High-Powered Recruiting

Jul 08, 1996

Mention “human resources management,” and too many principals and managers working in A/E/P and environmental firms will turn their noses up. They immediately associate it with benefits administration or eight-page performance appraisal forms, instead of with recruiting. Yet finding people is one of the most valuable and important HR management functions. The ability to hire on demand can significantly differentiate one firm from the rest of the pack. And just about any firm in this business can be in that position— if they really want to. I have personally been involved with the hiring of hundreds of professional and technical people. Here are my thoughts on how to implement “high-powered recruiting” tactics in your firm. Know what you are looking for at all times. This may seem obvious, but I have found that most firms don’t even have an up-to-date list of every position they are trying to fill. This list should indicate when the need was identified, what the firm is looking for, and its priority level (“1, 2, or 3,” or “A, B, or C”). It should be updated weekly, posted on bulletin boards throughout the firm, sent via e-mail, and available to anyone who visits the firm’s web site. It should also be sent to the alumni placement office of any appropriate college or university, and perhaps even mailed to a small list of other professionals in the industry (professors, outside board members, manufacturer’s reps, and so on). Quit over-relying on ads and contingency employment agencies. Most firms in this business waste a lot of money running ads in ENR or their local Sunday paper. They get tons of resumes, yet 98% of the responses are so far from what they really want, they waste all kinds of time plowing through them. Recruiters who work on a contingency fee basis (meaning they get paid only when you actually hire someone) tend to be about three rungs lower than the typical used car salesman on the ethics ladder. Most of these people don’t know a thing about our business. They advertise, build a file cabinet full of resumes, and then work their files like dogs in hopes of finding a match and actually collecting a fee. I’m convinced that most contingency recruiters fill far fewer jobs than they agree to work on, so you have to think about how much of your time you can afford if they fail to fill your job. Not to mention the fact that many of these recruiters will place someone with your firm only to call him or her six months or a year later with a job opportunity elsewhere! Think about how to “sell” your firm to a successful person as opposed to how to prescreen desperate people. Recruiting is selling. Good business development people often make good recruiters and vice versa. Most companies, because they run ads and get responses from the best of the unemployed or soon-to-be unemployed, think their job is to keep out the bad apples. The approach should be to “seek out the best apples and pick them off the tree.” When I was in charge of hiring for the two firms that I worked in, I kept a 5-inch-by-8-inch card file of every company in our local area. Each time I met someone at an ASCE meeting or some other event, I would write a brief one-line description of him or her on the company’s card. Then when my firm needed someone, I could almost always produce a candidate immediately by making a single phone call. I would volunteer to meet the person for lunch or breakfast somewhere, then ask them to come in for an interview. This made the whole process less threatening for the candidate. Once we got him or her into the firm, I would provide information on our mission, goals, strategies, history and growth, and so on. In this structured mini-presentation, I would sell the candidate on our company. We wanted to be sure that we would be the ones who decided whether or not the candidate moved ahead, and not have the candidate pulling him- or herself out of contention. Be creative. I thought it was really great when I discovered the other day that I could get into America Online and search the member directory for “Accountant, Natick” or “Recruiter, Natick” and immediately identify potential candidates. I wrote up a little description of each job we were trying to fill and electronically attached it to an e-mail message to all those who appeared to be good candidates. And though we haven’t hired anyone who responded yet, we did have several interviews as a result of this 10-minute effort! The moral is that you can always do things to be more creative in recruiting. You’d undoubtedly be better recruiters if you devoted one-tenth the time that you spend talking about new project opportunities to the subject of getting more and better candidates for your firms. Don’t waste time interviewing people you know you’ll never hire. A lot of firms will talk to anyone who shows an interest in working there. The problem is, this person is rarely the one that you’ll want to hire. Why is desperation considered an asset in a job candidate? That’s what I’d like to know! Don’t give bad people a chance to sell you on coming to work for you. Don’t be cheap! Good people cost money. And what you’re paying your existing staff should not be a constraint on what you can pay a new employee. If you aren’t happy with the talent you have now for what you are paying, what makes you think you can use that as a cap and still get better talent? It makes no sense at all. On the other hand, I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy to explain to your loyal staff, some who have served the firm faithfully for years, why someone new is getting paid more. You better be darn sure that there are really good reasons to pay the new person more! Don’t ignore your intuition. Show me someone who has been in our business for 10, 15, 20 years or more, and who has been reasonably successful, and I’ll show you someone who should listen to his or her gut when it comes to hiring decisions. At the recent Inc. 500 conference (see TZL 166:June 24, 1996), Ichak Adizes said you should “hire people for what they are, not what they know. You can teach them what they need to know.” I totally agree. Yet, in the A/E/P and environmental consulting business, too many times we need to hire someone with a particular skill set or credentials. But we cannot let that be the sole determinant of who gets the job. Other personality characteristics are probably more critical when it comes to the person’s potential long-term success. Supplying the talent you need to do the work that you sell should be second only to getting the work in the first place. Recruiting is a top priority for just about any firm. Isn’t it time your company reassessed its management priorities? Originally published 7/08/1996

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