Published November 15, 2011
Hewlett-Packard was founded amidst the depression of 1939, and FedEx delivered its first packages in the recession of 1973. Tough times force a young business to focus on delivering real value to its customers as efficiently as possible and to remain persistently optimistic about the future.
But staying upbeat in this current economic climate is tough. As my business continues to expand, we have encountered some growing pains that have caused us to get creative and improvise. One major source of frustration for us is hiring.
Hiring should be easy in a recession, right? Employers put an ad in the local newspaper, people stand in line, and they hire someone. Easy! It’s not quite that simple: When it comes to the hiring process, our Internet-based world makes the procedure chaotic.
In this anemic job market, a few online job postings will bring in hundreds of barely-relevant resumes from applicants sending the same resume everywhere imaginable. If you figure it takes one minute to review a resume the sorting process could take hours or even days, which is why much less is spent on each resume. In that short a look, I've learned to scan a resume from the bottom up and look for a story with no jarring transitions, and that working for us makes a logical next step.
Most inbound resumes fail this test--usually because something is being covered up, or because the kitchen sink was dumped on the resume in hopes that something would stick. Job seekers, here’s a tip: I'm fine with you not having a college degree. I'm fine with taking a break. I'm fine with you having a tough time finding a finance job on Wall Street in 2011. Just own it, and your resume will clear the first hurdle. Forthrightness is key; if there’s a whiff of dishonesty or a feeling that something is being hidden then you won’t clear the first hurdle.
Many employers are using recruiters to help with fill open positions by filtering through the high volume of candidates and to reach out to qualified candidates. Believe it or not, more than 50% of resumes come from outbound reach outs to people inside our “friends” network. The process is excruciatingly time consuming and research intensive, until finally, the list is knocked down to a few dozen great candidates for a single job.
Working from the top of the list, we've learned to schedule a quick 15-minute prescreen interview to hear candidates tell the story of their career. I personally listen less to what's said, and more to what's not said. What’s the undertone about their successes and failures? Is there humility, forthrightness, passion and pride? After this chat, the list quickly gets shorter. Tip for job candidates: practice describing your work experience and focusing on two to three relevant work-related themes. Few people have a perfect resume, but good ones have a solid theme. Your ability to deliver a concise, directed theme speaks volumes.
Once the phone screen is complete, we invite the best of the bunch for an in-person interview to tell the same 15-minute story. Believe it or not, the story rarely gets better when told in person, it often gets way worse. What do you do when you're holding their resume, they're sitting in front of you, and they can't remember their first job after college, or what they focused on two jobs ago? You don't really want to give them a hint. Tip for candidates: do your homework. Come to this step with a plan on how you would approach doing the job and questions you need answered to do the job well Engage us, and challenge us with portions of your work history we may have missed.
After this step, the list is much shorter and the real interviews can finally begin. These meetings require structure and preparation by the candidate. We tell candidates how we want them to prepare for the interview. More often than not, we ask them to solve a specific problem we’re currently facing, or do a detailed walk through of specific problems they’ve solved in the past. This gives the candidate a chance to be a real thought partner to the hiring team. We often ask candidates to present their materials at the beginning of the interview day. This provides a shared baseline, and then each individual interview can build on the next, as team members focus on their particular overlap or need for the position. This process takes time and effort, and it helps nobody if an unqualified candidate gets to this step. Tip for candidates: Consider your job interview a pitch for consulting work. This promotes a really meaningful Q&A approach. It’s a bit too obvious when candidates don’t prepare, or don’t care enough about the position, and we often need to stop these interviews to avoid wasting everybody’s time.
Remember, all this work is just for one position. Often times, we’re hiring for many positions. But the work usually pays off, and about two to four weeks in we get that amazing feeling of privilege to have that person on track to join our team. Unless of course, this is a technical role, in which case, after all that work, too often the candidate will suddenly disappear, or accept an offer elsewhere.
And then there are the rejections. We always start with appreciating that, for all the hard work on our side, the candidate probably put in a lot more effort and experienced more frustration. That’s why we’re big believers in long-term relationships, and that if there isn't a short-term opportunity to work with someone, good karma comes from staying connected. The ones that get this are the best candidates later, or get full credit for helping their friends during a future outbound reach out to our network. We’re also big believers in giving candid real-time feedback and tell candidates why they aren’t moving forward. We also receive feedback; we’re by no means perfect, and feedback hopefully makes us a little bit better each day. Those that most appreciate sharing feedback tend to become the most meaningful members of our network. And I'm most proud of those that we haven't hired have become our friends.
There's no rest for the weary, when it comes to growing in a recession.