Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Interviews Should Always Be One-On-One, Not Multiple People Grilling One Candidate

This is a subject I have never seen written about.  And it deserves attention.

Many companies think they are doing a candidate a favor by having two or three people interview them together at the same time.  It saves both the candidate and the company time.  But, they are actually doing both themselves and their candidate a disservice.

For a company, the purpose of an interview is to get to know a candidate – strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and their ability to do a defined job.  For a candidate, it is to gather information about the company and about the job.  When a candidate interviews with two or three people at one time, It does not produce the intended results.

Many companies like to conduct group interviews. For them it is more efficient and insures that everyone gets the same information.  And it is often far more convenient to set up. Unfortunately, while it is efficient, it generally produces skewed results. Human nature being what it is, one person tends to dominate the interview; generally the senior most person, controls the session. Not only does this skew the interview, but it prevents each individual from being able to question the candidate at length about their individual preferences and needs.

Two or three people interviewing one person is also actually unfair.  Whether intended or not, multiple people who know and are comfortable with each other tend to gang up on one stranger.  It isn’t intended, but it is what happens no matter how friendly they are to the candidate. Two or three against one is always a grilling.  As a result, it actually limits the free flow of information. The give and take that takes place during a one-on-one interview tends to be missing, so the company never really gets to know the candidate.

From a candidate’s point of view, it is always intimidating, no matter how comfortable and at ease that person is and no matter how friendly the group is.  It also doesn’t allow the candidate to digest and process information to be able to ask good questions.  It is much easier for the candidate to assess and question one person at a time. 

Now, I know that some companies believe that candidates like to come to visit them only once – it certainly is more convenient for the candidate.  And, while going back multiple times, especially when a candidate is employed and busy, can be an annoyance, in all my years of recruiting, I have never had a candidate complain – unless they have to go back seven or eight times, which does happen (my record is seventeen interviews, probably twelve visits). Most candidates accept the idea of multiple visits as being part of the interview process.

Serial interviews, one following another, are a better idea, but not by much.  I never recommend that a company allow more than two or three in one day, at most. (Sometimes this is unavoidable, especially when a candidate is flown in from out of town, however, in that case, the pacing should be leisurely.) More than three in a day is exhausting for a candidate.  Interviewing should not be a marathon.  Many times, candidates are not even given business cards are not sure who interviewed them.  I have had candidates say things like, “I met a person whose name was Bob and then I met someone else, I think her name was Susan, but I am not sure and I don’t know who they were or what they did and neither gave me business cards.”  This is a frequent occurrence. And also happens when several people see them at one time. (If a candidate must see multiple people, at the very least they should be provided with an agenda containing names and positions in advance.)

How can a company expect a candidate to assess and like them  when the interviews are too fast and too frequent?  Bing, bang and they are over.  And, under these circumstances, the company's  assessment of the candidate can be flawed as well.

I once had a candidate do seven interviews in about five hours, starting at 11am.  He was not offered lunch.  By the time he got to the final interview, the feedback I got was that my candidate seemed to lack energy.  Seriously?

It is much better to measure a candidate over multiple visits.

It allows a candidate to collect his or her thoughts between visits, it produces better questions from the candidate and allows the company’s people to compare notes and ask more thorough questions on subsequent interviews, producing better information and more thorough evaluations.

Being relaxed – both the company and the candidate – surely produces better results.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Adventures In Recruiting; The Candidate Who Wouldn't Meet Me

I am aware that I have reached the top of my profession.  I am well known.  My blog is read by thousands of advertising, marketing and recruiting professionals each week. I am passionate about the business and get wonderful assignments at all levels of the business and from all over the country.  And yet every once in a while, I come across a candidate who makes me question myself because he or she makes me feel small and, to some extent, inadequate. 

A few weeks ago a gentleman heard about an EVP job I was handling.  I did not previously know him.  He emailed me and then sent me a résumé.  I contacted him and asked him to come in, as I do with all local candidates.  I couldn’t tell from his résumé if he was appropriate for this particular job and wanted to meet him for it or other jobs.  Surprisingly, he refused to come in unless I gave him complete information about the job, despite the fact that he had heard about it and called me.

He emailed me with the detail that he wanted.  He wanted everything – company name and organization, job specs, expected salary, reporting structure with names, issues, etc.  I told him that much of this information was proprietary but that after we had met, if appropriate, I would share much of it with him.  I had have a meeting to insure that it was a mutual fit.  His background and experience had to meet my client's specifications and his interests and needs had to be aligned with the job.  If there was a match, I would be happy to share as much with him as would be appropriate and professional.  I asked him to look at my website, read my blog posts and see who I am.  I told him that before any candidate of mine goes on an interview, they are fully briefed.  He ignored me and refused to come in unless I did full disclosure before meeting him.

I refused.  It was the first time in years that a possibly appropriate candidate refused to meet me, especially at a senior level (it is much harder to get juniors to come in). According to this person's résumé he lived and worked nearby.  His excuse was that he had had bad experiences both with recruiters and with inappropriate jobs.  After an exchange of a number of emails, I never heard from him again.

Of course this exchange forced me to check him out. I discovered he was probably not the right candidate for this very good job.  Among other things I determined that he is a loner, not a great team player and too headstrong to be an effective department head.  All this made sense and was reflected in his emails. So there was nothing lost.

Yet when things happen like this (fortunately, not very often), I sometimes feel as if I have somehow failed.  I have to remind myself that I am only a recruiter, nothing more.  Despite my good reputation, I am not right for everyone.  There are all kinds of people.  In retrospect, despite this person’s stellar résumé credentials, on a bell-shaped curve, he falls well on the left side.  My guess is that someone will hire him based on his résumé and, like most of his other jobs, he will be gone within a year or two.

I still wanted to meet him.  But his arrogance precluded it.    My experience has taught me that I cannot connect with everyone I meet. I cannot be the right recruiter for every candidate. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Adventures In Advertising: The Shortest Lived Agency Merger

In the fifties, sixties and on through the early nineties, there were a whole bunch of small agencies dominated by a single owner.  Mostly these agencies have now disappeared.  And most of them were held together by a person who controlled one or two pieces of business and made a very nice living.  They really didn’t care about selling – many of them worked themselves to death.  Literally.

I can think of one such agency, Chester Gore Company.  Chet had a $25 million agency in the 1950’s – in those days he had probably 200 or so employees and it was actually considered mid-sized. In the early 1990’s he hired me to find a president for his age.  I don’t remember what his accounts were, but at this time, Chester was probably in his mid-to-late seventies.  At that time, he still billed about $15 million and had about twenty or so employees; he had shrunk to a decidedly small agency and it was rapidly going south. He needed an exit strategy and hired me to find a person who would come in as president and subsequently buy the agency (this was probably eight years after the story I am about to tell took place).

I found several people who were willing to talk to Chester Gore, buto one I sent was good enough for him. He came close to hiring someone, but ultimately, for reasons of Chester Gore’s own making, it fell apart.  Fortunately, I was paid a fee, because he never could bring himself to hire anyone.  When I told this story to the late, great Harry Paster of the 4A’s over lunch, Harry laughed and told me he was not surprised.  He then told me this wonderful story about Chester Gore that took place years before my search.

Harry Paster was a Senior Vice President of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and was an expert in ad agency finances and financial issues.  Every senior executive in advertising knew him; there has never been any one like Harry; he was a character and a great advertising financial person.  Harry was also famous for putting agencies together.  This is a story of one of his few failures.

At that time, the largest agency in the state of New York, outside the city, was a really fine agency called Eric Mower Associates (it may have been called Silverman-Mower, but morphed into Eric Mower  at the time this story took place).  They were headquartered in Syracuse and were interested in expanding their small New York City office. Harry introduced Eric Mower to Chester Gore and they had a whirlwind affair.  Within six weeks, they formed a new agency in New York City called Chester Gore/Eric Mower & Associates.

Apparently it was some kind of love at first sight.  Chester Gore was in his sixties and this gave him an exit strategy while Eric Mower now had a much expanded office in the city. (The link is to the original NY Times article.)

As Harry told me the story, on the very first morning of the new entity, in early 1985, Eric and Chester had coffee together at 9:00am.  Eric came in with a piece of paper and on it was a list of all his accounts and the names of their principals. He told Chester that he would schedule meetings.  He asked Chester for the names of his accounts and a schedule of when they could meet.  Chester looked at Eric and, without blinking, apparently said, “I have no intention of introducing you to my clients. You run your accounts and I will run mine.”

The merger ended that minute.  

As Harry told me, it took them six weeks to join together and six months of legal hassling to break apart.  But the merger itself only lasted until about 9:30am on the first morning.

I think it is really funny and worth repeating.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Knowing When To Change Careers

I wrote a while ago about knowing when it is time to have a “Plan  B” in your career.  The gist of it was that, at some point after many years in the business, one must evaluate continuing in your chosen field or accepting the possibility that it is time to develop a second career.  Most of the people I wrote about in that post had been in the business for twenty or thirty years and it was time to move on.

But there are other people, I meet them all the time, who just can’t gain any traction in their current careers. There are people who are perpetually out of work. Some of them are actually pretty good (rarely great) at what they do, but their careers have never gained momentum or traction. I know and meet many people in their early to mid-thirties who have rarely stayed at a job for more than two or three years.  Some have had the misfortune of simply choosing the wrong company or have joined companies which cannot afford to keep them.  Some are really nice, but not quite good enough, so after a few years, with reluctance, they are down-sized.  There are some people who actually stay at a company for many years but do not get promoted.  I know one person who was an account supervisor for nearly twelve years. And there are other people get blindsided by money and move on from their jobs prematurely in order to make bigger bucks. (I’ve written about jobs that overpay and people who leave only because of money.)

I can think of one person who, with no particular training, has had a small agency for twenty years.  It never went anywhere and provides him with a very modest living.  He contacts me regularly, perhaps twice a year, to get him a permanent gig at a big agency.  It isn’t going to happen (for the reasons stated in my “Plan B” article).  

All these people need to evaluate where they are and what they are doing.  Some of these people stay in their current careers because they have to prove themselves right, which is a fool’s errand.  We all know what the definition of insanity is.  Truth is, no one cares except themselves.  Everyone has the right to be successful and happy, which are not mutually exclusive attributes. Every person should constantly review his or her career and reevaluate career goals. 

Success is not about money.  Happiness is also not about money.  Being fulfilled is wonderful.  And to get there may require some painful introspection.

Being introspective can be very cathartic. 

Personally, I loved advertising, but there was something missing for me, even though I came from an advertising family and had built and run a successful agency.  It took me a long time to decide to recruit for advertising, which gave me a chance to have the best of both worlds.  That was over thirty years ago and I haven’t regretted the decision for a minute.

Knowing when to move on is essential for everyone.

I wrote a second Plan B post and talked about how to figure out what to do next.  
I was recently privileged to meet a woman who owns a very successful gourmet food store in Beach Haven, New Jersey.  Both she and her husband were fed up with the big city rat race and moved there to open this store.  Their business is fabulous and fulfilling and they are really having fun.  

I wish that kind of success and happiness for everyone.
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