LeBron James shows us how to be better recruiters

April 2nd, 2013 No comments

This Grantland article caught my attention enough to write (and keep) a cringe-worthy title to this post. It’s a typically wonky, well-written piece breaking down how dramatically LeBron’s game has changed in the nearly 3 years since he left Cleveland for Miami.

I can’t go any further before I clearly say that I will in no way be comparing myself (or my talents, as they were) to LeBron James. Instead I was struck by how unrecognizable LeBron’s game is today compared to his last season in Cleveland. Read the article if you’re interested in the sports geek details. For the purposes of this post I’ll just say that he changed from a perimeter player, to a post-up player, to a combination of the two. Meanwhile, his Heat won a championship, and he won his 4th MVP.

What connected this article to my new job (sourcer at Amazon, since you asked) is how rarely we break down our work the way LeBron has broken down his game–especially when it comes to finding talent. We are perfectly content to ship LinkedIn Inmails like so many 3 point shots, finding odd ways to justify this tactic even when candidates don’t respond. Meanwhile there’s a wily veteran that could show us a post up move or two if just stopped to ask.

My favorite part of the Grantland article is the last paragraph

Simply put, LeBron James remains both the NBA’s most valuable and its most versatile player. He is acutely aware of his own game and his team’s strategy. He continues to find new ways to integrate his own evolving talents with those of his teammates, and he makes everyone better in the process. While it’s simple to label James a physical freak with outrageous basketball talents, that sells his progress, work ethic, and intelligence short. LeBron James is a basketball nerd who just happens to possess once-in-a-generation talent.

We can’t all have once in a generation talents, but we can be self-aware and self-critical enough to reinvent our work every chance we get.

Staffing Agencies and Corporate Recruiting

September 26th, 2011 1 comment

I nodded in agreement throughout Matt Lowney’s article about staffing agencies. A few things I’d like to add:

  • Few salespeople at staffing agencies have a sense of sales effectiveness. Lowney and I are far from the only corporate recruiters that get calls and pitches from different vendors that are indistinguishable from each other. It’s a brute force sales model based on high volumes of outbound calls, and it tends to turn off the 95 of 100 prospects that don’t have a current need for a new vendor.
  • Related to the above point, the initial contacts are all about the vendor, not the client. The salesperson is calling to learn more about my organization. Help me understand what’s in it for me…

I started my career on the vendor side, and have a lot of respect for those that can hack it in that business (unlike me). Much of this comes down to leadership, and unfortunately there don’t seem to be many staffing agency leaders willing to think beyond 60 outbound calls a week. Those that do stand out.

LinkedIn vs. Facebook

September 6th, 2011 No comments

This WSJ article has gotten quite a bit of buzz over the past week (anyone know why “troll” is in the title?), and I’ll agree with the general sentiment that Facebook will have a big impact on hiring in the future. However, I’m not convinced by author Joe Light’s premise that LinkedIn is at large risk from Facebook in the near term. There are two reasons why:

  1. I believe LinkedIn’s research saying “users tell the company they want to keep their personal and professional networks separate.” This is the mindset of generations that have grown up keeping work and life separate, and any shift in this thinking should be slow enough for LinkedIn to react.
  2. LinkedIn has built a strong network effect. Sure, it only has 120 million users to Facebook’s 750 million, but LinkedIn’s population has tacitly signed up for career networking. Facebook’s users are there for many reasons, making it harder for career conversations to be relevant.

Facebook has shown it can be a big player and has interesting and potentially game changing plans. It has a lot of work, however, to dethrone LinkedIn for professional networking purposes.

Update: Lou Adler comes to a similar conclusion by a different route.

Categories: hiring, social media Tags: ,

Outsourcing, ctd.

March 3rd, 2011 No comments

This post from Felix Salmon nicely illustrates my reservations about outsourcing. Salmon highlights a great LA Times article that details the problems Boeing has had with the 787 program. My favorite quote:

That’s not to say that outsourcing never makes sense — it’s a good way to make use of the precision skills of specialty manufacturers, which would be costly to duplicate. But Boeing’s experience shows that it’s folly to think that every dollar spent on outsourcing means a cost savings on the finished product.

RPO customers beware.

The Meaning of Harvard Business School’s Curriculum Changes

February 8th, 2011 No comments

Harvard Business School is a well-established  bellwether for business education in the US (and indeed, the world). Many notable leaders are alums, and it has a mystique unlike many other schools. So when it comes out with a significant revamp of its core curriculum, it should signal something big, right?

Not so much. This significant revamp includes “adding new required courses with an increased focus on ethics and teamwork”. Sorry, but those things should have been addressed long ago (remember Jeff Skilling, the former CEO of Enron and  HBS graduate?). Compare this high-minded talk to what’s featured on the HBS website:

  • The Case Method. HBS’s signature pedagogic tool. Revolutionary when it was introduced a century ago.
  • Sections. The  90 person cohort students complete their core curriculum with. A differentiatator from other b-schools how, exactly?

This is an institution that is ossified. Tinkering around the edges won’t change the arrogant, money-hungry culture of the school.

Outsourcing and the Recruiting Function

February 2nd, 2011 No comments

Kevin Wheeler had an interesting post last week on ERE about internal recruiting teams vs. recruiting process outsourcing firms. It’s a good thought experiment about the value that internal recruiters bring, but I’m skeptical that RPOs will make the kind of headway that Wheeler’s piece suggests it could.

I began recruiting at an agency that supported a large outsourcing contract Compaq had with Microsoft managing one of Microsoft’s data centers. I barely knew what recruiting was when I started, so I didn’t question the arrangement, but as I started to get a clue and understand a more about IT, the contract struck me as odd. Wasn’t Microsoft a company that made products for data centers? Wouldn’t they have the knowledge to manage their own systems? More to the point, wouldn’t they want to keep that knowledge sharp?

I feel a little vindicated in my skepticism, because outsourcing hasn’t meant the wholesale elimination of internal IT functions. I think RPO will go the same direction, and here’s why:

  • Outsourcing is harder than it looks. Wheeler elides this point when he mentions “tough performance-based outsourcing agreements”. A business analyst I worked with said it well: to outsource something successfully, you need to know it inside and out. If organizations are struggling to get the most out of an internal recruiting function, they’ll struggle to work effectively with an RPO vendor.
  • Recruiting is too squishy. If create a process map of the hiring process, it looks pretty transactional and therefore easy to outsource. But navigating the Rorschach test of “culture fit” in any organization is subtle, and requires judgment and critical thinking. In my experience, outsourcing vendors have a hard time with those kinds of things.

This isn’t to say that RPO doesn’t have a role. Corporate IT has evolved so that most medium to large sized companies outsource some functions–typically commodity level, low value added activities. I think recruiting will do the same.

People persons vs Business persons

December 13th, 2010 2 comments

Ed Newman, in a guest appearance at The Cynical Girl, gives us a provactively titled post this morning.  I’m sympathetic to the spirit of the post, now watch me hedge my way through the details.

What I like:

  • In his “business person” response, Newman does a good job of show how performance problems should be evaluated in terms of outcomes and customer impact
  • Newman also rightly points out that HR is sometimes about negative outcomes; HR people need to recognize that and come to terms with it

What I don’t like:

  • The conflation of HR Person and People Person.  Newman seems to genuinely want HR to have more credibility, but sets up this discussion on the assumption that HR is mostly made up of People Persons.  I don’t need an exhaustive study, but some kind of backing for this position would be nice
  • The suggestion is that the business person will act quickly and decisively, and that’s the right way to react.  When someone needs to be fired quickly, no half-decent HR person will stand in the way. On the other hand, the HR person’s discussion points (which we’re supposed to shake our heads at) can help make sure the right person isn’t terminated in the wrong way, or the wrong person terminated in an embarassing way
  • I’m not clear on how the business person’s outcome is substantively different from the people person’s.  If the manager came to the people person and said “this person is harming our business every day they’re in role”, are we to believe the HR person would wait 3 weeks to act?

I’m all for improving the reputation of HR (and yes, I include recruiting in HR). But I think we do ourselves an injustice when we create false divisions between our function and other business functions.  People person, business person, I don’t care-give me an effective person and I’m happy.

So I think we need a blanket term to collect all our negative impressions of the paper-pushing, process administering, otherwise-useless HR people we’ve all worked with. My suggestions:

  • Personnel Specialist
  • HR Practitioner

How Not to Use Social Media

September 29th, 2010 7 comments

This post is probably going to definitively out me as an HR person (if I haven’t done that already).  I’m already a little bit of a skeptic when it comes to hiring and social media, but the existence of this company frankly just makes me uncomfortable.

Social Intelligence essentially touts itself as a way for HR folks to screen information about candidates available on the public internet, while somehow preventing us from learning protected class information.  The ERE article on Social Intelligence is studiously neutral, but let’s just say I’m less than convinced that “researching a job applicant’s online activity inevitably reveals a great deal of insight about a candidate.”  You know, like the fact that they follow this guy on Twitter…

The Social Intelligence website actually provides little information about how the hiring product actually works.  But looking at ERE’s screencap of the tool highlights the problem I have with using social media this way.  How do you connect information someone posts about violence, drugs, gangs, or poor judgment with actual concerns about these things? Let’s say I post Wu Tang Clan lyrics(very NSFW) on my Facebook page.  It would certainly look like I do lots of drugs, but it turns out I don’t. Where’s the line between what I consume, and what I do?

Social Intelligence’s monitoring tool is maybe even worse.  Do we really want to reinforce an image of HR as a nosy, Big Brother type of function?  And again, there’s no distinction between what people choose to do on their own and behalf of their employer.

Ultimately, this feels like a solution finding a problem to solve by scanning the headlines.

More on Education

September 27th, 2010 No comments

I’m a documented skeptic about education and hiring, and the release of the College Board’s College Completion Agenda 2010 report added further color to the debate.  Its headline finding is that the US ranks 12th of 36 developed countries in the percent of 25 to 34 year olds that have a college degree.

The New York Times’ reporting on this finding typifies the hand-wringing that has ensued.  I agree that the following statistics are a concern:

While almost 70 percent of high school graduates in the United States enroll in college within two years of graduating, only about 57 percent of students who enroll in a bachelor’s degree program graduate within six years, and fewer than 25 percent of students who begin at a community college graduate with an associate’s degree within three years.

Something is clearly not working, and I agree with the various experts cited in the article that we need to do something about it.

However, this overlooks an important nuance to America’s challenges with the numbers of graduates we’re producing: as a system, we don’t have any way of ensuring students are enrolling programs in match the needs of market.  This point is well articulated in this article by Ilana Garon, and nicely captured here:

Statistics like those put out by the College Board are misleading: they promote a foolish sense of tunnel vision, leading students to believe that the only possible way of obtaining even a middle-wage job is through the traditional, four-year college route. Reliance on the standard liberal arts degree as a benchmark for competence belies not only the fact that many jobs simply don’t require such an education, but also that middle-wage jobs are going unfilled due to a lack of applicants with the necessary specialized skills.

The reason Garon’s article stood out for me is that it highlights two reasons why the conventional wisdom that degrees are inherently good is dangerous.  First, it’s a misallocation of resources: students spend time and money on degrees that don’t give them a positive return.  Second, as our system evolves away from career and technical education programs, our business and industrial base suffers from talent shortages.

Again, no earthshattering conclusions.  Just that it’s important that we look at the utility of a particular degree, rather than a woolly notion of its benefits.

2010 SMA Staffing Symposium Recap

September 24th, 2010 2 comments

I attended the SMA Staffing Symposium yesterday, and it was a good day overall.  Some thoughts on the presenters:

  • Carol Mahoney’s presentation was entertaining and engaging, but there weren’t a lot of tangible take-aways for me.  Good reminders though: do what you need to to keep engaged, get outside yourself and your role to stay fresh, etc.
  • Since I’m at a 450 person nonprofit, I generally don’t think I have a lot I can learn from Microsoft. But Scott Pitasky did a nice job of distilling his learnings from the last few years into things everyone can benefit from: goals are great but don’t let them get in the way of your strategy, let cost inform but not dictate your decisions, and make your work relevant to the businesses you support. Plus Scott is a very engaging speaker, one of my favorite sessions.
  • I admit I didn’t think I’d get much from Eric Jaquith’s presentation (I’m not much of a tools junkie).  But he introduced a few things I’ll explore: TimeBridge and Setster for scheduling, drop.io for file sharing, Jing for screen capture.
  • We went a little old school with Steve Lowisz. Billed as a primer on establishing credibility and being seen as a business partner, it was a reminder of the basic things we have to do to be good recruiters. Before you click this link, can you name the five steps in effective selling?
  • Elaine Orler gave what may have been the driest talk of the day, walking through the evolution of recruiting technology.  Only interesting if you like enterprise business systems, so I ate it up.
  • Laurie Ruettimannwrapped up the day with a typically irreverent performance. In order to be better recruiters, we need to be normal people, not caricatures of HR people.

And a few general observations:

  • For all the chatter about how recruiting will be revolutionized by [insert trend here], it was striking that every speaker talked about things that have always been true: credibility is earned not granted, recruiters must be good business partners, good recruiters are hard to find. I’m not holding my breath until the revolution arrives.
  • Seattle is a small town.  If you know the right person, you can be 2 degrees of separation or less from everyone in a room of 175.
  • Here’s something to think about if you’re certain social media is unavoidable in recruiting: maybe 75 of 175 attendees use Twitter.  In tech-crazy, recruiting-sophisticated Seattle.

Update (9/30): if you’re interested in each presenter’s slides, you can view them here.

Categories: hr, recruiting Tags: ,