The Magic of a Kind Word?

 

Recent reports have suggested that the Government is considering proposals to make it a legal requirement for an employer to provide a reference for a current or past employee. The rationale appears to be that some employers have used the threat of not providing a reference to ‘silence’ complaints of harassment, especially by women. The proposal has been welcomed by some and criticised in other quarters.

But the question that we should really be asking is why on earth we still, in 2019, expect references anyway?

References were historically designed to allow upper class Victorians to assess the honesty of potential servants. Many a Victorian novel features the ultimate threat of dismissing a servant without a reference – meaning that they would be unemployable in the future. They date back to a world in which employers could operate a closed shop and exclude those who were undesirable – not necessarily dishonest. Given that diversity and inclusion are something the HR profession is supposedly promoting, is persisting with an outdated nineteenth century domestic service practice really a good idea?

And even if you don’t accept that argument, what do references tell us anyway? If I write a glowing reference for Employee X, who worked in my small, flexible organisation, how does that help a new employer  – which is far larger, with a much more bureaucratic and ‘command and control’ culture, assess whether she can do a different job in that company? How does knowing that Employee Y had 10 days off sick in the last year help you manage their attendance in a new company?

The problem is that too many employers use references as an easy get out for their own poor recruitment decisions. “Why did we take him on?” is a frequent question after an employee has left or been dismissed. “Well, his references were good” is an equally frequent reply (usually from HR). It’s as if a reference conveys some sort of magic guarantee of good performance, in the same way that some ancient peoples believed that the hooting of an owl before sowing seeds would guarantee a good crop.

I’m aware that there are some sectors where legally a reference is required (schools, financial organisations etc). But for everyone else, surely the time would be better spent on a more thorough recruitment process, rather than simply generating meaningless paperwork to justify our own decision-making inadequacies. (And as an additional benefit, it couldn’t be used as a threat against employees who do make legitimate complaints)

Image result for victorian servant image copyright free

 

Overeducated and Underskilled – is it Recruiters’ fault?

Yesterday’s report by the Office for National Statistics that “31% of graduates are ‘over-educated’ for their job” has attracted a lot of attention, especially given the apparent conundrum that businesses are constantly complaining that people lack the right skills for the jobs.

There are a lot of issues here – including the question of whether the education system’s purpose is simply to provide trained labour for business; the consequences of the expansion of the university system; and even the philosophical question of whether it’s possible to be ‘over-educated’.

However, I want to concentrate on one factor which business has direct control over: recruitment. It seems to me that part of the problem is either laziness or ignorance on the part of those who manage recruitment.

The ONS report makes what I consider the same error as many businesses – to confuse education levels with skills. And as a result, we get what the CIPD’s David D’Souza describes as ‘weak signals’ in the labour market.

Too many recruiters will simply add in the phrase “degree-level educated” as an easy way to sift candidates, without even thinking about whether the skills or knowledge a degree brings are relevant to the job being advertised.

Take for example a recent job I saw advertised, for a Project Manager. It was in a very specialist sector and yet the first requirement in the person specification was to hold a degree. Not a specific, job related degree, but any degree. Given that many companies use automated sifting systems as part of their recruitment process, they would presumably reject someone without a degree but who had very relevant experience, but someone with a degree in a totally unrelated subject (let’s say Mediaeval History) would make it through to the next stage.  When they came to review the shortlist, hiring managers would no doubt tut about the shortage of good candidates.

Degrees are important in certain situations – particularly when we want people to demonstrate a certain level of independently verified knowledge of a subject. But in most cases we need to be understand what skills and knowledge a degree demonstrates; whether our job role actually requires these; and if there are other ways candidates can demonstrate that they possess these skills and knowledge.

Of course, this takes more time than the simple “just put out the advert on the job board” approach. But as I’ve argued repeatedly, recruitment is a major investment decision (especially in small businesses) and it’s worth taking a little more time to get the right person rather than making lazy assumptions.

College graduate students

Scenes from A Recruitment Process

 

Location: A meeting room at the London Evening Standard

HR Manager: We’ve used name-blind shortlisting and come up with these four candidates, sir

Proprietor: (reviews the CVs) Not excited by any of them, Susan. Career journalists, all of them. You know I like you to throw a wild-card candidate in. Let me see the other CVs

HR Manager: But sir, none of them meet the spec we agreed.

Proprietor: Give me them anyway (goes through each CV in about 15 seconds) Nah…Nah…Nah…oh wait. This one’s interesting. Lives in Cheshire…never worked in journalism…sacked from his last job…

HR Manager: yes, we always get the odd idiot who puts in a CV without reading the job spec. Usually it’s to convince the Job Centre that they are still actively seeking work, to protect their benefits.

Proprietor: Let’s see him anyway

HR Manager: But…(realises it is useless to protest and goes off to arrange interviews)

 

Location: The same room, a week later

HR Manager: Thank you for coming in, Mr Osborne. I wonder if you could talk us through your CV

George Osborne: Well, I’ve done lots of things, I’ve been Chancellor of the Exchequer

HR Manager: I was thinking about relevant experience for the job

George Osborne: I always wanted to be a journalist, I just never got the breaks

Proprietor: (beaming) We’re always trying to encourage new talent at this paper

HR Manager:  So what do you know about London issues?

George Osborne: Well I do visit a lot, it’s only a couple of hours from Cheshire. And you get a nice view of Wembley as you’re coming in on the train.

HR Manager: Yes, this other job you do, MP isn’t it? How much notice do you need to give?

George Osborne:  I was planning on carrying it on. The advert said you promote flexible working arrangements

Proprietor: You’re right – Susan here (he nods towards the HR Manager) is always telling me that we should be doing more about this flexible working stuff. Attracts millennials apparently.

HR Manager: Well, thanks for coming in, Mr Osborne, we’ll be in touch in the next week or so

(After the candidate has left)

HR Manager: Well, he was useless. No experience, no local knowledge, kept name-dropping his ‘contacts’, thinks he can do the role part-time to keep his second job.

Proprietor: I liked him. Offer him the job

HR Officer Vacancy

I’m currently recruiting a standalone HR Officer role for one of my clients –  the job advert is below:

BTTG is a world renowned organisation within the textile industry. We research, test, audit and provide professional advice to companies worldwide. We’ve grown significantly in recent years thanks to our high quality standards and professional staff, and to support this growth we are now looking to recruit our first in-house HR role.

You will be currently working in HR and have at least a Level 3 CIPD qualification, and be looking for a career move where you can help establish an HR function that contributes to the company’s development. You’ll have a strong current HR knowledge and be able to give credible support to managers, directors and staff across our various businesses. You will be highly organised, capable of working on your own initiative, IT literate and with a commitment to accuracy and high quality. You’ll set up and review our systems, ensuring that they not only fulfil legal requirements but also run in an effective and efficient way.  You’ll have worked with a diverse workforce and ideally will have experience of an international business. Currently we employ around 100 staff with 15% based overseas, and expect this to grow in coming years.

We offer a competitive salary of between £22-25000, together with other benefits, and the opportunity to develop your career. We actively encourage professional development and are willing to support you to obtain your Level 5 CIPD qualification.

For more information about our work, visit www.bttg.co.uk and www.shirleytech.co.uk.

Please send your CV to our external HR Adviser, Simon Jones: simon@ariadne-associates.co.uk.  You can also contact him for more information about the role

Closing Date: Tuesday 4 October 2016. This is a re-advertisement – previous applicants will be reconsidered automatically and do not need to reapply

BTTG is an Equal Opportunities Employer. No Agencies.

Caveat Recruiter

Aspiring Conservative leader (and potential Prime Minister) Andrea Leadsom hit the headlines last week when she was accused of exaggerating her CV, suggesting that she had undertaken more senior roles than she in fact had.

It’s a problem that many businesses – large and small – face in recruitment. How reliable is the information contained in a candidate’s CV?

Most small businesses are unlikely to have the time, or resources, to undertake full background checks on potential candidates. And indeed it hardly creates trust between you and your potential employee if you feel you have to verify every aspect of a candidate’s career history. Having said that, a quick comparison with their LinkedIn profile might be useful!

Clearly, if you discover that a candidate has lied outright (claiming they have a qualification they don’t, or worked in a role or for a company they didn’t) you can withdraw a job offer or even dismiss after they have started.

But in most cases, it will be that a candidate has perhaps oversold their experience. What to do then?

It’s worth remembering that a CV is a marketing document. It is the person’s attempt to impress you as their potential new employer, so it’s understandable that they will want to put a positive spin on their achievements. After all, you don’t put in your brochure or website things like “our products are pretty good but battery life is better in our competitors” And it’s also a fact that individuals and their employers will often collude to make job titles sound more important and prestigious. “Senior HR Executive” implies there are more junior ones when in fact there may not be!

It’s a further reminder that recruitment should be a rigorous process Use interviews to test out the claims in detail. Everyone will accentuate the positive, but good questioning techniques (not this sort of nonsense) and effective listening will allow you to get a better picture of the candidate in front of you and what they actually have done. And you can then decide whether they have broadly the right skills and experience for the role or if you’ve been seduced by their marketing skill!

After all, we don’t complain about advertising unless it’s deliberately misleading; treat your candidates’ CVs in the same way.