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Is honesty the best policy?

This is a post I wrote in December for the Candidate Experience Matters blog. As I continue on the job search journey, this post takes on even more relevance for me.

One of the hottest topics when it comes to improving the candidate experience (follow #candexp on Twitter for more) is what to say to an unsuccessful candidate when they don’t get the job. Assuming that something gets said to them after it’s determined they aren’t right for the job. For some of my thoughts on this see my blog post on our website here.

Michael Mercer, Ph.D writes about his personal rejection experience and how full disclosure might not be the best policy. Obviously, this is the biggest part of the debate. Even constructive feedback can be viewed very negatively in the fragile mindset of someone who has spent much time searching for work. I’ve been there. You never know how many times the candidate has been told they’re not right for a job. Of course, this is not necessarily the concern of the company, they just want the right people for their jobs.

I really started thinking about this after a recent trip to Houston for  the Rice Alliance IT and Web Forum 9 conference. My wife just happened to be in Houston the whole week for work as well so our two sons were in tow. We decided to take them to see Santa at the mall near our hotel. Unfortunately, we arrived just when Santa left to take an hour break to feed his reindeer.

A half hour into Santa’s well timed break, I became a little stir crazy so I decided to go do a little window shopping. I walked passed a kiosk when a young lady literally jumped in front of me waving a white rectangle of what turned out to be a facial soap sample. I never, ever stop to listen to these sales pitches, but honestly I thought it was a cheese sample and I was hungry. The Pepperidge Farm kiosk was right next door so you can understand my confusion.

She went on to talk about the virtues of their soap for me and after taking a quick glance at my ring, asked if I’d bought Christmas gifts for my wife yet. I stopped her after a few minutes of her well rehearsed pitch and told here I needed to get back to my family. As I was walking away she said, “don’t you care about your skin”? I could have ignored the comment and just kept walking. In hindsight I probably should have.

However, being the curious person I am, I turned around and asked what was wrong with my skin? She went on to explain that as an ageing man (at 41, ouch!) the blemishes on my face, if left uncared for, would only get worse. She continued by asking if I’d thought about doing something about my rosacea. This is where I regretted asking the question. She was only being honest and selling the products as she’d been taught, but those comments hit home. Because they were true. I politely excused myself to rejoin my family which was still waiting for Santa’s return, taking the samples with me of course.

I know this is not a story about the best way to let a candidate know they didn’t get the job, but I learned an important lesson about not asking the question if you can’t handle the answer. It’s also an example of how, as a recruiter (the kiosk salesperson in this case) being blatantly honest when asked “why” is a risk.

I’m a big fan of letting unsuccessful candidates know they didn’t get the job, but the extent of the reason given is open to debate. What do you do as a company? Is complete transparency ever the best solution? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Stories of a jobseeker Vol. 1: Waiting by the phone

It’s been a couple of weeks since I started looking for a new job, albeit parttime as I wind down my duties with HireMatch.me. Sad to say, not much has changed in the world of job search since my last job search three years ago. To put it gently, it stills sucks.

Of course, the biggest frustration is, and probably always will be, the lack of communication. The one way flow is still the norm, with a few exceptions.

I’ve started my own spreadsheet keeping detailed records of jobs I’ve applied to, how I applied (direct, job boards, external recruiters, LinkedIn, etc.) and follow up – mine and theirs. Again, I’m just getting started but the results have been predictable. With the exception of auto-generated “Thanks for applying” emails, there isn’t much communication. I’m going to write a more detailed post about the results when I have more data.

This post is not about the overall lack of a quality candidate experience. It’s about common decency. I applied for a job in the HR Technology space on a company careers page for which I feel extremely qualified and one I think I would really excel at. A few days later an external recruiter called me and asked me questions for about 20 minutes. At the end of the conversation he told me he would call me “on Friday”, which was a few days later, to let me know either way. It’s now Tuesday and still no phone call.

It’s not that he didn’t call me back. Jobseekers are becoming somewhat immune to that, it’s that he gave me a specific date, unprompted by me. I didn’t ask about a call back. I also didn’t ask for his details so I could follow up. Rookie mistake on my part.

It’s something about giving someone a specific day that makes it sting a little more when one fails to follow through. I consider this to be somewhat of a social contract. A value I would like to pass on to my sons. I would consider it a huge parenting win if they always follow through when they tell someone they’re going to do something – especially when they assign a timeframe to it.

It’s made me think a lot about my own “social contracts” I’ve made and how I need to improve. I’ve been called a serial networker and often meet people and say “I should introduce you to so-and-so”. I think I almost always do, but occasionally fail at this (if I owe you an intro to someone please let me know). I’m also working on practicing what I preach by letting recruiters know I’m not interested when contacted about jobs outside of my search.

Social contracts like this also help build your credibility and build good will. Doing what you say you will, when you say will goes a long way with the people paying attention. On the flip side, not doing what you say you will, when you say you will gets noticed by almost everyone. Can you afford to take the risk?

Going back to recruitment and candidate experience, I doubt the company knows the recruiter failed to do what he said he would. Unfortunately, they lose control over the process, and very likely a candidate’s negative view of their company. Can companies continue to take the risk?

So lessons to be learned here:

  • Always ask for the contact information of the person who calls you
  • Let them know you will be following up with them if you don’t hear anything
  • Allows honor your own social contracts
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Get involved in the March of Dimes (our story)

For those of you who don’t know, my wife and I are proud parents of two amazing little boys. Our first son was born in Chicago at 28 weeks, a full three months early. We have been very fortunate in the way things have turned out, but others who have premature babies often struggle with lifelong side effects. As a family, we support The March of Dimes and will be taking part in the walk in Houston on April 29th, one of many fund raising walks around the country. Get involved in a great cause.

Below is a post I wrote for the Better Husbands and Fathers blog telling a little about our story. I’m happy to report our son is doing very well and looks quite good in glasses.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Preemie Dads: Meet Marc Mapes

Today’s featured Preemie Dad is Marc Mapes.  You can follow him on twitter @marcmapes and he blogs here. As you will read Marc is the father of a premature son – a 28 weeker!  Marc and I have similar stories, in fact, both of our wives are pregnant again and are about 30 weeks along – Congratulations to Marc and his wife for a more successful pregnancy this time around and good luck the rest of the way!

November 4, 2007.  The day my wife was due to deliver our first baby.  Unfortunately, he had other ideas.  Due to circumstances that were never fully discovered, our son Barrett was born on August 13th at 28 weeks and two days, He weighed an impossibly small two pounds and seven ounces, but as the doctor put it “he came into the world screaming and peeing” – which apparently is a good sign.

Prior to the day of delivery, my wife had been in the hospital for almost a week and the doctors used every technique known to modern medicine to prevent the pre-term birth. Looking back now, I hope I never feel more helpless than I did that week, and especially that day.  To add to the drama, other circumstances made it necessary for the birth to be performed as a crash c-section so I wasn’t able to be in the room. The first time I saw my son he was being wheeled past me in a plastic bubble with multi-colored tubes and wires everywhere. Not exactly the way we all plan seeing our children for the first time.

Barrett spent 10 weeks in the NICU.  That period can best be described as a roller coaster ride of emotion (for us) and physical setbacks and incremental improvements (for him).  I will never forget the sound the monitors made when his heart rate would fall below the acceptable level, the “kangaroo” sessions, the tube feedings and the look on my wife’s face every night we got in our car to go home without our son. The doctor’s original long-term prognosis was pretty devastating, but he continued to steadily improve. Luckily, we lived very close to the NICU so I was able to stop and see him every morning before work and we would spend every evening there with other parents and nurses instead of in our home learning how to be a family in private.

Our son is now three, and with the exception of having to wear glasses due to his retinopathy of prematurity, he shows no signs of coming into the world 3 months early. I have no way of knowing if our experience during this time has made me a better father, but it has made me appreciate the delicate miracle of life and the importance of family.  I’m happy to also report that as I write this my wife is over 30 weeks along with our second baby, so it appears the circumstances causing our son’s prematurity will always remain one of life’s great mysteries.
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TalentNet Live Dallas. My overall takeaway: authenticity is key.

If you follow me on Twitter at @marcmapes then you probably saw my flood of live tweets from TalenNet Live Monday, April 2nd at the JCPenney headquarters in the Dallas area. I should probably apologize for over-tweeting, but I’m not going to. There was a ton of awesome material being dispensed and it needed to be shared. It’s a great conference and anyone even remotely interested in how social media impacts recruitment and branding (employer, corporate and personal) needs to attend or watch the live stream. You can also follow the day’s events by looking back at the #talentnet stream on Twitter.

This is the third event I’ve attended and they tend to be about more than social recruitment. It’s much deeper than that and the speakers and panelists give insight into how they do things – largely in the context of recruitment, but also for social in general. Craig Fisher, Marianthe Verver and Crystal Miller (sorry if I’ve left anyone out) never fail to mix compelling content with dynamic speakers and panelists. I don’t think I’d call it quite an “un-conference” since there is an agenda (although it is never adhered to 100%), but there is plenty of interaction and questions are never held until the end.

The day kicked off with the story of Michael Long and his team from Rackspace. If you haven’t heard about what they’re doing check out their video A Day in the Life of Rackspace. They talked about the Rackspace Core Values and how the entire company lives them every day. They encourage an environment that promotes support, people and passion. An atmosphere where it’s ok to make mistakes if you learn from them. They even have whiteboards for employees to write on throughout their day. Apparently, they are encouraged to write down their mistakes so others can learn from them too.

Most of the rest of the day was divided into breakout sessions with general topics. Here are some takeaways from the sessions I attended:

There is a lot of technology out there that isn’t specifically aimed at the recruitment market, but can nonetheless be used for this purpose. Jeremy Roberts spoke about how to find the latest technology by monitoring sites like Betalist and Startuplist as these sites are filled with new technology looking for beta testers. Recruitment and HR Technology are white hot, and the list of startups jumping on this train is as long as my arm. Of course, there are other sites like Pinterest that are not aimed at the recruitment market, but are nonetheless gaining popularity as a non-traditional way of finding great candidates. He also talked about using sites like Identified, High-End PM and Cirway to connect with potential candidates and even managed to work his own startup GuideHop into the conversation highlighting the rise of the peer-to-peer space.

Craig Fisher and Dwane Lay talked about even more technology that can be used to make sourcing and networking with candidates easier. I won’t go into each one, but you can check out: Visualize.meTwooglePlusTwiangulateWhoWorks.AtRapportiveSmartr, and Recruiting Bar. You just need to find what works best for you and complement the systems you already have in place.

In the three TNL events that I’ve attended, one of my favorite presenters has been William Tincup. The nonchalant manner in which he presents his material draws you in and is something to behold. You don’t even realize you’re learning until the hour session has lapsed. Then, BAM you’ve just been taught how to map your social framework by developing smart, consist content; delivered to the right audience, in the right way; and by using the tools that best suit you. He also brought up an interesting debate when it comes to connections: quality or quantity? It seems that most will say to limit your connections to those who bring immediate value to you, but William says that quality will come with quantity. What do you think?

Craig Fisher conducted a session called: Awesomize your profile. I thought I knew a bit about LinkedIn, but Craig went through some tips on improving your profile for SEO purposes. He says that LinkedIn is the most search engine optimized site on the web and that your profile must contain content, context and consistency. Good advice.

I didn’t get to attend any sessions Matt Charney did, but if you want to know more about social recruitment he is a must follow. He is one smart Kansas Jayhawks fan. I think my IQ literally goes up every time I’m in a room with him. His tweets are also insightful and funny. Often both in the same 140 characters.

It was a great day filled with learning, sharing information and networking. Throughout the day, and from session to session I felt an overarching theme. I doubt it was one that was planned or discussed beforehand when planning the conference. It just simply seems to be in the genetic makeup of the group Craig and co. have surrounded themselves with, and we get the pleasure of learning from them during TalentNet Live. The underlying message is simple: Be authentic. 

Their messages were loud and clear: “Here are the processes and tools we use, but find out what you are comfortable with and what works for you”. It’s then up to you to go out and engage with people in a voice that’s true to you (and often your company). Doing so will draw the right people to you – in recruitment and your social life in general.

You can visit the TalentNet Live site for future events. I highly recommend you go.

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Personal(ity) Branding – 5 tips from a newcomer

Standing out in the crowdI know it’s hard to believe, but personal branding did not start with Seth Godin, Dan Schawbel or William Arruda.

According to Wikipedia the concept of personal branding was first introduced in 1937 in the book Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill in which he spoke about the “ways and mean of marketing personal services”. It was later discussed in the 1981 book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout.  They talked about how one can advance their career by using positioning strategy. Their key point was: “don’t try to do everything yourself. Find a horse to ride”.

Yet, even though the concept has been around since the US was just the “lower 48”, it’s really picked up steam in the last few years. To me, in the simplest of terms it means finding your voice to stand out from the crowd…whatever your reason for wanting to stand out from the crowd may be.

I recently had the good fortune of being able to spend a fair amount of time with Gareth Jones, Craig Fisher, Trish McFarlane, Bill Boorman, Maren Hogan, William Tincup, Matt Charney and others during the combo weekend of the social recruitment event Talent Net Live and SXSW. Partly because of my work with HireMatch.me and partly because I live in Austin. To say I learned a few things from these folks by just being around them and listening, is like saying Grasshopper picked up a few self-defense tricks from Master Po.

These people are the masters when it comes to personal branding, whether or not they call it that. Directly or indirectly, most of them make their living off their brand, themselves. What I found most fascinating was how their actual personalities match what I perceive as their brand.

  • Gareth: feisty, knowledgeable, helpful
  • Craig: fun, crazy knowledge about all kinds of things, helpful
  • Trish: kind, extreme HR knowledge, helpful
  • Bill: crazy (in a good way), knows everyone, knowledgeable, helpful
  • Maren: super smart, wide digital footprint, helpful
  • William: cool as the other side of the pillow, takes it all in, helpful
  • Matt: knows his onions, very savvy, helpful

I mention all these people not to name drop, but to point them out as people who have figured it out and have set great examples about how to do personal branding right…by, I believe, being true to their personalities first and foremost. It struck me that their offline personalities matched their online personal brands pretty much to a “T”.

Like most people, I learned finding your own voice can be difficult. Especially if you are in a situation when you want your opinion and thoughts to be heard, but don’t want to come across as being a Negative Nancy or offend the wrong people. Like when you are looking for a job. You want it to be apparent that you are knowledgeable in your field, but not at the expense of others. At times you need to choose your words carefully, especially in today’s digital world. Think twice before hitting send or submit. Once it’s out there, it isn’t going away very easily.

For me, this is why LinkedIn Groups has lost its appeal. It once was the go-to destination to share your knowledge, connect and learn from others. However, it’s now a cesspool of spam, ads and irrelevant content. Often, even valuable posts turn into squabbling and people using it as a platform to push their wares.

I am by no means an expert in this. I’m learning as I go, but here are some things I suggest:

1) Write – everyone has things to say and there are people who will listen. It’s tough getting started. It’s even tougher to keep at it. Today’s devices make it easier to write when inspiration hits. You can even use apps like Dragon Dictation for voice to text and then copy and paste. I use the Evernote app on my iPhone quite often if the writing mood strikes while mobile.

2) Use your own voice – write like you talk. If you don’t use seven syllable words when speaking to your friends and family, then don’t use them when you write. You won’t sound authentic and sooner or later you will be found out. You’ll lose credibility.

3) Don’t be negative in your responses – inevitably when you start getting out there people will call you out. My advice is to stick to your experiences and what you absolutely know first. Do your homework. Opinions can come later once you gain more knowledge on a subject. When someone challenges you on something simply say that you’ve based your thoughts on your experiences. Opinions can be challenged, experiences most likely cannot. But, admit it if you made a mistake. Always.

4) Read more – the best way to gather knowledge on any subject is, of course, experience. The second best is to read about it. Again, in today’s mobile world there’s no excuse not to read more. You always have a few minutes here and there (I have two kids under age five so I can say this). This is a bit of social media 101, but I like to set up hashtags or mention columns for Twitter using either Hootsuite or Tweetdeck (although Tweetdeck has lost me). This is like a custom filter for the content you want. LinkedIn Today is another great way to keep updated. The Harvard Business Review is my favorite source.

5) Be helpful – if you notice above, when talking about the people I mentioned, the last thing I said is that they are helpful. Knowledge is a given, being helpful makes them different. Being helpful first, then asking for help is the most important thing you can do when making a name for yourself as it makes people remember you. Half the battle is getting people to think of you when a need arises. From an outsiders view, I firmly believe it’s why they all succeed.

Start slow. Dip your toes in. Find out what works for you. Soon you’ll be standing out from the crowd. At least that’s my hope.

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Kicking the job search tires…again

I find myself  in a very strange, perhaps somewhat unique situation. One I  hoped to not encounter for a long time, if at all. I’m back to looking for a new job after leaving my startup…a startup aimed at completely disrupting the external recruitment industry. Yeah, I fully grasp the irony here.

My last bout with the job search beast ended in complete defeat, but it led me to the idea behind HireMatch.me. Unfortunately, since I am now leaving, I will once again face my nemesis: the job search. An experience I have often referred to as “soul sucking”. I imagine it to be much like being forced at gun point to walk an i-beam 50 floors up on an unfinished skyscraper while having a paralyzing fear of heights. You do it because you have to. Because you have no choice. And because the alternative is worse. Much like being shot would be worse than facing your fear of heights, being unemployed is much worse than doing everything you can to find a job. Even when it’s difficult, and at times, uncomfortable.

Job searches always start out the same:

  • Contact the people you know
  • Update your LinkedIn profile and attempt to take advantage your network
  • Research and reach out to the companies you want to work for
  • Pound the job boards
  • Call in the external recruiters

If it’s an extended job search all these come into play. You basically become a cross between a cold call sales person and a stalker. Not exactly a comfortable place to be.

For the last three years I’ve been banging my drum about candidate experience improvement. In the last three years, this cause has picked up much momentum. There are even The Candidate Experience Awards and a growing number of companies are realizing how much damage is being done to their brand by giving a poor experience. My friend Gareth Jones wrote a good post about the subject: The “candidate experience” – there isn’t one… There are also some good articles and discussion on there from folks like Gerry Crispin, Lisa Scales, Bill Boorman and Steve Ward.

So now I get to go out and try all the new software out there, and not just for competitive analysis this time. In the last few years many new online systems have popped up to improve the recruitment process. I can’t say I’m necessarily excited about kicking the tires of these platforms, but it will be interesting to see if they provide an enhanced experience, as many claim to.

Have they made the process better from a candidate’s point of view? Have they created ways to improve the communication so the candidate is not continually left wondering and in the dark about what’s happening? Have they taken advantage of new technology to streamline the whole process?

I guess I’ll see…starting now. I’ll let you know what I find out.

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The end of the journey for me (To new beginnings!)

It is with immense sadness that I announce I am resigning as Director of HireMatch.me. To say it’s tough to leave something that was an idea generated from a deeply personal experience like not being able to find a job is a ridiculous understatement. Especially since we’ve been working on it for almost three years. I always said I have three kids: two boys, ages 4 and 1; and a startup, age 2 1/2.

Ironically, the reason I’m leaving HireMatch.me is my desire to help provide for my two children and my amazing wife, who I have not given nearly enough credit to over the course of my journey. I wouldn’t have made it this far without her unflinching belief in me and her complete support. She is my rock.

I leave my third “child” in the very capable hands of my business partner, OraRuth Rother, who will continue to run the business. I still 110% believe in the value of using assessment based matching as the first step in the recruitment process (even more today than when we started) and that HireMatch.me is the solution companies and candidates sorely need.

There has been enormous growth in understanding how assessments can help companies make better hiring decisions by considering work behaviors and cultural fit over skills and experience. You can read more about that in an article by Dr. Charles Handler, Matching: The Newest Flavor of Assessment Tools.

So, onto my next challenge – whatever that may be. A job that pays would be nice. I will be writing more about the crazy startup life, which will hopefully help budding entrepreneurs understand the process and perhaps learn from me and some of the valuable lessons I’ve picked up along the way. It’s a rough, but incredibly rewarding road…even when it doesn’t turn out as planned.

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