Saturday, November 06, 2004

HR: Do Search Firms "Search"

Some company's selection processes appear to be like a meaningless ritual. However, in the times that I have felt this, I have also felt that either the interviewer or the company culture, does not give the process the seriousness it deserves. If a company really believes that recruitment is an important process and adopts approaches which have been proven to be effective, the professionalism of the process and its proponents will show through and the results normally validates the means.

There are, of course, some who claim that they are able to tell a good candidate the minute he or she walks through the door! Yeah, right! Such selection methods (if you can call it that) simply pander to the hirer’s personal prejudices. Such hiring managers will then, many a time, make the best of his/her own decision, thus making the selection appear valid. In my opinion, such “gut feel” approaches have no place in professional set ups. It was the late scientist, Carl Sagan, who said (in response to a question on his “gut feel”) that he tries not to think with his gut. I share his sentiments! As humans, we need to retain our subjective judgements, but not till it becomes mere whim and fancy!

We need to "hedge our bets" and consider a multidimensional approach. In this way, one obtains more comprehensive info on a candidate with which to make a selection decision. But how many companies are willing to invest the money and time to adopt such approaches? Perhaps not until “the market” demands greater professionalism in HR approaches. Or perhaps not until we as humans begin to be aware of our own prejudices and adopt more scientific approaches into our recruitment repertoire. This is to ensure we blend a greater degree of objectivity, into our subjective judgement (which is just as important).

On the topic of investing in HR, I find it curious that companies choose to spend exorbitant amounts on so called “search” firms but do not invest in developing a proper selection process or training their recruiters in effective recruitment techniques. After all, shouldn’t a company’s own executives be in a better position to identify suitable candidates rather than a third party? If an agency’s role is simply to shortlist suitable people for a company to interview, is it worth the amount we pay such firms? At the very senior end of the spectrum (the so-called “C”-level hires) and for positions where relevant talent is scarce there is perhaps some true “search” taking place. And at the junior and temporary staffing levels, the charges are perhaps negligible. But how about the large bulk of executives and managers who fall in the middle of this spectrum? I disagree with the often quoted dictum that good performers will not be looking for jobs and they therefore need to be “sought” out.

People move from one company to another for a multitude of reasons. Many of them can be strong performers if they are placed in a position that matches their motivations. So, if at any time there are many people looking for a different career opportunity, do you really need a search firm to help you “search” for them. I cannot help but wonder if company’s who hire such firms are fully aware of their options. I also wonder if the increaseing number of serach firms are taking such companies for a ride and have tapped into a lucrative vein of ignorance and are feasting themselves on the results.

Companies generally, and HR Managers specifically, should reclaim what I feel is their rightful authority to have a major say in the whole recruitment process. Be careful of outsourcing (a large chunk of) the responsibility for identifying your supposedly “most important asset” to outsiders, and paying them good money for the privilege!



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