Saturday, October 23, 2010

Growing as a Partner

The past few months have been an exciting period of my consulting career! In an environment where recruitment consultants are treated as 'vendors', trying to grow oneself into becoming a partner is much easier said than done...

Post the 'global' downturn, there is a lot more hiring activity. The game has changed, mandates have become tougher, expectations are different in the new scenario from both employers and prospective employees..leading to cautious (and often, delayed) decision making., and as a consequence, longer working capital cycles for the recruitment professionals like me!! But one good byproduct has emerged..companies are recognising good quality service, and are willing to experiment.

While we do have our share of exclusive retained searches with International companies setting up offices in India, (both directly and courtesy our global partners,) the sudden glut of positions from an array of past, existing & new clients came by our way, we at Options -find we can do more justice by partnering with a few handful clients who believe in our capabilities/competencies a little more :)!

We have embarked on focussing our best attention with a small bunch of clients-who with a token monthly retainer fee ( an advance that is adjusted in the settlement of the fees as soon as a selected hire joins)-has the undivided attention from Team Options. We work very closely with the hiring managers(complementing the staffing team in their efforts)-with a motto of improving the quality of every hire.

It has been an exciting journey-but it is amazing to discover a few realities:

-It ain't just about the money at all!!

Given the fact that a client has advanced money- one naturally assumes that they would be more pro-active as they had 'more skin in the game'! Well, for a while the pace of hiring is just as before: the process is just as viscous, and not too different turnaround times!

We noticed that it was initially difficult to get the 'internal recruiters' to be more transparent. For one who is not used to giving feedback (other than perhaps saying 'duplicate', 'tech reject', or at times 'on hold'!), we soon realised it wasn't a deliberate ploy. Most often, they themselves are in the dark- at times disconnected from the business demands, and most times stretched too much -to go beyond talking shop.

Most often there are blind spots that emerge as the system takes over. A thorough audit often unearths the process flow.

The retainer fee helped us dedicate time to delve more-and address the bottlenecks, and put a well oiled system to remove the inertia.

-Complement not merely supplement

We realise that every organisation-has a comprehensive source of knowledge- among the various employees itself. Often this knowledge isn't captured as most professionals are working 'pigeon holed' with their own focus and priorities. Once the internal recruiter accepted ''us" as not competition, and were willing to share their challenges, our accountability too has significantly increased. Using the increasing tools in social media -has been enabling us to reach out to a larger but homogeneous community -and stay engaged with them- to improve the reach on behalf of our clients.

No longer are we content with some 'keyword' driven searches-we are now forced to look at 'how the candidate could add value' beyond the immediate task at hand. We have had instances where we had to figure how solutions on how to reduce the cycle time at every level.

-Not merely CV pushers but providers of insights

Often we external recruiters have the benefit of working with different industries, comparing the best practices across them-and understanding the complexities of hiring for companies at different life cycles of growth-and challenges unique to them. The ability to be able to transplant, and apply some of the proven methods-often do the trick.

We have found that being part of the initial phone screens when the hiring manager interacted with aspirants, the 'hidden' rather 'inarticulate specs' often emerged-helping us to address these aberrations in the subsequent levels of interviews, fine tuning each iteration. Conducting skype interviews and administering online technical screening tests to improve the benchmarks -have also become an extension of our services !!

-Old habits die hard

Among the initial hiccups was the metrics! Most companies are used to 'interviewing' upwards of 10 candidates for a role-as a part of screening-and had almost internalised the screening schedule across levels and even set expectations thereof!

It is amazing how with revisiting the 'traditional job description', and using the increasingly available tools -one can actually not only reach out to a target community of desired profiles, but also screen them by doing some online methods, one can significantly increase the strike rate of hires/ interviews. And thereby freeing the management time of techie folks to do the jobs they are most suited to!!

-First principles work!

We have found that whenever we have been able to articulate the outcome and the actions required-we have been more successful! eg. addressing basic issues like developing questions that test the knowledge & skills, assembling a specific interview team, reviewing the interviewing competencies, and even the art of reference checking!

Well, recruitment is not rocket science. I am sure all of us have been exposed to the the nuances of hiring -having done it -at some point of time and for varying periods of time. Raising the bar is a challenge. It helps to take stock-review-and sharpen our skills.

We are learning. The gains are much more than we expected. The pipeline is getting better....

PS: Here is a treasure... I just came across a masterpiece of an article, a blog post -a Primer for hiring by Ben Horowitz-giving us a detailed prescription on the science. I personally feel one cannot have put it any better; it is a must read !

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Techniques to repel top talent?

The headline is from an intriguing tweet "Are you using the most effective techniques to repel top talent?" I saw in my timeline earlier today!

The author Kelly Blokdijk, a "talent optimisation" coach-has shared some thoughts on how easily some better worded/communicated advertisements could be considered as talent magnets!

As I reflect back on my experience as a catalyst in many a hiring processes, I realise there are so many other, subtle as they may seem, touch points between a prospective employer and an aspirant-which if managed well ,may lead to a lot of productive engagements!!

More so, in a world, enabled by Internet scrawling alerts, and 'trigger happy' keyboard clickers, most recruiters are faced with a deluge of responses due to overly broad or incoherent job descriptions and a sluggish economy.

Searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack, using innumerable practices to screen the responses -the challenge is to 'uncover people who would perform well and for an extended time in the actual role', as opposed to somebody who is good at resume-writing or who hired a good resume-writer!!

(Ironically, in an earlier blog post I have alluded to that when I wrote selection happens when one fails to reject!!)

Successful recruiting is about lots of small interactions, handled well. The real job of any recruiter is to manage outcomes in the interests of both client and candidate. I for one -feel there are at least three areas employers should focus on!

1. Deciding whom to look for!

Would you believe how most hiring managers develop cold feet in articulating what are the attributes they are looking for? Most often, one finds solace in an amiable HR person doing an impressive 'cut paste' job of something they have seen in the past :-)!?

I advocate that most hiring managers list out certain 'non negotiable competencies' while highlight'ing desirable /good to have' that would help in evaluating those who can hit the ground running -and those who might shape up..with a little bit of hand holding and on the job orientation.

One must also realise that for the same role- different organisations in differing life cycles of growth-would need varied competencies and skills! While start up companies may want multi skilled members who can handle ambiguity, those in a turnaround situation call for personalities different from a firm that is ramping up with acceleration!

2. Screening those captured

Simple as it is, are we sure that the right folks are interviewing the aspirants?

The acid test that is often neglected...are interviewers trained? Do the hiring managers end up hiring pygmies as they less threatened?

It is not amusing-in the mad rush to fill in numbers, one cannot over emphasise the need for a structured mechanism to sensitise the panel to be consistent!!

The most commonly used template- list out what the candidate ought to do, work out what they ought to know in order to do that, and then work out the questions to ask (or the features to look for) that demonstrate the candidate knows those things.

Of course..the challenge is to hire for a greenfield opportunity. What if we were to hire other specialists/ people unlike ourselves?

3. Post mortem- of the hires (and if possible, the 'no hires')

Do we have a practice where we actually store the applications and also record the outcomes—whether we hired them, how they did—and then use that data to constantly improve how we select /shortlist profiles?

One interesting review we could do -say 6 months down the line-is to go over and track who answered correctly and who answered incorrectly and whether the answer had any correlation with a candidate’s eventual job performance.

Can we from time to time, often have people stayed on..not only performed on the roles..but gone on to take on positions of higher responsibility & authority!!?

How do we find out whether any of the profiles we passed over-belonged to people worth hiring? Do we look at the ratings of candidates we passed up and how they ended up producing for other companies that ended up hiring them?

Isn't it time we are serious about hiring really good people, and stopped putting the blinders and demand “Five years of Java J2EE or financial analysis.” And instead identify those who are “smart and get things done.” ?

I shall be glad to have your comments!

PS -Improving the overall interview experience for any applicant- is a topic which will perhaps need another post!! I am sure in time, we will learn to acknowledge the sensitivity/ confidentiality of their candidature-apart from maintaining transparency and providing timely feedback !