The Hiring Challenge(s)

Hiring and retaining good people has always been a challenge for most companies. Because of this, you’d think that more companies would understand the basic concepts of this challenge but most companies still have no idea how to even begin to overcome it. There are quite a few companies out there that have figured out how to attract good employees, but most of these companies are able to attract this talent pool because of their name, technology or market share not because of anything that they have specifically done to attract people.

Below, I’ve listed a few of the challenges that I’ve faced over the years along with my thoughts on how to overcome these challenges. Most of these challenges can be overcome with common sense approaches and some may never be completely overcome.

Challenge #1 – Describing the job

The first, and usually one of the toughest challenges isn’t in finding the right candidate (as described in Challenge #2 below) but in describing the role in as accurate a way as possible. From personal experience, the last two jobs I’ve accepted have been totally different than the initial description of the role that first got me interested in the position.

Writing a job description (and job title) isn’t always the most interesting thing to do but it is important to both the candidate and the recruiter. If you give a recruiter a job description for a position that isn’t accurate, how can they fill the opening with the right person? Equally important is the need to be honest in the job description….if you are trying to hire a technical support representative who will be on the phone 8 hours a day talking to irate customers…put that in the description. Another challenge with job descriptions is that a lot of them are written much too specific (e.g., MBA required or PMP required or 14 years of experience with COBOL II).

I ran across a job description on one of the many job boards that outlined a fairly interesting position in a customer care facility. The position seemed to be one that would be a more strategic level position to help the customer care center improve their services and design new services. The job description listed an MBA and PMP were preferred (both of which I have) and I thought ‘sounds interesting’ and submitting my resume. After speaking with the recruiter, I felt pretty good about it so went it for an interview with the hiring manager. During the interview, the truth about the position came out: the hiring manager was looking for someone to sit in a room and listen to taped recordings of callers into he call center and give feedback on how to improve the service offered to the caller. That was nothing like what the job description said.

How can you overcome this challenge? Write and re-write the job description until it covers exactly what you are looking for in a candidate. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to hire a great Human Resources person to help. HR staff are much more than paper pushers and compliance officers…they can be a strategic partner in the hiring process.

Challenge #2 – Finding the right candidates

The second challenge in the hiring process is to find the right candidate(s). Doesn’t sound so hard does it? Well…it is when you have recruiters focusing on technology instead of people. What I mean by this is that the majority of recruiters (both external and internal) put too much faith into the many databases of resumes in existence. They uses the databases to search, sort and categorize the resumes and results using keywords such as “PMP” or “business continuity”. This is a good way to cull down the resume database to only those candidates that have the right ‘keywords’…but what about those people who may not have a particular keyword in their resume but have 15 years experience in that field? In most cases, these people get overlooked. What about the candidate that refuses to submit their resume to, or the other thousands of databases out of fear of their current employer seeing it? Don’t get me wrong…keyword searching is a very good way to cull down a resume database. The key to successfully using this method is to have an experienced and knowledgeable user performing the search. You can’t have a freshly hired person straight out of college¬†with a degree in Business searching for a Software Project Manager and expect them to find the best candidates.

The only way this challenge can be overcome is less reliance on technology to give the ‘right answers’ and more reliance on good ol’ fashioned human experience and intuition.

Challenge #3 – The interview

You’ve found the right candidates (you hope!) and want to bring them in for an interview. The interview is the make or break for a candidate and for the company. A lot of managers think of the interview as the time & place for the ‘standard interview questions’ to come out…but I would caution against that. The first interview should be a conversation about expectations, background, philosophy and life in general…not an interrogation nor a chance to read prepared questions.

I do think there is a time/place for having a more in-depth Q&A session with the candidate(s) to see if they fit into the culture and are the right type of person for the role, but that really shouldn’t be the focus of the first interview. An experienced manager will be able to measure cultural fit very quickly in the first interview, but I think a more experienced person (such as a really good HR person) should also perform some standardized questions with the candidate prior to an offer being made.

Challenge #4 – Making an offer

Why is this a challenge? Because it is often a very stressful time in the life of the candidate and the hiring manager. The usual games of salary and other negotiations occur during this time…and some companies get it completely wrong. I’ve been involved in the ‘offer’ phase many times as a candidate and hiring manager and have found that the most effective thing to overcome any challenges during this time is to be 100% open and honest with the candidate. If they are looking for a salary or other benefit that you just can’t meet, tell them as early as possible.

Another topic to consider when it comes time to make an offer is this: If you’ve budgeted $100K for a new employee and find someone who’s looking for $90K, consider bumping up the offer to $95K. Think about what this will do to the mindset of that candidate….it can be a powerful message and one that will bring considerable goodwill from that candidate if they should come to work for you. I’ve never understood why a company would a company would let a few bucks come between them and a great candidate.

Challenge # 5 – The Onboarding Process

The previous four challenges are quite daunting…but they can be overcome with a little work. This fifth challenge is usually the one that causes the most pain to companies and new hires alike. A lot of people think that after the person accepts the offer, the hiring process is complete…how wrong they are. The hiring process continues well into the first few months of a new hire joining a team.

Matt Kauffman over at OnlyOnce has this to say about the onboarding process…and I couldn’t have said it better:

I always think about the employee’s first day as the mid-point of the hiring process. The things that come after the first day — orientation (where’s the bathroom?), context-setting (here’s our mission, here’s how your job furthers it), specific skill training, goal setting (what’s your 90-day plan?), and a formal check-in 90 days later — are all make-or-break in terms of integrating a new employee into the organization, making sure they’re a good hire, and of course making them as productive as possible

In addition to making a new hire feel comfortable in their new role, the hiring manager and/or HR need to support the new person in the new role so that they don’t feel as though they’ve been asked to ‘sink or swim’. For further reading on bringing in new team members, read my previous post about that topic.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, the hiring process is broken in most companies today. In addition to the candidate search process, the onboarding process also seems to be broken as well. Recent personal experience in all aspects of the hiring process have led me to believe that regardless of whether the company is large or small, the basic hiring process challenges exist. A little bit of common sense and forethought into the hiring and onboarding process should help most companies steer through the aforementioned challenges.

[tags] Hiring challenges, New hires, onboarding, hiring the right way, leadership [/tags]