I’ll preface this article by saying that there is no magic bullet to hiring, even though a lot of people want there to be. Any processes put into place to reduce the number of resumes to dig through will weed out potentially good candidates. If you believe that your weed out the methods are effective at helping you find just the right candidate, you are mistaken. Let’s explore.
Don’t believe your weedout methods work
As a hiring manager, when you have a large stack of resumes sitting on your desk, your first thought is likely, “how do I read through these rapidly?” Unfortunately, there is no easy answer or magic bullet for digging through resumes.
Instead, what you need to understand is that to find the best candidate you need to read through and carefully examine every resume and every candidate. Clearly, you will find resume submissions that don’t make sense. If you try to find an easy way to skip reading, you’re going to weed out candidates that could be a good fit for your company. On the other hand, by skipping resumes, you may ultimately be left with bad candidates who are not a good fit for your company.
Don’t skip reading resumes
Many companies try many forms of pre-screening methods to limit reading resumes. Methods that include psychological tests, aptitude tests, technical tests or any combination of those tests. Depending on the position for which you are hiring, it may also include other tests such as lie detector tests (i.e., in trust or money related positions).
Don’t get caught up in the pre-screening process and forget about finding the best candidate for your job position. If you are simply too busy and your primary goal is to get rid of half or three quarters of the resumes on your desk, you have entirely lost sight of your goal and you might as well just randomly select three quarters of those resumes and throw them in the trash. That’s how effective such early weed out methodologies are in finding the right candidate. If you believe the hype that tests are effective at finding just the right candidate, your test provider is blowing smoke. You’re paying money for nothing. That test provider is only there to sell you into their testing service, not provide you with an effective service to locate quality candidates. This comes to…
Why tests fail you
Tests weed out people who are good or bad at taking tests. If your job role is all about taking tests every day, then weeding out those who can’t take tests makes sense. However, if your job role is something other than taking tests (which most real world jobs are), then testing your candidates may weed out people who may be a good fit for your role. Not every person on the planet is good at taking tests. Tests take a certain mindset, require specific thought processes and requires quickness on your feet. It’s a mode each person gets into solely for taking tests and never a mode you get into for actually doing job-related work.
For example, in technical positions where correctness and completeness is the key to prevent mistakes, test taking is the exact opposite of what you want in your role. You want people who are careful, methodical and have attention to details. You don’t want people to rush through the work and guess at answers because that’s the quickest ways to mistakes. Multiple choice tests are extremely bad at determining if a person offers attention to detail, is a good communicator, has the skills you want or at predicting effectiveness in a job role.
Tests also fail to screen candidates properly because apptitude, IQ and management tests do not assess a candidate’s job skills at all. Worse, the assessment it seeks might not even be relevant to their job role and may even erroneously assess the wrong skills.
How do you find a good candidate?
If you’re actually looking for the best candidate to fulfill your position, then you will need to spend the time and go through each and every resume from top to bottom and weed them out in the normal way …. by reading.
I understand time constraints. I really do. You want the easiest and fastest way possible to find your candidates without spending a lot of time on this process. This is especially true if you have thousands of resumes to review. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Tests won’t do it. Random selection won’t do it. Only by reading through the resumes and talking the candidates will you find the right person for your job role.
If you don’t have the time to spend on the hiring process, then you probably shouldn’t be in a hiring position. If you cut corners, then will get what you deserve. Yes, it is very tempting to use third party pre-screening technologies, like testing, to eliminate candidates sight unseen, but be prepared to potentially eliminate some of your best candidates by doing so.
Job Postings and Resume Volume
If you do actually have 10,000 resumes on your desk, then you’re likely posting your job ad too broadly. Posting your job too broadly is your first mistake. Not only will it bring in too many candidates, it will bring with it many recruiter calls (something will you want to avoid if your intent is to hire internally). Use limited job boards and job ads when posting your jobs. If one venue doesn’t work, wait until that job ad expires before posting it somewhere else. Don’t just blanket the internet everywhere to find candidates.
If you need your position filled yesterday, and who doesn’t, that’s just not going to happen if you’re looking for a Rock Star. If you need someone now, then consider hiring a contractor to fill the role to buy you time until you can find the right permanent candidate.
Overall Best Practices
Forcing any kind of pre-screening tests onto candidates is really no more effective than doing it the old fashioned way. In fact, the old fashioned way of reading through resumes and calling them for phone screens is probably the easiest, fastest and most reliable way to determine if the candidate is a good fit. It is also the best way to determine if you should progress the candidate to the next stage of interviews.
Yes, there are many testing services out there willing to take your money for the promise of producing high quality candidates. In the end, you’ll find that you could have found those candidates on your own without spending that money on a testing service.
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey recently offered up some thoughts on women in tech. Or, more specifically, about there not being enough women in tech. I’m happy he’s bringing up the topic, but unfortunately, he hasn’t brought up the whole topic that needs to be addressed. With plenty of personal experience under may own belt in the professional world, having worked in tech since 1991 and with first hand experience working with many women along the way, here are some observations about women working in tech. Let’s explore.
Young Women and First Jobs
As women in their 20s and 30s seek their first, second and third jobs, they also seek something else to fulfill their lives: love, a relationship, a partner, marriage and kids. There’s nothing wrong at all with seeking to have a family. There’s nothing wrong with getting married. There’s also nothing wrong with getting a job. I’m all for having both a career and a family. But…
Jobs and Family
There is something wrong with getting a job just to support your maternity goals. I call that scheming. And, of that, I do not approve. If you are intent hiring onto a job, you need to plan to be there at least 1-2 years (preferably longer) before ever considering having a baby. Yes, I realize biological clocks are ticking, but if that’s your primary concern and not your employment, you shouldn’t be working at all.
So comes one primary issue with women in tech and this situation becomes painfully obvious when specifically hiring women who’ve never had a child. This specific problem typically manifests at the most inopportune time, usually when they are a valued and relied on team member…. and then they get pregnant. When the baby is due, that leaves a hole in the team for at least 3-6 months while she goes on maternity leave and has no contact and does no work. Worse, it leaves the company obligated to hold that position open unfilled while she’s on leave which ultimately makes the situation even worse for the remaining team members.
Unfair to those who still have passion for tech
This is a completely unfair situation to the team who still has their jobs to get done during her maternity period, but now that team is forced to function with one member less. It also makes it doubly more difficult if that person happened to be a significant contributor. It also means that now-on-maternity co-worker, who may have been a star producer, is now a zero producer during maternity leave.
Career or Family
I have no qualms with women wanting to have children, but I would expect them to also use some professional and common courtesy. Don’t sign onto a job and then 9 months later leave the rest of your team in the lurch while you’re off having child for 3-6 months. I find this behavior completely ludicrous, yet it is fully tolerated. In fact, the laws mandate that it be tolerated by the company. This behavior wouldn’t be tolerated at all out of a man, yet women get special dispensation in this area. If you already know you are planning to have a child, don’t join onto a job simply to ‘take advantage’ of the maternity perk 9 months later. While the laws force businesses to support maternity leave, it also leaves that team off balance until she gets back. So then, it’s no wonder that there are women who come back only to find they’ve now been moved into a role that doesn’t matter. Not to mention, being gone for 3-6 months requires the returning team member to spend another month catching back up on all of the new projects and the work that they missed. It’s like hiring the position all over again. Tech moves far too fast to support that long of an absence away from a company.
In this, I have personally witnessed a woman who went from being a star code producer, to getting pregnant and going on maternity leave (a zero producer). When she returned, her attitude had completely changed and she was no longer that star producer. On top of her lack of passion, she set off a series of unreasonable demands for extra time off to tend to both of her children, higher pay, working remotely and after not producing for several months, was ultimately fired. This isn’t really because of the baby more than because of her views on work-life balance. Instead of having passion for and focusing on the work, she chose instead to focus on child and family instead of work. The tech job then becomes secondary and the star player who used to do whatever it took to get something done at work becomes an average to low producer, working only 8 hour days (or less), doing the minimum and taking more time off to tend to family matters. And again, leaving the team in the lurch to find a new star player. It happens far too often than not. While this can happen with men and family, it happens far less often with men than with women.
[Update: 12/17/2014] I have just had this same exact experience described above a second time. Another co-worker recently had a child. Her second child. She took approximately 6-8 weeks time off for her maternity leave. When she returned, a week later than when she said she would return, she worked at the office for 2 weeks. She then suddenly needed a month off to return to her home country for a family crisis. She was again gone for another month. When she returned this second time, it was obvious her work ethic had substantially changed and it was inevitable that she would request yet more time off. She asked for four additional months off. Her manager didn’t allow it which left her to make a choice. Stay on and do the work she was hired to do or leave the company. She opted to leave. This is apparently an all-too-common thread among some mothers. It seems that this is especially true of mothers with two small children at home. This is the almost the identical scenario that played out in the first example above.
It’s clear, having children and hiring female tech workers don’t mix. Any hiring manager who chooses to hire a female tech worker must weigh these risks. If you’re looking for someone who has long term staying potential with the company, hire a male. If you wish to hire a female to be long term, you should hire females beyond their child bearing years or who have already had all the children they plan to have. Hiring a female who is still in the getting married-having child phase, you’re opening yourself up to scenarios exactly like the above, ultimately letting that person go and leaving a new hiring hole to be filled. A hiring hole, that I might add, that may take months to fill.
As a comment about society in general, values have changed, manners have been lost and far too many people have lost any idea of professional and common courtesy for their fellow man especially when it comes to the workplace. For many people, it’s now only about what the company can do for them, not about what they are doing for (or to) the company. Courtesy and manners have been lost and devices like cellphones prove that fact out. I digress.
For these reasons, I encourage any woman who is contemplating having a child (or who is already pregnant) to remain out of the tech workforce until your baby days are behind you, you have your tech career passion back and you have your work and career priorities straight. Let your husband carry the maternity expense on his company’s health plan. If, as a woman, you want to have a long career in tech, and specifically you like the position you are currently holding and wish to have longevity in that job, you need to rethink any baby decision you may be contemplating. Once you’re pregnant, it’s too late to be thinking about your career.
Yes, I understand why women use maternity leave in companies in the way that they do, at the same time it also makes those who are active contributing team members resent you during that long absence and for your lack of work passion when you return. While your team is generally happy that you had a baby, the reality is your team doesn’t care that you now have a family. Your co-workers only care that you get your job done timely, that you do it well and that you continue to do it well after you return from your maternity leave.
Loss of Passion
Having a baby is stressful and time consuming. We get that. You need to change diapers, feed and clothe the baby, cuddle it, nurse it, keep it healthy and do all the right things to make your baby happy and grow into a toddler, child, young adult and ultimately an adult. We get all of that. However, at a workplace, that’s not anyone’s problem but your own. And, you need to leave that at home. Unfortunately, having a child is a huge time commitment that isn’t to be taken lightly. Yet, many women jump into it not realizing how much time, energy and money is drained by being a parent. Additionally, we also get that you want to spend as much time with your child as possible. But, that leaves less time for giving passion to your job at work.
Passion requires focus. Worrying about whether your baby is doing well, is being properly cared for, etc, diverts attention away from focusing on the tech job whether that be writing code or managing systems. Focus is important to do a job well, do it correctly and remain attentive to details. Diversions easily cause loss of focus and loss of details.
Unfortunately, there are many women are not good at a split focus situation. And, something usually gives. When the choice has to be made, it is usually home and family life which is given preference. This clearly becomes evident when projects are delayed, work isn’t getting done timely, pieces of projects are being held open or other people have to do your work because you are at home dealing with home and family issues. As I said, the star player who was previously dedicated to work and getting things done amazingly well is now focused on continually wondering if little baby fell down and got bruised. While that is important as a parent, it’s not important to getting work done.
Laws have forced companies into keeping returning mothers on board when they are no longer the contributor they once were (at least to a point). However, don’t expect to come back from maternity leave and have everything exactly as it was. That won’t happen. Projects move on, managers change, people reorganize and the company changes. Oh, your payroll job will be there as mandated by law, but the job you’d hired into may not. You may find that you’ve been put into a role that has nothing to do with why you were hired. That’s what can happen when you have an extended absence. Time and work marches on with or without you.
High tech and after hour requirements
Let’s just get right down to the heart of the matter. As a member of a high tech profession, one thing you will quickly realize is how much extra time, effort and stress is involved. And, I’m not talking about the 9-5 hours. I’m talking about what happens outside of that. If you write code and that code breaks, you need to expect to be called looking for a fix at any time of the day or night. You are expected to drop whatever it is you are doing, including sleeping, open your computer and look for a fix. It could be 2PM or 2AM.
Now consider being a mom with a newborn. If your baby is continually waking up all hours of the night and you get called to fix your code, what are you going to do and how will you respond? Additionally, when on conference calls under a ‘fix it’ situation, the rest of your team really doesn’t want to hear your newborn burst into the cry song the entire conference call, nor do we want you to leave the call every 2 minutes to attend to your baby. Split attentions don’t work in these situations.
I know this may seem heartless, but business marches on and the company needs undivided attention from team members to solve problems quickly. Just think of this section as your wakeup call to reality. Having babies and being in high tech don’t mix. They both require similar hours and similar attentions, but you’re one person and can only divide your attentions so far. For this reason, you need to fully grasp what it takes to write code for a service that’s 24/7 always on. And, you need to grasp what’s most important, your career or your family. If you answer family, you need to find a job that is not in a high tech startup. You need to find a job where you aren’t required to be on-call to fix your code. You need to find a job where you can stroll in at 9 and stroll out at 5 (or whatever 8 hour period works within your day care requirements) and forget your job until 9 the next day.
Hiring into a high tech job won’t be a long term career goal for you unless you are 100% committed to the job and you are willing to let someone else manage your home and family (like dad or a nanny).
Non-performers and tech
There is no real resolution to this problem from an HR perspective. HR is simply required to comply with all laws. However, that doesn’t mean that every company will tolerate lack of work ethic when a woman gets back from maternity leave. Some companies are very stringent towards non-performers and get rid of them quickly. If you are contemplating working in a tech career, you need to find out what that company’s stance is on non-performers. Some companies are willing to pay very high salaries, but only to the best performers. Anyone not performing sees the door and quickly. You also need to evaluate your own personal views on having a baby. If you think your own views will sway towards family once the baby is born, you should not hire onto a job in high tech which demands tons more time and attention than you may be able to give once your baby is born. You should, instead, look for a job role that is already 9 to 5, limits after hour requirements and doesn’t require staying late.
It makes no sense to commit to a 9 month stint at a high tech company strictly so you can have a baby, which may ultimately end your career in high tech. Placing yourself into this position with a company and your co-workers, you are doing a disservice to yourself, your co-workers, the company and your professional career. It also means you may have to put a firing on your resume. This is never a good thing for a resume. Do yourself a favor and properly plan your career and look for jobs that work on concert with your family goals.
So, you go to work every day with your iPhone, Android phone or even an iPod. You bring it with you because you like having the convenience of people being able to reach you or because you listen to music. Let’s get started so you can understand your risks.
We all know these agreements. We typically sign one whenever we start a new job. Employers want to make sure that each employee remains responsible all during employment and some even require that employee to remain responsible even after leaving the company for a specified (or sometimes unspecified) period of time. That is, these agreements make you, as an employee, personally responsible for not sharing things that shouldn’t be shared. Did you realize that many of these agreements extend to anything on your person and can include your iPhone, iPod, Android Phone, Blackberry or any other personal electronic device that you carry onto the property? Thus, the Employment Agreement may allow your employer to seize these devices to determine if they contain any data they shouldn’t contain.
You should always take the time to read these agreements carefully and thoroughly. If you don’t or can’t decipher the legalese, you should take it to an attorney and pay the fee for them to review it before signing it. You might be signing away too many of your own personal rights including anything you may be carrying on your person.
Your Personal Phone versus Your Employer
We carry our personal devices to our offices each and every day without really thinking about the consequences. The danger, though, is that many employers now allow you to load up personal email on your own personal iDevices. Doing this can especially leave your device at risk of legal seizure or forfeiture under certain conditions. So, always read Employment Agreements carefully. Better, if your employer requires you to be available remotely, they should supply you with all of the devices you need to support that remote access. If that support means you need to be available by phone or text messaging, then they should supply you with a device that supports these requirements.
Cheap Employers and Expensive Devices
As anyone who has bought an iPhone or an Android phone can attest, these devices are not cheap. Because many people are buying these for their own personal use, employers have become jaded by this and leech into this freebie and allow employees to use their own devices for corporate communication purposes. This is called a subsidy. You are paying your cell phone bill and giving part of that usage to your employer, unless your employer is reimbursing you part or all of your plan rate. If you are paying your own bill without reimbursement, but using the device to connect to your company’s network or to corporate email, your device is likely at high risk should there be a legal need to investigate the company for any wrong doing. This could leave your device at risk of being pulled from your grasp, potentially forever.
If you let the company reimburse part or all of your phone bill, especially on a post-paid plan, the company could seize your phone on termination as company property. The reason, post-paid plans pay for the cost of the phone as part of your bill. If the company reimburses more than 50% of the phone cost as part of your bill, they could legally own the phone at the end of your employment. If the company doesn’t reimburse your plan, your employer could still seize your device if you put corporate communication on your phone because it then contains company property.
What should I do?
If the company requires that you work remotely or have access to company communication after hours, they need to provide you with a device that supports this access. If they are unwilling to provide you with a device, you should decline to use your personal device for that purpose. At least, you should decline unless the employment agreement specifically states that they can’t seize your personal electronics. Although, most employers likely won’t put a provision in that explicitly forbids them from taking your device. Once you bring your device on the property, your employer can claim that your device contains company property and seize it anyway. Note that even leaving it in your car could be enough if the company WiFi reaches your car in its parking space.
Buy a dumb phone and use that at work. By this I mean, buy a phone that doesn’t support WiFi, doesn’t support a data plan, doesn’t support email, doesn’t support bluetooth and that doesn’t support any storage that can be removed. If your phone is a dumb phone, it cannot be claimed that it could contain any company file data. If it doesn’t support WiFi, it can’t be listening in on company secrets. This dumb phone basically requires your company to buy you a smart phone if they need you to have remote access to email and always on Internet. It also prevents them from leeching off your personal iPhone plan.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have an iPhone, but you should leave it at home during work days. Bring your dumb phone to work. People can still call and text you, but the phone cannot be used as a storage vehicle for company secrets (unless you start entering corporate contacts into the phone book). You should avoid entering any company contact information in your personal phone’s address book. Even this information could be construed as confidential data and could be enough to have even your dumb phone seized.
If they do decide to seize your dumb phone, you’ve only lost a small amount of money in the phone and it’s simple to replace the SIM card in most devices. So, you can probably pick up a replacement phone and get it working the same day for under $100 (many times under $30).
Request to Strike Language from the Employment Agreement
Reading through your Employment Agreement can make or break the deal of whether or not you decide to hire on. Some Employment Agreements are way overreaching in their goals. Depending on how the management reacts to your request to strike language from the Employment Agreement may tell you the kind of company you are considering. In some cases, I’ve personally had language struck from the agreement and replaced with an addendum to which we both agreed and signed. In another case, I walked away from the position because both the hiring and HR managers refused to alter the Employment Agreement containing overreaching language. Depending on how badly they want to fill the position, you may or may not have bargaining power here. However, if it’s important to you, you should always ask. If they decline to amend the agreement, then you have to decide whether or not the position is important enough to justify signing the Agreement with that language still in place.
But, I like my iPhone/iPad/iPod too much
Then, you take your chances with your employer. Only you can judge your employer for their intent (and by reading your employment agreement). When it comes down to brass tacks, your employer will do what’s right for the company, not for you. The bigger the company gets, the more likely they are to take your phone and not care about you or the situation. If you work in a 1000+ employee company, your phone seizure risk greatly increases. This is especially true if you work in any position where you have may access to extremely sensitive company data.
If you really like your device, then you should protect it by leaving it someplace away from the office (and not in your car parked on company property). This will ensure they cannot seize it from you when you’re on company property. However, it won’t stop them from visiting your home and confiscating it from you there.
On the other hand, unlike the dumb phone example above, if they size your iPhone, you’re looking at a $200-500 expense to replace the phone plus the SIM card and possibly other expenses. If you have synced your iPhone with your computer at home and data resides there, that could leave your home computer at risk of seizure, especially if the Federal Government is involved. Also, because iCloud now stores backups of your iDevices, they could petition the court to seize your Apple ID from Apple to gain access to your iDevice backups.
For company issued iPhones, create a brand new Apple ID using your company email address. Have your company issued phone create its backups in your company created Apple ID. If they seize this Apple ID, there is no loss to you. You should always, whenever possible create separate IDs for company issued devices and for your personal devices. Never overlap this personal and company login IDs matter how tempting it may be. This includes doing such things as linking in your personal Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo or any other personal site accounts to your corporate issued iPhone or Apps. If you take any personal photographs using your company phone, you should make sure to get them off of the phone quickly. Better, don’t take personal pictures with your company phone. If you must sync your iPhone with a computer, make sure it is only a company computer. Never sync your company issued iPhone or iPad with your personally owned computer. Only sync your device with a company issued computer.
Personal Device Liabilities
Even if during an investigation nothing is turned up on your device related to the company’s investigation, if they find anything incriminating on your device (i.e., child porn, piracy or any other illegal things), you will be held liable for those things they find as a separate case. If something is turned up on your personal device related to the company’s investigation, it could be permanently seized and never returned. So, you should be aware that if you carry any device onto your company’s premises, your device can become the company’s property.
Caution is Always Wise
With the use of smart phones comes unknown liabilities when used at your place of employment. You should always treat your employer and place of business as a professional relationship. Never feel that you are ‘safe’ because you know everyone there. That doesn’t matter when legal investigations begin. If a court wants to find out everything about a situation, that could include seizing anything they feel is relevant to the investigation. That could include your phone, your home computer, your accounts or anything else that may be relevant. Your Employment Agreement may also allow your employer to seize things that they need if they feel you have violated the terms of your employment. Your employer can also petition the court to require you to relinquish your devices to the court.
Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t get your devices, computers or accounts back. But, it could take months if the investigation drags on and on. To protect your belongings from this situation, here are some …
- Read your Employment Agreement carefully
- Ask to strike language from Agreements that you don’t agree with
- Make sure agreements with companies eventually expire after you leave the company
- NDAs should expire after 5-10 years after termination
- Non-compete agreements should expire 1 year after termination
- Bring devices to the office that you are willing to lose
- Use cheap dumb phones (lessens your liability)
- Leave memory sticks and other memory devices at home
- Don’t use personal devices for company communication (i.e., email or texting)
- Don’t let the company pay for your personal device bills (especially post-paid cell plans)
- Prepaid plans are your friend at your office
- Require your employer to supply and pay for iDevices to support your job function
- Turn WiFi off on all personal devices and never connect them to corporate networks
- Don’t connect personal phones to corporate email systems
- Don’t text any co-workers about company business on personal devices
- Ask Employees to refrain from texting your personal phone
- Use a cheap mp3 player without WiFi or internet features when at the office
- Turn your personal cell phone off when at work, if at all possible
- Step outside the office building to make personal calls
- Don’t use your personal Apple ID when setting up your corporate issued iPhone
- Create a new separate Apple ID for corporate issued iPhones
- Don’t link iPhone or Android apps to personal accounts (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc)
- Don’t take personal photos with a company issued phone
- Don’t sync company issued phones with your personally owned computer
- Don’t sync personal phones with company owned computers
- Replace your device after leaving employment of a company
Nothing can prevent your device from being confiscated under all conditions. But, you can help reduce this outcome by following these tips and by segregating your personal devices and accounts from your work devices and work accounts. Keeping your personal devices away from your company’s property is the only real way to help prevent it from being seized. But, the company could still seize it believing that it may contain something about the company simply because you were or are an employee. Using a dumb prepaid phone is probably the only way to ensure that on seizure, you can get a phone set up and your service back quickly and with the least expense involved. I should also point out that having your phone seized does not count as being stolen, so your insurance won’t pay to replace your phone for this event.
Do employee performance evaluations help or hurt your business? If done incorrectly, they can hurt. Note that employee evaluations are always negative experiences, so even this can hurt. Let’s explore why?
Don’t let your Human Resources staff design the employee evaluations
If you absolutely must create and administer the tired ‘once-a-year’ evaluation system, then at least make sure you do it correctly. That is, assuming there is a ‘correct’ way to do this tired old thing. Employee evaluations should be designed by someone who is knowledgeable with writing evaluations and who has written them in the past. Using companies like SuccessFactors to deploy your evaluation system is fine, but is not required. Someone must still be tasked with designing the questions asked of the employee during the evaluation process. Make sure the designer fully understands what is being asked of employees during the process and how it pertains to your business. Make sure the questions pertain to job performance and not to nebulous concepts like ‘core values’. Make sure the evaluation asks questions related to actual job performance and that the questions are relevant to all job roles within the company. Evaluations that target the sales teams with questions surrounding ‘customer interactions’ won’t apply to technical roles that have no customer facing aspects. So, either create multiple evaluations that work for each department, or keep the questions generic enough that all job roles fit the questions.
Don’t ‘stack’ your evaluations
By stacking, this means that you should not mandate your managers give a certain number of excellent, good and poor reviews. If one of your managers happen to have very good teams, this means that one or more than one of these individuals will end up with poor performance reviews. Stacking is the best way to lose good employee talent. You and our staff have spent a lot of time and effort trying to locate the right employees for each job. With one stale internal process, you may have effectively walked some of these employees to the door. Employees won’t stay where they feel they are not being treated fairly even while putting out high quality work. Keep in mind that this is especially important for technical roles where talent can be extremely hard to find. Note, there are under-performers, but a once-a-year evaluation process is not likely to find them. Only can on-going evaluation processes find under-performers.
Let your evaluation chips fall where they may. If a team ends up all with excellent reviews, so be it. Don’t try to manipulate these down because you feel the need to reduce cost of living wages. This comes back to paying your employees what they are worth. Note, this assumes that reviews will be tied to merit increases. If not, see the next Don’t.
Don’t decouple evaluations from some form of merit increase
If you decouple employee evaluations from merit increases, you decouple the reason for employees to do evaluations. The question then becomes, “What’s the point in doing this?” If there’s any question surrounding the employee evaluation process, then your employees will not participate at the level where you need. This also means that your evaluations will be worthless in the end anyway. And, the employees will also know this. Keeping the evaluations tied to merit cost of living increases ensures that all employees participate properly in the process. However, keeping it tied to merit also means that this could lead to ‘stacking’. Avoid ‘stacking’ like the plague. If you really want to keep your employees on board, then let the evaluations remain truthful.
Additionally, when you decouple merit increases from the evaluation process, then what’s the point in running evaluations? Expect employees will opt-out of the review process. If they chose to opt-out, let them. Forcing them to participate only leads to forced evaluations which may ultimately have them leave the company anyway and provide you with nothing out of the evaluation.
Don’t require employees to rate their own performance numerically
Numerical or ‘star’ ratings are worthless. Numbers say nothing about the employee’s work ethic or performance. They are a failed attempt at trying to ‘rate’ an individual. The trouble is, if you artificially make the scale low by saying ‘No one is a 5″ on a scale of 1 to 5, then you have made the scale effectively 1-4. So, then make the scale 1-4 and not 1-5. If you are using a scale of 1-5, then use the entire scale. If a person is a 5, then they are a 5. They are not a 4. This is similar to stacking. Do not artificially limit the use of something within the evaluation to make high performers appear lower than they are. This is counter productive and unnecessary and makes the employee feel as if they under-performing. If that’s the intent, then it’s a job well done. However, it may lead to employee loss. Again, you spent all that time recruiting the talent, don’t squander that. Rating employees and artificially capping the scale is yet another negative.
Don’t do employee performance evaluations simply because you can
Employee evaluations are important for the manager and the employee to discuss performance issues and where performance can be improved. That’s the point in this process. It is not about anything other than how to get the manager and the employee on the same work page. Running this through multiple managers and multiple staff all the way up the chain to the CEO is pointless. Not only is it a severe time waster for those above the employee’s manager, it’s also a privacy issue that, for some reason, upper management and the human resources department alike think they should be privy to. In reality, any performance issues are between the manager and the employee. So then, any real performance issues are not likely to present on an evaluation because it might actually become a hostile workplace or HR violation issue.
For example, an employee with poor hygiene and who is causing issues around the office could cause some severe HR legal issues if this information is placed onto a written employee evaluation. Yet, it is a performance issue. How do you document this without causing potential legal issues? This is the problem with once-a-year employee evaluations. Employee evaluations that tend to document those types of issues can possibly result in legal issues for a company. So, these types of issues are left off evaluations for this reason. This also means that the evaluations are by their very nature not completely accurate. Again, why do them?
Let the managers handle all performance issues internally. If the process needs documentation, then have the manager do so. But, do so privately. Airing the dirty laundry for all to see is ripe for both hostile workplace issues and could document potential legal issues that could arise should the employee leave as a result of a documented performance issue. Note that anything written and placed into the employee file can be come legal fodder should employee legal issues arise. If the evaluation process documents something that isn’t legal to document, then your business is at risk. Leading to…
Don’t sanitize employee evaluations after-the-fact
If there is something written on an employee evaluation that puts your business at legal risk, don’t sanitize the evaluation or destroy it after the fact. This will make things far worse for your business. Instead, leave it as it is. If it’s a legal risk, you can defend yourself in court even if it’s in the document. Removing it from the document or removing the entire document is far more problematic legally than leaving it there. Note, if your employee has to write any part of the evaluation, they can make a copy for themselves. So, if an employee unknowingly describes an illegal business activity on the evaluation, your business is at risk no matter if you delete or sanitize. If you are concerned that some illegal activity could appear on an employee evaluation, it may be smarter not to do evaluations. An employee may keep a version of their copy for their records. You can’t easily expunge an employee’s personal records.
Don’t expect much productivity out of your employees during evaluation week
Employee evaluations kill at least a week of productivity time for every employee in the company. Instead of focusing on their job at hand, they are focusing on paperwork that is not related to their job. Expect that evaluations will lose about a week of productivity just for the paperwork portion alone and turn it into non-productive time. If your employees’ work time is important to you, you need to understand that during the evaluation process, far less output than normal will get done. The more you ask of the employee to do on the evaluation forms, the less actual work they will do. Be careful with this process as it can lead to a lot of lost productivity. Note, there will also be a week or two of aftermath from the evaluation process where employees will reflect, brood and be distracted as a result of the outcome from their evaluation. Without any upside to doing the evaluation, this process simply leaves that bad taste to fester. Which leads to…
Don’t expect sunshine and rainbows
Employee evaluations are by their very nature negative job experiences. Always. Evaluations never give glowing job performance reviews. They are always there to show all of the flaws of the employee and make sure they feel like crap for at least a week or two following completion of the evaluation. This can negatively impact productivity following the completion of the evaluation. You need to understand that this process is by its very nature a negative job experience. It is never a positive experience. The only positive is a merit increase. So, for an employee’s suffering through another performance evaluation, the upside is that employees will hopefully see a higher paycheck. If you decouple merit increase (as stated above), the employee evaluation process becomes a completely negative experience without any upside benefit to the employee. In fact, there is very little if any upside benefit to the company, either. This project then becomes an exercise in futility. If you really want to make your employees to feel like crap for several weeks, this is the exact way to do it.
Think twice before implementing an evaluation system solely because you think it’s necessary. If employees feel that their evaluation is unfair (many will), expect a number of people to walk away from the company. Expect those that stay to under perform for at least a week following any evaluation. Expect some employees to brood and eventually leave months after their review. You will also need to accept some employee departures as a result. Other employees will realize the exercise in futility and seek a job elsewhere. Make sure you are well aware of the full ramifications of an evaluation system before you implement it.
Make sure employees get some kind of positive benefit after the evaluation is complete (preferably a merit increase). If you’re planning to make your employees suffer through a negative job experience, then you need to be prepared to offer some sunshine and rainbows to your employees at the end to make the process go down easier. As Mary Poppins once said, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” . You need to find that spoonful of sugar.
Note that the evaluation process should never get in the way of actual work. Yet, it does. It interjects itself between the manager and the employee in a way that can drive a wedge between the employee and the company. A wedge that might otherwise not be there were sleeping dogs left laying, as it were. That’s not to say that sleeping dogs are a good thing, but depending on the sleeping dog, it may very well be worth not touching. Employee evaluations can open a Pandora’s box with some individuals, so be careful with this process.
Do think up a better way than the traditional performance review system
If you can come up with a new improved performance system that works better than the old, stale, negative system, then by all means implement it in your company. Such a system would do wonders for making this process much more smooth. Unfortunately, I do not believe such a thing exists. In reality, having monthly one-on-ones between the employee and manager should suffice as an ongoing performance review system. It’s far less negative than the once-a-year evaluation which is mostly pointless. Do away with the once-a-year evaluation system and go with an ongoing manager and employee system that keeps the employee far more on track regularly than a once-a-year system which really benefits no-one.
Employee evaluations can both help and hurt your company at the same time. Evaluations can open up problems that may not be necessary for an employee to perform their job properly and at the same time always ends up as a negative experience for all involved. If you really enjoy running your employees through the ringer once a year, the stale old evaluation process is the way to do it. Worse, though, is that because it’s a once-a-year event, it doesn’t really serve much purpose unless it is tied to a merit increase. If it’s not tied to a merit increase, it’s a fruitless exercise for the employee that ends up as completely negative experience. This is part of the reason so many companies no longer do these.
Basically, do not feel compelled to run evaluations simply because you think you need them. Think twice before implementing these tired vehicles when they don’t really benefit anyone. If you must set up a performance evaluation system, then conduct it once a month between the manager and the employee. Let them discuss active projects, what’s going on today and focus on current performance issues. Having an on-going regular relevant performance evaluation system is much more productive to job performance today and ends up as a much more relaxed and positive experience. Out with the old and in with the new.
As a second article follow-on to the first part of the series How not to run a business (Pt. 1), I will keep the momentum going. So, without further adieu…
Don’t keep non-producers on the payroll longer than 3 months
Three months is enough time to understand if the person you’ve recently hired can do the job for you. If they are not producing within 3 months, they are either in over their head, they simply don’t understand the job or they don’t really want to do the work. Whatever the problem, performance plans to improve probably won’t help. If you’re a small business, you can’t really afford having non-producers on the payroll for long periods of time. However, for longer term employees, that leads into …
Think twice before letting people go without warning
While I know that it’s common to reduce your payroll burden by letting people go, think twice before you do this. More specifically, don’t do it unless you fully understand the consequences of that change to your business. Letting certain people go can cause short-term damage if that person is entrenched in certain aspects of your business. Basically, make sure that your knowledge base is well spread out. This means, making sure that if you have a software engineer who is the only person who understands a crucial bit of code, that this person does a proper hand-off to another person before they depart. I know that it’s common to let people go without warning to them or to anyone else, but this is the worst way to handle letting people go for many reasons. First, you may lose a brain-trust you didn’t know you had or that your company needed. Second, you’re opening your company up to wrongful termination lawsuits. Both of these can be short term damaging to your business. Third, surprise firings don’t always go over well. You don’t know who is capable of temperamental outbursts and who may show up at your doorstep with a firearm ready to take retaliatory measures. Workplace violence is on the rise, be careful whom you let go and how. In the long term, your business will likely recover, but in the short term your customers may feel the pain. It’s entirely up to you to determine if that pain is worth the hassle of walking people to do the door without warning.
The best plan for non-producers is to give them one chance to step up and begin producing. Explain in very explicit terms what you expect to see in the next 30, 60 and 90 days. Set goals and expect improvements. Make it completely clear that this is their only chance to rectify their performance issues or they will be asked to leave. Basically, give the person fair warning in writing, document it, have them sign it, give them a copy and place the original in their personnel file. So, if they choose not to improve their performance issues, you have a documented copy of what you expect and that they failed to meet those expectations. This also means that when you do walk them to the door, this is not a surprise to them. It also gives you the opportunity to hedge your bets and hire someone to be trained by this person. If they refuse to train anyone, explain that it is part of their performance improvement plan and their job. If they choose not to train someone, then explain that they have failed their performance improvement plan and they need to pack their belongings and leave the premises. You can’t make someone do the work, but you can encourage them. If they choose not to work even after you have asked them to, it’s time for them to leave.
Don’t buy email marketing lists and don’t send spam
The quickest way to tank your business on the Internet and give it a bad reputation is by buying lists of people whom you have never met. If your business is important to you, find people who are interested in your services in other ways than by sending spam email. One of the best ways is by using services like D&B to locate companies that might have need of your services. Then, have your sales people cold call them. Note, that while cold calling isn’t always warmly received by many, it is more favorably tolerated than sending email spam. Cold calling is only between you and the called party. Spam, on the other hand, ends up not only between you and the other party, but all parties in between that delivered the email. The recipient may forward the email to other parties which then involve even more people. This is how reputations get ruined. The bottom line is, don’t send email spam and, more specifically, do not buy email lists.
On the other hand, attending trade shows is a great way to initiate interest in your product or service, is a way to collect email addresses and is the primary way to build your email list. Other ways to build your list is by blogging and simply by selling your product on the web.
Don’t acquire companies without fully understanding what they bring to the table
In the start-up phase when there’s lots of capital floating around, it is tempting to bring in what appears to be a good marriage of technologies into your company through acquisition. There are lots of reasons why you should think and rethink any acquiring plan. While you may bring in technologies you don’t otherwise have, it does a lot of other things at the same time. The merging of two companies is a pretty severe culture shock for the company being acquired. Their business methodologies, sales strategies, employment practices, dress code and lots of other subtle culture issues may clash with your current culture. Bringing in a new company can bring with it things your company may not be ready to handle.
Additionally, it well increases the workload for people who may already be overworked. For example, pulling in a whole crew of new staff requires human resources to hire these people in. It requires adding them to payroll and to benefits. It requires IT staff to procure assets like computers, phones, desks, logins, ID cards, etc. The new company will have accounting books that need to be folded into the parent company’s books. There’s all of the duplicated staff that are probably not necessary (finance, IT, operations, marketing… both personnel and management) that will either have to be let go or given alternative positions.
On top of the logistics of simply folding in one company to another, which requires a substantial amount of time and effort from staff, the products themselves also have to be rolled into your current core business that have yet to be determined useful. For example, if your company is primarily a Business to Business seller and you acquire a Business to Consumer company, you need to understand if that marriage works for your present business model. The questions you need to ask yourself… “Am I planning to sell B2C now?” “Can this acquired company’s technology be used in the B2B space?” “Will this new company provide the revenue needed to justify the purchase?” These are all important questions that materially impact whether you should or should not do the deal. Don’t jump into buying a business solely because it appears to be a ‘hot new technology’. The technology itself does not indicate that that product or service is long-term sellable, viable or, more importantly, sellable to your B2B customers and prospects. Yes, having a vision does help here, but remember that Business to Consumer products generally don’t generate near the amount of revenue that Business to Business products do. Also recognize, as in this example, that selling Business to Business is an entirely different beast than selling Business to Consumer. So, this also means learning curves and retraining for those folks tasked to manage both sales models.
Basically, this single section could fill an entire book. There are lots of considerations when contemplating the acquisition of other businesses. Unless you are completely certain that you are gaining something that your company desperately needs, it may be simpler and cheaper to hire people to construct a similar technology without the additional hassles of folding two companies together. In other words, it may take longer and be more costly to fold together both the companies and the technologies than it would have cost to hire engineers and construct a similar technology yourself. Weigh the costs, think about the outcome and determine if acquisition is truly the right choice.
Don’t give away something you can sell
I’ve seen this so many times now that I’ve lost count. Good will is an important aspect of the sales process. It makes the customer feel like the are getting a good deal. I understand this aspect of the sales process. So, discounts, incentives and giveaways are all good methodologies to managing a prospect’s ‘feel good’ aspect of the deal you are proposing. However, remember that you are in business to make money. You’re not in business to give good will gestures, that is unless your company happens to be a charity or non-profit. Assuming that you are a for-profit entity and not managing a charity, you should never give away things you can sell. This is true of not only goods, but services as well. I know it’s easy to think that your professional services team’s or other team’s time is not worth much, but don’t give professional services away for free. Controlling your sales staff, however, is another matter. Don’t allow your sales team to make deals without understanding the deal and someone in management signing off on the deal. Never allow sales persons to make deals without a managerial approval process. When sales people can make deals without approvals, they will make bad deals for your company that you will have to support for years to come.
Worse, giveaways encourage future giveaways. Basically, once you’ve given something to a customer for free, they will expect it for free at subsequent renewals. Don’t set that precedent. Always charge for every line item. Discount it by a small percent, but never discount anything by 100%. Once you agree to any freebie, you are saddled with that freebie for the rest of that customer’s contract with you no matter how much you find out it is really costing you. Believe me, freebies can easily become some of the most costly parts of a business.
Don’t believe everything you hear from prospects or clients
Prospects are good at finagling the best deal possible. One of the most common tactics is to suggest that your direct competitor gave away a service for free that you are selling. They are then expecting you to give them this service for free. So, here’s the common problem with this scenario. First, you are placing 100% trust into what they are saying should you decide to comply. Don’t do this. Check and double check any statements made by prospects when they ask for freebies. Second, when you cannot find that their statement is true, be prepared to take a hard line with them and discount it by only a small percent. Do not give it away for free. If they decline the deal, you may be better off. Don’t do a deal with freebies simply because you need the deal. In the long run, that contract will become unsupportable. Further, any freebie you do agree to will become a permanent never ending freebie. You cannot undo a freebie once done. Take your business seriously and charge for everything. Again, remember that to make money is why you are in business. If you give away any freebies, five years later you will still be giving that freebie to that customer. Don’t believe everything you hear.
Don’t do giveaways, trips and other incentives for the sales team alone
At least, don’t do it without including the rest of the company in the incentives. It’s quite common in many companies for the sales team to be offered trips, giveaways and incentives to close deals (or whomever gets the most deals). So here’s the problem. You’re already paying your sales team commission on deals they’ve closed (and hopefully after the checks have cleared). This is already an incentive. If they close a $1 million deal (or $1 million in deals) and they get 10%, they’ve gotten a $100k check out of that. That’s a lot of money for a sales person in addition to whatever salary you are paying them. Why are you trying to incent them further by flying them to Barbados or by giving them an iPad? It’s their job to keep up the sales. Giving them trips and giveaways sends the wrong message to the rest of your company’s departments who aren’t involved in these incentive programs. It’s also a very exclusionary practice so that most other parts of the company don’t get these incentives. Yet, these other departments work equally hard at their jobs. If you’re planning on offering these types of incentives, involve the entire company, not just your sales team (which, as mentioned, already have incentives in the form of commission).
Don’t plan releases of products or services on company pre-designated holiday weekends
So while this one may not apply to every single business out there, it is a general rule that applies to most businesses. Let’s talk about which businesses to which this doesn’t apply. If you are a consumer product, like an iPad or the latest cell phone, releasing on a holiday weekend is probably a good idea. Unless, however, your product falls into this category (which most businesses do not), do not release your products and services on national holiday weekends. Do it either the weekend before or the weekend after. Why? Nationally respected holiday weekends has nearly everyone out on that holiday. If your service is business to business, for example, no one will be around to review the changes you’re making. So, if your release breaks something crucial to your customers, they won’t know about it until after the holiday. Specifically, it will be too late for them to fix any problems that may have arisen over the weekend. For example, if your release doesn’t work correctly and sends out a bunch of email unintentionally to a list of your customers’ people, this may end up with a lot of angry people on your hands. Your customers won’t find this out until days after the incident occurred.
Out of common courtesy for your customer’s holidays (let alone asking your staff to hang around on a holiday weekend to release), delay releases to weekends that are not holiday weekends. Asking people to give up a holiday weekend (whether customers or employees) is most definitely not good for morale. Additionally, if you do ask employees to give up their holiday weekend, then expect to make up for that weekend through comp time on another weekend later.
By expecting people to give up a holiday weekend without any payback, you are setting your company up for huge morale issues, staff will come to disrespect you and your decisions and the company will become known for these unnecessary practices in the industry. It also means that employees will see that your company doesn’t respect their home family lives. What you do with your employees does get around the industry and can easily make it a challenge when it comes time to hire new qualified staff. Basically, word of mouth gets around quickly and people simply will not look at your company when looking for employment. Small things like these make a huge difference to your staff, especially to prospective employees and recruiters. These are also the types of actions that prevent your company from being placed on lists like Forbes top 100 places to work. Your company must respect the home and family lives of your employees. Forcing people to work company designated holiday weekends is like handing the employees a cookie and then unceremoniously yanking it back moments before they can grab it and quipping, “just kidding”. Don’t do this. Respect your employees more than this.
Don’t use the company to pay your personal bills
Being the CEO, CFO or any other C-level exec doesn’t entitle you to use the company as your own personal bank account. While there is nothing but your own personal moral compass stopping you (and adamant finance employees) from using the company in this way, eventually this information will leak out to the rest of the company. Some things just can’t be kept a secret, especially the longer your business runs and the more personnel changes that happen. So, unless you want your employees to know that you’re paying $6k a month for your house or $3k a month in car payments or $2k a month in child care costs, pay your home expenses from your own personal checking account. Don’t use the accounts payable people to pay your personal bills for you. Note, to those entrepreneurs who don’t understand computers, technology or the internet, yes, there are banks now that have automatic bill pay that you can set up online.
To answer this question, we need to delve a little deeper. Note, I am neither condoning nor praising Obama’s handling of his regulatory efforts. However, I would like to point out certain corrections that do need to be made.
“The truth is that not even the Franklin Roosevelt administration was as hostile to and ignorant about free enterprise as this [Obama’s] administration is.”
But, is Obama really hostile towards business? Or, is he making needed corrections? There is a fine line here. This issue also points out a serious problem in politics today. That problem is, you guessed it, money. Without money, the world doesn’t work. Without money, candidates don’t get elected. Without money, businesses don’t sell things and make money. Back up the train.. Businesses make plenty of money without governmental help. The trouble is that businesses want to be able to make laws that enable their businesses to make more money and then have the government be lenient with them when issues arise.
The reality, though, is that like the separation of church and state, the government now needs separation of business and state. The two are oil and water, they don’t mix. Government needs to be able to make law without interference from any party. But, businesses have deep pockets and hefty lawyers. These two elements help elect officials and help sway these same officials into making good on promises they made towards these businesses during the election.
While I don’t agree with every single thing Obama has done, I do agree that change is necessary. The change that he is making is intended to correct the issues that led to the economic downturn. The trouble comes with statements from people like Steve Forbes. Mr. Forbes believes that he is the end-all-be-all-know-it-all when it comes to all-things-business. The trouble is, he doesn’t. Yes, he runs a successful magazine, but that doesn’t make him an authority. That makes him a successful business owner.
Obama is walking that fine line. A fine line that shouldn’t even be necessary. But, there it is. The line that’s there to help Obama help the economy, help spur business and growth and reduce the chances of a repeated failure. At the same time, the line is there to show that government values business, but isn’t there to socialize it. The trouble is, this economic downturn was of our own making. By our, I mean Wall Street. The housing bubble was just that, a bubble. Bubbles eventually burst and this bubble was no exception. It’s not as if analysts and intelligent minded people couldn’t see the handwriting on the wall. When the mortgage interest rates got down to 1% and all of those ARM and specialty loans were being issued like water flowing down the Mississippi, trouble was inevitable. We just didn’t know that banks and insurance companies were tying their financial soundness to these extremely risky loans using credit default swaps.
Until the bubble burst, no one really knew just how deep the rabbit hole went. Then, everything came crashing down and all of the nasty subprime mortgage and credit default swap issues came into view in their all fugly detailed glory. The first evidence of that was Bear Stearns followed by AIG (and the subsequent governmental bailout). I still think they should have let AIG fold, I digress.
Government and Business
It’s high time that government distanced itself from corporate businesses. It’s high time congress made laws to separate government from business (including political support). It’s high time that government stopped being a pawn for corporate businesses. Forbes clearly seems to think that Free Enterprise requires socialism to function. Free Enterprise is not part of and does not need socialism. Free Enterprise means that businesses can do whatever they need to do (within the limits of the laws) to make their business succeed. Clearly, there have not been laws enabled that have dramatically impacted Free Enterprise. The laws that have been enacted have been placed there to prevent corporations from producing risky investment vehicles with a high likelyhood of crashing down again. If businesses are now floundering, it’s not because of laws. It’s because corporations have lost their way and are still expecting handouts. Well, you can keep your hand out, but don’t expect the government to be dropping any coin in it.
Corporations have relied, no… depended on the US Government for handouts. That time needs to end. Subsidies for business need to go away. Businesses need to fend for themselves just like Free Enterprise mandates. If a business can’t make it on its own, then let it fail. I’ll repeat, LET IT FAIL. Failure is also part of Free Enterprise. Businesses that will succeed, will succeed because they produce a good product or service. Businesses that fail, will fail because they don’t produce good products or services.
Lost our way
America, and specifically corporate enterprises, have lost their way. For far too long have big corporations depended on favorable governmental conditions (sounds like a weather report) to help them stay in business. Well, that train has left (and must leave). It should be solely up to you and your business practices alone to make or break your company. It is the quality of your products, services and support that makes people want to buy your products or invest in your company. Nothing has changed about this aspect of Free Enterprise.
We need to go back to a time when quality was the key. When providing a superior product was the answer to getting people to buy things. If that also means deflation, then so be it. Businesses need to find their way by learning how to do more with less. How to manage their staff better and stop over-hiring. At the same time, many of them need to stop under-hiring and also value the employees that they have right now.
The key to keeping your business flowing is by keeping your employees active, productive and happy. Morale is a big problem in companies during any downturn. Once fear sets in over the next reduction in force (RIF), then morale falls to all-time-lows. No, taking the employees on an outing doesn’t boost morale. The way to boost morale is to stop RIFing the staff out the door. Yes, I know it gives a temporary boost to the stock price and makes the shareholders happy, but that’s a temporary fix with limited effects. Once the dust settles, the employees who are left become disgruntled, unhappy and produce less. This is completely backwards thinking. Which is why business has lost its way.
Shareholder value vs quality products
I know, someone’s going to say that it is all about ‘shareholder value’. That may be the way things seem now, but it is wrong. Currently accepted actions that lead to improved shareholder value tend to undercut production, stifle innovation, reduce profit margins and lower productivity. Why would you intentionally do this to your business? So, while these measures may seem to help the stock price, it does nothing to help the company improve its quality of products and services. In fact, in the long run, these actions almost always negatively impact the bottom line. So, the fundamental question is, are you in business to make the shareholders happy or are you in business to sell quality products and services? This fundamental question must be answered.
The true answer to this question also shows that Free Enterprise priorities today are all wrong. It used to be that the customer is #1. Now, shareholders are #1 and customers are #2. This is both wrong and stupid. Until businesses go back to the idea that the customer is #1, corporations will continue to fail and need governmental subsidies. While shareholders are considered #1, there is really no such thing as Free Enterprise when it comes to multi-million dollar corporations… which is why they always need a handout from the government.
As the economy is floundering and unemployment rates remain high, there are those people and companies who look to take advantage of job seekers. Some companies are legitimate, others aren’t so much. So, let’s investigate some ways you can avoid being taken during your job hunt.
Pay to play
Be extremely wary of so-called for-pay outplacement, consulting or career management companies that require up-front payments before you get a job. These companies will sometimes promise they will find you a job, but in the end you literally end up doing all of the work and you’ve paid them to let you do your own work! In fact, it’s work that you would have done without paying them anything! These companies may operate by taking a percentage of your expected salary. For example, if the job you are seeking has a $60,000 a year salary, they may expect $6,000 (10%) as your up-front fee.
Don’t be fooled by this practice. Yes, they may give you career advice or even write you a new resume, but is a new resume and some career counseling worth $6,000? You will find many resume creation sites (and software) on the Internet to makeover your resume that costs much less than $6,000.
These outplacement companies may also claim that they have ‘databases’ of jobs. The reality is that their database may be months old or non-existent. So, even though they have a database, what good does it do to apply for a job that was listed 6 months earlier? It doesn’t do any good and is definitely not worth $6,000.
While recruiting companies are not necessarily scams (although, the possibility always exists), most of them feel very slimy when you work with them. So, be cautious and here’s why. Recruiting firms supposedly have job databases and find candidates that fit various job roles. Unfortunately, the recruiting agents work on quotas. So, they must close a certain number of jobs over a period of time in order to 1) get their commission and 2) remain employed as a recruiter. After all, the commission from the candidate’s placement is what keeps the recruiting company in business. A recruiting position is both a sales position (has sales quotas to meet) and as a recruiter (help you find a job). Unfortunately, there’s just a little too much conflict of interest with recruiters. The trouble comes because the employer pays the percentage fee after candidate placement is complete. So, while it may appear that they are helping you, the candidate, they are really more partial to the employer because that’s where their bread is truly buttered. When unemployment is high, they can find many candidates, but they only have that one position open.
So, the recruiter will do everything to keep the employer happy and, in most cases, couldn’t care less about the job seeker other than to get them placed. After all, there’s plenty of job seekers from which to choose. That said, they will definitely appear to care about the candidate so long as the hiring company still takes an interest in the candidate. Once the hiring company no longer expresses interest in the candidate or fills the job, that’s when the recruiter calls stop, emails stop and you can no longer reach the recruiter at all.
One other tactic of recruiters is to obtain resumes. So, if you had an old resume on file at a recruiting firm, expect to be called periodically to update your resume. The recruiter who calls you may even imply there may be jobs open with your skill set. In many cases, you are just feeding their database with another resume. In fact, they very likely had no job opening. Again, the recruiters have their job performance tied to doing work. Having spoken with you and obtained your updated resume probably suffices for one in their quota. Be wary of this practice. You’re helping them keep their job, but they may have no intention of helping you at all. They’re just stringing you along.
One other recruiting tactic to watch for is the phantom job tactic. The recruiter will claim to officially represent the hiring company. They tell you a job is open and that they are requesting a resume to submit. They will even put up a front and tell you they have submitted your resume for the position. Then, you never hear back from them. Why? Because they lied. They had no position open. They didn’t have any official status to represent the hiring company. So, how does this happen? Again, this is a quota issue. They need to make quotas, so the recruiter will string you along hoping the hiring company will agree to use the recruiting firm and then pay the commission. Unfortunately, the recruiting firm has not officially contacted the company until after they had your resume in hand. The trouble is, they didn’t have the company’s permission nor blessing. So, the recruiter contacts the company and the company says, “We don’t work with recruiters, sorry”. End of discussion.. no more contact. There is no way to really ensure the legitimacy of what a recruiter tells you. But, it certainly is a waste of time.
In the case of a recruiter, you necessarily won’t be out any money, but it can certainly take away valuable time that you could otherwise be seeking direct opportunities, submitting resumes or even updating your resume. It’s easy to get bogged down in recruiter time suck activities. So, be wary when recruiters come knocking.
Craigslist and Classified ads
While classified boards like Craigslist are great places to find job opportunities, it’s also a place to get scammed. So, if you choose to look for jobs in classified ads, make sure that you verify the company you are contacting. That means, check the phone book or the Internet to ensure that the phone numbers and addresses actually match the hiring company’s office address. You don’t want to end up in some seedy dive on a fake interview or being taken for some amount of money. If any money is involved before you get a job, walk away. There are way too many sites that can help you find jobs without fees.
Fee Based Job Boards
Some well known web employment listing sites charge subscription fees to help you find jobs. While I understand this web business model, the job seeker is most probably out of a job when seeking new employment. So, while paying monthly subscription fees might seem worthwhile, you may end up having no better luck in finding a job than using free services like Hotjobs, Dice or Monster. So, be cautious when asked to supply a credit card number to get access to a bigger database or get access to employment ‘review’ services. If you want to spend money, that’s up to you, but I’d recommend exhausting all other free avenues (and believe me, there are plenty) long before you throw your money away on for-pay job boards.
If you are months into your search and still have no leads after trying all of the free sites, then and only then would I try a for-pay job board. Some of these boards offer one month subscription periods. I’d recommend trying these job boards by paying for only one month and see how well it works for you. One month should be well long enough to dig through their database, submit resumes and see if you get any nibbles. You may find that it does nothing. Also, make sure that after the one month payment ends there are no recurring subscriptions still active. You don’t want to get any surprise fees on your credit card statement the next month.
Avoid the scams
If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. When seeking a job, you want to avoid being scammed out of whatever money you have… especially when unemployed. So, be cautious if a web site asks you to load a credit card number into their registration page. In short, don’t do it. If they require a credit card number to sign you up, skip that site and move on. If you do decide to part with your credit card number to get access, be sure to fully read all of the sites disclosures to understand how they charge for their services. If you can’t find how they charge for services, skip the site.
Good luck in your job search.
I have been successfully placed by a recruiter once in my career. After that, I’ve had nothing but bad experiences with recruiters. The main problem with technology recruiters isn’t necessarily with the recruiting itself. It’s the human element that always gets in the way. A recruiter’s bottom line is the commission they will receive when they place a candidate. This commission, unfortunately, drives the entire placement process. When a recruiter’s sole motivation is based on money, the candidate and the hiring company both get the short end of the stick.
Case in point, I have used recruiters for the last two or three jobs I’ve attempted to land. In nearly every case, the recruiters misrepresented the job to me in the phone interviews. So, when a recruiter sent me on an interview, the job was clearly not a match for my skills. Basically, either the job was entirely wrong based on my skills or I had specifically told the recruiter not to place me in that industry or job type. Yet, there I was, interviewing where I shouldn’t have. This ends up as a wild goose chase. When I explain that to the recruiter, they get defensive and blame me for the ‘bad interview’. It wasn’t bad, it was just a mismatch because of the recruiter’s lack of skill or inability to listen. But, this comes back to the commission. Once the commission dollars become a reality in their mind, the recruiter puts blinders on. They then attempt to force a square peg into a round hole to avoid losing that cash.
That’s not to say that there aren’t sincere recruiters out there. I’m sure there are some. But, the recruiting industry is so filled with inexperienced recruiters only willing to make a buck that you can’t tell the difference between who is sincere and who isn’t. It’s not like recruiting is regulated or has any grading system. So there is no method for you, the candidate, to determine just how a specific staffing firm works.
The one recruiting game that gets to me is when recruiters simply resume collect to fill a database, but have no intention of placing you. Robert Half (RHI) is notoriously bad for this. They’ll collect your resume, ask you to step into their offices for a ‘face to face’ and additionally ask you to spend an hour or longer filling out paperwork. After you’ve done this for them, they never call you back. That’s such a waste of time. So, instead of wasting a day at their offices, the candidate could have better spent that time sending out resumes to actual employers and going on legitimate interviews with direct employers.
Other tactics from recruiters include them finding a job posting on the Internet, collecting resumes and contacting qualified candidates. Only after they have the candidates in hand do they then try to lasso in the employer. So, they string the candidate along thinking they have a chance at the position when they haven’t even talked with the hiring company about the position. Once the hiring company turns down the recruiter, this is when the recruiter stops calling the candidate and stops taking your calls. This is yet another colossal waste of time. These become very apparent when you get two or three recruiters calling to recruit for the same hiring company and same position. In a typical recruiting engagement, the hiring company only allows one recruiter to recruit for the position. When multiple recruiters are recruiting for the same position, either the hiring company doesn’t understand the process or the recruiters are not on retainer.
When choosing to work with recruiters, be cautious and ask lots of questions. They do attempt to be the candidate’s advocate, but usually only to the point that they don’t lose their commission. If losing their commission becomes a reality, recruiters can become desperate in the relationship between the candidate and the hiring company. In fact, a working recruiter relationship can turn sour in about 30 seconds once the candidate or hiring company expresses disinterest. This is when the recruiter’s professionalism is tested. If the recruiter keeps pushing the candidate or the hiring company after disinterest has been expressed, that behavior is not professional. It also shows just how much the recruiter values their commission over a properly filled position.
For a recruiter, it’s much more valuable to place a qualified candidate in the proper position than collecting recruiting commission. But, many recruiters turn desperate when the square peg won’t fit into the round hole. On the other hand, some recruiters just don’t care. They’ll attempt to place anyone in any position just to fill their quota.
It can be difficult to find a recruiter who is actively willing to work on your behalf as a candidate. If you find one, stick with them. Keep in mind, however, that they are all working on commission, so placement of you fills their (and the recruiting firm’s) bank account. That money motivation can cause the recruiter to do things they would not otherwise do. Finding the most suitable job for you should be their number one priority. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the case.