The world’s dodgiest job interview questions

This is an article that appeared across Fairfax Digital’s Small Business section earlier this year, with several quotes from myself around the topic of interview red flags, specifically what questions can – and can’t – be asked.


Cold calling continues to divide recruitment industry opinions

Recent interview with Shortlist on Cold Calling, based on my previous article: “Why Cold Calling is Ruining the Recruitment Industry”:





Cold calling continues to divide recruitment industry opinions

29 October 2013 9:31am

Top recruiters are split on whether cold calling is an essential marketing tool, or a relic of transactional recruiting, and one agency owner has questioned whether the practice played a part in the downfall of Hamilton James & Bruce.

In a post on Shortlist’s sister site, Recruiter Daily, Scott Brown Recruitment principal Scott Brown says he believes cold calling contributed to the recent collapse of Hamilton James & Bruce.

He told Shortlist HJB was one of several companies that Melbourne HR managers would single out when complaining to him about excessive cold calls.

Brown argues that cold calling drives clients away and is linked to poor engagement, high turnover, and reputational damage.

“The pressure to deliver on sales is one of the reasons we see the remarkable levels of turnover we have in this industry. And there is serious damage to your brand and how the business community perceives you, if you’re turning over consultants every six to 12 months.”

But AWX general manager Thomas Reardon says cold calling, done well, is critical to growth for all

businesses, and benefits AWX every day by increasing brand exposure, developing market intelligence and uncovering opportunities.

“Unsuccessful salespeople see it as a hassle and a numbers game, yet successful people in our industry see it as a great challenge,” Reardon told Shortlist.

The cold calls AWX consultants make could more realistically be called lukewarm calls, Reardon says, as they are trained to start the call with a talking point based on their area of expertise, targeted to the prospective client.

“We work in multiple sectors and have done for the last 13 years, so that gives us a benefit because we have the know-how, and understand how [the client’s] industry works.”

Employees receive one-on-one coaching to help finetune their call skills, go through role plays, and have team leaders listen to their calls and give feedback, he says.

“We give them a framework, and then let them interpret the conversation and read the needs of the client. It’s about active listening and correct questioning to find out what their needs and wants are, and how we can add value to them.”

Cold calling has been the first step in establishing key, long-term relationships for AWX, Reardon says. It also provides intelligence on the company’s rivals.

“You might hear about a margin, or how many people that client has got through a [recruitment] organisation, or about the current environment in labour hire in their industry.”

AME Recruitment director Allison Ashby, on the other hand, says cold calling has no place in her business. It shows a lack of respect for the prospective client to make unsolicited calls when they are trying to run a business, she says.

“And the thing is, we’re not trying to sell widgets here – we’re dealing with real people and their lives, and [cold calling] treats them as though they are a commodity.”

Rather than cold calling, AME is heavily involved in attending, sponsoring and hosting networking events and seminars attended by prospective clients, she says.

The events have to have “a purpose, and something that will appeal to them – it’s not about us”. This could mean an interesting speaker or a discussion on an issue that affects those clients.

Consultants then have a chance to meet people face-to-face, get to know a little about their businesses, and then determine whether they might need the company’s services – without trying to sell them anything.

“What we find is they then call us, because we’ve given them something for nothing, and we don’t talk business. “A classic case is this week, when we were invited to meet with an HR person who came to one of a series of HR networking events that we run. We get an experienced HR practitioner to share information with a group of people, and that’s how they came to know us.”

Butler HR director Scott Butler says any recruiter who is “sales-phobic” is going to have a hard time.

However, he says, cold calling is used extremely sparingly at Butler HR. “I wouldn’t say it’s frowned upon, but we get most of our work through word-of-mouth and referrals. It’s certainly something we don’t do a lot.”

Butler says he is not convinced of the merits of cold calling, and questions whether it simply makes recruiters “feel like they’re doing something”. He cites networking and after-hours events as more “organic” methods of meeting and connecting with potential clients.

The company takes advertising very seriously, he adds, and is careful about how it promotes its brand. “We use LinkedIn and SEEK, but we also still advertise on page three of the newspaper – it’s a little bit old school but it’s about the way in which we present ourselves, and I’d like to think people will seek us out as a result.”

Butler HR is a Wollongong agency with a strong local reputation built over many years, he notes, which might give it an advantage over agencies operating in crowded markets like Sydney and Melbourne.

“A lot of people know me and my brand, so it helps.

“And also I generally deal with the leaders of businesses. I think it would be completely ineffective if I tried to talk to some of those businesses without going direct [to the leader], and that can be difficult if you start with a gatekeeper, so I don’t know that a cold call is an effective use of time.”

© Copyright 2013 Shortlist

2014 – The HR and Hiring Trends That Could Happen

This very quick post will attempt to highlight what 2014 may have in store for HR and recruitment…or at the very least what ideally should happen:

  • As mentioned before, HR needs to regain its rightful place in the boardrooms and decision-points of business. In 2014, I would like to see some voices being made to be heard about the power and necessity of HR. There are some encouraging signs, and it is a real possibility that a move to a more people-focused business could be initiated.
  • The Recruitment Industry needs to resolve to be a little more candidate-friendly. However, this will happen after Applicant Tracking Systems become seen as an inhibitor. There will be an increase of bad hires made on the back of ATS’s and I would hope the foundations of a more careful approach to sourcing be instigated.
  • That said, greater use of technology in the hiring process will come more and more widespread. This will particularly become vital in locating talent as the more traditional job boards fall in use due to their failure to properly adapt.
  • There will be more of a push-back on recruiters who are too ‘sales-y’, or display cowboy approaches. The relationship models, those that desire to understand fully how their client operates and seeks to grow with them, will overtake the traditional sales approach and the cold, unsolicited call will become a bad memory.
  • The humanisation of the hiring process is gathering momentum. 2014 must see a shift to greater communication, open processes and clearer hiring plans
  • Speaking of plans, businesses will finally realise that to hire right, one must plan right. It will be the year of the plan.
  • Finally, grassroots movements around HR and hiring will push back on established (and time-wasting / cumbersome) policies and integrate more positive approaches to how HR and hiring are done.

Very quick, very wishful thinking, but very much identifying where change and/or realignment of the way things are currently done is needed.

Will it happen? Yes, I believe it will. Will it take 2014 for it to do so? That is for the next 11 months to see.