Human Up Recruitment

This is a very long blog post. I’m not even sorry.  Because there is a lot to say.  Earlier this week I published a blog post on human workplaces.  I’m trying to look at it from a practical perspective.  What can we actually do?

I’m starting with recruitment not just because it is the beginning of the employment lifecycle, but also because it is an area that is crying out for a dose of the human touch. Consider the last time you were looking for work.  How much of this did you see?

Wordy, long job descriptions.

Job descriptions masquerading as advertisements.

Unwieldy application systems.

The need to provide unnecessary information.

The need to copy information into boxes that was already on your CV.

Application forms so long they take hours and hours to complete.

Getting nothing back in return but a standardised email.

No feedback.

No contact from a person, just automation.

A lack of information about what it will be like to work there, apart from a list of generic statements and benefits on the website.

Questions that seemed to have no relevance to the job you are applying for.

 No way to ask questions during the process.

Fixed interview dates with no room for flexibility.

Interviews that don’t start on time.

The application black hole.


Human? Not so much.

Remember the saying that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression? Your recruitment process is your first impression.  More than that, it is a window into your organisational culture.  How you treat your candidates says much about how you treat your employees.  For those who are successful, the candidate experience is the first step to their whole employee experience – it is your first opportunity to create engagement.

There are many organisations who are still so arrogant as to think that people should be queuing around the block to work for them. Who don’t feel that they have to put in the effort.  Who don’t treat recruitment as the strategic work that it is.

Of all the elements of the employee lifecycle and that people stuff that we do, in many ways it is also the easiest to automate and build technology around. It is absolutely possible to leverage technology in recruitment, but at the same time provide a human, people focused experience.

There are some questions to ask yourself first of all. What is it like to apply for a job through your processes?   Apply for a job yourself with a candidate’s eyes.  Get out and talk to those who have recently started working with you , and ask them how it felt.  What was good and what was not.  Ask too, how good are your managers at recruiting?  Do they understand the changing context of recruitment?  Do they know how to interview in a human way?  If not, train them.

Start with the end in mind. What would you like your candidate experience to be. How would you like people to feel at the end of the process, whether they are successful in their application or not?  What does a great, human, candidate experience look like, at your place?

Once you have answered these questions – turn to your process. Is it human?

And just from me, here are five more simple tips to make your recruitment processes a little more human.

  1. Stop, just stop, putting ‘if you have not heard from us in XX days assume you have been unsuccessful’ on your recruitment adverts. If people have taken the time to put in an application, complete your forms and tick your boxes, you can have the common decency to send them an email rejecting them. Automate it if you have to but just do it.
  2. Many organisations have an ATS (or recruitment system if you will). Some organisations have hundreds of vacancies and applications and it would be unfeasible to suggest that they can personally contact everyone who applies. But you can review your standard emails and make them warm and friendly. They can have a tone of voice that says a meaningful thank you.
  3. Stop scheduling the interview date before you even have the applications in. Are your senior people just so busy that they can only commit to one date? This approach is unbelievably outdated. Candidates have jobs. They have commitments. They may have caring responsibilities or children or medical appointments and they just can’t do your date. If you don’t change this, risk talent deciding just not to apply at all.
  4. Remember at all times: your job description is not your recruitment advert.
  5. Train your line managers. Not just in how to ask interview questions but how to create a great candidate experience. We bet for many it’s a term that they haven’t even heard of, something that they don’t even think about.

Okay. So I lied when I said there were only going to be five things.  So here is one and it is a biggy. Stop doing competency based interviews.  Just stop.  Right now.  Because do you know what? They don’t work.

Competency based interview questions are those that ask for real life examples of when you have done something, based upon the prescribed competencies for the role. The idea behind competency based interviews is that interviewers will be able to satisfy themselves that potential employees have the experience needed to do the job.  Only there is a problem.  They fundamentally ignore the importance of context.  Past experience does not necessarily predict future performance.  The ability to succeed in any given organisation can be attributed to many factors.

There is no guarantee, even with the shiniest answer in the world that scores the most points on a grid that a candidate will be able to replicate what they did in a previous organisation or under a different set of circumstances. Context is everything. The team, the culture, the management, the resources available.  Unless these are identical, then the answer is irrelevant.

Another key problem is that people know how to answer them. They can be practiced, and it isn’t all that hard to make something up either.

Competency based questions assess people in the past, not the now or the future.  They tell you nothing about someone’s potential to do a good job other than their ability to find a good example in the moment.

If you currently use competency based questions, consider replacing them with the much more human strengths based type.  They allow you to get to know the real individual.  And that is who you are hiring.  Strengths based interviews allow you to get to know the person in front of you.  What gets them motivated?  What they like doing, and dislike too.  Assess potential.  You are also much less likely to get some sort of pre-prepared, scripted, generic reply.  They allow candidates to bring their real self, not their example one.

Can we make recruitment a little bit more human? Pretty please?


No job hoppers

This morning I came across a discussion thread on LinkedIn. A fellow HR type was calling out a job advert for a HR Director that stated in the requirements: solid career progression and consistent career history (no life time interim contractors or job hoppers).

As someone currently in the interim market, I am naturally going to disagree with the sentiment behind this statement. Interim work has broadened me as a professional.  Through undertaking it, I have added new sectors to my CV, been exposed to different approaches and ways of working and widened my network. It has certainly made me resilient.

You need a certain skill set to do interim stuff. Typically, you are there to do a particular project or programme.  Maybe you are there to fill a gap or bring along some specific experience.  Either way, it needs focus.  You need to be able to hit the ground running.  You need to be able to quickly find your way around – the building, the systems, the processes and the hierarchy.  You need to be able to get stuff done.

Skills that are transferrable to many organisations and roles.

There are several underlying assumption behind the ‘no interim or job hoppers’ statement. First is that these two things are one and the same – they are not.  Second, is that either of these things equal a lack of commitment, loyalty or engagement.  ‘Job hoppers’ in particular has negative connotations.  That someone can’t stay the course, doesn’t know what they want to do, or maybe is a low performer.

Assumptions without evidence.

The world of work has changed. Shorter service is much more typical.  More and more people are making different choices around life and work.  Many are in the gig economy – some through choice and some through necessity.  It’s no longer about giving your all until you get your gold watch.

Here’s the thing. If you make sweeping assumptions about people in a job advert then you are limiting your talent pool.  Even if I had been looking for a role like this, this wording would have entirely discouraged me from applying. This advert tells me this isn’t somewhere that I want to work.  This advert tells you that this company are oblivious to the present and future of work.  Plenty of people don’t have, or even want, linear careers. Lots pf people chose family or balance over progression.  Many chose to retrain and change direction during their working lives.  When we are all living to 100 and working into our 70’s this is going to become the norm, not the exception.

A so-called ‘solid’ CV means nothing. It is no indicator or talent.  It might instead be an  indicator that someone has spent a long time in one place and hasn’t been exposed to new ideas.  Or it might not.  Assumptions, without evidence.

It is also, frankly, arrogant. It’s like those job application processes that make you jump through a thousand hoops because they think you should be willing to do anything to work there.  Only it’s 2017.

So the company that are recruiting with this approach I say simply this.

More fool you.

Employer brand. It’s a crowd thing.

I saw a post over on LinkedIn recently, in which a recruiter criticised a candidate who dropped out of an interview process after reading negative reviews about the company on Glassdoor. The post suggested that this was a ridiculous reason to decline an interview.  It had generated a whole range of responses, some agreeing and some not.

My thoughts are these. If that candidate made a ridiculous decision, then I am guilty too.  Because I once did exactly the same thing.

Recruitment today is in many ways no different to other types of consumer behaviour. When we are on shopping sites we read the reviews from other people who have already purchased the product.  If we want to go on holiday, we head over to TripAdvisor or the like, and read what previous guests had to say about their experience.

Guess what? We don’t know these people.  We are willing to put our trust in the crowd.

So why should recruitment be any different?

It’s the world we live in. I’ve decided against buying certain things over on Amazon because there were too many reviews making the same criticisms about quality.  I’ve also decided against applying for a job at an organisation where a few too many people talked about the terrible culture and management style.  I take note on how many reviews there are in total.  I look at the average star ratings before getting the credit card out.

We live in a world in which what people think about you can be shared easily.  You can’t control your employer brand, no matter how hard you try.  The stuff that used to be said in the pub to a handful of mates can now be shared and seen on a massive scale.

From a trust perspective, many folk will take the views of the many, even if they are strangers, over the corporate brand message.

Here’s the thing.  You can either embrace it, or ignore it.  But isn’t going away.

Better to do the former.

I’ve heard of organisations unwilling to set up a company Facebook page or Twitter account ‘because people might say something negative’.

Stating the obvious klaxon perhaps, but there’s probably a bigger elephant in the room if that is your reason for avoiding social media.  For the most part, people will only say yours is a bad place to work, if it’s a bad place to work.  Maybe that should be the starting point instead.

If you have bad reviews about your company find out why. Just as importantly, acknowledge them, where they are.  If people have had a bad experience working or interviewing with you, acknowledge it.  Offer space to take it off line for a proper discussion.  Apologise if you need to.  It is better to be part of the conversation, than unaware of it.

But either way be assured people are making their mind up about whether or not they are interested in working for you based on the opinions of the anonymous crowd.  This is the social world.

Hang back or get ahead.


Competency interviewing. Just say no.

Competency based interviewing.  Apparently, it is still a thing.  Who knew?

I do, because this week I had a competency based interview.  I was a bit surprised to be honest.  It had been a while since I’d been through that sort of recruitment process.

It was…… interesting.

Let me add some relevant context.

The role was an interim, employee relations role.  There was a need for deep understanding of employment law.  Lots of experience with leading  people change projects.  Even more experience of working in heavily unionised environments.

They didn’t ask me all that much about that stuff.

What that did ask me was this:

‘Can you tell me about a time that you have worked collaboratively as part of a team?’

I resisted the urge to reply simply: ‘all day, every day’.

It was followed by:

‘Can you give me an example of when you have prioritised your workload?’

For answer, please see above.

Here’s the thing.

I have worked collaboratively as part of a team.  I have a handy example.  I would think most people do.  But past experience doesn’t predict future performance.  With me or anyone else.  My ability to collaborate in the example shared might have been down to a whole range of related factors.  It might have been because I worked in a highly collaborative environment or a great team and the conditions were therefore predisposed to collaboration.  It might have been because I was engaged with my employer or the task in hand.  Equally, I might just be a quick thinker who can make a relevant example up off the top of their head.

There is no guarantee, even with the shiniest answer in the world that scores the most points on a grid, that I am going to be able to replicate what I did before in another organisation or under a different set of circumstances.

Competency based questions like these assess people in the past, not the now or the future.  They tell you nothing about someone’s potential to do a good job other than their ability to find a good example in the moment.

They certainly don’t tell you whether someone could do the job in question, any more than the trend towards questions like ‘if you were a kitchen appliance which one would you be?’ does.*

I’ll take strengths based interviewing over a competency approach any day.  Strengths based interviews allow you to get to know the person in front of you.  What gets them motivated.  What they like doing.  Dislike too.  Assess potential.  You are also much less likely to get some sort of pre-prepared, scripted, generic reply.  They allow candidates to bring their real self, not their example one.

Competency based interviews have had their time.

Let’s start recruiting like its 2017.


PS: I am hoping to hold a Candidate Experience Unconference later this year, to explore how we can work towards better recruitment. If you are interested in coming along, comment below.

*PPS – my answer to the above is easy…. The fridge. Because we are both usually full of chocolate and Prosecco.

Recruitment & social media – how far is too far?

I got into a Twitter chat recently about social media and recruitment.  Specifically, whether or not it is okay to check out people’s social media feeds during the recruitment process.

Now I’ve seen some fairly risk-averse advice on the subject that cautions you on the risk of (among other things) discrimination claims.

My view on it is simple.

It depends where you go.

On my CV, I am open about much of my social media.  There are links to my Twitter bio (hoping that prospective employers or clients will overlook my frequent Prosecco references), my LinkedIn profile and my blog.  When it comes to applying for jobs, my blog is going to give anyone reading it a sense of who I am and what I believe about my work more than a 2-page CV ever will. What isn’t on there is a link to either my Instagram or Facebook profiles.  The reason for that is that they aren’t about work.  They are for family and friends, or at the very least people I know, sometimes through other social networks.  My regular selfies of me and my significant other (#sorrynotsorry) are not for strangers… or employers.

Those sites that are professional should expect to be reviewed.  When I have been hiring, it is the first place I go and I would expect anyone thinking of hiring me to do the same.  If someone wants to scroll through my unlocked Twitter feed, fill your boots.  You will find a few mentions of One Direction too.  But the other stuff… not so much.

In our social world, platforms are ever-evolving.  There are no rules, apart from your own, about what is public and what is private.  There are fewer expectations of privacy than those of previous generations.  Even if you opt not to use social media, or are even too young to do so, you can still very much have a digital footprint.

So to job seekers I say this… expect to be looked for and at.  Google searched.  If you want stuff to be private, set it that way.

And to employers… if you are going to search people’s social media feeds then say so up front.  Put it on the ATS or the job advert.  Better still, openly ask people to send you their online stuff.  Allow links on your system.  Actively encourage it.  Go to the professional networking sites and read what you need to. But you don’t need to, and should not, trawl through what is clearly something else.  Personal photos.  Shares from many years ago.  Student day stuff.  What someone intends to be personal, platform aside, is probably obvious.

You wouldn’t follow someone down the pub and listen to their conversation before deciding to give them a job.  So leave their social social media alone.


Social Media and the Candidate

Last week, research published by Monster and YouGuv found that 56% of employers admit that candidates’ online profiles influence their hiring decisions. Here’s a link to a CIPD blog post on the subject.

The survey goes onto to say that fewer than half of job seekers are conscious of how their online reputation looks to potential employees, with just 28% also stating that they are influenced by what they read about potential employers on sites like Glassdoor.

Should it be a surprise that employers have turned down potential candidates due to their social media profiles? No.  Not really.  You can have all the ethical arguments that you want about whether recruiters should or shouldn’t check this stuff out.  But back in the real world, they just will.  And if you are careless about what you put out there, then it will come back to haunt you.  We live in a social and transparent world and there is no escaping this fact.

As to the other statistics….. if you are looking for work and you aren’t conscious of your online reputation, might I politely request you join 2016. And to anyone not checking out a potential employer on anywhere but their corporate website, the 90’s called and they want their recruitment process back.

Here’s the thing. Social media is both a threat and an opportunity. This applies to organisations, brands and employees alike.

Your social media profile can be more telling than a two page CV or an hour long interview ever can. Anyone thinking about hiring me might as well just read this blog and my Twitter feed.  It will tell you most of what you need to know to make a hiring decision and some more besides.

Get it right as a candidate, and social media can enhance your profile. It can support your personal brand.  It can also help you build a great community from which to learn, and introduce you to a whole new world of global connections. It could be the deciding factor between you and the other candidate.

But get it wrong and it’s a whole other ball game. There are horror stories everywhere about social media.  There are plenty of examples of a careless tweet or post that have got people fired, or even publically shamed.  Anyone remember Justine Sacco?

There’s no such thing anymore as old news. Yesterday’s fish and chip wrapping paper.  What happens on social stays on social.  The delete key solves nothing.

When it comes to social media there are few that will advocate its benefits more than me. Other than perhaps Tim Scott.  And as we said in our book on the subject (blatant self-promotion klaxon), when you are on social media platforms of any description, don’t be an arse.  There are few real rules, but there is plenty of etiquette.

Don’t tweet dumb stuff. Don’t argue with trolls.  Be a nice human.  If you happen to have some dubious views or isms then best to keep them to yourself.  Consider what is private and what is not.  Think before you post. Watch your language. Check our your employers policy on this stuff if they have one, to ensure you know what is and isn’t going to cause you any hassle. Tidy up the past if you need to.

Social media.  Threat or opportunity.  But either way… someone will be Googling.

What kitchen appliance would you be?

Last night I watched a reality TV programme set in a recruitment agency.  It was predictably cringe worthy.

At one point in the programme the cameras followed a candidate to her interview.  One of the interview questions posed to her was: ‘If you were a kitchen appliance, which one would you be?’

Oh please.

Can we just stop it now with the silly, hypothetical, nothing like real life interview questions?  What animal / movie star / cartoon character would you be?  Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman?  And so on.

If you are going to ask an interview question, you need to know what you want to get out of it.  What a good answer looks like.

So what is a good answer to the kitchen appliance question?  A kettle?  A saucepan? The slow cooker?

What are we really assessing here?  Whether someone can think quickly? Whether they can be creative?  The thought process behind the answer?  How the candidate behaves under pressure?  Maybe some of these reasons are valid, for some roles and for some organisations.

I know that there are companies out there famous for asking challenging and quirky interview questions.  Google are probably the best known.  But most of us are not hiring for Google, or anywhere like it.  And here in lies the problem.  Because ideas like this spread.  Before you know it interviewees up and down the land will be asked how they would unload a 747 full of jelly beans.

Unless you can articulate exactly what a question like this is adding to the process of selection, then just don’t ask it.

Equally, I’d also like to see a little less reliance on competency based questions.  You know, those ones that begin ‘can you tell me about a time when….’

There are two problems with questions of this type.  The first is that they are backward looking, and your business is not going that way.  The second is that they ignore the context.  I can give you examples of successful HR work I have done over the years, from restructures to TUPEs, from development programmes to (don’t tell anyone) employee engagement surveys.   Now maybe I was successful because I am awesome.  Or maybe it was because I had a great team around me, particular resources at hand, or because of the culture in which the work was set.  Whilst past performance can be a predictor of success, it ain’t always necessarily so.  Context is equally as relevant.

Recruiting someone for the team is one of the most important decisions that a manager can make, so let us treat it appropriately seriously.   And if you really want to get to know your candidate, then a strengths based approach wins every time.  It will certainly tell you more about the whole person than them explaining why they are most like a cat ever will.

For the record, if I was a kitchen appliance, then I am going to be the fridge.  Because you will often find us both full of chocolate and wine.  Now, do I get the job?

Do you have any current recruitment needs?

I left university in 1998.  Like many students, I had no money and even less idea what I was going to do next.  I had a law degree, but neither the means or the necessary inclination to take this career forward.  So a few weeks after graduating, I found myself wondering into a local temporary staffing agency, looking for work.  Any work. I quickly found myself answering the phones on their reception desk, and three weeks later they offered me a job as a trainee recruitment consultant.

With the promise of commission payments ringing in my ears, I accepted.  It took me a further few weeks to realise that my job involved little actual recruitment, and even less consulting.  What it did involve was sales calls.  Lots and lots of sales calls.  100 a day was my target. I was despatched to the in-house training school to learn how to telephone sell to best effect.  There was no training at all on recruiting, interviewing, or any of that stuff.  Just sales.

I learned how to get past the receptionist, by lying if I had too.  I learnt how to identify the decision maker.  How to ask for a visit.  How to overcome every objection.  I learned how to take people up the ladder of ‘yes’.  How to ask for the business.  I remember it all, very well indeed.  Partly the reason that I remember it so well was the sheer repetition of it.  It went a little like this:

Me:  Do you use recruitment agencies to help with your recruitment needs?

Fed up person on the other end of the phone:  Yes.

Me:  I am glad to hear that you see the benefits of using recruitment agencies.  Let me tell you…..

The main problem was this.  I was really bad at it.  My calls often went a bit more like this:

I am sorry to bother you but I wondered do you want any temporary workers at the moment do you have any needs that we can help you with no ok thanks then bye. 

My subsequent resignation after a few months was a great relief to both parties.

But there is another reason that I remember this stuff so well.  Because I get these same sales calls, every single day. It’s like someone recorded one of my own calls in the late nineties and it is echoing through the decades.

Some of the calls I receive are utterly random.  How do I recruit for logistics employees in the Midlands, when I work in healthcare in Yorkshire.  What would I do if I realised tomorrow that I needed a PA in London? Panic I suppose, as it would mean my company had relocated and I hadn’t noticed.   As the sales calls continue, so do the speculative CVs.  From agencies I don’t work with, from recruiters I don’t know, for jobs that I am not currently recruiting for, for roles that we don’t have in the company.  I regularly get an email from one agency, attaching up to five CVs for candidates that have no resemblance at all to my industry.  It is relentless.

I can only assume this stuff works, somehow.  Give enough typewriters, etc.  But in all the time that I have been working in HR, I’ve never replied to a spec email CV.  I have never passed a vacancy over in response to a cold call.  When I get asked if an agency I don’t know can visit me, which happens at least once a day, my answer is always no. Someone will undoubtedly come along and tell me that it’s not all about that.  It’s about starting a relationship, building dialogue for the future when there is the right role.  And maybe that is true, although that was not how I was targeted when I was training.

In this very changing world, this is an industry that I am not seeing changing much at all, especially when it comes to the business development approach.

If all this stuff about the hollowing out of the labour market holds true, and everything suggests that it will, this has profound implications for the recruitment agency industry.  Add on top of that the low barriers to entry to doing it all yourself through social recruiting and a big change, and fundamental challenge, is coming.  If we end up with a labour market that looks like an hourglass with high paid knowledge workers at the top, and people in low paid work that cannot be outsourced or automated at the bottom, this will impact many recruitment agencies.  The exec search firms will still do well at the top.  The agencies that supply the warehouse packer or the cleaner or the person to work on your reception to cover a two week holiday will probably also still survive and thrive.  The one thing we know of in our labour market is that there is plenty of low paid, atypical, flexible but insecure work.

But where does this leave the rest?  The stuff in the middle?  I would argue, increasingly threatened.

One of my favourite speakers is Gary Vaynerchuk.  He does a fantastic rant, available on YouTube, in which he tells companies that they need to start marketing their business in the year in which they live.  Not marketing their business like its 1998.

Here’s the thing.  I find the suppliers I need in the social space.   The employment solicitors I use I follow on twitter and through that I know what they are like.  The last time I needed their advice, I sent a DM.  When I needed a training provider and I didn’t have someone in my network already, I sent a tweet and got a recommendation from a social media contact who did.  When I needed to work with some leadership development folk, I engaged with people that I know through their tweets and their blogs and their shares, because through those I know them.  I am not alone in this.  But even if you are not sourcing your suppliers in the social world, are you finding them via a cold call?  Somehow, I doubt it.

The contingency model of recruitment does not work effectively.  The labour market is changing.  Work is changing.  Marketing is changing. Recruitment is changing.

I am not here to bash recruiters.  It is a very hard job. I know because I tried it and I couldn’t do it.  But I am saying that you need to find a new way, a 2014 way, to engage with potential clients.

Or, at the very least, could you just take me off the call sheet?

Chuck out some recruitment chintz (please)

The Candidate Experience begins with the application. From the first click on the ‘apply here’ button you are building a relationship, building dialogue. But before someone takes the step from casual browsing to becoming a candidate, they have to be engaged by the organisation, the opportunity, the advertisement itself.  They have to be inspired to take the action to get into the process.

I recently came across a truly awful job advert. I wanted to ring up the recruiter and shout at them.  Tell them that if you want to hire good people, attract talent for your place, that this was not the way to go about it.  Not today.  Not ever probably.

It started with one of my pet hates.

Interviews will take place on the 20th November. 

So if that top notch candidate that happens to have all of the experience and all of the skills, but just happens to be on holiday, out of the country, committed to something they just can’t shift, then you are happy to miss out? This sort of recruitment is all about the company and the hiring manager, with sod all concern for the candidate and their commitments, their existing job.

And then another one.

We will not accept any applications after the cut-off date.

Another reason to miss out on some top talent? They see your advert a little too late, but they are still interested in your place.  But you point to your recruitment and selection policy.  Process says no.

Followed by this: Candidates should apply as soon as possible as posts will be closed once sufficient applications are received.

Right then. So when you have reached some golden number, you are just going to close it then to any other potential talent.  Jolly good.

Then there was this: In order to minimise delays in the recruitment process please ensure your application is submitted with a valid email address for your referees, one of whom must be your current or most recent line manager. We will seek references prior to interview.

Okaaayyy. So I’m job hunting, which is probably like, you know, sensitive and confidential.  Likelihood of me asking my current line manager if she will be a referee for me for as I am thinking about leaving?  Approximately nil.

It is important to note, that all of this information was on the advert before the information about the role itself. I only carried on reading because I was already thinking about this blog post.  If I had been a candidate thinking about applying for the role I would have clicked off half way through the second paragraph.

And then there was this. Please note that we do not offer reimbursement of interview expenses.  I wasn’t going to ask to be honest.  Out of interest I asked our Recruitment Manager how many times a candidate had asked her for expenses during the last year.  The answer?  Once.  There is simply no need to include this on an advert.

The next bit was a three paragraph long information section that began….. Applications from job seekers who require Tier 2 sponsorship to work in the UK are welcome and will be considered alongside all other applications. However, non-EEA candidates (I couldn’t read any more of this section.  There could have been something more interesting further on. But I doubt it).

And naturally, there was a line saying that you could assume you haven’t been successful if you haven’t had a response within 14-days.  The application black hole, hated by all candidates.


Now, this job advert tells me plenty about the company. Probably things they hadn’t intended to tell me, but it told me all the same.  It tells me that they are all about the process.  It tells me that they are not flexible. It tells me that they don’t live in the real world.  And most importantly, if I had been thinking about working at this company, it tells me that I would never fit in there – which is a good thing to some extent as an application would have wasted everyone’s time.

I thought maybe this was just a poor example from a company that didn’t know any better. So I went off on a visit around a few job boards.  My conclusion is that it is a poor example, but it is far from the only one.

Here’s another example of excessively formal language and superfluous information. .

As a customer services officer you will require good communication skills, both written and verbal. You will investigate customer complaints, using both computer and paper files.

Did we really need the bits in italics?

I’ve heard all the stuff about the death of job boards and how in the war for talent it is all about the passive candidate.  But I still reckon we are going to be adverting jobs in one place or another for a little while yet.  The job ad is your shop window.  It is your chance to make a connection.  To begin the engagement.  To sell.  You, your place, what you have to offer.

We can do better than this.

When it comes to whether or not to put something in a recruitment advert, I’d suggest the following questions:

  • Do you need to say it now?
  • Do you need to say it to every candidate?
  • Do you need to say it at all, or is it blindingly obvious?
  • How would this make you feel if you were a potential applicant?
  • Does this sell the opportunity, does it sell your company and your culture?
  • Does the language talk to the reader like they are a real person, with a reasonable amount of common sense?

Maybe it is time to chuck out some recruitment chintz.

The Overqualified Candidate

Two different conversations have collided for me in recent weeks. One with a recruiter, frustrated that their client didn’t hire the best candidate that they could. The other, with a discouraged job seeker who was experiencing rejection for having too much experience. Two sides of the same coin: the overqualified candidate.

The recruiter told a tale that a little sad. Of putting forward a top notch candidate. Bang on the brief. Who ticked all the boxes. A certainty, surely. But after the interview, the client said no. Because the candidate probably wouldn’t stay. Would get frustrated. They probably couldn’t meet their high expectations. This candidate represented risk. And they would have to do this recruitment stuff, all over again. So instead, they went with the safer, not quite so experienced and qualified candidate, not bringing quite so much to the table.

The job seeker I talked too was despondent. He had worked so hard, over the years, to gain his experience, enhance his skills. The networking events, the evening school study, the conferences and seminars. And of course reading all of those management books. He’d done everything he could to be the best candidate that he could be, only to find himself rejected for the same.

Overqualified is the bitterest pill to swallow. Tell a candidate he is missing a qualification, he can study for it. Tell a candidate that he is missing some experience, he can try his hardest to fill the gap. If you are under qualified, under experienced, there is a positive action you can take. If you are overqualified, you have fewer options other than to hide your light.

But here’s the thing. When it comes to hiring an overqualified candidate, then maybe those fearful hiring managers are right; maybe they won’t stay. And just maybe, that is okay. Because in the meantime, they might do awesome stuff. Challenge the business, challenge the status quo, challenge you.

Recruitment is always a leap of faith, for both parties. That you have made the right call, that there is going to be that elusive fit, that it will work out for the best. Recruitment always involves risk. After all, however good the process, the tests, the presentations, the company information, we only see just a little bit of each other, behaving at our best. The one thing that, more than anything else, reduces the risk of the wrong recruitment decision for both parties, is honesty. Not fancy psychometrics, not lengthy processes where the candidate meets every man and his canine. Not dinner with the team.
Just telling the truth about what it is like at your place, what the opportunity really is all about. The brutal truth, not the shiny advertising version. Truth from the candidate too, about what they will bring and why they want it.

So for the overqualified candidate, there are some thoughts on my career blog about practically dealing with the issue.

And to the hiring manager or the recruitment manager, I say only this. Be brave. Take a risk. Do the difficult thing. The worst thing that can happen is you have to do a little more recruitment stuff in the future. If you are not sure of their motivations then just ask them.

Or ask yourself, what are you really afraid of?

Disappointment and Disconnection

This weekend I had a lesson in what happens when expectations disconnect with reality. All the time, we create ourselves little visions in our mind about how things are going to be, what is going to happen. We have a story, a plan, a dream, all worked out.

Disappointment occurs in the gap between what we expected, planned for, hoped for, and the reality that is.

I had booked a night away, in small cosy, quiet pub. On the website, it looked friendly, warm, relaxing. The pictures hinted at just a little luxury. Only it wasn’t what I had expected. The reality did not match up with the story in my mind, did not match up with the marketing. It simply didn’t meet expectations. And disappointment was the result.

Because the website had neglected to mention it was also a live music venue. And that they would have a band on until very late. And that when the band cranked up, you pretty much had to join in, because it was so loud the furniture in the room vibrated. I asked the manager why they didn’t warn the guests in advance, in case it wasn’t their sort of thing. He told me that it was standard policy to tell you when you checked in.

Naturally, the work analogy occurs.

Because reality and expectation often differ here, too.

It is easy to be influenced by the fancy brand. The shiny website, the recruitment agency pitch, the attractive advert. Often, recruitment practices misdirect the eye. The reality you find on arrival isn’t the same as the one seen in the shop window.

I thought that the hotel manager’s suggestion to me was strange. That you would tell someone when they arrived, when it was too late to change their mind, go somewhere else, important information that would influence their decision whether to stay or not. But I have seen this happen in organisations and I am sure you have too. We present a rosy picture during the recruitment process, but the induction tells the real story of the day to day.

And then what happens? The new employee doesn’t engage, doesn’t believe, and ultimately, doesn’t stay. Just like we didn’t at the hotel.

The answer is obvious. Tell it like it really is. Make it real. Make it honest. In your story, tell of the challenges and the problems as well as the great stuff and the shiny stuff. It is simple, really.

Some people will choose to opt out. Some people will decide it’s not their sort of thing, and go some place else. But the ones that opt in, with the fullness of information, are more likely to be happy with the choice that they have made.

Let’s do good recruitment stuff.

Culture Misfit

We like people that are like us. And we like to recruit people that are like us. People that will ‘fit in’.

The recruiters will have heard it a hundred times.

It’s all about the cultural fit.
It’s really important that they can fit in here.
The culture fit is as important as the experience

I’ve heard this said and I have said it myself.

But let’s just revisit this notion, for a moment. When we take this approach we are often really saying is that we want people that are all the same. That we want someone like the last person. That we want someone like the rest of the team. Because that is how they will fit in, get on, around here.

The theory on culture fit says that it is a good thing. That it means the individual and the organisation are aligned, that their values correspond. Then people are more productive, engaged, motivated, satisfied. I get that.

But when we use the term ‘culture fit’ we aren’t always thinking about values. We are not thinking about the long term, the strategic angle. Instead we think of personality, we think of people. We think about whether the person has worked in a similar environment with similar challenges. We think about whether we will get on with them, day to day. Whether they will slot into the existing team just fine.

You know that quote ‘you do what you have always done and you will get what you have always got’? Well this applies here too.

If you recruit what you have always recruited, then you will organisationally probably get what you have always got. Recruiting for culture fit may make it nice and harmonious in the team. Recruiting for culture fit might mean that the new starter slots straight in. It might mean that retention levels are good. But there are less positive aspects too. Homogeneity. Monotony. Groupthink. A lack of diversity.

And do we even know what we mean by cultural fit anyway? It is all a little bit fuzzy, fluffy, vague. We think we will know it when we see it. But maybe that just isn’t good enough.

Maybe what we really need is to recruit someone else, someone different, someone who won’t just fit into the way we do things around here. Hire for culture misfit. Because what we need is some new thinking. Some diversity. Some challenge. Someone to mix it up.

We don’t need some more of the same old.

This suggestion isn’t easy. I’ve blogged before about applying for a role somewhere outside of your cultural comfort zone. And I’ve worked somewhere too that I didn’t really fit. Somewhere that I was out of step. It was like wearing a badly fitting pair of shoes every single day. Hiring someone without any consideration of how they will fit in, settle in, get on, feel okay, won’t work. But if you want change, innovation, a little disruption, maybe try hiring for cultural misfit.

There is something wrong with recruitment

Last year, I got involved with the CIPD Hackathon. It lead to the development of a Hack called ‘chuck out your chintz’ which suggested that HR teams should reflect on some of the non value add activities they were doing, or even think about stopping them altogether.

The Hack had in mind administrative, shared service, policy type stuff when it was first conceived. But recently, I was asked if I could do a talk about whether the hack could be applied to recruitment. To be honest, I just wasn’t sure. There is plenty of process in recruitment, but was it chintz or was it necessary, useful process? So I sent a tweet. This one.

And my timeline filled up. I was interested in thoughts from anyone. Recruiters and candidates alike. But it wasn’t the process type stuff that people focused on. It was the human stuff. Or the lack of it.

A selection of the replies I received are below.

And this evocative one from Doug Shaw.

The sad thing? I wasn’t surprised by any of this. Because we know it. We know that feedback is so important to candidates. We know that everyone hates automated responses and the application black hole. We know it is appalling to waste candidates time.

When it comes to recruitment, there are plenty of conversations. Conferences. Books, blogs, specialists. Seminars, webinars, twitter chats. But are things changing, enough? Are things really good enough?

I know there are good people and good companies doing good stuff in recruitment. But everything I hear suggests that there are still many, many companies getting it so wrong. And many, many fed up and demoralised candidates. I was one myself, not so long ago.

I’m not pretending I have the answer to this problem. But I am interested in what you think. Because it doesn’t feel like it should be that difficult….. but for some reason we are making it so.

The Worst Interview in the World, Maybe

Yesterday, I was sharing some recruitment war stories with colleagues. Discussions of interviews and applications that didn’t go so well. The one that stands out in my memory was an application I received years ago for a position in the security team of a well known bank, in which the offer letter confirmed three day’s notice would be required for any interview, as they needed time to arrange a day pass from prison.

I guess most people have at some time applied for a job or been for an interview that didn’t go well. The one you would rather forget. But as they say, everything is a learning experience, and I certainly learnt from mine. So I thought I would share the story.

It was about twelve years ago. At the time, I was working as a HR officer in a mainly employee relations role. My job revolved around discipline, grievance, employment tribunals, personal injury claims, dismissals and trade unions. A typical day might involve hearing a grievance in the morning, an appeal against dismissal in the afternoon, and a little accident investigation in between. It was the kind of job in which you became completely immersed. I did everything from counting pallets at the top of a scissor lift in the stocktake, to being called out to a serious accident at 4am on a Sunday morning and climbing all over the scene. We had the it all going on there. I remember a call one morning that went a little bit like this. ‘Gem, can you come to site as soon as possible please? Someone has just tried to deliberately run over his team leader in a fork lift truck’. I loved it, but it burnt me out. So I started looking. And got an interview for a HR Consultant role in an outsourced call centre.

I got a new suit. I polished my shoes. I set off early, and arrived in plenty of time. And then, it all started to go wrong……

I knew as soon as I walked in, I didn’t fit there. They were all about motivational quotes. There were clouds painted on the ceiling. Bean bags in the training room to lie down on in between sessions. Let me tell you that this never happened during training on how to drive a fork lift truck. I was a fish out of water.

And then, the interview. There were no meeting rooms. It was all done on squishy chairs in an open plan space. On the next table was someone having their lunch flicking through a magazine. To the other side, what appeared to be a performance review going on. Over the way, someone I actually knew, which was a little awkward.

And once the questions started, I could think of nothing sensible to say. Whatever the interviewer asked me, I could not say anything that did not involve the words grievance or disciplinary. It just kept coming out.

Interviewer: How do you manage your team?
Me: I try not to discipline them.

Interviewer: Give me an example of how you have delivered change
Me: I taught all the managers how to do really good grievance hearings

And so on. And downhill. The more rubbish I talked, the more rubbish I talked.
The rejection letter came the very next morning. I suspect it was being typed before I hit the street. I can almost imagine the interviewer running to the post room, waving the letter aloft ‘quick, get this in the post – get rid of the discipline freak!’

But I did learn some things from the process.

I learnt that I should just have called it. We both knew I wasn’t right for them, and they weren’t right for me, but we carried on with the questions and answers, regardless.

I learnt the importance of putting a candidate at ease, and explaining the process to them in advance, especially if it is going to be a little outside of the norm.

I learnt the importance of cultural fit. On paper I had all of the things. But I would never have been at home there.

I learnt that sometimes, you should just stop talking.

I learnt that there are no circumstances in which one can rise in a ladylike fashion from a bean bag whilst wearing a skirt.

Now, I’ve told you mine, so tell me yours……

Candidate Experience. Just two things.

Just a little blog, this one. Because the issue isn’t complex.

I was reflecting on a recent discussion over at #NZlead about candidate experience; what makes it good, what makes it bad. What makes it important.

For me, a good candidate experience depends on just two things; honesty and communication.


You messed up the interview
You did brilliantly
Your presentation didn’t cut it
Your presentation rocked
They saw someone more suitable / with more experience / better qualified
They’ve cancelled the vacancy
You said / wore / did the wrong thing
You failed to demonstrate [insert as applicable]
You didn’t get it.
They loved you.

Just tell the truth to the candidate. Give them good feedback. Make it count.


An acknowledged application.
Information on the process, the next steps, the when and the how.
Accurate job descriptions, useful company information, how to get here and who to ask for.
Constructive feedback after the interview, whether you got it or whether you didn’t.
Keeping your promises about when and how you’ll be in touch.
Making the offer, making the rejection.

Communication. Do it well, make it honest and make it quick. Ditch the auto junk. Make it personal, human. Have genuine dialogue with your candidates.

These are the things that matter to your candidates. Just two little things, but so often we get it wrong.

Honesty and communication.

That is all.

Things my father taught me

I saw a post recently from @KateGL in which she spoke about her uncle and what she had learned from him.  It made me think about the biggest single influence on me professionally; my Father.

My Father (sort of) retired last year, after over 40 years’ service to his employer.  During that time he went from an engineer driving a van, to the MD.  Not a small feat for someone who left school with no qualifications and went to work down the pit.  When he retired, his team gave him a watch.  It was inscribed with his name, the company name, and the legend: From 1969 to infinity.  That’s some legacy. 

He has taught me many things in my life.  To drive, to tie my shoes laces, he even once tried unsuccessfully to teach me to play badminton (I have zero hand eye co-ordination- it was never going to work).  These are the things he taught me that I take to work every day:

  • You pay back what you owe.  If people help you along the way, treat you well, go the extra mile, you always give it back and then some.
  • Work bloody hard for what you want.  There were no school holidays for me.  No long university vacation.  Oh no.  You’d find me in his office, doing six months of filing and shredding.   They used to actually save it up for me.  (Thanks Carol).  It’s a lesson I’ve taken into every job I’ve ever done, and it has served me well. 
  • Leading means being truthful with people.  Telling them what you expect, holding them to account, and giving feedback – good or bad.
  • Treat people properly.  Fight for them if you have to. 
  • When you start a new job, you don’t need to take your existing deckchairs with you and set them up on day one.  Learn the business; don’t assume you know what’s best because you’ve done it before, or that’s how you like it.  Learn, ask questions, then decide. 
  • Sometimes, you have to be a bastard; it’s just a question of how big a bastard you are going to be.  Those are his words, not mine.  Some people might find them harsh, but they mean you have to be prepared to do difficult things and make difficult decisions, and often you are the bad guy.  Sounds a bit like working in HR to me. 
  • Don’t give up because things are difficult, but know when it’s time to walk away. 

 To me, these lessons equal leadership.  Cheers Dad.    


Photo by @AATImage (Graham Smith)

Thoughts on PSLs

I’m on the UnderCover Recruiter again this week – follow the link readers!