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 today”
  28.                                   : @”That’s a shame, you can learn more at 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?

Innovation in Sourcing – Standing out from the crowd

The word “Sourcing” has come to be used in a particular way recently.  In an age of “social recruiting” the meaning of sourcing has become narrowed to the point that it really only relates to new ways of searching the internet or the latest in a long line of software tools to interrogate ever growing datasets.  However, as recruiters, often we already know who we want to target.  We know the companies they work for, we know the skills they possess, we know their titles, in some cases we even know their names.  The overly stalkerish amongst us sometimes even know their addresses…

In recent years there have been a number of landmark instances using more non-traditional tactics.  New companies wanting to make an impact, older organisations seeking out particular known individuals or just a grand gesture of recruitment, recruitment as an event or spectacle, existing to generate a larger story with the resulting publicity driving even more people to learn about the company. Further, frustrations over “access” to these candidates forces more innovative companies to imagine more and more innovative solutions to get their message across.  Some are clever, some confrontational, but all of them have made an impact beyond their original target audience.  Here are some of my favourites from over the years.

In 2003 Electronic Arts in Canada took out some billboard space near the offices of rival games developer Radical Entertainment. Near enough to be read by the developers at Radical who had no problem working out that the message reads “We’re Hiring”.    The results of this obviously confrontational stance by EA didn’t really do them much good – the team at Radical garnered a lot of positive press. The public love an underdog it seems.  Founder and CEO at Radical, Ian Wilkinson sums it up well “This has been far more aggressive than past attempts, but I have no reason to believe that this will be any more effective.”

So overtly hostile attempts can often be jarring and work against you – at the very least they convey a lot more about the brand than was originally intended.  Here, EA were the giant trying to take down an independent success story, it didn’t work but it has been done better.

Enter Google.  In 2004 this billboard appeared near the Ralston exit leading to Santa Clara, California.  A prime location for attracting the attention of the employees of Silicon Valley as they sat in traffic on their way to work.  Free from any branding the billboard itself is a challenge.  Perfectly aimed at their target audience of engineers and researchers who love to solve problems.   The problem itself led to a url that in turn led to another problem and eventually a pay-off and reveal that it was a Google recruiting strategy.  This is still talked about today as being ground-breaking and it certainly aided in the establishment of the mythical status of Google’s hiring process.  Looking back it’s easy to assume that “of course it’s Google” but at the time they were pre-IPO, 1907 employees (as of March 2004) and they were already doing truly innovative things.  Interestingly, it also didn’t stop them pursuing other more “grey” tactics too – at the same time they were winning hearts and minds, and enjoying massive viral publicity with their billboard they were also sponsoring job adverts in their own search results.  As well as sponsoring traditional job applicant search terms they also sponsored ads on the keyword/name “Udi Manber”, who was then chief of’s search technology unit, A9.  It would be just two years later that Udi joined Google…

These are both still broadcast messages, though it’s true they act as a filter for talent, so the organisations only have to deal with those people who are able to answer the questions.  What if you already know who you want to talk to?  Not a type of person or a profile – what if you actually know the person?

Video game start-up Red 5 Studios handpicked about 100 dream candidates, spent time learning about their backgrounds and interests from social networks and personal blogs, and airmailed each one a personalized iPod, inside 5 artistic nested boxes complete with a recorded message from CEO Mark Kern. More than 90 recipients responded to the pitch, three left their jobs to come on board, and many more potential hires discovered the company through word-of-mouth buzz generated by the search.  Whilst it is true that these types of initiatives have a higher initial cost for the more price-conscious organisation this can be mitigated by the quality of the potential audience – they targeted their “dream” employees. The saving in costs versus the same approaches made through an third party recruitment firm are not to be sniffed at.  Chances are a single hire made through an agency would have exceeded the total cost of this project.  There’s also a third more intangible return on investment, the virality of this approach.  I am confident that there is a secondary impact of this type of approach the effect on other employees in the target organisation when told about the parcel and now the impact of this type of approach being shared on social media – the outlets of which have increased exponentially since Red 5 Studios did this in 2007.  


Facebook did something very similar in 2013 for hardware engineers.  As a pilot program they sent branded Raspberry Pi’s to potential candidates they had identified as a good potential fit.  On connecting the credit-card-sized single-board computer they were presented with a personalized video giving them a tour of the working environment and a brief of where they would potentially fit in.  This type of approach is hard to ignore.

A mobile handset manufacturer could send their latest handset with a willing hiring manager’s number pre-installed?  This would both show off the product and demonstrate the value the company see in the candidate.  Spotify already send tongue-in-cheek playlists to potential candidates, demonstrating the product in a fun way as well as letting the candidate know they are hiring.  There are dozens of these initiatives going on all the time.  Sitting back and waiting to resumes is unforgivable – what can your organisation do to differentiate itself?    

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.

Hacking the application process – A cheat mode for Developers

In a previous post I talked about resumes from candidates that applied direct being seen as secondary to those candidates who were sourced by internal recruiters.  In some organisations recruiters will go out of their way to extol the virtues of a candidate to a hiring manager simply because they were hard to find or it took a long time to tease a CV out of the candidate.  All this is at the cost of a potentially more suitable, talented CV that is sat in an applicant tracking system, dusty and unloved.

How can you get that in-house recruiter who seems to be ignoring you to advocate for you in the same way?  How can you be sure that your resume is presented in the same way, in that flurry of excitement?

You can’t.  Sorry.  There are hundreds of reasons that the recruiter hasn’t go back to you, none of them good enough to warrant ignoring you.

This is of course understandably bad news, but there is a way around this and perhaps it will give you a better insight into the company culture and the role you are applying for.  First step research the company you want to apply for on LinkedIn.  In the same way a  recruiter would find your profile on LinkedIn, look for someone who would be a peer or a manager of a team you’d like to join.  Contact them and ask them about their role, ask them all the questions that you didn’t get the answers to by reading the job description.  Mention that you’d like to apply, ask the person you’re in contact with to look over your CV.

Ideally the short cut you are taking is to game the internal referral process of your chosen target company and have an existing employee advocate for you.  The pressure you are really exploiting here is the perceived imbalance of power between the HR department and “the business”.  The cachet that is attached to a CV that is referred is often enough to force the attention of recruiters as there is a pressure to be answerable to the employee who handed the CV to them, in short the process will be expedited.  Doing this won’t increase your skills or suitability for the job but it will mean you are at least seen and considered, not left to languish in an inbox.

For recruiters who feel I may be doing them a disservice in encouraging this sort of behaviour I’d offer a little by way of explanation.  Build relationships with your hiring managers, communicate with them effectively and you’ll find they are by far the best arbiters of prospective candidates – and ultimately they are on your side.

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.