The Recruiter’s Obligation: Preparing Your Candidate for the Interview

Several months ago, an associate of mine sent a very qualified nurse on an interview to a prestigious medical center in New York City. She had all the qualifications the facility was looking for. She was experienced, well educated, and very dedicated. She was also aggressively looking for a new job because the grant that was funding her current position was coming to an end. During her interview the vice president of medical services asked if she felt like she was an organized person. It seems like a simple question to answer, as it would be expected that anyone interviewing for a new job would want to paint themselves in the best possible light. But her answer was “no.” As I listened to this story, and shook my head in disbelief, I asked my colleague how well he had prepared his candidate for the interview. He looked at me a little strangely and explained to me that except for telling his candidate where to go and whom she would be meeting with, there was little else that he felt was necessary. He couldn’t change the candidate’s personality and would not ask her to lie. Her resume should speak for itself. As I listened to him, I began to think about the amount of time I spent each day preparing my candidates for their interviews and wondered if most recruiters did not do the same. As a recruiter, I believe it is our obligation to thoroughly prepare every person we send on an interview. By not doing so, we are doing an unjust service to our candidates and sending our clients sub-par and unprepared applicants. There are five things that every candidate should know prior to setting foot in an interview:

  1. The importance of enthusiasm
  2. Article Continues Below
  3. How to open the interview
  4. How to sell your strong points and strengthen your weaknesses
  5. How to talk about salary
  6. How to close the interview

This is in no way a guarantee that every person you work with will be offered a job, but if you take the time to prepare every person for their interview, your candidates will come off more confident and capable, your clients will be happier with the caliber of people you are sending to them, and you will close more deals. The Importance of Enthusiasm Have you every followed up with your client after sending someone on an interview only to hear, “She’s very qualified, but she really didn’t seem all that interested in the position.”? A comment like this shows us the importance of perception and first impressions. Showing enthusiasm and energy at an interview is very important. In this day and age when there are fewer job openings than people looking, it is quite common that the most qualified individual will not to be offered a job because they do not covey the enthusiasm, excitement, or sense of urgency that a company is looking for. As a rule, I tell every person I work with to leave an interview conveying strong desire, energy, and enthusiasm to work for that company. They should leave having the interviewer think they want this job. Even if they’re not interested in this position, I stress the importance of conveying this enthusiasm and energy. One can never see the future. Will they ever meet their interviewer again? Will a more exciting position open up with the company soon? It is important to remember that a negative or apathetic attitude has a way of sticking in people minds…and so does a positive one. Starting the Interview: Doing Your Research and Asking the Opening Question Preparing your candidate for their interview should never end with directions to the office and the name of the person they will be meeting. Of course this information is important and needs to be provided, but it is nowhere near to all the information they will need to sell themselves. Prior to the interview, send your applicant a link to the company’s website, and if possible, any recent newspaper articles. By doing this, two things will be accomplished. First, it will provide the applicant the tools to learn as much information about the company as possible. Second, it will allow the applicant to ask this important opening question: “Thank you very much for meeting with me today. I am somewhat familiar with Company X and your great reputation. I’ve had a chance to look at your website and have read about your latest achievements (be specific) in the Wall Street Journal. Can you tell me a little more about the company, and the skills that you are looking for in someone to do the job that I am interviewing for?” By asking this question, in this exact way, your candidate has impressed the interviewer by taking the time to learn about the company. They will be given additional information about the company from their interviewer, and they will get all the information about the job they are applying for to sell themselves. This question will make it much easier for an applicant to discuss the strengths and skills that are best suited for this position. It is a very effective way to begin the interview. Selling Your Strengths and Strengthening Your Weaknesses No matter how qualified or confident a person is, an interview is a stressful situation. It’s filled with questions that can catch a candidate off guard or trick her into providing information that she did not wish to divulge. An interview also has a way of leaving people with a case of temporary amnesia. It is not uncommon for a person to walk out of an interview only to remember a very important strength that they can bring to the company or an exciting accomplishment that they are particularly proud of. Unfortunately, the only person they can tell this to now is the person standing next to them in the elevator or the parking garage attendant. There is a very simple trick to help alleviate this problem: WRITE IT DOWN. When I meet with my candidates prior to sending them on any interview, I make certain that we discuss their strengths. It helps me prepare them for any interview they go on in the future, and it also helps me market them to my clients. As you prepare a candidate for an interview, have them think of their ten best strengths. Remind them of the strengths the two of you discussed at your first meeting. Next, have them write each strength down on a piece of paper and to come up with examples of why this is a strength and how it can benefit their new company. As simple as it sounds, the reason we have them write each strength down is so they don’t forget them. With the added stress of the interview, it is very simple to forget something important that you wish to convey. By writing down these ten strengths, even if they can only remember seven during their interview, think about how ahead of the game they will be and how much stronger they will look when being compared to another person applying for the same job who has difficulty coming up with only two. In addition to writing down ten strengths, have your candidate write down five things they have done in their career to date of which they are particularly proud. As a medical recruiter, I often work with staff nurses who tell me that they haven’t done anything in their career yet that they consider to be a true accomplishment. I usually smile and explain that these accomplishments don’t have to be very big. Their accomplishments can be anything that helps them get through a bad day. It can be something that gives them reason and meaning for doing their job. I often explain to them that an accomplishment is something that gives them pride. It can be as large as saving a child’s life or as simple as conducting a presentation that went very well. All that your candidate needs to do is verbalize why it was important to them. By helping your candidates verbalize their strengths and accomplishments, they will come off as strong, qualified, and capable individuals. Even in this day and age, an interviewer might ask your candidate about their biggest weakness. In truth, it is a very simple question to answer, but tends to get people very tongue-tied and flustered. In my experience, I have found that this question is usually used as a stress test. It is designed to see how someone reacts under pressure. The best way for an applicant to answer this question is by making one of their strengths sound like a weakness. Sounds complicated ó but I promise you it’s not: “I think my greatest weakness is that I’m very dedicated to doing my job well, and usually lose track of time until I have finished what I have started.” It’s a simple answer to a difficult question, and although this might seem like a weakness to someone’s spouse, all this tells the interviewer is that your candidate is a very hard worker and doesn’t mind putting in long hours if needed. By answering this question in a calm manner, your candidate has shown that they can react well under pressure, and the interview can move onto something more important. Don’t forget, your candidate has also provided another reason to be hired! Speaking of Salary…Don’t! There’s no doubt that as an interview progresses, the question of salary is going to be on the applicant’s mind. When preparing candidates for their interview, I stress the importance of not talking about money. As a recruiter, it is my responsibility to match the correct job with the correct person. Salary is one of the many things I must take into account. If an applicant is looking for $70,000, I am not going to send them on an interview for a job paying $50k. Every person I work with enters their interview knowing that they are applying for a job that can satisfy their salary requirements. Prior to the interview, a candidate will usually fill out an employment application. Current salary and desired salary are often questions on the form. It is important that an applicant be honest about their current salary. In the desired salary box they should write the words open or negotiable. During the interview, when the question of salary arises, I tell my candidates to answer the question in the following manner: “I’m very interested in this opportunity, and at this time, my salary requirements are open and negotiable.” Putting a price tag on yourself can be potentially fatal. It can lead to two serious problems. First, asking for too much money can stop an interview in its tracks. The interviewer might not realize that there is flexibility in that number and negotiation is always an option. Second, by asking for less money than what would be generally offered, a candidate has put a price tag on themselves and negotiating for more money in the future becomes very difficult. By answering the salary question in the above manner, a candidate has left room for negotiation, and a better chance at being invited back for a second interview. Ending the Interview: The Final Question After about an hour, the interview is finally coming to an end. So what’s the next step? Will your candidate be asked back for a second interview? Do they possess the skills that your client is looking for? If we have screened our candidate properly, their skill level will be acceptable to our clients. We know that they can do the job that they are interviewing for. But how do we know that they haven’t left something out? They have one final chance to sell themselves. They have one final question that they need to ask: “Mr. Smith, I want to thank you for taking time to meet with me today. I want you to know that I am very interested and excited about this opportunity. In your opinion, do my skills meet the requirements that you are looking for?” This is a very important question, because it allows your applicants to know exactly where they stand at the end of the interview. They want to hear the interviewer say yes. If the interviewer says yes, then the candidate should ask what the next step will be. If the answer is no, chances are your candidate has left something out and they need to go back and clarify any discrepancies. This is their last chance for them to sell their skills and show that they are capable to excel at this job. As a recruiter, I strongly believe it is our responsibility to prepare every candidate for their interview. Preparation can never end with just an address and the name the person they will be meeting. By remembering these five simple steps to a successful interview, and taking the time to go over them with your candidates, they will come off stronger than their competition. Doing anything less than this should be considered unjust service to your candidates, your clients, and your company.

Joshua Albucker (josh@tuttleagency.com) is an executive recruiter at The Tuttle Agency in New York City. He specializes in placing healthcare professionals on a permanent, full-time basis. Prior to beginning his career as an executive recruiter, Joshua spent several years working in the healthcare industry. He has a strong understanding of today?s medical needs. The Tuttle Agency harbors a core assemblage of highly talented and dedicated staffing consultants who have united to found a preeminent placement firm, specializing in all categories of personnel.

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4 Comments on “The Recruiter’s Obligation: Preparing Your Candidate for the Interview

  1. Hi Joshua,

    A great article, thanks for sharing. In my opinion, another example of a recruiter that ‘gets it’.

    As far as the importance of candidate preparation, you don’t have to tell me, you are preaching to the converted. However, I have met some recruiters who don’t prep their candidates because they believe that by not prepping they are they are doing their clients a favor with a candidate who will give more natural responses. As a professional recruiter, what would you say to these recruiters?

    Cheers,
    Michael

  2. Would you say that this same approach is applicable for in-house recruiters. Should in-house recruiters prep their candidates for the interview with the hiring managers. And, if so, to what degree?

    Thanks

  3. When I was onsite for Bank of America, I always prepped my candidates. I made sure that they had as much information as possible about the role and the different people they were going to meet with. If I felt a candidate was a strong candidate, I wanted to make sure that they were prepared to present themselves well. Sometimes that was as simple as sharing information about the job and what the managers were seeking. Other times it was offering suggestions for how they could improve their interviewing skills…for example telling them to be more focused in their responses rather than going off on tangents. Sometimes, especially if people hadn’t interviewed in years, their skills were rusty and they always appreciated any tips. Just because a candidate might be phenomenal for the job, doesn’t mean they interview well. Interviewing is a sales function and tooting ones own horn doesn’t come naturally to many people.

    Coaching someone on what to say specifically though, crosses the line. My goal when I prep a candidate is just to have them be more informed overall and more confident about their ability to communicate information about their backgrounds in the interview.

    Pam

  4. Having been in this industry for over twenty years with a level of success few get to enjoy … I believe ‘prepping’ is to some degree an obligation if for nothing else than avoiding prematurely ejected candidates for reasons having little to do with their skills or qualifications.

    AS for whether internal recruiters ought to bear resonsibility is largely up to corporate culture and expectations. I know of one New York City based insurance company where the corporate recruiters regularly will ‘clue in’ candidates … particularly if they think highly of them … prior to meeting with Sr. Vp’s up on the corporate executive floors.

    Others, feel it is ‘not their job’ yet the managers are left bearing the brunt of this passiveness (We had two fail background checks during December out of 9 hires for reasons that were easily avoidable had we known up front).

    The managers wind up bearing the brunt of loosing candidates to such ‘frivolousness’ as HR could not care two hoots if they have to redo the search ten more times or not. Managers, on the other hand, must sacrifice signficantly to endure prolonged searches.

    I’m not a proponent of ‘lying’ or any misrepresentation and to the contrary those that know us know we place a high emphasis on integrity that exceed most other recruiting firms.

    But at the same time, see it as my obligation so as to not waste my valuable time, to ‘clue in’ candidates to simple issues that might make things proceed smoothly if indeed the candidate is deserving in the first place.

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