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Recruiting “gotchas” and tips with Nancy Slessenger (pt 2)

Luke Szyrmer February 16, 2021 117

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This is part 2 of the discussion with expert recruiter Nancy Slessenger. We cover: 

  • Why screening for motivation even when recruiting helps find the best fit candidates
  • How to formulate insightful interview questions
  • Why trying to recruit clones of yourself is often a bad idea

About Nancy Slessenger

Nancy is the author of over 20 publications including “How to Write Objectives that Work” with sales of over 500,000 copies and “Difficult People Made Easy”, a booklet of practical tips for dealing with people you find difficult.  She started Vinehouse Essential Ltd in 1995, as a management training and consultancy company.  Nancy was asked to help a client in Australia hire people for his business. The result was the process she developed and honed that now achieves a success rate of over 91% (compared with the average success rate of 25 – 30%). It was developed to work remotely so is ideal for the current situation. Her company, Vinehouse Hiring, now specializes in recruitment and hiring for small to medium sized owner run businesses in the English-speaking world. Vinehouse has clients in US, Canada, Australia and Japan as well as the UK and is the only company offering a one-year guarantee on all its hires.  Before starting her own company, Nancy worked in manufacturing industry, initially at Mars, and was director of an electronics company a few years later. 


When you’re interviewing someone, if you just immediately like them. If you’re recruiting them to be a best friend and a dinner party guest, fine, but you’re probably not. And in my view, know, when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re hiring people to do stuff that you used to do yourself, you should always be looking for someone who could do it better than you could. Because then you’re never tempted to go back it yourself and it’ll be done. You are listening to the online remotely podcast, the show dedicated to helping lead distributor teams under difficult circumstances.

I’m the host Look Sharp and I’ve participated in a run distributed teams for almost a decade. As a practitioner, I’m speaking with experts on leadership, strategic alignment and work to help you navigate the issues start facing after you get. Welcome, welcome back. Today, we are speaking with Nancy Schlessinger for part two of our conversation, expert recruiter Nancy Schlessinger, and she shares various hiring more stories which help illustrate why screening for motivation is really important even when you’re recruiting, uh, as it helps find the best fit candidates and screens out ones which aren’t great, how to formulate insightful interview questions based on role requirements, and also why trying to recruit clones of yourself is often a bad idea.

And let’s dig into the show. So I know you wrote a booklet about objectives.

Yeah, a couple of years ago, OK, it was more like 14 or 15 years ago.

When you go out to Howard, should you have those objectives clear for the person you’re hiring for before you go? Or is that something you work out independently of the hiring process?

It’s a good idea to have these really clear and before you start, because really they should tie in to your overall company objectives. And if you’ve got your company objectives up here, then you’ve got capsule’s and someone else is in this new person. Until they’re down here somewhere, all those things should be tied together. So I’d have to work it out and it may be even put them in your job advertisement and say these are the things we want you to achieve in your first six months of your first year.

So. Tell me about a. Interesting hearing, case study. I will tell you about the worst one of the worst examples I came across, and it was a company I worked at where I’m not going to mention them. And they hired this new manager. And I remember my manager bursting in saying, oh, we just have this new person. And these are the best results we’ve ever seen in our hiring process for this person at phenomenal results.

And we have this two day event that you had to go through. It was massive and really thorough. And you did group things. You did individual things. You did written test. You presented things. I had to go through it myself when I was in graduate training. It was really hard work. Anyway, this guy arrives and he takes over one of the production lines and within three months, a third of his people had left. The output had gone through the floor.

The efficiency was really poor and the quality had dropped massively. So the guy who was in charge of the area came over to me. So we’d like you to take over this department and turn it around, please, because that kind of thing, I was known for that. And and I said, right, what do you think the problem is?

I said, Well, we don’t know. We’d like you to find out. Are you serious? You don’t know. It’s like a simple guide. A I just goes down there. It really was that basic. Now, the thing is, the reason I think that is such an appalling failure is not because of the result they got at that stage. Obviously, they should’ve done something way before, three months before those other people had left. But because what they didn’t do was go back and say, where is our process failing?

What did we get wrong there, because they put other people through who were fine, including myself. But clearly the fact this guy had the best results ever indicated, that didn’t mean he was going to be the best ever production manager, that he was actually a really nice guy. No doubt about that. You know, the intelligence spoke goodness knows how many languages and all sorts of other things. But that’s one of the reasons why I’m sure you’re aware we’ve got this 12 month guarantee that we have with our candidates.

Now, I know that’s nice for our clients and they generally really like that. But actually the reason is because it means we have to look back and Rihana if we get it wrong, so that means we automatically look back through our whole process and identify how did we get this wrong. And I can tell you the main reason things go wrong is because we didn’t follow the process.

So it’s when we’re in a real hurry. Can you just do this? Can we just pay half and you do half of it and the stuff. And every time we do that, I say, that’s it. We’re never doing it again. We really are never doing it again now because it always ends up costing us way more than the clients paid for it. And the job is not well done. So that’s one of the key reasons. The other one is where we didn’t get the job right in the first place.

We had one where the clients thought the job was going to be, say, 70 percent. Dealing with the actual clients and customers and 30 percent doing admin and we got this spectacularly good candidate who they absolutely loved and it turned out the job was the other way around, it was 30 percent dealing with clients, 70 percent admin. And she wanted the client facing. That was the bit she really loved. But the thing is, when I look back at that, I really don’t know how we could have got that better because it was a totally new job.

So it was hard to predict. So that was an unfortunate one. I think those are the two main things. But the other thing, the other one, and this is really useful for for anyone listening who is thinking of hiring people, is if there are one or two things a little bit off in the process, those are often a real flag. So if someone’s late for an interview, that is not a good sign. If they just don’t check their spam and miss your emails, that’s not a good sign if their correspondence with you is not good.

That’s not a good sign if they don’t send things back very quickly. Now, one of those things can be just a glitch. But once it starts turning into two or three, there are warning bells should be ringing. And however good they are, if you have to keep chasing the candidate, that’s really I can’t think of a single candidate. We’ve had to chase a lot to send out to be a good candidate. So I throw those out there for you.

One of the things that I was really referring back to a lot was the aspect of motivation. I think you can even see if they aren’t really motivated to do this job or join this company, then it’s going to be really hard to motivate the greater external.

Yeah, and it may be they also have other jobs on the go and they’re not interested in and your job. But there’s all kinds of reasons. But just ask ask the candidate that is a real indicator that they who made several all typos. In an email that she sent and we reject, we gave, she asked why, we said, here we are. This is a job where you’re going to be emailing high level clients and say this is high net worth people.

You just can’t be doing this or that wasn’t my fault. It’s because I did it on my phone while I was stopped at the traffic lights.

So that was that was the right decision, you know.

So speaking of working from outside the office, now that things have changed over the last year, everyone’s working from home. How is that impacted? I guess just hiring first. Good question.

As far as hiring people at the moment is concerned, at the beginning of covid, we did have a couple of clients just cancel the whole thing, perfectly understandably. And I was absolutely expecting that. But we’ve had other people where it’s been the opposite and they’re just busier and busier. We have seen, I think in some cases, lower standards of candidates because I think a lot of people are just really desperate. So they’re going to stuff that they wouldn’t normally be going for.

And we’ve possibly had more candidates on quite a few jobs. But the thing that really surprised us was we actually had some candidates telling the top down. Now, that is incredibly rare for us because by the time they get a job offer, they have been through a lot of hoops and they’ve put a lot of effort and we’ve really carefully filtered them. They know exactly what to expect. So we wouldn’t really expect them to put that much effort in if they were going to turn the job down.

But what it turned out to be was people were quite reluctant if they’d already got a job and some security exactly to take a risk. And also benefits have become quite a lot more important to people than they were. So if they’re not going to get the benefits they would like, then that, again, is an issue.

Speaking with various friends and others here, the on boarding, I think, is really complicated, especially at first when everybody was just starting. So both for the employees coming into contact.

Yeah. And everyone’s a road so they can’t go and yeah. Talk to someone then.

Also for the managers to get someone integrated if everyone’s just sitting at their laptop or one of the key points here is that working remotely is not something that suits everyone by a long way. One of the recruitment mistakes I made years ago was my first pay was a fantastic woman. She was incredibly efficient, really accurate in her work, really keen. But it was my first foray into just having someone else who worked for me that was remote, basically, you know, and she got unbelievably lonely and it never occurred to me that could be a problem.

There are people for whom working remotely is great. They absolutely love it, but there are others for whom it really is not great and they’ll need to be back in an office once that happens. So if you’re a remote person, you like working from home on boarding isn’t as difficult because you’re not a person needs all that face to face interaction. But if you are, that’s difficult on boarding. Should be, you know, the same sort of process, whether you’re remote or not.

In all, our people are remote and we just talk to them getting to meet everyone. And we do have more telephone conversations than a normal company would because that’s our equivalent of the coffee meeting around the water cooler. But we hire people we know, like working in that way. So that makes it easier.

I definitely take the point that with remote work, not everyone likes it. And even to some extent, what we have now is really remote work in a way, anyway.

If you can’t leave the house, is that remote work?

I think the whole point of it’s more that you can follow your own preferences, set up your environment the way you like that it makes a lot of sense, but it’s imposed and there’s lots of things about it, about monitoring employees.

And there have been some that there’s some software in there where they take a sort of shot of your screen every so often things. And I am not really a fan of that kind of thing if you have to do that. I wonder if you’re managing people well or if you’ve got the right people or what, really? Because that’s the kind of performance management. That is how many hours you spend at your desk instead of what do you actually achieve. And that’s the lesson I learned a long time ago, that there’s a big difference between people who just.

The hours and the people who actually achieve the stuff, what you can, yeah, you can change that by the way you manage them. And if you manage people for how many hours they spend their desk, then you get what you deserve. Thank you, Renee.

Yeah, that was a guy I used to work with who is a really superb electronics engineer, absolutely brilliant. And one day I went up to him and asked him to do something for me and he just point blank refuse well. And he said, well, I’m not here. What’s your name? He said, Well, I’m on holiday. So what are you doing here? And he said, well, I come in on a holiday so I can work on the projects I think are really important to my folks at work and no one can tell me to do anything else.

This guy was late every morning. He was five minutes late because he could either get up an hour earlier and get the bus back in half an hour early, or he could get up the time he wants to get up and get in five minutes. Late in this company, you were basically automatically fired for regular lateness. So they had to bend over backwards to accommodate this person that he was a brilliant engineer. It’s we think there’s something wrong with this policy.

It’s getting these results. And if it’s going on this holiday, clearly he’s we certainly committed. Yeah.

So, yeah, I think it’s managers who are insecure and I think that people are doing what they should be doing. You really have to look at that and why you’ve got that situation. My experience is that a lot of people actually spend more time working when they’re working remotely than they they would if they were in the office. But the ones who get lonely. I think that’s just awful for them. And I think they would really want those people doing that going on with the remote thing.

I mean, what about hiring processes when you’re hiring outside of your home country?

We use the same. Same process, basically, we’re not experts on the legal side, we can’t in the States. You’ve got different legal requirements for every single state. And so we have to rely on clients on that side. But yet same process you identify, what do you actually need? You identify your criteria. You test. Think look at those criteria, are there any cultural considerations at all?

We just work in the English speaking world, so it may be that we haven’t really come across needed to basically. Yeah, I know. I said if this is going to sound racist, but I think there’s a different attitude in Australia to America. One of the things that’s really different is the amount of holidays you get in America compared to the amount of holidays you get when you actually get them. And Australia is pretty different when we look out over the holiday.

Well, someone you know, quite soon we said we’ll start advertising straight after Christmas. And they said there’s really no point in starting it on the fourth of January because nobody’s thinking about it. When he was in America, it’s like, yeah, get that adult story to a 4th of January. Yeah, interesting. Any other fun stories or learnings that you have that you want to share with the audience about what would be some particular issues that people.

I’ve had I will share a story, a candidate, but this is a friend of mine who I gave some tips to him interviewing and this is absolutely true. I don’t know how prevalent it is. Really made me laugh the candidate for a place that medical school and obviously they’re really highly sought after. And the candidates then the answer is absolutely true. And partway through the interview, his phone rang. And my friend is thinking, well, that happens to the concerned.

And the candidate actually answered the phone going, oh yeah, yeah. I’m in an interview at the moment is going quite well.

But my daughter turns out is actually very good at assessing application forms.

So during the campaign that we shouldn’t have any work, she’s doing some assessment for us. And it made me think that anyone applying for jobs should spend some time reviewing application forms because people don’t check their spelling. They don’t read the questions that answer the questions. Why do they do that? But on the other side of it, you have to be really careful about checking people out for not spending things correctly or for answers if that’s not relevant to the job.

If you’re looking for someone to work in a warehouse, it actually probably doesn’t matter if they make spelling mistakes, typos and stuff. But if they get the numbers bit wrong, that probably is a problem. If they can’t get out 20 things compared to 50, that’s not good. So I think one of the key things is to focus on what you really need rather than easy things. Another thing people sometimes do is they put candidates through far too much, which you need to be really careful.

What do we actually need to know? And then let’s find that out and then let’s make the decision and do it relatively quickly. Don’t keep people hanging on for several months because you will lose the good people that we’ve had that before. Now we’re really good candidates. We’ve just got another job because they’ve just been kept hanging on so long. Yeah, and that’s really a shame. But in some ways you think will. Yeah, I don’t blame them at all because why would you want to work for a company that treated you like that?

And I think it’s always worth remembering that you need to treat candidates properly, whether they get the job or not, because those people will then go out and talk to other people about your company or they’ll put reviews and things out there and not getting back to candidates. Oh, goodness. That’s one of the things that we often hear from candidates when we send them a note to say they haven’t got the job. And then we also if like feedback and quite a lot of the master feedback and most of the candidates really liked to get feedback and they’ll say, well, people don’t usually let’s say we haven’t got the job.

And to me, it’s so easy now to send a person a quick email. Hi, Luke. Thanks for your application and all the efforts in really sorry. Unfortunately, we can’t take your application forward. Good luck finding a job. That’s all it needs to be.

But a lot of companies just don’t do that. And even when you’re recruiting for waitresses or waiters or anything, you still can do that. It’s so easy now just to do that almost automatically. And so I would urge people to be nice to your candidates if you possibly can. One more question worth interviewing. How do you choose questions? Do you have, like a standard set to do on these variables you’re going for?

Yeah, yeah, we base them all on the criteria of what we’re looking for. I know some people have their favorite questions, but the trouble is, you’ve got to ask yourself, what information is that going to give me that will enable me to make a decision about whether this person could do the job or not. And all your questions should be identifying that. Now, we do check most of our criteria into different contexts. So we check them on an application form and we check them in a spoken, written or sorry, an audio visual interview, because sometimes people behave quite differently in different contexts.

So there are people who are really good on written stuff but aren’t actually very good face to face. And there are people who are a good face to face, but not good in a written context and depending on the job that may or may not matter. So don’t make decisions on stuff that doesn’t matter which a lot of people do. Going back to the very first thing we talked about when I was looking at people we hired who really weren’t very good at the job, a lot of them were hired because they were just nice to talk to them.

They’d be a really good team member. So they’ll chat and they’ll get along with everyone, but actually that’s not always what you want. You don’t want someone on the production line who’s just always going to be chatting with everyone. It sounds basic, but it’s true and it’s not what you want cost and lots of other jobs. One of the things in that Tim Harford book I was talking about was he looked at financial investment clubs, that investment clubs and how well they did, and the investment clubs that were just a group of friends doing it is like a hobby when nothing like as successful as the ones who weren’t friends.

And we’re doing it more to make money. And the reason for that was when someone in the group of friends would come up with a proposal or say, no, we shouldn’t invest. And this is something that’s a bit controversial. They would just kind of shelve that, didn’t want to discuss it in case people fell out because their main goal was everyone staying friends, you know, with the groups where they were doing it more professionally and they didn’t mind if they fell out.

They just wanted to make the right decision. Did better, and that was, yeah, a very useful little insight. There, in my view, so you have to be really where is called the halo effect when you’re interviewing someone, if you just immediately like them. If you’re recruiting them to be your best friend and a dinner party guests, fine. But you’re probably not. And in my view, know, when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re hiring people to do stuff that you used to do yourself, you should always be looking for someone who could do it better than you could.

Because then you’re never tempted to go back and do it yourself and it’ll be done.

One more question. So how do you or and or your clients think about hiring generalists?

Depends what the role is. If you want someone if you’re a one person band and you’re looking for someone to big vans and do loads of stuff for you, then you probably do want a generalist. And it’s probably only as you get bigger that you want specialists. The way we do it is we have various incredibly long term contractors that are the specialists to do. We’ve got some people who do all our design work. They’re specialists. We’ve never do that, never do that myself and other technical stuff.

We just have specialists who do those things. I’m more of a generalist and I think is probably more of a generalist. Depends on what you’re looking for, what you need. The key is what do I need this person to achieve? And if you’re hiring a sort of system, we’ve got some at the moment. You want some help with that? And well, I advised him to do it over the next week. Just jot down as he’s going all the things he would like that person to do if they were there.

And by the end of the week, I think we’ll have a really useful list. And then I can look at it and go, you are not going to get a person to do all this. Or I can say this is three jobs. Or I can say, yes, we can get geniuses. But until I’ve got the actual information, it’s hard to know. But I think they are going to be a bit of a generalist. But you see, that also depends on how rapidly does this person want to grow their company if he’s looking to grow very quickly in the next year.

Then you want somebody who’s going to be able to take that and really get that moving and probably high two or three other people, you know, then that’s going to change what you hear, isn’t it? Because you’d still want to be there. And and it is time. And it may be you want someone who specializes in this that can hire these other people. It’s going to depend on your long term goals. So I asked him to identify his five, I think, one, two and five year goals.

So you can look at that, make some sense decisions. In this fast moving environment, though, things will change to adapt at that point.

Yeah, great. How do people get in touch with you to find out more?

Email me, Nancy, at White House dot com. That’s a pretty common route. And we’ve got a Facebook and LinkedIn group. I’ll send you the links for those. Yeah, I’ll be very happy for people to join those where we hope to share ideas and thoughts and questions, because if you’ve got a question, if you’re having trouble, you can guarantee other people will be having that same problem. And hope is that someone will have solved it. And so one of the things to remember here is it’s actually quite a fast moving environment.

So on the advertising, the job advertising in particular, the people, the places where you advertise changes more frequently than you think of the way the advertising works. It’s a bit like Google, which I’m sure you’re familiar with on Google Maps and that kind of stuff. So if you did it a year ago and it worked, it may not work now, which is rather annoying and the job title might have changed. It really can happen like that.

So in that forum, we’ll be looking at those things and will be helping each other on those. I hope so, yeah. Anyone who wants to ask a question or some support. Great. Please get in touch. Right. Thank you. That was a great discussion with Nancy, and I think my favorite takeaway from this discussion is how she advises breaking down particular tasks that a person needs to do, um, from something quite abstract by just going throughout a week, jotting down all the things you want the person to do if they were there, because I think that helps a lot in terms of clarifying your own sense of what it is that you want to happen by having someone tune in next week where we will be speaking with an expert in who’s actually really worn out during the pandemic and why that’s happened to you then.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the online remotely podcast, if you enjoy the show, please leave a review on iTunes, Google podcast or wherever you get your podcast.

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