The ABC’s Of Interviewing To Find Candidates Who Will Earn You Five-Figure Fees

One of my most popular works is The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book. This is because it’s based on the premise that interviewing is nothing more than a screen test. An act. If a candidate knows his lines, perfects his delivery and looks the part, he’ll get hired. If he doesn’t, he won’t.

I wrote the Q&A book as a primer for jobseekers. Its bestseller status for over a decade speaks for itself. The reason for its success is that hiring authorities ask predictable “closed-end” questions that imply the answers. Therefore, the answers can be rehearsed in advance — rigged — to maximize the “actor factor.”

Fortunately for jobseekers, interviewers don’t follow John Drake’s warning in Effective Interviewing: A Guide for Managers:

The extensive use of questions makes it easy for the applicant to look good. In effect, when interviewers rely on questions, the interview becomes a series of discrete thought units . . . [F]or each question, the applicant has the opportunity to select a reaction, sift through alternative answers, and pick the one that will put him or her in the best possible light.

Your job is different than an interviewer’s, though. You’re not paid a five-figure fee to senASK Jeffd the best actor. You’re paid to find the most qualified person to do a specific job. The more senior the job, the higher the fee, and the less likely canned questions will work to qualify the candidate.

As founder of the highly respected search firm Drake, Beam & Associates, John offers exceptionally good advice on how to evaluate a candidate. I’ve combined it with William Swan’s comments in Swan’s How to Pick the Right People Program and my own observations, to bring you the ABC’s of five-figure fees.

letter AAccept the Candidate

Since recruiting is a highly selective business, most contacts don’t fit the job order. This causes recruiters to search constantly for ideal candidates. It also causes them to become disillusioned when the “perfect” candidate is rejected before the interview.

The reason is that job specs are only a start, not an end. A JO isn’t a checklist, it’s a wish list. There isn’t a job order on your desk that can’t be changed for the “right” candidate. In fact, they usually are. If you doubt it, just compare any JO with the resume of the candidate hired. Any resemblance is strictly coincidental.

Acceptance of the candidate encourages him to talk (and you to listen). Swan says the proper atmosphere consists of:

  • The greeting
  • Small talk
  • Maintaining rapport.

He emphasizes the greeting as the most important way to creating a conducive atmosphere. In particular, he discusses that difficult question of whether to call the candidate by his first or last name:

[I]f the candidate is significantly older than you, or they seem rather formal, it might be better to err in the direction of addressing them by their last name. After all, you don’t want to create tension, you want to reduce it. Calling them by name is the important thing.

It may be that one particular Matthew prefers to be called Matt, and another one hates it. Some Richards like to be called Dick and some don’t. There are Patricias who do, and other who do not like the nickname Pat . . . Go ahead and ask.

Then, you reinforce a conducive atmosphere by such comments as: “I see,” “Go on,” and “That sounds logical enough.”

Anything that conveys “I’m interested in what you’re saying and would like to hear more” will usually work. Then, you should pause for the response. Silence is much more effective to motivate another’s mouth in an accepting atmosphere. You can even do it on a cold call. Don’t initially discuss the job specs, but do ask the candidate if he can talk freely. If so, say something like, “I’d like to know about your experience in circuit design.”

You may hear some extraneous comments, but don’t talk for 30 seconds or so. As Drake noted:

[G]ood interviewing, like good listening, is typically slow-paced. There is no need . . . to worry about a probing question to ask next or responding in a witty or highly intelligent manner . . . Pauses of short duration are not going to create problems and may, indeed, help [you to] learn many meaningful things that might otherwise have been unspoken.

There’s nothing wrong with using questions to maximize silence if they’re “open ended” (like “What kind of job are you looking for to make a move?”) and you’re prepared to listen to the candidate’s response. He should express his thoughts, not yours (or your client’s). Once the candidate has responded, pause about 30 seconds again. Since he created the silence this time, he’ll be likely to reveal more.

If the candidate can talk, pause to listen and learn.

letter BBracket the Response

Verbal bracketing is nothing more than summarizing a candidate’s words in a concise way. Exact summary is restatement. Here’s how it works:

Recruiter: We’d like to find someone who’s willing to relocate for an exceptional opportunity.

Candidate: It would have to be really exceptional — my kids are just starting high school, and we like this community.

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Recruiter: Nobody in your situation would relocate just to be somewhere else, but you’d consider moving for the right position?

As you can see, restatement not only gives feedback to the candidate but can turn a tentative “No” into a definite “Maybe.” Semantics are almost everything in the recruiter’s world of words.

Sometimes the response needs “adjustment” before it’s bracketed. The restatement becomes misstatement. Using our example, the above dialogue would end:

Recruiter: You’d relocate if it was a good community with good schools, and you could really improve your lifestyle.

Then pause. If the candidate doesn’t object, you may just be restating after all! It can dramatically increase her career options.

Bracketing also helps you to listen. As Swan pointed out:

[Y]ou cannot summarize back to candidates what they said to you unless you are paying attention. If you train yourself to comment on what people say, it forces you to listen. This is more important as a discipline for you then for its effect on the candidate, but the effect can be very positive.

letter cCommunicate Confidentiality

More candidate cold calls misfire through the distrust of recruiters than anything else. You won’t hear anything negative unless the candidate is openly hostile, and since you take secrecy for granted you probably won’t mention it. But you must. It’s your responsibility.

How about:

  1. “Everything we discuss will be held in the strictest confidence.”
  2. “We maintain inviolate secrecy to protect our candidate’s job security.”
  3. “Although we are paid by employers, we will not disclose anything about your identity or background without your consent.”

Once confidentiality is established, candid conversation follows. Only then can you find out what you really need to know. As Drake observed:

Many books about interviewing point out that the interviewer needs to guard against judgments that are distorted by biases and prejudices. Such caution is well taken, but at the same time, no magic switch exists that the interviewer can turn on to automatically permit him or her to become objective.

The best way to open a reluctant recruit’s personality is with asking about his reaction to situations that resemble those with your client. If you don’t know any, ask the hiring authority about the personalities of supervisors, coworkers, lateral and top management. Then construct a few short hypothetical situations starting with “How would you handle ________________________?” or “open ending” with “What would you do to resolve it?”

Using these ABC’s, the XYZ’s will follow — five-figure fees!

More than thirty-five years ago, Jeffrey G. Allen, J.D., C.P.C. turned a decade of recruiting and human resources management into the legal specialty of placement law. Since 1975, Jeff has collected more placement fees, litigated more trade secrets cases, and assisted more placement practitioners than anyone else. From individuals to multinational corporations in every phase of staffing, his name is synonymous with competent legal representation. Jeff holds four certifications in placement and is the author of 24 popular books in the career field, including bestsellers How to Turn an Interview into a Job, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book and the revolutionary Instant Interviews. As the world?s leading placement lawyer, Jeff?s experience includes: Thirty-five years of law practice specializing in representation of staffing businesses and practitioners; Author of ?The Allen Law?--the only placement information trade secrets law in the United States; Expert witness on employment and placement matters; Recruiter and staffing service office manager; Human resources manager for major employers; Certified Personnel Consultant, Certified Placement Counselor, Certified Employment Specialist and Certified Search Specialist designations; Cofounder of the national Certified Search Specialist program; Special Advisor to the American Employment Association; General Counsel to the California Association of Personnel Consultants (honorary lifetime membership conferred); Founder and Director of the National Placement Law Center; Recipient of the Staffing Industry Lifetime Achievement Award; Advisor to national, regional and state trade associations on legal, ethics and legislative matters; Author of The Placement Strategy Handbook, Placement Management, The National Placement Law Center Fee Collection Guide and The Best of Jeff Allen, published by Search Research Institute exclusively for the staffing industry; and Producer of the EMPLAW Audio Series on employment law matters. Email him at


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