Hardball Recruiting, Part 2: Addressing Mid-stage Concerns

[Note: It’s time for another instant conference. We’ll discuss hardball recruiting tactics and answer your important questions. The conference will be held today, April 23rd, 2004 at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT). Make sure you download the ten-factor candidate assessment form. We’ll use this during the call. At the download site you’ll find the conference call phone number. Email your pre-conference call questions to info@adlerconcepts.com.] Corporate and third-party recruiters can dramatically improve personal performance by increasing their control and influence at each step in the hiring process. This includes how you take the initial assignment, how you present candidates, and how you close the deal. The best way to do this is to become a true partner in the hiring process, rather than just a vendor submitting resumes. Once you have a pool of candidates, it’s important to keep the hiring process moving forward. You don’t want candidates to opt out because of faulty reasoning. Nor do you want hiring managers to dismiss perfectly qualified candidates based on personal biases or weak interviewing skills. In this article, we’ll address these important mid-stage concerns and show what you can do to minimize the chance you’ll have to do searches over again. Doing searches over again is the biggest time waster of them all, and something you must guard against at every turn. Let’s consider candidates first. The best people always require more information as they move through the hiring process. When strong candidates decide they’re no longer interested in a job, it’s often because they don’t have enough of the right information. The recruiter is responsible for getting it to them. Do not get upset when a candidate puts up the caution flag. Expect this to happen ó in fact, anticipate it. By the time a candidate is ready to accept an offer, the recruiter, in conjunction with the hiring manager, needs to create an “opportunity gap” for the candidate. The opportunity gap represents the difference between two job opportunities. This includes the job stretch, the differences in actual job scope, comparison of challenges to be faced, compensation differences, and the long-term growth opportunities. The bigger the opportunity gap, the more likely a candidate will accept your offer. Done properly, the candidate should learn a little about this opportunity gap at every interview and during every phone call. Candidates get less interested in a job when they see this opportunity gap shrink in comparison to everything else they’re considering. Creating this opportunity gap is how you pull strong candidates through all of the steps in the hiring process. A Candidate’s Biggest Concern: The Job Isn’t Big Enough As soon as a candidate tells you they’re no longer interested, it’s time to act. Sometimes candidates won’t even tell you. Instead, they’ll stop answering your calls. They might delay setting up the next set of interviews, or they’ll make odd excuses. These are all clues that something is wrong. Find out what happened. When the candidate says or implies, “The job isn’t big enough,” here’s what you must do. First, recognize that sometimes the job isn’t big enough. But just as often, the job really is bigger: the candidate just doesn’t have enough information to determine this. This is why the recruiter must intervene. Your first step is to find out why the candidate doesn’t see the job as a big enough move. Ask why. Then probe deeper along these lines: the scope of the job, the responsibilities, the span of control (including who reports to this person), the team involved (including peers and who the person interacts with), some of the big short-term challenges, and the long-term growth opportunities as well. If the candidate doesn’t have all of the facts to evaluate these points, you’ll need to get them. Ask the candidate if they’d be open to taking the next step if information could be provided that clearly showed that the current job was in fact bigger than the candidate thought. If so, get the proof you need ó or tell the person that you’ve arranged for him or her to get this information at the next interview. It’s best if you know something about the job at this stage to be able to persuade the candidate that he or she really wasn’t aware of the real job. Don’t try to browbeat the candidate or talk in generalities. Provide real specifics. For example: “Are you aware that the person in this job will be leading the product launch of the new X series widgets with engineering and manufacturing?” This is the type of specific convincing detail that candidates find reassuring. If the job really isn’t big enough, you have another option ó make it bigger. In this case, you’ll need to work with the hiring manager and see what can be done to make the job more interesting. This doesn’t need to be a promotion. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding one or two big projects or clarifying what the big projects are. The hiring manager could also say that she’s willing to expand the role of the job once the candidate achieves all of the short-term objectives currently defined. You can also widen the opportunity gap by minimizing the candidate’s accomplishments. A thorough interview can often reveal that the candidate’s current job isn’t nearly as broad as the one you’re offering. All too often, candidates pull themselves out of consideration without all of the right facts. With a little probing, recruiters can minimize the chance that good candidates will make bad decisions. The key to handling every candidate concern is to first determine its validity. Frequently, it’s just a lack of information. If this is the case, use the idea of getting the added information as a means to keep the candidate interested in coming back for another round of information. Recognize that one of the recruiter’s key roles is to uncover what information is required and then coordinate its delivery. Don’t shun this. Welcome it. This is what recruiters do. A Hiring Manager Biggest Concern: Not a Good Fit Hiring managers frequently don’t conduct thorough evaluation interviews. They sometimes miss key strengths or globalize a single weakness. It’s the job of the recruiter to defend candidates when they have been evaluated improperly. The key to doing this is to ask good questions, in order to understand how the interviewer came to an invalid conclusion. Then either provide proof that the assessment was incorrect, or provide a means to validate it. The real issue here is to not accept a superficial assessment as valid. It is up to the recruiter to push the hiring manager and suggest that only meaningful data should be used to either exclude or hire a candidate. Emotions and feelings are inappropriate tools to use to assess competency and motivation. Use these questions to figure out how or why the hiring manager got it wrong:

  1. What did the candidate do, or not do, that made you feel this way?
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  3. As you know, our legal department has asked us for more objective criteria when excluding otherwise competent candidates from consideration. Is there anything specific you can point to? It seems that you’re assessing presentation rather than performance.
  4. Let’s review the ten-factor assessment form to see if there are any confirming indicators of this problem. By using this multi-factor assessment approach, we can minimize the common problem of globalizing strengths or weaknesses. (Then review each of the ten factors and rank them on the 1-5 scale.)
  5. Are you aware that at Company X, [candidate’s name] actually handled a project that specifically addressed that topic? Did you discuss this at all?
  6. If we could alleviate your concerns by providing tangible proof that this is not a weakness, would you be at least open to reconsidering the candidate? Here are a couple of ways we could figure out if this is an issue or not. Select those that specifically would prove or disprove the interviewer’s concern. The key is to keep your options open:
    • Conduct reference checks.
    • Re-interview the candidate and probe this area specifically.
    • Have another interviewer meet the person and obtain his or her input.
    • Have the person take a test (cognitive, skills or personality).
    • Let the candidate make a presentation to the team, describing exactly how he or she would handle the situation and then prove it by providing some comparable examples of past performance in that area.

Recruiters need to constantly fight the tendency of both candidates and clients to make bad decisions on limited information. As recruiters, we must ensure that the best candidates don’t exclude themselves from consideration for the wrong reasons. Equally important, hiring managers must not be allowed to eliminate top candidates based on superficial assessments. In a recent article, I mentioned that one of the first things I learned when I started out my career as a young engineer was that you couldn’t push on a rope. Many of you responded with great explanations on this “physics of human nature” problem. You can’t change someone’s mind or opinion by pushing. You must lead your candidates and clients to the correct course of action by asking great questions. First, ask questions to open a person to the idea that there is another way of looking at the same situation. Then provide the new information. This way people decide for themselves that their initial conclusions were based on flawed or limited data. Asking questions is how you push on a rope.

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).

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