Recruiting The Right Stuff

I quite enjoyed this book by Arthur R. Pell.  It is the first recruiting book I’ve come across that addresses the cost of prescreening, interviewing and hiring.

Some of my favourite chapters:

  • Sources for candidates
  • Weeding out the unqualified
  • Making the interview more meaningful
  • 20 Mistakes companies make in hiring people


The Job Interview: Use Problem Solving Stories

job interview "behavioral interview" resilience problem-solving hire

Whether you are the interviewer or the job seeker, understanding the present-day value of past challenges may help you frame the conversation.  I call these problem solving stories.

Problem solving stories demonstrate action orientation, analytical abilities, and interpersonal skills.

Most interview questions are centered on strengths, capabilities and accomplishments.  These are important but only get at a small portion of the total person.  Don’t shy away from difficulties in the past.  Use them to showcase problem solving skills.  When I interview candidates, I ask them to talk about defining events from their past that have shaped who they are today.  What I’m looking for is evidence of resilience and tenacity.  Overcoming difficulty hones our skills and helps us develop the kind of strength that can only be gained through real life experience.

I just read Justin Menkes’ book Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others.  One particular line really stood out for me.

“Frustration, obstacles, & moments of doubt are actually required if we are to grow to our full potential.”

If difficulties are so important to defining the leader within, why would we leave them out of the interviewing process?

Another post you might enjoy: The Power of Uncertainty


The War for Talent: Branding 101 to the Rescue

employer-brand branding employment attraction assessment hiring interview corporateEmployers who grasp the connection between marketing techniques and talent attraction stand to gain the upper hand.  Strong brands know who they are and engender consumer loyalty by living a life of alignment.   This helps consumers know what they stand for and understand how to interact with them.  To illustrate the point, let’s use the McDonald’s brand.  No one would walk into a McDonald’s restaurant in search of a spaghetti dinner.  Nor would we sit down at one of their molded plastic tables and expect wait staff to arrive with an order pad.  We know McDonald’s for what their brand is: speed, a fairly consistent menu across geographies, and a standard ordering process that begins at the cash register.

Employers: Branding is not just for restaurants & consumer products

Your employment brand is the sum total of who you are as a company.  It’s how people and organizations experience you.  It’s what your customers, employees, and ex-employees say about you.  It’s the look and feel of your job ads and includes the way candidates are treated throughout the advertising, interviewing and hiring cycle.

Here’s why branding matters when you’re hiring

Baby boomers are preparing to retire in numbers larger than upcoming generations will be able to fill.  This is creating a talent shortage that we’re feeling right now in North America and that promises to become more severe over the next 10 to 15 years (for more see Business Insider March 11, 2011).  At the same time, globalization means that companies are facing increased competition and pricing pressures that require them to do more with less resources.  Good talent isn’t good enough anymore.  You need the best.  The talent community is aware of these shifts and, as a result, they have become savvy shoppers when it comes to career moves.

Three positive branding steps companies of any size can undertake

First, investigate your external employment brand.  Take a look through  You can gain 30 days’ free access to their insight by creating an account.  Google your company name along with a few key words like this (substituting your company name for McDonald’s, of course):

You can also use a site called Twitter search to see what kind of mentions your company is receiving.  It operates on the same principle as a Google or Bing search.

Once you’ve found out what the external chatter looks and sounds like, it’s time for the second step:  talking to your employees.  Does each person understand how to communicate the vision?  Survey them for anonymous feedback to determine engagement levels.  Help them understand that they ARE the brand.  What they say on Facebook or at the family dinner table either adds or detracts from the business.  There is no neutral when it comes to branding.  Find your best internal advocates and deputize them to spread the word and help management understand where improvements could be made.

The third step is external engagement.  Consider starting an online community or forum where people are free to express themselves.  This can be daunting, especially if you have a strong marketing department that is accustomed to one-way communications.  If you decide to engage with the online community, make sure you are committed.  There is nothing worse than a Twitter or Facebook account that lies fallow.

If there is only one, single takeaway from this post, I hope it is that companies need to put at least as much effort into marketing to prospective employees as we do to prospective customers.  Your customer base will be worthless if you don’t have the right talent to deliver.

Innovation Starts With Curiosity

Some of the best ideas in history were born by accident.  The discovery of penicillin came about when Alexander Fleming wondered why bacteria would not grow near the penicillium fungus on his desk.  That single moment of curiosity changed life forever by saving countless people from bacterial infections that previously might have proven fatal.

Think about the problems plaguing your business today.  Is there one in particular that would benefit from a short brainstorming session?  Start by clearly naming the problem.  It may help to write a sentence that begins with these words: We have a problem in that…

Next, gather a few people who can give you 20 or 30 minutes of their time.  They needn’t be involved directly with your business – in fact, fresh eyes can provide creativity and originality.

Give everyone permission to think in irrational or illogical terms and ask them to stay curious.  No judging allowed — brainstorming is strictly for stimulating ideas.  At the end of the session, gather all the potential solutions, thank your collaborators, and end the meeting.  Pick a time to review the ideas and grade them according to ease of implementation, cost and impact.  You may find you have one or more practical solutions that would not have occurred to you in isolation.

Another post you might enjoy: A Culture of Innovation

Can Personality Get You Hired?

Employers use more than 2500 personality tests to assess the potential fit of candidates and to identify developmental opportunities for existing staff.  That number alone would suggest that personality is hugely important.  But it goes beyond that.  More and more, intuition is showing up as a popular topic in recruitment and interviewing forums.  It’s not enough to ensure candidates have the right skills, they also need the right personality to fit with the culture, speed, and vision of the organization. 

That may seem like a very unscientific approach — and it is.  Hiring is a tough exercise for everyone involved because it calls for stark honesty at a time when everyone involved is concentrating on putting their best foot forward.  Companies want the right talent at the right time — that means hiring people who will help them achieve their business objectives.  Candidates want an opportunity to show what they can do and be fairly compensated.  When the opportunity does not match the skills and abilities of the new hire, it’s bad for everyone.  So the more effort we put into bringing reality into the business interview, the better the fit assessment.

Where does likeability come in?  If you can put your interviewer and yourself at ease, getting to know each other will be a pleasant exercise and will happen more fully.  The more both sides open up, the better the assessment. People who don’t like each other tend not to share as much.

Likeability Best Practices

Use your first meeting to make a good impression.  Make eye contact with your interviewer and observe their tone and manner.  Listen to their questions carefully before answering.  Wherever possible, answer the question directly and then give back up details to help them understand the depth of your response.  Your interviewer is there to do a job.  Anything you can do to help them get the information they’re seeking will help you build a relationship with them — and that will help both of you assess your suitability for the job and the company’s suitability for you as an employer.

Remember to treat the receptionist with respect.  A candidate who is polite to management and dismissive to junior workers may be eliminated based on a perceived inability to work well with others.  I know some hiring managers who take prospective recruits out for coffee to observe how they treat wait staff.

Show your interest in the position by doing research.  There is no excuse these days not to know about the company’s vision, structure, and most important projects.  If you don’t have access to the Internet at home, your public library or government employment center likely has computers available to job seekers. 

Build Likeability Before You Meet By Avoiding These Practices

  • Sending an unsolicited resume along with a request for someone to review your qualifications to see where you fit.  This may come across as demanding and insensitive to the time constraints of the business.
  • Phoning a prospective employer from a noisy location.  Recruiters and hiring managers may feel that you are not serious about working with them.
  • Presenting a resume or cover letter with spelling errors or formatting problems.  This will convey a substandard work ethic.

Best wishes to all the job hunters out there. 


Sense of Entitlement: The Younger Generations Are Getting a Bad Rap

For the first time in history, we have 4 generations in the workforce at the same time. Naturally, this much diversity requires adjustments and understanding. While it’s convenient to bucket groups by age, some of the generalizations are not helpful.  Generation X  and Generation Y are generally identified as arriving at the workplace with a sense of entitlement as big as the great outdoors.  I disagree with singling them out for this unattractive character trait.  I see entitlement rearing its ugly head in every generation.  It just sounds different depending on who’s speaking.  And businesses react differently according to the age of the speaker.  That’s the worst part.

Here’s what entitlement looks and sounds like across the generations.

Born between 1928-1945
I’ve done my time. I deserve a senior position based solely on my years in the workforce. I hire good people and let them do their jobs on their own. I don’t measure them and I certainly do not set stretch goals for them. You should treat me the same way.

Born between 1946-1964
I put in extra hours therefore I am not subject to the same rules as everyone else. If I work hard, I’ll get everything I want — whether my expectations are reasonable or not.

Generation X
Born between 1965-1979
I saw my parents work hard yet they still got laid off so I want what’s due to me now. I’m not looking for equal treatment, I’m looking for special treatment.

Generation Y
Born between 1980-1995
I have no interest in doing menial chores that could be automated. You can have someone else do that for me.   If I have to get good at what I do before I get promoted I’ll just work for someone else. Give it to me now or I’m moving on.

Of course, not everyone exhibits this unproductive trait.  There are workers and leaders in each of the generations who honestly want to produce quality, measurable results, and they want to be recognized for such.  And there are workers and leaders in each of the generations who work hard at getting better at what they do every day.  Taking the time to get to know the unique skills and perspective offered by a multi-generational workforce can lead to an enriched workplace.

Is entitlement creeping into your speech?  How would you deal with it in your business?

Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others

“What qualities make leaders able to sail through the rolling ocean that is the new normal, and bring their people with them?  And how can leaders develop those attributes?”

Powerful questions.

To find the answers Justin Menkes and his team interviewed over 200 CEO candidates at major U.S. corporations and conducted psychological evaluations with 60 current and retired CEOs from the world’s largest companies.

The 200 candidates were classified into three groups: the top-performing quartile (highly successful), the middle two quartiles (average performers) and the bottom quartile (highly ineffective).  An exhaustive behavioral analysis revealed six critical attributes that were highly consistent among the top performers and totally absent among the bottom performers.  Menkes sorted these traits into “three meta-attributes, or what I call catalysts”.  He goes on to say “each of these three traits is a catalyst of the mastery displayed by the most successful CEOs”. 

They are:

  • Realistic optimism
  • Subservience to purpose
  • Ability to find order in chaos

Throughout the book the author describes the attributes in action by telling the stories of business people and real business scenarios.  He also takes the time to show what the absence of each attribute looks and sounds like – again through stories about real business people in real business situations. 

The book contains an unexpected bonus in the form of exercises to help one measure optimism, address avoidance problems, measure commitment to purpose, and evaluate one’s ability to find order in chaos.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in building high performance within his or her organization.  It will especially appeal to those feeling the effects of the new normal:  that is, pressure to produce increased results with less resources. 

Justin Menkes is an acclaimed author and consultant for the executive search firm Spencer Stuart.  He specializes in CEO succession planning and selection.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Mr. Menke’s book from his publicist for the purpose of writing this review.

Jobs Growth: Canada Stronger Than U.S.

Last month U.S. nonfarm payrolls rose only 18,000, the weakest reading since September, the Labor Department said on Friday. This is well below economists’ expectations for a 90,000 rise.

Jobs growth in Canada for the same period was 28,400.

Unemployment percentage rates by province:

Nova Scotia 8.7

New Brunswick 9.6

Quebec 7.9

Ontario 7.7

Manitoba 5.5

Saskatchewan 4.9

Alberta 5.6

British Columbia 7.3

Overall 7.4

For more on the Canadian employment market see the Vancouver Sun here:

Graceful Endings

The way we end relationships speaks volumes about our interpersonal skills.

You and I will deal with numerous endings throughout our careers.  The average baby boomer held 10.8 jobs between the ages of 18 and 42 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).  Most of us will leave one employer in favor of another 12 times before we reach retirement age.  Other types of endings occur when companies decide to walk away from a client.  As a society we tend to avoid terminating relationships; we prolong the inevitable to avoid change and pain.  Sometimes we put it off because we’re not ready to take responsibility for the role we played in a less than successful stint.  As a result, we tend not to do endings well.

Shifting the way we view this type of change opens us up to learning opportunities – personally and organizationally.  Many companies conduct exit interviews and post mortems for that very reason.  Although these take place frequently not many participants give them the forethought required to make them the learning event they were intended to be.

Start with the end in mind.

The best thing any of us can impart at the point of moving on is to relate what we have gained as a result of the engagement.  Whether we are leaving a client or an employer, the relationship began when two parties undertook to do some form of work together that could not be accomplished alone.  Take the time to show the good that you were a part of before you cite what was lacking.  Nothing in life is ever all good or all bad.  A balanced approach may garner lasting friendships that will outlive the corporate contract.

If you are feeling wronged, think carefully about how you will portray yourself or your company.  Nothing is more transparent than a vengeful spirit.  Sharing feelings of victimhood is seldom good for the career and tends to be overlooked as bitter comments meant to harm others.  If you are putting your thoughts in writing be sure that you are speaking only for yourself and are not taking risks with libel.  This should not be a problem if you stick to facts that can be corroborated or proven.

Take pride in productive, positive endings and you’ll set an example that your community, coworkers, and family can be proud of.