Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Service over Sales, 5 Requests for Employment Recruiters

Today's tale begins with a true story that taught me a valuable lesson early in my career.


Many, many years ago, when I was just a teen, I worked as an evening and weekend manager of a small book and music store, part of a small chain of four stores throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Our store was particularly small, nestled in the center of a small plaza in a peaceful suburb home to many quiet, conservative families. The owner of the store was a wonderful woman who was firm in teaching all the employees the value of offering excellent service to every customer. She started every shift by engaging the employees in a commitment to be aware of their attitudes, often preparing us for the most impatient or difficult customers with a reminder of what a difference we can make simply by exercising patience, consideration, and respect. Over the years the store steadily grew in both reputation and revenue and the chain grew from four stores to eight.

But then one day the owner retired, selling the chain to a businessman with big dreams of taking the chain to the next level. He had no time for pep talks advocating respect and good service. Sales was the measuring stick of success. And in his view, controversy and "edge" were the most effective tools. Knowing your customer was replaced with knee-jerk reactions to what sold somewhere else. Because heavy metal and hard rock were the music of choice in the youth-centered downtown Toronto location, loud music was piped in and played constantly in our little suburban haven. Employees were instructed to aggressively push products, or else. I tried to explain that our employees knew their customers well and our true financial success and growth would come from our service focus and good reputation, not from shoving our customers through the checkout line. The message was not received well and shortly after I left for greener pastures. Less than eighteen months later, the entire chain declared bankruptcy. Last time I visited my old neighbourhood there was a Bulk Barn in its place.


This experience taught me the importance of incorporating strong service and reputation into any effective sales plan. Now there are certainly some industries that could effectively convince you of the merits of the aggressive "push until you get the sale" approach. Automotive sales, furniture retailers, insurance... all are known for often selecting a sales over service philosophy. And if you're only planning on selling for eighteen months or so then that may work for you because what's the value of your reputation if you're going to be off and running soon? But I would argue that to encourage or even employ these "fast buck" focussed professionals will not only hinder the long-term steady growth of your business, it may even prevent it.

And that brings me to the industry of employment agencies and recruiters. Over the last number of years I have witnessed a tragic change in the philosophies of many of these agencies similar to my past experience. Few are the agencies that are dedicated to long term growth through good reputation, hard work, and an honest approach. As a result many of the agencies that I used to employ as little as five years ago have closed up shop. It's not uncommon for recruiters to fall into this pattern of fourteen months here, sixteen months at another agency, and so on. It is unfortunate that the burden of both sales and service must fall on a single individual but even more unfortunate is how many of these recruiters seem to favour the "quick sale" of a prospective employee over the quality service of a well-researched placement. There are many business articles out right now advocating the importance of face time and getting to know a company's active philosophy to ensure an effective complement between employee and employer. Ironically, I've seen some of these articles forwarded through professional networking sites by the same individuals that seem most committed to the quick sale, professional recruiters who have chosen to represent me at one time or another without ever having met me or having anything more than a five minute phone conversation and a quick glance at my resume. And so to recruiters, human resource generalists, and especially agency owners, I offer five tips from the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of your client base.

1) Meet in person. Without meeting your contract client how much do you really know about their work environment, their philosophy, their working conditions? And without meeting the prospective employee, how well can you determine a fit? Every person is a great deal more than simply a piece of paper or a degree. If a person can be praised or disciplined in a workplace for their attitude, communication skills, or even personal hygiene, shouldn't you have some knowledge of these as well? When was the last time an employee was given a raise because of where they worked five years ago? For a more elaborate response, take the time to read this article from inc.com. http://www.inc.com/rene-siegel/five-reasons-you-need-to-meet-in-person.html

2) REALLY read the resume. As I've stated, it's imperative to know the prospect more than simply their paper representation but if you are going to review their resume, review all of it. Why did they list what they did? What mattered to them? Not long ago I submitted my resume for a position that I had already been doing for more than ten years. However, my most recent job title for the last year was different as I had been working as a consultant privately. When I submitted my resume I received a quick response within ten minutes stating that I could not be presented because I had no work experience in that field. I called the recruiter and asked them to clarify considering my ten years with that title and I was told that they never noticed those roles because they stopped after seeing the 4 point blurb detailing my last year. Out of two pages the recruiter had skipped to one section, ignoring the detailed skill sets specifying my related experience, and then immediately stopped.

3) Beware the myths. I see employment agencies regularly distributing tips to recruiters regarding how to evaluate prospects and applications. Stop and consider the truthful situation of a job seeker before taking those at face value. Just one example involves the advice when searching for office or marketing professionals to consider the spelling, grammar, and professional style of their resume in evaluating their skill sets. Have you taken into account the number of people that use professional resume writers, career centers, or even friends to write their resume? The most professional presentation could simply be forwarded on by an individual with the literacy and professionalism of a child. That's where the face time becomes a necessary complement.

4) Be Honest. If you can offer some constructive criticism to a job seeker, then do it. Who else is more qualified than you, the individual or agency in whom they've placed their trust and future? Don't just disqualify a candidate for missing a section or missing an error. Help them. If your company website describes you as a "service" professional than make sure that you offer the "service" component with enthusiasm. It often only takes a few moments but it builds a sustaining loyalty and reputation that won't simply add to your coffers, but those of YOUR employers as well.

5) Consider the long term. At this point in my career, whether I'm an employment or employee seeker, there are a select few agencies that have earned my loyalty through a true commitment to service over the quick placement. By no coincidence, they are also the agencies that have remained steadily successful for more than fifteen years while others fall by the wayside. One wonderful example is Pat Buckminster at Drake International. Having effectively placed me in a position almost 18 years ago, it doesn't matter if I call Pat every few months or once in 5 years, she can immediately recall me and my placement with a professionalism and quality of service that is increasingly hard to find. If I leave a message for Pat, I can be sure of a quick response. Whether or not I'm a good fit for a prospective position, Pat will be honest and considerate. There are too many recruiters who seem to have either forgotten or have never learned the value of courtesy and respect, failing to keep the lines of communication open or developing an honest rapport with their clients and prospects. To those that act upon the enduring and profitable value of service over sale, a round of applause. To those that feel quality service takes too much effort or time, you might want to consider Bulk Barn. I hear they're opening new stores all the time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Like what you had to say. I've had some of the same experiences myself.