One of the most common terms around recruiting these days is candidate experience. If you’re late to the game, it’s basically a look at how candidates are treated as they enter your recruiting funnel all the way to getting an offer, if they move that far. It’s comparable to the customer experience: how they are treated, how they feel about the organization, etc. I’ve long held that candidate experience is seen as unimportant not because it doesn’t matter, but because companies just don’t know how to make it stick.

Think about it. If I told you starting today that you had to treat every candidate with the same reverence you offered your customers, you would have a hard time making it work among your other job duties. In addition, you’d probably be unsure just how to make that a reality. I recently wrote about how to revolutionize candidate experience (here). The gist:

  1. Measure it continuously
  2. Make it automatic
  3. Make it part of recruiting performance
  4. Make it more important than something else
  5. Make it a business priority, not an HR one

Those are good, helpful pieces of information, but I’ll do you one better. My friend Jane, the HR leader for a startup technology company in Boston, left me a comment that was worth sharing. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because she has authored a few previous guest posts here (How to Select a Third Party RecruiterThe Struggle Between a Caring Work Environment and Talent Density. and Applying Marketing Principles to HR). Here’s Jane’s take on practical ways to impact candidate experience:

It didn’t seem to push through, but figured I’d share on your candidate experience article:

Ben, great article. My experience is that the candidate (and employee) experience becomes acutely important when in a highly-competitive market where you want to hire people better than the job criteria … but so does everyone else.

I’ll give you an example – in one of my positions, we posted on craigslist, got a bunch of applicants, handled them the average HR way, and hired people who met our criteria – most of whom were fine. In retrospect, many (but not all – I worked with some really great people) were looking for a less-bad job than their last.

In another position, we wanted the cream of the crop (without being able to pay Google money). To win those candidates, it became much more important to give them access to our CEO, mission and strategy. To woo them by meeting members of the team. And to actively court them. Unless we were in love with a candidate, we weren’t extending an offer. And if we extended that offer, we really wanted a yes.

Ultimately, you need buy in from the top-down because hiring (and the way candidates are treated) needs to become more important than everything else on people’s plates. The pay-off? Spectacular talent. A competitive advantage in the market. Awesome referrals. And people who leave for greener pastures, but want to return.

What I like in particular about their approach is the clear delineation between “what we did” and “what we do now” with regard to how candidates are treated. This is the same approach I took when I was leading the HR function at Pinnacle Solutions. Things like access to the CEO, the opportunity to bring a spouse/SO to the office to meet people before accepting an offer, or even just a private meeting with peers to ask questions they didn’t feel comfortable asking me or the hiring manager are all incredibly powerful tools in these circumstances.

How does your organization make the overall experience for candidates a priority? Has it worked for you? 

I was talking with a friend last week about technology–specifically the kind we use in the HR, payroll, and recruiting space. His organization is using an awful tool that costs quite a bit of money. It’s not user friendly. It doesn’t make data easily accessible. And it’s become a running joke that any basic business need will require yet another $20k+ module just to meet that single need. It sounds like they are in the perfect place to be considering other technology, right?

And yet he and I both know that they are not going to make a change any time soon. Despite the availability of various “HR modules” within the system, he uses a point solution to handle recruiting needs and an Excel spreadsheet manage employee data. At some point he’s going to have to move to something else, but he and his organization are just part-way into the HR technology maturity curve. Here’s a look at the curve (in my opinion) and how technology is normally put into place.

The first steps

Diving into HR technology doesn't have to be scary

Diving into HR technology doesn’t have to be scary

One of the first steps most companies take in terms of HR technology typically comes with recruiting. Adding an applicant tracking system to eliminate manual job posting, tracking of candidates, and collaboration with the hiring team. Using a piece of recruiting software (like Recruiterbox, for example), can drastically change HR’s role in the hiring process from administrative to strategic.

I can still remember the before and after look at my recruiting practices when it came to technology implementation. When it was all manual, I was just trying to keep the mass of information organized enough to pick anyone competent and qualified. When we transitioned to using an applicant tracking system, I was able to then spend more time coaching hiring managers, screening candidates more thoroughly, and onboarding new employees.

Another common first step is in payroll. Again, it can be an opportunity to change from very administrative (did we get that person’s dependents right?) to a more strategic focus on compensation, variable pay, and other important elements that fall through the cracks when you’re spending several hours a week reviewing pay stubs.

Next up: performance/learning

Depending on the organization, as they grow there is usually a focus on automating performance management, learning, or both. For instance, when I worked for an organization with heavy regulations around training and staff certifications, our primary system (even before having a good HRIS) was a learning management system (LMS). In another organization, I campaigned regularly for a performance management solution to help alleviate the burden of continuously growing performance management paperwork. This is often seen as less strategic and important than recruiting or payroll, which is why it’s not at the top of the list in terms of implementation priority.

One area I’ve seen grow of late is the set of companies offering performance feedback/employee engagement solutions based on simple surveys and quick “pulse” feedback gathering. These are very easy to implement and don’t require all the trouble of the typical performance management solution.

The later stages

The deeper into this maturity process the company goes, the more likely it will select a suite to consolidate vendors and ensure a uniform data set across the various platforms (learning, performance, compensation, etc.)

One area I’ve been very interested in of late involves the difference between companies that pursue point solutions to solve various problems and those that snag the suite to combine each area. A few questions that have bounced around in my mind:

  • Which type of organization has better performance?
  • What factors play into that overall technology selection choice?
  • Are organizations using data better if the systems are integrated than if not?
  • What about the specific benefits highly targeted point solutions offer that the big suites do not?

What are your thoughts? Where are you in this HR technology maturity curve? 

One of the things that we don’t do so well in the HR wold is measuring performance. And by that I mean our OWN performance. Having metrics in place to see how effective our various efforts are is a must, especially when you’re trying to demonstrate an ROI. One of the easiest ways to start is in recruiting.

When it comes to recruiting, organizations have a wide variety of methods to measure effectiveness. Does it come down to time to fill? Is quality of hire the most critical? There are two important things to remember when it comes to measuring talent acquisition. First, each company is going to have a slightly different way of measuring based on unique structure, industry, and goals. Second, these are bigger than recruiting challenges—they can often impact the business at a deeper level.

I’m hosting a webinar tomorrow (Tuesday, September 1st) sponsored by Jobvite if you’d like to listen in. Even if you can’t attend, we’ll send you the slides and a recording if you sign up. This will be the first look at some new data from Brandon Hall Group’s latest talent acquisition survey, so if you’re interested, we’d love to have you join in.

Click here to register.

As HR is increasing its presence as a strategic part of the business, key performance indicators, or KPIs, are becoming a key part of the language for discussing how it is actually performing. Recruiting, in some ways, is actually easier to measure because it is very similar to sales: you either have results or you don’t. Today I want to talk about first year retention, a measure that I believe is going to continue to grow as a recruiting metric, even though many companies wouldn’t consider it even remotely linked to recruiting as of today.

recruiting kpiWhen I realized the link from retention to recruiting

Several years ago I ran into the wall. Figuratively, that is. I was spending about 50% of my time processing termination paperwork and 49% processing new hires. The other 1% was spent wondering just how we were going to sustain this churn. We were turning over about 50% of employees in positions that made up 90% of our workforce. In a company with more than 600 employees, you start to get the picture for just how bad things were. Like I said, my entire job was dedicated to moving the people into and out of the organization.

So I decided to try something. I gathered information. I pulled five years of archived files and noted termination reasons along with tenure and manager information. I looked into our Stone Age HRIS and pulled the same items for more recent terms. Once I had amassed the data, I started analyzing. I quickly identified a few key trends and highlighted them in the report I developed.

A few days later I presented my findings to the VP of HR, demonstrating through the data that approximately half of those terms not only happened within the first year, but within the first 90 days on the job. We were spending hours recruiting, training (each employee received over a dozen hours of training before starting work), and coaching these people, only to have all of that effort wasted. The data showed that if an employee made it past the 90-day mark, they were significantly likely to stay for a year or longer.

This is when I realized that recruiting has a very strong link to retention, especially first year retention.

[Check out: What it’s like to be a recruiter]

First year retention, examined

When we think about retaining employees, a more senior staff member might come to mind. We automatically assume that if someone took the job just a few weeks ago that they are going to be excited and engaged for months to come (hint: the honeymoon period). Well, that depends on several things, including the recruiting process. Here are the ways the two are linked:

  • Realistic job preview-during the recruiting process, an accurate picture of the job must be depicted at every stage (job ad, phone screen, interview, etc.) If not, the candidate might get a more rosy picture of the position than is actually accurate, which leads to frustrations on day one. People are quick to skim over areas that might be bothersome for them in the leap to a new company–it’s critical to show the good, the bad, AND the ugly to provide a full understanding of the job and what it entails.
  • Manager engagement in the hiring process-having managers who not only join in the selection process, but actually lead it, is key. Managers who develop questions to probe candidate abilities and fit ultimately pick better people than those who use a stock list of “what is your greatest strength” type questions.
  • Team engagement in the hiring process-a great way to help people feel like they have friends on day one? Let their team interview them. When I have done this I request that they ask some technical questions, but that they also focus heavily on fit: does the candidate gel with the existing workers? Are they similar in terms of values and passion? How have they felt about coworkers in the past? If a person feels like they have friends at work, they’re more engaged and less likely to bolt a few weeks later.

[Check out: How one of the best managers I’ve ever seen engages new hires from day one]

The future of recruiting metrics

In the past and still today, recruiting has been focused on some very surface level items: mainly time to fill and quality of hire. If we’re solely looking at those numbers, I could have phenomenal time to fill and quality numbers, only to have them dropping out of the workforce a few weeks or months later. Using a metric like first year retention as a recruiting metric provides a more well-rounded picture of just how well it is actually being performed. And it also brings a long-term, holistic view to recruiting.

What recruiting KPI’s does your company use? Are they working? What do you think of first year retention as a metric?

parental leave requirementsMy friend Lance Haun wrote last week about why he thinks we should fight for legislating parental leave in the US. I don’t know that I’ve ironed out my point of view 100%, but I don’t know that I agree with him at this point. Remember, this is a dialogue, not a requirement to conform. :-)

So, as a father to three small children, you might expect me to be for this type of thing. I mean, heck, getting paid to stay home with a baby would be pretty darn awesome. I love my three kids and spending time with them is pure joy.

But here’s the core reason I’m not a raving fan of legislating parental leave:

it’s not the government’s job

Now, if a company out there wants to pay parents, men or women, for leave, then that is an excellent idea. I’m all for it, and I would be happy to work for such an organization. But the truth is that according to census data, approximately half of the workers in the US are working for employers with fewer than 500 employees. I’ve worked in several companies from 10-600 employees (and some larger) in my working life, and I have no earthly idea how those companies would be able to afford paying people for not working. I remember at one employer we had six of our staff members having new babies in a single month!

Family medical leave is one thing–holding your employee’s job while he or she takes time at home for a variety of health and family-related reasons isn’t easy, but it’s doable. But paying them to not work? That’s something else entirely. Several of those companies I worked for were very small or nonprofit organizations, which meant there was little to no wiggle room for things like bonuses or other performance-related measures, much less a coffer set aside to pay people who were expecting children.

But what about Netflix?

The big story last week in this world was about Netflix offering a full year of paid leave for new parents. Having a baby? No worries–take up to 12 months off. People declared the company forward-thinking and were quick to jump on board with the idea.

But this wasn’t forced. It wasn’t legislated. Nobody made them do it.

They chose to.

Why? Probably because it’s a great recruiting tool. It’s also pretty awesome as a retention tool for new parents.I’ve talked before about when our girls were born and my boss didn’t seem especially receptive to me taking ANY time off, even though I only requested a week. 

And you know what? That’s what started the ball rolling for me to leave that company and find an employer who did offer me some flexibility to support my family, whether financially or by being there physically for them. I think more companies will offer slightly-less-boisterous benefits in this area over time, because they’ll see (as they did with medical insurance, workplace flexibility, and a host of other benefit offerings) that it makes them more competitive, makes employees happier, and creates a better working environment. 

Last year I was talking with a company about a new leave program for fathers. The company had been losing male employees in the 20-35 age range at 2-3 times the rate of other employee groups, and they determined that it was the long hours surrounding the birth of a new child that often contributed to the turnover.

So the company began offering 1-3 months of paid leave for new dads and reversed the negative turnover trends within a few short months. That’s an exciting story and one that I expect to hear more often as time goes on.

Facebook got a series of kudos and strange looks when it offered to freeze eggs for young ladies who would rather work than start a family. It’s the same story. The company wanted to offer something different that appeals to a specific audience and makes it more competitive than others in the space. 

The recruiting spin

I’ve recruited for some great (and not so great) companies. The thing that I absolutely loved about one of the good ones was that I could play up some of the benefits we had that no other company offered. Flexibility? We don’t just say it, we live it. Healthcare? We have you covered. Need personal leave? We treat you the same as we treat the CEO–no questions asked. Have an issue? You can get access to anyone, up to the Owner/CEO, in moments.

I’ll say it again: I loved representing the company that offered what others didn’t. And that’s why I think Netflix is doing this. And that’s another (smaller) reason I’m not keen on the government attempting to force employers to provide paid leave for parents. It has to be a choice for the company. Some can afford it and some can’t. Some would be overly burdened, some wouldn’t care. But it’s not a blanket solution, at least not overnight.

Seriously, I’ve been there

When my son was born almost a year ago, my wife had no work benefits to continue her pay. She had some accrued leave and then we used savings to keep her at home until she was ready to go back to work at the end of her leave. And it was fine. I didn’t ask or expect anyone else to foot the bill for her to stay home, because it was our choice in the end. Just as it is her employer’s choice to offer the benefits it does.

This isn’t the same as the Civil Rights Act or the ADA. People don’t choose a specific color, gender, or disability. The discussion here is whether we should pay people who choose to have children, and I’d say it’s up to the company to decide, not the government.

I’d love to hear your thoughts…


Recently I had the pleasure of joining Trish McFarlane for an HCMx Radio podcast episode where we talked about how to use simulations in your recruiting and training initiatives.

We start with a bit of my background–if you’re new here that might be interesting for you. Then we leap into some of the work we’re doing at Brandon Hall Group. Finally we get into the meat of the conversation–using simulations to really drive home better recruiting/selection practices and better training/development practices. It was fun and I think you’ll enjoy listening!

Click here to listen to the podcast.

HCMx Radio on BlogTalkRadio

One of the things we talked about was having exercises for different types of jobs. I found this excellent set of examples below (this is partial, click through below for the full listing) to illustrate the point that virtually every job can include some element of this type of tool.

Job Simulation Exercises

PositionMust-haveSample Exercise
COOCritical thinking, writingObserve the organization in action (delivering a training session, staging a rally, holding a hearing, etc.) and propose recommendations for improvement in a 2-3 page memo
Manager of programsStrategic thinkingRead and analyze a set of goals and objectives and come up with recommendations to pursue
Director of communicationsPublic speaking, judgmentRehearse a press conference or a call with a reporter about a controversial program we support
Manager of a small- or medium-sized departmentGeneral management, staff supervisionSimulate giving positive and corrective feedback to a supervisee

Courtesy of the Management Center

 So, what did you think of the topic? Do you like the podcast format? Would you like to see more of those? 

rehiring boomerang employeeA while back I was reading a story about a CEO being asked to return to his company after stepping down from the role years before. As usual, I started tying the thoughts back to HR and how that sort of “boomerang” employee, at any level of the company, might approach the decision to return.

For instance, what would change? What would stay the same? If you had a fresh start, how would you do things differently? Or maybe it wouldn’t be a fresh start at all–people would expect you to do the same things the same way, even if it wasn’t good for you or the business long-term. Well, today you’re going to get some excellent insights into this idea of boomerang employees.

I decided to ask Mary Faulkner, Talent Strategist & Business Leader, for her opinion on the topic. Mary is a writer, speaker, and HR leader whose opinion I respect. After you read some of her thoughts, you’ll understand why!

Ben: Tell me a bit about your experience. What’s the background story?

Mary: I was at a Fortune 200 company for about 6.5 years and it had a reputation as a tough (most would say ‘toxic’) culture. No lie…it really, really was.  But it was also a place where I worked with amazing, smart, driven people who were doing their best to bring leadership development to a culture that didn’t really embrace it.

When I left, I did so on good terms – but I was also burned out and bitter. Fellow ‘survivors’ often joke that you almost need a rebound job to detox from the day-to-day craziness you endured.

A few years after I left, I was approached to potentially go back to the old team.  I listened and met with past stakeholders and coworkers – good people who continued to fight the good fight while I left.  This process helped me think through the idea of being a “boomerang” employee.

Ben: What if you left and came back as an HR leader? 

Mary: I was already a “leader” in that I had a team, owned a good chuck of the leadership dev process, and also had clout with key stakeholders. If I went back, it would have been 1 level up…which would have afforded some additional influence…but not as much as you’d think.  The same players were still above me – with one key difference, which is why I was even considering the return.

Ben: So when I think about starting a job, I know I can get some “quick wins” to help establish some credibility. Would you still be able to have a whole new set of “wins” or would it be challenging to do that all over again?

Mary: Truthfully, this was a real concern for me.  I knew I had burn out, and while distance lends perspective, it’s possible I would have run into the same roadblocks – not necessarily because of the organization, but because the same people with the same dynamics were still there.  I was not naive to the fact that we all had history…and a new person wouldn’t have the baggage we all had in the role.

Ben: Okay, so what would you do differently the second time around? 

Mary: I would be more direct with key stakeholders (meaning, I would go to them directly), not relying on my VP to do my talking for me. (Don’t get me wrong – great guy.  We just have very different styles.)  I think I’ve learned more about how to sell ideas based on business needs and results since I left, and that would help inform my pitch to get programs funded and supported.

Ben: What innovation would you bring to the table?

Mary: The innovation would come from fresh perspective, experience in other organizations, which I could apply to my knowledge of that organization.  I’m surprised at how many things we had set up the “right” way – much of our performance management, talent review, and other programs had best in class infrastructure. It’s how we implemented it that lead to issues.  I could have used my exposure to other systems to build the case that we are almost there… and here’s what we need to do to get the outcomes we’re looking for.

Ben: Another piece that seems to be a gray area that we don’t hear about much is the “people” element. How do people treat “boomerang” employees/leaders differently the second time around? 

Mary: This org actually had quite a few boomerang employees.  One the one hand, it was accepted – people knew that sometimes you just needed a break and that you’d come back rejuvenated.  I think there was still a backlash – maybe not stated, but certainly there was a feeling that, “Um…we stuck it out and kept this place running while you pursued your bliss.  What makes you so darn special?”

What struck me is how little people seemed to have changed.  I felt like I had grown quite a bit professionally because I’d done other work and been in other companies, and those who had stayed were still using the same methods to get work done…because the environment was the same. This “sameness” was a reason I was a bit relieved when they opted to go internal with the role.  I loved what I did there, but I’m not sure it would have been growth.

Ben: Thanks for your time, Mary! This has been great and I think the information is very helpful.


mary faulknerI hope you enjoyed the interview with Mary Faulkner! You can follow her on Twitter or find her on LinkedIn. Thank you again, Mary, for sharing your insights and ideas.

So, what are your thoughts? How does your organization handle “boomerang” employees? Have you ever faced a decision like that yourself? I’d love to hear some other stories on the topic.

Also, if you like the interview format, I’d be glad to do some more of them. Hit me in the comments or via email if you’d like to see other interviews of HR leaders.