Learn to Defend Your Candidate from the Competition and Dumb Decisions

The demand for top people has exploded. Part of this is due to demographics, a strong economy, and a widening gap between those with high-demand skills and available supply. Matters are made worse by the increase in workforce mobility, the blurring of the lines between active and passive candidates, and the transparency of the job market.

This puts an enormous burden on the individual recruiter with counter-offers and competitive offers now more common. Finding a great person is hard enough. You can’t afford to lose this person for a preventable reason or a dumb mistake.

In combination with great recruiting and closing skills, you need to do everything possible to close and hire these people. Here are some ideas you might want to try if you’re ever confronted with some of these typical recruiting problems:

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  1. Great candidate but doesn’t interview too well. This is an old classic, but handling it now is more important than ever since your back-up candidate is probably not as good, or has other offers. The best defense for this is to tell your client that the candidate is not a great interviewer, but has achieved some significant and related accomplishments. You must provide real evidence to support your claims to offset the weak interviewing skills. If you’ve prepared a performance profile and conducted a performance-based interview you’ll be in good shape on this front. In your candidate presentation, include a write-up describing the two or three things the candidate has done most related to the real job requirements. As long as you have real details and the results are significant, you’ll have no problem offsetting a candidate’s weak interviewing skills.
  2. Manager makes superficial or narrow decisions. There are two types of problems here. On one level are those mistakes caused by managers who rely mostly on intuition, gut feelings, or emotions when deciding to reject a good candidate. On the other extreme are managers who reject candidates out-of-hand without the proper credentials or some arbitrary level of technical brilliance. Both problems can be minimized by preparing a performance profile before seeing any candidates. When taking the assignment, ask the hiring manager what the person needs to do to be considered successful in the job. If a manager overemphasizes technical competency, ask how the technical skill would be used on the job. Then make sure you only present candidates who have accomplished something similar. To emphasize that results are more important than qualifications, have the candidate prepare a write-up listing her two biggest accomplishments related to real job needs. Make sure the hiring manager reviews these with the candidate during the first 30 minutes of the interview. This technique forces the manager to judge the candidate on her ability to handle real job needs rather than gut feelings or possessing some arbitrary level of technical competency.
  3. Manager sells too soon. This is a real problem when the candidate is superbly qualified for the job. Selling too soon, over-talking, and under-listening are sure-fire ways to cheapen a job or wind up in a bidding war. The counter-measure for this is to make the candidate earn the job, rather than giving it away too easily. Use the interview to find areas where the candidate does not measure up to the real job requirements. The one-question performance-based interview is a great technique to use here. For example, while the person might be great, the person might not have handled as big a project or as big a team. In this case, say something like, “While I like your product marketing background, I’m not sure you’ve handled a project expected to double in scope in the first 12 months. Can you tell me about your most challenging product launch assignment?” Then spend the next 10 minutes getting into all of the details. This allows the interviewer to stay in control by asking questions forcing the candidate to convince you. Listening four times more than talking is a great rule to follow when you get too excited about a prospect.
  4. Candidate opts out for the wrong reason. When first discussing a job, recruiters and candidates alike over-emphasize the tactical reasons for considering moving forward, rather than the strategic ones. Compensation, titles, location, and the company’s public reputation are tactical issues. Job stretch, career opportunity, the leadership skills of the manager, and the importance of the job to the overall company’s business plan are strategic issues. To minimize early rejection, recruiters need to shift the candidate’s decision-making from short term to long term. This takes some finesse as well as strong career counseling skills. One way to do this is to get the person to evaluate the job over a longer time frame. When a candidate opts out for short-term reasons, just ask the person if she would reconsider if you could demonstrate that the job has more upside than all of the person’s other opportunities. If this pitch is presented properly, most people will agree to at least evaluate it. Of course, then you must deliver a better long-term career opportunity.
  5. Candidate opts out for an apparently better job. First, you’ll need to use the short- vs. long-term reconsideration technique described above. Then go through a 10-point side-by-side comparison of your job vs. the competition. Here are a few of these points: job scope and impact, job stretch, long-term opportunity, compensation, hiring manager leadership skills, and cultural fit. (Email me if you’d like to receive a simple form I use to compare multiple jobs across all 10 factors.) As part of this comparison, describe your position with specific details and raise questions about the other positions when the candidate uses generalities to describe it. For example, a response such as, “the manager is really great” can be challenged by asking the candidate to further justify what “great” means. You need to prove your case here with details, not hyperbole, and then smash hyperbole when used against you.
  6. Candidate takes a counter-offer. The best defense here is to delay your formal offer as long as possible. In fact, never make a formal offer until the candidate has agreed to all of the terms including a personal guarantee the person won’t take a counter-offer. You do this by testing each component of the offer before presenting it using questions like, “If we could put an offer package based on these terms (describe them), when would you be in a position to accept it?” (Here’s an article with more details on how to test offers this way.) Then, don’t make the offer formal until the candidate agrees to accept it within 24 hours and provides a start date. As part of this, you’ll need to get the hiring manager more involved. The reasons most candidates accept counter-offers is because they’re a bit unsure of the new job and their relationship with the new manager. To offset this concern, it’s important that the candidate spend serious time with the hiring manager and gain a clear understanding of job needs.

Being on top of your game is what it takes to be a great recruiter nowadays, and constant improvement is part of this. The common theme in all of these tips is to learn to defend your candidate from bad decisions and faulty reasoning. Part of this requires that you challenge your clients and your candidates alike.

Recruiting the best people is not a transaction, it’s a series of consultative steps that move the process along despite the hurdles along the way. Accepting and dealing with setbacks is part of the process. Success starts by not succumbing to them.

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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