(L)ong-term prospects at a company are often determined during the initial phase of a job. Contrary to popular thinking, the first six months on a job are much more than a period of acclimation and adjustment. During this erroneously-labeled getting-acquainted period, a new employee is “pegged” sub-consciously in the minds of the decision-makers in the company. . . It may be superficial as well as unfair, but informal pegging occurs in all companies. . . Ironically, it is the subconscious and non-logical nature of pegging that makes it so easy to manipulate for your purposes.
These words are from a brilliant book, The Right Moves: Succeeding in a Man’s World Without a Harvard MBA by Charlene Mitchell and Thomas Burdick. This PTL uses their suggestions (and mine from both sides of the hiring desk) to show you how to fight falloffs.
1. Inquiring v. Imaging
Recruiters don’t pay enough attention to their candidate after he’s reported for work. It’s as though their guarantee is a promise they hope they won’t have to keep. If you’ve ever had to honor one (refund or even worse — replacement), you know why. It’s expensive, time-consuming and frustrating.
I remember the speech I used to give new hires: “Ask all the questions you like during your probationary period. We’re here to make your adjustment as pleasant as possible.” No way. We had others to hire, fire or retire. Answering questions from new hires was a nuisance. We resented it.
Mitchell and Burdick tell it like it is:
Some books and job counselors encourage people to use the [first few months on the job] to ask as many questions as possible to “show your interest” in the company. This type of thinking is naive, and advice to this effect is dangerously misleading. It is predicated on the erroneous assumption that managers are patient, understanding, compassionate and logical — in other words, different from the rest of humanity.
A good image is everything in conveying a positive first impression. The book on this subject is Contact: The First Four Minutes by Leonard and Natalie Zunin. It’s a great paperback to give to candidates, and notes:
If you’re new on a job, you’re expected to listen. . . [T]he key words are “acceptance” and “effectiveness.” The first word refers to handling yourself and relating in ways which will find approval, without feeling like a doormat. . . The second word involves assuming responsibility, following directions with imagination, and taking initiative without being excessively aggressive. . . Support the existing policies until you know enough to appropriately make suggestions for change. Initial contact in an office means you are going to be part of a structure to which you respond, at first, in a status quo way. Later, you’ll be able to make changes. . .
So to prevent a canned candidate, a candid canon is: ‘Tis better to be quiet and thought a fool, than to speak and remove any doubt.”
Or as one of the most successful recruiters recently overstated: “I’d rather have a candidate keep an empty coffee can at his desk than ask directions to the restroom.”
This recruiter prevents falloffs by relentlessly calling the candidate twice a week at home for two months. He asks if there is anything the candidate wants to know, and if he can’t answer it, he finds out ASAP. He doesn’t mind sounding foolish — he’s been paid.
2. Asserting v. Agreeing
As an entrepreneurial, outspoken, no-nonsense recruiter, it’s natural for you to be self-confident. Since you tend to recruit people who are like you, they are already predisposed to assert themselves. They shouldn’t. They also think that, as a representative of the client, you reflect its personality. You don’t. For this reason, it is important to remind your candidate that, “We like people who are like ourselves.”
That successful recruiter I was telling you about in item 1 also uses the twice-a-week phone calls to discuss the candidate’s job. It’s what psychologists call a catharsis; the candidate vents his feelings, beliefs and observations to a knowledgeable professional without fear of reprisal.
There’s no better way to fee-keep.
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3. Boss v. Company
Particularly at the early stages of employment, the candidate’s boss is the company. We’ll discuss how to isolate and use political power next, but if there’s one positive pegging rule for a new hire, it’s: Always go through your boss, not around him.
Hard work, productivity, peer acceptance, and even top management acceptance don’t even come close. Going through his boss would be easy if the supervisor-subordinate relationship didn’t create the “slavery syndrome.” As I observed in Finding The Right Job At Midlife:
Your boss may not always be right, but he’s always the boss.
Your supervisor is in power, or at least in control, and is therefore essential to your jobkeeping strategy. . .
“Your boss is human.” Obviously, you think. Still, many employees really don’t believe it. You can tell by the way they act. They fear their bosses like gods and scorn them like lower forms of life at the same time. The numbers, forms and rules just serve to dehumanize the relationship even more.
Fortunately for you, it takes around six months for the average subordinate to develop personality disorders from the average supervisor. By that time, the sharp employees have developed enough political linkage to express themselves through the informal (real) org chart. In the meantime, be sure your candidate doesn’t short-circuit his boss.
Mitchell and Burdick suggest you go one step further in helping your candidate become positively pegged. They suggest a questionnaire like this one:
- What are the personal qualities your boss expects from you (loyalty, punctuality,etc.)?
- Name three specific ways you are demonstrating these personal qualities.
- What are the professional qualities your boss expects from you (creativity, technical competence, etc.)?
- Name three specific ways you are demonstrating these professional qualities.
- Name thee specific ways you have encouraged your boss to communicate directly with you.
- Name three specific ways you have encouraged your boss to become friendly with you.
- Name three specific ways you have expressed your satisfaction with your job to your boss.
- Name three specific ways you have expressed your satisfaction with your boss to him/her.
4. Identifying Jobkeepers
Mitchell and Burdick also suggest another questionnaire to give to newly-hired candidates:
- Who is the most powerful person in your department?
- Who is the second most powerful person in your department?
- What are the “success characteristics” (clothes, buzz words used, clean or cluttered desks, lunch habits, etc.) in your department?
- Who has been promoted recently in your department?
- Why was he/she promoted?
- Who has terminated recently in your department?
- Why did he/she terminate?
- Which company policies are enforced most?
- Which company policies are enforced least?
- What is the most important way you can increase your job security?
- Name three specific ways you are increasing your job security.
- Name three specific additional ways you can increase your job security.
The best sources for answers are long-tenured administrative and office employees. These people see the confidential company memos and frequently participate in the decisions that they communicate. There’s a high probability your candidate already has some influential friends like this. Administrators, secretaries and clerks are the screeners who mercilessly veto candidates.
The guarantee period should be viewed as a positive incentive to start your candidate out properly on a new job.
Positive pegging will not only protect your fee, it will earn you the reputation of a professional.