It’s in the Details

Some people say, “God is in the details.” Others say, “The devil is in the details.” But to me it’s, “Excellence is in the details.” You may have developed best practices in employment, recruiting, and interviewing, but at some point a living person has to pass through your process ó and that’s just where the details can get you. Making sure every aspect of your processes actually works is an essential part both of branding yourself as an employer of excellence and of educating your candidates and prospective employees of that simple but critical fact. Several years ago a client of mine was disturbed by the percentage of candidates who declined offers. They were a known employer, made good offers, and had a good story to tell. But somewhere the message was getting lost in the transmission, and they were not sure why. I spent a day observing their environment as a prospective employee would see them. Although a lot of time and attention went into the interviewing, screening, and offer processes, there were also a number of flaws in the silly, “who cares” details. The fact is that in order for the overall message you’re transmitting to be received by candidates, they have to have their “receptors” turned on. Do the details of your process turn those receptors off or muddle up your signal with background noise? I developed a simple checklist from that experience to help tackle some of these minor details. Taking care of the items on this list won’t guarantee that you will attract the best possible candidates, or even insure that all your offers are accepted. But it just may keep you from losing a good candidate over a minor detail that denies you excellence.

  1. Directions. Have you ever copied down the directions you post on your website and literally “test drove” them? Often the person writing them already knows where they’re going and fails to give what I call “helpful imaginary” to assist a nervous “first time” candidate. Try something like, “After exiting the highway you will take a right and stay on Main Street until you come to your third right, next to a Burger King.” It’s far easier for a candidate to look for a landmark than to count side streets, especially in congested and frantic traffic situations. Displaced anger or anxiety will often make a candidate associate these minor difficulties not necessarily as their impression of your company, but as the frame of mind they are in as they consider those impressions. It may not be fair, but it is very human. In addition, a candidate who arrives late or spent 15 minutes lost will assume that you gave lousy directions. Ergo, your process failed.
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  3. Parking. If you have a company parking lot, go outside at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. to see if there are still “Visitor Parking” spaces available. If you spend tens of thousands of dollars branding yourself as an employee who truly wants to meet top candidates, shouldn’t you be willing to assure there are sufficient parking spaces for them when they arrive? Do you have visitor handicap spaces for your prospective candidates? It’s easy to claim to be an equal opportunity employer, but do you make an effort to demonstrate that fact.
  4. Lobby. In many companies the front lobby is also the “hang out” area for your employees. It’s tough to sell yourself as an “energized up-and-comer” if your current staff can kill 20-30 minutes complaining about work, managers, or the company benefit plan in front of your perspective employees. Consider these questions:
    • Do you have recruiting information readily available for candidates to read while waiting?
    • Is the lobby maintained in a neat and clean manner?
    • Is the front line counseled on being friendly and engaging with candidates? That includes not making faces when they hear the name of the person the candidate wishes to see (“Oh, I’ll see if his highness is free!”).
    • Do you discourage the lobby from being used as a holding area for “stuff” being shipped out of the office?
    • If you were a candidate, what would the lobby and the people populating and passing through it tell you about the company?
  5. Communication routes. Does the hallway to your office or interview areas also speak well of the office environment? If you are looking for a good place for marketing poster boards, press releases, and information regarding the “corporate softball” team, I think it can do double duty for you in places where it will support the image you are trying to project to your candidates. But first, is the area clean and maintained? (“Please pardon the empty cubicles and stacks of computer boxes; they’re left over from the RIF.”)
  6. Timing. How much down time does your process allow? Are your managers “trained” to have limited conflicts in their schedules and declared “alternates” if the inevitable “emergency” arises during the interview? Does the frontline know to call you if a candidate in process is deposited in the lobby instead of taken to the next person? Does the interview team know to call you regarding any “glitches” and delays? The best practices interview creates a sense of preparation that creates the impression that the candidate’s time matters and is respected.
  7. The weird. We all have our office “antics” and corporate culture practices that are accepted by the general office population. But always remember that one person’s “quaint and eccentric” is another persons “weird.” An attitude of “they might as well learn about it now” is a poor attitude to allow to exist in a professional interview process. Most people become comfortable in any acceptable situation when allowed to be exposed and immersed in degrees. But is the interview, a day of stress and quickly formed first impressions, the best day to let them see your unique corporate expression? If your managers and employees insist on expressing their individuality in the mode of “decorating” the work environment, it might be best to conduct the interview process in an environment other than the hiring manager’s office that’s decorated like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Or at least do your best to “prepare” the candidate for the stuffed elephant bird in the lobby. Be proud of your company’s unique culture, but don’t make it a religion that requires a baptism on “day one” as part of your initiating ritual. Eclectic corporate counterculture high jinks were the hallmark of the dot-com community and we all know how that turned out. “Aren’t we cute and different” self-expression is out. “We are grown ups running a successful company” is in.
  8. Apology tally. For one week, keep a log of how many times you apologize to a candidate for a problem, issues, miscommunication, or disruption that occurred during the week’s production. If you have a one-to-one ratio, then keep investigating better website technology, applicant screening tools, and all the new toys and tools you budget will allow. But take a step back and make sure that at the end of the day it looks like you have done this before, at least to the candidates coming into interview.

This is not leading edge, groundbreaking recruiting innovation. But with all the money we have spent on process improvement, can you honestly say that the candidate feels that you really gave them a professional experience that revealed your organization’s true spirit? Or did they just spend a lot of downtime waiting for the next interviewer who was delayed by an “important” phone call for 20 minutes, admiring the unpainted spackle on the lobby wall? A lot of people like to say that recruiting isn’t “rocket science.” That may be true, but if you want to scare the heck out of a room full of rocket scientists, ask them to interview somebody. Excellence is in the details, big and small. If you ignore them in the pursuit of only the obvious and flashy, you may become good ó but never excellent. Have a great day recruiting!

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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