Why The Hiring Manager Experience Is More Important Than the Candidate Experience

sliderCustomersHiring managers are a key driver of the talent.experience — how engaged they are in the process has a critical impact on quality of hire and retention. Bersin by Deloitte research revealed that developing strong relationships with hiring managers is the top driver of talent acquisition performance and four times more influential than all the other 15 performance drivers measured.

Yet, our relationship with the hiring manager has been fraught. We talk about them either as “friend or foe” and refer to working with them as if “herding cats.” Recruiting thought leader Bill Boorman recently described this phenomenon as The Hiring Manager Conundrum. No wonder the relationship with the hiring manager ranks fourth among all the things that keep talent acquisition professionals and leaders up at night according to an ERE study.

Maybe it’s time we tried on a different perspective. What if we viewed the hiring manager as a customer? How could we create a better hiring manager experience?

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Here are 10 success strategies for creating a customer-centric hiring manager relationship based on my decade-long experience leading recruiting teams and consulting projects:

  1. Earn trust — As true for any relationship, the basis for a successful talent acquisition/hiring manager partnership is trust. If there is a lack of trust, missing a key expectation (such as time to fill) may very likely get escalated all the way to your CEO. Conversely, if you have succeeded in building trusting relationships with your hiring managers, they are more likely to forgive an honest mistake, more open to your counsel, and eager to provide constructive feedback. Try to put yourself in your hiring manager’s shoes: recruiting is one additional task that gets added to their work load. How can you make it as easy as possible for them to participate? I recommend you (re-) read Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Key ideas from this field guide can be applied to earning or repairing trust with your extended team — your hiring managers.
  2. Be transparent — I have seen talent acquisition functions that either had unspoken policies around what not to share with hiring managers or assumed business leaders didn’t care to know. If there is anything that can make or break trust, it’s a lack of transparency. One of my favorite exercises is showing hiring managers the end-to-end recruiting process. Overlaid with pain points from candidates, recruiters, and executives, it creates powerful awareness around key interdependencies along the process and a greater appreciation for the work we do. Another way to be transparent is to share sourcing insights with hiring managers. I have yet to meet a leader who did not want to know the sources being explored for their search. Share with them! Discuss with them! Or simply ask if there is any other questions they may have about recruiting — just don’t assume they are not interested.
  3. Become a student of the business  Every business leader you support wants to feel that you are specifically dedicated to them and their business needs. A key complaint I often hear from hiring managers is that they feel their recruiting counterpart doesn’t understand their business and unique workforce needs. In order to create credibility, become a student of your hiring manager’s business. The better you understand the function you support, the better you can be an advisor around talent market dynamics, meaningful job descriptions, and alternate talent pools. Collaborate with HR business partners to participate in key client meetings and to get involved in workforce planning discussions.
  4. Convince with data — talent acquisition now has more analytic tools at its fingertips than ever before. Use them! Two critical questions on hiring managers’ minds can be answered with data: “What is really relevant for success in this role and our company?” and “What are the talent market dynamics influencing our hiring for this role?” In order to get a handle on analytics, start with free tools (e.g. your HRIS for success profiles; your ATS for pipeline reports; Glassdoor for salary, reviews, and competitor insights). Also talk to your current recruitment technology vendors — chances are your present solutions already include analytics capability or can be added at a negotiated rate. Then, make sure your recruiting team is trained and clearly understands scenarios when to use these analytics in hiring manager conversations. I have seen organizations spend unnecessary money on buying yet another recruiting solution because they failed to conduct the steps outlined above.
  5. Clarify expectations early — I am a huge fan of intake sessions as a way of aligning with hiring manager expectations early and creating a joint plan of action. Many companies conduct this initial meeting, but it often lacks preparation and focus. In preparation for the intake meeting, compile data answering the two questions highlighted in the “Convince with data” section. Review the job description tied to the requisition and highlight any change suggestions or clarification needs. Take a look at the hiring manager’s LinkedIn profile — does he/she have any connections who could be referrals for the role? Then, decide who should attend the meeting. If you have a dedicated sourcer for this role, bring them along. During the meeting, use a standard template to ensure key information is captured including job description changes, salary range, screening criteria, designated interviewers and offer approvers, as well as hiring manager referral and sourcing suggestions. At the end of the meeting, commit to a deadline when you will get back with next steps (e.g. an email with a suggested sourcing plan based on today’s discussion).
  6. Simplify — A main criticism from the business about HR in general is that we are too complex in how we operate. I usually guide clients through a process review, the Hiring Manager Touchpoint Analysis™, to help identify and address barriers to hiring manager experience along key interaction points. Ask yourself: How can key hiring manager activities be streamlined? How can approvals and reports be accessed via mobile devices? How can we simplify interview scheduling? 
  7. Create joint accountability — I often get asked by executives “Whom should I ultimately hold accountable for recruiting success?” Talent acquisition owns the end-to-end process and the hiring manager the hiring decision. Viewing hiring managers as customers does not mean they are not accountable for many steps in the recruiting process. I am a huge fan of metrics, but more often than not recruiting KPIs tend to be ill-defined or applied so broadly that they become unfair measures. Break down the end-to-end recruiting process to the task level, then for each task define RACI roles and turnaround times. Some organizations go as far as creating enforceable service level agreements between talent acquisition and the business. We establish contracts with external customers, why not with our internal ones?
  8. Coach on interviewing skills  According to Candidate Experience Awards data, candidates who were dissatisfied with the interview process cite distracted interviewers, late or no-show interviewers, and non-job relevant questions as key drivers of dissatisfaction. Assess hiring manager skill gaps based on interview audits and a general understanding of manager demographics. I am partial toward making interview training mandatory, especially if most of your hiring managers are first-time supervisors. When I say “mandatory” I don’t mean “HR mandated.” The directive should be communicated and reinforced by your CEO and top-level leadership. This will drive buy-in, increase accountability, and position recruiting as a strategic talent advisor.
  9. Communicate, communicate — A common complaint I hear from hiring managers is that once they submit the requisition, things seem to disappear into a “black hole.” And that this lack of communication continues throughout the entire recruiting process. Make it your mission to become a pro-active communicator. Over-communicate. This does not have to take all of your time. It can be just a brief email or quick note at key milestones (e.g. invite to intake session after x hours of requisition, email with screening summary of proposed candidates, follow-up call after interviews, updates on candidate offer status). Keeping hiring managers in the loop throughout filling their vacancy goes a long way in building trust.
  10. Make “them” part of the solution — At the conclusion of a recent client hiring manager workshop, the participants asked if every quarter they could come together again to provide feedback and discuss what worked and didn’t work in recruiting. This was the first time they had been asked for their input. Often we either assume that business leaders are too busy to provide feedback on HR matters. Or we have heard so many complaints over the years that we are discouraged to ask. Implementing a regular hiring manager feedback mechanism through surveys or focus groups or assigning dedicated account managers can align people around a joint goal: to hire the best qualified people for your company.

Have you tried any of these tips and how have they worked for you? Can you share additional best practices in creating a customer-centric hiring manager experience?

Nicole Dessain is a talent acquisition and design thinking “nerd." She loves to blow up long-held beliefs that stop us from preparing our organizations for the future of work. She feels lucky to have had an amazing corporate HR and consulting career that she has recently turned into her own startup, talent.imperative inc, a talent experience design consultancy. Her second, not-for-profit business, DisruptHR Chicago, was launched in 2016 and has inspired more than 1,700 HR and business leaders in the Chicago area. She serves on the advisory board of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals (ATAP). You can find her on LinkedInTwitter, or via email.


17 Comments on “Why The Hiring Manager Experience Is More Important Than the Candidate Experience

  1. “Maybe it’s time we tried on a different perspective. What if we viewed the hiring manager as a customer? How could we create a better hiring manager experience?”

    Nothing is more detrimental to the hiring process than treating hiring managers as customers when you do it with a ‘customer is always right’ philosophy. That may work with actual customers, where your job is to please them regardless of whether or not their actions serve their interests. However, if you do that with hiring managers you end up serving their every counter productive whim at great expense to the company as a whole. Hiring managers should be seen as partners, not customers. Partners you keep successful first, happy second.

    While I don’t disagree much with any of the ten points presented, points 4, 7, and 10 can become problematic in many organizations.

    With regard to 4, data doesn’t matter to most people. Accountants and engineers sometimes make decisions based on data, but most people make decisions based on gut feelings, lore, and established practices, whether or not they are backed by data showing their effectiveness. The reality is data rarely works with people because they are inherently subjective and irrational. Show a guy who believes in rain dances endless amounts of data that his rain dance doesn’t affect the weather, he’ll simply assume he hasn’t danced hard enough, or found the right dance yet. Hiring managers don’t need to be convinced with or by data, the people who can hold hiring managers accountable need to be convinced. And data is just as likely to work or not work with them.

    With regard to 7, it’s certainly a good idea, but many companies lack the infrastructure to monitor the needed metrics without embroiling the recruiter in an overly complex spreadsheet. Companies with decent ATS systems can do this, with smaller companies the needed tracking and eventual politics usually make it pointless. You need to be able to define and measure the KPIs and deliverables in the contract, if you can’t then it’s useless. It’s equally useless if you can do that but the manager in question is loved by his/her superiors and can do no wrong in their eyes, in which case it won’t matter what the contract says or who did what, you’re fried regardless.

    With regard to 10, this goes back to the customer question. The process needs to work, but hiring managers don’t necessarily have a clue how to do that, and assuming their competence is one of the biggest mistakes a recruiter can make. You might get vague feedback about what they are or are not happy about, but trying to individualize the process to each of them viz a viz what they think works vs what actually works means your process will tend to not only diverge from what actually works, but in multiple ways to satisfy each hiring manager.

    I have tried things similar to the ten points, and with regard to these three you don’t need hiring managers on board, you need the hiring managers’ bosses on board. That’s usually a smaller target, one more easily managed, and the one that if you concentrate on it will get you results. Because hiring managers like all people make decisions based on incentives. If it’s their ass when something goes wrong, then they’ll make things work. Working with them is often slower and less effective, or non effective, compared to working with those above them.

  2. Great read! Relationships are always the key drivers in recruiting – relationships with the manager/client AND candidate are of utmost importance.

    I too agree that this should be a #1 driver of success and maybe when people realize this they will quit writing goofy articles about “systems” and social media eliminating the profession of recruiting.

    Well done.

  3. Morgan – I am glad you found the article valuable. I agree with you – until we start hiring robots (which is not in the so distant future) recruiting remains a relationship-driven process. However, smart technology and social media interactions can help streamline the process.

  4. Medieval Recruiter – thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. When I wrote the article I was fully aware that it was somewhat provocative and not everybody would agree with it. That’s ok! We are all here to push the envelope and to evolve the function. When I talk about changing our perspective around the hiring manager as customer I refer to it in the sense that TA professionals need to act more as internal consultants. That does not mean they should agree with everything the hiring manager says – on the contrary. But there is a way you can have a dialogue that is constructive and drives toward solving a joint problem versus maintaining dysfunctional relationships. We need to move on from this “medieval” paradigm 😉

    1. I have found dialogue to be a waste of time, in the interactions I’ve seen and been a part of, people talk past each other and rarely is anything ever solved, and the recruiter just ends up beating their head against the wall until something clicks or the position evaporates. And once more, the problem is sales, or ‘relationships’ being emphasized over facts. Explaining to a hiring manager that they are, for example, geographically isolated, not dealing with a terribly deep candidate pool, not willing to relocate anyone even if they do it on their own, and not willing to pay a market rate even for their area, rarely gets results, no matter what data and arguments you use, even when all of those conditions apply.

      Telling that to their boss and their CFO, and telling them the cost of leaving the position open while the HM sits around with his thumb up his ass waiting for a unicorn to stroll by, gets results way more often. But if you’re too worried about preserving the ‘relationship’ with your ‘customer,’ you’re way less likely to do what actually needs to be done to get that customer to make a move.

  5. This is one of those “wish I had written it first posts”. Spot on article. I also agree with Medieval Recruiter in that it all depends on the company, hiring manager competency and that treating managers as customers does not equal fold to their whim but partner and achieve success together. The comment about working with their bosses is valid as well. I disagree about #4 “Convince with data” not working – many times I have shown through data that a different path should be taken or that we keep doing what we are doing.

    In some form I have used the 10 points over my career and coached the teams I have led to use them. It all comes down to the manager’s willingness to learn, listen and improve the process.

    Once number 1 – “Earn Trust” – is achieved you can build a strong partnership which leads to influence and shared successes.

  6. Nicole – Nice post! Here is an additional data point from the State of Talent Acquisition presentation I did at ERE San Diego. Out of the 2,500+ survey respondents for the State of Talent Acquisition, 40% said they do not track hiring manger satisfaction. 44% said they don’t track candidate satisfaction. Makes it hard to improve something if you don’t want to even track it 🙁

  7. Call and treat a hiring manager any way you want – customer, partner – it doesn’t matter if they are unwilling to listen when it comes to the realities of the market and the challenges that will be faced when seeking to make a hire. Frankly, if a hiring manager won’t trust the counsel I am providing (at no charge, BTW) then more often than not I move on. Sadly, too many hiring managers believe that their own personal experience, biases, value systems, etc. trump market realities. When I’m faced with these forces and all efforts to cajole, counsel, browbeat, educate, etc. have failed I simply move on. It’s simply not worth my time.

    To be more specific, I recruit IT folks in one of the USA’s hottest markets where the unemployment rate for good technologists is around 1%. Hiring managers need to pony up the money, be available, meet with me to define the role (rather than expect me to rely on a crappy job description), tell a good story, move like lightning and be prepared to make a hire. Sadly, many don’t and for me, if a manager isn’t willing to play the by the rules of this market’s game, I wish them well in their quest and wave bye-bye. And if said manager works for a company which is not yet a client, then I’ll use them as a source.

    1. I hit the same issues in my area, which is IT as well. However, the way my current agency is organized means I don’t have much of a call in who I work with, so I’m perpetually looking for 150K people at 60K prices. And let’s face it, the companies that need help recruiting are usually the ones who have problems that keep them from hiring, so those are the ones who end up on our doorsteps.

      That’s why I believe we need an industry organization free of the need to keep the almighty client happy, something like SHRM for HR, which can then call out BS practices and incompetence as such.

    2. throstle & Medieval Recruiter – thanks for the added perspective. The article and tips were really more targeted towards internal recruiters so I can see why you may have a different view point. Maybe one of you could write an article from the perspective of an external recruiter- would love to read what ideas you have for how we can solve this conundrum.

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