Category Archives: Candidate qualifications

Are we seeing a resurgence of candidate power?

Candidate power

Top candidates making greater demands
As the worst of the recession seems to have bottomed out and economies are hopefully experiencing an upward turn, I have noticed a slight, but perceptible shift in the executive search process. Organisations had their pick of top talent for probably 3 years, the challenge during that period was being able to sift through the sheer numbers of applications to identify the best candidates. Hiring managers who could during this period, choose their terms of engagement, are currently meeting candidates who are more demanding. Top candidates are now involved in multiple processes, very often with their existing companies being prepared to enter a bidding game and making counter offers to retain key employees.

Normal candidates
I’m not talking about corporate prima donnas, who are playing one company off against another, or leveraging their current employer with empty threats to move. These are genuinely top class individuals who have probably been held back by the lack of opportunities, caused by the economic downturn. In the intervening years we have been exhorting candidates to research and prepare to create good impressions with potential employers. But now is it organisations which are found wanting and not making the correct impression on candidates?

Internal audit
Perhaps now is the time for hiring companies to carry out internal audits to check that they are operating to best practises: They should be satisfied that:

All stages of the recruitment process from sourcing, interviewing, offer and onboarding, especially candidate communication and management, is efficient and timely. Any hiccoughs or delays in any part of these processes will result in losing the preferred candidate. Lost candidates = lost revenue, as positions remain open for even longer.

Salary and benefit levels are in line with the market. If hiring managers don’t know what market rates are – now is the time to find out.

Development and training programmes are in place to guarantee employee engagement in terms of future career opportunities.

Tomos, a recently graduating MBA suggests ” After a period of stagnation candidates need to know that companies are offering career development opportunities. For me this is as important as the salary package.”

Employer branding and reputation are strong. Just as employers can research candidates on-line, the reverse is also true. It is becoming increasingly easy for candidates to establish the corporate culture of any company by asking well placed connections, a few carefully constructed sentences about hours worked, vacation times, bonus systems, management style and so on. Glowing references from existing employees are a huge boost to the recruitment process. However, even a well-intentioned comment can send the wrong signals. One contact decided not to apply for a position when an internal connection within the company mentioned that he had a closer relationship with his Blackberry than his girlfriend.

First impressions count
Organisations which are complacent about any aspect of their hiring systems might be in for a wake up call. As Matteo, a Business Development Manager actively looking for a new opportunity confirmed, the recruitment process is the first encounter with the overall corporate image. If that isn’t strong, other areas of the company can be brought into question. “I was involved in 3 different search processes. All opportunities were attractive in different ways. The offer I accepted came from the company with the most professional hiring procedure. I felt it was one indication of how the company was managed from the top down

First impressions cut both ways.

The Feminisation of HR

Feminisation of HR

Is there a downside?
I was recently involved in an executive search for an upper level middle management HR position. The European VP asked me to try to produce a gender balanced short list. Now, this is not what you are thinking! What she wanted in this case was to try to balance her team, which is currently composed of 90% women, to include some men. For many searches I struggle to find women at certain levels and on this one it was men who were in scarce supply.

Female dominance
In recent studies carried out in the US, HR is personified by a 47 year old white woman! In the UK according to research carried out by XpertHR,  75% of the HR function is female. This substantiates what we all imagine to be correct, following an even a cursory glance at any company’s organogram or telephone directory.

In the UK at entry-level, 86% of post holders in the HR profession are female. This percentage drops to 42.5% at director level.  In the US the overall percentages are pretty much the same, women occupy two-thirds of the HR executive positions.

Transition of the function
I started my own career in HR, in the heavily unionised steel industry where more often than not I was the only female in any meeting and men formally objected not just to me being there, but any woman  at all. During the last 25 years, there has been a significant evolution and today, HR is quite often one of the most predominantly female functions in many organizations.

This is part of a general shift over time from production to knowledge based economies and a general functional evolution of the discipline leading to what Michele Mees, author of the Balanced Leader, describes as the ” unsuccessful re-branding ” of the function. Back in my day, when industrial/employee relations, payroll, employee administration and recruitment were the primary time consumers, we have seen a move of the function into internal consulting services: leadership coaching, assessment and development. The more transactional sides of the function have either been taken over by software or are outsourced, including compensation, records and recruitment services. This leaves aspects of the function that seem to be more attractive to women, where their “people skills” are more highly valued. XPertHR are observing a a slight levelling out of gender within the function after the all time high figure in 2007.

Career Gateway
At one time, the HR function certainly provided a great career gateway for entry-level women to embark upon a corporate career compared to other functions, such as finance or sales. According to CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) in their report “Beyond the Glass Ceiling” female members of their organisations are 6 times less likely to become CFO or Finance Director than their male counterparts.

However, unfortunately, one of the other comments made about many organisations is that HR lacks teeth. With no P and L responsibilities, in many companies the function is relegated to a non executive position, with barely lip service paid to its contribution.

Re-cycled CEOs
Gurprriet Singh suggests in his post CEO HR I am fed up of seeing tons of research and surveys saying that the MOST important differentiator for an organization is talent and culture. And then not see organizations deploy their best resources to this function.” He calls for retiring CEOs to be recycled as HR Heads to give the function some much-needed teeth. As the majority of CEOs are male, does he believe this will make a difference?

A male veiw
I posed the same question to Tim Douglas International HR Director, CSM “Today I asked my team, who are all female. Their view is HR is seen to be about providing support and caring, although they recognise it requires hard-nosed decisions and sometimes very unpleasant ones. They suggest it’s seen to be back to the original ‘welfare’ roots of personnel, and definitely not associated with being influential in big business decisions, hence fewer man are attracted to it (unless, as one kindly said, those men have a few too many y chromosomes!) However they also pointed out that HR teams led by men were often more ‘dynamic’ and ‘engaged with business decisions’ and often taken more seriously by leaders

A female view
Tim’s experience of a male voice carrying greater weight is re-enforced by Michele “I only recently heard a woman (head of legal department and in charge of gender diversity project) say she had been trying to get the gender balance topic on the management agenda for over a year, without success. She then got back up from a male colleague , who joined her gender balance team, and asked him to put it on the agenda. Guess what: he only had to ask once. This is in my view a demonstration of (hidden) stereotyping by a male management team.”

She would also support Tim and Gurprriet saying ” HR people and departments are often very process driven and they do not come across as begin flexible, agile, quickly to respond to market changes (as sales and marketing must be for instance). HR people are not always keen to ‘dive into’ the business, I think this is needed to build up credibility with business leaders (today I heard the remark from an HR manager that HR people seldom network to other than HR events, that they do not take MBA courses, or any other managerial courses apart from their own specialist field) and apparently HR is still a snug comfort zone to be in

Correcting the balance
Companies with masculine dominated cultures (most perhaps?) can successfully recruit women into the HR function without disturbing the masculine order. HR is perceived as “soft”, while sales and finance are “tough”. This way stereotyping is continued and gender roles are confirmed. It seems that tough decisions or actions performed by an HR woman, will not be perceived as tough and decisive as if they were performed by a man.

Culturally women are expected to exhibit softer skills, while men are expected to be more decisive. The criteria for evaluation is such that even when women are decisive they are not taken seriously, or get caught up in that old double bind as being too ” aggressive”.

So until HR qualifications include, and mandate, a solid business base, rather than simply focusing on functional expertise and qualifications, then this situation is likely to be perpetuated.

What other solutions could there be? What do you think?

Are the cowboys back in town?

Cowboys back in Town

Why I think there should be barriers to entry in the executive search business.
Somewhat surprisingly I have been approached 4 times in the last 4 months by headhunters. Now given that my CV and background is splashed all over the internet, you don’t have to be a Mensa member to figure out what my activities are and what demographic I’m in. So it won’t come as shock to anyone if I said that these were misplaced calls.

An only cursory check via Google, told me that the first caller was a senior consultant who had transferred into a reputable search company from the business sector. Two of the callers were junior in the job and newbies to the search business, while the fourth was setting up his own company , having seemingly been laid off from a marketing job in 2008. I say that with some certainty, because no one in their right minds would have voluntarily started a business in the executive search sector during that period, when in the EU job loss to job creation was 3:1 and overall, 50m or even more jobs disappeared from the global workplace. None of the callers had done any research and the experience was altogether far from ideal. All four had one thing in common. They had a pretty limited idea of what they were doing.

Rogue Recruiters
Before the recession there was much complaint about rogue recruiters proliferating the market, tapping into buoyant economies carrying a high number of unfilled openings. In some cases this was unfair, as it was as much about unrealistic candidate expectations, as incompetence. But some of the complaints were clearly true so all but the strongest survived in the following years. A positive spin-off was the disappearance of many of the search and recruiting cowboys. My fear now, is that with the green shoots of growth there might be a return of that same blot on the landscape.

As someone with considerable experience and qualifications in this area, I get frustrated by the sheer lack of professional training that many have in this field. Someone suggested to me that interviewing was just about ” chatting to people”, then by the same token accounting is just about ” adding and subtracting” . Yet accountants are required to study and pass exams for certification before they are let loose on the company finances.

Strategic function
So shouldn’t those responsible for some of the most potentially costly and strategic decisions within an organisation (hiring) also be similarly highly qualified? Now there will be some who will say that professional certification and competence are not necessarily mutually inclusive, and at times I certainly agree that can be true. However as a general guideline it is a useful barometer of ability. Similarly people claiming to have good “people instincts” believe that is all that is required in candidate assessment and team building. One’s person’s gut instincts are anothers’ irritable bowel syndrome.

Corner cutting
To some extent this is fuelled by companies themselves as recruitment is an area in which some try to cut corners, without relating the strategic impact of those measures to other metrics of organisational costs, such as onboarding time and attrition levels. I was even asked by a journalist recently for a soundbite on the future of “speed interviewing”. That went quickly! Horror! Some companies for more junior level positions, expect recruitment organisations to work on contingency i.e. ” no hire, no fee“, so the payment of even basic overheads is reliant on the whims of the hiring managers, which often change.

So other than the big players or established organisations, many search organisations are operating on shoe strings and this is reflected in the talent then hired internally and the training given to their employees. These underqualified individuals are then let loose on the market, creating bad PR for the sector.

Minimum requirements

  • Basic training: Anyone claiming to be a search or recruitment consultant should have a minimum and certifiable training in many fields ranging from telephone and face to face interviewing techniques, skill assessment , testing, sales and research skills and even basic psychology.
  •  Licence to practise: New companies setting up in the field should require a licence to practise, where a track record of demonstrable competence,experience and training are required to operate. This happens in some countries, Belgium for example, but not others, where anyone with a telephone, a lap top and a LinkedIn account can set up shop.
  • Penalties: There should also be penalties for those whose codes of practise are sub-standard or ethically dubious,  with the possibility to be professionally barred.
  • Without insisting that these professional criteria are met, as economies pick up it will indeed be back to business as usual.

    Will there be an end to copy/paste selection?

    Continue reading

    A plea! Keep job profiles real!

    Lost in translation
    As both an executive search professional and a career coach, I am frequently bemused how hiring managers and job seekers fail to communicate with each other and misunderstand or even misrepresent themselves in the process. I’m very mindful there is a strong sales role involved, with both parties wanting to present themselves in a positive light, but sometimes things are taken too far. The end result is ill feeling, frustration and lost time for everyone involved in the process. Nowhere is this clearer than in the preparation of, and response to, the job profile.

    Over qualification
    For the hiring manager the seniority and level of a team can be an in-house status symbol. This is why on some occasions the academic requirements demanded for some positions, would ordinarily be sufficient to split the atom or find a cure for cancer or HIV. MBAs are not essential for all openings! If we are absolutely honest, a number of jobs don’t even require a degree, let alone any post grad qualifications. Provided that literacy, numeracy and social skills are in place as well as any relevant professional experience, the university of life would be just fine. Heaven forbid if the Receptionist should look for a financial instrument in a tool box.

    We also have zany, inaccurate or simply incomprehensible job titles, which switch from time to time because they are closely linked to trending buzz words. Some of these are meant to be fun or to give lower level jobs some clout, but they can be misleading. Gallerista (art sales) Head of People or People Officer, ( sounds like something from the Red Army), Nail Technician ( carpenter or beautician?), Strategic Focus Specialist ( thought strategy was focused) , Head of Culture, Bakist (cake maker?) Certified Scrum Master ( rugby team coach?) Managing Co-Ordinator (seems to be a misnomer – do they co-ordinate or manage?) or any bizarre combinations of technician, engineer, specialist, consultant, executive or other words with the ” ist” suffix.

    The same can be said for years and type of experience required. Sometimes I see profiles asking for experience levels which when totalled, would cumulatively take even entry-level candidates to retirement age. Or demanding experience in certain technologies which have only been around for less than the time period required (10 years in social media, some softwares) The reverse also applies, I see ads for experienced interns! Isn’t the whole point of an internship – to gain experience?

    Old jokes
    There are also all the old recruitment jokes about hiring speak:
    fast paced environment = no time to train you.
    ability to handle heavy workload = You whine, you’re fired.
    some overtime required = some time tonight and in fact, some time every night
    flexible compensation package = sometimes we pay you, sometimes we don’t
    high level of travel = family life will become a distant memory

    Candidates need to get it right too
    But the converse can be said for candidates. I posted an ad earlier in the year which clearly stated “fluency in German essential” After being inundated with applications from all corners of the world where the candidates clearly didn’t know a brockwurst from a bratwurst I had to add ” fluency in German mandatory. I will be unable to respond to candidates not meeting this requirement” which did seem a bit rude. Or there was the “social media genius” with 10 LinkedIn connections and 5 tweets to his name, applying for a position as a Social Media Consultant. This is one reason that so many CVs drift into cyber space – they are not on target!

    So why don’t we all make life easier for ourselves and just tell it how it really is!

    What do you think? Add any crazy things you’ve seen! A prize for the most obscure or off beat!