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My Boss Would Never Go For That

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 19, 2012

We were meeting with a client to discuss a new search. As we walked out, my new Project Manager looked at me in amazement. "I can’t believe you said that to their CEO!"

I thought I was pretty well behaved in that meeting. I just told the CEO to either raise the salary or lower his expectations because he was being unrealistic. He agreed to be more realistic, so we agreed to take the search ... problem solved.

Apparently, after 10 years of running my own search firm, I’ve gotten so comfortable speaking truth to power that I’ve forgotten the mantra of the recruiting industry (and victims everywhere): “I’d love to, but my boss would never go for it.” (You hear this chanted in unison at every recruiting conference).

Most recruiters are trapped, frozen in place, unable to innovate. Simple problems become unsolvable because of the corporate power structure. “I can’t tell the CEO that!” Small experiments get squashed under the weight of “If we do that for you, we’ll have to do that for everyone.” Smart innovations get hammered against the anvil of “How are we going to justify that to the CFO?” Every week you can read in the blogs about someone tying themselves in algebraic knots trying to prove something to the corporate suits.

The sands of the job market are constantly shifting. Damn near everything you should be doing is impossible to justify at first. You simply have to go on a hunch, experiment, try new things, learn, adapt, and keep improving a little bit at a time.

Here are just a few of the experiments we started more than three years ago:

  • Opting out of the ATS: The number of candidates who hate Applicant Tracking Systems is, well, all of them. (Given the choice, less than 5% of our candidates apply online). So, to ensure that we put no barriers between ourselves and great people, we manually upload more than 25,000 resumes per year into our ATS. And then we go back and edit them so that our Thank You and No Thank You letters go out without spelling someone’s name in ALL CAPS or all the other silly things that happen when you manually upload 25,000 resumes. We spend over $20,000 every year on this dull task just because we don’t force candidates to apply online. Our ATS vendor finds our behavior really odd, and has not bothered to improve their error-prone resume uploading process because “nobody else is asking for it.” Really, who can justify kissing off $20,000 just to make the candidate experience a little better? Don’t ask, your boss would never go for it.
  • Being social: You may be surprised to learn that some clients and some candidates are skeptical of search firms in general. Personally, I think we’re more lovable than puppies. But since our job is to talk to those skeptics, we’re digitally approachable. We maintain a blog for job seekers, a blog for hiring managers, a Twitter account for job seekers, my Twitter account for hiring managers, Kelly Dingee’s personal Twitter account and posts on Fistful of Talent, a Facebook fan page for job seekers, and two email newsletters. I also serve on the Editorial Advisory Board for the HR Examiner and write a weekly piece for The Washington Business Journal. That makes eleven social media mouths to feed (in addition to the federally mandated individual Facebook and LinkedIn accounts we all have).  Eleven social media accounts … seriously? Our whole company is only fifteen people.  Try justifying that to your CEO.
  • Improving the quality of hire: Most hiring managers are not skilled interviewers. So rather than complain about that fact, we create customized behavioral interview questions for our clients, and help them develop work sample testing to rigorously assess every candidate. This process takes some serious effort on our part, and it requires that we present a large slate of candidates (because it knocks some candidates out of consideration). The effect of making this change was to improve the 3 year retention rate on our placements–our one year retention rate was actually unchanged. But because our retention guarantee is one year, we did a lot of extra work without any direct benefit to us—our client gets all the benefit of longer retention. So did this experiment fail or succeed?  We think it’s a big success, but how would I prove that to a CFO?

I’m really glad we started these experiments, we’ve learned a lot. But even after more than three years, I’m not sure I could justify any of them to a corporate overlord

This article originally appeared in the HR Examiner

Topics: Executive Search