Publisher’s Corner

We frequently hear from readers whose clients have asked their finalist candidates to submit a detailed proposal for how they would attack the problems of the job for which they are interviewing.

In one case, an over-eager candidate submitted a plan that would have put an MBA thesis to shame only to be turned down for the job. Shortly thereafter, he learned through a friend at the company that his plan was the blueprint for the less expensive jobseeker who got hired. Brain-picking has long been a tactic of devious employers. You have to be vigilant when a company offers you a super search, then asks to interview only those with direct competitors. Often, they have no intention to actually hire someone. One actually asked a sales candidate for a list of his customers so they could check his references. Yeah, right!

How can you address the problem of clients asking for business plans without alienating the client? Realizing that you and/or your client may be being used, what can be done to circumvent the request without blowing the deal if, in fact, it really is a deal?

For the righteous hirer, some inkling of how the candidate would handle the new job is a logical request but, this information can certainly be conveyed verbally.

One recruiter, reacting to such a request by a questionable hirer, told him that a brief outline would be provided by the candidate but the creation of a complete plan would cost him a hefty consulting fee for filling in the blanks unless the candidate was ultimately hired because of his submission. The heftiness of the cost caused the employer to terminate the process.

How do you handle these situations?

Many will remember the days when, if you couldn’t talk an employer into immediately interviewing your candidate, you’d make a copy of the candidate’s resume, put it in an envelope and wait for the mail carrier to deliver it. From there, it had about a 5% chance of passing muster. Then the fax machine was invented. Same routine but several days of mail transport time eliminated with about the same 5% positive result. Today, with the wonders of the Internet, employers can break your heart in minutes instead of days or weeks.

No longer do we have to advertise job orders in the newspaper, sit back and hope for positive results. Or network your way via the telephone until a reasonably well-qualified candidate emerged. Now you just need to turn on your favorite job board and inhale candidates by the thousands.

Technology has allowed us to take advantage of the time compression that lets us perform ten times the tasks in one morning than the week or more it took during the old days. What a leap forward.

OK! So why hasn’t all this technological stuff made the average practitioner more productive? One would think that if you could accomplish ten times the work and make ten times the contacts in a fraction of the time it took before the Internet, that we should be earning ten times the money. Right?

We’ve been tracking consultant earnings since 1985. Here’s the scorecard during the past 21 years. There have been recessions and boom times which are reflected in the occasional scorecard blips.

1985 $51,900
1986 $52,848
1987 $53,278
1988 $57,184
1989 $57,592
1990 $52,236
1991 $52,914
1992 $50,025
1993 $63,304
1994 $67,721
1995 $76,473
1996 $72,672
1997 $87,294
1998 $89,178
1999 $87,835
2000 $93,634
2001 $82,038
2002 $80,624
2003 $78,604
2004 $88,700
2005 $98,530

I can’t tell you when the Internet became the darling of the recruiting business. Certainly not by the figures above. Cell phones, pagers, blackberries and the like should have generated a dramatic increase in individual performance. It hasn’t!

Of course, we hear about all the big billers and we all delight in hearing the insider tips and techniques they use. But these people were big billers before the Internet’s arrival. Do they work smarter or harder? Some work three day weeks and still produce super results. Others spend 12 hours a day on the phone. Each has their own way of doing thing. But we’re not talking about the superstars. We’re talking about the average producers who populate their offices.

If, as our surveys demonstrate, the average consultant took home $98,530 in 2005, why is it not 10 times that amount?

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Just wondering. Perhaps some of our readers can set me straight. Be happy to hear from you and to publish your comments, with or without attribution.

Mother Nature can sure be hateful. Many of you know that I get into the trenches every July to see if the placement making business is still the same as when I did it on a daily basis, thirty plus years ago. Monday, the third week in July, I was pounding the phone trying to set an interview for a sales rep candidate. Made about 55 calls on Monday and 60 on Tuesday. Picked up a couple of decent openings and arranged for my candidate to see them on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday was a loss as a new computer system was being installed and took most of my time handholding my computer guy.

Wednesday evening as I was working on my daily plan for the next day, a freak storm came up and out went the lights. I optimistically thought they’d be back on by Thursday morning and tried to sleep in 90 degree weather – unsuccessfully. The radio informed me that over 600,000 homes and businesses were powerless and the electric utility expected the outage to last several days. Luckily my super-resourceful daughter (whose lights didn’t go out) found a hotel room for me so I packed up my laptop and moved. The hotel had wireless but it didn’t work. Both the businesses where I had set up interviews were also powerless. Phone service was iffy. The electric utility called in help from 16 states and the National Guard was called out to assist the people without a place to go. The temperature was 102 with no relief in sight – but we had hope in our hearts. Friday, the second storm hit and many of those who had power restored, lost it again. Our power was not restored until late Sunday night and the damage to electronic stuff was more than just resetting blinking clocks. The next week, both of the interviews took place but neither of them worked out. My candidate had a tree land in their family room and told me to back off until the chaos diminished. I decided to do the same so it’s trenchus interruptus for now.

“Companies seem to be in a ‘slow contest’ – and they’re winning.” That’s how one of our subscribers put it. “Business is supposed to be so great right now, but I’m just not seeing it. Lots of job orders but the whole process has become coma-like.”

In their search for the ‘perfect’ candidate, great candidates are languishing on the vine. By the time companies finally decide to make an offer, they’ve gone to a company that was able to pull the trigger in a more timely fashion.

One of the industry trainers ran an informal poll. Two-thirds of the respondents told him that business was gangbusters. Only a third said business stinks. He intimated to me that he suspected that about half of the two-thirds group was lying. He wouldn’t allow us to use his name for fear of losing his constituency. Interesting!

Last month, we wrote about a major franchise implementing yet another “strategic plan” with lots of happy talk about changing their service model to a new robust vision for the future. As I expressed previously (and have received dozens of franchisee comments echoing my opinion), these transformations are usually the result of top management trying to prove they’re worth the big bucks they’re getting paid when things aren’t going as swimmingly as they thought they should. A CYA attempt. As I wrote last month, “The best strategic plan is the one never dreamed up and, the larger the firm dreaming them up, the more it looks like another attempt at herding cats.”

Unfortunately, most of these plans fail to take the individual franchisee’s needs into account because the higher ups have never worked a desk or run an office. Theory is fine for the classroom. They rarely work in the trenches. Satisfaction surveys of franchisees rarely produce the candor corporate survey producers really want. They are often “feel good” attempts designed to make the franchisees believe that corporate really cares about them.

In my opinion, daily or weekly plans can be useful in running a desk. Anything beyond that is wishful thinking. Frequent commentator Neil McNulty, Creator of the “30/30 Placement Program” wrote, “Great comments regarding planning in your August issue. It seems every training guru hypes the importance of planning and goal setting. I always wonder why people in our industry shell out training dollars to hear such blather. Daily, quarterly, annual … and the one that really makes me laugh … the “five year strategic plan.” What a bunch of hooey. If a recruiter has a five minute plan, he’s ahead of the curve. This business all boils down to one thing: sendouts. If you ask yourself every day, “How will I (or my recruiters) get sendouts tomorrow?” you have done all the planning you need.

I predict that all the corporate hoopla about this new “change in direction” will do nothing but create a temporary distraction until the franchisees get back to the real business they’re in – making placements to fuel enough royalties to create yet another “strategic plan.”

Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.

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