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Recruiting practices affect reputation

Public relations and the people function (a.k.a human resources) have significant overlap, because both deal with the employee public.

Public relations is broader because employees constitute only one of the several relevant publics it deals with for the organization, whereas they represent the main and likely sole public that the people function deals with.

Recruiters are a primary point of contact with the organization, for prospective employees and the talent pool. Recruiting practices, and the philosophies that power them, can and do influence the way people perceive the organization.

The impact of recruiting practices on people is all the more relevant, considering that fresh recruits are more likely to be millennials and Generation Zers who share opinions liberally, indiscriminately, and compulsively on social media.

From a communication and reputation-building perspective, every employee of an organization is an unofficial (or official) bearer of its standard in their social networks, with the power to affect an employer’s reputation, even after they have left said employer.

This post details some grating practices favoured by certain unenlightened organizations.

The interviewing process

First, we must define the term “interview”.

It may be thought of as a view or an assessment of fit between two people or entities – where they “question, consult, or evaluate each other”. Despite what many recruiters believe, it is not a unilateral affair. The candidates are evaluating the organization (represented in this instance by the recruiter) as well.

It is tempting for the organization to purchase standardized interview questionnaires from an external vendor. HR managers (here we’ll use the term we dislike — “resources” — as it represents the viewpoint of the corporate cultures we are talking about) may feel this offers consistency in the information sought and recorded. It might even make it easier to mathematically rate interviewees using such a standard format (even though the math usually dissuades many “people-oriented” recruiters from doing such rating).

There are many issues with such standardized questionnaires.

For one, they are too rigid. A true interview must be flexible. Sometimes it must delve into certain aspects of a candidacy more deeply; at other times it must pass over paths of inquiry that are seemingly irrelevant. Certain responses may trigger greater interest and may necessitate deviations and ramifications that are not part of the standardized form.

For another, they can be cracked easily. A reasonable cranium with Internet access can access several standardized questionnaires and can prepare spiffy answers for them.

In our opinion, an organization does not need someone who can tell them exactly what they want to hear. They need someone who can do the job, open up new lines of thought and resultant action, and gels with the organizational culture. If the right fit is achieved, then there is a lesser chance of the employee leaving, and of the organization finding the employee unsuitable to its culture.

Most times, form questionnaires are ineffective in properly assessing a candidate.

We would recommend having two sets of questions:

  • Some standard such as the icebreaker and seeking some general background.
  • Others that are written specifically for that particular candidate, after the search committee has reviewed their résumé.

The greenhorn interviewer

One flabbergasting practice in some organizations is asking junior recruiters to shortlist executive level senior candidates. It is bad enough that the shortlisting for senior positions is relegated to newbies – because it risks the organization losing out on worthy candidates and on creating a stronger shortlist.

It is worse that junior recruiters are also asked to interview for senior positions.

Would it not show more respect to candidates, and also project a less-unhinged image of the corporation, if senior recruiters were charged with interviewing senior candidates?

It is humiliating and annoying when veterans of many wars and many achievements have to sit through interviews conducted by inexperienced junior recruiters with insufferable delusions of personal grandeur, reading robotically off standardized questionnaires without any consideration for the seniority and experience (not just in an organization but on the larger canvas of life) of such people. Said interviewers may not even have the ability or knowledge to appreciate the situations these veterans have braved.

There is nothing wrong with the junior-ness of recruiters or employees; most people (save privileged kids who parachute in on their parents’ personal connections into cushy managerial positions on their first visit to the office) start out as entry-level junior employees. It is the fact that they don’t have the experience or knowledge to screen and interview senior candidates. Also objectionable is the stench of arrogance radiated by some junior recruiters when interviewing people far more capable and competent than they are (at that point in time, because there is always the prospect of personal and professional improvement with time and experience).

A better practice would be to have a senior recruiter conduct the interview while the junior recruiter observes.

Outsourced interviewing and reference checking

Another peculiar trend is companies outsourcing the interviewing and reference checking process.

Reference checking involves a certain sixth sense, an intuition, to properly assess whether a candidate can be part of the organization in a manner that is beneficial and satisfactory to both parties.

This is best done by an insider, who knows the intricacies, power structures, cracks in the armour, and office politics as only an insider would. An insider is then best qualified to evaluate whether a candidate would be able to survive, thrive and contribute in the realities of the organizational culture.

We don’t deny that there is cost savings and value in outsourcing certain aspects of business operations. But interviewing and checking references should not be two of them.

Discourtesy post-interview

Past the 2007 stock market crash and the consequent economic crisis, recruiters found themselves in a place of power – because legions of laid-off people were looking for new jobs.

The fires of crises reveal the true nature and character of people, just as fire revealed the truth in Sauron’s One Ring (sorry, we couldn’t resist the Lord of the Rings reference).

Recruiters could not be bothered to acknowledge inquiries, return phone calls, or send courtesy emails. They had a handy reason: they were too busy to be courteous to the large numbers.

Since automation is at an all-time high, it seems unreasonable that emails to candidates could not be programmed to go out at different stages in the recruitment process. Many companies send out notices of regret to unsuccessful candidates – and that is fine.

But the aura of self-importance appears to have persisted to date in many organizational recruiters, who fail to return calls from short-listed candidates for senior positions.

Several former colleagues and friends have been astonished that after having gone through four interviews, lunch and dinner meetings with the team to assess cultural fit, and doing a sample (and free) project for the employer, they wouldn’t hear from the recruiters for as long as three weeks. The candidates had to call repeatedly before an unapologetic recruiter would say nonchalantly that the company had selected another candidate.

The unbelievably good first day

On LinkedIn and other sites, people frequently post photos of the desk of a new employee – complete with a laptop, pens, pencils, branded plastic water bottle, post-its and the like. Comments abound praising the company and its human resources team; and lusting after such a utopian work culture. The current employer is sufficiently buttered up by the new recruit’s enthusiasm and loyalty as demonstrated by said LinkedIn post.

From experience, we can suggest it would be more revealing to look at what comes after this inviting (almost suspiciously sugary) picture of a workstation.

What if the employee is expected to sign over their personal life, privacy and other prospects to this one job? What if the company forces the employee to work 90-hour weeks with no weekends? What if one’s eyesight is assaulted and weakened by long hours in front of computer screens in cramped cubicles? What if health is sacrificed by such unnatural expectations of a human body, mind and spirit?

The old adage holds good: If something looks or sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

E-orientation

Many corporations now have new hire e-orientation and e-training. It is most attractive for the HR department. All they have to do is herd unsuspecting hires into a closed room, plonk them in front of computers with headsets, and leave them there for a few days to complete their e-orientation. The software tests them, reports the scores electronically to the HR team, who get to provide quantitative reports to the executive team. And they don’t even have to be in the same room as the abandoned and dazed fresh recruits.

Moving everything online is not the grand panacea to people management. By very definition, human resources requires interaction with humans.

It is convenient to outsource orientation to an external provider. If anything goes wrong, there is someone to point an accusatory finger at. Legal counsel would probably be satisfied.

Many people seem oblivious to the fact that orientation and new-hire onboarding process can influence an organization’s reputation. What does it say about an organization’s attitude toward its people when its HR representatives refuse to have contact with new hires during orientation?

By the way, some of the animation in these e-orientation modules is so ridiculous that early cartoons from the 1920s would be far better. Stick figures moving awkwardly like puppets with broken strings in simulated lunchroom conversations hardly does any favours for the perception of the HR department.

Here’s a radical thought: why not use human beings to talk to human beings? It seemed to have worked for most of human life on this planet, before the appearance of e-orientation over the last 15 odd years. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that maybe, just maybe, humanness still works?

Even in the world of online education, there is still human contact via video, voice, emails and online real-time discussions with the instructor.

We are not advocating against technology. We are railing against this self-congratulatory and misguided view that technology can completely replace human contact where humans are concerned, as also the complete detachment of the HR department from new-hire orientation.

The Verafluenti aperçu

Let recruiting and new hire orientation practices come from a place of compassion and decency. Huge profits and stashes of untold riches in bank vaults does not give organizations the right to discard kindness, courtesy and grace.

Every interaction with publics contributes to an organization’s reputation and character. In recessions and depressions, people may stomach such corporate callousness, out of a desperate need for a paycheck. But at the first sign of a stronger economy, talented people will leave such companies in droves.

Then again, perhaps some organizations simply do not care, because they feel there are enough needy fish in the workforce sea willing to enter the corporate net and become indentured zombies.

This post is for those organizations that have a conscience and appreciate the impact of every organizational practice on its reputation and more importantly on people, families and society.

* * *

This post was written by Raaj Chandran, executive director and chief consultant for Verafluenti Communication Inc.

We solicit your feedback to this post. Please use the “Leave a Reply” form at the end of this (or any other post) to make a public comment, in adherence to our blog etiquette. Or if you prefer, you can email us in private at contact@verafluenti.com.

Print-ready versions of several blog posts are available in our store for a small fee.

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Careers belong to individuals, jobs to employers

Legend speaks of a time when an apprentice joined an enterprise, learned the trade under various masters, enhanced his or her skills, moved up in responsibility and authority, and in the process spent an entire lifetime with that enterprise. The leaders of the enterprise took good care of their people, rewarding them for their loyalty and fealty; nurturing their talents; helping them on their journey to become better professionals.

It was the time when a concept called “career” was meaningful.

In the land of the rising sun, this concept was particularly in the ascendant till the 1970s and possibly the 1980s. People joined an organization and remained there till they retired. The same could be said of many companies in the United States and India where people worked in mills, assembly lines, manufacturing plants, and industries all their lives.

This is in contrast with today’s norm where people flit from company to company over the course of their work lives. In fact, times have changed so much that it is viewed as a weakness if one has only a single employer shown on their résumé. Modern recruiters would frown upon their “inadequate breadth of experience” and “lack of initiative and ambition” (more about the blasé recruitment techniques of the present day in another post).

 

The hands that sow the seeds

Employees are hardly to blame. They are merely adapting to the signs of the times as best as they can, to do the best they can, for themselves and their families.

It is the nature of employers that is responsible for much of this mindset and trend.

The way they behave and treat their people, employers of this age do not merit the dedication of people’s entire professional careers to them.

There is little genuineness or humanness in a significant number of corporations. When profit is the only thing that matters, when anything done for people is largely eyewash or intended for publicity, when the bare minimum legally-required is the standard for people’s welfare, then why would people stay?

This has begotten acute selfishness – on the part of employers and resultantly on the part of employees.

People offer their skills, but very often, not their passion or deepest drive. They stay only till they find another employer who offers more money and better prospects of climbing the corporate hierarchy.  

How can the average employee be faulted for such actions, when even CEOs keep jumping ship (loaded with ludicrously exorbitant severance packages) only to resurface in another company (for an even higher pay). At that level, there is the added advantage of being immune to poor performance in preceding companies. If that is the behavior of the so-called corporate role models, then why would a junior employee be expected to stay?

 

Movement is not taboo

Now, it is not always a bad thing for an individual to leave a company. There are many instances when it becomes the logical and desired course of action. When the culture, environment and practices of a company are anathema to an individual’s personal values, ethics and work style, it is best for one to move out and find a more compatible company. In fact, it is the hallmark of any intelligent person to resign from toxic quagmires in search of something they enjoy and like.

Sometimes, an individual simply yearns for a change – to sample the variety that a different organization in a different line of work, perhaps in a different city or a different country would offer. There is then the multi-industry and often multi-dimensional experience to be gained by such movement.

No! Movement, change and progression are not bad at all.

But we also recognize that such movement need not be the norm; it can be the exception. Some individuals would rather concentrate on doing the job well than constantly look for another job. Such people like the stability that comes from an assured job and income, based on which they can buy homes, raise families, plan for their children’s university education, their own retirement, and the like.

In the latter scenario, a significant portion of their thoughts, ideas and time go into perpetual job-hunting which means that subsequently fewer thoughts and ideas and less time go to the performance of the job on hand with the current employer.

From an employer perspective, high employee turnover means higher hiring and training costs, not to mention the cost of the time lost while people are navigating the learning curve.

In spite of these home truths that lie in plain sight, companies either don’t realize or won’t acknowledge that their practices sow the seeds that cause this trend.

 

Experience deserves respect

As people get older, there is the risk of them becoming less desirable in the workforce.

Many companies and fresh-out-of-college recruiters forget that experience is an invaluable asset to any organization. There are myriad instances in a corporation where youthful enthusiasm and fire cannot get the job done without the insight and steadying hand of experience.

Does it not then follow logically that senior employees must be treated well and with respect instead of as dinosaurs on their way to sure extinction? There are few things more insulting and hurtful in someone’s professional life than to be treated as a useless vestigial organ.

It is a frightening prospect after, say 20 years with a company — when one is accustomed to a certain office decorated with family photos and certificates of achievement, a certain route to get to the workplace, a familiar group of people to work with, and favourite restaurants for lunch around the office – to suddenly receive a pink slip and be frog-marched like a thief out of what was a second home.

Such a person would find one’s belief in a “career” with that one organization shattered.

Thinking philosophically, beyond the confines of corporate cubbyholes, everything in life has a purpose. Just as the young have a purpose in an organization, so do the older and experienced people. Is it so difficult to understand this and apply it to a corporation?

 

What employers can do

Companies may claim it is the employees who are the problem. They seldom stay, so why should an employer do anything more than the minimum for a revolving employee population?

We have an observation. Aren’t companies far more powerful than the average employee? Don’t companies have way more resources than the average employee? With power must come a sense of responsibility – a desire and willingness to do what is right.

Instead of waiting for employees to wag their tails and stay in a bad kennel, could not the master try and build a better kennel and home first?

If there is something positive to be done, wouldn’t an employer want to be the first mover?

If companies do want people to spend more of their working lives – their professional careers – with them, then they must offer opportunity, clarity, commitment and genuine compassion for people’s wellbeing. Measures could include the following:

  • Better employee relations.
  • Clear path to advancement (to cater to ambitious aspiring employees).
  • Opportunities to learn and improve themselves.
  • Tangible and intangible appreciation and rewards for good work.
  • Actions to make it a place that people look forward to spending the major portion of their day in.

The above suggestions straddle the people function and the PR function (if you want to know why we don’t use the detestable terms “HR” or “human capital”, please read this blog post).

One wonders why the “people” people are not leading such a charge. Why are many of them hiding behind policy statements, links to online orientation courses, payroll software, and PeopleSoft screens?

 

Corporate alumni relations charade

A new development is the institution of alumni relations programs by corporations. They maintain a database of people who have left the company and keep sending them newsletters and email invitations to allegedly exclusive events. Some companies shamelessly restrict such efforts to people above a certain level – only people with director, vice president, board member or other lofty phrases in their new job title shall be worthy of such attention.

Many employers forget that these so-called alumni made a conscious decision to leave, for a variety of reasons, one of which could be (and usually is) an unconducive work environment. It is quite possible that a significant majority of them do not care about the employers they have left behind, or even want to hear from them.

Inexplicably, it is often the worst-offending companies with noxious corporate cultures that have such alumni relations programs.

Yet, this effort is lauded as important to “maintain key relations” with past employees. The ugly truth is that such efforts are done with the purpose of somehow squeezing more revenue out of the new employers of these so-called alumni, or to attempt poaching them when they are doing well elsewhere.

 

The Verafluenti aperçu

When we start hiring, we will call the opportunities what they truly are – jobs.

We don’t expect people to stay with us all their lives – it would be unrealistic. We would love it if they did. But we are also pragmatic enough to recognize the rather slim probability of this.

If and when they want to leave, we would bid them a fond farewell with good letters of reference (assuming they have performed ethically) and wish them the best in their “careers”. For us, helping people become better professionals and human beings is far more important than trying to sound pompous.

In this age, individuals will likely have a career made up of several jobs with several companies. It may sound grandiose to position a role with one company as a career instead of a job – another instance of the corporate malaise to use jargon and self-aggrandize.

A career belongs to an individual. Jobs are what companies offer. We would be one such job in what we hope will be illustrious careers. We will do our best to make this one job with us as fulfilling, educative and useful as possible.

* * *

This post was written by Raaj Chandran, executive director and chief consultant for Verafluenti Communication Inc.

We solicit your feedback to this post. Please use the “Leave a Reply” form at the end of this (or any other post) to make a public comment, in adherence to our blog etiquette. Or if you prefer, you can email us in private at contact@verafluenti.com.

Print-ready versions of several blog posts are available in our store for a small fee

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