Tuesday, January 24, 2012

HR routine, German culture and catchy subject lines

Ever since, I also blog on career-related topics, I visit portals and read other blogs related to career, cv and cover letter writing, job hunt, etc as well. Karrierebibel is one of the premium addresses for that matter. Often ahead of the times as the recent blog shows.

The author pledges use of marketing or "catchy" phrases in the subject line of an application email sent by candidates. He suggests that subject lines are the opportunity to make the first impression on HR or hiring manager and hence should be written in a way that it attracts their attention and makes them interested in a candidate. He calls for abandonment of uniform subject lines (e.g. key account manager application) in favor of "catchy" phrases meant to emanate self-confidence and interest (e.g. your next key account manager).

Agreed. But yet disagreed.

Indeed, writing „application” in the subject line is boring. Especially, as application by e-mail are usually sent to an e-mail-address exclusively established for this purpose. On another hand, lucky those HR departments that receive applications with subject lines that include the position name. Those getting a reference to the job ad as well should consider themselves twice as lucky.

Disagreed because the advice misses the reality check with the HR routine. A few beliefs:
* HR folk like any other people like to have it simple, informative and to the point.
* HR appreciates candidates who make their life easy. One of the recruiters job is to keep track of applications received and there is nothing more annoying than not instantly knowing what position a candidate is applying for.
*“Catchy” lines make recruiters job cumbersome and get the job seeker the wrong kind of attention. Super out-of-the-box applications also in terms of subject line are usually a turn-off.
* Efforts put in phrasing subject lines go unnoticed as long as e-mail-applications are printed which I believe is still a common practice in German SMEs.

The advice is also disconnected with the German culture. German job seekers still struggle to make good advertisement for themselves in cover letters or show their motivation to do the job for the employer in question. They are culturally not programmed to show self-confidence. Americans are. Yet, a quick review of career advice sites in English shows that the majority recommends to refrain from marketing-like subject lines. Instead, they promote simplicity: Name, Position, Job Ad ID.
Notably, candidate’s name in the subject line is particularly of benefit, when HR forwards the short-listed applications to the hiring managers electronically.
Next, some folk suggests trying to stand out in the crowd of applicants by adding one of the following besides Name, Position, Job Ad ID:
* Putting the addressee’s name at the beginning of the subject line.
* Adding credentials behind once name
* Adding total number of years of experience
* Adding very unique and specialized skill

Lastly, whether marketing-like phrases can add to the success of a job application probably depends on the industry, which the author did not give any consideration to. For application in ad agencies, some creativity is beneficial for sure. For more conservative industries, keeping it simple should remain the rule.

My research shows that out of 2000 recent applications received at my current employer, only one candidate utilized the wording “gesucht? gefunden!!!” in the subject line. Needless to say: She did not get the job.

This blog refers greatly to the comments left by LinkedIn members.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Firing at start-ups

Constantly under pressure to attract and recruit staff, performance oriented organizations such as start-ups fire without hesitation. Moreover, many exhibit „hire and fire” mentality.

Start-ups fire for many reasons:

The management strives for high performing teams and consequently penalizes every under-performance. At some companies, ranking talent in terms of performance becomes a weekly exercise. The tool supporting it is based on the traffic light system. Accordingly, staff receives red, yellow, or green mark based on their performance. Reds are fired at the next round, yellows are being observed closely, greens are on the safe side for the week. No doubt, start-ups are too lean to accommodate staff that does not create value as the business model and strategy evolve.

Hiring mistakes must be corrected. Young management teams are not versatile in assessing candidate’s experience, skills and aptitudes. Too frequently, they reference back to their intuition and sympathy that they develop to the candidatesd during the recruitment process. Leaders later discover that the company and the employee isn’t a good fit at all.

Objective talent needs may change as the understanding of value creation process improves and customers’ expectations mature. This constant refinement of an ideal candidate put employees who do not develop or adjust to the new requirements at risk.

Upgrading talent is a must. Sometimes, having a mediocre talent is better then having a vacant position. As start-ups struggle to attract top-notch talent they need to compromise their position requirements in the meantime. Under time pressure to fill-in the position, they make the selfish decision to hire people who only partially fulfill the job requirements and replacing them with better talent as they come into radar.

Dismissals are a quick fix of wrong management decisions. On one hand, I recognize that start-ups must invest in building internal capabilities and hire ahead of the revenue, profits, and market share. On another hand, I believe it is advisable to follow a conservative approach when it comes to hiring. A helpful metric is a ration of cost center and profit center staff and a rule of thumb that a headcount increase follows a sustainable revenue and profit increase. Unjustified over-investment or investment in wrong departments may only require restraining costs at some point in time. Ironically, such firing waves can be than labeled lay-offs due to bad business conditions.