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Back to Basics

HR Magazine, May 2003Put the best practices before technology to improve recruting

Technology can improve efficiencies and productivity for businesses; however, there are things that technology can’t do—especially in the area of corporate recruiting.

When the subject is how to most immediately influence corporate recruiting, it is important to first talk about people and best practices rather than beginning with discussions about the power of software. In fact, many recruiting departments are now suffering from an overdose of the “latest and greatest” technology—a result of a time when checkbooks were big and eyes wide.

But employers learn fast that technology can’t enhance a process that is fundamentally flawed. “I think the biggest problem is most folks feel that technology is going to cure a bad process,” says Michael McNeal, former senior director of staffing at Cisco Systems Inc. and consultant to customers such as The Home Depot and Starbucks Corp. “It’s one of these situations where if someone’s recruiting process is broken, [he or she says], ‘Well, let’s automate it and it’ll get faster’—but what it will still be is a bad process. It’ll just be bad faster.”

During McNeal’s tenure at Cisco, which is based in San Jose, Calif., the workforce grew from 4,800 to more than 30,000, yet attrition was less than 7 percent annually. In the absence of good technology and best practices, McNeal and Cisco would have been swimming, perhaps drowning, in resumes with the kind of growth the company was experiencing. But with the proper processes and people in place, it all worked. McNeal’s advice? Use such an opportunity to get your recruitment process right.

“When there are more candidates available, the volume and administration become greater, and that’s a great adaptation for technology,” McNeal says. “This is the time you want to address your system. Otherwise, the administrative part is going to kill you.”

Path to Success

Make no mistake: Great technology can dramatically affect the quality of people hired and reduce the time and cost to hire them. But technology is not a panacea. For many companies, it’s time to get back to real business basics. Organizations need to understand their recruiting and hiring objectives, take to heart the best practices supporting them and then consider investing in technology to fuel those practices.

Is your company following best practices in recruiting? Here are several practices that you should implement before thinking about technology:

1. Instill a talent management mindset. The CEO must believe recruiting is important. Then, even if you have no real tools, you’re still ahead of the game. Before Microsoft Excel, people who were great at business still built great business models; the difference now is that they can do it a lot faster. People who have passion for getting results can reach their goals, even with crude tools. But the passion has to be there.

Instill a mindset that everyone is a recruiter. Understand that hiring great talent must be a core competency and a strategic business objective, and then align the organization to achieve its corporate recruiting strategy.

Hiring and human resource management must be supported as a strategic element to corporate success. This means that you should engage your entire organization with a philosophy that says, “We value people, we value your input, and we know that you are the company’s most valuable resource for current and future success. Because we believe in you, we also feel that you can help the company make further progress in hiring highly qualified, talented people.” This lets your employees know that your company wants to hear about prospective recruits. No one understands a better fit for your company than your top performers. Formalize the process and offer incentives as appropriate to your company culture.

Once you have developed this mindset, technology can help stakeholders to:

  • Create a passion and vision in the organization.
  • Define objectives and the realistic processes needed to achieve them.
  • Support processes with easy-to-adopt and easy to use technology solutions.

2. Know the qualities your organization seeks. The Home Depot wants customer-obsessed, entrepreneurial leaders. Microsoft Corp. looks for problem solvers. The point is that no company can recruit the right people until it decides exactly what it needs.

But don’t box yourself into looking mostly at a candidate’s experience base. Instead, you should look for predictive factors, says McNeal. “The way you answer questions may predict the way you are going to behave on the job. For example, inside a Home Depot [store], the idea would be to try to predict key customer service traits and the ability to teach. This could lead you toward hiring retired tradespeople. They leave the tools, belts and ladders behind and come into the stores to teach.”

By defining clearly what you are looking for in your recruits, you can devise a process to find them. There are at least three levels of “fit” you will want to describe:

  • Company fit. What kind of employees do we seek? Entrepreneurs? Problem solvers? Customer-service experts?
  • Team fit. Does the new employee bring the right qualities and personality?
  • Role fit. Does the new employee have the appropriate technical and leadership qualifications?

Once you have a picture of what you’re looking for, recruiting technology can help identify predictive traits in the profiles of employees who have succeeded in the same role. Technology can also help define and maintain a “vocabulary” for describing these characteristics to reduce confusion over subjective words such as “energetic” and “entrepreneurial.”

3. Ensure ownership of the entire recruiting workflow. Everything from lead generation to closing the deal to assessing a new hire’s subsequent performance should be tracked and measured, and somebody needs to be responsible for that. Yes, at times there will be handoffs in ownership of the process, but that doesn’t mean there is room for an abdication of responsibility or squabbling between hiring managers and recruiters.

This extends to the sharing of candidates across projects and divisions. The prospect who isn’t quite right for one group may be perfect for another.

Technology can help, but don’t let it dictate a process that is not natural for your organization. A great recruitment automation product will allow your team to do what it does best while tracking all actions and directing each participant—candidates, recruiters, and hiring managers—to act according to the designed process.

4. Train recruiters for recruiting—and for the business. Good recruiters know people, sales, and the business and jobs for which they’re recruiting, as well as the competition. Recruiters who don’t fit that profile can be dangerous. “It’s like putting a salesperson in front of the customer on day one,” says McNeal. “It’s not something you do and expect to be successful.”

5. Close the loop on employee referrals. Employee referral is often the best source of “A” candidates, which is why every company needs to have a well-defined structure that gets it right every step of the way. If employees refer candidates and don’t hear back about their recommendations, they’re not likely to make another referral. When an employee recommends someone, that should speak loudly about the referring employee in his company.

Once you have developed an effective internal referral system, technology can help you manage your program. For example, it can enable you to update employees who make referrals on the status of their candidates, and, ultimately, ensure that every referral is closed.

6. Have an interview plan. This requires a consistent process for hiring across the organization. Develop job specifications at the time of need. Come up with a clear and coherent interview agenda and schedule with desired outcomes and goals. Make sure there is coordination among interviewers.

Your recruitment and hiring automation system can help reinforce your specific interview plan by ensuring that each member of the interview team is gathering specific feedback as assigned by the plan. If you allow the interview team to review feedback from everyone and provide additional comments, you will be supporting collaboration.

7. Establish consistency in assessment methodology. Carpenters say, “Measure twice, cut once.” The lesson for organizations is to measure well and often. When people involved in the process know what to expect, and you define what needs to occur, then you can improve the process. If you’re not defining and measuring, you can’t make improvements.

In your assessment methodology, you must clearly define a process to ensure that you get what you are looking for. Additionally, you have to balance perfect assessments with candidate experience, cost and time. Technology can help in the assessment process by managing and narrowing the candidate pipeline and by automating background checks.

8. Develop and value candidate relationships. Some companies have the attitude that making the jobs web site too easy to navigate will produce a flood of useless resumes, making the recruiter’s job more difficult.

The goal as a recruiter is not to make your job easier if it sacrifices the main objective: to hire great people. If you create barriers before you even have a relationship, the strong candidates will not want to work there.

Screen candidates in, don’t screen them out. All candidates are customers. Stay in touch with qualified candidates who have declined offers. Develop a candidate relationship management system and give recruiters time to develop a proactive, personal touch.

9. Maximize your employee retention programs. When prospective employees see employees having fun, it benefits recruitment. If they see people getting rewards for great work, that’s even better, because strong candidates believe in themselves and find true rewards very attractive. It’s important for candidates to see that it’s not who you know or politics that matter. And make sure growth paths for employees are clear.

Technology available to support retention includes systems for incentive management, performance appraisal and succession planning. Keep working on these best practices until they become a mantra within your organization. Build your recruiting process around these practices, and then find technology that supports those efforts.

Tim Villanueva was a founding engineer and architect of Quicken for Windows. He is general manager and executive vice president for Yahoo! Resumix, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif.


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