Candidates or Finalists: A Reflection on Your Process

Carefully consider your response to the following question because it will serve as “a reflection on your process.”

In dealing with your clients do you submit candidates to be considered or finalists to be interviewed?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It is posed only to draw your attention to where you are positioned on the process continuum for our business.

If you are submitting candidates to be considered, your process reflects that of the majority of our industry. However, the range on this area of the continuum is substantial; from those practitioners who merely do “key word searches” and rely on their clients to do the primary screening to those who have done their best to match according to the selection criteria provided by their clients. The depth of the process notwithstanding, if you are submitting candidates to be considered, ultimately your client is responsible for determining the finalists to be interviewed. Since this process step is not directly controlled by you, the overall likelihood of success decreases accordingly.?

Some recruiters prefer to submit candidates for consideration because they do not want the responsibility for selecting finalists to be interviewed. This is fine as long as they understand how it positions them and their process in the eyes of the client. In many instances, with this approach, the recruiter increases the risks of being commoditized as the reflection of their process is similar to that of their primary competition.

On the other hand, most recruiters would prefer to submit finalists to be interviewed.? With this approach, their primary objective is to make the arrangements for their client to meet the finalists and to properly prepare them for those interviews. However, many times they find themselves stymied by their clients who are unwilling to delegate to them responsibility for the selection of finalists. The justification for this from the clients’ perspective may include any or all of the following:

The client is having difficulty determining exactly what they need, so they engage in a process of successive approximations until they reach what they consider to be a reasonable decision.

The client does not have confidence in recruiters based on experience which may include everything from poor screening to outright misrepresentation.

The client does not believe the recruiter clearly understands the nature and scope of the job responsibilities or the selection criteria.

The client believes that the recruiter, based on lack of knowledge or unwillingness to commit, will not execute a process that is designed to identify and properly screen finalists to be interviewed.

The process, as explained by the recruiter, does not generate in the client the trust necessary to fully delegate the screening function.

Both the recruiter and the client have always functioned in the “submit candidates to be considered” mode and do not understand the potential value of taking an approach that better utilizes their collective resources.

The client is utilizing a quantity approach to meeting their needs and, therefore, is working with large numbers of recruiters and outside sources.

Whether or not the client specifically states one or more of these justifications, at the core of their reluctance to allow you to present finalists in lieu of candidates are basic uncertainty and lack of trust. Obviously, nothing will change this dynamic unless you eliminate their uncertainly (about themselves and/or you) and build trust and confidence in you and your process.


Given a choice, the vast majority of employers would prefer to work with one competent recruiter who consistently provides qualified and interested finalists from which they can make their hiring decision.? This not only is the most efficient and effective model to use when hiring (both in terms of time and resources), but it also eliminates the frustration and uncertainty that is counterproductive when working with multiple sources.

This was one of the first “truths” I learned about this business and it is as valid today as it was over thirty years ago. What’s more astounding is that most employers will admit it. However, they will add the caveat that it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to find that “one competent recruiter” in whom they can place their trust to consistently submit only qualified and interested finalists.

For those of you who wish to migrate to submitting finalists instead of candidates, your challenge is to learn how to present yourself and your process in a manner that demonstrates both your knowledge and competence. As Chuck Russell states in his book, “Right Person Right Job, Guess or Know”:

“The Selection Process is clearly the most important point of action in terms of impacting the

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As a first step, review the six variables of Human Capital Management as presented in TFL 06/00, “Improve the Process, Improve the Results.” Understand the significance of each and how the work of a competent recruiter can positively impact them. Learn how to conduct a businessperson to businessperson discussion on all six of the variables utilizing behaviorally based questioning techniques.? This will demonstrate to the employer your overall grasp of the “big picture” while providing valuable input on where your process can be adapted to best support the company’s hiring strategy.


“The most important decisions an executive (manager, supervisor) makes are decisions about people because those decisions will ultimately determine the performance capacity of their organization.”

Peter F. Drucker

Next, and most importantly, explain to the prospect the focus of your search process (see TFL 06/02, “Implanting the DNA for Success”). This will establish your process as “client centered” and help you set the stage for gaining their commitment.

At this point, if you have asked the right questions, listened carefully to the answers and properly presented the focus of your “client centered” approach, the prospect should be ready to learn about the specific steps in your process.? This is where the opportunity to change the dynamic exists.?

In order to migrate to submitting finalists your process must reflect the following:

  • A mutual understanding of the nature and scope of the position as well as the selection criteria that must be met in order for an individual to be qualified as a finalist.
  • The thoroughness and validity of your search and selection process based on the fundamentals of performance measurement.
  • The value to the prospect of your role as process coordinator which includes the delivery of qualified and interested finalists.

If the prospect remains hesitant after everything you have covered up to this point, consider asking the following questions.

“Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t it my responsibility to conduct the screening process on your behalf?? If not, why would you work with me?”

That’s a loaded question but if you’re sincere about serving your client while controlling the process, ask for the responsibility. What’s the worst thing that can happen?? The client says “no” leaving you in the same position you were in before asking the questions.

On the other hand, if the timing is right and you have stated the benefits in a compelling fashion, the client may very well say “yes.” Armed now with their affirmation, you can proceed with the search confident in knowing you control a major factor that will greatly contribute to a successful outcome.

Gaining the trust of your client is absolutely necessary in order to be given the responsibility for submitting finalists to be interviewed. Not every recruiter wants that responsibility or has the wherewithal to earn it. Nevertheless, for those who do, the value is substantial as they see their fill ratios improve, their billings increase and their client relationships strengthened. After all, having the responsibility for submitting finalists is a reflection on their process.

If you have questions or comments on this topic, just let me know. It’s always great to hear from you.

Recipient of the Harold B. Nelson Award, Terry Petra is one of our industry's leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including PETRA ON CALL, and BUSINESS VALUATION, visit Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or click to email him.


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