CEO, Try Thy Hiring System

CEO, Try Thy Hiring System

Over lunch this week with an ex-colleague, she described the trials and tribulations of her job search. Her frustration was not that she was looking. Rather, she had received a verbal offer from the company but was now dealing with the HR Manager who was playing “bad cop,” contradicting her boss-to-be and backtracking on items that had been agreed upon.

This discussion brought to mind the many horrible hiring experiences I had been through in my career.

Many companies forget that hiring is like going on dates, because you will be married at the end. When we are in the dating world (for those of you who remember), it is an exciting and frustrating time. We are looking for someone who excites us; we wish to excite, be compatible with, and believe together can be more significant than just two individuals. It is the same in the job search. We are looking for organizations that excite us, whose mission motivates us, whose employees impress us, and where we can add value.

In many organizations, those hiring and those in the HR (Human Remains) Department forget this. They don’t realize that perception is reality. Their behavior kills the “dating” process, drives away the “A” candidates, and destroys a successful long-term relationship with those who stay. Things that kill the dating or long-term relationship are:

  • Not treating the applicant with Respect.
  • Not keeping appointments or to the schedule.
  • Bad communication.
  • The offer differs from what you were told.
  • Probation periods.
  • The First Day

One of the common refrains I hear from CEOs is that they struggle to find good people to hire. As I thought of the hiring process trials, I wonder how many good people have driven away because of the process. Given the cost of bad hires and the entire hiring process, how much is wasted because the hiring and onboarding process is so damaging? Remember, Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” So what is your organization’s hiring system designed to do?



Like Aretha Franklin, everyone wants Respect! From my job searching experience, at some point, the applicant is called in for a day of “interviews” where the applicant gets interviewed by four or more people that they will be working with, including their prospective boss. Usually, this day is where the lack of Respect starts.

Some who are doing interviewing feel put upon to interview candidates and come across as either superior or just jerks. During one interview I had, the World Series was on, and the person supposedly interviewing me was watching the game from a small TV that only he could see. As a result, he never heard my answers to his questions, there were long pauses in the discussion while the game absorbed him, and the interview ended early at my suggestion. I declined a second round.  

Now I realize that people have things come up, and some crises have to be dealt with; however, Respect is still required. One company that I interviewed with canceled three separate interviews while I was sitting in the lobby waiting for the interview with the CEO. When on the fourth attempt, I finally did meet the CEO, he was abrupt. He didn’t acknowledge the canceled meetings and the imposition on me. Now, most will say, you are an applicant; why should he. But you never know where the applicant will end up, and one day they might be a customer. In this instance, while I didn’t get a job at the company, its reputation was tarnished in my mind forever, and where I could, I avoided doing business with them. The fact the CEO treated people like that meant to me that they treated everyone like that, and that was not the type of organization with which I wanted a relationship.


Keeping your promises

Once you have been through a few job search rodeos, you know to ask, “What is your process?” Applicants want to know how many interviews they can expect, how long the process should take, where the decision points are, and for “A” players – how they manage competing offers to ensure they get the best one. Unfortunately, many companies forget that their answers create expectations that can drive excellent applicants away or kill any long-term relationship if not met.

My lunch companion complaining that the HR person she was dealing with had failed to make any of the appointments they scheduled, without explanation or reason, but had called out of the blue at other times. This behavior creates the impression that the hiring company is chaotic at best and cannot be trusted worse, so the applicant is likely to question where they are being misled.

Once, interviewing for a VP of International M&A position with a Fortune 100 company, my prospective boss laid out how he saw the department going forward. We spend time discussing my role in creating his vision and the challenges he wanted me to tackle once I started, which he emphasized he wanted as soon as possible. However, he noted that I needed to have interviews with the head of legal and HR before they would send me an offer. Those interviews did occur, and at the end of the interview with the head of HR, she informed me that I would hear back within a week. Three months later, I received a call from someone in HR whom I never met or heard of, offering me a Manager’s role in a different department, which I respectfully declined. I already had another job by then, but again I had lost all Respect for that organization. Interestingly enough, in the 18 years since then, its market capitalization has fallen by 67%.


Bad Communication

Once upon a time, after a day of interviews, I received an email from the company addressed to someone else telling me that they were not interested in pursuing the discussions any further. I replied, thanking them but asking if the email was meant for the other person and sent to me by mistake or meant for me, but they had typed in the wrong name. The response was, “Both.” Such errors don’t impress people.

However, as is my MO, I reached out to the senior HR executive that I had met during my day of interviews, asking for feedback on why I had not progressed through their process. He responded with shock to say that I was still in the process and wanted me to come the next week to see the CEO.

After this great start, one has to once more question the organization.


The Offer Differs from What You Were Told

Often in the process, your potential boss will tell you that some conditions you ask for are acceptable, e.g., start date, vacation, options, etc., only later to be contradicted by HR. HR informs you that this is the firm’s policy, and it is non-negotiable. Managing situations like this are difficult and cause more mistrust because sometimes your potential boss cannot deliver what they promised. As a result, you question their power within the organization, or worse, it creates further doubt about the organization’s core values and ability. In such situations, you begin to wonder if you are dealing with the Job Enthusiasm Killer Department and soon to be working in some Kafka nightmare.



I know many firms like a probation period to determine if the employee is a good fit; however, remember most employees start a new job full of excitement about what they will achieve at their new company. It is like getting married, and they are waiting at the altar for this wonderful new life when the other party says, “Yes, you are committing to the marriage, and it’s our vows, but me, I am not committing for a few months or so until I am sure.” In such cases, by the time the probation period has passed, the employee has lost their enthusiasm, they are now looking for their next gig, and the company is wondering why they can’t keep good people.

If you have a probation period, inform the applicant upfront, so this doesn’t surprise them. Not only that, but if you do, go all-in with commitment. The more the organization holds back, the less likely there will be a long term relationship.

I once joined an organization, and there was no mention of probation during the hiring process. However, as I logged into my computer on my first day, I could not access the network. I was informed that during probation, they kept you off the system. Thus, any files I needed had to be copied onto a disk (Yes, a bygone era) and brought to me, or I had to give them to whoever needed them on a disk. This event was the first I had heard about any probation, and the message was welcome to the team, you second-class citizen. Nonproductive and soul-destroying!

At the end of the first week, my boss asked me to go to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Thailand on a Business Development trip. When I asked when I could expect my business cards, I was told that new hires could not get business cards until they had finished their probation. Since I now knew I was on some form of probation, I tried to explain to HR that in Asia, business cards are essential; however, the person would not yield. As a result, I traveled with some I printed up myself, which looked like it and I am sure did lots to promote the organization’s standing in the Far East. Once more, perception is reality, and I am sure the HR person was “following orders” given by someone who had never traveled internationally.


The First Day

Data shows that over 50 percent of new employees regret the decision on their first day, and after three weeks, it is closer to 70 percent. Suppose you accept Richard Branson’s view that happy employees make happy customers. In that case, you will realize that if your organization is one where 50 percent of your new employees regret their decision to join you the first day, you have a huge uphill task to build customer satisfaction.

I have been among the 50% because the first day was so demoralizing. As I have said above, you arrive at the new job full of excitement only to be sent to HR hell to fill out a massive pile of forms. Surely these could have been sent beforehand, and you could bring them completed. There is nothing in them that I have ever seen that is so sacred it could not be shared outside the organization.

After this beautiful ritual, you are shown to your desk, whether in an office or cubicle. For some reason unknown to me, in every new job I have had, my boss has not been there my first day to meet with me and show me what I need to tackle. As a result, you arrive to a note saying, “Welcome and make yourself comfortable.” They may have scheduled some meetings for you with other people, but it usually mentions a name and not who they are and how you will be working with them.

A colleague once told me that she went to the stationery cupboard on her first day to get some supplies, only to be berated by a PA who informed her that her department could not access that cupboard. Again, thanks, great to be on the team.

If you are lucky, some of your workers may invite you to lunch on your first day. Indeed this is the least that they could do to make you feel welcome. So, after a wasted day trying to figure out what the unwritten rules are, where the political minefields lie, and whom you can trust, you head home wondering, “What the hell have I done?”

As I have asked before, is your onboarding process more akin to waterboarding?

I love Cameron Herold’s attitude of having a new employee party their first day to welcome them to the organization. However, when they leave, there is no going away party because you will no longer add any value to the organization. Furthermore, that night they ask for your bucket list and commit to helping you achieve an item on it during your first year. Now that is a welcome and one which makes you want to die on the hill for that company.


What to do?

A CEO friend of mine once told me that he used to call the CEOs of companies that his sales team had targeted. The purpose was to find out how the sales process was going and if his organization was responsive to the potential clients’ needs. He found this process made his sales team far more responsive to potential clients, honest with their targets, and he learned what worked and didn’t in the process.

If you are struggling to find good people, question if your system delivers the results it is designed to provide. Review your hiring process to figure out what is going on. I would suggest sometimes doing surveys with applicants to find out how they found the experience of applying for jobs with your companies and new hires. Remember back to when you started your career with excitement, what tied you to a boss or company, and what drove you away. Make sure your organization is doing the former and not the latter.


(c) Copyright 2020, Marc A. Borrelli

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