21 May

Recruiting and Hiring Done Right

AUTHOR NOTE: For the purpose of this article, I am going to use the term RECRUITER repeatedly and define the word to mean anyone involved in the relationship aspect of hiring. This could be internal recruiters, external recruiters and even hiring managers if they are acting to recruit for their own positions.

Humans are incredible social. Pretty much everything we do centers around our social interaction. So then why do our hiring and recruiting practices completely fly in the face of how we as people operate in all other aspects of our lives?

Employment at its most fundamental level is only about one thing; creating a relationship that provides value to both the employer and the employee. While in practice there are a million complicated nuances, everything extends from the concept of deriving benefit for both parties involved in the relationship. Strangely, our recruiting practices don't reflect the concept of a "relationship".

In a year, I talk with a lot of recruiters.... A LOT of recruiters. The best recruiters, both internal and external (hiring managers included), understand the value of relationships and understand their role in the process. In terms of outside work analogs, a recruiter serves the purpose of saying "hey, you'd really like my other friend. You should meet them!". For the relationship to be functional, a recruiter must have a relationship with both sides first. They have to know the organization and the potential employee/contractor and understand how the two could benefit each other. Even better if the recruiter has previous experience in the role they are trying to fill. Think of it like having having a friend introduce two of their friends who share a common interest. All three individuals already have a common interest and are more likely to get along than they otherwise would without the shared interest. In the work place, this translates to more success in hiring potential candidates.

Unfortunately, this is rarely seems to be the case and instead recruiters end up just being bodies to perform searches on job sites, contact potential candidates and screen resumes. No matter which side of the table you are on, the process feels entirely inorganic to the point of being mechanical. I like to call this "mechanical recruiting". Given the astronomical prices recruiters charge, usually a double digit percentage of the candidate's salary or a slightly lower but still high flat monthly fee when working to fill a large position, or the salary for the dedicated internal role you would expect far more value for the money. Though not entirely unskilled, mechanical recruiting doesn't require a while lot of skill and can be relatively easy to train. Your experience may be different but I have found that candidates obtained this way aren't what I would call "highly qualified" and still require a large degree of vetting as a hiring manager. That isn't to say mechanical recruiting holds no value. After all, as a manager, executive or business owner you want to free up your time for tasks that add higher level value to the organization. I'd simply say that since this type of recruiting doesn't go all that far in freeing up internal time for hiring managers it has relatively little value and may be better to have a low level HR person do the task or use a fraction of the cost to buy memberships to search employment sites using their algorithms and and do the vetting yourself. If you are going to use a recruiter, take the time to make sure they fit into the relationship type, not the mechanical type, unless you truly do just need a mechanical process for the position.

Better yet, bring humanity back to hiring. Spend time networking in areas that potentially employees or potential talent (in the case of external recruiters) spend time and establish real relationships with people. Really get to know the people in the group or network. Have coffee, talk shop, talk anything really, do some axe throwing at one of those places popping up around the country. Whatever, just look to make real connections with people and get to know them. Worst case, you do something fun and maybe make a new contact. Best case, you find the A player for your team. Even if you don't have a need for someone with a particular skill set right now, if you know that you will to meet strategic objectives later on, build some relationships now and front load the cost.

To be fair, it's not always possible to spend time building relationships to find great people to work with in the real world. Sometimes you have a burning need to fill a position or have a ton of positions across multiple roles to fill. That's fine, just abbreviate the process. A 30 minute conversation over lunch or cup of coffee. Not a "What are your strength and weaknesses?" type conversation either. Genuinely sitting down to talk as two human beings. Even if the conversation is about work, the point is to get to know them as a person; interesting projects, extra curricular projects, hobbies. All good stuff to know. Three of my best interactions, both as a potential employee and as a potential employer, came from simply having regular human interactions. In one case,I realized that, even though I had all of the necessary skills, the organization wouldn't be a great fit for me. There is simply no way I would have known this had we not sat down to simply have a real human interaction and one or both of us would have regretted the decision to move forward. For more senior positions, it might even make sense to do this process with a portion of the team as well; above, below and horizontal to potential candidate. You could gain invaluable knowledge about fit.

None of this is to say you should ignore hard skills! You absolutely have to verify hard skills. If someone is applying for a senior position developing in C++, the candidate certainly better be able to code C++ at a senior level, whatever that means to your organization. Likewise for QA with developing test cases, product people writing user stories, project people being able to create and present a project plan and admin folks being able to do just about everything else. Even then, sometimes it's better to weigh the relationship building part more heavily. You might find someone who is a perfect fit, has the right attitude to learn in your organization's environment and the aptitude to quickly learn the skills you need that they are currently lacking. Ultimately the "good fit" employee may yield better value than someone with all of the hard skills but with a less than ideal organization fit or worse, losing a potentially awesome person and never finding the right fit again.

After all of the interviewing process there is, of course, the reference check. While I still check references when I have to, I don't find much value in the practice. In the vast majority of cases, one of three things comes from reference checks; you are talking with a groomed reference who is going to talk up the candidate, you are talking to a reference that is willing to lie for the candidate or you are going to get someone who has no clue they were being used as a reference and will give you their opinion. The later is about the only time reference checking has SOME value, though even if you do get a bad reference, you have no context whatsoever as to the context or background behind it. Did the candidate behave the way they did because the organization was truly awful to work for or did the person used as a reference have some type of bias against the candidate that doesn't accurately reflect how the candidate will behave in your organization? In short, there is little or nothing you can really trust in a reference check. At best, you can learn that the potential employee didn't have enough foresight to prepare references who will talk them up or lie. No matter what reference checking is done a real interaction with a potential candidate is FAR superior than almost anything you will gain from a reference check, barring of course if one or more of the candidates references are someone you already know very well.

Another bizarre development in modern employment I'd like to call out quickly; contract work is often treated completely differently than an employment relationship. Contract relationships still have the same context as any other employment relationship in that the relationship is one to provide benefit to both parties. Yes, there are some nuances to contract work, particularly that contract work usually has a definitive end date and as a result the organization is looking for "right now" talent vs. talent they can grow but the work relationship remains the same none-the-less. If a considerable amount of social interaction is required to complete a task as an employee, the same is going to be true of a contractor as well. Just because one concept is called a contract doesn't change human nature and the way we interact... at least it shouldn't.

Speaking of coffee and lunch, if you find yourself near Colorado Springs or Denver, feel free to reach out via the contact form HERE. I'm always up for taking some time to talk.