The Internal Candidate And The Level Playing Field

It’s at this point that I should probably sound a klaxon to warn you, the reader, that this post is more of a vent, a rant, than anything else, albeit related to recruitment.

Internal candidates.  This isn’t really something I come across in my place of employment, mostly due to the fact we’re a smaller company so most of our hires are external as we continue to build on our successes.

However, it’s a subject I’ve felt compelled to blog about, as a close friend has recently gone through this process with another company, and I’ve been saddened, disappointed and a little angered about the process they had to go through.  So much so that I’ve felt it necessary to have a vent and get my views off my chest!

Now most applicants will assume, rightly or wrongly, that internal candidates have an unfair advantage over external applicants.  Yes, the internal applicant will know the company, the culture and possibly even the interviewer or panel of interviewers.

However, one thing that internal candidates can’t help avoid is their history with the company.  And when a candidate has been with a company as long as 20 years or more, that’s a lot of history to digest.

I can fully imagine how hard it is for an interviewer to treat an internal candidate as an external one, but I think it is essential to try to do so in many respects.

Internal moves can always be hard for an employee to cope with and a good plan is required to ensure the transition is managed as effectively as possible.  But what is hard to swallow, is when an internal candidate has a plan in place to manage the transition, which focuses on the letting go of their old role before starting the new role, essential in any leadership role, yet the senior managers cannot see this as an effective route.

My friend lost out at the selection centre.  For one simple reason and it sucks, in all honesty.  I’m angry and it isn’t even me that has had to face that disappointment.  The reason being that they are working in the same department as the current vacancy, and the exiting employee has been gone for 8 weeks roughly.  One of the interviewing panel felt that my friend should have taken the role on of his own volition and made it his own in 8 weeks, despite the fact that he is currently doing his own role full-time, and the issues this could have caused if he had.  This does not sound like a level playing field to me.

My friend has been told that he gave a stunning performance at the selection centre, that he was head and shoulders above the external applicants and yet he has not been put through to the second round as he did not seize the role before it was his.  This role has a lot of direct reports – it has over 4 departments that report into it.  For him to “seize the role” and start implementing changes that would affect so many people, whilst running the risk that he may not get the role, and any changes he implemented might be scrapped by the new person, could be hugely detrimental to the teams that would report to him.  In less than 3 months, those employees would have lost one leader, undergone the transition of a new leader and lots of change, to then possibly get a third leader in as many months and face more change.

This short-sightedness can cause so many internal issues and for a senior leader to be advocating such behaviour does not bode well.  As a recruiter who is passionate about the candidate experience, this has left me aghast.

Now some might say, I have a biased view.  He’s a friend, of course I would feel this way.  And no, I haven’t met the other candidates.  But I’d like to think as a recruiter I can be objective about this.  And it’s not the fact he didn’t get the job that has left me reeling, it’s the reason he was given.

My friend will not be leaving.  He’s been with the company for decades and has a level of engagement, passion and loyalty, that extends far beyond remuneration, rewards or recognition.  He truly loves his job, his company and his colleagues.  And I know he will support whoever gets the job, because he’s a genuinely nice guy like that.

But the real kick in the teeth?  They loved him.  And it has left him wondering if he even should have applied as he was left by one of the interviewers with this view – he never stood a chance.

No employer would expect an external candidate to start a role before they’ve even interviewed for it – that would be insane! Yet, the internal candidate fails because they didn’t do this very thing.

So why the blog post?  Well simply to say, try to look at all your candidates with an equal view.  Level that playing field where it counts.  And it works both way, clearly.  But don’t discount what you have in-house because it may be the very thing you need.

Through the Looking Glass

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to remotely join in with Crexia’s Social Recruiting Conference 2012 through the live video stream they were running.  As an aside, this was fantastic for those who weren’t able to attend.

There have already been a number of blog posts published on the topics that arose from this and having joined in the twitter stream on the day itself, there was a proliferation of key phrases being quoted, tweeted and shared with the recruiting world.

There was one key thought that has stuck with me since the event and has now inspired this post.  Strangely enough, it didn’t come from any of the great presentations, but rather from one of the sponsor interviews that took place for the video stream viewers during the break.  This was a great idea in my eyes, as it used up what would otherwise have been dead time with an empty screen and provided more engaging content than a sales pitch as the interviewing was led by Alan Whitford of RCEURO.

So the interview in question was with Lisa Scales of Tribepad.  Tribepad is a product I am a big fan of in terms of social recruiting platforms and so this was an interview I was keen to watch, particularly following their win at the national Recruiter Excellence Awards 2012 where they won Best Technology Innovation Award.  At one point in the interview she began to talk about the “aspirational CV.”  Lisa and Alan discussed how it could be nice if people could put the job they aspire to or dream of at the top of their CV, about the rest, which, depending on your viewpoint, is just history.

Out of all the great content that came out of this day, this has really struck a chord with me.  And quite simply because, twice in my career, if the hiring managers had not looked past my CV and my history, I would probably not have succeeded in securing an interview and from that, the roles that I have.

And I have to wonder how many times, recruiters do not look forward into where the candidate could be or aspires to be.  As someone who has spent most of their career in the hospitality industry, it seemed unlikely that I would be lucky enough to secure my current role in the IT sector of recruitment against over 60 other candidate applications, many of whom had strong experience within the IT recruitment sector.

As a resident of Oxford, I’m very aware that this Saturday, 7th July 2012, is Alice’s Day, a huge event for the city as Christ Church is where Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) first met Alice and began the story of Alice in Wonderland.

When Alice goes through the looking glass she is transported to a Wonderland,  and so the term “Through the Looking Glass” is often thought to denote a portal to a wonderland.  It’s got me wondering how many candidates could find their own wonderland if they were allowed to step through this portal, if they were able to put their aspirational role on their CV or application.

I have to wonder how many great candidates might be missed out on because their transferable experience is not considered.  I’m not, by any means, saying that every candidate whose aspirational role is to be Larry Page should be given the golden key to Google, as we all have to use our judgment.  But as recruiters, we strive to be consultative, often pride ourselves on it, and as such, have a responsibility to start to look beyond the history and actually consult with the candidates as to where they want to be heading not just what box we want them to fit into.  It’s all about round pegs for round holes.

Within the recruitment industry, there is constant discussion around the “War for Talent” and, call it what you will, this competitive situation is still something to consider.  If a candidate has different skills but a desire to transition into another role, it’s definitely without a doubt time to consider whether we, as an employer, can shift that candidate’s skill set around and make that candidate a stronger proposition for both the role and the business.

Because, on occasion, it is those people who are so keen and eager to make it into their chosen role, that they become a stronger employee than the person who is more qualified on paper but doesn’t perhaps have the passion anymore.

Perhaps I’m looking at this through rose-tinted glasses, but I’ve taken a very round-about career path to move into HR & Recruitment.  Previously, each time I’ve got close, I’ve had to step away again, normally due to company budgets, recession etc.  So for me, if my interviewers and recruiters had not been able to look beyond my history and appreciate how much I wanted to make the transition, it might never have happened.

And in light of this, for myself, I’m keen to jump down the rabbit’s hole  and see what waits for me in Wonderland.

Who Owns The Employer Brand?

Last Wednesday, 20th June, I took part in a twitter chat regarding social recruiting and employer branding led by Vic Okezie of Crexia.  This chat occurs every Wednesday and a full blog post of the chat mentioned below can be found in this great blog post by Katharine Robinson, aka The Sourceress.

One of the questions that was raised during the chat was on who owns the employer brand.  This got me thinking.  Whilst debate ensued around the question as to who should own and drive the employer brand, I had to wonder whether we should talk in terms of ownership?

The Oxford Dictionary provides the definition of the word “own” as: “used with a possessive to emphasize that someone or something belongs or relates to the person mentioned:”

Clearly the employer brand belongs and relates to the company but to whom in particular?  When you start to look into the definition of ownership, (defined here by the Oxford Dictionary as “the act, state, or right of possessing something”), you begin to discuss possession.

To me, for employer branding to ring true, it has to be authentic, warts and all.  Whilst for many companies, they clearly do not want to display the warts they may have on their respective careers sites, they will still be there.  Because employer branding does not come simply from company-approved content generated by the various Marketing, Recruitment or HR departments.  It comes from every employee.  Each employee, whether consciously aware of it or not, is a brand ambassador of your company.  And as Peters-Fox – (the candidate experience / employer branding super-warriors who I highly recommend for all levels of fabulous recruitment branding work) say, you need to give “Power To Your People” via @kattyfox

 So how do you manage your employer brand as a company?  For me, I think you need to adopt an approach of “Nurture.”

I think when a business owns a process it loses the authenticity – nurturing allows natural evolution with monitoring.  With the accessibility of social media, companies open up their employer brand to interactions and scrutiny of previously closed channels of communication with potential to go viral – the equivalent to airing laundry, stains & all.

Nurturing the employee brand rather than taking ownership and possession enables the business to take the role of gardener & nurture the branding done by employees rather than control it.  To assess the bad and then hopefully fix it.  Because treating your warts rather than hiding them, is a much more effective treatment for the long-term.

Transactional Recruiting

  On Thursday 21st June, I decided to watch a Google+ Hangout with @BillBoorman and     the guys from Bullhorn Reach as they discussed the Future of Social Recruiting, which can be viewed here, as the Bullhorn team have kindly posted their discussion as a permanent video.

The conversation went on for about an hour and whilst I won’t run through the whole agenda, one comment made by Bill Boorman struck me.  Bill said that recruitment needed to move away from being transactional.

This got me thinking.  From Bill’s viewpoint, I completely agree that recruitment needs to move away from being the recruiter taking from the candidate.

But what about what the recruiter gives back to the candidate?  From either side of the agency or in-house corporate recruiter fence, this is something to consider, as even agencies have their employer branding to consider.

As I’ve now moved into the world of in-house recruiting, I’ve decided to tackle my thoughts from this viewpoint.   As an internal recruiter, I’ve heard a huge amount since I moved to this side of the fence 3 months ago, about employer branding and culture.  A lot of the discussion has been centred around how we make this culture visible, how we share it with prospective employees and candidates alike.

However this led me to start thinking about the candidates and what we give back to them.  We, as recruiters, will source, head-hunt, find (whatever you may want to term it as!), a selected shortlist of candidates for a role.  We will screen them, probe them, arrange interviews with hiring managers, all the while, getting them more embedded in our processes and in turn, our company.

However, in the words of Highlander’s Connor Macleod, “There can only be one.”

So what happens to the 2 or 3 or perhaps more, who don’t make it to the coveted role?  The hire is of course integral to the business, but as we strive to create a good culture, does that in turn create for us a “care of duty” to those unsuccessful candidates?  As a recruiter, we clearly thought they were worth engaging with to the point of interview.

There are two lines of thought to follow here – those unsuccessful finalists that we still want bring into our business and those who didn’t quite make the grade.

Now there are some great internal recruitment functions out there who will continue to engage with the unsuccessful finalists we’d like to bring into the business when we can; who will bring them into the talent pools and continue to update them until there is another role available.

But what of the ones who didn’t make the grade?  Do they get dropped like the proverbial hot potato? 

The recruiter will hopefully deliver some feedback! There are times when we all hear of candidates who attended interview and never heard anything again, or those who had a one-liner email saying “Thanks, but not successful.”  It’s time to think about how we deliver the feedback.  It’s easier for some recruiters to refer back to the hiring managers, saying that they haven’t had feedback, and this is sometimes true.  And opens a whole can of worms into who the responsibility lies with.

In my eyes, it lies with the recruiter.  Simple.  You, the recruiter, engaged with the candidate.  He or she may have even been a passive candidate that you sourced, head-hunted, etc and as such you are the initial face of your employer brand with that candidate.  They may have met the hiring manager, but it is the recruiter they have had direct contact with, often extensively.  Therefore, if you don’t handle the goodbye process well, that will be the parting impression you give to the candidate.

Candidates can be your company’s biggest preachers, or they can be the loudest traitors.  When we deliver feedback we need to think about how we deliver it.  Too often it seems, candidates’ biggest complaint seems to be that they just didn’t hear anything.  They feel as if they fell into the proverbial black hole and never heard from the recruiter again.  From a candidate’s point of view, a week can feel like a month so any form of feedback is often appreciated.

Maybe it’s just me, but I want to be able to explain to my candidates why they didn’t get the role and how I can help them in their continued search for the next one.  It may be as simple as offering to email a link to web article on good interviewing practices but every little counts as the supermarket says!

So for me, it’s important that we continue to think about the candidate experience beyond the hire.  To positively promote our culture and employer brand, we need to nurture all the plants in the garden – after all, one thing to remember is that weeds grow faster and stronger than flowers but don’t make the garden look anywhere near as good a place to spend time!