5 Ways to be Naughty Instead of Nice

The holiday season arrives and that infamous determination still hangs over us. Whether to be “naughty or nice?” That perception drives “holiday earnings.” Personally, I was raised in a family in which “nice” was the only option. “Nice” was smiling, behaving, complying, agreeing, and cooperating in every way. “Naughty” was pouting, dissension, talking back, and questioning parental authority. “Naughty” was never acceptable any time of year. It virtually evaporated during the holidays.

I carried forward with my “nice” persona. I feel recruiters are similarly inclined as a group. In an effort to please the hiring manager, we bend over backwards trying to comply and be as unobtrusive as possible. We’re ever service-oriented and trying to deliver to the end. What results is that the hiring manager has very little time for us and doesn’t value what we do. At the last ERE convention in Washington, D.C., one of the biggest challenges I heard from staffing professionals was gaining enough time, attention, and cooperation from their hiring managers to properly fulfill their needs. If turning ourselves inside out to please doesn’t cut it, what should we do?

Quit being nice. I don’t mean that you have to be nasty. Quit being subservient. Take the lead and control of the staffing process. Push back when appropriate. Hiring managers are engaged in whatever they do for the company, and that’s not staffing. They want to get back to their jobs as fast as they can so they can earn their keep. Since you are the staffing professional, they are expecting you to do the same. The problem comes when they just want to dump the whole thing in your lap without any consultation. It’s like, “Here. This is your responsibility. Now you fix it.” How can you snag their attention and get them to give you the information you need? Use some “naughty.” Push back!

One thing that will help you effectively apply some “naughty” is to find out the importance of a new employee to the hiring manager, the department, and to the company. What type of pain is being experienced with this hole in the organization? Ask yourself, “Without this person, what remains undone? How does that affect the company? Your department? Your customers? You?”

Managers with No Time to Give You Job Descriptions

For our purposes, pain is a good thing. Pressing on legitimate pain promotes action. Find the pain and use it appropriately. For example, you have a manager with no time to give you the job description. Here’s what to say to the manager: “This is my process to gather your information about your opportunity (describe your process). I ask for your engagement here, because we are setting the groundwork. I need to understand this position as exactly as if I worked in your department. How else can I accurately describe this to the candidate? By spending time here and setting a firm foundation, you will ultimately save time that you would spend interviewing the wrong people, and I’ll find you the best employee to solve (your pain).”

A Manager with Candidate “Must-Haves”

Sometimes, you have a manager with candidate “must-haves,” such as “a CPA with Big 4 experience” or “an MBA from a top-tier school” or “10 years of experience.” Why? Why? Why? Many times this is a knee-jerk reaction and what the hiring manager really means is “the best of the best” or “the top 10%,” but he or she doesn’t know how else to define it. Here’s what to say to the manager: “What in that past experience will relate to this position? Why is that important? What are the characteristics that are displayed in those candidates that you seek?”

By taking these marching orders too literally, we overlook candidates who possess the qualities and attributes from other sources. Sometimes, these are actually the better, more motivated candidates. As the recruiting consultant, draw this out of the hiring manager.

A Manager Who Wants to See 10 Resumes

If you have a manager who wants to see 10 resumes, here’s what to say: “Why? What will you gain by reviewing 10 resumes? A resume is a marketing piece that is designed to gain an interview. It’s a two-dimensional piece of paper that may or may not accurately represent the individual. Studies have shown that over half of the resumes presented have omissions or misrepresentations in them. It also doesn’t demonstrate candidate motivations. How helpful would it be if I screened and interviewed candidates from those resumes and presented you with the top few candidates who were the most qualified and motivated for your position? Let me show you the three-dimensional person beneath the resume.”

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A Hiring Manager Who Is Dragging Out the Process

The most common response to “When do you want to start this employee?” is “Yesterday!” Yet, actions speak louder than words and delaying the process is a huge factor in the failure of placement. The best way to keep your hiring managers engaged is to have them agree to a definite timeline for hiring milestones. Dates and times for briefing, interviews, debriefing, offers, and placement should be agreed upon in the beginning of the engagement.

Here’s what to say to the manager: “It’s my job to keep us on a tight schedule here. The best candidates go quickly. It’s also the first time the candidate is looking at you as a future potential employer. Making timely, firm business decisions (like hiring) indicate to the employee what it will be like working for you.”

A Hiring Manager Who Goes MIA

Here’s what to say to the manager: “When we first spoke, you told me that we would continue until we found this employee. Has anything happened to change that situation?”

This is definitely effective push-back to press repeatedly on the hiring manager’s pain. Rude? Naughty? Maybe just a bit, but it gets the point across. Maybe, in the heat of performing his or her job, the hiring manager lost sight of your mutual hiring objective. Or maybe, things really did change. You need to know in either case.

Being “naughty” in this context really brings a payoff. We, as recruiters, take the consulting role. We set procedures and expectations with our hiring managers. We get the information that we need and bring them value and the ultimate prize. We hire the best employee to solve the problem or pain. It’s a happy ending for everyone.

Who knew that “naughty” was really the way to get what we all want?

Sue Danbom has 16 years of recruiting experience and a B.A. from the University of Illinois. She trains executive recruiters for Volt Workforce Solutions. Sue lives in the Seattle area with her husband, Bob, daughter, Laura and her flat coated retriever, Taylor Edward.


9 Comments on “5 Ways to be Naughty Instead of Nice

  1. Sue,
    Nice article.
    I don’t think it is the recruiters who are alone in this issue. In many of the corporate environs, there is that extra piece of the puzzle titled ‘HR’. If HR is out to please the managers, the battle is in another area.
    In many circumstances they are aligned so that the Staffing team reports in to the business HR. Thereby building the hierarchy by which managers are told they need to live and work within. This builds in all the excuses one needs to not get engaged in the process.

    Your suggestions are great. I like the push back questions. I also think some work with the HR business partner will help go a long way; even if it means getting a lump of coal.

  2. Excellent article! Sometimes in our desire to please and play nice we actually do a disservice to our hiring manager/clients and make life even harder for our predecessors.

  3. Sue,

    What would we do without you? You keep us focused where we need to be focused and talking about the things that we need to be talking about. As always, this is great information to refresh on and reminds us to keep control of the process. Your consistant, relavant weekly advice keeps me coming back for more, kind of like church!! Thanks as always Sue!

  4. So true! The biggest mistake I see recruiters make is falling into the trap of taking a back seat in the recruitment process, instead of speaking out and being a true partner and consultant.

  5. This article really spoke my heart..When things aren’t attended with nice words some times leaving naughty statements really helped me..In my case when manager’s voice mails are left unanswered I leave a harsh voicemail which really resulted in call backs.

  6. Sue, I too was raised in the ‘you’d better not pout, you’d better not cry’ generation. As such I find myself stuck in the rut of not pushing back when clients don’t give enough info or respond in a timely manner.

    Your suggested questions are relevant and valuable. New Year’s resolution: Start asking more relevant questions and take more risks in communicating with clients and candidates.

    And to all a Happy Christmas!

    Patty Ursich

  7. Dead on! I am an in house (I have seen ‘recruiter’, ‘HR’ and ‘pain’ describe my position on ERE) recruiter and we fight this battle every position, every candidate. There are a few exceptions across the country but for the most part I’m out there with my PDA and a prayer looking for some feedback or response.

    GREAT tips. I’ve actually shared them with the rest of the admin staff up here that deals with hiring or decision making managers. They won’t use ’em . . . . . but it’s still fun to be nice . . . .

  8. Sue —

    What a neat Christmas present to the recruiting world!

    Each of the situations you describe is familiar to anyone who has been recruiting for more than a couple of minutes! I find they make me lose focus and momentum and leave me open to distraction. I have printed out your article and highlighted the solutions you suggest.

    Thanks for the gift of your thoughts!

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