Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Adventures In Recruiting: The Client Who Didn’t Want To Hire Me

New business calls are always difficult.  The seller has to put his or her best foot forward and, at least initially, may not know the issues faced by the buyer.  I once made a new business call on one of the top ten agencies.  They had a new director of human resources and I wanted to meet her.  It took weeks of non-stop calling to get through to her and make an appointment.

I only realized shortly after we started the meeting that she had no intention of working with me.  To this day, I don’t know what the issue was.  But here is what happened.  Not long after we started, she asked me, “So, tell me what you look for when screening candidates for us.”  I thought it was an odd question, but I gave good reply to this kind of question.  “I look for anything and anyone you tell me to look for.  I work for you.”
Her reply threw me.  She said very emphatically, “No.  What do you look for?”  And again, I told her the same thing.  She shook her head adamantly and repeated the question. And, again, for the third time, I explained that I worked for her and would find her candidates who matched their culture as well as her criteria and job specs.  She became angry with me.  Clearly, we were miscommunicating.   

I thought for a second and asked her, “Do you want me to name the top three attributes I look for in all people?”  She nodded yes.  So I said to her, “In rank order, besides looking for the job specifications, I look for someone you can like, someone you can like and someone you can like.”  From her reaction, I knew that I had not given her the answer she was looking for. (To this day, I don’t know what she wanted me to say.)  She asked me if that was my final response.

Well, I said, “Have you ever hired someone you didn’t like?”  She actually said she had and I said, “And what happened to that person?”  It was the end of the meeting. I knew I had struck out.

The good news is that she lasted as head of HR for only about five or six months.

The agency then became one of my best clients.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

7 Things Missing From Most Job Specs Which Prevent Hiring Effectively

When I was writing my Ad Age column, I wrote about creating better job specs in order to get better candidates. In a nutshell, the issue is that most hiring managers and human resources people don’t know how to write actionable job specs and descriptions.

Most of the specifications I receive are merely a list of desirable attributes which are vaguely related to the job (for instance, years of experience and category background), but the specs rarely give real direction or provide quantifiable details against which candidates can be measured.  The long and short of it is that if a job candidate is rejected for a reason which is not part of the job spec (usually the case), the spec needs to be revised.

Here is a list of things which most often are left out of job descriptions:

1)    What do you really want the candidate to accomplish
What problem(s) do you want the candidate to solve? (Too many clients actually tell me that there are no problems, but, even for the most junior people, there are issues that need to be addressed  from as mundane as billing problems to as complicated as properly handling work assignments.)

2)    What metrics will be used to measure successful performance
If you don’t know what has to be done, how will you measure the performance of your new hire?  What constitutes success (or failure)?

3)    What kind of experience is really required
This is not about category familiarity.  It has to do with the broad picture.  For instance, if it is a senior hire who is being brought on to help improve the client relationship, you should look for candidates who have similar experience improving client relations.  Category knowledge may or may not be relevant.  If it is a more junior hire, what can be improved over the previous person in the spot?  The best job spec I ever had was from an agency with a retail account and they wanted someone with experience changing logos; click the link to read the whole story).

4)    What are the difficulties of this job
An effective hire will only be achieved if the company is introspective and objective about the actual job.  Is there a lot of travel (I can think of many people I have interviewed on big, worldwide accounts who had to travel four and five days a week.  They burn out.  They value their family too much to stay in the position for an extended time.)  Is the client difficult?  Is the client relationship good, bad or indifferent? Are there internal problems which need to be handled?

5)    What is good about the job
Is the job a stepping stone to other positions?  Are the hours flexible?  Is it a good client with an established long-term relationship?

6)    Are there issues within the company which need to be spelled out
I was once hired by an agency to be head of account management. On my first day on the job, I was told that the agency was dissatisfied with their entire account management department and wanted me to change it. It was not what I did.  I was never a hatchet man and at that tune I had no real experience doing this.  I should have been told this before I started.  It should have been part of the specs.

7)    What management style and experience is necessary for success
Over the years I have seen agencies which are essentially nice places hire a bull in a china shop who comes in and inappropriately raises hell with their staff.  I have seen companies hire people who have no clue as to handle difficult clients or quirky employees.  This is a very elusive problem, but it needs to be articulated.

If these things are not considered and part of the job specs and description, it is very difficult to find the right person to take the job.  Spelling them out will help increase the chances for a successful hire.  Often, while recruiting, a hiring manager will give me feedback.  Often they are responding viscerally to the candidate e.g. not a good fit or too junior or too senior. The comment may be fair and true, but telling me that without specifics of how and why the person is wrong is not helpful to the process.

If the issue is articulated and had not been included in the spec, the specification needs to be revised. Good feedback can only speed up the process; when I have been given an articulate comment, I have often withdrawn a second candidate because I know he/she would be wrong for the job. Knowing the issue(s) helps to make the process more efficient. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

9 Things To Consider Before Hiring A Business Development Executive Or Taking A Job As One

Many agencies think that the way to obtain more new business is to hire a dedicated new business prospector.  My observation is that many of those agencies have not really thought through the implications of that hire.  It may be a successful strategy, but consider these factors before you hire.

If you are a new business person, you should turn these considerations into questions before you take a job.

All this is just food for thought.

1.    Develop realistic expectations before you start interviewing
It takes a long time to develop the relationship which will bring in an account, often years.  Hiring a new business executive can be expensive, not only in terms of salary, but they also need sales materials, travel expenses as well as an entertainment budget.  Can the agency really afford this investment?  And is it committed enough to sustain the program for two to three years at a minimum?

2.    Have you really thought out your sales proposition
Surprisingly, most companies have not thought out what makes them different and why they should be hired.  It isn’t necessarily about past success of the principals. Nor is it solely about the work.  Many new business consultants tell me that too many agencies sound alike and lack unique positioning.

3.    Do you have the materials you need
Not only does the company need a unique positioning (which can take months to develop), they need success stories, written case histories and a great presentation.  It may take months to develop these selling tools before a newly hired executive can become 100% effective. I have seen many company’s management lose patience during the time it take to develop these materials.

4.    Does the agency have a realistic current prospect list
Before someone is hired there should be an A list of immediate (and realistic) prospects, a B list of long term prospects and a C list of “likes” and “wanna haves”.  The agency needs to know where it is going before hiring someone to take them there.  Hiring a new business person with a large contact list may not be the right answer; their contacts may not be A or B list people.  A biz dev person needs a place to start which matches the agency's needs and abilities.

5.    Have you thought out who you really need
There are all kinds of business development executives.  There are cold callers.  There are people who are best able to do RFP’s and RFI’s. There are people who are adept at organizing and creating presentations. There are strategists.  There are people who are great at developing relationships.  I have seen many people hired who have no particular skills but "look the part"; they can be sent to meetings (e.g. The Consumer Electronics Show, the ANA, etc.) and can deal with the consultants. There are CMO types who can position/reposition the agency.  Rarely is there one executive who can do it all, however, the answer to this question will help determine whether a new biz person could come from within or outside the agency business

6.    Where does the new business person fit within the organization
Is he or she a part of management or are they merely a hired gun?  Answering this question will provide guidance in hiring.

7.    Can the business accommodate an influx of new business at this time
This is an important and often overlooked question.  If the business has just lost or gained a large account, does it have the ability to bring in a new piece
of business?  This also has to do with morale as well as staffing and scale. No new business executive can do it alone.  They need support and staffing.

8.    How do you want to compensate a new business person
Many companies pay low and commission high.  Many companies wrongly think that this incentivizes executives.  However, low pay generally attracts more junior people.  I have written about paying commissions several times before. Title is also a part of compensation.  The better the title, the better they will be able to perform; this relates to point six, above.

9.    How do you handle a prospect who wants the new business person to run their account
If the prospect account is big enough, it may be beneficial to hire a freelance to help bring it in.  Otherwise, an agency runs the risk of the prospect wanting the new business person to run his/her account.

These are the kinds of questions I ask when taking an assignment for my recruitment firm.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Be Prepared To Lose Your Job

Unless you plan for your future, the scenario I am writing can happen to you.

Don’t kid yourself.  It can happen to anyone at any time. If you are in advertising or marketing, it will happen and you must be prepared.  The scenario goes like this.  You have a great job and you are doing well.  Then, suddenly, your client cuts the budge or pulls the account or your agency gets sold or merged and you find yourself out of work. You always thought you were well liked and safe, but few employees are really safe.  Consequently, you start networking, you see headhunters and you respond to many on-line listings.  But nothing happens.

Over the years, I have seen this happen to many excellent and well-respected executives.  I have often said that getting – or not getting – a job can be the luck of the draw.  And some people are just not lucky. The only thing I can say is that it isn’t you or anything you have done.  It is just the way it is.

And after a short while being unemployed, you go through your savings or, worse, you start going into debt.  Unemployment insurance may be a help, but it hardly covers your monthly nut.

This is a familiar scenario for every advertising executive.  These days there is no loyalty towards employees and even the most valued and successful executives may find themselves out of work.
Once you are out of work it can go something like this: you start out with a want list – the kind of job you have always dreamed of having and the companies where you always wanted to work. You apply to them on-line or network to them.  But after a while, when it does not happen, you are forced to lower your sights. You must look at companies – even businesses and industries – you never thought much about.  The longer you are out of work, the harder it becomes to look for a job. And herein lies the problem.  It is a vicious circle, and a conundrum.

If you are desperately in need of a job, it is tempting to take the first thing that comes along, even if it is a secondary or tertiary company.  Many of these companies are struggling, although they rarely reveal the truth to you while you are interviewing.  Some of them suffer from inherent problems like poor management; indecisive managers or terrible politics. (Some of these problems also exist at “A list” companies, but their size hides a lot of ills.)  And while learning from a negative situation may prove to be beneficial, it can put you in a long, deep hole that is difficult to get out of.

At first glance at your résumé, now that you have gone to a secondary company, a major company or agency probably doesn’t recognize why you went where you went or what you may have gained from working there.  The truth is, for instance, no matter how good your previous background, a major agency or company, say, JWT, wants to hire from DDB or Publicis, or Deutsch, not some smaller agency in New Jersey (my apologies to the Garden State) or an agency they never heard of or accounts they do not know.

The only way to avoid this situation is to have six months to a year in the bank. That is easily said, and I recognize how hard this is to do.  Savings should be viewed as an expense – where you pay yourself as your own creditor first. That means paying yourself before paying other bills.  It is essential.  And, frankly, having what my accountant calls, “fuck you money”, will make you a better, more effective executive because you will not be afraid to make tough decisions, including leaving the job of your own volition because aspects of it were misrepresented or omitted while you were interviewing.

No matter how desperate  you are. if a job doesn’t feel right, do not take it because it probably is not right.

I had a wonderful partner, Ned Viseltear, who used to say something about creative work, but which is equally applicable to careers: “If you don’t do bad work, bad work cannot be done.” This analogy applies to taking the wrong job as well.

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