All posts by Mark McGraw

IBM Acquires Kenexa, Shakes Up HR Software Space

In a move that ups the ante in an increasingly crowded HR software market, IBM has acquired HR, talent acquisition and talent management software provider Kenexa.

For its $1.3 billion, the Armonk, N.Y.-based technology giant gains Kenexa’s range of technology offerings that include recruitment, onboarding, employee assessment, interviewing, performance and compensation management, career development, goal alignment, succession planning and employment branding platforms. IBM will integrate Kenexa’s approximately 2,800 employees and operations from 21 countries into its software and services groups.

According to IBM, the acquisition will help its clients “embrace social business capabilities.”

In a teleconference announcing the purchase, Alistair Rennie, general manager of social business for IBM, described how Kenexa complements IBM’s “strategy of bringing relevant data and expertise into the hands of business leaders within every functional department from HR, sales, marketing to product development.”

“Kenexa has always applied a science-based view to key processes—locating talent, helping it perform better,” he said. “Combined with our expertise, it’s an absolutely perfect fit. Our capabilities combine perfectly to create outcome-driven perspectives for our clients.”

The transaction, which IBM expects to close in the fourth quarter, brings Big Blue into a talent management software market that already includes Oracle and SAP, with those companies having acquired Taleo and SuccessFactors, respectively, earlier this year. This latest acquisition has tremendous potential to shake up an ever-more competitive space, says Jason Averbook, CEO of Minneapolis-based HR consultancy Knowledge Infusion.

“Kenexa is not only an application vendor, but has a tremendous mix of value-added services and expertise that makes its value much more than just an application play, but a pure solution play. Whether an organization wants to leverage applications or create a complete outsourced talent solution, Kenexa provides that capability,” says Averbook.

If you combine Kenexa’s data asset and IBM’s focus on big data, solutions and the combination of knowledge, transactions and the impact that people [have] on the business, IBM has created a leapfrog moment in the true talent management solution space that an application vendor alone cannot provide.”

There’s a need for the HR applications that suppliers such as Oracle, SAP and Cornerstone OnDemand provide, continues Averbook. “But what IBM and Kenexa have done with this acquisition is an attempt to leapfrog others in the industry to create something ‘different’ but possibly more relevant in what human capital management professionals are looking for today,” he says.

The combination of IBM and Kenexa creates a new type of play in the human capital management space that is a combination of transaction, big data and social that, if done correctly, could redefine the next generation of talent management.”

Today’s announcement is more evidence of increasing competition among the marquee names in the HR software market, adds Josh Bersin, CEO and president of Bersin & Associates, an Oakland, Calif.-based advisory services firm. “IBM, if they wanted to, could be the biggest or one of the biggest players in the talent management space, in terms of both software and services. Even though you have Oracle and SAP and Cornerstone out there, no one has the reach of IBM. They’re in a lot of countries where there aren’t many reps selling HR software.

“This market is still growing,” he continues. “The big players are trying to cement their positions in an increasing market. I think that’s what’s happening.”

Embracing the Odd Interview Question

How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?

That’s a strange question to ask in any context. But posing such oddball queries is an old trick used during job interviews to gauge candidates’ ability to think fast and creatively.

Interviewers who like to throw out this type of curveball question aren’t necessarily looking for a specific response. The bigger concern is that the candidate doesn’t swing and miss completely; stumbling and stammering while coming up with nothing at all.

Well, a recent survey suggests that a majority of job seekers actually welcome the chance to knock offbeat interview questions out of the park. The poll, conducted by British recruitment firm Michael Page International, found that 66 percent of more than 1,000 respondents said they would feel confident about their ability to answer questions asking which famous person they’d like to trade places with for a day, or why manhole covers are round and not square, for example.

Jobseekers as well as employers stand to gain by occasionally taking interviews off the predictable path, says Dean Ball, a regional managing director for Michael Page.

Weird interview questions can spark interesting reactions from candidates, but they are also an extremely useful way for businesses to differentiate between candidates who have similar qualifications and experience on paper. They give candidates a chance to step outside the traditional boundaries of the interview process and really demonstrate their creativity, ability to apply logic and how they work under pressure. Such questions can also provide a light-hearted moment in what can be quite a formal situation, giving the employer a real chance to see a candidate’s personality and how they might fit into the company culture, so businesses shouldn’t shy away from them.”

Still, be prepared for job candidates who don’t see the value in “interesting” interview questions. Fifty-four percent of survey respondents indicated they would be surprised by an offbeat line of questioning, and 33 percent said they would struggle with it; either challenging an unexpected question’s relevance or simply saying they don’t know the answer.

The bottom line? Proceed with caution when taking the weird interview question route, Ball advises.

If used correctly, obscure lines of questioning can really help employers to build a clear picture of a candidate’s potential, so it’s worth exploring how they might fit into your assessment processes. They can sometimes take candidates by surprise, though, so make sure you take time to think carefully about the questions and what kind of response you are hoping to achieve.”

Benefits from Beyond the Grave

It’s fair to say that Google has a reputation as a world-beater in the employee perks department. Free fitness classes, an on-site medical staff, a subsidized massage program, foosball tables and video games, free haircuts and dry cleaning services are just a few of the benefits enjoyed by employees at the corporation’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters. And, it seems the company’s generosity extends to workers’ families as well, and continues long after Google employees have passed away.

As reported by Forbes, spouses or domestic partners of U.S.-based Google employees who die while under the employ of the company will receive a check for 50 percent of the deceased employee’s salary for 10 years. The surviving spouse or partner also acquires vested stock benefits, and their children receive $1,000 a month until the age of 19; perhaps longer if the child is still a full-time student.

What’s the catch, you may ask? There isn’t one, according to Google. A company spokesperson confirms that there’s no tenure requirement to receive this benefit, which means that most of the Internet search giant’s 34,000 employees are eligible.

One of the things we realized recently was that one of the harshest but most reliable facts of life is that at some point most of us will be confronted with the death of our partners,” Google Chief People Officer Laszlo Bock told Forbes. “And it’s a horrible, difficult time no matter what, and every time we went through this as a company we tried to find ways to help the surviving spouse of the Googler who passed away.”

Death benefits were formally implemented at Google in 2011, according to Bock. While “there’s no benefit” to the organization from an economic or productivity standpoint, “it’s important to the company to help our families through this horrific if inevitable life event,” Bock says.

The newest addition to the long and varied list of Google employee perks is indeed a generous one, and certainly won’t hurt the company’s reputation for offering unique benefits to its people. But will this kick off a trend? Will more large companies begin offering similar benefits to their employees? And should they?