I Got 99 Problems And Your Hiring Practices Are All Of Them (Part 2)

This is the second article in my series about problems in the hiring process. The previous article showed you how to lay the groundwork and construct a job description that won’t turn candidates away before you’ve had a chance to talk with them. Now we need to find some great candidates and make sure the company appeals to them!

SOURCING

Where are all those great people you want to hire? If only you knew where to find them, hiring would be so much easier! Actually, they’re everywhere, but you’re looking in the wrong places. You think you have to look for a needle in a haystack; I’m over here at the needle shop instead.

#20 You’re not open to trying something different

You’ve been trying to find qualified candidates. It’s not going so well. Is it, perhaps, time to consider a change in your methods?

Are you certain you need this to be a senior role, or could you look for someone more junior, and spend the difference in salary on training? Could this position be temp-to-hire? Have you consider an intern program? Could some entry level roles work with an open hiring model?

How about the skill sets? Do you need a technologist who can gain leadership skills, or could you find a leader who can gain technical skills? Teachers have some interesting leadership abilities, for example. When I built a team of information security analysts, I was focused on technical skill. Once we were operating, and I could see how they were actually interacting with issues on a daily basis, I realized that I could expand my search parameters. The next round of hiring would look at candidates with psychology or criminology backgrounds, with some technology interests.

I can’t tell you exactly what to look for that is different, as that will be too specific to the job. One way to get started is to take one or two of your most basic assumptions about the role, literally cross them out, and then stare at those crossed out items for a bit. What could you substitute there? Think of it like a recipe; you may not end up with the dinner you thought you were going to eat, but you may find something a little different that is just as satisfying.

#21 You don’t go where the candidates are

You can post your job opening to LinkedIn, Indeed, and your company’s website. And you should, of course. The problem is that you are casting a line into some very large ponds there. Will you stand out in some way? Will candidates be able to find you? Does your company have enough reputation to get job seekers to find your site?

When you’re fishing in a pond stocked with job seekers ranging from architects to zookeepers, it’s not as targeted as you want. But if you need a Ruby developer, then you want to do more targeted searching as well. Find a subreddit or a Slack channel or a meetup that caters to Ruby developers. Talk to those people. Do they look for jobs where you found them or somewhere else? Go there too. I’m not saying you can’t find a lion in Kansas, but you’ll have better odds in Kenya.

#22 Not helping your Recruiting team enough

A good internal Recruiting team can provide great value to you. But you have to help them. They are responsible for staffing a new front desk person, a VP of Marketing, two regional Sales representatives, and your niche technologist, and that’s just this week. They can’t possibly be experts in the nuances of all of those roles. If you don’t help them understand what you need, then they have no choice but to provide what they think you need. They want to hire great co-workers, but you have to help them define some elements that go into that.

First of all, they’re probably understaffed. I can’t recall ever seeing a Recruiting department that wasn’t staffed at a trailing pace. Talk with them. Try to understand how they’re doing and what their load is. If you’re in a position to advocate for growth of that team, do it. It will help you and every other hiring leader in the long run.

Next, really help them understand what this open role will be doing on your team. You can’t hand them your job description and expect they’ll be completely in alignment. Is it similar to what Dave is doing? Or closer to Ellen’s work? Something entirely new?

And hey, what does your team actually do, anyway? Do the recruiters really know? Generally speaking, they might, but specifically, probably not. Encourage them to spend some time with your team members on occasion. Add them as optional attendees to your staff meetings. The better they understand what you do, the more accurate they’ll be when they send candidates your way.

Anything else you can do to make recruiters more efficient, just as you would for your own team, is a positive. You already wrote the job description (see #4). They’ll love that! You’re bringing in some candidates yourself (see #2 and #21). Now, help filter the direct submissions that come in. Get access to whatever system you use for tracking candidates. Leave comments. Note who you want to talk with and who you don’t think will be a match. Focusing the recruiters’ efforts is clearly more efficient in and of itself, but it also makes your open role more attractive to work on, compared to the manager sitting next to you, because you’ve made it easier. This is a team focused on quality and speed, and you’ve just given them a better path to both.

#23 Using third party recruiters

Everything I like about internal recruiters has been lost when I’ve worked with third parties. While there are certainly less enthusiastic internal recruiters and highly capable external companies, overall that hasn’t been my experience. Or the experience of almost anyone I’ve talked with in the last couple decades.

Why is this? Basically, your goals aren’t truly aligned. You’re looking for the highest skilled employee to fill the role, to retain them for a long time in order to lower your recruiting costs (and multiple other reasons!), to find a good person who makes your company better, and to hire them at a reasonable compensation level. The external agency is trying find anyone good enough to pass your bar at the highest salary possible, as their commission is usually a percentage of the new employee’s salary. There is no particular incentive for long term retention. Actually, it’s the opposite. If someone lasts only a year, you might call the same agency back to try again, as you probably blamed the employee, not the recruiting agency. More commission for them!

If you have a company that you’ve worked with successfully, great, keep it up! For anyone on the fence, I believe there are more valuable places, in both time and money, you can invest for your search.

I feel similarly about most of the companies trying to do staffing in some new way, often by qualifying candidates for you through technical challenges. Obviously, I applaud the intent. This whole series is about changing things in order to make hiring better! But I look at some of the methods and don’t see how they could possibly be assessing the human factor, instead hyperfocusing on a technical determination. Even if that’s what you’re concerned with, and I don’t think that’s all you should be (see #76… and pretty much everything else in this series), why are you substituting someone else’s judgement for your own? They won’t be working with this person. You will.

#24 You let leads dry up

You did such a good job keeping the pipeline flowing (see #2 and #21), but then you got distracted by some other project, and you lost touch with people. I understand why it happens, and there is no way you’ll keep in touch with everyone, but this is some of the time (see #1) you need to dedicate, otherwise you’ll have wasted the effort and be relying on whichever applicants find you now. Go through your list of leads, set up a call or a meeting, or send an email and see what they’re up to. This keeps the connection current.

Similarly, if someone is referred to you, or reaches out to you because you tweeted something interesting, don’t drop that ball! These are much more valuable leads, on average, and you’re definitely hurting yourself by not exploring their interest. You’re trying to find someone great, quickly, and once in a while they do just present themselves to you.

#25 Not seeking out URM candidates

There have been, and will continue to be, mountains of great books and articles discussing the benefits of diverse teams. They’ll do a better job of convincing you than I will on that subject, although I agree completely. If you don’t already realize that it’s important both morally and for the business’s interests to hire underrepresented minorities (URM) on your team, then take a break from this series and spend some time educating yourself. Your team will thank you for it.

You’re convinced that you need a diverse team. Excellent! How do you build one? Many elements in this series touch on the problem (see #8, 11, 14, 35, 40, 42, 43, 45, 56, 65, 82, 89, and more) in some way, as it has many facets. Ultimately, you have to be open to URM candidates when they show up, and you have to be creative when looking for them in the first place. Maybe your first thoughts are to focus on one element of gender or race. How about mothers or older workers? How about people with differing economic or social backgrounds? Take a look at your well written EEO statement (see #14) and really consider all the areas it addresses. Do some searching to find organizations focused on promoting each one. They are out there and ready for you to talk with them.

CANDIDATE TURN-OFFS

After a candidate sees your job listing or hears good things about the company, they’ll hopefully do some research, leading to them starting the application process. Here are further areas that contain potential stumbling blocks, which can reduce interest or even prevent someone from applying at all.

#26 Phantom job listings

If the job is listed, then it should actually exist to be filled, have budget allocated, and compensation set. There, that was simple. Wait, why wouldn’t this always be the case anyway?

  • The job wasn’t closed in the tracking system.
  • The job wasn’t removed from the company’s website.
  • The job wasn’t removed from external job boards.
  • You’re keeping the listing up until someone you’ve hired actually starts.
  • You are seeing who is out there, to build an applicant pool.
  • You have the listing up only to gather enough applicants to satisfy company quota or a legal requirement.
  • Even though you know you will hire internally, you are gathering enough applicants to satisfy company quota or a legal requirement.

The last two are in a grey area. You should avoid them if you can, but they’re the sort of policies that can be difficult or even impossible to change. They aren’t the most important battles on this list, so you may have to let them go. They are distasteful nonetheless.

The rest, however, are a mix of sloppy and misleading actions, which may create some ill will if candidates end up feeling misled. That could prevent candidates from applying for another role and tarnish your reputation when people start talking. The biggest danger here is when a phantom role is combined with ghosting (see #49). If the role appears to still be open and you don’t help a candidate understand their status after they’ve applied, you’re definitely going to take a reputation hit.

#27 Confusing careers site

Here’s a test. Open up your company’s home page. Can you click through to your careers page in under five seconds? If not, you’ve hidden it needlessly. Standard practice is to have a link at the top and/or bottom of the page, and name it Careers or Jobs. This is not a place to get creative. Make it easy to find.

While you may dream of people coming to learn about your company, becoming intrigued, and then looking to see if you have any jobs, the reality is probably the reverse. If you have a relevant listing, job seekers will be curious to learn more, but if not, they will move on. Yes, there is an exception when someone will send in a general application, but they’re already coming to your site because of your reputation. They already know about you. So, what’s the point? Don’t continue selling your company; get to the job listings.

Now that you’re on the careers page, can you get to a list of all the open jobs in under (another) five seconds? No? Why not? Any assumption you’ve made here will frustrate someone:

People will filter by location! What if someone is open to multiple locations, or remote work?

People will filter by department! Some people have cross functional skills or are considering multiple options. Also, your departments may be organized differently than they’re used to.

People will keyword search on an important skill! Important to you or the candidate?

People will filter by job title! This is probably a safe bet… but there are no standards for titles. A Staff Engineer II at one company may be a Senior Developer at another. Lead vs. Manager vs. Director vs. Head? Program vs. Product vs. Project Manager? And those original job titles that someone thought would be clever? If they’re too exotic, no one will know how to search for them.

Either let people filter easily on all the variables and keyword search well, or just provide a list and let them use Ctrl+F / Cmd+F to scan the page. This obviously won’t scale if you have many hundreds or thousands of openings, but you should still be able to paginate every hundred or two hundred listings and be fine.

Remember, the goal is stickiness: You want people to easily find what they’re looking for, or feel that it’s easy to try again, then learn about the role and your company. You don’t want them to get frustrated and then go see if your competitor has any openings. Your UX and Marketing teams should have some good advice on this topic!

#28 Burdensome application process

Easily the most common complaint is about actually sending in an application. This really should be simple: provide an email address and/or an upload form on your careers page. Done. But then recruiting applications and ATS (see #37), which were necessary for very large companies, trickled down to everyone else. A simple process has bloated out of control. Some combination of the following annoyances can occur:

Create an account. There is no reason for this. If you’re getting back to people in a timely manner (see #48), they don’t need to check on the status of an application. Bonus pain points to the recruiting tools that have separate accounts for every company. I understand the reason for it, but it still comes off as a high friction interaction.

Upload resume or LinkedIn profile. Well, which is it? How does someone know if one will be looked upon more highly than the other? Is that consistent for an entire department? An entire company? Related to this is applying via LinkedIn. Is that treated the same as applying directly on your site? Either it should be equivalent or it shouldn’t be an option at all.

Retype everything after imperfect parsing. This is it. This is the moment where people give up and don’t bother applying for your role at all. There is not one standard resume format. Maybe there was in 1968. Since there isn’t one format, there can’t be perfect parsing of information. An attempt is made to parse an uploaded resume, and the results are presented so a candidate can “check for accuracy” everything that is extracted from the document. Very often this involves retyping much or all of the information. There’s also a bonus point of frustration seen when having to hand write the same information on an application when a candidate comes into the office for an interview. Replace these old processes!

Upload cover letter. I think cover letters are highly useful in order to see how a candidate writes in complete thoughts (versus bullet points in a resume). They’re often marked as optional. What does that mean? Will it help if submitted? Can it hurt if submitted? Will the lack of one hurt? Will it actually be read? (see #38) Add a bit more clarity either way, with something more meaningful than optional.

Code sample / Github link. Again, potentially quite useful, but also just as uncertain as the cover letter. The same questions apply.

Blog / other public accounts. Similar to the above, but the potential for brushing up against non-professional information increases, and I don’t believe that should be part of a decision process. (see #92)

Be more explicit about what you require and what is optional, and define how optional items are handled. All of these little things add up and it’s incredibly disrespectful of candidates’ time if you’re not going to engage with all the submitted materials fully. Why is your time more valuable than theirs?

#29 Weak values and culture statements

It turns out that some people care about what a company stands for and how its employees conduct themselves. If they find your values and culture statements wanting, they may move on to a different opportunity.

I can’t tell you what either of those should say (but see #89 for some discussion), but whatever they are, they need to be honest. Don’t espouse a value or promote a cultural goal if you don’t mean it. People will figure out the truth, and word will get around. Now you have both unattractive values and a dishonesty problem. Candidates don’t want to work at companies that employee liars.

#30 Basic benefits aren’t competitive

Many companies try to outdo each other with regard to benefits and perks. Having high quality core benefits around health insurance and savings plans is simply table stakes these days. If you don’t have these, then no one will be there to eat your free Friday lunches. We’ll also look at a few items in other categories in more detail (see #31–33 and 61). There are many more benefits and perks that will matter to some applicants (training / education, commuting, etc.), but I’m trying to focus on the ones I believe matter the most to the largest audience.

Medical / Dental / Vision / STD / LTD Insurance — You have to have these, and you should pay as much of the premiums at you can. Less than 90% is probably not going to go over well, and 100% for the employee is fairly common. A lesser amount for family coverage isn’t uncommon, but I wouldn’t want an employee worried about health coverage for their family, so again, pay for as much as you can afford.

FSA / 401(k) / 403(b) — You may not be able to afford to match 401(k) contributions yet, and that’s not necessarily a deal breaker, depending on the size of your company, but not offering these sorts of savings plans at all will be. People need to plan for the future, so these are seen as high value benefits.

#31 Your PTO policies are antiquated

You give people time off because when they return their minds will be rested and able to do even better work for you. I’d rather have a long run of highly productive days followed by a period of someone recharging than watch someone not take a break and have their productivity steadily decline.

How much vacation / paid time off (PTO) is the right amount? Start by figuring eight to twelve holidays, as appropriate for your company. For the discretionary time, you’ll get laughed out of the room at fewer than three weeks, and at least four is generally expected.

How about unlimited time off? It sounds great, until you actually try it. People don’t know what is normal or expected for them to actually use. Some will take one week off and some will want eight. Each might be reasonable depending on the workload of varying departments. Or that might be reflections of someone working too hard and risking burnout versus someone abusing the system. If you try to normalize it by suggesting how much time to take, then why state that it’s unlimited in the first place? How does this interact with your parental leave policy? Can someone use X weeks of parental leave and then tack on unlimited time off? For how long? Behind the curtains of this seemingly generous policy lurks the truth: Companies aren’t allotting time, so they don’t have to keep it on their books, and thus don’t have to pay out any accrued unused time when an employee leaves. So it’s cheaper for companies, and they may or may not let employees use enough “unlimited” time. Candidates have caught on to this concept.

The exception is sick time. That should be unlimited, have no relation to PTO, and definitely not be lumped into the same bucket. The problem with a shared PTO system is that it’s unfair to people who are sick more, as they end up with less available vacation time. The problem with tracking sick time is that it’s unfair to people who are sick more (because they’ll hoard the time and come to the office when they’re only “a little” sick, commonly infecting others) and people who are sick less (because they end up with a perverse incentive to use that sick time when they aren’t really sick due to a perceived inequity). Let people take health days when they need them; you don’t need them producing sub-par work at that time anyway.

Some other old problems in this area are requiring a doctor’s note and long lead times for vacation requests. The former erodes trust and the latter will cause people to feign illnesses. Yes, your business may have seasonal busy times when you need extra notice or may have to deny some requests. That’s a small fraction of the calendar, and for a minority of companies. People will understand, as long as you’re up front about it.

Also, you should take time off, not only because you probably need it, but because when a candidate asks, you can honestly tell them about your latest adventure, demonstrating that recovery time is important for everyone in your organization. Leading by example is powerful.

#32 Your work hours are inflexible

People have lives outside of work. It’s not a 9–5 world anymore. For highly sought after workers, if push comes to shove, they’ll choose the other parts of their lives over your company. You should want them to. If the rest of their lives fall apart, how much quality work do you think they’ll be doing for you?

You may need to define core hours, so that you can plan meetings. That’s fine, but that doesn’t mean blocking out most of a day; a few hours will be fine. That way, if someone needs to leave for an hour for an appointment (doctor, gym, oil change… who cares?), they’ll know when they can do so, and that they’ll have the freedom to not have to try to cram all of that into a Saturday or schedule a day off.

Similarly, let people work from home if they need to. If they have to be home for a delivery or an appointment, your options are letting them take care of it or breeding resentment. I don’t think you want to start out with a candidate by letting them know you’re inflexible. Full time work from home options are beyond the scope of this topic, as they require an organizational (re)alignment toward remote employees. You may already have some of that in mind though (see #18).

#33 Your parental leave policy could be better

In the United States, you’ll be required to give some amount of parental leave. You need to do better than the minimum for reasons similar to PTO (see #31), and also because this is one of the arms race benefits; other companies are doing it so you need to as well.

If you are looking to attract more female applicants, this is one of the strongest benefits you can offer. While they may be the most obvious group, this is not just for mothers who gave birth. Any parent with a new child should be covered. All potential parents have their eyes on this benefit, and it is one of the most important ones to that group of candidates.

I haven’t seen consensus about exactly how long is the right amount of time to offer, because it’s a complicated calculation of costs for lost productivity, replacement workers, and other factors that will vary per company. This is a discussion to have with your HR team.

#34 Your company doesn’t appear to do anything for the social good

Doing something more than making profits is a “perk” that doesn’t directly help many employees, but candidates care about it anyway. Does the company donate money to charities (not political groups that can help the company)? Do you give employees time off to volunteer? Do you have community outreach programs? Do you match employee donations?

If you don’t, start; if you do, make sure you’re promoting it in the careers section of your corporate site. The candidates who care passionately about this will seek out the information. If they don’t find it, they’ll have to assume you aren’t doing anything. Many people want to work for a company they feel is doing good in the world, so let people know that you care.

#35 Your Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) efforts aren’t clear

All of those great things you’re doing to ensure a diverse team (see #8, 11, 14, 25, 40, 42, 43, 45, 56, 65, 82, 89, and more) aren’t helpful for attracting candidates if they don’t know about them. Let people know what you’re doing.

Do you have a plan for increasing diversity? Publish it, as well as updates on your progress. Even if you aren’t as far along as you’d like right now, transparency is respected.

Show pictures of your team on company information and careers web pages. This won’t address all areas of D&I, but it will help with some. But don’t cheat; if people have left the company, don’t include their pictures any more.

This isn’t just a tough hurdle to overcome, it’s an ongoing process. Show that you’re trying, convince people that you want to do better, and they’ll join you in order to help.

#36 Letting a bad reputation fester

If your employees aren’t happy, word will get around. Candidates are influenced by negative comments they read on sites like Glassdoor. If they have a poor interview experience, they’ll add to those comments. Employees unhappy about something in a topic on Blind are employees who aren’t helping you attract great candidates.

You can’t solve all their problems. You may not even agree with all the complaints. But you can listen and learn. Often, there are simple things you can improve now, and some of the more complex items you can start working on. Like a restaurant on Yelp or a driver for Uber, you want as many five star reviews as possible. The long term benefits are enormous.

Next up: Filtering and Phone Screens