The Traditional Reference Process Is Broken

Once upon a time a manager, we’ll call her Katie, found the perfect candidate for her job opening, we’ll call her Sarah.  After a few weeks of spending time with Sarah, Katie was excited to make an offer and hire Sarah to start immediately.  Before the final paperwork was signed, Katie asked Sarah for a list of her top three references so she could confirm all the great things she was feeling about her as a superstar.  Katie picked up the phone and made contact with each of these references spending 2-3 minutes on the phone with each while they went on and on about how amazing Sarah was and how she should be hired immediately.  The references confirmed everything that Katie already thought and two weeks later, Sarah started in her new job.

Katie fired Sarah six months later.

Why you ask?  Because the reference process is broken.

The traditional reference process calls for an employer to ask a candidate, in this case Sarah, for her references.  What should happen is Sarah lists her last few managers and Katie then calls to learn the truth about Sarah.  What always happens is Sarah lists her closest work friends/managers that have employed her in the past and Katie calls to learn how amazing and flawless that Sarah really is.  It is impossible to learn the truth about Sarah through this process as these “references” have been tipped off ahead of time to help their friend secure this new position.

Recently I was asked to be a reference for a former employee.  I received an email with a list of questions to answer.  I gave glowing reviews of this former employee because she was great, and I would choose to hire her again if given the chance.  However, I started thinking about how flawed the reference process truly is.  If I found this former employee to be despicable and absolutely the worst employee I’ve ever had, then there is a 100% chance that she would never have listed me.  Rarely have I been asked to be a reference for a former employee that was marginal.  In fact, I’ve never been asked to be a reference for anyone that I’ve fired and I would be shocked if that ever occurred.

I’ve written before about the worst hire that I’ve ever made and it proved once again why this reference process is broken.  I called three of the listed references and they all gave glowing reviews.  They were short conversations that ended with everyone saying I absolutely had to hire this individual.  In no way do I blame these references, they were doing the job that they were asked to do, which wasn’t to answer my questions honestly but to be a good friend to the candidate.

If you are still using the traditional reference process when hiring then you are making a mistake.  Feel free to ask for the references but use other sources to call people that the candidate has worked with in the past.  You of course want to avoid tipping anyone off that they are interviewing with you if they are still employed but you can ask questions like, “I’m looking for a candidate to fill this role, should I contact Sarah or would you recommend her?”  Make the reference think that you are simply searching for candidates rather than actually interviewing this individual.  Use LinkedIn to find peers of the candidate or former managers who may have moved on to other companies.  These individuals will give you the true story of the candidate, not the lies that the friends are being asked to tell you.

 

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Three Ways To Anger Your Staff

While the list can be a mile long of ways you can anger your staff, here are a few things that you may already be doing or planning on doing that will drive your staff crazy.

1. Hire Incompetent People

If you have a talented staff then the last thing they want to see if you hire a few slackers.  Hiring is without a doubt one of the hardest jobs for any manager and hiring only the best feels nearly impossible sometimes.  If you hire people that bring down the talent level then you ultimately reduce office efficiency and send the wrong message to your staff about where your company is headed.

While there is no system in place for hiring the cream of the crop at all times, you can find ways to get office buy in before hiring someone.  Form a committee of people each time you go to hire.  Ask each of them to interview and report back accurate information on how they feel about the candidate.  Remind them that they will be working with this individual and if they can’t see it as being a fit, they need to be honest and forthcoming that the person is a NO HIRE.

Your office knows exactly how long a new employee will last.  They know it long before you do as their manager.  A good office can predict within months how long someone will be on the job and you should rely on them to assist in this process. Hiring worthless employees will only reduce office morale, make you look like an out of touch manager and anger your staff for the future.

2. Not Keeping Commitments

As a manager, you are tugged in a variety of directions each day.  You have meetings upon meetings, superiors to answer to, employees to assist, and a mountain of other work to tend to.  While your calendar may get booked up weeks in advance, it is easy to cancel a meeting with a few moments notice due to a higher priority coming into line.  It is also easy to look at the calendar the day in advance and think, “do I really need to be at this meeting?”

While it is easy to cancel a meeting, you have to consider the ramifications of telling your employee that was expecting your presence that you will not be making it.  I admit, I’m guilty of this, and some employees handle it much better than others.  The key is understanding when you can and can’t keep a commitment.  If you have told someone you would attend a meeting months out, and you know it’s an important one, then I suggest you keep that meeting.

A staff wants their manager to be accountable and cancelling on them is not an accurate accountability method.  You will begin to have your credibility questioned over time if you can’t hold simple meetings and or times that you have agreed to.

3. Screw With Their Pay

Whether your staff works on commission or they are straight salaried, anytime you effect someone’s paycheck you will have hell to pay. Often this is unavoidable though as a salesman may fall short of goals one month or the team was a few points away from achieving a bonus.  These are uncomfortable conversations that effect their lives much deeper than the 8 to 5 in which you see them each day.

If  you have to make adjustments with an employee’s paycheck then make sure you have honest and open conversations the minute these changes need to happen.  Often times you will find that they are mature and understanding as to why their pay is being effected but if they open their check on Friday before you have a chance to speak with them then it becomes a PR nightmare.

 

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My Most Painful Interviews

Nothing wastes a managers time quite like a bad interview.  In fact, all interviews are a waste of time in my opinion until the candidate proves they have value and worth.  Prior to the interview starting you typically have a feeling in your gut that tells you if the candidate will be a waste of time or if you will love them.  Few interviews start with the manager being really excited to spend thirty to sixty minutes with a stranger they know nothing about.  If any manager tells you they love interviews then they are lying, or psychotic.  The only time a manager loves an interview is if they already know they want the candidate but then it becomes recruitment as opposed to a formal or cold interview.

Recruitment is a different story and I’ve posted before about that process.  When you reach out to someone and recruit them to work for you it becomes a totally different mindset.  Recruitment is about singling out a candidate and proving all the great reasons they should work for your company.  It becomes a sales job as opposed to a Q&A.  Good candidates who are recruited don’t need to be interviewed, they need to be sold on the fact that you are the best person for them to work for and that the company is the best for their career.

While I’ve been fortunate to interview some amazing people and hire some great candidates over the years, I’ve also had some interviews that have stuck out in my mind as being odd, painful, and left me wondering who ever hired these people in the first place.  It typically confirms my theory that the country should have a 10% unemployment rate because 10% of the country is un-employable.  However, that is another topic for another day.

Here are a few of my most painful interviews:

The Over-Excited Candidate 

While I can appreciate someone’s excitement to go to work for a well known brand or company, gushing from the minute you walk in the door to the minute you leave is not a good idea.  Just like any good relationship that starts across a bar setting on a Friday night, you want to show signs that your interested but not that you are going to move in over the weekend.

From the second I met this candidate in the lobby to about four minutes in when I decided that I would absolutely never hire this individual they spent the whole time telling me how excited they were just to be in my building.  Their excitement level was cute at first but after they continued to gush about how much time they have spent following my brand and how much their family loves it, I found myself bored of smiling and being excited for her.  Being excited about your first trip to Disneyland is great, but even after eight hours in the park its time to put the excitement aside and face that three hour line for Splash Mountain head on.

The worst part about the over-excited candidate was the fact that most of the details she had researched about my company was wrong.  She pulled some random facts and figures off the internet that were false, she quoted something that was actually for my competitor and she continually called us by the wrong tagline and name.  While I can appreciate her desire to do some research ahead of time, I was completely turned off by the fact that none of it was true.

Needless to say the over-excited candidate was in and out of the building rather quickly and while I explained to her on the way out that we didn’t have a fit for her, her joy and excitement level wasn’t to be contained as she said she would continue to be a loyal follower of our business.  Thanks over-excited candidate, hopefully you found somewhere a little less exciting to interview next.

The Head Cold & The Bluetooth

If your not a fan of a stranger’s germs then you will understand my lack of interest in this next candidate.  While I can appreciate the fact that this candidate wanted to keep her interview time and not miss out on a potential job opportunity, I can’t appreciate that she hacked up a lung while sitting across the table and proceeded to tell me that the hand I just shook was full of that little green guy from the Mucinex commercial.  In fact she was so sick that she actually got a bottle of Purell out to lather up before shaking my hand again on the way out the door.  If she had enough common sense to understand that I wouldn’t want to shake her hand due to sickness then I would have rather she call me ahead of time and tell me she was too sick to interview and we could reschedule.

In addition to the hacking of the lungs, about twenty five minutes into the interview she reached up to her right ear and finally pulled off the light blinking Bluetooth that she had proceeded to wear the entire interview.  If she was fortunate enough to be recording it then she could go back later and hear herself cough over my lack of interest in her background. I’m not sure if she was so nervous that she had forgotten to remove it or if she always walks into a room dressed as a spy for MI6.

Needless to say I was unimpressed with the Bluetooth and equally turned off by the fact that this candidate didn’t have the decency to stay home and not infect my entire office.  If she was going to appear in front of me for an interview this way then what effect would her lack of self awareness have on any future customers?  I wasn’t about to find out and in less than thirty minutes we parted ways only for me to find myself back in that conference room with a big bottle of Lysol and a gallon of hand sanitizer.

The Ratings Scale 

Working with recruiters can be very hit or miss, in fact it is probably more of a 90/10 miss to hit ratio.  I will say that I’ve hired some amazing candidates that were sent to me by a recruiter.  In fact one of my best hires started off with a recruitment agency so they are not all a waste of time, but the majority of them are.

This candidate happened to be one that was a waste of time and as the interview continued on my tolerance for her self-absorbed, lack of knowledge of my product and her continual money talk proved to me that she wasn’t going to be a fit with my staff.  When she continually talked about how amazing she was without any real proof to back it up my politically correctness meter started to drop and I became very honest.

She asked me, “How am I doing in this interview? On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best?” I said, “honestly, about a five.”  I then of course had to back it up as I was rather surprised myself that I chose to be that brutally honest with someone I had known for less than a half hour.  I was thrilled that I had chosen to not be politically correct.  But the truth was this candidate wasn’t doing anything to excite me and I figured if she was bold enough to ask then she was thick skinned enough to hear the truth, and the truth was I had no interest!

It’s safe to say the interview ended minutes, no seconds after that and I’m pretty sure we’re not LinkedIn connections at this point in time.

The Seven Minute Ramble

One of my first interviews as a manager was with an out of market candidate on the phone.  This candidate has been referred to me by someone I trusted but it had been years since they had worked in any capacity together so they wouldn’t exactly put their neck on the line for them but they did think enough about them to suggest an interview.

The phone call started out rather easy with simple introductions, and then went to hell from there.  I asked a simple question, something to the tune of, “tell me about your stint at XYZ company” and what I got was a seven minute ramble.  This guy actually talked to seven straight minutes without stopping.  Have you ever spoke for seven straight minutes without stopping?  Do you have any idea how much you have to say or how long you have to talk to go seven minutes without stopping in a conversation?

You may be asking yourself, “How did he know that he rambled for seven minutes?”  Because that is the exact length of time that it takes for me to fall asleep if I lose interest and I started snoring at about the seven minute mark! No, the truth is I happened to look at the clock but I couldn’t believe we had passed the five and six minute mark before his story was finally over.

You may also be asking, “maybe he needed seven minutes to tell this story,” but the truth is he didn’t.  It was a ramble, it was worse than a drunk best man’s toast at a wedding and it caused me to completely tune out and end the interview a few minutes later.  If he can ramble like that in an interview then he can ramble in front of my clients, thus boring the hell out of them and ultimately costing me money.  Self awareness is a trait that few people have and this guy didn’t have a lick of it.

The Beggar

There is nothing more pathetic than a grown man begging for something.  Outside of a homeless person asking for change, no adult male should ever beg.  If you cant get what you want by making a solid argument or point for it then it’s time to move on.  This candidate didn’t have any clue.

Once again it was a recruiter that sent me this gem and after a few minutes into the interview it was apparent that he wouldn’t be a fit for our company both with his background and style.  He was used to selling a product that took a “whatever it takes approach” to close a deal, and then he would move on.  I needed someone who could nurture relationships and grow accounts based on the fact that could both sell and manage a client.

The entire interview was spent with this individual answering questions as if he was on a game show.  I would ask the question and he would answer with this look in his eye as if he was unsure he would win $500 for his answer or not.  It was the same way I would imagine myself on Jeopardy, just hoping that Alex would tell me my answer was accurate!

It became apparent this wasn’t going to work.  At the end of the interview I thanked him for his time but politely said, “this isn’t going to work, and here is why.”  Then it went sideways.  The candidate actually put both his hands together and repeatedly said, “please, please give me a chance, I promise I’ll be great,” and this went on for a few more minutes.  I was so shocked and stunned that I couldn’t believe he would actually beg me.  As If somewhere along the line that had worked before and maybe this was the way he had been hired at his current company.

It wasn’t the way I was going to hire him and I stood up and ushered him out.

These are just a few of the most painful interviews I have conducted.  There are dozens more and I’ll continue to update and add as time goes on. The best interviews are sitting in my office right now and I have no recollection of their interviews other than they were great and I couldn’t wait to put an offer together and hire them!

 

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Are You The Office Grouch?

On the lovable TV show Sesame Street, Oscar the Grouch is a character that is portrayed as being cranky, rude and irritated every day of his life.  He loves to surround himself with trash and he prefers to stay in his garbage can instead of coming out and enjoying his peers.  Oscar has even admitted that he does not like anyone or anything that would be considered nice, hence his official title as “Grouch.”

In your office, somewhere in the building you have an Oscar The Grouch.  Their garbage can is their cubicle and although they will never openly admit it, they don’t like anyone or anything that is considered nice in your office.  They are rude to those who pass and they prefer the habitat of their office space to being in your office or location.  They rarely have visitors because nobody wants to visit with them and they almost always walk in alone to your happy hour or office event, should they choose to actually attend.

The ironic thing about the Grouch in your office is they usually always think the problem resides with all of their peers.  They will make statements like, “I don’t think I’m that bad” or “am I really that difficult to work with?”  The answer is yes you are a pain in the ass and no, your not that bad, you’re beyond terrible and nobody appreciates you at all.  The lack of self awareness in your Office Grouch is fairly shocking and begs the question to you, “are you the office grouch?”

Being nice in your office is not listed in your job requirements, but it is an unwritten rule of society that you should generally be nice.  Google’s motto is “don’t be evil” and while nobody really truly knows what that means I can assure you that being nice is somehow intertwined in those words.  Nice people tend to get more done.  They have friends in the office that help them when they are out and they are never short on people who want to be associated with them.  The Office Grouch will rarely have people who want to be their friends or help them and usually this person will leave the company due to their segregation and of course blame everyone on their way out as to why it didn’t work.

There is one exception to this rule that I think everyone should consider though.  If the Office Grouch is stellar at their job then I tend to give them a slight pass.  I want to be surrounded each day by people who are amazing at what they do and will ultimately help drive my company further into success.  If I have to be surrounded by a few Grouch’s along the way then I can handle it, as long as they are the absolute best employee we could ever find.  I’m in no way endorsing this behavior or attitude but everyone has to respect the job that someone can do with or without their behavior.  It’s the same reason that professional sports teams continue to sign and spend millions on players that are cancerous to the locker rooms.  They perform first; their behavior and attitude can be overlooked if they help everyone win.

Think twice the next time you go to snap at someone in your office.  You may already be the Office Grouch and if that’s the case then make sure you are damn good at your job, or else you’ll find yourself both segregated and unemployed with no friends to speak of.

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How Much Fun Do You Have In Your Office?

Since it’s Friday I figured it would be a good day to address this topic.

Often times the word fun is a forgotten idea in many offices.  CEO’s, Supervisors, Managers, etc. all forget how to have fun over the course of a forty plus hour work week that is filled with meetings, deadlines, and bigger than all, stress.  However, stress is the exact reason why an office needs to find an outlet to have fun.

I’m in no way implying that your office has to be turned into some Willy Wonka Factory or you need to line the halls with video games and bean bag chairs.  Fun is a term that can be implied when it is the proper time to have fun.  Pending your office culture, your level of fun may be a quarterly retreat in which everyone on your staff gets to have fun and laugh while doing a ropes course.  Fun in your office may also be deemed as a happy hour every other week in which the company picks up the tab.

An office that plays together tends to stay together and if your office is filled with millennial and managers that enjoy a good laugh along with playing hard as a team then you should never lose sight of having fun.  If your office looks like a funeral just took place at 3pm in the afternoon then odds are your culture isn’t one that will recruit exciting employees.

Consider a few of these ideas to increase the “Fun” factor in your office:

1. Sign up for a competitive sports league

No matter how athletic your office may be, everyone has enough athletic ability to kick a rubber ball on a baseball field and play kickball or even compete on a beer league softball team.  Check out the parks and recreation leagues that are available or even for-profit sports leagues that are geared for this type of activity.  You can compete in Dodgeball, Mini Golf, Kickball, Softball, Basketball and many other leagues that usually are sponsored by a local bar to gather the team before, and or after the competition.  If team sports aren’t the answer then take the office for a Go Kart adventure one Thursday afternoon.  You will be amazed at how much fun everyone will have and the laughs will continue for weeks after the event.

2. Happy Hours are under-rated

I am in no way implying that drinking every Friday is a way to have fun, but I am implying that when you get the office out to a local bar or restaurant then the guards come down and the good memories are built.  Consider a monthly happy hour and mix up the location each time.  You will have office participation that will build friendships outside of the walls of working on projects and hitting deadlines and this office camaraderie and fun will transition your office culture over time.

3. Plan any event that gets your staff away from their desk

Pizza in the conference room, brunch on a Friday at the local café, ping pong tournament in the basement of the office, or whatever the fun event that gets your employees away from their desks for a few minutes can be the difference between a fun office culture and one that is buried in stress and anxiety.  Ask an assistant in the office to be your “Coordinator of Fun” once a month and you’ll have employees submitting ideas before the first activity or event is over with.

Having fun in the office is simply about creating a culture of people who love coming to work.  There is no direct correlation between fun and productivity, but there is a correlation between fun and a culture that promotes a desire to want to perform.  If this theory wasn’t true then Google, Microsoft, and other organizations wouldn’t have created campuses that are filled with activities to keep their employees engaged and on site to continue working late into the evenings.

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How Well Do You Know Your Competitor?

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” –Sun-Tzu

The world continues to become a smaller place and your industry or line of work is no exception to this.  Social networking tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn allow us to understand and get to know our competition from a distance but how well do you really know or understand the people you stand across enemy lines with?  If the answer is no then you are doing your company and yourself a disservice.

Chances are your customers work with multiple companies in the same line of business.  An auto dealer will buy advertising from many competing media companies and a home appliance store sells multiple vendors and lines of product.  How often have you lost out on a deal due to the fact that you didn’t understand your competition?  Have you ever decided to hold firm when you should have lowered your price?  Odds are you could have won the business if you would have understood your competition and their low ball sales tactics.  Have you ever won business because you knew your competition?  Knowing who you are competing with can be the difference between winning and losing the business.

Understanding your competition also keeps you in touch with your customers.  While you sit across from your customers and conduct business, your knowledge of the marketplace and the players involved can gain you credibility points.  Understanding how someone will sell or work against you will also gain you a level ahead when it comes time to finalize a deal.  If you customer calls you seeking a referral for a competing company then you also can help point them in the right, or wrong direction pending who you know.  You may understand the competition well enough to steer your customer away from working with the non detail oriented sales person or the scattered account manager.

If you haven’t reached out to your competition to introduce yourself I suggest you do so today.  You will be shocked at how quickly they will accept your offer to spend time together at lunch or meet for coffee as their curiosity of you may be just as strong.  It isn’t important to set an agenda for this meeting or to have any formal plans other than to shake hands, say hello and build some dialogue.

Understanding your competition is also important should you need to hire.  Recruiting at your competition can be the easiest and quickest way to land a new hire and one who understands the business.  If you know who the star players are at the competition then a few simple phone calls can save you months worth of recruitment time.

It also is important to know the culture at your competition.  I find that most industries tend to have the same sort of culture, give or take a few nuances.  However, if your competition has a Ping Pong Table, standing Happy Hours, and a basketball court in the basement then you may want to rethink your suit and tie approach five days per week.  Culture is the difference between hiring the best talent and if your competition has better culture then you need to re-work yours, or at least consider a new approach.

Build an org chart of your competition to both understand the players, the personalities, and the company as a whole.  You’ll save yourself time in the marketplace in conducting business and you’ll hire faster knowing who you need to have on your staff.  You also will be able to pick up the phone and learn the market conditions without having to wait until the end of the quarter or year when it may be too late.  Having a “friend” in the game is one of the best assets you can have.

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It’s Unfair To Stereotype In The Workplace

Recently a department head in my building stereotyped me as a frat boy after less than two weeks on the job. It made me laugh at first thinking that some of the most successful leaders of our time were “frat boys” who made their way in the business world. It led me to wonder why I was given this stereotype by an individual who had known me for less than a few weeks and whom I had interacted with for less than a few hours.

It’s possible that this label was thrown on me because the person labeling me is twenty plus years older, female, and recently moved to our city from a much less diverse area. My communication style mixed with my title, millennial age and approach apparently gave her this viewpoint. I laughed it off because I was not in a frat nor have I ever been accused of coming off as a “frat boy.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course!)

Over time though it actually started to make me rather angry. Not that I had been labeled but that she was allowed to actually label me in such a short period of time. If we are not supposed to stereotype and label in our personal lives then why would it be deemed appropriate in our professional lives? Stereotyping individuals in the workplace can be detrimental. If you categorize a person based on their looks, job, department or demeanor then you will fail to find the best in those you are surrounded by and can help your team to be the best.

Approaching everyone with a fresh slate will give you access to all of the diversity that may exist in your office. Just because someone may be young, old, work blue collar or white collar or simply walk and talk differently than you doesn’t mean they can’t contribute more or even better than those you have empowered. If you put people in a box then you will only be able to gain the minimal potential from them.

I laugh at the idea of this individual calling me a “frat boy” because I have been respected by my peers and bosses for the job that I have done for years. My only hope is that they will not categorize anyone they interview or eventually hire because the potential in their talent may be pushed aside due to a label.

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