The How and Why of Pushback, Part 1

Great recruiters utilize a number of skills and competencies to establish themselves as talent acquisition experts and trusted advisors to their hiring managers. One such competency is the fine art and carefully honed skill of “pushback.” Done in a thoughtful, firm and respectful manner, pushback can make a very significant impact on how you as a professional are perceived, how effectively you run your business, and ultimately how successful talent acquisition is within your organization. Even before the sourcing begins, hiring managers very often ask recruiters to do the impossible: to source candidates who are needles in a haystack, to offer compensation levels that are unrealistic, or to expect to have candidates lined up to be interviewed before the ink on the requisition is even dry. We would really love to help them of course ó but we are in the business of talent acquisition, not magic. This predicament is one that most recruiters live with on an almost daily basis. How many of the following eight examples are indicative of how you are running your recruiting organization?

    1. I find out about openings after positions have been vacated. (“Oh, I didn’t know Sandy left. You needed this position filled when?” or “The agency called about their invoice. Who got hired, when, and in what position?”)

  1. I’m unable to get feedback on candidates or interviews, even when I chase down managers who are supposed to be partnering with me, or else I get vague feedback: “weak,” “not a good fit,” etc.
  2. I do extra or unrelated tasks for the hiring manager just to feel valued, when what I really should be doing is driving the process, providing world-class recruiting advice, and striving to hire only the best talent that is available. (“Yes, I’ll call your candidate and apologize for you not showing up for your interview, again,” or, “Sure, I’ll print out all 70 resumes in the pipeline for you to review.”)
  3. I am excluded from planning sessions, kept out of critical discussions on workforce planning, and the last to know about everything that affects my function within the organization. (“Oh, another reorg? And I need to do what? In two weeks?”)
  4. My manager uses me just to post positions or run ads on behalf of the hiring group. In other words, I’m doing transactional busywork, acting as an administrator, or being a “yes” person to a manager who, quite frankly, is in the dark on how recruiting should be done.
  5. I forward all resumes as opposed to carefully selecting candidates I think the manager should see and presenting only the best to save their time and demonstrate my ability to raise the bar.
  6. I track useless metrics and report on things my hiring managers don’t care about or shouldn’t care about, such as average cost-per-hire (or your efforts to drive cost-per-hire down to virtually zero) or average number of days to fill (without taking position titles, levels, geographic differentials, hiring manager engagement, etc., into consideration).
  7. I present a more timid personal impression to my candidate and likely a timid impression of the company that doesn’t enhance my company’s brand as an employer of choice. (To the candidate: “I just can’t get hold of my hiring manager!”)

If this sounds familiar ó be afraid; be very afraid. In fact, if you think you are running your business, you are sadly mistaken ó your business is running you, and the power of pushback is just what you need to get things back on track. The Power of Pushback Done appropriately, pushback can elevate you from sitting on the bench to playing on the field, from being an order taker to becoming an advisor whose input and views are solicited before anything takes place involving talent acquisition. If this sounds like the type of respect you feel is deserved based on your talent, experience, and ability to get the job done, pushback is one of the most effective methodologies we have to move you out of that helpless feeling and into a place where you can add real value to those on the line. Here’s why:

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  • Pushback builds trust and respect. If you simply do what you are told, the value you add is diminished.
  • Pushback allows you to establish the rules of engagement and act as a peer who can engage in intelligent discussions on the reality of talent acquisition.
  • Pushback sets clear roles, responsibilities, and timelines for successful partnerships. Once established, it will lead to a far more effective working relationship.
  • Pushback enables an honest exchange of ideas and open dialogue in areas of disagreement, which ultimately translates into doing the right thing for the hiring manager, the candidate, and the company. (If you don’t use pushback to do what you think is right, you’re relegated to being a recruiter doing business as opposed to a businessperson that does recruiting.)
  • Pushback demands accountability from your hiring manager and yourself as it relates to the quality of the process, the interview experience, and the candidate experience. Without this accountability, there is little chance that the processes you have in place will ever go from good to better to best. Pushback educates and informs your hiring manager as to the candidates, the market, the desirability of the position, sourcing strategy, obstacles, compensation levels, capture strategies, intelligent offers and teamwork required to close the deal.
  • Pushback sets expectations around reporting on meaningful metrics and measures of success for the search. Different organizations look at different metrics, but once established, realistic expectations can replace irrational ones and subsequent searches can be evaluated for quality based upon best practices and organizational experience.
  • Pushback provides you with the opportunity to demonstrate your value not only in hiring, but in competitive or market intelligence as well, which is usually valuable knowledge for the business units to have in gaining a competitive edge. If this is not part of the information you are providing, you need to consider just how much more credibility this type of activity will bring to your team.

Now comes the hard part. If you have not been in the pushback mode, how do you do it with out being defenestrated? (Great new word, yes?) Or put another way, how do you establish pushback so that it is seen as a positive experience that will enhance processes and improve results? Here are some tips to start with that will even work even in organizations that do not encourage this type of behavior:

  • Do not select your most difficult hiring manager to practice on and be sure you prepare for the conversation in advance. For example, if you are pushing back on the way candidates are being treated in interviews, make a list of what the behaviors are and why they are detrimental. Be sure to appeal to what is important to the hiring manager, such as a bad interviewing experience translating into a lost customer who spreads the word.
  • Never confuse pushback with rudeness, disrespect, or antagonism. Always approach the topic in a respectful manner and be prepared to lay out a well-considered case while being open to new ideas. Remember that roles in HR are usually advisory and influential in nature ó our clients (if we have built the trust and credibility) may choose to follow our advice or not. It all boils down to whether they see us as resume jockeys or trusted advisors.
  • Pick your battles. Decide what is most important to change, and focus on one or two topics at a time. While some hiring managers welcome feedback and change, many struggle with it. Bringing a laundry list of complaints to the table may put your hiring managers on the defensive. Don’t be afraid of a healthy dialogue. At times it might resemble an argument, and that’s okay as long as the conversation is productive and the end result is positive for both parties.
  • Do not put on a long face if you are overruled. You cannot and will not win them all. Besides, you’ll have the chance to pushback again at some time in the future. Perhaps under different circumstances, your ideas will be considered in a more serious light. (If you expect to change the whole company in a week you are in for the longest week of your life.) Do not allow yourself to become discouraged. Understand in your role as a recruiter, you are expected to make talent acquisition as effective and world class as the organization’s infrastructure will allow.

In summary, spend some time reflecting on how you run your business today. Identify what may be keeping you from being as successful as you should be. Think about pushback as a tool to open lines of discussion and unplug the bottleneck. Plan your communication strategy, come to the table armed with research, advice based upon experience and case studies, and be prepared for some healthy pushback on your pushback. Bottom line: Stop whining and start pushing back! You will be a better recruiter and more effective at supporting organizational objectives as you build a better company. Note: Part 2 of this article series will be written around real-life situations from people who can suggest ways to pushback that are effective. If you have an idea or experience as to how pushback has worked for you, please email them to either of us. We would love to include your ideas.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at

Danielle Monaghan is a staffing director with Microsoft Corporation, where she and her team are responsible for identifying and hiring top technical, sales, and marketing talent into the Information Worker and Business Solutions Divisions. She was formerly the senior talent acquisition manager for national sales and the executive talent acquisition team at T-Mobile USA. Prior to joining T-Mobile, Danielle spent seven years in various talent acquisition roles at Microsoft. Danielle has extensive experience and expertise in sourcing, recruitment metrics, account management, workforce planning, employment branding, assessment strategies and organizational development.


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