Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Four Big Truths About Headhunting and Everything Else

I was speaking with a friend of mine the other day and he asked me “What’s the biggest challenge you face in the headhunting business?”. I replied, “Do you mean right now or all of the time? If you mean right now, it’s the shortage of qualified candidates. If you mean all of the time, it’s TAL...’they all lie’.” He laughed and we moved on to the next topic, probably sports.

Later that evening I thought about my TAL remark. Is it really true? Maybe TAL is itself a lie. But there is something to it. It’s not necessarily that “ALL” are lying. It’s really more that we don’t know what we don’t know. (Remember Donald Rumsfeld in the Bush II administration trying to explain about what we know and what we don’t know and known unknowns and unknown knowns and unknown unknowns? Rumsfeld was not wrong but he forgot his audience and it became one of the all time ‘What the Hell did he just say?’ moments in history.)

There are really Four Big Truths one learns in headhunting:
_You never have all of the facts.
_There are always “hidden decision-makers”.
_Things change over time
_And, yes, sometimes people lie (or they just don’t tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth.)

You never have all of the facts about the job or the candidate. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes you don’t ask the right questions. Sometimes the employer or the candidate doesn’t know the answer or they just make something up and tell you what they think you want to hear or what they want you to hear. Jobs and lives are complicated and sometimes people don’t realize the importance of certain things until it’s brought to their attention.

And there are things you can’t talk about. There are legal restrictions and limitations. Employers and candidates have biases and personal circumstances you can’t ask about, much less explore. And right or wrong, fairly or unfairly, these “unmentionable” realities often determine if a job is offered, or if offered is it accepted.

Then there are those “hidden decision-makers”. Rarely these days does the hiring decision belong to only one or two people. Of course, there is the official “hiring authority”. But, if someone who matters to that hiring authority doesn’t think a person should be hired, they probably aren’t going to be hired. It can be for any number of reasons and may not have anything to do with the specific candidate being considered. It’s the reality of the“consensus hiring” process.

And it’s not just on the employer side. Candidates have their fair share of hidden decision-makers or influencers and, oh the games those people play. Spouses and kids who don’t want to be the ones to say no to a career opportunity involving relocation, but secretly hope that the job offer will never come. And when it does come and relocation becomes a reality, they rise up and say NO. Current employers can become, in effect, hidden decision-makers; rushing in at the last minute with a counter-offer that the candidate just can’t refuse. I’ve even seen an aging parent guilt candidates into turning down a job offer that might involve relocation or increased travel away from home.

And things change as time passes. These days the interview and hiring process can go on for months. It’s not unusual to submit a candidate for an opportunity and the first interview doesn’t happen for two, three or even four weeks. Then it may be another couple of weeks before a second interview. And then a month before everyones schedules line-up for a round of in-person interviews. And then another round perhaps a few weeks later. And a week or so before an offer is made. Anything can happen as the weeks and months drag on. The candidate may get other offers or a promotion. The candidate may just get fed up with the process and withdraw. The client company may change their mind and promote from within. Or someone from “their network” suddenly becomes available and they hire that person.

Lastly, there are those lies or half-truths. It may not be TAL. Certainly everyone doesn't lie all of the time about everything. And we tend to grade ourselves and others on "the curve". If you happen to be more honest, more often than others, and not blatantly dishonest, at least not on something important; you get an 'A'. But it is rare that anyone tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There may or may not be intentional or malicious lies or truth omissions. Sometimes they are unavoidable and tied to necessarily confidential matters. There are things that an employer will not and probably should not disclose about a job, at least not upfront. The same goes for the candidate and even for the search firm.

One might say these aren’t really lies. But, if you’re the one not being told the full story, it pretty much feels like a lie. And it’s the worst part of the headhunting business or any business I suppose. That’s why I titled this entry “The Four Big Truths About Headhunting and Everything Else”. This really is the way life goes. All of our relationships, decisions and actions are at risk. Nothing is certain. People talk about being “transparent”. But who is, really…. when it comes down to it? Who can afford to be and survive in this world? How much would it actually cost to be totally honest?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?- Jeremiah 17:9

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Lowering the Bar

The unemployment rate just reached a low (3.7%) not seen since the late 1960’s. If you’re an employer, let that soak in. If you’re looking to hire “experienced” workers let these numbers soak in:
Unemployment rates for workers age 25 and over:
_With college degree 2.0%
_Some college 3.1%
_High School 3.5%
_Less than High School 4.9%

And that unemployment rate for those with less than a high school degree is down from a peak 17.9% during the last recession. Some employers are now hiring felons who were convicted for non-violent crimes. Some employers have stopped drug-testing. And, some employers are still hiring undocumented immigrants (yes they are…).

Here at High Road Partners we are recruiting experienced management and executive talent for the transportation and logistics industry. And guess what, there isn’t enough experienced management and executive talent to go around. I’ve written about this in the past, warning that we will soon reach the point where certain key positions will go unfilled or be filled by people lacking the requisite qualifications and experience. Well, we have arrived.

We’ve seen companies making adjustments, essentially playing dodge ball with this issue for the last five years. But employers are playing the game at a slow walk while the candidate market is on a dead run and moving farther away. It’s been interesting to watch the de-evolution in hiring practices in this industry. (And it probably holds true for other industries, this just happens to be the one I know.) Take most any hiring criteria and it’s been tweaked:

_Degree required? Not now. Preferred, but not required.
_Specific experience in a market segment? Not necessarily. Transportation or transportation-related will suffice. (Can you spell Logistics? Any clue what it is?)
_Stable work history? Well, who’s really stable these days. As long as the candidate has got good reasons for job changes, we’ll consider them.
_Do not send us any unemployed candidates. I haven’t heard that one in three years.
_Salary range is fixed, period. Today, we’re more likely to hear “we’re open for the right candidate”.
_Benefits, time off, work schedule, relocation..It's company policy. Today, those are negotiable.

These are just a few of the key hiring criteria that are changing. And it’s a matter of degree. Some employers are “adjusting” more than others. Those who aren’t adjusting are falling farther and farther behind. We still have some clients who are trying to use the same standards (and at about the same level of pay) they were using 15 years ago. And, oh by the way, wanting to have half dozen or more candidates to pick from. Ain’t gonna happen. These companies are on the way out of business and they don’t even realize it.

How bad has it gotten? Based on what I’m seeing, pretty bad. Employers are now hiring not just a little “off spec”, but way off spec. Especially if they are unwilling or, for various reasons, unable to meet the compensation levels required to hire more qualified candidates. And these are not candidates we’ve submitted. Usually they are referrals or people from their network who just need a job. Sometimes they decide to do the noble, heroic thing and promote from within. But, there’s nothing noble or heroic about promoting someone to fail. And, increasingly, these same employers are coming back to us within a year admitting that it didn’t work out and need to reopen the search.

We are where we are and it took decades to get here. The driver, mechanic and warehouse labor shortages are getting the headlines, as they should. If you can’t move the freight or keep the trucks on the road, you don’t have a business, period. But, you also need people to manage the business. The right people. At the end of the day, organizations and institutions ultimately die due to a lack of leadership and direction. The survivors are those who can adjust, adapt and overcome without lowering the bar too much. Look around your company and ask yourself, will it be dead or alive in ten years?

Father tell me, we get what we deserve
Oh we get what we deserve
And way down we go
Way down we go.
(from the song by Kaleo)