Employers Get What They Attract, Not What They Say They Want


Firstly, I share here an article and would ask you to read it before going on. It shares the best six attributes of a CV/ resume according to a top head hunter:

Inc.com  – Best Resume Article

When I read this piece, my heart sank for two particular reasons. The reality is that this headhunter isn’t really saying anything that comes as a surprise to most employees in companies or potential job hunters. However, there are two aspects that stand out as going directly against what so many companies claim they want in today’s fast moving and creative work environments.

Let’s remember that the review of a CV by a headhunter or their employees will determine which candidates get called for further interviews and exploration. A CV doesn’t land a person a job, nor is it meant to. Likewise, nobody can claim that the issues I’m about to flag up can be discussed out in the face to face discussions – those won’t happen if the CV/ resume is rejected at the pre-selection stage.

The first issue is in point 2 in the article – a clear story of progression. According to the article, attractive candidates have nice linear careers with every step logically thought out and all steps thoroughly thought out and in the control of the candidate.

Companies and employers today claim that they are crying out for people with creativity and the willingness to take risks. Some also claim that people should be willing to take lateral or even backward steps in order to gather knowledge and experience so that they can move forward armed with strong skills and abilities. Such a route won’t look nice and linear, with logical progressions all in ‘the right direction.’

What the article says is an admission that whilst companies say this sort of eclectic gathering of knowledge and being able to bring new and innovative ideas to the table is what they want, their actions tell a different story. It says we reward those who are masters at climbing the greasy pole in nice logical self-directed increments.

Secondly, as highlighted in point 4 of the article – we want CVs/ resumes that are honest and reflect integrity on the part of the applicants – no untruths or exaggeration. However, points two and three represent a reality that makes it almost inevitable that large numbers of job applicants will embellish and expand on reality when it comes to their achievements – especially when you take the two points together.

According to this piece, you have to be able to show this lovely linear career progression, with unmitigated success at every step. Yet, we tell employees that they shouldn’t be afraid to fail, that failing is a great way to learn.  We also tell them to subsume their personal identity in the interests of teams. So, if you’re part of a team where the project takes too many risks, doesn’t succeed or is curtailed by the company (even perhaps for political reasons), to admit so on a CV would be the kiss of death.

Yes, employers have to do a massive sifting exercise to decide shortlists for who to interview. But, if their actions tell everyone that the people who get interviewed are those who have trodden a safe, predictable, politically crafty career, especially if prepared to polish the apple a bit – then that’s what they will have to choose from.

Ant then, they can keep bemoaning the lack of fire, creativity and risk taking entrepreneurship in their employees.



Getting Beyond HR Cliches

Job interview

As I was growing up, in order to earn money to fund studies and other needs I had many different J-O-B-S. However, they were all pretty menial, some very menial. While they may have given me many very valuable lessons for life they gave very little insight in to companies and big organisations. After I graduated I landed a job with the division of a major high street bank that serviced the financial planning needs of its wealthier customers (clients). This was really the first time that I started to have personal insight in to what went on in big organisations. Along the way, I started to realise that I had a lot of assumptions and beliefs – some of which turned out to be right and some very wrong.

I was aware that lots of companies and organisations made big issues of the importance of their people. Most declared to the world that their people were critical. So, I expected that the HR department of a company would be at the very core of organisations. I was in for a shock.

There are some interesting clues. While CEOs, COOs, CFOs and even occasionally marketing heads sit on the boards of companies, the Head of HR very rarely does so. Partly leading from that, it’s incredibly rare to see Heads of HR rise to hold the CEO position. Ironically, some of this is wrapped up in the complex gender issues that see a higher proportion of senior officers in companies holding the HR role. Somehow, in the hard-nosed world of Corporates it’s considered that the HR role is a good role for women, to address all those touchy-feely issues that can actually be irritants to those single mindedly focused on shareholder value and the pursuit of profits.

On e other thing that was memorable, was the way that the overall HR responsibility was split between two separate operations – HR and Personnel Departments. The latter dealt with all the administration of people; time keeping records, holidays, pensions, taxation, salaries. These are tasks that if a company does them right employees will never sing the organisation’s praises, but get them wrong and employee morale can quickly be undermined. This was really an Admin department related to people and arguably not an area of high creativity or flair. Focus is often on doing these things at the lowest possible cost, with the maximum efficiency.

The other department, on the other hand, was different, but still somehow secondary to those seen as more directly impacting the bottom line.  This dealt with manpower planning for the shorter and longer term, recruitment, training and professional development. I believe sidelining these functions and responsibilities, because their outcomes are less immediate is a mistake for most organisations.

For example, I’ve seen too many school situations where leadership treated recruitment as an irritant to be completed as swiftly as possible, so as to get back to the day to day running of the school. Insufficient thought is given to creative sourcing of potential candidates, thought out means of sifting those candidates who do apply and interviews are short and cursory.  If an individual has the qualifications on paper the interview is often more a case of the individual not losing the job offer than gaining one. Little regard is paid to their fit with the existing team, contribution, longer term goals and ambitions etc.

What goes on was summed up very well in a quote i came across from a UK company HR Head, “We hire people because of their knowledge and professional experience, but we fire them because of their behaviour.” Arguably, in many schools it’s worse – we hire them simply because they have they represent the least bad fit with regard to having the academic certificates required for the role. Now, I know here many school Heads will cry foul and say they have no choice because parents want to ‘see a body on the job’. However, have they ever, really, engaged in the open dialogue with their parent communities about the longer term implications of this? In my experience, within reason, you can ask parents to back you to take time to find the right candidate for the school, rather than jumping at the first qualified teacher.

For those who think this is a ‘waste of time’, they should just tot up the man hours and the untold cost of angst, bad will with other staff, parents and students when the wrong people are recruited. For any organisation to fulfil its vision with full energy and in a timely manner i believe it’s critical to have the right people on the bus. You can never make recruitment an exact science, but everything you can do in the short term to limit turnover or effects of bad recruitment in the longer term will have a massive impact.

I also believe that in any environment where employees believe they have choices it’s vital that there is an effective HR representation to work in collaboration with line managers to ensure that employees are appropriately motivated – both to deliver their best work, and to want to stay and not get tempted away by competitors.  There’s a need to understand the drivers and motivators for employees, to be clear about how reward packages match up to alternatives (inside and outside the profession) and that employees are getting the recognition, development opportunities, affiliation scope and rewards that make them feel motivated. Today, many workplaces involve different genders and broad age ranges of employees and line managers need specialised input on how to meet the differing needs of different stakeholder groups.

I was reminded of all these factors and more recently when reading a discussion forum on the ’12 Manage’ website. For those not familiar, this is an online resource that is well worth taking some time to explore. The link below is to the specific discussion forum on the myths and realities of modern HR. Users following the link may need to fill in some brief details to subscribe, but it’s free.

After seeing this interesting forum discussion you can explore the other resources and will find that it’s very extensive, with materials on almost every con ceivable topic on management and leadership.

12 Manage Forum – Old Myths About HR

Many of the users also provide external links to more in-depth material on the topics under discussion. However, within the website there’s an enormous amount of material and information available, as well as the forums where experts share their viewpoints in open discussion. What can make these especially interesting are the differing viewpoints and perspectives from around the world.

To conclude, I believe HR has to assume a far greater significance within organisations. That it hasn’t always is something HR people need to introspect on because they, more than anyone else, know the potential impact  – for good or bad – when HR practices and approaches serve the business needs.

How To Hire The Best – Not !

The Cooper Review – Google, Amazon and Facebook’s Secrets To Hiring The Best People

It’s not April 1st any more and I have no wish to cause anyone to lose their job (as Google apparently managed to do yesterday with their April Fool’s Day ‘Drop the mic’ trick) However, I couldn’t resist sharing this tongue in cheek and very funny article that purports to set out 10 ways in which the cream of the hi tech companies recruit the best talent.

These are really funny because they use exactly the kind of language so beloved of HR people, but also because they’re almost plausible. Worse, can say with hand on heart that I’ve experienced a few of these personally (of course, I promise, only from the candidate side and never as the interviewer!)

Some of them have a general theme of disturbing the equilibrium of the candidate to see how they will react. I had a very mememorable experience of this when looking for a job after my graduation in the mid-80’s (yes, I’m really that old). Firstly, I was called to attend the interview at 5.00pm. As I arrived the receptionist was packing to leave the office at the end of the day. The place was in an out of the way place and it was quite challenging to get there. I didn’t have a car. Then, I was basically left sitting in a corridor with dim lighting and nobody around until nearly 6.30 – no refreshments, no nothing. Then, I was called in to an office where two men sat. For an hour and a half they played ‘good cop/ bad cop’. The most memorable exchange was with bad cop:

Bad cop: What newspaper do you read?

Me: The Times (sensible answer – safe, not tabloid or controversial)

Bad cop: So, you don’t read The Telegraph?

Me: Very rarely.

Bad cop: Well, how on earth do you expect to get a decent job i you don’t read The Telegraph?

Me: ……………………………..

When they had finished having their fun with this fresh faced naive student, they unlocked a door, let me out and I found myself in the middle of an industrial estate, in a place I’d never been before, after 8.00pm. I probably walked a good 3 miles before I found a bus. I think i got home around 10.30pm

They never offered me the job. Which was a shame, because I really wanted to reject it with full gusto!

Getting the Right People ‘On The Bus’

There is no doubt that schools are a ‘people business’. Management and leaders can have the most amazing ideas and vision for what they want their school to be, but if they don’t get the right ‘people on the bus’, then that’s a forlorn hope. Of course, once those people are on the bus, there are vital factors related to how they are inducted, trained, lead, motivated and incentivized – I can save those aspects for another day. Here, I want to focus on how people are selected to join a school’s team.

However, I have been concerned for a long time that way too many schools treat their recruitment processes too cavalierly. I’ve seen too much evidence of those who see it as more important to ‘get a body’ to fill a vacancy quickly, rather than developing the right pipeline to bring in the talent needed to fulfil the school’s vision. Interviews that last little more than 10 minutes are commonplace. Where schools do invest significant time in the recruitment process, I’m not at all sure that time is well used. For example, if a school espouses a philosophy based upon differentiation, personalized learning and the importance of the teacher’s relationship with students (understanding their individual needs), then what purpose is really served by demo lessons where the teacher candidate is asked to prepare a lesson, come in to school and deliver it to a room full of students they’ve never met before? The key word in that sentence is probably ‘deliver’ as the demo lesson is a throwback to days when teachers did essentially ‘deliver’ lessons. The fact that they might ask students to engage, take questions and answers and engage in two way dialogue isn’t really the answer. All too often, the most self-confident and assured students will engage and the ones who can’t answer the questions will be avoided by the candidate teacher (because they may make him/ her look bad).

Many years ago, when I was graduating from college, I went through selection processes with a number of organisations. Two in particular stand out. In one case, there was a preliminary interview. Then, I was informed that I had been short-listed for inclusion in a selection weekend. I went, along with around 40 other people, to a hotel in the city where the organisation had its Head Office. We all checked in on the Friday evening. Then, for 48 hours we were basically ‘under the microscope’. We had a variety of activities to participate in, completed psychometric profiles and various interviews or discussions where we were often asked to explain the thinking behind how we had acted/ decisions we had made in the various exercises. Assessment didn’t stop in the evenings in the bar or the restaurant! To me, here was an organisation whose recruitment process was clearly part and parcel with their ‘brand’. It sent a very clear message that having the right people in their teams really mattered. Also, although it wasn’t discussed, it must have provided a wealth of information to the Company to plan the development and professional progress of individuals after they joined.

many might say that the route taken by that company was incredibly expensive. However, there’s now ample evidence that the financial costs, not to mention all the other costs, of wrong hiring decisions can be enormous. In the bigger sense, can you really proclaim that you’re a ‘people business’ and that your team are the deliverers of excellence for your organisation – and then be so arbitrary in their selection?

Sometimes, I believe we need to be ready to take lessons and ideas from wherever we can find them. So, I was interested to read this article in which ideas are shared by a senior figure in the IT field – someone who contributed a lot to the success of Hulu and is now with Flipboard. The aspect I found most interesting was the use of data to manage the recruitment ‘pipeline’. Yes, we have some different issues influencing what we do in education and when we need to onboard new teachers etc. but i still believe we can learn from others;

Fast Company – hiring Formula for Finding the Right People

I would be interested to know from others;
a) What do you believe we should be looking for when selecting new teachers in a school – our criteria?
b) How best might we test for/ explore whether the teacher candidate meets the criteria?

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