How to Set Expectations with Your Candidates

We’ve all heard of the perfect candidate flaking out at the 11th hour. Reasons can vary from the infamous counteroffer, a surprise month-long vacation, or the candidate accepting another offer you never knew they had.

Like it or not, any time you are blindsided by your candidate, you’ve lost control of the recruiting process. This negatively impacts your client, your organization, and it directly reflects on you as a recruiter.

You can’t afford to lose control when credibility is the currency to all recruiting transactions.

We will never be able to completely eliminate these types of situations; however, the goal of a best-in-class recruiter is to minimize them as much as possible by maintaining candidate control. This control refers to the partnership and relationship that the recruiter drives. The recruiter should always remain in the driver’s seat, making the candidate the passenger. Control does not mean forcefully restricting what the candidate can and can’t do. Remember, you want to build the relationship.

To help maintain control of the recruiting process, the recruiter should set the tone of the relationship from the very first conversation with the candidate. This includes verbally setting clear expectations as to what each party needs to bring to the table.

At times, this practice can be challenging for new recruiters who may question its value, but the first conversation is the foundation upon which your candidate relationship will be built. The right conversation will positively affect all future conversations and will help ensure a positive final outcome in the recruiting process.

Setting expectations is not just for the recruiter’s benefit. The recruiter should clearly communicate the purpose of the conversation to the candidate so both parties understand what is required to ensure success.

During the initial conversation the recruiter should always:

  • Provide full disclosure of the job requirements, duties, and full responsibilities of the position. At this time, the recruiter should also nail down the expected compensation and benefits. Do not end the conversation without clear expectations about what the candidate needs to make and what you can offer.
  • Be available to answer the candidate’s questions in an open and transparent manner.
  • Keep in close contact with the candidate through the qualification, interview and offer processes.
  • Let the candidate know where they stand in the hiring process and provide constructive feedback when necessary.

On the flip side, the candidate should always:

  • Provide you with full disclosure of their job search status. This will include, if possible, the companies or agencies that they have submitted their resumes to, the companies they are actively engaged with and the status of each of those engagements.
  • Provide you with a well-written resume, examples of their work when applicable and being available to answer in-depth questions about their background.
  • Keep you well-informed of any changes in their availability to interview or anything that would prevent them from starting a new role, including vacations that may conflict with your company’s or client’s schedule.

This is not a one-way or a one-time process. This should be the standard for each and every initial candidate conversation.

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As a recruiter, ask your candidate: “Has anything changed in your search status?” on a recurring basis. I’ve seen more “back outs” in my career due to the recruiter not having a 360-degree view of the candidate, their motivations, and all opportunities they are exploring.

The goal of the first conversation is for the candidate to leave with a clear understanding that you’re a professional, an expert in your industry, and a partner in the process. Also, that an open and honest line of communication is a critical component to the recruiting process.

You’ll find one of two things when you discuss these mutually beneficial expectations with your candidate:

  1. The candidate is amenable with the expectations set and it is clear based on their active participation with you during the conversation that they are engaged and committed to the role and interested in partnering with you throughout the process.
  2. Or, your candidate will not be completely engaged with the process even after you talk through their objections and have presented the benefits associated with each of the aforementioned expectations. For example, the candidate may not be open to sharing their past salary history or their desired rate with you, they may not be open to keeping you informed on their search status, or unwilling to confirm changes with you in a timely manner. These are the candidates you potentially will want to pass on. I say potentially as I’ve been in this business long enough to know that the recruiting process requires us to be flexible (especially when working with top-notch candidates). Make this decision with one caveat: a candidate who is unwilling to conform to simple parameters will be more likely to throw you for a loop at some point in your recruiting process.

Know what category your candidate fits into and resolve any red flags before proceeding.

After the initial conversation, touch base with your active candidates often. Determine whether anything has changed in their status and uncover and resolve any additional concerns.

Reconfirm their ongoing commitment to the opportunity. Many of us have learned the hard way that things change quickly, at time daily! Reconnecting with candidates often will minimize being caught off guard.

You must drive the recruiting process; the recruiting process should not drive you. To keep your candidates as partners in the process, do your part to proactively and routinely reach out, engage, and set mutually beneficial expectations with them. By driving the process, you will stay in control, help your candidates land an amazing job, and achieve record placement results.

Bret Pyle has over 10 years of experience within the areas of sales, business operations, financial forecasting, training curricula, full-cycle recruitment & human resources management, business process improvement, and is a certified Six Sigma Green Belt. You can contact him at


9 Comments on “How to Set Expectations with Your Candidates

  1. There is a particular story that comes to mind after reading this article. I had a highly qualified candidate in for an interview a few weeks ago and she was very interested in working for company. During the time when she applied/interviewed, she was currently working for one of our competitors. This is not uncommon, but whenever this occurs one has to bring a bit more skepticism to the interview…and I did. When interviewing her, I was sure not to leave any stone unturned with my questions. I asked about reason for leaving, any other job leads, reason(s) for choosing our company, and few other questions and all her answers were solid. To make a long story short, we decided to offer her the position with our company. After her background check, drug screen, and reference check was complete, I gave her a phone call to confirm the offer and she told me she couldn’t start working for us for another six (6) weeks?! Of course this was not on her application, nor did she say so when I asked her ‘verbally’ when would she be available to start. She told me all she had to do was give a two (2) weeks notice to her present employer and she would be ready to go…she lied! Now after she and I spoke as to why she couldn’t start for another 6 weeks, I realized (on my own) that she wanted to leave her present employer because they wouldn’t give her time off for a month long vacation.

    It wasn’t the six weeks issue that bothered me, because we wouldn’t have had a problem with that as long as she was upfront about it. What bothers me is the fact that she lied to me and the hiring manager directly to our faces. There’s one specific question that stood out when I was trying to prevent something like this from happening. So I asked her: ‘do you foresee yourself needing any extended amount of time off within the next year’, she said ‘No and that she couldn’t wait to get started’. I just don’t get it.

  2. Great insights and article Bret. If more recruiters did what you suggest we’d have fewer situations such as the one I described in my column last week. Thanks for reminding us of this critical step in the recruiting process.

  3. Bret:

    A very good reminder to us all on how to maintain control throughout the recuiting process.

    Well done!

  4. Great article. I work now as an internal recruiter & where there’s little understanding of what & how recruiters work. It’s really simple stuff that you outline – but very difficult to do without experience.
    I think your comment about ‘professionalism’ is the key. Open, honest, direct & professional will get the required informatain ( almost ) every time.

  5. Perhaps the candidate was assuming that your company was like many other companies, who take literally forever to not only initially contact a candidate, but then schedule interviews, and finally offer a job. I have seen cases where this whole process can take months, leaving candidates wondering what their status is.

    Many companies do not inform candidates up front about the timeframe in which they expect to fill the position. It is not surprising to find that oftentimes other opportunities come up for the candidate and they simply accept an offer from a company that that is a little more prompt in their hiring process. Was it stated up front a specific date WHEN the job was to be filled? Apparently, she needed to give her current employer 2 weeks’ notice but also wanted a little time for herself and be mentally prepared for a new challenge. I wouldn’t call that lying; I would realize the value of someone taking unpaid vacation time prior to starting a new position.

    I am all for ensuring that the hiring process be as complete as possible. However, hiring managers also need to realize that candidates may likely not wait around forever, and that it is only fair to state when the job is expected to be filled. I have a candidate that applied for a position at the end of February, went on three interviews and the company has still not made up its mind.

  6. Bret’s article does a nice job of laying out how to keep that top candidate engaged and understanding your organization’s recruiting process. I’ve been coaching my recruiters to utilize this type of prescreening not only with candidates but to also make sure they set clear expectations with their managers on what the recruiting process is, how soon they will see resumes, etc. It should be recruiting 101, but it helps to remind recruiters to get back to the basics up front, not mid way through the recruiting process.

  7. I agree with your good comments, Audrey. Henry, I understand that situation, but I don’t think you set expectations for the candidate. You only asked a question. Safe to assume that you were probably 4-6 weeks from the beginning of her vacation when you asked her the question, and she could only think that you would not likely hire her if she told you she needed a month off. The candidate was hedging her bets, and maybe she shouldn’t have, but you also should have set a timeline to hire for her before you asked the question. I think you missed an opportunity to hire a great employee. Just my opinion, though.

  8. Great article with clear concepts. Now we just need to commit to doing this consistently.

    I would like to ask the group if they think it would be a good idea to share this article with candidates we want to work with. I think it is a great way to set expectations and weed out those undesirables that want to play games with recruiters.

    Comments please.


  9. Another well written article Bret….As Brice said above; now we need commit to doing these things on a consistant basis. I normally do, but get sloppy on ocassion.

    Sharing this information with candidates is a great idea, especially if we’re marketing them to specific companies.

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