Category Archives: Candidate qualifications

professionalisation of the recruitment industry

Professionalisation of the recruitment industry is urgent

The demand for the professionalisation of the recruitment industry seems to be at an all-time high. LinkedIn in particular is regularly filled with complaints about the way individuals have been treated by a recruiter in some part of the globe. There are also complaints from recruiters about the comportment of candidates. Often times many of these complaints are justified.  As I have written before, one of the major reasons that such poor quality exists is that the barriers to entry in recruitment are non-existent and miscommunication about their role is rife. The reality is that anyone who can read, write, hustle, has a lap top and a phone can set themselves up as a recruiter.

A recruiter or head hunter is dealing with people, their lives and livelihoods. A poor recruitment decision impacts the profitability of any organisation. The hiring process is an important professional activity, so why do we not pay enough attention to make sure it is done properly?

Professionalisation of the recruitment industry  – raising the bar

It was never more clearly highlighted than today when I spoke to a network contact who talked to me about her new job in a recruitment agency. Her experiences signal everything that is inherently wrong with the recruitment industry culture and system. The bottom line is that it needs a serious upgrade. Although a highly qualified, multi-lingual professional herself, she has been tossed onto the market with no training at all. This is the responsibility of the agency director.

The two places to start with the professionalisation of the recruitment industry are here:

Agency owners or managers need to train their staff

Would you ask a barista to work behind the bar without showing them how to pull a pint and them not knowing the differences between beer, wine and gin? Didn’t think so.

To become a recruiter, no certification is necessary even though recruiters are handling information that can be technically complex and requires an understanding of sophisticated organisational structure and behaviour. Without this knowledge most recruiting practitioners will not be able to glean an accurate idea of the role nor properly pitch the organisation and the job on the market. It is really important that recruiters have the necessary information and insight to ask both the client or the candidate for the information needed to make an informed assessment.

All this leads to an unproductive use of time and resources in “spray and pray” practises that sometimes work, but mainly don’t. So for agency owners or managers, the lack of professionalism in recruiting is in your hands. It is your fault. The bar needs to be raised.

Hiring company commitments

Hiring companies frequently state how committed they are to their company talent. For many it is superficial lip service only. They need to commit to professional standards in their hiring processes by stopping contingency recruitment, especially on a first past the post basis. For those not in the know this situation is “no placement, no fee”  and multiple companies placed in competition to get the first placement. They are in part responsible for the lack of professionalisation of the recruitment industry by an unwillingness to pay for full professional services.

Greg Savage,  business advisor to recruitment agencies, running Recruiter Master Classes internationally, cites this as being a highly dysfunctional business model which is damaging the industry.

Multi-listed, contingent job-orders benefit no-one. Clients, naively thinking they get a better service because they get agencies to compete, actually get a far worse service because they are actively encouraging recruiters to work on speed, instead of quality.

The hiring manager thinks this is efficient way of doing business, but all it means is that they get the first and the fastest, not necessarily the best. The reality is that top talent is turned off by this uninformed, lazy methodology and hiring managers need to understand that. Only recently I was bewilderingly approached by a recruiter for an Account Manager role in a Canadian Insurance company.  I know nothing about insurance or Canada, but my name had obviously appeared in a search and all targets had been sent a generic mail. The guy just looked stupid.

The important thing is that both agency recruiters and hiring managers have to understand and as quickly as possible, it’s the hi-po, in demand talent that holds the upper hand. Recruiters will not consistently reach and convert those sought after candidates, unless the business model is changed and upgraded.

Recommendations

  • Agencies have to be accredited and meet minimum requirements to become operational.
  • The licence holder should be qualified in a related field or have a required number of years experience. There have to be barriers to entry with proven qualifications in the field some sort of qualification achieved after a period of study followed by examination. This is common in many professions such as accounting. Just because someone has worked in corporate H.R. for example, does not mean they can assume the role without any training.

You would be surprised how many people conduct interviews and make selection decisions with even no basic training at all, let alone more sophisticated knowledge around unconscious bias or interview techniques. They may have industry and functional insights, but the specifics of conducting multiple searches simultaneously will be new to many. Sometimes they will have none of the above.

Read: If you are not bias conscious you shouldn’t be a recruiter 

  • When they are operational they should be legally mandated to provide minimum training levels for any staff. Candidate sourcing, development and attraction require specific skills. Interviewing and assessment require additional areas of more sophisticated competence. They are not divine gifts but can be learned, so therefore need to be taught by someone who knows what they are doing. Having remote employees working in isolation without supervision is also a recipe for disaster.
  • There should be a regulatory body to monitor complaints and performance. Persistent complaints should result in detailed investigation. Penalties should be imposed and if necessary they should not be allowed to operate and their license suspended or revoked.

At the moment we rely on the natural economic justice of the business world to make dodgy companies bankrupt. Transline Group, one of the employment agencies at the centre of the Sports Direct scandal, lost a contract supplying temporary  staff to Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer for failing to pay minimum wage. The company may now be headed for administration. Social proofing or old-fashioned word of mouth will also play a part to produce accountability.

But what is needed for improved professionalisation of the recruitment industry is increased regulation.  I am not sure how likely to happen that is.

But would you want to put your career into the hands of someone who didn’t know what they were doing? Me neither.

If you are looking for a high level head hunter to market your employer brand to identify and attract top talent – book a call now.  

 

Post brexit language crisis

Post Brexit language crisis impacts talent pipeline

The UK is forging ahead with Brexit. Not only that, the amendment to protect EU citizens residing in the UK was not approved.  As the UK takes it place outside the EU, headhunters and recruiters are now trying to project skill set gaps in the coming years for British organisations. The one gap that screams for urgent attention is the British skill set deficiency in language capabilities, which is estimated will lose the UK 3.5% of economic performance per year. Unless some immediate and urgent steps are taken, there will certainly be a post Brexit language crisis.

Post Brexit language crisis and recruitment

EU nationals are currently “plugging the gap”  says an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Modern Languages. But with projected restrictions on EU migrants and the future of current European residents unclear, someone needs to come up with a plan. Modern languages are considered  “vital for our exports, education, public services and diplomacy.”  but the national situation is said to be “parlous.”  

Yet it seems that very little is being done about it. With a dramatic decline in students studying modern languages in university, the pipeline is drying up.

Read: Post Brexit uncertainty starts a talent drain 

Can’t, shan’t, won’t thinking

The British attitude to languages has always been of the “can’t/shan’t/won’t” thinking, backed up by the fact that “everyone speaks English.” This is a mix of low-confidence, low competence, low need and Colonial arrogance, which puts British candidates and businesses at an immediate disadvantage. Although improving, the cartoon stereotype of Brits talking loudly in mumbled English to bemused foreigners, is not far from reality. It is true that in many cases, their counterparts will probably speak English, but even a moderate knowledge of a foreign language helps bridge the cross cultural divide to give greater insight. And business is all about relationships after all.

A study from  CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey  indicates that at least 66% of UK businesses need foreign language skills. The problem is many UK businesses have given up on home-grown talent and recruit  abroad. Now they may be unable to  pursue that strategy to the same degree,which is going to present problems in recruitment processes.

 

 

In the last  year in any of  the senior pan-European executive searches I have been involved in, where UK candidates were ranked against their European counterparts of equal calibre, the Brits fell well behind in language skills.  Most  European senior executives, will generally speak a minimum of two languages and more often than not three, or even four. That means the UK candidates fell short overall, and were de-briefed. Nul points.

Read: Post Brexit recruitment from the pointy end 

Slow process

So although the number of students taking languages to the age of 16 is increasing, even if they carry on to further education, that demographic will not hit the workforce for some time perhaps another 5 years. That means that home-grown candidates seeking executive roles, who do speak languages will be in high demand and should see excellent opportunities on the market. For those without languages, they will need to up-skill as fast as possible, or miss out on career opportunities, unless they have a very specific high-value, niche-market skill where language skills are irrelevant. For anyone only speaking one language, training will be imperative. Enrol in a class now!

To avoid a post Brexit language crisis, businesses are going to have to offer in-house langauge training to avoid falling behind in their international markets.

If you want to recruit top talent for your organisation contact us

 

Are we seeing a resurgence of candidate power?

Candidate power

Top candidates making greater demands
As the worst of the recession seems to have bottomed out and economies are hopefully experiencing an upward turn, I have noticed a slight, but perceptible shift in the executive search process. Organisations had their pick of top talent for probably 3 years, the challenge during that period was being able to sift through the sheer numbers of applications to identify the best candidates. Hiring managers who could during this period, choose their terms of engagement, are currently meeting candidates who are more demanding. Top candidates are now involved in multiple processes, very often with their existing companies being prepared to enter a bidding game and making counter offers to retain key employees.

Normal candidates
I’m not talking about corporate prima donnas, who are playing one company off against another, or leveraging their current employer with empty threats to move. These are genuinely top class individuals who have probably been held back by the lack of opportunities, caused by the economic downturn. In the intervening years we have been exhorting candidates to research and prepare to create good impressions with potential employers. But now is it organisations which are found wanting and not making the correct impression on candidates?

Internal audit
Perhaps now is the time for hiring companies to carry out internal audits to check that they are operating to best practises: They should be satisfied that:

All stages of the recruitment process from sourcing, interviewing, offer and onboarding, especially candidate communication and management, is efficient and timely. Any hiccoughs or delays in any part of these processes will result in losing the preferred candidate. Lost candidates = lost revenue, as positions remain open for even longer.

Salary and benefit levels are in line with the market. If hiring managers don’t know what market rates are – now is the time to find out.

Development and training programmes are in place to guarantee employee engagement in terms of future career opportunities.

Tomos, a recently graduating MBA suggests ” After a period of stagnation candidates need to know that companies are offering career development opportunities. For me this is as important as the salary package.”

Employer branding and reputation are strong. Just as employers can research candidates on-line, the reverse is also true. It is becoming increasingly easy for candidates to establish the corporate culture of any company by asking well placed connections, a few carefully constructed sentences about hours worked, vacation times, bonus systems, management style and so on. Glowing references from existing employees are a huge boost to the recruitment process. However, even a well-intentioned comment can send the wrong signals. One contact decided not to apply for a position when an internal connection within the company mentioned that he had a closer relationship with his Blackberry than his girlfriend.

First impressions count
Organisations which are complacent about any aspect of their hiring systems might be in for a wake up call. As Matteo, a Business Development Manager actively looking for a new opportunity confirmed, the recruitment process is the first encounter with the overall corporate image. If that isn’t strong, other areas of the company can be brought into question. “I was involved in 3 different search processes. All opportunities were attractive in different ways. The offer I accepted came from the company with the most professional hiring procedure. I felt it was one indication of how the company was managed from the top down

First impressions cut both ways.

The Feminisation of HR

Feminisation of HR

Is there a downside?
I was recently involved in an executive search for an upper level middle management HR position. The European VP asked me to try to produce a gender balanced short list. Now, this is not what you are thinking! What she wanted in this case was to try to balance her team, which is currently composed of 90% women, to include some men. For many searches I struggle to find women at certain levels and on this one it was men who were in scarce supply.

Female dominance
In recent studies carried out in the US, HR is personified by a 47 year old white woman! In the UK according to research carried out by XpertHR,  75% of the HR function is female. This substantiates what we all imagine to be correct, following an even a cursory glance at any company’s organogram or telephone directory.

In the UK at entry-level, 86% of post holders in the HR profession are female. This percentage drops to 42.5% at director level.  In the US the overall percentages are pretty much the same, women occupy two-thirds of the HR executive positions.

Transition of the function
I started my own career in HR, in the heavily unionised steel industry where more often than not I was the only female in any meeting and men formally objected not just to me being there, but any woman  at all. During the last 25 years, there has been a significant evolution and today, HR is quite often one of the most predominantly female functions in many organizations. Over the years we have seen a gradual feminisation of the HR function.

This is part of a general shift over time from production to knowledge based economies and a  functional evolution of the discipline leading to what Michele Mees, author of the Balanced Leader, describes as the ” unsuccessful re-branding ” of the function.

Back in my day, when industrial/employee relations, payroll, employee administration and recruitment were the primary time consumers, we have seen a move of the function into internal consulting services: leadership coaching, assessment and development. The more transactional sides of the function have either been taken over by software or are outsourced, including compensation, records and recruitment services. This leaves aspects of the function that seem to be more attractive to women, where their “people skills” are more highly valued. XPertHR are observing a a slight levelling out of gender within the function after the all time high figure in 2007.

Career Gateway
At one time, the HR function certainly provided a great career gateway for entry-level women to embark upon a corporate career compared to other functions, such as finance or sales. According to CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) in their report “Beyond the Glass Ceiling” female members of their organisations are 6 times less likely to become CFO or Finance Director than their male counterparts.

However, unfortunately, one of the other comments made about many organisations is that HR lacks teeth. With no P and L responsibilities, in many companies the function is relegated to a non-executive position, with barely lip service paid to its contribution.

Re-cycled CEOs
Gurprriet Singh suggests in his post CEO HR I am fed up of seeing tons of research and surveys saying that the MOST important differentiator for an organization is talent and culture. And then not see organizations deploy their best resources to this function.” He calls for retiring CEOs to be recycled as HR Heads to give the function some much-needed teeth. As the majority of CEOs are male, does he believe this will make a difference?

A male view
I posed the same question to Tim Douglas International HR Director, CSM “Today I asked my team, who are all female. Their view is HR is seen to be about providing support and caring, although they recognise it requires hard-nosed decisions and sometimes very unpleasant ones. They suggest it’s seen to be back to the original ‘welfare’ roots of personnel, and definitely not associated with being influential in big business decisions, hence fewer man are attracted to it (unless, as one kindly said, those men have a few too many y chromosomes!) However they also pointed out that HR teams led by men were often more ‘dynamic’ and ‘engaged with business decisions’ and often taken more seriously by leaders

A female view
Tim’s experience of a male voice carrying greater weight is re-enforced by Michele “I only recently heard a woman (head of legal department and in charge of gender diversity project) say she had been trying to get the gender balance topic on the management agenda for over a year, without success. She then got back up from a male colleague , who joined her gender balance team, and asked him to put it on the agenda. Guess what: he only had to ask once. This is in my view a demonstration of (hidden) stereotyping by a male management team.”

She would also support Tim and Gurprriet saying ” HR people and departments are often very process driven and they do not come across as begin flexible, agile, quickly to respond to market changes (as sales and marketing must be for instance). HR people are not always keen to ‘dive into’ the business, I think this is needed to build up credibility with business leaders (today I heard the remark from an HR manager that HR people seldom network to other than HR events, that they do not take MBA courses, or any other managerial courses apart from their own specialist field) and apparently HR is still a snug comfort zone to be in

Correcting the balance
Companies with masculine dominated cultures (most perhaps?) can successfully recruit women into the HR function without disturbing the masculine order. HR is perceived as “soft”, while sales and finance are “tough”. This way stereotyping is continued and gender roles are confirmed. It seems that tough decisions or actions performed by an HR woman, will not be perceived as tough and decisive as if they were performed by a man.

Culturally women are expected to exhibit softer skills, while men are expected to be more decisive. The criteria for evaluation is such that even when women are decisive they are not taken seriously, or get caught up in that old double bind as being too ” aggressive”.

So until HR qualifications include, and mandate, a solid business base, rather than simply focusing on functional expertise and qualifications, then this situation is likely to be perpetuated.

What other solutions could there be? What do you think?

Are the cowboy recruiters back in town?

Cowboy recruiters back in Town

Why I think there should be barriers to entry in the executive search business.
Somewhat surprisingly I have been approached four times in the last four months by headhunters. Now given that my CV and background is splashed all over the internet, you don’t have to be a Mensa member to figure out what my activities are and what demographic I’m in. So it won’t come as shock to anyone if I said that these were misplaced calls. They were cowboy recruiters.

Research
An only cursory check via Google, told me that the first caller was a senior consultant who had transferred into a reputable search company from the business sector. Two of the callers were junior in the job and newbies to the search business, while the fourth was setting up his own company, having seemingly been laid off from a marketing job in 2008. I say that with some certainty, because no one in their right minds would have voluntarily started a business in the executive search sector during that period, when in the EU job loss to job creation was 3:1 and overall, 50m or even more jobs disappeared from the global workplace. None of the callers had done any research and the experience was altogether far from ideal. All four had one thing in common. They had a pretty limited idea of what they were doing.

Rogue Recruiters
Before the recession there was much complaint about rogue recruiters proliferating the market, tapping into buoyant economies carrying a high number of unfilled openings. In some cases this was unfair, as it was as much about unrealistic candidate expectations, as incompetence. But some of the complaints were clearly true so all but the strongest survived in the following years. A positive spin-off was the disappearance of many of the search and recruiting cowboys. My fear now, is that with the green shoots of growth there might be a return of that same blot on the landscape.

As someone with considerable experience and qualifications in this area, I get frustrated by the sheer lack of professional training that many have in this field. Someone suggested to me that interviewing was just about ” chatting to people”, then by the same token accounting is just about ” adding and subtracting” . Yet accountants are required to study and pass exams for certification before they are let loose on the company finances.

Strategic function
So shouldn’t those responsible for some of the most potentially costly and strategic decisions within an organisation (hiring) also be similarly highly qualified? Now there will be some who will say that professional certification and competence are not necessarily mutually inclusive, and at times I certainly agree that can be true. However as a general guideline it is a useful barometer of ability. Similarly people claiming to have good “people instincts” believe that is all that is required in candidate assessment and team building. One’s person’s gut instincts are anothers’ irritable bowel syndrome.

Corner cutting
To some extent this is fuelled by companies themselves as recruitment is an area in which some try to cut corners, without relating the strategic impact of those measures to other metrics of organisational costs, such as onboarding time and attrition levels. I was even asked by a journalist recently for a soundbite on the future of “speed interviewing”. That went quickly! Horror! Some companies for more junior level positions, expect recruitment organisations to work on contingency i.e. ” no hire, no fee“, so the payment of even basic overheads is reliant on the whims of the hiring managers, which often change.

So other than the big players or established organisations, many search organisations are operating on shoe strings and this is reflected in the talent then hired internally and the training given to their employees. These underqualified individuals are then let loose on the market, creating bad PR for the sector.

Minimum requirements

  • Basic training: Anyone claiming to be a search or recruitment consultant should have a minimum and certifiable training in many fields ranging from telephone and face to face interviewing techniques, skill assessment, testing, sales and research skills and even basic psychology.
  •  Licence to practise: New companies setting up in the field should require a licence to practise, where a track record of demonstrable competence,experience and training are required to operate. This happens in some countries, Belgium for example, but not others, where anyone with a telephone, a lap top and a LinkedIn account can set up shop.
  • Penalties: There should also be penalties for those whose codes of practise are sub-standard or ethically dubious,  with the possibility to be professionally barred.

Without insisting that these professional criteria are met, as economies pick up it will indeed be back to business as usual.

A plea! Keep job profiles real!

Lost in translation
As both an executive search professional and a career coach, I am frequently bemused how hiring managers and job seekers fail to communicate with each other and misunderstand or even misrepresent themselves in the process. I’m very mindful there is a strong sales role involved, with both parties wanting to present themselves in a positive light, but sometimes things are taken too far. The end result is ill feeling, frustration and lost time for everyone involved in the process. Nowhere is this clearer than in the preparation of, and response to, the job profile.

Over qualification
For the hiring manager the seniority and level of a team can be an in-house status symbol. This is why on some occasions the academic requirements demanded for some positions, would ordinarily be sufficient to split the atom or find a cure for cancer or HIV. MBAs are not essential for all openings! If we are absolutely honest, a number of jobs don’t even require a degree, let alone any post grad qualifications. Provided that literacy, numeracy and social skills are in place as well as any relevant professional experience, the university of life would be just fine. Heaven forbid if the Receptionist should look for a financial instrument in a tool box.

Misnomers
We also have zany, inaccurate or simply incomprehensible job titles, which switch from time to time because they are closely linked to trending buzz words. Some of these are meant to be fun or to give lower level jobs some clout, but they can be misleading. Gallerista (art sales) Head of People or People Officer, ( sounds like something from the Red Army), Nail Technician ( carpenter or beautician?), Strategic Focus Specialist ( thought strategy was focused) , Head of Culture, Bakist (cake maker?) Certified Scrum Master ( rugby team coach?) Managing Co-Ordinator (seems to be a misnomer – do they co-ordinate or manage?) or any bizarre combinations of technician, engineer, specialist, consultant, executive or other words with the ” ist” suffix.

Experience
The same can be said for years and type of experience required. Sometimes I see profiles asking for experience levels which when totalled, would cumulatively take even entry-level candidates to retirement age. Or demanding experience in certain technologies which have only been around for less than the time period required (10 years in social media, some softwares) The reverse also applies, I see ads for experienced interns! Isn’t the whole point of an internship – to gain experience?

Old jokes
There are also all the old recruitment jokes about hiring speak:
fast paced environment = no time to train you.
ability to handle heavy workload = You whine, you’re fired.
some overtime required = some time tonight and in fact, some time every night
flexible compensation package = sometimes we pay you, sometimes we don’t
high level of travel = family life will become a distant memory

Candidates need to get it right too
But the converse can be said for candidates. I posted an ad earlier in the year which clearly stated “fluency in German essential” After being inundated with applications from all corners of the world where the candidates clearly didn’t know a brockwurst from a bratwurst I had to add ” fluency in German mandatory. I will be unable to respond to candidates not meeting this requirement” which did seem a bit rude. Or there was the “social media genius” with 10 LinkedIn connections and 5 tweets to his name, applying for a position as a Social Media Consultant. This is one reason that so many CVs drift into cyber space – they are not on target!

So why don’t we all make life easier for ourselves and just tell it how it really is!

What do you think? Add any crazy things you’ve seen! A prize for the most obscure or off beat!