Networking Tips for – most of us

I had the pleasure of speaking at an industry event last week to an incredible group of technology executives.  The program title was ‘Building your Social Capital.”  We spent some time talking about networking and the benefits of being prepared for your holiday cocktail parties.  One of the members told a story of receiving a job offer as a direct result of meeting someone at a holiday mixer.  He’s a die hard fan of holiday parties!
Some of us spend a good deal of time meeting new people, seeking out opportunities to network as part of our business development efforts (like me).  Most of the rest of us do not have an opportunity to hone our cocktail conversation skills – except in small doses.  Now, we’re heading into the holiday season, you’re unemployed or considering looking for a new position; and you understand the importance of building your personal/professional network.  Where do you start?
Here are some easy to follow tips on how to make more of your holiday events:
  1. Do your homework.  One of the benefits of our electronic society is that the attendee list is often accessible prior to the event.  Spend some time reviewing the list in advance to identify people you would like to meet.
  2. Seek out the hosts.  When attending a new group introduce yourself to the hosts (or board members) and ask them to introduce you to some key individuals to get you started.
  3. Arrive early.  There are fewer people to navigate, less disruption, it’s easier to get early introductions and start conversations
  4. Introduce yourself in line.  You’ll be in line at least two times (food and drink).  You have a captive audience so introduce yourself to the person in front of you, and the person behind you.  “How do you know the hosts?”  Have you been a member of this group for long?”
  5. Keep your introduction brief.  Networking is about gathering information, be interesting – and more importantly, be interested.
  6. Make eye contact.  Hold your attention on the person who is speaking.  Its rude to be in a conversation and looking over the speaker’s shoulder for someone more interesting.
  7. Involve others in the conversation.  Welcome newcomers to your huddle and create a crowd.  Others will be drawn to your circle and you’ll meet more people.
  8. NEVER sell.  Enough said – keep it conversational and don’t launch into your sales pitch.  That’s for next week’s follow up.
  9. Carry plenty of cards and a pen.  Jot notes on interesting facts, follow up requests, write referrals on your business cards.  This list goes on…
  10. Need to exit a conversation gracefully?  Ask for a card, offer your card, thank your new contact for taking time to speak with you and wish them fun at the event.
  11. Work the edges of the room.  These are the people who want to meet folks but are more nervous than you.  Start engaging them and you’ll create energy around you.
You’re network is one of the most valuable personal assets you have; it will help you in your career development, find a job, gain access people you need and secure endorsements for professional pursuits.  Networks are a long term investment in your personal capital – it takes 7 years to build a network, and only 2 years of neglect to lose it.
To your success!
I was on the phone with a candidate this morning to debrief with him on a phone interview he had with an internal recruiter for a sales position with a local company.  The recruiter was nice enough and was clearly doing his job of prescreening for the position.  The candidate’s feedback was interesting to absorb; the recruiter was late making the phone call, placed the candidate on hold twice during the interview and really didn’t seem to be paying attention during the call, but in the end scheduled a follow up interview with the hiring manager later this week.
This particular candidate is pretty sharp.  He is an experienced sales professional, intuitive and pays attention to detail.  He is intently focused on growing his career and being aligned with a company who is engaged, invested and involved with its employees.  His comments were revealing.  “This recruiter doesn’t seem to care whether I am qualified for the position; he was just trying to set the follow up interview.  I think he was IMing with a buddy while we were on the phone.  The first time he put me on hold I let it go, the second time I began to feel as if I were bothering him by answering his questions.  I am no longer interested in the position based on my interaction with the internal recruiter.”
Every touch point that a candidate has during the interview process is a reflection of you as an employer – and as a company. 
  1. Are the individuals involved in the process briefed on their role and understand how important it is to hire great people?
  2. Is everyone on time and prepared to play their part?
  3. Does the front desk have a schedule for each interview to hand to the candidate and does the front desk monitor the interview schedule to keep it on track?
  4. Do you, as a hiring manager dress appropriately on days you will interview prospective employees?
  5. Do you and your interview team understand the importance to focusing on the CANDIDATE during their scheduled time?  No interruptions, no iPhones, no texting, no email.
  6. Does your internal recruiter (or HR representative) understand the position, the selection process, the follow up protocol and is this person a positive reflection of you and your department?
In order to find, attract and hire THE best talent, take a step back and look around at your company from the candidate’s perspective.  Would YOU work for YOU?
  1. Take the time to write an interesting role description – using phrases that will attract the right individuals to your company
  2. Dress to impress.  Everyone on your interview team should be dressed to meet your future talent – after all, you expect the candidates to dress for the interview.
  3. Brief your front desk on the importance of first impressions – they are your storefront to the outside world – with everyone from the Fedex courier to potential employees.
  4. Unless you are comfortable with a candidate texting and taking phone calls during the interview, please provide them the same courtesy.
  5. Listen more than you talk.  The interview is your opportunity to get to know your future employee – you owe it to yourself, and your company, to make sure that you elicit relevant information – positive and otherwise.  If you are talking, you aren’t listening and gathering information.  Bad hires are VERY expensive.
  6. Research your candidate in advance.  Top Talent will research you, your company and its reputation in advance.  Your interview will be much more productive if you research your candidate, review their resume and prepare some focused questions about their background in advance – not 5 minutes before they show up.
  7. Get your story straight.  Make sure that every person involved in the interview process understands your ideal profile.  Debrief immediately and write down the feedback.  This will make your selection process more objective and less emotional – which results in a better hiring decision.
  8. Agree on the follow up process – and do it!  You will expect the candidate to follow up as instructed so you will need to make the same commitment.
Taking a ‘candidate’s eye view’ of your hiring process will help you create an experience that will result in better hires, better employees and a better reputation in your market.
Fact #1 – Your employment brand precedes you
Fact #2 – Engaged employees demand ENGAGED managers
Fact #3 – the interview process is a dual discovery exercise

The New CRM…

August 9, 2009

Candidate Relationship Management (CRM) for Talent Acquisition

You might be wondering what the heck I’m talking about? If you are hiring today, even a single position, you are probably buried in resumes and submissions for unqualified, overqualified and yes, a few ideally qualified applicants. I’m in the business of sourcing, screening and qualifying candidates and even I’m having a tough time keeping up. If you are wondering why the quality of your job posting response is dropping I’ll give you a few insights. Job board activity is frustrating for candidates – so the smart ones are taking action. They aren’t spending time on the boards any longer.

Your method of finding and attracting great talent is going to change in the next 203 years. Top Talent knows how to find great positions with great companies – and it’s not on the job boards.

Have you begun defining a strategy for tapping into the Talent you need to be successful?

Applicant Tracking Systems are (generally) unfriendly, impersonal, and difficult for users to navigate. These systems were put in place to ensure compliance and track activity. They have absolutely nothing to do with attracting Talent and fostering relationships with future employees.

Do you EVER contact or re-connect with qualified candidates who have applied for positions in the past?

Your success as a hiring manager is dependent on your ability to identify, attract and retain the very best team. One bad hire can derail your momentum and cost you money, employees, customers and – your job.

Do you really take your role as a Manager of Talent seriously?

Fact #1 – Smart People look for Smart Companies to work for

Fact #2 – Communities of Talent are already out there and your competition knows where they are

Fact #3 – New Applicant activity on job boards is down 40% this year

Hire Responsibly

June 22, 2009

Testing and backgrounds don’t necessarily reveal CHARACTER

Although skill-based testing and background checks can help you determine baseline qualifications and keep your company out of the courtroom, these methods don’t help you determine the true character of the person you’re hiring. I’m surprised at how many companies don’t do even the most rudimentary reference checking prior to hiring someone who can have a deep and long lasting impact on your business – and your customers.

The human factor, especially in early stage companies, is critical to maintaining a high level of productive energy in your company. Candidates who spend time with members of their future team, and members of other functional areas will have a much better idea of what your culture is all about. As well, you’ll get a broader understanding of the candidates if each interviewer focused on a different functional area of responsibility = marketing looks for different things in a hire than QA or engineering. I call it ‘checking blindspots.’

Do you have several team members interview each candidate?

Multi-dimensional interviews are always a good idea. Most companies conduct interviews in a vacuum. This is probably because they want to ensure a fair and lawful process however, if you are too clinical about your interviewing, or not detailed enough you may miss some very important information. Interviewing should in a manner that is relevant to the role. Consider modifying the approach.

Do you phone interview candidates who will be working directly with your customers?

Hiring managers are increasingly busy. As a result, the interview process tends to be an exercise in going through the motions to see if there is anything that would keep you from hiring rather than finding the reason TO hire. There is a definite lack of ‘thought provoking’ and interesting discussion during the selection process. An example: “what are your weaknesses,’ is boring and the candidate is prepared for the answer. “If I were to speak with your former manager, what would he/she say are the 2 things that you need to further develop in order to move to the next level?” is interesting, and the candidate is not prepared for the answer, so they have to give it some thought – and you’ll get a gut level response.

Are you REALLY engaged in making the BEST hire?

Fact #1 – Hiring Managers RARELY check references on their recruits

Fact #2 – Most hiring mistakes could have been avoided

Fact #3 – Job seekers are better prepared for the interview than you are

What happens to the recruiting process in this unsettled economic cycle?

Companies tighten their belts. So do candidates. Those really talented people that may have been sniffing around last year have stopped their search or have pulled back significantly. This means that if you are in a hiring mode (and many companies still are) you can’t simply rely on job boards to provide you a flow of good candidates. Yes, there are qualified folks out there and you will be able to find them; so will your competitors. An unstable employment market creates a lot of noise for candidates with solid skills so you will have to differentiate your opportunities from others. Salary will play a role, but so will company financial stability, perks, culture, growth and the other smart people you already have on board.

Candidates who are unemployed will begin broadening their search by applying for any and all positions available. Your volume of applicant responses will go up, but your quality will go down. You may be thinking that this is a great time to hire, there are plenty of people to choose from. Well, that may be true, but as a business executive, if you have to cut 10% of your team, will you layoff your high performers or the under performers? Guess who is on the market right now? You’re best course of action when your applicant volume begins to swell, is to make sure that you automate and delegate. Have a simple auto-reply in place so that applicants know you’ve received their information (to reduce the follow up emails and calls). Engage your future leaders (in the applicant review process. These are the individuals who you’ve identified as having real potential in your company. It’s a great way to get them involved, keep them engaged and make sure that someone is seeing every applicant who responds to your open positions.

Protectionism kicks in. Those current employees who have been a tremendous source of referrals will begin protecting themselves. The good news is they will do their very best at work; the bad news is that they may not be as externally focused as in the past. Now is when you NEED those internal referrals. Great people know other great people, so consider INCREASING your referral bonus program as both a retention effort for your current people and a recruiting/pipeline engine for future talent.

Overqualified candidates are bountiful. This is a mid-manager business cycle. The last time we experienced these characteristics was in the mid-90s. Middle managers were laid off, and as a result sought staff level positions. They may be a great hire for you today. They are talented, experienced and not asking a market salary. Hire with caution though. Making an overqualified hire is fine as long as you go into it realistically. If your company has a career path program then immediately make progression part of the candidate’s performance plan. If you are a small company and don’t have career planning in place then understand that you will only keep them around for a year or two. Make the best use of their experience as possible and gracefully congratulate them when it’s time for them to move on.