Find the Best Candidates Faster

The most important part of the recruiting process is the recruiter’s initial meeting with the hiring manager. With the right approach you can save an incredible amount of time and energy, and hire better candidates. In addition, you raise your standing with hiring managers to that of a true business partner.

In any profession, whether it is in business or sports, one must study the best to learn what they do that sets them apart. In sports, athletes like Kobe Bryant, Lionel Messi, and Lance Armstrong are legendary for their relentless drive for perfection and extraordinary work ethic in training. In recruiting, we can study executive recruiters who are given key assignments by business leaders and regularly command large commissions.

I recently spoke with Robert Fong, a managing Partner for the Global Advanced Technology Practice at Nosal Partners, an executive search firm in San Francisco. We discussed the importance of the first meeting with the hiring manager.

Two key factors that set them apart are the time reserved, and the order in which they approach gathering information:

  • An hour to an hour and a half is typically reserved for the meeting.
  • The recruiter spends the first part of the meeting learning about the business and what priorities the position will address.
  • The position description and how it relates to the business priorities is then addressed.
  • Only after learning the above, does the recruiter gather information about the candidate qualifications.

This is the diametric opposite of the approach taken by most in-house and agency recruiters. They:

  • Spend 10-30 minutes at most in the intake meeting.
  • Focus almost solely on the candidate qualifications.
  • Spend little time on the position description.
  • Spend no time on learning or understanding the business.

Let’s break this down step by step:

When an executive recruiter meets with a hiring manager, the first point of discussion is business priorities. What is the business situation and what needs will this new hire fulfill? As Robert Fong says, “Our role is as a consultant. We want to learn about the hiring manager’s challenges and provide a solution that will make him or her successful.”

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Typical questions in this part of the meeting are:

  • What are your team’s biggest priorities and challenges over the next 6-12 months?
  • What needs are you trying to fill by hiring for this position?
  • What will be the most important priorities this person will need to focus on in the first 6 – 12 months to be successful?
  • Can you describe one or two important projects/initiatives this person will be working on?

Only after learning about the business priorities and position description does the recruiter address candidate qualifications. This is very important for a number of reasons:

  • If you start the process with candidate qualifications, the hiring manager will typically create a laundry list of “must haves.” This is a lazy solution for both hiring manager and recruiter. As neither of you have discussed what this position will address, the result is usually at least two candidate re-calibration meetings and wasted effort and time on your part as you and the manager struggle to define the correct candidate profile for the role.
  • If the initial focus is on the business solution and then the position description, you can partner with the hiring manager to determine candidate requirements. This is a subtle but very important shift in thinking for the manager. When asked what are absolute “musts” and what are really just “nice to haves,” the manager will give thoughtful answers that relate to the business solution rather than pulling requirements with little thought. The result is typically one candidate recalibration meeting at the most as you are both in synch with what is needed for the role.
  • The more you know about the business, the easier it will be for you to assess candidates. Robert Fong states that 70-80% of their candidates have the hard skills necessary, but lack the soft skills. “Our goal is to have them excited about the opportunity and be successful in the long term. We can only do that by having an understanding of the business group, the role, and the job spec. We cannot if we only focus on the job spec.”
  • The more you know about the business, the easier it will be for you to “close” candidates. If you understand the business, the role’s purpose, and learn about the candidate’s motivation, the right opportunity will sell itself. Without this knowledge your selling power is limited.
  • The hiring manager will view you as a partner and solution provider versus an order-taker. You will be more empowered to make suggestions on candidate qualifications, job descriptions, assessment questions, and selling candidates, as you truly understand her needs.

Don’t get caught in a trap believing that executive recruiters have fewer requisitions, so they can take more time in the intake meeting. If you don’t take the time to learn about the business, the opportunity, and then the job requirements, you will spend endless cycles chasing the wrong candidates. If you follow the executive recruiter approach in the initial meeting, you will cut down on time to hire, and build fruitful partnerships with your hiring managers.

photo from Bigstock

Randall Birkwood is a former director of recruiting at T-Mobile USA, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft Corporation, and HR at Intermec Technologies. While at T-Mobile his organization was listed in an ERE article as a top 10 benchmark firm in recruiting and talent management. He has been an advisory speaker at General Electric and AT&T for VPs and directors of HR, and spoken at a number of conferences in the U.S. and UK. He was the subject of a cover story on the "War For Talent" in Internet World Magazine.


7 Comments on “Find the Best Candidates Faster

  1. @ Randall: A thorough and comprehensive piece.
    An additional critical point (ideally at this meeting) would be to create and clarify realistic hiring expectations. I tell managers that there are three desirables in a hire:
    1) Quality
    2) Speed
    3) Cost.
    Which of these are they prepared to sacrifice to obtain the other two? If they aren’t prepared to sacrifice any, you have a real problem on your hands, as managers far too frequently feel entitled to the “best” but can barely afford the”rest”.



  2. Great advice Randall. I always advise recruiters to ask the hiring managers one key question. “What will you see when the person we hire has done their job completely and correctly?” Get the manager focusing on results, then identify the skills, both tactical and strategic (not hard and soft!) that will make the person successful in accomplishing those goals.

    Managers love to talk about results, outcomes, outputs. Let them, and then steer them to the conversation of the traits and competencies that the candidate must have to achieve those objectives. Mr. Fong is right, virtually every candidate we present will have the technical skills. It’s the strategic skills that separate the successful candidates from the rest.

  3. @Keith, right on! I would tell managers, “Fast, cheap, good. Pick any two.” They always wanted all three. They wanted filet mignon on a hamburger budget. Not gonna happen.

    We, the recruiter, need to know what’s driving the hiring manager’s decision if we’re going to effectively partner with and manage those expectations.

  4. @Keith & Ronald I had always heard it put into a triangle, you get two sides of the triangle you pick, but that was for talking to Generals on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in regards to new projects, funny how things stretch across industries!

  5. Randall, great article and thank you for taking the time to articulate the true goal of the “intake” meeting – to understand the company, department and goals of the position to be filled. As the owner of a boutique executive search and career coaching firm, I can tell you that most clients forget the importance of defining the specific goals of our future placement. We ask a number of questions in our intake as well but the two key questions are: what skills/chemistry is the department currently lacking, and, how will you know this person will be successful in 30, 90, 180 and 360 days. Rather than simokt focusing on “getting things done”, hiring managers should focus on the goal of the position and the contribution that will be made by the individual.
    Thanks for spending some time on this very important topic.

    Ken Schmitt
    President/Founder, TurningPoint Executive Search

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