Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An Advertising Story: Curing An Expense Cheater

I thought I would try something a little different for this post.  I love telling advertising stories and this is one of my favorite. It is light hearted and may be  typical of a different time in the business. It happened to me many years ago.  

I was a young account executive at an agency called Delehanty, Kurnit & Geller (DKG).  I had an even younger assistant account executive working for me.  This was in the days when account managers were actually encouraged to entertain and get to know their clients.  My assistant turned in his expenses regularly.  However, I noticed that he had put in for a client lunch on the same date and with the same client as I had actually taken out for lunch.  I went back and looked at his expenses which I had signed and realized he was cheating.

I went to my supervisor who, like me, was not sure what to do.  He sent me to Larry Spector who was the CFO (several years later, the agency became Calet, Hirsch and Spector).  Larry was a great financial executive and very smart.

He asked me first if I thought this assistant was doing a good job.  I said yes.  Then he asked me if I liked him.  Again, I said yes.  He asked me how much I thought he was exaggerating his expenses. I guessed it was  about five hundred dollars, possibly less, a month 

He then gave me the hippest, smartest advice I ever heard.  He said, “ Tell him you like him and he is doing a good job.  Then, give him $1,000 and tell him that he can never again cheat on his expenses.”

I thought that was a brilliant solution.  It was a lesson which has stayed with me.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An Arrogant Company Shows Its Colors

I recently had a very senior candidate who was flown to an out of town client to interview for a job in the C suite ($300,000+).  I was blown away by the inattention the client showed to this candidate.  And then I realized that it wasn’t rudeness, it was just arrogance (“We’re so good that everyone wants to work here”).

First, I had a devil of a time getting an itinerary for his interviews.  I wanted to be able to brief him on who he would be seeing or at the very least, let him know who would be talking to him so he could check them out in advance..  The HR director told me she wasn’t sure about people he would be seeing or the times. I told her I didn’t care about that, I just wanted to know the names and titles of the people he would likely be seeing.  She didn’t understand my need for that and I had to convince he to send me the names; it turned out that the list was incomplete – she was merely placating me.  It was a sign of things to come.

When the candidate's flight arrived the night before his interview, no one bothered to pick him up (that is actually not uncommon) or offered to buy him dinner or breakfast (that is rare at his level of seniority).  Okay, he is a big boy and didn’t need hand holding.  And certainly when people come to NY or LA that usually doesn't happen, but it does in smaller markets, especially when a company is trying to get someone to relocate there and paid to fly him in.

After he arrived, they texted him and changed his appointment from 10 am to 3pm, which was not a problem, but, again, no one offered to buy him lunch or arranged to get him from his hotel to their office.  He arrived at their offices at the appropriate time and was there for several hours. He was barely introduced to the people he met, no one bothered to give him business cards.  He saw six people in about two hours; so none of the interviews were in depth, including the president (who he would be reporting to).  It was more like a meet and greet.  He was there long enough to miss his flight home so he had to check back into his hotel.  Again, no dinner, but not even a, “We’re sorry, but things are hectic here.  Will you be okay?”

I thought it was uncaring.  It certainly showed no warmth.  He was left with an overall impression of arrogance. 

I have written that companies should send candidates thank you notes and companies should, at the very least, send a follow up note giving the people they meet information as to their status.  It took this company three or four days and they sent him a perfunctory and impersonal email thanking him for his time and telling him how to submit his expenses for reimbursement.  It was a form letter and, except that they used his first name in the salutation, it might have read, “Dear Candidate”.

I understand that everyone is busy.  But surely one employee could be designated to handle out of town visitors and make sure that things ran smoothly.  This is a well known agency in a small market.  If someone in advertising wants to live and work there, they are the target agency and they know it. But that doesn’t preclude being nice to visitors. The gesture of picking someone up and feeding them isn’t at all necessary, but it is a nice thing to do. An offer to drive them around town to show them the various neighborhoods might have been in order. At the very least, a candidate should leave there thinking positively about the agency’s culture and its people.

Being nice to prospective employees isn’t limited to out of town companies.  Every company should go out of its way to give visitors a positive vibe.  It makes people want to work there.

Suffice to say, that if this candidate is offered the job, it will likely be turned down.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Résumés Only Tell Part Of The Story

I recently did a search for a president on a retainer. I initially submitted four carefully thought out candidates along with a long written introduction on each.  The CEO turned the search over to a subordinate who asked to see three of the candidates.  The person she eliminated was actually my favorite and the best of the four, but he had the weakest resume.  No explanation was given nor could I convince the screener to allow this person an interview. I had to call the CEO and beg him to see my candidate. You know the rest, this candidate was hired.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Richard Branson, maverick founder of Virgin Airways and other wonderful companies, posted an article on LinkedIn in which he claimed that when hiring, he focuses in on personality rather than the résumé.  I couldn't agree more.

Many really good people don't necessarily have perfect résumés, yet many of them turn out to be what I call a top 5% candidate.  The problem is that many of them have unusual backgrounds which don’t fit the cookie cutter mold.

They often come from smaller agencies and work on accounts that are considered by mainstream agencies to be unsophisticated.  It would be very easy to bypass these people, but over the years, I have made it a point to see them.

Years ago, I met a wonderful woman who worked for a New York agency that I had never heard of (in those days, I used to actually read the Redbook).  She came out of the costume jewelry business and worked on an unsophisticated, unknown fashion account.  I thought she was sensational.  

I called the head of Human Resources at one of the largest agencies and, because of my personal relationship with him, was able to get him to see her.  He saw what I saw in her and got her placed on a very large and sophisticated piece of business as an account supervisor.  The rest is history: during the past twenty years she has become one of the best advertising people in the business and is now an EVP at one of the major agencies, running a huge worldwide piece of CPG business.

People like this need an advocate with a personal rapport with either HR or a hiring manager.

In today’s marketplace, a person like this EVP would probably not succeed to the degree that she already has; her background would probably not appeal to the people screening on-line job board postings or even the résumés sent by recruiters.  In-house recruiters would be far too busy looking for specific, cookie-cutter attributes for current openings and would not see her (most job specs merely contain a check list of experience and of duties, but rarely voice the problem(s) which need to be solved).  Even some recruiters on my side of the business would reject her because of her odd-ball résumé.

And while I rarely market candidates (calling without a specific assignment), I could be an advocate for her when I had something that I thought she could do.  My relationship with an agency allowed me to get her hired.

Over the years I have placed many people like her.

People should not use check lists in order to determine if a candidate is right for a job.  Résumés only tell part of the story.  And, as they say, you cannot tell a book by its cover, or a person by their résumé. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why Lie To Prospective Employees?

I have always advised client companies to tell me the truth about jobs.  If a client is tough, I should know it because I can then screen for candidates who do well with difficult clients.  If a supervisor is rough, I can screen for people who do well with tough bosses. By being truthful, I can manage expectations from the get-go.  And it will cause fewer problems down the line.

Yet I hear stories all the time about agencies, well, not lying, but shading the truth when they interview. When people interview for a job, especially when there is no recruiter involved, companies often misstate the assignment (they misstate it to me, too) or omit critical information.  They often give candidates answers that they know the candidate wants to hear.  Unhappy employees tell me this all the time. I have given this subject a lot of thought.

First, and I have written about this many times, companies tend to hire résumés.  What I mean by that is that when someone has a great résumé (great is relative to the company and the specific job), especially if they have category experience, the company wants to like them, even before they come in. They are almost hired before anyone has met them.

So the people doing the interviewing frame their answers and address issues in a way that will satisfy the interviewee and put the job in the most positive way.  They are not concerned about lying or exaggerating – they just want to hire the person and worry about it after the candidate starts. As a result,  they may gloss over negatives or not deal with them at all.

The most common complaint I hear is that jobs are highly executional rather than strategic.  Yet during the interviewing process, the hiring manager(s) tend to stress the how strategic the job is. Another complaint is that their supervisor is a nightmare.  Managers are always on their best behavior when interviewing lest the candidate should discover that they are rude, abrupt or otherwise disagreeable.  And their supervisors rarely acknowledge that the hiring manager is difficult.

In most businesses, not just advertising, filling the job as quickly as possible is the hiring goal.  Never mind that six or eight months later they will be filling it again.  The objective is to get a body in place now. 
Rarely do agencies talk about and deal with the negatives during the interview process.  I actually took a job once with a horrible client – so horrible that he actually punched me (in the arm) in a fit of anger and frustration.  No one told me about him or his vile temper while I was interviewing.  In fact, the agency was angry with me when I refused to work on the account after the client hit me.  (I found another job about a month later).  The worst part is that the agency had lost two previous account people because this client was so bad. When I was interviewing, I asked them why the job was open, they told me that the previous person had left, but never told me why.  That is glossing over the truth. 

The irony is that if they had told me about the client and had managed my expectations, I might have looked upon this particular client as a challenge.  Once there, they never gave me direction about how they wanted me to handle this particular person, so I was left to my own devices.  (In retrospect, I probably should have hit him back!)

Telling people during the interview about the negatives of the job is a smart thing to do.  It allows people to make an informed decision in terms of accepting the job. It also allows them to take the job knowing what to expect and managing expectations can help in tough situations.

It also speaks well of the organization.  For a candidate to know going in that the company recognizes the difficulties and works together as a team is actually a positive.

The truth never hurts.
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