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The Conscious Approach to Hiring

Recruiting veteran Margaret Graziano, a keynote speaker and workshop presenter at this year's Recruiting Trends Conference, says the low employee engagement and high turnover rates at many of today's organizations are the result of a broken hiring process.

Monday, October 3, 2016
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Margaret Graziano began her first job in recruiting for a personnel agency at the tender age of 20. During her first year on the job, she earned $64,000 (this was in the early 1980's) and was making close to six figures by her third year. She credits her success to her willingness to learn as much as she could about her clients' needs so she could provide them with people who were a good fit. Today, she's the CEO of KeenAlignment, a talent-management consulting firm, the author of the book The Wealth of Talent, and a sought-after speaker and consultant to companies throughout North America.  

When it comes to recruiting today, Graziano says, the process has been overtaken by technology and a mindset that's allowed too many recruiters to function as order takers rather than talent consultants. The result is that too many people are hired into positions for which they're a poor match, leading to under-performance, high turnover and low engagement -- which ultimately hurts the bottom line.

The remedy is what Graziano calls "conscious hiring" -- an approach that challenges recruiters and talent-acquisition leaders to rethink every approach of how they select and hire people. In the following Q&A, Graziano -- who will be presenting a pre-conference workshop and delivering the closing keynote at this year's Recruiting Trends Conference -- explains why she feels recruiting is broken and what must be done to fix it.

What's missing in recruiting today -- where are many companies going wrong in the hiring process?

Contrary to popular belief, I think we have a whole generation of recruiters who don't know how to select people to match for culture. They're trained in keyword search, using the ATS as gatekeepers to candidates, they go on LinkedIn to do keyword searches -- they look for the obvious and yet miss so much. They see the tip of the iceberg but miss 85 percent of it. Relationships and culture were very important back in the day but all that got swept aside with the Internet. Now we're in a market where we have 50 million people who have 5 years or less of experience, fewer people to choose from, and then you're going to just look at people with the right keywords? Back then, we had to be super-creative with looking for what was not on a resume. In many cases, there weren't even resumes, but now it's keyword searches and data. Young recruiters tell me all the time, "Teach me how to understand culture, who's going to be the right fit." Hiring managers don't have the time for that. So you just have to be really astute at understanding the real job, understanding the company culture and picking the people who will fit.

How do you define a "conscious approach" to hiring, and why do you believe this approach is necessary?

You define it by beginning with the end in mind: What is the purpose of this role, how does this role contribute to the overall success of the company, which is very different from how most hiring is done. Most hiring is done in a reactive manner: Someone quits, and you fill that job quickly because "We can't have a vacancy." With conscious hiring, it begins with each and every role being aligned and in service of the strategic intent of the company. From there, then you say "OK, who will the person need to be to in order to produce the results we need?" So there's much more work done on the front end, in the definition process, and then the actual fulfillment of the req goes much faster.

Was there an "ah-ha" moment for you when you discovered that the usual approach to hiring simply doesn't work, and if so, can you describe it?

When I told the owner of the personnel agency that I was bored and wanted to leave, he said "If you stay in the industry, I will blackball you." So when I went to work for a competitor, I really thought I would get no business. But within 90 days, I had more job orders than I ever had before. So I said to my customers, "Why did you follow me here?" Every single hiring manager said "Because you get us, you understand what we need, you don't waste our time." All of a sudden I realized that, even though I was barely 27 years old, I had a skill and a talent for this work. We didn't call it conscious hiring back then, we called it the "26-step hiring process." Once I realized I had this gift, I process engineered it, looked at every single step and documented every one, and I became the person who got the job orders and that's how I grew my business and career. So it's really the opposite of hiring in a hurry or on autopilot, and that's why we call it conscious hiring.

Can you explain what you mean by "hiring on autopilot"?

One of the reasons for the lack of employee engagement at so many companies is that, for years and for decades, they've just hired based on a resume, and assumed people were only taking jobs for the money. It's only been during the last few years that more people have begun stopping and saying "What am I doing here? Am I really happy doing this?" More people are realizing they took their job because it's a paycheck and not because it's a true fit. The solution is to hire so that you have people at your company who are happy with what they're doing and feel connected to the company and its mission. It's an outside-in approach to hiring.

In your view, what distinguishes organizations that engage in conscious hiring from those that don't? How can you spot these differences?

Zappos, Google and Facebook are examples of companies that are really good at hiring people who will help sustain their biggest competitive advantage, which is their culture. They have some kind of  process that looks at hiring for value, that gives people a clear view into what's expected from them and the job they're being hired for, and they do that upfront, before the candidates are hired, not after they get the job. Management and leadership focus on things like emotional intelligence and employee engagement. They have onboarding processes that are mindful. When creating a job description, hiring managers and recruiters will spend at least 45 minutes together working to define the role and the necessary attributes. The mindset isn't "Let's just cast a net," but "This is the kind of fish we want, where are they right now?"

It's easy to spot the companies that don't hire consciously. Recruiters at these companies will just go to a website, look at resumes and send the ones that match to hiring managers. The hiring managers aren't given the time to work with a recruiter; instead they say "Here's the resume of someone who worked out in this position in the past, go find someone like this."

How can recruiters get hiring managers to spend more time with them on this process, given the time constraints everyone's under?

One thing you can do is tell the truth about what typically happens. You might tell them "We can take two routes to fill this job: I can cast a very large net, or we can do our work on the front end and define the role and purpose of this position and then take some steps to really find the people you want." It's all in the communication. Another thing to keep in mind is that your hiring manager of today looks very different from that of five years ago -- most of them understand that they need coaching and training and development. No hiring manager has ever told me "No, I don't want to take the time to find the right person." They all do.

Go to to learn more about the pre-conference workshops and main conference agenda at this year's Recruiting Trends Conference in Austin, Texas on Nov. 14 through 15.


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