Recruitment Does Not Have To Suck


Many of you know that I hold a strong view that nothing is as broken in HR like recruiting ( close call with performance appraisals for the cake) . I am not talking about the technology behind it – just the process and people that are involved . But it doesn’t have to be that way – And having been recruited the right and wrong way, and having recruited several folks over the years I have led teams , I thought I will share some thoughts .

I have no problems confessing that I mess up with this all the time – but it is also one of the areas where I consciously try to improve every time.

1. Own it – no excuses 

If you are the one who needs people in your team , then it is your responsibility to find them, evaluate them and bring them onboard in a way that makes it pleasant . This is one job where delegation is generally a bad idea .

At executive level – this takes even more importance and has personal impact. When MongoDB recruited me – Max Schireson who was the CEO, did the entire process himself and that played a big part in me forming a good impression about the company. Our current CEO Dev is also very deeply involved in recruitment.

I always like peer interviews. In most jobs, people need to work across teams where the only lever you have is your ability to influence. if you don’t feel comfortable with your peers, you will struggle and do a sub par job. When managers don’t use peer interviews, I encourage candidates to ask for it.

2. Recruitment never ends

Always be recruiting and encourage your team to be recruiting and reward them for doing it well (goes without saying – potential for carrots also mean sticks for doing a bad job) . There is always a tactical part of a head count plan – how many can you afford in a period of time . News flash – Screw that ! You always need a pipeline of candidates kept warm.

Time will pass , someone will leave your team , requirements will change and there is always budget to make more money for the company . If you aren’t constantly recruiting – you will miss out on a lot of opportunities .

3. You own the recruitment for managers directly working for you too

If you are a regional VP and have sales directors under you who in turn hire reps that actually sell – guess what , you own responsibility for hiring the best reps too . You need to do it in a way that your directors feel that you are helping and not getting in their way . As you become a third line manager – this becomes harder – but you should absolutely involve yourself in key hiring decisions. The vision is yours and so is the responsibility for execution. It frustrates me endlessly when executives forget about the execution part and only care about strategy/vision. And recruitment usually proves that point one way or other.

4. Talk about money early

Money may not be everything – but in general, good people cost good money . And if you drag them through a process only to tell them at the end that you can’t afford them – you will piss them off totally and you have lost them for good . You might need these people in future for another role . Get a ball park amount upfront and don’t drag candidates to a brick wall if you can’t make it work . I wish more candidates were upfront too about this too early in the process.

Recruitment is mostly about cost today – shift the conversation to value (same as in sales) and then both sides will make an easier and better decision .

5. Recruiters are invaluable – use them well

Recruiters get a bad reputation when hiring managers are lazy or incompetent – that is unfair. Good recruiters push back on managers to get a lot of information upfront . They won’t post generic job descriptions to begin with . Spend time with recruiters and explain your vision for your business and what the new candidates are supposed to do when they join . Let them listen in when you talk to a few candidates so that they see first hand how to pitch the job themselves to the next candidate . Take recruiter’s help in fine tuning the hiring process – just don’t delegate responsibility to them and be hands off.

That said – there are plenty of bad recruiters out there too . Many treat it as a chore and focus on developing skills only for volume recruiting . Avoid them – and you can thank me later. Money spent on a good external recruiter is totally a great investment. Choose them wisely.

6. Recruitment is not about gotcha questions 

The easiest thing to do in an interview is to make a candidate sweat and irritated . Some will take it well but many will tune out and think you are a jerk . Remember that the good candidates treat these sessions as their own evaluation of the company – and if you fail them , you are the loser . Ask hard questions by all means, but help provide context and evaluate how they think through it . The thought process is more important than the final answer. And always thank people for taking the time to consider your team. Remember that they form lasting impressions with every such interaction.

Just for kicks, I just remembered a job interview as a young engineer. I once interviewed for a consulting job where a really hard math problem was given to me to solve. I knew the answer and told the interviewer that I know the answer from before. She gave me an even harder one that I could not solve and she just kicked me out without even a thank you or an acknowledgement of me being honest . That same company later tried to recruit me multiple times as an executive, and I won’t even answer their calls. I totally know that I am not being very mature about it – but that is what happens when you get imprinted with these things at a young age 🙂

7. Do at least some of the reference checks yourself 

The one hour you spend with candidates in person doesn’t really prove anything much  . You need to be better at reference checks for that. This is especially important for senior hires . Also, your chance of getting specific answers is a lot higher if you call them directly as opposed to a recruiter calling on your behalf . If a recruiter is calling – make sure you have given the recruiter enough ammo for the conversation .

8. Be flexible in job requirements

Front line people almost always need deep and specific skills , but managers need versatility . Hire accordingly .

A rep who has closed 200% of her quota every year doesn’t always make a great sales manager . And a rep who barely managed to beat quota might make a fantastic sales manager . As a rep, it is good to be selfish and treat all available resources in a company as yours to close your deal. This same trait is absolutely horrible in a manager who should be balancing all resource needs across the patch.

Focusing on their last job too much is a fault  that I have made myself a lot when I recruited earlier in my career . Now I have no hesitation hiring atypical candidates for managerial roles as long as I know there is a support system in place for providing specific skills they lack . I value utility players  – as your team grows , you need your leaders to pinch hit in a variety of roles . Don’t hire a lot of people with no potential to grow laterally .

In very large companies – you could craft a new role for what a unique candidate brings to the table . That is harder in a small company – but in any team , you can have some flexibility to switch around requirements when you find awesome talent.

9. Differentiate between long term and short term hires

Some times you only need someone for a short amount of time . Say you are a startup that needs someone to run finance. You should set up the expectation while recruiting that you are looking for a VP and not a CFO. Don’t let it become a scenario where the person who hire assumes that he will be CFO automatically in two years. Sounds simple – but I have seen tens of horror stories in last year alone . This is how leaders earn a bad reputation for a long time – when everyone in the industry gets to hear about you as “bait and switch” person.

You don’t have to assume that good people won’t come to your team unless you give them a life time career . World has changed – deal with it.

10. Treat internal candidates fairly when recruiting 

This one is really hard -you know their skill gaps more than you know the gaps of your external candidates . Resist the temptation as much as you can to amplify the virtues of external candidates and minimize internal candidates . It needs a very honest conversation – and it is really hard to not reduce the motivation of existing team if you don’t communicate well. I have failed this aspect many times myself . It is easy to know when you have messed this up – performance of the internal candidates drop , or they will leave your team. Some times it cascades to others in your team too in the process. Guess who lost ? You did !

11. Do your homework on the job and the candidate

A simple google search will tell you a lot about the candidate. Yet – I first hand know many managers who do not know anything about the candidate when they interview them. This might be a good thing for the candidate who has done their research on the company and the interviewer – the side with more information tends to have advantages. There are also people who have not read the job description before interviewing candidates. If I am a candidate, it will take a lot to convince me that this is a company I want to work for if the interviewer appears clueless about the position. So if you are enlisting the help of others to interview someone – please take the time to brief with them before the interview, and not just afterwards.

12. Parting thoughts…use of analytics

I do think these days that using analytics to help recruit is a great way to do it. Plenty has been said about it by HR Technology vendors and analysts – and it has captured my imagination in a really big way. However, I very rarely see it happen in a significant and scalable way in real life. For that matter even rudimentary reporting is a struggle in HR. I grew up in BI – and it has always amazed me that the people who have given me the least complex requirements are the HR managers. I am counting on this getting solved real soon, given some of the sharpest brains I know are working on making this work.

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