Leading the witness

Often times we are eager to interview candidates to join our organization and some times we get so excited or have so much information to cover that we make this common interview mistake – we lead the witness.

leading the witness

With an estimated 5-6 million jobs open in the U.S. right now it makes sense that we would get eager to fill our jobs and excited to sell the candidate on our work, before letting the candidate do some talking. I’ve seen interviewers make this mistake so many times, and I always cringe when they do because it will directly impact the outcome of the interview/hiring decision.

I recently conducted a recruiting training with an HR team and I spent a lot of time on leading the witness, so much so that I had the team role play some cold calls and interviews to show them when they do this. Leading the witness can start as early as the first call (which I think is a result of so many people beating into the heads of recruiters that candidates don’t really want to talk to us – so in turn they blab everything about the job in 35 seconds because they are afraid they will never get that person on the phone again). Their HR director spoke up at one point in the training and said “If you ever get to sit in on an interview with Kristina, watch her…she does very little talking.” This is mostly because I want to hear what the candidate has to say (listen to learn), but it’s partially so I don’t do any leading. Of course to do this, you must be able to power through awkward silence. A lot of interviewers will jump to fill the silence when things get awkward and then babble down a path of telling the candidate exactly what the organization is looking for.

Now don’t get me wrong, the candidate should know what your organization is looking for and your culture shouldn’t be a secret. When you’ve done all the talking upfront and over shared what your company is looking for, you’re setting the candidate up to form their answers around what you want to hear. This makes it harder to screen for a culture fit since you’ve given away all of your culture buzzwords before you’ve heard what the candidate has in mind for their next position.

Here’s an example:

Interviewer: Here at XYZ company we are looking for candidates who believe in bringing their A game every day, we have no “off days” here. Employees give 110%. We believe in working late hours when we have a project deadline approaching, and expect project deadlines to be more important than anything else. We want some one who likes to play hard when it’s time to celebrate… etc. What are you looking for in your next job?

Interviewee: (thinking to themselves: an 8-5 where I can get my job done and go home and spend time with my kids every night, but gee, right now I really need a job) Well, I’m looking for a group of people who believe in hard work and put project deadlines above everything else.

Kind of a crummy example, but as I thought up example after example they all were descriptive of either my current or former employers and I don’t want to show all of their cards or call anyone out. The mistake here is telling them so much about your environment and THEN asking them what they want. In some cases the candidate is going to be perfectly honest with you and then you can have an honest discussion whether this is the right fit for them and the organization. In other cases people are going to say whatever you want to hear to get hired-at least until they can find the right job for themselves. In some cases people aren’t setting out to lie to you, they just haven’t put any thought into that question so they parrot back everything they just heard you say.

This mistake is most important to avoid in a company where you are screening for culture fit. If you believe culture is driving the success of your business, why widen the risk of bringing in someone who is just trying to fake it? Before you say it, remember we’ve talked about “there’s a place for everyone” i.e. “there’s a culture for everyone.”Also, this isn’t permission to disqualify people for the wrong reason. You CAN define culture so don’t rely on a vague “not a culture fit” reason for not extending an offer.

A quick search for some stats estimate that 80% of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions and one of the reasons this happens is the candidate isn’t really a culture fit and it wasn’t discovered in the interview process (even though it can be). There’s all kinds of stats that pop up when looking to identify how much a bad hire costs our organizations – one source said 1/3 of the employee pay, one source says 50-60% of the pay, and another says 2.5 times their salary. There are a lot of variables to consider when calculating this number, but know this: you can actually identify how much it costs your organization. So, calculate it for your organization and use that number. Data outside of your organization should mostly be taken with a grain of salt in my opinion. Especially considering there is no one size fits all solution to any of our issues, right?

Super easy solutions to this “leading the witness” mistake in general. Ask your questions first. Then expand on the job and organization after your questions have been answered and give the interviewee a chance to ask you questions. Too much to remember? Try this, if Jack McCoy would get scolded for it in the courtroom, steer clear in the interview. Awkward silence is okay, let the interviewee think and you listen.

Three Interview Rule

I’ve always suffered a bit of a professional identity crisis. Am I recruiting or am I HR? Am I both? Are they one in the same? I’ve gone back and forth, but one thing I can say without a doubt that fits with both HR and Recruiting is solid relationships with your hiring managers. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to learn how to manage this relationship and the most challenging was when recruiting for a highly technical engineering company. One thing that drove me crazy was the constant need for “more candidates” for one position. If you’re experiencing the same challenge, let me share my three interview rule with you (it’s really simple).

Me to hiring manager: Here are three candidates that fit what you are looking for based on the extensive discussions we’ve had around your current hiring need.

Hiring manager to me: Great, let’s interview all three of them.

*Interviews all of them*

Hiring manager to me: I want to interview more candidates.

Me to hiring manager: What did you not like about these three?

Hiring manager to me: I don’t know.

Me to hiring manager: Then we are starting over.

3

Why would I tell them we are starting over? Because if you have found three candidates that fit the criteria you’ve discussed with the hiring manager and they still can’t make a decision, then they do not know what they are looking for. When I talk to a hiring manager we discuss every aspect of the position I can with them- minimum skills required, type of work, who the customer is, who they will report to, personalities of the team members they need to work with, day to day environment, education requirements, length of contract, hours of the schedule, peak seasons, when they might be required to work extra, what materials will they be working with…you get the picture. ANYTHING that is relevant that can help me find the perfect candidate for my customer, the hiring manager.

The three interview rule won’t work when you’ve given them candidates who do not match the job req so you should only pull this out when you’re candidates are a match for what you and the hiring manager discussed. This rule can be applied to any position, not just technical ones. Having the discussion about no more than three interviews the right way will help you build credibility with your hiring managers. Approach it as a way to revisit the job you are working on and what might need to be revisited as a requirement, not as a power move. Use it as a way to show you support the hiring manager and respect their time so you want to make sure you have the right information to get it right and help them make an informed decision. Continuing to give them candidates when they cannot tell you what they didn’t like about the qualified candidates already submitted will only drag out the hiring process.

Give it a shot and let me know how it works! As always, if you have questions, I’d be happy to answer them!

 

Education as a Benefit at #SHRM17

This morning I had the pleasure of taking a few minutes to sit down with Rachel Carlson, CEO and Co-Founder of Guild Education and one of her colleagues Zach Rowe. I was interested in knowing more about what Guild Education has going on and what the Guild sponsored session Beyond Starbucks/ASU: The Future of Education Benefits  has in store for us Tuesday morning at 7am!

Education as a benefit could be very valuable in a hiring environment that screams skills gap and talent shortage every day. Without getting into the numbers we can reflect on our own experiences at work and looking for/keeping talent & the challenges our own organizations are facing. Education as a benefit could be an effective strategic move for your organization, but I’ll let you hear it from Rachel and the panel yourself.

In talking with Rachel we covered a lot of thoughts on education as a benefit, so I’m going to do my best to sum them all up. So here’s the break down- Guild Education’s approach is about meeting the employees where they are. I personally think that is vital in considering any benefit for your organization, but I’m thrilled to know that’s Rachel’s approach for education. They are working with some big name companies implementing options from GED through Masters program- options and flexibility go a long way for today’s consumers!

A lot of times there is educational assistance for corporate office employees or executive employees, but RARELY for the front line workers. Hearing that companies like Chipotle (as in hourly food service workers) is using this as a benefit to recruit AND RETAIN employees intrigued me. I mean, this benefit is really doubling the retention of their front line workers? I get how this could help with recruiting right? Pretty obvious without even digging in to the strategy, but retention? Wouldn’t these line workers leave after they finish earning more education? Chipotle has a wonderful program for promoting from within, but there’s only so many promotion spots. Turns out employers will generally see a 3-8% enrollment in the program. Think of it this way, your top talent is taking advantage of this and that means your top talent is staying with you instead of quitting and going to work for a competitor. They’ve also done research that says 20-30% wont use it, but will value it as a benefit. Maybe those 20-30% have plans to use it later or maybe that just means encouraging continued education is a personal value that they appreciate the organization providing.

As for the employer side of this benefit, Rachel and her team sit down with potential clients and work through the numbers. That’s right, they can sit down and see if the ROI is going to be a profit center or just another benefit cost. I understand that cutting benefits when your organization is looking to save money quickly is an easy go to for the purse holders in your organization, but when there is a possibility of a benefit being a profit center you should at least stop and listen.  While I was tossing my skeptical questions to Rachel to see if this was a sound argument and how this might play out in some companies back home she made it real simple for me: “It needs to cost less than turnover.” In this case, it sounds like the Guild Education team is going to equip you with the knowledge and numbers you need to make a credible pitch.

I believe education is so important and I could go on and on about my conversation with Rachel and Zach this morning, but I want you to go to their session Tuesday morning at 7am and find out the details for yourself! Feel free to reach out to Guild directly at partnerships@guildeducation.com

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Do you mind if I pray?

No, I don’t mind if you pray.

What I do mind is that you asked me that question while I was in the middle of an interview process with your company. I do mind that you were the HR manager of a large organization and still risked asking that question during an interview. I said I didn’t mind, but I wonder if I would’ve got the job if I said I did mind.

What I do mind is that I never called you out on putting me on the spot like that or making hiring decisions based on who people pray to.

Pay negotiations

Probably my least favorite part of being a recruiter is pay negotiations. I cringe every time they come up for many reasons. Reasons like when an applicant puts pay negotiable, gives me a number in the interview and we meet or exceed that number in our offer, but suddenly we need to consider paying more than that. I also cringe because I don’t have a lot of say in the negotiations and most candidates don’t handle pay negotiations gracefully. Because someone told you to negotiate I thought I’d list some things for you to consider when you are about to negotiate pay (from a little ol’ corporate recruiters perspective).

  • Don’t wait two weeks to tell me what your counter offer is. You can tell me what you want it to be sooner rather than later.  Having that conversation with me when you know what you want helps keep everyone on the same page and keeps the company from waiting around on you and losing another candidate. This may seem ideal for you as the candidate, but I can tell you, hiring managers don’t forget when you put them in a corner like that, whether you know about it or not.
  • Know why you are asking for what you are asking for. Another week of vacation? Why? Because you have been earning that many weeks at your current job? Cool. Another 25k? Why? Just because you googled the going rate and that’s what you came up with? Not cool. A lot of companies have someone on staff dedicated to researching going rates for your education and experience level. They will typically take that information and compare it to their contract award or budget and where that compares with other employees already with the company with similar skills and background. There is a lot of work that goes into creating in offer, in most cases, so know why you think you are worth those additional dollars.
  • Do not under any circumstances tell me you are just asking because someone told you never accept the first offer.  I’m not trying to sell you a car, we are talking about a potential career. I have business to conduct. My hiring managers have business to conduct. Don’t say “it never hurts to ask.” It does hurt to ask if you are doing it for no reason. You could be viewed as cocky or ignorant depending on what kind of number you try to counter with.
  • Also don’t tell me you know Bradley Justin that works for our company and you know he makes 88,000/yr so you would like the same amount just because. I will not talk about other employees pay rates with you, I just won’t.
  • And don’t tell me you will save pay discussions for the “important people.” I’ll hope you meant hiring manager or higher and try not to take offense, but I won’t forget what you said and I will always have that in the back of my mind when you need something from me or my department in the future. I will always kill you with kindness and answer your questions because I’m really HR and that’s what I’m here for, but I won’t forget how rude you were from the beginning.

Just a few helpful tips from my desk to yours! I know you’re going to negotiate so by all means, negotiate the right way!

Salary

 

Rock stars need not apply

I wonder how we got started using the phrase “rock star” to describe awesome candidates. Who thought of it first? The hiring manager or the recruiter? Was it the candidate?

Rock Star

I’ve been thinking about how funny it is to post that you are looking for a rock star candidate or whatever variation you use in your posting promotions. Maybe “rock star” is a completely unappealing phrase to the person you are looking for, because my guess is you and your managers haven’t thought about the message you are really conveying. Now some positions do qualify for a rock star status candidate, but most do not.

I giggled at the first definition that came up of rock star because it says “famous and successful singer or performer of rock music”. Does anyone even make rock music anymore? I digress.. Rock stars are not created equally, so be careful what you wish for. Remember when David Lee Roth trashed a dressing room in Pueblo, CO because they were served brown M&Ms and Van Halen’s contract clearly stated the brown ones had to be removed? (Full disclosure: I don’t remember it, I’m not that old. I just read about it and yes I know it’s an extreme example and the clause in the contract actually served a valuable purpose, just let me pitch my challenge to you, okay?). These are the kind of strategic requirements that could be proposed to you by that rock star you think you must have. Think about this

  1. Not all rock stars create good music Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean they are not a star, but its important to know that not every star will appeal to your taste or needs.
  2. Rock stars can be difficult to manage. Don’t just take my word for it, ask my boss. I’m a pain. I have clear-cut opinions on just about everything. I have no interest in doing things that I know I have no interest in. I haggle over everything. I prove my point any way that I can, which even means using his own words against him. I could continue this list of hard to manage qualities I have, but for the sake of your interest I’ll stop there and tell you this, if you leave me alone for 48 hours with the tools I want I will produce results. 48 hours is all I want… oh and let me shut my door, let me crank up my Nicki Minaj channel on Pandora, let me do it my way aaaand all those other things I previously mentioned. See what I did there?  (I kid, I’m definitely not a pain to manage).  Everybody’s results have a price, you need to decide is it necessary (and feasible) to pay the rock star price?
  3. Rock stars get bored.If you don’t have what it takes to keep a rock star entertained you are headed down a dangerous path. Sometimes it means letting the rock star do what they want to do and sometimes it means making sure you have challenges for the rock star in the workplace, at least now and then.

It’s important (recruiters) to know what your organizations needs are and to sometimes bring your hiring managers back in and give them a reality check. Can you afford a bunch of rock stars? What will a bunch of new rock stars do to your work environment? Can you really retain a rock star? Consistently good performing and reliable employees are great too, everyone cannot be a rock star. Maybe you do need to go out there and get a rock star, all I’m saying is don’t be surprised when the rock star behavior/attitude come along too.

HR under fire

Scrolling around through some social media sites recently I watched HR take some heat for the large number of unemployed, from the unemployed. I read through several conversations that were happening before I gave up on trying to understand the nonsense and just power down. I kept thinking later that it would’ve done the profession zero good for me to try to engage in conversation to clear up some obvious misunderstandings. This group of people seemed to have made their mind up and probably would’ve argued with anyone about anything, and that’s a shame, right?

i hate hr

Let me back up to a week ago. The closing general session of the SHRM legislative conference was the Secretary of Labor from the U.S. Department of Labor, Thomas Perez. He was a wonderful speaker, very charismatic and he took charge of the room like a pro! He had stories too. Stories that would make the hardest of hearts soften. As I listened to him tell the tales of the single mother who couldn’t turn her heat up because she was many months unemployed and struggling to find a job so she bundled up and rationed her food to stay within budget, I looked around the room full of HR professionals. I looked to see who was engaged, who was tweeting and who was truly heart-broken. Then I thought of the worst employee I ever had and how relieved we were when she was no longer employed with us. What if the lady he was telling the story about was her? The employee that had a problem with every holiday we took. The employee that had a problem with every supervisor who asked her to do anything. The employee who was offended by the candy in the vending machine. We’ve all had those employees, right? What if that long-term unemployed person really is that employee?

What blows my mind is that SHRM was very involved in the efforts for the “Ready to Work” initiative, so speaking for the HR community, they care about those long-term unemployed. I also didn’t think it was a secret that HR does NOT own the hiring process, but to read the comments I read it must be a secret still. Hey public, HR doesn’t own the hiring process (and they shouldn’t).

So back to the conversations my computer screen was flooded with, what if those people are that employee? Can we help them? Do we do anything for them? Is it HRs responsibility to get them back on track? Is there really a skills gap in the country or is there an attitude gap? Or better yet, an entitlement gap? Something to chew on this Monday morning, I’d love to hear your thoughts.