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Answers from Lou Adler Interviews, Employee Referrals and Job Branding

June 9, 2004
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T he following are some of the questions asked during thewebcast featuring Lou Adler.

    Lou, how do you know when you've hired the "top third" or "bottom third"?

This depends on the scope and complexity of the job. You certainly know you’ve hired the bottom third if after a few weeks the person doesn’t show up, seems to make lots of excuses, and the person’s work is far below average. It often takes a few months or a year to determine if you’ve hired the top third. That’s because for one thing, you need to take into account how much learning is required to be successful. In addition, the person has to go through a complete cycle of the job, including the ups and downs, and have the ability to handle tough challenges and work with a lot of different people. If it’s a management position, it can take months or even years to determine how competent someone is while building and developing the team.

    What is employer and job branding?

Employer branding has to do with making the company name stand out. It’s equivalent to marketing and advertising, but in this case you’re trying to demonstrate that the company is a sought-after employer. Top people want to work at these companies, so it’s worthwhile spending money on branding the company as a great place to work.

Job branding has to do with making the job itself worthwhile. Top people decide to take a job based on the work involved and what they’ll learn, do and become. This needs to be emphasized in the job description and in job-board advertising. The key to job branding is to emphasize opportunities at the beginning of the ad, and describe in vague terms the requirements toward the end. It’s better to say, "Use your CPA to build our new international accounting system" than to say, "Must have a CPA and five years of international accounting experience."

    What do you think about using "job match pattern assessments" as part of the hiring process?

We use a form of job match pattern assessment as part of our interview training. In essence we look at what it takes to be successful on the job, and then look for comparable successes in the candidate’s background. Research shows that this type of job matching correlates very highly with on-the-job success.

    How do you make the process easy for applicants when you need to disqualify so many unqualified candidates?

The best way to do this is to use technology more efficiently. There is software available now (check out DataFrenzy, Burning Glass and Resume Mirror) that allows a candidate to just submit a résumé with one cut-and-paste, and the software parses this résumé into your required fields automatically. It takes the candidate five minutes to apply. The software then allows you to search through this résumé using advanced screening tools. The result is a list of résumés rank-ordered based on your criteria. This way you never have to look at any résumés below a certain ranking, and the candidates don’t need to spend too much time applying.

    What importance do you place on employee referrals, and how do you suggest conducting employee referrals? And should these be conducted as a pre-qualification or post-interview qualification?

I think employee referrals are the single best way to find more top people. I’d suggest you set up a system to have the recruiting team personally contact every new hire and top person and get a list of the best people your employee has ever worked with--whether the person is looking or not. Then have recruiters call these people and recruit and network with them again. In my mind, this approach leverages your employee-referral program to another level. This should represent at least 50 percent of the people you hire.

    How long should an interview take?

As long as necessary to determine if the candidate is competent and motivated. For entry-level positions, the first interview should be about 30 to 40 minutes to determine if another interview should be conducted. For higher-level positions, the first interview should be about 45 minutes to one hour. Subsequent interviews should be about 75 to 90 minutes each. I can’t see how anyone would want to hire for an important position without at least five to eight hours of total interviewing time.

    How do you go through hundreds of résumés to interview only a few if you aren’t looking for skills, education, experience, etc.?

You need to use advanced filtering techniques to handle this. When filtering résumés, combine skills with performance terms to better rank-order the résumés. For example, performance terms for sales might be president’s club, rookie-of-the-year, 100 percent quota or award. For an engineer, it might be patents, presentations, studies or white papers. When you add these types of terms to your searching, you get a different ranking to the résumé pool. This is how you balance performance with experience.

    How do you see the difference betweencompetencies and skills?

Skills tend to be more learnable and measurable, like accounting, Java programming and direct-mail marketing. Competencies tend to be more innate, like drive for results, motivates others and insightful. However, what’s really important is what people do with these skills and competencies. So I suggest that interviews should be conducted by exploring a candidate’s major accomplishments in great depth. This way, you reveal how the person’s skills and competencies were used on the job.

    How do you effectively measurequality in newly hired people?

I suggest using a performance profile to clearly define the performance objectives for the job and communicate these to the new hire on day one. Some examples of these performance objectives are: evaluate the team, increase close rate by 15 percent, design the circuit by June, and identify problems in the system during the first 20 days. Then review how the new hire is doing against these performance objectives every 30 days.

Can you give some of your best sourcing ideas for this targeted type of recruiting you have talked about?

Long, visible, outrageous titles work best. Something like "HR Director in The OC" helped us find three outstanding people for an Orange County start-up. This must be followed up with compelling copy that emphasizes opportunities over requirements. For example, "Use your background in human resources and recruiting to set up the sourcing program for our new Seattle factory" is more interesting than "Must have a B.A./B.S., five years in human resources, including heavy background in industrial relations and union contract negotiations."

    How do you assesscollege students with no experience?

Ask them what they’ve accomplished that exceeded expectations or about something they’ve done that they’re very proud of. Then spend 10 minutes on reviewing two or three of these accomplishments. You’ll quickly learn if you’re talking with a high-achiever or someone just coasting along.

    How can you relate these concepts to entry-level, nonexempt hiring (e.g., call center, clerical, administrative, etc.)?

Every job has five or six things a person needs to do to be considered successful. For a counselor at a summer YMCA camp, it’s to prepare the night before for two hours for the next day’s activities. For a call-center sales rep, it might be to engage with the potential client for at least three minutes no matter what excuse is given. Once you know what drives on-the-job success for the job, just ask the candidate what they’ve done that’s most similar. For the YMCA job, we looked for people who went out of their way to over-prepare for any type of work. For the call-center rep, we looked for people who could naturally engage people by asking a series of relevant questions.

    What do you mean by pre-qualifying candidates under employee referrals? How is it done?

Just ask the referrer why the person being recommended is a strong person. You might get comments like "made quota every period," "designed a new product very quickly," or "stayed overtime just to make sure everyone on the team completed their projects." When you get in the habit of asking why someone is good, you quickly demonstrate that you’re not just looking for average people. You can also add a line in the employee-referral form requesting more information about why the candidate is a good fit for the job, or about how the candidate exhibited exceptional performance.

    Is there a career Web site out there that you feel could be viewed as a "best practice"?

I like Federated Department Stores a lot. Here, the candidate truly is treated like a customer. Not surprisingly, they are customers.

    What are your thoughts on using companies to send batch e-mails to people who have certain key words in their résumés …is this effective sourcing or not?

Yes and no. If it’s personalized and clearly describes a compelling job, it could work. Then the person must be able to talk to a recruiter to determine if the job is a fit. Done professionally, this type of auto-email campaign might work. However, I could also see it backfiring if the program wasn’t implemented well.

    Our company is thinking about bringing in a sourcer to assist our recruiters. What do you think about professional sourcers, and how can we leverage their expertise to complement our recruiting efforts?

The idea is certainly a good one. In this case, the quality of the sourcer is critical. I wouldn’t want to rely on the quality of an outside sourcer unless they were implementing best practices.

    What part do you place on valid skills-testing and valid, benchmarkable psychometric tools?

I think good skills and personality testing are appropriate means to confirm competency, but not predict it. A good structured performance-based interview plus this type of testing can increase overall assessment accuracy. The best tests are those that check cognitive skills and conscientiousness and integrity. Everything else is less reliable.

    What if you find a "WOW" employee but do not have a position--do you make one?

Make one!

    How can you make sure that you hire the best employees--but also that you have a well-diversified group without compromising your company's strategy?

I suggest that a performance-based interview should be conducted where candidates are asked detailed questions about what they’ve accomplished. These accomplishments are then compared to what’s required to be successful on the job. If a person has accomplished comparable tasks (not identical), they should be hired regardless of age, race, religion and physical challenges. The approach we use has been validated by Fisher & Phillips, one of the largest labor-law firms, as the best means to hire a diversified group of candidates while minimizing legal exposure.

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