Their Weaknesses, Your Strengths

In order to be effective and efficient as a recruiter, you need to know whom you’re looking for, where to find them, and how to properly qualify them once they are located, and then you must manage the process through to an appropriate hire by your client. However, the success of this entire process depends on the skills of your client in two key areas.

The first and most important skill your client should possess is the skill of knowing how to develop validated job descriptions.

The second, and equally important, is the skill of knowing how to conduct a job-related, behaviorally based evaluation interview.

Clients do not judge recruiters by the number of positions they fill. Rather, they judge them by how well the candidates they place contribute to the performance capacity of their organization.

Therefore, even if you fill the position, if the individual you place does not ultimately justify the investment the client has made in hiring the person, rightly or wrongly, your work will be judged as inadequate.

Unfortunately, this is the bane of the average recruiter. They work on a nonvalidated job description provided by their client, and recruit and submit candidates matching the criteria in the job description, only to have the client evaluate the candidates with a hiring process that focuses on which candidate does the best in the interviews versus which candidate will perform best on the job.

Occasionally, this haphazard methodology will produce an outstanding performer. More frequently it produces mediocrity at best or substandard performance at worst. When this occurs, the client generally places the blame on the recruiter, and indirectly, the client may be right. After all, the recruiter did agree to work with the client under those circumstances.

The key in these situations is to identify as early as possible in the process where the client has their weaknesses and then to compensate for those weaknesses through your strengths.

Generally speaking, the two greatest weaknesses exhibited by most employers when hiring are:

– Using a nonvalidated job description as their primary guide during the selection process.
– Relying on inadequate selection techniques, particularly the spontaneous personal interview.

A good recruiter will recognize the first of these weaknesses when initially taking the search/job order because the client will define the position in general terms, without specific reference to performance measurement, timetables, or quantifiable outcomes. This is when the recruiter must demonstrate his or her strength through directive questioning that focuses on how success will be defined and measured on the job. Further questioning may be necessary to determine the critical functions of the position and how they impact the achievement of the overall performance objectives.

The answers to these questions are necessary prerequisites to defining the job-related selection criteria. Consequently, you must possess the strength to convince your client of the importance of your questions and how the answers will determine what to measure during the evaluation process (see TFL, 11/06 – “Validating the Job Description”).


It is imperative for the client to understand that the selection criteria must be job related and measurable.

For example, if the client requires a candidate with strong leadership skills, you need to ask questions similar to the following:

“How do you define ‘strong leadership skills’ in job-related terms?”

“How will you measure that during the evaluation process?”

Another example is the client who requires a candidate to have a “strong track record” or “be a team player.” These are general terms that need to become specific and objective, but most important, job related.

Through a carefully layered questioning process, you and the client will be able to validate the job description and move on to establishing the hiring process.

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Since you are now in agreement on the job description (what the person will be expected to do on the job) and the job-related selection criteria (what the person has to have in order to successfully do the job), you need to establish how to measure the candidates against the job-related selection criteria.

The standard process followed by the typical client is to require the recruiter to submit résumés on all candidates. The client or their HR counterpart will then screen the résumés and select the ones they deem qualified to bring in for an interview or to be telephone screened (see TFL, 6/03 – “The Telephone Interview – Blind Gamble or Sure Thing”). This is followed by a series of spontaneous interviews, which lack both structure and measurement. A subjective decision is then made based on interviewing chemistry with just enough logic involved to justify it in the mind of the client.

The above scenario may appear to be a bit harsh. Nevertheless, it is a true reflection of what can happen when a client does not know how to conduct a job-related, behaviorally based evaluation interview. If this is their weakness, then you must possess the corresponding strength. This should be a logical extension of the process for validating the job description.

If the client understands the importance of validating the job description and works closely with you in this process, they should be open to learning how to conduct a proper interviewing regimen (see TFL, 8/00 – “Assessment – Utilizing Behaviorally Based Selection Techniques” and TFL, 4/07 – “The Competency-Based Interviewing Questionnaire”).


You and the client should be measuring all candidates against the same job-related selection criteria. When this occurs, your presentation-to-send-out ratio should dramatically improve, as the client will now view your candidates as finalists to be interviewed rather than submittals to be screened.

Of course, your greatest strength must be the ability to locate and recruit qualified finalists from which your client can make their hiring selection. However, if they are weak in the two key areas covered in this article, do not accept the search/job order unless you can compensate for their weaknesses with your strengths.

In those situations where your client already has developed their strengths in working from validated job descriptions as well as conducting job-related, behaviorally based evaluation interviews, you can concentrate your strengths on recruiting and managing the selection process. That is the ideal.

Regardless of the circumstances you encounter, if you can compensate for your client’s weaknesses by applying your strengths, the end result should be a successful hire: a win – win – win situation for everyone concerned.

By continuing to develop your strengths across the entire spectrum of the employee-selection process, you will increase your value as a professional in this business while positioning yourself to build long-term, exclusive relationships with your clients.

As always, if you have questions or comments, just let me know. I welcome your input.

Recipient of the 2006 Harold B. Nelson Award, Terry Petra is one of our industry’s leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, and temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including “PETRA ON CALL,” visit his website at Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or email him at

Recipient of the Harold B. Nelson Award, Terry Petra is one of our industry's leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including PETRA ON CALL, and BUSINESS VALUATION, visit Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or click to email him.


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