Monday, July 28, 2014

Soft Skills Evaluated by Whom?

Yeah, it’s nothing new, the growing lack of soft skills is a problem for companies, and senior-level executives recognize they have this problem. Increasingly, more and more people lack the skills we take for granted. In a company environment this deficit has a wide ranging effect, negatively impacting every aspect of an organization’s effectiveness, dragging down overall performance, which, in turn impacts profitability and by extension, share prices. It’s a lose / lose proposition; those at boardroom level get it even if, at the lower echelons, they do not.
I contend it’s the result of a digitally-connected world where we virtually interact; meanwhile, we’ve disconnected and separated ourselves from the real world and real people. I am sorry but video conferencing and Skype are no substitutes for face-to-face meetings, which involve an actual handshake. It’s no wonder there are so many references to zombies, because that describes about half of the people I see each day with their heads buried in some hand-held toy as they bumble along, running into people, stationary objects and occasionally into traffic.
And guess what, this growing disconnection is slowly disintegrating the remnants of human interaction, meanwhile rotting companies from the inside out – extending into the hiring process by infected and dumbed-down people who are supposed to interview and evaluate potential new employees.
Many companies know well the value of soft skills and the danger of the lack thereof. Do an online search for articles regarding soft skills and you’ll see how much attention this topic is receiving. It is a growing problem in my work, but not so much because of a lack of skills in potential employees, although it is a problem. But it is becoming harder to find company decision makers, both in management and HR, whose communication abilities are limited to the formulaic processes they have adopted. It sometimes seems their ability to articulate has left them; it reminds me of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (preferably the 1956 version of the film). Meanwhile, senior management has begun to put out the call to look for and better evaluate soft skills abilities in potential employees.
But here’s the sad irony: how do HR and middle managers identify, evaluate and select those with advanced soft skills, when they themselves lack the very skills they are supposed to identify? This is a problem.
I find it increasingly hard to have substantive conversations with those whose job it is to screen and process potential employees; they know virtually nothing about the jobs for which they are screening people. Furthermore, you find that beyond their own departments, many know painfully little about the company for which they work. Increasingly, their knowledge of the jobs they are tasked to fill is limited to the rudimentary job description you yourself enquired about, or they reflexively point to psychometric testing for the info they are no longer capable of identifying on their own. So, in actuality, by intentionally removing human interaction for the sake of simplifying and standardizing in order to streamline the hiring process, they are in reality rendering themselves irrelevant to the process.
Although, this should not depress you but, instead, give hope to those of us who are still effective communicators. However, if you find yourself seated before one of these dumbed-down shells of their former selves, be kind. You have little choice but to humor and accommodate them, until you can actually meet someone who knows what’s going on. Or, as I seek to do at every opportunity, go around obstacles and distractions; aim for and reach out directly to the hiring manager any time you’re able to do so.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What Kind of People Do Companies Want?

My blog is focused on empowering the individual job seeker; that is my stated goal. My aim is not one-sided, I am not anti-corporate or anti-management. For many years, I conduct my work on behalf of both job seekers and company managers who all seek the same objective -- but view it from their own perspective. In the case of this blog entry I want to focus on the company, the hiring side of the process. That which companies claim they want is increasingly at variance with what they do or, more appropriately, the manner and conduct of the interview process is often a clear contradiction – the result of which can leave both sides frustrated and dissatisfied with the end result, or lack thereof.
It is repeated so often we don’t even notice it because it should be obvious and it is confirmed in company marketing materials. What they claim in adverts, at job fairs, on their websites and from the lips of hiring managers themselves, throughout the company, is that they want the best and brightest to join them. They seek to hire the best available talent on the market to join their ranks, but somewhere along the line the reality tells a different story.
In an attempt to better manage the deluge of resumes submitted online, many overwhelmed company HR departments have sought ways to better manage and sort through and thereby reduce down to a manageable number of resumes. Then they further reduce the pool of candidates they interview for further consideration – they simply must. But I contend by doing so they employ practices which actually discourage the innovative and impact players they claim they want, instead producing an opposite effect.
Many companies have determined that inserting psychological profiling into the hiring process is good  and the most direct way to quickly assess and narrow down those most suitable for consideration. For example, an employer might select a group of employees who they think possess the traits representing what they’d like to identify in those seeking employment. This can be a helpful tool but sadly companies have come to over-rely on and ultimately depend on it during the hiring process. So it is inevitable they are predominantly focused on selecting those who walk and talk and most of all think the same. But there is an unintended consequence, in that they miss out on the innovators the company propaganda suggests they want to attract.
Increasingly, psychobabble is more a focus than actual suitability. Yeah, they’ll claim it is all about suitability but that is just a marketing ploy to convince companies that software can do a better job of selection or that psychometric behavioral-based questions are a better measure than to simply meet someone and ask applicants directly, “Okay, I see what you have on your resume, but can you do the job? Tell me your qualifications and why we should hire you and we’ll compare you to other applicants and make a determination.”  Instead, you’ll get a formulaic question as was asked of applicants during a recent assessment center interview with a large international corporation, “If you could choose, what kind of animal would you be?” One applicant for example answered, “A panda”. Their answer was then challenged by the interviewer who said, “Well, that is a lazy animal, isn’t it?” and then sat back to watch and evaluate the applicant who was now on the defensive to explain themselves. Perhaps my reaction is a bit harsh, but I find that exchange as a purposeful attempt meant to degrade and humiliate, with no good purpose other than to ensure an applicant will submit to the interviewer, who is the face of the company. While I am sure there is some pointy-headed academic who can opine about the relevance of that question and how it relates to behavior and the workplace; the reality is that it hasn’t an ounce of value in determining a person’s qualifications for a job – zero. Or another recent trend, fawned over by people who don’t want to be bothered with first-round screening interviews; proclaiming the benefits of video resumes – again, dumb and worthless unless, of course, you are a bureaucrat who seeks to streamline your responsibilities and reduce your exposure to people (even if it is a function of your job description and responsibilities). But I suppose everyone thinks they should be a celebrity and perhaps a video resume will get you your big moment! Sorry, but again, all fluff and no substance – and a lot of time wasted to make it just right.
It should be painfully obvious that the movers and shakers, those who companies claim they most want to attract, will not stand for being treated like a child or diminished by those who ask insipid questions, engaged in time-wasting psychobabble nonsense. To which company managers later scratch their heads wondering why the best and brightest are not banging down their doors.
Yes, there must be systems and procedures in place for companies to properly function but many have gone waaaay overboard, while they rule over their little fiefdoms, more concerned with galvanizing their own job security than acting in a manner that best serves their company. And while some HR “experts” would disagree, wanting to ensure all of those who apply and interview for jobs don’t step out of line and do follow their rituals in an orderly fashion, I’d like to speak about innovation. Without it, nothing evolves or improves; a lack of innovation means stagnation. Innovations are accomplished by straying from convention, by rejecting that which is accepted. People who nervously stand in lines without asking questions, those who worry more about the rules than the objective, are not innovators – nor will they be leaders of any significance - DUH!
If companies are serious about attracting those who can offer the most impact, especially in this current economic malaise as they try to do more with less, they should get involved and witness first-hand those processes the gatekeepers are using to intentionally screen out all but those who they deem to be suitably obedient and fit a mediocre profile.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Whose Rules?

I’ve noticed a lot of advice for job seekers is very direct, about how an individual is supposed to behave or in what manner they should conduct their activities when seeking a job. I myself am not shy about suggesting people be more directly engaged and pro-active, but I have a suggestion; when you read anything you should always take the source into account. True objectivity is rare, and especially when you read articles that project the writer’s own perspective – this is good advice anytime, regardless of the advice or commentary you read, see and hear, because you need to draw your own conclusions from whatever information is offered.
Too much of the advice I see being offered suggests that you should not actively engage or take any significant initiative, as if to do so is breaking the rules. They instead advise you to follow only the strict protocols of the status quo, as if by not attracting any special attention you will gain more attention. This is nonsense and, by the way, whose rules are these anyway – who are they meant to help the most, who benefits? (spoken in a whisper) Let me give you a hint, it isn’t you!
Too often, advice columns and blogs are written by the gate keepers, better known as human resources, whose functions include restricting access; they seek to allow entry only to those who submit and abide by their rules. May I ask the obvious question: Do you really think they have your best interests in mind? Are they at all concerned with empowering you – of course not. Rather they seek to diminish you, dictating their rituals for entrance so as to make their lives easier. Initially, your suitability is of no concern to them if it means they must change their well-worn routines. And until you jump through their hoops, they couldn’t care less about how well qualified you may be for the job. I suggest their priorities are messed up and, as such, identifying the best-qualified applicants is not the prime objective. They have a system and you are going to follow it! With this in mind, how much real value does their advice represent?
Just to illustrate what I am talking about and to have a little fun at their expense, check this out:  

No, please don’t misunderstand me, I have the utmost respect for human resource professionals who are business minded and even more so if they have actual business experience – they are great to work with. But the bureaucrats are altogether another story. And they may possess all sorts of credentials, degrees and certifications, but the vast majority are administrators who’ve assigned themselves importance and, while we’re at it, let’s bust another myth. In reality, other than staffing their own departments, they don’t hire anyone. Indeed they have a role and they should be involved in the process as it relates to initial applicant screening, and again at the end of the process to explain benefits and process paperwork. Otherwise, line managers make the hiring decisions; HR is an admin function – period. Back in the day, they were known as the Personnel Dept. -- that was their proper function, and yet, today the manner by which they insert themselves into the hiring process is actually an obstruction to effective hiring, and especially when trying to attract the best available talent.
So, ladies and gentlemen, what should you do -- obediently play along with the purposeless HR game of sit, roll over, fetch, and beg because they told you to do so, in the hope of being bestowed consideration by those who don’t even make the real decisions that matter? Do you seek out the actual hiring authority who likely speaks your professional language and actually knows better what kind of person they want to hire. Or, rather someone in human resources who is juggling many job descriptions, few or none of which they have any real understanding?
I mean no offense to those who populate human resource departments, most are nice people and they should be treated with the same level of professional courtesy as you would afford anyone else, regardless of how they may treat you. My simple suggestion is that you first attempt to seek out an actual hiring manager to whom you would report in whatever capacity it is you seek to be considered. Regardless of their level of interest they will likely refer you back to human resources. That’s okay – if you are qualified and presented yourself in the best appropriate manner and had something to say that attracted their attention, you’ve succeeded and gone to where so many others fear to tread. And what if HR admonishes you for stepping out of line? Express contrition, be gracious and, after all, it is often easier to ask forgiveness than for permission.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Do Something for Yourself

Last week I suggested you are wasting a lot of time if you are predominantly applying for jobs online, playing the jobs lottery and hoping your number comes up -- this is not a winning strategy by any standard! Before the advent of the internet, snail-mailing lots of resumes was no more effective, but at least back then your envelope did land on the desk of real people and those to whom it was addressed. Currently, in our time, it may be easier and less labor intensive; you can send emails faster and more widely, but that’s a panacea to make yourself feel as if you’re doing something when you aren’t, really. You do realize that by usual methods, following other people’s rules, you are in reality reaching very few real people, so all your efforts amount to 90% smoke and only 10% horsepower. This means very little return for your investment or, to use a better known idiom, you’re not getting much bang for your buck -- for my international readers, not much value for your money.
As I stated in my last blog entry, reflexively responding and submitting your resume in direct response through whatever email address is posted is a mere funnel, it doesn’t mean the hiring manager is seeing or learning about you.  No, it means it’s likely been pulled into an automated system until such time as a low-level HR staffer will sift through and select who they think is appropriate for consideration by whatever guidelines they are given. I say it over and over again – human resources is less human than ever! Regardless, this process benefits them but does little for you. Do you need any more proof that it’s time to retake more control over a process that affects you in a very personal way? If you have even one proactive bone in your body, if you want to take more initiative, then you must adapt your efforts and do something different.   
Company websites rarely list all of the available jobs, this is a fact. So don’t automatically assume there is no opportunity; likely there is not but, even if there is no job matching your skills,  there is that chance they may be on the watch for someone good to add or bring on to replace a poor performer. Many of my placements occur this way so don’t say it isn’t so, I know otherwise. However, if you do seek to respond directly to a company I suggest you do it differently, learn who is the manager of the department and try to get that email address and contact them directly. Yes, there is a chance you may be redirected to HR but at least you can say you were referred by Mr. or Ms. __________, which means you are not just another resume in the stack. The small things matter.
I suggest the same thing if you see a job description on a job portal or job search engine. If it names the company, why send your resume through the third party and why not contact the company directly, as I’ve just described above.
If you see a job / position description on a job portal or search engine with no company identified and posted in a manner as to conceal the company seeking to hire, this is for the sole reason of preventing you from going around whoever listed the job, i.e. employment agencies or a recruiting organization. Here is a simple way to learn what the actual company is; cut and paste a portion of the job description and conduct a search online using not all, but the job description and the job requirements as they are displayed, either together or separately, and see what comes up. It doesn’t work every time but often you’ll find the same description, word for word, on a company website. How can this be, you may ask? Because the job-posting folks simply cut and paste what companies give them.
For those who worry that what I suggest is too audacious, that very view would only demonstrate the depths to which some people have sunk, with so many having been reduced to shivering little Chihuahuas, unable to any longer fend for themselves without first seeking approval - or am I being too harsh? I think it’s like a bit of the movies when there is someone freaking out during a time of trouble and it takes a good slap to get them to refocus. I prefer to think of it as strident but benevolent in nature.
I can offer one more item of proof. Although I am often conducting a search on behalf of a client company, there are times I might look for targets of opportunity, looking to see what’s posted out there. I do exactly what I have described to you to reach the hiring manager to propose they consider someone I represent. Don’t doubt me, these methods work. Consider for a moment that you are a hunter and you eat only what you can kill. During good times of plenty, you eat well with relatively little effort. But when things change and become more difficult and there is less available you have a choice, adapt and adjust your efforts to meet the new circumstance – or starve.
You may have forgotten or never learned how to find a job without the crutch that is the internet; we’ve all succumbed to varying degrees, being dumbed down and atrophied, hypnotized by the screens and monitors into which we stare every day to the point at which we think that thing will get us a job. In reality it has only replaced the library and the postman. Finding a job is still about people – real people, so make an effort to meet some.