Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why You Should Interview Anyone Who Asks

I read a terrific post yesterday from Shonali Burke titled Communicator, Sell - and Share - Thyself. She describes an event where communication professionals met with job seekers and offered resume advice. I offered a comment stating that it was a wonderful initiative, but asked that she consider spreading the word about a program I led when I owned my own firm between 1995-2000.

About 12 years ago, much to the chagrin of agency principals and HR professionals alike, I wrote an article that Paul Holmes published describing my interviewing policy. Since I believe in that policy today as much as ever, particularly during these economic times, I thought I'd pull it from the archives:

WHY WE INTERVIEW ANYONE WHO ASKS
INSIDE PR - September 15, 1997

Last week, we talked with several public relations firm principals to find out how cutting-edge firms are dealing with the challenge of attracting and retaining the best people. This week, one agency founder suggests a radical approach.

By Leo Bottary

In the fall of 1990, as the real estate market in New England plundered, I found myself without a job. I was laid off my position as director of public relations for a major real estate development corporation, and along with many in those days, found myself looking for work.

At the time, I was relatively self-assured about my background and experience. I had a good resume, strong portfolio, and several byline articles that I had written for various PR and industry trade books. I believed if I could just meet the employers face-to-face, then I could make a strong case for being hired.

I responded to ads, followed-up with phone calls, talked to recruiters, and exhausted my contacts. The competitive environment for communications positions was brutal. My greatest frustration was that I found securing actual face-to-face interviews next to impossible. It was six months before I actually found a job. Enough time to understand the feeling that comes from watching the business world function perfectly well without my personal involvement. I think I had three interviews during my entire search.

I promised myself that if the tables were ever turned, I would do whatever I could to give job applicants the opportunity to present themselves in person. Fortunately, the tables did turn, and since 1992 I have been in the position to hire people.

Today, we interview any person who calls our company seeking one.

Whenever I make that statement to people, their first reaction is: “How on earth do you have time?” What started out as a mission to keep a personal promise has turned into one of the most valuable initiatives for our organization. As a result, we make the time.

Here are the reasons for our interview policy:

• It keeps us informed of all the talent available in our market. Situations can change quickly. It keeps us a step ahead, whether we need to fill a permanent position or find a specialist for a short-term assignment.
• It’s consistent with our mission of serving as a public relations resource. We want to be a PR resource for everyone; we don’t discriminate against job applicants.
• Every person I’ve hired since 1992 has been as a result of this process. No advertising costs. No executive recruitment fees.
• Major corporations and other organizations in the area are aware of our policy. We receive calls frequently asking for recommendations and resumes. (Remember our “PR Resource” mission?)
• It sharpens the interview skills of all our employees who participate.
• These applicants eventually get jobs. Not necessarily with us of course, but better still, companies which can hire us. Individuals who’ve remembered that we gave them the time when others wouldn’t have rewarded us on numerous occasions.
• It’s proven to be great PR for our firm.
• It’s the right thing to do. We’ve all been on the other side of the desk.

We talk to students, people wanting to change careers, individuals who are unemployed or currently employed and actively looking for work in the public relations field. We make the time by simply establishing a few ground rules. All such interviews are conducted between 8:00 – 8:30 a.m. They last no longer than 20 minutes, and we are up-front with the individuals that while we may not have an opening, we’d be happy to learn about them, talk about our firm, and provide an overview of what’s happening in our market.

While this process may still seem frightening to some, it’s well worth it. We are continually delighted by the quality of people we meet and the level of talented PR professionals residing in our community. As for me, I’m grateful for every day that I have an office from which to work.

As I reread the piece today, I wouldn't change a word. You could do a world of good by taking 20 minutes of your day, at least once a week, to offer your ear and your counsel to a person looking for a new job. You could make an enormous difference in someone's life and in all likelihood help your own business in the process. If you like the idea for yourself, start as soon as you can and use the power of social media to spread the word. If you have any questions about it, please share them as a comment! Thanks!

Image from http://www.internetmarketinginc.com/blog

8 comments:

  1. Shonali Burke, ABCAugust 27, 2009 at 1:22 PM

    It was very nice of you to mention my post as the spark for this one, Leo - thank you. This is really a terrific idea and I enjoyed reading your '97 article. I'm definitely going to see how we can incorporate this into IABC/Washington programming next year (and hopefully beyond).

    Though it's not as directly job-related as this, another program that's been successful in the past has been Student Shadow Day, which we've held the same day as a chapter meeting. Students (usually juniors/seniors) get to shadow a professional the whole day, then come to the meeting (at a reduced rate), introduce themselves and often make good connections that help them down the road. I do have to say our members are absolutely terrific about giving their time - we could never do any of these things without them. Which gives me hope for the interview idea.

    Recent blog:=- Communicator, Sell – and Share – Thyself

    ReplyDelete
  2. Leo, this is such a great idea. Thank you for sharing. I especially like how you mentioned in the article that in following the interview everybody approach, it "sharpens the interview skills of all our employees who participate." I think that addresses an important need for an organization.

    @Shonali - you are correct in the student shadow day. We do a similar day in the Ft. Worth PRSA called "Pro-Am Day" where we take chapter members and match them up with PRSSA students from our partner universities. It is a great way to help network, foster relationships, and gain insight and advice.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Funny how I started this to keep a promise to myself only to have it reap greater rewards than I could have imagined. It's a true win-win and it's more doable than people think. The key now is to spread the word so that it's put into practice. Thanks for that!

    Recent blog:=- Why You Should Interview Anyone Who Asks

    ReplyDelete
  4. Funny how I started this to keep a promise to myself only to have it reap greater rewards than I could have imagined. It's a true win-win and it's more doable than people think. The key now is to spread the word so that it's put into practice. Thanks for that!

    Recent blog:=- Why You Should Interview Anyone Who Asks

    ReplyDelete
  5. Funny how I started this to keep a promise to myself only to have it reap greater rewards than I could have imagined. It's a true win-win and it's more doable than people think. The key now is to spread the word so that it's put into practice. Thanks for that!

    Recent blog:=- Why You Should Interview Anyone Who Asks

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Leo,

    Great initiative and a great way to get new ideas too.

    All too often, companies are closed in on themselves and (unconsciously) practice reinforcement. I may not have the right term but since everyone has been working together and bandying the same ideas they simply feed on each other.

    By interviewing anyone and everyone, you open the organisation to different thoughts, ideas and perspectives. I'm sure that it helps keep the organisation dynamic and innovative.

    Cheers! and keep interviewing.
    Eric

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yet another great reason to engage in this practice. It costs nothing and can do so much good for job seekers and organizations alike.

    Recent blog:=- Why You Should Interview Anyone Who Asks

    ReplyDelete
  8. This idea is beneficial to the job seekers.everyone deserves a chance to prove his or her worth.

    ReplyDelete

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