5 Steps To Build A More Innovative Organization


business strategy Are you struggling to get your new initiatives off the ground? Do you wish your organization was more nimble and entrepreneurial? Do you yearn to build a team of people who don’t need a rule-book … people who can handle ambiguity? Do you daydream about having a team of fearless innovators who bring you great ideas, and then leap into action to make their ideas a reality?

OK, fine, it’s good to have goals.

But if you don’t work in that kind of environment right now, are you sure you know what innovation really looks like … up close and personal? And when you interview an innovator, just what exactly should you look for? And after you hire them, will your office be like the set of Mad Men?   

If you’re looking for someone with a history of serendipitous moments, where the innovation muse whispers brilliance into their ear, the cosmos align, the sun bursts through the fog and birds start chirping, you will be looking for a very long time. As children we all heard the tale of the apple falling on Sir Isaac Newton’s head, causing a supposedly sudden insight into his theory of gravity. But few of us heard what Mr. Newton was doing prior to that famous moment. So does innovation look like blindingly brilliant moments of fruit-inspired inspiration? Or does it look more like the part of the story that happened before the apple fell?

Sorry kids, strokes of genius are really tiny–more like pointillist painting than the broad-brush conversational style used in most executive suites. If you want to hire an innovator, don’t look for a fast-talker with grandiose ideas, they will not go the distance. As Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter put it, “Everything looks like a failure in the middle. Everyone loves inspiring beginnings and happy endings; it is just the middles that involve hard work.”

Instead of hiring a big talker, seek out someone who can methodically and painstakingly take tiny, unconnected painted dots (ideas) and form them into a bigger (and more interesting) picture. Scott Berkun, author of The Myths of Innovation, calls this the “Myth of Epiphany.” As he puts it, “Epiphany stories project illusions of certainty since they’re always about successful ideas. Epiphanies are a consequence of effort, not just the inspiration for it.

Other researchers have also concluded that innovation is a far more arduous process than most of us are led to believe. Keith Sawyer describes how one researcher set out to chronicle Eureka! moments only to find that good ideas are actually built upon bit-by-bit.  Peter Sims studied Pixar and the creative process used by world-class architects and comedians. Here is what he said:

“It may take Chris Rock six months to a year to develop one hour of comedy, and he does it by just scribbling ideas down on sheets of paper, going into these clubs unannounced and sitting down in a very relaxed, casual way with the audience, so that they know that, “Hey, this is not Chris Rock in prime time. This is Chris Rock in development mode.” He’ll just start riffing with the audience and he’ll bomb. It will be awkward at times. But what he’s doing is he’s looking for just a little hint as to where a hidden joke might be, and, once he finds that, then he keeps on that idea and keeps iterating, keeps improving, tweaking, until it becomes more and more a joke that he can use in his routine.”

Chris Rock knows many of his joke ideas will bomb. More importantly, he knows that’s completely OK. He revises and edits his material until he arrives at the tightly crafted sets we see on HBO. Breakthrough ideas and innovations are built on foundations of mistakes and dead ends. Innovation is surprisingly methodical, as it emerges over time out of “peripheral” knowledge, or out of seemingly irrelevant ideas.

Even on TV, innovation does not look so easy:

What appears to be an effortless flash of brilliance in this clip did not come out of nowhere (though the timing is fortunate). Prior to the dramatic scene, Don Draper had spent the entire episode scribbling countless pitch ideas onto napkins, only to decide they were all terrible.

So how do you build a more innovative organization? 

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Hire an Innovator and Change Agent


iStock_000017017468XSmallEvery week I talk with organizations who are looking for a change agent–someone with creativity and drive, and a proven track record of kicking new initiatives into high gear.

Why do they come to me?

Because hiring managers are beginning to realize that the skills required to create a track record of success in good times (any time before 2008) are different than the skills needed since the downturn began. Managers have been disappointed by candidates who spoke eloquently about innovation in the interview but failed to deliver results. At Staffing Advisors, we live and breathe innovation. We see it up close every day within our firm, and across hundreds of searches, we’ve learned what to look for when we interview people for our clients.

So how do you weed out the hacks and the phonies during the interview process? How do you find people who are delivering results right now? Here are five of our best articles on how to hire an innovator: 

  1. How to Interview an Innovator – How can you accurately discern from the interview how a candidate will perform on the job? Separate the real deal innovators from the poseurs and empty suits with these methods.
  2. Hiring People Who Can Handle Ambiguity – Innovators often excel at ambiguous and complicated grey-area tasks. But to effectively understand how candidates handle ambiguity don’t ask,”Tell me about a time you were in an ambiguous situation.” It won’t work. Try this instead.
  3. Hiring People Who Have a Growth Mindset – A survivalist mentality crept into some workplaces, characterized by fear and risk aversion.  This outlook is counter to what’s needed to jump start growth. Here are 5 important qualities needed in people who lead growth initiatives.
  4. Don’t Believe Everything You Think – If you’re looking for an innovator, be sure to hire candidates who demonstrate successful adaptation to rapid change. What distinguishes these people? They are the ones who consistently challenge your organization’s out-dated assumptions, the ones that take the time to constantly view problems from new perspectives. Is an innovator really going to be an effective change agent for your organization if they can’t do this regularly?
  5. Why Do Change Agents Often Fail? – After you successfully identify and hire a real deal innovator, you’re not out of the woods yet – studies show that up to 70% of change initiatives fail. Fortunately, you can dramatically improve your odds using these insights from the field of neuroscience.

If all these articles make you begin to think that innovation is more perspiration than inspiration, then you are on the right track.

When Hiring, Should You Ask for Salary Requirements? It Depends on the Market.


resume2I’ve talked a lot recently about how employers need to adapt to the rise of mobile job seekers – especially by making the application process less painful. Let’s tackle a related job-seeker frustration – asking that salary history be included with an applicant’s resume. A recent job seeker – who is underpaid in their current position – asked me “Is it possible to fulfill this request without revealing this information? Or do I have no choice but to disclose it?” With the job market recovering, job seekers are concerned that your compensation strategy just involves tacking on an additional 10% to their undervalued recession salary, keeping them behind the curve.

If you’re looking for a candidate with highly competitive skills, remove the salary history requirement. Asking for a salary history is instantly off-putting. High-quality, in-demand candidates will tune out and not complete the application process. And why should they? They’re being heavily recruited by other organizations that didn’t put up as many hurdles in the initial application. And they’ll likely take it as an attempt to lowball a salary offer, and steer clear.

Is the market for the position particularly scarce, where every application you get counts? Then don’t be such a stickler for the rules that you will instantly disqualify a top performer because they chose not to include the required salary history. You may have overlooked someone perfect for your organization. And odds are they didn’t include it because they want to ensure that your compensation philosophy is market-based – not based on their salary history.

Now, I’m aware that not all positions and budgets require a top performer, and not all positions are lacking in highly qualified candidates. If you’re looking to fill a dime-a-dozen position in a market with a plethora of talent, you can probably get away with including salary history in your application process. You get market data for free – so you can easily narrow applicants down to those that meet your budget. Candidates will still find the question off-putting, but the resulting few that drop out of the application process likely won’t damage your chances of finding someone to fill the position. It’s much more destructive to your chances when there’s market scarcity for the needed position.

Recently I spoke with an HR executive who had just filled out a frustrating application.  She said, “I implemented all these labor-saving components into my Applicant Tracking System, but I didn’t realize what a terrible experience the candidates were having as a result.”

Go test this – apply for a job in your own company and see if you give up before completing the application process. If you’ve instituted multiple requirements or labor saving measures, I’m betting you’ll walk away with a headache – especially if salary history is only one of many hurdles. Now imagine how many top performers did the same thing for all your past open positions.  Your search for talent might be easier (and maybe more successful) if you lower your organization’s initial barriers to entry.

How To Interview An Innovator


innovation1Clients often engage us to help them find an innovator for a strategically significant project. They need people who have taken something entirely new and gotten it off the ground, which is all too rare.

So that means we need to help them find a way to interview innovators and distinguish the poseurs and pretenders from the Real Deal Innovators. The world is full of one-hit wonders who, like Forrest Gump, happened to be present once at a successful time in history. Their false confidence and hubris will stand in the way of your innovation as surely as their inflated salary requirements will impoverish your new initiative.

As it turns out, it’s not that hard to separate the pretenders from the doers. I consider you the Real Deal if:

  • You spend more time innovating and putting your ideas into practice than almost anyone in your peer group (which accelerates your expertise far beyond everyone in your field).  You have earned the respect of a few industry  insiders, but you are probably not famous or widely known. (This is widely misunderstood. Being famous is a reverse predictor … it takes time and effort to build fame. Time that could be better spent on innovation.)
  • Unlike the famous people who speak at all the cool conferences, you have the tyranny of daily results driving your innovation. You measure yourself against hard metrics. You don’t come up with ideas and then spend time giving speeches about it. Trying to look smart. Leading to the inevitable decline of your actual skills as you progressively lose touch with reality and spend more time with sycophants.
  • And you probably don’t work in a place where your ideas have to be approved by a committee. You don’t spend all day in meetings. And you certainly don’t spend all day reporting on your results instead of producing them

No, when you are the Real Deal, you spend the vast majority of your time in the trenches. You know that most ideas don’t survive contact with reality. But parts of them do. So you try things, fail, learn, refine, and improve. Constantly experimenting, and constantly challenged by the imperative of producing results. Genius physicist Neils Bohr said “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

It’s bloody hard to be on the bleeding edge of innovation. Creating the future is always uncomfortable and from day to day it usually feels like failing … until you look back from time to time and see how far you’ve come. (I am collecting a series of the most useful articles on this topic here: http://www.scoop.it/t/driving-innovation. Scott Berkun’s classic book The Myths of Innovation is also a must-read for innovators.)

So how do you interview an innovator?

  • Listen for the daily grind of it.
  • Listen for the experimentation, the risk, the failure and the grit and resilience to try again.
  • Run from people who describe it as a big success with no moments of uncertainty.
  • And then ask yourself, “Am I really ready to put up with a Real Deal Innovator?”

Reinventing the Executive Search Firm (Part Three: Being Digitally Approachable)


First ImpressionMany years ago, you could judge an organization by the professionalism of their sales force and the quality of their marketing documents (“Hey nice suit, and gosh that’s an impressive brochure!”)

Now, nobody wants a sales call and nobody reads brochures. Buyers do their research, gather recommendations from people they trust, check out the organization online and make their purchase decisions before they ever pick up the phone. (This is true for both candidates and employers).

Google is the new business card … and brochure … and sales force. Your reputation is now your digital reputation–whatever shows on the first page or two of the search results.

An engaging website with great content is expected by everyone. Authentic, online testimonials are expected by most people. A healthy social media community is important to the social media savvy people. A quick Google search should reveal a blog or a book or an interview that reflects well upon you and conveys how you view the world. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have something else impressive pop up on page one of the Google results, perhaps an an award or something…

And what about online reviews? With an empowered consumer, advertising  is giving way to online reviews. Yelp drives significant candidate flow to some staffing firms (and away from others).

Which brings me to executive search.

Why are so many executive search firms still operating with a bare-bones online presence? I can tell you from experience that it takes years to develop enough content to support a robust online community, and whoever gets started earliest often gathers the most attention.

In every sector of the economy, almost every organization is working diligently to make their marketing and communications efforts more social media friendly.

But when you look around, most executive search firms are still woefully behind the curve. Firms that are not gaining experience in social media and firms that have not invested in becoming “digitially approachable” will find themselves falling further and further behind.

You can read Part Two of this series here.

Reinventing the Executive Search Firm (Part Two: Contacting Candidates)


cold callMany years ago, the most effective way to introduce yourself to a busy professional was to call their office.

Now, phone calls are an interruption and voicemail is a black hole. Many people consider it rude to simply call someone without making some sort of introduction first. Good manners now dictate that communciation is asynchronous–the recipient gets to choose when and where they would like to be contacted. I’m finding that even welcome calls, like employers who want to engage my services, usually start first with an email.

Many years ago, an effective way to recruit good people was to call good people and ask who they knew.

Now, all those calls go to voicemail (see “black hole” above). The most effective way to find good people is to identify the online communities where they gather, to carefully identify potential candidates from their “digital footprints” and online profiles, and then to share an authentic, compelling message with rich detail via email or social media.

Candidates can’t be kept in the dark about details, or talked into anything, they simply want to be trusted with the facts and then invited to share the opportunity with whomoever they wish, and when and how they see fit. In this way, friends share opportunities with friends, and good recruiting messages are socialized organically, without expensive cold-calling or advertising.

Pushy sales reps and voicemail cannot do what good messaging, email and social media can.

Many years ago, it would take time and a trip to the library to research an organization. So the search firm would know a great deal more about a job opportunity than the candidate would. The recruiter would always have an information advantage.

Now, candidates can tap into their social media connections to find people in their network familar with an employer, and anyone with an internet connection can be reasonably well-informed within a few hours.

Which brings me to the executive search business model.

Executive search firms need to stop hiring cold-calling sales professionals, and stop paying them steep commissions in an attempt to talk people into jobs. This business model is increasingly out of step with the times.

In the modern world, search firms must be able to:

  • Craft an authentic, compelling message that’s interesting enough to be shared.
  • Find the right people to contact, and get the message out in a respectful and efficient manner.
  • Trust the candidate to decide what is in their own best interest.

In our comparison tests, we’ve found that interesting messages, properly socialized,  significantly outperform cold-calling.

The executive search industy will inevitably adapt to the forces reshaping every other industry, and we welcome the change.

Read Part One of this series here.

Reinventing the Executive Search Firm (Part One: Location)


Glitzy OfficeMany years ago, outplacement firms had lovely offices where laid-off executives could go to conduct their search. They could use an office to make phone calls, and they had administrative support.

Now, the vast majority of outplacement is done virtually. The job seeker rarely needs to visit the outplacment office. Costs plunged as outplacement firms shed their exepensive real estate and overhead costs. Outplacement services are still in high demand, but costs dropped as the delivery mechanism changed.

Many years ago, if you wanted to buy something, you went to a store.

Now, Amazon delivers merchandise to your home the same day you order it, and many people are predicting “the end of retail as you know it.” Retailers with expensive overhead costs struggle to compete with Amazon’s pricing. Consumers are still buying plenty of merchandise, but costs dropped as the delivery mechanism changed.

Many years ago, sales reps were the best source of information about products and services. You could actually learn something from them.

Now, by the time most customers are ready to buy, they have already done their research, and often know more than the sales rep. People no longer trust what they are told, they trust what they have learned on their own. Customers still buy, but are no longer willing to “be sold.” Maintaining a sales force is expensive, and many firms are learning how to attract customers without heavy sales and advertising expenses.

Which brings me to executive search.

Candidates don’t want to go to the offices of an executive search firm, and they don’t expect to learn much from talking to the sales rep (recruiter). They would prefer to be more in control of how they gather information.

Employers still want great candidates, but are reluctant to pay 33% of annual salary if less expensive options were just as effective.

For both candidates and employers, the personal service from a search firm is still helpful, but the delivery mechanism must change.

What we have done:

Staffing Advisors has conducted over 300 searches without a salesforce, with nobody on commission and without using expensive offce space, and here’s what we’ve found:

Candidates and employers, when given a choice, want our recruiters to schedule virtual interivews rather than take the time and expense of meeting every candidate  face to face. Our retention statistics have proven that properly executed virtual interivews bring just as much rigor (and far less bias) to the hiring process. They also allow us to cast a much wider net for nontraditional candidates.

Inevitably, the traditional search firm business model will give way to forces that are reshaping outsourcing, retail and every other industry. We welcome the changes.

Great on Every Level


Great on Every LevelGreat organizations are great on every level. They pay meticulous attention to how they hire everyone, from the receptionist to the CEO.

If your company lavishes attention on senior level hires, and leaves lower level openings starved for attention, that’s a real warning flag. You are never going to achieve your potential if the conversation about lower level hires is that you can settle for less.

Results happen on the front line, not in the rarified air of the boardroom where important strategic decisions are made. And all top performing executives know this. When you are interviewing top executives, they are also interviewing you, and assessing if their team has what it takes to deliver great performance … at every level.

Should You Run The Search Yourself?


A client called me to discuss a job opening at his firm. He’s very well connected, so naturally he was wondering if he should try recruiting on his own before engaging us to run the search. “Can you help me weigh the pros and cons of paying you a fee to do what I might be able to do on my own?”

It’s a fair question, and the answer is not as simple as you might expect.

Yes, search fees are expensive, but before running the search yourself, here are a few aspects of the recruiting process it’s easy to overlook:

Identifying candidates:

If you are considered “well connected” in your field, you are probably directly acquainted (1st degree connection) with up to 20% of the potentially viable candidates for your job opening. But are you actually willing to open your rolodex, and aggressively recruit them? Is there anything that would prevent you from contacting some of the top people at your competitors (are you comfortable being perceived as a “raider?”)

Having the ability to identify candidates is only one part of the recruiting equation. The next step is to develop a compelling marketing message (beyond the job description). Messaging quality significantly impacts recruiting results—just emailing around a job description rarely does much to attract the top people.

Do you have time to reach out individually to top candidates?  “Jerry, I thought you might be interested in hearing about this position, and here’s why…”  We get most of our response on our second or third direct contact with a candidate. Successful, focused, busy people often ignore job board ads, don’t read generic newsletter job postings, and even brush off the first direct inquiry. Are you ready to be responsive when candidates express interest? You can’t recruit  people and then leave them hanging.

Evaluating candidates:

After the interview, how comfortable are you in rejecting the people you just went to the trouble of recruiting? it’s easy to reject a stranger who answered a job ad, but harder to reject someone you personally invited to interview.

If you are well-connected, you stand a fair chance of finding at least 2 or 3 qualified candidates on your own. Of course, if you are advertising your opening, you will also receive inquiries from hundreds of less qualified people … many of whom are connected to you through mutual acquaintances. Who will receive all those resumes; who will respond graciously to each one; who will keep your candidates informed of the hiring schedule; and who will send all the rejection letters? Beyond that sort of hiring administrivia, who is available to screen all the candidates against a uniform selection criteria, without showing favoritism?

Moving the Process Toward a Decision:

Finally, who is tasked with moving the hiring process forward to resolution? Hiring delays can be quite costly, but hiring often languishes behind other more urgent priorities. Driving the hiring process forward based upon fair selection criteria usually requires significant leadership focus. Indecision and perceived unfair handling of candidates reflects poorly on all involved.

When your ideal candidates are all connected to you in some way, these issues should be considered before you start the process. A significant number of our new searches come on the heels of a failed search conducted by a busy executive who had the best of intentions, but simply lacked the time to follow through on the search process all by himself.

A solid hiring process involves far more than simply knowing good people.

“The Rare Find” is a Must Read for Hiring Managers


If you want to lock in a long-term competitive advantage for your organization, be among the first to read and apply the lessons of George Anders new book “The Rare Find:  Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else.”

Drawing on vivid examples from the U.S. Army Special Forces, Teach for America, Facebook, Hollywood, and professional sports, he shows how you can see what everyone else is missing in their hiring.

This is no vanity book. He’s not pitching his hiring system, or trying to sell you consulting services. Even better, he is not advocating that you “just do your hiring like we did at GE in the 1980’s.”

No, this book is the real deal.  Space does not permit me to cover all my favorite quotes, but here are a few:

“American social norms call for job candidates to tell a story of uninterrupted success. Previous experiences are burnished until they all sound like triumphs. Traditional resumes are set up so that resilience becomes invisible. That’s a horribly unfortunate distortion. At some point fate slams all of us to the ground. What happens next determines who we become. Some people are so bitter or dispirited they never fully recover. Others do whatever it takes to bounce back. The more you can learn about how people handle adversity, the more astutely you can judge them.”


“…we’re in the midst of an enormous economic and technological upheaval that is redefining what it means to be enduringly successful. Long track records my be irrelevant or impossible to find in fields that are taking shape so fast the everyone is a newcomer. Competence is not enough anymore. The difference between growth and stagnation comes down to finding people with bold, fresh approaches, who can create opportunities that no one else saw before. That’s true not just in Silicon Valley, Hollywood or Wall Street; it’s the new norm in almost every field.”

From how to define what kind of person you are looking for, to how you should interview candidates, this book covers the landscape of talent spotting. I found no evidence of vague, sloppy platitudes or lazy thinking. For example:

“Take something as universal … as ‘work ethic.’ That’s a cherished value at almost any top tier organization (but) everyone’s definition of ‘work ethic’ calls for slightly different virtues. Some jobs call for people who can summon up extraordinary stamina and ingenuity in a crisis. Others require orderly souls who are totally comfortable with the tireless preparation for a challenge that may be months or years away. The work ethics of a great doctor and a great football player are not the same. Solving the talent puzzle means looking for exactly the right ethos that’s vital for a particular job–rather than trying to match candidates to a along list of universal virtues that might or might not be especially relevant.”

If You Cannot Learn from Others, You Cannot Lead


In some organizations, the higher you rise up the management ladder, the less people give voice to their disagreements with you.   And when you become insulated from that healthy disagreement you might tend to forget that other people do not see things exactly the same way you do.

Which does not make them wrong.

When you are the only “smart one” in the room, or when you think everyone else is lazy or stupid for not agreeing with you … you are not fit to lead.

Your success as an executive hinges on your ability to learn from others.  You simply must be able to see things from someone else’s viewpoint, to respect and learn from that viewpoint and to find common ground.   Yes, you can influence others to see things your way, but to do that, you must first be able to understand what may be valid (and valuable) about their perspective.

If you cannot learn from others, you are not fit to lead them.

Over hundreds of executive searches, the single best predictor of failure is a hiring manager who cannot trust and learn from the people around them.  If you can’t trust, you can’t learn from others, you cannot delegate, and you are trapped within your own limitations.  If the job market is different than your expectations, you’ll forever be looking for something that is not there.  If you don’t trust the candidate, every answer that varies from your mental picture is something to be investigated.  If you don’t trust the recruiter, you’ll have to review every resume, and manage the project yourself.

Search without trust is doomed to failure.

The Perfect (Resume) is the Enemy of the Good (Hiring Process)


Nothing is more damaging to a good hiring process than the perfect resume.   Once a hiring manager gets it in his mind that a resume needs to look a certain way, any deviation from that mental picture is punished with apathy.  As in: “Eh, I don’t want to interview that person.”

The perfect resume (if that unicorn ever does arrive) causes everyone to get excited before the interview.   Expectations are sky high.  “This guy looks like a perfect fit!”  Right up until they open their mouth.   As they say “Light travels faster than sound, that’s why most people seem bright until you hear them speak.”

So how can you overcome the good resume/bad candidate, bad resume/ good candidate problem?

An HR manager told me her guilty secret this week.   After she takes her first pass thru the giant stack-o’-resumes that her job board ads generate, she is often unimpressed with the “A” resume candidates during the interviews.  So then she goes through the whole stack again, looking at the “B” resume candidates – who often do better than the “A” resume candidates in the interviews.  But here is the fun part.   She told me that she does not get discouraged until she takes a THIRD pass through all the resumes, because it is often the candidates with “C” resumes who interview the best!

This dovetails with my experience.   We carefully guard against “perfect-resume bias” in our hiring process (see “You Got All That From Reading the Resume?  Really?“)   Consequently fully a third of our placements come from candidates that our clients initially resisted interviewing based on resume alone.

But seriously, we don’t read all the resumes we got from a job board ad three times.  Nobody deserves that kind of punishment.

Why is Executive Search so Expensive?


Once upon a time, twenty years ago, in a backwards country called telephone-land, all your news came from a thing called a newspaper.  And all your mail was delivered by the postal service.  And the telephone (land line of course) was the fastest way to reach someone.   Yes, twenty years ago, finding candidates and presenting job opportunities over the phone was a pretty expensive thing to do – so executive search services had to be expensive.

But now, if you live in a place I call “the world,” your news comes to you on your computer, most of your mail comes to you on … your computer (or your phone), and, if you still have a land line, your telephone calls disappear into a place called voicemail.

So if all the technology to find and reach candidates has changed, why is executive search still so expensive?

There are two big myths that have prevented executive search firms from using technology to lower the price of executive search.   But you’ll have to read my guest post on Fistful of Talent to find out what they are.

Who’s That Driving Around in Your Employment Brand?


Hiring managers, who is that behind the wheel of your employment brand?  You’ve had 5 internal meetings to discuss the language on your new website, but then you hired a contingent recruiter to work on your job opening after talking to them on the phone for what, half an hour?

What exactly are they telling people about you, your company, and your open job?

When you engage a search firm, you hand over your reputation as an employer.  They are authorized to represent you (for the duration of their engagement).  It’s like handing over the keys to your car … with your company name emblazoned on the side of it.  They ARE your employment brand while they are behind the wheel.   And remember, they are talking to a lot of people about your company.

So how much control do you have over what they say?  In most cases, none at all.  So yeah, you probably want to know who you are dealing with, what their reputation is, and precisely what they will say about your job opportunity.

At Staffing Advisors, we craft a written marketing message for you, and give you a chance to look it over before we use it.  (You told us that you offer great work/life balance, but really don’t want to want to over-promise that?  Ok, no problem, we’ll delete that sentence…).  We want to be sure the message sets the right tone for skills, performance expectations, cultural fit … everything.

Then, when we deliver the message, someone with real credibility reaches out.  Kelly Dingee, our Strategic Recruiting Manager has real digital credibility.  She writes well enough to meet Jessica Lee’s demanding standards at Fistful of Talent (no easy feat), she was named one of the Top HR Digital Influencers by John Sumser over at The HR Examiner, and then publicly praised this week by both Kris Dunn and Glenn Cathey – that’s doing pretty well with HR’s digital royalty I’d say.

So yeah, Kelly looks legit when she reaches out to someone.  And that is reflected in how people respond to her.  (Test this for yourself.  Google the name of whoever you are trusting with your brand.  That’s what smart candidates do before they respond.  So how does it look?)

We’ve connected with over 25,000 candidates this year (people who were referred to us, or people we reached out to).   I hear about every single person who has had a complaint with the service.  This year, I talked to less than a dozen disappointed people – that’s less than one in two thousand who had a complaint – and remember, 24,900 of those people ended their experience with us by getting a rejection letter.

I’m not saying you need to hire us to protect preserve and defend your employment brand (although that is an excellent idea), and I’m not bashing how other search firms do business (Relax third-party recruiters, I’ve said for years that the contingency search model is perfectly valid).

I’m just saying you need to think harder about who you let drive your reputation around.  Because it matters more than you may realize.

What Exactly Does A Search Firm Really Do For You?


Hiring managers are often disappointed with search firms.

Not coincidentally, search firms are often disappointed with hiring managers.

The root cause of this mutual disappointment is often a simple matter of unmet expectations.  And it starts with a (big) unexamined assumption about what the search firm is expected to do for you once you engage them.  So what, exactly, are your expectations when you hire a search firm?

If you are like 9 out of 10 hiring managers, you will say you expect them to “find the best candidates for the job” – end of story.

If they do that, you are happy, right?

Except quite often you are not happy when all they do is find the best candidates.  Like when the “best candidate” turns down a second interview with you, or takes another job, or when all the best people have salary expectations 30% more than you budgeted.   Yeah, if only hiring were so simple (Step 1:  Find good people  Step 2:  Hire them).

So, while “finding the best candidates” is undeniably important, it’s really just a fraction of the value a good search firm should bring to the table.  The reality is that finding great people and getting them to take an interview is, at best, a fourth of what you should be expecting from your search firm.    If you want to break the cycle of disappointment and make better hires, you need to expect more.

So here is what to look for in a search firm (or internal recruiter) beyond raw recruiting ability:

  • Market Knowledge:  A great recruiter should be able to share job market information – so your expectations are in line with market realities.   (HINT: You may not like it, but if they always agree with you, or if you never learn anything in talking with them, that is a sure sign that you are not talking to the right recruiter.  A recruiter who “goes along” with a hiring manager’s unrealistic market expectations is doomed to waste precious time on a long, protracted search failure. )
  • Candidate Assessment: A great recruiter should not only help you clarify what you are looking for in a candidate, they should also help you understand how to assess each candidate, and work with you to develop a rigorous screening process to evaluate each person on their merits.  They should challenge your unconscious biases so you consider “out of the box” candidates, play devil’s advocate when you “fall in love” with one candidate at the expense of considering others, and help you carefully look at each candidate from all angles.  (They should not be “selling you” on any one candidate, but rather challenging your thinking.  They need to encourage you to look beyond the superficial, easy answers and dig into whether the person is truly a good fit for the organization. In short, you want someone who treats executive search like a process, not a “sale.” )
  • Decision Support:  A great recruiter should be brilliant at managing the hiring decision process, gathering the key players, forging a consensus and getting to the hire/don’t hire decision in an orderly, methodical fashion.   (They should not sit back and hope that you get around to making a decision in a reasonable timeframe.  They need to be a catalyst for action – to ensure that the hiring project runs on a predictable schedule and does not get sidelined by other matters.  If they don’t appear “pushy” from time to time, they are being too passive.)

A great recruiter should be a full business partner – contributing  business acumen and executive judgment on a par with the hiring manager.  If they cannot contribute at this level, find another recruiter.  Similarly, if you do not trust your recruiter to play at this level, find another recruiter.

Now here is the real question, once you find a great recruiter (or executive search firm) who provides all this value, are you actually willing to listen to them?


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