Recruitment

The last quarter of 2021 was manic. I’d already “lost” one of my team, who was working his notice period before joining a competitor, when another team member told me he’d decided to follow opportunities outside the company. All of a sudden, my delayed decision to recruit (over concerns about keeping the team busy) became an urgent need to recruit two experienced Solution/Enterprise Architects, just as our workload hit a spike.

With a lack of internal candidates coming forward (often the good technical Consultants want to stay close to tech), I discussed the issue with my senior management team and we advertised externally for two Enterprise Architects.

Finding the right candidates

I’ve recruited before, but this was the first time I’d been a Hiring Manager at risual. In my experience, every company has a different approach to recruitment and practices change over time too. I was fortunate to be working with a fantastic HR Advisor, who helped me specify the role (having an up to date Job Description helped too). Over the next few weeks, adverts went out on Indeed, on LinkedIn, and through various recruitment partners. Slowly, but surely, the CVs came rolling in.

Whilst we all put a lot of effort into creating CVs, they really are just the “foot in the door”. The first sift happened before they even got to me. Of those I saw, I rejected some because they didn’t seem to relate to the role as advertised. Maybe those candidates had the experience, but it wasn’t clear from their CV. I was recruiting for two senior roles and some people seemed to take an opportunistic approach. Other CVs were too long, listing everything the candidate had ever done over an extended period. There’s a fine balance between not enough detail and too much. Just remember that, although you put hours into writing that CV, it may only get a 30 second skim – or perhaps a bit longer if you manage to grab the reviewer’s attention.

I also saw CVs with typos. And I wanted to meet a candidate who looked fantastic but had neglected to include contact details. And, sadly, I saw well-formatted CVs that had been butchered by the recruitment agency’s topping and tailing.

In the end, I decided to meet with around half the candidates whose CVs I’d reviewed. Actually, it was slightly more than that but we had problems contacting at least one candidate (as mentioned above) and others had already accepted roles elsewhere (including one who only told us when we contacted him a couple of hours before his planned interview). This is a fast-moving market and, right now, it’s definitely favouring those looking for a new job over those looking to hire.

With CVs sifted, the remaining process would be an interview with myself and my manager (as the hiring team), some personality and numeric/verbal reasoning tests, and finally an interview with the Chairman and the CEO. The aim was to move quickly – from first interview to offer in around a week.

Interview criteria

I remember the first time I ever took part in an interview (from the hiring side). My then-Manager, a wise Managing Consultant by the name of Mark Locke, told me that it’s quite simple:

  1. Does this person know what they are talking about?
  2. Can I work with them?

This advice still holds true today. It’s pretty obvious, pretty soon, when an interview is going badly. The good ones are pleasurable.

Looking back, I can call out some really enjoyable discussions at interviews that went on to be great hires. One in particular (back in my days at Fujitsu – and before Microsoft Teams) was unavailable when I called his mobile phone (he’d been driving for work and struggling to get a signal at the appointed time) but, after we rescheduled and finally got to speak, my initial impressions were overturned by someone who turned out to be an extremely talented Project Manager with a passion for technology. We went on to work together before his career went from strength to strength. These days he’s a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft and he’ll know who I’m writing about if he still reads this blog.

As a candidate, I’ve written previously about some shocking experiences but my risual interview was different. I was a bit put off when Alun Rogers told me he reads my blog (back in the days when I used to post more!) but it felt like it had gone well as I drove home later. It really did feel like “just a chat” and I enjoyed meeting Al and Rich (Proud). Similarly, when David Smith had interviewed me a few years earlier to join his Office of the CITO at Fujitsu, I just had a feeling that things had gone well.

For my recent hires, I had formal criteria to assess against but my Manager and I had also worked out a set of standard questions to structure our conversations with the candidates. Each hour-long interview had at least that long spent writing up and reviewing the notes, as well as prep time. And all of that had to fit around my management and delivery roles – so November and December 2021 were intense!

What did I learn?

The whole experience taught me a lot. That’s why I’m sitting here, in the gap between Christmas and New Year, writing about it (whilst it’s still reasonably fresh in my mind).

First of all, I realised that the same question can elicit very different responses to the one that was first expected. And, just because someone has a different view to me, doesn’t make them wrong. A gut feel about being able to work with someone is good but, if you only look for people who think like you, it won’t do much for the diversity of the team.

Having said that, for the candidates who looked me up on LinkedIn (and there were some – good interview preparation, I’d say), you don’t have to go far back on my blog to see a post about what I expect to see in an IT Architect

I also (re-)learned that interviewing is hard. Not only is it demanding from a cognitive perspective but there is a lot of work to do both before and after the interview. And not doing that is not giving the candidate the respect that they deserve – I will always put in the effort.

Interviewing is enjoyable too. No-one wants to see anyone struggle and, as I wrote earlier, I genuinely enjoyed some of the discussions I’ve had in the past and the same can be said for the ones in recent weeks (though I’m not going into specifics here for reasons of confidentiality).

I learned some other things too – things that I can’t write about here because they relate to specific details of individual hires but which were nevertheless valuable in me learning to trust my own judgement (e.g. after having to interview alone, instead of as part of a team).

And I learned that not all the advice given by recruitment partners is correct. Again, I won’t go into details but the right candidates are out there.

I was also intrigued by the personality tests. So much so that I asked if I could do them myself. I completed them before I left for the Christmas break and I’m looking forward to seeing how I compare to the candidates we’ve recruited when I get the reports. Again – I’m not looking for people who think like me… but I am looking how the tests assess me and how that relates to the way I think. It might also be useful to see how middle-aged me compares to younger me.

Looking forward and rebuilding the team

Now, as we go into 2022, I’m really excited to have two new starters joining my existing team, to help shape our future and support the company’s growth plans. As for the guys who moved (or are moving) on – I genuinely do wish them well. I know one is having a great time in his new role and the other has an exciting opportunity lined up. I’d rather we were all working together (new hires and “the old team” together), but I’m also a realist and sometimes the best thing to do is to support people in taking their next steps.

As one former Managing Director used to say when signing off his communications… Onwards!

Featured image by VIN JD from Pixabay.

Poorly-targeted InMail on LinkedIn…

A good chunk of the email I receive is either:

  1. Spam from SEO specialists who can’t even present a well-written email (so why would I let them loose on my website?).
  2. Spam from people who want to advertise on my website or write content to link to their client’s dubious sites (no thanks).
  3. LinkedIn requests from recruiters I’ve never even spoken to (read on).

Now, let me be clear, there are some good recruiters out there: people who build rapport and work on relationships with people. Maybe one day we’ll work together, maybe we won’t but when I hear my peers talking about recruiters that I know, then I know they are well-connected within our industry and they will be my first port of call if I find myself looking for work (or to recruit).

Then there’s stuff like this, a real email, received tonight via LinkedIn’s InMail feature. I’ve changed the names to protect the guilty but apart from that, it’s a facsimile:

“Hi Mark,

[Do I know you?]

A leading global provider of retail software solutions is seeking an experienced EPOS Architect to join the European Portfolio team in a key leadership role at the heart of a massive digital transformation programme.

[Doesn’t appear to be very well researched: I’m an Enterprise Architect, not an EPOS Architect… I know very little about EPOS systems. Sure, maybe EPOS might be part of something I do put together but I’m no EPOS specialist. Well, it starts with E and ends with Architect – so it must be related! Does this recruiter even know what they are recruiting for?]

You’ll be working closely with the technical leadership of tier 1 global retailers such as huge retailer name removed, and leading national retailers across Europe to shape and deliver next generation cloud and on premise point of sale systems.

[Minor point but it’s “on-premises”, FFS. It’s a place, not an idea.]

An excellent package of £75,000 – £100,000 + car + bonus is on offer, plus extensive European travel to the headquarters of the continent’s leading businesses.

[Since when was “extensive European travel to the headquarters of the continent’s leading businesses” a perk? This is the sort of benefit dreamed up by people who never leave their office. What it generally means is “spend lots of time away from home travelling economy class to a business park but never really see the city you’re going to…”]

Further details: website/Job/Detail/epos-solution-architect-leeds-en-GB

[So it’s in Leeds. Leeds is 3 hours from where I live]

For a fully confidential discussion, contact someone.i.dont-know@recruiter.co.uk

 

Someone Else
Senior Recruitment Consultant @ leading global specialist recruitment group | Specialising in Testing across Yorkshire | someone.else@recruiter.com

[Why am I getting email on a Friday evening from one person I don’t know to ask me to contact someone else I don’t know? Mind you, if their specialism is “Testing across Yorkshire”, maybe that explains the poor targetting of this role to a guy 150 miles away in Milton Keynes…]”

Luckily, I’m not looking for work (or to hire anyone) at the moment but, when I am, this agency will not be on my list… sadly, this is not an isolated incident.

Some observations on modern recruiting practices

The weekend before I start a new job seems like an ideal time to comment on my experience of searching for the right role over the last several months.  It’s been a long time since I had to seriously look for work – all of my interviews since late-2003 have been internal, or with organisations where I already had a working relationship – and boy has the world changed!

In many cases, writing a covering letter and attaching your CV seems to have gone out in favour of automated recruitment systems. Recruitment consultants can help get you in the door (the good ones can, anyway) but many organisations only work with certain agencies – so you need to build the right contacts. And LinkedIn is all over the place…

But it’s not all bad – the interview experience should be two way – for the candidate to gauge the potential employer as well as the other way around. That’s why I’m going to write here about two roles I applied for. In both cases I was unsuccessful – for different reasons – and both left me with negative feelings (about the organisation, or about the process). Written at another time it might have sounded like sour grapes; today I hope it won’t!

Organisation A

A friend who works for a large financial services company commented that he’d seen some Solution Architect roles advertised on their job site. Sure enough, there was one which looked a good fit on paper – and it sounded extremely interesting. He referred me internally and I navigated the company’s Oracle Taleo-based job site to apply for the post.

A few weeks later, I was invited to a telephone interview to “describe the role in some more detail and get a better understanding of my experience”. With just a 30 minute telephone interview (and having done my homework on the company’s interview process), I was expecting a fairly high-level discussion with subsequent interviews going into more detail.

What I got was a technical grilling, without any context about what the role entailed, and when I tried to ask questions at the end of the interview (to understand more about the role), it was clear that the interviewer was out of time and overdue for their next appointment.

It was probably the worst interview of my career – I hadn’t performed well, partly because the questioning was not what I expected in a first-stage telephone interview; but also bad because the interviewer was pretty poor at managing the time, representing the company in a good light and allowing the candidate to discover more about the role.

My last contact with the resourcing team was over seven months ago, when they promised that they “would let me know as soon as they have feedback”. That feedback has never come, despite internal chasing and we’re now way past the time when it would have any value (the interviewer won’t remember anything useful at this late stage).  What it has done though is set me a poor impression of this particular financial services company – and that impression is one I’m likely to share with others in my professional network. No-one wins in this scenario.

I’ve logged in to the recruitment website this evening and my application is still there… showing as “Submission Status: Interview Process” with the last update dated the day before my interview. Meanwhile the position remains open for applications.

Organisation B

The second job application was with a major national infrastructure organisation. I do admit I allowed myself to get very excited (and then very disappointed) about this one but imagine my joy when I found out that the only person I know in that particular company worked in the department that was hiring. We met up and they told me more about the role, I made sure that my application was the strongest it could be – and then it failed at the first stage.

Even though I’d made sure that the team recruiting for the role knew my application was on its way, analysis of the communication I received from the HR department leads me to believe it failed a keyword search from the automated screening systems. That might sound like a candidate who thinks they are perfect and I’ve seen enough CVs pass over my desk to know that first-round screening can be hit and miss; however, using your network to make sure that the application is expected ought to help a little. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be the case for me. I’ve since learned that one commonly-used trick is to paste the entire job spec into the end of your application, in white text, and a tiny font.

A piece of LinkedIn advice

One piece of advice I received from a recruiter, which seems to have been very worthwhile, is to turn on InMail in LinkedIn (it’s under Privacy and Settings, Manage, Communications, Member Communications, Select the types of messages you’re willing to receive.

Since I enabled InMail, the volume of contact I’ve received has hugely increased. There’s a lot of noise but some of it is worthwhile (especially now recruiters are having to target more carefully) and it may just bring you a contact that leads to a great new opportunity.

And finally

The good news for me is that I have a new role – one I’m really looking forward to starting on Monday. I applied directly via the company website and the interview process has been enjoyable, just as when I was growing my team at Fujitsu and I recruited people who I genuinely enjoyed meeting and talking with about how they would fit in and what we could do to help them achieve their goals.

Now I have a six-month probationary period to navigate but logic tells me all should be well.  The difference with the company I’m joining on Monday is that they were as keen to make sure they would fit me as that I would them. Good recruitment works for all parties – it’s the human part of “human resources” that needs the emphasis!