How To Use the Interview To Increase Your Influence With Hiring Managers

One of the common concerns I hear from recruiters is that they want more influence with their hiring manager clients. Many feel left out or underutilized during much of the hiring process. Their complaints are often about managers who do not give them enough time to understand the job, who won’t see their candidate, who make scheduling interviews difficult, who want to see all of the resumes or meet too many candidates, and ó the most common ó managers who dismiss good candidates for dumb reasons. These are all valid concerns. Since I spend as much time with hiring managers as I do with recruiters, it’s interesting to get their perspective. Their biggest complaints are that their corporate and outside recruiters don’t ask substantive questions about the job, present too many unqualified candidates, and make superficial assessments. As a result, managers often go out of their way to minimize the time spent with recruiter. They’ll do much of the evaluation themselves, and they’ll quickly dismiss a recruiter’s hard work without any idea of how difficult it is to find good candidates. From a recruiter’s perspective, there’s a simple solution: ask better questions about the job, be a better interviewer, and present better candidates. Here’s my simple three-step plan to increase your influence with your hiring manager clients:

  1. Know the job almost as well as they do, by asking questions about what the candidate needs to do rather than what the candidate needs to have.
  2. Spend more time finding better candidates using semi-sourcing techniques.
  3. Be a better interviewer than the hiring manager, so you can prove your candidates are worthy of their time and effort.

In recent articles I’ve discussed how to handle points #1 and #2 (See Why You Should Stop Using Traditional Job Descriptions, Today! and If You Must Use Job Boards, Here’s How, among others.) The first article shows why the best job descriptions emphasize the doing of activities, not the having of skills. Knowing how to develop this type of performance-based description by asking more insightful questions is your first step in becoming a respected (and better) recruiter. The second article reveals the secrets of semi-sourcing, providing tips on how to find hot semi-active candidates for any job within a few days. If you combine better job knowledge and better candidates with superior interviewing skills, you can quickly gain all the influence you need with your hiring managers. Now, here’s a basic principle of human nature that’s worthy of note: one way to gain respect and influence with someone is to be better at something than they are. That’s why consultants get paid a lot. It’s unlikely you’ll be better at knowing the job than the hiring manager, so for recruiters this something should be interviewing. This is an especially useful skill to develop, since most managers aren’t great interviewers. Some overvalue first impressions. Others overvalue degrees from big schools or tons of technical experience. Some won’t see candidates without exactly the right industry background or those who are too old or too young. Others globalize weaknesses or strengths, dismissing those who “just don’t fit” and hiring someone who is “just like them.” This is one area where managers can use help, so use this fact to your advantage. Being a better interviewer means:

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  1. You must be able to accurately assess candidate competency and motivation for the job. Read my two articles, The Best Interview Question of All Time, and My Favorite Interview Question, for a crash course on behavioral interviewing. If you know what a candidate needs to do to be successful (this is why writing performance-based job descriptions is so important), all you need to do in the interview is to get details of examples of a candidate’s comparable accomplishments. (Note: You ask these two questions above over and over again and observe the trend of accomplishments over time.)
  2. Your presentation to your hiring manager client must be professional. Do not send in sloppy notes and a resume. Instead, make a formal presentation that clearly demonstrates why your candidate is a strong fit for the position. In this presentation, use a formal assessment form with a write-up describing why you believe the candidate meets the job needs. Include lots of examples of what the candidate has accomplished compared to what needs to be done on the job. Once you get the hang of it, it takes about 30 minutes to prepare this type of presentation. Don’t complain about the time. If you believe you have a strong candidate, 30 extra minutes is a lot less than it takes to find another person. This is also how you’ll reduce your time-to-hire and interview-to-hire ratio.
  3. You must defend your candidate at every step of the way with the hiring manager and every other interviewer involved. Push yourself into this process ó you normally won’t be invited. Most recruiters are too passive at this step. If you have conducted a thorough assessment interview and have plenty of examples of candidate accomplishments, you’ll be able to defend your candidate against some of the toughest questioning. Confidence at this step is very important. Since most managers haven’t done a thorough job of interviewing, you must find holes in their assessments. You only do this by making sure you don’t have any holes in yours.

Interviewing is an important piece of the recruiting puzzle. The behavioral interviewing approach mentioned above is far easier to use than traditional behavioral questions, and more accurate. I suggest digging deeply into a few major accomplishments that relate directly to job needs. You’ll quickly see how a candidate’s behaviors, competencies and motivation combine to produce results. Then observe the trend of these accomplishments over time to see growth, and compare the accomplishments to the performance requirements of the job. Interviewing accuracy will soar, and you’ll have all the information you need to defend your candidate’s competency and motivation. This is far better than getting lots of examples of short behavioral-related experiences. Before you know it, your hiring managers’ clients will be asking you to train them how to interview. This is how you can use strong interviewing skills to gain influence and respect. If you’re only conducting a short phone screen interview, it’s difficult to accurately assess competency and motivation. In this case you’ll need to focus on a few key points. I’d suggest you spend five to eight minutes conducting a simple work history review. Then ask the candidate to describe one or two big accomplishments. Dig as deeply as time permits. Ask fact-finding questions that relate to real job needs. From this information, make sure that the work history trend is up, and that the accomplishments are directly comparable to job needs. Highlight this information in your presentation to the hiring manager, and make sure these items are discussed during their next interview. This will instantly increase your credibility, and minimize the chance of the hiring manager conducting a superficial assessment. While not as good as a complete interview, it will improve your influence somewhat. If you’re only involved in part of the hiring process, it’s also difficult to increase your influence. To really influence the hiring decision, recruiters need to be involved in all phases of the hiring process. This includes writing the performance profile (my term for a job description that emphasizes the performance objectives rather than the skills), sourcing, interviewing and assessment, and leading the negotiating and closing process. Sometimes companies segment this process and minimize their recruiters’ overall effectiveness. If your job is structured like this, then you’ll need to pick your points of contact exceedingly well. In this case, I’d suggest focusing on taking the job requisition. This is where preparing the performance profile can really separate the typical recruiter from an exceptional one. Asking insightful questions about the real job will instantly brand the recruiter as a professional. Do this well just a few times, and pretty soon the hiring manager will be asking you to be more involved in other aspects of the process. You might be invited in to lead the session before the requisition is even approved, or asked to conduct the debriefing session to select which candidate should be hired. This is what influence and respect looks like. It only takes three simple steps. I urge you to start taking them. It’s a lot better than complaining. As Jim Rohn said, “Things will start to get better for you, when you start to get better.” [Note: If you’d like a copy of our assessment interview kit, go to our Recruiter’s Corner for a free download. The kit includes a sample performance profile, our basic new version of behavioral interview 2.0, and the candidate rating form we suggest you use to make presentations. This is a great complement to these articles on interviewing and sourcing. Also, if you’d like to help make Hiring 2.0 a reality, join the hiring revolution. Our Band of 176 will become the focus group to set the standards for these next generation hiring tools. Our first “Satisfaction with Current Hiring Tools” survey will be sent out shortly to all revolutionaries. We’ll present the results in an online conference in November. This will be your first chance to join the growing number of people who want to dramatically change the way top people are hired. Separately, with ERE’s support, my national hiring revolution Zero-based Hiring tour has begun. Over the next few months I’ll be in Los Angeles on November 5, New York on November 19, San Francisco on December 11, and Dallas on January 21st. If you or your organization would like to be a city host for one of these events send me an email at We’ll be visiting the rest of the country in 2004 with 12-15 tour stops. I look forward to meeting you in person at one of them. Be heard. Join the revolution. Become a great recruiter.]

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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