The Talent Hacker’s Manifesto

Nick Marsh of Lostmy.name recently introduced the term Talent Hacking.  His contention was that hiring was broken and there existed a movement towards a new way of thinking.  How did it come to this?  Why is it that the world of recruitment can be called out as broken with no argument to the contrary?Long ago in the mists of time and still the case at some less progressive organisations, recruitment was owned by HR.  From behind the dull-warmth of privacy screens and bloated software that referred to people as resources, recruiters began to stir.Often regarded as the “noisy ones” on the HR floor, recruiters slowly began to emerge and be recognised as having a legitimate skill set.  A skill set that was distinct from their agency counterparts and yet not in keeping with the silo’ed silence of HR departments.   Moreover it was a skill set that was distinct from those of the HR generalists.  Over time the recruiters in more progressive organisations moved further away, diversified further and were allocated distinct budgets.  The dual pressures of speed from the business and for frugality from the finance department meant that in-house recruiters had to adapt the way they worked and began to become introspective – there wasn’t just one skill of recruitment but many.

The role of a recruiter has been split in many organisations and so to reflect this and also to highlight there particular skills there are now many different job titles in use – from Sourcer, Headhunter, through Talent Acquisition Specialist, the Orwellian sounding Staffing Officer to Talent Scout there seems to be a new way to describe yourself each day.  So is “Talent Hacker” doomed to become the next in a long list of buzzword-like titles?

I hope not.

Hopefully we can avoid the pitfalls of buzzwordism if we make a clear distinction as to what a “Talent Hacker” actually is.  Firstly, I don’t believe it’s a job title at all.  Talent Hacking is a methodology.  At best it’s a philosophical stance taken by a recruiter to adapt and experiment and at worst it’s the sharing and usage of a number of disparate tools to expedite hiring.

In Nick’s original article I was quoted as saying that “Hiring is still waterfall in an agile world”.  What I meant by that is that a “traditional” hiring process is slavish in adherence to accepted dogma. A job description is produced, it’s disseminated through advertising channels, resultant applications are pushed through a pre-defined process and those lucky enough to have impressed will be hired.  In this process, there is no feedback, no learning and no space for creativity…worst of all there is no scope to delight the candidates.

With the Agile/Waterfall divide in mind, I propose that the Talent Hacking outlook can be formalised by borrowing (stealing) from the Agile Manifesto.  The Agile Manifesto is a statement of values for software developers, reinforcing those elements that are of greater value when developing software.  Similarly we can list those things that we feel are important when hiring, like this…

 

 
While there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

Hires over Processes
 
Too often in large recruiting organisations the pressure to maintain robust process and measure the performance of recruiters in the organisation means that we lose sight of the reason we’re all there in the first place.  Measuring and rewarding things like number of candidates contacted or the number of contacts who made it to second stage is good practice but if the team isn’t hiring it’s all just “busy work“.  A robust and fair (free of bias) process is important. Processes are ways of doing things that are more efficient – they must make a workload easier to complete or faster, you can think of them as collections of efficiencies.  If they do not add benefit they are no longer of value.  A lot of larger organisations hang on to process as though it was a life raft in a rising ocean of change, once the process is no longer effective (which you should periodically test for) abandon it and find a new more effective process.  A point here on “Best practices”, to paraphrase Mary Poppendieck, author of “Lean Software Development” – Best practices are solutions to other people’s problems that you may not have.  So much of the processes of recruitment are done simply because “it’s how we did it at x company” or worse still “it’s how I’ve read x company do it”.  Process is great to ensure a level playing field and to expedite the flow of a candidate towards being hired – if it isn’t doing either of these things it should be questioned and if found to be lacking changed.
 
Data over Anecdotal Evidence
 
The Talent Hacking approach loves data.   Sourcing, screening and shepherding a candidate towards being hired calls for a lot of decision making.  Decisions are better when supported by data.  Even if you cringe or break out in hives whenever someone says “Big Data” there is little doubt that the digital exhaust trails that people now leave behind them have made them easier to find.  Ask a tame recruiter you know if they can find your email address, I’ll bet they can and it won’t be from anywhere you remember writing it… Data supports a hiring plan, salary benchmarking, advertising response rates, recruiter performance, process improvement – it’s all around us as recruiters.  Building a living breathing data set from which you can answer the future unknown questions will be one of the best investments for success as a recruiter.  Even better, a recruiter’s standing in the business can be improved from the simple provision of the raw data.  The Talent Hacker will go further and provide insight to hiring managers – affecting change and having a direct effect on the success of the business.  It is the data that will enable the wider business, as consumers of the recruitment service, to answer the all important “Why?”.  Why do we value this more than our own anecdotal evidence?  Anecdotal evidence is only ever the outcome of a single case, often it informs a bias or shapes action in a way that may have been right in a prior instance but not for the current one.  A Talent Hacker loves to hear the anecdotes of others because in unpacking them you can ask those questions that reveal what is “true” to an individual. They do have value, but I’ll take the data.
 
Candidate experience over Corporate Responsibility
 
Beyond external marketing and websites, a recruiter is often the first human interaction anyone has with a company.  When they are doing their job well they are exemplars for the brand – impassioned spokespeople it’s their enthusiasm that will bleed through in both their communication and deeds. So many recruiters at large organisations are a product of their environment they hide behind turrets built from template emails, missed phone calls and a fear of feedback.  An in-house recruiter walks a tightrope between advocating for the candidate and for the company at the same time, straying too far in one of these directions will not be beneficial.  A Talent Hacker takes a third position.  We must be aware that the talent war is over and that talent won.  Too many recruiters want to take an aloof position leaning towards the institutional arrogance that permeates some companies – “we don’t have to provide feedback”, “you’re only worth a bland template email”, “we have hundreds of candidates”.  I’m sure this was a perfectly reasonable stance to take…until it wasn’t.  You only have to look at Glassdoor.com to see reviews of interview processes that call out companies for their broken internal communication, ignorant recruiters and interminable, arduous processes.  For the Talent Hacker reading Glassdoor reviews is like a family owned restaurant being reviewed on TripAdvisor, scary as hell and a potential powder keg.  A recruitment process should feel like a personal service, the realisation that organisations are no longer all powerful and that bad reviews will stop people from applying hasn’t fully permeated a lot of companies.  As humans we love to share, and embellish, a juicy story of bad service and this penchant for negativity can be mitigated by a recruiter doing their job well.  Recruiters should protect their employers they do have a duty to them, but if it comes at the neglect of hundreds of individuals whose only crime is to have applied for a job then it might be wiser to limit the damage and stop recruiting altogether.
Responding to change over Following a plan
 
In life there are always events that are outside of our control.  As a recruiter we are often either privy to insider information or at the mercy circumstances outside of our control.  From hiring freezes, through acqui-hires to redundancies there are many business events that impact a recruiter.  The Talent Hacker must be aware of this and work hard to ensure that all parties, hiring managers, team, wider business and candidates are given the information where appropriate.  Working at the coal-face of recruitment often turns up interesting information that could be of great use to other areas of the business, if you don’t forge these feedback loops you are effectively losing out.  It can be simple things like competitor hiring strategy or market rates rising in demand for a particular skill, however it can also be large and impactful learnings that should be used to adapt and change strategy – mass redundancies at a competitor, a new product launch or even rumours of mergers and acquisitions, candidates reveal a lot of information that could be useful – not listening to this let alone not reacting to it is missing out.  Change can be a valuable tool and resistance stemming from traditional models of yearly planning can only leave an organisation exposed to risk.  A company I once worked for lost 32 senior developers within three months – did they stick to a static hiring plan?  Of course not! …but the changes shouldn’t have to be that drastic to trigger a period of re-evaluation.  The Talent Hacker doesn’t seek to control but instead knows that change will happen, they are not wedded to alternate contingencies but rely on experiences to suggest different paths to follow if the need occurs.
 
I like the appreciation of a new wave of recruitment thinking.  There have been pockets of genius in the underbelly of the people hunting game that have been hidden for too long.  From the boolean greats who sift through data to find that one unknown diamond of a candidate to the recruiters who do so much more than their remit, trusted advisors to candidates, hiring, housing and relocating their candidate’s families and pets as they go.  Perhaps the Talent Hacker flag is one we can all unite under,   recruiters and candidates might be all the better off for it.This manifesto is by no means an exhaustive list of what is to be a Talent Hacker and I welcome input to clarify the definition further.  By offering a definition we can at least trigger the debate and hopefully give the label more meaning.

Metrics that Matter

Firstly apologies to those of you that aren’t quite as geeky about the numbers of recruitment as I am, I’ll be back to ranting about the misuse of Pinterest for recruitment soon.  As I promised previously I wanted to give a little insight into those individual statistics that go to make up the metrics I use (or those I like to see) when recruiting.  Gathering this information isn’t about producing a report simply to prove effort.  It is only the most unengaged stakeholder who can take solace in knowing that candidate and recruiters are somewhere in the building…  Gathering this seemingly disparate data points, in a consistent format (more on this later) is about creating a dataset that is alive and available to answer questions that may arise later… regardless of what those questions might be…

So what are the basics?  Those elements that you have to capture and whether that’s in an ATS, a spreadsheet or typed up and popped in one of those old-timey filing cabinets.

Name, gender – All of your candidates will have a name, even if they have just one like a Brazilian footballer or Madonna they still have a name.  You should decide in advance on a format for writing these names capitalization, hyphenation etc this is to facilitate later use of names in mail merge or batch operations – candidates don’t want to receive an email for “MAtthw BUCKLAND” so spell it right and you won’t have to change 1000 name spellings at a later date.

Gender as a metric is of particular interest to me.  I’ve always worked in technical recruitment and it’s an industry where females and transgendered people are under represented.  This metric can be combined with source to know which sources are productive for diversity goals and with the date ranges to know if and where candidates excel or fall down in your recruitment process.  This can facilitate later discussion and provide great evidence for changing processes later.

Role – the role the candidate applies for…this one really is basic to be able to slice numbers of total applicants by role, I hope everyone does at least this.  If not I guess they just tie CV’s to the back of kittens and let them lose…

Gate Dates – Not Match.com for Farmers, this is the notation of the dates that a candidate moves through the hiring process.  Date of Application, Date of Phone Screen, Date of First On-site Interview all the way through to Date of Offer, Verbal Acceptance, Written Acceptance and Start Date.  GET ALL THE DATES!  So why track all these dates?  These date ranges can be used to answer a multitude of questions.  With values in these ranges reports can be compiled that show total length of process, drop-out ratios, expose bottlenecks in the process, expose waiting times and hold-ups, track notice periods… basically everything.  The date ranges and days elapsed are the bread and butter of recruitment reporting.  Do you currently know the average length of your interview process?  Does it vary a great deal?  Why is that? It’s the interrogation of these dates that will give you those answers and perhaps when you have enough of an historical dataset predict time to hire of for future capacity planning… all for putting some dates in a spreadsheet or clicking those little calendar icons in your swanky new ATS!  Brilliant!

Source – Again a simple one, but it bears repeating, the source is how the candidate arrived in your recruitment process.  This should break down the source into broad categories that can tell at a glance what is a good source (a lot of quality candidates) a weak source (few candidates) or a bad source (lots of irrelevant candidates).  Example sources should differentiate between the “How” of the source too e.g. not just “LinkedIn” correct reporting should be “LinkedIn Search” and “LinkedIn Advert”, this will enable you to distinguish between an active candidate application versus a directly sourced passive candidate.

Secondary Source – Some sources may require extra insight, you might need to know more for a later report.  If you have a primary source as “Event” this could be the particular Meetup, conference or pub you met them at.  A primary source of “Agency” might have the secondary source of the agency’s name, for referrals it could be the refering employees name… remember they all have one…

Country of Residence –  I also like to track where a particular candidate is based this has multiple reasons, one might be for immigration purposes to highlight to internal teams where visa constraints may be an issue or delay a start date, a second reason could be to track individual sourcing efforts from a particular country… best of all most reports can include a lovely map showing where candidates came from…the prettiest metric 🙂

Contact Details – This should be the most obvious but still I see people finding value in the wrong things.  We all should know that a direct contact is better than a message delivered through a third party.  Simply put a telephone call or a direct email address are better than a LinkedIn Inmail.  If you only use LinkedIn to contact candidates and leaving it at that you’re doing it wrong.

Last Employer – Want to know your pulling power?  Doing some competitor analysis?  Then you’ll need to know where your candidates are currently working.

Recruiter – Who found the candidate and who is shepherding them through the process?  It’s important that I’m not noting this to provide a productivity report for managerial consumption.  Unless all the members of the team are hiring for the same role in the same geography there is little to be gained from a direct comparison.  Raw numbers alone, stripped of context are not an aid.  They are a great example of one of the great flaws in gathering data – quantity isn’t always preferable to quality.

Date of Last Contact – One of the consistent complaints and killers of candidate experience is the lack of timely feedback.  Even giving a candidate a short “no news yet” will pay dividends if you later wish to offer against a less communicative rival.  To overstate, if you track the last date you contacted a list of candidates you can very easily automate an email letting them know what’s going on and when they’ll get feedback.

Status – Decide on a glossary of terms that best fit your process, get the hiring managers involved in this process too.  Phone Screen, First Interview, Second Interview..etc.  Have as many of these as you feel you need.  Counting each of these each week will give you a very rapid view of the overall pipeline.  Hiring managers will love this, full on warm and fuzzy feelings.  Too often the work of the recruiter can look like a dark art – they go and stare at a screen and people magically appear for interviews – a weekly pipeline report just illustrating the numbers of potential candidates at each stage will calm even the most rabid of hiring manager.

There are more things to track of course and when real value can be derived from the collation of this data you’ll find it quite addictive.  Best of all, when you start to move on from thinking the collection of data is just to describe the current status to instead thinking that you are creating a living, growing dataset that can be used to answer questions that haven’t yet been thought of… you’ll start to see why metrics really do matter.

 

The Itchy Security Blanket of Recruitment Metrics

The rise of more intuitive technology enabling the recruitment process has made for an interesting corollary – a rise in an organisation’s ability to collect and report data connected to the recruitment process.  The increasing data driven programmatic approach to recruitment can do much to aid in the design and selection of a recruitment strategy.  Seemingly small changes can be tracked to measure their impact on the success or failure rates of a decision.

The growth in our ability to collect these metrics has been matched by a hunger within the stakeholder set as a whole.  Once a hiring manager has seen a report that gives seemingly scientific insight into the hiring process it will be almost impossible to revert to something which grants them less insight.  I’m not advocating that we take away metrics for these managers rather than we give them the access and supply the relevant context.  The greatest danger of data collection lies not in the information, but in its interpretation.
So what metrics are appropriate to measure? What metrics can offer us certainty without falling into the the traps of selection or confirmation bias?  There are already a lot of hyperbolic blog posts like “The Top 10 Metrics You Must Have” or “7 Recruitment Metrics to Win” these miss the point.  The metrics of recruitment are best used for experimentation – tied to the continuous improvement of the team.  If you are producing metrics that will sit unopened in a spreadsheet to appease a hiring manager you are guilty of security blanket metrics.  Whilst you will feel all warm and fuzzy because you can prove that some *thing* is happening they will be of no real practical value, like butterflies pinned to a board underglass, nice to look at but not useful.
So whats the alternative?  When done correctly the term “metrics” is a misnomer.  The gathering of data around recruitment will give you a dataset which you can apply to provide insight into historical performance and to measure impact of the specific efficacy of projects the team undertakes.  In this way it’s possible to see results in real time – does that new advert copy lead to more applications? You can see that! Which website is best to advertise on? You can test that! Did that rival companies announcement affect your response rate? You’ll be able to see!  Did adding that photo of a cat to your website make it better?  Of course it did! You don’t need metrics to tell you that!
What can’t metrics do?  Predict the future.  In many of the articles I’ve read about recruitment metrics I’ve seen a large number of lofty claims about prediction.  All the while these claims are made without noting the limitations of the dataset we have access to.  It’s the measurement of this dataset that will be the most effective use of business value not on fortune teller style inference of outcomes.  Statements like “we had 1000 applicants in 2013, so this year we will have 1500” are always going to be more wishful thinking than informed prediction.  Metrics can help in planning for the future but knowing the limitations of the basis of those predictions is key.  If we aren’t aware of the limits of prediction we risk undoing the good that data can do and reaching for the crystal ball.
In a future post I’ll list the what and why of the metrics I like to measure.  Both for tracking team and individual performance within the team.  Hopefully you’ll recognise it’s a list high on building a dataset with experimentation in mind and low on fluffy feel goods and blame dodging.

On “Culture” – “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means”.

How many job adverts currently advertise a “great culture”, “a start-up culture” or a “Google-like culture”?  It seems as though the only company not shouting about how Google-like their culture is are Google themselves.  It’s a particular bugbear of mine at the moment because it’s not only a trite cliché it’s also meaningless.

“Culture” as it is currently being used in job adverts has come to mean little more than a perk.  “Salary, Bonus, Life Insurance, Great Culture”.  Whilst this doesn’t make the top ten in my all time annoyances with how jobs are advertised it does make the mistake of entirely missing the point.  If the “culture” is a differentiator why wouldn’t you tell a prospective candidate about it in lavish detail?  I think the issue here might be one of misunderstanding of the term.

some culture...So what is culture?  Broadly defined the culture of a company is the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular group or society.  These are the building blocks, the elemental stage of what we collectively called culture.  Without description of these ideas, customs and behaviours and why they are good bad or of no interest to a candidate mentioning it is redundant.

So what isn’t culture?  Another facet of a lack of description in a job advert is a description of the wrong things a quick scan of well intentioned descriptions lists “beers in the office”, “foosball” and “free food”.  These things are not culture.  Just like empty pyramids and papyrus scrolls are not the sum total of Ancient Egypt any more so than the Parthenon and Feta cheese are the whole of Greece.  Whilst these things are of cultural significance as parts of a job description without more insight they are little more than window dressing, set up to be dismissed by all but the most earnest of job hunters.  Whilst a recruiter may think that they are choosing the most attractive attributes of a compensation package they must also ask themselves do they really want to attract the candidate who favours a free lunch over a technology choice or a chance for progression?

I think the answer lies in a system of first and second order signifiers when talking about culture.  Those elements you call attention to first should be the most pertinent to your audience.  In the case of a Developer role for example I think we should assume that a candidate would want to know what technologies are involved, how the company writes code, how the teams are organised etc.  I’d hope a great candidate would want to know all of this before hearing about the details of a benefits package…even if they include “onsite barber” and “free laundry”.  These first order signifiers should be discovered when a recruiter qualifies a requisition.  This is the true insider knowledge and where the true indicators of culture lie, for example when saying the company has a flat-structure give the signifiers of this – small functional teams, 360 review process, accessibility to senior management.  If you say a company is innovative, tell the candidate how this is manifest – hackathons, internal discussion forum, cross functional collaboration etc.  Don’t just say those Ancient Egyptians were “Good builders” tell me about the pyramids!  If you don’t you’re missing the best opportunity.  Make the sell of the role more compelling through authenticity, not just spewing the benefits package verbatim – don’t be a perk-ulator.

Those second order signifiers are those items that apply to the general population of an organisation i.e. not role specific but company specific.  These are best used to reinforce the company’s values, attitudes and beliefs.  If possible these should be coupled with assumptions that let the reader know about the thought behind them.  Google’s “20% time” (despite it’s rumoured death) and Zappo’s “$2000 to quit” are great examples of this and offer a great stepping off point for later discussion with candidates.

Remember, the ideal job advert is not only attractive to those people you want to hire but also screens out those you do not.  If you write a generic job advertisement you will get a generic response.  A correctly worded ad to the right audience is a great first filter.  Candidates are not stupid, they will self select if they feel the role suits them and that is what should happen.  If you write a job description that everyone likes, everyone will apply but then of course you don’t want to hire everyone…

On Hiring Technical Women

I believe that even in my lifetime the advances that have been made in technology have been a great leveller.  Technology has enabled so much collaboration across so many different boundaries, across culture, geography, age, race and gender.  Even in my own career I have worked alongside teams from all over the world, on one particular project we had Brazilian, Chinese, and Dutch developers, working with an Australian project manager and a business analyst from Portugal working from a London office for a US based client.  They were a range of ages, races and genders.  I think the software they produced was better for the team’s diversity.  Their range of viewpoints and backgrounds enabled them to better empathise with the eventual users of the software they were building.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate as the employers I’ve worked for not only recognised the importance of diverse teams but were also prepared to invest both the time and sometimes the money that was necessary to source candidates from non-traditional backgrounds.  The industry is already well aware that there is a shortage of technical women.  There are some brilliant initiatives in this area and most importantly some truly inspirational female role models for those entering employment.  I’ve been exceptionally lucky to work with just a few of them.  It seems as though the more forward thinking of employers have woken up to the realisation that a diverse workforce is a boon to productivity and the collective intelligence of teams.  These are leaps forward and while we should keep striving and not become complacent it is in the implementation of these initiatives that I have noticed some actions which are increasingly counter-productive.  Some recruiters, despite the best intentions, are doing more to alienate potential female candidates than encourage them.

I do not know how women feel about the hiring process, nor do I believe they think as a collective hive-mind, so whenever I get the chance I ask them for feedback.  How was the hiring process? What did they enjoy? What could I improve?  Questions I ask of all the candidates I shepherd through their recruitment process.  At a previous employer we had a kind of focus group of female developers and business analysts set to explore one questions “how can we hire more females?”.  Whilst there were lot of ideas in the room there was one recurring theme that often stopped potential ideas in their tracks – no one wanted to feel or make others feel that the bar was being lowered for them.  They didn’t want women only interview days, they didn’t want woman-targeted advertising and they didn’t want to be commoditised with the offer of increased referral bonuses for female candidates.

It is in trying to work against the stereotype of the “programmer” that recruiters often fall into the trap of pandering to an equally divisive stereotype.  Whilst stand-out cases of obvious crassness make news, like the ad posted to the Ruby User group offering female co-workers as a perk or at the other end of the spectrum LinkedIn’s ban of a job ad showing a female web developer because it was “offensive”, it’s apparent that even when the industry thinks it’s doing the right thing often it just gets weird.  Pink adverts, adverts featuring photos of lip stick and high heels (really) there have been some truly odd attempts to attract female candidates when filtered though the lens of a recruiting department.

Recently I met with a representative from a university women’s group. She described a meeting with the Diversity Recruiters at a large investment bank.  They wanted to be involved with the women’s society and wondered what would be the best thing they could do.  The women’s group leader suggested that they might like to sponsor a scholarship for one of the female students.  A relatively modest award would ensure that a student would be “theirs”, branded as such and available for publicity. This would also ensure that the lucky recipient would be relieved of some financial burden, maybe give up a part-time job, devote more time to study, even fair better because of it.  The Diversity Recruiters didn’t agree that this would be the best use of the money, they wanted in their words a greater “return on investment”.  So what was their suggestion?

Afternoon tea in a posh hotel.  The budget? The same as the scholarship.  This is a perfect example of not knowing your audience, of not understanding or at least not empathising.  The twee sensibilities of an HR department woefully out of touch with the audience they were trying to engage.    A true opportunity to help was squandered in favour of cream teas.  It’s exactly the brand of corporatism that sees a company say they do work for the environment because they have a photo of the CEO planting a tree on their website.  It may well be benign but it’s also pointless.  Gender like any diversity characteristic is too often treated as a checkbox item. It’s as though some recruiters are more looking for Pokemon than people…

So how do I hire female developers?

I aim to hire highly-skilled, passionate people.  The adverts I place aren’t for “Ninjas” or “Rockstars” or other “brogrammer” terms,  they are for software engineers, for people who like solving problems and who like having their work make an impact.  So how do I ensure I’m reaching out to technical women too?  I source, a lot.  As women area smaller minority of the greater technical population you have to look through more of that population to find them.  It’s labour intensive but they are there you just have to look.  I have still run women only hackathons, and relied on the advice of organisations like Women in Technology and advertised in media aimed at a female audience, even increased the bounty for the successful referral of a female developer.  However, as a recruiter, first and foremost the thing I try to do is appeal to a passion for technology and find the best people I can.  If I’m looking for highly skilled people who are passionate about technology I know that I’m going to find some females in that group and I’m going to do my best to make sure that when I do talk to them it’s with a relevant and interesting opportunity…but then that’s what I want for every candidate.

The Perils of “Social Recruitment” or Putting the “Anti” in Social Recruitment

Many years ago, too many to remember clearly, I worked as a third party recruiter.  All the clichés were present and correct.  We’d “hammer” the phones, stand up to “pitch” and the paper resume was a valuable commodity.  Job seekers were putting resumes on-line and those passive candidates were found by guessing at telephone numbers and taking circuitous routes to get around secretaries and P.A’s.

I’d love to say that the entire industry has undergone a sea change and we’ve gone through a Moneyball style transformation and that “Big Data” has made everyone’s life better, and in some ways it has. However, for some the old ways of doing things don’t seem to have gone away.  Social media and the growth of social networks have given us a tremendous opportunity to engage in a way unlike we as recruiters have never done before.  Unfortunately, there are some that seem to be going out of their way to ensure that’s it’s the noise not the signal that fills this new space.

It’s my contention that the growth of social networks has led to a new openness in the sharing of information and the access to that information has meant that employers are effectively forced to partake in the conversation.  Before the growth of this new communications forum companies controlled the flow of information and with it the entry and exit points to information relating to their staffing, now they are up for discussion and comment.

It is in being, or attempting to be “social” that I see some recruiters struggling, or at the very least being ineffective.  Sourcing using social networks should be a pervasive part of how we reach out to an audience of potential candidates.  Their unique properties that allow us to  enter into conversations with applicants is exactly the reason they are superior to the job boards of old, and exactly the property that is being ignored. Here, in no particular order, are a few of my current pet hates of behavioural anti-patterns I see when recruiters are using Social Networks.

1.  It’s a natural human trait to find the easiest path, to not have to repeat the same actions over and over again.  If you’re looking for a role you feel is generic there is a tendency to make your messages generic too.  Specifically with LinkedIn there is a tendency to cut and paste messages.  While this will get your message to more people you won’t get the response rate because people don’t like to feel like they are generic – especially if that message calls out the candidate’s “unique” skills then treats them like one of the herd, credit the recipient with some intelligence – they will know the message is a duplicate.

2. Social Media lets us learn a tremendous amount about a person before we make that important call.  Why then do some just rush to the first contact?  Using information that is out of date, or ignoring key parts will just be a waste of time.  If you call a a candidate and ask about the extensive work in C++ he did at university 12 years ago and not refer to the 5 most recent years he’s been coding in Ruby, you shouldn’t be allowed near a telephone.

3. At first glance automating the tweeting and status updates of job requisitions sounds like a great idea.  Jobvite is one a handful of applicant tracking systems that allow for the broadcasting of links and adverts of your live jobs through your own social accounts.  However, social media is an engagement platform not a bulletin board.  If you have a managed to get a number of followers or have a large network they will soon tire if your only update it to tweet links to an list of your vacancies. Effectively you are adding to the noise, you will be unfollowed, you will be ignored.  For a similar degree of success you might like to try shouting out job titles into a well – it’s largely the same thing and at least there you’ll have an echo.

4. When using a new network or forum for the first time it’s important to gain an understanding of the norms and conventions of that network.  Lurk a little.  Learn how and where it is appropriate to make an approach.  A good example of this is joining a private group on LinkedIn centred around a largely technical discussion ignoring completely a tab marked “Jobs” and pasting your job ad slap bang in the middle of a technical debate.  You instantly alienate the audience and risk being removed from the group in short order.

5. Being present on a particular network is not a guarantee of success.  Being first to place a job advert on a particular network does not make you more innovative or creative than other recruiters.  If a network exists for a specific type of content don’t try and circumvent this. If you do, you’re just adding noise.  Text based job adverts on Instagram are a good example of this.  Instagram at it’s best exists as a celebration of the visual form – or in more mundane terms as a platform for adding filters to a photo of a latte – why waste your efforts trying to circumvent the form?  Save Instagram for arty shots of your work environment, or find a happy employee and post their photo as proof they exist.

6. In adopting a more social approach there can be a tendency to ignore the socially established barriers that would exist in other forms of contact.  Some social networks are best used for discovery rather than contact.  For example, I might find a candidate using Facebook search or Twitter but for the candidate these could personal outlets rather than professional.  They may not welcome a contact here, knowing that a recruiter has found you on Facebook and has probably perused your photos and status updates doesn’t make for a relaxed and comfortable candidate experienced.  Look at how a candidate utilises a network, if it’s largely personal they might not want to be approached in a professional capacity on these networks, why not use a second network to make the approach?  Find them on Facebook and contact via LinkedIn.  Talk to them, don’t stalk them, talk don’t stalk!

Social networks allow for individual, tailored and above all, authentic approaches.  Social networks may well be the future of recruitment, but some old adages remain true – you only get one chance to make a first impression.  Make that first impression count, research, approach creatively, source intelligently and you’ll get the responses and referrals you’re looking for.  Smart sourcers make the candidate feel special and unique, their approach is measured and relevant, the lazy seek to broadcast, screaming into the void, looking busy and generating nothing.

Finally a post on social recruiting wouldn’t be complete without an Infographic, so here’s my snarky attempt.

On Becoming Discoverable – advice for job applicants

Eventually there comes a time in every period of employment that an employee starts to imagine the greener pastures that exist in other offices.  It’s not that they’ve been courted by an unscrupulous recruiter, it’s not that they are moving town or countries, it’s not even that they’ve been fired for stealing stationery supplies and selling them on eBay. They’ve decided it’s time to leave and it’s on their own terms.

They lovingly craft themselves a new CV. They toy with the idea of of a video resume, or an infographic to show their creativity…then fire up Word and smoosh their details into a template.  They search the internet for a new role. They trawl LinkedIn and then they  find something; a glimmer of what might be.  They measure themselves against the requirements, ask friends about the company, research using Glassdoor and finally they click “Apply”.

Then… nothing.

They were right for the role.  All the requisite skills, even a few extra ones that the hiring managers would love. So why are not being courted, loved, made to feel like the beautiful and unique snowflake they are by a whole gaggle of in-house recruiters?  Why are they lost, trapped in a black hole, ignored?

The answer…because they applied.

In many of the recruitment teams I have managed to date there is a odd behavioural pattern that I have noticed more than once.  Those CV’s that have arrived through direct application are not as valued or deemed inferior to those that have been head hunted or sourced through some circuitous route.  This leads to a selection bias on the part of the recruiter to over state the suitability of a candidate that has been sourced through toil and denigrate the suitability of those candidates who apply directly because of their availability.  Because we have been told many times that the “good” candidates “aren’t looking” or are “passive”, those that are active must be inferior. This despite metrics that directly show that 10 to 15% of hires had come through direct applications!

There are many reasons why this could have happened.  The “groupthink” or herd behaviour of the team seeking to emulate a strong performer, a little cultural inheritance from a previous job or even an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect – the recruiter valuing their own perceived skills over that which lacked their “superior” touch.

It may not be the fault of the recruiter.  Some of the organisations I have seen use an applicant tracking system that deposits CV’s of applicants to be viewed into “bins” or “buckets”.  There has to be some linguistic reinforcement of perceived value here.  When I think of the contents of these inanimate objects I don’t really see it positively.  In British English a “bin” is where we put rubbish or trash and a “bucket” is used for cleaning, it’s association is with dirt or grime.  How many bins and buckets are filled with gold, or diamonds, or unicorns!  Institutionally we can do something to aid the shaping of behaviour here, why not refer to an internal talent “pool” and try to excise the negativity that could aid prejudgement?

So what can a candidate do?  My advice to a candidate looking for work is to make themselves discoverable.  Prior to applying, try to ensure that you have a footprint that means you can be found on the internet.  Google yourself.  Know where it is that recruiters will look for people with your skills.  For the developers and software engineers that I recruit there are a wealth of venues to utilise.  I am assuming you’re OK with surrendering a little privacy to be discovered…

Firstly, LinkedIn.  Have a profile, make that profile detailed, feel cheap and dirty with all the spam you’ll get you can always shutter it or delete it all together when you’ve found that dream job.  For a growing majority of recruiters LinkedIn is the first port of call, for some it’s their only port of call.

Secondly, as a developer or an software engineer if you don’t have an account on Stack Overflow you should. Any forum which is monetised for recruiters is a sure sign that recruiters are there and searching for candidates.

Thirdly, broaden your other social media footprint.  Have a G+ account, have a Twitter account, take down the drunken photos on Facebook because the more savvy recruiters out there will be looking here for you too.  If you list a job title or a company this will make you more likely to be found – check that “other” message inbox from time to time too!

Even if you only did these few things, pretty low effort, you’d be on the radar of more recruiters more of the time.  Now add to this your own blog, open source software contributions, your own website to further aggregate this stuff and you’ll be surrounded in no time, of course when you’ve found that dream job you can take back some privacy and close or hide these accounts – you’ve only had to deal with those rascally recruiters on your terms and when you wanted to, that has to be better than sending that CV into the void, only for it to land in a “bucket”, right?

 

On the Cultural Normalization of the Recruitment Process

The recruitment process of old is long dead. The didactic hierarchy of employer as king and the cowering potential employee grateful for the opportunity “just to be here” is over.  In the tired metaphor of the “War for Talent”, talent has won. Employers must now be more venturesome than ever before in their sourcing and courting of talent to add to their organisations.  We have seen the growth of internal sourcing functions, the lessening of reliance of third party agencies and entire internal recruiting departments swell in numbers.

No where has the pressure to uncover this talent been more pronounced than in the expansion of the global technical giants.  In the race to become dominant there is no country left un-visited, no university left un-plundered and no diversity group left un-infiltrated.  However, in the growth of these organisations where talent can be a direct corporate advantage there is a strange byproduct of the economic choices they have made.

Dublin is a city with just under two million people in the Greater Dublin area and due to it’s lucrative tax incentives for companies to set up European headquarters there has more than it’s share of large internet brands. Google, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and eBay all have offices in the city to name just a few – a large number of the employees to staff these organisations are imported from the continent or further a field but the staff to support these are usually local hires, this is a rapidly decreasing pool of people who have the relevant experience and the availability.  Due to another cost reduction incentive – the use of the 11 month contract – many of these staff, particularly those in the HR organisations have worked at one, if not more of the other organisations.  This is where I feel the problem lies.  It’s not that these individuals aren’t great recruiters, all I’ve met in interviews and at events are, but in crossing the cultural boundaries, in joining new organisations they bring something of that culture with them.  This cultural inheritance is not only evident in physical objects but also customs, ideas and values.  When a recruiter from another organisation joins yours they have a preformed conception of what “works” proven by their previous experiences.  It is wholly natural for them to wish to replicate these experiences.  This can lead to practices that “borrow” heavily from the previous employer, from the selection of a software tool because “it worked for X company”, the treatment of candidates in a process “we never gave feedback at X company” or even the style and number of interviews a candidate faces all can be held up to be judged as good and replicated accordingly.  There are always more insidious aspects of cultural inheritance here too, over engineered administrative processes, biases in sourcing and overly lengthy approval chains to name a few.

So why is this a bad thing?  If it works it’s good right?  Right?

Maybe.  However, there is a casualty here.  Entire recruitment processes at these large organisations are becoming homogenized.  The recruiters, heavily targeted and fighting for a position at the end of their 11 month contract revert to “what works” rather than a recruitment process that will do more than simply test the suitability of a potential employee; it will communicate a true reflection of that company’s culture.  As the number of organisations looking for great technical talent increases still further they seek to replicate processes that they assume are effective – how many organisations are still asking candidates “How many piano tuners are there in Brazil?” even when Google themselves have moved away from these questions, calling them “a complete waste of time“.  The homogenization of hiring cultures across organisations will only lead to a lack of innovation, a cultural blandness that will leave the candidates unimpressed and the recruiters unfulfilled, cogs in a process.  Whether or not you aspire to a hire talent of the same calibre as Google or Facebook perhaps the answer lies not in the “Googlification”, “Facebookification” or Nextbigthing-ification” of your hiring process but in the effective communication of your own corporate culture.  If we accept that the recruitment process is also a time for candidates to learn about your organisation an awareness of what you actually want them to learn might be a good thing.  Rather than be the beige old porridge, the pale imitation of a recruiter’s previous employer why not look upon the recruitment process as a great chance to iterate, looking for ways to continuously improve,  to provide true value to the organisation.  You could even borrow from software development practices and look at A/B testing to see which practices work better for your candidates (yes you should always ask them for feedback), just don’t get them to dance, that might be differentiation you don’t want!

In conclusion, when building a recruitment team, adding to an existing team or even changing policies and processes – caveat emptor.  Ensure that you’re not adopting practices have worked for you previously without holding them up to the scrutiny of your new situation.

A War on Attrition

The word “Attrition” as used by HR departments throughout industry seems like a semantic comfort blanket. In the same way as the terms “ethnic cleansing” and “collateral damage” are linguistic devices to distance ourselves from the reality of what is happening, so “Attrition” is a sanitised nomenclature for an unhappy reality that we’d rather not face. As a recruiter I like to add value by providing information to my hiring managers on what else is going on in the current labour markets, are our competitors hiring? at what levels? are salaries increasing? etc. Often when supplying this information I am asked about “attrition” within our own organisation. Traditionally these discussions take a familiar form – Why are people leaving? Do we care? How many can we expect to leave and What can be done?

One of the broadly prevalent anti-patterns of HR seems to be the absolute faith placed in process, policy and procedure without reasoning that we are dealing with real people. There is no allowance in a policy for the foibles of humanity and thus no flexibility. The faith in numbers approach has basis in sense – there will always be movement in the staff employed – people will move on, change careers, retire or even want to come back. Those with their numerical approach acknowledge that movement is normal – predicting staff turnover and reporting on it as a metric – without the consideration of the bigger picture, the process has blinded them to the real and ultimately more important questions of “Why is this person leaving?” and “Are we OK with that?”.
I have spoken to organisations who have an “Attrition Policy” where a “Retention Strategy” might be more appropriate, in the majority of cases there is no forum to address concerns over status, hierarchical level or salary satisfaction beyond an exit interview by which time it’s already too late. If you maintain a lovingly crafted file of the reasons individuals have left your organisation but do nothing about it, you’re essentially just describing the lock of the stable door from which the horse has long since bolted.
If employees are leaving your organisation they are voting with their feet. There might be a myriad reasons as to why but obfuscation through process isn’t a defence. Whilst it is rare to loose an entire workforce, however, it is increasingly possible to loose teams or key members from those teams that may have a dramatic effect on the organisation as a whole. This can be a tranche of people with a particular skill set or often more detrimentally a layer of experience leaving your organisation e.g. employees who stay for 4 years have a 90% chance of leaving in their 5th year.
There is no simple answer in solving “attrition”, offering a safe forum for discussion of issues may lead to a better understanding of employee issues but this is still reliant on the information being acted on and being seen to be acted on. There is little more risible than employee charters or staff “councils” giving voice to concerns that are then ignored.
When people are leaving your organisation they are going to another employer that they see as “better”. Everyone involved in the “exit process” or who has discussions with the employee should be seeking to discover what those “better” options are. Is it something as simple as a higher salary? A more achievable bonus? Better training? It is these things we should be monitoring not simply listing dissatisfaction with the current organisation – have no doubt your employee has been “sold” a new role – finding out the selling points will better aid you to avert losing more members of staff (if you are able to solve the issues) or at least enable you to compose a more compelling job description for the new hire you’re going to have to make.
At the very least an organisation should have an awareness of reasoning behind leaving, enough awareness of the current market to spot a trend if it’s occurring (this should come from the organisation’s recruiters) and a sense or urgency when it’s required to ensure than an expected turnover doesn’t turn into a flood of leavers.

Video Nasties…they’ve got a recruiting video we should make one quick!

In an online world where YouTube is king of the video realm there are still many pretenders to the crown. There are in fact so many video hosting sites and aggregators of the web video that it was only a matter of time before the recruiting departments of the world’s corporations jumped both feet first on to the bandwagon to give us an insight into why they are the right choice for candidates. Like websites in the early 90’s there is a odd emotion of curiosity mixed with panic around the phenomenon. Online recruitment video is the new must have and when used well can only enhance the online brand of the company they represent. Of course there is a flip side to this and some companies seem dead set on trying to destroy their credibility at 24 frames a second and all in glorious technicolour.

So here are some examples, followed by my own lop-sided bias as to what I think works or doesn’t work about them.

If you have to say something is “cool” it isn’t. If you have to say something is “fun” it isn’t. This is akin to finding your parents are using Facebook or watching an Uncle dance at a wedding.

OK so “Cool” shouldn’t be stated explicitly. What about “Happy”? What do people do when they’re happy?

Sometimes when I watch old episodes of “Friends” I think they look a bit dated. The 90’s were a long time ago and this video from 2001 (BC?) looks a little less than fresh… It might also be a symptom of my British cynicism that means I balk at the almost religious fervour displayed by the “choir”.

It’s easy to get this very very wrong. However, it’s just as easy to not fail completely but perhaps to dilute your message and to attempt to cover all bases thus alienating a good number of your target audience.

Modern net savvy consumers are aware of the mediated reality in which they operate. The self-referential irreverent style of post-modernity has become the norm for those companies trying to illicit a response from Generation Y. Flying in the face of this is “Corporate Branding 101” or iStockphoto-ism. This is where a large corporate either buys photos to use in it’s branding OR worse still commissions photos that end up looking like they’ve trawled a Google image search. I like this next video, but it does feel a bit “iStock” and thus the message is commuted to “false” in my mind at least.

Not that I’m using this as a reason to bash Microsoft per se but have you seen the Windows 7 release party video? This is so monstrously bad that at first I thought it was a parody. “Someone MUST be attempting irony, right? This is a joke? Right?”. A video so STUNNINGLY bad that Charlie Brooker was forced to coin the term “shitasmic” to describe it.

Back in the world of recruitment videos if you’re trying to attract people the ultimate goal of your video should be the projection of company culture. Video, more than anything else in the marketer’s remit has the potential to communicate the underlying values and attitudes towards employees without explicitly stating them. Why is this important? Why is it no longer OK to have a talking head on screen saying “This company I work for is cool”? For me the answer is simple…it’s not ok because if you work for the company, they’re paying your mortgage/rent you would say that! A “Great Place to Work” is inferred. Prospective candidates must feel aligned to the values or to those a video represents, in a recruiting campaign this is why we tell employee’s back stories or even introduce them in the first place. It’s also why so many corporate videos feature employees/actors of different ethnicities/genders etc in effect over proving their all encompassing nature, often despite the fact that we’re all pretty wise to this now.

So what does work in a recruiting video? For me it depends on who you’re trying to attract. There isn’t a coverall message for candidates – there can however be an coverall message of a company’s culture. A video can illustrate values and show the participants in that culture. True explicit mess ageing should be confined to “we are hiring” rather than the elitist “We are great…maybe you’re good enough to join us” which risks the alienation of the prospective employee.

This video from Connected Ventures (the people behind CollegeHumour and BustedTees) is a great example, people having fun (it looks genuine!) Certainly above all it communicates culture of a working environment, it’s a place where your colleagues are likely to get together and dance and sing! Whilst it may alienate some job seekers its a statement aimed squarely at the section of society they want to recruit.


Lip Dub – Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger from amandalynferri on Vimeo.

While this is all opinion and just my opinion there is one guiding factor… looking again at all these videos there is one clear deciding factor. Those that seem aware of their own culture and their audience have a couple million more views. As candidate sourcing is often about numbers of the right audience applying getting your message out to a few million more potential employees has to be something worth striving for.