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Hiring right in the future of work - Lou Adler [Interview]

Hiring right in the future of work - Lou Adler [Interview]

Sneha Moorthy
July 19, 2022
Hiring right in the future of work - Lou Adler [Interview]

About Lou Adler

Lou is a well-known name, in the field of hiring. With his experience, he has been helping global companies, find the right talent and invest correctly in their Human Capital. Lou is the CEO and founder of the Adler Group, which helps multinational companies to hire exceptional talent. The author of the Amazon top 10 bestsellers, “Hire With Your Head”, Lou has been featured on famous publishings like Inc. Magazine, Business Insider, and The Wall Street Journal. An experienced corporate executive turned entrepreneur.

Aishwarya Jain

Hiring right in the future of work - Lou Adler [Interview]

We have the pleasure of welcoming Lou Adler today to our interview series. I am Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner to 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month. Welcome, Lou. We’re thrilled to have you.


Thank you very much for inviting me. Hopefully, I can be helpful to your audience.


Of course! Thank you so much! The first question I had for you Lou was -

Tell us something about your journey that brought you to starting the Adler Groups?


Boy, you want the long story or the short story?


We would prefer whatever you give us!


Ohh that could be answered in 3-4 hours so we won't do that, I'll give you a super short version. Well, I've not been a recruiter my whole life, but I've been a recruiter for more than 40  years. But 10 years prior to that, I actually worked in industry and was running a manufacturing company when I was 32 years old and I hated my boss who was the president, the group president, and we argued every week.

I finally quit four times in one year and said I'll become a recruiter, what was really only to find another job and I started up with these two other guys who were very good, and I quickly realized that recruiting was a true business process and I actually liked it and started placing people in industries and companies that I knew some time being in manufacturing and finance and accounting, it was easy for me to know.

I knew a lot of people and started getting a lot of assignments and then I realized over time there was a right way to do it and the right way,
starting with a clear understanding of the job, a good interviewing process, a good sourcing process, a good closing process, and also the big, most important point, you have to deliver on the promise because as a recruiter, you're affecting a person's life, and if you don't know the job, you're just playing games.

"As a recruiter, you're affecting a person's life, and if you don't know the job, you're just playing games."

But if you do know the job and you understand this person's career aspirations, then you could put both people together, you actually can play a very important benefit to both to the hiring manager, and the candidate in the company.

That makes a person's life that you're presenting. So that's an important role, and I don't think enough recruiters take it seriously enough. Took me a lot of years to figure out how to do it, but I take it seriously today. I think that the message that I'd like to try to present everybody.


That's wonderful!
And talking about the interview process, so I was just going through your article, you posted a few hours back on LinkedIn, Right! the phone screening process.

So you talk about you know how it has to be a good culture fit you need to determine if the person fits the culture and the hiring manager, what's the specific fit in motivation? So what happens usually is that the person talks a lot about you know, they've done X project and Y Project? But how do you really differentiate from the truth vs whats the false, is there a process for that?


Well, sure, but there's more to the phone screen than just assessing competency, but if we see now when you can't talk to people in person, its an important component, irrespective of that.

And the fundamental, but not most important issue is, understanding if this candidate, which is the answer to your question,  is competent to do that work and motivated to do that work. And if the job represents a career move and worth spending more time with the person it is not the decision to hire or not hire that person but the decision is to collect evidence to determine getting serious about this person. And if the person could be serious about what you have to offer.

"It is not the decision to hire or not hire that person but the decision is to collect evidence to determine getting serious about this person."

And the way I conduct a phone screen starts long before the phone screen. It's me asking the hiring manager, what does success look like on the job? And it could be some type of project. It could be some type of work, and I then say what does it take to be really successful, or what are the best people doing this work do?

And it's frequently subjective, build a team of accountants, launched a new product, new accounting report, designing a new component that does A, B, and C and work with manufacturing and, it’ll make sure it's appropriate for the marketplace, but it's usually a series of activities. 

Once I know that I use the phone screen to ask the candidate that “Hey, we have to build the new project we have to handle work like this, tell me about the work you've done just like that.”  My phone screen is first to go through the person's background, understand their track record. If there's a general fit between the job and the candidate and if the work that the candidate has done is comparable to the work that needs to be done.

So, it's very practical stuff, and in that case, I'll determine if the candidate would see this job as a career move or a lateral transfer. If it's a career move, I would want to go forward. If it's not, it's not a perfect job, meaning that the candidate is not competent. I'm gonna stop it. It's not a career move. I'm gonna stop as well. But that's all you can get in the first interview on the phone screen is a general understanding if it makes sense to get serious.

I tend to like the hiring manager to also conduct the phone screen to dig deep in the areas that I, as a recruiter, didn't cover, and then when we invite a person on-site, we actually have a lot done, but surrounding that whole idea is the idea of I want to convert that stranger whom I don't know, I just met him on the phone call or a video interview, I want to convert that stranger into an acquaintance of some type.

So use the phone screen to get to know each other as people, not only if the person is competent to be motivated, but when you know someone on the phone, it's a little bit different than meeting him in person. In-person, you're biased by the 1st impression, how prepared they are, if they arrive on time. There are all these superficialities that take place when you meet a person in person.

So slow down, spend more time with fewer people, use the phone Screen to get to know each other as well as, hey, should we get serious? So I think when we sell the phone's screen as a conversational component as well as an assessment component, and I think that the bigger purpose of it, at the size from Hey, is the person more component to do the work. And that I put it in the first step. Sorry for that long answer, but it's probably appropriate.  


Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

And do you believe that, there are certainly a lot of biases when you see the person in front of you right, so do you believe that we actually make a decision right in the 1st five seconds of seeing that person, whether it's a yes or no?


Absolutely. In fact, I remember making a decision before even I met the person. I was downtown Los Angeles, 25 years ago or so, and I got in early morning for a meeting. I left the office door locked and I knew the candidate was coming in at 7:30 in the morning and I was waiting for him and it was 7: 31 or so and I see the candidate couldn't even get the door open. I said, What an idiot this person is, I didn't like the person who had nothing to do with it.

It was my fault, I left the door locked, I was the only one in the office. So, there are two reasons why we make mistakes. Number one is we don't know the job, you know, the culture of the company, the decisions and a lot of things associated with that. But if we don't know the job, it's problematic the person is going to be successful.

But then we used the interview when we meet the person to make a decision, do we hire the person or not, and we do make a decision instantly. That's why the phone's screen is a good way. And I say whether it's a phone screen or person to person use the interview to collect evidence to make a decision.

Don't make the decision during the interview, we have a semi-scripted interview, which is a very natural conversation, but we want to collect evidence at the end of that interview, we'll say 'Hey, could this person do this job, if this person's first impression is appropriate.'

And by the end of the interview, most people calm down, people who make a great first impression but are superficial, you recognize that superficiality. But if you used the interview to collect the evidence rather than make a decision, you're better off. I think that too many people make decisions. That's why the other part of the phone screen is, it minimizes the first impression biased, which is absolutely critical and damaging to make an assessment.


Absolutely, right!
I agree with you. It would be really critical, and we need to pay more attention to the phone screen part of it than probably the interview itself to remove all kinds of biases, so you do validation from by doing the phone screen and then actually, go ahead and, you know, kind of say yes or no when the person comes in, right.

So, you know, hiring right is definitely a huge problem for all organizations worldwide and especially in this time of the pandemic. What would be your advice that you give to organizations that have to continue hiring?


Do you mean in the current healthcare crisis?




Okay, Well, somebody just asked me that, we had training program an hour ago, and somebody asked that and I said, well, my philosophy as the recruiter is I'm affecting a person's life, and I do not want to put a person into a situation that is riskier than the situation the person is in today.

Normally, we don't have this kind of healthcare crisis going on. So I look at a candidate even if that person is happily employed and I'm gonna put him into something else and just changing jobs is a risk. But we try to mitigate that risk if possible, and I have a philosophy that we're not hiring for the start date, we're hiring for the anniversary date a year later.

"We're not hiring for the start date, we're hiring for the anniversary date a year later."

...which means doing a lot of due diligence. Is the job right, Is that the person’s spirit right, Is the person motivated right, there are all these other factors that you have to consider when you hire for the anniversary date. A lot of work. So I told this person this morning, she said she is a recruiter, and she's got a couple of candidates online.

What did I think about it? I said, Well, my personal position is I do not want to put a person in a more risky position than they're in today. So I would just personally back off. I know that it would be painful for a recruiter.

I get paid for that! but on the other hand, if you look at the larger consequences of that, if you're affecting a person's life and that person's families, like on the other hand, if that person is out of work and you're putting them into this situation, well, that's still a better situation.

If their situation is currently risky, and you're putting him into a less risky situation, I'm certainly fine with that. So the idea is we, like, have people look at the job for what they're gonna be doing and becoming in comparison to where they are today and where they're gonna be going if they stay there. So that's why there's a lot of work here and I don't like to rush it.

I spend more time with fewer people and I want them to recognize mysterious life decisions, not just take the job, because they want more money. And I think that when you understand the job, you understand human nature, you understand all these other factors, you got to bring them all together. But you as a recruiter are orchestrating the whole process and the right way to do it and the wrong way to do it. I think, unfortunately, too many hiring managers and too many candidates and too many recruiters do it for what they got on the start date, and not for the anniversary date.


Yeah, I think, too many chefs would spoil the broth kind of the situation. So what you're trying to say is that it is a human experience and we've got to be empathizing with everybody's situation and backgrounds.

And can you give us some insights on hiring the right talent for the concept of you know, the future of work, as we call it?


Well, I think let's not forget the health care crisis because three months, six months a year from some point on we'll be out of it. So let me kind of take it. Once I define the job as the series of performance objectives that are called OKR’s, Objectives and Key Results or KPO’s, Key Performance Objectives, that define the work,  five or six things define 80% of the work. When I looked for candidates, I looked for three things.

  • Can this person do that work that needs to be done?
  • Does the person have what I call the achiever pattern, meaning recognized for doing exceptional work that needs to be done?
  • Does the candidate see this job as a career move?

But then it's also, while all those important what's equally important, what I call the fifth factor is the person intrinsically motivated to do that work It might make all sense, but the person doesn't want to do that work that’ll be a failure. Does the person fit with the manager's style? That's a critical issue. Anybody can say they want a cultural fit. But 50% of the culture is that manager who he/she works with, that manager, a  strong manager, a strong leader who can develop people. That's great.

"Anybody can say they want a cultural fit. But 50% of the culture is that manager who he/she works with, that manager, a  strong manager, a strong leader who can develop people. That's great."

But so many managers are not like that. The manager's not good at developing people, the person better be good at dealing with that kind of manager. That's a very important part of the fifth act. Cultural fit is also important, and in my mind, the cultural fit has to be with the pace of the organization, you can say its values and all that.

I think that's a bunch of bull not unimportant, but your proxy for that pace of the organization because the company is growing fast, making quick decisions, without a lot of resources. It's a fundamentally different culture than one that has a slow pace, not a lot of resources and decisions don't get made quickly.

If the person can meet on the intensity and pace level and is not a jerk, they'll fit with the culture, and how do you figure if the person is not a jerk well if the person's assigned to teams, cross-functional teams and people on those teams ask this person to be assigned again to the teams and the person continues to grow and develop teams and has hired other people from other companies, the person is not a jerk.

If the person's all doing the same thing with the same people, never got another job, I would be concerned about that person. I think people overdo. They look at the wrong facts to make anything critical, but they use the wrong information to make those decisions.

So again, I believe it's very critical to make not only a competent and motivated and career move but also the fit factors are critical, you put all those together and you will likely hire someone for the anniversary date. That's what I call win-win hiring, win-win means hiring manager says,  'Great person!' Candidate says, 'great job, I'm glad I took it!

"Win-win means hiring manager says, 'Great person!' Candidate says, 'great job, I'm glad I took it!' "

There's a lot of activities, there’s a lot of work that goes on there. But I think there's a lot of superficialities and mistakes that a lot of people make by looking at the wrong information to make critical decisions.


Absolutely so create a win-win situation out of everything that you see. And do you believe that EQ is more important than IQ? Do you look for more of EQ than lQ?


Well, again! That goes back to what I just said about the cultural fit and the team fit, team fit is critical, but I don't measure EQ by my own assessment of emotional quotient. I measure by how other people have reacted in person. So at my interview, I ask the candidate “Hey, tell me about the biggest team you've been on. Did you volunteer for that team, or did someone assign you to that team? If you volunteered. Why? And if someone assigned you. Why?  Who was on the team?

And I go through all the details of the team results, how they influence people. What happened at the end of that team, did you get the others assigned to it? And they say, now I got on a different team, and right away I have an EQ quantum not about making the judgment about that person’s EQ, about how friendly or warm they are! I'm making a judgment on how other people who have worked with that person made it.

But if the person has been assigned to cross-functional teams, and then that leader of that team wanted this person on another team, and six months later, that person was hired to work for former Boston, in another team. I know that they have good EQ. When too many people put their own bias and judgment of what that looks like, that’s not an interview,

I look at the Sherlock Holmes interviews. If there's enough evidence about all these things by looking at what other people thought of that person, that person is a good technical person, they've been assigned a good technical project. If they're a good team person, they’ve been assigned a cross-functional team and led a cross-functional team, people will ask you to lead a team or ask you to be on the other team.

You start seeing a pattern of that, You know it's important and whether it's more important than IQ, I mean, and that doesn't matter. What matters is, does the evidence show that this person is capable and if a person is brilliant and has never been on another cross-functional team and people don't want to work with him? Who cares?

On the other hand, if a person has got a great functional EQ and is an idiot. Who cares? They're both in balance, and you get them both from the work that person's assigned, why they’ve been assigned, and the projects they've been assigned to the teams, that gives you all the information you need in balancing IQ and EQ properly.


Right, so it's the deductive style of interviewing that really helps


You call it deductive, I'll call it Sherlock Holmes technique. But you're 100 percent right!


Right? Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense.

And can you help us understand how important of a role will technology in digital making the inclusive workplace in the future? Do you believe Robo hiring has a future?


Yes, and no, the problem is that the people who do the Robo hiring don't know human nature. They don't understand how people make decisions. Most of the technology is feeding and trying to be efficient, using incorrect data like how many years experience the person has, how many skills they have, which school they went to.

When I look at a resume, and I look at thousands, if not tens of thousands. I look at the rate of progression, I look at the teams the company's been on. I look for recognition for doing superior work in that field. I do not see technology, fully adapting to have good people change jobs, and are successful. I see how they look at the masses but I don't think they're looking at the right data yet. I actually believe it could be very effective.

Take a stranger, make an acquaintance and then you make him a candidate. But if you skip that acquaintance part,  you don't know the job and you don't know all these other factors. You're not gonna get there. Can technology make a critical decision? Absolutely. But it's not designed in my mind for what I've seen for how good people make decisions that have the right people hired for the long term.

"Can technology make a critical decision? Absolutely. But it's not designed in my mind for what I've seen for how good people make decisions that have the right people hired for the long term."

They're hired for getting people started on the start date and that means at different jobs and different roles. I'm focusing on the anniversary date, not the start date. Totally different decision!


So have you in your career seen, you know, an increase in the use of technology from then to now? And you do think that in the future there would be human intervention that would be required, right?


Well, yes I do! I have this cartoon if I can find it. Let me see if I can find it, that I had drawn in 1998 with the state of technology in 1998. Let's see if I can find it. 

Hiring Right! Image drawn by Lou Adler
Lou Adler's cartoon drawn in the year 1998!


This cartoon was drawn in 1998. In the state of technology in 1998, people were spending all this money on job postings, building applicant tracking systems, had websites, career sites, they still post a boring job, cumbersome websites, nobody can have an interview, weak recruiters, bad systems, long process. And to me, it was a waste of time.

I asked people, I bring this cartoon out every year and look at what changed? By looking at all the technology, nothing’s changed! For 25 years, Gallup is conducting employee engagement and satisfaction surveys. In 1998 employee satisfaction for newly hired people was about 35% fully satisfied with their job. It is no different today.

"In 1998 employee satisfaction for newly hired people was about 35% fully satisfied with their job. It is no different today."

The answer is because people are focusing on the wrong stuff. Being efficient, using technology to do the wrong things faster, winds up with nothing! So my philosophy is No! It's terrible. Change the paradigm. Focus on a year later, not the start date. Don't let everybody apply, who's not qualified.

The reason we have spent so much technology is because we've made applying for a job free. Just apply. Push a button. Now you get all this overhead. You got to get rid of it. So use technology to get rid of all these people who couldn't apply, to begin with. I approached major job boards and said why don't you only let candidates apply five jobs a week, and they would only have five, and all of a sudden if you only have five jobs so you take them seriously, believe that it closes as opposed to just pushing the apply button.

They would actually have room and maybe don't let him apply. Maybe have them submit a little summary of the work they've done related to this job, but that's not happening! So your question about technology is until they understand human nature and what problems are doing the wrong thing faster, this is 22 years later, 22 years later and nothing's changed. Nothing changes in 23 years from now, I won't be around. You will be. I will not be around 22 years now. I can guarantee this cartoon would still be relevant.


Oh Wow!


So that's my prediction.


It is. It's indeed really, really sad. It's amazing how nothing at all has changed from then to now. And there is, I think there’s always a dearth of good recruiters,  that still holds true from then to now!

How do you enforce the situation? I mean, you're trying to do that. We're trying to train so many people, but is there a fundamental issue with people's mindsets, or is there something that we're missing out here?


Yeah, I make the statement that at the fundamental level, is a strategic challenge. Most companies who work and build this technology and companies who post jobs and companies who got job boards for self job posting are focusing on what I would say, a strategy that assumes there's a surplus of great talent. And our job is that the surplus of great talent, people apply, weed out the weak ones that a few great ones will remain.

Well, I make the contention that a surplus of talent models like that is not effective when there is not a surplus of good talent. And I've been in the hiring game for 50 years. My first manager, 1972. I think that right now 1972, 1st manager they weren't good people, you had to work really hard to recruit good talent.

Last week, they weren't good talents because nobody is a good talent. So I say you could use scarcity of talent model to attract the best, not a surplus talent to weed out the weak. And most technology is designed to efficiently weed out the weak. And it won't matter how efficient you are and how much AI you are.

You have the wrong strategy, you've got to identify great people, convert strangers into a coin to convince them, and convince that their families and the hiring manager in a team that this the right person to do the right job and put that first on a better career trajectory. That can be done with technology.

People doing bits and pieces of it. But by and large, people and as far as I'm concerned, get rid of the job board. Why would you post an individual job, they're impossible to find. Put a little cluster together of all jobs related to each other and let the system figure out.

"Put a little cluster together of all jobs related to each other and let the system figure out."

Hey, you're a good candidate. What have you done? Well, we'll figure out the job best for you. Rather, you are trying to apply to a job that you can't even find the right job for you. So to me, that's what technology is to do.

Here are the jobs in our company, here is the candidate, we’ll figure out, we'll build a matching, behind the scenes so the candidate doesn't have to figure out who's the promoted job, or how many 500 different jobs there are.

I mean, do you think about the overhead involved for candidates and companies alike? You can almost say that it's silly. It's just when somebody looks at it rationally, a whole idea is done. Nothing's changed from that bucket from 22 years ago.


No, no, no. I could really understand your frustration. It's really, really surprising, you know, the stats remained the same for so many years. It's just that we have to learn from this, we really have to!

And, you know, talking a little bit more about the future, right? So how do you believe the gig economy is going to evolve? Especially when you consider the growing ranks of millennials in the workforce? 


Well, I think sadly, I think the gig economy could be effective for a certain group of people if they want to work a gig. But I tell that person who wants to work a gig, you realize you're not gonna be doing the rest of your life working the gig. That might get a little bit better. But you're not gonna get more management, bigger project because you're focusing on the narrow component of a problem, and it could be very fine. And I'm fine with that 

In California, they basically said you can't work gig because they said everybody has to be an employee getting benefits and all the tax laws of the United States, etc. but prevents people who wanna work gigs from being a gig worker. Uh, and I think that to me, it is a fundamental, stupid decision that the politicians made in the state of California, which will probably make elsewhere.

Now the people who were in the gigs making low wages saying, 'Well, we should get full benefits,' Yes, but you're also affected people who are making $7500 an hour who aren't in that class. So they made it universal for everybody who has got to be an employee, and they're not getting higher. So now you just basically taking jobs away from people.

I am not optimistic about the future of hiring because I think you got politicians involved. You got technology focused on the wrong strategy, Got company executives that have short term perspectives. You gotta 'Hey, I gotta make my quarterly numbers', but I don't think a lot of people think long term about the full consequences. Well, quite frankly, I am not optimistic about the future. And at the silo level, I think individuals gotta fight the battle for themselves and there are ways to do that.

But that's how I believe it. Sorry for that somewhat pessimistic thing, but I look 22 years later and I don't see anything improving. I just see people selling job postings and technology that flawed, but it makes things slightly better. Not really better, so that.


Yeah, it's probably just for the, you know, own satisfaction that they're doing things and not really being inclusive about other people, and it's kind of siloed thinking and that's pretty sad!


100% right, I love that term, not thinking the whole process is a silo, not thinking the big picture is a silo! A perfect analogy, too many silos, and competing silos.


Absolutely. Yeah, that is sad. I hope we can make a change to that. Um, well, I just like to, you know, end this for the last question.

If you would have any important sound bites that you would like to leave for our viewers with?


Well, depends if you're a recruiter, my message is don't sell smoke and mirrors if you don't know the job. If you're hiring manager, make sure your recruiters ask you this question, or you answer this question before you start looking for people, what does it take to be successful in this job and you come out with five or six.

OKR's, objectives, and key results that define the work. If you're a candidate looking for a job and if you're clear that the hiring manager, and the recruiter doesn't know that you ask this question, what does it take for a person hired in this job to be successful? What kind of work is this person gonna be doing? What does it take to be on that work?

I call that a fourth choice question. And then, if you're a candidate given an answer, well, here's something I've done that's related to that. That's why at least candidates can be assured they're taking the right job for the right reasons and are hired for the right reasons.

So everybody to be involved. But hiring candidates have to take responsibility for themselves by forcing the hiring manager in the company to find excessive use of projects and then making sure that they're confident and motivated, do that work.

They do those things they will be a little bit better off. But it's got to be, put their own self-interest in mind. And by doing that, you'll actually be demonstrating yourself that you're a more discriminating candidate, so you're more likely to get the job that way and more likely to be in the job that you want. So that's my advice.


All right. Thank you so much for that summary. I think it was very, very insightful. And I'm sure a lot of people would benefit from that. And, you know, it was a pleasure talking to you, Lou.
I really appreciate your time and sharing with us! It's really been a really good learning enriching experience for me.


Thank you very much.

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October 25, 2021

A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together


October 25, 2021

This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all

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