Thursday, 22 September 2011

Have you checked under the bonnet?

What’s the point of references ? After all, people will only give you the names of referees who will say good things about them (unless they are really stupid) and (if they are smart) will have prepped them to say what they think the recruiter will want to hear. With this in mind how much value do references really add to the recruitment process ? 

If your approach to referencing is to just go through the motions because you have to take references, then there is very little point to doing it. However, I have learnt that when done properly references are absolutely invaluable, even essential, to assessing a candidates suitability for a position. In fact, I would even go so far as to say they are the most important part of a recruitment process.

Here is why references are vital......

Basically, if you don’t get some confirmation of what you are being told by a candidate, then you are making the assumption they are telling the truth. I don’t think that the world is full of fibbers but put your hand up if you have never been told a lie by a candidate. Yes, a good recruiter will normally be able to snuff out any major discrepancies by asking the right questions at interview. You don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to tell that someone did not work in the role they are claiming they did, or that their dates of employment don’t add up, or that the role was not actually a contract but they got fired. However, assumptions are the enemy of successful recruitment and even the best interviewers don't always get it right so it really pays to check.

Confirming what you have been told, is only part of their value. References should also be seen as a positive tool, not just to catch out liars, but  to provide insight into things like how that individual should be managed, any areas of development, their future potential etc. Not only will this feedback help you make the right hiring decision, it will also help you get the best out of that person when they are in your business.

So, how do you approach referencing to get the most out of it ?

Firstly, ask for the references that you want. Don’t necessarily just accept the names that a candidate gives you. Furthermore, don't assume that these people are who they say they are. Make sure that the person you have been given as their line manager or a client actually is their line manager or client and not just their colleague or friend (Overly suspicious ? It happens !).  If a candidate cannot give you the details of their previous line managers, or anyone else you ask for,  then there is something wrong. Sure, this person may have moved on, changed mobile number, or the company as a policy do not give references. But with a bit of digging around on social media sites and some gentle persuasion these things can normally be overcome.

In my experience, if a candidate cannot provide the names I am asking for, and they are reasonable, then I am immediately suspicious. Why wouldn't you be?

Secondly, referencing should be much more than a quick 5 minute telephone call going through a set list of questions on the standard company reference check form. Neither should it be passed to the receptionist to do. A reference call should be, as much as possible, a conversation led by the recruiter to get the information they need. In this way you are far more likely to get genuine and useful insight, not just the rehearsed answers to a bunch of leading question.

Thirdly, a reference should also include some wider background checks to uncover any potentially additional information which may help make a final decision about a candidates suitability. This is not to say that you hire a private detective to go through the candidate’s bin. But there is nothing wrong with using the power of the Internet, any common links in your network or something similar to find out a bit more. Again, this is not necessarily to uncover any negatives, it can also serve to bring out some positives that may not have come out of the process so far.

Whose responsibility is it to take references?

In short, it is everyone’s responsibility because each stakeholder (recruiter, hiring manager, HR) has a vested interest in getting it right. As an agency recruiter I will conduct references, both for my own satisfaction and also because my client is paying me to. However, hiring managers should also take it upon themselves to conduct their own background checks and HR should ensure this happens. At the end of the day, they are ultimately the one making the offer, employing the person and paying the wages.

My last piece of advice on this topic ….do not bury your head in the sand if something crops up that is a concern. Don't go looking for problems, but if something needs investigating further then investigate it. Whether you are an agency recruiter looking to close a deal, an internal recruiter looking to close off a process or a hiring manager desperate to fill a vacant role, it might be tempting but you ignore potential issues at your peril. 

So next time you are referencing a candidate ask yourself honestly  “have I checked under the bonnet?"

Monday, 5 September 2011

When negotiations go bad, who really loses out ?

As regular followers of this blog will know, I work as a Rec-to-Rec consultant (i.e. I recruit recruiters for recruitment companies – say that after a few glasses of wine!). I recently received a call from the owner of an agency explaining that he had heard good things about me and could I meet with him to discuss helping him find new consultants. As always, I was upfront about my fees and in return for some commercial advantages and as a gesture of good will I agreed to a 1% discount, which was subsequently confirmed in an email.

So off I toddled the next day to his offices, which were very smart and based at the expensive end of town (..obviously he was not short of money). Considering there is a chronic shortage of experienced consultants in the market, my advice was that he should consider individuals at a more junior level as long as they displayed the right qualities. I offered him that advice because it made sense and he agreed.

The following week I sent him John’s CV. Although John only had 6 months experience he was very bright and I was confident he would develop into an excellent consultant quickly. I knew this because I had interviewed John thoroughly and already taken a reference. My client was happy to interview him and the very positive feedback after that first meeting indicated that he thought the same. Both parties were keen to take things forward so a 2nd interview was set up for the next day and again the result was very positive. So far so good.
Then the trouble starts:

"John is good but he is not very experienced so is going to take a lot of training"
(Yep, you knew that and that is why his salary expectations are very modest).

"I also have a couple of other candidates I am speaking to who I have sourced myself"
(Funny, you didn’t mention that before)

"I am interested to take him but I don’t want to pay much of a fee, in fact I will only pay $2k"
(approx an 80% discount !)

"And I wouldn’t want to pay him more than $..k"
($10k less than he asked for )
I instantly lost all credibility for the client. Firstly, for trying to negotiate a ridiculous and unrealistic discount on fees at the back end of the process (that I am certain he would never agree to do with his clients). Secondly, for trying to under offer a good candidate that he wrongly thought he could take advantage of. Thirdly, for the aggressive and patronising manner in which he did it.
Normally I would have walked away there and then. However, I like John and the last thing I wanted to do was stand in his way of securing a role with a company he liked. So I agreed to meet the client half-way. My caveat was that he would have to make an offer by the end of the day. It got to 5pm (Friday) and nothing - he had not even been good enough to come back to me.
This is not sitting very comfortably with me and neither is it sitting comfortably with John (I told you he is a good bloke). So we agreed that before I left for the weekend I would speak to some other clients who may be interested in him. Unsurprisingly in this candidate short market there was interest and to cut to the chase, by the end of the following week John had an offer at his desired salary. Fees had already been agreed with this client and there was no attempt to negotiate us down. I had still not heard back from the original client so I emailed him (admittedly with some delight) to advise that John was now off the market. I was surprised by his response:
"What if I had wanted to offer him a job"
(Well you should have done then, and not been so bothered about trying to get something for nothing)

"I find this rude and unprofessional"
(Do you really !) 

So the upshot is that a guy who has a need for consultants, and will continue to struggle to find them in a very tight market, loses out. Furthermore, his behaviour during the process means that he now becomes a source of candidates for me to headhunt. All because he wanted to get something for nothing and thought as the client he could call all the shots.

One of the  principles of any successful business is the need to keep costs low. Good business leaders should always be prepared to negotiate a more favourable price. However, in any negotiation there is a critical point at which the price becomes too low and the vendor (recruiter) will walk away. If a client’s reluctance (or stubbornness) to meet the recruiter at a fair price, and negotiate in a professional manner, means they miss out on someone that would have added value to their business, surely that is not good business leadership.