7 Deadly Sins of Recruiting: Surefire Ways to Lose Applicants

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 9.58.26 AMThe theory that recruiting great employees is highly difficult is true, but what if your firm was making the recruitment process more complex than it had to be?

Almost one out of every four decisions that a small to mid-size company will make during a recruitment process will hinder their chances at staffing competitive talent. The consequences of these actions can result in a myriad of ill-fated outcomes, ranging from higher salary costs and wasted time to losing competitive applicants altogether.

Firms that are unable to streamline the staffing process on a regular basis are probably prone to committing one or more of the following seven deadly sins of recruiting: 

Not Following the Google Rule of 5 — Up to a few years ago, Google would have employees go through a 12-14 meeting process.  This would result in dreadfully long staffing cycles, loss of top talent to competing Internet companies, and overall inefficiency when attempting to recruit employees in the masses.

In 2011, Google switched its recruiting approach to limit each applicant to five interviews. If Google can hire an engineer in five interviews, there is no reason why your firm should not be able to hire your sales and marketing personnel in three or four.

Prolonged time is the enemy of great recruiting. When our firm sees a recruitment project exceeding either four interviews or five weeks, we do everything possible to get the process expedited.

The more time an organization lets a candidate linger, the more time that individual has to get another job offer, receive a raise, or go back to school. Also, when you let a candidate at the final round of an interviewing go out to other companies, they tend to interview with more confidence and become more desirable. When you find an apt job seeker, losing hiring momentum is a sin.

Searching for that Perfect Candidate — We tell clients that shopping for candidates is like shopping for cars. The more requirements they have, the more you pay and the fewer choices you have.

In 10 years of recruiting, I’ve never seen the perfect candidate. I’ve seen a solid candidate write the perfect resume, but am yet to see the “perfect” candidate. Perfect candidates are not hired. Rather, they are molded through leadership and training.

Look for potential today and determine whether they can be the perfect candidate tomorrow. We recommend you analyze the future earnings power of that individual rather than where they stand at the given moment.  When it comes to human capital, think Warren Buffet and value investing rather than overpaying for an applicant’s past.

What an individual achieved yesterday will not yield any revenue. What they can do tomorrow can make all the difference in your organization.

Crossing the Line from Underpaid to Under-appreciated — Some clients whom we work with have a corporate culture of making low initial offers to candidates. This is intended to cushion any financial blow that a counteroffer may bring.

While this sounds good in theory, there is a breaking point. Once an offer dips below a certain number (typically anything equal to or less than they are currently earning) that candidate feels under-appreciated, undervalued, and highly insulted.

The psychologist and philosopher William James once wrote to a student, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” You can’t renegotiate someone’s ego.

Quick Hires — For hiring companies, quick hires are problematic for a few reasons. The first and most notable is that it makes the company appear desperate and the job seeker will typically reject the prospect of working for the firm altogether. Unless you’re recruiting a Fortune 500 CEO, hires should not last longer than five weeks nor should an offer should not be made within two.

The First Choice or Nothing Scenario — Whether it’s football, business, chess, or just about anything else, life needs contingency plans. A mistake that our recruiters often prevent companies from doing is to not pick a second option.

When hiring, firms aren’t always going to get their first choice. The smart ones have a second place.

The companies who have trouble are the ones who start the search process from the beginning hoping to find another No. 1. Often they come up short and waste an extra three months while doing so.

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Candidates will get other jobs, decline offers, or stay where they are. Nothing ever goes 100 percent smoothly when recruiting and sometimes your contingency plan will turn out to be a gem.

After all, Bruce Willis was the seventh or eighth choice to star in Die Hard. We won World War II under a vice president called to office after Roosevelt died and, often it’s the CEO who is quiet and unassuming who gets picked second, but ends up performing best.

Not being able to sell the job — Part of recruiting is selling. If a hiring manager can’t make a job enticing, they won’t attract top talent. We’ve had clients who have tried the approach where they attempt to scare an applicant by telling them every undesirable aspect of a job only to find that the candidate doesn’t want to stick around for the good parts.

When staffing employees, you should be selling in an honest manner, touching on the negatives, but also focusing much on the positives of the job.

For instance, we have a great client in the tech sector. Prior to starting the staffing process, I sat down with a few executives at the firm and brainstormed as to the positive qualities of the company. In their case, they had many and we used these as a focal point to draw in potential applicants.

Using Too Many Recruiters — Often, firms will go out and hire a dozen contingency recruiters to represent their firm. From their perspective, the more the merrier.

What’s alluring is that they only pay on performance, which seemingly mitigates risk. This sounds great until a firm realizes that they have 30 or 40 cold-calling recruiters whom they don’t know nor have they spoken to poorly representing their company to potential talent in the open market.

Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies and sometimes it’s the small mistakes that make all the difference. Since recruiting is an imperfect science, we must strive to extract any additional difficulties from the process. Have a plan, keep in the mind what you should not be doing, and enjoy a more productive, intelligent, and competent workforce.


image from Amazon


Ken Sundheim is the CEO of KAS Placement, a sales and marketing recruiting firm specializing in staffing business development and marketing professionals around the U.S. Ken has been published in Forbes, Chicago Tribune, AOL, Business Insider, Ere.net, Recruiter.com, Huffington Post and many others. He has also appeared on MTV, Fox Business News and spoken at some of the country's leading business schools on HR, job search and recruitment.


15 Comments on “7 Deadly Sins of Recruiting: Surefire Ways to Lose Applicants

  1. Great article! It seems the overarching theme in each of these “sins” is forgetting the human side of recruiting. Every time we add another interview, offer a low-ball compensation plan, or fail to sell a job, we are frustrating our candidates and encouraging them to look elsewhere. As the Founder and President of an executive career management and recruiting firm, I have hear countless stories from candidates who have been strung along for months only to be offered a job that was NOT what they were sold for a far lower compensation than originally shared. Nothing sends a candidate out the door faster than feeling under-appreciated and downright disrespected.
    Thanks again for the reminder of these pitfalls to avoid.
    Ken Schmitt

  2. Thanks, Ken.
    “Rule of 5?”: More arrogance/incompetence from an EOC. Show me evidence that the vast majority of hires can’t be done effectively in no more than two rounds of 2-3e hours each.

    Searching for the perfect candidate: Well said, However, if you’re paying a big contingency fee- hold out for the perfect candidate…

    Crossing the line…: Also well said. I once contracted for a very dysfunctional firm who would automatically low-ball any unemployed candidate below their most recent salary.

    Don’t hire quickly?: Says who? All else being equal: faster equals better. While some company is grinding through it’s hiring bloatocracy, working to appear undignified and desperate, a nimble firm will move swiftly and efficiently (not hastily) to bring aboard a fine candidate.

    First choice or nothing?: What you said is very sensible. What are we dealing with- hiring managers still in kindergarten? That’s a bit young even for start-ups…

    Not being able to sell the job: Recruiting is like dating- you’ve gotta have SOMETHING the other person wants. At the same time, I see “selling” as one of the chief reasons to use a contingency or retained recruiter- besides getting candidates who’d otherwise not talk to you to talk you, the other is to get candidates to accept an offer from you that they’d otherwise not consider.

    Using too many recruiters- IMHO, 3PRs are like fine wines- used only on very special occasions. You shouldn’t use 3PRs unless you’re prepared to have them do work that’s worth 30% fees. Any other kinds of recruiting work that aren’t worth that can be done for MUCH less than that… On the other hand, if you think your people are likely to be recruited away by 3PRs, you might sign up with large numbers of established recruiters, to make sure they don’t go after your people….


  3. The Rule of 5 is completely arbitrary. More to the point, I’m not aware of any actual research work done to determine the ‘right’ amount of interviews, and then it would still totally depend on the skill of the interviewers. Two to three interviews is where I try to limit things, the only exceptions being when there is a must-meet person involved who can’t be there for some reason. Lack of information is often used as an excuse to avoid %$#*ing or getting off the pot, which is why interviews persist ad infinitum.

    As for first choice or nothing, I think this is less of a problem than five choices or nothing. Hiring managers always want choices and then to ponder them for six weeks while the candidates go stale. I deal with this issue all the time, and it’s not very often that an alternative candidate profile isn’t in play. Way more often it’s, “We’ve only got one viable candidate,” or, “We’ve only got two viable candidates,” or, “We’ve only got three viable candidates…”

    Rarely will a hiring manager ever see a slate of candidates, even is he admits they’re all qualified and hirable, that he won’t consider one short of perfection. Thankfully, I work in manufacturing, and I was able to ask a relevant question/analogy: How often do we purposely produce multiple widgets for a customer, all of them usable and acceptable and to the customer’s spec, when they only ordered one and only want one? In recruiting it’s considered an acceptable use of resources to produce as many candidates (widgets) as possible when only one is needed. I have yet to find one other production process on Earth where such blatant loss is tolerated. Does Sony make 3-6 TVs for every customer’s potential purchase and just throw the 2-5 they don’t buy out and consider that good practice?

    Alternatives to fill a role with someone who may have a different overall profile are fairly common in my view, even if it’s unofficial. I’ve yet to see an HM outright reject a candidate who doesn’t quite fit their initial description but has potential or other relevant skills. I’ve very often seen them pass up on solid candidates because they want a seeming endless number of such candidates from which to choose.

    Indecision should be the sin here. Yes or no is what it really comes down to. Either the candidate will work or not, and either you want them or not. There’s always the potential for something better or different down the line, not just in hiring but in life in general.

  4. Well put on all points, but I feel there is another glaring point to make clear. I have recently seen many recruiters, internal and third party make the statement “must have a book of business, or C-level contacts in their specific industry, SO THEY PROVIDE AN IMMEDIATE REVENUE STREAM”, and I, as an executive applicant would find that offensive and not even consider this company.

    It goes without saying that the new employee will bring whatever tools they can, legally or ethically to the game for self enhancement of their career goals, but to make this statement up front, specifically that you new job is to STEAL accounts and influence from your current employer, especially without determining the existence of a non-compete or other privacy issues surrounding intellectual property, is begging for a legal response from the old company, toward both the employee and the new company, and maybe the recruiter.

    The real truth in sales is stranger then fiction, but with my decades of experience in this arena, I have never seen, regardless of how successful a sales person or manager was, a person who could effectively transfer more than a minimal amount (less than 10%) of his/her current business to a new firm, especially without the cost of litigation.

    The reality is that, if in a similar business, it is almost insulting to the new hire to say “go back to the customers and tell them that all the good things you said about the old company were true, but not as true as what I am going to tell you now”. A truly successful solution, relationship builder has sold the company, the product, the service & support, the overall value proposition of the company, not just his/her personality and influence, and that sales will almost always negate the new company from pirating the old business this way.

    Any person professing to be an ethical professional will avoid these companies, and those that go with them will again leave and take customers with them, or so they think, but the company hiring you will never trust you anyway if you buy into their nonsense game.

    JTOL (Just Thinking Out Loud), rebuttal always welcome, Cliff

  5. @Cliff: Thanks for pointing out the problem with clients looking for candidates with a great rolodex. I had this exact conversation with a CEO in town just two weeks ago. He was in total alignment with this.

  6. @Cliff,

    Just ask them if they let their current employees take their ‘book of business’ to a new company when they leave. Puts a whole new spin on it. Just like when people start demanding an immediate start but the candidate wants to give two weeks; ask the HM how they’d like it if their people left them with no notice.

    Also, just as an aside, I hate the phrase ‘book of business.’ No particular reason, except perhaps I’ve always seen it in the context you have and with what that implies. Business vernacular annoys the hell out of me.

  7. Thanks Carol and Rich, and Rich brings out a pet peeve of mine too, the “Book of Business” nomenclature actually refers to the originating company’s confidential business equity which I consider off limits to outsiders, including ex-employees.

    Another detail from the candidate point of view only, but it should resonate with new sales managers, is that it takes fully twice as long to RE-Sell a previous company as it does for a talented sales person to review the new company’s quality prospect que and sales funnel, provide his/her own perspective to the opportunity analysis process and jump start his/her new career.

    If the new company does not already have a que of quality prospects, or at least a finely targeted opportunity list, then there is a totally separate problem as yet undefined which may be why they are seeking new people because their sales preparation process is flawed in concept; cannot shoot without a target… well you can, but the results are only increased cost of sales and limited revenue capture.

    A sharp business development candidate should have gleaned this information during the interview process to see if the new company was logically managed or fishing for miracle sales people to save half as managers and marketing teams. This is not uncommon with first phase investment companies that have sales and marketing processes and expectations structured for launch by accountants and lawyers in lieu of skilled strategic marketing & sales professionals.

    Rich, I actually had a recruiter at Ford Motor tell me to leave Montgomery Wards immediately if I wanted to work for Ford; his exact words were “better you should screw Wards, than to screw Fords”; I was only 19 or 20 at the time and I suggested that the object of his misguided affection should be himself, then I left the interview.

  8. @ Richard. Thanks. ISTM that as a companies products and/or service have standards of quality, budgets, and release dates , it would be reasonable to have as deliverables quality hires with budgets and release dates, which hiring managers are held to, e.g.:
    “You will hire a hiqh-quality Financial Analyst with 3-7 years of experience who will start within the next 75 days without using a 3PR”.

    @ Cliff and Carol: I agree in large part with this, though not completely. I think a “purple squirrel” type of sales candidate might be asked to have clients who are loyal to him/her and not to a given company- think of a recruiter who has developed and maintained successful relationships with hiring managers throughout their careers. I could imagine having the owner of a 3PR firm look to hire this person. whether or not this recruiter were an independent or working for another firm. We need to remember that these days, loyalty = cash-flow. If the recruiter were working for another firm, it would be unethical for the recruiter to take his/her business with him/her if they were prohibited from doing so, and stupid for the existing recruiting firm NOT to prohibit that from happening *IF THEY ARE IN A POSITION TO PROHIBIT IT, but much recruiting money is made off the stupidity of one party or another…Finally, as Cliff wisely pointed out, “if they’d do it for you, they’ll do it to you….”


    Keith “Doesn’t Have Even a ‘Page’ of Business” Halperin

    * Sometimes they’re not, and sometimes they’d rather have a bird in the hand instead of two in the bush.

  9. A well known biotech gave me the run around for over a month. Phone screen, in person mtg with recruiter, next day back mtg with HR director, references checked. The next wk meet with the two final hiring managers, told I was the top candidate when I advised another company was also checking my references. They promised to expedite the process sent me new hire docs just to be ready. Then nothing, even though the recruiter promised to call next day. Finally I inquired 3 wks later and was told they were starting search all over again! glad I did not wait around for them, the company who hired me interviewed on a Monday for 2 hours, checked references and I had the offer by Friday. Now that is a competent company

  10. @ Cliff,

    The sales targeting at most companies is of the Texas Sharp Shooter variety, the analogy being a guy gets rip roaring drunk, fires off a ton of rounds at a barn, then walks up and finds the most tightly grouped set and draws a bull’s eye around them. Viola, sniper results with no training. It works for most companies.

    As for the cajoling to leave with no notice, it’s the sense of entitlement I’ve written about before that so many companies have, and in almost all cases it’s not justified by the reality of what they have to offer vis a vi salary, benefits, opportunity, and management. If you take a snapshot of the economy at any given time most companies are doing okay, not great but okay, some few are on top and doing great, and a few are failing. And at different times you find the same companies in entirely different brackets. It’s as much the result of random chance as it is skill because they’re constantly trying to predict and meet consumer demands. When they succeed, for whatever reason, they act like entitled Greek gods. When they fail, for whatever reason, they continue to act like entitled Greek gods until the bottom falls out.

    Humility and acknowledgement of reality don’t get you far in the business world. But the perpetual attitude is that they are doing their employees a favor by employing them, when in reality it’s a mutually beneficial relationship that either party can cut off when deemed necessary. But, since we live in a permanent labor surplus for various reasons, the companies usually have the edge in that negotiation, hence the perpetual nature of their careless and unprofessional attitudes. They can demand such things, therefore they do.

    @ Emerald

    That’s fairly common these days, and I hate to say it but I’ve been the bearer of that kind of news in the past. Usually the problem is too many managers and you see it a lot in private/family owned businesses. The son or daughter of the owner takes on a hiring project, and being the president of the company you’d think they’d have the authority. It’s analogous or identical to hires they’ve done in the past, things go forward, everyone meets everyone, an offer is prepared, and then the owner/father comes in and decides his authority wasn’t properly respected, or decides to entirely change the business plan, and kiboshes the whole thing and makes everyone start over. I’ve seen it happen more than a few times, and for most recruiters trying to manage that kind of dynamic while also being understaffed and tasked with the hiring for the whole company is usually a non starter. They’re being set up to fail. And you can complicate that when you have people who, as I deal with right now, are largely unmanageable.

    In my current company there are three owners who go in as many different directions on every hire they’re involved with. Last one I dealt with was that exact situation, plus a hiring manager underneath them. He wanted a junior person close to the office. One of the owners wanted a more seasoned person, still close to the office. The other wanted an even more seasoned person with managerial experience and was more flexible on the commute. And the other owner didn’t care one way or the other, just wanted a good candidate. They’re all involved with the interviews, they’re all involved with the decision, they’re all involved with the offer. And even when you get them in the same room and they finally agree with each other after forty plus minutes of screaming back and forth, and you get a solid spec to go after, five minutes after leaving the room they’ve changed their minds. And the same things happens after first and second interviews, and upon offer, and even after the offer. And often the response is, “You need to manage that.” That was my view coming in. Now I realize some people are unmanageable, or take too much time and energy to manage to leave time to get your actual work done.

    We recently brought on a new person to help in HR, specifically in recruiting. She thought the place was a dream, then she spent three days scheduling one interview with someone high up on the totem pole. She had to drop damn near everything else on her plate, talk to well over ten people multiple times over the course of three days, to get an interview set between a candidate and one person. It was a totally dysfunctional process, it still is, it always has been since I’ve been here. But no one wants to change it, so it remains. There have been attempts to change such things, the people who really tried are no longer here.

    Most companies are like this. They aren’t well oiled machines of content and satisfied employees with superior managers aiming for relevant metrics. They’re companies started by entrepreneurs who had a good idea, but not necessarily any idea how to grow or run a business. No one knows that at the beginning, it’s a process that has to be discovered. They manage to figure out a workable if not ideal method for doing so, and in the end they go on gut feel and instinct when it comes to all decisions, not to mention dealing with Keith’s oft brought up and very valid GAFI principles: Greed, Arrogance, Fear, Incompetence/Ignorance.

    So, I try not to get mad or frustrated with people who are doing things in ways I think are highly dysfunctional or flat out wrong. The world is too complex to spend your life second guessing everyone. I do what I think is right, I change what I can for what I think is the better. What I can’t change, I manage, or decide whether or not to live with it if I can’t or don’t want to manage it. But the unfortunate end result is that ‘good enough’ is often defined differently by different people. And as a candidate you often get caught in the mix of social, business, and family dynamics which you have no control over, and often even have nothing to do with you or your quality as a potential employee. And when a company’s recruiter is really a kid out of school earning 30-40K annually, learning his chops and who does not have anywhere near the ability to even attempt to manage such situations from any angle, much less from a candidate experience angle, then the candidates get treated badly. The company doesn’t care, and even when they do there’s usually way more in play in the decisions leading up the rejection than you think or know, which is why you’re an after thought. Especially in small and medium sized companies, which are the majority of employers out there, it’s not unusual for a stake holder to simply wade in and scrap and restart an entire process just to make sure everyone knows who is in charge.

    Try not to take it personally, it rarely is and way more often than not is just carelessness and distraction.

  11. @ Emerald: The company that hired you provides a good example for most firms to follow.

    @ Richard: Thanks again. I for one would be interested in hearing more of your real-world recruiting expertise and experiences, which far more accurately portrays what can and can’t be done than most of the advice here given by people who’ve either never been in our situations, have forgotten what it’s like to be in our situations, or have created the situations we’re talking about. How about calling it: “A Dispatch from the Recruiting Trenches”?


    Keith “Not Quite Old Enough to Be a WWI Vet” Halperin

  12. Keith,

    It’s an idea I’ve batted around, but my writing output is by nature sporadic and not reliable. Also, detailing the issues seems like a waste of time to me. If I ever solve some of these problems in a usable way that I can communicate to others, I’ll certainly write that up and share it. Until then it would just be a gripe session, which is what comment threads are for, not articles.

  13. Sporadic, unreliable, good, and useful beats recurring, regular, and useless in my book, Richard. Wait a minute though-you actually want to SOLVE problems and not merely pontificate, repeat some clichés dressed up as great new wisdom, or promote the latest recruiting snake oil? Maybe you’re right to express reservations about contributing…
    As far as comments vs: articles: it IS much easier to comment on others than to write new material.


  14. Great article Ken. In regards to #6 Not being able to sell a position, I’ve often come across the opposite – Recruiters over selling roles in order to fill a gap, exaggerating on the potential growth in a position, leaving new hires with a sense of buyers remorse. Ironically the top complaint from Google employees is that they’re all over-qualified for their positions, leaving little room for promotion and little work engagement. Fortunately the benefits of working at Google pretty much cancel this out, but for everyone else; squashing a square peg into a round hole is going to leave you with a deficit. Thought it would be worth adding – SK

    More on Staff Retention ‘Hiring Staff Who Stay’ http://www.softgardenhq.com/hiring-employees-who-stay/

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