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He was the Guy Wearing Shorts and Riding a Motorcycle

He was the Guy Wearing Shorts and Riding a Motorcycle

People PerspectiveOriginally published on February 1, 2013 in the Philadelphia Business Journal.

I once helped a young friend of mine get an interview with the CEO of one of my clients. The CEO ran a chain of franchise running shoe stores. The young man worked for a large manufacturer of products in the fitness industry — so it seemed like a good fit. I talked to Jeff, the CEO, told him about my friend, and asked him if he would take a few minutes to speak with Connor.

After a first phone conversation, both Jeff and Connor were positive about what they had heard, and I encouraged Connor to let Jeff know that he would like to go down to North Carolina to meet with him and learn more about the company.

“Connor, instead of going directly to the office, there is a coffee shop right down the road — let’s meet there,” Jeff said. “I will have the chairman come down and you can meet him too. You’ll be able to spot me — I will be the guy wearing shorts and riding a motorcycle.”

When I heard the part about Jeff wearing shorts and riding a motorcycle, I laughed. I wouldn’t tell Connor what was so funny (I didn’t want to mess things up), but I am going to tell you.

Jeff knew exactly what he was doing telling this to a 25-year-old kid who wanted to get out of the Fortune 500 cube in which he was stuck? Jeff understood that while the logical reasons to come work for him were all there (his business was growing more than 20 percent per year), logic alone never causes people to change jobs. There is an emotional component to the decision. On an emotional level, how cool would it be from Connor’s perspective to work for a successful company that was still laid back enough that the CEO wore shorts to the office after getting there on his bike?

As we assess our own recruiting and interview processes, we should be tightening things up, setting high standards, filling our recruiting funnel with better candidates, and all the other things that we discuss in this column. But we can never forget that, often, the best candidates are not actively looking for jobs, and thus need to be sold on coming to work for us. One of the most important aspects of selling your company to A-players is to be creative about letting them experience your culture.

My first rule is: don’t be fake. Jeff really did wear shorts and ride his Harley to work, that was not a show. He was not being fake — but he was being very intentional. He understood that this laid-back ethos — combined with a very successful business — would likely be attractive to a young star in his industry.

Jeff understood that all great interviewers know how to put people at ease. When someone is sitting at a big conference table (or across a big desk) from you, the environment itself encourages them to be professional and focused. When you drive up on your bike, order a latte, and sit down outside, you are inviting the other person to let down. That lets you see more about what is beneath the surface of the candidate.

How this applies to our own interview and hiring process:

• Job postings/position descriptions: Does the personality of your company come through in these first impressions? If you are a hip urban company make sure that all the online and printed materials you have reflect this personality.

• Physical location: There are many companies that have relocated in part to attract hard-to-find talent. Restaurants and tech companies have a harder time attracting talent in the suburbs than they do in the city. Should you consider it?

• Personality and approach: Unless you do all the recruiting yourself, someone is out in the marketplace representing your company to potential employees. Would you be proud to have them serve as a spokesperson? Because they are.

• Coordinating the interview process: Every interaction with a candidate matters, and this includes whether or not we have done a good job providing them with an agenda, providing a list of people with whom they will be meeting, and prepping them for those conversations. This is an opportunity to differentiate our company. We can move with urgency, provide good information, and follow up.

• Structure of the interview: What setting puts you and the candidate most at ease and shows your values and culture?

• The follow up: Schedule second interviews, provide feedback to candidates, let weaker ones know we are not making them an offer, and finalize an offer with our top choice. All these reflect on you, your company, and your values.

Jeff didn’t offer Connor a job, more as a function of timing than Connor’s ability. But he did a great job of impressing Connor — and this put him in the position to hire him if he wanted to. Recruiting is just a specialized application of marketing and sales, topics that we understand well. When we bring our marketing and sales acumen to bear, we make ourselves more attractive to great people.

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