People Positive Culture

Employers and employees, does it really need to be this hard?

The staffing industry needs to change

Anyone who has been in staffing/recruiting for awhile knows the feeling when a prospective client asks to see your pricing structure. They not only want to know your profit margins, they want to influence them. You feel invaded and disrespected. What other industry allows the customer to dictate pricing? Clearly there is a gap between the value proposition of staffing firms and client perceptions. It’s time for change.

The industry’s obsession with quotas and making numbers has bred an atmosphere that rightfully draws skepticism from the talent we hope to represent, and the clients we aim to service. We’ve taken on the reputation of used-car salespeople, and are asked to wear badges at networking events like some recruiter scarlet letter. The industry has lost respect, but we have only ourselves to blame.

Circling companies that are hiring and aggressively recruiting talent like sharks with blood in the water communicates an air of desperation. We’ve been pursuing whatever business is available in the market so aggressively that it’s weakened our value, and given way to poor business practices like not vetting the talent we represent (not meeting people face to face? Really?!), pitting competitors against each other in price wars, sending resumes to companies without candidate knowledge or approval, and just generally acting desperate. Now staffing companies are resorting to tactics like sign twirling to attract talent and using roller skating biblical characters to promote themselves. We’ve become the fast food of the employment industry.

I’ve been in and out of the staffing industry since 1993, but my exposure goes even further, having worked through staffing agencies in administrative, light industrial and creative capacities. My first job in staffing was as an outside sales representative for a large national brand. Later I worked inside running a full desk. I’ve worked for four staffing companies and have owned two. With a few exceptions, I’ve seen every company make decisions motivated purely by sales and profits. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Over the years, I’ve met so many great people working in the staffing industry. If there is a common thread of discontent with these people, it usually revolves around their desire to provide relationship-based solutions to their clients, and frustrations with their organization’s resistance to any activity that does not lead directly to sales and profits. We have to strike a balance.

Some might read this and think it’s written by someone who’s out of touch with the realities of business. A history of incredible revenue growth, happy clients, rising talent, strong relationships and motivated employees says otherwise. There is another way.

A simple guide to improve your hiring process.

Most companies suck at hiring. Follow these steps and you’ll be immensely better at it. You might even hire someone.

Who are we hiring and why?
Something has happened in your business to cause you to initiate the hiring process. Make sure to evaluate all aspects on how this hire will affect your business. Are you addressing increased workflow? Is this an investment to acquire more business? Are you filling a recent staff vacancy? Once you understand the dynamics of what is propelling the hire, you can begin to define the role. Start by writing a proper and realistic job description. Include others in your organization, if need be, to gain their insights into the requirements for the position. Whether you are hiring for a new role or reacting to a desirable candidate on the market, you have to map out their role clearly. Clear expectations rule the day.

Be realistic. What responsibilities will this new hire have? How will these affect others on your team? Make sure you think this through and prepare to potentially adjust the roles of others. What skills and experience must they have? Try to separate the “good to haves” from the “must haves”. Be clear on this, and be willing to give on skills and experience that are less important. Look for potential too. Companies often get stuck on laundry lists of skill and experience requirements, trying to find someone that has it all. Don’t discount the more junior candidates or those who match the majority of your requirements, but not all of them. Sometimes you need them all, sometimes you don’t. Don’t be close minded.

It’s not all about the role. Laundry list job descriptions are not only boring to read, they only cover one aspect of what it’s like to work for your organization. Take time to explain what it’s like to work for you, or tell a story that illustrates your culture. Make the laundry list just part of the overall story you are telling. What is most compelling about the opportunity with your company?

Recruit. How are you going to get the message out about this opening? Examining why you have an opening may help answer this question.

Some Pros and Cons about common avenues for recruiting candidates:

Job postings

Pros: A great way to get the word out to a large audience. There are also relatively affordable options for this. Job search website aggregators expose your listing to an even larger audience and geographical reach.

Cons: You may only be reaching those actively looking for new opportunities, or candidates who are not currently working. You miss what is called the “passive candidate”. Your posting needs to be compelling and well-written to attract higher level candidates. Receiving a large response from unqualified candidates can be taxing on your process.


Pros: Your network is often comprised of people within the same industry as yours, so you may be able to connect to qualified candidates. Your network will usually only refer people that they feel strongly about themselves.

Cons: It’s not your network’s job to refer people to you. Your contacts may not know anyone qualified who’s also available. It takes a lot of social engineering to get the word out. Your network is often busy.

Social Media

Pros: Promotes openings to a wide and active audience, creating opportunity for a great candidate, or someone who knows one, to see your post.

Cons: Social posts may not have a long shelf life, and people have short attention spans. Followers of your social media feeds may be friends or fans of your company, but not necessarily job seekers. Reach is only as large as your social network and posts can get lost in all the noise.

Recruiting firms

Pros: Recruiting firms, by their nature, are constantly recruiting talent. They can also tap into their large networks to search on your behalf. Firms save you the time of running your own search and also act as an unbiased champion for your company and the role. If they’re doing their jobs correctly, they’ll only introduce you to the best possible candidates.

Cons: You pay fees if they locate someone that you eventually hire. Sometimes you can find the same candidates on your own.

Proactive Searching

Pros: You control the search and pursue candidates that fit your requirements.

Cons: Takes a lot of time and effort. Your employees are not trained on how to be an effective recruiter. Someone might look good on paper (or LinkedIn) but you can’t accurately determine their viability until you meet them.

Once you’ve established a strategy and gotten the word out, the candidates will come pouring in. Hopefully.

You gotta have a process

Make sure they all experience a consistent, centralized intake and communication process. Every successful search needs not only a system in place for capturing candidates, but someone to own the process as well. Keep in mind, this process leaves candidates with a lasting impression of your brand, an impression that’s every bit as important as your overall brand marketing. They are intertwined–your recruitment experience can set the stage for your company’s overall performance.

Whoever you put in charge of this process needs to capture each submitted resume, including candidates who come to the company proactively. Empower your managers to do their own recruiting, but make sure these efforts fit within your established process, all under the careful management of the process owner.

Categorize each resume you receive as a Yes, No, Maybe, or variations therein.

Yes – These candidates will be brought in for interviews. Under manager’s direction, either schedule these appointments for them, or allow the manager to schedule their own.

No – Inform these candidates via e-mail that they have not been selected for the role, making sure to thank them for their interest. One way to avoid this step is to program a standard reply along the lines of: “Thank you for your interest. We will review your background and qualifications and be in touch if we would like to meet with you. If you don’t hear back from us, we’ll keep your resume on file and review it again as new opportunities become available.”

It is the direct manager’s responsibility to personally call each candidate who is interviewed but not hired. It is the process owner’s job to keep track of this and make sure it occurs. The manager need not share details as to why the candidate was not selected, to do so opens up the opportunity for litigation.

Depending on the potential fit with the candidate, they might be designated a Maybe, and you can indicate a desire to keep in touch. Send these potential future candidates to the process owner for safe keeping.

Anytime your company advertise an employment opportunity and collect resumes, you must keep them on file for a period of one year. It is a good idea to keep the “maybes” on file categorized by role. Doing so may save you valuable time in the future.

When a hire is made, close the loop–make sure everyone has been communicated with and the process is complete.

Then the direct manager and your HR Manager (if you have one) take over the process. The manager makes a verbal offer to the individual. HR will follow up with a written job offer. Once accepted, the process owner is re-engaged to assist with the on-boarding process. If the offer is not accepted, some form of the above process is re-engaged.

Once your ideal candidate becomes an employee, you shift into another gear. Now it really gets hard, but you’ve already set the table for success.

Millenials killed my Sports page

I know everyone gets news online now, or has been for a while. So have I. No one under 30 reads the newspaper, and the rest of us have had to adjust. But until recently, I still reveled in one blast from the analog past. I read the newspaper Sports page every morning with my coffee. On work days, I read it at the dining room table, as it seemed more formal and more business-like. Saturdays with my lucky college football mug and a spot on the couch. I deserved this moment after a week of work. My dog always joined me on my lap. Sundays? The couch again, this time maybe with some music and more formal of a breakfast than just cereal.

But all that changed a week ago and nothing has been right ever since. My local paper kept cutting back on content. Adding links to “read more” online and putting some stories and features primarily online. Box scores? That has always been the bastion of print. You need to sit and read them. Study them! Who went 8-20 last night with 20 points and 8 rebounds? Who went 3-4 at the plate? What’s your favorite player’s batting average now? These are things designed to be scoured in the printed word spread out in pages in front of you. Yes, sometimes even sitting on the can! When my local paper cut not only the content, but the design and size of the paper, that was the last straw as a Sports page reader. It was their way of saying, we’ll just keep shrinking this thing and taking away your fun until you join us on-line. Well it worked. I cancelled the paper and opened my laptop.

Now Saturday mornings are spent on the couch with my laptop open. I have to log onto numerous sites to find my news. Sports over here, local news and business news here. Box scores? I don’t really read those anymore. Haven’t found them and it’s just not the same. The dog? He’s still on my lap but he doesn’t really have a good space now either. He’s shoved down onto my legs somewhere having been replaced on my lap by the computer.

We’re adjusting but not happy about it. Some things, Sports pages and dogs, should just remain analog.

Employer and Employee Guide to Planning for the New Year

Over at The Creative Party, I blogged about how employees can get their shit together and employers can avoid annoying their employees in planning for the new year. Check it out here:

Wrap it up and get ready to roll in 2014!

HR Ecosystem trends show growth and consolidation

HR analyst at Software Advice, Erin Osterhaus, reports on the growth and changes from 2008-2013 in the HR industry.

Interesting to note is the continued trend of consolidation in the staffing industry. As a small staffing agency owner, it’s concerning to see the big get bigger. Talent can be underserved by these “corporate” brands, where there can exist a drive-thru fast food mentality to staffing. Firms built on relationships are often “closer” to talent but can find it harder and harder to get heard by big brands with large staffing vendor management services. Those firms in turn don’t have the best access to the best talent.

Not surprising is that staffing agencies comprise less of the list than they did in 2008. The industry obviously went through a slump during the recession and growth rates were hurt. Expect these numbers to rebound when reports look at 2014 and beyond.







Visiting “the family” at San Quentin

Once upon a time three friends started a basketball team. 22 years later they took their show to San Quentin prison.

Who cares about Millennials anyway?

Recently I read an article in an HR publication about attracting and retaining the Millennial workforce. Millennials want this it said, Millennials want that, benefits are a right not a perk, they want a voice, what makes this age group tick, what do they look for in a job and career, what makes them cry, you name it. To which I thought to myself, who cares what they want?

I care about my business. I care about my employees. I care about my customers. I care about doing the right thing. I care about having strong values, a strong vision, a strong mission, and follow through. If that means a Millennial is interested in working for my company, great. They will get the same attention and support that anyone working for me would.

What about what makes Gen Y, the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, men, women, body-snatchers, pod people, old, young, gray, and tattooed people, tick? Companies will do well to not cater to a specific segment. Instead, they need to establish quality values and live by them. Most of what I read about what Millennials want in their careers strike me as things that any good company with strong values, that tries to do right by their employees, would have present already.

Companies that think reading an article and implementing some Millennial-friendly policies is going to transform them into a Millenial talent attraction machine are deluding themselves. Once on board, the Millenials will see through the façade. At worst, they will feel betrayed and unfulfilled. So unless you are going to commit to wholesale changes, your success in talent attraction will be fleeting.

Start by building a company with strong values. Implement sound talent management strategies to effectively manage and develop your workforce. Focus on having a strong employer brand. Communicate your vision to prospective employees. Engage and establish clear expectations. Always be recruiting. Be a responsible employer. Listen. Observe. Be flexible.

Attraction and retention have just been achieved.

Are your Recruitment Channels up with the times?

The results are in from Software Advice and social media has gained traction in the way employers find talent. Not only has social media usage in recruitment increased, the quality of candidates hired from these sources surpasses many traditional recruitment sources. It’s no wonder then that employers are focusing their growth strategies through expanded use of social media.

Here’s a bit about the survey and its results:

The data indicates that, despite the explosion of niche careers sites and social media-enabled applicant tracking systems, the top three most used channels continue to be the old stand-bys: employee referrals, traditional job boards, and company careers pages.

But despite these three channels being the most used, social-media based recruiting should not be discounted as a sourcing channel. In fact, when recruiters were asked which channels delivered the greatest quantity of candidates, social media ranked third.

In addition, when recruiters were asked to rank which channels delivered the best quality of candidates, social media ranked second, outstripping traditional job boards and company careers pages.

If social media’s dominance in the quality and quantity of hires doesn’t convince you of its staying power, almost 50 percent of respondents claimed they planned on increasing their investment in social media recruiting in 2013.  Social, it seems, is here to stay.

You can read more about the results over at The New Talent Times.

Don’t Fear the Non-Compete Agreement

One of the most misunderstood and reviled aspects of employment in the State of Oregon is the Non-Compete Agreement. They scare individuals and present employers as paranoid, though there is a strong business case for them. I have been under strict non-competes as an individual and I have had to enforce them as an employer. In Oregon, non-competes are legal and until recently, pretty strict.

As an employer what are you really trying to protect and is a non-compete the best way to do it?

What about individuals? Should you sign a non-compete or be afraid to?

Individuals need to know and understand their rights under non-competes and what they should and should not worry about:

• To some degree they are not worth the paper they are printed on, however, you cannot completely disregard them either. By signing you are agreeing to abide by its statutes. Be sure you understand what you are signing.
• The more detailed they are, the greater chance they will hold up in court. General requirements like not working for a competitor in the creative industry are not as scary as saying you cannot work for X Company.
• Whoa…hold up in court? Who said anything about suing? If an individual violates a non-compete their former employer can file suit to stop them from competing. This can land you in court.
• Judges generally view non-competes as “un-American”. They believe one has a right to earn a living.
• If the non-compete is very specific on what you can’t do, and you are doing it, you could be in trouble.

As an employer, before you implement a policy requiring employees to sign a non-compete, you should:

• Understand the message it sends, both good and bad. The good: We take our business seriously and don’t want you to screw us over. The bad: We already don’t trust you and are drawing an employer/employee line in the sand.
• If the employee goes to work for a competitor after leaving your firm, do you really care as long as they are not trying to hurt your business? For example, if a copywriter goes to work for a competitor does this really hurt your business? If it does, you may have other problems anyway.
• If you are not going to enforce it, why have it? Enforcing it means going to court.
• Isn’t a non-solicitation agreement what you are really after? You don’t want former employees soliciting business from your clients but competing is fine right? Again, as long as they are not maliciously trying to hurt you, implement a non-solicitation agreement and leave it at that.
• Unless the employee is maliciously trying to hurt your business, the non-compete would probably not hold up in court anyway.
• Whoa! Court? Yes, to enforce a non-compete you would ultimately have to take your former employee to court.

Are these questions, anguish and confusion worth it? Is this the way to start a new employment relationship?

I work in a very competitive industry where employees could easily leave and take relationships with them. I’ve chosen to not have these agreements. Not having them creates a stronger employer-employee bond, and it means I have to build a stronger company to hold up in case someone does leave and take work with them. I’m OK with that. The strong survive.

Recruiting Problem? You have a Marketing problem.

Employer branding, recruitment branding…whatever you call it, it is all about branding. How your company connects with potential employees matters. And, it’s usually overlooked.

I read a lot about the challenge companies have in attracting and hiring talent. I suspect that these firms are not doing an adequate job marketing themselves. In fact, I know they are not. Hiring is not all about you. It’s a two-way street. Why does someone want to work for you? What is your compelling story?

Erin Osterhaus wrote a story about this on Software Advice‘s HR blog, The New Talent Times. You can find it here: