Coaching: The Lost Art of Recruiting

Recruiters want more influence over their clients and candidates. This type of coaching is a worthy objective. The reasons are obvious: more placements, fewer wrong candidates sent out, better and quicker results, and a more satisfying job. If you’re not acting as a coach, hiring can be a frustrating, narrow, time-consuming process, requiring too many sendouts, where often the last candidate standing is reluctantly offered the position. Coaching candidates and clients alike is the core competency of all great recruiters. While finding top candidates is no small challenge, getting the strongest one hired is how recruiters really earn their stripes. Over the years, these are the qualities that I have seen as being necessary for recruiters to become effective coaches:

  1. Understanding what really drives on-the-job success (it isn’t skills, academics, or even experience)
  2. The ability to gain and keep top candidates interested every step of the way, even when they have multiple opportunities
  3. Leading the debriefing session with the interview team to select the best candidate
  4. Preparing and closing every aspect of the offer package in a fair and equitable manner

Becoming a true coach takes competency, patience, and an ironclad belief that the candidates you’re representing really are the best. Without top-notch candidates, all of your coaching efforts will be wasted. You might get a hit now and then, but by and large you’ll never make the big leagues. Let’s review each of these issues to see what it takes to become a coach.

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  1. Understanding job needs. If you use the traditional job descriptions that list skills, experience, academics and responsibilities to assess competency, you’ll never become a real coach. Getting hiring managers to describe success factors is your first chance to influence the final results. It’s also the most important. Begin by asking what the new employee needs to do to be successful ó don’t ask what the person must have. This forces the hiring manager to describe the job, not the person. Convert each item listed on the job description into a task. For example, don’t accept, “three years of experience in a distribution environment.” Instead, force the hiring manager to tell you that the new employee will be leading a project to set up the warehousing facility in Wichita. Every job has six or so performance objectives like this that clearly define job success. If you’re the one to identify these performance objectives, you’ll be seen as a coach and a value-added resource (see my article on performance profiles for more details on this). With this profile, you’ll have the true measuring stick needed to assess candidate competency. It will allow you to influence every other aspect of the hiring process. Without it, you’ll be seen as just a typical recruiter.
  2. Gaining and keeping candidate interest. The strongest candidates always have multiple opportunities and require extra hand-holding. Gaining their initial interest and keeping it throughout the hiring ordeal is a significant challenge. The recruiter must first be able to show how the new job will stretch the candidate. Without stretch, the new job is just another job ó and the best candidates will opt out early in the process. I call this stretching the opportunity gap (see my article on this topic). Without overselling, all interviewers and the hiring manager must then describe the challenges and projects described in the job profile while assessing candidate competency. It’s best if the projects tie to the company vision or strategy. All this should be reinforced by articles, in subsequent interviews, the real job description, and info on the company website. The candidate will present all of this information to describe the job to friends and family as he or she evaluates the opportunity. The best always seek the counsel of others, so the recruiter must make sure the candidate has all the necessary information to provide to these people.
  3. Debriefing the interviewing team. The recruiter must lead the final assessment session. If you don’t, it’s like coaching the team in practice, but not during the game. Force your way into this role. Rarely will it be given to you without asking. Start off the session by having all of the interviewers describe the candidate’s strengths first. Never let them lead off with weaknesses. There’s a herd mentality during these reviews, so you want to build up the positive feelings before the negatives come into play. Force the interviewing team to assess the candidate’s ability and motivation to do the work required. Don’t let them focus on skills or experience, or soft stuff. This is one of the reasons the success profile is so important. Make sure interviewers justify their rankings (good and bad) with specific examples of actual comparable accomplishments, or lack thereof. (Many years ago, a CFO was about to eliminate a candidate for a cost management spot until I told him that he forgot to ask the candidate about setting up a cost system at a major automotive plant. The candidate was hired, and I subsequently placed six people with this CFO during the next year.) Leading these debriefing sessions means the recruiter has to have conducted a very thorough interview and knows the job very well. This way, the recruiter can handle all concerns real time with both insight and confidence. This is what coaching is all about in a game situation.
  4. Negotiating and closing the deal. This is where everything comes together. From the candidate’s perspective, your job will compete with every other option the candidate has. For the strongest, these options are plentiful ó including counter-offers, other jobs, or delaying the decision until something better comes along. How you handle each situation is the difference between hiring the best and making excuses. Here’s one key rule to always follow when negotiating the offer: never make an offer formal until it’s 100% accepted. Test the offer instead. Some examples: “Is this something you’d be interested in seriously considering?” “If we could finalize the offer by Thursday, when could you start?” “If we could get approval at $75,000, when could you formally accept the offer?” You need to know all of the candidate’s objections before ever formalizing the offer. Testing offers allows you to put a complete package together, testing it every step of the way, and insuring close to 100% acceptance.

Become a coach. You’ll know you’ve arrived as a coach when your candidates ask for your advice before accepting an offer, and then call you six months later to say thank you. You’ll know you’ve arrived as a coach when your clients begin calling you before the job requisition is even approved. As a coach, you’ll drive down your time to hire, improve candidate quality, earn the respect of your clients and candidates, and gain tremendous satisfaction from a job well done. But don’t expect anyone to give you this coaching assignment. It needs to be earned. It’s worth it. Become a coach. (Note: As many of you know, I host a series of monthly online discussion groups on corporate metrics and developing new recruiting techniques. As you can tell from my articles these tend to be free-wheeling discussions that cover the gamut from strategies to practical advice. The Corporate Metrics Group is restricted to those in corporate recruiting management. The Recruiting Techniques is open to everyone. Email me at if you’d like to join one of these groups. If you’ve already joined you’ll be getting the next agenda shortly.)

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


1 Comment on “Coaching: The Lost Art of Recruiting

  1. I agree with what is written in the article. It is important to have a coaching course to be a good recruiter. It is useful to better identify the client’s needs and seize on the most suitable candidate for the role.

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