Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting the Real Truth From Candidates

Recently I read a list of the Top Five Lies Told by Job Candidates, as reported by HireRight, a candidate screening organization. The article focuses on some obvious, but superficial issues: Exaggerating dates of employment, falsifying education, inflating salary or title, hiding a criminal record, and hiding a drug habit. Most of these can be easily caught by a decent background check. You can ask for a W-2 to verify compensation. Simple diligence can help you avoid hiring a person who is lying about these issues.

Much more significant are the really important lies told by candidates that can be harder to detect, and that can cause you real harm, because you will hire the candidate despite the lies. Candidates will misrepresent their capabilities more often than the five items above. Some of the misrepresentation isn’t even their fault!! Employers ask leading questions, like, "You've set up a sales department before, right?" When the candidate readily agrees, without being asked for evidence, a check mark goes in the "plus" column. Behavioral based interviewing, where candidates are asked to illustrate a trait (like leadership, teamwork), with specific examples from their work history, can also cloud the issue. Most people can dredge up a good story to illustrate a trait, but did they actually accomplish anything with this trait?

If a candidate does not have strong capability to do the critical tasks of the job, the result can be very costly: lost opportunities, critical mistakes, lost morale, cost of replacing the hire, etc. Employers have to ask the right questions to help the candidate tell the truth. When employers take the time to develop SMART performance objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound), they can turn those objectives into interview questions that make it far more likely a candidate will have to tell the truth.

An example: Let's say that a Sales Executive has to grow sales by setting up multi-state distribution and establishing a key strategic alliance. The employer can ask: "One of our most important goals is to establish multi-state distribution as a key method of growing sales. What is there specifically in your background that would enable you to achieve this?" You keep drilling until the details emerge: Who were the distributors? Did the program succeed? How much in sales? All of these details could be verified, so the candidate must tell the truth. This is a great way to evaluate candidates, but also a great recruitment tool: Mediocre candidates hate these questions, and excellent candidates love them, because they have the answers, and are delighted to talk about how they will respond to the employers real, well-defined challenges. The truth emerges, and it is helpful to both the candidate and the prospective employer.

You can easily check on the basic lies, but make sure you have a process to protect yourself from the biggest, most expensive lies - and get an accurate, truthful answer to the most important question: can the candidate really do the job?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Poll on Availability of “A” Players

I posted a one-question poll on LinkedIN, and got 17 responses. The question:

More job seekers are available. How difficult is it to hire "A" players?

The responses:

  • Very hard to find "A" players: 11%

  • Still a bit hard to find "A"s: 35%

  • Much easier to find "A" player: 5%

  • The same - "A"s still rare: 47%

My conclusion (which confirms what I thought was the case up front): The wider availability of candidates due to the economic downturn, layoffs, etc. has NOT produced a better pool of people. The “A” players are still productive, working, and not looking for a job.
To record your vote, click

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Consistency in Talent Management

A consistent approach to Human Capital Management is sometimes lacking in large companies, ironically, due to the uniqueness of each leader in the group. For example, the Talent Acquistion Director might believe in a performance based approach to hiring, but perhaps the recruiters are more comfortable with competency-based interviewing. And to compound the inconsistencies, the compensation manager may believe in a unified team approach, or company performance, as the basis for incentive compensation, which then has no tie to either individual performance or even individual competencies.

Individual philosophies in Talent Acquisition / Human Capital Management can serve well to inform the overall policy. However, it is essential that a consensus approach be utilized that makes it clear to each employee how they will be managed, from the moment of their first interview, to goal setting upon hire, evaluation, compensation, etc.

We advocate the performance-based approach, which can be applied to the full spectrum of the talent process. A job description should contain SMART objectives. These objectives can be the basis for recruitment and evaluation. The objectives also form a business plan for the new hire, can be used for evaluation, and can even be quantified for incentive compensation. Each year, this performance-based formula can be applied to generate new goals, which become a new personal business plan, and form new evaluation criteria that can be the basis for performance reviews, compensation, promotion and growth.

Employees appreciate consistency. When the same management theme is applied to all aspects of their employment experience, they will be more motivated and productive.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Job Hunting Tip #4: Value Creation and Getting Jobs

Grant Cardone’s latest blog is titled: 12 Tips to Getting a Job in Any Market. I agree with him, especially about showing how you can create value. It is critically important, especially for the executive job seeker, to NOT interview for a job, but to illustrate how he or she can create value by making money or saving money for the new employer. This applies particularly well to the “hidden job market”: situations where an employer is thinking about a change, but hasn’t listed or posted the job. Guess what? EVERY employer is thinking about making a change; getting rid of a poor performer that holds the company back.

Job hunting is a numbers game – you must contact lots of people to find the true opportunities. By networking with everyone you know to find out who might need your skills, you will connect with those hidden opportunities. Research the company before you call . Be ready to make a case for how and why you can have an impact, and you just might get in the door. Then you don’t have an interview; you have a sales call. You are the product; the employer is the buyer. If you can successfully show the “benefit to the buyer” of the “product’s features” – how you add value – you can create a position for yourself. See my previous blog on being a Pain Killer vs. a Vitamin, and apply these same ideas to yourself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Job Hunting Tips #3 – Reference Letters

Many job seekers wonder about the value of getting letters of reference from current and past employers. I am a strong advocate of accumulating these as your career progresses. You might lose touch with many of your most important contacts, and preserving a record of their impressions about you could be very valuable down the road. Presenting a specific letter that really discusses your skills can speed the hiring process and persuade a prospective employer to move along with your offer.

Each time you leave a company, no matter what the circumstances, ask your boss or someone else in a superior position to yours, to give you a letter. You should also suggest parts of the content of the letter. Submit your request in an e-mail, and state, “Some of the things I’m proud of having accomplished here include:”, then list a few key results in bullets, using only the truth of course! You will find that the person is likely to cut and paste your suggestions, putting their own spin on the wording, and send back exactly what you want. If you ask more than one person at the same company, send them different bullets, so the letters don’t mirror each other.

You can also use this approach in electronic media, such as LinkedIn, where you can solicit and post recommendations about yourself. Keep in mind that peers, friends, etc. are not as valuable as someone you directly worked for. If you put your LinkedIn profile address in your e-mail signature line, you provide access to a place where your recommendations are shown.

When visiting a new employer, offer to show your reference letters, but don’t be pushy about it. Your credibility may decrease if you create too strong a case about the letters you’ve gathered. Taking a balanced approach to getting and using these letters shows an employer that you value your history, and have invested some effort to substantiate your performance.
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