Do you work to live or live to work?

George Santayana once wrote “There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.”

I am sure that most people would agree with this quote. The question is how many of these same people really enjoy their work, which can take up over half their waking hours? I would imagine that only a small minority can actually honestly say they do.

Many will be happy that they are working for a particular company (image). Many will be happy with their package, CTC and perks (stability). Others will be happy about the title they have or the fact that they can buy a certain car or house with the money they earn (status). But all of this just means that they enjoy the fruits of their labour rather than the labour itself.

There are many reasons one can end up doing something they don’t enjoy. They might be trying to fulfil someone else’s expectations of them; or they may have been unsure of what they wanted to do when they were younger and then just stuck to the first path they chose. Whatever the reasons, the point is that most people don’t even realise or won’t admit to themselves that they are not happy doing what they do. They are too busy focussing on the next EMI or buying a bigger car.

Very often when interviewing candidates on behalf of my clients, I ask what aspect they enjoy most about their current job. The reason I ask this is to assess the passion they feel for whatever it is they’re doing. Most of the time I get relevant replies, but these replies very rarely come with any conviction or excitement. Many people see work as a necessary activity to allow them to progress in life (they work to live rather than live to work) and even if you ask them what their dream job is they don’t know the answer themselves.

Others know what would make them happy, but feel that they only realised this too late in life. They think that because they have worked in a bank for a few years, for example, that they cannot switch to a career in hospitality. Or that if they started out in the finance department that they cannot switch to marketing. In reality though, this is very possible. It is clearly harder to switch industries or functions than to stay within the same one, but it is certainly not impossible. And if the end result is that you enjoy the hours you work every day, rather than just the couple of hours in the evening at home, then surely it’s worth the effort.

My own career is actually a good example of this. Before starting my HR Consultancy, I worked in hospitality, manufacturing and B2B ecommerce companies in accounting, sales, marketing, business development, project management and CXO roles. By making my previous experience relevant to the next role I managed to turn this diversity into an advantage.

People who truly enjoy the work they do are the luckiest people in the world. If you feel you would be happier doing something else, don’t let anyone discourage you: find a way to make it work!

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First appeared in Vashi Times Jobs and Career on August 6th, 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

Recruiters: mind your candidates’ Ps and Qs…

…and I don’t just mean their manners!

One candidate assessment tool which, in India at least, is not as popular as it perhaps should be is graphology, or handwriting analysis.

The first time I experienced graphology was about four years ago on a personal level. A colleague of mine at that time (and now a close personal friend) called Vijendra, was eyeing the notes I was taking whilst talking to him in a strange way. He saw that I noticed this and explained that he was into graphology and that he could tell a lot about people by how they write. I was extremely sceptical and honestly quite amused by the whole idea and gave him a few pages of old notes of mine to look through, just to see what he would come up with. To cut a long story short I was stunned by the accuracy of what he told me about myself. He told me things there was no way he could have possibly known as I had only met him a couple of times before. Vijendra started with the earliest days of my life and talked me through to the present! He told me about character traits I knew I had and others which, until that time, I wasn’t even aware of myself but later proved to be accurate!

So how can graphology help in candidate assessment?

Graphology can accurately determine many character traits in an individual within a relatively short space of time (a couple of hours) which could otherwise only be determined after working with someone for a significant period of time.

Some of the characteristics which are revealed by handwriting analysis are: attention to detail, ability to work in a team, clarity of thinking, judgement, deductive thinking, leadership qualities, mental agility, honesty, integrity and reliability.

If we examine the alternative methods of trying to establish  these characteristics in candidates, these would be interviews including behavioural interview questions, psychometric testing and reference and background checks. Interview performance can be learnt and practised for – candidates very often know what interviewers are looking for and can deliver this well. The more psychometric tests one sits for, the better their results will get. In the case of reference checks, third parties are more likely to tell you the positives about a candidate rather than the negatives.

Graphology, on the other hand, is very difficult to work around or “get used to”. Your handwriting is what it is and each letter and word can tell a different story: by the way it is written (shape); the pressure used to write it; the steadiness of lines used; its size; space between words; slant and so on.

So, recruiters: do look at handwriting analysis as a viable candidate assessment tool. It is very easy to “test” – just ask some people you know well to give you samples of their writing, or use your own and have a graphologist look at these. Then compare his or her comments with what you already know about the person.

And candidates: the next time a company asks you to send a cover letter or CV in your own handwriting (a practice which is very popular in Germany, for example), beware! You will be opening your soul to the company!

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First appeared in Vashi Times Jobs and Career July 30, 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

Recruiters: Stop covering your butt and start trusting your gut!

Where has trusting your gut feeling gone when making recruitment decisions? Hiring choices are becoming increasingly process-driven and less intuitive. Recruiters rely on educational qualifications, psychometric testing, past experience and reference checks, amongst other things, before making a decision.

Why is this so? Let’s examine whether these tools really do help make better hiring choices or whether they are used to justify bad hires.

Are degrees or qualifications truly required to the extent that one would think looking at job postings? Clearly I am not referring to professions where the correct qualification is indispensable such as medicine, accountancy or law, to name a few. I am also not suggesting that degrees are not worth pursuing. I just wonder why, though, recruiters will sometimes only consider candidates for a sales position if they have an MBA. Can the recruiter explain why the MBA is required for that particular position? Probably not, but at least they can always refer to the candidate’s qualifications later if things go wrong…

The more often you do IQ tests, the higher the score you will achieve even though your IQ is clearly not increasing. Similarly the more psychometric tests candidates sit for, the better they will score. Also, candidates can practise for psychometric tests the way they can for any other type of test. So does scoring well in these tests mean that they will necessarily perform well at their job? No, but at least the recruiter can always refer to the test results later if things go wrong – especially if the tests were conducted by an external agency…

Some recruiters will only look at candidates if they have done exactly the same job elsewhere in the past. So if they need an Asst. Accounts Receivables Manager, they will only look at candidates who already have the same title. They neither look at more junior candidates to see if they are ready for a promotion, nor at an Accounts Payables Clerk who might bring in valuable cross-functional experience. Why not? Because if something goes wrong later, the recruiter can always point out that the candidate had done exactly the same job elsewhere…

And now for my personal favourite: reference checks. 99% of the time, (lazy) recruiters will only call the references that candidates themselves have provided. What is the point?! This is a complete and utter waste of time – no candidate is going to provide anyone as a reference unless they are sure that only good references will be given. But, if something goes wrong later, the recruiter can always refer to the references obtained…

It’s almost as if recruiters are more concerned with covering themselves just in case things go wrong, rather than making a good hire in the first place. What this means is that all too often you end up recruiting the second or third best candidate, because they look the best on paper!

Virgin’s Richard Branson and GE’s Jack Welch both attribute their success to their ability to choose the right people for the right job. And I bet you they were both more interested in their gut feeling than any piece of paper.

Recruiters: click “share” if you dare!

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The seven most stupid interview questions of all time

July 16, 2011 4 comments

The objective of interviewing potential candidates is to find out as much as possible about them and the likelihood of them succeeding in your organisation. Interviews are also a time when both the hiring company and the candidate gain first impressions of what it would be like to work together and candidates base their opinions of a company to a significant extent on the questions asked during the interview.

Whilst it is hard to think up new, original and insightful interview questions on an ongoing basis, there are some questions which should be avoided at all cost, because they are completely pointless, expected by the candidate and, dare I say it, plain stupid. I have also written the answer I wish I could have given when I was asked these questions in the past…

1.  What are your greatest weaknesses?

How on earth can a candidate be expected to answer this honestly? By asking this question you are asking the interviewees to give you reasons not to hire them! Luckily most candidates expect this question nowadays because for some reason it is a favourite amongst interviewers, so they all have a prepared answers explaining how their main weakness is that they work too hard or some other supposed “strength” which they are repackaging as a weakness.

K: “My biggest weakness is an aversion to stupid questions”

2.   Can you work under pressure?

The candidate can only answer yes or no to this one. I challenge any recruiter to tell me of a time when a candidate answered “no”.  I can also promise that any examples candidates give to back up their affirmative answer will be prepared, rehearsed and very possibly fictitious.

K: “How many pounds per square inch are we talking about here?”

 3.   Where do you see yourself in five years?

I ask anybody who asks this question on a regular basis, where do you see yourselves in 5 years? Are you trying to establish how ambitious your candidates are? If their answer shows ambition, you will think they are arrogant and if not you will think they have no drive, so it’s a no-win question for the candidate.

K: “Not here, that’s for sure”

 4.   Are you a good leader / salesman / team player…?

No comment here, really.

K: “Of course I am”

 5.   Do you prefer working alone or in teams?

There is no right answer to this one – if the candidate expresses his honest opinion, the interviewer will immediately focus on the less preferred option and penalise the candidate for either not being a team player or not being able to work independently. So all candidates will give a non-committal answer, rendering this question a
waste of time.

K: “There is no ’I’ in team, but there is an ‘M’ and an ‘E’

6.   Why do you want to work here?

Is the interviewer surprised that someone would actually want to work at their company? Surely he should be selling the company to the candidate and not planting seeds of doubt in the candidate’s mind.

K: “Why shouldn’t I want to work here?”

7.   Why should I hire you?

K: “If you don’t know that after asking me questions for the last hour, then I can’t help you anymore”

I invite all readers to email any stupid interview questions they may have been asked to me or to post these onto

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First appeared in Vashi Times Jobs & Career on July 16th, 2011

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Five questions to ask your recruitment consultant

There are many reasons to work together with recruitment consultants or head hunters to meet your recruitment needs. Consultants can do all the donkey work for their clients, only bringing them in at the very end of the process to choose from pre-qualified applicants. Another reason might be that some companies may wish to keep the fact that they are recruiting for a particular position confidential and this is much easier through a consultant. Also, it is perfectly acceptable for consultants to directly approach candidates who work with their clients’ competitors, but less so if the client were to do this directly themselves.

The fact that there is a huge need for recruitment consultants in India is proven by the large and ever increasing number of consultancies out there! They range in size from sole-proprietorships to multi-billion dollar global enterprises; some specialise in particular industries and some in particular functions; and so on. So how should you go about choosing the right consultant to work for you? To a large extent, this depends on your precise reason for hiring a consultant’s services, but here are five questions to ask any consultant before you hire them.

  1. How do you go about finding candidates in general? If the consultant’s answer does not include something about looking for a fresh pool of candidates for each mandate then stay away! The worst possible answer you can get to this question is that the consultant has a database of tens of thousands of jobseekers waiting to change jobs tomorrow. Even if such a claim were true, would you really want to hire somebody who is desperate to change jobs tomorrow? Or would you prefer someone who is not actively looking for a job because they are successful where they are?
  2. How many candidates do you aim to provide in general?The smaller the number here, the better the answer is for you. You absolutely do not want to hire a consultant who sends you 20 candidate CVs per day per position because it is impossible that they are actually screening these candidates properly. Basically you would be paying a consultant when you are actually doing all the work yourself!
  3. How long will it take you to send a shortlist of candidates? The best answer here will vary depending on the position, but as a rule of thumb if a consultant is truly making the effort to find someone appropriate for your vacancy, contact them, interview them and prepare a shortlist, they will need a minimum of one week to do this, with time increasing with seniority and complexity of the position. If the consultant answers that he will send you the first CVs tomorrow, then alarm bells should ring.
  4. Time based fee structure? This is a good follow on to question 3. If a consultant says that he will provide a final shortlist within, say, ten days, ask what discount they will give on their fees if they are late. If the answer is no discount, then the consultant doesn’t believe in his own capabilities.
  5. What guarantee period do you offer? If a consultant only offers a 90 day guarantee period, this is not nearly enough time for a company and new employee to decide if they like each other and can work together. Ideally the guarantee period should be between 6 and 12 months, with the duration increasing with the seniority of the new employee.

Also, when choosing which consultancy to entrust your requirement to, consider how important you are likely to be to the consultancy as a client. Unless you represent a very large corporation yourself, it is unlikely that the larger consultancies will put real effort into finding candidates for you. The smaller the consultancy, the more likely it is that your company will be considered to be a key client and treated as such.

First appeared in Vashi Times Jobs & Career on July 9th, 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

Social networking sites as a recruitment tool: help or hype?

July 5, 2011 2 comments

Have job sites and social networking sites made recruitment easier, faster or cheaper?

There are two ways to consider this question: from the jobseeker’s point of view and from the recruiter’s point of view.

Let’s start with the jobseeker. Until a few short years ago, the only way a jobseeker could hope to have his CV (and therefore availability to change jobs) discovered by potential employers was to register with recruitment consultants. The advent of the internet and the jobsites that came into existence changed this – now jobseekers could upload their CVs online and employers anywhere could search through these for a small fee. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook made it even easier for jobseekers to be found – now not only could they upload their CV online and wait for it to be found, they could directly approach potential employers or spread the word that they are on the look-out for a change.

So from a jobseeker’s point of view, it would appear that job sites and social networking have indeed made searching for a job a much easier process than it was just a few years ago, but is this really the case in practice? Now suddenly jobseekers find themselves competing with many more candidates for the same positions. It is not unusual for jobseekers to send out several hundred applications and only get invited to one or two interviews. So whilst jobseekers are more aware of what jobs are actually available and employers find it easier to identify jobseekers, these gains are made by all jobseekers which ultimately makes landing that dream job that much harder as far as each individual is concerned.

What about from the recruiter’s point of view? Let’s list the steps involved in a recruitment process:

Step 1: Identify pool of candidates;

Step 2: Initial CV screening;

Step 3: Series of interviews with shortlisted candidates, reducing pool size at each stage;

Step 4: Offer job + negotiate terms

If you think about it, CV databases and social networking sites can only actually help with the first step in the process. They only really help by making the pool of potential candidates bigger and therefore actually make the second step even harder than it was before. There is absolutely no effect on the third and fourth steps.

You might hear stories about how social networking made recruitment easier, but I can assure you these are just one-off exceptions. “I posted my requirement on LinkedIn and found the right guy in 2 days!” Wonderful! 20 years ago you’d hear people saying that they went to a party and happened to meet the perfect candidate for a vacancy they had. Did they then go around saying that parties have revolutionised recruitment? No, of course not!

Whichever way you look at it, job sites and social networking sites have not made recruitment any easier or cheaper or faster. Somebody somewhere, be it a line manager, an HR manager or a recruitment consultant has to put significant time and effort into the recruitment process and this cannot be replaced by technology.

Not yet, anyway.

First appeared in Vashi Times Jobs & Career on July 2nd, 2011

Categories: Uncategorized

What makes people tick?

When it comes to incentives designed to increase productivity, there seem to be 2 conventional views:

  • Incentivise staff with good pay package and success based bonus scheme
  • Incentivise staff with good pay package and pay rises, no need for success based bonus

Most managers will fall into one camp or the other without putting too much thought into it. Indeed, as economist John Kenneth Galbraith puts it: “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking”. But think is exactly what managers are supposed to do.

In my opinion, both views have their merits when applied in the correct circumstances. The problem is, because most decision makers have preconceived ideas of which view is correct, they impose their view on their organisation without examining underlying factors sufficiently. Therefore in reality, when used as the sole motivating factor both methods are as likely to fail as they are to succeed.

Furthermore, no matter which camp a decision maker falls into, they will all agree that either of these methods will always be more successful than not offering any financial reward at all in exchange for work provided. Sounds like a logical and compelling argument, right?

Wrong! To illustrate this, I shall provide an extreme example. Imagine you want to motivate a team to design and provide content for an online encyclopaedia. There are 2 ways to go:

  1. Apply traditional pay structure with or without bonus and pay a large team to put the encyclopaedia together
  2. Let anyone contribute and pay them nothing for their efforts

This really did happen and bizarrely, the second path was hugely successful and the first wasn’t. I am of course referring to MS Encarta and Wikipedia.

I am not for one minute suggesting that companies should stop paying or incentivising their employees, I am merely trying to illustrate that “conventional wisdom” is sometimes a contradiction in terms!  If it is possible in some rare situations that more success can be achieved without offering financial reward at all than by offering it, then surely it is possible or even probable that both the success-based and non-success-based camps are right depending on circumstances and execution.

Therefore, when choosing how to incentivise staff, companies must think very long and very hard – not just about what exactly they are incentivising, for example top or bottom line growth, but also which form of incentive will work best and why.

Also, whether you are planning to introduce a new incentive scheme in your company, or deliberately choosing not to, consider these points:

  • Some objectives are better achieved if additional financial reward is provided, others are not
  • It’s not just a case of incentive schemes possibly having no effect, they may even have a detrimental overall effect on your company, so it is possible that the company will be worse off after introduction of the scheme than before
  • Incentive schemes can have a varying effect on achieving an objective, depending on how the objective is presented! So the same incentive scheme will result in different levels of success in achieving a given objective if the objective is presented differently
  • Offering exactly the same reward for exactly the same work will have different results depending on what yardstick the recipient is using to evaluate the reward

Sounds complex? Well, it is! Which is presumably why incentive schemes generally have little or no real effect as a motivational tool.

Obviously companies must have some sort of financial remuneration structure in place; the question is how to structure this in such a way that it truly motivates staff to achieve company objectives.

First appeared in Vashi Times Jobs & Career on June 25th, 2011

Categories: Uncategorized
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