In Part 1 of our article series about pushback on hiring managers, we discussed why pushing back on a hiring manager is necessary for recruiters’ credibility, top end results, and ability to hire the best candidate. Let’s now explore some real examples of pushback and see how it can be done in a way that is both tactful and effective. Before deciding to pushback, the recruiter must understand that not every battle is worth fighting. If you are going to push back, the outcome must add value. If you’re mulling over pushing back on a given situation, consider the following conditions as guidelines:
- You as the recruiter must believe the hiring manager’s plan for the candidate, i.e. the process or the course of action being proposed, is flawed.
- You must be able to suggest a different course of action that will yield a better result.
- You must have a convincing argument that will make the hiring manager seriously consider that your approach will yield better results.
At this point it’s a good idea to mention the concept of diplomacy. Churchill once said, “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.” Our advice on diplomacy is simple: if you have it, use it. If you don’t have it, get some. Diplomacy and tact are critical in influencing a new course of action. Delicate egos and “that’s not how we do it here” mentalities run rampant even in the best of organizations. It’s up to you as the recruiter to do whatever is necessary to run the show and make the right things happen in the right way. Let’s consider the following very typical workplace scenarios and how you might pushback to create a winning situation: A hiring manager wants to fill a position by the end of the month. It’s the first week of the month. You know this is not realistic. What would you say?
- “I will do my best.”
- “I have a lot of other requisitions on my plate and will not be able to commit to that timeframe.”
- “Let’s review your timeline and agree on a ‘contracted time to fill.’ May I ask you a few questions to determine a mutually agreeable timeline?
- “Are you suggesting we have a person actually in the role by the end of the month, or just identified?”
- “Is there a particular reason for the urgency? A project deadline or a sales target to meet?”
- “What are your travel commitment and your interview team’s travel commitment this month? What days will you not be available to interview?”
- “Are you considering only local candidates or candidates nationwide? If we are considering all candidates, we have to factor in travel time.”
- “Do you want to conduct phone interviews prior to in-person interviews? How many interviews will we conduct?”
- “Since this is a niche position, I do not have a ready pipeline of candidates. It will take me X days to develop an initial pipeline utilizing all my resources. Do you have any recommendations of people I should speak to or any leads or referrals to get us started?”
If you answered #1 or #2, you are counting on a miracle to save the situation and salvage your credibility. If you answered #3, you are pushing back, but are breaking the cardinal rule of pushback :ó engaging your hiring manager in solving the problem with you. If you answered #4, you are on the right track. Once you have all the data you need, you can make a compelling case, saying, for example: “While you are traveling next week, I will pull together all my resources to build a pipeline of qualified candidates and start the phone interview process. This position will require a lot of networking; these candidates are typically not active. While this will be my top priority, networking is time intensive, but we are both committed to quality and this is a proven way to find quality candidates. “Upon your return, I will schedule the top candidates for phone interviews. This will take us into the third week of the month. Depending on the candidates’ availability, we can target the fourth week of this month and the first week of the following month for interviews. After the interviews and a thorough debriefing, we can extend the offer. While the offer is being negotiated, we will put the finalist through a background check, which may take as long as five days. If all goes well and the candidate accepts, we would expect him or her to give two weeks notice, as a professional courtesy. Does this timeline sound reasonable?” In most cases, this way of working should lead to a reasonable degree of cooperation and satisfaction on both sides by identifying a rational contracted time to fill. Let’s try another. You want to undertake a diversity initiative, but the hiring manager holds the budget. The hiring manager asks why she needs to spend additional money when she has already invested in postings, advertising, job fairs, and competitive intelligence. You reply:
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- “There is a need for more diversity in your organization, and I have to advertise or post on diversity sites.”
- “The best companies in America have diverse workforces. We have to improve our diversity mix and conduct very specific searches to reach a diverse audience.”
- “Before I tell you why I want to lead a separate initiative, let me explain why it is important to have a diverse workforce and specifically how it affects your business. (Explain why.) Now let me explain how your organization looks and where we are underrepresented. (Show her the layout of her current organization against your utilization data.) While our current efforts are building an extensive general pipeline, we are not succeeding in branding our company as a great place to work for minorities. We have no grassroots representation in the places our target audience works and plays. I suggest we go about introducing our company and our positions. Here is what I estimate the cost to be. This is what I estimate the return on our investment to be (could be hires, referrals, or PR).”
If you selected #1 or #2, you are talking “HR speak”. While both may be true, the statements are not backed with any data. While example #3 is very simplistic, it illustrates the importance of building a business case, preparing compelling backup documentation, presenting success metrics, gathering supporting data, and presenting your conclusion before having your plan funded. It disciplines you to talk the language of business :ó in other words, what’s in it for them, how does it contribute to their bottom line, and why is it the right thing to do? (For example, does it reflect their customer base? Does it bring increased knowledge about a customer segment? Does it bring diversity of ideas to product design?) Let’s try one last example. The hiring manager is unsure of the type of person they are looking to hire, but she tells you “I will know them when I see them.” You reply:
- “I might just kill you before the day is out.”
- “Okay, let me see what kind of people we can look at by casting a wide net.”
- “That really does not make any sense. Come to me when you have a clear position profile.”
- “That really is not the best way to spend your time or mine. Let’s schedule some time so that we can look at your business and ascertain exactly what you need to be successful.”
If you chose #1, one of these writers really likes your approach :ó but unfortunately, it is a bad idea. If you choose #2 you are going to waste a lot of your time and only fill the position if you get lucky. Luck is nice, but skill derived from best-of-breed practices is more consistent. If you chose #3, you are leaving the poor little hiring manager all alone to fend for themselves and that is not going to help either. If we were not too cheap to award prizes, we would give you the grand prize for choosing #4 because it is a great way to demonstrate the way a recruiter can establish credibility and true partnership with the hiring manager. Imagine spending an hour or so to help that hiring manager think through all of the things they need in a candidate to get the most mileage out of a given requisition and truly identifying what is required :ó so that now you, too, will “know them when you see them.” This is pushback at its best, and the results will be far better understanding and respect on both sides of the relationship. Pushback is an important concept that will, in the end, give you the type of relationship with hiring managers that really is reflective of a true partnership between professionals. This alone will make business building a more manageable task for all parties involved.