Striking While the Iron Is Hot: A Personal Recruiting Story

There are few business interactions where timing can be as critical a factor as those dealing with candidates or hiring managers during the hiring process. Whether you’re in corporate recruiting or the search business, chances are you’ve had your share of experiences where the “perishability” of a candidate stood to derail his or her chances of making it to the end zone. The timeliness factor isn’t just limited to candidates ó a job opportunity can go stale just as a candidate can. After prolonged searches, a department may choose to reevaluate, withdraw, cancel, or postpone the search to another quarter or year. Move too slow in referring your candidate or take a week longer than what the manager had in mind, and suddenly three months’ work can go right down the tubes the day. Once that fresh cup of milk is placed on the counter, whether it’s a job vacancy or candidate, you’ve got to drink it quick. Wait too long, and it will go sour. I learned this lesson along time ago. At the time I unknowingly found myself taking critical advantage of precise “timing” as it relates to the placement process. My mom refers to this moment in my life as “the first placement you ever made.” It’s a personal story that goes back to 1972. I was 12 years old. I was sitting in class one morning and was called on the intercom to go down to the principal’s office. When I arrived there, my cousin Carlo was waiting. His eyes were red and he didn’t look good. My first thought was, he got caught drinking, and maybe he was drunk or in trouble (Carlo was about 22 at the time). But as it turned out, my stepfather had died that day and my cousin’s eyes were red from having cried on the way over to get me. “I have to take you home now,” he said. It was one of those surreal moments where you keep saying, “This can’t be happening,” over and over again to yourself. My actual father had passed away when I was five, and this would be my second time going through this. Since the purpose of this story is to highlight the importance of timing as it relates to hiring, permit me to “fast forward” past the personal tragedy aspect of the story. About a week later when I had returned to school, I got a call on the intercom again. The principal wanted me in his office. I thought maybe I wasn’t catching up with lost work quickly enough or something. The principal’s name was Mr. Sal Bandino. Chances are I will spend the rest of my time on this earth without ever being able to forget his name. He became one of those individuals you meet in life’s little “forks in the road” who had a major impact on my life as well as my family’s. He was bald, chubby guy with a big smile that went ear to ear. A cross between Don Rickles, with the occasional seriousness of Telly Savalas (during his Kojak days). He had a way of animating his thoughts prior to speaking with facial expressions and such. There was a definite sense of “graveness” in his thoughts today. “Sit down,” he said. I had never sat in the principal’s inner office ó only the reception area outside. He looked at the floor, then looked at me. “Frankie” he asked, “How are you doing? Are you kids going to be all right? Is there anything I can do?” He was referring to my sister as well. Although my mom had not discussed this with me directly, I remembered her talking about the fact she would now need to go out and get a job. We knew how futile it looked. I had recalled the neighbors who visited talking about how dire our financial situation was going to be, because we had lost the breadwinner of the house. After a split second’s hesitation, during which I was about to answer politely by saying, “Thanks, we’re fine,” I changed gears. Instead, I answered: “My mom’s going to need a job. Is that something you can help her with?” “Yes!” he replied. “Consider it all taken care of!” The fact that I was too na?ve to understand the limits of a principal’s job was probably just as well and worked in my favor. Had I been smarter and thought I knew better than to ask such an imposing question to a principal, things would have worked out quite differently in later years. Still, I really didn’t have much hope, and thought to myself that Mr. Bandino may have just gotten himself in over his head on this one. You see, my mom had no education beyond fourth grade and that was in Italy ó not the U.S. With her broken English and inability to read or write, what could Mr. Bandino possibly do for her? Her only skill at the time was sewing. But Mom got a call from Mr. Bandino the next day and was instructed to schedule an interview with the middle school cafeteria. She got hired a few weeks later as a cafeteria/lunch worker. After a few years the middle school program was moved to the high school. The program got consolidated under the Federal School Lunch Program and became regionalized. Fast forward 20 years later: My mom retired with a complete Board of Education pension ó the same pension provided to tenured teachers. This, coupled with social security (which she maximized by working extra long hours during the last few years) and a little pension from Germany where my stepfather had worked a few years, is now providing her a comfortable living during retirement. She’s now 73 years old and has been receiving her pension since around 1996. To date, she’s probably collected tens of thousands of dollars in pension payments. All of this because of Mr. Bandino and, perhaps, some good timing on my part. No one can ever know for sure if my mom or I had returned to him two or three weeks later to request the same favor if it would have worked out or not. Surely, something must be said for “striking while the iron is hot.” I believe there’s another valuable lesson to this story however besides just timing. For those of us inclined to dismiss “unqualified” candidates too hastily ó think again. You just might be passing up on one of your most valuable long-term employees.

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President of iresinc.com & Searchwizardry.com Within two years after leaving the corporate world in 1987, Frank Risalvato was earning $21,000 average fees as a search consultant. Each individual fee equated to almost 50% of his previous annual salary in 1987. In 1991 he founded www.iresinc.com, the search firm he continues to operate today. Today his fees are more than double that of his earlier years while working fewer hours weekly. Frank's audio download page on www.searchwizardry.com provides an opportunity to "be a fly on the wall" and listen in to live calls, messages, conversations with clients and candidates. His recent book, A Manager's Guide to Maximizing Search Firm Success has helped recruiters using it lock up partial and full retainers between $5,000 to $45,000 by helping drive home the concept of exclusive/retained over the usual contingency approach.

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