The Search for the Perfect Candidate, Part 3

In recent articles, I’ve made the case that the search for the perfect candidate was unlikely to be successful ó unless some big changes were made:

  • Redefine perfection (the focus of Part 1). If you want to hire perfect people, first define perfect performance. Then find people who are highly motivated to do this type of work. A performance profile captures this information. It’s a prioritized list of the performance objectives and critical challenges that the person is expected to achieve over the first year. In a recent conversation with the recruiting team at a large brokerage, it was quickly apparent that the best people they hired all met a common profile. They all had somewhat less experience than described on the job description or worked in less prestigious organizations. The worst performers had essentially the correct amount of experience and worked at equally prestigious competitors. On the job, these more experienced people felt the new job didn’t offer the stretch nor growth promised. This is a pretty common story. If you can’t find enough top people, or if the people you do hire are uninspired, look for people who have 70-90% of the skills listed on the job description, and who have achieved accomplishments comparable (not identical) to those listed in the performance profile.
  • Redesign sourcing to attract top performers (the focus of Part 2). The best people don’t look for work the same way typical or average candidates look for work. Since they already have good jobs or multiple opportunities, they are more discriminating. Overall, they value the quality of the job, the hiring manager, the team and the company’s prospects more highly then the compensation package. So if managers aren’t personally involved and committed to hiring the best, it’s unlikely too many will be hired, even if they are found.
  • Use multiple sourcing channels. At one level, this requires highly visible advertising that includes compelling career messages. Networking and referral programs must be expanded to identify top performers in the field. When combined with drip marketing programs (advanced CRM) and strong recruiters, the candidate pool of perfect candidates will begin to increase.
  • Use a consultative interviewing process rather than an inquisitorial one (the focus of this article). A top person is defined as all diverse candidates, all passive candidates, semi-active candidates, and any top performer in any field where the supply is less than the demand.

When interviewing someone like this, the interview must be much more than just an assessment tool. There are a number of clear steps involved:

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  1. Demonstrate respect, allow exploration. Consider the first part of the interview as the exploratory phase. Assume the that person you’re interviewing is a top performer who wants more information before committing. So low-key the earlier part of the interview process. Find out what’s prompting the person to even consider looking, and discover what the core requirements of a new job might involve. Conduct a work history review during this stage. Get the highlights, including major accomplishments and any recognition received including promotions, raises or special awards. Do not conclude anything if the candidate is a bit nervous or apparently disinterested. Treat it as a normal reaction of a top person who is just checking things out. A good work history review reveals a lot of information, and it’s a great way to warm up the candidate. The best people would prefer to talk about themselves before hearing too much about the job. If you do feel it necessary to describe the job opening early in the process, cut this intro down to a two-minute highlight reel. Then ask the candidate to give you a short overview of their background and how it relates to your needs. Under no circumstances go into sales mode. Interviewers who overtalk and underlisten are quickly tuned out. Respect comes from asking meaningful questions and listening, not by talking.
  2. Assess competency and motivation. In the middle part of the interview, ask the candidate to describe some of his or her major accomplishments. Spend at least ten minutes each on the most significant two or three of these. Evaluate performance over time to see if the trend is up, down or sideways. The candidate’s behaviors, skills, competencies and interest will quickly be revealed using this type of performance-based interviewing approach. The candidate’s interest level should also start to increase at this point. Look for clues like longer responses and more animation.
  3. Create an opportunity gap. The opportunity gap represents the difference in the short term job stretch and long term growth opportunities between your opportunity and all others. You can’t tell a top person how great the new job is: They must learn this for themselves. There are two basic ways to do this. One way is to introduce your “Tell me about a major accomplishment” question with a two-minute overview of an exciting project related to the job. Then ask the candidate to describe something he or she has done that’s most comparable. Spend at least 10 minutes on this, finding out the candidate’s real role and true impact. Another way to create job stretch is challenge the candidate by describing another aspect of the job that would clearly be a stretch for the candidate (bigger budget, bigger team, more complex task, etc.). Have the person then describe another comparable accomplishment. Top people want to describe their accomplishments. They’ll begin to sell you when the challenges and opportunities represent significant job stretch, so watch for this. Not only does this demonstrate their interest — it’s also how they learn on their own why the job is a good fit.
  4. At the end of the interview, create supply and demand and determine interest. At the end of the interview say something like, “While we’re seeing a few other very strong candidates, I’m very impressed with your background. What are your thoughts now about this job?” You create more excitement about the job when you create competition. You make the candidate think about why she wants the job when you leave it positive, rather then why she’s not going to get it.
  5. Use the “30% plus” solution to recruit, negotiate, and close. As a rule of thumb, assume that all top performers need an increase of 30% to move to another job or to accept one job over another. This 30% consists of three factors: job stretch, job growth and the compensation increase. If you can create an opportunity gap (the combination of job stretch and job growth) of 20-25%, the compensation increase only needs to be 5-10%. Use this concept at the end of the interview and in subsequent conversations as you compare your opportunity with others which the candidate might be considering. The “plus” refers to the degree of hiring manager involvement in the process. While recruiters can do much of the “this job-that job” positioning, the hiring manager’s total commitment is required to hire a top performer. This includes a professional interviewing process with high standards as described above, a number of follow-up calls and meetings, expressing sincere interest, and taking the lead on negotiating and presenting the offer. Make the offer an event, not just a phone call, and never just a letter. A big event is needed to overcome the stress associated when your top performer resigns. This is where the 30% plus comes into play. A clear vision of where the person is going, what he or she will be doing, and a strong rapport with the new manager is the best way to overcome the jitters and pressure associated with counter-offers and the prospect of leaving a good job, a good boss and team of close friends.

While there is a definite sequence involved in this type of consultative interview process, many of the steps overlap. The key is to monitor the candidate’s interest level throughout the interview. Start by assuming the candidate is just exploring the opportunity. A professional interview and a true understanding of job needs allows the candidate to become interested. As you ask questions, you can described compelling opportunities that peak the person’s interest further. Pushing the candidate away a little bit creates even more interest.

By the end of the interview, the candidate should clearly see that the job offers significant job stretch and long term growth opportunity. Leave it on a positive note. Your goal is to ensure that the candidate understands the merits of the job and will be able to tell his or her family, friends and advisors why this job is worthy of further consideration. When interviewing top performers, recognize that the interview is a two-way street used to share information. If you use the interview to just assess competency, don’t be too surprised if the top performers you find aren’t too interested in your job opening.

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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1 Comment on “The Search for the Perfect Candidate, Part 3

  1. Lou,

    Thank you for another great article. I agree with everything stated in it.

    Let me share the approach to candidates that works for me here in Moscow.
    I try to be open and sometimes (when mutually comfortable) even informal with candidates. I try to make friends with them.

    First words on the telephone I must demonstrate that I?m a professional speaking to a very qualified professional, and that I respect the time of both of us.

    Then, at a detailed interview I try to start with an icebreaker. When I ask questions I sometimes ?confess? to the candidate that I don?t have any deep knowledge in the field of his profession that could be comparable to his knowledge. This helps to ?open? the candidate, proves him that I respect what he says.
    When talking about the vacancy, I tell about the pros and cons of it to this specific person. This helps the candidate see me as an advisor rather them a salesmen.
    I try to develop the conversation so that a candidate sees the message: we are here to help each other.

    This is a short description of how I put into practice USING A CONSULTATIVE, RATHER THAN INQUISITORIAL, INTERVIEWING PROCESS.

    I would really appreciate any comments and advices on the stated above.

    Thank you
    Allen

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