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Hirer, hiree, beware: new hiring trends.

A rumor among college graduates about five years ago said a certain health care system, definitely a household name, made job offers to two grads in March which were accepted. In June, the company sent the two hapless recruits letters saying their jobs had been eliminated. Enclosed was a check for one month's severance.

We've tracked this rumor for years and haven't found the guilty company or any victims. However, after every college lecture we do--or after any presentation to a collection of job hunters under 35--the story surfaces. It has more believers than the one that said Proctor & Gamble's logo included symbols of devil worship. At least P & G could get rid of the offending symbols; the laid-off-before-the-first-day story seems to have eternal life. The rumor has influenced MBAs' and MHAs' attitudes toward employers--and their ideas of who's obligated to whom for what--more than any documentable event. It has contributed to three trends that trouble both HR people and top management.

1. The exploding job offer

The first is the "exploding job offer." Time was, college recruiters knew that students probably wouldn't decide for whom to work until they'd interviewed with everyone. So, why hot-box them when the entire age cohort behaved the same way? Since a first full-time job was a major life step, making a careful choice after many interviews seemed reasonable. Regardless of candidate quality, job category, or prestige of the institution, there was reluctance to commit to an offer until just a month or so before graduation. Organizations took their chances that their favored recruits would want to work for them.

No more. Company recruiters report that if they don't put a time limit on an offer--"give us an answer in two weeks or we withdraw the offer"--they have no idea who, or how many, will show up for work in late June or early July. Even when told that the offer has a time limit, some students stall. The best and brightest may accept several offers (career services can't prevent this) and decide where to show up much closer to the start date.

2. New hires who renege on their acceptances

The second trend is the growing number of new hires who renege on their acceptances. Signing a commitment letter to appear on a given day does not mean a candidate will turn up. Recruiters estimate that among every 10 candidates who sign, one or two will send a letter before the start date saying that he or she has decided to do something else. Most don't say what they plan to do. Why? When we tracked down people who had reneged, we found them unrepentant.

A young lab technician said (after repeating the rumor of the health care organization that reneged on its job offers), "My only responsibility is to myself, to cut the best deal I can. If I get a better offer closer to graduation I'm going to take it. Do you think the clinic wouldn't rescind its offer if it found someone better who'd work for the same amount of money? Please!"

Recruiters point out that this practice isn't limited to college recruits. Among highly-skilled, in-demand professionals, including some physicians, the hotter the candidate, the more likely he/she will renege. "Top candidates literally never stop shopping. They'll move for a 10 percent increase or a shorter commute. They aren't even remotely worried about a black eye in the industry. They know they're good and can work anywhere," explained a headhunter.

Reneging still startles both HR and management because they don't see the connection with consolidations and mergers plus massive changes in health care. They don't accept that candidates can, and increasing numbers will, behave exactly like employers when making employment decisions. Management may pensively mention that downsizings were "a last resort needed to save the organization," but candidates see themselves in the personal salvation business. They don't see the organization's reasons for layoffs as different from an individual's reasons for accepting a better deal elsewhere.

Reneges often result from counteroffers. When someone accepts an offer and gives notice, the boss may decide during the notice period that the employee should be given a counteroffer. If money is the major, or only, issue the employee may be persuaded to stay. However, most managers and HR people loudly and publicly loathe counteroffers. The HR people we talk with want them banned by organizational policy. It won't happen because managers aren't interested in policy--just how the work will get done.

3. Front loading

The third major hiring trend is "front loading." Companies offer large starting salaries because candidates know raises may be infrequent or non-existent. If it can be ascertained from current employees that raises are few and far between--or non-existent--even the least sophisticated job hunter will negotiate for a larger salary. The practice also implies the new employee may not be there long enough to be eligible for a merit increase.

What should you do about these trends?

These trends will continue, so where does this leave you in the salary negotiation process? If you haven't done a job hunt in two years, your expectations may not match the employer's. Network with current and former employees before getting to the offer stage--and we don't mean just to ask about money. The boss's mood and the organizational climate may have been dented by other candidates' behavior. You need to know.

Communicate often

If you're the one doing the hiring, don't assume that acceptance means a warm body has been added. Keep in touch with recruits. College students should be e-mailed weekly so they know there is a boss, not merely an HR representative, who's expecting them. Even a student about to do a flip-flop may be swayed to stick with his or her original decision by gentle pressure. Your messages need not be lengthy or persuasive. They can be updates on what's happening in the department with a line that says "we're expecting you." Put the new hire on the mailing list so he or she gets the employee newsletter, quarterly, or annual reports, and any clips of important stories about the organization--good or bad.

Interview more carefully

Why someone wants a job or wants to leave his or her present employer should be explored ad tedium. Except for a few insatiable money-grubbers, most employees leave jobs because of specific grievances. Can you get details? Start with, "What would you change about your present job?" or "Describe your ideal job. How would you spend your time?" Ask about results. Was he or she satisfied with the organization's or department's output? Talk about training. Is he or she state-of-the-art? HR reports that fear of obsolescence is a stronger motivator to move than money.

If you lose a good candidate, check back

Even if the candidate accepts a counteroffer and decides to stay put, keep in touch. In three months, you may recruit him or her because the conditions that provoked a job hunt haven't changed and money was merely a Band Aid on a muscle pull--and just as ineffective. Why don't managers follow up? There's still a sub rosa theory that only undesirable candidates back out of an offer. That's no longer true and that attitude may make you short-handed!

Marilyn Moats Kennedy is Managing Partner, Career Strategies, Inc., Wilmette, Illinois, and a long-time member of the ACPE faculty. She can be reached at 1150 Wilmette Avenue, Wilmette, Illinois 60091, 847/251-1661, or via fax at 847/251-5191.
COPYRIGHT 1997 American College of Physician Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:In The Trenches
Author:Kennedy, Marilyn Moats
Publication:Physician Executive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 1997
Previous Article:Part 1: a report from the trenches of a start-up PO.
Next Article:Don't be an accidental physician executive.

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