A few weeks ago, a young analyst called me up. She is someone I mentor had just started a new position.

“I just started work for this firm and started thinking about all the incongruous things that have been said to me since I began interviewing here,” she said. “I realize that all the seduction firms give to potential hire . . . they’re lying and try to clean it up on start day when HR comes into the picture.”

I laughed because she now understood what I have said for a long time.

Words in any language have meaning and you in human resources and in recruiting are the special guardians of the words that organizations use to express and explain themselves to potential new hires.

Thus, when a firm calls me and discusses a permanent position on their staff, I am obligated to follow up and ask, “So during the last economic down turn when your company did layoffs, weren’t those ‘permanent employees?’ It doesn’t seem like their jobs were particularly ‘permanent.'”

Or when a hiring manager speaks at an interview about everyone in the firm, everyone on the team, feels just like family, is a part of a big family, all motivated to the success of the firm.” Then you arrive at HR for orientation and are told your employment is “at will” and you can be fired at any time for any reason. How believable do you think anything else you or your company’s management and leadership will say about how “people are our most important asset.”

If you’re in corporate recruiting and you are mouthing any of these phrases, you are lying.

You are demanding undying fidelity to your firm when none exists in return.

Is it any wonder when employees hear your lies and start managing their own careers rather than commit to your organization?

So as you sit reviewing resumes or interview people who have changed jobs with frequency and ask them, “Why have you changed jobs so much,” I want you to consider rewarding people who answer this way:

“Thanks for the question. Let me speak to it honestly and directly.

“There is a pattern to my behavior that I believe is very logical and coherent. For example, I was hired by (fill in the blank) to do x.  I did what I was hired to do, received  terrific reviews–top 2% in the division, frequent accolades from senior leadership about my performance, kudos galore. “

“But the fact of the matter is the next position I was offered would have stalled my career and was less valuable to the firm. Come the next job cuts as inevitably there are, I’m less valuable to them and less valuable in the job market. Rather than let my assets deteriorate, I did what any business does and started to look at alternatives before my marketability was destroyed and my family was adversely affected.”

“After all, didn’t your firm cut 4000 people during the last economic downturn? How many of those ‘permanent employees’ found work quickly? They trusted your firm and felt betrayed and suffered the consequence.”

“So let me say that I will work for your firm as long as it makes sense for both of us. You want me to do this job, well, if you decide to hire me and I think it makes sense, I’ll do this until it is done. After that, I’ll sit down with my boss (or you, depending upon who this conversation is with) and we’ll figure out what is right then.”

Rich Lesser from The Boston Consulting Group says, “You hire the best people you can possibly find. The it’s up to you to create a great environment where great people decide to stay and invest their time.”

Otherwise, they stay too long and become zombies who you need to run out of town, burning everything in their wake including your reputation.

And by the way. The positions aren’t permanent. They are full time.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter has been a recruiter for more than 40 years.

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