The Investigator – Chapter 1: The Blown Budget

Posted on September, 2018

(5 minute read)

I’m known as “The Investigator.” It’s a nickname that didn’t sit quite right with me at first, but after wearing it around for a few years, it’s become a badge of honor.

Back when I was a kid, when mothers would chase us out of the house first thing in the morning with instructions not to be home before the street lights turned on, I spent so many hours every day deeply entrenched in the investigations my wild imagination could create. Complete with a badge I made from my dad’s old flip wallet, I carried and filled notebook after notebook with the details I needed to wrap up each and every investigation. I did them all, successfully of course!

Somewhere though, as I trudged through my teens, I learned that I couldn’t just become a detective, I had to be a beat cop first and hope, wait and pray for a promotion. I really didn’t want to do that.

After college, while I was trying to determine what I wanted to do with my life, I became intrigued by the idea of college recruiting. I had met with several during my senior year and thought that, as a recruiter, I could meet people, travel, and every day would be a new whirlwind of challenge. I had heard a quote when I was a teenager – “if you find a job you love you’ll never work a day in your life” – I believed recruiting could really fulfill my desire for that. It did! Beyond my expectations! I loved every aspect of it never were two days the same. I was able to meet fascinating people, go to new places and, best of all, I was able to help people improve their lives. I really loved it! If you are in the business, you know what I mean. My career took me from recruiter to Talent Acquisition Manager to Human Resources Director. It was secure. It was engaging and it was rewarding. By now, I was the HR director in a mid-sized company with about 10,000 employees around the country.

One morning, at a hastily-called meeting that was streamed to every employee in the company, our CEO announced that he had decided to retire and would be replaced by the CFO. It was kind of sudden; very unexpected. We had been growing well over the last few years: making our numbers, adding new products, product managers, marketers and, of course, sales force and IT people. The HR department was a mighty 20 people by now.

A week later, in a meeting with the Vice Presidents, the new CEO ordered a full operational review of every department. My boss, the VP of HR, asked me to take it on. It was during this deep delve into our department’s operations that I ran across something that shocked me: we were only half-way through the year and our talent acquisition spend was already at 150% of the budget!

How could this be? We were always hiring, but there hadn’t been any significant new expansions that would cause that kind of dramatic increase in spend. Was something underhanded going on? Did this have anything to do with the CEO’s sudden retirement? That would be a hard pill to swallow. Nor could I believe that my boss would do anything inappropriate or, for that matter, that she would mis-forecast the budget by this much. She was a great leader and mentor and had built a tremendous department. I left the office for home with my head spinning that evening.

That night, I couldn’t sleep and as, I lay in bed, I felt a strangely excited, half-familiar restlessness.
The next morning, I was up before the sun. I skipped my usual morning run. Something was stirring inside me.

On autopilot, I showered, dressed and headed into the office. I was rapt: what was driving this burgeoning TA spend? I felt that I had to get to the root of the issue and get it fixed before I told my boss, or worse, the new CEO, found it out.

When I got to work, I closed the door to my office, logged in and quickly pulled up the first files that I thought would lead me to the evidence I needed to start pulling together the puzzle pieces to this mystery. I looked at the clock: it was 5:15. No wonder the parking structure was empty when I drove in.

We were always hiring and had been for the last two years. Each of our TA staff’s benches were at or beyond capacity, and the constant hunger for more and more talent was real and relentless. But, we had never shot through the budget like this before. Why would we now? I needed to investigate.

Suddenly something was awakened inside of me. A passion that I had buried all those years ago.
And so, I did. And the deeper I dug the more I thought I saw a pattern begin to emerge.

I booted-up the ATS and started going through the requisitions that had been opened throughout the year. Sure enough: we had candidates, tons of them actually, on nearly each and every requisition. But many of the ones marked “filled” had multiple candidates with “lost” as the status. It became a common refrain, job after job. Sure, there were some in there with other status codes “accepted,” “declined,” “disqualified…,” but for the most part, the vast majority were marked “lost”. Losing candidates wasn’t unusual, but it was clear that, for whatever reason, we were losing too many – more than ever before – which meant we were hiring people who were third, fourth, sometimes fifth choices for a position. We were spending much more time and effort just screening applicants and, it became clear, losing our first, second and, sometimes third choices. Now that I knew how we had blown through the talent acquisition budget, I needed to figure out why?

It was 7:35, I decided to call a meeting with the Talent Acquisition manager and his entire team for 9:00. I booked a conference room and sent a meeting request to all involved. I am sure that spooked some folks into the office sooner than usual because by 8:45, the entire TA team and its manager was in place, all at the far end of the large table in the second of two executive conference rooms. I’ve been around corporate America long enough to know that the rumor mill started been spinning like crazy the second that meeting announcement began hitting inboxes. Truth be told, I take a small amount of pleasure from watching people squirm a little.

I began the meeting with the explanation of what I found through my investigation. We were losing more candidates than we were hiring; many, many more. There was no way we could afford to go to 300% of budget for talent acquisition this year…and we were entirely on that trajectory!

After a few minutes and realizing that this meeting was not to announce a re-structuring of the department, the team let out a collective sigh, began to loosen up and share. I listened closely and learned that our recruiting team had just been pushed to a point that they could not handle their workbenches any longer. The job market had heated up and it had become increasingly difficult to get good candidates into our open positions.

Our Employer Brand was solid. We were a respected, stable company with great pay and benefits that never had problems filling open positions.

The TA team was solid and had been performing well for the last few years with only minimal turnover. But recently, by the time they got around to doing the screening interviews for the newer requisitions, many of the applicants they wanted to engage were no longer available: they had already accepted offers with other companies before we could engage them. We were losing the war for the highest quality hires so Bob, the TA manager called in a couple of agencies for help. Even they reported more difficulty than usual in engaging qualified applicants.

I asked the team what ideas they had to fix the problem. Several suggested that we hire more people. I asked how we would do that when we couldn’t even get around to engaging people for our clients.

Then, our newest recruiter tentatively raised his hand just a bit. I wasn’t crazy about this kid, always had his head in his phone. “What about that company that does automated screening interviews,” he asked. “We looked at those video services Billy,” the TA Director responded. Then, Sally piped up: “Who has time to sit through videos? The problem is, we don’t have enough time as it is.” “They are audio,” said Billy, face in his phone. “This company transcribes, scores and annotates each interview. All we have to do is look at the score and scan the transcripts. But, if you’re like Sally, you can listen to the recordings of each answer if you want to.”

Bob turned to Billy, “I never heard of this company. Who are they?”
Billy handed Bob his phone.

We called VoiceGlance that day. With them, we were able to engage the best candidates almost immediately. We cut chunks of time out of our hiring process, got back to hiring the best candidates in their fields, saved money and stopped our budget overrun. My VP was happy, and the new CEO called me out for a special honor at the next company-wide meeting. Life was pretty good, but something was gnawing at me. Something I had to investigate!

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