Wednesday, October 27, 2010

First Impressions - Trust your Instincts

"When I walked into her office, I thought almost instantly that she reminded me of my fifth grade teacher. I hated my fifth grade teacher. Of course, I know that sounds silly because I realized consciously she is a completely different person. But the rest of the interview was a struggle for me because I couldn't get past her glasses and turtleneck. Well, I accepted the offer because all of the other factors...great opportunity, company, salary and location...lined up with my expectations. Despite the nagging feeling that I was missing something, I thought I'd made the right choice. Until the third week in and she called me into her office. It was like being transported back through time to my former 11 year old self, and Mrs. Walsh was humiliating me for being overwhelmed as she called me out in front of the class, and I was unable to give her the correct answer. It was in that moment I regretted not listening to my gut instinct. This was just bad chemistry and I wished I'd paid attention to the red flag waving boldly in my face two weeks before."

How many times have you received a very strong sense of someone from the moment you met them and had the undeniable feeling you'd met them before? Something about them seemed familiar and brought up a variety of feelings, positive or negative, that made you very comfortable or very uneasy. Some may describe this as an inner voice, a subconscious guide, a miraculous little memory keeper or advanced warning system. Whatever its name, this utility exists within all of us. Tapping into it during your interview process and using it to either confirm or contradict your decision-making could be the one tool that makes the critical difference.

Many times when I hear from a candidate after a few months in their new role I like to ask them whether their original perception of their boss, or their team mates, held true and aligned with reality. Of course it did! Then I remind them of how attuned they were to their instincts, and to always rely on their gut. It's incredibly validating to know that, while your brain is doing it's own thing forming opinions, decisions, and calculating risk using vast amounts of data consciously collected in the interview process, you've also got a wizard in the works developing impressions, collecting visual and auditory cues, and shaping them into conscious meaning. Whether you want to believe it or not, using content coming in from different sensors, such as memory, olfactory, tactile and behavioral observations, can help you make a much better decision on whether or not this is the right boss, office and company for you. Just pay attention to the sign posts, red flags and intuitive insights your "wizard" is collecting for you.

One of the best ways to reach this collective insight is to sit down with a pen and paper and write free flow with one or two word observations that come to mind right after an interview. Describe the way you felt meeting each person...words like 'at ease', 'intimidated', 'engaged', 'anxious', 'bored', 'distracted' or even 'thirsty', to describe the way you felt. Then observe the feelings that came up, even if they make no sense to you. Include people you were reminded of, sights and sounds that connected you to another time in your life. Were there were any physical clues your body was transmitting? Perhaps a headache, numbness in your toes, a tremor in your eyebrow, even a sense that you were really thirsty or desperately craving a cup of coffee? All of these sensations are clues to how your whole person is perceiving that interview experience. Write them all down, then allow yourself to explore their meaning. Some of the meanings may be very self evident and need no further exploration. But if you talk to your spouse, close friend or even your therapist about your observations...and let the feelings associated come to the surface, this "research" will truly help you tap into your gut instincts, developing into a much clearer picture of what this opportunity means to you.

At the end of the day, it's still a roll of the dice. But the odds are more likely to be in your favor if you've done the internal work first.

Interviews are a two way exchange and the energy in that exchange is typically perceived very accurately by both parties involved when the interview goes well. While you felt 'at ease', your interviewer may have described you as open or relaxed. When an interview hasn't gone well, it's typical to hear both parties reflect a very different exchange. If you felt 'anxious' or 'distracted', the interviewer may have perceived a lack of engagement or overall disinterest in the job. The reason you felt this way, however, is not always a true reflection of your interest in the job, but more so the energy between you and that person. Something put you in a funk, and that can set off a chain reaction that can't be easily curtailed. Getting to the bottom of these exchanges, understanding what it was about that interview, and why it stood out as the game-changing moment, can help you determine whether this opportunity is really all it seems to be. It can also serve to manage your expectations relative to your candidacy for that particular company overall.

There are no "do-overs" in the interview process. First impressions are indelible and not usually easy to overcome when they're negative. While it's ideal to win every one over in the interview process, it's not realistic to expect to have excellent chemistry with everyone you work with. You can start out on a positive track with a new company if you know how to navigate successfully around challenging internal alliances. More on that later...

For now, the best due diligence practices will help you avoid stumbling blindly through the job interview process, and land the best job for you, the Whole Person.

Hiring Managers: Acting Human and Giving Feedback

"Officially I don't think I'm supposed to discuss it, but I'm willing to share some thoughts with you because I empathize with your situation and you seem like a nice guy. It's been a long time since I was in the job market, but I remember wishing that people would act a little more human after receiving resumes, and especially after conducting interviews. I think that after someone gives up their time to interview, they deserve the courtesy of a personal response instead of just a form letter."

Quote from a Hiring Manager to a candidate for a position within a local Engineering Firm

We can blame it on being busy, overwhelmed, understaffed, or just plain inconsideration, but companies by and large no longer take time to properly "let go" of their candidates. The quote above is directly from a hiring manager to a candidate of mine who went through a recent interview process. He was one of two final candidates out of a field of 100 resumes. And the offer went to the other person.

When it gets this close, the pain of loss feels intensely personal and the sense of defeat is devastating. Sometimes a little insight as to what you did wrong can help manage the pain and provide a valuable lesson on what to do differently next time. But how a company and it's representatives handle their communications with candidates can make a long term impact on how those one-time candidate's value that company and their people in the future.

Companies develop job description based on specific criteria relative to how that role serves the company and it's internal and external clients overall. Obviously they start with the key skill sets for the functional role, how the role interacts internally and supports the company's products/services, and determine the best fit for the team and corporate culture. Often companies will primarily seek expertise in the industry over core competencies. It makes sense that those meeting both the skill sets and industry experience will get first consideration.

A strong candidate will possess not only the core competencies, but also demonstrates deep industry knowledge and experience, will have similar philosophies and maybe even come from a similar corporate culture. Hiring someone with industry experience is just about the shortest and fastest path to success, including the time it takes to get them up and running in the position. So it also makes sense that these folks will command more attention from competing companies in your industry when they are in the job market.

So, what do you think happens when, for whatever reason, that individual failed to check all the boxes in the interview process and is left languishing for days, weeks or months while you, the interviewer, are moving forward in your interview process without communicating feedback on whether they're still in the running? Well, they've probably moved on or found another job. Maybe with a competitor. Maybe with a service provider to your shared industry
...or, maybe they are now one of your clients
...and they are a decision maker.

I can hear the phone ringing now...

"Hey there, Sally hiring manager, I just wanted to reach out and say hi...let you know I've landed at ABC Company. Yes, that's right, Head of Purchasing. Well, we've had to make a few changes over here and, well, this might hurt a little but..."

You get the picture. So we know what this kind of psychology is designed to engineer: As hiring manager you now solemnly promise that every candidate you meet has prompt and courteous feedback so as to avoid the inevitable "you reap what you sow" scenario outlined above. Granted this sounds more like an episode of the reality show, The Office, than the reality we all live in. But, it has happened.

As illustrated by the quote above from a conscientious hiring manager, acting a little more human can go a long way to creating the kind of long-term impact and word-of-mouth PR and Marketing that most CMO's dream about. I know my candidate has already contacted his brother, a client of the company he didn't get the job with, and told him their vendor was a highly ethical firm and that he would still consider working there should the right opportunity surface.

For my candidate, understanding what the defining issue was that lead to the company's final decision might make the critical difference in the next interview process. In this case, it was salary alignment and concern over flight risk. In hindsight, providing more detail as to what he believed would be a reasonable salary range relative to this role may have been the only thing he could have done differently. But that doesn't necessarily mean it would have tamped down internal concerns about whether he would stay on-board as the market begins to pick up.

But the lesson here is not so much why he didn't get the job as how the company managed his expectations. Further on in the hiring manager's feedback note he mentioned how he'd done everything right. The hiring manager was impressed with his qualifications and even noted that he thought they could have worked well together. He complimented his style saying "you presented yourself well, you have lots of knowledge, you followed up....there was nothing out of place. Candidates bring different experiences to potential employers....not only work experience from an ability perspective, but also from a progression perspective. Bottom line is that they hired someone with similar skills, but with salary expectations that were much lower."

In closing, the hiring manager reflected "I wish I could give you some advice that would guarantee getting a great job right away, but unfortunately, as we all know, the competition is tough out there these days. Many contributing factors that play into employer decisions are out of your control. I know it's a tough line to walk when you are forced to throw out a salary "requirement" - because, of course, you want to make as much as you can (especially when you are legitimately good at what you do), but are willing to work for less based on economic conditions. It's not easy."

My candidate was relieved to know salary was the defining factor, and not something like personal chemistry, lack of skills or experience, or worse, a bad professional reference that stood in the way of an offer. Yes, he could have played it differently on the salary question, but at the end of the day, would it have been enough to keep him feeling whole and happy in the job? We'll never know, but we do know it just wasn't meant to be. So the search continues, as does the hope that more hiring managers will behave like the one featured in this blog. Act a little human, it can go a long way to building a stronger brand in business, and in life.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hiring the Whole Person,

If your company has been growing steadily, and hiring at your company is standard fare, than chances are you know how to develop a candidate pipeline, conduct in-depth interviews, and selectively hire the best person for the job. Most companies have had to back-burner their hiring plans for the past three years regardless of their unquestionable need to add or replace essential people. Hiring managers given the green light to fill a role are typically left to their own devices to find and vet candidates while HR struggles to manage the overwhelming resume flow from a single job posting. With all the available talent on the market, this would seem to be the ideal time to be recruiting top talent. However, an abundance of candidates means sifting through hundreds of resumes and imposing a tremendous burn on time and resources. You may need more than just one HR person to source, interview, calibrate and vet the best of the respondents. You may need a whole team. With a resume you get a one dimensional view of an individual that doesn't yield enough detail. Making an educated decision on a candidates’ relevancy to the role becomes a rather impractical process when you don’t know them beyond the piece of paper. Once you get beyond the resume and have that candidate in front of you, the lens through which you see them offers a little bit more clarity but not the kind that will ever make you feel 100% certain they are the best person for the job. Getting to know a candidate takes time and effort. Did you know that average company invests only about six to eight hours interviewing a single individual before making a decision? When you consider how much time you and the company will be spending with that person, and the amount of money your company will invest in training, outfitting (technology) and scaling up that individual, making a hiring mistake is an investment of time and money that some companies just can’t afford.
So, how do you vet an individual and really get to know them without having experience working directly with them, or someone you know? Its part assessment, part instinct, and part gamble. The first two are the most critical, and in some cases, I’d put more weight on instinct than assessment. The idea is to reduce the gamble to less than 10% of your overall decision making process. The instinct part is something we all have, just how finely tuned our instincts are though makes the critical difference. If you are someone who relies heavily on data points (technical, behavioral or personality assessments, and skill-based testing) because perhaps you are not sure you can do the “deep dive” for practical reasons, or you have made hiring mistakes in the past and don’t want to repeat history, then using a technical or skill-based assessment test may offer the raw data you need to make an objective decision about one’s capabilities. The rest is a gamble. And that’s a little scary for everyone.
How do you close the gap between 90% and 100% certainty? Well, there’s no such thing as 100%, but we can do better than 90% in most cases. There are ways to get to know people without violating any company, State of Federal employment laws. And this is where hiring a good recruiter is a sound investment, particularly for the most challenging hiring needs.
A strong Search Consultant can make an immediate impact on your overall candidate sourcing process too. They can manage a recruiting process in a way that your HR team doesn't have the experience or time to do. They can also pinpoint certain qualifying factors of their own candidates by both first-hand knowledge of those individuals and experience working with them on other searches. A talented Search Consultant will often be able to fill a position in less than half the time of your HR team. Perhaps not in all cases, but HR typically has their hands full with highly critical compliance and personnel issues and it is a full-time job in and of itself, never mind adding the recruiting for the company on top of that. A well-educated, dedicated and focused recruiter will take the time to understand the exact criteria and requirements of your open requisition(s), both the tangible and intangible, and calibrate to specifications of the role.
A great Search Consultant will already have a solid mix of both industry and functional experience to be able to gain traction quickly within their network and bring the best available talent to the table. Your recruiter or search consultant should also have vetted candidates to such an extent that, by the time they're at your door, the only thing you need to be concerned about is whether they fit your team and your corporate culture. A recruiter can take the guess work out of the offer scenario too, by providing facts around the figures. The salary data they put in front of you should include base, bonus, recent or upcoming raises, equity (if any), paid vacation time, retention bonuses, and any other financial component that may be important to the candidate. While these components may not factor into your negotiation process, it will almost certainly always factor into the candidates.
Surfacing and overcoming concerns or objections is also something your recruiter should have demonstrated mastery with. No one likes surprises "at the altar", and once you've come this far, a good offer can get undermined with last minute concerns that erode trust and deteriorate the offer process into something that looks like waffling, or worse, a power play. Companies and candidates alike enjoy playing a little ball at the end...but when/if the offer becomes a game of hard-ball, your Consultant should be incorporated to help mitigate the risk of losing your top candidate to another company.
Alas, not every hiring manager has the financial carte blanche to hire a full-time Search Consultant to manage their hiring process. However, some Consultants are open to a contract where they spend just a few hours a week consulting with the hiring manager and assist on the selection and offer process with an existing pool of candidates. This is where objectivity is critical to the decision-making process! It’s difficult to be extremely objective when one works for the company, so an outside resource can assess a candidate through a different type of lens…and one that isn’t likely to become blurred by internal politics.
If the final hiring decision is yours to reap or bear, make sure you have the right tools in the toolbox. Having to live with a hiring mistake is one of the most difficult professional and personal challenges for you, the employee and the whole company. After all, you are not just hiring an employee. You are hiring their competencies, skills, personality, personal life, habits, ethics, and internal compass. You are hiring the Whole Person.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Green Search Partner - Pod Cast on Green Collar Research

It's a little scratchy in places, but the theme is relevant and helpful to those in the midst of a search in clean technology. We don't get into the interview process or hiring of the whole person, but you can hear me speak about the where/what the green jobs are (a few more ummm's than I would like...but Kevin Gulley sounds great!)