Why I Don’t “Prep” My Candidates for Interviews


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I had an interesting experience recently that reminded me why I don’t “prep” my candidates prior to them having an interview with my clients. I’ve been doing senior level searches over the past several years, but as I have recently been working on some Sales Consultant searches for a dear friend, I am once again reminded of the incredible power of a Candidate Prep Call. Vice President and CEO level people generally don’t need to be coached or prepped for an interview. In most cases,  I prep my clients on what they must do to capture the imagination of the senior level candidate.  However, in lower level searches the Prep Call before an interview can seem a lot more like “insider trading” than simple prep call.

As part of the standard Recruiter training protocol, “Prepping a Candidate for a client interview” is as routine an aspect of the recruiting process as the “Candidate Debrief Call.” So, then why do I say that I don’t prep my candidates before an interview? I have long-held the view that by preparing a candidate for an interview with your client, you introduce bias into the process and make the job of vetting the candidates by your client far more difficult. In fact, by doing so, you introduce a profound conundrum which enhances the candidates’ ability to tailor their approach and directly address precisely what your clients are looking for. Why is this bad? It actually undermines the process by giving your candidates an unreasonable advantage in the interview process enabling them to misrepresent their actual abilities with their “super human intelligence” provided by an insider. With preparation from an insider, they can become a better version of themselves. You may think that if you prep “all” of your candidates the same way, then you have “evened the score” making it equal, but while that may be true as it relates to your candidates having equal access to the information, it fails to recognize that what your client needs most from you is an accurate representation of the candidates’ real and natural talent. And this directly undermines this exposure.  In another blog, entitled, “Why Contingency Recruiters’ Candidates So Stinking Good?” I point out that recruiters greatly bias the interview process toward their own candidates when they prepare their candidates prior to an interview by telling them all of the nuances and details that the hiring manager is looking for. For example: “display fire in the belly passion” “make sure you ask for the job” “demonstrate your ability to ____________,” and other such things. It is as if the Recruiter gives a script to the candidates to perform in a play. The very things that the hiring manager told the recruiter he/she was looking for in a candidate gets spelled out in vivid detail. Irrespective of their actual talent, behaviors, and communication, they will follow the lead of the Recruiter who gave them the “insider’s view” of what the manager is actually looking for in explicit detail.  It’s as if an insider in a prospective target sales account gave your Sales Rep the exact road map to the hidden motivations and desires of the decision-maker. What Sales Rep wouldn’t be effective in selling to a prospect whom they have been carefully and meticulously informed of all their hot-buttons, likes and dislikes?  Any Sales Rep worth their salt would give a compelling presentation given such “insider” information. Why then is this bad? Because this is not a “real life” scenario. A competent Sales professional needs to qualify their prospect and elegantly ascertain the wants and needs that are most important to them in assessing a product or service. The Sales Rep must then present their product or service offering to the prospect and ensure that there is adequate disclosure and that any questions or concerns are appropriately overcome with information or demonstrations to dispel doubt and bring about a positive agreement that their products/services meet their prospect’s needs effectively. Then they must close the sale. However if a Recruiter carefully crafts all the objections and concerns for the prospective candidate in advance of the interview, how is that really giving the hiring manager an accurate representation of their true sales abilities? This is what I mean by saying that Prepping Candidates always biases the hiring process and actually undermines the objective of finding the best possible talent and fit.

So let’s consider why “Prepping Candidates” is such a widely accepted behavior of Recruiters everywhere.  First, this makes YOU look good!  When all your candidates perform well in their first interview, it reflects upon you as each of your candidates is well prepared in advance and their polish is a testament to your thoroughness. At the surface, this is true. However, what is the true objective of the search in the first place?  Is it to make you look good or earn a fee quickly?  Maybe it is for you. If you are a recruiter and you know that the only way you will be compensated for all your time and effort, you must take advantage of every means necessary to ensure that your candidate gets hired. If you’re like me, you notice that there is a subtle, yet profound conflict of interests if the Recruiter ever does anything that is not in the best interests of the client. Why is this conflict of interest present you may ask? It is my belief that in part it is due to the prevalence of Contingency Search. Contingency Search has several unintended consequences that elevate the risk of a company making a bad hire. By removing the Contingency terms, recruiters are able to operate as an extension of the company and not out of fear of being “stiffed” out of their fee.  Contingency Search has many potential pitfalls that recruiters must attempt to avoid. (backdoor hire, candidates who circumvent them, resume timing, active candidates etc.) But I also believe that recruiters tend to be transient and not terribly interested in the long-term success of their clients. One of the most bizarre ironies in recruiting industry is the incredibly high turnover and short tenure. I know of no other industry with such difficulty keeping people in the industry. The failure rate of rookie recruiters is over 90% by most accounts. So one might assume that if someone makes it past their first year, they do it right. Right? Wrong!

I’ve been accused of being heretical in my stance on Candidate Prepping. I guess I don’t get it.  All I ever want to do is what is truly in the best interests of my clients to mitigate as much risk of a bad hire that I possibly can. And what better way than to find the best people I possibly can attract given the company’s value proposition and introduce them to the company and later to the hiring manager. The rest is up to the candidate to conduct their own due diligence, research the company, its products and opportunity. It is up to them to manage their own performance in the way that comes to them naturally. Because that is exactly how they will perform on the job. So, whether it is prepping them by telling them to make sure they scour the client’s website and study the products to reading the last three or four press releases so that can be more prepared or advising them how to follow-up after the interview with an email to the hiring manager.  These are things that the Top Performers should do without the need of a recruiter coaching them.

Some Recruiters have laughed out-loud at me and told me that if I don’t prep my candidates, all my work is in vain and that I need to protect my investment of time. They’ve told me that I won’t be able to make a living and that they will run circles around me while I go out of business. Yet after 14 years in the business and the last 10 plus working on retainer this way, I remain convinced that what I am doing and more importantly NOT doing is in the best interests of my clients. And they keep calling me when they have new searches. In the last year, over 80% of our new searches have come from repeat customers. Keep in mind, we are not the “low-cost provider” in the market. While others settle for flat fees and lower percentages, we hold firmly to our rates, because  I believe that in the end, it isn’t about “Cost” but “Value.” The greatest value we can provide is helping our clients hire the absolute best person they possibly can. We believe the best way that they can make an educated decision and discern which candidate is best is through allowing our candidates to come as they are rather than how someone wants them to be. Unless you remove the contingency factor from this scenario, I don’t believe you can properly align your recruiter’s priorities with the company. At the same time, merely removing the contingency factor does not ensure you that your recruiter will not Prep their candidates and bias the process. Every hiring manager should work with someone who they trust to have their best interests at heart and be committed to their success beyond making a hire and earning their fee.

Back to my recent experience conducting the Sales Consultant searches; a few of the candidates came in less than armed to the T with all the preparation that one would hope for. My friend and client saw the shortcomings of a few of my candidates. While it would have made me look better to prep them, in the end he had an accurate representation of each candidate which equipped him to make the best informed decision relative to who best fit the role and had the talent to represent his company in the designated territories. However tempting it might have been to make myself look better by prepping the candidates, that isn’t the highest goal when retained by a client who trusts me to help them hire the best.

Create a Culture of Greatness – by Jon Gordon


This is a great piece by Jon Gordon’s SOUP: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture, The Energy Bus and Training Camp.

To build a winning a team and a successful organization you must create a culture of greatness.

It’s the most important thing a leader can do because culture drives behavior, behavior drives habits and habits create the future. As the leaders at Apple say, “Culture beats strategy all day long.”

When you create a culture of greatness you create a collective mindset in your organization that expects great things to happen—even during challenging times. You expect your people to be their best, you make it a priority to coach them to be their best and most of all you create a work environment that fuels them to be their best.

A culture of greatness creates an expectation that everyone in the organization be committed to excellence. It requires leaders and managers to put the right people in the right positions where they are humble and hungry and willing to work harder than everyone else. A culture of greatness dictates that each person use their gifts and strengths to serve the purpose and mission of the organization. And it means that you don’t just bring in the best people, but you also bring out the best in your people.

If you are thinking that this sounds like common sense, it is. But unfortunately far too many organizations expect their people to be their best but they don’t invest their time and energy to help them be their best nor do they create an environment that is conducive to success. They want great results but they are not willing to do what it takes to create a culture of greatness.
A culture of greatness requires that you find the right people that fit your culture. Then you coach them, develop them, mentor them, train them and empower them to do what they do best. As part of this process you develop positive leaders who share positive energy throughout the organization because positive energy flows from the top down. You also don’t allow negativity to sabotage the moral, performance and success or your organization. You deal with negativity at the cultural level so your people can spend their time focusing on their work instead of fighting energy vampires. And you find countless ways to enhance communication, build trust and create engaged relationships that are the foundation upon which winning teams are built.
If creating a culture of greatness sounds like a lot of work, it is, but not as much work as dealing with the crises, problems and challenges associated with negative, dysfunctional and sub-par cultures. While most organizations waste a lot of time putting out fires you can spend your time building a great organization that rises above the competition.”

Visit Jon’s blog by clicking here.  http://www.jongordon.com/blog/

Employee Loyalty… A thing of the past?


There is a lot of online chatter today about employee loyalty as if it is something employees should have toward their employer, and frankly, I find it rather amusing.  The companies who expect blind loyalty from their employees are often the same ones who callously exercise layoffs to reduce overhead in a tough market. So, what kind of loyalty should employers expect.?  The kind of loyalty that will stick with them through the tough times?  When things aren’t going so well?  Should they stay loyal even after several quarters where no bonuses are paid out?  What about when they have had to endure the instability of having multiple managers in a relatively short time span?  Should they do this as a “good soldier” and be thankful that they have a job?

What exactly is the appropriate amount of loyalty in our economy?  Are we talking about loyalty to a company? Is it loyalty to a Brand or Person?  As a search professional, I am often faced with a scenario where a prospective candidate is emotionally processing the reality of resigning from their current company to start a new job. This is often a very stressful time as they contemplate delivering the terrible news to an unsuspecting boss.  Usually, they miscalculated the response they will get.  Recently, while recruiting for a VP US Sales for a $4B medical device company, the chosen candidate and I discussed his resignation process and the expected counter-offer.  He assured me that he and his boss were such “good friends,” and the opportunity was so great for him, that his boss would be happy for him and wish him well on his new journey.  What he met with was far from the warm sentiment that he expected. His boss paid “lip service” to that idea, yet followed up with a very aggressive lawsuit and an attempt to obtain an injunction keeping him from working for his new company.  With situations like this, it begs the question, “where is loyalty appropriate when it comes to “Business?”

Obviously, this “High Ranking Official” according to the plaintiff had an opportunity in a bigger and better role in the new company that he would not have had in his current company.  Believing that his boss and “friend” ultimately wanted what was best for him, he naively agonized over his impending resignation believing that he was going to “really let his boss down personally.” When he witnessed a very different response than what he had expected, he doubtless had one of those “Aha Moments” that can leave a person jaded.  What he thought his boss felt for him, was only an illusion. His boss was only “for him” as long as it benefited himself.  When it was no longer in his boss’s interest to be a friend, he quickly turned into a much different person, even an adversary with a lawsuit naming this individual, putting his family at risk.

So when I read articles about companies wanting to engender more loyalty in their employees, and seeing it as a failure of the individual that there isn’t more of it, I have to laugh. Yes, perhaps I am jaded as well. Since I have personally witnessed so many people’s disillusionment after meeting with unexpected hostility from the people they trust, I have a pragmatic view of these things.

Here is my advice for anyone in this situation: 

Employers:  If you’re not loyal to your employees, don’t expect them to be loyal to you.  Take a sincere interest in the people who have been entrusted to you. Make sure that you know what their hopes and dreams are.  If their hopes can’t be realized under your leadership, encourage them to find it elsewhere and work with them to find that place where they can be challenged to achieve their dreams.  I realize that most managers are not capable of this kind of commitment, but the key is that a leader should not expect greater loyalty from their employees than they have for their employees.

If you are in HR, quit using this “Employee Loyalty” rouse to make people feel obligated to stay in a job when a better, more fulfilling opportunity may await them elsewhere.  If you really want to keep the best of the best, make it hard to leave by how generous you are to them.  Earn their loyalty by showing them yours.

Talent is king! The war for talent demands that the best people be taken very good care of in order to keep them engaged and yes, even “loyal.”

Employees: Don’t be loyal to a company. A company is nothing more than a P&L, logo or brand identity undeserving of such emotional commitment. Remember that it is your own responsibility to provide for your family so be proactive and pursue mastery of your career until you are compelled either by your boss or by your own drive to find a place to grow, be challenged and develop new skills and talents.

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Realize that you will be with your current company only for as long as it makes sense to THEM for you to be there.  When it ceases to be so, you will be like so many who are on your own to find a solution to your new, unwelcome reality of being jobless.

This is business, and if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will.  I know, this ranks right up there with the fatherly advice many of us received that “Life isn’t fair.”  Get over it and move on. Yet, you would be amazed to know how many people I tell this to who seem to have a rude awakening after realizing it’s over.

Everyone needs to manage their own career. You cannot wait around to be called up, or the call may never come.  Ultimately it is up to you to make positive things happen.  I often say that it is better to be the one calling the audible for change than being the one hearing them without being prepared.

The Cost of a Bad Hire


Executives occasionally lament over the steep cost of engaging a search professional to conduct a search for talent. Perhaps this is due to their prior experience where things didn’t turn out so well. When done right, a professionally placed hire should yield measurable results that justify the expense. In some cases, the results are lacking and beg the question, “What was my ROI?”

Results are the key to everyone’s success. Good results and everyone is happy. Bad results and no one is happy.  A recent study showed that the cost of a bad hire was roughly 15X the employee’s annual base salary. This includes both hard costs and loss of productivity. Companies should expect a good return on their recruitment spend if they do it right.

What is doing it right? First, it is selecting the right firm to conduct the search. Second, it is trusting your firm to know the best way to attract the individuals that they have prospected for you. Third, and equally critical to the outcome,  EXECUTION!  The executives and Human Resources team must be sure to deliver the goods in every respect. If you have a target candidate and your search partner informs you of the best strategy to be successful, listen to them and execute to their specifications. Nothing is worse that getting to the end of a search, vetting and interview process only to lose the person you felt best could lead your company into the future.

Scores of companies miss out on hiring the best person because their process is too cumbersome or convoluted. When you make the investment to retain a firm to find top talent, it is your job to support their efforts or you will fail in the most important part of any company’s growth; hiring the best people.  Before you engage a search firm, be sure to fully vet them so that you can put your full confidence in them to provide  accurate, timely and well informed information. This is one key in avoiding a bad hire.

If you think it costs a lot to hire the right person, consider the enormous costs of hiring the wrong person.