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.