It was the wrong job to begin with

Recruitment is oh, so mythified, mystified, it sometimes feels scary. It is certainly not seen as a science and shows no sign of being one, even though the likes of Google try to correct that with the introduction of Big Data, the new XXIst century magic (Asimov had it right since the 1940s in the Foundation series). And while countless papers have been devoted to major topics such as ‘recruiting demonstrated ability, not demonstrated likeness’, or ‘why we all suck at recruiting while we totally believe the opposite…

No, seriously, I’m great! But the others? Hm. Well, now that you’re raising the point… Not so much. Yeah, the others are the problem, trust me. Me? I’m good. Really. Look, I really know people. I read them. I’m good with them. Plus I have this killer interview question… yadayadayada” (sounds familiar?)

… very few have actually looked beyond the traditional subject of execution inefficiencies and into the flaws of the system itself, questioning its alignment with its purpose.

Working in a BRIC country where attrition is extremely high – that will be the subject of the next article – I witnessed a number of issues that can actually be extended to the largest number of countries around the world, magnified to an extreme, and are quite well summed up by this:

The candidate applied to the wrong job to begin with.

Very much like one of the key messages of the movie “Synecdoche, New York“, the end is often built into the beginning. And the main cause is that despite all advice from literatures, experts, corporate policies and propaganda, positions and candidates are both very much handled like commodities by all parties. It sometimes even sound ominous how under that light slogans such “war for talents” – after McKinsey’s book of the same name – resound like doctrines followed by countries invading others in order to put their hands on natural resources. McK’s book is no different actually: tapping into a restricted resource pool, one must deploy a constantly evolving, aggressive arsenal.

How so? Mostly because of efficiency reasons: the cost of reaching out to a hiring manager, as well as that of getting a candidate in the hot interview seat, has been constantly trimmed and (short-term) productivity sought out. Let’s examine both sides of the market. Note: this considers recruitment on a quantitative standpoint and is thus more easily applicable to what is sadly called “mass-recruitment” (another commodity pointer):

  • Candidates most of the time do not know why they applied. They hardly did their homework – particularly true in BRIC’s and emerging countries in general – and mostly consider a trade-off between their current position, and the opportunity the position you are offering represents. For that reason, it is often unclear why they left their previous jobs and a few underlying motives might be found:
    • “the unicorn did not show up” as it is beautifully explained by‘s Tim Urban in a delicious post on Gen Y. Your candidate was not seen as special as she thinks she is in her previous employment. Warning, as this may also be a sign of non-performing employees who keep switching because “that’s not their fault so they’ll go somewhere they’ll be appreciated for who they really are”
    • They have the feeling their peers are better off, and they want to get back into the race. See above: same difference really.
    • The market allows it because it is full of lousy recruiters anyway, and we get the applicants we deserve, now don’t we.
    • They took their previous job for the wrong reason already!
    • They have little understanding as to what matters to them: a brand, pay, title, friends in the place, recommendation? Bah. It’ll always be time to change jobs anyway if that does not work out.
    • Your job was the first line of the first page on Congratulations, you probably paid to be more commoditized. More on this, someday…
    • They are not looking for a new job rather than running away from the old one. Beyond the unicorn, there might be very legitimate considerations such as social norms or financial needs to respect. Food has to be put on the table. In some countries, a young lady worth the name does not marry an unemployed young man. Mama wants to kick Junior out of the house now he’s turned 28.
  • Recruiters have a vested interest to fill positions fast. In most organizations they are structured in the fashion of an outsourced party (eg: service center reporting to HR) mandated by ‘clients’ called “the business” ie. hiring managers. Business pressures as anyone would a supplier, often referring to a need for “better results” meaning in fact “faster” or “cheaper”. They therefore bear part of the responsibility: “cheap” only works short-term and has costly impacts in the long run. Thus, not only do interests of the applicant and the recruiter not coincide, but the interests of the recruiter, sometimes under pressure of the ‘client’, often conflict with that of the company as a whole:
  • Recruiter’s view is by definition short-term: please the God of KPI’s by offering Him the lowest possible Time-To-Recruit (TTR). This is best served by a fire-and-forget attitude: fill the position and move on to the next. candidates’ interest is exactly the opposite: this is just the beginning of the show, which may last for years. Hence a severe asymmetry in the value of the outcome for each party, and in the quality of the commitment. It’s a salesperson paid to rush you into signing as fast as possible a contract in which you’ll have to commit your time, habits, what to say and do, with whom to have lunch, the time you wake up in the morning and come back home at night for an unlimited duration… Now you’ll never look at recruitment agencies in the same way ever again.
  • Living beings have a natural bias: if something seems to work, we stick to it. If a mass job board works at getting me CVs, it’ll do. Whether these CVs are here for the wrong reasons, or are on every other organization’s desks matters little: there are plenty! Relying on a restricted number of sources or too obvious channels is a comfortable way to achieve an average job (read average as “same as everyone else” = this way of recruiting does not create a difference. Commodity)
  • Either party lacks sufficient empathy to really put themselves into the other’s shoes. The other party does not get the best advice regarding the best questions to ask oneself. This is particularly true when recruiters are junior staff, as this is often the case in emerging countries. In Russia for example, recruitment is often seen as the entry point to an HR career. Yes: people are our best assets, that’s the upstream of our talent supply chain is left to our least experienced staff!
  • Let’s not start on job specifications / description. This is usually a terrible shopping list mixing traits the former incumbent was lacking and the manager would like to see while half are useless anyway, won’t be tested during the recruitment process and are meaningless (“excellent presentation skills”? Does it stand for such horrors like “ethnically pure”, “looks like Jeeves”, “deliver speeches like Dustin Hoffman” or “great table manners”? And have you ever not answered because you thought you did not have “excellent presentation skills?”)

Bottom line: since interests diverge, recruitments are botched more often than anything. Still, this is one of the most critical supply chain processes of a firm. Is there a positive way out of this? Certainly. While it will be difficult to educate an opportunity-prone side of the market – the applicants, although let’s not give up too fast on them, still – solutions arise if we consider re-aligning interests.

To this end, recruiters need to be re-installed into a longer-term perspective. There are ways to do this such as being incentivized on performance ratings of the new hires’ first year so as to balance Time-To-Recruit, but also clearly help the candidate to actively assess what the job implies and whether this is the right fit for her. Such a pre-talent management work is time-consuming, but less so with good candidates than with the other ones, not to mention the good it does to the firm, and the fantastic impression it will leave. Finally, in the emerging countries, another item may be used: attrition rate of the recruits, by recruiter. The list does not stop here.

Balancing short-term aims with longer term, more major big-picture stakes for the firm, recruiters will more easily align their efforts with that of their ‘clients’. That will also bring them even closer to the latter, and that, for sure, can only help.

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