Talent Acquisition

Career Counsel From a Cynical Recruiter

There comes a point in every recruiter’s working life where they teeter on the edge of falling into a seemingly endless void of cynicism and suspicion of all humans.

In my case, I took a running leap into this abyss after my first three years along this career path. If trust is an elastic band, mine snapped and the rebounding parts shot off in separate directions, never to see each other again. Sad perhaps, but you’d be amazed what people can do to one another, particularly when there is money involved.  It’s worthwhile noting that there are those amongst us who’ve managed to navigate these muddy waters successfully. You’re the ones who has controlled your candidates so well that they’ve never abused your new client, been terminated for fraud, not turned up for interviews, lied on their CV etc. Count yourself lucky, because what happens over time is that your radar becomes so finely tuned on top of your already remarkable levels of intuition, that you find yourself making assumptions about their lives and competency within seconds of meeting them, and too often from a negative standpoint.

Bad memories

The most senior hire I ever made was a GM position in the mining industry in Australia. I was young and only two years into my career. The package was supposed to be in excess of $700k with bonuses nudging it over $1.2Million – not much to write home about at the time as business was booming. Every mining company in the country was desperate to move metric tonnes of iron ore, coal and alumina out of the ground and onto trains, trucks and conveyor belts to waiting boats who would whisk them to China and India, fuelling their once in a generation explosive growth. Diamonds in particular were in demand as India’s middle class was growing with disposable income to spend on luxury items such as jewellery, watches and diamond encrusted handbags.

Record time

I met my candidates one by one in dark coffee shops on the outskirts of the cities of Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide; each of these gents were enjoying a few days respite from their fly-in-fly-out arrangements with global and local mining companies. Their existing wealth was obvious and arrogance dribbled from their mouths as I sat and enquired about their experience. Oh how I loathed the impatient sighs preceding each answer and the constant gaze around the room to see if they had been noticed, but like a good recruiter I took my notes, challenged where I could and I did my homework. They were A-players apparently, all of them. Recommended from senior executives across Australia, I had hunted them down one by one and isolated the shortlist to just 3.  At an average time to fill for this level of role set at 6 months, you can imagine the suppressed joy when I presented their profiles to our CEO after a single month.

Offer’s out

Our offer went to a candidate in precisely the same position with a current competitor. Interviews had been completed and psychometric testing successfully ticked.  Negotiation was inevitable.  He was worth more elsewhere he said and he was currently on the salary we had offered him. We threw in a sign-on bonus of $50k and so he signed on the next day.  Hailed as a miracle worker, I skipped through the office and high-fived our HR Director.

Following the candidate’s resignation at his current place of employment, we sent out a notice internally announcing the new acquisition. An email arrived in my inbox that night from a personal email address with the subject: Mistake. It was from one of our engineers that we had hired a year ago from the same company where we had just found our new GM.  My stomach dropped as I read the list of transgressions the engineer related. It meant that my referrals were wrong, his CV was predominantly fabricated and I had just hired a problem; admittedly a smart problem, based on his psychometric scores, but apparently still a problem.  At the same time, slander and defamation can be awful enemies to professionals at any stage of their career so I resolved to discover more…

Privacy laws in Australia prevented references being taken from anyone not nominated by the candidate, hence the ‘underground engineering network’.  It is here, that opinion is king and reputations are built or destroyed. Despite this, poor candidates still slip through and this gent was one of them. Too late to retract the offer, his starting the new role and subsequent failures grated on me for months.  His fabrications collapsed spectacularly around him along with his team and in his final days he secured a departure bonus to avoid him taking legal action. The figure still disturbs my waters. I learned years later that his departure from his previous employer was inevitable and our signing him brought rapture and applause from them.  I had been duped.

Learning lessons

Over the years, numerous candidate errors and failures washed over me and I became comfortable within my locus of control and shaped my particular style of recruitment into my own version of personal art. I would control what I could control, when I could control it.  When hiring managers stamped their feet because candidate X didn’t turn up for an interview, I shrugged and smiled. That’s people for you.  I learned to end interviews politely within 2 minutes of them commencing based on a single expletive, the smell of alcohol or the use of a mobile phone. My personal record is under a minute which I remain proud of due to the circumstances in which it ended. We sat down and my interviewee passed a racist comment about our receptionist, followed by a chuckle. ‘’Perhaps it was nerves…?’’ our hiring manager quizzed afterwards. ‘’No Geoff, you’re seeing the tip of the iceberg,” I responded.

Moving forward

In recruitment you are going to be lied to, cheated, mocked, berated, manipulated and forced to face devastating setbacks as an agency or corporate recruiter.  You’ll work long, hard hours and make positive achievement announcements to people and companies which you’ll have to retract as a result of other people’s behaviour.  You’ll listen to people, learn all you can about them, hone your skill-set over years and finally build trust only to have it dashed again and again; but this is the game. My recommendation for new players is to learn a system of interviewing and stick to it. Depend on competencies, use a framework, take notes and don’t let senior candidates intimidate you. It’s the arrogant ones you need to give special attention to. They’ll duck and dive, pretend they are far too important for this inane conversation and look everywhere but at you. Learn how to watch body language.  Study people and micro-expressions.  Listen to how candidates answer questions and ask follow-up questions and most importantly, remember that you are witnessing their ‘travel brochure’. This is what they want you to see, so consider that if they are not meeting your expectations now they sure as hell won’t be meeting their leader’s in 3 months time.

Author: The ‘Acquirer’ – No small dose of healthy HR skepticism. A career in Talent Acquisition leadership in global companies from the heat of the Asia Pacific to the crisp air of Europe.  Pragmatic, strategic, and every now and again… serious.

Image: Shutterstock

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