Hiring Manager Means “Manager Who Can Hire”?

At some point in the last third of the first half of your career, you finally realize that you know it all. You really do. Others working as your peers or seniors may come more slowly to that conclusion, but you are certain of it. The learning curve is now concluded; “we” have arrived. (All with questions come forward with offerings and be made wise.) Some of us have the misfortune of believing this is true. Others are more fortunate and are forced to accept that we are not yet omnipotent. My collision with reality occurred…well, never mind how long ago it was. (Let us just say that the last third of the first half of my career was not last month. Let us go further and say that at that time, few of us believed that an actor, ex-governor of California, could be elected president.) My realization of my own failing occurred just after I had finished interviewing a candidate for one of my new teams. This person would be the apex on the pyramid we were building in a new product area. A director without staff, until whomever we hired, hired their staff. I had reviewed their education, previous jobs and responsibilities. I was very sure to make the perceived concerns of my hiring team clear and quizzed the prospect without mercy as to their ability to meet my vision of the position demands. In essence, the perfect HR interview. I was busy documenting my incisive interrogation when the hiring manager came into my office and stated, “We liked him, could you work with him? Does he know how to hire?” How should I know? I was accustomed to making comments on entry level and junior hires. I was not comfortable making comments on senior managers, directors and vice presidents. I was interviewing for my “clients.” If they want my opinion, they will drag it out of me. The irony then struck me that in the months to come, if we hired this person, I would be the first to ask, “This guy doesn’t know how to hire! Who hired this idiot?” Well, by omission, I did. Let’s face it, as Human Resources professionals we have a lot to complain about, and we do. We especially enjoy complaining about our “hiring managers” and their lack of respect for our process, and us. However, how many of them did we hire? I mean, if we are the “gate keepers,” how are these people getting inside? I blame the current state of affairs on the “Vendor-Client Relationship” foolishness that has been driving the Recruiting/Staffing industry for the last decade. We were lead to believe that after planning the Holiday Party, our greatest impact in the company was on deciding if we should interview the candidate first, or last. We accepted the totality of our role in the process as merely reviewing benefits, verifying the candidate’s current salary and employment status and handing out the multi-color bi-fold company brochures, complete with last years fiscal report resplendent with our business card and the list of company approved holidays. (“Please feel free to call me if you have any meaningless or insignificant questions. Have a great day!”) But we are not meeting schedulers, we are “Partners.” More to the point, we are “Strategic Business Partners.” Maybe it will be easier to convince our partners if we start acting like it. More to the point, the time has come to “be” partners. That means we need to not only give input, but also appreciate the value and need for that input and contribute not as if to be allowed is an honor and a favor. Rather, that making that critical contribution to the decision making process in hiring senior staff is the logical and necessary thing for us to do. Every newspaper, magazine, and online article carries some news of the serious shortage of technical and professional talent in the workplace and the resultant impact it has on new business and it’s ability to grow. In the current economic galaxy in which we currently reside, staffing is the center of the universe. We must not only insure the new employees we bring on board have the ability to help the company grow as individual contributors. But, in their role as managers, we must insure they have the ability to collaborate with us to insure the company is staffed in a timely and adequate manner to meet the company’s business commitments. Our opinion not only matters to us, it matter to the success of the hiring program, and that determines the success of the company. Here are some simple reminders of the importance of your input in the hiring process of senior staff:

  • If the candidate is treating you with limited respect in the interview process, imagine what a joy he or she will be to work with when they actually have a job and authority over your life.
  • Orange trees grow oranges. Mediocre hires will attract and hire mediocre people. If you allow your senior staff to settle for less, that is exactly what they will get. It also speaks ill of you if all your process can offer your managers as end game results is mediocrity.
  • If a person has not learned to hire in their ten year career, why are we willing to overlook that skill, but insist on three years’ previous experience working with Excel Spreadsheets? At some point we must accept that a management candidate has not learned an important skill because they do not consider it important, have always handed it off to “lower level” people, assume that what they cannot do an important task, or they do not respect either the importance or difficulty of staffing.

When I am interviewing a prospective senior manager or executive I like to ask the following questions:

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  • What is the name of the staffing professional who supports your team?
  • How many regular meetings do you have in a quarter with that person?
  • What is the greatest source of candidates in your current hiring program?
  • What is your opinion of your current HR team? If it is not good, have you attempted to fix that situation and if so, how?
  • What is the single greatest problem you face in staffing today? Have you discussed this with your staffing team and what suggestions did they make? Did you implement any of them?
  • What will be the greatest challenge that I will face supporting you?
  • What will be your measurement tools to determine my success?
  • Are you aware that I have a vote in the hiring decision process? (I always save the last question for last. If nothing else, I love watching their eyes pop!)

Whoever the team hires will end up working with you to insure the staffing needs of their team are met in a timely manner. If you are not being allowed to assert your role in this process, make an effort to be heard and appreciated for your critical and important input. If you hesitate in making your feelings known, what is wrong with you? I could understand misplaced concern to some extent. (That is if I was afraid of the dark.) I mean what if they hire this person you voted against anyway and the newly hired manager discovers that you voted against them? Well, that is why they call it business and if you want to grow in it, you have to stand for something. The unbiased prosecution of your duties for the good of the company and its employees, also part of your charter of responsibilities, is not a bad place to start. I have had more than enough conversations with the army of dissatisfied and disenfranchised “HR professionals” who never make their opinions known until happy hour at the end of the week at the regular meeting of the “Disgruntled and Infective.” I have discovered a several good reasons to feel comfortable putting my neck on the line in picking hiring managers with whom I can work:

  • That is one of their job titles, hiring manger. You are never truly satisfied as a hiring professional if you consistently run a process that hires the wrong people. Such as hiring managers who do not know how to hire.
  • It makes my professional responsibility easier to complete successfully if I am working with people who own a “clue.”
  • I spend less time in my office staring at the walls after hanging up the phone, having just being “yelled at” by a hiring manager about a four-week-old resume they failed to respond to, who is no longer on the market. You know, one of those people who could not hire with unlimited free money.
  • It is my contribution to the hiring process. I am the expert in my field. My field is critical to the projected success of the company. My failure to understand that fact and to fail give my full and complete input into the process only serves to make we worthy of any lack of respect my business partners may feel towards me and my limited role in the corporate success story.

I have hired scores of senior staff in my career. Many of them were really good, some of them were good, and a few, not so good. Nevertheless, nobody got by I did not think I could work with at the time. If I felt I could not work with them, I made my views known. From those discussions there often arose, albeit slowly and grudgingly, a growing respect and understanding between myself and my existing hiring managers. However, in my career, I have inherited a few hiring managers who could not hire. To those of my peers who hired them for me, “thanks a lot.” To those who inherited my hiring managers, you are welcome. One approach I have tried with my management teams before they hire a “technical guru” or “professional skills genius” with no comprehension about staffing or desire to work with me is a simple question: Question: “Can they do it all?” Answer: “Of course not, why do you ask?” Response: “Well, based on their hiring track record, that’s their only option.” You will not always win when you champion for hiring managers who know how to hire. But you will always be able to say “I told you so” months later if you do. Have a great day recruiting! <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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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