Go Your Own Way: The Only Career Advice That Matters in Recruiting and HR.

2016-04-25_10-25-29Early into my tenure in what I finally considered a “real” job, I decided for personal kicks and grins to take one of those manifold career assessments out there – you know the type.

The kind with all the ambiguous, annoyingly repetitive questions that promise to reveal your ideal occupation based on your strengths, interests and a bunch of other traits that apparently can be ascertained by an algorithm and some proprietary “matching technology,” to use the preferred industry moniker.

Yeah, I know – taking one of these pre-hire assessments after I’d already onboarded seems a bit out of order, but that’s just how I roll.

Now, I’m not 100% sure which provider or platform I actually used – they’re more or less generic to anyone not selling or marketing these “screening services” – but as far as I knew from the perfunctory research I had performed, this particular tool was widely considered legitimate.

Considering the context, this seemed to imply that my results would be somewhat valid, reliable and have some modicum of scientific backing or proven methodology for generating results.

I’m So Afraid.

In other words, this assessment tool wasn’t like some employers’ efforts to leverage some MBTI or DiSC interpretation as some sort of prophetic performance predictor or some tool to measure “culture fit” (if only it were that easy) as a part of their required pre-hire selection process.

It was independent of a proprietary process or workflow,  inherently objective and, I thought, pretty promising for discovering which job fit me best, instead of simply verifying that I fit into whatever predefined criteria an individual employer was looking for in terms of a particular role, which is an inherent limitation to the utility of most of these tools.

In fact, after completing the assessment, I was actually quite stoked to see the results: employee relations ranked as the top category in my results, which just so happened to align with what I was already doing, and made sense based on the ambiguous, boundary blurring kinds of work within the HR field that I’ve always been the most attracted to – and consequently, the most effective.

It’s amazing how well you normally fit a job that you actually like doing, although seeing this verified by a third party tool was pretty cool, considering.

Now, I know that while most HR professionals seem drawn to positions with a focus on compliance and control, or find comfort in clear cut remedies and regimented routines, I tend to gravitate (for whatever reason) to those convoluted workplace situations where interpersonal drama, critical thinking and common sense intersect with the hot mess that is human behavior and workplace interactions. Now, while these can be nothing short of a complete cluster, and sorting it out is almost always a dirty job, somebody’s gotta do it.

And I happen to actually like this sort of stuff, and don’t mind rolling up my sleeves to sort out even the most complicated or complex ER issues.

At the time I took the assessment, I was mildly amused, however, by the second highest ranked item returned in my results report. In fact, I remember rolling my eyes and thinking, “yeah, right. Like this could ever be a viable career direction for me to take.” 

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Little Lies.

It wasn’t that I disagreed with this result ranking so highly, but at the time, I couldn’t fathom that pursuing this career choice was something I was even capable of doing, much less successfully pull off.

At least not well enough for it to turn from an avocation to a vocation, in the sense that it would be a reliable source of income or provide any sort of professional ROI for the time and effort pursuing this path would probably require. Thus, I continued down my more conventional, “ordinary” career path, which, while not exactly the most glamorous choice in the world, at least utilized my experience and expertise while allowing me to stay, more or less, within my personal comfort zone.

It’s not that I made the easy choice, by any means. I just made the one I thought actually made sense. There are “dream jobs,” sure, and then there’s reality. As a pragmatist, the choice was pretty clear, so I continued on my routine route.

So, why embrace the obvious results instead of explore the second choice? Why doubt these results while at the same time looking at them as a proof point that my career was headed in the right direction based the fact I was already doing what it recommended as the “best fit?”

It’s because that second result the assessment returned was about as far from ER as you can get. It suggested I might be a great fit for a career as a…writer. Yeah, I know – at the time, I didn’t actually think that was a real job, either.

But here was this test telling me otherwise. And ironically, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought of my teen years where I had my first inkling that someday, I’d go on, become an author and byline a book. There was no specific idea in place, no plan about when or why or what I’d have to do to make this fantasy a reality.

It was just a vague feeling that someday, sometime, I’d be a published writer. Then, like so many plans we make while we’re growing up, I grew up and found a more practical, pragmatic path, promptly pushing any thoughts of becoming an author to the back of my mind, buried so deep I’d forgotten about the idea until I saw the results this assessment returned.

Dreams.

tumblr_mqridvXrvT1rhu9vko2_250Now, probably one of the reasons I have been somewhat successful at my HR career is that in my work, one of the most recurring requirements – and consistent themes – has always been written communication.

This proclivity for prose started even before I ended up in this profession, of course, but once I was immersed in the business of people, this became an even bigger focus for my professional efforts than you’d probably expect from an HR practitioner; I’m not even referring to the stuff like writing dress code policies or updating wage and hourly employee handbooks or the other insanely boring HR copy we’re normally tasked with, either.

Nope. Instead, probably given the fact that I’m a pretty good writer and effective at written communications, I quickly became the default “go-to” resource whenever the HR department needed something composed for distribution, internal or external.

If it would be seen by eyes outside of our small silo, I was considered the most capable person to put together any message that needed writing, regardless of the subject matter or audience. I didn’t really mind, but I never really caught on as to why others felt that I was the best choice for this unofficial “writer” role.

The weird thing is, I have no official education, training or any particularly unique knowledge or expertise when it comes to writing. In fact, I’m pretty sure I break a ton of grammar rules, take liberties with language and appear fairly clumsy or unrefined to anyone who actually knows better – which, frankly, doesn’t take much, considering that everything I know has been essentially self-taught.

Now, I personally have been doubtful that there was anything extraordinary about my style, tone or voice, but despite these inherent insecurities, corporate communications has morphed into a huge part of my workplace experience.

It’s an ability that’s always differentiated me at work, and one that I was routinely sought out for, enough so that I thought it was relevant to add in a bullet point that this was one of my core competencies on my resume and professional profiles.

After all, between the increased emphasis on marketing skillsets like employer branding, crafting compelling job ads, originating offer letters, ghostwriting executive memos, providing input on legally required mumbo-jumbo, corresponding with hiring managers, clients, colleagues and candidates, along with sundry other sorts of stuff that most human capital professionals are required to crank out as part of our processes, procedures and policies, it seems possible, when you take a step back, that content creation might just be an essential element of any HR or recruiting practitioner’s job.

In other words, without being a writer, you don’t have the talent to be in the business of talent anymore.

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Second Hand News.

Of course, that possibility, again, might not align with reality. So it goes in the amorphous and ambiguously defined world of HR and recruiting. Hell, I could be wrong about that assertion, if there wasn’t so much evidence suggesting otherwise.

Now, several years ago, I was invited in to meet with a recruiter at an executive search firm. After we discussed the specific opportunity she contacted me about, she ultimately didn’t think my experience was “advanced enough” (her words) to merit additional consideration.

She also suggested that I remove that bullet point about communication from my resume, since, in her opinion, this competency wasn’t “important” for HR related jobs or careers. Forget it, she said, HR doesn’t need to know how to communicate, in writing or otherwise. I’d be better served striking the mention from my resume and focusing on a skillset that employers actually needed when hiring for their human resources function.

Needless to say, that comment, for whatever reason, threw me into a tizzy. Not in a passive aggressive, momentarily pissed, “I need a safe place to swear” way, mind you. But it was the fact that she combined this suggestion with a handful of other “tips” that seemed truly absurd and inherently contradictory for anyone who was “advanced enough” for the job she was trying to fill – or any role in recruiting or HR, really. Her expert advice, it seemed to me, was anything but. And frankly, I was pretty pissed off.

Now, it’s not exactly like I was concerned with this total stranger’s strange opinions per se, for I’m one of those people who is disinclined to follow unsolicited resume advice, particularly when it’s coming from a recruiter whose exposure to best practices is limited to a single industry, company or function.

I find it largely a matter of personal preference, frankly; but forgetting the resume for a minute, this incident and her “advice” confirmed for me what I’d long been frustrated with – the complete and total narrow mindedness, cluelessness and total tunnel vision that’s long been running rampant in our industry.

I’m pretty sick of it, to be honest, and I know I’m not the only one. And by the way, someone better tell the geniuses over at SHRM that a major measurement on their allegedly prestigious “competency-based” certification process is based on something that no one finds valuable from the standpoint of screening or selecting candidates for HR related positions. Communication might make you competent, it seems, but it sure as hell won’t help you get hired, it seems.

This brings me to several recent observations in what’s become a recurring theme in recruiting, that perpetual trending topic about “shit recruiters say.”

As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I tend to absorb a ton of content on a regular basis, particularly as relates to HR or recruiting; these days, of course, there are no shortage of platforms or places where there’s an opportunity to delve into some debate about something (anything) related to the world of work or employment.

I mean, you could literally spend all day, every day, just on Facebook groups related to our occupation simply reading and commenting on the assorted topics, debates and discussions out there; add in the countless other avenues where career conversations and content are taking place on a daily basis, and it becomes pretty hard to take in even a fractional amount of all the information (and argumentation) out there.

People post, other people get pissed off, a heated debate ensues. Rinse and repeat.

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As Long As You Follow.

We always talk about the same topics, going around in circles while changing nothing – not even the minds of the people who take the time to read and consume this sort of stuff. For example, at least once a week, someone will post something about cover letters.

Naturally, the overwhelming majority of recruiters on these forums will brag about how they’d never, ever, EVER!, even under the threat of pain or persecution, deign to take the time to actually read a cover letter.

Now, the search firm lady who I mentioned in my earlier anecdote, obviously, falls squarely in this camp. A few random people, generally on the fringes, will put their reputation at stake and have the audacity to stick up for cover letters. Some will even attempt to educate the masses on to why they might be missing out on important information or top talent by ignoring cover letters, and why these play a valuable role in the recruiting process if used the right way.

Of course, they’re almost always shut down in their arguments, even though they’re mostly right. Written communication skills matter. At least, they do for some of us. And should, really, for all of us.

Similarly, there’s always an abundance of articles featuring some successful startup entrepreneur or the head of talent or recruiting at some well known consumer brand practicing their punditry by describing their favorite interview questions, or elucidating everyone on why their organization is so awesome at hiring (spoiler: it’s culture).

These “thought leaders” inevitably pepper their advice with a bunch of random, entirely non-job related questions which do nothing to ascertain organizational fit or predict performance, but for some reason, all of these “influencers” believe that they somehow have some special ability to decipher some sort of significance or substance from a candidate’s answer to a question that shouldn’t have been asked to begin with.

Sure, sometimes, they make the right hire – hell, even horoscopes and fortune cookies can be right once in awhile, and like these interview questions, they can be funny and entertaining, but no one realistically relies on them to predict anything substantial or utilizes them for making informed decisions.

We enjoy them at face value, fully recognizing their limitations and the fact that these things shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but for some reason, we approach interviews like ouija boards or Magic 8 balls. This isn’t just silly, this practice is about as non-sensical as using a non-validated personality quiz to assess job fit (as I think we’ve all discovered by now).

A perennial favorite topic for trolls (er, debate) in our industry’s online discussions is the eternal debate between the relative merits of agency vs. corporate recruiters. Or sourcers and recruiters. Or between talent management and talent acquisition.

And on and on we go, debating semantics and sweating the small stuff, looking at the menial far more often than the meaningful. Which is why, based off of anecdotal feedback and years of first-hand observation, I think it’s safe to suggest that no one can ever be right about these “us vs. them” sorts of pissing matches, particularly when there’s so much room for improvement across our entire industry.

 

I Don’t Want To Know.

giphy (71)No one should be able to claim their status is superior or that their theoretical opinions are an absolution, because simply stating that there’s a categorically correct answer to which of these varieties of HR or recruiting specialties or roles is superior immediately invalidates your point, suggesting more thoughtlessness than thought leadership – and there’s plenty of this petty crap floating out there already.

Let’s not even bring up the seemingly endless examples of atrocious candidate experience or the manifold technologies or tools out there that purport to fix what’s broken in our profession. These discussions never cease, it seems, but until we stop dividing ourselves into convenient categories and pitting one part of our profession against another in a public setting, we might have plenty of fodder for debate, but no way anyone will win this competition.

When we fail to put up a unified front and focus on who’s better instead of what we can all do better, we all lose. And nothing actually changes.

I’ll give you another example of a hot button topic full of promoters and detractors – background or reference checks, which are, by any stretch of the imagination, fairly pedestrian and boring to pretty much anyone else out there who’s not in this business. Some say doing background checks or running references is a complete waste of time that just confirms what employers already knew; still others pride themselves on their stealthy strategies designed to uncover any shred of evidence that might call someone’s candidacy into question.

For example, when the hiring manager’s top pick for a role once posed for a picture years ago holding a red Solo cup, and then had the audacity to let a friend post it on the Internet (the horror!), then this is seen as a black mark and a complete lack of professionalism or discretion by many talent practitioners.

While it’s got nothing to do with the job or their abilities, recruiters who wax so poetic about the importance of such tenets as honesty, authenticity or transparency apparently only value authenticity when a qualified candidate’s background is completely sanitized and sterile. The truth is everything, until it becomes inconvenient.

Then you have one of the most contentious topics: compensation. Show me the money, right? If you ever want to see a group of people crap all over a “career advice expert” with whom they disagree, just have that person offer candidates advice that they should avoid telling recruiters how much money they earn or how much they might be looking for in a new role. This, apparently, is the worst advice conceivable, an anathema that deserves to be called out for the terrible “advice” it truly is.

So, hey…what’s in your wallet? I mean, it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to go around asking strangers how much they make or disclosing your pay rate to everyone in public, right? Well, if you think you can accomplish anything in recruiting without that tiny tidbit of information, you might want to keep this opinion to yourself, lest you face vitriolic rage and the rancor of every recruiter on Facebook.

Seriously, though – if you feel the need to ask your target candidates how much they make, or if that candidate feels compelled to discuss compensation with a recruiter directly, by all means, have at it.

Otherwise, maybe other people would rather establish mutual interest in the opportunity before showing their cards when it comes to salary. This isn’t a “best practice” no matter which side of the fence you’re on here – it’s all personal preference, period.

The Chain.

giphy (69)As a semi-regular listener (and rabid live tweeter) of the Recruiting Animal Show on BlogTalkRadio, I really enjoy the effort this show makes to include diverse thoughts and viewpoints, and appreciate the fact that there are people who are willing to weigh in on all of the sides of all of these topics, whether or not it’s the popular point of view.

Of course, this leads to the occasional offended guest or indignant tantrum. It also leads, more frequently, to informed questions, detailed conversations and meaningful discussions designed to solve for a problem instead of simply create one. Which, I think, is more or less the point of any of this.

Whether we’re focusing on a boring, trivial topic that’s more or less mundane or raising bigger picture points that can raise spirited, heated and acrimonious debates, everyone is free to say what they think and go about their business – if their opinion is valid, it’s never “My Way or the Highway.”

There is no need to think your methods are better than someone else; there’s no need to tell someone they’re wrong, or stupid, or that they need to do something differently just because you disagree with their motivation or methods.

If you don’t understand something, then try to see an alternative point of view. If you do, and you don’t think it’s right, then don’t offer judgement – offer evidence to the contrary. Otherwise, shut up and realize that sometimes there are shades of gray in a world of work that’s anything but black and white.

We’re all individuals trying to carve a career out of the business of careers – and this, of course, is often just a giant cluster of chaos, at least by any objective appearances. Regardless of the platform or perspective, if we don’t keep an open mind, we’ll never grow and learn or advance or profession – we’ll just argue over things that don’t matter while forgetting the point of any of these venues, forums or platforms dedicated to these discussions is to promote, not detract, from our collective challenges. Everyone else out there seems pretty averse to our profession. If we’re not looking out for each other, then, we’re just digging our own graves – whether we realize it or not.

The point of all of this is that there’s more than one direction we can go with our careers; there are multiple choices we can make, different paths we can take, and there’s no right or wrong way to do any of this. Except, of course, for bashing the choices other people make or making them defend themselves by hurling criticism instead of constructive feedback or throwing shade instead of sharing solutions.

There’s a lot of people trying to make it in this business, and there’s more than enough room for all of us to do what we do the way we want to do it – without any second guessing or self doubting.

That’s what hiring managers, candidates and clients are for, after all – but for those of us in the trenches, don’t forget that we’re all playing for the same team. Even if we don’t always follow the same rules.

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About the Author: Leveraging her unique perspective as a progressive thinker with a well-rounded background from diverse corporate settings, Kelly Blokdijk advises members of the business community on targeted human resource, recruiting and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs.

Kelly is an active HR and recruiting industry blogger and regular contributor on RecruitingBlogs.com. She also candidly shares opinions, observations and ideas as a member of RecruitingBlogs’ Editorial Advisory Board.

Follow Kelly on Twitter @TalentTalks or connect with her on LinkedIn.

 

 



  • maureensharib

    “The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” ~Maya Angelou

    #ShadowCareers

  • derdiver

    Great read Kell!


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