Think Five Steps Ahead

If you could be like Superman and spin the world in the opposite direction and go back in time, would you have taken on that recent loser client?

I’ll never forget my worst client. He always seemed to call me with a big fat retainer check every time I needed the money. So I took the search and kept regretting it every step of the way. He was consistently a poor client. He failed to get in touch with the candidates when he should have. He failed to return phone calls in a timely manner. He failed to make offers when the candidates were ready to receive them. And he failed to stay involved in the candidate relationship after the candidate accepted the offer.

When it comes to human behavior and predicting it, consider what I call ‘The Two Cardinal Rules of Human Behavior’. First, remember that people only do what is in their own personal best interests. It’s all about them, not you. Second, remember that people are generally predictable and consistent. If they fail to follow through on one thing, they’ll probably fail to follow through on a second thing.

Use these two premises to your advantage and think five steps ahead when you deal with both candidates and clients. Use their past actions as indicators on how they are going to behave in the future. More than anything, you need to remember this: always observe their actions more than their words. That hot new candidate may say he is really interested in the opportunity. But if you have to ask three times for the resume, consider that a clue to either how he performs or his interest. That client may say they really need to fill the position. But when they don’t return your call for a week to set up the interview, it either means they’ve already filled the position or the need just does not exist.

We are the same person all the time. If someone lies at work, they probably lie at home. If they cheat on tests, they probably cheat on taxes. If they are late to one thing, they are probably late to everything. It’s our normal mortal human nature and part of the story of our existence. Us versus ourselves. We just can’t get away from our own behavior. It’s part of the challenge and the glory of the human experience. Use its predictability to your advantage to quickly size up the situation of who you are dealing with.

Ask yourself these questions the next time you are involved in a search and your instincts tell you that you might be dealing with a problem candidate or client. Use these questions to help hone your instincts so that you can anticipate the future and be ready for it:

1. Have I worked successfully with this person before? If not, then there could be a risk to how well and how quickly they respond and comply with what needs to be done.

2. What are the emotions that I am feeling when dealing with this person? Start learning to trust your instincts by getting in touch with your gut. Learn to observe those people who are risks, and what your gut tells you about them prior to dealing with them. You will develop an ’emotional risk baseline’ that lets you know how to anticipate what’s going to happen based on the feelings in your gut. You will then get a sense to intuitively judge what type of person you are dealing with based on your emotional response to having contact with them.

3. What are the factual indications of this person’s actions that give me concern? Was it a slow response? A missed interview? A lie on a resume? More reliable than your hunches are the facts. You can develop a ‘mental database’ of situations that can be drawn from whenever you encounter a similar circumstance in the future.

4. On a scale of one to ten, how dependable is this person based on their actions?

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5. Is there a ‘disconnect’ between their words and their actions? In other words, do they say they really want to interview with your client but then fail to return your phone call so that you can prep them for the interview? Whenever you encounter a large ‘congruence delta’ in your candidates and clients, then pay careful attention. That’s a sign that something is up. Ask them. Use the question such as ‘Has anything changed since we last talked?’ to find out what gives. Tell them that you are fine with whatever happens and that you only want what is in their best interests, but you just want to know what direction to take the situation.

Bonus tip #1:

Always give people the benefit of the doubt and leave an open door so that they can keep their dignity. For example, if someone forgot to show up for the interview, never assume they blew it off. That happened to me once and I found out that the candidate’s wife went into the hospital that morning. Glad I didn’t leave a caustic voice mail message for him giving him a lesson in personal responsibility.

Bonus tip #2:

If someone does screw up in the process, give them an open door of dignity. If the client forgot to have a colleague show up for the interview with a candidate, do not lecture. Say, “I understand you’re busy, George. How can we keep that from happening again? I’d hate for the candidate to misinterpret your company’s work ethic based on a miscommunication.” But if this same scenario happens again, then you need to address it with ‘tough love’. Whenever you have this type of conversation with a candidate and client, explain to them why it is in their best interests to follow through on their end.

Scott Love increases company profit margins by working as a management consultant, author, and professional speaker with special emphasis in the executive search and staffing industries. He has been quoted in major city newspapers, national trade magazines, international business magazines, and the Wall Street Journal. He has his own weekly business column in the Gannett News Service. His free website for recruiters has over 50 free tips and tools to help you bill more.


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