The Nosy Recruiter

by Gina Storey, Senior Technical Recruiter – Contract Services

In this dynamic industry, recruiters face many challenges–many due to the complexity of us humans. I have met with some incredibly creative and remarkable people that have been gracious with their time and job search information.  At the same time, I have also encountered many candidates who carry a negative bias about recruiters, which causes them to keep a lot of important and critical details under wraps. 

My job as a recruiter is two-fold;  one main responsibility is to find suitable positions for my applicants, another is to deliver strong, qualified candidates to my client.  When I present a candidate to a client, I communicate a summary of their skills and career goals along with an overview of their current job search activity.  One of my biggest challenges is to get candidates to understand the benefits of sharing information with me regarding their job search; this includes other interviews they have had and other companies/opportunities they have pursued.  To them, I may appear nosy, but as their advocate and their only voice to the client, I must have all current and accurate information in order to go to bat for them and guide the hiring process.  My best intentions are with my candidates and I have no interest in jeopardizing their other job prospects (on the contrary!), I am simply aiming to be a credible advocate for them. If there are ever any “surprises” that pop up in process that I knew nothing about, not only is my credibility with my client compromised, the candidates credibility is also tarnished.  So, if you get annoyed with me for asking a lot of questions about other opportunities you have in the pipeline, just remember that I am doing my best to help you gain a fabulous job.  And, if you happen to get that fabulous job through another avenue, I will be the first to congratulate you on a job well done!

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Dress to Impress, Not Stress, the Hiring Manager

A job candidate might want to rethink that Goth look when going to an interview, to reconsider appearing as Mr. Monopoly when pursuing a job in the financial sector or to forgo the bathing suit and beach bag even if it is a scorcher of a day. 

It’s the difference between being remembered for the right reasons—job qualifications, knowledge, people skills—and being remembered as the person whose painted-on “toupee” started running down his face.

OfficeTeam surveyed 670 HR managers at companies with 20 or more employees in the United States and Canada about the strangest interview outfits they had seen or heard of. Among the responses:

  • A cat suit.
  • A leather vest with no shirt.
  • Pajamas and slippers.
  • A blanket worn as a shawl.
  • Bright yellow shoes.
  • A Star Trek T-shirt.
  • A skirt made of plastic.
  • Dressing as a Goth.
  • Wearing the uniform from a former employer.

Dianne Shaddock Austin recalls the applicant for a staff assistant position who strolled in wearing a spaghetti-strap tank top and swimsuit skirt over her mid-thigh-high bathing suit. A beach bag and flip flops completed the ensemble.

“She explained that she had spent the morning at the beach because it was so hot,” said Austin, who was an HR generalist at the time. “She didn’t seem the least bit fazed or apologetic about the fact that she was dressed so casually. She never made it past that first interview.” 

Then there was the candidate for a job at a New York City publishing firm who wore a sequined party dress with a deeply plunging neckline.

She was on time for the 8 a.m. interview but quickly explained she had been out clubbing and hadn’t had time to go home and change, said Linda Konstan, head of HR at the firm at the time.
She didn’t get the job, but at least she remained clothed during the interview.

Richard O’Malley recalled the woman who applied for a job as “party motivator”—a trained dancer who encourages people to get on the dance floor at events such as high-end bar mitzvahs.

The ads that ran in the college newspapers and online bulletin boards sought “outgoing personalities” with “previous dance experience” and that “party experience was a +++,” explained O’Malley, who at the time was the production and staffing director for events staged by a large entertainment company.
“A gorgeous young woman shows up in a pretty but somewhat revealing short summer wrap dress—very stylish and not inappropriate for a dancer interview,” he told SHRM Online.

“What was surprising—to me and my female assistant—was that when asked what assets would she bring to my organization, she stood up, pulled a string at her hip and stood before us completely naked except for a pair of stunning strappy heels.

“Apparently she thought ‘dancer’ was code for ‘stripper/escort’ and was disappointed when we told her this was a job actually dancing with people.”

Be Tactical in Your Choice of Attire:

Sometimes an applicant overdresses in an attempt to make a good impression.

Job Search Advisor Lavie Margolin with Lion Cub Job Search recalled the man she referred for a position as a meat slicer at a delicatessen.

“In order to make the best professional impression, he decided to wear a three-piece suit, brand new tie and his snazziest shoes,” Margolin told SHRM Online. “The deli owner contacted me immediately, as he did not think this person was willing to get his hands dirty in the job.

“Sometimes,” she pointed out, “the right outfit can be perfect for one interview but horrible for another.”

Margolin explained that the man was trying to dress to impress and that she thought he could cut it. However, the applicant decided that the job was not for him. 

Job candidates need to consider carefully what they will wear to an interview, said Bettina Seidman of New York City-based Seidbet Associates, whose services include career counseling and performance coaching.

“Wearing attire of a designer or manufacturer where you’re interviewing can be very tactical. However, when a client shows up in a T-shirt and jeans in advance of interviewing with a software development company, I remind them that although employees dress that way, you haven’t been hired yet, and when interviewing you have to impress the recruiter.

“Another mistake that candidates make is dressing too far above the position,” she said, noting that it’s not smart to wear a very expensive suit, tie and shoes if interviewing for a junior professional position.
Margolin conducts a boot camp interview session with clients and has seen the gamut. When a client walks in wearing sandals, even during the summer, she makes it clear that footwear choice counts, even in practice sessions.

Shoes on men and women are very important. Low heels for women and always shined. Cap toe or wing tips for men and always shined.”

Tell that to the recent college graduate who walked into an interview at a boutique financial firm in Boston wearing a suit and house slippers. 

“He didn’t explain why he wore them, and I was a bit too shocked to even ask,” the firm’s recruiting director, Aljolynn Sperber, said of the young man applying for the paid intern position. “He ended up getting the job because he had the qualifications we were looking for, but we made sure to underline the dress code when he was hired.”

Then there was the candidate for a finance position who dressed as Monopoly icon, Rich Uncle Pennybags, wearing the figure’s makeup and top hat.

“I gave him an A for effort,” Wayne Weiner told SHRM Online, “but did not offer him the job.”

Project Professionalism:

It’s easy to make subtle mistakes when selecting interview attire, OfficeTeam Executive Director Robert Hosking said in a news release, especially for those new to the job hunt.

“Ultimately, you want to project professionalism and confidence and ensure your outfit isn’t distracting or causing employers to question your judgment.”

OfficeTeam offers the following do’s and don’ts for interview attire:

  • Do not show up in wrinkled, stained or torn clothing. Assess your appearance from head to toe before leaving for the interview.
  • Do not over-accessorize. Choose simple jewelry and be subtle with makeup, perfume or cologne.
  • Do not assume you can “dress down” for an interview, even if a company has a very casual atmosphere. Err on the conservative side and wear a suit or blazer.
  • Do not wear anything that is uncomfortable. Have a dress rehearsal to ensure that the interview outfit fits well and instills a feeling of confidence.

And if any part of the interview outfit is new, a dress rehearsal will bring attention to any tags that remain on the clothing. Al Drucker, a recruiter for the Internal Revenue Service, recalled a young man who came to an interview in a new suit but had forgotten to remove the label from the jacket sleeve.
“The three interviewers, including myself, all noticed it at the same time when he lifted his arm to make a point. It did not detract from the interview, although he was not selected for the position.

“Nevertheless,” Drucker said, “we all remember him and his great effort at making his appearance as nice as possible.”

Dress for the Current Century:

It’s also good to keep up with the times.

Executive recruiter and certified image consultant Lizandra Vega recently interviewed a woman applying for the position of personal assistant to a senior-level executive. The candidate looked like she had stepped out of the 1960s—or an episode of “Mad Men”—with her Jackie Kennedy pillbox hat, shift dress over a white button-down blouse, teased hair coiffed into a “That Girl” flip, a fitted swing coat, Mary Jane shoes and little white gloves she wore during the entire interview. Cat-eye-shaped glasses topped off the look.

“Her mannerisms and her choice of expressions were all very [antiquated],” recalled Vega, author of The Image of Success: Make a Great Impression and Land the Job You Want (AMACOM Books, 2010). 

“Judging from her resume, she must have been in her early 20s in the 1960s. It was as if she had been frozen in time and had not interacted with anyone other than her dog.”

Still, Vega sent her to the client because the woman had worked for someone very senior who was retiring. The woman didn’t get the job, Vega said, because the client thought she seemed sheltered and not thick-skinned enough “to multitask and thrive in their environment.”

Women typically are advised to tone down their makeup when prepping for an interview, but no one thinks to remind men to back away from the hair-in-a-can.

Bruce A. Hurwitz, Ph.D., an executive recruiter and career counselor in New York City, found the perfect candidate for the job of property manager for a Class-A office building. The man had been responsible for a 1.5 million-square-foot building for about 10 years. The building had been purchased four times, and every owner wanted him to stay. He was always part of the deal.

“It was summer. He walked into the office—bald like me—and the top of his head was covered in paint,” recalled Hurwitz. “It was all I could do to keep from laughing, [and] my colleagues were of no help.”
Hurwitz escorted the man into a meeting room intending to give him the brush off.

“It turned out that he was brilliant. We spoke for over half an hour. He was exceedingly knowledgeable, professional, articulate and everything else I look for in a candidate. 

“The problem was the paint.”

It was summer. The room was warm. The man was perspiring. The paint on the man’s head started to run. It was like something out of a “Seinfeld” episode involving George Costanza.
Hurwitz covered his laugh with a cough. 

“I wanted to submit him but I couldn’t and I told him why. I told him that he was highly qualified, interviewed very well, was perfect for the job, and that there was no way I could submit him.”
It’s because of your hair, Hurwitz said, trying to be diplomatic in his word choice.

“You mean my toupee?” the man said with a straight face, referring to his painted-on hair.

“I said, ‘Yes, your toupee.’ I then told him that he did not need it. It did not speak well of him, that he was as good looking as I am and that the client would refer to him not as ‘the guy from the 1.5 million-square-foot building’ but as ‘the guy with the hair.’

“I told him that if he promised to take it off—no need to say ‘wash’—I would submit him. He agreed and was not offended.”

Hurwitz immediately called the client, telling him he had the perfect candidate. Unfortunately, the client had just hired someone.

“It’s the nature of my business,” Hurwitz said philosophically.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kathy.gurchiek@shrm.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Society for Human Resource Management (www.shrm.org), Alexandria, VA, publisher of HR Magazine. © SHRM

Business Award Competitions: What can we learn from them?

Award programs can serve a variety of purposes, but one that I personally find significant is the fact that they force you to take a hard look at the inner workings of your organization. For some awards, the application process alone allows a business to reflect on the things they’ve doing right, and at the same time, it can open their eyes to areas for improvement. Competitions that are based on customer feedback give an organization the privilege of gaining direct and candid feedback about their value and shortcomings.

Another benefit of award programs is that they offer a chance for employees to rally around the company. The application process can inspire questions that become meaningful topics for discussion within an organization. And of course, there’s also an intangible “cool factor” to winning awards that can “fire-up” a company and energize teams.

This year, EdgeLink has been fortunate to win several awards and receive important recognition on coveted industry lists. Most recently we won a spot on Inavero’s “Best of Staffing–Candidate™” list, and earlier in the year we were named to the “Best of Staffing–Client™” list. We were also selected as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon in March of this year. (You can read about these and our many other awards and accomplishments at:  http://edgelink.wpengine.com/recognition.html.) We are grateful to have a team of talented, hard-working and dedicated individuals whose extraordinary efforts have made these achievements possible.

While these awards and recognition can be great for company morale and validating the efforts of our employees, it’s equally important to ask, “What benefit does this recognition bring to our clients and candidates? Here are some things that I believe these awards confirm:

  • We have a sound reputation: While reputation is a subjective and elusive concept, the public’s perception can change quickly, either bolstering your profile or tarnishing it. The recognition that EdgeLink has received has certainly enhanced our reputation within the staffing industry. We have been described by our community as a company that is easy to work with, delivers on its promises, puts its clients and candidates first, and always conducts business with integrity.
  • We hold strong values: It’s easy to make claims that your company is made up of caring individuals who really listen to their customer’s needs and execute effectively. But when your company receives recognition for these exact traits that you promote, it lends credibility, demonstrating that you truly “walk the talk.” Based on the responses of our recent EdgeLink Loyalty Survey, many of our customers have shared appreciation in this vein.
  • We serve the needs of our customers:  In today’s business climate, job seekers are often wary of staffing firms; worrying that a company may not represent and serve their best interest. Our designation to the “Best of” list helps to give our candidates “piece of mind” affirming that we will take good care of them.

Despite the glowing reviews, we won’t let our egos get the best of us. We will continue to work hard to prove our commitment to our clients and candidates. This means, always asking the hard questions, graciously accepting critique, and having the willingness to change for the benefit of our customers and their needs.
We are grateful to our candidates and clients for taking the time to participate in our recent Loyalty Survey and we look forward to continued successful relationships. Thank you!

Has your company participated in this kind of business competition?  What lessons have you learned?

In Our Busy, High-Tech World; Communication Reigns as King

We’ve all seen the reports that employers are signaling plans to increase hiring in 2010. In fact, there’s a renewed sense of optimism out there that’s invigorating. According to CareerBuilder and USA TODAY’S latest nationwide survey of employers, 23 percent plan to increase their headcount in the second quarter, with more than 1/3 of that increase predicted to be in IT-related jobs. And with reports that rapid technology growth is one of the top five trends impacting the job market over the next 10 years—the tables are turning for those of us in IT.

With the economy poised to turn around, there are many things that have to happen to be ready to meet the needs of this changing climate. But what we have determined to be a critical component—in fact the foundation of all of our work—is strong communication. It’s one of the most critical pieces in everything we do.

I realize “communication” is a fairly broad term. What I’d like to share with you here are three simple tips we’ve found to be most helpful in ensuring top-notch communication with our clients and candidates; ultimately leading to a successful working relationship all the way around.

1. Commit to open communication. We have found that open, back-and-forth dialogue is so important. Be up front about this expectation at the beginning of an engagement. For companies hiring—share all details of a position right away. If you think there’s an aspect of the job that won’t be attractive, don’t wait until the 11th hour to share it. Knowing everything up front is critical. If you’re looking for a job, be honest with your preferences. Sometimes it’s the simple things like the hours of an opportunity or the commute that become major factors in a decision. Knowing all details on both sides of the table can avoid common experiences like these:
• “I would have taken that position if it were for $10,000 more”; or
• “The candidate we’re looking for also needs to have XX skill set,”; or
• “The commute is too long—I am only willing to drive 30 minutes to and from work.”
2. Determine the best mode of communication. There are many tools for communication these days, so determining preferences will save time and create a smoother process. Is your preference e-mail? Text or instant messaging? Cell phone? All of the above? Knowing how to reach your contact is important, especially during a time when people expect instantaneous feedback.
3. Remember relationships are important. The irony of communication is that while it’s critical to the success of any relationship, it’s really easy to let it become impersonal with the ease, speed and convenience of electronic communication. Don’t forget to pick up the phone or meet in person now and then for a live conversation. We have found that even though schedules are busy and time is limited, extra efforts like taking someone to lunch or scheduling a brief 15-minute update are appreciated and go a long way in helping make our suggestion in tip number one (commit to open communication!) easier to do.

We all have stories where we know if we had communicated a little more effectively the outcome would have been different in a positive way. At the end of the day, our job is more than sourcing candidates and churning out resumes. Anybody can do that—it’s such a small piece of the relationship between a company like EdgeLink and our clients and candidates. For win-win-win situations, we believe in the value of communication.

What works for you? Any successful communication strategies for keeping open dialogue between clients, candidates and/or vendors? We invite you to share!

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For Internal Reference Checks, Keep the Salt Handy

There’s no arguing that references are an essential part of the hiring process. They offer valuable insight into a candidate’s workplace accomplishments and character. At EdgeLink, we conduct a thorough reference process when screening candidates, vetting their resumes and track records with former employers and educational institutions.

All that said, there is one kind of reference check (whether it’s positive or negative) that you should consider with a few extra grains of salt. It’s the informal, internal, word-of-mouth check many employers conduct by asking their own internal team members whether they know the potential candidate or have friends who have worked with the candidate.

Polling your internal talent to get the “street’s” perspective on a potential hire sounds like a great idea at first. You may learn insights directly from former colleagues and get an in-person perspective on the individual’s performance and workplace personality. But what may seem like a no-brainer, no-cost vetting effort rarely yields the most reliable insight. Here’s why:

Fair critique requires perspective.
To give a fair analysis of a candidate’s job performance, the evaluator needs perspective. While colleagues have day-to-day contact and often collaborate, they are not mandated with the task of measuring, critiquing and improving each other’s performance. An individual, who may seem to be extremely busy and hardworking, might turn out to be very weak at final delivery and execution when management takes a bottom-line look. On the other hand, some of the most productive employees try as they may, might not be achieving the standards required to be truly excellent in a role.

Supervisors who are responsible for the individual’s job performance not only have clearer insight into the work and results delivered, they have a personal stake in their employees’ success. That added stake adds more weight and more insight.

The less emotion the better.
People spend a lot of time in the workplace. It can be hard to get along with everyone, but it is also a place where strong friendships and loyalties are built. It’s hard to ascertain whether a word-of-mouth critique of a candidate is tinged by personality conflicts, shaded by the devotion of friendship or objective enough to yield real insight.

How reliable is the grapevine?
Few will argue that many misunderstandings occur through grapevine communications and second-hand accounts. As the degrees of separation between former colleagues and industry acquaintances increase, the chances of misinformation and misunderstandings clouding references rises as well. That must be factored in when gathering internal references.

You must account for change.
This final point is true with all references—people change. At EdgeLink, we know that the reference checks we conduct are excellent for fact checking: hiring and exit dates, work accomplishments, career paths across an organization, educational background, test results and workload. However, when it comes to workplace character (work ethic, team building skills, professionalism, etc.), we have learned that people change—sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

Just recently, in fact, a client refused to interview one of the IT consultants EdgeLink had recruited due to a poor internal reference. One of the client’s staff members had worked with the candidate years prior and had not been impressed by his workplace professionalism. EdgeLink, on the other hand, had conducted extensive interviewing and reference checking and felt certain this candidate was a great match for the job as well as a highly professional technologist.

EdgeLink convinced the client to give the candidate a shot and encouraged the staff member who gave the reference to join the interview process. The client ended up loving the candidate and the internal staff member was also impressed by the interviews. The candidate was hired and has been a productive and valued team member ever since. The lesson: We all have our career high points and low points. Allow for the possibility that people can change in numerous ways, especially when significant time has passed.

So what do we at EdgeLink recommend? A ban on internal reference gathering? Absolutely not. We just want to remind business leaders and hiring managers to proceed with caution as you gather staff feedback prior to interviews and testing. Consider the reference information provided, the source and even structure interview questions to address any information you have learned.

Above all, don’t base a hiring decision on internal references alone. You run the risk of missing great hires or, even worse, hiring and investing in professionals who have great internal connections but turn out to be poorly suited to their new roles. Make informed hiring decisions by tapping into a rich portfolio of candidate information and conducting a thorough, neutral interview process.