Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What An Executive Recruiter Can And Cannot Do For Candidatres

I wish I could help everyone who comes in to meet me.  Unfortunately, there are misconceptions about what a recruiter can and cannot do.  I thought I would write about it.  

There are all kinds of recruiters.  But in broad strokes here is what most of us do and don’t do.

1.    Recruiters don’t get people jobs
One of the great misconceptions is that recruiters can get candidates jobs.  We can’t.  (See number 4, below).  Recruiters are almost like wholesalers.  The best we can do is understand our clients and their needs and then send candidates we think are appropriate for that position.

2.    Recruiters don’t market candidates
I have written about this many times.  The notion that if you meet a recruiter, he or she immediately make introductions is mostly wrong.  Most reputable recruiters work only on assignment which means that they only send candidates appropriate to the specifications of that assignment.

3.    Recruiters don’t network candidates
Many candidates misunderstand recruiters.  They assume that even if the recruiter doesn’t have a specific job for them, they will network them to friends and associates.  Most of us meet far too many candidates to do that.  We get paid to place candidates, not to network them. 

4.    Recruiters do work for their clients, not for their candidates
We are paid by our clients.  They pay us to find people who match the criteria they give us.  While we can stray from this slightly, especially if we know the client well, we cannot send candidates who we know are wrong; that would be wrong for our clients and hurtful to our candidates.

5.    Recruiters work on assignment
See numbers 2, 3 and 4, above. 

6.    Recruiters, especially single industry recruiters, can help with your career
Recruiters who specialize in an industry can be very excellent mentors and guides.  They know companies and who they hire.  And they often know many of the people.  They understand the nuances of hiring.  They can be wonderful sources of information and guidance.

7.    Recruiters, can help you with your resume
It doesn’t matter how senior or junior you are, a good recruiter can help with your résumé.  They understand what clients are looking for and may have you adjust your résumé for a job. Without your specific permission, a recruiter cannot and should not make any changes to your résumé.

8.    Recruiters can and should brief you before an interview
You should expect a recruiter to tell you about the company, the job and the people you will be talking to.  They should also send you written job specs if they have them.  They can help you position yourself for the job.  They can also help facilitate the entire interviewing process.

9.    Recruiters should follow up to give you feedback
I have written that my pet peeve is when I cannot get feedback from a company after an interview. Unfortunately, it happens too frequently.  However, as a candidate, you have a right to know how you did and if there are any next steps.  If you did not do well, you should receive constructive criticism as given to the recruiter by the company.
10.    Recruiters should either negotiate for you or help you negotiate
Many companies, even when using a recruiter, like to cut them out during negotiations (they wrongly think we are trying to get candidates higher salaries when, in fact, just the opposite is true, especially with good clients).  Candidates should always keep their recruiters informed of all discussions.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Adventures In Recruiting: Guaranteeing Candidates

Did you know that when a recruiter introduces you to a company, they are guaranteeing that you will and can perform? 

Almost all contracts between recruiters and companies include a guarantee.  In the case of contingent recruiters, the guarantee is in effect for a limited period of time – 90 days is common.  For retained searches, the guarantee can be a year or longer.

Often, in their original, client-generated form, these guarantees are totally and 100% unconditional.  If a candidate leaves or is fired for any reason whatsoever, the recruiter is held responsible.  This means that if a recruiter places an advertising executive on an account on, say, February 1st  and on March 1st  the agency loses its biggest account and they decide to terminate the account person who was placed in February (last in, first out), even though he/she didn't work on the account that was lost, the recruiter may have to return the fee; it doesn't matter if the recruiter spent a week or a year working on the placement.

In all the years I have been recruiting with all the hundreds (if not thousands) of candidates I have placed, I have only had three or four leave of their own accord before the end of their guarantee period.  I have only had one who got fired for cause, but I replaced her at no charge, even though it was shortly after the guarantee period had expired because she had misrepresented herself to both myself and the company and I accepted that responsibility.

I thought I would share with you a couple of absurd instances of client invoking the guarantee clause.  Every recruiter has these stories. In fairness, the vast majority of clients handle this issue with grace, tact and fairness. But occasionally, they become intractable, often forced to do so by their finance department.

Fortunately for me, in all my years of recruiting the invoking of the guarantee has only happened a handful of times.  Most of the time when a candidate leaves a company within the first few months, it has nothing to do with the recruitment job or properly screening the candidate.  Generally it has to do with the job itself or issues within the company; sometimes, jobs turn out not to be as they were originally described.  

I once placed a candidate at an ad agency on a major soft drink account.  They told the candidate there would be “some” travel. She was an account person who loved travel and production.  She was so excited to take this job on an iconic brand; they told her (and me) it would be 40-50% travel). It turned out that the account was in production at various locations about forty to forty-five weeks a year and the candidate was expected to be there, no matter where .  She was a newlywed.  After her first five weeks on the job she had spent exactly two nights at home.  She realized that it would always be this way and they had misrepresented the job.  She resigned.  I replaced her, but on the second placement, I found someone who wanted to and was able to travel.  The truth is that the company misrepresented the job and I should not have been held responsible, but it was a good client.  It certainly would have been so much easier and more efficient if I were told the truth in the first place.

Then there is the boss who is lovely on the interview but turned from Dr. Jeckyll into Mr. Hyde once the candidate was hired. This happens with some frequency.  In one case, the manager was so abusive that he even called this person’s spouse and told her that her husband was a numbskull (for no substantive reason).  When I called the president of the company, his response was that the hiring manager was a necessary evil and was good with clients.  He did not apologize.  His attitude was that I should find someone with thicker skin.  The candidate I had placed resigned after only a few weeks on the job.  The agency wanted to hold me responsible; I would not refill the job.  Why the client would not have told me in the first place that I needed to find a candidate who was tough and could handle a difficult boss is a mystery.  The truth is always easier to deal with.

Once, I placed someone an ad agency which is now out of business.  The day the candidate started work, they lost a huge account, Burger King.  Two days later, on Wednesday, first thing in the morning, they called the candidate to HR and fired him, despite the fact that he did not work on that account (HR did not even bother to tell this person's manager or group head).  My candidate had resigned from a good job to take this one.  When I called to complain, their response to me was, “What, we should fire someone we know? Last in first out.”  They had not paid me, nor did they.  They made no apologies to the candidate or to me.

Once, an agency called me after about 60 days and said they were not sure the candidate was competent.  I asked if they would like me to work on a replacement. They said no, not yet, but they wanted me to be on notice.  The candidate remained at the company for over a year. After about 14 months they called and told me they had terminated the employee and invoked the guarantee and asked me to replace him, because they had put me on notice.  You know what my response was.

And once, when I was first recruiting, a company fired an employee on the day before the guarantee period expired and invoked the guarantee.  They had not yet paid.  It was a very intentional act.  They had the gall to ask me to replace him. I found out afterward from another former employee that this small company did this to recruiters frequently.  Now this is rare, but it does happen.

I know that most human resource professionals understand that the guarantee it is mostly a crock.  But the company’s corporate lawyers and some finance people make the human resources specialists bow to their will.  The guarantee is often an excuse to delay payment for services rendered.

Consequently, I don’t work with companies who don’t pay within 30 days and I have inserted a clause in my contracts which basically excludes loss of business, change in management, the sale of the company and jobs and bosses who/which are not as described.  Interestingly, this clause almost always gets approved.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Three Reasons Why Americans Have A Tough Time Returning From Jobs Abroad

While many people working at a multinational firm want to do a stint abroad, there is a down-side to that decision.  It is often very difficult to transition back. 

Anyone who has spent time working abroad can confirm this.

Many people who want to return discover that their existing firm has no job for them; if they come back (and most do) they often find themselves out of work. The best advice I can give is that if you are working for a multinational firm and they send you abroad, your agreement with them should be that when your tour is over they take you back. Period.  This must be in writing.  And be careful of wording which says things such as, “if a job is available” or other similar weasel phrases, especially if it is they who are sending you.

As best as I can figure, here is why it is difficult to return home and find a job.  These are things which anyone who accepts a foreign posting should think about before going abroad.

  1)  Companies in the United States actually don’t understand foreign postings
In the US, we simply don’t have the exposure to foreigners that they do abroad.  Americans are very U.S.-centric.  Many hiring managers, human resource people and even senior executives, do not understand that people all over the world basically work the same way we do here.  As a consequence, they are leery of foreign experience.

It doesn’t matter if you have worked on or with P&G, Unilever, IBM, Samsung or other well-respected worldwide brands, in this country, the experience may not be seen or understood as comparable.  

There is also an issue as to whether someone who has been abroad for a long time can re-adopt to the way we work here. I would venture to say that in the U.S., we work longer and harder with fewer vacations than comparable jobs in many foreign markets.  In many foreign postings, at the end of the traditional day, people go home; not so here.

The problems are somewhat mitigated by the fact that Americans with foreign experience are in high demand here.  While that is true, the fact is that employers want them to have been back here and re-employed here so that they are totally re-acclimated to the U.S. before being hired.

   2)  You are not physically here to interview
If you are working in Poland or Singapore, interviewing in a nearby country may be a short train ride or flight away.  But if you are in one of those countries, getting back to the states to interview may take a day or two.  That is for starters.

For reasons I do not understand, many HR and hiring managers don’t like to do Skype interviews (I love them).  True, nothing replaces an in-person meeting, but Skype or Face-Time is almost as good.

Few companies will pay your airfare to fly here for a first or second interview. However, they may pay if they are close to hiring you.

The other issue is that, even if you pay your own airfare, companies don’t want to be responsible for postponed or cancelled meetings due to client conflicts or other business exigencies. The guilt factor prevents many from scheduling a meeting in the first place. (Best to simply schedule the interview as if you were here and take your chances.)

   3)  You may not be immediately available to start work
In many foreign countries, employees must give significant notice when resigning.  Sometimes three months or more.  Your employer may allow you to leave sooner, but this isn’t always the case.

Even if your employer does allow you to leave, it takes a while to work through the logistics of relocation.  Many companies don’t want to wait for the time it takes for someone to start – often a month or so. 

Over time I have worked with many Americans who have worked abroad and they agree that these are three huge problems which they face when they come home. 

I can think of one case where a person was sent by his company to Japan.  He did really well there and ended up running their office.  After seven years he wanted to come home.  The company would only take him back if he accepted a demotion because the CEO here (the same one who sent him abroad, in the first place) didn’t know if his job in Japan was comparable to doing the same here. (He accepted the demotion, returned to work and resigned as soon as he found a new job).

If you go abroad, you need to be aware of these issues.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What Makes A Job A Great Job

There are many recruiters who will call you and say, “I have a great job for you.”  When I was in advertising as an account guy, I used to get those calls a lot.  As a recruiter, I don't say that on a recruiting call because there are many good jobs, but few that are great. 
And besides, great jobs are a relative thing and very individual; what is great for one person may be less so for someone else. However there are elements which contribute to making a job great for most people.

I have given this a lot of thought and wanted to write about the elements which distinguish the great from the merely good.  These six elements are very personal and can vary from person to person. The confluence of all these elements must be there for a job to be great.

A company, in order to qualify as great, for me, has to have a defined culture.  Everyone must be moving in the same direction.  There has to be a system of beliefs, which comes from the very top down.  It can vary by company, but a true culture is one that is defined, believed and acted upon by everyone within the company. 

I remember one advertising agency where the HR director told me that they were building their culture and had free beer on Friday afternoons in their  lounge.  Free beer does not make a culture, but it is a nice perk. Free beer can be the manifestation of a culture, but in and of itself it is not a culture.

Culture must come from the top.  And it must be lived by all employees.  It should be manifest in the work, in the attitude and in the way that people interact with each other. 

I fully recognize that what is great for one person, may not be so for another.

People are critical to the equation.  The culture could, in fact be cutthroat or it could be nice, but the people have to reflect the attributes of the culture – excellence, creativity, passion and the desire to do good work, whatever the work is.  People must exude a sense of mission for the culture and for themselves.

I once worked at an agency which hired very bright people. I worked with three account supervisors (there were, maybe, eight at the agency) who went on to become agency presidents. I worked with art directors, writers, research people and media people who went on to become department heads and agency presidents.  It was a pleasure to work there because the people were bright, upwardly mobile and nice.

I you don't like the people, it cannot be a great job.

Of course, opportunity comes with growth.  As companies grow, their employees will have more opportunity.  But it also means a culture where people are allowed to succeed at what they do.  Failure is never an option, but the ability to try something new and not succeed is essential if there is to be opportunity.  Great cultures allow people the luxury to try to be innovative, smart and forward thinking.  People thrive in that atmosphere.

Great jobs are visible.  Visible to management, visible to the community at large.  (I recently placed a director of social media at a telecom company.  She told me that within four months of starting, her phone did not stopped ringing from recruiters, other phone companies and ad agencies.)

Having a good time is essential.  You spend more time at work than you do at home.  Work cannot be drudgery.  I once worked for a head of account management who periodically ordered pizza for everyone and who, once or twice a year, took all the available account people to the movies during lunch.  These things created a bond among everyone.  We worked hard, but we also played hard.

And the sense of fun created a cooperation among us all.  I could walk into any other account person’s office and bounce an issue or problem off of him or her.  It helped me to succeed.

The Work
It doesn’t matter what your company does –  making widgets, the law, advertising – the work has to override everything.  I recently read Fred Goldberg’s wonderful book, “The Insanity of Advertising” and he talks about being in the business for fifteen years and then going to Chiat/Day.  He discovered, for the first time, what advertising was all about.  The work came first at Chiat.

In the case of visibility, previously mentioned, the social media person received those calls because the work she is doing is great work and talked about throughout the telecom business, the social media community and the advertising business.

When every employee believes in the work, the job becomes more fun, the culture is defined and the people are all moving in the same direction.
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