I’d love to say that I am perfect and haven’t ever made a mistake in my career, but we all know that just isn’t the case. While this isn’t like the time I set an ATM on fire, it is one of those moments that I relive over and over again with more than a little remorse. See if you can learn any lessons from my own experience…

Years ago I was recruiting for technical writers to join a growing team that I was putting together to support a government contract. Instead of the usual ones and twos, I was hiring a dozen people for this position at one time. It wasn’t your run of the mill tech writer opening, either. I was looking for people with experience writing to military specifications. I needed writers that could do some illustrations. I also needed at least one of the hires to know how to be a “provisioner,” the hardest job I’ve ever had to fill (yes, even harder than helicopter instructor pilots).

The skill set was very obscure, and I had to sift through tons of unqualified resumes to find the few that were a good fit. All this was capped off by an unreasonable deadline set by the customer–a surefire recipe for disaster.

Despite all of the things working against me, I was feeling pretty confident. We had an employee referral or two, and since it is a relatively tight community, I was able to get feedback on some candidates to know which would be a good fit and which wouldn’t before investing time into building rapport with each. I had a great first round of interviews with our pool of applicants, and we were moving a good number of them forward to talk with the hiring manager and the technical lead on the team.

I was working long hours, as I usually did during heavy recruiting seasons of the year. As with many small companies, I was wearing all of the HR hats, and recruiting was one of many of my duties. When a big effort spun up, it would put other things on hold, no matter how critical they might be. I’ll never forget trying to set up a performance improvement plan for a staff member, investigate another for harassment, and try to find a pilot to go to Hawaii for a year-long contract. I survived those hectic weeks purely on Diet Mountain Dew, which I no longer consume.

Anyway, I was working hard. One thing that I have always felt was a differentiator for me as a recruiter and HR leader was that I put the extra effort into communications, and it had paid off. I got massive results from my LinkedIn invitations to candidates. I had high readership and engagement from internal staff on HR communications I developed. I knew that skill set, while it took time that could be used on other activities, was going to continue paying dividends over time. But one day, for some reason, I snapped.

Yes, I snapped. If you’ve ever met me in person, you’d have a hard time believing I could snap at anything. And yet I did. 

One of the candidates I was chasing for the final slot had been leading me on and was slowly becoming less responsive as the days went by. I thought I might be losing him, but despite everything I put into every conversation, there didn’t seem to be a way to turn it around.

Finally I asked him point blank what the issue was. Why was he backing off? Was there something I could do to fix it?

And the guy responded with something that drove me over the edge.

He said that he had heard the company wasn’t very good to its employees and that he wasn’t interested in working at a place like that.

And it happened. I. Went. Off. 

Now, before I tell you what I said, I want you to understand something. I had worked for the company since it was a startup. I knew every employee and spouse by name, and I was pretty darn good about knowing their kids, too. People loved the company and the work. We had phenomenal leadership and a great mission. We prided ourselves in taking care of our people financially, professionally, and personally.

One time, an employee’s house blew away in a tornado on his first day of work. We all pitched in to make sure he had leave to cover his time away with his family to pick up the pieces. We really worked hard to take care of these people just like they were family. I agonized over absolutely every detail to make sure the company was the kind of place that I would be proud of my own kids working for. I had employees from our partner companies calling me daily asking how they could join our team because our employees were so darn happy with their jobs and the company.

And this guy had the nerve to lie and say that we didn’t care. 

I responded back to the guy and told him that after reviewing his resume, I didn’t think he was a good fit for the company. Now, or ever. We didn’t need people like him on the team anyway. Good riddance. So long, jerk…

And you know what? I felt great! It was so awesome to get that off my chest.

For about five minutes.

Then I realized I had just treated this guy the way that the fictional company he imagined us to be would have done. And I am still kicking myself all these years later for doing it and proving him right.

Within half an hour I sent an apology, attempting to salvage the contact for future efforts even though I knew it was probably toast. The next morning I immediately went to my boss and explained what I had done, telling her that I had even apologized after the fact. She knew that I was going to beat myself up about it worse than anything she could do, so she let me off the hook.

What’s the lesson here? The moral of the story? Well, we all know that we should never respond to anyone, in any situation, in a spirit of anger. That time it got the best of me. I also learned that I should never respond to emotionally-charged situations via email on my cell phone, because I tend to be more direct and less concerned with the message in general when I’m responding via that method. Painful reminders that stick with me to this very day. The final one is to try and keep stress from getting to you. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but we all know it never leads to positive outcomes.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the guy never replied back to anything. I never talked with him again, and I can’t even remember his name at this point. But I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when I read that note from him. Or how it felt when I realized what I had done.

Over the years I’ve recruited many, many more people. I’ve never again responded to any of them, no matter the situation, in anger or in a way that would embarrass the company or myself. That was a painful lesson to learn and one that still haunts me when I think about it, but I am glad to know that it only took one instance to make it stick with me.

Ever done anything embarrassing as an HR or recruiting pro? Feel free to respond anonymously in the comments. 

In every company, there comes a time when someone makes an offer to a candidate to come and work for them. What is interesting is the wide variety of advice in the marketplace that advises candidates on how to handle that critical negotiation.

Years ago I got my start in blogging by sharing career advice with job seekers looking for an edge in the hiring process. My peers constantly told people that for the strongest negotiating position, they should hold out as long as possible. In other words, it followed the old adage “the first one to speak in the negotiation loses.”

But that’s not necessarily true.

salary negotiationWhen I was recruiting, I wanted to find out from the candidate early on, whether through a job application question or through an informal conversation, what sort of salary range they were looking for. If it wasn’t offered, I would share the range of the opening early in the process. Was I showing my cards? Yes. But I was also attempting to conserve a valuable resource: time. Continue reading

Recruiting has been changing for some time. It’s no longer about simply tracking candidates–not if you’re trying to beat the competition, anyway. Sourcing, or seeking out candidates, is a powerful part of a recruiting strategy, but there are also elements of recruiting that have changed in recent years as the recruitment marketing field has grown into its own discipline. From custom landing pages and search engine optimization to candidate engagement and social/mobile, there are so many ways to reach employees that weren’t even in existence when most of us started recruiting.

Side note: I haven’t done a video in quite a while, so I wanted to plug one in here that I did recently that ties in nicely with the topic. I love video blogs but my camera has been on the fritz, so I used the somewhat-grainy webcam. Looking forward to having my camera back in action!

In this video I explain three of the ways that recruiting could learn a lesson from marketing, including:

  • How to seeing the hiring process as a type of sales funnel
  • The importance of using personas to find the right talent
  • Why we need to be using data and measurement to prove value

Free eBook on Recruitment Marketing

The recruitment marketing superstars over at SmashFly put together this free eBook with the help of some of those who have been keeping tabs on this trend. You can get your copy here:

http://bit.ly/1X0x1Zm

What are your thoughts on this relatively new, and growing, topic? How are you changing your recruiting approach so that you’re pulling in candidates who are a fit for your company and culture? 

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?