“Neither candidates, nor companies, really know exactly what they want,” opines Bob Norton, a former business analyst turned information systems search and placement firm founder. “From the client side, it’s figuring out the business problem they have, not the laundry list of skills they think they need. On the candidate side, it’s taking an inventory of their skills and accomplishments, rather than merely looking at where they’ve been, then determining what the market is asking for.”
Seems simple enough, but the principal at Franklin Key Associates, in Franklin, Massachusetts, says he spends 80% of his time simply educating clients and candidates. What he’s preaching may involve a lot of common sense, but it’s apparently not common knowledge.
“I think there are a lot of staffing agencies that get caught working on something that’s shifting. It’s the train and the picket fence analogy. You’re looking out, and the view is always kind of the same, but you’re actually always moving. By the time you get to the end of the process, you may have already let go of Candidate #1, even though they may have been a good candidate. That’s an uncoordinated interview process.”
Norton, who started his company in 1997, says he thinks virtually every staffing agency and placement firm can do a better job of educating clients about process and outcome. He says many clients still look on the industry as vendors, not as partners, and that the label is deserved sometimes.
His number one goal though, he says is to help client organizations and prospective candidates understand their real needs, and he realizes it takes investment on his part to create the excellence he is striving for.
“People ask me, ‘what are your industries,’ ‘your sweet spots,’ ‘where is your expertise?’ I tell them, it’s not companies I work with, it’s people. My relationships are with the people, not the company. The reason I am doing business with a particular company is I was able to build a relationship with them, have them understand I know what they are trying to accomplish and I know what they need, and that finally I can deliver it.”
“It’s not companies I work with, it’s people. My relationships are with the people, not the company. The reason I am doing business with a particular company is I was able to build a relationship with them, have them understand I know what they are trying to accomplish and I know what they need, and that finally I can deliver it.”
One thing Norton tries to deliver is some insights into effective job descriptions. That’s a topic I have written about previously, such as this piece about winning the talent war with effective job posts. Like others, Norton concurs that many companies only think about these job descriptions from their perspective. They don’t look at it from the candidates point of view and they don’t realize they are talking to a moving target that can say no.
“Everyone is looking for Miss America. Only now, as the economy is improving, more people are looking for Miss America. I tell clients, yes she’s attractive, and guess what? She has other options. Everyone wants the ideal. Yet they create job descriptions that mirror what that person may already be doing at another company. So why would they quit a job only to come do the exact same thing for you? Because you might pay them a little more? That’s not enough.”
“Everyone is looking for Miss America. Only now, as the economy is improving, more people are looking for Miss America.”
As far as prepping his candidates, he says most of them aren’t doing enough to properly prepare themselves for placement.
“Let’s start with resumes,” says Norton. “Even at the senior level, 90% of them say ‘I worked here’ and ‘I worked there’ and so on. Those have to be redone so you can measure what a candidate accomplished in a job, and how their actions connected to results. We take an inventory of skills, ranking them in descending order of their strongest skills, based on their deliverables. Then we determine the target. People think about where they have been in this process a lot more it seems than they think about where they want to go. I think of myself as becoming the candidate’s marketing department for the moment, and help them sharpen their sword.”
“People think about where they have been in this process a lot more it seems than they think about where they want to go.”
Through this entire process, Norton is endeavoring to take the hunches and the gut instincts and the guess work out of it, on both the candidate and client side. In their place, an actual spreadsheet, what he calls a Job Specification Grid, that makes “an equal and quantitative evaluation of each candidate against a list of criteria in priority order.”
“What we’re doing is trying to solve a business problem with human talent. I create a rating sheet, a ranked order, and we operationally identify each one of them. My job is to help companies figure out what they need. And often times when we go to the end of the process, it’s a totally different vision than the one they started with. I mean c’mon, if people really knew how to pick people, we wouldn’t have a 50% divorce rate. Unless you have a system, some science behind this, you’ll pick people for the wrong reason.”
Tune in tomorrow and we’ll share not only some more good quotes and takeaways from Bob, but also some of the specifics behind the way he approaches and conducts the interview process, using his systems background.