Ann’s Problem: Can You Help Her?

“Help me out,” Ann said. “I really don’t have a clue what to do.” That’s how the phone call started. Ann went on to say that she was perplexed and even a bit annoyed that the hiring managers she dealt with consistently reported that the candidates they were seeing weren’t qualified. Ann’s boss was getting suspicious that Ann wasn’t a very good recruiter and had quietly suggested to her that her reputation was being tarnished. Ann told me, “I have spent hours and hours with these managers, talking to them about the skills and competencies they want to see in candidates. Since these are all mid-level technical positions, we have kept the conversations focused and I think I know what they want. Yet they are never happy.” She told me she has interviewed people in similar positions in the hiring manager’s department, and in other department as well. But none of this has really changed the attitude of the hiring managers. In Ann’s opinion, they are turning away some really superior candidates on flimsy and unclear grounds. If Ann’s issue were an isolated case, I wouldn’t be writing this column. Unfortunately, she has a problem most recruiters will face, or have faced, at one time or another. There is often a disconnect between what any of us think we want and what we eventually buy. We often don’t know what we want until we see it. Minivans, small motorcycles, the Walkman, and TV dinners, for example, were all products that focus groups and market research indicated would not be popular. To get them on the market took a risk-oriented decision. But risk-taking implies failure at times, and many things focus groups have found exciting and feel that people will love have failed. New Coke is the classic example. So it is logical to assume that many managers may not really know what kinds of skills, or even what kind of person, they want until they have the opportunity to experience a sample of contenders. By talking to a series of people, they get to test their own ideas and see what reactions they get. They also may get a chance to hear from others on their staff, if they are involved in the interviewing process, and that feedback may change the ultimate desired skill set or personality. Ann’s problem may be more one of approach than one of being poor at execution. By spending lots of time with hiring managers, she is inadvertently creating an expectation that she will find them the “right” person. She is also assuming almost total responsibility for finding that person. Then, when she finds that she really cannot act as the surrogate manager, she loses that manager’s respect, and probably support, and creates a number of dissatisfied candidates as well. It would be wise for Ann to think about what a recruiter’s role really is in an organization. While perhaps for a few positions the recruiter can act as the manager and make a decision about “right” or “wrong” candidates, this is not true for most positions. It might be better for Ann to take a slightly different approach. Here are a few ideas:

  1. She might try to act more as a coach, guiding the manager through a series of questions and issues that will help the manager think through what he will ask the candidates Ann provides him.
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  3. Ann might offer to bring in a slate of candidates with slightly different skills and backgrounds so that the manager can “test the waters” and get a better feel for what kind of person would fit his team and his needs best. This would be especially useful for critical positions or for when a manager hasn’t hired anyone for a while.
  4. Ann might suggest that some of the manager’s staff do the first interviews and then let the manager himself only deal with those his direct reports have chosen, not the ones Ann has picked. Just this subtle shift could improve Ann’s reputation and build her own self-esteem.

I am sure you have thoughts and opinions on my suggestions, as well as many of your own. I would like to continue this column next week by adding your contributions to this discussion. Do you agree with me or not? What would or do you do? How do you extract the skills and personality requirements for a position from your hiring managers? Are you facing the same issues Ann is facing and what are you doing about it? Please send your comments and thoughts to me at, and we’ll pick up this discussion next week!

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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