How to interpret job advertisements

Us Finns have some extraordinary qualities that come handy particularly in the surroundings we live in. Snow and silence (together or separately) for example can be quite tough for many other nationalities to handle – we have no problem with either. We are also punctual; if an appointment is scheduled to start at 11:15, it tends to do exactly that. There is no concept of mañana, e.g. ‘some time in the future’, in Finnish. And so on. We do, however, also have some qualities that do not play to our advantage. One of them is that we tend to take instructions too literally. As soon as EU sets a new Directive on anything, you can bet Finland is the first country jumping to implement it, at whatever cost. Regardless of whether there is any benefit. After all, there is the Directive. During the last couple of years, having met hundreds of job applicants in one-on-one coaching sessions, I have had to admit that the same mindset is also visible in how surprisingly many job seekers read and evaluate job advertisements.

It is understandably frustrating, when a professional seeking employment comes across an ad clearly promoting their dream job – only to find that they cannot apply because the requirements listed for the candidates are at least to some extent above and beyond what they have.

Let me take this opportunity to share a few tips on how to interpret job advertisements. These are by no means Directives, but aimed to help you evaluate whether you should send an application to that interesting vacancy that caught your attention.

  1. Role description. The level of detail provided in a job advertisement about the role in question varies tremendously between different employers. Some are way too detailed – some too brief to attract candidates. Employers try to stand apart from the rest by applying their own style also in job advertisements. Obviously also the scope of the role determines the need of elaboration. I would recommend to pay attention to what is said – and equally well, what is not mentioned. This is often times a good source of questions to ask when you call to get more details.
  2. Work experience. If there is a specific requirement on the length of work experience required, take it as indicative. ‘Minimum five years of equivalent work experience’ does not mean you should not apply because you have three and half years. If the requirement is minimum 10 years and you have three, opt out.
  3. Education. There are jobs where a very specific degree or qualification is required, end of story. Then either you have that qualification, or you do not need to apply. However in many cases it is stated vaguely, such as ‘university degree’, or my personal favorite ‘university degree or equivalent’. That leaves a lot of room for imagination. In public sector jobs, the indicated education level is mandatory and there is rarely room for negotiation around it. In private sector, however, the level or field of education is often not a critical, carved-in-stone type of requirement. The more working years you have under your belt, the more likely it is that your competencies and experience overrule.
  4. Personality / characteristics. If the employer is looking for a social, service-oriented person, with excellent interpersonal skills, and you know you are more of an introvert type, it still does not automatically mean you should not apply if the role appeals to you. It just means you need to be prepared to put more effort on the social aspects of the role, as those are typically not as natural ways of working to you as they are to more socially inclined individual. You yourself know best what you are capable of. If you do not feel the personality traits indicated match yours, ask yourself would you still enjoy working in that role. If yes, apply.
  5. Contact person. Every job advertisement should always have contact details where interested candidates can ask further details on the role or the selection criteria. Unfortunately they are still not always provided. I personally would not apply for a vacancy where there is no contact information listed, but that is just me. If the details are there, with a specified time when to call, try to time your call as instructed. That is not always possible, or the line may be busy. Then you can of course try to reach the person at another time. One polite way to do it would be for example to send an sms to the person and ask what would be an appropriate time for you to call.
  6. Target groups. This may not be top of mind when reading a job advertisement, but this is important so I wanted to take it up here as well. Job advertisements are just another form of company communication or marketing material that the employer publishes. In addition to job seekers, the employer knows that also their competitors as well as current and potential future customers read the job advertisements. In many cases, this has a significant impact on what is, or is not, said in the role description – or why certain role requirements are defined the way they are. Job ads can be used to boost company image in certain field of expertise, for example. Or aim to direct competitor attention to certain type of resourcing – perhaps away from something else going on. The more the reason for you as a candidate to ask clarifying questions, and not take the provided text at face value.

There. My five…okay, well, six cents on how to interpret job advertisements. Feel free to agree or challenge these points. The requirements in an ad may well paint the picture of an ideal candidate for the role. If the ideal one does not apply this time, the closest ones to that stand a good chance. And high motivation, even passion towards the type of role in question, will always make a difference.

Go for it!

When to outsource recruiting?

One of the most essential activities for any organization is to take the time to draw the line between its core and context. In other words, identifying those activities where the organization truly excels, outruns the competition, and seals the deals. Those are the activities that typically result in competitive advantages. Those should form the core of the organization’s value and growth potential. As such, resources should be allocated to the core activities in adequate proportion. That, however, is often easier said than done. Any organization in any industry faces countless requirements and dependencies, many of them almost hygiene factors that just have to be taken care of in order for the core operations to run smoothly. The contextual activities are viable candidates for outsourcing.

Which one of the lists, the core activities or the contextual ones, would you expect most businesses to include recruitment in? To my surprise, exploring this with the CEO’s and the management teams, I have often found it missing from both lists! This is an interesting – and rather alarming – phenomenon given the significance the right talent in the right positions have to any organization’s sheer existence.

My punch line is this: if you do not have the time or the competence to run a recruitment process properly, you are always better off outsourcing most of it.

However, to provide you with some tools to assess this activity area in your organization, here are some of the first pointers I typically look at.

1. Availability of the needed talent in the job market
Are the types of professionals you are looking to hire, readily available and easy to reach in the location where you need them? If the answer is ’no’, or if you are uncertain, I would turn to a professional recruitment consultant or headhunter already when planning the recruitment. Especially if you have a definite deadline by when you need certain roles filled, you may not want to waste valuable months in trying a job ad, learning that it did not result in the type of applicants expected, and then having to turn to professional recruiters anyway. Also, the opposite scenario has wreaked havoc in many a recruitment process: if there are hundreds of professionals matching your vacancy without jobs in the location you want to hire, they may flood your recruitment process beyond expectation and tie far more resources into the overall process than you had planned. Also in that scenario, better go with outsourcing.

2. The confidentiality of your recruitment
Is the role you are looking to fill related to an undisclosed, new business area – or for example a replacement you do not wish to let your competitors/customers know about in advance? If that is a ’yes’, using a headhunter is in practice the only option you have. Even spreading the word internally in your own networks would be highly risky, as almost inevitably your existing customers and competitors would end up in the loop before you were prepared to answer those questions.

3. The recruitment experience
Many – I would like to say most – organizations leave the direct line manager to take care of his or her hiring. You may have some line managers who often have vacancies in their team and are seasoned recruiters; quite likely, though, you also have some who are not. From profile definition to recruitment method selection to conducting interviews and making selections, there are several critical steps in a recruitment process that also require experience to get them right. If you are lacking the experience, outsourcing the recruitment is typically an inexpensive method of damage control.

4. Time
Even if you have done more than enough recruitment in the last few years to know how it should be done and how it works, if your workload now is such that you simply do not have the needed amount of time to focus on another recruitment process and run it properly, you are better off delegating it to a professional. Remember that as a client, you can always choose which parts of the recruitment process, and to what extent, you want your service provider to manage for you.

5. Unknown territories
When you are entering a new market – usually in a geographical sense, but can sometimes apply also in the case of a new industry – and you are not familiar with the local recruitment practices in the market in question, you can save yourself from many unwanted surprises by opting to use a recruitment professional familiar with that market. One customer of mine gave me a good anecdote related to this: ”I would not dare to even drive in that country – how on earth would I know how to recruit there?”.

A few cases in point to help you determine whether outsourcing some of your recruitment would perhaps be a good idea. Just one last flag I want to raise on this one: the final hiring decision is always yours to make. If need be you can outsource the entire search and selection process up to the last two to three strongest candidates – but insist on making the final decision yourself.

It is that important.

All the best for your next interview – whether you are the one asking the questions, or answering them!

Persoonallisuustestausko täyttä roskaa?

Professori Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen otti viime viikolla (HS sekä 15.9. Kauppalehti Optio) hampaisiinsa persoonallisuustestauksen. Sitä ennen (Lääkärilehti 37/15), samainen professori hyökkäsi viestintäteknologian hyödyntämistä vastaan kouluissa. No, ilmeisesti ainakin temperamenttitutkijalla itsellään on temperamenttia.

Kun Suomessa tulee julkisuuteen kritisoimaan persoonallisuustestejä, katsoisin että vähintä mikä asiapitoisuuden osalta tulisi tehdä olisi nostaa esiin että persoonallisuustestaus on Suomessa edelleen säätelemätöntä ja kontrolloimatonta toimintaa jossa kaikkien kukkien annetaan kukkia. Voidakseen arvioida testitulosten hyödynnettävyyttä, on ensin hyväksyttävä se tosiasia että markkinoillamme on tarjolla sekä laadukkaita että lähes muropaketin kyljestä repäistyjä testejä. Koska esimerkiksi testien validoinnille ei ole olemassa säädöksiä, käytännössä mitä tahansa bingokuponkia voidaan markkinoida persoonallisuustestinä ja väittää sen ennustavan sitä tai tätä ominaisuutta tai käyttäytymistä.

Ylläolevan myöntämisen sijaan professori Keltikangas-Järvinen toteaa että ”Persoonallisuustesteissä ei ole mitään vikaa.” Olen siis jo tästä vahvasti eri mieltä. Markkinoillamme on tarjolla testejä joista osassa ei muuta olekaan kuin vikaa. Suomessa pidetään kovaa meteliä siitä että taksitoiminnan pitää olla luvanvaraista – siitä huolimatta että valtaosalla väestöstä on ajokortti tai ainakin ymmärrys siitä mitä autolla ajaminen tarkoittaa ja mitkä seikat moottoriajoneuvon kuljettamiseen vaikuttavat. Eli saamansa kyydin laadun pystyy lähes jokainen asiakas itse arvioimaan, ja tekemään jatkossa taksipalvelujen ostopäätöksensä sen mukaan. Persoonallisuustestaus sen sijaan on valtaosalle kansasta vierasta toimintaa. Mielikuvia siitä mihin niitä käytetään ja mitä niillä pyritään ehkä selvittämään, saattaa olla. Mutta minkäänlaisia käytännön mahdollisuuksia päätellä onko yksittäinen testi luotettava tai edes oikeassa käyttötarkoituksessaan, ei useimmilla ole. Kuitenkin erilaisia testejä käytetään henkilövalintojen tukena ja juuri testitulokset saattavat muuten tasaväkisiltä vaikuttavien kandidaattien välillä olla hyvinkin se lopullisen valinnan ratkaiseva tekijä.

Maallikkokin ymmärtää että jos yksittäinen persoonallisuustesti koostuu 20 väittämästä, tai 200 väittämästä, niin jälkimmäinen on todennäköisesti melkoisesti kattavampi. Mutta sitä, millaisella referenssipopulaatiolla testin tulosten oikeellisuutta on testattu, ja millaiseen tarkoitukseen koko testi ylipäätään on luotu, ei pysty testistä itsestään päättelemään.

Suomessa (ja maailmalla) ehkä tunnetuin persoonallisuustesti on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, MBTI. Tämä on henkilön itsensä kehittämiseen tai esimerkiksi työpaikalla tiimityöskentelyn edellytysten parantamiseen erinomainen työkalu. Monelle testejä käyttävälle lienee kuitenkin yllätys että MBTI:tä ei ole tarkoitettu henkilövalintojen tukena käytettäväksi testiksi. Suomessa sitäkin käytetään myös rekrytointityökaluna. Jos halutaan käyttää luotettavia persoonallisuustestejä rekrytoinnin tukena, kannattaa kääntyä Hoganin testien puoleen (Hogan MVPI, HPI ja HDS). Hogan HDS on myös markkinoiden ainoa henkilön paineenalaisia suojautumismekanismeja, ns. ei-toivottuja käyttäytymismalleja, kartoittava testi.

Työnantajan tai rekrytoijan hälytyskellojen tulisi soida, jos persoonallisuustestiä tarjotaan pelkillä mainoslauseilla, ilman että testin validiteetti ja reliabiliteetti tulevat selkeästi esiin. Testin tilaajan tulisi osata kysyä myös siitä, miten ko. testi on normitettu testattavan henkilön referenssipopulaatiota ajatellen. Moniväriesitteitä fiksun näköisillä piirakka-diagrammeilla on helppo ja nopea tehdä – luotettavia persoonallisuustestejä ei.

Kokonaan oma lukunsa on sitten rekrytointiprosessi, mitä kaikkia muita arviointimenetelmiä siihen sisältyy kuin mahdollinen persoonallisuustestaus. Professori Keltinkangas-Järvisen näkemyksistä saa sen kuvan että johtajapositioiden henkilövalinnat tehdään pelkän testituloksen perusteella. Näin asia ei tietenkään ole. Luotettava testitulos antaa henkilön CV:n ym. dokumenttien, referenssien ja haastattelujen kautta muodostuvaan henkilökuvaan täydentävää informaatiota henkilön luontaisista taipumuksista ja toimintamalleista – seikoista joiden arvioiminen haastattelutilanteessa on usein hyvin vaikeaa.

Siitä olen professori Keltinkangas-Järvisen kanssa samaa mieltä, että persoonallisuustestauksen vaikutus johtajavalintaan jättää paljon tulkinnan varaa. Koska johtajatehtävissä vaatimukset ovat tyypillisesti hyvin moninaisia, pitäisi esimerkiksi hallita numerot hyvin ja silti olla hyvä esimies, kyetä strategiatyön edellyttämään visionäärisyyteen ja kuitenkin ymmärtää mikä on lyhyellä aikavälillä toteutettavissa, niin työnantajan odotukset valittavan johtajan ominaisuuksille saattavat olla persoonallisuuden piirteiden vastakkaisia ääripäitä – yhdessä ja samassa ihmisessä. Tässä korostuu testitulosten tulkitsijan ammattitaito.

Persoonallisuustestien hyödyn arviointi edellyttää tarjolla olevien testien kirjon ymmärtämistä, sekä sen toivottavasti hyvin valitun testin tulosten tulkintaa muun rekrytointiprosessin esiintuoman informaation lisänä. Kumpikin näistä seikoista ei mielestäni tullut kokonaiskuvan kannalta selkeästi esiin viime viikon artikkeleissa.

Recruitment in start-ups: When two plus three needs to equal six

For any start-up business, one element equally important to adequate funding is having the right people. The smaller the number of employees currently, I would argue, the more significant the implications of each new recruitment decision made. The qualifications, skills and aspirations of each new employee should optimally fit the role available and complement the competencies of the existing employees. Start-ups in particular aim for synergies. The deliverables need to be more than the sum of their parts. In most cases that is still easier to accomplish than getting the 25th hour into a day. So how should a start-up go about finding their next star performer?

First and foremost, spend enough time in planning the recruitment. Even though the owners of the business may have their sights set so far on the horizon that pausing for something as seemingly low-key as a job description is difficult, it will pay off in the process outcome. Pay attention to how you describe the position at hand. Clarity is important in attracting the desired candidates. What will the person in this role be responsible for? What are the deliverables? To what extent is it a team effort? What degree of freedom will the selected individual have to shape his workweek? And so on. Have at least a couple of people who have no insight on the particular job, to read the description and explain to you how they understood it.

You need the role description also to be able to define the requirements for that optimal candidate. It is often emphasized how start-ups in particular look for the right attitude and fit. No problem with that, as long as there are also other qualifications or criteria to enable right targeting of candidates. It is fine to expect characteristics like commitment, high working morale, team spirit, flexibility and service orientation. But such attributes make poor targeting criteria for initial candidate selection – those are more likely to be aspects that can be evaluated in assessment testing and interview rounds. What experience, industry knowledge, certifications or readiness does that right candidate need to have?

Once the vacancy at hand is clearly defined, the other key contributor to attracting the right calibre of candidates is of course awareness. How do you bring this marvelous career opportunity to the attention of the most capable potential candidates? Chances are most of them are currently working, and therefore unlikely to follow any job advertisements. If that is the case, money spent on paid advertisements is largely money (and time) wasted. Engaging all the company’s current employees to check for potentially suitable individuals in their own networks is likely to be a more fruitful approach. And reaching out for professional recruiters is in many cases a very sensible option as well – from both cost and quality perspectives. As an additional plus, professional recruiters will also immediately notice if the job description leaves room for improvement or if the desired candidate profile is not concrete enough.

The fun begins when the above-mentioned pitfalls have been avoided and the actual selection process can start. Every applicant may have a differently structured CV, and a different, personal angle taken in their cover letters. Reading them through is one thing – comparing them against one another is quite a different ballgame. This is why some employers favor frozen templates in their application process – the comparison and selection process is no doubt faster and can even be automated to a large extent when all applicants have been forced into the same mold. Speed and quality do not always go hand-in-hand though. When applicants are forced to follow the same application format, their chance to make a personal application gets lost. You were looking for the right ‘fit’? The fit spells personality. Also, hands up, how many start-ups out there want a rigid, inflexible application process to be the first impression they give to their potential new talent? You catch my drift. Selecting the most promising candidates from a pile of applications is of course tedious work when all applications look different – but they look different for a reason, and a key to successful selection is to explore those differences, not try to force them go away.

Planning is a critical element in any aspect of business. Recruitment is no exception. Few start-ups have experienced recruiters in their payroll. Even fewer would be able to make the right selection from an entirely wrong pool of candidates.