Category Archives: onboarding

7 reasons to stop candidate bargain hunting

As the Euro teeters at the edge of a European toilet, businesses are observing nervously on the side-lines and moving into conservative mode. Hiring freezes and protracted recruitment processes seem to be the norm. Open positions are reportedly over subscribed and many employers have their choice of top talent. Reports of organisations trying to bring in excellent talent at budget, lower than market rate salaries seem to be on the increase. But how wise is this  decision to go candidate bargain hunting?

The trend where HR Managers are issuing ” plenty more fish in the sea” type statements,  playing on candidates’ market insecurities without offering anything in return to buy in longer term commitment are on the rise.  Strategic  carrots which might be offered could  include:  a later salary review based on results or performance, training or development possibilities or longer term career benefits, a mentor, luncheon vouchers, an extra-days holiday, telecommuting, flexi-time.  Anything! Where is the imagination?

A recent MBA graduate , who has just invested €50K in his professional development told me that an HR Manager had given him a ” take it ir leave it” option over a €1000 per annum salary differential (€2.7 per day), after receiving a salary offer which was already 10% below the market rate,  as well as being 10% below his stated minimum requirement. The company wants to see how he might “settle in“.  Message: they’re not that bothered if he joins or not!

This development is a short-sighted, ill-advised HR practise. Win/lose negotiations damage relationships in any arena and will almost always be doomed from the outset. The hiring process is no exception to this general rule.

  • Suggestions that an organisation needs to see a candidate “settle in”  sends signals about the lack of trust in their own hiring process and lack of belief in the recruitment decision. Probationary periods are normal,  but  if the  recruitment procedure is top-notch,  they are generally a formality.   Organisations need to convey excitement about their prospective hires, not doubt. Doubt does not inspire or motivate!
  •  HR practitioners should  think long-term and with business vision leaving room for negotiation, despite seemingly pressing budget needs. With the value of onboarding estimated at around 3 times annual salary,  this attitude is short-sighted and ultimately expensive. Salary  benchmarking differentials can also be found in the public domain so an increasing number of candidates know  their market value  (especially MBA candidates)
  • Candidates may  indeed accept this discounted offer and then shop around for a better one, only to withdraw at the last moment. The company is then left high and dry. I have seen this happen far too often when organisations under-pitch their offers. The cost of an open position has to be factored in.
  • Word gets round and damages the company brand. Playing hard ball for €2.7 per day sends out a bad message about all involved in the process.
  • Companies which are cheap at the beginning with low-cost salary policies may not change.  Candidates understand that well.
  • The new cheap hire will leave as soon as the economy picks up.
  • The new cheap hire will not go the extra distance nor be totally committed unless there happens to be a visionary manager in the process or the HR Manager who took this obdurate position has moved on.  Either way, from a company perspective that leaves too much to chance.

Times are indeed hard, but companies have many options to foster a positive attitude with a creative and flexible talent management strategy. If €2.7 per day is a deal breaker then there is something wrong somewhere.

Why reference seeking is a key skill

Resume / CV fraud has  always been around,  but  the recent case of Scott Thompson,  named Yahoo’s chief executive in January, illustrates how easy it is for even senior appointments to slip through the net without thorough due diligence.

Everyone assumes that the previous company has done the necessary work especially when the candidate has a strong market reputation.  The former president of PayPal graduated from Stonehill College in Massachusetts with a degree in accounting,  but his claim to a degree in computer science  turned out to be factually inaccurate.

Critical skill
Obtaining references is a valuable tool in the executive search box and a real skill,   one that is under rated and sadly too frequently inadequately utilised.  It is  more critical than ever to the hiring process, not simply to weed out blatant lies. Today,  job seekers  are becoming more sophisticated,  especially at a senior level.  Top level candidates are now encouraged to orientate their CVs towards each specific opening,  sometimes employing skilled resume writers to perfect them to showcase their talents and career histories. A polished, perhaps even coached interview performance will seal the deal.

What it is not!
Reference seeking is not a chat or quick call with a nominated person or business associate from the candidate’s previous career or a substitute for other forms of rigorous assessment. Nor should it be based on idle network gossip. If there is smoke then the fire should be systematically tracked down!  Very often market whispering can provide valuable feedback if processed correctly.

Many companies  will no longer give written references for fear of litigation and will only state any facts such as the candidate’s dates of employment and job title. Obviously the candidate should be informed that contact will be made which is now generally by telephone.  Preparation  for the call should be as strategic as the job interview itself. It is important that the reference seeker understands the key requirements and qualities needed for the position.

Referees  are usually proposed by the candidate so he/she obviously expects to be spoken about in glowing terms.  Quite often they will also have been specifically briefed. It’s therefore necessary to get behind the story with prepared questions relating to the open position and the skills and qualities required that are as penetrating as the candidate job interview.  Each interview usually takes about an hour.  It is probably a good idea to seek referees in possibly 3 previous companies, dependent on the experience level of the candidate. One excellent reference from the last employer could simply mean they want to get rid of a troublesome employee!

References can also be helpful in the onboarding process. If a candidate comes with outstanding references from a number of sources and suddenly under performs in the new role, then that might suggest that some internal questions need to be asked about cultural fit, onboarding programmes etc. facilitating early intervention.

And finally, before the start date, copies of any academic or professional certificates should be supplied. That one simple step would have helped Yahoo save face, not to mention a  lot of money.

How fast is too fast? Speed interviewing.

Speed interviewing

Would you move in with someone you’d only just met?
I was recently asked by a local journalist for a soundbite on speed interviewing. This is apparently one of the latest job hiring strategies to hit the job market and is seemingly being adopted by an increasing number of companies. The process, pretty much like speed dating, allows both the interviewee and hiring company to assess their potential match. It also exposes the applicant to a large number of hiring companies in a short space of time, as they rotate within a pre-arranged group of recruiters and hiring managers. All of this supposedly maximizes the candidate’s chance of receiving an offer. Speed interviewing is also a great money saver for any employers who want to meet as many candidates as possible in the least amount of time.

Déjà vu
Because I’ve been around for a while, this type of interview process seems to me to be new speak for job fair, a system which was, and still is, commonly used to identify graduate potential at universities. I have attended many myself, on both sides of the counter. Typically, interviews last between 5 -15 minutes and allows large numbers of both candidates and employers to check each other out. At the higher end of the scale the hiring managers and employers are as much under scrutiny by the very top candidates, who usually have their pick of the best offers. As a student, I have vivid memories of the organisations getting the highest numbers, were the ones providing the best food. Apparently even today – pizza works.

I would say that the process has value to the extent that it gives a preliminary overview to both parties, based as it is, on first impression criteria only – such as physical presentation, body language, oral communication skills and so on. Any suggestion that this could be used as a substitute for an in-depth and thorough selection process – fills me with total horror. That was my sound bite! Do I think this is a valuable solution for busy people in today’s world? No I don’t. We spend about 2000 hours a year in the workplace. I think it’s a decision that should be made after careful consideration by both parties.

The thought that this process might be drifting off campus into mainstream recruitment is worrying and I spoke only the other day to a professional person in their early 30s, who recounted an interview experience which was not far removed from what I have just outlined. He described the process as “dehumanising”.

The major weakness of this process, is that a little like it’s namesake ” speed dating“, it’s based on the chemistry between the individuals involved on the day, in that 15 minutes. So in a romantic context, it is highly unlikely that a couple would opt to move in together on the basis of a 15 minute conversation, no matter how well they hit it off. If the duo do get on, a second date would probably be the next step to progress the relationship. One would hope that corporations would exercise the same degree of caution. The risk of making a poor hiring decision leading to low retention rates and ineffective onboarding could be significantly increased. For any candidate, forced under pressure to make a hasty decision, the downsides can also be notable.

Nevertheless, if the system leads to a second interview, it should be taken seriously by all concerned. If it doesn’t, the organisation in my book has question mark on it.

Candidate Preparation
§ Appearance First impressions do count, especially when it comes to speed interviews. Candidates should dress as if they were going to a full interview.
§ Research the companies you wish to target and ask meaningful questions. It could save time later and getting caught up in low value processes or missing a great opportunity.
§ Get the recruiters contact details so you can send your CV by email. Connect with them online afterwards on a professional platform such as LinkedIn.
§ Bring a supply of copies of your resume for anyone who might want one, more than the number of people you have signed up to see. You just never know.
§ Prepare and practise your Elevator Soundbites – you may need several different versions depending on the number of companies you are meeting.

If you are offered a job on the spot, treat this like you would a date. Be flattered, but extremely cautious. You simply don’t know each other well enough to make any committment.

Or putting it another way: would you move in with someone you’d only known for 15 minutes?

Will there be an end to copy/paste selection?

Continue reading

Additional discretionary duties as required

Can you be too flexible?

A contact of mine has recently started a new job. Everything went smoothly, the whole search process completed in record time, a contract was presented and signed, a draft job description included in the on boarding programme, a corporate manual and workplace ethics booklet 2cm thick, were all courriered over in advance of the start date. So far, so super. No detail was left uncovered.

However, several days after he had arrived, he was asked to sign his job description and in the small print he noticed for the first time the phrase ” for operational reasons the job holder may be asked to undertake additional discretionary duties as required

Was he being foolish he asked me? How flexible could he be expected to be? Could he end up mopping floors or cleaning bathrooms?

As with many things the answer is that depends!

Company size
Earlier in my career I joined a start-up. My official title was Administration Manager which covered a multitude of sins. My primary function was HR and recruitment for the fledgling organisation, but if a delivery had to be made and it was on my way home, I did it. The MD vacuumed the carpet if a customer was coming in. No one said it’s not my job, because the organisation was too small for anyone to be precious. If they did the business would have folded. One day the Sales Director was hospitalised unexpectedly for a month. I was the only person available who could fill the gap, even though at that point I barely spoke French. That month changed the direction of my whole career. I loved it, was successful and I never went back to straight HR.

Is that scenario likely to take place in a Fortune 500 company? Will P & G ask employees who are not hired in the delivery function, to sling a few boxes of Pantene or Dash into the back of their cars and whip them to Carrefour or Tesco before close of business. I think not. Would an accountant in GE be deployed to operate a production line? Equally unlikely.

Reasonable requests
However, it would not be unreasonable expect an employee to participate in projects or support other functions with specific personal expertise. Businesses cannot be run with rigidly defined job descriptions where everyone acts like robots. In knowledge based jobs employees don’t even want that. Flexibility can offer opportunity for personal growth as well as satisfying business needs and should certainly be considered and embraced. If the job morphs into something for which a candidate was not recruited and is not acceptable, then this obviously has to be taken through the appropriate channels. I have known job functions change so significantly that candidates have decided to leave either at the end of the on boarding process, or shortly after. It can be as a result of genuinely unforseen economic imperatives and organisational shift, or sadly a result of poor hiring processes, where there should be no shocks at all.

Entry level
It also depends on the level of the position in question. Entry level personnel quite often complain that they are asked to carry out what they perceive to be menial tasks, not found in their job descriptions. Photocopying, making coffee, answering the phone. That’s something they need to get over, in the short-term at least.

Gender stereotyping
Women are frequently expected to take on extra responsibilities because of an unspoken gender stereotype association: making / serving coffee, organising birthday gifts and parties for staff, attending after work drinks events with a senior manager. That is something they should definitely not get over and very politely decline. Even as interns they should try to make sure that these duties are shared equally with their male co-workers.

Extra miles
Some organisations pull the “flexibility” card and walking the “extra-mile” to the point where contractual or even statutory obligations are ignored and exploitation kicks in. This reflects mismanagement or even organisational chaos, which is clearly very different. Resentment builds up and job satisfaction and performance levels are severely reduced.

These situations are not dictated by specific responses to exceptional circumstances or even related only to the type of duties required, but to hours worked, team numbers, travel levels, geographic location and other changes to previously agreed contractual arrangements. I spoke to a young City lawyer who told me that in her firm “ Lunch is for wimps. Needing to eat is seen as a sign of weakness.” Marcus recounted how he had been asked to fulfill many of the duties as departmental manager, without any official recompense. Peter said in his company anyone leaving the office on time is perceived as a “slacker”. In all cases normal negotiation strategies should kick in. If they are rejected, then depending on the job market, 2 words come to mind: voting and feet.

So although the phrase ” additional discretionary duties to meet operational requirements” is unlikely to be synonymous with floor or bathroom cleaning ( unless you are hired as a cleaner) it definitely merits clarification and amplification with the hiring manager. Flexibility is an equal opportunity employer for both development and exploitation.

So no, definitely not a silly question.

When is lunch with a STUD not a hot date?

Trailing spouse

When it’s a Spouse Trailing Under Duress
I’ve just had lunch with a STUD. No, this was not a hot date, but a perfectly correct meeting with a Spouse Trailing Under Duress aka …STUD. This is an affectionately humerous moniker given in Brussels to male partners following the careers of their female counterparts.

Jim is blissfully married to the beautiful and successful Angela and has 2 wonderful children. They moved to Brussels from the US 9 months ago with Angela’s job as a senior VP with an international fmcg company. Jim and Angela were a two career family, so considerable discussion was needed before Jim finally decided to put his own career as a Sales Director in a B2B construction company on hold.

It was apparently not as agonising a process as I had imagined. ” There really was no duress! The opportunity, not just for Angela, but the whole family, was too great to turn down. The construction industry was badly hit last year in the US and although I still had my job, the company had been forced to make many lay offs. I wasn’t sure how much longer things could go on. Career wise Angela’s sector is buoyant and is pretty recession proof. The girls will get a wonderful education at a top international school. We are here for 3 years and intend to maximise the opportunity.

But what about his own career and professional challenges? ” What I missed most initially, was the structure of a working environment and the basic interaction and collaboration with colleagues. I struggled with not being able to define myself by my profession, thinking I would be perceived negatively – but I got over that pretty quickly. I’m setting up my own internet based business , so I just say that if anyone really pushes and I’m also taking an online MBA. So combined with being a “House Dad ” I’m pretty busy.

I asked Jim if he was afraid that those 3 years might impact his career long-term? “ I don’t think anyone can tell any more what will happen in 3 years. The economies are too uncertain. I intend to go back with additional skills and hopefully an understanding of international business. I think the experience is changing me and I may decide to do something completely different. I think people imagine we guys play golf and poker all day! But it’s not true. It’s also about how you sell it when you get back. I’ve read your blogs! ”

Aaah thank you! Someone reads!

I have trailed as a spouse, not once, but twice. Both occasions involved significant decisions impacting every part of my life and were not taken lightly. This was many years ago, long before global and mobility had morphed into biz speak and were simply two disconnected words in the dictionary. Facebook, email, Twitter, Skype and texts were just twinkles in a cyber geek’s eye and those were the days when I would almost knock the postman off his moped in my rush to get my letters! Remember those? Paper!

Back then it was regrettably mainly women who trailed with a multitude of organisations set up to support their assimilation. Now in dual income households where both partners have career parity and happily there are more women occupying senior roles, that is changing, but no less challenging. It’s becoming yet another interesting career transition.

Spouses and onboarding
In executive search when placing anyone internationally, I always hope that strong support arrangements are in hand for any trailing partners. Today, this can be either the man or the woman. The working partner tends to slip into an existing business structure and support network, which is quite often the same one they left behind in the previous country. All they do is go into a different office very day. This is not to diminish their challenges, but they are rarely completely isolated. So our mantra is that if the trailing spouse is happy – everyone is happy.

Each move will be unique and the success will depend on the destination country and culture, combined with the backgrounds and personalities not just of the working partner, but the whole family. I have seen many executives ask to be repatriated or even leave their companies altogether, because their partners or perhaps kids could not make the transition into an adopted country. Many marraiges end in divorce. Many organisations will provide either relocation or cross cultural support for the trailing spouse, because all research indicates that effective onboarding of the employee can be negatively impacted by an unhappy trailing partner. Some companies also provide allowances for language lessons, re-training and even coaching. Most countries have expat support organisations and very often national communities overseas have groups supporting incoming families.

What advice would Jim give to anyone in the same position? ” Consider it all from every angle. Financial, the kids, both careers, the shift in dynamics within relationships when one person who is used to working, stops, with the other one shouldering the burden exclusively. The whole family has to be committed and on board. It’s definitely not something to do if your partnership isn’t 100% sound. There are lots of challenges which you don’t have if you’d stayed at home and there is very limited network to call upon especially in the early stages. Otherwise – just go for it!”

In Brussels, the Belgian STUDS organisation is set up to deal with trailing male spouses trailing successfully under duress

Why onboarding is vital


And why probationary periods are Ok
So you’ve  created a winning resume,  negotiated any number of telephone screenings, sailed through all the face to face interviews, maybe even  aced the behavioral tests.  Finally you are opening that coveted offer letter.   Your heart races as you realise you’ve landed a great job, maybe a salary increase and fantastic future career opportunities.

But one phrase stands out, casting  a dark shadow over a great moment  ” subject to the satisfactory completion of a x month probationary period”   

What does this mean?
This pretty much means what it says. Before your contract will be definitively confirmed,  you need to successfully complete a x month trial period. Does this mean that you will be giving up a job for a position that isn’t necessarily secure?  Well, yes actually it does.

But before you get into a flat spin let’s take a closer look. Hiring companies invest thousands of dollars/euros/pounds in a selection process.   There will also be an impact on revenue during the period the position is open and in any subsequent onboarding  process which can take up to a year.  The company want you to hit peak efficiency as early as possible and should be doing everything they can to make sure that happens.

According to research by the Wynhurst Group ,  new employees who go through a structured on-boarding programme are  58% more likely to be with the organization after three years and the cost of losing an employee in the first year is estimated to be at least three times their salary.

Worst case scenario
So no one wants you to leave!  You will also have left a job and  probably don’t fancy the idea of unemployment appearing in  your  short-term future. So both parties are heavily invested in making sure that the appointment and transition period are successful.

What is being catered for is a worst case scenario which allows all involved an easier exit strategy with a specified notice period. It is usually more about cultural and team fit than core competencies, those indefinable and intangible things that come about when people interact with each other in any relationship or organisation. It’s a bit like dating – without being dumped overnight.

What is onboarding  ?
Wally Bock suggests  somewhat cynically that  the term onboarding  has been  made up by people  ”  ..who revel in jargon…. it means many different things to different people  …who have different ideas about where it starts and ends and what is and isn’t included  ..”

That’s certainly true.  Essentially it is the process that will accelerate the new employee’s learning curve and increase the chances of early effectiveness and productivity for the new hire and also reduce the possibility of early attrition ( biz speak for you resigning). Where it starts and finishes will vary from one organisation to another and  for some companies includes the interviewing and hiring process.  On arrival the new appointee should be given detailed information not only about the location of the coffee machine,  stationery cabinet and the position they’ve just accepted, but also key company information,  as well as insights into corporate culture, ethics and vision.

Jane Perdue,  CEO of the Braithwaite Group told me that in her corporate HR days,  programmes could last 1 week or 6 months depending on the level of the position  “ the perspective was to teach culture, process, procedure and not let the water cooler conversations be the only introduction that new folks receive.”

Hiring phase
In an ideal world employers will have covered many of the issues that  could result in early attrition in the pre-offer stage, through clear and open communication to avoid any surprises, or worse still, shocks.  At the point of making an offer , the hiring management team should have examined the fit of the new appointee,   not just with the profile, but with the new boss and the existing team.  Plans should have been made to fill any anticipated  skill set gaps.

The existing team
The arrival of a new team member or even boss, also causes the existing team members to be in transition, so any impact on that dynamic should also be appraised. Any anticipated repercussions both positive and negative have to be factored in. This is a bit like bringing a new baby home! Some ” family ” members will adapt quickly, others may take longer and sometimes some members may not like the fact that the “baby” is there at all and react badly. Ideally contingency plans will be in place and the situation reviewed regularly, so that early steps can be taken to resolve any issues.

So what should be clear to both parties?

  •  A job description should exist with defined, achievable goals.
  •  The review method should be stated and transparent with regular review periods and clear feedback.
  •  Reporting lines should be outlined and all parties involved in the review process will be clear.
  • Methods of preferred communication should be made clear. If there is  a flat, open door,  informal culture then new hires need to know that. If the line mangers prefer written reports and formally scheduled interviews that needs to be clear too.
  • A mentoring structure should exist either internally or through the provision of an external coach.
  • Provision should be made to cover any periods of sickness.

Wally adds sagely ” We know that their first impressions of our shop are going to be important and lasting. So we want to make the process of getting hired, joining the company, and becoming a productive member of it as effective and seamless as possible. I just don’t know what parts of that constitute “onboarding”

Possibly all of it!  A successful onboarding process should provide an opportunity to align the expectations of all the players for the best possible outcome for all concerned.

Everyone should be happy! Right?