Welcome to Issue Number 3 of The Dossier.

Since our last issue, things in the US economy have improved somewhat, following several interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve Bank and more likely to follow. Individual corporate forecasts have been mixed. Hardware vendors like Sun Microsystems have been adjusting expectations downward, but applications vendors like Oracle Corporation are hitting earnings targets and remain bullish in the near term.

So what does this mean to you as a corporate talent scout? That's what we'll be exploring in this issue.

Before we get into that, we at Selection Strategies would like to say hello to Ms. Ruth Tan, Editor of the the Human Resources Journal for Butterworths Asia in Singapore. Ruth will be reprinting our eZine content in her publication from time to time. Thanks, Ruth. We're looking forward to meeting your audience.

Now, back to business. This issue includes three articles.

The Perils of Pedigree
By Ross Rich, Managing Principal, Selection Strategies, Inc.

Today sales managers face a very different world than they did just a couple of years ago. We all got accustomed to operating at breakneck speed, having more deals than we could adequately manage, and too few, if any, candidates for all the positions we needed to fill.

Today, deals are few and each is a “must win.” And, given the few people managers need to hire, it seems that each hire needs to be perfect. These pressures are real but in response to them they sometimes lead to practices that are counterproductive.

The pressure to hire well should never be dictated by market conditions. During Y2K and the heyday of the Internet expansion, there was far less concern about diligent hiring because speed and volume were the only two factors guiding organizational growth. This should not have been the case, because sustaining the meteoric growth that companies were experiencing was predicated on the ability to continuously hire talent. Now that the market has contracted and deals have slowed to a trickle, the need for extremely talented sales people is no less critical but is certainly more acute. The fact is that, up market or down, the factors that make sales people successful don’t change. However, current hiring practices often ignore these critical traits.

The characteristics -- Motivation & Drive -- that fundamentally determine success in sales are…

> Work ethic
> Competitiveness
> Initiative
> Self-reliance
> High-energy
> Stamina

The experience suggested by a candidate’s previous companies & jobs can matter, but is not as critical as people often think. Experience and domain knowledge may foster shorter ramp up times and faster productivity, but they don’t ensure success. It’s easy to find sales managers who tell horror stories about salespeople they hired that looked great on paper, and should have killer reps, but failed miserably. Well, the answer lives in the statement itself -- the rep looked good on paper.

Hiring today seems all about how someone looks on paper, what companies they worked for and what positions they held, instead of concentrating on traits with greater predictive value for success. It’s not wrong to define experiential criteria for hiring, or to express those criteria in “ideal” terms to guide the search process. But they should be just that…guidelines.

Our recent work with clients shows that most companies are content with using candidate “pedigrees” as the only filter for determining whom to interview & hire. The problem is that by failing to rigorously investigate the presence of the correct Motivation & Drive, a sales manager may hire a sales person who, while they have the target pedigree, turns out to be a mediocre performer with an acceptable resume.

The biggest falsehood is that pedigree-based hiring ensures “A” Player talent, and guarantees the hiring manager the highest level of sales performance. It may ensure awareness and knowledge of the space and the process, but it doesn’t ensure that the sales person will produce the desired results. Think about the most successful sales people you know and ask yourself, “What is it about them that makes them successful?” Your list will likely identify traits like drive, determination, tenacity and aggressiveness, but rarely include factors like previous experience with a direct competitor or in-depth product knowledge. To use a sports analogy, Michael Jordan wasn’t considered the greatest college player when he was drafted. While his experience may have made him a smarter player, it is his overwhelming competitiveness and unrelenting will to win that made him a champion.

In software sales, a company seeking a CRM sales candidate may specify that they want to consider only candidates from Siebel Systems. While this filter seems to make sense, it is based on premises that are demonstrably false or flimsy. First is the presumption that because Siebel is the market leader that people coming from Siebel will perform better than their peers from other CRM vendors. There is a strong argument that those who are successful in lesser-known companies, without the force and presence of market leadership, are in fact stronger salespeople. There is also the dangerous hiring myth that Experience = Excellence. This false logic assumes that, simply because someone did something, they must have done it well. In this example, it’s important to remember that Siebel regularly culls its ranks of its moderate to bottom sales performers. You must consider that those willing to leave may have already been identified as expendable performers. The exclusive emphasis on pedigree can lead to a degradation of your company’s talent pool because of an overreliance on the virtues of the candidate’s resume. Research has shown that experience, as reflected in a resume, past companies and jobs, is the least predictive indicator of future performance and success. Therefore, current hiring practices often rely upon the least stable factor in projecting successful success.

The narrow focus on pedigree creates a couple of other problems that contribute to poor hiring. The economic slowdown and the demise or downsizing of many software vendors has given rise to the belief that there is an overabundance of experienced “A” Player talent available in the market. This belief, which is in fact a myth, has led companies to adopt very narrow hiring profiles that begin to make effective hiring a statistical impossibility. Put another way, some companies have defined their profiles so narrowly that only a handful of people would be acceptable candidates. Given today’s high degree of risk aversion and reluctance to change jobs unless forced to, companies must be willing to be patient or extremely creative in order to attract these people they specify.

We believe there is a better way. Basing your hiring on a “competency profile” and not the resume opens up a larger candidate pool to draw from, while it shifts your company’s recruiting focus to the true characteristics of success.

The second problem with pedigree hiring is the presumption that “A” Players are universally understood and identifiable. “A” Player performance can be quantified in terms of “Best Practices” (we have done this in our work with our clients), which can serve as a measuring stick to evaluate candidates. But it is essential to understand that these best practices identify key behaviors, and have little to do with factors like where the person has worked. The designation “A” Player is not a fixed or ultimate state of being, and it is quite possible for someone to perform as an “A” Player in one role and as a “B” Player in another. Careful adherence to assessing the candidates ability to do the job you’re seeking to fill, based on strict performance competencies, is the only way to avoid hiring mistakes caused by making wrong assumptions about performance, or relying too heavily on past experience. We recently counseled a prospective client who freely admitted they were willing to hire “B” Player talent, so long as they had the right pedigree (direct competitors with specific industry knowledge & experience), over “A” Players. We candidly informed them we considered this to be a prescription for disaster.

Seeking to hire “A” Players is a no-brainer. But the basis for identifying them seems to rely more on intuition and guesswork than process and hard facts. Hiring managers and recruiters should take the time to define what an “A” Player is, and ensure that the profile includes the following three dimensions: Abilities (Motivation & Drive, Sales Competencies and Self-Management Skills), Chemistry (Corporate culture and personality fit), and Experience (Performance track record and knowledge).

Many “A” Player reputations were made when the market was red-hot, and it is critically important today to thoroughly investigate a sales person’s deals, activities, actions, skills, and approach to ensure that their success was the result of authentic ability, and not simply a highly demand-driven market. In other words, look at the circumstances of success rather than the outcome alone.
Your hiring process must be measured in terms of increasing your competitive advantage based on the quality of the people you bring in. No honest company deliberately sets out to hire badly. But misguided policies, misplaced priorities, lack of discipline, and arrogance lead to hiring blunders.

The current market conditions have led many sales managers to say that selling has returned to the basics. The high technology adoption and demand-driven market has been replaced by one in which sales people must make each deal count. Sales people must be on top of their game, and so must hiring managers. Hiring talent and not resumes is a call to return to the basics of selection. Here are a few “basics” to guide your hiring…

> Don’t get lazy and complacent. Effective hiring requires constant vigilance and discipline.

> Know what you’re looking for. Know what competencies, skills & characteristics you need to succeed.

> Don’t give in to first impressions. Take at least 30 minutes in an interview before making any decisions.

> Stick to the fundamentals of selection – use a structured interview and competency-based questioning.

> Assess Motivations and Drives first. Then evaluate Sales Competencies and validate Experience in-depth.

Looking back, many of the business practices in the period from the run up to Y2K and through the Internet boom were not particularly sound, and shouldn’t be repeated even if we soon return to growth. However, in light of current conditions, we shouldn’t adopt practices that are equally dysfunctional. Sticking to fundamental principles that work, regardless of the highs and lows of the market, is the only sound way to ensure success.

What Skills Do I Need in a Recruiter: HR or Sales?
By Ross Rich, Managing Principal, Selection Strategies, Inc.

There is an old adage in politics; “If you want a real friend, buy a dog.” Well in the world of sales recruiting the line goes this way, “If you want a real sales recruiter hire a salesperson.” While recruiting (or “staffing” if you still refer to IT as “data processing”) has traditionally been the domain of Human Resources its location is misplaced especially when it comes to sales recruiting. Human Resources organizations, because they are typically charged with administration, cost control & risk mitigation, tend to treat recruiting as an administrative function and are more inclined to hire people who simply facilitate the process rather than drive it. All recruiting IS sales and sales recruiting is particularly unique.

Our experience shows that the most effective sales recruiters are those who most closely match the characteristics of an enterprise technology salesperson. There are several reasons why, which we’ll discuss in a moment, but the most salient characteristic is what we call Discernment. Discernment is the ability to assess situations and people quickly and accurately. Discerners are good problem solvers, they’re analytical and think strategically. Judging talent is the single most critical ability an effective recruiter brings to the game. In this capacity an effective recruiter acts like the sales organization’s Director of Player Operations…scouting for talent and building a championship team.

So how do we define what we need to look for in a sales recruiter? In following our own selection methodology we begin by defining the nature and requirements of the role and study the operating environment to construct a relevant profile or competency model. The model consists of three dimensions: Abilities, Chemistry & Experience. For the purpose of this discussion we’ll narrow our focus to the key elements of the Abilities dimension. The Abilities dimension of the profile defines the traits & skills required to effectively perform the role of sales recruiter for an Information Technology company.

The Sales Paradigm
I’ve already stated my belief that the sales recruiter is essentially a salesperson who sells the company and its’ career opportunities instead of a product or service. Because I’ve put a stake in the ground about this paradigm let’s take a moment to discuss the parallels between sales and recruiting.

The recruiting process corresponds to the major phases of most complex sales cycles – Planning, Prospecting, Qualifying, Evaluating, Negotiating and Closing. Recruiters, like their sales counterparts, must be thoroughly versed on the opportunity and be able to articulate its’ value; plan how to attack their territory; leverage multiple lead generation sources; prospect relentlessly for viable candidates; quickly qualify candidates in or out; engage and thoroughly assess the candidates suitability while managing & coordinating the interview process; negotiate the terms of employment and close the candidate. The analogies to sales dictate a more sales oriented profile for recruiters because the activities demand essentially the same behaviors.

The Complex Sale, an Atlanta-based sales force effectiveness and methodology consultancy, has defined several sales “types” that offer good insights to the recruiting model we’re discussing here. These models correspond to different kinds of selling environments and roles.

Sales Profile Models

Teller Product knowledge, demo skills, technology expertise.
Sellers Listening skills, probing, linking, customized presentation skills, flexibility, selling benefits, personality, persuasiveness, objection handling.
Farmers Project management, problem solving, delivery, service, nurturing, responsiveness.
Hunters Competitiveness, leadership, strategy, getting to executives, strategic literacy, company knowledge, resourcefulness, goal-driven.
Partners Sees big picture, strategic thinker, industry expert, collaborative problem solver, team leader, shared goals and rewards, long-term focus.

Used with permission from The Complex Sale, Inc.©

As I’ll describe later, the “Teller” and “Farmer” models reflect two of the recruiting styles common to today’s recruiting world. For our purposes the “Hunter” or “Partner” models are preferable because of the critical role sales recruiters play. For them to function as agents for and “trusted advisors” to hiring managers they must possess the abilities and skills that effectively make them a peer; therefore, we’re seeking to raise the bar and the level of sophistication of sales recruiters.

The complex selling environment of Information Technology has many characteristics that require a more sophisticated and talented form of salesperson. A commodity or transactional sales person will find the transition to a more complex selling environment difficult because the increased complexity requires more skills. Sales recruiting in Information Technology is no different and is characterized by several conditions that warrant a different approach and a different type of recruiter:

> Sales recruiting is fundamentally a relationship-based activity.
> Talent trumps experience and assessing talent is the single most important aspect of recruiting.
> Successful recruiting favors the company (and recruiter) whose process is perpetually in motion.
> The demand exceeds the supply of experienced, talented sales professionals.
> Candidate pipeline development and cultivation requires a dedicated commitment of time.

Why Is the Ability to Judge Talent So Critical?

A year ago the supply-demand imbalance was so acute that the people shortage was considered the single greatest obstacle to continued growth and expansion. Often, due to the diluted pool of experienced talent, companies were forced to compromise their “Experience” standards and hire people whose pedigree was far less than desired. It is a given that adherence to candidate quality is a function of the size of the candidate pipeline and the pressures to hire. Couple this with a tendency to give greater weight to “Experience” over “Abilities” or competencies and you have a formula for disaster. Experience has always been the traditional focus of recruiters and hiring managers and yet, experience alone, is the least reliable and predictive of future success.

An historical example can illustrate. In 1940, while the United States attempted to stay out of the Second World War it was still preparing itself for the eventuality of fighting. President Franklin Roosevelt and General George Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, began identifying the officers who would lead the Army should the US enter the war. Marshall had, over the course of his career, kept a little black book in which he recorded thoughts and observations about each and every officer he encountered. He returned to that list in assembling the group of officers who would lead the US Army in World War II. Interestingly enough he ignored the “resume” and sheer years of experience and reached down into the ranks of the officer corps to tap officers who displayed great promise…those who had impressed him with their drive, intellect, energy and skill. Had he relied solely on experience soldiers like Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton would have retired from the Army in the days before World War II and our armies would have been led by the same generals that led the Army in World War I, likely to defeat. Marshall’s discernment of the situation and recognizing who and what was required to build an army that could fight and win was the key to ultimate victory. The world may not hang in the balance over a technology sale but the keys to winning are the same.

While the recruiting situation has changed dramatically in a few short months the basic problem of hiring hasn’t changed one bit. Hiring talent is still the key to competitive superiority. The current “buyer’s market” may lead companies to believe there is an abundance of talent available and that choosing talented sales professionals is now an easy task. This belief is dangerous.

The last five plus years have witnessed a remarkable growth in technology and almost unchecked capital spending. Given driving factors like decentralized client-server computing, Y2K, the emergence of the Internet and unprecedented economic expansion technology sales people enjoyed a period where selling was certainly easier than today’s tight-money conditions. Sales people today must be as adept at creating opportunities as servicing demand, in almost every respect, the current conditions are requiring sales people to flex muscles they haven’t used in a long time or never fully developed.

The hazard for recruiters and hiring managers who rely solely on experience is that factors like “performance track record,” “over-quota achievement,” “W2 earnings records,” as well as other measures are not totally reliable indicators of the candidate’s true ability. Recruiters have to be better today because they must dig deeper and be more accurate in assessing sales competence. The “Discerner” trait I referred to earlier, as well as, a thorough understanding of the industry and a systematic, methodical approach to evaluating talent are the keys to winning the competition for talent.

The Environment
The market conditions may have changed but the basic goal of recruiting hasn’t…it is still about winning the talent war and gaining competitive advantage by having better people. The disappearance of the dot-coms and the shrinking ranks of many technology vendors has alleviated the critical shortage of people for those companies that remain but it hasn’t entirely solved the problem nor has it eliminated the need for talent. In many cases companies are seeking to upgrade their storehouse of talent and must be able to sift through the swelling ranks of available candidates to identify the truly talented. Also, the current sluggish economy has made top-performing candidates (the classic passive candidate we all seek) reluctant to leave their current positions and pursue new opportunities which places greater emphasis on the recruiter’s sales abilities. It will be even more critical to drill down with candidates to identify the competencies required for success. The older paradigms of recruiting can no longer satisfy the demands of today’s sales recruiting environment.

Companies must create an operating environment that supports the kind of recruiting we’re describing and attracts and keeps the kinds of recruiters we’re profiling. Here are some of the characteristics we compare and contrast between the “old” and “new” ways to execute recruiting:

Recruiting Paradigms

Traditional Model System Characteristic Recommended Model
Cost-Based Operating Model/Value Proposition Value-Based
Centralized Organizational Alignment Field Operations
Episodic Recruiting Activity Continuous
HR Recruiter Profile Sales
HR Organization Recruiter Alignment Business Units
Generalist/Administrative Recruiter Role Specialist/Operational
Cost Sourcing Guidelines Speed
Cost-Per-Hire Recruitment Metrics Cycle Times & Value-Per-Hire
Experience Candidate Profile Focus Competencies

The Model Sales Recruiter

It’s important to begin by defining the role because we must distinguish between types of recruiters. There are myriad of roles that can be broadly labeled as “recruiter” ranging from Sourcers to Executive Recruiter. The role we are discussing and recommending is the most senior incarnation and most closely aligned to the Executive Recruiter. This internal recruiter works directly and collaboratively with the line management team and functions as a surrogate manager.

The image of recruiters that most people think of is either the classic “headhunter” or the internal “administrative” variety. Neither one of these adequately addresses the environment we’ve described. The “headhunter” represents too much of the “Teller” profile. They possess little consultative ability and tend to view recruiting purely as a numbers game – the “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” approach. This is the kind of recruiter who is always “pitching” opportunities but never really qualifies the candidate or thoroughly analyzes the position to assess the best fit.

The internal type is most analogous to the “Farmer” profile -- pleasant, cooperative, and helpful but passive and often struggling for access to management and credibility outside of HR. These recruiters are often facilitators of the process, taking on many of the administrative and logistical details but generally not driving the process or proactively prospecting for candidates.

These models don’t represent examples of two extremes as much as they illustrate common practice. The profile we seek is most closely aligned with the “Hunter” & “Partner” models. Why? Because it represents the characteristics that ensure the recruiter can and will do the following critical things:

> Care about winning – sees the nature of their role as engaging in a war for talent. Cares passionately about getting the best people and believes that they are selling the best opportunity. Simply put…they’re Competitive!
> Can assess talent – can systematically identify, judge, categorize and attract talent to the company. Can accurately assess a candidate’s capabilities and is seen as a “good judge of horse flesh.”
> Can triangulate – can effectively intersect the needs & interests of the company and the candidate while selling against competitive opportunities. Is effective at positioning the company and its opportunities and can credibly articulate its value, culture, history and differentiation.
> Sees the big picture – sees beyond the immediate needs and their own personal objectives and looks out for the best interest of the company and the candidate. Doesn’t discard talent but, thinking strategically, steers candidates better suited for other roles to other parts of the company or keeps lines of communication open.
Networks – develops, cultivates and leverages a personal & professional network that yields candidates, sources, leads and referrals.

It is the combination of competitive motivation, judgment skills about people and situations and sales skills that distinguish the profile of the Sales Recruiter. Current recruiters should be evaluated on their performance and how well it corresponds to these requirements and future recruiters assessed on their alignment to the profile. Candidates for sales recruiting roles may be found in several difference sources:
> Former or current salespeople
> Aspiring salespeople
> Former or current line managers
> Executive recruiters who also had business development/sales responsibilities

We have had success with former military officers who were aspiring sales people. Junior Military Officer who have decided to leave the service and pursue opportunities in the civilian sector and were seeking sales positions make good recruiter candidates. Their assessment skills have been honed in the leadership roles they fulfilled in the military service and the exposure to a sales oriented role serves as a good training ground for those aspiring to transition into a full-fledged sales position.

The current conditions in the marketplace, while they may be favorable to employers, should not be permitted to lead to complacency. Some companies may be lulled into thinking that the stream of candidates will never run dry and that they will always be in the driver’s seat (didn’t we also think the NASDAQ would hit 5000 and just keep going up?) but most of us know that these things run in cycles. Companies committed to market leadership and dominance do the right things all the time and companies seeking to stay ahead in the war for talent will continue to adopt practices that give them a competitive advantage. Hiring a sales recruiter that can provide that edge is an excellent first step!

Playing the Game to Win

Adjusting Your Recruiting Plan to Economic Conditions and
Cyclical downturns like the one we're in right now offer some provocative options for finding great performers...

The past two years have been very interesting ones for us. As the post-Y2K economy slips and slides along, we have experienced a change in the recruiting environment that paralleled the overall malaise of the IT industry. We followed many of our former big company contacts into the world of start-up corporations, and our active client list became overweighted with young companies rocketing toward their initial public offerings.

Our start-up clients, Blue Martini Software, Cybrant Corporation and others, were smart enough to identify and create real products to answer real market needs. Blue Martini's Customer Interaction System® remains the acknowledged masterpiece of customer personalization software. Cybrant's Business Velocity® and Commerce Velocity® are unique guided decision making products for online purchasers, with unprecedented speed of implementation.

In other words, we didn't have any sock puppets or DrKoop.coms on our roster. There are some things even a recruiter won't do. Well, this recruiter, anyway.

Our client companies will survive and prosper, and will most likely do so on their own terms. But a receding tide grounds all boats, and as their retained recruiter, the last two years were as much a rollercoaster ride for us as for them.

The short-term trend has shifted from big tech companies' inability to compete with dot-coms for talent, to the dot-com collapse and the emergence of the current mini-buyer's market for large-cap techs. And with it, we learned a few important lessons for recruiting.

Advertisers will tell you that, in a world full of change, human nature stays constant. If our experience is anything to go by, they're right. Let's explore how recent trends in information technology are shaping the marketplace for talent

Lesson Number One: Exploit Corporate Arrogance

Large- and mid-cap information technology companies had a rough time finding sales talent in the last part of the 1990's. It was a five punch combination for them.

First, overreaction to the Y2K "problem" caused many customers to curb spending.

Then, the overwhelming penetration of enterprise software into large-cap companies caused saturation. Now enterprise software vendors had to focus on mid-cap companies for the next phase of their expansion.

Next, enterprise software vendors learned a hard lesson. Software sales cycles for mid-cap prospects weren't really shorter or easier than those for large-cap customers. But the typical deal size was much lower. Margins suffered. At this point, some ERP market leaders began to falter. Not all would recover.

Then, customers began to question the indefinite implementation cycles for enterprise software and the elusive return on investment against promises made by their software vendors. It became apparent that, though software was necessary to streamline business processes, the rewards for adoption were hard to define in bottom line dollars. More and more, companies requested cost savings estimates from vendors during the evaluation phase; if a purchase couldn't be justified in terms of measurable efficiencies or staff redundancy, the purchase didn't happen.

And finally, as if all of this wasn't enough, the Internet boom changed everything again. Suddenly, stable companies with real profits were less attractive than new companies with vision, venture capital and heavy stock options. Nowhere was this more true than in apps software sales. Top guns from the NASDAQ 100 abandoned stable compensation plans and perceived stagnation for the promise of a fortune from a provocative niche player in five years or less.

This irritated many big tech sales managers and recruiters, who had grown accustomed to choosing from a slate of motivated, talented saleseople who thought a job at their company would be the pinnacle of their sales careers. The youthfulness of the industry also meant that many of the executives, managers and staff in these companies were "failure virgins," people who'd never lived through a significant business downturn before.

After a couple of years of walking their own career tightropes, these managers and recruiters often became first relieved and later vindictive when the dot-com collapse hit full speed.

Have you recently had a great candidate languish because a recruiter or hiring manager couldn't be bothered to schedule an interview? How about a client who will only accept candidates from a direct competitor, no matter how impressive the sales performance of the candidates you present? Or perhaps a broad-based reluctance to interview former employees, irrespective of their performance before leaving the company?

You're seeing examples of the kind of corporate arrogance we're talking about. Having been the ugly stepsister for a few years, some hiring managers and in-house recruiters now want to sit back and cherry pick from only those candidates that meet the narrowest of criteria. Direct competitors, for example, or some arbitrary number of years of experience. In other words, they only want to look at those candidates that they are least likely to see. In the meantime, sales jobs go unfilled, prospects go unvisited, quotas go unmet, and the net effect is that the income statement looks very much like it did before the big tech companies regained their advantage, often at great cost..

It's the dark side of esprit de corps. Emotion trumps business.

This can actually become comedic. What can you say to a manager who only wants to interview candidates who are blowing out their quota at a direct competitor whose compensation plan is virtually identical? Why in the world would someone like that want to take a giant step sideways into another company?

So what should you do about all this?

First, if you're an agency recruiter, don't waste your time and your prime candidates on companies like these. Check back in a year. By then, desperation will probably restore sanity.

Second, if you're part of a company like this, clean up your act, grow up and be businesslike in your recruiting activities. You're probably losing the talent war to your competitors, and you may not be noticing it.

Third, if you're a competitor, use the inefficiency of others to your advantage. Talk to your competitive intelligence people. Work your personal network. When you interview, ask your best candidates who else they're talking to, and what their perception is of those companies' attitudes in the hiring process. When you spot this kind of corporate arrogance in your competitors, position yourself against it and sell hard.

Leave those companies who are riding a wave of schadenfreude alone with their smugness. Keep waging the talent war by our rules, and you'll win.


Lesson Number Two: Be Prepared to Move Fast

In last quarter's article, The Soul of a New Recruiting Machine, we provided a checklist of basic skills and assumptions that drive the success of great recruiters. Our second lesson reprises two of those skills: knowing your industry and being prepared to interview without a job requisition.

You may remember that last fall, eCRM software vendor Vignette talked up major expansion plans in the trade press less than a month before a massive layoff. What was to be learned from this? First, that their expansion plans meant that they weren't letting dead wood go; the tyranny of numbers was forcing them to do something they didn't want to do. Second, layoffs often wound the survivors as well. Hunting within the company's roster might have been as lucrative as scanning the cut list. And it very likely was, for companies that weren't afraid to source, interview and hire out of cycle.

If you're quick, there will probably be a few feasts coming up as the tech shakeout continues.

Look at your competitor's cash statements. Use their staffing levels to make projections about run rate versus cash on hand. Anticpate layoffs and launch when the moment's right. If you are keying on direct competitors, this is the right way to go about it.

Lesson Number Three: Check Your Assumptions Before Rejecting a Candidate

We'll be dealing with the specific problem of candidate experience as a primary selection criterion in the article that follows. For now, the important thing to remember is that we've just come through a stock market boom (and bust) with few historical precedents. It'll probably be years before the NASDAQ index hits 5,000 again. Plan your future recruiting efforts with this fact in mind.

How do you do that? One way is to modify your assumptions about job turbulence. The historical attitude toward short tenures at companies for salespeople is to assume that they left one step ahead of the posse. That they weren't making quota, or that they burned through their entire Rolodex and had nothing in the pipeline for the next sales year. Well, you could be right. Or your candidate could be a victim of history.

Many of the folks who ventured into the dot-com world were primo risk takers, willing to bet their skill against a king's ransom. Be careful about punishing them for this. Carefully examine their pre-1998 history for greater stability and success. If you have doubts, probe carefully during the qualification phase. If you still have doubts, don't hire. But don't deprive your compnay of a great prospect simply because you're applying evaluation rules that are now subject to the influence of a specific historical anomaly.

Lesson Number Four: Sell the Right Thing to the Right Person at the Right Time

One of our Ten Principles of World-Class Recruiting is, "There are no universal incentives." What compels a person, even a person with a strong cash motivation, to accept your offer varies from individual to individual. In fact, if the profit motive is a constant, as it tends to be among salespeople, real leverage is often gained from the other terms of the deal.

Dump your canned sales message. Listen carefully to your candidates during interviews. Use your powers of discernment to identify their buying agenda.

What do dot-com refugees want? Well, for starters, the shell-shocked set may well want the security they were willing to trade away in the '90's. That security may be expressed as a function of your company's current industry position and vision of the future, a return to the kinds of products and services that made their career, or it may be the reassurance provided by friends at the salesperson's former company.

You can sell a bright future through favorable reviews of your company or products by industry influencers like Gartner, Meta Group, Forrester, Yankee Group, et al. You can influence candidate choices by favorably positioning your company and culture against your competitors. You can sell strength and stability versus dot-coms.

And within the boundaries of ethics and honesty, always spin. Play to your strengths and leverage good news. If your market valuation is down, sell culture and opportunity. If your market value is up, sell performance, culture and opportunity. Compare and contrast your environment and jobs available against your competition, or your prospect's current situation. And never apologize for problems that are industry-endemic, like, say, a market sector crash.

Above all, don't assume facts not in evidence. Like any good salesperson, ask what's important to your prospects and craft your sales message accordingly. And if you decide not to hire an individual, do it for sound business reasons, not to make yourself feel important.

Good recruiting is a blend of art and science, and as French physiologist Claude Bernard once observed, "Art is I; science is we." Obviously, as you work to overcome any biases you may have, you will also want to integrate your sales team into the candidate evaluation process as always. As you work through this, keep an eye out for signs of the same counterproductive attitudes we've disscussed in this article. You don't want to lose strong prospects because one or two members of the team give off inappropriate signals. Work to make sure that "we" supports your goals.

The lessons we've covered here aren't intended to supplant principles we've previously introduced. We simply wanted to remind you of the relative uniqueness of recent business history, and to point out a few specific observations we've made over the past two years. We hope you find them useful.

If you think we've missed something important, or want to ask a question about the information in this handout, you can reach me here or at 877-389-1250.

Got a question or a comment? Contact the author here.


The Experience Trap: Getting Past
the Resume and Adding Value to Your Company

Author Michael Kami once said "For every complex
problem, there is a simple answer - and it is wrong."

Speaking of which, say hello to the cardinal sin of sales recruiting.

Pop Quiz Time, everybody!

You're recruiting for a pre-IPO Sales Force Automation software company. Your product line is well regarded, your annual revenues are at $200 million, and you're looking for some regional account executives.

There are three resumes on your desk.

Candidate A is a recent college graduate, a man with three years experience selling eCRM software to clicks-and-mortar clients, primarily retail. He's been at 200% of quota each year and was referred to you by a reputable third-party recruiting agency.

Candidate B is a twelve year sales veteran who began in mainframe financial applications, and moved to the market leader in HRMS software in 1992. He made his quota selling the mainframe finance product, did well over 200% of quota at the HRMS vendor through the mid-1990s, and has been within spitting distance of quota since then.

Candidate C has a ten year history of software sales with mid-range ERP vendors. Over half of his career has been with a software publisher, selling IBM AS400-based solutions. She averaged about 200% of quota at that vendor, and has been at or over quota for the remainder of her career.

O.K. Based on what I've given you, pick one answer below:

A.     I can safely select Candidate A based on his experience.

B.     I can safely select Candidate B based on his experience.

C.     I can safely select Candidate C based on her experience.

D.     I'd try to hire all three.

E.     I can't reach any conclusion based on this data.

Well, if you read the title of this article, it wasn't much of a quiz. But we needed to establish a few experience profiles to illustrate why the reliance on experience is so dangerous.

Reliance upon the experience section of resumes as a primary screening tool is problematic, because it doesn't address many vital questions of candidate qualification. Resumes are the classic screening tool. Ironically, in a tight marketplace for talent, companies are often deluged with resumes from the wrong candidates. To manage the flood, resume databases and applicant tracking systems are often used to warehouse those resumes until a keyword search is initiated for specific job skills or experience.

Given this method of handling inbound resumes, the first problem to emerge is that the applicants that know the most about the system are those most likely to get interviews. It's up to the skill of the recruiter to separate those who know the job from those who know job hunting. Quite often these groups are not the same. In fact, great prospects are often bad at career searches, prefering to focus their time and energy on other things. Like becoming great prospects.

And that introduces the problem of validating experience. Think again about our three hypothetical candidates. Each is based in part on the backgrounds of real salespeople.

Would you reject Candidate A because of his limited software sales experience? Or should you be looking deeper into his backgound and work history? Was he a software implementation consultant prior to going into direct sales? Is his company notoriously noncompetitive against other vendors? If so, how does he manage to do so well? How does he manage sales cycles? What are his innate sales competencies?

How about Candidate B? He did his best work selling for a market leader half a decade ago, and less well since. What was the competitive landscape like during his best years? Did he have to sell or was he just an order taker for a product in high demand? Were his best sales years a function of membership in strong sales teams? What was he actually responsible for doing in the sales cycle? Was he the closer? What about his years selling mainframe apps? Did he sell for a company like old IBM, where the policy was to set readily achievable quotas as part of the salesperson's professional development? What's the basis for his decline in the late 1990s? Is he just a victim of the factors we described in the article above? These are some of the issues you'd want to examine in the qualification phase.

And Candidate C? Selling 200% of her number in AS400 solutions in a marketplace transitioning to client-server applications comes across as a powerful endorsement of her selling skills. But how much of her number was maintenance and services? Was she selling into established accounts or developing a new customer base for her company? Is she sufficiently up to date technically to continue to excel as the marketplace shifts to web-enabled and peer-to-peer operating models?

We could flog this horse until we get burgers, but our intent was simply to point out that experience alone determines very little. A salesman touting fifteen years of experience might actually have one year of experience repeated fifteen times.

We advise our clients to give a candidate's innate sales competencies and interpersonal chemistry greater weight than their basic experience, and to drill down into the experience of a candidate to help discover their innate sales competencies.

Of course, this is all common sense, and any recruiter worth their salary does this kind of in-depth validation as part of their normal screening procedure.

There is one other question you should ask yourself honestly. If we hadn't had this time together, and the resumes for Candidate's A, B and C crossed your desk, what would you have done?

Got a question or a comment? Contact the author here.

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Of course, our articles are written from the perspective of an information technology sales recruiter, though much of what's here can be applied to technology recruiting in general

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