Recruiting Lessons from the iPod

Why is the iPod such a phenomenon? It’s not because it looks neat or works well. Those things are just a small part of it. The real reason it’s such a phenomenon is that it’s more than a music player, it’s a music system. In fact, it’s a music business system far larger than itself. Get this: 4.8 million iPods were sold in the fourth quarter of 2004 alone. At this rate, soon everyone in the world will soon have one. There are business, management, and especially recruiting lessons to be learned from the success of the iPod. By being more than a music player, iPod has single-handedly changed the competitive landscape for both the music and the consumer electronics industries. Right now you can plug your iPod into your car, laptop, or your home theater system and find and play any music you want anytime, anywhere. As a result of the iPod, in a few years CDs and CD players will cease to exist. Being more than a music player is the lesson to be learned here. Being a music system is why the iPod has been so wildly successful. Recruiters and recruiting tools need to be more than recruiters and recruiting tools, too. They have to be iPod-like. Here’s the definition of a business system from “A group of independent but interrelated elements comprising a unified whole; example ó ‘a vast system of production and distribution and consumption keep the country going.'” In the world of recruiters and recruiting, there is little interdependence similar to the iPod. There is no business system for recruiting. This is actually pretty shocking. Recruiters are all different, and they all use different sourcing, selection, and recruiting techniques. Managers are all different, and they all use different techniques for writing job descriptions, and interviewing and selecting candidates. Recruiting IT systems are different, and they’re not too well integrated with the hiring process they’re supposed to manage. This lack of an interrelated whole is why just about every single hiring and recruiting initiative fails to meet expectations. It’s why behavioral interviewing training programs don’t work too well. It’s why applicant tracking systems fall short. It’s why the war for talent is still being fought. Here are two examples of how recruiting managers and recruiters can use the iPod as a metaphor to become better managers and recruiters. The first one has to do with how to buy (or sell) recruiting software; the other with how to use the interview as part of a recruiting system and not just as an assessment tool. Buying Recruiting Software Buying or selling specialized recruiting software is narrow thinking. Selling a system-level solution is the key to making software work. This is the lesson of the iPod. For example, as most of you know, name-generating software to find passive candidates is the new buzz. This could be using products that auto-scour the Internet to find passive candidates or using some type of social networking tool to get names from names. Buying (or selling) something like this is a no-brainer for third-party retained recruiters, but a non-starter for their corporate counterparts. Names of passive candidates are the raw material of third-party recruiters, but useless for corporate recruiters unless an iPod-like business system solution is provided. For name-generating software to work in the corporate market, the recruiting team must be reorganized; the product itself must be combined with automated techniques to contact the person; it must be integrated with the applicant tracking system; and specialized recruiter training should be provided. On a larger scale, every aspect of the corporate hiring process must be redesigned to handle passive candidates. This is why a software-only, non-system solution won’t work. Instead, software like this must be part of a interrelated business system consisting of the right people, the right processes, the right technology, and the right organizational structure. Evaluate your company’s hiring system from this perspective. Does it resemble an iPod, or is it just a disconnected collection of CDs and MP3 players? Interview as Part of a Recruiting System Now let’s consider the interview as part of a recruiting system rather than just a means to assess candidate competency. An interview must accomplish a number of objectives. In order of importance, here’s my list of the real purpose of the interview:

  1. Recruit top passive candidates.
  2. Reduce interviewer bias and emotions.
  3. Clearly explain jobs to create an “opportunity gap.”
  4. Assess candidate competency and motivation for the real job.
  5. Reduce candidate nervousness.
  6. Train candidates to give real information, not pre-scripted babble.
  7. Negotiate a potential offer.
  8. Demonstrate the professionalism and high standards of the company to every candidate.

When you consider the interview as part of a complete, iPod-like recruiting system rather than just a tool to assess competency, everything about how you conduct it changes. For one thing, you wouldn’t ask a bunch of boring behavioral questions. For another you wouldn’t be unprepared when you conduct it. You also wouldn’t permit a person who hasn’t been trained to interview a person and make some type of superficial judgment. As you know, I like to ask candidates to describe their most significant accomplishments in great detail. This allows me to understand the type of work they’ve done and where they’ve excelled. By looking at the trend line of these accomplishments over time, you can observe consistency and growth. By comparing this information to the actual needs of the job, you can accurately assess job fit. Here are two articles you can read to get you up to speed on this performance-based interviewing approach:

Converting this type of performance-based interview into a recruiting system is the real key to its effectiveness. Here are some simple things you can do on your next interview to see the impact for yourself. Rather than just ask the candidate to describe his or her most significant accomplishment, add this type of introduction:

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One of our most important company initiatives is the launch of our new music system controller. As the lead software developer, you’d be involved in insuring the hardware and software integration of the main module. Can you please tell me about a major project you’ve handled where you had this type of lead responsibility?

This type of lead-in ties the importance of the job to a major company project. It makes the job more than just a software developer: it makes it strategic. Relating the job this way to a bigger project is referred to as job branding. This recruiting introduction also includes a pull-towards question. It establishes a target that the candidate needs to reach in order for the person to be considered qualified. As a result, candidates tend to talk more in an attempt to sell the interviewer, rather than the interviewer having to sell the candidate. The question itself creates an “opportunity gap.” This is the difference between the candidate’s current job and the opportunity represented by the new job. The bigger the opportunity gap, the less the candidate will need in terms of compensation. Creating an opportunity gap this way is far better than telling the candidate how great the job is. A pull-towards question like this is a simple way to modify the interview to make it accomplish multiple objectives. The push-away is an even more effective approach. Try this after you learn a little about the candidate:

The person in this lead software development role will be interfacing with our top product marketing people and a few of our key customers. I’m a little concerned about your background in this regard. It seems that most of the people you’ve worked with in the past have been other developers or those in quality and operations. This job would really expose you to the new product phase of our business. Why don’t you tell me about something you’ve accomplished where you’ve had to deal with these types of people?

Be careful when using this recruiting technique, and don’t overdo it. However, by challenging the candidate this way you can create an even bigger opportunity gap. Candidates then have to defend their past experience and sell you even more. Of course, preparation is the key here. You must know the job and how to ask performance-based questions. One cardinal rule of recruiting is to make the candidate earn the job. Never give it away. Using this type of pull-and-push questioning technique is how you convert a simple interviewing question into an iPod-like recruiting system. The lesson to be learned from the iPod is to look at everything you do from a system level perspective. Interdependence is the key to success. Technology, process, people and organization must come together in order to make hiring top talent a systematic business process. Don’t look at independent solutions. They have never worked, and never will. That’s why we’re still fighting the war for talent. Now, if you want a glimpse at the future of creating a system for networking, go to the iMix section of iTunes. I just downloaded The Door’s “Break on Through” on a Rock Classic iMix. You might want to listen to this one for some inspiration and other ideas on how to become a better recruiter. [Note: If you want to learn more about recruiting systems, you might want to take our Recruiter 10-Factor Evaluation. This quick online self-evaluation will allow you to rank yourself on the ten most important recruiter competencies. Collectively they convert individual recruiting skills into a recruiting system. If you want to become a better recruiter, check out our new online Recruiter Boot Camp. This is where you’ll get a chance to really learn how to put these ten core skills into practice.]

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


2 Comments on “Recruiting Lessons from the iPod

  1. Lou,
    This article beautifully articulates the performance profile interview approach – and I had all of staffers read it! This type of interview is the backbone of our assessment process and I really appreciate your examples of the ‘push away and pull toward’ methods. Excellent!

  2. Lou-

    I don’t suppose there’s a website like there is for the iPod – Apprantly, the iPod’s battery has a high propensity towards not re-charging after 18 months or so. It wasn’t until the Neistat’s video was downloaded a few hundred thousand times that Apple introduced a ‘special program’ that for $99 enabled users to have their iPod battery replaced.

    Great design, poor design – looks great on the surface, less so as the one peels back the onion. Other manufacturers of MP3 players say back, waited, and when it was time, designed great products.

    So as far as, have you seen one? 😉

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