Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Why HR Should Not Be Conducting First Interviews For Actual Jobs

The function of human resources should be to help agency management maximize every employee’s experience at their company.  They should be responsible for morale, for administration of the employee experience (benefits, attendance, performance reviews, succession planning, promotions and rotations, conflict resolution, handling complaints impartially, etc.)  I have dealt with some wonderful HR people; the best of them understand their function within the scheme of things and will admit that they should probably not be doing the preliminary screening to fill jobs.  

Unfortunately, ad agencies define HR largely as recruiting, which is a shame because well trained human resources people can make an important contribution to their company. Even though they have been at a company for many years, few HR people have enough knowledge of each individual job and function within the company to know exactly who is right for each situation.  Because HR lacks all the necessary information they need to find the right candidate(s), having them be the first gatekeeper is often a mistake because they could miss the exact right person.

On the other hand HR should do screening of general candidates who either approach the agency or are referred by employees.  By screening these people they maintain an inventory of candidates should a job opening occur; and in that case the hiring manager should see the candidates who are in the HR inventory..

This is not a criticism of HR. 

Most executives have no idea how to interview. Hiring managers should be trained (by HR) to do their own preliminary screening when a specific opening occurs.  Every recruiter who has been in the business long enough to remember when the function of HR was not screening, knows that working directly with hiring managers was far more expeditious and effective. Under that system, recruiters got to know the hiring managers and who they wanted to hire, which made finding appropriate candidates quick and efficient.

As things stand now at most companies in and out of advertising, hiring managers often ask HR to write the specs for their jobs which need filling.  And even when the manager creates the specs, they are more often than not generic descriptions based on title and what the hiring manger may have said for the current or previous jobs. But, as I have previously written, they rarely write specific job specs each time there is a job opening.  And, while HR may spend time with the individual hiring managers on each open job, most job managers do not articulate exactly who they want to hire.  They do describe personality (“upbeat, gets along well with others”) and job function (“able to work with clients”), but hiring managers generally have a “picture “ in their head of whom they want to hire which is rarely communicated or articulated.  I wrote years ago about the best specs I ever had.  That post is worth reading in this context.

In fact, rarely do hiring managers describe problems that need to be solved or other un-articulated needs.  Without this information, HR cannot accurately assess candidates (or their résumés) and should not be the preliminary gatekeeper. That is why HR should not do the initial screening; they could easily pass on someone who is perfect for the job. Over time I have met many such candidates.

That is the reason why, for most very senior jobs (directors, group heads, etc.), HR is rarely involved.  Management does its own screening, sometimes in conjunction with HR, but HR is not tasked with eliminating candidates. They may be the collectors of résumés, but rarely do initial screening.  In ad agencies, HR rarely gets involved with creative hires (other than administratively).  Creative people tend to want to do their own evaluation of candidates and their portfolios.  Account and media people should do the same.

That is not to say that HR should not have an important role in hiring.  Indeed, they should train managers to screen and interview and they should see candidates at some point during the process in order to determine their “fit” within the culture and to insure that those candidates will be able function within the organization. If candidates do not fit within the culture, HR should have veto power, no matter how well candidates are liked, including seniors.  They should also be responsible for references.

Unfortunately, in advertising HR is all too often defined only as recruiting.  I can think of one wonderful ad agency head of HR who came from the corporate side because the agency wanted to improve its human resources function.  On his first day, the CEO loaded him down with dozens of jobs; it never let up.  He managed to last a couple of years, but left because he did not think that the main function of his job should have been to spend 6 hours a day screening executives; he was hired for all his other considerable skills but rarely, if ever, had the time to practice or teach those skills.  It is a shame, because he was fabulous.

Regrettably, I have seen this same scenario repeated all too often at many companies.

This post should not be misinterpreted.  HR has a necessary function to perform, but screening should not be their first function.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Is "Too Senior Really A Euphemisim For "Too Old"?

We often get feedback that a particular candidate is “too senior.” Sometimes it is after interviewing sometimes we hear that upon submission of the résumé.  Is too senior a euphemism meaning too old or does it simply mean that the job doesn’t require either the level of experience or the degree of seniority that a particular person has?

The answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no.

I have written several times about why senior job candidates cannot and should not take or interview for junior jobs. Too senior often means just that.  To make my point, a former senior vice president, of any age, probably should not be interviewing for an account director job where he or she would be reporting to a less experienced person because the person they might be reporting to should actually be working for them.  If for some reason the senior person were hired, chances are that in the long term, It would not work.  This would be true of any case where the prospective applicant was, at one time, more senior than their potential supervisor, regardless of age.

On the other hand, “too senior” could in fact mean that the job really  does not require the level of experience the applicant brings to the job. Companies always worry about turn-over and are afraid that the potential employee may get bored and leave. This is a legitimate concern.  There is no sense in taking a dead end.job.

Despite anti-discrimination laws, there are companies where there is no room for older employees.  Is it discrimination?  I think not.  It would probably be a disaster for the senior people, despite the fact that they may well be able to teach the young people a thing or two and vice versa - they could learn from the less senior people.  One of the many reasons that many dot coms crashed in the late nineties, was because many of these companies were owned and staffed by people in their twenties and early thirties who simply lacked life experience.  When the market tightened and became tough, these owners and managers did not have the experience and know-how to solve the problems facing their companies. And by the time they hired more experienced executives it was often too late.

There are times when a job, despite its title or pay, may not call for someone with lots of experience.  Over the years I have met or heard of many candidates who took a job only to find out that they were over-qualified.  And there is nothing worse than being bored at a job. When companies hire someone too senior, It is often what I call an “ego hire.”  It may make the company or client feel good but long term it is a disaster.
I remember an account director who called me on her second day of work complaining that her observation after only one day was that what she was being asked to do could be handled by someone with only a few months experience,.  She approached her CEO after about a week and he became very defensive and angry.  His attitude was that the client expected to be serviced by senior people and she should just tough it out (he didn't even promise to give her more work).  She left after only three weeks and I completely understood.  That is what happens with ego hires.

If a company tells a candidate that they are too senior, it is perfectly legitimate to ask for an explanation.  It should be asked in a non-threatening and non-confrontational way. Often the company is right and their explanation perfectly acceptable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How To Handle Being Late For An Interview

This post was inspired by my friend Lonny Strum, whose blog, Strummings, recently wrote about the culture of lateness which pervades business today. Lonny wrote that we have a culture of lateness.  It seems that people are so used to being late, particularly those who live in the most populous cities, that they think nothing of it any more. 

Lateness is pervasive in all aspects of our society – personal and business.  We once gave a buffet luncheon, called for noon to 3pm.  At 5 o’clock, people were still arriving and as I recall, few, if any, even offered an explanation or apology.

People think nothing about being late for business meetings. And of course, at the office, keeping appointments waiting is a routine matter. I have written before about this.

Lateness is so common it has become acceptable to many people.

The truth is that there is no excuse for being late; not traffic, not long meetings, not last minute assignments or duties. A little advanced planning goes a long way.

It is not my intention to give a lecture, but merely to remind people that being on time is a sign of respect.

Especially if you are interviewing, better to be too early (wait at a Starbucks if you are more than a couple of minutes too soon, but don’t wait at reception – it puts pressure on those you will be seeing.). One way to be sure to be on time is to make a practice run in advance.  Don’t assume that just because you know the city, you will know how to get to your destination or time your trip.  When Ogilvy Advertising moved to Eleventh Avenue they initially had a huge lateness problem because there is no public transportation nearby.  Even today, HR there tells me that candidates are habitually ten to fifteen minutes late because they underestimate the time it takes to get there. That is not a great way to start a relationship.

I recognize that meetings run longer than expected. If that happens, excuse yourself and make a call – it usually takes less than a minute. (I have never heard anyone who has ever gotten in trouble for being polite and excusing themselves for a minute to make a call or send a text.)   And if your boss schedules an 11am meeting at the last minute and you have a noon appointment, better to cancel than to be late. And please take the time to cancel. 

Among all the other issues resulting from being late, is that it screws up people’s entire schedule. We have all been kept waiting at a doctor’s office, but if it is habitual, I change doctor’s.  I feel the same way about candidates who constantly show up late for me or for interviews that have been arranged.

The worst part of being late is those who do not apologize or, at least, explain.  Not giving a reason shows arrogance and indifference as if the person who is not on time believes it is their right to be late. Some people actually think that if they don't bring up their lateness, it will be forgotten.  Wrong.  A simple explanation always helps.

One of my readers asked me how to handle a situation which is appropriate for this post.  It seems he went on an interview and arrived fifteen minutes early.  After being kept waiting for half an hour, he approached reception and discovered they had announced him to the wrong person (making him 15 minutes late for his original appointment).  He wanted to know how he should have handled this.  The answer is that he owed the person he was seeing an explanation, even though it was not his fault..  Managing perceptions is essential to successful interviewing.

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