The Magic of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator – The Technological Panaceas of Hiring that aren’t.

Hiring is scary.

Hiring is a risky process that we all know can do irreparable damage if we get it wrong.  There are countless studies that all make the case that a false positive is more damaging that a false negative.  It’s hard to “undo” a bad hire.  So how do we mitigate against this?

In the world of hiring there is an anti-pattern that the answer to the question of “how to hire?” is always answered better elsewhere.  We tell ourselves there exists a panacea for hiring.  There is a strategy to beat all others.  A technology so advanced that it alone is enabling a rival to mop up all that talent that’s spilling all over the place.  In effect, in making strategic decisions about technology in hiring we have outsourced our facility for critical thought.

We believe the purveyors of these advances because they come with the trappings of authority. They quote statistics in polished powerpoint presentations, wield certificates with pseudo-scientific credentials or a hat.  So much of the decision making for strategy in recruitment has become about copying our competitors.  We assume that if something is working elsewhere it will work for us. Often this is based on information that is outdated and organisations don’t change their processes to fit in with the new thinking.  Take for example the role of those “impossible to answer questions” pioneered by Microsoft and later Google.  It is now industry wide common knowledge that there is no correlation between the ability to answer these brainteaser questions and the ability to perform well in the role you are interviewing for.  Yet how many organisations are still asking them because they think they should be?  When was the last time you ran an audit of the questions asked at interview in your organisation?

Ever since companies have needed to hire people there have been providers offering them magic-bullet future predicting insights into their candidates.  With just a few answers to a test you can predict the suitability of a candidate for your company.  The granddaddy of these magical tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

The test sorts it’s takers into one of 16 different types each with a description that have now been misappropriated by HR departments to make wide ranging judgments about the suitability of prospective employees.  There have been many more erudite take downs of the lack of use of the MBTI this is a great place to start.

Here, as a primer, are a few reasons why the MBTI shouldn’t be used in decision making when hiring –

  • The test is based on the work of Carl Jung and uses his “types” in a way he said they shouldn’t be used “Every individual is an exception to the rule,” Jung wrote.
  • Jung’s principles were later adapted into a test by Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, who had no formal training in psychology.
  • The test uses false, limited binaries that force the taker into a either/or choice often on measurements where a better representation is that we are all somewhere on a spectrum.  Jung himself wrote “there is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.”
  • As much as 50 percent of people arrive at a different result the second time they take a test, even if it’s just five weeks later.

Lastly and perhaps the best first step to make when evaluating the claims of any HR holy grail is to look at who stands to benefit from the introduction of any new test, technology or methodology.  More often than not this benefit is either financial or one of prestige.  In the case of the Myers-Briggs there is a self supporting industry of those that pay for the licensing to become testers and then propagate the test’s worth within their organisations thus increasing the need for their own services.  The real winner in the “success” of the MBTI is it’s producer.

This is a truism for any of the latest crazes and bandwagon technologies that present themselves in the hiring space.  If someone stands to benefit then they will tell everyone that it’s the best thing ever and will change the face of recruitment as we know it.  Be wary of that hyperbole for that way lies a trail a misspent dollars.

The hard truth that we all face is of course that there is no one perfect system.  There is no solution that can be purchased that will solve all your hiring ills.  There are organisations that make great strides in their own hiring and those stories have worth.  However, as an industry we shouldn’t seek to become an inferior copy of another’s success.  Instead we should ask ourselves what are those aspects that seem to work for others that we could trial and adopt at our own companies.  Listen to the stories of others but know that the stories themselves are not the path to knowledge. Knowing something requires research.

We should think critically about both the message and the messenger before going ahead with those decisions that will shape our ability to attract and retain talent for years to come (or at least until the next bandwagon we jump on).

So the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator isn’t magic. It’s that magical thinking that is a failure of critical thinking. Not thinking critically about a testing framework that you later use as a reference point to inform your decision making is an act of sabotage against your employer… but then I would say that I’m an ENTJ.

7 Myths About Great Résumés

When friends find out I work in recruitment they often have a lot of questions.  They might ask for funny stories, the strangest applications I’ve seen, but it’s never that long until I’m asked if I’ll look at their own resume.  Sad though it may seem, I don’t mind doing this, actually I quite enjoy it.  Almost every time I’ve done this I hear the same justifications for formatting, length, and content come up again and again.

I’m sure that this advice is always given with the best of intentions to those seeking jobs.  It’s folksy, friendly and given in the same tones as the motherly maxims we were fed as children. However, times have changed.  We know that if we pull “that face” we won’t stay that way, we know that eating those crusts didn’t put hair on our chests, we even know that if you swallow chewing gum it wouldn’t “wrap around your heart and kill you” (my elder sister used to tell me this with absolute conviction).  So much of this weird advice is now dismissed and yet when it come to job seeking we hold certain things to be absolute truths.  Here are seven thing people blindly accept as the “right way” and the reasons I think we can now give up on them.

Myth Number 1 – “Your resume should only be 1 page.”

Truth – This is one of the most pervasive pieces of advice I hear.  Often I find people struggling to fit their experience on a page, resorting to 10pt font size or self-censoring and leaving some great things out, desperately attempting to make everything fit into no more than two sides of A4.  The problem with that?  I will probably never print your resume.  “Sides of paper” is a physical restriction that modern ATS’s (Applicant Tracking Systems) and candidate tracking systems have made redundant.  The truth is that I will scroll through a CV on a screen, normally in a frame within another application, I’ll be reading your resume not counting pages.  Some recruitment software even removes page breaks so the length is purely a measure of holding a recruiter’s interest. Write interesting, relevant content and a recruiter won’t mind if you add a page.

Myth Number 2 – “Avoid all complicated fonts or design elements.”

Truth – This is another of those things that was potentially true in the past.  When looking at a paper resume it may have been the case that in printing a complex design would be corrupted in some way.  Similarly, early ATS’s couldn’t cope with any design elements as they tried to parse documents and strip out information.  Any modern system will now happily display submitted resumes in a variety of formats, even as beautifully crafted .pdfs the better systems are now advanced to the point where they can do this and still strip out information and enable searching.  Never has this advice been so misplaced when I was recently looking for designers.  The number of standard template resumes I received was scary – if you’re a designer show it! If the design you send to a recruiter is overly complex and doesn’t convey information clearly it will tell them a lot more about your abilities than the content.


Myth Number 3 – “Recruiters only spend 5 seconds looking at a resume.”

Truth – Recruiters only spend five seconds looking at a bad resume.  With clarity of format and inclusion of relevant information you encourage a reader to read on.  Irrelevant, clichéd or boring copy means anyone, not just a recruiter won’t linger for long.  You should write in a consistent format that is easy to take in – I have suggested the following format for wring about each job –

Company – Role Title – Dates of Employment
Who the company are, what they do – just a couple of sentences. 
The role you were tasked to perform – the duties you had
Achievements in the role – Call attention to specific things that match the role you’re applying for or experiences you want to call out. 
This makes for easy reading, it tells me what you did, and how you did it. I don’t have to second guess obscure job titles and still offers you the chance to blow your own trumpet a little.
 
Myth Number 4 – “Use Bullet Points.”
 
I like bullet points, when listed the duties you undertook or telling me about specific individual elements of a whole they’re great.  However, not everything should be bulleted.  I’ve seen resumes that are so clipped and hammered into bullet lists that they are no longer comprehensible.  As a rule any stylistic choice should enhance legibility.  If a resume is comprised totally of bullet points, each with their own clipped structure it can be like reading a newspaper using only the headlines.  I’ll thank you for the brevity but I’ll also doubt your ability to write a complete sentence.


Myth Number 5 – “Identify the problems of the employer.”

Truth – Don’t do this. I’ve never seen an example of this that doesn’t sound arrogant.  I can’t imagine a case where it wouldn’t.  Cite relevant experiences, give examples that you think may resonate with the problems that your target employer would also face, but the assumption of a candidate leaping in and saving the company they are applying to work for is a turn off for most recruiters I know.


Myth Number 6 – “Don’t use jargon.”

Truth – Don’t dumb down your resume to the point that it looks as though you don’t know what you’re talking about.  This is particularly true for technical professions.  A candidate is correct to assume some level of knowledge from the recruiter who is reviewing the resumes before they reach a hiring manager.  If a developer or sys admin is giving more details about a project they worked on I want to to know what technologies they used.  There’s another reason to keep in the technical terms too – they are often how resumes are searched and candidates are discovered in the first place. In any database of resumes, LinkedIn included, search is initially about filtering millions of people through key words – they have to be there.
   Technical terms are not meaningless, include them.  Don’t include the truly meaningless, clichéd company specific terms or management speak but if the term is relevant and needed don’t be afraid to use it.  A good recruiter can either be relied upon to google the term or if the rest of the resume is good they’ll ask you.

Myth Number 7 – “Don’t add your hobbies or interests.”

Truth – As a recruiter I tend to see all candidates as meaty flesh bags containing a skill set, their only possible use being to serve the organisation for which I currently ply my trade, said no one ever.  An organisation that would discriminate against you for your hobbies or interests probably isn’t one you would want to work for.  However, there are some people who may have legal yet contentious pastimes.  Things that might not be a good idea to add are religion or political activity or hunting as an example.  It’s important not to give the recruiter a reason to reject your application out of hand but at the same time as a recruiter I’d still like to know you were a well rounded human being.  
In a related area, don’t make up hobbies or interests, recruiters will ask you about them.  There’s nothing more awkward for us both like a sudden improvisation about your made up live action role-playing experiences.

Remember as Mary Schmich said “Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth“. The next time that someone offers you some advice on your resume make sure that it really applies to the application you’re making, but this is just my advice.


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.

What Developers Want – A Data-Driven Approach to Writing Engaging Adverts

When writing job adverts recruiters are often left to rely on a brief chat with the hiring manager.  They sometimes get input from one of the friendlier engineers and pair this with an old job description that has been slowly rotting on their  careers site for the past year.  The output of these less than ideal circumstances is a rehashing of the old job spec.  Some added promises of an exciting “culture” and an oblique reference to some new technology you may or may not get to use.  The advert is posted in the normal places and with little fanfare proceeds to garner a lacklustre response from candidates. A talent pool that is already bombarded with competing offers.
There must be a better way.  What if we could write a job description using the same words and phrases that our target audience are looking for?  If we could ask a large enough group of people what they are looking for then we could pull themes and even individual words from this dataset to create and advert that was engaging. Better yet, we wouldn’t have to resort to the cliches and stock phrases from all the other job descriptions.
Coming by this dataset isn’t easy, few people have the time to go out and interview the hundreds of prospective candidates needed to make it representative.  Even if an employer did this the data would likely be skewed by experimenter bias.  If only there was a way of reliably collecting this data from developers who felt free to say whatever they wanted.  Recently I discovered a way to do exactly this. Better yet the data was already captured for me.
Hire my Friend is a new sourcing tool aiming to address the need for talent in the world of startups. Aiming to not expose that talent to unscrupulous recruiters or the volumes of spam they would receive on other sites.  Additionally it has some cool recommendation features, which made “endorsement” meaningful again.  I care more if a developer rates another developer highly than if the same assurance of expertise came from a colleague in sales, a school friend or their mum.
On looking at the tool I noticed that candidate profiles, though anonymous and containing all the usual information, also asked one important question.  “What are you looking for?”.  Suddenly I had impartial answers to that question from 13,000 (and growing) Engineers, Marketers and UX Designers.  After running a search for Ruby developers in London I had the data I needed, I pasted the answers into one long document and made that into a word cloud.  The larger the word the more frequently it occurs in the responses.
What Developers are actually looking for…

So what does this tell us?  Firstly that Hire my Friend’s users are very much on target.  The majority of users are looking for work in small, startup teams.  It’s the the details here that are more interesting for me.  I have always said that offering a job that is both rewarding and challenging is attractive, i.e. referring to actual problems to solve.  This is borne out by the answers given, the words problem, challenging, learning, solving and knowledge feature heavily.  The second biggest takeaway for me is the importance in stressing the “why” of the role you’re hiring for.  Why is the work important? How will it impact the larger team and the rest of the company?  In describing the work we should ensure that we stress those elements that are “creative”, “fascinating”, “exciting” and “cool”.

So given these answers how can we measure a job description against the data?  The same process can be used to evaluate our own job descriptions – here’s mine

From the advert

For me the obvious difference here is between the active and the passive.  The job description has some of the same elements but still has some scope to be a better match. In a passive sentence, the subject of the sentence is acted upon rather than performing the action.  For a potential candidate this could mean that they are left with a sense of being used like a resource or that their individual importance in being downplayed.  What job seeker wants to be part of a massive swathe of hiring to become a cog in a machine? None I’d want to hire.  As William Zinsser says in his book On Writing Well, “active verbs push hard and passive verbs tug fitfully” a job advert should be a compelling call to action.

I’m going to use the Hire my Friend data to write different adverts and do my own A/B test.  It will be interesting to see if matching the word choice and elevation of individual over the companies own needs makes the difference I think it will.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

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.

Innovation in Job Hunting – Engaging the Recruiter

I always seem to harping on about what employers can do to encourage engagement from talented candidates.  Today I came across  reddit user Leah, who goes by Pastlightspeed, who posted photos of her recent application to two advertising agencies for an intern position.  It’s hard to know how to standout in this increasingly competitive market and whilst Leah skirts the line between impressive and gimmicky I think the end result is both pleasing and communicates her potential well.

hIsUPxq MTmxS0g xrQxELh

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this type of thing and whilst it lends itself well to creative professions I think there’s scope to produce this kind of thing for other disciplines too.  In the past I’ve seen resumes submitted in LaTeX for researcher roles, as an API for an engineering role and a candidate at Facebook sent a single shoe – the accompanying message stating “…if the shoe fits”.  All three stood out and all three got interviewed.  Of course you still have to interview well but thinking about the application process in a creative way could give you an advantage over other applicants and may help to pique the interest of even the most jaded in-house recruiters.

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…

Innovation in Sourcing – The Poaching Phone

I recently posted on the wealth of innovative techniques available to a forward thinking sourcing departments who are targeting known individuals in competitor organisations.  A Dubai based advertising agency, FP7, gives an object lesson in how to do this well and the direct return on investment they made from using this approach.

“We set out to expand our creative department, but hiring talent in the region is a constant struggle. Headhunters charge exuberant fees, so we did our homework and captured the attention of the region’s best talent using the ultimate creative recruiter – The Poaching Phone. Faux industry Self help books were personalised to potential recruits and demonstrated how they could advance their career with us. Inside each book, an ordinary phone was concealed in die-cut pages and programmed with only one contact, our ECDs number. We then sent it out to infiltrate Dubai’s top Ad Agencies. Within a week, we received the phone calls we were hoping for. A month later, we had 4 new members join our creative family. In the end, we saved 97% of our projected recruitment costs with a simple phone.”

Four hires and a 97% reduction in projected costs make this a obvious success in the face of the “spray and pray” mentality of some sourcing strategies.

Advertising a Vacancy in the Key of C#

There is a problem with advertising a vacancy on a job board.  Not just the general problem of the decline in qualified candidates having to use job boards to find a new role but also the problem of standing out in a sea of other text all advertising the same type of vacancies.  How can you make plain text stand out when it’s just the same as everything else?  Better yet how can you make it truly relevant to your target audience?  
 
If you take the time to look at what your competitors are putting on job boards you might notice some strange behaviours.  How many of the “adverts” are actually just job descriptions?  A job description and an job advertisement perform two very different functions and should look very different.  If you produce a job description and post that instead of telling a reader how amazing it would be for them to work for your company you’re posting a list of demands in HR Speak.
 
This is the equivalent of a car manufacturer televising the turning pages of the technical manual, it’s just so boring!  Stretching the analogy further an advert for a new job should be just as aspirational as for a new car – we want all the cornfields on fire, explosions and leather clad luxury of a car ad.  We want excitement, something that will appeal to the target audience and something that demonstrates that we, as an employer, understand them. 
 
Today I worked with one of our developers to write a job advertisement in C#.  What would have taken me an age obviously only took him a few seconds to write but the feedback was the best I’ve ever heard for any advertisement, after we finished he said – “I would apply”.We’re currently trialing a number of different styles of advertising for our jobs over on our StackOverflow company page.  It’s particularly useful because we can see both page views and applications so we’re better able to judge the effectiveness of an ad.  I’m hoping this ad in code as well as other versions we’re working on might encourage those that see them to explore a little further.
  1. using System;
  2. using System.Linq;
  3. namespace CriteoQuestions
  4. {
  5.     class Program
  6.     {
  7.         static readonly uint THRESHOLD = 5;
  8.         static uint Question(string text)
  9.         {
  10.             Console.WriteLine(text + ” [y/N]”);
  11.             string answer = Console.ReadLine();
  12.             return answer != null && answer.Equals(“y”) ? 1U : 0U;
  13.         }
  14.         static void Main()
  15.         {
  16.             string[] questionTexts =
  17.                 {
  18.                     “Looking for a new challenge?”,
  19.                     “Want to work in the heart of Paris?”,
  20.                     “Do you enjoy solving hard problems efficiently and creatively?”,
  21.                     “Would you like to work where Big Data is more than a buzz word?”,
  22.                     “Want to work on a product at true web scale with 30B HTTP requests and 2.5B unique banners displayed per day?”,
  23.                     “Would you like to know more?”
  24.                 };
  25.             uint score = questionTexts.Aggregate<stringuint>(0(current, text) => current + Question(text));
  26.             Console.WriteLine(score > THRESHOLD
  27.                                   ? @”Contact m.buckland@criteo.com today”
  28.                                   : @”That’s a shame, you can learn more at http://labs.criteo.com/ maybe we can change your mind?”);
  29.             Console.ReadLine();
  30.         }
  31.     }
  32. }
What other ways are there to stand out when advertising jobs online?  How can you make the limitations of plain text on a job board into advantages that will make your adverts stand out from the crowd?