Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Fair Way to Resolve Duplicate Referrals

In the midst of a hiring frenzy, companies often enjoy and appreciate the variety of candidates they receive through multiple resources.  These resources include recruiters, employees, professional network and through personal connections.  When a candidate has been referred twice in six months by different people, you might believe this person is a great potential fit because two resources you trust vouched for them.  But, if the two resources are competing recruiting firms, you could find yourself in a very uncomfortable situation.

Companies with good Human Resources management will outline a duplicate referral clause providing recruiting partners insights on how the Company treats duplicate referrals.  This typically serves to take the pressure off the company, and the hiring manager, without forcing them to decide who receives commission for the referral.

But what does a duplication in efforts, including referral, say about the relationship between the candidate and their representing firms?  Is this an indication of a lack of communication?  Is it simply a case of don't ask, don't tell?  This can happen when the candidate does not connect the dots on the similarity of company and job description, or wasn't given a full description or company name.  In some cases a protective recruiter who has been asked the identity of the hiring company will give the response "Confidential client until interview request".  Or, did the candidate choose not to disclose knowledge of the prior referral in hopes of increasing his/her odds of getting an interview?  Some Companies have a zero tolerance policy and end up "throwing the baby out with the bathwater".  In other words, they dump the candidate completely and tell the recruiting partners to improve their screening process or else.

Whatever the case may be, it seems like there are no easy answers.  But, there actually is a few simple solutions that may resolve the conflict without a falling out or loss of face for all parties.  It's easy to track correspondence and put a date/time stamp on who got the resume to you first.  However, delivery of the resume is execution of an email and tells you nothing about which recruiting firm generated interest and/or approval to submit the CV.  This is a factor that should be considered carefully before making a judgement call.  On the outside chance the candidate did not communicate with their recruiters, but instead had the competing firms submit simultaneously, you could have the wrong type of person interviewing for your coveted role.

Get the facts!  Find out which firm has known the candidate longer, the date the firm sent the candidate the position summary, when they received approval to submit, and when they followed up with you, the candidate or your HR partner on the referral. 

A candidate whose resume has been submitted without his/her knowledge and consent is an innocent bystander and should not be penalized.  If they admit to working with both firms but was unaware their resume was submitted twice, that could indicate foul play on behalf of a recruiting partner.  In a desperate moment to gain traction or increase their activity, a recruiter may submit a resume before receiving approval from the candidate and only alert them once an interview has been requested.  This is considered a normal practice in many contingency firms, but it is unprofessional and should not be tolerated.

A candidate who has knowingly pitted two recruiting firms against each other cannot be trusted to behave in an ethical manner relative to a competitive situation.  If this is the case, you may want to rethink both the candidate and the type of people your partner firms are representing.  True, we cannot always know what a candidate will do in a high pressure situation.  But, if we have built a proper relationship with them, the odds of them doing anything to embarrass themselves or the firm are pretty low. 

In the end, a duplicate referral does not need to slow or disrupt your hiring process.  You may need to come to a new understanding with your partner recruiting firms if it happens more than once though.  The greatest consideration may be given to which of the recruiting firms you work with demonstrate a consistent high quality screening and submission process.  If they practice simple methods for avoiding duplication, such as discussing the company in detail, and asking outright who the candidate has sent their resume to, it is unlikely they will disappoint you with multiple duplicate referrals.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Case Study 4

Help Wanted:  “I’m looking for a Vice President of Sales with the potential to succeed me.”

Company:       Green Home Design/Build
Position:         Vice President of Sales & Marketing/CEO Successor
Search Start:  October 2011
Search End:   January 2012

The Challenge:  The Company had been hiring steadily for about a year and had done a great job building a team through networking and internal referrals.  Discussions around what leadership position to hire for next boiled down to a basic issue of need and resources.  Clearly, a senior Marketing executive would be instrumental in developing a campaign to grab more mind and market share.  But you can’t run a company forever on investment dollars.  They needed to start selling more aggressively and building homes. 

After outlining the basics of the search, the Founder/CEO called me one afternoon several weeks into the search and added one more piece to the challenging profile of this new hire.  He was looking for a succession plan; someone who was capable of running the company in the next two years.  As an entrepreneur and visionary, he knew it wouldn’t be long before the next venture came calling, and being able to hand the reins over was a critical aspect to his short-term plans.  Finding a Senior Sales Executive with the operational chops to take over a start up was certainly going to be an unusual combination, but not impossible. 

The Search:  The Company was successful at hiring really smart, capable people who were able to strategize and execute on a wide variety of technical and operational challenges.  It was going to be about 2-3 years until the new VP of Sales and Marketing transitioned into the CEO role, but the primary objectives the first year included developing a sales plan, hiring a sales team, and driving revenues up as quickly as possible.  They needed a sharp shooter with laser focus, an extensive network to hire sales reps nationally, and the experience selling a technically complex, expensive, and emotionally compelling product.  This person was going to carry their own personal sales goals as well as managing a team of quota-carrying reps.   And, they needed a strong and influential presence that could quickly gain credibility with the sales, operations, technical and management team, as well as the board. 

This was a really critical hire and time was not on my side.  Targeting the right background meant identifying sales leaders from the top local Fortune 500 companies.  Someone who was used to earning into the mid-six figures and could see the great potential of this opportunity would be a challenge in any economic environment.  Asking someone to roll the dice on a green home-building start up during the height of the recession, and the worst real estate market of our times, might seem like a fool’s errand.  But the Company had encountered few problems raising capital, and had few competitors.  The opportunity for an ambitious executive to get on a very fast track to CEO for a Company dominating a growing market, with a large equity stake as part of the compensation package created a dynamic argument for a top executive to consider.   

I began by targeting top sales talent from Enterprise Software companies in the area.  This strategy would ensure identification of candidates with a more sophisticated approach marketing high dollar products/services, and accustomed to a longer sales cycle.   But they couldn’t just be a good sales person, they had to be highly visible within the organization and great at team building.

The Solution:  I have cultivated a deep network of enterprise sales leaders over the years.  Quite a few were selectively looking at the time, but were reasonably concerned about leaving a sure thing for a high-risk venture.  When you properly position an opportunity, you’ll find there is no shortage of interest from people motivated by high risk/reward positions.  We were committed, however, to attracting that one great talent who had the attitude, energy and verve to become CEO.  A commanding presence and an accessibility that showed genuine leadership, influence, determination and raw talent.

Five candidates stood out from the pack of nine competitors, and I knew two of the five would make it to final rounds.  During the first week or two of the search, a timely call to the VP of Business Development of a nearby multi-billion dollar enterprise software company produced a remarkable result.  Not only had this person been the Company’s sales lead, he was also their CEO’s top gun and likely successor.  The problem was he didn’t want to wait another 10 years to grab the ring and had been entertaining the possibility of starting his own venture, or finding a startup positioned for success and driving it into a leading market position.

It was during the first meeting between the Candidate and Co-Founders that a strong match was determined and a mutual interest compelling enough to pursue to the next level.  Weeks between meetings were spent on due diligence, research, and revealing conversations of personal and professional details shared from both sides with the potential to either fortify or derail the process.  Fortunately, this soul searching and sharing only served to increase interest, from which a true sense of partnership began to form between the Co-Founders and their new potential hire.

The offer was exceptional.  After only a day or so of review, the Candidate happily executed on the offer and the search process closed out.  The new VP of Sales & Marketing on-boarded within four weeks.

Today:  The Company has since raised more capital and continues to grow both mind and market share in the green building space.  Recent explosion of growth on the west coast has called for an increase in the Company’s presence there, but the Corporate headquarters remains in Massachusetts with the VP of Sales & Marketing steadily gaining more rein as he transitions into the CEO position.   With over $60M in capital raises and a growing revenue base, the Company is positioned for explosive growth as the new home-building market recovers from its backward slide and inventory of existing homes remains low.  Homebuyers whose value systems have shifted toward zero carbon foot print living are passionate about these state-of-the-art homes and the recent increase in the Company’s sales are testimony to their interest and enthusiasm.