Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Why Internet Recruiting Doesn’t Work Efficiently

No question that many companies, perhaps even most, have turned to electronic recruiting, especially for mid-level and junior employees. Subscribing to the various recruiting sites is relatively inexpensive (as compared to paying a recruiter) and for very little money when there is an opening, a company can receive dozens of résumés.

There are many recruiting sites on the internet.  Some are more sophisticated than others, some are more expensive than others. Some are actually better than others. In the final analysis, they are all only as good as their input allows.  And, among other things, therein lies the problem.  Companies don’t know how to prepare proper job specs (in most cases, they write job descriptions which are not actually specs for who they want to hire; they are rally only top-line explanations of the job), electronic recruiting ultimately finds candidates who match those insufficient job specs.  They save money for companies, but ultimately and can only send résumés; some appropriate, most not. They all lack one thing – interviewing and the ability to actually qualify candidates by personality.  

A few years ago, at its height, one of the first and largest internet recruiting companies was trying to sell me their service.  After months of turning them down, a representative volunteered to come to my office and show me how to use the site.  He was going to conduct actual searches with me at no charge.  He spent an hour and a half with me.  We chose several different jobs – all in advertising at different levels. 

We did searches for all kinds of titles, experiences (such as they had) and even current companies (there are thousands of advertising agencies, but we inputted the twenty or so largest and then tried several smaller agencies where I thought that likely candidates might come from).  Guess what?  Nothing.  Nada. Bupkis.  In each search a couple of names came up.  Few were appropriate, although a couple of names showed up who I already knew. The representative expressed shock at their inability to be able to give me appropriate candidates because, after all, their data base had hundreds of thousands of names.  He promised to look into the issue and get back to me.  I never heard from him or them again. 

We did come up with one or two people who seemed appropriate for my practice, but when I contacted them (through their web site), I got no response. Now candidates complain about companies not calling them back or responding to submitted résumés. Recruiters who contact candidates have the same problem whether through job websites or simply by calling or emailing directly.  All recruiters will tell you that many candidates do not return calls or even emails, which is something I have never understood.  And that problem is getting worse.  As companies have eschewed recruiters, younger candidates actually don’t know what a recruiter does or can do for them because there is no exposure for them to the use of search people. So, as a result, they don’t return calls or emails.

But I digress.

The point is that the logarithms that the recruitment sites have are just not sensitive enough to show companies their skills or what they can actually accomplish.  When every good recruiter gets an assignment, they can ask questions about the job and about the intangible attributes that the position requires.  Hearing the nuances of an assignment can make a significant contribution to the ability to find the right candidate.  Those distinctions, so far, just are not available from the online sites which provide volume over quality.

There is no substitute for interviewing and knowing candidates.  The whole purpose of paying a recruiter is to save money for a company by efficiently recruiting.  In essence, a good recruiter who receives or who can determine who a company wants to hire can actually save them money by doing the interviewing for them.  No question that many recruiters are what I call “senders” and don’t do much more than the internet web sites.  Single industry recruiters, like me, have large data bases of qualified candidates.  They know the companies as well.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Why You Can No Longer Count On Severance Pay If You Are Let Go

There have been many changes in the advertising business over the last twenty years.  One of those changes is the frequency with which agencies fire employees and the amount of severance which is given along with those terminations.

There is no law that requires a company to pay severance if an employee is terminated.  Severance is actually based on an agreement between employer and employee; in the absence of an agreement, payment is purely discretionary on the part of the company.  Contrary to popular belief, there is no rule or regulation that requires severance to be paid to any employee who is terminated, no matter how long they have been with the company. 

Once upon a time in advertising, most agencies adopted a policy of paying a set amount of termination pay.  As I recall, many agencies paid a minimum of one or two week’s salary for anyone being terminated, even if they had been at the company less than a year (unless they were fired for cause).  For longer-term employees the policy at most agencies was anywhere from one or two weeks to a month’s salary for each year of employment.  Many agencies also paid for unused vacation time (based on a year) and some period of healthcare. Today ad agencies fire employees with such frequency that many actually give little or no severance and don’t pay for unused vacation or healthcare. It doesn’t matter how long someone has been employed by the company.  To me this is particularly distressing since many terminations are due to loss of business, which may not be the employee's fault.

I have interviewed people who have been with an ad agency for fifteen or twenty years, who are now late in their careers, who were terminated through no fault of their own (usually because of an account loss). Many receive only a few weeks’ pay, if that. And those loyal and long-term employees are often required to leave the building with little or no notice. There are many reasons why this happens, but one of them is that by having an employee leave immediately, it prevents the departing employee from being able to walk into human resources and demand more departure benefits. Once an employee is out of the office, they have to make an appointment in order to get back in to negotiate.  I have actually heard of companies who have refused that request.  In one case a company made an appointment with a former employee and made him wait in the reception area for over two hours - how humiliating.  This person had worked at the agency for more than a dozen years.

While few agencies offer formal employment contracts even to senior employees, offer letters are binding.  It is important that severance pay be spelled out in an offer letter prior to starting work.  If a company has a termination pay policy (many actually do), that policy should be listed in the offer letter.  Companies frequently change policy, but at a minimum, a candidate should be able to rely on the rules that were in effect at the time of employment.

In most of the United States (except Puerto Rico) nearly all executive employees are “at will” which means they can be terminated for any reason or no reason without repercussions to the employer.
I can think of one agency which does give severance, but requires that departing employees must sign an exit agreement.  That agreement stipulates that if the agreement is discussed with any outside party, including legal counsel and family (!), further payments will be suspended.  This is of dubious legality, since coercion is illegal, but certainly by forcing someone to sign an agreement under threat is intimidating for 90% of people who are fired; most people need (and deserve) the financial cushion.

Some time ago I wrote about the long-term employee who was terminated without the knowledge of her agency president.  She was lucky enough to have a relationship with the president and was able to negotiate a far better exit package directly with him.  This is rare since, in most cases, the manager who fires an employee or the HR person are not empowered to make changes to severance is not compensation.

The best protection any employee can have is to have significant savings since severance is not required and cannot be counted upon. And, in my observation, most of the network owned agencies have very limited payment policies, even for their senior people.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

What Has Happened To Ad Agency Holiday Parties?

Now that it is December, it is that time of year again and I thought it appropriate to comment on current holiday parties.

During the 1960s and 1970s, holiday parties became a big deal.  Prior to that, even the big agencies did not give huge production parties.  Generally, holiday parties were mostly informal and spontaneous.  In the forties and fifties, even the biggest agencies set up bars in conference rooms, some had music, but they were fun and not terribly structured in most places.  People often took a couple of bottles from the conference rooms and then went to their own areas and drank and partied with the friends they worked with.  Sometimes spouses and families attended, sometimes not. Food was generally snack stuff or informal catering.

Sometime in the sixties, holiday parties became a big deal.  Agencies rented space at hotels and other venues and elaborate dinners and buffets became the norm.  Clients, friends and suppliers were invited, significant others were there; often children attended.  Agencies hired bands or, in the days of DJ’s, music was loud and raucous, lights were colorful.  Looking back, it is almost as if agencies were competing with each other to see who could give the biggest and best.  They had to be incredibly expensive. 

Then, starting about ten or twenty years ago, I noticed that the parties started to become smaller in scope and far quieter; the number of suppliers invited was cut down and many of the parties became for employees only.  I think holiday parties had become just too big and too expensive.  And all this at a time when client procurement was squeezing every possible penny out of agency remuneration.

I have never heard this as a fact, but I believe that holding companies forced their agencies to cut back on the parties, despite their being good for morale, comradery and bonding. No question that their size and scope may have gotten out of control. There may be some major parties that are still around, but they are far less elaborate and many exist without spouses, children and suppliers; they tend to be smaller and quieter. At least one big agency I know has gone back to the old days of putting liquor in a conference room or cafeteria.

The smaller agencies still have old-fashioned get togethers, mostly in their own space.  Those were always my favorite parties because they allowed people to have fun within their work environments and there was always a sense of comradery and friendship. And people could come and go as they wanted.

Now, there is much less emphasis on partying and celebrating.  Many agencies that used to be closed between Christmas and New Year’s now remain open (whatever happened to summer Fridays?).  I think many companies forgot how to have fun unless they spend a fortune entertaining their employees.  

In the agency world, I do think that the Grinch stole Christmas.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Blame It On The Recruiter

As most of you know, recruiters are asked to guarantee candidates they place.  If a person does not perform well, we are asked to either replace them or return the fee paid – even if the poor performance is due to bad management or bad clients or not telling the candidate the truth during the hiring process. So be it.

Good recruiters attempt to place the right people in the right companies.  If it doesn't work out, it is often because either the company did not do its homework on the candidate (after all, it is the company's hire) or the candidate did not do his or her homework on the company.

The irony is that the hiring company rarely does its job properly, either in terms of writing job specs, interviewing or reference and/or background checks.  To put it a different way, companies conduct multiple interviews, but the people involved rarely commiserate compare with each other.  And most reference checks (which in many states are actually illegal) are rarely thorough.  It is the company's responsibility to truly vet the candidate during its multiple interviews (my record for a candidate is 19!).

Every recruiter tries to do his or her best knowing that if they send three or four candidates who are rejected by the company, they will not be used again by that company.  Even if those candidates are sent based on spurious specs. It is easy to blame it on the recruiter.
But it also works in the reverse.  Candidates blame a recruiter for placing them in a job they don’t like.  The reasons don’t matter.  The truth is that most candidates are so anxious to get an offer that they neglect to ask tough questions   The failure to ask tough questions is generally because the candidate is afraid to put the company on the spot, despite the necessity of doing so.  Any company or manager who balks at being asked a difficult question is not someone I would want to work for. (I even recently received a private email telling me that the person was afraid to ask difficult questions for fear of being rejected).
Every recruiter has learned, generally after the fact, about difficult managers, poor business practices, unfair clients or otherwise bad behavior.  If a recruiter knows of these problems in advance, the candidate can and should be warned and perceptions managed.  I learned years ago to tell candidates of difficult situations because what one person dislikes, another may love.  The choice is then the candidate’s.  In all my years of recruiting there have only been a handful of companies I would not recruit for because of ethical or other problems.

I have also had candidates blame me for things which have nothing to do with recruiting or the hiring process.  I wrote in January of 2018 about the bad seed who blamed me for something I didn’t do. I have had candidates who became angry at me for not sending them out on jobs, even though I knew they were not right for the position or did not match the job specs.  I once had a candidate who was a New Yorker with a heavy regional accent get angry at me for not sending him on a job where the specs were very specific in only sending a mid-westerner since the client was specific about not wanting a New Yorker. Otherwise this executive's credentials, at least on paper, were excellent for the job.  The candidate had heard about the job from an associate (who did not know the specs) and told all his friends that I was a terrible recruiter because he was obviously a perfect candidate for this job and I had not sent him.   He somehow got the interview and, of course, didn’t get the job.  I had another candidate who got a tentative offer dependent on a background criminal check; he signed the approval papers.  When his background showed that he had been charged with spousal abuse – twice with different wives – he blamed me for being rejected.  (However, he might have gotten the job if he had managed the process, both with me and with the company, prior to the results of his background check.)

It is easy to blame a third party for one's own mistakes.  All recruiters should be used to these kinds of things.  They just come with the job.
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