Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Newton Software Recycles the Rejection Letter

December 8th, 2009

Rejection letters aren’t a new thing in recruiting software. When you’re evaluating applicant software, the feature sounds like a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you want to send rejection letters to the applicants you pass on? Most ATS systems have some sort of a rejection letter feature.  So, why do people still refer to ATS systems as corporate black holes? “I sent my resume but never heard back”, how many times have you heard that? How many times has that happened to you? So what gives?

The answer is actually simple. Most employers generally ignore all or most of their recruiting software’s rejection letter functionality. There are two fundamental reasons for this. First of all, most of these features are too complicated to use efficiently. Too often the feature requires recruiters to take too may steps for too little benefit for them. Secondly, sending rejection letters from an applicant tracking system, until now, has been too risky. What if the applicant is interviewing for another job at the company? Who should send the rejection and what email address should the letter come from? Should hiring managers be able to send rejection letters? Has the applicant received a rejection letter before? When? Why? You get the idea.

Having been hands-on in corporate recruiting for more than a decade, the product design team at Newton realized both the power and the risks of automated rejection letters. So, as they started to design Newton’s Thank You Letter functionality (they scrapped the name” rejection letters”), they had to first design an easy-to-use tool that wouldn’t create more work for busy recruiters. And, for the feature to be successful (useful) it needed to virtually eliminate the risks that prevent recruiters from sending rejection letters in the first place. The feature needed to be smart.  The product managers at Newton Software knew if they could accomplish both goals, they could improve the overall experience for applicants while saving recruiters time.

So, after many variations and hundreds of little tweaks later, we’re pretty sure they nailed it. Here is an overview.

Thank You Letter “highlights”.

  • Newton comes standard with pre-built, customizable, thank you letter templates for every stage of the recruiting process. There is a set of corporate templates and a set for each user to personalize.
  • Choose the email aliases from which to send Thank You Letters, corporate or personal email addresses.
  • Decide which members of your team are permitted to send thank you letters.
  • Preview and customize individual thank you letters easily before sending. Choose your desired email alias too.
  • Newton will alert you if an applicant is a duplicate, interviewing for another role at your company and if they’ve received previous thank you messages.
  • Pending Thank You Letters are stored so you can send them later and even send them in bulk. This gives HR / recruiting departments better control of the messaging.


December 2nd, 2009

I managed to secure an invitation to TEDxSF, an independent version of TED, at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. I’ve never been to the Big TED conference but I’ve been a fan of the videos on the website for years. Calling TEDxSF a conference is not doing it justice. The event was more like a series mini-performances featuring musicians, entrepreneurs, scientists and change-makers.

All in all, independent TED events, TEDx, are less exclusive than Big TED. You apply for an invitation and you’re asked to write about how you’ve changed the world or at least how you’ve been an innovator. I wrote about being a recruiter for 10 years and realizing the need for better recruiting software, throwing caution to the wind and starting a technology company amidst the worst recession in recent memory. Maybe the TEDx committee felt sorry for me.

While the format of the performances was paradoxically similar, a thought provoking monologue aided by some slides and self-deprecating humor, the topics varied dramatically. I enjoyed every presentation and I loved the music and comedy too. Even the crowd was interesting, not the room full of geeks I’d anticipated, more chic, less geek.

Here are some highlights.

– Zoë Keating, a talented, avant cellist, informed the audience that computers crash but cellos don’t after her laptop crashed mid-performance.  For the record, it was a Mac.

-Gavin Newsome, San Francisco’s Mayor, was given 3 minutes to address the crowd. Ever the opportunist, he delivered an inspirational, self-promoting rant ending with, “San Francisco has always been a city of dreamers and doers”. At least he got that right.

-Taking advantage of the venue, Ryan Watt, the Director of Morrison Planetarium and Science Visualization at the Academy of Sciences, reminded us that we may not be alone.

-The best story of the afternoon was told by Jill Vallet, the founder of Playworks, a non-profit that brings physical activities to low-income urban schools.

-Proclaiming that Silicon Valley has been as influential as the industrial revolution, photographer, Doug Menuez, shared images of the Valley’s most brilliant innovators, some in their weakest moments.

You can learn more about TEDxSF at:

Linked In… To What?

November 30th, 2009

Sonar6: Performance Reviews that don’t Suck

November 13th, 2009
From time to time, we come across companies that we think are really cool. Sonar6 has been on our radar for a couple of years. While many of their peers seem to be making HR software more and more complicated, the folks at Sonar6 are doing the opposite by providing the simplest way to help businesses make better people decisions.
Founded in 2006, the goal of Sonar6 remains straightforward: Provide the best possible way to create in-depth performance reviews online. Sonar6 delivers.  They’ve built a slick, easy-to-use product and with their “quick start” option, activation is a snap.  Clear, no-nonsense, tiered pricing is available on the Sonar6 website so prospective users know exactly what they are getting into – no surprises!
Learn more about Sonar6 at

From time to time, I come across companies that I find really cool. Admittedly, it’s rare to find a cool company in the HR technology world.  Sonar6 has been on my radar for a couple of years. While their peers are busy making HR software more and more complicated, the folks at Sonar6 are doing the opposite by building the simplest way to help businesses make better people decisions.

Founded in 2006, the goal of Sonar6 remains straightforward: Provide the best possible way to create in-depth performance reviews online. Sonar6 delivers.  They’ve built a slick, easy-to-use product and with their “quick start” option, activation is a snap.  Clear, no-nonsense, tiered pricing is available on the Sonar6 website so prospective users know exactly what they are getting into – no surprises!

I really like this model.  While the “old school” HR technology vendors run around preaching about buying suites of integrated products, companies like Sonar6 disrupt the space with a best-of-breed point solution that kicks ass. I hope to see more companies like Sonar6 hocking their wares in 2010.

Learn more about Sonar6 at

Does Free Technical Support Make Software Better?

November 6th, 2009

“Contact support.” Sigh.

Steve Hazelton, the Head of Products, at Newton Software doesn’t believe it needs to be like that.  He and his product team actually handle technical support for Newton’s applicant tracking software.  To most software folks, this may sound crazy but Steve would beg to differ.  Recently, he wrote a post describing Newton’s “support driven design“.  It’s worth a read.

Interview Guide: A Framework for Interviewing Knowledge Workers

October 27th, 2009


To say that I think a lot about recruiting and hiring is an understatement. Before I co-founded a technology company that builds recruiting software, my business partner and I, started and ran a couple of recruiting firms, an RPO and over the years, managed dozens of corporate recruiting departments. In addition to helping countless other organizations hire, we’ve had to build quite a few of our own teams.  Along the way, we’ve developed a successful interviewing methodology that we’ve employed both internally and externally for dozens of our clients.

While hiring is one of the most dynamic business processes, one variable remains constant. Identifying the right people for skilled jobs is difficult. A modern workforce strategy should look not only to increase its hiring throughput, but also look to increase retention and develop lower-skilled employees into higher-skilled and more valuable ones. A well-run interview process won’t just reduce the risk of a bad hire it can also reduce the complexity and number of hires needed in the future.

A well-run interview process won’t just reduce the risk of a bad hire it can also reduce the complexity and number of hires needed in the future.

Ability at the Center

Ability is the primary element of modern workforce strategy.  The ability, or skill, of the individuals you hire and employ determines your company’s ability to execute.  If you run an accounting firm and do not have people with tax preparation skills you can’t do tax preparation for customers.  All of the components that compose your human capital strategy, retention, development and acquisition are related to the amount of ability your organization possesses and the amount it needs to reach its goals.  You acquire ability by hiring, you develop ability by training, and you maintain ability by retention.

Retention’s Relation to Character

Obviously, retention reduces the number of people a company needs to hire. And your company’s retention strategy is tightly linked with the character of the individuals you hire.  Character, as we will discuss later, is the answer to, “Do I want to work with this person?”  If you ignore character screening in your interview process, then you can expect to injure retention.  Companies screen for character, often times without really knowing it.  This is why in small companies the CEO always conducts the final interview and in larger ones people much higher up the ladder like to interview every person in their department: they are making sure that the person will mesh with the culture and not cause retention problems.

Talent’s Relation to Development

Where retention reduces the number of hires required, employee development reduces the complexity of those hires and alleviates some of the pressure placed on the hiring infrastructure.  Interviewing for talent correlates to your organization’s employee development strategy.  Where ability measures what someone is able to do, talent measures potential. As we will discuss later, talent is the answer to the question, “Can this person grow with my company?” By effectively screening for and gauging talent in the interview process you will eventually reduce the specialization level of future openings.  The less complex an opening is the more people that can do the job and the less it costs to fill.

Making the Determination–Interviewing For Ability, Talent and Character

ABT Triangle

When we interview we are trying to create a hypothetical environment to mimic a real-world situation.  This simulation will hopefully enable us to reduce the risk of making a bad hire by giving us a fair estimation of the candidate’s performance in our real-world environment.  What measurements will give us the best prediction of performance? The three critical measurements are:

Ability: “Can the person do the job they are interviewing for today?”

Talent: “How well does this person fit our long-term objectives?”

Character: “Do we want to work with this person?”

What is Ability?

Ability is the measure of a person’s skill and experience and correlates to a job description’s “must haves”.  When a company interviews for ability, they are trying to determine if the person can accomplish the minimum requirements of the position.  The simplest question to ask is, “Can the person do the job?” Another, perhaps more concise question is, “Can the person be effective in this role immediately?”

Ability determines the execution ability of a company.  To slightly oversimplify, the more ability a company’s workforce maintains the more it can get done.  Of course, ability is affected by things like work ethic and decision making.  But in theory, a company with three software developers can write three times more code than a company that has one software developer.

For some jobs, ability level might be the only concern: “Can they cut down a tree?”  For others positions, and this depends on the job as well as the company, there are two other measurements—talent and character.  Knowledge workers require high degrees of skill but also high quantities of talent and character.  For example, hiring someone to flip burgers may only require the ability to flip burgers since it does not require a great deal of talent or character.  On the other hand a Vice President of Marketing requires ability, but talent and character are probably just as important.

Since skill and experience are largely objective measurements, ability is then the easiest and least expensive to identify.  “Is the person ethical” is a much more subjective and nuanced question than, “Can the person write HTML?”  Since the latter measurement is largely objective we can use lower-cost resources (lower-level employees) to measure ability.  Once we have inexpensively confirmed that the person has the skill to accomplish the job responsibilities we can move to more subjective questions that require more adept interviewers.

Ability First

Only after the interview process has determined the ability level of a candidate is adequate should we focus on the more costly measurements of talent and character.  If the person can not do the job there is no reason to confirm whether they can grow with the job or if they fit the corporate culture.  Perhaps this sounds strong.  But for both candidate and company alike, spending time in interviews that test for cultural fit and growth potential before we know if they can do what is required of them day-one is a waste of everyone’s time.  Thus, the first step in the interview process should be to gauge ability level; it is the easiest and cheapest to identify and a “must-have” requirement.

What is Talent?

“How well does this person fit our long-term objectives?” This is an appropriate way to correlate talent’s importance to interviewing and hiring.  Every company has immediate needs, and those immediate needs, like tax preparation or Java coding, are what we look for in ability.  Talent optimizes these abilities and it should also map to long-term corporate objectives, like managing teams or launching an office.

In older economies talent had some importance but perhaps not as much as skill (if you need someone to chop down a tree, do you need them to design a saw as well?).  In knowledge-worker organizations problem solving and decision making are often as important as skill.

If you map talent acquisition to corporate development objectives you can actually build the higher-value employees in your company instead of hiring them from outside.  Look at why some companies hire college recruits: the ability requirement is low, but they hope to build ability through talent development.  For companies like consulting firms and investment banks it is more effective to build the talent for five years then to recruit someone with five years of experience.  In many industries we simply do not have the luxury of a five-year training window—so we can not solely screen for talent.

Talent can be measured with behavioral and problem-solving questions.  Behavioral questions measure a person’s past performance in certain situations, which give us a measure of their decision-making abilities. It takes a skilled interviewer and appropriate content to drive this stage of the interview cycle.  If you ask someone to name a time they were given a project with little supervision or resources and how they dealt with it, you get a very subjective response.

Talent Second

Talent is more difficult to identify than ability.  Whereas ability measurements like skill-testing produce results that are easy to measure (it is easy to see that 2+2=5 is the wrong answer), talent measurements require more interactive open-ended questions.  Not only do we need to spend more time with the applicant to gauge talent, we need a more skilled resource to measure it.  Thus the measurement of talent becomes more expensive.  However, talent is more easily identified than character so we should take care in identifying talent in the middle stages of the interview cycle.  If the person does not fit our development strategy, does not solve problems well or makes bad decisions it is likely a waste of resources to see if they augment corporate culture.

What is Character?

“Do I want to work with this person?” “Will this person have a positive effect on our culture?” Both of these questions are appropriate measures of character’s value to the interview process.  Like talent, character enhances the output of ability.  Someone can be very skilled, but if they are difficult to manage then the value of their skill is reduced.  Character also maps to broader human capital objectives in that it closely aligns with employee retention.  If you hire disagreeable people your turnover is likely to be higher than average.

Character can be measured by behavioral interviewing questions and psychological testing.  It is often not the response that is important, but the way the response is given.  An answer that says “yes” but has associated body language that is contrary to the answer is a character “red flag”.

Character Last, but Always

Of the three, ability, talent and character, the nebulous nature of character makes it by far the most difficult to quantify.  Due to this problem, the last stage of interviewing requires the highest value employees to competently measure character.  In a well-run interview process we desire to reduce the risk of a bad hires as well as maximize the time and effort of employees.  No one will say in an interview that they are not a hard worker or that they have a bad temper.  In light of this, character should be measured near the end of the interview process by very adept interviewers whose opinion will be trusted.

In saying that character should be measured near the end of the interview process, we do not intend to say it should not be looked for earlier.  Care should be taken at all stages to identify risk associated with character.  Although we can tolerate some deficiencies in talent and skill, deficiencies in character are almost always a reason for a no-hire.

Don’t’ forget, candidates are interviewing your company too.


Interviewing is certainly the process by which we make the determination to hire someone.  However, there is also a critical component to this process—creating interest in potential employees.  Just as bad filtration will lead to poor interview success (since we will be interviewing people that can’t do the job), a lack of effective marketing will lead to poor acceptance ratios in the Finish stage.

Every interviewer must understand that although the corporate goal is to reduce the risk of a bad hire, a candidate is trying to reduce their risk of taking a bad job.  Therefore, companies must take care to provide information to the candidate that will reduce the perception of risk.

Marketing must be a component of all stages of the hiring lifecycle.  At the “Face” stage, we can map marketing’s objectives to the interview triangle:

Ability: What will the candidate be doing?  Why is this interesting?

Talent: What growth opportunities will the candidate have?

Character: Why should the candidate want to work for the company?

Effective marketing will answer these questions for the candidate as early in the process as possible and reinforce them at all stages.  The later the stage in the hiring process when marketing actually begins the less effective it becomes.  If you save your marketing punch for the closing stage of a candidate’s offer its reception will be lukewarm.  Inserting a corporate spokesperson (ideally a future co-worker) into the interview process is highly effective in increasing offer acceptance ratios.

The company that provides the most information to a candidate in the hiring process will almost always beat a competitive offer.

Summary: Ability, Talent, Character


The “must haves” of a job

Enables business functions and execution

Mostly objective

Relatively easy to measure

Screened early in interview process


Optimizes ability (e.g. problem solving)

Maps to corporate employee development objectives

Objective and subjective

Difficult to measure

Screened at middle stages of interview process


Optimizes ability (e.g. work ethic)

Maps to corporate retention objectives

Mostly subjective

Very difficult to measure

Screened at late stages of interview process but gauged at all stages

Credit where credit is due.

I, by no means, thought of this content alone.  In fact, most of the original content was developed by Steve Hazelton, the CEO of Newton Software.  While I delivered the content most of the time, Steve spent countless hours conceptualizing, revising and improving this interview methodology.