Posts filed under ‘Recruiting’

The Unfortunately All-Too- Frequent Resume Bluff

lieLast week I was a guest on a business radio program. The focus of this hour long broadcast was “Resume Fraud.” Resume fraud may sound a bit harsh so feel free to replace fraud with any of the following: embellishment, exaggeration, deception, distortion, fabrication, misrepresentation etc. You get the picture!

Any way you refer to it, this behavior is far more common than anyone would like to believe. In fact, some of the research indicates that 30-50% of people lie on their resumes. These numbers tend to increase during tough economic times when a combination of job scarcity and angst may make people more willing to engage in behaviors they might not otherwise.

Resume “fiction” can also take a variety of forms not all of which will engender the same response. Stretching the dates of employment or even changing them to cover gaps or the appearance of job-hopping is prevalent. As can be enhancing one’s responsibilities. For example, did “candidate A” have 100 people reporting into him/her or 500? Were the savings he/she created valued at $30 million or $100 million? These details may be challenging to confirm.

Altering a job title may be a bit more difficult to carry out but certainly occurs as does the modification of degrees and other professional designations. The recent big story in this arena surrounded Scott Thompson who was very briefly the CEO of Yahoo. Thompson came to Yahoo from PayPal and claimed that he had a degree in Computer Science AND Accounting from Stonehill College. While Thompson did in fact graduate from Stonehill, the college did not offer a computer science major until well after he claimed to have received his. Aside from the trouble this caused it serves to illustrate that distortion can take place at even the most senior levels.

When it comes to education, some indentify mere attendance at college as a degree. There are also the many professional designations and actual degrees that can be obtained from uncredentialed institutions. These so-called “diploma mills” are a thriving business facilitated by the Internet as well as the pressure to compete for jobs that are oftentimes scarce.

And the possibilities go on and on…unfortunately. So what can a potential employer do about all of this?

As Ronald Reagan once said: “Trust, but verify.”

Degree verifications are the baseline and so easy to conduct that their omission in the hiring process is simply negligence. In addition to this, comparing a potential candidate’s resume to their LinkedIn profile while not foolproof, is another step in mitigating risk. Hopefully because a LinkedIn profile is exposed and accessible to almost anyone, the temptation to misrepresent is reined in.

Whenever possible, it is helpful to measure a candidate’s skills objectively. This is not always possible but creativity can go along way here. Ask a marketing or sales candidate to prepare a presentation as to how they would promote your product or service. Have a programmer write some code or an Executive Assistant prepare a document or answer the phone. I always switch to speaking French when a candidate claims this language facility!

References while helpful, are not enough. Speak to those provided by the candidate and if possible a few that have not been proffered. LinkedIn can be very helpful in this regard as well. This step in the hiring process can be laborious but definitely worth the effort.

While no amount of skepticism and verification will completely eliminate these problems, as a potential employer it is wise to proceed with caution and avail yourself of the tools and techniques that work. Cutting corners leads to less than optimal hires and ultimately less than optimal results, or worse!


June 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Succession Planning: Not Just for Older Leaders

Dell Computer and the story of its potentially going private have occupied  many a news column of late. In the most recent turn of events, Blackstone Group  withdrew its bid for the company after making the determination that Dell’s future and the PC industry looks bleak. Throughout all this I cannot help but  ask what seems to be a fundamental underlying question about this company, and that is, who should lead Dell going forward?

Yes, Michael Dell is an icon of the stature of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  He is highly intelligent and incredibly successful with a net worth of $15.3  billion as of March 2013 (per Forbes Magazine.) But he has been leading Dell  Computer (save for three years when Kevin Rollins was at the helm) for the past 29 years, since he started the company while at College at the age of 19. No matter whom the talent, anyone in the same position for several decades is bound to become temperate, or perhaps even myopic. It is essentially impossible not to and this is particularly true in the ever-changing and evolving technology industry.

According to The Conference Board, CEO tenure has decreased to an average of 8.4 years as of 2011 from 10 years in 2000. This should come as no surprise given the increasing independence of corporate boards and the pressure to take decisive action when the company is stagnating. There is also ample evidence that there is a lifecycle of effectiveness for any business leader (perhaps this holds true for leader in any field, even politicians!) In fact, in research reported in the Strategic Management Journal (February 2006), Henderson, Miller and Hambrick found “in the dynamic computer industry, CEOs were at their best when they started their jobs, and firm performance declined steadily across their tenures, presumably as their paradigms grew obsolete more quickly than they could learn.”

This presents an interesting dilemma. It is clear once again that planned CEO succession is necessary. Appropriate and carefully selected and strategic change at the top can do much to resuscitate an organization. It is also evident that even the best leaders have a “shelf-life.” However Michael Dell is in fact only 48 and he is also Dell’s largest shareholder. The usual best practices may be hard to apply.

But apply they must! In all of the news and speculation surrounding this story there is rarely a mention of who should lead Dell going forward and whether Michael Dell remains the best candidate for the job. We know the PC market is in a free fall and we know the financials of the company ad nauseum, but what about the brainpower, ingenuity and creativity that is needed to steer this behemoth in the right direction? Some guidance and information along these lines is becoming unavoidable.

April 30, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Compliance is an HR Concern too!

What a few weeks it has been for Yahoo! As the company was settling into its fifth CEO in five years, activist investor Daniel Loeb uncovered the fact that Scott Thompson had, let’s call it “misinformation,” on his resume.

By now this topic has been covered by the media around the globe, has trended on Twitter and been blogged about relentlessly.  Board member Patti Hart stepped down as a result of her lead role in the recruiting of Thompson and more recently Loeb’s hedge fund Third Point received three seats in the Yahoo board room.

But in all of the mudslinging it seems that there has not been much discussion about the underlying processes (or lack thereof) that allowed Thompson’s error to exist for so long. What I refer to here is a topic that has also been extremely newsworthy of late and that is compliance.

Compliance can mean a number of things and is usually discussed in relation to financial issues and internal audits within a company. However compliance is of great significance to the HR function as well.

In 2006 The Bureau of National Affairs published a paper, “Sarbanes-Oxley Act: HR’s Role in Ensuring Compliance and Driving Cultural Change. It contained an extensive discussion of HR’s important compliance role in a post Sarbanes-Oxley business environment.  The paper states: “HR processes can tighten the bottom line, mitigate risks of legal exposure, reduce costly turnover, and improve corporate morale—or expose the business to financial and reputation losses if proper controls are not in place.” So where was all of this in the hiring of Scott Thompson at Yahoo or even at his former employer, EBay?

Many companies have a hiring process compliance checklist that enumerates all of the checks and balances that must be completed when making a new hire. This checklist can include specific interviews that should have taken place, a methodology for reference checking and hopefully a mechanism for degree verification. While some aspects of the hiring process can be laborious, degree verification is a simple and typically streamlined activity. A quick look at several college and university web sites reveals explicit instructions about degree verification and the common promise that it can be completed in 1 business day.

Systematic compliance practices for HR functions creates a structured and organized hiring process in which errors have a way of being recognized before the investment in a new hire is made. Hopefully, this will be amongst the lessons learned from the Thompson debacle!

May 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Onboarding for Novices!

ImageThe fast-paced corporate environment and global marketplace of the 21st century has shortened the honeymoon period for newly hired C-level executives. After conducting an exhaustive executive search, multiple interviews and extensive 360 degree referencing, the recruiting process is usually considered over. But even in the best of circumstances, this is in fact only the beginning of ensuring that the organization receives the maximum benefit from a new hire.

To facilitate success for both the outside hire, as well as the company, some organizations implement ongoing orientation and mentoring programs referred to as onboarding. These programs or activities could last for several months to several years. According to the American Psychological Association, onboarding, also known as organizational socialization or assimilation “refers to the process that helps new employees learn the knowledge, skills, and behaviors they need to succeed in their new organizations.”

The first ninety-days or so of an executive’s tenure is viewed as a make or break period. Strategic onboarding programs can help align a new hire with the organization. As a team member rather than outsider this new executive has a much greater chance of success. The retention rates of these well-integrated individuals are also higher than those left to their own devices. Furthermore, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) U.S. and U.K. employees cost businesses an estimated $37 billion every year because they do not fully understand their jobs.

Sink-or-Swim is Not the Preferred Approach

In the old “Mad Men” days, executives typically spent their first day on the job filling out paperwork, before being escorted through the office by a human resources manager for a series of brief introductions. After that, senior executives were largely left on their own to navigate the often-hazardous terrain of unwritten rules, shadow alliances, office politics and an undefined corporate culture. The old sink-or-swim strategy is no longer recommended. Today, a targeted onboarding support network is preferred by many organizations to provide speedy assimilation into the organization’s culture, to help an executive develop successful networks and personal relations, and to develop a personal development plan that paves the way for success and credibility.

Michael Watkins author of the seminal manual on onboarding, “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels,” cautions organizations against what he calls, “Darwinian Leadership Development,” in which outside recruits are “thrown into the deep end” and left to their own devices. After expending considerable time and resources to recruit the right candidate, organizations should not leave the ultimate success or failure of a new executive to chance. Increasing shareholder value is ultimately dependant on the productivity and development of valuable “soft skills,” by individual executives and an effective onboarding program is essential to fostering productivity and profitability.

Study, Listen, Learn

Whatever the scope and complexity of an organization’s onboarding plan, newly hired executives would be well advised to get a running start during the pre-boarding window after accepting an offer and before reporting to work. New executives should learn everything they can about their organization’s culture, vision and goals. During the early days and months, new hires should spend the bulk of their time listening to their team and supervisor, as well as diligently studying and learning the ins-and-outs of the corporate culture. Numerous studies show that organizations with a comprehensive onboarding plan in place enjoy a lower turnover rate within their executive ranks. Taking charge of your own success and developing personal goals within the framework of the onboarding plan can go a long way in ensuring a successful outcome.

Early Onboarding Wins

In his onboarding tome, Watkins recommends that organizations help newly hired executives achieve an early win to instill confidence and develop professional credibility during the critical early months. Organizations can assist executives by providing an accelerated learning program and offering support during the crucial team building process. Establishing an individual performance plan with specific milestones, with plenty of coaching and mentoring throughout the process, can spur the all-important early achievements and wins that are crucial to job satisfaction.

Organizations that continue the extensive recruiting process throughout an executive’s early tenure with a strategic onboarding program will greatly benefit from an executive leader’s early success, confidence and buy-in of an organization’s culture. Onboarding should be viewed as the final step in the lengthy recruitment process and the beginning of a comprehensive retention program.

April 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Passed Over for a Promotion? The Best Path Forward for Disappointed Employees and Organizations

“Sorry, we decided to hire someone from the outside for this position.” Chances are if you have been in the workforce for a number of years, you have experienced the bitter pill of being passed over for a promotion you thought you had locked up. Once you take the time to cool off and grieve over the career disappointment, what you do next can affect the future trajectory of your career and professional development. Organizations also need to be aware of the repercussions and effectively deal with issues of employee morale after passing over a long-term employee in good standing.

When a passed over employee asks why? Company executives need to be prepared with constructive responses to help employees understand and accept the decision-making that led to an outside hire or choosing a competing internal candidate. The reasoning is best if it is quantifiable and based on objective measures. Explanations like “You are not ready” simply don’t provide the substance and details that can be useful.

If an organization can’t offer an explanation based on company goals, needs, policies and its defined criteria for success, it’s time to beef up its 360-degree feedback mechanisms. A check on how these messages are communicated and the clarity by which employees know what is expected of them is also worthwhile. Otherwise, an organization may experience problems, due to employee resentment, poor morale and the loss of trained team members with valuable institutional knowledge, who jump ship to pursue better opportunities.

Conduct an Honest Self-Evaluation

After taking the time to lick their wounds, passed over employees need to take the time to conduct a thorough and honest self-evaluation of their skills, accomplishments, strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps losing the promotion had absolutely nothing to do with your skills and performance and had everything to do with office politics. If this is the case, and you determine it’s impossible to overcome it’s best to know now and use this professional bump in the road as a career wake up call and an opportunity to pursue different opportunities.

You should also determine if you are as good as you think you are. Have you miscalculated your chances for promotion? Are you too focused on your duties and responsibilities, as opposed to your actual performance and measurable accomplishments? Do you lack the leadership and team-building skills that the higher-level position requires? Do you lack certain technical skills or an advanced degree that the company prefers for the position?

Request a Meeting With Your Supervisor

After conducting a calm and objective post-mortem, request a meeting with your supervisor to determine why you were passed over for the promotion. Oftentimes, managers feeling a sense of guilt are reluctant to deliver a hard, cold assessment after an employee has just experienced a huge disappointment. However, if you request constructive feedback, you just might get it, and it may be the best thing that ever happened to you professionally. Knowing how the higher-ups in an organization view you is invaluable, whether you decide to leave the company or not. If you decide to stay, take charge of your own career and create an individual development plan, and ask your supervisor for help, guidance and support in implementing it. This is the best way to impress your supervisors and set the stage for a future promotion.

Organizations Should Have a Constructive Feedback Structure

Organizations can also learn from the internal conflicts and struggles that can occur after an employee is passed over for a promotion. Regular and constructive feedback is vital for employees’ professional and personal development. If an organization’s current employee evaluation system is contributing towards employees misreading or  miscalculating where they stand, perhaps it’s time to improve it. Both the employee and the organization stand to benefit from clearly defined lines of communications, clear expectations, goal setting, succession planning and the company’s criteria for success. 

Strengthening employee feedback policies will help place organizations and their employees on the path to success. It is a most basic and simple principle of human behavior that unambiguous, explicit feedback leads to the greatest impact on behavior. Don’t we all like to know hear what others think about us? How they see us? Usually it is these simplest of ideas that can be the most challenging to execute!

August 9, 2011 at 12:24 am 2 comments

How Has the Job Search Process Changed? (or Has it!)

Two factors have done more to change the job search process in the last few years than all the business and management wisdom of the previous many decades. What I am referring to, of course, is the Internet and somewhat secondarily the recession.

In May 2011 Google welcomed 1 billion unique visitors around the globe. In 2006 this number was 496 million. As a barometer of internet usage this number is very instructive. We have definitely moved on from the days when Amazon was simply an online book store and Facebook didn’t exist!

Today’s job search process undoubtedly uses some facet of the internet. This may be as simple as a company’s own web site where you can view job openings and submit resumes or one of the plethora of employment web sites. Instruction on how to write a resume, cover letter, how to interview, tips, tricks etc. are everywhere online. No longer do you have to go to your local library or bookstore or speculate on the subject.

On the other side of the equation, recruiters and employers have access to far more information on potential employees than ever before. They can (and will) look for Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. They can also easily access references of those that were not suggested by the candidate leading to a far more thorough and authentic understanding of a potential new employee.

The economic downturn has also definitely changed the job search process over the past few years. The recession has meant that there are far more (often extremely qualified) candidates in the market looking for work and far less jobs available.

As a result hiring managers can afford to be highly selective and candidates must be on top of their game unlike ever before. Candidates can expect a very cautious and discriminating interview process that often does not even begin face-to-face. It has become customary for first interviews to take place over the telephone. Unlike the informal prescreen of the past, these telephone calls have become comparable to formal, detailed interviews. This can be efficient and cost effective but there is a fair bit of information lost without the benefits of visual cues. Nevertheless as a first step it is definitely prevalent.

Our economy has also resulted in caution being exhibited throughout the job search process for all parties involved. Candidates go through multiple interviews and with multiple decision makers. The time from start to finish of the process has become longer as everyone is exerting caution and few can afford a bad decision. The recession has also resulted in many more questions that focus on: what is the return on our potential investment in you?” Candidates are expected to provide quantitative and factual details of their accomplishments. Hiring managers want to know what they will tangibly expect to receive in return for the cost of a new employee.

From the candidate’s point of view and particularly for those employed and considering a change there is far more due diligence undertaken on a new potential employer. The last thing someone wants in weak economic times is to leave a job for a new one that doesn’t work out. The options are so limited and everyone is quite risk adverse.

Yes, there are enormous changes in the job search process and certainly in terms of the effect of technology we are still in the infancy stage. Tools and advancements will continue to progress in perpetuity. What will not change however, is the fact that at its core business success (and failure) and employment depends on human behavior, traits, motivations and characteristics. No amount of technology or competition will negate this basic fact!

July 8, 2011 at 2:39 pm 2 comments

The Top Ten Take-Aways from the Yale Corporate Governance Forum

On June 16th and 17th Yale University’s Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance hosted its 6th annual Corporate Governance Forum. The theme of this year’s conference was “Governance Fit for the Long Term” and depending on one’s frame of reference this can be taken in any number of ways.

Nevertheless the conference was chock full of dynamic and varied panels and speakers from around the globe. And for the governance consumed it was an opportunity to learn of many new ideas in the field, listen to constructive debates and not surprisingly see that many questions remain and answers are oftentimes elusive!

Of the numerous ideas and hypotheses presented during this event here is what I believe to be the most interesting, provocative or simply important:

1. Corporate leaders and board of directors must focus on the long-term. With the pressure of quarterly earnings announcements, the tendency of course is for public companies to look good on a quarterly basis. This can hinder the long-term strategic focus that is essential to both the growth and survival of the company. One suggestion is for companies to talk to their largest shareholders, those that are investors over the long term. These are, by definition, supporters of the company so communicating the long term strategic vision for the company can go a long way to alleviating the alarm that may result from the occasional dip in stock price.

2. Stock price as a reflection of management performance is inadequate. Investor behavior is as important to stock price as manager behavior. In fact, there are many variables that influence the price of a stock. So the point is that simply looking at a declining stock price and concluding that management is failing is short-sighted.

3. While there are many benefits of the current move towards declassified boards we must be mindful of the fact that this may actually increase the short-termism of the company.

4. Corporate governance is implemented and interpreted very differently around the globe. We have seen many developments and progression in the field of governance both here in the US and abroad. But the divergence of thought and practices is still extreme. For example, in Germany in addition to the two-tiered board structure diversity simply refers to gender and private investors still have little to say per German law. Furthermore, there is in fact no word for corporate governance in German. In the United Arab Emirates it was reported that some Directors sit on as many as 47 boards. They may also employ advisors who are assigned to monitor and report on several of their boards for them.

5. The upsurge in social media has had universal impact. What is the implication for boards and directors? It seems that in this area there are still more questions than answers. Public companies typically have communications policies that predate the current social media environment. Additionally, directors may not have the time nor inclination to explore the world of social media. Nonetheless it is becoming fundamental and we are still only in the infancy stage of this manifestation. Perhaps companies should consider bringing some social media expertise into the boardroom?

6. “Collective intelligence” is defined as “a phenomena in sociology where a shared or group intelligence emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals.” This is not a new concept and may have in fact been coined when Aristotle said: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Whenever it originated the concept represents the best of what we would like to see from a board of directors. Board evaluation and coaching would be well-advised to take this intangible into account.

7. Two of the most important criteria for board directors to possess are great (not just good) judgment and the ability to work on a team. These subjective or soft skills need to be assessed as much as the ability to, for example, chair an audit committee.

8. Many failures in the boardroom can be linked to failures in social processes. Some of these are: the emergence of “group think”, obedience to authority and diffusion of responsibility. Each one requires a full discussion on its own.

9. Board evaluations as they are currently executed are oftentimes done on themselves. The results of course will be significantly impacted depending on the nature of the board and the culture it functions under. As in any evaluation it would be preferably executed by an outside, objective party.

10. There is no “one size fits all” as it pertains to the separation of the CEO and Chair roles. It depends on the company, its culture, the operating environment and certainly the personalities of the players involved.

As can be seen from this brief overview, the topics and discussions at the Yale Governance Forum were diverse and oftentimes quite novel and even controversial. The net net is that there is definitely a need to continue to innovate and evolve in the world of corporate governance. An openness to new ideas, methodologies and processes ought to be standard operating procedure in our boardrooms!

June 21, 2011 at 9:32 pm

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