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The general: a cautionary tale

July 3rd, 2010 No comments

The World Cup has just completed the quarterfinals, so now I can come up for air. Don’t worry, this won’t be a soccer analogy post-it’s been done, blandly.  Wow guys, teamwork is great.

Anyway, in addition to being a soccer fanatic, I’m also a little bit of a politics junkie.  So when I haven’t been watching 6 hours of soccer a day (not a joke-the group stages are a big commitment), I’ve been reading about and thinking about the General Stanley McChrystal mess.

For those of you that don’t obsessively follow this kind of thing like I do, a brief summary: McChrystal “resigned” on June 23, after a Rolling Stone article detailed unflattering remarks from the general and his staff about the White House and State Department.

If you go beyond the vacuous mainstream press coverage and read the original article, a nuanced picture emerges. McChrystal is insubordinate and crass, but it’s because of his single-minded devotion to a new strategy. He’s a serial rebel, a guy that has reshaped every unit he’s been responsible for; he’s pushed the establishment farther than it’s comfortable, but not quite far enough to lose his job–until now.

And that’s what connected this back to hiring for me (this blog being about hiring, after all). So many times in my recruiting career I’ve been asked to find someone that can challenge the conventional wisdom, that can push an organization to change. Too often they leave, voluntarily or otherwise, after hitting wall after wall.  In the always special case of one of my former employers, the iconoclast encounters the icon directly, because they’re the same person.

When I am asked to find these magical employees that make everything better (MEMEB for short, TM pending), I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how much the organization can actually handle. This is what makes the job of a recruiter fascinating, frustrating, and complicated. To do the job well requires one not just to manage tactics, but also to be able to think philosophically about the change-readiness of the organization.

One last thought. Gen. McChrystal fits many of the stereotypes of a corporate savior: irreverent, innovative, driven. But it’s worth remembering that General David Petraeus, the man left standing in all of this is, in Rolling Stone’s words “kind of a dweeb, a teacher’s pet with a Ranger’s tab.”  The dweebs often seem to be around when the rebels have long since gone.

“Strong and Assertive”

June 19th, 2010 No comments

This little firestorm brings a few things to mind:

  • Lying is not the same as being strong and assertive. Strong and assertive goes something like this: “I currently make X, but given my experience I’m targeting X + $5000 for this job.”
  • Unfortunately HR is filled with idiots. Lying isn’t illegal. But I’m not an unnamed HR executive, so what do I know…

One of the many things that drive me crazy about the hiring process is how skittish people are about negotiations. Rather than tell this recruiter she wants more money, O’Hara decides she’d rather lie than just say that.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to tell candidates that I’m not going to use salary against them. It’s hard to come up with a compelling offer in the dark.

Then again, there’s my second point above. There are recruiters and HR people out there who make negotiations an argument.  So, after my annoyance fades, I empathize with the gun shy job seeker, or one who’s been given advice to be elusive or advice that’s a weird combination of self help and sales training.

So here’s the rub as I see it:

  • Job seekers, be honest and direct about your salary history and your expectations. If the recruiter or HR person makes it confrontational or uncomfortable, don’t write off the job until you learn more. They could be giving you an insight into how the company works, or they could be the one idiot in a great organization.
  • Recruiters, give feedback about the candidate’s expectations. You don’t have to give a specific number (in fact, you probably can’t), but at least let them know if you can meet their expectations or not.
Categories: hiring, job search Tags: ,

A Small Success

May 19th, 2010 No comments

Remember the days of 5% unemployment? Neither do I, but here’s a little bit of good news about my home state of Washington.  On one level, it’s hard to celebrate 9.2% unemployment, but on the other, any downward trend is a good one.

It’s hard for me to quantify, but this feels like a trend: more people I talk with are able to pursue more options.  Cautious optimism is in order.

Higher Education

May 17th, 2010 No comments

One of my good friends recently got an offer to become a full time professor at a local community college after being an adjunct professor for a year.  Well done to him, given the funding crisis in public higher education.   As a result, hiring in higher ed has been in the back of my mind for a few months now, and this article fits nicely with that line of thinking (thanks to Megan McArdle for posting it).

McArdle and her her readers make some interesting points.  I’ll start with a brief digression before I get to the point, though. An excerpt from her reader:

In making my choice between English and accounting, I listened to the price signal sent by starting salaries and earning potential. Dilute that price signal and many more will opt for a career in the humanities — which makes sense since the humanities is more intrinsically interesting as a field.

I can’t decide if it was Joyce or Hemingway that best evoke the universal human experience of diluted price signals… I would submit, with all due respect, that the academy wasn’t the right place for this particular person.

Anyway, what stood out for me was the quoted fact that 73% (!) of teaching positions are filled by non-tenured professors.  These institutions are entrusting what is (nominally anyway) their most basic function to people that don’t, by design, have a long term connection to the school.  Madness.

If I had answers and epiphanies this is where I’d share them.  I don’t, so I’ll instead offer a couple of observations.

  1. This is a rational response on some level. Higher ed’s tenure system creates a highly inflexible portion of the workforce, so it seems a natural reaction for the system to create greater flexibility where it can.
  2. Workforce planning in this sector sounds like a nightmare to me. This post illustrates the point.  This much volatility in number of students that accept spots in a given school makes it difficult to plan for the long term.

Nothing I’ve been able to come up with explains the 3:1 ratio of temporary to permanent professors though.  I don’t see other professions with numbers skewed that much, and contrary to some of the more breathless accounts, I don’t think there’s a risk of any moving strongly in that direction.

Internet = Hiring Transparency

May 15th, 2010 No comments

This article from the Economist a few weeks ago stuck with me.  It’s an interesting piece on how the rise of forensic science shows like CSI has changed the practice of forensic science in the real world.  Jurors now believe (not always correctly) that they know enough to challenge forensic evidence use in the courtroom.

As a recruiter, I had an unexpected empathy for forensic scientists.  A big side effect of the Internet on recruiting has been to give anyone that can do a web search for “job search tips” a huge number of opinions (even the staid BLS is in on the act).

As with anything online, the available resources are a mixed bag.  I can’t tweet my resume, and I have no interest in practicing.  But even though CareerBuilder is trying to sell job seekers services (which, by the way, feel sketchy. Where’s the pricing?), they still offer reasonable advice.

So recruiters, like forensic scientists, are working with people that have a flood of information about how hiring works, and how we do our jobs.  I started recruiting in 2000, towards the beginning of the Internet recruiting era.  And I got used to being able to position what I do as a black box: I’ll find you talent, don’t worry too much about how I do it.  It’s a little uncomfortable, that vague feeling that every candidate and hiring manager is looking over my shoulder.

The denouement to this story is, not surprisingly, similar to that of forensic scientists.  The way that I see it, we as recruiters have to embrace greater transparency (and the second guessing that comes with it), and be less nervous about telling both candidates and hiring managers exactly what we’re doing, when, and why.