Sunday, October 28, 2012

Build a Candidate Pipeline Like a Top Recruiting Professional

Here are the top five recruiting practices to building a strong candidate pipeline;

11)      Never say never.   While that stellar resume in front of you does not fit your needs today, it doesn’t mean there won’t be some future value in knowing that person.   High caliber candidates are busy too, so no need to offer a 30 minute interview, a quick phone call acknowledging receipt of their resume, and an offer to exchange contact information, can make a lasting impression and offers both parties an opportunity to enjoy more dynamic networking later on.
22)    Doing reference checks as a matter of course, and sourcing:  Don’t ever miss out on the opportunity a reference check can offer a hiring manager.  Not only is this a critical aspect to your interview process in validating the candidate, it’s a fantastic way to identify another future employee OR employer.  People love to talk about themselves, what they do, and the good work others have done for them.  These conversations can lead to incredible network building.  Not only could this reference be a good potential candidate for you, but you may also find the conversation leads to job prospecting for yourself.  Striking a good rapport with that reference can help you gain early insight or competitive leverage on an interesting role you may otherwise miss out on.  Don’t forget to stay in touch on email or scheduled call once every six months or so. 

33)      Use Social Media to Advertise a Challenging position:   Tweeters and bloggers make a great audience, especially for an industry expert.  But if you don’t use social media to tout your professional thoughts and ideas, you can research relevant tweeters and bloggers who have an active following and ask them to post information about the job you’re trying to fill.  Some may draw a hard line on what they are or aren’t willing to endorse, but it never hurts to ask if they would consider mentioning to their audience a great opportunity for which you’re struggling to source candidates.  With the job market still deep in the recovery phase, most people are willing to help bring people and jobs together.

44)       Use the “3 Touch Rule” to Reach a Strong Candidate:  If your HR department has been unsuccessful in connecting with a “passive” candidate who you know to be a top notch professional in your industry, ask them to be persistent and patient.  Most hiring managers will try only once, sometimes twice, to contact a candidate.  Go for the 3-touch approach; A phone call, followed up within 24 hours by an email, and a follow up call within one week.  Additionally, if that person has a Twitter or Blog, you may be able to get their attention by posting directly to them.  We know people are busy, and even though they have the interest and best intentions to get back to you, they may forget or have put it off until they’re in a position when they can talk to you….like back from vacation or after finishing a project.  Often if they have gone too long without responding, they may not return the call because they expect they’ve missed the window.  Don’t let them get away!  Follow up a fourth time after several more weeks, you may be happily surprised at how glad they are to hear from you again.

55)      Network in Unexpected Places:  In today’s world we often hear a newer cliché “Everyone Knows Everyone”.  While this isn’t physically possible, there is technical truth behind this idea.  We are all connected, one way or another, to a universal network offering innumerable routes for people to reach each other.  Celebrity Kevin Bacon proved this philosophy through his own pet project, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, demonstrating an intricate web of complete strangers who were but five or fewer people removed from direct contact with him.  Today’s advancing uber networked society allows us to find people in unexpected ways, perhaps through that guy you met at a two day workshop, the twenty-something who details your car, your hairdresser, the woman who makes those great cookies for the church social hour each week, and even the bartender who is the only person in the world you trust to make your martini just the way you like it.  Everyone knows someone.   And sometimes, you get really lucky.   Maybe the right person to know is right now sitting next to you on the train.  Today’s socially-charged recruiting professional knows that the gift of gab pays dividends, and shyness is a liability.  So stop hiding behind your Android and strike up a conversation with your commuting buddy…you never know who she knows!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Snack on this: Getting the Green Light from your CFO

What do you do when you’ve identified the best candidate(s) but can’t pull the trigger because your CFO suddenly got cold feet?   Hand her a pair of slippers and a breakdown of what it will cost the company if you DON’T make the hire.  There are all kinds of arguments you can make for why you need to fill this critical position, but a smarter approach is to talk dollars, and SENSE.  Show your CFO how increased productivity on your team means faster turnaround on deliverables, a revenue boost, or can result in a less harried and more balanced group…avoiding burnout and a bigger, more expensive problem; resignations.  With the right approach, your proposal to hire will make a lot more sense to your cost conscious CFO.     

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Here, hold my wallet, my hands are full!

Hiring a Chief Financial Officer, or CFO, is one of the most gut-wrenching, anxiety producing and confusing processes you will ever experience as a hiring manager.  Often times, the harried and inexperienced CEO will hand this process off to their Investors or Board to make referrals.   Occasionally, they may also task an HR resource to find a talented financial leader.  Using any of these approaches alone is a big mistake!  Why?  Well, first of all, the person managing the company money;  revenues/profits, investments, taxes, compensation, budgeting, financial reporting, expenses, and funding  (whether personally or privately funded by investors) and the key banking relationships will not only have primary accountability, they will also tell you what you can and can't spend money on.  This can be a good or bad thing depending on your spending habits.  However, any financial failures still belong to the CEO if something does not go according to plan, and they will be left holding the bag at the end of the day.  That’s the most obvious concern.  Just as critical, however, is the knowledge and understanding of how financial resources are being used to grow the business, operate the business, and support the business.  This is where your partnership with the CFO gets interesting.

Many sharp and capable CEO’s fall short when it comes to grasping the basics of maintaining healthy financial fitness.  That’s why the person making daily financial decisions is the CFO, the CEO’s most critical co-pilot in driving the business.  While the CEO should know how to interpret complex financial information, that can alter the overall strategic picture, this is often not the case.  The company’s most senior executive is focused on myriad other “critical” daily demands.   For most companies, the majority of the strategic financial decisions will be made by the CFO, and so that person will be either the greatest ally, or the biggest obstacle, to carrying out the vision crafted by the management team.  When someone else is holding the purse strings, they must advocate for the CEO's vision, implement strategic financial plans and know how to mitigate risk for the long-term health of the company, especially as it pertains to spending.  And, sometimes, a good CFO may have to say "No" even if they want to say "Yes"! 

So, how does a busy CEO go about hiring a CFO if no great referrals are offered, or their professional network bears no fruit?  There are a couple of different approaches one can take to ensure proper calibration on technical talent, ethical reliability, strong caliber and chemistry across the table from their candidates.  The right hiring resource, such as an experienced Human Resources team or Executive Search firm specializing in CFO placement is a good first step.  An Executive Search firm will have a ready network of passive and active CFO candidates waiting for the right opportunity to emerge.  Designing the right profile will depend greatly on the goals, regulatory requirements and the size of the organization.  Every company has unique needs and so knowing the growth trajectory and aligning with the experience required to be successful in carrying out those goals, will be important to consider before embarking on a search.  Before contracting with a search firm, ask for recent references on how many CFO's they have placed, what company(s) they have hired for and whether the individuals placed are working out well for their new employers.   

Another approach is to hire an "On-Demand" CFO.  This is a strategic financial partner contracted by your company through an outside resource, committed on average from 10 and 40 hours per week, until a permanent CFO is identified and hired.  The length of a typical contract is about 90 days or more, but can actually be a lot longer if the company decides not to hire a full-time CFO.   The benefits of contracting a consultant CFO or Controller are many and can pay great immediate dividends if the CEO is interested in learning about what makes a great CFO before they hire one.      

"On-Demand" CFO's are typically very experienced strategists who have sophisticated knowledge of corporate finance and often with a background in public company auditing.  Wherever they may have received their training, their expertise is in big picture planning and route-mapping to navigate a company through tough or calm seas.  Often they will partner with the CEO to present ideas or insights to the Investors at Board Meetings, sharing critical details and articulating complicated financial information with confidence.   

The CFO consultant is also a knowledge transfer expert, able to dig in and assess the company’s financial health and challenges quickly and efficiently.  They are usually just as fast and effective with the hand-off to the new CFO, and will stay on as a consultant until the new financial leader has come up to speed.

Hiring a CFO with both the strategic skills and strong technical capabilities that keep a company in balance is only one aspect of the search.   Their fit with the team cannot be under-rated either.  I have witnessed many CFO’s who’s brilliant financial performance was downplayed considerably by their inability to bridge the communication gap with co-workers, or lacked good interpersonal skills.  

 A bit of distance between finance and operations is not uncommon, and can be required to maintain confidential or ethical boundaries.  But in social situations, a CFO who distances themselves from the team, or doesn’t take an interest in getting to know their co-workers, is in danger of alienating themselves from resources and influences governing the political forces of the organization overall.  

 Employees who have the CEO’s ears and interests in mind may have a direct impact on the direction of the company, and that includes decision-making around financial leadership.  If you have found you are not connecting with your co-workers, never underestimate the power of a smile and a cup of coffee.

So, before handing your wallet and your company’s financial reins to someone, make sure you know exactly what you need, how well they share your vision and whether they can execute effectively.  Learning how to identify and hire your most critical financial partner is a short term investment that offers a big ROI!

To learn more about the advantages of partnering with a search professional for your most critical strategic hires, contact me directly at 

*For more information and insights into "On-Demand" CFO’s and Controllers, please visit:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Top Five Candidate Blunders

The ink is not yet dry on the offer letter and you're already having second thoughts about your candidate choice. You can't put a finger on exactly what is troubling you, but chances are you can identify a few exchanges between you and your candidate that resulted in feelings that don't sit quite right. Some of these disconnections can be explained by a lack of experience with the interview process (usually on the part of the candidate), a loss of confidence in one's decision-making (either theirs or yours), or a pure lack of comparative data (not enough qualified candidates, so you settled for first runner up). In most cases, these doubts clear up once the candidate becomes an employee and they've spent a few weeks on the job proving they were the right choice. But in other cases, those nagging doubts can gain strength and new evidence arises to validate your gut instincts. So what do you look for in advance of tendering an offer that are significant signs of a potential problem employee? Here are a few examples I can provide (from experience) and I'm sure anyone reading this will chime in with their own unique early identifiers:

1) No thank you note from your candidate: If you don't get a thank you note from someone with less then five years of experience, you can pass this off as a "Rookie" mistake. Also, the days of thank you notes and "Resume Received" emails are over. With a few exceptions, there's not a lot of common courtesy coming from companies these last few years. Again, we can blame that on a lack of time and resources. But a company receiving a thank you note from a candidate should give that person a second look for another potential position within the organization. You can teach someone good manners, but you can't teach them to have a conscience. Someone who takes the time to hand write a note may be old fashioned, but take a look at their hand writing and file their resume into your "future hire" file. Class never goes out of style.

2) Disappearing after receiving an offer: If a candidate hasn't acknowledged receipt of an offer, avoids emails/phone calls to follow up, or holds onto your offer for more than 48 hours without responding...start worrying. Once a candidate gets hold of an offer, they either get a paralyzing case of cold feet, are using it to get their current employer to counter, or they may be waiting for competing offers to come in the door before making a decision. That's understandable, albeit disappointing....but if they don't have the common courtesy to respond with an email or a call to acknowledge receipt of the written offer, and provide a time frame for when they will give you an answer, you may want to make note of the offer's expiration date and mark it on your calendar. I wouldn't consider hiring anyone that takes any offer for granted. Once that written offer is signed and in their hands, its a binding legal document. Withdrawing an offer can create legal headaches you don't want to create for yourself, so make sure you really want this candidate and put an expiration date on the offer letter.

3) Nitpicking the offer after receipt: I always expect my candidates to negotiate, and I prepare my clients for this well in advance of a verbal offer. I also like to get hard dollars on the table before putting anything in a written format. But if a candidate who has already agreed to a compensation package changes their mind after a verbal agreement and receipt of a written offer, I have to start wondering whether they're going to become a management problem for my client. That's when I experience a numbing sensation in MY feet...brrrrr. Once you've stated your expectations and needs, as a candidate, you need to stick to it. Otherwise, you look like a money focused flip-flopper, and you're one step away from seriously damaging that light tether of trust between you and your new boss. Waiting until after the offer is tendered to negotiate is only acceptable if you weren't given the opportunity to negotiate beforehand. But if a hiring manager or recruiter is telling you "this is your opportunity to tell us what you really want" (even if they're not sure they can get to your number), that's your moment to grab your calculator. If you hear from a candidate three days after they've received the offer that they just can't accept less than X, you have to wonder what else they can't accept.

In the case of a compensation, bonus or equity adjustment in the offer, before you change anything, the candidate absolutely MUST agree to accept in advance if you are to go back and deliver what they need. If they are still unwilling to commit to an acceptance upon learning that their needs will be met in a revised offer, run screaming from the room...and take your offer with you.

4) Pushing back the start date: Generally speaking, this is not a good sign. Unless there are extenuating personal circumstances, if your new employee is voluntarily pushing back the start date, that means they're not ready to leave their current employer or someone else is wooing them. Invite them to meet you for coffee and ask them what's causing the delay if they haven't already told you. If they don't accept, you may want to call up your other top candidate and keep the process going.

5) Changing their LinkedIn profile before starting, or not changing their LinkedIn profile within the first month: If you found them on LinkedIn, and they seem to have an active and current life there, chances are they'll want to "shout out" to the world about their new job. But doing so before their first day (maybe not the Sunday night before, but the day after they give notice is a concern) might send the wrong message and your HR Manager might have a heart attack. If someone is attaching themselves to the company prematurely, is it because they're desperate to get out of their job or because they're just so excited to start their new job? Maybe that's not such a bad thing, and could be considered flattering. However, if your new employee has been in their seat for a month or two and hasn't updated their profile to reflect the change in employment, you may want to prompt them to do so. If they choose not to, you may want to ask them if they're happy in their new job. If they are still looking, but keeping this job as an "insurance policy", updating might chase off prospective hiring managers.

We can talk about the sixth "blunder" in the next post...but just to give you a hint, it has to do with candidates who want to recreate the prior glory of their old company. In other words, why it can be a good and a bad thing to interview a new employee's prior colleagues.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Avoiding a Harmful Hire

You know the saying “One bad apple can ruin the whole bunch”? Maybe you know that cliche too well. I don't have to explain to you how important each hiring decision is to you and your team. Maintaining a diligent interview and hiring practice is one of the critical keys to retaining your best employees while growing a successful organization. Now more than ever, as hiring manager, you need to be both interviewer and gate keeper. Don’t leave the tactical aspects of a hire to your HR group. Pay attention to the sign posts and make sure you actively participate in reference calls. It takes less time and money to execute a high quality process then properly terminating a bad hire. Here are the top six indicators of a potentially bad hire:

  • 1) Lots of movement on the resume: If your candidate has had more than three moves in the past five years, you may want to ask for references early. From 2007 to present, it’s not unusual to see a few transitions on a candidate’s resume given the job market, and gaps in employment are far more likely. However, if their past employers are still in existence, it may be a good idea to check one or two references before advancing to next rounds. During this call you should look or verification of employment (start and end dates, titles and reason for leaving), and to make sure that the candidate’s reason for leaving (or RFL) is consistent with the company’s. If the HR department or hiring manager of the prior employer is not willing to provide you details for legal reasons, you can ask your candidate for 2 peer references. Ask each of them why they thought the candidate left the prior company. See if each person’s perspective jibes with the candidate’s stated reason for leaving. If you receive conflicting information, you may want to ask your candidate for a manager reference with a personal phone number. Setting up a call or meeting outside the normal work day gives you and the reference a longer window to speak and without disruption.

  • 2) Difficulty scheduling an interview: Is the candidate’s schedule creating a logistical challenge for you and/or your team? Are they requesting off-hour or off-site interviews to accommodate their schedule? Do they seem inflexible with how much time they can offer for an interview? Sure, perhaps they’re a “hot” candidate with lots of opportunities, and that’s why you don’t want to lose them. But if a candidate makes you feel as though they’re just too busy to be bothered or requires multiple concessions on your time, it could mean they are poor at organizing their calendar…or worse, they really aren’t interested enough to take the time to meet you. After two attempts, ask them pointedly if their interest level is high, medium or low. If your job is a candidate’s Plan B or C, and you hire them knowing this, it’s probably not going to be a long term commitment.

  • 3) Discussing Compensation & Benefits questions up front, or too often: While this may be a sign of genuine interest, but it may also mean that the candidate is nervous that your company cannot provide the compensation or benefits plan they’ve become accustomed to, or expect to receive from their next employer. If they’ve gone without a raise for many years, they may need a bigger than budgeted salary increase or more vacation time than your company offers. It’s never too soon to offer benefits information, and allowing candidates to review this in advance of second round can often save everyone time and headaches. But if a candidate continues to pursue compensation conversations, chances are, they’re looking for the top of the range or more. Can you afford them? If so, are they worth the increase, and how will this impact internal equity?

  • 4) Inadequate or irrelevant references: If a candidate provides references that are too few in number, too obscure or irrelevant, too old or they cannot produce an adequate reference, you may want to spend more time getting to know them…and perform a background check. If you ask a candidate to provide two prior or current managers, and they balk, it is perhaps because they don’t want to jeopardize their confidentiality. But if they fail to produce any current or recent former references, you may want to end the conversations. In my experience, a good candidate will have people leaping through hoops to provide a solid reference. They should be able to pick up the phone and provide reference materials within a day or two of request. If they take a week or longer, chances are, they’ve got a problem and they don’t want you to find out about it. You can simply ask them what their hesitation is, and ask them if they are comfortable enough to confide in you…if they respond openly and honestly, you can then make an educated decision about whether you want them on the team. If they still are unable to produce a credible reference, it’s probably wise to let them go.

  • 5) Over-negotiating or making unreasonable requests: Even the best possible employees go a little nuts during the negotiation process. This is their one opportunity to state their needs and ask for the best possible offer before accepting and moving in to your organization. One of the biggest stop signs for me is when the “Tail is wagging the Dog”. This can happen when a confident candidate realizes that they’re “the One” and begins making a list of demands that the company can’t possibly meet without making significant concessions or altering company precedent. There are normal requests that challenge an organization. For example, a candidate coming in the door with four weeks of vacation may feel that a 15 day PTO policy is too big a sacrifice. They may ask for more vacation time as part of their negotiation process. This is not unusual, nor do I think this is the sign of a greedy candidate. What you really need to worry about is when a candidate requests special treatment…such as a greater percentage match to the 401k plan, a guaranteed bonus or a sign-on bonus, a private office, car allowance or a six month performance raise. Many candidates get preoccupied with asking for a “match” to what they currently have without considering whether anyone else in the organization has these benefits. You can simply state it would be unfair to offer these benefits to a new employee when they are not offered to tenured employees, and then go back to asking them if this is the job they really want. If they are hyper focused on the perks, it may be that the job is not exactly ideal for them and they will seek other forms of “consolation prizes”.

  • 6) The Arrogant Employee: The more concerning behaviors a candidate may display before an offer negotiation is a major increase in their compensation expectations, sidestepping or rushing aspects of the interview process, or sitting on your offer for days without providing a timely response. I’ve even had a candidate ask me for a written offer before a “final blessing” interview with the Company CEO…he just didn’t want to take the time unless the offer met his expectations. I cut him loose on the spot. Additionally, receiving an overly solicitous call from someone you don’t know who is advocating for a candidate may sound like a nice gesture, but that would give me pause as well. These are all signs of a harmful hire, an arrogant and high-maintenance employee.

No matter how desperate you are to make the hire, or how stellar a contributor they could be to your organization, if a candidate starts tipping the internal scales in their favor, acting overly empowered or entitled, then it won’t be long before this behavior will start to impact your team…and it will certainly spiral down into a management headache for you. A candidate who lacks humility, thoughtful deliberation, diplomacy and consideration for the whole team is not the kind of apple you want. There are plenty of good ones out there, so don’t settle until you find them.