Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Fallacy of Networking

Everyone recommends networking as the way forward to finding both your first job or your eventual dream job. From the employers perspective it appears to save time and money in being passive in the job market and fielding speculative approaches or networked contacts. However there are weaknesses in this approach.

The principle is of course that you recruit the best possible person available (actively seeking) for the position or failing that actually head hunt them out of a job! A priori to this is actually that the would be recruiter has cast a wide net to include as many 'best possibles'. This is where the debate begins- finding the best person or letting them find you.

In letting them find you there are many dangers. The positive side is that they appear to be motivated to work specifically for your company and present a plausible, focused case in theri application and discussions with you. This flatters the company and leads them into what may be a false sense of security. Most all job seeker courses now focus on networking and open applications and so candidates are better at SEEMING to be really interested, motivated, and experienced.

As with Police service and becoming a politician, a strong desire to actually enter these careers should be automatic grounds for exclusion. We get the wrong personality profile too often in both these careers (although not seemingly in my adopted country now!) . People who come to you may be actually over enthusiastic and blind you with one the one side charm while on the otherside they present a strong case in appearance which actually lacks the depth of experience which is to be found out in the market. That is to say in other words, they can press the right button by focusing their communication message better than the generic CVs which land on the desk.

The other down side is even more personality profile related- you tend to attract more extravert and driving personalities. Fine for sales jobs, but you may need someone who is more controlled, detail oriented and not in fact very good at speculative applications. Immediately you choose to only consider specualtive applications and your network, so can your company become filled with clever opportunists rather than stable, hard working and pedantic types you maybe actually need.

Go getters are on a career programme, and rightly so. Resultingly you have to view them with some scepticism. Is this position actually something the candidate is going to go the full mile in or just a foot in the door? Worse is it a stepping stone to work in a competitor!?

My point is that in being passive you don't get :

1) the best possible performer 'in the market'
2) You bias a personality profile over actual necessary skills for the job

Futher is the whole issue of nepotism and other personal favouritism. This is an area which was rife before the explosion of the recruitment industry in the 1980s who managed to sell companies towards the right stuff- use of databases and wide trawling to be able to select from the very best in the market. Now to my chagrin it is rife again. Networking starts at home, just like all those idiots who begin in insurance sales. You start with family and move on to freinds and people who either owe-you-one, or worse you have a family lever over. For example your dad may be a suppliers biggest customer and can more or less demand a place for you there. Total conflict of interest! Never should be ethical! Happens all the fucking time!

One clear problem is that recruitment consultants have actually moved away from offering a diverse and bountiful shelf ware selection. They feel it is unproductive to have people sitting in a database and have to actually hunt them down, check they may be interested and get an updated CV out of them. Now most all jobs I have talked about with recruitment consultants are set out on the web and the candidates self select them. Even, or dare i say Especially in high skill demand areas- the advertised job gets those people in the market and not those who would like to bounce a salary rise around after having had a call out of the blue. In part this is because one key goal recruitment consultants have is cost and inflation control for their customers.

In my experience , recruitment consultants have become a lot less useful for candidates- you must be active in applying for positions that are advertised- this means you are competing against a larger amount of available candidates than you would have been in the 80s and 90s when database was king. I unashamably work around recruitment consultants- they avoid risk taking so won't stretch you into a job compared to someone sitting in that type of job already -so I find out who the employer is and say no thank you to them presenting me. I then pop up as one of these highly motivated candidates specifically interested in them with my nice open application and phone call!

Why do companies rely so much on networking and speculative applications? Well it comes down to time and emotions. Personnel departments are now bogged down with HMS legislation and trying to reduce sick leave, turn over etc while flying their own projects in training and development. There is a certain feel good factor all round when someone is either an eager beaver focused on your company or part of the family already so to speak. The flattery, the reduction in hours to getting a candidate with a good story, and the feeling of doing someone a favour all play to the positive emotions and over come , quite ungrounded the fear of the unknown and recruiting the wrong stuff.

Personnel will recruit - advertised - when prodded by senior management, but a lot of the time they are simply bypassed and end up rubber stamping candidates who have been wise and gone to the actual departmental decision maker by networking. The papers and web sites are therefore crammed with the following- jobs in mostly the public sector, where they must advertise despite the position being already sewn up for the sitting temp or promotee; jobs that are unnattractive- telesales, care work with antisocial hours, part time work and so on; jobs where skills are so scarce and tied up that they don't get enough applications or anyat all; senior ledership jobs where the company really has to be seen to be recruting the best- visibility to stock and other share holders is important as is actually coaxing someone good out of a position!

There in lies the rub - companies will jump through all the right hoops when it is a MUST for a senior enough job that questions can be posed as to how good the person actually was aligned for the role. Whereas the hum drum jobs which actually make the company function are subject to networking and the open application. My conclusion is that companies should spend a lot more energy on being active recruiters- it avoids the risks of bias from networking and passivity while also actually being a source of excellent benchmarking and market intelligence. Your candidates have experience and knowledge you can use- is your competitor offering better terms and more effective training? What is the new buzz in ISO 14000 about? Is your biggest supplier about to go bankrupt?

I recommend that managers use at least 8 hours a month on reviewing and interviewing candidates to acheive:

A more objective review of candidates presenting them selves 'on spec'
A move away from the networking and nepotism bias
Being able to actively 'head dump' ie recruit better people before you sack lower performers
Getting free consultancy!

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