Mr. Feeney

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

Hiring Cheaper Isn't Hiring Better: Why Companied Continue to Get Exactly What They Pay For

By Paul Feeney, Managing Director, Sanford Rose Associates - Wayne

Sometimes it also seems that bodies are bodies, interchangeable and most wisely obtained at the lowest possible cost for the least amount of effort.

Certainly, anyone who works in today's corporations knows that far too few employees are trying to do far too much work with far too limited resources. At some point in the last century, people were those companies' most important resource - but that was then and this is now, dude. If not ignored or placed on hold by corporate edict, hiring has become a necessary evil as opposed to a golden opportunity.

And with every possible ounce of cost being wrung from corporate budgets, it seems to make sense to hire on the cheap: waste-not, want-not. This has led to the creation of computerized "vendor management systems" for personnel procurement; applicant-tracking software that classifies, files and retrieves r'esum'es electronically; "preferred recruiter" lists based largely on search firms' willingness to discount their services; increased reliance on online job boards, and so on.

While it might be argued that certain kinds of skill-intensive positions can be filled through automated recruiting and assessment, that is hardly the case for positions where factors such as leadership, judgment, persuasiveness, management style and emotional intelligence come into play. There has yet to be seen a r'esum'e that presents its subject as a whole human being - capable of accomplishing some things more than others and destined to reach a certain level of personal achievement.

What happens over time - especially in larger, more "organized" and more bureaucratic organizations - is a gradual dumbing-down of the hiring process. Actions are taken and decisions made on the basis of their efficiency (or, better yet, cost-efficiency). Those responsible for finding and attracting the ideal candidate are denied access to the very individual who most understands the needs and dynamics of the open position - namely, the person to whom the position reports. Candidate interviews are repeatedly rescheduled, and hiring decisions are postponed for months. Adding injury to insult, search firms are asked to work for smaller fees and accept later payment, two dampening factors on a firm's level of commitment, degree of thoroughness and sense of urgency.

It's like the wife who never knew her husband drank until he came home sober one night: life seems normal until a better alternative arrives.

How Strong Relationships Help

For many years, search firms seek out many reasonably happily employed and not actively seeking other work, which means their r'esum'es are not in general circulation. When a genuine opportunity is presented to them, they expect that all parties - client, search consultant and themselves as candidate - will proceed with the utmost respect, professionalism and confidentiality.

Readers who do not seek that level of candidate will not need to read further. Let's assume, however, that most corporate executives in their heart of hearts want the best possible person when critical position openings arise. (Non-critical positions are another matter. Few if any organizations, for example, will require a world-class search for a mailroom clerk.)

Since the mid-20th century, wise employers have turned to outside search firms to help fill those critical positions where strong internal candidates do not exist, and/or where fresh perspective and approaches are required. Why?

  • Search firms conduct searches day in and day out - 24/7/52. They are not amateur hobbyists or weekend warriors - but, rather, stay at the peak of their game.
  • Many search firms specialize in particular industries and occupational fields. That means they know you, your company, your industry and where the top-performing people are.
  • They understand that position descriptions rarely describe what problems and opportunities await the next incumbent, what factors will determine success or failure and what objectives must be accomplished in what period of time. Therefore, they expect access to the people with the answers.
  • And, in all candor, search professionals are good sales people - not only in marketing their services to prospective clients, but more importantly in presenting career opportunities to candidates and bringing the search to a happy conclusion for all concerned.

It goes without saying, therefore, that close relationships and unfettered access produce better searches. The search firm is much more likely to do it right the first time - and the employer to hire a superior person.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

While a few huge organizations consume dozens of engineers in one gulp, field enormous sales forces and engage scores of IT contractors, most do not. The kind of back-office programs described at the beginning of this newsletter to manage the hiring process are overkill (and over-cost) for the vast majority of employers and do more to impede the hiring process than to strengthen it or speed it up.

Sometimes in-house recruiting operations hopefully augment the Human Resources Department, but more often than not HR is subject to the same downsizing, consolidation and outsourcing as occurs in all other areas of the modern corporation. At the same time, repeated surveys by HR Executive magazine have shown that its readers rank recruiting near the bottom on their list of corporate priorities. That can lead overworked HR professionals to treat recruiters as friend or as foe.

Under the foe scenario, recruiters are an interruption and distraction from other tasks. If allowed to speak with hiring managers, the recruiters will interrupt and distract them too. (As one harried HR manager said recently to a search consultant, "If you can't find the information you need in the job description, try our website.")

Under the friend scenario, however, the search consultant is acknowledged as a trusted search consultant and valued extension of the HR Department. This kind of manager realizes that the search professional can help make the HR star shine a little brighter and that style of manager trusts the search consultant to keep him or her in the loop.

Companies that believe in farming out searches to a broad cadre of contingency recruiting firms will find it difficult and time-consuming to initiate the kind of close relationship that produces superior candidates. (In fact, the opposite occurs: confused candidates who have heard the job described at least six different ways by six firms, and who consequently proceed to discount the opportunity.)

By contrast, companies that zero-in on one, two or (at most) three firms with which they can develop close relationships receive all those benefits that lead to successful end results: a complete understanding of the company and the position, a strong sense of urgency and a deep commitment to find the best possible candidates. It may be more work in the beginning, but it pays off in the end.

Paul Feeney is the Managing Director of Sanford Rose Associates - Wayne, it is a full-service executive search organization conducting retained and contingency searches worldwide. It devotes its practice to all areas of finance, accounting, general management, operations, technology, management consulting and project management for national and international searches. Mr. Feeney accumulated over 25 years of executive search management and corporate recruiting experience while working in New York, London and Prague. Mr. Feeney resided in London and Prague for over 10 years while working as an Executive Search Manager for Hays Plc and Nicholson International, where he specialized in financial management searches.for positions based throughout Europe. Mr. Feeney can be contacted at 201-962-2122 or pfeeney@sanfordrose.com Please visit http://www.sanfordrose.com/wayne for more information. Extended Bio...

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