What Has Changed Since Last We Spoke?

I am sure that you have been there. You have a candidate you’ve been working with for a few weeks and you have built a solid relationship.

The candidate has been on a couple interviews with the hiring manager. Things are going well as the candidate and the client are each delighted with the thought of going forward.

There is the distinct aroma of an offer in the air, great things are going to happen, and you are one happy recruiter.

Now comes the bad part (honestly, you knew this was coming, so follow the unhappy bullets):

  • You get into the office one morning, call the candidate, and leave a message. Three hours go by and no returned call. This is interesting. You normally get a return call within about an hour or so.
  • You send an email; no response. The candidate is Blackberry-enabled and emails are normally returned almost instantly; very strange.
  • The day is over and you make a call to the candidate’s home, but the spouse says the candidate is out and will not be back until late tonight.
  • The morning has arrived and you are thinking about the candidate as you drive to work. Something is not right; you know it because you have been doing this for too long to not feel it. You try to deny the feeling but another call to the candidate is not returned until later that night. You are no longer the happy recruiter, as the candidate starts the conversation with my least favorite words; “You know, I’ve been thinking?”

The bottom line relating to this bit of misery is that somewhere along the merry road of the hiring process something changed in the candidate’s life and you did not know about it. It could have been personal, professional, or anything in between, but to quote the title of Joseph Heller’s great second novel, “something happened.”

Unfortunately, whatever happened acted as a catalyst to alter the value proposition you were counting on to close the deal. As a result, the candidate’s interest is greatly diminished.

To make matters worse, not only do you not know what has changed, you are still not even aware that something has changed in the first place. As a result, you have been blind-sided and now you scramble to save the deal. Perhaps you will and perhaps you won’t, but either way, this is not a fun way to start the day. Let’s see how we can do better in the future.

What Has Changed in Your Life?

Good recruiters ask a ton of questions during the initial interview, and this is of course a basic necessity if you wish to be successful. (See 10 Things Recruiters Should Know About Every Candidate They Interview.) On the other hand, many recruiters fail to recognize that the world changes day to day and changing circumstances can impact the candidate’s life during the hiring process.

The objective is to not just get to know that candidate from a static-interview perspective as the process starts, but to carry on the dialogue as the interviewing process continues to its endpoint because ignorance is not bliss, and what you don’t know can certainly hurt you.

As a result of this insight regarding the nature of changing circumstances, it is imperative to ask the candidate, often and with great consistency, the following question:

What has changed in your life since last we spoke?

Life is not the notes we take during an interview. It is an ever-changing series of events that transform and shift candidate needs, priorities, and requirements on a regular basis. If we do not know what is going on in the candidate’s life that can affect the deal (agency-speak) or hire (corporate-speak), we will not have the information necessary to maximize the possibility of closure.

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Maximizing the possibility of closure is one of the things that separate great recruiters from those who are mediocre. (By the way, do not even think that the candidate will simply volunteer what has changed without you asking the question, because that is high-risk. Why gamble if you can just ask?)

Here are just five things that have changed with candidates I have worked with, causing me to either lose the deal or go half-crazy trying to close it:

  1. The candidate’s spouse was laid off. The candidate can’t change jobs, as stability is key right now.
  2. The candidate has been given the project of a lifetime. It makes no sense to change jobs now, as that was the main reason he was looking in the first place.
  3. The candidate was given a raise and a promotion. There’s no sense changing jobs at the moment, maybe next year.
  4. The candidate’s boss, whom he hated, was transferred. Life is good, so why change jobs?
  5. The candidate stopped into a Saab dealership and fell in love with a 900s convertible; now the long commute is fun. (Who could make this up?)

As you can see, the number of things that can change in a candidate’s life are infinite, and if you do not know what they are to the best of your ability, you will not be armed with the information you need to develop a new game plan and a new capture strategy.

Strangely enough, asking the question, “What has changed in your life since last we spoke?” is not the invitation to bad news that it can seem to be on the surface. It is not looking for trouble. It is a way of checking the solidity of your deal by trying to see if any new information or circumstances have arisen.

Asking this question can help to close more deals because even if the news appears to be bad, at least you now know what you are up against. As a result, you can go to your client or hiring manager and tell them of the change and work together to develop a new and creative plan to land the candidate.

Let’s look at four examples:

  1. The candidate’s wife was laid off? Perhaps there is a position at the client’s company.
  2. The candidate has a new and exciting project? Perhaps you can give them an even better one.
  3. The candidate was given a raise and a promotion? Let’s look at compensation structure and titles to see what can be worked out to create a situation that is better than the one the candidate currently has.
  4. The candidate bought a new car and now loves to drive endlessly? (You tell me; I lost this one. But you get the picture.)

Will this work all of the time? Of course not. Will the candidate level with you every time you ask that question? Of course not, but it will never work if you do not know what possible changes you are up against since the initial interview.

I can almost guarantee you that if you employ this question on a regular basis with every candidate who is moving toward an offer, you will close more deals. Closing more deals is what great recruiters focus on doing.

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 twitter.com/howardadamsky if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at H.adamsky@comcast.net


4 Comments on “What Has Changed Since Last We Spoke?

  1. Howard, your article is right on. And I think we can win more often than the candidate loses the opportunity for us. Your recommended slate of options will help. ‘But not yet!’ (for all you ‘Gladiator’ fans out there ;))

    What I’d like to offer is how to probe the underlying ‘reasons’ for the candidate backing away or out because ‘Something happened’.

    The dance steps that constitute backing away from an offer, in doubt, or just flat opting out of an emerging opportunity is usually, i have found, based on an emotional trigger. I’m speaking specifically outside the pop-psycho babble realm of talk show drama and trauma and hysteria. We are emotional creatures by nature, not nurture. It was how we were born. It is still with us when we die.

    We all have emotional triggers esconced in any *CHANGE* scenario, some just like the one the candidate faces. It could be as trivial as a store not carrying the brand any longer or as deep as mid-life transitions crises.

    Our task when things start to go south is to skillfully isolate the trigger and disarm it.

    Change will trigger ‘memorized’ feelings that the brain uses to control the ‘dance scenario’ by having the candidate sit it out or leave the dance hall altogether.

    The heart wants to cha cha cha! The heart wants to tango, mambo, or any dance (even non-latin ones…are there any that are fun?????)

    The brain wants predictability. It is a memory storage and retrieval device by design. And that is why we have the ‘heart’…to stretch the brain muscle.

    Having established a back-of-the-cereal box psychological model, let’s put together a series of probing questions that might pre-sage us offering the entre of suggested strategies that are in the same pattern of those you offer in your article.

    Suppose we start with a question that is open ended….
    such as ‘What happened?’ And then listen. They will tell us what happened if they know we are listening. And they might tell us more if we can gently intersperse their exact key words back to them as we listen….no projections, no interpretations, or the ever lethal ‘so, what you are saying is…’ and then tell them what we think they are saying…..nope! Just listening. Just letting them know that how they see it stands on its own in their own words.

    Is there a question behind the absolute statements they are making? Are you hearing one that isn’t being asked? Can you ask them ‘I heard you say (share back their exact words); if there was a question behind your statement what might it sound like?’

    Wait. Give them time. Breathe. No takers, let it go with a ‘So, what else?’ opening the door to more talking.

    Then. Take a risk. ‘What angered you about what happened?’ They might actually be angry. Or they might not be. And they will give you an opening by saying ‘Well, I’m not angry.’ So what are they? Ask.

    The key is to get them to describe the feeling. Don’t ask ‘So how are you feeling?’ Ask if they are not angry, what are they? If they are angry, they will tell you. Give it a wide field. No matter what the feeling. Let the feeling come up and out.

    Remember, they are resisting a change. Change suggests *PAIN*. The feeling that is coming up in this part of the conversation is shielding that pain field from any kind of exploration. Let them talk about it. Let them pick the shield of their choosing.

    When they have explained it and you have reflected back to them casually, using some of the key words they used (and phrases) to let them know you heard them, ask another question……

    ‘What hurts about this?’ or similar variations such as, ‘Why is *THE EMOTION THEY EXPLAINED* that important for you to notice that?’

    And let them talk. Don’t ask for clarifications and lots of details. Let them talk. Keep reflecting back the key words and phrases every so often. They will say more.

    When it quiets down: ‘WHAT’s FAMILIAR ABOUT THIS?’

    Now you can walk them right into the past where they have responded in similar fashion before to Change scenarios.

    They will tell you if they believe you are listening. Keep up a respectful key word/phrase reflection to them. Encourage them with this action NOT an encouraging command to keep talking.

    Once they tell you what’s familiar, summarize ‘What I heard You say’ using key phrases and words that they used. They might say more. Re-cycle through their key phrases and words again.

    When they are finished….ask ‘How did it affect you THEN?’ Use the same active listening process.

    Then, ‘How does this affect you NOW?’ Use the same active listening process.

    They will see they are moving their past into their present. AND you will be able to interject how the beautiful opportunity to bring about the changes through the emerging offer are here NOW.

    The candidate will see the past being superimposed onto the NOW. They will get a glimpse of how they are changing the beautiful NOW by doing an old dance step while saying ‘Yeah, this is what i really want.’ as they betray themselves.

    At that moment it is up to us to ask, ‘So what do you think you might need to do right now?’

    Now it’s big girl/big boy time. Face the change. The past is filled with things they cannot change. The now is filled with the possibilities to make life like they truly want it.

    If they stall on what they think they want to do or what they think they need, you have the suggestions as you outlined in your entree list.

    It’s never about the raise, the car, the projects, or the boss moving away……it’s about how WE respond to the prospect of making a CHANGE>

    By the way, I didn’t invent this strategy. But I trained in it for 24 months with one of the best trainers ever. It was designed to help people move out of their past frame of reference about race, culture, ethnicity, and values. I have applied it with 3rd graders, nuclear scientists, Jews, Palestinians, homicidal sex offenders, CEOs, and blue state politicians (to name a few cohorts). It works.

    Thanks for reading, Howard. You reached me.

    Anthony Chavez

  2. I am found over the years that by building trust with candidates and yes asking questions along the way……has enabled me to understand what is important to the candidate concerning their career.

    When the corporation recruiters fail to create this relationship of trust……..the odds of uncertainly increase.

    It is so important to understand what is important to the potential employee in order to create legimate benefits to job changes otherwise……there are simply no reasons to change the status quo……. What are the movating factors that will influence you to come on board with this company? What are the three most important things right now in your life? What are the 3 most important things right now in your career? What would you like to accomplish in your career in 5 years?

    This issue should address the fact that in some cases the corporations are employing inexperienced recruiters who simply do not understand that the hiring process is a two-way street.

    There is also the issue that desirable potential employees are talking to competitors and other corporations who may offer greater career opportunities and benefits than your company that is focussed on the sole needs of the corporation and not on the individual. This is the problem and as a result….the miscommunication that simply drives the candidate to the competition.

  3. Jody,

    Although i find all posting extremely valuable, I rarely post responses., however it was timley whem i read your post, since i had a scenerio just happen to me today with this regard.

    I completely agree with your philosphy and live, eat breath and sleep in it daily. With many years of executive recruiting under my belt, i feel that the building the candidate trust is probably the most critical ingredient for making a successful placement. It’s good to know that others share the same common interest in the candidates as well as the client companies.

    Thanks so much for sharing,

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