Marlene’s Dilemma: Final Comments on Our Case Study

For two weeks now we have been deeply engrossed in Marlene’s recruiting dilemma. Many of you have responded to the case study I posed on our mythical recruiter named “Marlene.” Marlene was tasked with hiring 200 call center reps in 90 days while at the same time dealing with a hiring manager who did not think she was doing a good job. The questions you were left to answer were these: How can Marlene satisfy her boss and hire high quality people? Is it even possible to do this? Can she profile candidates without alienating them or her boss? If you were Marlene, what would you do is this situation? How can Marlene succeed? Last week I published a selected number of your responses to her challenges. This week I try to distill the things we should have learned from this case, and offer some of my own comments. Again, thanks to all of you who offered ideas, wisdom, and insight. I learned a lot from your responses and experiences! Lesson #1: Ask, Don’t Assume We are often guilty of jumping into a project based on our own interpretation of an assignment ó rather than on what the hiring manager expects. Getting alignment and mutual understanding of our end goal is a vital requirement to success. Any recruiter with a new assignment needs to take the time to ask questions and redefine the expectations, even going so far as to get them written down. Marlene failed in this by assuming that the hiring manager was looking for quality. What appears to be closer to fact is that the hiring manager wanted “butts in seats.” Several of you pointed out the need for Marlene to sit down with the boss and discuss what he wants. Allan Brauer, Manager, Procurement – HR Services at Verizon Wireless, wrote a short dialogue that I have printed below, which is illustrative of an approach Marlene could take: Marlene: Thanks for agreeing to take the time to discuss your concerns about my performance. I really appreciate the opportunity to clarify your expectations to ensure that I meet or exceed them. Hiring Manager: Um, you’re welcome. Marlene: If I am understanding your concerns correctly, you feel that I am spending too much time trying to understand your department’s employees and not enough time producing candidates. Is that a fair assessment? Hiring Manager: Well, yeah. I mean, you’ve been here more than two weeks and so far I haven’t seen one person I would hire. Marlene: Yes, that is a great concern to me as well, which is why I asked for your feedback about how the candidates I sourced have missed the mark. Mr. Manager, if you went into a restaurant for the first time and told the waitress, “Surprise me!” would you expect her to bring you the perfect entree? Hiring Manager: Well, no. But I wouldn’t do that. I would look over the menu and tell her exactly what I wanted. Marlene: Exactly. A meal only costs around $20, and the impact of choosing the wrong dish might be a little heartburn later. Do you know how much it costs to hire one call center rep? Hiring Manager: Yeah, I think we are paying around $1,000 per hire. Marlene: Yes, your costs over the last year averaged about $1,100 per person in direct expenditures. That doesn’t include the person-hours spent by HR and line management in recruiting and interviewing. Your new hire training lasts for four weeks, right? Hiring Manager: Yes. Marlene: So before the new hire ever takes his/her first call, we have invested more than $5,000 in recruiting costs, salary and benefits, materials, and training costs. Hiring Manager: Yikes, that’s a lot! There is more, but this should give you a sense of the kind of conversation Marlene could have. She offers logical arguments backed up with numbers that would make sense to a hard-core line manager. It just might be effective. Many of you also pointed out the need for Marlene to take an evolutionary approach by meeting the manager’s expectations of numbers, but by also slowly introducing competency analysis. Over time she could describe what competencies and skills a top performer has and begin to apply that knowledge to the selection process, leading to better quality candidates and lower turnover. Lesson #2: Act, Don’t Ponder The adage “ready, fire, aim” is probably most appropriate in this case. The hiring manager has an expectation of swift action. From what we can glean from the case, he is not a person who cares much about analysis and careful selection. His experience has probably taught him that by bringing in enough people quickly he can use the actual job as a “filter.” His philosophy is that “those who survive for a few weeks must be good.” He is focused on action and on achieving number goals ó even at the cost of quality. We may not agree with that, but it is the reality of this situation. Marlene is faced with a numbers game and has to produce a huge number of hires in a very short time frame ó just 90 days, of which she has already used up 12! Her only possible recourse is to post jobs, interview quickly, and present the hiring manager with many candidates to choose from. Lesson #3: Screen, Don’t Guess It is pretty certain from the facts given in this case that the current selection process is flawed. The call center provides excellent training and seems to be well run, but people are screened mostly after they are hired. A screening process ó well designed to meet the speed and volume requirements of this center ó could make a huge difference for both Marlene and the hiring manager. Perhaps behavioral interviewing could be part of the solution, but a faster and most likely better approach would be to apply testing that is based on the success of current employees. Many vendors supply tests specifically for this purpose. Well-known companies such as Unicru, STI Knowledge, and SHL have tools specifically aimed at call center selection. These have been applied very successfully by hundreds of firms. I have predicted for many months that web-based screening will become a larger part of the selection process over the next two to three years. Lesson #4: Educate, Don’t Ignore Marlene can undertake a process to educate the hiring managers about better selection processes and on the importance of quality. She cannot, though, become a preacher or she will loose all credibility. I gather that this manager has a track record of success and will not be very open to a new recruiter telling him what he should do. Marlene needs to take a slow and cautious approach to educating him, mostly by showing him results from doing things differently. This will take time ó time Marlene unfortunately does not have ó so it has to become a secondary goal until after she has achieved success on his terms. This is the final key lesson: the customer (the hiring manger here) is the first person you have to satisfy. Once you have credibility and respect, you can do the innovative and creative things that will continue to make you both successful. I hope that this simple case has illustrated how powerful a scenario can be for educating and stimulating thought and constructive conversation. You can make up your own cases and use them internally as a way to communicate and educate painlessly. Thanks again for your comments and great ideas!

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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