Sunday, April 12, 2015

Candidates are NOT Customers...Not Yet.

There are important differences between Customers and Candidates.

Companies generally don’t choose their customers…at least not individually. If they did, you might find themselves facing a class action suit despite statements like “we reserve the right not to serve you”. Sales and Marketing work with large numbers and simply serve all those they can who choose to buy. They accept that they have to win their target audience over- not once, but every time.

The customer is always in charge. She can ask about price- before she even enters the store. He knows the history of what he is buying and even the background of the people who make it. They know what friends and family and other customers think before they decide what to buy and from whom. If a customer isn’t treated fairly, if their experience does not meet the expectations set BY them (from the available information, prior experience, and ‘branding’), they vote with their pocketbooks and wallets.

Companies tend to want a good relationship with the largest number of prospects and customers they can manage before, during and after their purchase.

Candidates generally don’t choose a job with a specific employer. They may want one but they have to be offered it to choose it and they have to apply to be chosen. They may be attracted en masse by what they know about the employer’s culture, benefits and reputation but beyond the description of what the employer thinks are the qualifications, they seldom know the specifics about single job’s price, hiring manager, team or their chance to be successful- even if they can demonstrate all the qualifications until after they compete.

Employers seldom invest in a relationship with more than a few qualified candidates at a time. The rest? They generally are expected to fend for themselves.

In the last two decades, the pace of change has accelerated and the emergence of technologies capable of collecting and curating ever larger amounts of data has driven costs down…for everyone. Employers forget that both customers and candidates have extraordinary access to information and increasingly the meaning of that information in how they choose to live and work. Coupled with the explosion of real-time communication networks among people having similar (and even dissimilar) interests the gap between our definition of ‘Customer’ and ‘Candidate’ is narrowing and, if truth be told, the needs/agenda of every stakeholder in the workplace from the hiring manager and the firm’s employees to the recruiters themselves are more visible to all and more easily compared.

We tend to refer to the ‘Customer Experience’ or the ‘Candidate Experience’ in a vacuum but really it is the ‘Buying Experience’ or the ‘Recruiting Experience’ as seen fresh from the eyes of EACH stakeholder…including the candidate that is evolving. Even our business leaders and the vendors supporting the business recognize the impact these changes are having on employees’ willingness to be efficient and productive…and to join the workforce in the first place.
The shift of candidates from supplicant to customer-partner in the recruiting process where each choice is shared is inevitable and nearing its next stage.

A customer-centric business environment that treats candidates as educated customers and consumers of work as a rule rather than exception may not be far off:

-          Educated Customers want to know the long-term nature of the material we are buying. How long will it last? Candidates will want to know how many employees doing the job you want me to apply to have benefited in their careers by having done that job. How long have they stayed? Where did they go?

-          Educated Customers want to know that the source of the materials in the product you are asking them to buy is not tainted, is managed well during its manufacture and its labeling, country of origin, etc. is accurate. Candidates are asking the same questions- how does this job contribute to the firm and the firm contribute to communities we live and work in? What is the quality and training of the people who manage people in this job? How accurate and complete is the information about the work they will do?

-          Customers seeking a product that is in short supply have options and know where they stand not just for the products available but for the next shipment. Candidates seeking a job that is always in short supply are starting to see more options for learning their status and some if qualified have realistic expectations set for being considered for the next opening.

-          Customers see most of the information they think is relevant detailed on the outside of the package. It’s required. Candidates…nah. Not yet. But today, they could be taught how to get it and it would be available with little effort.

Only a few years ago even discussing Candidate Experience would have been viewed as silly, impractical and without merit.

Now? Less so.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Real Gap in Creating a World Class ERP is Not Telling Your Candidates About It.

A quick search of "Employee Referral Programs" on Google will produce 81,300 results.

Everyone it seems has written an article or two (or three) about the importance, the value and the how to of ERPs (we'll address other types of referral another time). Guilty as charged.

Lots of content easily found shows companies how to tweak their programs: Incentives for…, Communication to…, Management of… , The Five Best…  etc. etc. Lots of nuanced debate is almost always current at online sites discussing the best ways to improve an employer’s referrals - the quality, population diversity, size of rewards and more.

A firm’s success with referrals - typically their #1 external source of hire - is traditionally measured by the % of hires attributed to it. For most US companies referral hires range from 20% - 40% of the total by source. In a few firms, recruiting leaders measure the quality of their referrals and correlate referrals to conversion rates, early employee success, retention, and other performance measures.

There's no question that a well-designed and run ERP has great ROI and yet, with 98% of employers claiming to value this as Source #1, there is still an extraordinary gap. What's missing? The candidate. Not just any candidate. Most candidates. Your prospects who may have researched you, decided they want to apply and don’t know or don’t appreciate that they are disadvantaged by their lack of knowledge and awareness. In the end, the company is as much a loser as the candidates.

Don’t think it matters?

In 2013 TalentBoard (the non-profit driving the Candidate Experience Awards) asked ~45,000 candidates applying for jobs to nearly 100 employers if they were aware that the firm they were applying to had an ERP. Half said No. We are only surprised that number isn't higher.

Few firms have any mention of an ERP on their career site let alone any indication of how likely it is that a candidate would be hired if they were referred. (We have published estimates from several data sources that show a referral is as much as 14 times more likely to be hired versus a candidate of equal quality who has no referral.)

In 2014 TalentBoard dug a bit deeper with the 95,000 candidates who completed a detailed survey sometime after applying to one of more than 120 employers. Here are a few results to consider: (Much more can be found at The Candidate Experience where later this month you can register to get this year’s whitepaper.)

Of the five most valuable tools in their job search, candidates rated referrals sixth.

95,000 candidate were asked (and 77,000 of them answered) to choose their top five tools to learn about [the] job they applied to from a list of 20 possibilities. The five chosen the most were:

  1. The Company Career Site (65.5%), 
  2. Job Agents (53.7%), 
  3. LinkedIn Career Page(s) (24.7%) 
  4. Online ‘Groups’ like LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google+ (24.0%) and 
  5. Employer Reviews like those at Glassdoor and Best Places to Work (19.9%). 
ERP was chosen 17.0% of the time.

But that’s only the beginning of the story. When we look at just the (~12,000) candidates that had accepted an offer at the time they responded, Employee Referral Programs tie for second place (at just 26%). ERPs tied with Employer Reviews. The Company Career Site is still picked as the top job search tool by 65% of the respondents and still ranks #1.

It's only when we slice the data for the (~8,000) Candidates who told us that they became aware of the position they applied to via an employee who referred them that we see a spark. No surprise here. This group ranked ERP #1 at 59% - tied with the Company Career Site. Logical progression. But does it matter in the end? Yes.

Referrals as a source is a critical factor in predicting a better candidate experience.

Those 8,000 candidates who became aware of the employers position, whether they were hired or not (although 34.1% of them had an offer of employment when they completed the survey), gave a Candidate Net Promoter Score* for the employer they applied to of 35.

Similarly, the Candidate Net Promoter Score* for the 6,052 candidates who became aware of the position they applied to because they were contacted by a recruiter contacting (we didn't separate 3rd party from internal sourcers/recruiters because candidates are not good at differentiating the two) was 30.8. (We’ll let others debate this particular finding)

And the punch line is that the Candidate Net Promoter Score for the 61,000 who responded that they were made aware of the position they applied to through all other sources (just not ERPs or called by recruiters) was 16. By the way only 10% of this group noted ERPs among their 5 most valuable tools).

*The Candidate Net Promoter Score used here is based like the original NPS on a scale from -100 to +100. Our calculation is similar but not the same as the measure (NPS) used to assess customer loyalty (see Wikipedia for a detailed definition and history). The candidates of companies participating in the 2014 Candidate Experience Awards were asked whether they "would refer others…" and the percent responding ‘1’ was subtracted from the percent responding ‘4’ to achieve a number between -100 and +100. The company scores ranged from -20 to 59 and we show strong correlations the Candidate NPS and 6 comprehensive ratings of candidate experience. Eventually we expect the Candidate NPS to indicate the relative difficulty of a firm in hiring quality candidates in a competitive environment.

There are many factors impacting a candidate’s experience and subsequent attitude about an employer’s brand as a place to work or whether they would re-apply, refer others or even continue their relationship with you as a customer. One of these factors is your ERP and not being aware of it or knowing that a referral is more likely to lead to a job is a disservice to the candidates you seek and, potentially, a halo effect that prevents quality candidates without referrals from being fully considered. At the least employers should consider:

  • Sharing details of the company ERP on their website
  • Sharing the % of hires you attributed to your ERP in the last two years.
  • Asking prospects who apply whether they "would refer others…"
  • Assessing what practices, if any, are different for referrals than for those who apply without.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Back To the Future

We were asked to predict the future. We declined. It is too easy. Everything is possible when you are never held accountable. Instead, we took a brief step backward to see how the results we produce today hold up against the past.

In 1998, Gary Cluff surveyed 4000 Employment Management Association (EMA) members about their Sources of Hire during the previous year – 1997 (the EMA was swallowed up by SHRM at the end of 1998).

256 companies responded (about ¼ were large firms with 1000+ employees, ½ were midsize firms with 100-1000 employees and approximately ¼ were firms with fewer than 100 employees.) On average the companies that responded each hired 302 external candidates and filled another 94 openings with internal candidates.

An average of $544,000 was spent by these employers on various ‘fees’ including Advertising ($147,000), Agencies ($275,000), Employee Referrals ($28,500); Job Fairs ($15,800); and, of course THE Internet- $6,200. Staff Salary Totals averaged $362,000 and “office overhead” (which arguably included some consideration for technology tools was $77,000. The average CPH was calculated out at $3,256 for and the 302 external hires. (Smaller companies’ CPH was higher- $4,479 for 30 external positions. Large firms averaged only $2,052 per hire for the 750 external candidates they brought onboard.) [Technology costs are notable for their absence.]

One metric seldom used today, the “Staffing Cost Ratio”, a relationship of the ‘Total Cost to Acquire’ (essentially the CPH) to the ‘Total Compensation Paid, was calculated at 11%. Non-exempt hires were estimated at 25% of the total - but not separately broken out. Regional and industry differences existed but the respondent numbers were too small to be ‘diced’ properly. The Time-To-Start was calculated and defined as the number of days between the date a position was approved and the date when a new employee starts work. (Note: This method could add weeks to other metrics for calculating Time-to-Fill).

Average Time-to-Start ranged from 41 days for the 28 firms responding in the Finance/Insurance category to 54 days for ‘IT’ employers. Large firms were 59 days. Average for all: 52 days.

What is different in 2014 from 1997? What will be different in 2015? Everything…on the surface. Not so much when you scratch that shiny covering.

  • Quality of hire: missing in 1998, it is heavily discussed today, but, at least back then we weren’t deluding ourselves that we could measure it from a proprietary algorithm matching methodology that purported to find people who will fit our firm’s ‘culture’ without following those hires 1 -2- 5 years down-stream. Only a few employers and service suppliers can talk intelligently about conducting longitudinal concurrent and predictive validation studies without looking foolish. That won’t be changing much in the next year.
  • Big data: missing in 1998 (although we know where some is). Even more heavily discussed today but when you get right down to it, the lack of standards defining the differences in practices between firms and those same firm’s discipline and willingness to manage the risk required to collect data (and share it) is holding back better decision making (and it is going to improve slower than the technology to give it meaning).
  • Workforce Planning, Succession Planning, Hiring ahead of need, hiring with intent to T&D over extended time-frames before deploying, investing  in analytics/ROI for specific sources: colleges, interns, agencies, referrals, etc. have all moved the recruiting needle some in the last 17 years- certainly enough to predict a revolution, just not enough to experience it.
  • Shiny objects are enjoyable but distracting if not connected to results that matter. The differences that should count are to be found among the stakeholders- the business leaders, recruiters, hiring managers and candidates. If, as an employer, you ask  each one of your stakeholders whether the hiring process today is better AND whether their own personal and professional results were improved as a result of participating in it compared to years ago (i.e. purchasing power, quality of life, career progression, business accomplishment, etc.) what would each of their answers be? We think any substantive differences that have occurred during the last 17 years are debatable.

They don’t have to be.

What emerging technologies give us and, what we take great pleasure in annually imagining is the ever-expanding horizon of future possibilities, an extraordinarily interesting and enjoyable (but too often disconnected) exercise that doesn’t always match ‘IRL’. Futurist and pundit anecdotes are always entertaining but, “the future”, as someone has put is so well, “is already here and it is not very evenly distributed”. For the unique practices we see today to become a common practice tomorrow, practitioners need to step up their game and focus beyond the next shiny object with the discipline to try it, measure it and share their results.

Rather than predicting the next 10 game changers that might emerge in 2015, maybe it’s better to take one of this year’s solutions and connect it to an old-fashioned business result- Quality, Time, or Cost. Pick one, or two (not all three) and project just how you much you can improve it in a year.

That’s what we want to read about. Create your future don’t predict it. By this time next year, look back, share your journey and change the future for someone else.

(Full disclosure: We haven’t written an article about the future of recruiting since 2002. It was published in the EMA Reporter, a SHRM quarterly journal, in 2 parts and entitled “Staffing 2012: How Talent and Opportunity Connect- Parts 1 and Part 2. Much of what we wrote then did not come true by 2012. We, of course, claim we weren’t wrong. We are just off by a couple more years.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

NET Candidate Experience Score Part I: Measuring Employer Brand From Candidates’ Perspective

Apparently, asking your customers a direct question: “How likely are you to recommend our company/product/service to your friends and colleagues?” is a pretty solid indicator of your firm’s [Brand] relationship with its customers and, in fact, has real value in differentiating one company’s performance from another.

Fred Reichheld introduced the customer-focused Net Promoter Score (NPS) in his 2003 Harvard Business Review Article, “The One Number You Need to Grow”.

NPS can range from -100 (everyone would not refer others) to 100 (everyone absolutely would refer others). Anything above 0 is considered ‘good’ and above 50 is ‘excellent’. In the intervening 11 years since its introduction, research has generally supported the hypothesis that firms who raise their game with their customers find NPS a valuable tool in measuring their success in doing it and, that companies with a higher NPS, perform better.

Could the NPS approach, adapted to Candidate Experience, offer a comparable way to look at an employer’s Brand relationship with its candidates?  Several bloggers have speculated on this recently and several [un-named] companies are attempting their version of NPS with candidates.

There is little question in my mind that an easily obtained and reliable ‘indicator’ that represents the relative value of recruiting – one that is generated by candidates who have touched your hiring process…and, more importantly, that predicts company and/or recruiting performance would be enormously helpful.

To even think about getting there however, a few questions need to be asked.
Here are three sets of questions:

-        What are the [1-3] questions that link an employers’ candidates’ experience to a positive or negative “score” that is easily interpreted and compared to other employers (assuming they measure it the exact same way). What is the reliability of the measure? Does it meet academic standards?

-        What are the common and perhaps not so common recruiting practices that impact candidates for good or ill from the moment they begin researching the company through the on-boarding of a new employee? And, can that number we just generated above point to which practices are merely annoying (or pleasing) and which practices, either alone or in combination, represent a continuum of positive and negative attitudes?

-        Does it matter? We are intent on hiring the best quality candidate in the shortest time at the lowest cost. The systems, technologies, and organizational variables involved are challenge enough without additional time and money to assure all these still-unhired candidates (half of whom are not qualified), are treated well…unless these attitudes are somehow related to recruiting costs, time or quality- either now or later.

The good news is that the employers participating in TalentBoard’s Candidate Experience Awards in 2013 are generating considerable data and beginning to analyze their results in order to answer these questions. Like Reichhold’s NPS, we think it will take several years to connect all the dots but the work is clearly underway.

FIRST STEPS- Building the foundation: Calculating a Net Candidate Experience Score (Net CES)

In its third year, TalentBoard, a non-profit 501c, collected detailed recruiting practices from ~122 firms. 95 of these employers also invited their candidates to share their observations and reactions in a comprehensive survey that took up to 40 minutes to complete (depending on how far the candidates went in the process). 80% of the candidates who responded were not hired. More than 46,000 candidates responded. 64 firms were ‘net positive’- in other words these firms, to a greater and lesser degree, delivered a positive candidate experience.

(Note: Employers did not pay to participate and the results are free. Employers whose data suggested a negative candidate experience remain anonymous but participate in the results and have a clear opportunity to pinpoint the practices they need to change.)

Figure 1. 2013 CandE Award Winners

Among the 60+ questions asked of candidates who applied for a job at any one of the 95 employers completing the CandEs were these three direct questions:

-        “Based on your experience as a candidate how likely are you to change your customer status?”
-        “Based on your experience as a candidate how likely are you apply again to [Company Name]?”
-        “Based on your experience as a candidate how likely are you refer others to [Company Name]?”

For each question there were four optional [anchored] answers that ranged from (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Not on your life” to “Absolutely” with a couple “Maybes” in between.*

*We calculated a Net Candidate Experience Score (CES) for the ‘pool’ and for each company by dismissing the % of those who responded to the middle 4 answers (#2 & #3) and, simply subtracted % who responded to the most extreme negative response (1) from the % responding to most extreme positive response (4) for each question. (Note: This is similar in approach but operationally quite different from the calculation of Reichheld’s NPS which is based on an unanchored 10-point Likert scale where the % responding to #1-#6 is subtracted from the % responding to #10.) The resulting ranges for both approaches however are -100 (Very Bad) to +100 (Very Good).

Candidates also responded to a comprehensive set of questions about each stage in the recruiting process from their ability to research the employer to onboarding depending on how far they went.

At each stage Candidates were asked about their awareness of specific recruiting practices related to their experience (i.e. “how many interviews took place?” or, “how long did it take you to complete the application?”) and offered a rating of their experience of that segment (as well as an overall rating) that ranged from “very” or “slightly” negative to “very” or “slightly” positive on a 5 point Likert scale

(For ~20,000 candidates, the overall experience was positive and for ~10,000 it was negative. Logically, the firms who chose to participate in the CandEs were also more likely to believe that they delivered a more positive candidate experience so it wasn’t surprising that the results included proportionately more positive candidates than we might expect from a general population.)

Of the three core questions related to NPS, we found uneven results comparing the question “How likely are you to change your status as a CUSTOMER?” to the other questions or to the candidates’ ratings of their experience. The main variable was whether the participating employer had an established retail/product brand. In general however, the answers to this question may eventually be critical to calculating the actual cost of a bad candidate experience for retail firms that have large numbers of their customers applying for jobs.

38.8% of the Candidates who rated their experience as positive said they would “increase their purchase of the [Company’s] products or services while 30.8% of those candidates who rated their experience as negative said they would “take their buying power elsewhere”.

Figure 2. Relationship between Candidate Experience and Intent to Purchase

For firms whose products and services were not easily identified, the answers given by the candidates about their purchasing intentions had less connection to the ratings of the candidates’ experience.
Candidates’ intentions to apply again or refer others was clearly affected by their experience.
For Candidates who rated their experience positive:
62.0% were “extremely likely” to re-apply (only .6% said “definitely not”)
61.5% would “actively” refer others (only .5% would not refer and “actively discourage” others from applying)
For Candidates whose experience was rated negative (4, 5)
24.7% were “Definitely Not” likely to re-Apply (only 5.6% said “extremely likely to re-apply”)
27.0% would “Actively discourage others” (while 5.8% would “actively encourage” others)

Looking at each employer’s results for both the “Would you Apply Again” and Would You Refer Others” questions we calculated the NetCES using the method described earlier.
The results shown below suggests that either question could serve as the Net Candidate Experience Score.
Figure 3. Net CES Scatterplot

(Note: the 5 firms circled did not win the CandEs but participated in the effort to benchmark their experience. Every other firm represented by the data point above was acknowledge as having a net positive rating for candidate experience.)

NEXT STEPS- Test, Replicate, Expand

-        We want to prove our hypotheses that Net CES can meet academic standards for reliably measuring deeper attitudes and predicting behavior. We also want to validate which specific recruiting practices (if present and if candidates are aware of them) are merely annoying but do not by themselves change attitudes and behavior. And then there are those that do, immediately, change attitudes

Several of the 2014 volunteers involved with the TalentBoard, our CandE Council as it were, have I/O connections or access to PhDs willing to help. One dissertation committee for a PhD candidate in a major firm has already requested access to the data we’ve collected. We expect more. Meanwhile we are interviewing several firms willing to share openly their Net CES and Part II will offer their current insights and efforts to learn from the data they acquired this year. A Case-Study Summit on the Candidate Experience is being planned on September 19 in Chicago. More on that in the future.

-        At the very least, any employer who routinely and automatically asks candidates (within a short time of closing out a requisition) whether they would apply again or refer others would have their own internal indicator of the strength of their candidate experience.

 (There are firms like Mystery Applicant that have emerged and offer services such as this.)
Like the canary in the mine, this approach, reported by geography, class of worker, etc. can provide an initial warning about insufficient or deteriorating recruiting practices- although it isn’t a test of what, where, when and why.

-        The true test that we are on the right track is being able to replicate the significance of the candidate’s experience year over year. We hope to encourage even more firms (200 is our goal) to REGISTER this year. As of this writing we are at 120+. If you’ve read this far, join us and participate or encourage your friends, colleagues and clients to do so. (A parallel effort by the UK is also open for registration)

-        We want to encourage each employer participating in last year’s CandEs to analyze the results they’ve received. The data isn’t as important as what you do with it. TalentBoard is not a consulting firm. We do supply some analysis of the data in our CandE whitepaper but not to the depth that each firm has the potential to mine. Employers need to partner with internal data analysts, hire quants as interns or consultants to assist.

-        We have asked multiple winners of the CandEs to volunteer as a ‘Voice of the Employer” Members of this group meet monthly as our CandE-Bar and they will be featured in a 1-day Candidate Experience Case Study conference in Chicago on September 19. Employers participating in the 2014 CandEs will not be charged to attend. Out of this effort, we hope to see how Net CES might relates to time to fill, cost per hire and quality and other performance and efficiency measures such as conversion rate, retention and employee or company performance.

-        We want to expand globally. We know that different cultures, even different regions, may deliver very diverse candidate experiences. The North American CandE Council has added Canadian volunteers who have launched a French Canadian version of the employer survey this spring. An active CandE council has been operational in the UK for two years and recently (February, 2014) conducted its second annual CandE awards event. Plans are to expand the council in the UK to one that is focused on Europe as a whole by the end of 2014. Discussions in April with more than  a dozen professionals in Australia and New Zealand offer a positive view to Councils in that region of the world by 2015.

Full Disclosure: Gerry Crispin is a co-founder of TalentBoard. He receives no compensation from this involvement. This is true for the other founders, Elaine Orler and Ed Newman and, for all the volunteers – practitioners, consultants or, vendors.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Good Jobs Strategy: An Essential Read for 2014, Rethinking Retail

Peter Cappelli, Wharton’s pre-eminent professor of management dissected Zeynep Ton’s, The Good Jobs Strategy, in his monthly column for HR Executive Magazine.
What makes this work important beyond the obvious value of the content is that Peter will be sharing his insights in various Board rooms sooner rather than later and, it would be cool if staffing leaders were raising questions upward at the same time some of the challenges are flowing downward through HR.
The book's central theme, as Cappelli notes it, revolves around asking “an employee in one department where something is in another department, just to see if he or she knows.”

The data suggests that in an era where mastering the logistics of having the right product at hand just-in-time we’ve managed to keep our eye firmly on the Technology Tools (read as bright shiny objects) but failed to invest in properly hiring and rewarding front line employees with the skills, knowledge and experience to leverage them to the customer. (And we may even have gone beyond the number of choices customers are comfortable with and employees able to work with.)
Setting aside the case studies of firms doing it right, if most retail firms' strategy has been on hiring employees at minimal pay and benefits, something may have to change. 
Could be a great time to develop a new strategy for store level sourcing, branding screening and selection. #getaheadofthecurve. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

College Students Building e-Portfolios: For Self-Awareness Apparently

In another sign that job seekers and employers are disconnected from one another, the Wall Street Journal noted in an article earlier this month, Giant Resumes Fail to Impress, that "more universities are pushing their graduates to complete e-portfolios- web based dossiers that showcase writing samples, class presentations and other evidence of skills…"

According to the Educause, a non-profit, that we guess does the due diligence on subjects like this, over half of US college students, many of them MBAs, are using the expanded resume approach up from 7% in 2010…and it is only expected to increase this year.

Eventually the article quoted a few employers like Marie Artim, TA VP from Enterprise Holdings who simply told the truth about the subject [paraphrasing] we don’t see it much and if we did we wouldn’t use it. It was clear that on the employer side e-portfolios are unlikely to fit the embedded ATS capabilities for an application or even an uploaded resume nor were the teams of recruiters assigned to hiring college candidates about to wade knee deep through individual digital drawers of candidate skills, knowledge and experience on a project by project basis to assess their qualifications. At most, it would be a useful confirming read for a hiring manager having already made his/her final decision from resume and interview.

So what is the value of an e-portfolio?We don’t draw a distinction between the portfolio as a learning process and the portfolio as an employment tool", said one college career services professional toward the end of the article. She concluded by saying it’s the ‘self-awareness’ of the process that eventually helps their students gain employment.

Well, perhaps more self-aware students are better interviewees but, it seems to us that part of a career coach’s job in helping students become ‘self-aware’ would be to make a distinction about what works and what doesn’t work when it gets to the details of competing for a job.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

When We Connect the 'Global Integration' Dots, Recruiters Risk Being Defined Here By Their Practices There

The hiring process has no minimum acceptable (or unacceptable) standard of practice. Anything goes and many recruiters prefer it that way. Perhaps intuitively we know that people who think of themselves as recruiters (or enjoy being  seen as successful recruiters by others), are highly individualistic and, if occasionally a line is crossed, well, it’s easy enough to distance the professionals on the right side from those who fall outside that broad norm.

That ‘norm’ however is typically a US centric perspective at a time when we are moving increasingly toward a global community. Internationally, the 'practice' of recruiting isn't nearly as individualistic and its many forms are often deeply embedded in the culture of the country.

It is here, at the edge, that some forms of recruiting include practices so egregious (when considering the desperation of those seeking work)- practices we could never imagine being associated with what we love doing. In the past, it’s been easy to ignore them. Out of sight, out of mind. In the future, as our business leaders ask us to participate in ‘globally integrating’ our recruiting platforms, maybe it's not so easy to dismiss.

A recent investigative article published by Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek in November is a prime example of challenges that may be in store for HR and Recruiting Leaders and suggests why we need a global recruiting standard for what should and what should not be minimally acceptable practices.

The article is an important read on many levels and, not at all specific to Apple who figures in it centrally.

Here are the bare facts of this story that keep me thinking about how far we've come...and how far we need to go as a profession that claims both a body of knowledge (content) and its relationship with the values and mission businesses aspire to (standards).

-        -   In 2012 Apple successfully launched the iPhone5 and demand suggested a speedy ramp-up was needed for assemblers and testers.

-         -  Apple subcontracted with Flextronics, another multinational and one of their top 10 suppliers, to add 1500 workers quickly to a factory near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

-          - Flextronics contacted independent ‘recruiter’ organizations (brokers) including 4 in Nepal (there is a reason that workers were sought outside Malaysia as this country’s employment laws, such as minimum wage, only cover its own citizens, not temporary workers of neighboring countries).

-          - The 4 recruiting subcontractors of Flextronics subcontracted to dozens of independent ‘recruiters’ who fanned out to villages throughout Nepal.

-         -  They found and engaged hundreds of prospects like Bibek Dhong

-          - Bibek, like all the other candidates, was charged a fee…by EACH subcontractor in the chain- totaling nearly $1000 (plus interest since most candidates must take out a loan to pay). Bibek agreed to go into debt and the job was his. (This, by the way, violates Apple’s ban on the practice- but, in some mysterious way, Apple insists that these fees should not exceed 1 month’s net pay! We would like to meet the person who determined this amount…and wonder if he has his gphr certification).

-         -Apparently all involved (Flextronics and other global outsource vendors) know the practice of selling jobs exists but cannot seem to alter the local ‘custom’. The article speculates that more than 150,000 workers involved in manufacturing and service of multinational firms obtain their jobs through this practice in Malaysia alone.
      - Bibek and his newly ‘hired’ peers are flown to Kuala Lumpur on a 30 day visa. He is driven to a block of apartments (arranged by Flextronics). His passport is surrendered to the factory manager.

-         -  Bibek is paid $5.80 per day. (Approximately what Mr. Ford paid his workers to assemble cars…in 1914.) Calculating how much Bibek will be able to keep after paying his debt is worth the exercise. Alternatively, calculate how long it will take him to pay off $1000 plus interest if he gives the recruiters ½ his pay.

-         -  Epilogue: within 2 months (visas were never renewed by Flextronics) the 1500 are let go (given 2 month’s severance) and stranded (illegally) in Malaysia for many more months until they paid their debts to the recruiters. (Some of which was handled when these practices came to light.)

One small concern (but a keen source of embarrassment) is that these modern day slavers are called ‘recruiters’…over and over again. That has to stop. Let’s call them what they are.

A larger concern is that Recruiting and HR leaders in large multinational firms are conveniently 1, 2 even 3 degrees of separation removed from the actual hiring. They may hold the title of global head of HR or Staffing but are insulated by layers of subcontractors who are, up until now, seldom audited. Try as hard as you want, but employers will never fully shift their responsibility when the conditions of people engaged in making their products or providing their services are brought to light…no matter what logo is over the door. 

Fortunately, as more and more quality HR and Staffing leaders get involved and  learn what is happening at the trench level, they are pushing their firms to resolve the problems and not hide them away. We should all support their extraordinary efforts to change these practices and encourage them to share their stories as a model for others.

A related concern is that multinationals, in the absence of any acceptable international standards, are left to determine on their own what ‘fair’ and ‘acceptable’ minimum recruiting practices are- and how far they should go in changing the customary sale of jobs. There should be an independent take on these issues. There is, for the first time, an initiative under the umbrella of the International Standards Organization (ISO) begun in 2013 with US participation (ANSI/SHRM) to establish a minimum global standard for recruiting. While compliance with such standards is voluntary, it’s also public knowledge whether companies comply. If the right questions are asked, we can all be responsible in how we spend our money with those who choose not to comply.

Think Global, Act Local is a cliché with valuable but limited ability to guide our actions. In this case, there is no reason why multinationals should ever accept local customs that so obviously violate their stated values.