who had four to six years experience including  category experience, extensive digital (web development, social media, email blasts") as well as traditional, including television production ("preferably multiple commercials").  Now, such a person may exist, but it is almost impossible to find her or him. Entry level, even at the smallest ad agencies is now about $38-42k, so finding someone with six years experience at such a low salary would be almost impossible.  Combined with the extensive digital and traditional experience they wanted and, indeed, this candidate would be a purple squirrel. As Mr. Haun points out in his article, they could wait months before finding such a person, if at all. 

I have seen agencies spend months trying to find the perfect candidate, especially for very senior jobs.  In several cases that I can think of, the job for the lead account or creative person was open for so long that the client became antsy because their account lacked necessary leadership.  By the time the ultimate candidate got hired, the wheels had already been in motion for an account review, and the new account  person, no matter how competent, could not save the business since the client had lost faith in the agency.  This is a very common occurrance.
Companies tend to concentrate on their ideals when hiring, but they often forget about the job itself.  The perfect candidate, by their original standards, may not exist. And if they are hired, often their performance proves to be disappointing because, despite a "perfect" résumé , the candidate lacks the experience to handle the real issues of the job.  I call this hiring a résumé.  It happens because the company never really defined the job (as opposed to defining the candidate).  But if the company truly defined the job and the issues that need to be handled, the perfect candidate they are looking for may take a back seat to a person without category experience and to the real issues that need to be solved. 

What do I mean by that?

The first thing every company and hiring manager needs to do is to ask themselves a series of questions:  What should this hire accomplish?  What problems need to be solved?  Are there any specific skills or experiences which are essential to the success of this job?  How will this person be measured in terms of success or failure?  What kind of personality is best suited for both the client and the agency?  What kinds of skills will most likely compliment their supervisor?   You will notice that not one of these questions involved “category experience” which is often misleading and unnecessary.

The answers to these questions leave a broad based interpretation.  And they will make it much easier to find the right candidate, not the perfect candidate.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Adventures In Recruiting: The Candidate Who Said Too Much

A few years ago I had an assignment to find a head of planning for the New York office of a major international ad agency.  I had found a wonderful candidate for this job.  He had great credentials to run a department.  His candidacy had progressed to the point where the General Manager had said to him, “You will be getting an offer by the end of the week.”

That is when the fun began.

During his interviewing, he had met all the department heads as well as all the agency principals.  The day that the GM made the declaration to him, a newly hired department head called him and said, “Since we will be working together, I would like to get to know you better.  Can we have breakfast?”  An arrangement to meet was made for the next day.

The breakfast started at 8:30 and lasted all morning.  They had a vigorous exchange of ideas.  The planner laid out his thoughts for growing the company and its accounts going forward.  They were in complete agreement as to what needed to be done.  My candidate’s comment to me after the breakfast what that he loved her and that, “She is the real deal.”

That’s what everyone thought.

But then a strange thing happened.  I could get no feedback on the breakfast.  The department head did not return my calls.  The week went by and the offer did not come.  The General Manager, who was my friend could not determine what was going on either.  

Then on Monday of the next week  I got a call from the General Manager.  He was perplexed when he told me that the department head had been promoted and had now become, in addition to her existing job, the head of planning. He confessed that he thought it was odd, since she was only there about six weeks and had no credentials in planning.  The CEO told him they were not going to hire my candidate. 


Here is what happened. It took several months to find out.  It seems that immediately after the long breakfast, this woman, actually a snake, went to the CEO and made a play for the position saying that they could save money by making her the head of planning, in addition to her existing job.  She told the CEO that she had been giving the planning job a lot of thought and had ideas for growing and improving the department. She proceeded to lay out everything my candidate had told her as her idea.  Step by step, she explained his ideas as hers - everything she had been told at the breakfast.  It was indeed a good plan for the department and for their clients. The coupe de grace was when she told the CEO that they could save his huge salary and she would take on both jobs at no increase for herself.  The CEO was so impressed that he gave her the position, despite the fact that, while she had been exposed to planning, she had never been a planner. 

This was like a scene out of a bad movie.

The word I got over time is that she was terrible and had no idea what she was doing.  Not surprisingly, a few months later, there was a new CEO.  He quickly determined that the head of planning was a fraud and fired her.  But it was too late for my candidate who had long since moved on.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New Business Or Sales People - Commission or Salary?


I often hear from successful new business and other sales people who have done well - so well that their company lowers their commission rate or finds some other way to cut their compensation. They come to see me because they have lost faith with their employer. I hear stories about this frequently.

The argument against pure salary is that commissions give sales and new business people incentive to succeed.  Salary merely makes them comfortable. I have come around to an opposite point of view.

When sales people are on some kind of commission, if successful, their commission checks can be significant. And that is when the problems begin.

 I can think of one case where a business development person brought in an account which generated a quarterly commission check of close to $60,000, payable for two years; this was on top of a fairly high base..  This made him one of the highest paid executives in his company. Someone from the holding company reviewed the payroll and his checks stood out like a sore thumb.  As a result, his employer unilaterally changed his deal, which, in effect lowered his commissions going forward.  His choice was to take it or leave it.  He took it because he wanted his commission checks, but it left a very bitter taste in his mouth..

When any company hires a sales person, it is done with the best of intentions.  But while the company is thrilled with am account win and the new revenues it generates, what often happens is that someone sees the money going out in commissions and realizes that it is a lot of cash.  It doesn't matter that the employee's salary was intentionally low to give them incentive to get new business. And it doesn't matter if that new business person's base salary is $40,000 or $250,000 - the base is generally relevant to their experience and track record as is the amount of commission.  It is no one's fault. It is just built into this form of compensation.

I spoke to a lawyer about the issue of companies changing compensation arrangements with employees.  His comment was that there is little that can be done when the company changes the package because the company controls the purse strings.  It almost doesn't matter what the original offer letter or contract says. The company inevitably has a much larger pocket book and is therefore not susceptible to a law suit.. More than that, since most agreements state that the commissions are only payable if the sales person remains an employee, it means that as long as commissions are due, the sales person is essentially a captive. If the executive should leave, future commissions are rarely paid, whether that clause is there or not.

I have come to the conclusion that experienced new business people with an excellent track record, rather than being on salary plus commission, should be on a relatively decent salary with the possibility of a year-end bonus based on their success.  The other advantage of the new business person getting paid a decent or even high salary, is that it gives them a seat at the executive table and then they are not seen as a “hired gun” by prospects or other employees.  And most of all, it avoids huge problems for both the employer and employee.

Commissions are fine for sales of one-time items - a single assignment that generates a specified amount of revenue or a sale of x number of widgets at a specified price.  Commissions end up getting confusing when there is profit and loss or third parties involved.  In any case, a detailed pre-arranged agreement needs to be spelled out in an offer letter or contract.  But with commissions, there are always gray areas.  With salary there is little room for doubt from either party.

I would love to hear from new business people to share their stories.  Is my conclusion correct?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Making Snail Mail Work For You

When I went to college, I took a one or two credit course in letter writing.  It turned out to be one of the most useful classes I took.  I still have the text and refer to it constantly.  But I fear that the art of real letter writing is disappearing.  Pity, because there  postage stamp photo: U.S.P.O. Violates Flag Code stamp.gif are still times when an old fashioned hand written or formally typed note is not only appropriate, but can cut right through.

If you ever read or studied Marshall McLuhan, who was a media philosopher back in the 1960’s, you will know about hot media and cool media.  Email is a totally cool media.  In his seminal book, Understanding Media he described cool media as that which is not involving – like television (during which you can be reading, talking, etc.); film is a hot media.  Email is totally uninvolving.  Some executives literally receive hundreds a day.  They skip from one to another.  Some are barely read, if at all.  Few are absorbed.

So that is where a real letter can actually work for you to get attention and get noticed.  I received a thank you note a few weeks ago which began, “Dear Paul; I thought I would send you a hand written note because I knew it would get your attention…”  The writer was right.  I have always believed that hand written thank you notes can garner attention.

These days 99% of correspondence is through email.  So, a typed  and mailed note with an attached résumé may just end up in the right hands if it is well written and appropriately asks for a meeting (never end a selling letter asking the reader to call you; you should ask for the meeting and call them).  

But in either case, those notes had better be spelled properly and well formatted and easily read if typed.  (Beware of spell check which does not differentiate between hear and here.)  And don't overwrite.  The letter should be visually appealing and easy to read. 

Once upon a time, I received dozens of mailed résumés every week.  Today, I rarely get any.  Everything is email (which I have written about before).  Even the best thank you notes via email are “cool”.  It is not that I disavow emails.  Quite the contrary.  Emails are actually a wonderful way of communicating.  

But because of the volume of email that everyone receives, if you really want to stand out and show real effort, a mailed note can attract attention and be really effective..
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