Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Stories Companies Tell Candidates

I had lunch yesterday with a good friend who shared a disturbing story. A few weeks ago, Mike (not his real name) interviewed with a high profile investment management firm and was invited to take a personality assessment. At the time, he was excited about the possibility because it required several hours of his time and a significant investment on the part of the company.

In general, I don't have an issue with companies that require candidates to go through whatever psychological tests the company might find helpful. But I do have an issue when companies put so much emphasis on the test results that they become inflexible in their recruiting. I also have an issue with the way some companies choose to share the results. Unfortunately, both issues played a role in this case.

If the hiring managers want to put their faith in a psychological assessment, that is certainly their prerogative. But, to borrow a phrase from Hippocrates, these companies have a responsibility to "first, do no harm". Or, to borrow a Buddhist concept, hiring managers and recruiters, when sharing results, should ask themselves the question, "Is what I am about to say an improvement over maintaining silence." If the answer is "No", they need to consider other options.

In Mike's case, the company decided not to hire him because the assessment results indicated:
  • "an inability to build relationships" and
  • "an inability to sell"
Not surprisingly, Mike was disappointed and immediately began questioning himself. On the surface, he seemed to handle it better than I might have expected. But I couldn't help but wonder if a part of him was somewhat devastated. I could clearly see the disappointment and sadness in his eyes.

My reaction to the results was a bit different. I was (and remain) thoroughly disgusted with the company. There is absolutely nothing constructive or helpful about the feedback that was shared with Mike. On the contrary, it was destructive, thoughtless, and despicable. It's one thing for the company to exercise its right to choose employees. It's another to tear down unsuccessful applicants in the process. All they had to say was something generic like:

"Your scores on the assessment were not consistent with what we have found in our most successful employees and what we look for in applicants."

That would have been fair, honest, and infinitely preferable to the blunt, tactless approach the company chose. Even if the results were absolutely on target, which they weren't, it wouldn't excuse the company's offensive behavior.

I've known Mike for over 15 years and can personally attest to his integrity and ability to build relationships. He is also a natural sales person--especially when he is promoting projects for which he has a particular passion. As it happens, I have invested considerable time and effort into helping him launch a business he has been working on because I am completely sold on the idea and his ability to make it happen. His passion and enthusiasm for the project is so infectious I couldn't help but get involved.

Over the past few years, I have done sales training workshops for sales professionals in a variety of industries including finance and investment management. If every one of my workshop attendees had the same passion, integrity, and natural sales ability that Mike has, my job would be a lot easier. Mike is a trusted advisor in every sense of the phrase. The company's test may not have picked up on this, but that certainly doesn't mean he lacks the ability to build relationships and sell.

As a result of the company's irresponsible behavior, I spent a good part of my conversation with Mike sharing specific examples from his past that prove the test results are wrong. I sincerely hope he takes my word for it rather than the test results, but it may take some time for Mike to get past this unfortunate and completely avoidable episode.

If you are in a company that uses assessment tests, think long and hard about how much stock you put in the results because you are probably missing great candidates like Mike with disturbing frequency. At the same time, I urge you to be more responsible and compassionate with how you share the results. First, do no harm.

If you are a candidate who is going through an assessment, keep the following points in mind:
  • Don't try to second guess the test. Answer as honestly as possible. Even if you could game the system, which you probably can't, the company would end up hiring someone it didn't think it hired. That's a lose-lose proposition for everyone.
  • Don't question your abilities based on the results of any given test. It doesn't matter how much time and money the company invests, no test is 100% accurate.
  • If you get rejected by a company because of a test result, be grateful. If the company is so inflexible that it puts more faith in a test than in the judgment of the hiring managers, you probably wouldn't have been happy there anyway.
  • Rejection is the Universe's way of saving you from a nightmare.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Your Resume: Three Possible Outcomes

Most people treat applying for a job as a black and white proposition. Either they get the interview or they don't. But there's a lot more to it than that. Your resume faces three possible fates. The first, and by far the most common, is the black hole that either leads to no response at all or an ultimate rejection.

The second possibility is that the hiring managers will look at your resume and think: "She might be worth a conversation" so they add you to the list of people they want to bring in for an interview. The third, and most rare, outcome is that your resume is so well done it inspires hiring managers to read it and say: "He looks fantastic. Let's get him in here as soon as possible." Unfortunately, most people who get interviews never achieve this because they haven't taken the time to match their experiences to the needs of a company. Nevertheless, it is worth shooting for because there is a world of difference between candidates who get companies excited about interviewing them and those who don't.

Most people who get interviews never truly appreciate this distinction. Nor do they know what expectations (if any) they've created in the minds of interviewers. That's unfortunate because it could mean the difference between getting a job and remaining in the unemployment line.

If you are ready for the coaching that could help you create excitement, let me know. I'd love to help.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Harry Wilson's new blog

Last fall, I posted a living eulogy to my good friend, Harry Wilson. I am happy to report that Harry has started a blog to feature his art:

Be sure to check it out. If you like what you see, send him a note. I know he'd appreciate it.