Publisher’s Corner

Although I welcomed MRI’s most recent past president, William Olson, in June of 2005 (in print and by telephone) it was obvious to me that this was not a marriage made in Heaven. His background in what appeared to many to be nothing more than a high-class pyramid scheme, as well as experience with a golf ball manufacturer and a beer company, did not make me warm and fuzzy about his taking the reins of a company I have long admired. In trying to discuss the ‘business’ with him, I might as well have been speaking Swahili.

In an internal memo written to the MRI offices shortly after he was hired, Olson wrote, “While I clearly do not have a deep knowledge of the recruiting industry, what I do know is that this is a ‘people’ industry, and that people have always been the heart and soul of every business.” Duh! Cliché 101.

Although readers rarely contact me about positive events within our industry, I do get my share of the negative side and I got a lot of that about CDI’s misstep in deciding to hire Mr. Olson. Frankly, he lasted longer than I thought he would. He never understood the franchise business and was always more vocal about the need to increase MRI corporate’s market share than that of the franchisees – and to a franchisee, that’s the only thing that counts. “What can my affiliation do for me?”

Bill Olson’s swan song seemed to be the creation of a ‘new strategy’ for the firm. I decried it as a silly CYA attempt to appear to be doing something – but most franchisees who called me viewed it as one big yawn – just another attempt to tinker with an already successful business model.

Why CDI thought that someone with NO franchise experience was qualified to run the biggest franchise in our business is beyond me even though I was informed that Mr. Olson was quite a charismatic person. My initial thought was that the closest he ever came to understanding the franchise business was the last time he had a Big Mac at McDonalds.

Well, nice guy that he is, Olson is gone “to pursue other opportunities.” (Cliché 201?). He has been replaced by Michael Jalbert, CEO of MRI Worldwide Network Limited, MRI’s international master franchisee. His resume for the anticipated MRI makeover is a keen understanding of the franchise business and we wish him well.

A lot of news lately on the Hewlett-Package brouhaha over ‘pretexting” – which in the context of recruiters is better known as “rusing.” In a Newsweek column (10/2/06) in which author Allan Sloan referred to ‘weaslewords,’ he asked, “Would pretexters find other jobs if they had to tell their family they’re professional liars?”

To those who are unfamiliar with the term “rusing.” It was (and still is) the process of calling someone (usually a switchboard operator or other low-level gatekeeper) and concocting a story to get information from him or her that is detrimental to the company for which the gatekeepers work. The classic example was a recruiter who sourced stockbrokers’ names by calling brokerage firms and telling the phone answerer that they are with “Registered Broker Magazine” and would like the name of all the brokers so they can send them a free subscription to this (non-existent) magazine.

I personally watched this scenario happen back in the early eighties. Since all of these types of people had to register with the state, I asked why he didn’t just send somebody to the state capitol where there was a card on every one of these people available in the public records. He told me that he did but the vast majority of them were people who became registered representatives but never went into the brokerage business. Some were 95 years old; some were deceased, and most were in other occupations.

He had written a script (the magazine dodge) and given it to 3 of the more persuasive Account Executives. Within 4 hours, they had amassed a list of over 500 active brokers. In many cases, the phone answerer was so eager to please that they faxed over the entire list of brokers. He told me that in only one case was the phone answerer savvy enough to ask for proof of their identity and they were unable to penetrate that firm’s lengthy list of brokers.

There are literally dozens of classic ruses that have been used over the years. In fact, even though most of the franchisors and many of the industry’s trainers actually taught these techniques, none would ever admit it publicly. It was an unspoken technique, widely criticized by the industry’s ‘prancing ponies’ as well yours truly, but it was SOP in those days.

“What’s the difference,” one asked me, “between rusing to source names and getting hold of a company directory and making the recruiting calls from that. Even the most revered blue chip search firms usually have a large library of directories. Are we to believe that they are just there to collect dust?”

The days of rampant rusing are probably history. It’s just as easy to hire one of the hundreds of freelance researchers or telephone sourcers to do the dirty work. Even corporations do it to keep the names coming in for their internal recruiters.

Besides, the Internet makes it almost unnecessary. Now days the problem is information overload. If someone’s name and particulars can’t be found on one website or another, they probably aren’t worth recruiting anyway.

So, if anyone accuses you of being a ‘ruser,’ you can set them straight. Just tell them you’re a ‘pretexter’ and that ought to keep them scratching their head for awhile.

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According to some, our profession is morphing a warp speed. What was true yesterday is antediluvian today. The future is just seconds away and we will all be mowing lawns, selling cars or driving taxis if we don’t adopt the pundits’ views of the prospective placement planet as they see it. The ‘basics’ seem to be in disrepute and those who still follow them are dinosaurs, according to those who sing from a different hymnal. Multimillion dollar biller Tony Beshara is just such a relic. So am I. I don’t blame those who preach about the imminent transformations that are about to erase us from this business. That’s what sells on the stump; in the videos and CDs; and in the books they publish. Much of what they advocate is true – at least partially so or some of the time – and it makes for entertaining and enlightening listening. Such sermonizing causes us to think about things in different ways and, perhaps, even to adopt some of their ideas as adjuncts to those that already work.

Even one of the more enlightened industry analysts, Bill Vick, agrees that, even with all the latest speculations on dramatic changes in the industry’s direction, it is still a ‘contact sport.’ Whether you are a relationship aficionado or focused strictly on individual transactions, you still have to get a candidate face-to-face with an employer willing to pay a fee. That’s a basic truth. Whether you are a lone wolf or part of a team effort, how you get there may differ in tone and methodology but, once that ball gets rolling, basic truth dictates that you better not cut any corners or try to shortcut the time-honored process or you will become extinct.

Evolutionary change is inevitable and every day I hear about some kinky nonsense promulgated by clients and candidates alike, all designed to derail us from our goals. In another section of this TFL, you’ll find out what troubles a broad cross-section of your peers. It may appear to be a gripe session but its usefulness is as a weathervane or windsock in letting you know you’re not alone. Also, it inspires us to address those problems and, hopefully, to give you some solutions for them.

One response from respected reader Allen Wass, CPC, Sanford Rose Associates, in addition to giving us his thoughtful opinion on industry problems, took umbrage and reprimanded me for the way I handled the situation in my recent annual trek in the trenches. Here are his comments:

As you know, recruiters complain about the same recurring problems (i.e., poor response from hiring managers, lack of qualified candidates, etc.), but I think that the persistent problem that we need to overcome is the lack of professionalism and standard practices in the recruiting industry. There is a tendency by all of us to accept poor practices in order to make a buck, and in the end we all risk our long term success. Let’s face it, we need to be consistent in our approach with the marketplace. Many people do not appreciate our expertise because we perform self destructive acts, such as accepting low fees, working on searches that are being chased by many other firms, presenting candidates without qualifying them, etc.

A perfect example of a poor practice appeared in the October 2006 issue of The Fordyce Letter. Paul talks about his recent sales candidate who went on an interview and then learned that the company might not pay his fee if they hired the person. How is this possible? Where is the signed contract? Paul’s bravado about pulling the candidate and potentially placing the person somewhere else makes a great story, but it does nothing to further people’s opinion of our profession. He should have followed a more professional approach rather than acting like a person selling trinkets out of his trench coat on a city street corner. Come on! I had hoped that I could expect more out of a leader in our industry.

I fail to understand how stiffing a proven fee-avoiding rogue employer taints the professionalism or the opinion of the entire recruiting profession.

While I should have gotten a signed contract from the president of the company who reneged on paying a fee, I did have an Email reply from him agreeing to do so. Although an interview had been arranged, none had taken place. Unfortunately, Mother Nature intervened with a 6-day power blackout for over 600,000 homes and businesses which disrupted the potential interview process. And a tree crashed into the candidate’s home which took him out of the process as well. Frankly, I put the whole thing behind me until I heard from the candidate that the renegade employer surreptitiously contacted him behind my back. I then reestablished my contact with them only to be presented with a “Hey, I know about that guy” from the firm’s sales manager at which time I pulled the candidate from contention and recontacted the second interested company who hired the candidate. Perhaps this was an “example of poor practice” as Mr. Wass scolded, but I wasn’t on a PR mission to professionalize the industry’s image with a company who had already demonstrated their own lack of ethics. My concern was for the candidate.

I regret Mr. Wass’s disappointment in the way I handled this unpleasant situation but I certainly appreciate him bringing it to my attention. What’s your opinion?

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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