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.


What a candidate wants

It’s that time of year again, when organisations and people start to think about recruitment and job hunting.  A few years ago, after securing my last permanent position, I wrote about the candidate experience.  About how often, it leaves much to be desired.

On returning to the job market a few years on….  nothing much has changed.  More companies are doing good social stuff.  You can get an insight, to some extent, into an organisation’s culture through sites like Glassdoor, but that’s about all that is new.   Much of the bad stuff I experienced still seems to be hard wired into the system.

Applications that take hours to complete, pointlessly requiring you to type in information that is already available on a CV.  Systems that are supposed to upload the information from your CV into their database but which never work properly.  Poor communication.  Lack of any sort of real feedback.  Clunky Applicant Tracking Systems.  Entirely automated processes lacking any sort of human touch.

If you haven’t heard from us in 14 days……..

A black hole of applications and expectations.

The candidate experience is an opportunity.  It is your employer brand.  It is your opportunity to engage with someone who may come and work for you….  or certainly talk about you.  A consumer of your products or services perhaps.   It is the start of that thing we call the employment life cycle.  So why do so many get it so wrong?

Perhaps, in 2017, we could do better.  So here is what I think the candidate really wants.


Candidates don’t want to have to create an account for your ATS.  Most likely, they want to apply for one job and only one job.

If you have a system candidates want it to be easy to use.

Candidates would like the ability to engage with the recruiter.  Just for question or two. A live chat, an email address or even a Twitter handle.

Candidates would really like their time not to be wasted by advertising jobs that don’t really exist, or haven’t yet been fully thought through.

Candidates very much want an email (or something) to tell us that they aren’t being considered.  An email at the start of the process saying that they will hear in so many days if they have been successful simply isn’t good enough.  If people take the time to fill out what are often lengthy applications, the very least a company do is automate another “thank you but no thank you” email.  It’s just one more button to press after all.

Candidates don’t want to have to give you loads of personal information at the first stage.  Of late, I have been asked for my National Insurance number, sexual orientation and marital status as part of an initial application. There did not appear to be a ‘actually that is none of your business’ option on the drop down menu.

A question I have always asked recruiters is this: when did you last apply for a job at your place?  When did you last go onto your careers site or ATS from the outside, and experience it as a candidate does.  When did you last review your careers site to see if it is interesting, useful or easy to navigate?

If the answer is either ‘never’ or ‘not lately’ then just go do it. Challenge every part of the process.  Is it necessary? How will it make people feel?  Is it adding value – and to whom?  Is it more about the candidate, or you?  Too many recruitment processes are designed with the recruiter and the organisation in mind – not the candidate.  In my last HRD role, we launched a new recruitment system.  Applying for jobs with candidate eyes was how we refined it; how we made it work for both us and the people who were interested in working with us.

Applying for jobs doesn’t need to be a dispiriting experience.

What candidates want is really quite simple.  A straight forward, user friendly application process.  A little bit of timely communication.  The opportunity for some personal interaction.  Just because you can automate every single bit of the process doesn’t mean you should (nod to David D’Souza). Finally, some useful feedback.

That’s all folks.


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?