Blog Archives

FRAGILE: Handle with care

In the world @work it’s easy to forget that people can have all sorts of other stuff going on in their life that makes them more or less vulnerable. Whether it’s financial strain, stress from their past or current workplace, contending with being made redundant or failing to make initial headway with job applications, there are myriad reasons why people might not cope well with a job interview.

A couple of times recently I’ve interviewed candidates who had good resumes and phone screened well, but at interview it was clear that all was not well in their world. Despite the usual nerves, there were some concerning signs that included being anxious, insecure and defensive; they were clearly people who were in desperate need of work.

These are always tricky situations that call on our professionalism, emotional intelligence and compassion.

As recruiters or hiring managers we spend a lot of time interviewing and we are generally very comfortable with the conversations we have with candidates. Before gathering information about their background, skills and work experience, we aim to put people at ease with some small talk and outline what it is we want to discuss. Sometimes it can feel like speed dating. Even when done well, it can feel a little invasive.

I’m sure I am not alone when I admit that I have struggled with my own job applications at various times in my career. You know how it goes, the contact person was elusive, the interview didn’t run smoothly or I brought a negative work experience to the table that didn’t add value to the discussion. I too have been frustrated because I thought my age or some time out of the workforce was a barrier to making progress. All of those emotions are best left outside the door when we apply for jobs.

Most times a skilled interviewer will put people at ease, overcome their interview anxiety and uncover the value they can bring to an employer. On those occasions when we can’t help a candidate further, we’re guided by respect for the person and our primary objective – to find the right person for the job.

Let’s be mindful that when hiring we are in a position to help or harm and everyone – every one – deserves respect. Take a few minutes to listen to Sting and Stevie Wonder perform Fragile in this video, which prompted me to pause and reflect.

How have you handled a fragile situation in a business context? What did you learn from the experience?

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

C’mon folks

When a Southern Belle interviewed for a Financial Planner’s role in Dallas, Texas, and addressed the interview panel with ‘Y’awl’, no one raised an eyebrow. But when one of our candidates in Sydney was on final interview with a new employer, and dropped the ‘Y bomb’ (Youse), she was shown the door within 10 minutes. We were forced to find a palatable excuse for why she wasn’t successful, when we knew that she was simply ‘not one of their tribe’.

Consequently it was with great interest that we were interviewed by Fiona Smith for an article in The Guardian about Blind Recruitment: Blind recruitment aims to stamp out bias, but can it prevent discrimination? This is a growing trend amongst sophisticated employers who want to bring in capable people based on merit – not by where they went to school, which university they attended, or by gender or whether their name is pronounceable by mono-linguists.

We wave the flag for anti-discrimination every day of the year. When we did pure phone screening interviews for one role, we were delighted to hear that the candidate who was successful was in a wheelchair – we had no idea and it made not an iota of difference to his ability to perform in the role. We were aghast when one of our own beautifully spoken consultants, an Indian by birth, was told by a client ‘don’t send me any Indians’. We continue to push back when briefed by certain employers (particularly for entry level to mid-career roles) that a particular birthright will mean a good culture fit.

On the other hand, we are completely onside with employers who want good written and spoken English as part of the selection criteria. So much in life comes down to good communications, but we don’t buy into accent free or the ‘tribal’ norms as our Financial Planner experienced. Instead, when faced with real or perceived discrimination, we encourage the delicate conversations: For example, someone could have generously told that high performing candidate ‘Our business has a slightly different client base than your previous company. Would you mind not saying ‘Youse’, as we don’t want our clients making the wrong assumptions about you, when we know you’re very good at your job?’

Too easy.

What’s your experience of ‘blind recruitment’ in your world @work?

Featured image: See Beyond Race was a VicHealth community-based social marketing campaign that tackled race-based discrimination by featuring local people from diverse cultural backgrounds and their real-life interests.

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Posted in The world @work

3 seconds is all it takes

Can it really be true that you can win or lose an audience in just three seconds? More on that later, but first here is my checklist for an engaging professional presentation:

  • Strategy – be prepared and have an agenda
  • Energy level – show interest in what you’re presenting, be animated, make it come alive
  • Key message – don’t fluff around, get the message out loud and proud
  • Sell yourself – don’t be shy to talk about your strengths
  • Voice – consider volume and your tone, are you being heard?
  • Non-verbal – think about your eye contact, hand gestures, facial expression, dress, movement, and body language
  • Wrap up – bring the presentation to a logical and timely conclusion

Recently I attended a committee meeting in Melbourne, where a well-known top tier law firm was presenting its services. I’ve often been impressed by switched-on business people who present strongly to an audience. They approach their subject matter positively, use appropriate language and the energy level in the room is high. They are also aware of their body language and dress appropriately.

In a news article about Natalie McKenna, Director of Regeneration Unlimited Communications and researcher in Public Relations at RMIT University, it’s said that “In just three seconds your business meeting could be over, with the business decision already made.”

Well, the lawyers’ presentations were woeful… boring, lifeless, forgettable… definitely over in the three seconds it took me to reach that conclusion!

When McKenna says all it takes is three seconds for someone to make a decision about you, that’s pretty tough. However, it doesn’t take long to lose your audience, and first impressions certainly do matter.

In business we’re often highly absorbed in talking about our product, our service, ourselves (the lawyers could show some passion for their profession here), without being really mindful of our audience. From my experience as a consultant with Slade Executive Recruitment and through my observations with global communications group rogenSi, I know how important it is to engage with others. The same principles apply whether it’s an information session, a sales pitch, a business meeting or a job interview.

What communication techniques have you found useful in your business?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Waving the Magic Wand

“If I could wave a magic wand to create a perfect career opportunity for you, what would it look like?” It’s a great question, isn’t it? A former colleague of mine used it in all her hiring interviews.

Open ended questions literally allow people to open up. You bring out a range of answers, which can sometimes be quite surprising. In recruitment, typical responses are: job stability, career progression, management style and company culture. Very rarely does money come up in this conversation.

One of the best responses that I have had in a job interview was from a return to work Mum who had applied for a full-time Sales Rep position in the Architecture & Design market – a role notoriously difficult to recruit for.  I asked her a magic wand question, only to discover that all she really wanted was flexibility. Her ideal wish? To divide three days in the office and on the road, then spend two days working from home, which would help achieve a balanced life with her little one.

We discussed the mutual benefits of a flexible approach and I presented this working arrangement to the prospective employer. My client was open to the concept, my candidate secured the role and now two years later, she has readjusted her schedule (how fast life changes!) to work four days a week and continues to exceed her targets.

If I had never asked my candidate an open question, I would never had known which options to explore with my client. Using open questions in interviews or even business in general, opens up opportunities to explore others’ needs when they may not otherwise be obvious.

As a recruiter I find it’s valuable to ask my candidates about their aspirations, rather than just look at their past experience and make an assumption. You get so much more insight about a person’s genuine motivators.

If you get a magic wand question and an answer doesn’t immediately come to mind, just respond with a smile and take it on notice: “That’s a really good question.” You’ve kept the option to explore it further during the conversation and can continue in a non-confrontational way.

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

Nobody likes a pouting recruiter

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”

– Dale Carnegie

Once, early in my career, I accepted a new role despite my misgivings about the position. The recruiter talked me into it. Female engineers were quite a rare find in the late 90s and recruiters were constantly approaching me with engineering opportunities. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t stay in the position for long and in hindsight, I should’ve backed my instincts and walked away from the opportunity.

The ‘hard sell’ is rarely effective in the long term (particularly within an executive search context). I’ve seen it at work in business, as well as that personal experience working as an engineer. I don’t blame the recruiter for the outcome by the way – it was my choice to take the job against my better judgement, but the experience has shaped my approach to recruiting as an executive search consultant.

As a hiring manager, you may have observed that candidates who were subjected to a hard sell, more often than not, withdraw at some stage of the recruitment process. They’ll find an excuse to pull out, accept a counter-offer or won’t be a long-term hire if they do join the company. It’s not a great result for anyone: HR, the hiring manager, the recruiter or the candidate – not to mention the significant cost to the business in beginning the whole process again. Ethical and professional recruiters seek to add value to their clients on a long-term basis and are not simply seeking short-term commercial gain.

Passive candidates, who form a major part of the executive search process, may express a little hesitation and reluctance on first approach. This is completely normal and does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest in discussing the role further. However, there’s a big difference between informing a candidate about an opportunity and delivering a sales pitch.

My approach includes fostering dialogue with a prospective candidate and providing them with as much information as possible on the role. Once it is established that their skills, culture fit, remuneration and career goals are a good match, I encourage them to participate in a discussion with my client, as position descriptions are no substitute for a face-to-face meeting and the insights that are obtained through that discussion.

Should the candidate then decide that the opportunity is not one they wish to pursue, I respect their decision, thank them for considering the role and do not press the matter further. This approach has allowed me to forge trusting and long term relationships with my candidates; they understand that I will respect their views, will listen and am not purely driven by commercial considerations. Similarly, my clients have confidence that I’m representing them in the market in a professional way and respecting all candidates throughout the process.

Personally, I still suffer from the inevitable disappointment when an ideal candidate decides not to proceed with a role. It’s particularly hard if I feel that the opportunity meets their expressed goals and would provide them with a chance to further grow and develop professionally. However, nobody likes a pouting recruiter and it’s futile – not to mention unprofessional – to let that shape your behaviour or treatment of the candidate.

It’s important to remember that there are usually other factors involved that may be guiding a candidate’s decision (which they may not feel comfortable disclosing), and it’s not possible to address every contingency. In fact some of these individuals have returned to me in later years, when I have had the pleasure of placing them in their next role, whilst others have engaged me as a consultant.

It’s risky changing jobs. Candidates are acutely aware of the need to perform in the role within a new organisation and team, long after an executive search consultant has moved on to their next assignment. So forget the hard sell and take my advice: Behaving professionally, respectfully, ethically and with complete transparency always yields positive results in the long term.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

One question that can ‘read anyone’s mind’…

Needing to know now is critical to the flow of business. Here is one question learned early in my ‘headhunting’ career that cuts through time and 100 questions.

When conducting an Executive Search or Selection assignment, my job is to determine whether a candidate is genuinely interested in the opportunity I’ve presented. Everyone’s flattered when a Headhunter casts their lure; it’s tempting to nibble at the bait.

As a Headhunter, though, it’s vital that I swiftly work out whether there is serious interest or whether a candidate is just fishing… for just enough information to angle for a better offer from their current employer.

To elicit the real answer is no easy task. Not getting an answer can set the hiring process back substantially, leading to a missed opportunity for both the employer and the candidate.

When we have to wait in trepidation on an answer, it more than likely turns out to be a “no”. Instinctively we know that the person has already made up their mind, but does not want to offend us with the truth. Or they could be stalling for time as they are pursuing their first preference… you know how it goes. Sometimes candidates come back to the table with a half “yes” and lots of messy provisos, which equate to a “no” in any case.

When an important decision needs to be made, I guarantee this one question will uncover a person’s intention, even if they do not intend to show their hand:

“Please visualise us getting to the end of this hiring process. Providing all the pieces come together – do not give me an answer now,  just what do you guess you will say to me?”

Stop talking and listen, because here comes the answer.

They will say something like, “Well I guess I will say yes, but I just need to think about it (overnight/run it past my family/see what my partner says/etc.).” That’s ok, this is going to be a “yes”.

If they hesitate, then duck and weave with something like, “Look I really don’t know, I can’t even guess, my mind is not clear, have really got to think about it more…” unfortunately it will be a “no”. Move on to whatever your Plan B is, because eventually people come back and confirm that “no”.

So next time you’re asked to guess an answer don’t worry, we are just trying to read your mind.

What methods do you use to uncover people’s thoughts in your world @work, I’d like to know?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Once small voices, now have a large impact

I ride the lift with a gorgeous blonde bombshell checking her lipstick in the mirror. Oh, awkward. As we step out on the same floor I realise she’s more than likely Catherine*, the candidate I’m scheduled to interview at 1.00pm. I’m hiring for an NFP CEO role and this is not what I had in mind. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

An hour later I’m eating my words. This fabulously talented, perfectly turned out candidate is just as remarkable in conversation as her career track record and a quick ride up the elevator would indicate.

How many of us are lucky enough to know a truly influential person? Not just someone of notoriety, with a big name or a prominent post. I’m talking about those individuals who are the whole package and do great work on behalf of all of us. People with vision and the passion to achieve it. My 1.00pm candidate is that whole package.

As a marketing and communications recruitment specialist, I’m fortunate to meet professionals who are really making a difference in their field.

What’s also trending is ‘social consciousness’ as a key influencer. Not only do influential people want a job that has a positive impact, they are also intentionally deciding not to work with organisations that have a negative impact on society. Global pressure on environmental concerns has seen investment banks, superannuation funds and universities divesting from fossil fuels. On social issues, international momentum for marriage equality or the humanitarian treatment of refugees are already impacting the Australian conscience. At grass roots we’re thinking critically before we throw money in the fundraising jar or make a charity donation these days: How will those dollars be spent?

Social media has empowered everyone with an internet connection to speak out. It’s elevated the consumer to critic. TV hosts, radio journalists and newspaper columnists are on notice. Companies can live or die by their Twitter feed, politicians are exposed to direct feedback from their electorate and sites like change.org can truly influence.

In this new media environment corporate social responsibility has been elevated to dizzying heights. No longer a nice to have, customers have become increasingly savvy, demanding quality products and services from ethical sources right along the supply chain. Just look at the growing markets for organics in grocery and beauty product lines, renewables in the electricity market and successful start-ups like Tom’s shoes, which literally give something (shoes) back.

Many businesses, as well as the individuals working in them, do want to make a difference. The current international climate is ripe for those who leave a legacy and have a large impact. In the past those with the loudest voices got the world’s attention. Now once small voices are being heard.

Do you know another Catherine* who is having an impact in your world @work?

*not her real name

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work