Challenges When Hiring: How Mountain Biking Is Like Hiring - Adventures AND Leadership Series

This past weekend I went on my second ever mountain bike ride in the mountains (versus biking around Denver’s parks and bike paths on a mountain bike). It was fantastic, exhilarating, and seriously challenging!

As I pushed the bike (video link) up a particularly challenging hill - walking, not riding - it occurred to me that my situation at that moment was similar to the circumstances many hiring managers find themselves in.

I can easily bike on the city’s well-maintained bike paths - and I managed fairly well on the first mountain trail I ventured out on - but this was very different than both of those. This trail had deep ruts in some areas, piles of pea-sized stones that pulled at my tires like quick-sand in others, and sharp turns that challenged both balance and maneuverability.

The recruiting, interviewing and hiring processes can also pose obstacles and challenges that require a higher level of hiring skill. For example:

Low Unemployment - Finding top talent in crowded marketplaces where the number of positions outnumber the available talent poses a very real challenge in hiring. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the national unemployment rate for the United States has been at or below 4.1% since October 2017. Unemployment rates that low can create unique challenges for sourcing qualified candidates and it can make it tempting to accept the best candidate from a pool of unqualified applicants. Highly skilled hiring managers will effectively fight this temptation because they understand the long-term damage bringing the wrong person into an organization can do.

Highly Technical and Specialized Positions - Hiring for a highly technical and specialized position requires a bit more skill as well. These sought-after individuals have little tolerance for the standard processes and/or standard interview questions. They want to know that the organization has the technical chops to keep up with them at the very least, and to challenge them at best. Highly skilled hiring managers will know the language of the role and can demonstrate to the candidate that the company will be able to fully utilize their skills and abilities because they get them and speak their language.

Changing The Culture From Toxic To Team - Turning around a toxic and under-performing departments, divisions, or facilites consistently requires firing toxic employees. Hiring into an organization that just went through a toxicity cleanse poses unique challenges. A highly skilled hiring manager will be able to provide a realistic job and workplace culture preview while fighting any temptation to share stories or scenarios that may subtly bring poison back into the organization. The highly skilled hiring manager will invest in a thorough on-boarding system for all employees and will recognize the need to take on-boarding systems to new heights when facing the complexity of turning a culture from toxic to team.

These are only a few of the obstacles that can cause a hiring manager to stumble and fall, causing a delay or derailment of the overall hiring process. We can do better.

Don’t wait until you’re half-way up a wild, rocky path before you realize it’s time to invest in more training and development for hiring managers. On the mountain path I could opt to walk the bike down sections until I reached an area that was better suited to my skill level —- braking that hard during the hiring process because of a lack of development of hiring managers is wildly expensive and operationally damaging.

Wondering if you’re hiring managers are on the right path given their training, development, and experience? Let’s talk! We have designed an assessment specifically for matching hiring manager skill level with complexity of hire - knowing where you’re starting from is critical to successfully navigating the path.

How Big of An Issue Is Sexual Harassment On The Job?

Sexual harassment at work has been getting a lot of attention in the past year.  As a result it has been a topic of conversation not only with clients, but also at social events. I recently struck up a conversation with someone in line for coffee who turned out to be an executive with a Fortune 500 company.  The conversation turned to the news…and ultimately to the issue of sexual harassment and sexual conduct at work. 

“How big of an issue is sexual harassment, really?” was his question. 

It’s significant.

30.4% of all claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2017 involved claims of sex harassment and discrimination.  In reality only a fraction of the incidents of harassment and discrimination based on sex make it to the EEOC.  Thankfully many of them will be resolved at the organizational level and the employee will not have any reason to file with the EEOC.  Unfortunately, many incidents of harassment at work go unresolved or unreported and the affected employees either continue to suffer through the harassment and discrimination or exit the organization without explanation.

Even if the organization does not immediately face a lawsuit or action from the EEOC, sexual harassment on the job is expensive.  It keeps employees from being able to perform at their highest levels thereby costing the organization in productivity, innovation, customer service, etc. Sexual harassment at work results in higher absenteeism and ultimately higher turnover.  And here’s the worst part – the turnover isn’t the offender who has been allowed to get away with bad behavior. The employees who exit are high performers and high achievers who will easily get work elsewhere.  Meanwhile, the employee who is allowed to harass, discriminate, and bully … that person isn’t going anywhere on their own.

Sexual harassment, in comparison to other employee engagement issues can be particularly critical not only because of the legal implication, but to the rippling and residual employee relations issues.

All employees and managers must know what constitutes sexual harassment, and they need to  be clear about their own role and responsibility, the importance of bystander intervention, how to respond to a situation involving sexual harassment appropriately and effectively, and who to report the incident/s to. 

Compliance training is important – and sexual harassment training is required in a growing number of states and municipalities.  But “that’s what the policy says – sign here to document your participation” has never been the driving force of change. 

Training on sexual harassment and discrimination needs to be interactive, and fun (ye, fun) in order to transfer the knowledge. 

While it’s important (and legally required in some areas) that harassment prevention training include definition of terms, the real power of facilitated harassment prevention training is in the dialogue, the conversation with employees, and ability to address real life scenarios and walk participants through the nuances of building a harassment free workplace.

If you have not yet started hosting facilitated discussions with someone with expertise in harassment prevention, if you have not yet offered interactive, engaging, and fun training on harassment prevention for your workforce – we should talk – and soon.  It’s costing your organization a lot of money to do nothing. 



Harassment Prevention Training Is Important - But Not The ONLY Step In Stopping Harassment At Work

Yes, harassment prevention training is critical - as well as required in a growing number of states and municipalities - but it's important that we aren't so focused on making sure employees can define the legal terms of "quid pro quo" and "hostile work environment" that we lose sight of the fact that harassment and discrimination is highly nuanced and often engrained in workplace culture.    

Individual employees play a critical role in the prevention of workplace discrimination, harassment, and the creation-over-time- of hostile work environments. Employees throughout your organization are in a position to see and hear workplace communications that, without intervention, could develop into harassment.  Knowledgeable, proactive employers engage their supervisors and employees at every level and start the conversation early in the employment process - and reinforce the messaging with harassment prevention compliance training as an opportunity to bring the subject top-of-mind and keep the conversation going throughout the employment life cycle. 

Compliance training alone will not get the job done.  We need to focus on bystander intervention and building an overall culture of respect.  It is the employees who witness inappropriate conduct that can make the biggest difference - as long as they know how to react, who to involve, and that there will be no retaliation for speaking up on behalf of a colleague. 

Are your supervisors and employees able to identify appropriate and inappropriate workplace behaviors? Do they know what to do when they see or hear them? Are your employees actively helping you to create a positive, respectful work environment?  Ensuring that you are able to answer each of these questions in the affirmative is core to building a culture that is free of harassment and discrimination.  

Having equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment policies in place is not enough to prevent an issue - and it is not enough to prevent a complaint reaching the EEOC.  Organizations that lack a culture of respect are adding costs to their bottom line.  Disrespectful and hostile environment have higher absenteeism rates, lower employee morale, they suffer from a lack of employee engagement, lose out on high-quality employee referrals, experience higher than average turnover, and lose customers and clients as a result of their poisonous environments.  In addition to having compliance policies in place, employers must develop open lines of communication, and a workplace culture that encourages employees to step up on behalf of their co-workers.

Start with engaging harassment prevention training that includes bystander intervention.  Build a strategic plan to combat workplace harassment and discrimination from there.  


Three More Reasons to Stop Holding Job Interviews In Coffee Shops

Last week I posted Three Reasons to Stop Holding Job Interviews In Coffee Shops.  The reality is, there are more than three reasons! Here are three more …

1.  More Awkward

In the first post of this series, I mentioned how awkward this situation can be.  Let’s make it more awkward.  Let’s add into the mix a job candidate who uses a cane, crutches, or a wheelchair.  Now picture that coffee shop with its multitude of stairs, narrow hallways, and tightly packed seating area.  As promised…. the situation is even more awkward.  What’s more, you have now brought the coffee shop’s accommodation issues into your business in a very real way while also placing a barrier (literal and figurative) between you and prospective employee.  While we’re on this topic – take a look today at your office area – is it fully accessible?  

2.  Lack of Confidentiality - Candidate Perspective

Was that John from accounting who just walked in?  What if it gets back to my boss that I’m taking interviews?  How will I explain this meeting?  Will I get fired? 

It’s happened.  A job candidate is meeting with a prospective employer in a public setting when a member of their current team, their boss, or someone else affiliated with the company walks in and sees them.  The candidate is now in a wildly uncomfortable position and you may have just lost a top-tier candidate to a counter-offer by their employer.  Either way, it’s a lose-lose scenario.

Beyond the risk of being recognized and having their current company find out about the interview, an interview should include a candid conversation about experiences, successes, and failures. Getting a candidate to talk openly about past failures can be a challenge in the best of scenarios – having the conversation in public where it is easily overheard makes it less likely that a candidate will be open and transparent with these stories. 

3.  Lack of Confidentiality – Company Perspective

The confidentiality issues aren’t limited to the candidate side of the equation.  You don’t know who is sitting beside you at a coffee shop.  Not only could it be someone from the candidate’s company, it could also be a competitor – and you’ve not only given them a lead on a great candidate but have likely shared information that you wouldn’t provide to a competitor if they called up and asked.

Job interviews should be candid conversations – being concerned that a competitor may be sitting at the next table does not lend itself to having an open and thoughtful conversation with the candidate.

That brings us up to six reasons to stop holding job interviews in coffee shops.  Still not convinced?  Watch this space for more reasons! 


Three More Reasons To Stop Holding interviews in coffee shops - Nora A Burns - keynote Speaker

Three More Reasons To Stop Holding interviews in coffee shops - Nora A Burns - keynote Speaker

Three Reasons To Stop Holding Job Interviews At Coffee Shops

It's inevitable ... if I sit at a coffee shop (especially in a metropolitan area) for more than an hour on a weekday between 8 am and 5 pm I will witness a job interview.  There is one happening two tables away as I write this. 

I'm not talking about interviews for barista, or coffee shop manager, but for an administrative assistant, operations manager, software tech, office manager, etc.  There are a plethora of reasons I ask hiring managers to please stop holding job interviews at coffee shops, here are three. 

(1)  It's awkward.

The job candidate doesn't know you and doesn't know what you look like other than having (hopefully) reviewed your LinkedIN profile.  (And let's accept that at least 50% of people are unidentifiable in person based on their professional headshot with perfect hair, lighting, and perhaps a few re-touches!) It is painful to witness and more painful to experience as the job candidate walks up to one person after another "Bob?.....No? Sorry, I'm looking for someone I have never met".  Periodically someone will joke, "Tinder date?".  Awkward.  

(2)  It causes unnecessary stress. 

The candidate is likely already under stress.  The Job Interview Anxiety Survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Everest Colleges found that "92% of U.S. adults fear something about job interviews".  Adding unnecessary stressors including fear of not recognizing the interviewer, not being able to find a table at a busy coffee shop, not being able to hear clearly over all the background noise (see #3), etc is not conducive to interviewing goals.  

(3) It's loud.

Most busy coffee shops have a fair amount of noise.  Coffee beans being ground, espresso machine steaming,  barista calling out names for drink order pickup,  gathering of five or more people for a book club,  dog on the patio barking, etc.  "What?" and "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that"...or worse, the smile and nod because someone has grown tired of asking someone to repeat themselves - these are not helpful in an interview setting.  The candidate deserves 100% of your attention, and with all the background noise that is going to be a difficult goal to attain.

Coffee shops are not your best choice for an interview setting...they are not even in the top five.  If you don't have a private conference room or office with a closing door that you can use, consider utilizing one of the many cooperative workspace options available in most cities.  Let's leave coffee shop interviews the domain of coffee shop owners and managers. 

Check back next week for three more reasons to stop hosting job interviews at coffee shops. 

Hiring Managers:  Please do not host job interviews at a coffee shop (unless the person is applying to work at that same coffee shop)

Hiring Managers:  Please do not host job interviews at a coffee shop (unless the person is applying to work at that same coffee shop)

A Mountain Bike, Hiking Poles, Yoga Mat, Ball Gown… and a Hiring Manager.

What do these things have in common?  All the items (less the hiring manager) were in the back of my Subaru this afternoon – and the combination made me laugh as I returned home this evening.  I have clearly become the quintessential Coloradan.  The combination also reminded me of Bob*.

Bob was a hiring manager and had just finished leading a panel interview with a promising candidate for a marketing position (I participated in the panel as an HR consultant working on evaluating and redesigning their hiring process).  Rather than walk her to the lobby, Bob escorted the candidate all the way to her car in the firm’s parking lot.  They continued talking as they walked, he shook her hand while standing beside the car, and then he returned to the office.

As we debriefed the interview I asked if he always walked candidates to their car, or if this was a unique event.  He proudly exclaimed, “Oh, if I have someone I believe to be a strong candidate I do that – it gives me so much more information!”  How so?  “I position myself so I can look into their vehicle and see how clean and organized it is, what things they have laying about - you can learn a lot about someone by studying their vehicle”. 


There are several challenges with this scenario – and anyone reading this who is the parent of young children has probably already imagined the first!  Mom and Dad-mobiles are regularly strewn with Cheerios®, car seats, booster chairs, etc.  <Red Flag:  Family Status>  It’s also possible that the vehicle belongs to a friend or family member who lent the candidate their car for the interview.  The candidate could have traded cars with a friend for the week because someone was moving or need a more fuel-efficient vehicle for a road trip.  The vehicle that you’re peering into could also be a rental.  There are so many scenarios that could be in play!

Today as I looked at the collection of items in the back of my vehicle, I tried to imagine what stories Bob might make up about the combination of a mountain bike, hiking poles, yoga mat, and ball gown in the back of my mountain-dirt-covered-Subaru!

The bottom line … for a position of this nature - an internal marketing position which would not require driving anyone around, visiting client locations, etc. – the kind of transportation someone is using to get to/from work, or the current condition of their personal vehicle falls solidly in the category of Nunya Business.   

Until next time.. don’t be like Bob*!   Respect the privacy of candidates and let’s stay away from their vehicles when not directly relevant to the job.

Go be brilliant, and make your workplace and the world a better place one positive interaction at a time!

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.


Mountain Bike Hike Poles Yoga Mat Ball Gown and a Hiring Manager - Nora A Burns - HR Expert - Blog.JPG

Delighted to be a Podcast guest for #WorkingTech (Episode 26)

Bill Banham (Twitter: @Bill_Banham)  of The HR Gazette and the WorkingTech Podcast interviewed me earlier this year to discuss The Undercover Candidate™ and The Undercover Employee projects.  We discussed everything from putting client, employee, and product information at risk with our hiring processes, to the amount of shame and de-humanization that occurs on the front lines of organizations. 

You can listen to the podcast here:


DisruptHR Madison Is Tonight!

#DisruptHR Madison 2.0 is tonight!  This will be my fourth #DisruptHR presentation and I'm excited to be back in Wisconsin where my HR career began. 

The event will be live streamed, so even if you aren't in Madison - or if you are and weren't able to get tickets (they sold out nearly two months ago) can still watch the presentations. 

Live feed will start ~ 5.45pm Central Time on Wed 06/07/17

I've had the opportunity to preview several of the presentations -- you won't want to miss this lineup!

My talk: Zero Tolerance - Bad Language or Bath Math is 4th in the lineup. 

Zero Tolerance - Bad Language, or Bad Math?

Do you use the phrase "zero tolerance" in your workplace respect, workplace harassment, discrimination prevention, etc. policies?   Do you truly mean ZERO

As both an HR Consultant, and while working on the front lines as The Undercover Employee™, I have encountered a wide variety of harassment prevention and workplace respect policies that use the phrase "Zero Tolerance", and yet most organizations don't truly mean zero.

Wednesday, June 7th I will be one of a series of speakers presenting at DisruptHR Madison 2.0 (#DisruptHRMSN) - and my five-minute talk (Ignite-style) is on this exact topic.  

If you're not in Madison, WI, or even if you are and simply were unable to secure tickets, don't worry, you can still see the presentation in real time via their live stream, and see commentary via Twitter posts.  

After the event, I'll return to post more about by insights into "Zero Tolerance" policies.  

If you're looking for assistance in writing, editing, or training on sexual harassment policies, or building a culture of respect, please contact us - we welcome the opportunity to partner with you in building a more inclusive culture.