Conversations: About that 25%






Recruiter: The fee is 25%

HR: That's too high. We never pay more than 20%.

R: Oh my! What would you overpay like that?

HR: What?

R: If you're paying 20%, you should be paying 10%. The people who go to 20% are just throwing resumes over to see what sticks. If you can get them to 20%, you should keep pushing them down to 10%.

HR: Well, we pay 20%, so we can get a higher quality of recruiting.

R: Do you?

HR: Yes.

R: But do you?

HR: I, think so.

R: Do you?

HR: I, but, see...

R: Do you?

HR: Look, we pay 20%.

R: I'd never take 20%. How could I charge you so much for so little work?

HR: Are you saying you'd do it for 10%?

R: Oh, not at all. I charge 25%.

HR: That's more than 20%. Aren't you overcharging?

R: Maybe. Also, I don't offer a 6 month guarantee.

HR: You don't offer a guarantee?

R: I guarantee my work. When you hire someone and they accept the offer, you're saying I did my job. If they leave or you fire them, you're saying you didn't do your job, but you want me to pay for it.

HR: But it's standard.

R: I think I understand now. You pay 20% for work that is only worth 10% because you're expecting that 50% of the time, you make bad hiring decisions. That makes sense.

HR: So you'll do 20?

R: Not at all.

HR: Can you recommend someone who can?

R: I mean, I could tell you people who charge that, but I couldn't recommend them. They only charge 20% - and half of their people are going to quit or get fired. No, no - I respect you too much to give you the names of bad recruiters.

Conversations: Fitter Not Fatter






Former Executive: I don't understand what you sent me. 

Data Scientist: It's the studies on fitness at work making more productive employees

FE: I don't understand. 

DS: They're not accurate. 

FE: Why is this relevant?

DS: It's because your presentation relies on similar studies. 

FE: We have nothing to do with fitness. 

DS: I want to show you why those studies are useless. So let's start with this - do you agree that fitter employees are more productive, happier, and engaged at work?

FE: Sure.

DS: Studies would say that's a pretty good position to take. 

FE: And you're going to tell me why that's wrong?

DS: I'm questioning the value of fitness. The argument is on average, fitter employees are more engaged, have more energy, take less sick days, and get more done.

FE: You just said fitter people get more done.

DS: I did. But that's so you don't bring up the easiest anecdote - listing someone who was out of shape who was a great worker. I'm not taking that avenue. Instead, let's talk about 2nd grade teachers

FE: 2nd grade teachers.

DS: Yes. What is the value of a 2nd grade teacher being fit versus being fat?

FE: Where did fat come from? 

DS: It makes the argument stronger. Fit means relatively healthy. Fat takes it to the extreme. A fat second grade teacher - how is she less productive than a fit 2nd grade teacher?

FE: Maybe in the way she engages the students.

DS: 2nd graders. Basic math - a little bit of writing, and coloring inside the lines.

FE: Fair enough.

DS: The level of work needed is finite. A pleasant demeanor is more important than enhanced productivity. As for sickness, it's actually cheaper for teachers to use their sick days, because teachers can bank sick hours. A substitute is cheaper because a teacher's sick time is more expensive than the time of the sub, and yet the material is still taught. 

FE: Okay - so second grade teachers aren't more productive when they're fit. 

DS: So there's one. How about minimum wage workers? Are they more productive? And before you ask, let's say that physical jobs clearly require some level of fitness. If you don't have to lift 50 pounds over your head, are you more productive with 6% body fat? 

FE: Sure you are. 

DS: No one has ever done that study, but it's cute you think that. What's the biggest cost in minimum wage workers? 

FE: I don't know. Benefits? Heathcare?

DS: That's true as a category. It's not true individually, and age has much more to do with it than weight. The correct answer is scheduling and turnover. It's expensive to hire and train. Losing people creates hardship that causes more turnover. A fit worker can get more done, but what happens when you can get more done?

FE: You want a raise.

DS: You want a raise or a better job. In a very perverse way, being fit and intelligent for a minimum wage job makes you less attractive to the employer. 

FE: That seems doubtful. 

DS: Would you hire a Harvard grad with supermodel looks to work in your warehouse?

FE: Sure I would. 

DS: Would you hire them if you trained them for a month and really, really needed them to stay?

FE: Sure I would.

DS: If you were traveling to Italy, and needed them to work for six months on the job because you weren't going to be home - would you hire them, train them, and just leave assuming they would keep the job? And you're paying them shit wages. 

FE: Depends on why they were available.

DS: ...

FE: Okay, probably not.

DS: We don't talk about it much, but you hire people for their longevity. You wouldn't hire a sales manager with 3 month stints at five companies, and you wouldn't hire a CFO whose tenure only lasted a year. When it comes to many jobs, you hire people with less options because they stick around. 

FE: That is a terrible view of hiring.

DS: It doesn't have to be conscious, but it is a feature of the system. "Why do you want this job" and "Where do you see yourself in five years" both address this question.

FE: What does this have to do with 6% body fat?

DS: First, don't be sexist. It's very difficult for women to get to 6% body fat. 

FE: Those were your numbers. 

DS: It was the context. Speaking of which - we've addressed minimum wage and we've addressed teachers. So we can both agree that there categories of workers where fit vs fat is not only relevant, it can be detrimental.

FE: With exceptions, but yes, there are categories of workers who don't fit that model. 

DS: Then without going into every category, we can say there are probably other categories, where it is not true, but the studies we have don't break down performance by category.

FE: They don't.

DS: They rely on averages. 

FE: Yes. On average, a fit worker costs less and does more than a fat worker.

DS: So an average company, hiring average workers...

FE: No, no - you're going with average workers - and then saying above averages companies don't do this. An above average company would hire more fit people because, on average, more fit equals more productive. 

DS: One, that's ageist. More fit, on average, is code for younger. And when you have a study that says younger people are better, it's almost entirely a function of searching for ways to justify lower wages. Second, the data does not support your conclusion. You can't create an average of workforce performance and then claim the benefits. That's not how data science. 

FE: Then why do they do the studies? 

DS: It's the only data they have, and it supports a narrative that lowers wages because fitness is code for younger.

FE: That...that is a huge leap.

DS: It's not that big. It's part of another pattern we see in terms of HR data. Whenever you use averages to create policy, you can be assured that the data is shallow, and does not reflect the real world. You should never make policy decisions on human beings based on averages of performance. They have no value but to support a narrative. 

FE: Who exactly is creating the narrative? 

DS: That's another discussion. I don't want to get into Joseph Campbell, but every story has to support an existing power structure. Studies using averages of human behavior and performance by definition support the existing power structure. They are blunt tools pushed by the uninformed as a way to create a scientific justification for their behavior.

FE: Okay - I'm going to go. It's an interesting point, but I think it goes off the rails at the end. 

DS: Maybe. Doesn't mean it isn't true. 

FE: What do you weigh these days? 

Conversations: Referral Hiring Tells A Story You Don't Want To Hear







(Overheard in the halls of a recruiting technology conference)

Human Resources Business Partner: That was such a good presentation. 

Recruiting Consultant: Yeah? What did you like about it?

HRBP: He used so much data. This will be great to bolster the case for more budget next year. 

RC: You have your own data. How is this going to help you get more budget for what I can only assume is 10 more LinkedIn Recruiter licenses with some vague promise of a chat bot down the road? 

HRBP: You're too cynical. Fighting for budget is hard, but if we can show how other large companies are doing, we can make the case that we're looking for parity. That's the important word - not in the business case, but as my first rebuttal. 

RC: So, you go in prepared for them to shoot it down, and you have your rebuttals ready? I imagine some 1970's science fiction movie with the execs in white robes, sitting on giant chairs with blinding lights behind them. 

HRBP: It can feel that way, but it's not that bad. We simply go through a budget review, with everyone encouraged to test out weak arguments. Going for parity works well in the pitch because no executive wants to be average. They want to be exceptional. 

RC: So you've done this? 

HRBP: Oh yeah. Not at this company. You can't reuse the same word every year - that's too obvious. The first year you say you're simplifying the budget. The second year is parity. The third year is managed growth. And the fourth year you start talking about the impact on the broader market.

RC: And the fifth year?

HRBP: I won't be in this job in the fifth year. I'll be in the white robes with the bright lights.

RC: That's pretty well thought out.

HRBP: I got the idea from one of your columns, actually.

RC: You got it from me? I don't remember writing about that. 

HRBP: It was a while ago. You talked about a CMO and their firing event. 

RC: Oh yeah. I get it. It's all in the timing.

HRBP: Exactly. This shows progress in the department, regardless of the data.

RC: Pretty clever. But I have to ask - are you sure you want to use this data?

HRBP: What do you mean?

RC: Well - data-driven is great, but the data he presented on stage tells a story he might not want to spread around. 

HRBP: What could you possibly mean by that?

RC: He just insulted the entire audience, his profession, and all of corporate America. 

HRBP: That makes no sense. 

RC: Sure it does. Right from the beginning. He shoots himself in the foot and says he and his team are incompetent. 

HRBP: Okay. How exactly, did he shoot himself in the foot?

RC: What's the number one source of hire?

HRBP: Referrals

RC: There you go. 

HRBP: I'm not tracking with you.

RC: If referrals are the number one source of hire, there is no point in having a recruiting department. 

HRBP: Sure there is.

RC: Oh - you need HR, so your job is safe. But why would you spend money on sourcing, technology matching, or any interviewing if you already know that 50% of your hires are referrals?

HRBP: That's just being smart. You fish in the local ponds, and then you pay to fish in other ponds.

RC: Great point! But you undercut the idea of quality in recruiting if you mostly hire from referrals.

HRBP: That's not what we're saying at all.

RC: Sure it is. I get what you're saying, but for you to be accurate, you have to have the best employees who already know the best people to hire.

HRBP: We do have the best employees.

RC: You have absolutely no data to prove that, and I'm not sure there would be any way to prove it even if it was true. But you know what? I'll play along. Let's assume that you really do have the best employees. What is the number one source of hires at your company?

HRBP: Referrals. 

RB: What is the number one source for the speaker's company?

HRBP: Referrals.

RB: What is the number one source for every company that tracks their hiring.

HRBP: I'm going to guess referrals. 

RB: They can't all have the best employees, all of who just happen to know the best fits for the company.

HRBP: Employees do their job every day. They know the culture. They are our best ambassadors.

RB: If they are your best ambassadors, why do you pay recruiters and sourcers?

HRBP:  One, because our employees have other jobs to do, and two, to find people we don't know. 

RB: So - the best ambassadors are too busy, so you hire second-rate ambassadors to do the job.

HRBP: It's a different skillset. Our employees can't do everything, and they can't find people they don't know.

RC: But if you could, you're hire 100% referrals because your employees are better at matching and filtering than your recruiters are.

HRBP: That's not true. There are referrals who don't get hired.

RC: But there are far more sourced candidates that don't get hired. Clearly, your referred candidates are higher quality, which suggests that your employees are better recruiters than your recruiters, but you can't afford to have them do a low-level job like recruiting.

HRBP: That's twisting my words.

RC: Okay - let's try it from a different angle. If referred candidates are the best, do they show up in your matching algorithm?

HRBP: I don't understand. 

RC: If your recruiters are good at their jobs, they should be able to find the total pool of candidates that could do the job, and that includes the referred candidates. Your matching algorithm should turn up referred candidates prior to them being referred by an employee.

HRBP: That happens.

RC: It would have to happen every time. If referred candidates are better than sourced candidates, they should be turning up at the top of any matching algorithm you use. In essence, if referred candidates are actually the best people, you don't need to have them referred. They would still be the first people your sourcers identify. 

HRBP: I'm sure there is overlap.

RC: If sourcing, your ATS, that fancy matching algorithm, or your custom search engine had any value, your referrals would show up at the top of every search without a referral flag on their application

HRBP: But you have to treat referrals differently. 

RC: I agree. But in doing so, you're proving that your technology, your sourcing, and your interviewing are incompetent. You can't have it both ways. Either you suck at hiring, or you suck at sourcing. The #1 source of hire in any company is actually a negative performance review of the internal recruiting department.

HRBP: That doesn't make sense. What are we supposed to do, not hire referrals? Referrals cost less, are hired quicker, stay longer, and regularly are rated as better employees.

RB: Maybe you treat them better. Maybe the ones who take the job already have the internal scoop on what it's like to work for the company. If that's the case, then once again, you're failing to provide that kind of candidate experience to jobseekers who are not referrals. Again, if your referral candidates are not the top-ranked candidates in a blind taste test, you can't turn around and claim they are the top candidates once they've been given the red carpet.

HRBP: Referred candidates have an advantage because someone has already seen them work.

RC: If that's true, then your interviewing techniques for non-referred candidates have no value. If the fuzzy memories of working with someone at your last company is the best way to vet candidates, then there is no need for recruiters to interview candidates. 

HRBP: You're just trying to stir up trouble here. You know this won't fly.

RC: I'm just trying to be helpful. If it's apparent to me, it's going to be apparent to an executive one day. And if you indict the industry by showing that everyone agrees that referrals are the number one source and the best source, you'll have only yourself to blame.

HRBP: So what's your solution?

RC: Stop calling them your best source of hire. Treat referral hiring as a useful way to cut time to hire, but look for ways to contrast the performance of your sourced candidates. 

HRBP: hmmm.

RC: I can't help but notice that you got free consulting out of me there.

HRBP: It's not consulting if I can't sue you for E & O. And I'm sure there's an O there somewhere.

RC: Are we not using phrasing anymore? I really think we ought to get that back into the rotation.

Conversations: Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now?



(Do you take the job? A Planning Player is one of the candidate personas I've developed over the years, has an opportunity. The Planning Player is marked by their steady career progression. They're good at their job, and are always thinking about how it impacts the Next Step. In this conversation, we talk through a potential opportunity)

Planning Player: Hey! Long time no talk.

Headhunter: It's good to hear from you. I'm glad you called. 

PP: Yeah - I was talking with a mentor about this opportunity, and I thought you'd be a great sounding board as well. 

H: Always here to help. What did you get into? 

PP: Well - a mutual friend of ours has a position opening in a pretty exciting company. It's a move up, a title change, and more money.

H: That's pretty cool. So what are you thinking about?

PP: I'm just... it's going really well here. I'm in a great position, my work/balance is fantastic...

H: You're stable. There's a lot to be said for that.

PP: Yeah. But it's a good opportunity, and it's not one I'll have here for some time.

H: Okay. Here's what we're going to do. I'm going to ask you a few questions, and we'll figure out what you want to do.

PP: That sounds great.

H: Okay. First. How are you finances?

PP: My what?

H: Do you have any debt? Are you saving money? How long could you go right now if your job went away?

PP: It's good.

H: You're saving? It moves up every month?

PP: Yeah. We have a good mortgage, investments, and I could go a year without a paycheck. 

H: And the kids are still a decade away from college, which may or may not be a thing the way online learning is growing. So you're stable, which is what you like, but this is an opportunity for an upgrade. It's a pay bump, which is important, but it's a title change, which is that move we've been looking at for years.

PP: Yeah. And it also comes with options. 

H: Never count those. Those are gravy. If they hit, great, but if it's not your company, that's just the price of business. You never count on them for your decision. 

PP: I've done well in the past with them. 

H: That's a fluke. Look - they're important, and you negotiate for as many as possible, but at this stage, cash is still king. But you're getting that. So let's move on. Here's a second question. Have you entertained any other offers or interviews?

PP: Not really. I mean - I get the requests, but nothing of interest. 

H: Now that's important. When a recruiter calls, it triggers something in you - if you're open to it, it's because you're ready to leave. You start thinking about why you're staying, and even if you don't take the job, you're now looking. That's why you talk to recruiters, but you don't take an interview unless you're ready to move. So you have this opportunity - it's moving pretty quick, and it's the only one you have. So are you just flattered? 

PP: It's more than that...

H: Are you flattered?

PP: Am I supposed to answer these fully?

H: Just - first thing to come up. Are you flattered? 

PP: I mean - I'm glad she called, but it's not going to my head. 

H: Good. Now to answer your question - yes and no. You should think about the answers, but they aren't for me. If I let you go too far, you'll start selling me to justify a decision. 

PP: Okay - then fire away. 

H: What would make you stay?

PP: Hmm. I was going to talk to John about that. He's been a great boss, and he literally plucked me out of that other company, but we've have discussions about our future, and he's not tied to the company either. We've known each other for several years, so we can have a good discussion.

H: What would make you stay?

PP: Right. Um. Well, I'd want to get into the inner circle. A real career path that leads to senior executive status. And no promises. I'd have to get real connections. 

{long pause}

H: That. That was fascinating.

PP: What was?

H: You just got a little temper up. Your voice changed, and you actually got a little bitter and angry. Do not, let me repeat that, Do not talk to your boss with that tone. 

PP: Was it that bad?

H: it just uncovered something important. You're emotionally tied to this opportunity, and if, well, let me ask you one more question. 

PP: Yeah.

H: Three years from now, I'm in Chicago for a conference, and we meet downtown for a drink. I walk in, say hello. We catch up. You're eating chips with a medium salsa and talking about your latest racquetball injury. I ask you how you're doing at your job. You say you're doing great. And then I say, "how do you feel about not taking that job at the start-up?" 

PP: I'm disappointed.

H: And there it is. You want this job, and nothing your current company can do will solve it for you, which is why you're so emotional talking about what it takes to stay.

PP: I think you're right. 

H: It's what you just told me. Now - the other details are important, and we should talk through those, but you want this job. 

PP: I do. I do.

H: And you called me to make sure you weren't making a mistake. For what it's worth, I think it's a good move, and an important one. 

PP: So what do I tell John? 

H: That's always a tough one. The rules are that you never tell anyone until it's done. You don't have an offer yet. If you tell him, and the offer doesn't come, bad things can happen. But the rules aren't necessarily right. Great people don't leave great bosses in the lurch. 

PP: I've been promised a long ramp if I need it. 

H: 30 days is as long as you can do, and even that is too long. 

PP: Really? 

H: Two weeks creates urgency. 30 days, and your current company won't really start looking. It just prolongs the pain because you're still doing the job. And you'll hate it after two weeks. It's just a bad idea overall.

PP: So, two weeks? 

H: You get the offer. Then you talk to your boss. You don't ask for a negotiation. You ask how to ease the transition. If they really need 30 days, it's because you're documenting or training someone to fill your position. It's not work.

PP: Okay. Well, I'm glad I called. 

H: I am too. This is awesome for you, but really, it's not that surprising. 

PP: We'll grab that drink the next time you fly into O'Hare. 

H: That's a promise. 


Conversations: Hamburger Menu Of Choices And The Tale Of The Fermi Squirmies



Setting: Two interviewers meet in a small conference room to discuss a recent candidate interview.



Hiring Manager: That was different. 

Hiring Executive: Yeah, I'm not sure what to think. Different doesn't begin to sum it up. Just out of curiosity, did the term, "Fermi Squirmies" come up?

M: It did. He spelled it out for me. F-e-r-m-i. So do you think we even need to do this? I mean - I couldn't tell if he was just like the world's smartest person or if he was just doing this as a lark, messing with us like some kind of prank he'll post in Reddit later.

E: Just to clear my head after that - I kinda need too. Let's go through the interview questions and see if we can't make sense of this. 

M: Okay, first the technical questions. Those were filled out prior to the interview - I asked him about his use of json, how he integrates Swift, and his experience with mobile apps with more than a million downloads. All of those were good - matched what the recruiter told me. 

E: I asked him about his motivation - he said he was looking to fix complex problems with kinder code.

M: Kinder code? 

E: Yeah - he said it was simpler, easier to read, and better for younger programmers to pick up. 

M: How old is he? Like 25? How many younger people does he think there are?

E: Right? And if this is how expensive a good 25 year old is, I don't want to know what a 30 year old architect would cost.

M: So it was all good for me until the "how do you think questions."

E: We'll get to those in a second, but I noticed something weird when I asked him what we do. He said, "I've read what your recruiter sent me, and looked at two videos you say explain it, and I read the website and the profiles of two of your programmers, but that doesn't really give a good sense of what you're trying to do.

M: Wait - he said what? He doesn't know what we do? 

E: That's what it sound like. But then he went on. "So I went into your applications and some of your code base to see if I could understand it."

M: So he hacked us? Jesus this kid is a nut!

E: He might have. I asked him how he looked at our code base, and he sat there for a second. And then he shook his head, and said, "what do you mean? It's there on the internet."

M: It's not on the internet. Maybe for someone like him.

E: He said he pulled a number of sites down verbatim and looked at their code. And then he said, "not the queries, of course, but I could see your architecture, and ran that against basic sites to test your images and scaling and load times."

M: We should have brought the VP in. I don't know what any of that means. 

E: Well, it gets worse. He told us the dual site efforts we were working on are a mistake, as in the next six months, Angular 2 would probably replace all of our efforts to run 2 platforms, which would require a code base similar  - I can't really follow. He started talking about hamburgers and cards and quirks.

M: Are we missing something here? I mean - I can't tell if this is the regular mumbo-jumbo or if he's onto something new. It's a lot different than the code I used to work on. 

E: He seemed competent, and tested off the charts, but I can't see him on any of our teams. How do you manage someone like that? 

M: You don't. You stick them in a room and hire a translator who's half Vulcan. 

E: He finished explaining what he did, and then he sat back. I didn't say anything for a moment, and then he looked across the table at the interview form. He says, "I guess it's time for me to play the Fermi Squirmy." 

M: He didn't tell me that until after the questions, but let's get to them. So I started with the bathrooms in Cowboy Stadium...

E: Bathrooms? That's where they're supposed to guess how many you need of each, right?

M: Yeah. So he says, "I'd call three stadium owners in the league and ask them how many bathrooms they built. And then I'd ask them if they would have added more or less if they were starting over, than I would have added 25% for both men and women." 

E: Really? That actually sounds like a really good answer.

M: Wait until you hear the reasoning. He said, the fastest way was to call people who did it before. You ask them how they would correct it to see if their lines are too long. And then he said you add 25% more because bathrooms are cheap over the long-run, but the cost of 10 minutes in line for a game could cost you as much as $500 a bathroom per concessions for every half-hour of the game. And then he said you add as many bathrooms for men as women, because women will have a longer line, but the average ticket concession for men is twice what it is for women.

E: Why?

M: People standing in line buy less, but they tend to go at the same time. Men have a higher concession ticket because they eat and drink more and they also buy for others. While most stadiums want to cut the lines for women, his point was that the concessions people want equal amounts so men have more time to buy more.

E: I can already see this as an article on Medium from one of our female managers. 

M: I see where he was going - but no one has really answered it like that before. 

E: Aren't we supposed to use those to figure out how they think? It sounds like he just wants to copy other people.

M: I asked him that. He laughed and that's when he promised he wasn't one of the Fermi Squirmies.

E: That's when he spelled it for you.

M: Yeah. He said, the question is a Fermi estimate, and the four ways to answer it include estimate with 3-4 variables, calling in expertise, questioning the interviewer for more details, and claiming it was impossible. 

E: Son of a bitch. That's what he did to me. 

M: He told you all four? 

E: No, he started asking me questions. 

M: Which one did you ask? 

E: He knew the question was coming, so I asked him how many basketballs would fit in the room.

M: That's good - he can't call someone and ask that one.

E: No, but he asked questions.  I wrote them down. 1) Do I have a ruler or a yardstick? Do we want this in meters or feet? Is it for the volume of the room, or just the length and width? Is it allowed to have structures, like bamboo shelves? Is the goal to get as many in as possible? Can we deflate the basketballs, or are they fully inflated? What do you call inflated? Can we move out all of the furniture and take everything off the walls?

M: He said all of those.

E: Yeah. And then he looked me in the eye and said, 3,176.

M: He said 3,176. Someone must have given him the questions. 

E: They must have. He said, the room is 20 feet by 10 feet, and the ceiling is 16 feet. If the radius if each fully inflated ball is 6 inches, that's one square foot each ball can fit inside, which means 3200 balls, but you have to deduct some. You could fill the room if you have bamboo to hold each ball in place and took off the door, but the last few balls wouldn't fit because you wouldn't have a way to fill in the balls just above the door without them spilling out. You could fit that with wood hammered over the door at each level but the last twenty four wouldn't fit unless you could glue them to the ceiling, in which case you could probably get to 3196 or 3197. 

M: That is a batshit crazy answer. 

E: I know. But it's also, I guess, accurate? And we ask them to see how people think. 

M: I just can't see him on any team. That's so disrespectful. And childish. He says our questions turn programmers into Fermi Squirmies - and until we told him which answer we'd like, it makes him look bad. How about just answer the question, dude?

E: Yeah. But I think I may stop asking these. I only get weird answers or stupid answers. 

M: So this one goes into the discard pile. I'll pass it on to the recruiter. 

E: Make sure to let him down easy, and tell him I'm connecting to him on LinkedIn. I wouldn't hire him, but I could see bringing him in on a project to see if we can think differently. 

M: Are you sure? That seems - the guy was just a nut.

E: Yeah. You should think about this one. It's weird when you get answers you don't expect. I'll take those over someone who starts painfully walking through how many times they went to the bathroom during a game, or the one who gets offended and says it's not professional to talk about the toilet during an interview.  

M: I can't stand how unprofessional people are. It's like, it's a work place here. Answer some questions and here's your paycheck. 

Conversations: SXSW Doesn't Feel The Same





Digital Marketer: Is this your last day here?

Agency Creative: Yeah, I have a plane at 4:00 p.m.

DM: What did you think?

AC: I'm glad to be going home. 

DM: You don't seem that excited. 

AC: Excited? I'm not excited at all. 

DM: It's Southby. It's Austin. Sure it's been a little gloomy, but it's still a huge rocking party. And the panels get some really, really focused people on them. It actually feels less corporate to me than past years. 

AC: You didn't notice? 

DM: Notice what?

AC: When we say corporate, we mean boring. It's like the point of the session is to be there, and not say anything, or do some handwaving that ends with, "we worked really hard and finished with this great campaign."

DM: Exactly. This year was a lot more authentic - with more people actually talking about their work. 

AC: But that's the thing. The details all came in the beginning - like a, like proof that they deserved to be up on stage. And once they got there, they just wanted to push some thought they had out to the crowd that is magically going to turn into a business launch. 

DM: I did not get any of that. 

AC: Check out the session titles. It's like everyone is trying to save the world.  

DM: It's Austin. They're always trying to save the world. 

AC: Most of those people aren't from Austin.

DM: Yeah, but it's SXSW. Shouldn't we be trying to do good? 

AC: I think that's what bugs me. I feel like this year's sessions were all about the titles. It's like - well, Facebook. The content seemed to be about trying to get people to share your idea, instead of showing what you created. 

DM: I thought the details were great, at least for the panels I was in. And even the parties had people sharing their results and not just the normal hype from someone trying to spend investor money. 

AC: But where was the creative? Maybe I want something different. I like design. I like pride in the work. I didn't hear any pride this weekend. It was all about what they're going to do, and now what they did. Ugh. It sounded liked LA.

DM: Ouch. 

AC: Right? Somehow - SXSW turned into LA, with everyone telling you what they're going to do instead of what they did. 

DM: Well - I'm sorry we couldn't entertain you more.

AC: I didn't even get any good tacos. 

Conversations: Agency Versus Corporate Recruiter






Agency (Third Party)Recruiter: One of these days, you're going to have to pick up a check. Your company doesn't use us, which means that I'm paying you to drink with me.

Corporate (Internal) Recruiter: I'll be happy to pick up the check. Don't I make more than you?

A: Depends on the month. 

C: I think the benefits make up for it. We have a gym and free lunch. 

A: You need to use the gym more and the lunch line less. 

C: I hope we change our policy on using recruiters so I can give my jobs to someone I like. 

A: Says the recruiter who has never heard of a well drink. 

C: You drink Coors. It's not my fault that you're not even cool enough to drink PBR, like a genuine hipster. 

A: You're mad because I wear skinny jeans. No need to bring my beer into it. 

C: Okay. Truce. So honestly, how is it going? 

A: The market is tough, but we're busy. My biggest problem isn't finding contracts or candidates, it's finding companies that hire quickly enough. 

C: We struggle with finding candidates, but don't tend to lose them once they're in the process. 

A: You don't? 

C: No. I can't think of the last time that we didn't win an offer or had someone drop out that we wanted.

A: That's curious. 

C: Curious? Why?

A: I hadn't thought of it before, but I was talking to this guy at a conference that said if your ratio of offer to acceptance is 100%, you're a terrible recruiter. 

C: What? That's crazy. You close an offer and that makes you a bad recruiter?

A: His point was that no one turns down your offer, it's because you don't hire people who have multiple offers.

C: It sounds like he doesn't know how to treat candidates well. We spend a lot of time nurturing our relationship with candidates. It's honestly why I like being inside. I spend more time with my candidates.

A: My candidates hate that. They only want to talk to me if they didn't get the job. 

C: That can't be true. They also want to talk to you when you buy them well drinks. 

A: You laugh, but I'm shocked when a candidate talks to me after they've received the offer. 

C: I get some of that, but they're joining our team - so they know I helped bring them onboard.

A: I think he might be right. Check out the other stuff he says. He says that if your HR Executive goes to SHRM and says that they only hire the top 1% of the people who apply, they should be fired.

C: Now I know he's delusional. 

A: His point is that if you have 100 people apply for a job, and you hire 1, you're hiring 1% of your applications. Considering how easy it is to get applications, his point is that unless you reject 99 people who are qualified, you're deluding yourself.

C: That's just not even accurate. Lots of people apply for a job, and we hire them later, or for another position. 

A: What's lots?

C: What?

A: Well, you said lots.

C: Yeah. Lots. As in many. 

A: How many?

C: I don't know. Do you want me to look it up?

A: I'm just curious if anyone who has ever said that has ever actually looked at the numbers. Having sat down with HR Executives, I don't believe they have.

C: Now you're making the bold statement. 

A: It's pretty simple. If an HR Executive can't explain the value of a third party firm, they have no way to evaluate their internal team. Since I don't know any HR Execs who have ever done that, I don't trust their statistics. 

C: I don't think you could get hired with that attitude. We don't look at it as a profit motive. We're actually a team pulling together to get a job done. You guys don't look at recruiting the same way, because you sell candidates.

A: None of your answers addressed your internal metrics, and if you think all we do is sell candidates, then when you get promoted, you're going to go to a conference and tell people you only hire the top 1% of applicants. 

C: Ooh - so you think I'll be promoted?

A: Of course. But you really need to put some thought into why Third Party Firms exist.

C: They take up slack in the market, providing temporary workforces to companies, or finding hard to find candidates when the internal staff is unable to deal with  overwhelming demand. 

A: You're smart, I'll give you that. And if there were a recruiting professor, they would give you an A and you'd get that promotion. But that's not what we do.

C: I swear, if you start talking about sharing information and giving options to candidates that I can't offer, I'll laugh at you. Very few agencies and no independents actually have multiple jobs. It's why you're do stuck on saying "we find people for jobs, not jobs for people."

A: That's why we should exist, but it's also true that we no longer serve that function very well.

C: Then why do you exist?

A: Because we adapt. We test new technologies. We test new messages for companies. We train new recruiters and we train candidates as they go through their careers. As an industry, we are literally the quantity that creates quality.

C: That's not a coherent statement.

A: Third Party Recruiters test everything, and we do it faster and cheaper than anyone internally. We're not required to be right. We're required to be successful. And that means, that collectively, Third Party Recruiters are superior to Corporate Recruiters.

C: This is why I make you buy me the good drinks. 

A: There's a second part to that. 

C: What's that?

A: Third Party Recruiters individually are both more and less successful than internal recruiters, and they are both much better, and much worse.

C: Isn't that the intelligence argument they use for men and women? They're average IQ is the same, but the mean for women is a little higher, and the extremes for men have more variability? A few super genius men and a few incredibly dumb men, but women are slightly above the average. 

A: It's similar because it's about risk. A Third Party Firm fires a lot more people than an internal department. They take more chances in hiring. The fired ones make zero dollars and are bad recruiters. The good ones are million dollar billers. There is no one making a million dollars in Corporate America, and even if you add stock and compensation, agency owners sell their firms for far more than an executive will make in a lifetime.   

C: But I have a 401k, free lunch, a steady paycheck....

A: And a lot less stress. 

C: We have a lot of stress. 

A: You have work stress, but you don't have existential stress as long as your company is still solvent. Day-to-day, you don't worry about the future as much as I do. 

C: So, you admit that I'm better than you. 

A: Not at all. I admit if we put a bunch of names in two piles, one of internal recruiters and the other of agency recruiters, the odds are that the internal recruiter would be better than the agency recruiter in every draw.

C: I'm going to start telling agency recruiters that you think internal recruiters are better. 

A: You go ahead. Just realize that every agency recruiter you talk to that is still employed is by definition in the top half of their field. 

C: Present company excluded.

A: Yes, present company excluded. I can't even get a job from you, and you like me.

C: I like the idea of you out there toiling for me.



Conversations: Iced Coffee And Organic Sugar


Sales Executive: It's good to finally meet you. It's only been what, two years? 

Headhunter: 19 months. And it's nice to put a real face to the name. I can't believe you use your real photo on LinkedIn. For $500, I can hire someone to photoshop that manly scruff away.

SE: Salespeople can't have old photos - no one recognizes you when you take them to lunch.

H: Good point. Do you want lunch? Food's good, but if you're meeting someone at 12 - well, I don't eat before presentations. 

SE: Me either. Maybe a small muffin and a coffee. So how's business?

H: Would you believe me if I told you I'm working with that company again?

SE: You're braver than me.

H: You never burn a contact in our world. You just try to understand what the problem is and hit it from another angle.

SE: You sound like a sales guy. 

H: I'll get a medium coffee, in a mug please.

SE: I'll get a banana nut muffin, and do you have iced coffee? 

Barista: We don't.

SE: So a hot coffee, and a glass of ice.

H: Dude - you're in the burbs. If you want fresh, cold-pressed brewed fine designer coffee, you have to stay in the city. 

SE: Hot coffee isn't something you drink before a presentation. Get the wrong stuff, and you'll start sweating just as you're asking for money. 

H: Holy crap, you're right. You are a professional salesperson. Honestly, I didn't think about that before. 

SE: You know, it's the little things.

{to Barista}
H: Excuse me - do you have any of that Vegan sugar in the back.

Barista: I'll check, sir.

SE: What did you just ask for?

H: Vegan sugar?

SE: Yeah, vegan sugar.

H: My wife brought it home from Whole Foods the other day. 

SE: Your wife is a sweetheart, but perhaps you can explain why you think you can make fun of me for iced coffee, when you have vegan sugar up on deck. 

H: What is vegan sugar?

SE: I don't know. 

H: Exactly. What is it? Is there something in sugar that's not vegan? I looked at the label. You know what it says? Sugar. And you when you look at a regular sugar package, you know what it says?

SE: Sugar.

H: Exactly. So that got me thinking. What is in my sugar that has a face?

SE: That could be the most disgusting thing I've heard since that pink meat at McDonald's.
H: Right? It's worth being made fun of if I'm not getting cow brains or horse hoof in my sugar.
SE: Real salespeople don't put anything in their coffee. It's wasted time that creates tension with the client while you stir in your hazelnut cream. 

H: It's quite possible. The next time I meet a real salespeople, I'll be sure to ask them if that's true. 

SE: Talking with you is like talking with my older brother, after he switched bodies with my youngest daughter. 

H: I get you what you're saying. I'm family. 

{Both start laughing}

Conversations: The Rise Of Employment Branding

Talent-Acquisition-GraphReporter: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today - this is a pretty straightforward story - we're trying to describe the growth of Employment Branding as a category of recruitment. Did I say that right? Is recruitment the right word?

Former TA Head: It's fine. A little awkward, but it gets the point across.  

R: A little awkward - yeah, it felt that way - but I saw it on a blog, and thought it was jargon you guys use. 

TA: It's fine.

R: Okay - the premise so far is that Employment Branding is the application of digital marketing to how we hire. It's a natural progression from a marketing agency building a company brand to the HR department creating a brand around working for the company. Does that sound about right?

TA: I see the story thread, but employment branding has always been around. The change in the last decade has really been employment branding is now a line item in the budget. The story would more accurately be described as the story of recruitment marketing, which was originally simply writing job descriptions and posting them in newspapers, and has now emerged into storytelling, advertising, video, and the testing of candidate experience through a digital process. 

R: Okay, so - recruitment marketing was job posting, but employment branding is something else?

TA: It's grown in importance - which is why it's now in the budget separately, and has its own title and sometimes employees, and even consultants who specialize solely in improving a company's image and application process. 

R: Do you think this was a natural progression? An outgrowth of digital tools filtering down to different departments? I mean, it's not like Photoshop is a skillset that you look for in a Director of Human Resources.

TA: That's a good question. There are probably two responses. Digital is certainly in a progression, and as the tools become cheaper, more departments have access to them. Information Technology is the backbone of our systems, but we purchase our own software for the candidate process. 

R: This is the ATS, the Applicant Tracking System. 

TA: Yes, but it's also traffic to the careers website, and big data from interviews, and behavioral assessments, and a number of recruiting tools like LinkedIn and Entelo that are run by my team. It's not IT and it's not marketing. We don't need a software analyst to help us on loan - we have our own. We even call them HR technology and not Information Technology. That might be a distinction without a difference, but again, it goes back to where that person falls in P&L negotiations.

R: The cost in software drops, and it's easy to use, and because of that, you can do marketing - uh - things, that couldn't be done before.

TA: Yes, a little simplified, but yes. We can do more without a large team, the same way that software lets my daughter edit movies on her phone that are technically a higher quality than Disney was putting out in the 60's. And it's an afterthought - not even the purpose of the phone. 

R: The first response is that it's happening because it finally can happen. That's the thrust of the article, but you mentioned a second response.

TA: I don't know how popular this is, but I find it interesting that Employment Branding, and even the term I have in my title, my former title, Talent Acquisition, gained popularity at the same time. In terms of trends, this could be a reaction to talk of moving Recruiting into its own function outside of Human Resources. At one point, they were even talking about moving it under the Marketing umbrella. There was certainly the sense in the boardroom that as marketing budgets grew, the CMO was amassing too much power. It was the corollary to "Software is eating the world." The CMO can't have everything, so perhaps the change in our titles reflected a desire to protect turf.

R: That would be something if it were true. Is it true?

TA: Possibly. But it's also a very corporate way of looking at trends. Are you familiar with social intelligence?

R: Is that like EQ?

TA: No, it's group intelligence. It's basically the sum total of a group's decisions, which tends to be more accurate in describing a current situation. Regular intelligence is good for new ways of thinking, but the group has to follow that thinking for it to take hold. Most "smart" solutions are abandoned by the group because they might sound good, but the group collectively rejects them. Group, or social intelligence is collectively a better tool for determining what works and doesn't, but it's terrible at explaining. The world is a complex place, and no one is smart enough to fully understand it even the simplest of human interactions. Social intelligence posits that the group is smart enough to react, without needing an explanation. When I said corporate, I meant solipsistic, which is a focus on oneself. The idea of Talent Acquisition appearing to counter the growth of the marketing budget sounds appealing. It's very logical. I like it. And because of that, it's probably not true. 

R: That's very interesting. So, mostly - you'd agree it's just availability of the tools that brought Employment Branding to the fore. 

TA: Perhaps. But you just switched topics. Employment Branding is a skillset under TA. To figure that out, we can look at social intelligence to try to figure out where it came from.

R: Didn't you say that social intelligence doesn't explain? That it just reacts?

TA: That's true, but we can take a crack at it. How about this. Company loyalty has been in decline for almost 40 years. The dream of the Boomers of working for one company is long-gone, as is the trust in authority that was a hallmark of American society. It's important to recognize this was a distinctly American trend. The classless structure of the US, or rather the assumption that it's classless, required a different kind of loyalty. That was company loyalty. If you think about it, this was actually a enormous reservoir of goodwill. The average applicant assumed goodwill on the part of the company unless they were specifically told this was not the case. 

R: Employment Branding is a reaction to job-hopping?

TA: Or rather, the rise of job-hopping as acceptable behavior led companies to adopt Employment Branding. Look - the challenge of hiring is a basic marketing problem. If they know your name, they apply. If they don't know your name, they don't apply. Today, knowing a company exists is not enough to make someone apply. They want to know about you. They want more from you. 

R: They want more. 

TA: They want more. And thus, to give them more - Employment Branding was born. What's funny is the public doesn't know it's called Employment Branding, but they do have expectations that the company sell itself prior to them applying. From our side, we can see that if we're liked prior to the application, they're more likely to take the job. This is pretty new. I didn't have to think about this when I started, but I've also worked with well-known companies  for my career. It's interesting to note that small companies, start-ups, and companies expanding into a new region always had to think about employment branding. When Microsoft, American Airlines, and even the US Army have to think about it, you're in a new paradigm.

R: So the story then becomes that Employment Branding was made possible by technology, but is a response to the uncertainty in the job market, even for those who are employed 

TA: That sounds about right. 

R: That, is a very good ending. I'll see if I can work that in. Anything else to come mind I should add? 

TA: Nothing important. Good luck on the article. Send me a link, when it's live. 

(the rest of the transcript was fact-checking, spelling, and other basic reporting techniques)

Conversations: I'm Too Busy To Get Anything Done

Sister: So when are we going to lunch?
Senior Manager: This week is just shot. 
S: You're not planning on eating lunch this week? 
M: I am - but, I can't get away. I am over-booked. Back-to-back-to-back meetings and that doesn't even include the work I have to do. 
S: Do you do any work? 
M: All I do is work.
S: You say that, and yet, you're always in back-to-back-to-back meetings. Can't you cancel them?
M: I wish. We're supposed to be open, and give input across divisions. If I'm not there, it slows everyone else down.
S: You're doing it wrong. 
M: Excuse me?
S: You're doing this whole management thing wrong. If you were talking to me like this as an employee, I'd roll my eyes and go get a smoothie.
M: That's why you don't have a corporate job, sis. 
S: That's why you're so bad at yours. Seriously? Back-to-back-to-back? What does that even mean? You walk into every meeting late, unprepared, and with everyone afraid to start because they'll just have to start back over when you arrive. 
M: Ha! I had a manager when I first started who would shut and lock the door one minute before the meeting. You were either in or out. 
S: How did that go over? 
M: I transferred to a better division. 6 months later he was fired when they found out he was sleeping with one of his direct reports.
S: They fire you for that?
M: No. They fired him because that little door-locking stunt was just one of many weird things he did to maintain control, and his division was failing. 
S: It's like what Mom says - that's Business Ethics!
M: So what were you saying? You don't think I'm prepared?
S: You showed up to my birthday party 25 minutes late and with the phone in your ear. When you got off the phone, you were boring to talk to for an hour.
M: I just needed to get out of my head - and into the party. 
S: Exactly. What you should have done is finished the call, got your head right, and walked into my party smiling that your baby sister was turning 30. Now - I happen to know that nothing in life with the exception of the kids, and maybe your husband, is more important than your baby sister, which means that your employees and other work manager type people aren't getting any of your attention. And that, dear sister, is because you're pretending that it doesn't bother you when you're booked back-to-back-to-back. 
M: You really like saying that, don't you. 
S: It's so stupid. Back-to-back is fine. When you say back-to-back-to-back, what you're really saying is "I'm so important - look at me and how busy I am!" 
M: I decided I like your brother better than I like you. 
S: Impossible. Seriously - you said it yourself. I have to get through these meetings and then I'll get the real work done. 
M: You might be right - there's actually some studies on that. 
S: Some studies - and your brilliant, beautiful, perfect sister telling you that if you're whining to me, you're whining to everyone. 
M: I wish it were that simple. 
S: What's the point of being the boss if you can't tell people to do their own work?
M: I'm not the boss. And even if you are the boss, that means less time. You're responsible...
S: For all the you's that are running around not getting anything done and pretending to be busy. 
M: I can't do lunch this week. 
S: Okay - then you should treat me like our brother and pay for my lunch even if you can't go. 
M: That happened one time. 
S: And that's why I'm your favorite.