Dear Hiring Manager, Welcome to the Next Plateau!

Dear Hiring Manager, Listen, I know you are busy, what with the new job and all. I even suspect you have not been able to unpack all the moving cartons, set up your new voicemail and email passwords, or even had time to hang up all the family pictures. (Cute kids, by the way, they have your eyes.) However, I felt that there was no time like the present to set up our relationship and establish the “ground rules.” Who am I? I am your staffing specialist. You and I are responsible, as a team, for bringing the best and brightest into the organization. I may be a corporate human resources representative, contract recruiter, contingency or search recruiter, but no matter what I am called, my goal is the same as your goal, to fill your requisitions. I know recruiters have other nicknames, and it is OK with me if you use them, but if it is all the same to you, when you say “Headhunter,” please don’t smirk. We have feelings too you know! Why do I need to talk to you today? What is the rush? Well, maybe nobody told you yet, but we are in a “race,” and there will be no second prize. We are in a race with every other company on the planet to get our fair share of the best-qualified candidates on the market today. (Well, more than our fair share, actually.) However, do not worry, I have done this before. We can do it. But we are going to have to do it together. It is essential that you take the staffing element of your new job seriously. This promotion was not just a chance to have a new office, larger staff, and a parking place with your name on it. You are a “Hiring Manager” now. (Just in case this is another piece of information, they left that out at the promotion party along with the “60 hour week” news.) This is the point in your career when things get very serious, very fast. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> You look a little worried and confused. Maybe I need to digress for a minute and give you some background. (Go ahead, take a deep breath and have a glass of water.) In a business professional’s development, there are three levels, I like to call them “Plateaus,” in their career:

  1. Fundamental Functionality
  2. Intermediate Process Improvement
  3. Strategic Contribution and Ultimate Direction Definition

(Don’t bother looking them up, I made the titles up myself and it’s not like Harvard Business School is knocking itself out to see what ludicrous theory I have “invented” lately.) The Plateau into which you belong has little or nothing to do with your job title. It refers more to the level of involvement your work has in relation to the product or services of your organization and the level of decision-making impact you have on those items. Job titles vary from company to company, and there are several levels of job titles within each Plateau, but the core function within the Plateau remains the same. For example, you may be a junior counter clerk in the retail industry and yet still reside in the same Plateau as a senior cash register operator. First, let us discuss Fundamental Functionality. When you first enter the business world, you make the base product or provide the base service of your chosen field. You are the “worker bee” of the corporate infrastructure. You neither design, direct, implement, change, alter, upgrade, defend or refute the core of the companies role, product or service. In the world of “Big Picture” talk, you are the little picture. However, that is OK, you are new and you are learning. Besides, somebody has to make the “widgets” in the widget factory. Not everybody can be in marketing. (Although, it does seem that way sometimes, doesn’t it?) As time passes you may lead a team, a group or become a supervisor, but you still have “widgets” all over your hands at the end of the day. Your contribution is both needed and essential, but it is still on the level of a “worker bee,” or the level that tells other “worker bees” what work needs to be accomplished. However, even they were “given” their work assignments to allot. You may have been invited into a couple of interviews as part of a “meet the team” process, but you had little real or serious input to make in the actual hiring decision. You were not a hiring manager. Your contribution was to the fundamental functioning for the product or service. Then there is the Plateau of Intermediate Process Improvement. After an undetermined number of years, you crossed into the second level, your acquired knowledge and skills have made you a valued contributor to process and procedure review. However, even with your enlarged and expanded involvement, your focus remains more day-to-day than “long view.” Some degree of new employee training and early levels of management may occur more frequently, but are still not a consistent part of your day. You still have little to do with the strategic direction of the company. You may have been in the interview team, you may have even done front-end screening of the candidates and sat in on the hiring committee meetings, but the final word was still not yet yours, at least not by the charter of your position. You were not yet a hiring manager. You did contribute to process and procedure at an expanded level, but still non-strategically. But that all changed today! Because today you are a Hiring Manager! May I offer my most sincere congratulations! In addition, let me extend my deepest sympathy. (Just kidding!) In the third Plateau, your life is nothing but strategic: budgets, goals, reviews, planning meetings (meeting planning)?and staffing (Tah-Dah!) The remainder of your career is to be measured on how well you hire, train, and motivate the people who directe the people, who direct the people, who direct the people, who actually make the “widgets.” If you cannot build the “teams” needed to meet the goals of your organization, there really is nothing else you have to offer that the organization that hired, transferred or promoted you needs. That employee of the year award from ten years ago for making more “widgets” in one year than any person ever before in the history of the company will mean nothing if your departments, divisions, company, corporations, and conglomerate’s goals are not met. This is now the level of involvement you have in your new career destiny. However, you cannot hope to run everything by yourself or to be everywhere all the time. You need the best possible people, in the right positions, with the right experience, that can be found on the market, to help you in this new and final Plateau of your career. They have to be sourced, screened, interviewed, processed, negotiated, offered, counter-offered, set-up, and started. That is where I come in. So, this pretty much catches us up on why we needed to meet today and why it is so important that you and I get busy and learn to work with each other. Sometimes it is difficult for a staffing professional to work closely with a hiring manager; it can be an issue of egos and trust. After all:

  • I know you feel “pretty darn good” about your interviewing skills.
  • I know you feel that you have experience at networking with your “buddies” and feel you can find a few “special folks” quickly.
  • I know you learned a few clever interview tricks and fancy double-edged questions. I am certain they are quite insightful and not at all offensive or insensitive. I am also certain one of them could get us sued.
  • I know you have a few funny interview stories to tell. I suspect they are all a real hoot!

However, that was back when interviewing was a “hobby,” a pleasant change in your daily routine. “Who is free to interview today? Fred? Thanks ol’ friend!” But that has all changed; we moved you out of “AAA” ball, and you are in the major leagues now! From now on, it is your name on the offer approval form, budget request, job requisition, position description, and organization chart. More importantly, my name is right next to yours. If not my name, then certainly my reputation is on the line, right next to yours. This is my career, this is my job, but more importantly, this is my craft. Welcome to my Plateau. We are going to have some issues over the next weeks, months, and (hopefully) years. Passionate professionals, who are motivated out of a desire to succeed and grow because of that success, are predetermined to have issues from time to time. However, we cannot allow those issues to makes us become territorial, suspicious, or petty. Here are the things I want from you most to help us accomplish our respective jobs:

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  • Real commitment to fill your real needs. No “wild goose chases” or positions that may or may not be something you want filled. If it is not real, I should not be spending cycles looking for it!
  • Real position descriptions. If you do not take the 30-60 minutes to work out a detailed position description with your team, we will all spend 6-8 weeks reading the wrong resumes and interviewing the wrong people. The development of this description has to include the team, if they do not buy into the profile, then they will always find a reason not to hire the candidates we set up for interviews. Please, please do not just Xerox the old position description. It goes back to the days this place used hand crank calculators and whale oil lamps.
  • Delegate what you cannot or do not want to do. You have a lot of work to get done, a good manager knows what he or she can safely delegate and to whom it should be assigned. That is not a sign of weakness, that is a sign of real management skill and positive leadership. We all know you’re a “super-person.” You do not have to prove it to us. Have other people on the team read and review resumes, conduct initial phone screens, and support recruiting events. We are in a race. You cannot run a relay race alone. Besides, you look silly passing the baton to yourself.
  • Resumes are like fresh fruit, they spoil overnight. You cannot believe what I go through to get you these resumes. Good, bad, or indifferent, I always send you the daily or weekly “top crop.” I need constant and timely feedback to sharpen and hone my search. In addition, as the backlog of “routed-not returned” resumes grows I invest more time in managing old resumes than I spend searching for new ones. Call me with feedback, I really do use it!
  • Plan interviews and make sure your team takes the task seriously. How long would you wait in a lobby to speak to an unprepared interviewer who just got your resume five minutes ago and asks you for the third time that day, “Why did you go to college there?” I will help you plan the interview teams, set up the alternates, train the interviewers (by helping them lose some of those “favorite trick questions”), and manage the process for you. However, you need to support me on this one. If you take it lightly, what hope do I have with your team?
  • Meet with me on occasion. It at least lets me know you are involved enough in staffing to “pretend” you respect my work and me. (Sorry, got a little defensive there. We are, after-all, the sum total of our own past experiences and perceived fears of the future.) But if you see the significance of routine meetings with the rest of your staff, and not your staffing specialist, that kind of indicates you do not yet appreciate how important staffing is to you and your career. You do not yet understand how daunting a task it represents without the aid of your “facilitator.” (I know it is you who is doing the hiring. I am the process or project manager.)
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate. And if there is a little time after that, communicate. I am smart for a recruiter (I know, no big claim there), but I still cannot read minds. If I am doing “it” wrong, I will keep doing it wrong until you point out my error to me. On the other hand, through that discourse, you may discover it was your input that needed, let us say, “directional correction.” Your silence only communicates acceptance to me or precludes discovery on your part. But it serves neither of us in our joint goal: your success through staffing.

If you do all of the above, what will you get out of the deal? What is in it for you?

  • Staffing. Timely and adequate staffing (That’s right, “adequate.” Hey, it is the year 2000, and we have less than 4% unemployment nationally, sometimes adequate is about as good as it gets nowadays. You want to be lied to, and hear superlatives, go to marketing.) Not every hire will be from the top 10% of the work force. Not all the hires have to be the top 10% of the workforce. But you will get the best the position requires and our combined efforts can secure.
  • Support. If you cannot do it all as a Hiring Manager?and you cannot?I will take as much of the burden as you will allow. I know you need to learn to trust me, but rest assured, when you feel comfortable, I will be there for you.
  • Partnering. The closer I get to you and your organization, the more I can anticipate and respond to your needs?immediate, future, and forecasted. How can I hire a “widget designer” if I have never seen one?
  • Consistency. I am only human, the clients and hiring managers who work with me the closest always get my “best stuff.” There are only so many cycles in a day, none of us invest them in efforts that will not produce results, quality results.

I know I have dumped a lot on you today and you need sometime to yourself to get set up and ready for the “race.” But, if you now feel that some of that time should be invested in looking at your staffing situation sooner rather than later, then my time was well spent. I will be here to help you. However, please, do not wait too long. That “popping” noise you heard when you came into the office this morning was the starter’s pistol. “The race is on!” You might be wondering how it is I am so certain that your boss will also consider staffing one of your primary goals. Well, actually, he told me so, today at our staffing review meeting. You are not the only one with strategic issues in this company. Welcome to the next Plateau. Have a great day recruiting! (Someday I just might send this letter.)

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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