In my experience, there are 3 types of companies when it comes to recruiting practices.
Talent hunters: These were the most pleasant to work with but you have to have time on your side. These companies seem to be focused on getting good people in and then figure out what is the right role for you. Unless you are a person who is extremely bothered about what position/role you start with, these are the best targets for you. If your history is like me, if your company is growing, so will you. You will not be holding the same job for more than one year in such environments. My philosophy is not to be too worried about the starting role. Designation (level) may become important if the company has a philosophy of bands of compensation by level.
I came across 2 companies like that. One is a small company in the East coast. When I talked to the CEO, it was obvious he had no outstanding job requirement. But every conversation left both of us with the impression that there is a great potential for both of us. I eventually talked to almost all the leaders in the company and then the board of directors too. One of the advantages of keeping your mind open in a small company is that you are not seen as a threat by any of the existing leaders who might be worried that the new executive will replace him/her.
The second company is a large company in West coast which takes this process one step ahead. Their recruitment process is entirely designed to see if that person is a fit for the company. The secondary question is where. In my case, after 14 interviews, apparently they decided I belong to them. However, before I left them, I had also expressed my opinion that none of the groups that I talked to had a lot of interesting things for me. I was asked to come back and talk to other groups and help find out whether there are other interesting opportunities that will excite them and me. After another 12 interviews, I found something that excites me immensely and I feel I can contribute from day one.
These kinds of companies had the most innovative questions to ask too. My favorite – “So, Rajib, 25 years from now, when your daughter has a 5 year old child and he/she asks – Grandpa, tell me a story from your office – what story are you going to tell him/her”? I had to think for some time. But that night as I thought about my answer, I realized – Man, that was a great way of finding out what is relatively important to me and what is not – what kind of things leave an impression on me and what doesn’t – leading me to understand what is my internal value/belief system. Incidentally, what I remembered first was a Herculean effort put in by somebody against all odds – and my bets – and carried the day for a customer of ours. No point for guessing where that person is after he/she left our company. Yep, same company who was interviewing me!!
Job Fillers: By and large, this is the majority in the spectrum. This is your typical “need to fill a job” recruitment which is usually the result of an executive leaving or the company operations expanding. The aspect of interviewing that struck me most was the amount of stress put on experience. Lot more stress is given on matching the exact kind of application (sometimes down to the exact application), industry, type of companies etc. than an executive search should ever do, in my opinion.
In my philosophy, if you are looking for a lower level job, I can understand the need to seek exact matches. (Actually, even that, I am not totally comfortable with. If you are looking for a Java developer, I will absolutely look at a C++ person and judge the person’s intellect level, ability to learn and work ethics. I can teach him technology quickly). As you start going higher up, you should absolutely be looking at broader skills – not exactly what technology, industry, and application somebody has worked in. Here is a simple fact of life – if you are growing as a company, your business will change, your models will change, and your market will change. You want to get in leaders who can see such changes coming and can actually quickly learn and adapt. Don’t forget that Nokia started as a paper company (and then rubber!), Wipro started by selling soaps and Lou Gerstner knew nothing of hard drives when he came to IBM from Nabisco. Experience can give people data – but you want people who have grown judgment. And yes, it is much harder to interview for these things in one hour!
At the end of the day, the root cause of this issue is that in these companies, recruitment is not looked upon as a strategic tool. You have to keep a good pipeline of candidates. Good people are not going to fall from trees when you have a job opening. Nor will you have a good opening the day you meet a great person. If you have to fill a job in a hurry, you do what I experienced with these companies.
Unenlightened Ones: While I am quite sure these companies have a great strategy for themselves too when it comes to getting talent, they left me with the highest degree of frustration just by their lack of professionalism. Fortunately, I did not have to go thru a lot of them but each and every of the large offshore vendors from India (I went thru 4) fell in that category. I am very well connected in these companies and invariably the CEO or top guy discussions went very well. Then things fell in a hole. The pattern was eerily repeated.
First and foremost, whoever you are talking to is always looking to getting you in their group. When it was evident that there is nothing that fits, there was more effort put with more promises of glorious future of that group than to look out for the rest of the company.
Second, with the exception of one company, there were too many phone meetings that did not happen (one was set and missed 4 times!!!) or started way late. There were a lot of promises of getting back within a stipulated time – which needless to say did not happen either. In case you thought this was happening with high level candidates only, another person from my company who worked in my group (couple of levels lower) gave up after getting promises from one of these companies (where unfortunately, I had referred him to) to finish the interview process for over 4 months!
I have to add that some of the smaller offshore vendors from India came across far better in this regard. At least they were professional enough to say that there was no fit or compensation requirements cannot be met… etc.
One more unprofessional practice you may have to get used to is that many companies of the second category (Job Fillers) just simply don’t tell you after the interviews are over that your candidature just did not work out. Between 3 friends of mine and I who did the job searches in collaboration, we are still waiting to hear from about 8 companies (and we know that those posts have been already filled). About 3 months back, there was a half page article on this in Wall Street Journal. Evidently, this has become pretty common in US.
In any case, those are some of things that I saw. Once again, these are reflections of my experiences. Feel free to send me your comments/experiences.