Everyone has their own opinion on social media; however, it is hard to argue against the power that LinkedIn has to connect professionals all across the world. Like it or not, people in your industry are searching for you. They want to check out your background to see what it took to get where you are so they can follow in your footsteps. They want to hear about your ideas and opinions on topics that are hot in your industry. They want to offer you job opportunities that can utilize your skill sets and add strength to their organizations.
It is relatively easy to enjoy all of the positives from LinkedIn while minimizing the aggravation of unwanted content and messages. By following these best practices, it is possible to turn a potential spam-fest into an exciting network in which you look forward to participating. Whether the goals is to utilize LinkedIn to keep a passive eye on the job market, keep updated on industry news and trends, or have access to pick the brains of over 500 million members across the globe, having a great profile is the skeleton key that unlocks all doors to a positive experience. Even with 18,000+ connections, I am rarely bogged down with content that I don’t find interesting. Here’s how:
1. Keep it professional. LinkedIn is not Facebook, LinkedIn is not Facebook, LinkedIn is not Facebook! One hot-headed or inappropriate comment, picture, or post can damage your reputation. Consider who will be viewing your profile, including current connections and other industry professionals who may have an interest in networking. Before you update your profile, post an article, comment/like a post, or share content, take a couple of seconds to ask yourself if your actions are representing your brand. It is best to keep your activity positive and uplifting. LinkedIn is not a place to vent your frustrations or promote controversial content.
2. Keep your profile up to date and complete. A poor profile can lead to a poor experience on LinkedIn. Make sure all fields are completed. Most importantly, keep your current position up to date. When networking, most users search by “current title” and a couple of keywords. Reviewing and updating your profile once per quarter is a general rule of thumb. It is also recommended to update your profile during each job change, the same way you would update your resume or CV. Provide content that your target audience will find useful. If you utilize LinkedIn to network for job opportunities, be sure to update your recent and most impressive achievements.
3. Match your profile to your resume or CV. Discrepancies between your resume and LinkedIn profile can result in the early termination of the interview process, or even worse, a rescinded offer. Remember, your profile is public and represents your professional brand. A poor or misleading profile is a turnoff to employers and other networkers. If in doubt, if you wouldn’t put it on your resume, don’t put it on LinkedIn.
4. Make sure you have an appropriate profile picture. LinkedIn members who have a profile picture are much more likely to receive messages, connection requests, and profile views. Have a clear idea of what you want your billboard to look like before posting your picture. A professional headshot is best. If you are not being targeted by recruiters or other industry professionals, your picture may be the turnoff.
5. Make sure you spell check and grammar check your profile. What would you think if you drove by a billboard with a misspelled message?
6. Add more connections. Your LinkedIn profile network grows exponentially based your number of connections. Once you are 1st connected with someone you have access to view their connections (called 2nd-degree connections). These 2nd-degree connections are added to your extended network, who are more likely to connect with you. As your network grows, you will have access to a greater number of LinkedIn members and, in turn, they will have access to you. You can send messages and follow each other’s updates, likes, and shares.
7. If you are connected with the “wrong” people, disconnect from them. If you find that certain connections are posting irrelevant content or are sending you too many messages, simply remove them from your network. To take it one step further, you can even block specific members from viewing your profile. Don’t let a couple of bad apples spoil your LinkedIn experience.
8. Ask for recommendations (and recommend others). We are in the digital age of making decisions based on user reviews. The success of a product on Amazon is largely based on its star rating. Angie’s List, Yelp, Trip Advisor, and countless other companies have thrived on the psychology behind social proof. If other people like something, maybe we should too. Recommendations give your profile added flair (any Office Space fans here?) validating your work performance, skills, and achievements. Giving and receiving recommendations is a win/win activity that helps both parties. The person being reviewed gets a thumbs up on their profile while the reviewer is recognized for their compliments and are likely to receive a recommendation in return.
9. Keep an eye on your Skills. The Skill section on LinkedIn is another area where other members can endorse your knowledge. These endorsements serve as a digital thumbs up for your experience and also play into LinkedIn’s search algorithms. However, many profiles include skills that the user doesn’t actually have. These “fake” skills come up in searches, usually by keyword. This means your profile will be included in irrelevant searches based on non-accurate data. If you are receiving messages that don’t match your background, check your Skills to make sure they are accurate.
10. Be active on LinkedIn. LinkedIn rewards active members on their platform. Their search algorithms give preference to those who create, like, and share content with their network. If you haven’t signed on in a while, have a lot of outstanding messages, haven’t posted an update in forever, or have an incomplete profile, your lack of influence can push your profile to the darkest depths in the network. For job seekers, the more active you are on LinkedIn, the more connections you have, and the more complete and accurate your profile, the more often you will come up in recruiter searches and the earlier your profile will be presented in the search result. LinkedIn provides 1,000 search results per search. Don’t be the 1000th (or even worse, the 1001st) profile. The further back you are in a given search, the more time your peers have to respond to job opportunities.
LinkedIn has grown to become the most powerful professional social network ever created. Chances are, you are one of the 450+ million users on LinkedIn and may even be one of the 100+ million users who are active on LinkedIn at least once per month. Unlike Facebook, whose platform focuses on connecting friends and family, LinkedIn is has built a network to connect professionals across the globe with one another. Just like Facebook, their database of user profiles, companies, and jobs are user-generated and updated. This user-monitored approach allows their 400+ million users worldwide to update their profiles at any time and for any reason. Due to its instantly updatable global network, LinkedIn’s networking capabilities has become the largest, most up to date “encyclopedia” for who’s who across every industry on a global scale. What makes this even more exciting is that anyone can sign up and take advantage of the network free of charge.
Who is viewing your profile?
Even if you are not an avid user of LinkedIn, you are still a part of the LinkedIn community. Your profile is public to the world and can be searched for by other members. Although this is similar to most other social media networks, LinkedIn is unique due to the type of audience that is attracted to your profile. On Facebook, most of your friend requests and profile views come from friends, colleagues, family members, and acquaintances. On LinkedIn, complete strangers are clicking on your profile to learn more about your professional achievements. Of course, you may be connected with people that you personally know, including current and past colleagues, but the large majority of profile views come from people you have never met.
What is the benefit of connecting with other members?
Members connect with one another to share information. If you think LinkedIn is only used for job searching, you are missing out on all of the great things your network can offer. There is no denying that LinkedIn has gained popularity in the job hunting world, replacing the outdated practice of posting a CV on Monster and CareerBuilder in favor of a more actively connecting with hiring managers and companies directly. Recruiters also have direct access to message any of LinkedIn’s members whom they feel would be an asset to their company. But this is only a drop in the bucket of what professional networking is all about. Junior professionals can ask for advice from the experts in their industry while seasoned professionals are able to bounce ideas off of other thought leaders, which they can then follow to stay on top up industry news and trends. For example, since I am in the staffing business let’s say I am interested in investing in a new Applicant Tracking System where I can manage my candidate pool. The investment is going to be substantial in time and money. Before committing on a program I can reach out to other recruiters to learn about their Applicant Tracking Systems to find out which one(s) they like the best and why. Without LinkedIn, not only would I lack access to these recruiters, but I may not even know they exist.
But what about the downside?
On the flip side, there is a dark side to LinkedIn, including heavy amounts of spam, irrelevant content on your feed, recruiters that borderline stalk you, and an excessive number of messages in your inbox that you don’t have the time nor motivation to return. One option is to completely remove yourself from LinkedIn, but the benefits of being a member far outweigh the negatives. That said, is there a way to minimize the downside to create a better LinkedIn experience?
Why Does Your Profile Matter?
All of the content you receive on LinkedIn revolves around your profile. Your profile is your public billboard. It provides free advertisement, highlights your education, job history, achievements, and professional recommendations. The more impressive your profile, the more thought leadership power you will have and the easier your profile will be found by the type of people you want to network with. As we will discuss later, each part of your profile matters. Your profile also determines the content of your “feed” thanks to LinkedIn’s algorithms. A poor profile can do more harm than good. You will be poorly branded, your profile will not be found by relevant searches (meaning you will not be found by people you want to be found by), and in most cases, attract more irrelevant content on your feed and untargeted messages.
Your Profile and Career Opportunities
LinkedIn estimates that around 70% of their users are passively open to better opportunities. To some extent, it is shocking this number isn’t higher. It is always a good idea to have your finger on the pulse of what is going on in your industry including who’s hiring, what skills are in demand, and what your competitors are paying. The best time to find a job is when everything is going well in your current position. Your judgment isn’t clouded by the need for change. The opportunities that pique your interest are those that offer some form of advancement, whether for financial gain or developing additional skills. The better your profile, the better, and more relevant, job opportunities will come your way.
If you are engaged in a job search, realize that potential employers use LinkedIn as an added tool to vet their candidates. They can see if you share any mutual connections, have posted interesting and meaningful content and can read recommendations left by past and present colleagues.
If you are a hiring manager, be prepared for candidates to research your profile before an interview. You can see who has done their homework based on their familiarity with your experience, leading to better Q&A sessions and overall better interviews.
How Does LinkedIn Determine Your Feed?
Not only does LinkedIn allow professionals to communicate, but they also have algorithms to determine what content they seem meets your interests. Your newsfeed is based on trending topics and popular posts. Basically, the more an article or update is liked and shared, the more likely it is to make it on your newsfeed.
These updates can include articles that are trending in your industry, geographic region or other demographic that matches your profile. They can also include updates from companies you are currently following, including your own company. You will see updates from your connections including their posts, articles, job changes, and work anniversaries. One thing that many people don’t realize is you can also follow thought leaders without them following you back. For example, you can follow influencers such as Bill Gates or Richard Branson to have access to their posts.
Your feed also includes paid advertisements. LinkedIn offers multiple marketing products that allow companies to target specific audiences. In fact, LinkedIn has continued to add advertisement services. There are multiple pay per click/impression banners, “sponsored updates”, and even “sponsored inMails.” Sponsored updates appear on your LinkedIn feed, usually the second or third update. You can tell when content is sponsored as there will be a note saying “sponsored” or “promoted.” Basically, the company paid for the update to target you. Sponsored InMails are similar but appear as messages in your inbox. Just like sponsored updates they target members using specific search criteria. Sponsored content allows companies to target specific users that fit a given search criteria.
The better your profile and more active you are on LinkedIn, the more relevant the content you will receive from all sources.
Did you know: You are able to change the type of content you receive through “Settings” which will help cut down on content? Unfortunately, any paid advertisements, update, or InMails cannot be blocked.
How Do Recruiters Find You?
All of LinkedIn’s users have access to basic search parameters, allowing to search for people, jobs, and content. You can take that one step further by conducting an advanced search which gives access to additional features such as current companies, industries, and schools just to name a few. What you may not know is that LinkedIn has a paid service for recruiters that allows access to a much more detailed set of search criteria. An exhaustive list includes: Job Title (Current or Past), Location/Postal Code (inclusion and exclusion), Skills, Companies (Current or Past), Employment Type (Contract or Perm), School, Year of Graduation, Fields of Study, Degrees, Industries, Keywords, Spoken Languages, Profile Languages, First Name, Last Name, Network Relationship (1St Connection, 2nd, 3rd and everyone else, Group Members), When the user joined LinkedIn, Years of Experience, Years in Current Company, Years in Current Position, Seniority, Military Veterans, Company Type, Company Size, Company Followers, Job Functions, People with Past Messages (either with or without messages in a given timeframe), and Past Applicants (who applied to previous postings). There is also access to add notes to profiles, add profiles to projects, and set reminders for follow up.
The more detailed the search, the more accurate the results. The more complete and updated your profile, the more you will come upon the right searches.
In addition, LinkedIn has added a function to lets recruiters know you are open to opportunities. What makes this special is that none of your colleagues or any affiliates of your company will have access to this notification. In other words, only outside recruiters who utilize LinkedIn’s premium Recruiter platform have access to this information. Members who are open to opportunities are much more likely to receive recruiter outreach.
How Can You Determine if Your LinkedIn Profile Is Working Against You?
If you find that you are receiving too many irrelevant updates or unwanted messages from recruiters, your profile is most likely the cause. The same is true if you are not being targeted by industry leaders or competitors. A lack of messages can be just as harmful as being exposed to a plethora of content that you are not interested in. No one strives to be the most uninteresting person on social media.
In either circumstance, 90% of the times, it means that your profile is either outdated or incomplete. You may be receiving too many irrelevant messages from recruiters (or you may not be targeting all) because your profile is showing up in search results based on outdated or incomplete fields and LinkedIn may be pointing content based on minimal or outdated algorithm data.
Small changes can make great impacts. Follow LinkedIn’s best practices and make sure that your profile is up to date, complete, and try to be active at least once a month to ensure you are networking.
Stay tuned next week for 10 LinkedIn Profile Best Practices to create an impactful profile.
Welcome back to the Ultimate Interviewing Guide. Last week we made it through the phone interviews. By this point, you’ve had multiple conversations with HR and the hiring team. Being invited for a face to face interview increases your confidence now that the finish line is in sight. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to prepare for the final hurdles to come.
Face-to-face interviews (whether in person or video) may not always be the last step in the process; however, they are usually the most in-depth information-gathering sessions that hold the most weight in hiring decisions. If you “pass” the face-to-face interview, any further interviews should be a piece of cake, comparatively speaking. I am not suggesting that any follow-up phone or face to face interviews should be taken lightly. Every interview should be well prepared for, if not over-prepared for. However, once you clear the hardest test, the rest tend to be much more manageable.
Whether the face-to-face interview takes place in front of a webcam or in person, following best practices will make sure you are prepared, polished, and most importantly, memorable (in a good way).
Innovations in technology have been growing by leaps and bounds. Who would have thought there would be a hockey puck sized device that turns on an off the lights in your house, changes the temperature on your thermostat, and sing your kids a lullaby just by calling out to her name: Alexa. Video interviewing technology has quickly adapted to become mainstream, replacing the need for paying for flights and hotel rooms while being able to connect people from across the globe in a virtual face-to-face meeting at any time of the day. There are major advantages in cost and flexibility. Skype can be used for free while other software packages cost pennies on the dollar compared to paying for in-person interviews. Addressing flexibility, some companies have completely replaced phone interviewing with video interviewing to condense the interview process. Others have saved money by adding a video interview between the phone and face-to-face interview as an extra layer of vetting (prior to inviting candidates in for a much more expensive, face-to-face meeting). The largest impact comes from those who use video interviewing in lieu of meeting in person (which can be extremely cost-effective when hiring remote-based employees or those working in non-local offices).
There are many platforms including Skype, FaceTime, WebEx, and HireVue, among others, although they all pretty much work in the same way. They provide the interviewer and candidate with a link, code, or profile that connects them to the meeting. The programs use your device’s webcam for video and microphone for audio (sometimes companies prefer to utilize a separate teleconference line rather than using web-based audio in order to retain audio quality should either the internet or program lag during the interview). While some technologies allow for the interview to take place on a computer, tablet, or cell phone, it is advisable to use the device that has the most computing power, generally your computer or laptop, as some programs require advanced CPU speeds and can cause distracting delays during the interview if your device isn’t fast enough.
Keep in mind that many video interview platforms allow the potential employer to record the interview for future viewing. There will be a disclaimer that will let you know the interview is being recorded, generally on the email that includes the link and password for the interview. For companies, having the ability to record interviews is an extremely useful tool. First, it allows team members who were not available to attend the interview to review at a later time. Considering top talent doesn’t tend to stay available for long, this flexibility allows for a quicker interview process while allowing all decision makers to provide input on the candidate’s performance. Second, it cracks down on interview fraud. Although rare, there are times when candidates will either a) have someone more experienced interview on their behalf or b) will interview on someone else’s behalf to help them get the job. In other words, one person interviews while the other shows up, either for an in-person interview or, even worse, the first day of the job. Being able to go back to interview recordings has saved companies from keeping fraudulent employees on their payroll.
Regardless if the video interview is conducted as the first step in the interview process or the very last, popper preparation is needed to take advantage of the technology while limiting the pitfalls.
How to Prepare:
Do your homework.
Just like preparing for phone interviews, start with doing your homework. Spend some time on the company website, Google the company’s name and see if there are any interesting updates or news articles, and utilize both Google and LinkedIn to research the people you are meeting with (check out the first part of the Ultimate Interviewing Guide for additional details).
Pick the right time and place.
Be strategic when setting up a video interview. Set a time you are guaranteed to be uninterrupted and make sure you pick the right location. First, make sure the location has proper internet connectivity. Slow or intermittent internet connection will cause the video to cut in and out, making it very distracting to all parties. Second, pick a spot that is not only quiet but has a professional background. This can be a bit more complicated than setting up a phone call which you can take from your car or outside in a quiet location. If you can’t find a private place at work, be transparent about your situation apologize in advance if you need to take the call from your car or another less “professional” location. Try to avoid locations that can be loud or distracting (i.e. - Starbucks).
When conducting video interviews from a home or personal office, make sure that you check your surroundings as the interviewer(s) will be able to see everything in your webcam’s view. A clean and tidy office space will make for a more professional first impression. Test your webcam placement prior to the interview to make sure everything looks the way it should.
Dress the part.
Regardless of where you conduct the interview, look your best. Remember, the interviewer(s) can see you. The rule of thumb for any face-to-face meeting is to dress slightly more professional than what the situation calls for. If the dress code for the company is smart casual, have on your nice suit, or ladies, a nice, professional dress. In other words, ask yourself, “Would I wear this if I were meeting the team in-person in their office?”
Do a test run.
Now that you have a location picked out and your wardrobe ready, it is time for a test run. Most video interview programs will have a test link to make sure everything is running properly prior to the interview. Testing will also let you see what the webcam picks up to make sure you and your surroundings both look presentable, giving you time to make final adjustments. For example, you may need to move the camera around to pick the perfect viewing angle or may need to adjust the lighting in the room to make sure the interviewers can see you clearly.
Smile, you’re on camera. Like any first impression, it is important to come across as likable and pleasant. Be positive and presentable, not only in your answers to the interviewer’s questions but with your body language. Keep engaged by maintaining eye focus on the interview. If you have ever done a video interview before, there can be a sense of awkwardness on where to look. Most devices have the webcam above the screen. If you maintain focus on the interviewer (who is on the screen) it will appear looking downward. On the other hand, if you stare into the webcam, you won’t be able to see the interviewer. Is it better to look at the interviewer or stare into the camera? As long as the interviewer has your undivided attention, do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. There is a slight advantage to maintaining focus on the interviewer as you will benefit from reading their body language and reactions, something that you can’t do over the phone. Keep in mind that your body language is being read as well, so be mindful of your posture and body language during the conversation. Make sure to avoid outside distractions as the interviewer will notice every time you take your eyes off the screen/camera (which goes back to finding a quiet place that you can remain undisturbed).
Be prepared if the technology doesn’t cooperate.
Technology is great…when it works. Just because everything worked when you tested your system prior to the interview doesn’t mean everything is going to run smoothly. The video feed might cut in and out. The audio might be a little gurgled at some point. If this happens, simply bring up the connection issue with the interviewer rather than pretending it isn’t happening. Most times, companies will have a backup plan if the connection isn’t cooperating, usually transferring to a phone. call You don’t want to be in a situation where you are asking the interviewers to continually repeat themselves or mishear their questions and go off a wild tangent.
On a similar note, the video or audio may be slightly delayed. Although you might be excited or anxious during the interview, try to refrain from interrupting the interviewer as it can be extremely frustrating and distracting to be cut off mid-thought. This can be especially difficult if there is a lag due to a slow connection. Try to keep a one-second buffer between the interviewer speaking and providing your response. The slight delay not only makes sure the interviewer is done speaking, but it shows that you are processing what they are saying rather than responding compulsively.
Feel free to take notes.
If you plan on taking notes during the call (which is a great idea), be sure to let the interviewers know. This way, they know what you are doing when you are looking away from the screen. Otherwise, they may think that you are not being attentive or are lost in thought.
If you read part one of this guide, you will know that a universal pet peeve that most interviewers have is when candidates do not have any questions for them. Always come prepared with a list of questions and make sure to write down any questions that come to mind during the interview itself. Well thought out and relevant questions make you memorable. Research the interviewers and try to come up with questions that are relevant to their point of view. For example, you may want to find out more about the day-to-day environment from a colleague-level interviewer whereas you may want to learn more about the long-term direction of the department from the director. If you are meeting with multiple people, have at least a couple of unique questions for each person. Addressing each interviewer independently will give you a couple of minutes of one-on-one time, allowing you create a closer. Plus, if you are able to come up with questions based on content from the interview, it will show that you have been attentive and find value in their thoughts and opinions.
Make sure to follow up with each interview via a personalized Thank You email. Depending on whether or not you have everyone’s contact information, you may need to ask for the interviewers’ email addresses or send your Thank You email to the recruiter or HR rep who can forward it along appropriately. Make sure you address the hot topics of discussion, reconfirm your continued interest, and highlight how your experience fits the position.
In Person/Face to Face (F2F) Interviews
Old fashion, in person, face-to-face (F2F) interviews are still the gold standard in thoroughly vetting potential new hires. Even though video interviewing is gaining in popularity, looking someone square in their eyes, putting on a big smile, and shaking their hand remains the most powerful way to create lasting memories.
A F2F interview provides information outside of the typical Q&A during the interview. For the company, it allows the team to come together as a cohesive unit to select the next addition to their group. It also allows the interviewers to better assess cultural and personality fits as well as interpret body language. For the candidate, it gives an opportunity to check out the office, meet the personalities of the team in their work environment, while also allowing them to better interpret body language.
Since F2F interviews are used as the primary information gathering session, they usually include the most influential decision makers. In terms of preparation, think of the interview as the highest hurdle on the track.
How to Prepare:
Do your homework, again, and prepare additional questions.
Follow the same “homework” as before, researching the company and the interview panel. Most likely, the company will provide you with an agenda that will include the interviewer’s names and titles. When doing your research on each interviewer, make sure to have a list of questions prepared. As mentioned earlier, managers find candidates the most memorable when they ask relevant and meaningful questions. Take into consideration the level and perspective of each interviewer and come up with a few questions that are personalized to their specialties. Feel free add/remove/edit your questions during the interview, but you still want to have a set of questions ready at your fingertips (scroll down to the Questions section for more tips).
Present yourself professionally.
Dress for success. Follow the rule of dressing slightly nicer than the office dress code. Come prepared with a portfolio/binder with you to the interview. The portfolio should include:
This interview is going to be full of questions, usually more in-depth and difficult than the previous. Make sure you are prepared to discuss your achievements and provide examples of problems you have solved. Practice for the interview. Take the list of interviewers and come up with five questions you would ask if you were in their shoes (taking into consideration their title/level in the company). Come up with answers to those questions along with details regarding specific challenges you tackled and skills you’ve learned along the way. Although the actual questions may vary, it will be easier to draw from your past experiences now that they are fresh in your mind. Often time, you will find yourself coming up with better sample answers, better examples, and better achievements than if you were to “wing it” the day of the interview.
Don’t be late!
Plan to arrive 15-20 minutes early, taking into consideration traffic and weather. You can always spend extra time sitting in the parking lot conducting last minute preparations. If you walk in late, you are already at a disadvantage. If you are running late for the interview call someone at the company and let them know. The more notice you can give the better (don’t call 2 minutes before the interview is supposed to take place and say that you are running 30 min behind).
Act the part.
When you are being greeted by each interviewer, make sure you stand up, maintain eye contact, and give an old-school hardy handy shake. Sit up tall and maintain proper posture. Body language says a lot, so make sure you are projecting confidence and professionalism.
Be consistent, but have a variety of examples to share.
When meeting with multiple interviewers maintain consistency in your answers. The interviewers are going to debrief afterward and will compare notes. You don’t want them finding discrepancies in your responses. It is recommended, however, to provide different examples and achievements throughout the interview. Giving multiple examples shows that you have a wealth of experience rather than relying on the same example over and over again.
The interview panel will be assessing more than just your abilities. Cultural fit and personality are just as important as being able to add value to the team. In other words, not only do you have to be qualified, you also need to be likable. Let’s pretend the roles are reversed. You are in charge of hiring someone that will report directly to you. You have two final-round candidates. The first has the most experience of all of the applicants but has a difficult personality. The second still meets the minimum requirements but is more junior. What they lack in experience, they make up for in passion and drive. They are open-minded, flexible, and moldable. Who do you hire? The nature of your vacancy may dictate your answer, but you can see how personality and drive play into the decision making process. It is not uncommon for personality to trump experience. If you have both, you will maintain the greatest advantage.
We had discussed the importance of having questions prepared, but what type of questions should you ask? Since F2F interviewers usually include multiple interviewers spanning different levels and departments it is important to customize your questions. For example:
Human Resources: Benefits, company culture, company mission statement
Colleague level interviewers: Day-to-day operations and position/project-specific questions
Managers/Directors: Departmental level questions, the direction of the company, and the problems they are looking to solve
Executive level: Direction of the company and bigger picture corporate goals
You may have spoken with one or multiple team members prior to meeting them in person. If this is the case, make sure you have newly prepared questions. The further along in the interview process, the more specific your questions should be, taking into the account what you have learned along the way. You may want to ask each of the interviewers about their thoughts and opinions on a certain topic or task. You may also want to refer to previous conversations with other interviewers. For example, if HR stated that the company has been rapidly growing, you may want to get the hiring team’s perspective the positive attributes that have led to the growth spurt. Perhaps one of the managers mentioned the team is going to be implementing a new computer system in the near future. If so, does a colleague level interviewer think the upgrade will help make their job more efficient? These questions are simple conversation starters that show you are an active listener.
Just as before, take the time and send each interviewer a personalized Thank You email that references some of the details from the conversation along with confirming your mutual interest in the company/position. Provide your contact information should they have any follow-up.
Becoming a good interviewer is a learnable skill. Some people are naturally characteristic and have a supernatural ability to sell others on their abilities. For others, especially those who are more introverted, it can be a bit more difficult to navigate highly technical conversations in a foreign environment. Regardless of your comfort level with interviewing, the more you practice, the better you will become. If you are struggling with the interview process, practice with a friend or loved one. Come up with more examples and achievements that you can use during your interview. Go on more interviews, even when you are not necessarily looking. In short, it is just as important to focus on what makes a positive impression as it is to avoid creating a negative one. Your resume, personality, level of professionalism, qualifications, and interview performance are all factors you control.
Good news! If you read this far, you are clearly the type of person that is willing to work hard to become better at what you do. Just by analyzing your interview skills, you are on the track to a future full of success.
Congratulations! Your resume passed the first test and you are set up for a phone interview. Just because you passed the first hurdle doesn’t mean it’s time to slow your pace. There are many hurdles to come and when it comes to interviewing, the first hurdle you hit will be your last as you become disqualified from the race. While it might be tempting to plan out the entire interview process from start to finish, it is more important to focus on the next hurdle ahead.
Preparing, planning, and practicing your interview skills can be the difference between moving on and falling flat. A unique aspect of interviewing is that each course is different. Every company has their own vetting process which usually consists of a mix of phone, video, and face to face interviews. Some interviews may be “easier” than others, but the most successful interviewers prepare like each hurdle is the highest. It is better to leap high over a low hurdle rather than splat to the ground, underestimating the amount of effort it takes to clear the obstacle.
The goal of interviewing is to receive an offer, while the goal of each interview is to get one step closer to an offer. It important to be on your game at all times. Remember, you can always turn down an offer that you don’t want, but until an offer is extended, the choice isn’t yours to make. Being offered a position not only validates your experience, achievements, and interviewing skills, but it also gives you a taste of what competitors are offering, making sure you are being paid a market competitive rate for your talents.
By focusing on each interview, one at a time, I am going to break down each stage of the interview process and offer best practices for preparation and execution. Properly following these steps should increase your interview to offer ratio, giving you more potential paths to take your career. There will be several recurring themes that apply to all interviews, though some will be specific. Regardless of the type of interview, keep in the back of your mind that those who are over prepared are more likely to receive favorable feedback than those who are just winging it. Let your competition fly solo.
Phone Interviews: Internal Recruiters/Human Resources
Internal HR led phone interviews (either by internal recruiters or a human resources representative) are usually the first step in the interview process. It is common for companies to have their internal recruiters or HR reps handle multiple types of positions, spanning across different skill sets. Based on the ebb and flow of hiring needs, it is beneficial for most companies to train their recruiting representatives to be jacks of all trades, being able to work with different internal departments on an as-needed basis. Since these teams work across many different skill sets, phone interviews tend to be less detailed than the hiring manager interviews to come. They mainly focus on qualifying candidates. Conversations tend to revolve around making sure applicants have the minimum experience required, a walkthrough of previous job transitions, providing insights into the company’s corporate culture, and aligning salary expectations. The ultimate goal of this interview is to make sure that only viable, qualified, and interested candidates are presented to the hiring manager as the hiring manager’s time is best spent running their department, not interviewing. These initial phone interviews are meant to weed out candidates.
In addition to the general screening process, the hiring team may provide a list of specific questions for HR to ask each prospective candidate. These questions are usually more detailed and technical in nature. HR will usually type up the answers and pass them along to the hiring team to review. These are the key questions to pay special attention to as these are the questions that represent the key skills and problems that need solving. The more confident the team becomes in your ability to solve their problems, the better chance you will make it to the next step of the vetting process.
How to Prepare:
Do your research.
Start preparing for the HR interview by researching the company. Take a look at their website and do a quick Google search. Scroll down the first page or two to see if there are any interesting or relevant articles, updates, and industry news that might be able to help familiarize yourself with the organization. Using Google’s News tab can be effective to stay on top of recent updates. Perhaps the company had recently published an exciting press release, or maybe one of the executives just posted a status update on their project. Interviewers like when candidates are well informed. It shows that they have done homework, are interested in the position, and is a sign of professionalism.
Know your strengths and your weaknesses.
Beyond doing your research, make sure you are confident in your strengths and be able to promote your successes. At the same time, realize your limitations and how to combat them. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and figure out what you would want to know if you were them and have well-thought-out answers prepared. Having answers prepared, or potential stories to tell will help your conversations roll more smoothly. When an interviewer asks a question, the less you need to search for an answer, the better.
Find the right place to take the call.
When scheduling a phone interview, make sure you commit enough uninterrupted time to complete the call. Generally, 30-60 min should be efficient unless otherwise noted. If you plan on using a cell phone, make sure you pick a place that offers adequate reception and privacy. Since most phone interviews will occur during normal business hours, there is a good chance that you will have to take the call during work hours. Find an unused conference room or sit in your car. Try to avoid taking the call in a break room where others might pop in or sitting outside in busy public places. Outside noise can be a distraction, both to your performance, but also to the interviewer who is trying to pay attention to your answers.
Use your resume as a cheat sheet.
Be prepared to walk through your career history by having your resume in front of you. One of the main goals of the HR interview is to align your job responsibilities with the vacancy’s requirements and, most likely, you have a lot of experience to share. If you haven’t interviewed in a while it can be surprisingly difficult to recall all of your past experiences. It is common to slowly forget specific dates of employment, job responsibilities, and even key achievements. Having your resume in front of you is like a voice-actor having their script in their hand, relieving the need to memorize the lines. Keep in mind, no one can talk about your experience better than you can. It is your responsibility to execute a well-delivered speech.
There is a good chance that the interviewer will start the interview by walking through your job history. The conversation may begin by talking about your education or discussing how you got started in your industry. From there, prepare to talk about each job, starting with your first, working your way through to your current position. The interviewer will be assessing what led you from point A to B, the skills you have mastered on the way, your achievements, and reasons for change.
Be prepared to talk about gaps in employment and short-term positions as both are red flags to employers. Part of the preparation process should include the creation of well-scripted responses to, “Why did you leave that position after six months?” or, “How come there was an eight-month gap between this position and the next?”
If available, have the job description handy as wee. It is common for the interviewer to focus on comparing the job description with your current and previous job responsibilities. If you have questions regarding the description, HR may have some answers, but the hiring managers are usually better able to answer more specific or technical questions.
Be the expert the team is looking for.
Present yourself as an expert. If you are interviewing for a position that requires a special expertise (indicated by a minimum years of experience), you should know more about the day to day responsibilities and duties than the internal recruiter or HR rep. I am not suggesting that they are unfamiliar with your job, but there is a good chance that they haven’t worked in your shoes. The more confident and knowledgeable you present yourself, the more comfortable the interviewer will be with the conversation and the more likely they will recommend moving forward to the next interview. If you are struggling to draw parallels between the job description and your resume, there is a good chance the interviewer will pick up on the lack of confidence and will become less confident in your abilities.
Be prepared to talk about dollars and cents.
Salary history and salary expectations may also be discussed; however, many states are starting to prohibit employers from asking candidates about current salaries in order to protect against salary discrimination. In order to make sure salary expectations are aligned, be prepared to at least talk about your salary expectations to make sure they match with what the position is offering. Refusing to talk about salary (including salary expectations) will generally throw up another red flag. Hesitancy to talk about compensation is usually the result one of two situations, both of which generally lead to things not working out. First, the salary for the position is so much more than what you are making now that there is a good chance your experience is too light for the role. Second, your salary is well over what the position is paying, but you are hoping that after the team meets with you that they will be so smitten by your awesomeness that you will be able to negotiate a salary outside of their range. Sure, once in a blue moon either of these situations may turn out to work in your favor, but 95% of the time salary discrepancies lead down a road to wasted efforts.
Ask questions during each and every interview. Each interviewer has a different perspective of their organization as well as the vacancy so take their perspective into account during your interview preparation. For example, HR is better at discussing company benefits, PTO, and other compensation related items. They are also able to shed light on corporate culture along with the company’s mission. Besides interviewing candidates, they are also responsible for representing the company’s branding image so you can get an idea of the type of image that corporate is trying to portray.
Working with an Agency Recruiter:
Internal recruiter/HR interviews should be a piece of cake if you are represented by a staffing agency. The agency recruiter should be able to prepare you for everything that HR is going to discuss. Since the phone interview with the agency and the internal team can be very similar in nature, it is not uncommon for hiring managers to bypass the initial HR phone interview and move right to a discussion with the hiring manager.
Phone Interviews: Hiring Managers
Speaking with the hiring manager (or hiring team in some circumstances) is the first real test. Of course, you were well prepared for your call with HR (leaping high over the first hurdle), but that was just the warm-up. If there is one person you need to impress during the entire interview process, it is the hiring manager who, in many cases, will wind up being your future boss. By now, you should be familiar with the company and the position. Don’t get too comfortable because this interview takes the cookie-cutter Q&A session with HR to a whole new level of detail.
Want to know a dirty secret? Hiring managers stress over interviewing. They are busy with their “day jobs” so any time spent interviewing takes them away from what they do best. By this point, they already were debriefed by HR that you met the minimum requirements and they already reviewed your resume. The goal of the hiring manager interview is to nail down on specific skill sets and qualifications along with assessing personality fit with their group. Be prepared to talk about your experience, but more importantly, be prepared to talk about your achievements. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes and ask yourself, “Why would I hire myself over any other candidate?” If you can answer that question successfully, you’ve got the hiring manager’s attention.
The goal of this interview is twofold. First, you want to clear the hurdle and move forward to the next interview. Second, you want to get a better idea of the position, department, and company to see if the opportunity aligns with your career goals. The hiring manager is better equipped to provide specific details on the position and are prime targets for questions regarding day to day duties, challenges, or expectations.
How to Prepare:
Do your homework, again.
Just like before, spend some time researching the company. It never hurts to re-familiarize yourself with the company website and review any new news articles before each interview. When interviewing with anyone on the hiring team, do some research on each interviewer to get a better understanding of their background. One option is to simply Google their name (you may want to add the company name to limit search results) to see if there are any interesting articles that they may have posted, industry events they attend, or publications that they have written. A second option is to do some sleuth work on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a phenomenal tool that, more times than not, you can find their career history, education, and even their list or hobbies and interests. All of this information can be used to your benefit, giving you the upper hand compared to your competition. Perhaps you both play tennis. Maybe your son is currently attending the manager’s alma mater. Similarities create instant comfort, immediate bonds, and make you more memorable after the interview concludes. Furthermore, it is easier to prepare for the conversation by having background details on the other party, keeping in mind they already know quite a bit about you. This background information will also help you prepare better questions. For example, you might prepare different questions when talking to someone who has been at the company for the last 23 years compared to someone that just started a couple months ago.
Be specific with examples.
Since this interview is about diving deeper into your experiences, make sure to prepare solutions to their problems. If the team is looking to hire someone, it literally means that their team is not running a peak efficiency. Identify the gap and give examples of how you can fill it. Don’t speak in generalities. Be prepared to detail specific and relevant achievements. Walk through actual situations that you have encountered. Describe the situation at hand, the task that needed to be completed, the actions you took, and the results of those actions. Speaking vaguely equates to not having the experience. Giving detailed step by step accounts of the situation, details that only come from having completed the task solidifies your knowledge and experience.
Have questions prepared.
One of the biggest pet peeves that hiring managers have is candidates not having any questions for them. Changing jobs is a life-changing decision, one that greatly impacts your livelihood. To go into an interview without any questions is basically saying, “I just need a job and don’t really care that much about the details.” Obviously, this doesn’t create a positive perception. Beyond showing mutual interest, questioning the hiring manager gives you the first real opportunity to vet the position, making sure it is aligned with your career expectations and goals. Keep in mind, you will be getting answers straight from the horse’s mouth. Just like your HR interview, have a list of questions prepared. Some, or even most, of your questions might be answered during the conversation so make sure to add questions that may not be so obvious. We will discuss some examples a little later below.
Block out enough time.
As before, make sure you block off enough time on your calendar to remain uninterrupted during the duration of the conversation. Sometimes these interviews are on the longer end, lasting well over an hour (the longer you are on the phone with a decision maker, the better). Sometimes they are tight on time and may only have 15-20 minutes. Try to find out the expected duration of the call beforehand, and plan for it to run 50% longer, just in case. Just like with HR, make sure you find a location that is quiet, private, and offers a clear cell signal if you are using your cell phone.
Be a listener and note taker.
During the interview, listen carefully and let the manager finish what they are saying before interjecting. No one likes to be cut off when they are talking and it doesn’t look good to project impulsivity. Take notes as the manager is giving you pertinent information about the position while making special notes of the underlying problems they are trying to solve. When it is your turn to do the talking, be able to give specific situations, specific achievements, and offer solutions to their pain points (which you should have practiced during your pre-interview preparation).
Have your cheat sheets handy.
Have your resume, the job description, and if possible, the company website open as all are helpful tools during this interview. The manager might ask what you know about the company, testing to see if you did your research. They may ask specifics regarding certain positions you have held or certain achievements listed on your resume. They may also reference the job description, offering you an opportunity to interject with questions regarding specific duties. As a recurring theme, it is better to be over prepared rather than not prepared enough. You can see how a conversation could slowly tumble downhill should a manager ask, “What questions do you have about the job description?” only to be met with awkward silence.
The interviewer will usually allow you to ask any outstanding questions at the end of the interview. There may also be times during the conversation where you will have the opportunity to interject while discussing specific topics. Prepare a list of questions and have them in front of you throughout the call. Cross out any questions the manager answers during the natural flow of the call and jot down additional questions that pop up during the conversation. In fact, having questions based on the content of the interview shows the manager that you are fully engaged in the call.
If you are struggling to come up with questions or if the manager already answered everything on your list, here are a few examples of questions that help continue the flow of the conversation, showing the manager that you are vested in the conversation and their insight:
The next step in confirming your interest in the position is by following up with a Thank You email. The email should be short and sweet, something that the manager can read in around 30 seconds and leave with a smile and a nod. Include some of the notes that you took from the conversation, highlighting how your experience is relevant to the key qualifications of the position, or better yet, offer solutions to their problems.
It is important to note that the goal of a Thank You email is not creating a laundry list of reasons why you should be considered. That is what the interview was for. If you bombed the interview, don’t think that a seven-page letter dissecting each line of the job description and pairing each bullet point with your experience is going to change the hiring manager’s mind. That said, there may be a time where you forgot to mention something during the call or there wasn’t enough time to finish the discussion due to hitting the time allotted for the conversation. In these cases, it would be appropriate to mention, “When we were speaking about [topic], I forgot to mention that I had [talk about your experience or achievement]” or, “Time flew by while we were on the phone, we didn’t get a chance to talk about [topic], but want to mention that [give a brief summary about your experience or achievement]. I would be happy to discuss further in a later interview.”
…To Be Continued
Understanding how the inner workings of the staffing industry can give job seekers and employers a massive advantage. Let’s face it, changing jobs is stressful for the candidates and hiring is extremely is expensive for employers. There is a risk on both sides of the coin. Candidates dedicate most of their lives to their trade and a bad job move can create a miserable experience five out of seven days per week. Meanwhile, employers are paying their employees salaries which, in a sense, is like they for paying their mortgage, all living expenses, and (hopefully) adding a little every month to their savings/investments. There is a risk of spending company money on someone that doesn’t turn out to be profitable to the business. There is also a cost of having the vacancy open. After all, the position is available in the first place because it will add value, not take value away.
One of the important goals of a top producing recruiter is to save time and money while lowering risk for candidates, hiring managers, and human resources, while maintaining quality deliverables. Working with a soft recruiter can be as painful as waiting in line at the DMV. In order to consistently maximize efficiency, recruiters need to be able to properly represent their clients/hiring managers and their candidates, fully understanding both party’s intentions by asking the right type of questions and providing follow up to their promises. It can be difficult to differentiate the empty promise keepers from the top producers. How do you find the recruiter that is loyally willing to fight in your army every step of the way, reducing both risk and stress?
Keep Away from Soft Recruiters
There are times when every recruiter walks away from a conversation beating themselves up for forgetting to ask a certain question or with their tails between their legs due to their hesitancy to ask qualifying questions. If this happens once in a while, not a big deal. The problem manifests when these one-off situations become more consistent and commonplace in the recruiter’s general practices. There are two terms that describe recruiters who have gotten comfortable with being soft, the Order Takers and the Paper Pushers.
The Order Takers are the client-facing recruiters or business development representatives who, like manning the headset behind your favorite fast-food drive through, have a habit of taking new jobs from their clients without asking any questions. The customer drives up to the window, places their order, and the recruiter throws the vanilla job description into their system and lets the team start on their goose hunt. This may sound inefficient because it is. The lack of Q&A can be caused by many factors. The recruiter doesn’t want to seem unknowledgeable and wants their client to feel assured that they know everything about their vacancy, not needing to ask further questions. I call this the “Don’t worry, I got this” approach. The problem is that the lack of information leads to more trial and error, less efficiency, and longer time to fill ratios. Another reason for the lack of questions is the fear of rejection. The recruiter may be focusing on hitting their metrics by bringing in a certain number of new positions, even if they aren’t qualified. The need for “more” outweighs the need to add value to their clients.
The Paper Pushers are the recruiters who approach the search process with two goals in mind, find as many candidates that meet the minimum requirements as possible and sell them on the position until they agree to be submitted, leaving out important information that would otherwise cause the candidate to lose interest. Conversations are kept as brief as possible in order to limit the candidate’s questions, usually covering the very basic qualifications on the job description. As long as the candidate meets the bare minimum of requirements, they pass the CV along to the hiring team for review. This is another inefficient approach that leads to wasted time and can damage relationships. The recruiter-candidate relationship can be damaged because without being fully vetted, there is lower chance that the candidate will make it through the hiring process, only receiving rejection (or lack of feedback) from their recruiter. The most common reason why candidates stop working with a recruiter is because the recruiter was never able to provide feedback, most likely because they were submitting unqualified candidates. The recruiter-employer relationship can take a beating as well since the volume of unqualified candidates leads to more of the employer’s time being wasted by reviewing and rejecting candidates. In short, the less efficient the recruiter, the less value they add to candidates and employers. Similar to the Order Takers, the Paper Pushers are motivated by limiting rejection and playing the volume game. They expect the law of averages to work in their favor. If they send a bunch of CVs over, a few are bound to stick. Some may, but at what cost?
It is fair to note that stereotyping a recruiter as an Order Taker or Paper Pusher may be a bit extreme as the staffing industry tends to weed out those who are not productive, but there is a common trend of not asking (or being scared to ask) qualifying questions in order to reduce rejection. In the short term, it may seem like they are being more productive, bringing in more new openings or submitting more candidates, but there needs to be a balance of “selling” the candidate/employer while qualifying the CV/vacancy in order to maximize efficiency and nurture long-term relationships.
Balancing the Scale of Selling and Qualifying
The staffing industry is filled with rejection (the old saying that 90% of sales comes from 10% of effort is pretty spot on), and over time constant rejection can make it easy to lose focus and motivation. More likely than not, 90% of potential candidates and potential new clients are either not interested, not qualified, aren’t looking, or already have a recruiter (or a number of recruiters) they are working with. Constant rejection leads to the natural instinct to soften up, focusing on gaining acceptance in order to minimize further rejection.
Although most people think of recruiting as an HR function, it is more of a sales position with people being the merchandise. The difference between selling a tangible item, such as a car, versus “selling” a candidate is that the paying customer (the employer) and the product (the candidate) need to be mutually interested in one another. In other words, you need to pick the car and the car needs to pick you back. I have often analogized recruiting to a professional matchmaking service where success and compensation are based on the number to matches that turn into meaningful relationships. Since the recruiter is representing both parties, a successful “match” requires a balance of selling and qualifying each party.
To some extent, early conversations with a potential client/employer or candidate start out with the sales pitch. Here is what I have to offer, is it something that you find value in? In reality, it is not so much “selling” as it is identifying a problem and trying to provide a solution. Since the customer (whether it be internal or external) and candidate need to be in mutual agreement, the focus is on aligning problems with the right problem solvers. For the employer, recruiters need to identify, attract, and vet candidates in a timely matter, leading to further interviews (and hopefully job offers). For the candidate, the recruiters need to make sure each job opportunity checks off their list of must-haves to make the career transition worthwhile. Whereas a soft recruiter ends the vetting process after the candidate shows interest, the tough recruiter takes the process to the next step further vetting the candidate by asking qualifying questions.
Qualifying Jobs and Candidates
Qualifying a candidate and qualifying an employer’s job requirement starts by asking the right questions to fully understand one another’s needs and wants. When it comes to the employer, it is important to find out what are the top requirement on the job description as well as any of the “nice to have’s” that may not be listed. Are there certain skill sets that are more important to the team than others? Who is their top performer that is currently in this role and what makes them so successful? The type of questions will be tailored to the position, but regardless of industry or vacancy, the best results come fully understanding the hiring team’s vision to the point where the recruiter can clearly represent the company’s best interests and intentions. Although it may be a good place to start, just being given a job description (which often times is vague and only offers minimum qualifications) is not a sufficient means to qualifying position. Further Q&A needs to take place to make sure the recruiter (whether they are internal or from a vendor) are on the same page. A 15 minute Q&A session will shave off countless hours of sourcing and interviewing, reducing the time to fill, saving both time and money for all involved.
Qualifying a candidate is not much different. Once a candidate is interested in a position, the recruiter needs to ask the right questions to make sure the candidate’s skill sets have the ability to solve their client’s problem. Not only does their experience need to match the job description, but they should be able to take the information from the Q&A session with the hiring team and make sure any other special qualifications are being met, such as personality fit or proper soft skills. Further understanding the candidate’s reasoning for their transition will lead to a more efficient and pleasant process. Just because a candidate is qualified for a particular position, doesn’t mean it is going to align with their career goals.
There needs to be a balance of selling and qualifying which, when done correctly, results in maximizing efficiency and proper representations of both parties. To better illustrate, think of a teeter-totter with “selling” on one side and “qualifying” on the other. They should be perfectly balanced on “efficient results” sitting as the fulcrum. When the scale is balanced you will see more interviews, more offers, more acceptances, and less time wasted. When the scales are tipped in either direction, you get wasted time, loss of trust, and damaged reputation.
It is important to mention that the balance of selling and qualifying need to be done throughout the process. Recruiters need to continue representing their client by selling the candidate’s qualifications, and vice versa. In the perfect scenario, the employer and the candidate are selling one, identifying mutual interest and natural fit. That said, the rules of supply and demand heavily influence the vetting process. When there is a high supply of candidates with a low supply of jobs, the employer will tend to be more selective, trying to hold out for the best of the best. When there is a lack of talent and an abundance of jobs, the coin is flipped, with the candidate now in the driver’s seat. Knowing the state of the job market will help you navigate most effectively.
Asking the “No” Questions
Every new recruiter is trained to ask the “yes” questions. People tend to be consistent with their behaviors and one “yes” is more likely to lead to the next. The idea is that the first yes will lead to a series of further agreed upon requests until there is a sale. While selling focuses on “yes’s” qualifying focuses on the “no’s.”
Asking the “No” question simply means taking the conversation further until you ask the question that produces a “No” response. For example, the job description may be asking for 10 years of experience. Would the team consider someone with a strong background with 9 years of experience? How about 8? If a candidate is targeting $100k to make a move, would they consider $98k for the right position? How about $95k? These questions are not geared to talk the employer down from their qualifications, nor to talk the candidate down from the salary requirements. Instead, it is a way to clarify how much weight they place on each of their decision making factors.
The hiring team might not care if they find someone with 8 years of experience instead of 10 because the years of experience is not what is important, having ABC experience is what is important, and ABC comes with experience. For example, if a position has line management responsibilities and if someone has proven abilities to successfully manage a team, a two-year difference in overall experience may not really matter that much.
In the candidate’s case, the goal isn’t to pinpoint the candidate’s monetary breaking point, instead, it’s to determine how much salary is a motivating factor. The candidate may be asking for a 10% increase, thinking it is a standard request, but they would realistically accept a lateral move for a perfect position that offers X, Y, and Z. This is great information to have, because now the focus is on X, Y, and Z instead of just dollars and cents. On the flip side, if dollars and cents are the motivators, there is a need to make sure that the employer is able to offer such compensation, avoiding any attempts of a lowball offer.
Asking the “No” question is the sticky grease that both eliminates and causes friction. You can’t have a repeatable, efficient process without identifying motivation and you can’t identify motivation until you ask tough questions. Unfortunately, tough questions can be uncomfortable to ask and if not phrased correctly can raise the defenses of both candidates and employers. Often times, intentions are misread. Using the previous examples, the employer may think recruiters are attempting to talk them down from their minimum qualifications or the candidate might think that they are being pushed into a position under their desired salary range. Recruiters become soft when their lack of clarity in their intentions results in a fear of asking questions leading up to the “No” question. It’s like each question they ask is another round of Russian roulette where, at some point, they are going to hear the word “no” and not know how to respond. Qualifying questions are simply confirming the best interests of the candidate and employers to make sure that they both aligned.
The “No” question is a time-saving tool that increases efficiency which both candidates and employers should appreciate. If an employer is looking for a set of qualifications that is unrealistic, they need to be coached on the market to see what qualifications they might be able to flex on. If they continue to be unrealistic, then save time by declining to work on the position. There is too much time wasted searching for hypothetical purple squirrels. Regarding efficiency, the quicker a recruiter is able to identify that a candidate is not a fit for the position or vice versa, the better. Less of the candidate’s time is spent interviewing only to receive a rejection letter, less of the hiring team’s time is spent interviewing a candidate that they wind up declining. This frees the recruiter to spend more time finding a better fit. One thing that I have learned very early on in my career is that every No is one step closer to the next Yes. Get the No’s out of the way as early and efficiently as possible.
Fueling the Flame
It is clear that proper representation requires recruiters to lose their fear of rejection, but what is fueling the widespread flame of softness? Sure, being turned down is uncomfortable, but if a recruiter can’t deal with rejection then they either picked the wrong profession or need to toughen up. Another potential cause stems from how candidates and clients approach recruiters, especially after having a poor prior experience.
Poor experiences cause candidates and clients to approach recruiters with reservations. Whether they felt misrepresented, didn’t get what they were promised, or otherwise walked away with a poor taste in their mouth, it can be easy to approach recruiters as if they are guilty until proven innocent. As the saying goes, “fool me once...” The problem is that even the best recruiters need to step on eggshells in order to gain enough trust for the conversation to open up. Since it is a lot easier to gain trust by being asked the “yes” questions, recruiters start selling more and qualifying less, leading to more wasted efforts and poorer experiences for both candidates and clients alike. This fuels the cycle to repeat itself, steadily breeding “yessers” rather than doers.
One of the trends within the staffing industry is the removal of the hiring manager-recruiter relationship in favor of implementing vendor management systems (VMSs) that automate the recruiting process. Once a recruiter is approved to supply candidates, the VMS system starts sending out newly approved job descriptions and funnels all applications through online applications. There is no access to management and very rarely an opportunity to ask meaningful questions to gain further qualifications for the position. What you see on the job description is what you get. In many ways it is no different than a candidate applying to a position on the company’s website, holding onto a wish and a prayer that they will get a response. For large corporations, their motivations are to keep their managers focusing on their day job rather than fielding recruiter calls, but it creates a poorer experience for both candidates and recruiters. Feedback is scarce resulting in a lack of trust in the recruiter, which ignites the flames yet again.
How to Man (or Woman) Up
Very rarely are recruiters truly classified as a Paper Pusher or an Order Taker. In reality, the industry spits them out as they become irrelevant as newer, hungrier talent takes their place. That being said, it is important to recognize when soft behaviors become more frequent as the cause is generally caused by a slow incremental tip of the selling-qualifying scale. Specifically, actions, or more accurately the lack of actions, start to become more prevalent due to the fear of rejection. When the action is governed by fear, the first step to getting back on track is acknowledging “fear got to me this time.” Keep track of how often this happens. If it is a once in a blue moon lack of judgment, then there isn’t anything to be worried about. If it the trend picks up in frequency, then it is time to take action to reverse the course. Most time, if we write down the potential logical outcomes of our fears, the worst case scenario is not that ground shaking. In the case of recruiting, asking tougher questions might result in a short-term dip in new openings or fewer candidates submitted, but overall, it will lead to less wasted efforts, increasing efficiency and filling more positions. This increase in efficiency strengthens relationships with both clients and candidates and leads to less rejection.
Another important rule of thumb is to leave assumptions at the door and make sure to qualify every new position and candidate during each conversation. The one thing that is consistent in the staffing industry is change. People change their minds all of the time and it is important to keep track of these changes as the interview process matures. For example, if a candidate is interviewing elsewhere, a slow-moving employer may be less attractive over time as the candidate becomes more vested with the others companies that are moving more quickly. Qualifying new positions is even more important to maintaining efficiency. Sourcing candidates is the most time-consuming process of the hiring process. It is not rare to see positions that have been open six months to a year…think of all that wasted effort. Just because a recruiter has a relationship with their client it doesn’t mean they should pretend like they know more about their needs than the employer does. Asking the “No” question will keep the recruiting team on track, focusing on the must-have qualifications, getting a better understanding on what the hiring manager is looking for to fill the gap in their organization. If they have filled similar positions in the past, simply ask, “Is there anything else we should be looking for this time around?” Just having that confirmation means they are on the right track. You would be surprised how many times the team has a different intention for the next hire. Moral of the story: You don’t know until you ask.
Finally, recruiters should strive to better their candidate’s and client’s experience. The more candidates and clients are exposed to resourceful and efficient recruiters, the more accepting recruiters will be accepted with open arms. Recruiters need to tailor their services to put employers and candidates, not themselves and gain trust by being efficient and productive. Sometimes a little tough love goes a long way in helping those we care about.
Let’s face it, everyone hates interviewing. Hiring managers struggle to carve out time from their busy day to meet with candidates, most of whom they won’t wind up hiring, only to play catch up after the interview is over in order to complete the day’s tasks. Meanwhile, candidates need to sneak around the office, trying to keep their private phone calls with recruiters and competitors undetected. The hardest part is planning for the face to face to interview. Even the most truthful and loyal employees turn into bold faced liars, requesting off due to a “doctor’s visit” or a parent-teacher conference (which eat up ever so precious vacation days). Interviewing with multiple companies? Better have a solid list of excuses along with a healthy PTO bank.
On the other hand, the only way to grow a business and battle attrition is to continue to attract and retain unbelievable talent. Like it or not, interviewing is a necessary evil that can produce extraordinary results. The good news is that there are ways to streamline the process to cut down on everyone’s time, but still thoroughly vet a potential candidate. First, let’s explore why is it beneficial to reduce the time to fill open job vacancies.
Why Reduce Time to Hire?
1.Top Talent is a Hot Commodity
No matter what industry you work in, top talent is always in demand and gets harder and harder to find. The most successful talent acquisition campaigns focus on the candidate, not the job. The better a candidate’s experience with your interview process, the better the talent you will attract. Once you identify top talent, pull the trigger, because if you don’t your competitor(s) will. If I had a dollar for every time a phenomenal candidate was hired by a competitor that moved more quickly, I would be writing this from my own private island, not my home office. Most of the time, the scenario is the same. A company loses out to a phenomenal candidate because their competitor gave more immediate feedback after submission, scheduled a phone interview that took place within the same week, had a face to face interview the following week and extended an offer 24 hours later. What was the other company doing during this time? They just scheduled the first phone interview because one of the managers has a busy schedule. Top talent doesn’t wait, neither should you.
2.Use Psychologic Warfare to Your Benefit
During the interview process, there is a psychological benefit to being first. When exposed to a list of data, people remember the first and last bit of information better than the data in the middle. Therefore, the first company that moves forward with the interview process burrows themselves a little further into the candidate’s mind (the same is true about the last, but we will see why companies who are last to interview lose out nine times out of ten times).
The first interview is also a powerful behavioral statement. There is a principle called “cognitive dissonance” that explains mental discomfort occurs when your ideas, beliefs, or behaviors contradict each other. We justify our behaviors by aligning our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs to align with our actions. Keep in mind, it is easy to change our minds, it is harder to take back actions. Taking the step from “thinking about a new job” to “interviewing for a new job” now marries idea with behavior to further identify with the thought of change. Backing out now would cause internal conflict.
Cognitive dissonance also plays a role in justifying behavior. For example, after a great interview, candidates start to reflect more on the negatives of their current situation and the positives of the new company. I have seen completely passive candidates go from one extreme to the next, starting out by having their arm twisted into talking about an opportunity that would be “too good to refuse” to them speaking with every competitor in their industry. Taking that first call was enough to turn them from not even considering a change to daydreaming about giving notice. The more effort we extend, the more we need to justify our behavior. The more time spent interviewing, the harder it is to back out from the thought of change, especially once an offer is in hand.
The first job offer is a tangible justification of the interviewing efforts, a materialized pat on the back for a job well done. It is very easy to identify with the offer because all of your hard work during the interview process finally paid off, giving you an opportunity to be consistent with your past behaviors and change jobs.
It is always best to be first. Statistically, the first offer, even if it isn’t the best offer, is more likely to be accepted. The candidate has made many sacrifices to get to this stage (such as sneaking around the office and taking PTO to interview) so the first job offer creates an instant relief to otherwise wasted sacrifice. Furthermore, the first offer is a compliment to the candidate’s skill sets, making them feel appreciated and needed, perhaps more than in their current position.
3.Better Offer-Acceptance Ratio
The quicker a candidate’s submission turns into an offer, the better the change the offer will be accepted. There is nothing more frustrating from a candidate’s perspective than waiting. It doesn’t matter if it is waiting for feedback, waiting for an interview date, or waiting for an offer. If I have heard it one time I have heard it a million times, “Time kills deals.” The longer that it takes to go through the interview process, the more distracted the candidate becomes with outside factors, juggling their work life with family events and, most likely, other interviews. After a while, it can be easy to lose interest, like going on a date with someone that doesn’t call you back for a month. More than likely you have moved on. The same is true with interviewing, especially when it comes to the time between the final interview to offer. The final interview marks the final leg of the interviewing journey. It is like you are sailing across the ocean and you can finally see land. The longer it takes to make an offer, the more the land-sighting seems like a mirage. It is not uncommon to see offers made 24-48 hours after a final interview. If you are taking a week or more to make an offer, you are setting yourself up for failure, giving too much time for the candidate to disassociate themselves with the opportunity.
Hiring is costly. There are costs associated with interviewing and there are costs of having the vacancy open. First, consider all of the time that goes into filling a position including, sourcing for candidates, phone interviewing, conducting face to face interviews, checking references, and drafting offer documents. Add all of the administrative time that it takes to move each candidate through each step of the process, getting availability, checking manager’s schedules, and sending confirmation. The most time-consuming factor is sourcing talent. There are countless hours spent creating job ads, sending hundreds of messages to competitors, sorting through all of the applicants (most of which who aren’t qualified), responding to each email and voicemail, and weeding out candidates after an initial phone screen.
After all of that time and effort, a select group of candidates is moved on to hiring manager review. The hiring manager now steps in, usually working with the scheduling department to set up phone interviews and then face to face interviews. It is not uncommon to have anywhere between three and ten hiring managers involved in the interview process. Multiply all of the time spent by HR, the scheduling department, and the hiring managers by the number of candidates being interviewed and you can see the dollar figure add up. Streamlining the process cuts costs: Time = Money.
On top of the labor costs of interviewing, there is an additional cost for having the vacancy open. Every headcount should be profitable, even if nonbillable, to the greater good of the company. This is especially true with public companies who need to show a maximum profit with the least amount of spend to satisfy their stockholders. If a position is not adding value to the company, it shouldn’t be approved. Keeping that in mind, every day a vacancy goes unfilled the company is losing money, or in other words, losing the profit to which the position will bring. This actual dollar figure is harder to calculate, but understanding that the loss increases each day should motivate the team to reduce the time the vacancy is open.
How to Reduce Time to Hire?
Reducing time to hire may sound like a risky task. No one wants to sacrifice quality for speed, especially when it comes to growing a business. It’s not about moving quickly as much as it is about being efficient with time. Following these best practices will help speed up the hiring process while increasing the quality of candidates that you bring into your company, making it a win-win proposition for both candidates and companies alike.
1..Work on Your Approvals
Realizing that there is a monetary loss every day a job vacancy goes unfilled, it can be tempting to begin the hiring process before a position is officially approved. In theory, the interview process can take four to six weeks to identify and vet the proper candidate and, in a perfect world, the team could save time by starting the process before the position is approved (as long as the approval comes in prior to the offer stage). The problem is when the crystal ball stops working. There is nothing worse from a candidate’s perspective than finding out that they are interviewing for a position that hasn’t been approved. Candidates are making personal sacrifices to carve out time to interview. Wasted efforts lead to negative impressions.
When possible, make sure your positions are approved before identifying talent. This means having headcount and budget approval. If you are pre-screening for an upcoming position, let the candidate know. Realize that you are going to be missing out on candidates who are actively looking and be able to let them go rather than stringing them along. The goal is to identify passive candidates who don’t mind being given a heads up on a potential opportunity. Just make sure you follow up with them once the position is approved.
From personal experience, I have seen countless hiring managers lose sleep over interviewing the absolutely perfect candidate that they can’t hire. The team is usually all on board with bringing the person on board, but for whatever reason, upper management is either not approving the position or there is a long enough delay in approval that the candidate’s interest fades. Many times, the same candidate would have worked out if the interview process began later and ran smoothly through the offer stage. Remember, time from the last interview to offer is a key criterion for an increased offer to acceptance ratio.
2.Know What You Are Looking For
Most candidates will agree that it is extremely frustrating to go through an interview process that takes longer than it needs to because the team isn’t on the same page. If managers aren’t clear about what qualifications they are requiring (or if there are conflicting requirements coming from different team members) the process ends up as an exercise of trial and error. On the other hand, when the hiring team is laser-focused, they have the advantage of sniping talent before their competitors.
If HR is going to be conducting sourcing/first phone interview support, the hiring team should provide as much information as possible regarding the required “must haves” and the preferred “nice to haves.” These qualifications should be agreed upon by the team prior to the beginning of the search and required versus preferred skill sets should be clearly distinguished. If the team isn’t clear on what they are looking for, how is recruitment supposed to be hit a bullseye on a moving target? The key to streamlining this process is to create a list of qualifications and communicate clearly and concisely to whoever is sourcing and screening candidates.
Utilizing internal or agency recruiters can drastically reduce time to hire as long as they fully understand the vacancy in order to properly qualify candidates. A rule of thumb to saving time is: vet early and thoroughly. Let the hiring managers do their job and make the hiring process as easy as possible. Hiring managers should only need to spend time speaking with a handful of candidates who are prequalified and interested in the position. In other words, each candidate should match all of the “must have” qualifications and have a good amount of the “nice to haves.” Let the recruitment team narrow down the search from countless candidates to around five that the hiring manager can phone interview. From there, the team can meet with the top three and hire the one that fits best with the corporate culture, using the other candidates as backups. The 5 phone interviews, to 3 final round interviews, to 1 offer ratio is a solid ratio to shoot for (more on the 3 final round interview rule below).
In summary, a successful time saving prescreening process is a simple three-step process. First, the hiring team needs to identify clear qualifications. Second, those qualifications need to presented to the staffing team, whether internal HR or their external agencies, so the staffing team can work their magic on sourcing and screening candidates. Third, only prequalified, prescreened candidates should make it to the manager’s inbox. Identifying candidates that match the requirements, fall into the salary expectations, and who have a good reason for contemplating a career change is the majority of the battle and the most time-consuming part of the hiring process. The rest should be smooth sailing.
3.Map Out the Interview Process
Like most things in life, the more you plan, the less room for error. Map out the interview process prior to beginning the search by setting expected timelines for each part of the process. Identify who is going to be a part of each step and try to save time by having multiple managers interview candidates together. For example, if two managers need to be a part of the phone interview process, try to find a time when both managers can talk to the candidate at the same time. You can easily reduce time to hire while retaining quality by having group phone calls and face to face interviews. Setting up multiple calls on separate days or having the candidate return to the office more than once is inefficient in most cases.
Furthermore, always set timelines for interview feedback and next steps. For example, it would be realistic for HR to forward along a CV to the hiring manager the same day they screen a candidate that they feel is fit for the position. The hiring manager should provide feedback on whether or not they want to speak directly with the candidate within 24-48 hours and should provide several days and times they are available to help with scheduling. Repeat this process for each step of the interview process, trying to cut the number of interviews to the least amount possible while making sure that each decision maker gets their opportunity to speak/meet with the candidate. Setting timelines hold the team accountable for providing feedback, keeping the process moving in a forward direction. Otherwise, it is easy to get distracted with day to day responsibilities delaying the interview process.
Side note: A recent technology that has been gaining in popularity is video interviewing, especially for remote positions. Not only is there a cost saving compared to paying for flights, hotels, and Ubers, but many of the platforms allow for the interview to be recorded. This way other team members who were unable to meet during the interview time can still review the candidate’s performance at a later date.
4.Give Feedback and Keep Things Moving
Feedback is extremely important in keeping candidates motivated to continue with the hiring process which is why a smooth interview process includes regular feedback. The most important feedback is sharing the team’s interest in moving forward with the next steps in the interview process. The longer it takes for post-interview feedback and the more time between interviews, the less likely a candidate is going to retain an interest in the position (and the more likely one of your competitors is going to wind up snatching them up). Is one of the managers traveling for the next two weeks, postponing a potential face to face interview? Have another team member conduct a short phone interview while the manager is out. Try to fill in the gaps as much as possible and make sure that candidates are hearing from you at least once, if not twice per week. Set a goal to provide interview feedback within 24-48 hours.
Giving feedback to the recruiting team is also important as it will aid in sourcing better-matched talent. The idea is to replicate success and minimize failure. Learning why previous candidates are being declined will result in better screening efforts. This leads to more qualified candidates being forwarded to the hiring team, thus saving time and streamlining the process.
There is an added value of a long-term staffing agency partnership. The more familiar a staffing partner is with their client (and specific hiring teams), the better able they are able to screen potential candidates to make sure that they not only fit the qualifications but also match the corporate culture. Every “no” leads to a shortcut to the next “yes.”
5.The Three Interview Rule
Earlier I mentioned the 5:3:1 target. Five first round interviews should turn into 3 final round interviews which should lead to one offer. Here, we will discuss the importance of the 3:1 ratio. Inviting the top three candidates to participate in the last round interview is advantageous in many ways. First, it gives the team a goal to shoot for, three. If there are a ton of applicants, use the previous interview(s) to narrow down the pool. If you are struggling to find three candidates, open up your search criteria. Second, it limits the amount of time spent interviewing. It is very easy to fall into the trap of interviewing every candidate in order to leave no stone unturned. If you have a solid screening process (utilizing recruiters and initial phone interviews) you should be able to weed out candidates that don’t fit and narrow down the pool to only three. Keep in mind, these three candidates are the team’s favorites, so why bother with the others who didn’t make the cut? Third, bringing in three candidates will allow the team to consider multiple top-tier talents to protect against the fear of missing out on a better candidate.
Each of the three interviews set the bar for the next. The first candidate sets the bar of comparison for the following interview. The second candidate will either dethrone the first candidate as the team’s favorite or will provide further evidence that the first candidate is the better fit. The third candidate will do the same, either dethrone candidate one/two or provide further proof that one of the others is a better match. As long as you have three qualified candidates, there shouldn’t be a need to interview a fourth. Should the first candidate not accept the offer? Hopefully one of the other two is a close back up.
If you don’t like any of the candidates after the three interviews, it is time to put the position on hold and set up an internal meeting to get back on track. Most likely, there is one of two issues going on. Either the team isn’t clear on what they are looking for and it is time to get back on track before wasting any more time, or, the candidates were not screened properly and attention should be made to find the gap and plug it. If the need itself has changed (which happens quite often), make sure the recruiting team is kept up to date so they can change the focus of their search and screening process.
Many of the changes are minor, involving a little more planning and goal setting to create a better candidate experience. An hour conversation creating an interview plan and bringing the recruiting staff up to speed on the vacancy can save exponential time and money, giving you the ability to identify and attract better talent more quickly. Once you experience the results of streamlining the interview process (hiring better talent and saving money) it is much easier to replicate the new and improved process going further, while ironing out smaller inefficiencies on the way.
Strive to be the company that snatches up the best talent in your industry, pulling the rug out from your competitors. Do this every time and think of the type of talent you will be surrounded by.
The One Thing You Need to Do to Nail the Interview (Even if You Are Not the Most Qualified Candidate)
In today’s job market there is a buzzword taking over the recruiting process: cultural fit. There is a clear shift from hiring the most qualified candidate to hiring the best “fit” for the company. In some ways, this makes perfect sense. Just because someone is good at their job, doesn’t mean they are going to represent your brand in a way that aligns with the company’s mission. Some of the most qualified candidates may be lacking in the two areas that you can’t teach: motivation and drive.
While being qualified for a particular vacancy is still a top priority, there is more wiggle room for personality to shine. The question that you need to ask yourself is, “How can I make a good impression to show the team that I can fit into their corporate culture?” Research from behavioral psychologists like Robert Cialdini, who is best known for his research on influence and persuasion, suggests a simple solution that can be complex to execute…be likable.
No company promotes a corporate culture full of needy, greedy, lazy, self-centered, tardy, unprofessional, and difficult to work with staff. Following the principals derived from research by behavioral psychologists, such as the aforementioned Dr. Cialdini, there are actions that candidates can take to increase their likability and, in turn, increase their perceived cultural fit.
Dress the Part
Although no one likes to admit it, appearance plays a part in cultural fit. Research has shown that there is an unconscious shortcut that causes us to assign positive traits to those who are physically attractive. This phenomenon holds true across gender lines even when evaluating someone of the same sex. While we need to work with what our mammas gave us, we can control certain features of our appearance, such as dressing the part.
The general rule of thumb is to dress one “level” nicer than what the situation calls for. Try to find out the dress code and take it one step further. The idea is to take the corporate policy and one up it, just a little bit. If the dress code is business casual (button down and a pair of slacks), then go formal (suit and tie). If the dress code is casual (T-shirt and jeans) then go business casual.
When in doubt, err on the side of dressing more formal. Most companies’ corporate cultures include being detail oriented, representing the brand in a positive way, and working in a team environment. By dressing similar, but a little better than others in the organization, you are portraying professionalism and social similarity which can immediately make you more likable to the people you are meeting.
The only time that dressing formal can backfire is if the corporate culture is ultra-relaxed. Showing up in a suit while others are walking around in flip-flops and tank tops may make the interviewers think you are “stiff” and in turn harder to relate to.
It is probably no surprise that we tend to like people who are similar to us. There are many types of similarities that cause us to be more likable, such as dress (which we just spoke about), opinions (i.e. – which football team to cheer for), interests (i.e. – hobbies), lifestyle choices (i.e. – being a working parent) and backgrounds (i.e. – growing up in the same neighborhood).
How does this translate to being more likable during the interviewing process? We can assume that those who have been appointed to have the authority to hire are trusted to represent and replicate their corporate culture. They are seen as examples of success and have been given the power to replicate their success by hiring the next top performer. The more similarities you can tie to those who are exemplary of what is means to be successful within the company, the more you will be perceived as being successful. In other words, if the hiring managers are seen as being successful members of the company and you are similar to the hiring managers, then you should be successful as well. It is much easier to replicate previous successes than it is to reinvent the wheel.
This is where being qualified for the vacancy helps immensely. Be able to draw similarities from the job description to your job responsibilities and achievements. Talk about comparable challenges that you have encountered that are parallel to those that the company is facing (and offer solutions). Talk about the trends in your industry and where you see things heading. Talk about related technical skills or systems that you have used along with initiatives that you have led that fit with the current vacancy.
Not all similarities need to be business related. Perhaps you and the interviewer used to play the same sport in high school, share the same taste in music, or went to the same college. When traveling with my wife’s side of the family, no matter how far we are away from home someone always comments on my brother in law’s Penn State hat, usually screaming the school chant. Sometimes the most obscure similarities make you the most likable. For example, what are the chances that you and the interview both have a passion for bobsledding or underwater photography? Sharing membership in a small group can have its advantages.
If you are struggling to find shared commonalities to talk about, take a look at your surroundings. See a picture of the interviewer’s family? Bring up their kids and talk about yours. Do they have a mug with a golden retriever on their desk? Ask if they also have a dog. It doesn’t take much effort to find and exploit these similarities. At the end of the day, you are making a living working in the same industry, are most likely working for a competitor in a similar capacity, and interviewing for a specialized role on a similar career path that you share with the interviewing team.
A Little Flattery Goes a Long Way
People like feeling good and like to be recognized for accomplishments. We also tend to like people who like us. Taking this one step further, research suggests that this continues to hold true even when the person being flattered fully realizes that the flatterer has something to gain from their perceived likability.
Armed with this knowledge, approach your interviews with positivity and compliments. Talk about the successes of the company and talk about how exciting it must have been for the interviewers to be a part of the company’s successes. Google the names of the interviewers or research them on LinkedIn. Perhaps they have a publication (or a blog…wink, wink) that you can reference and give praise to. If you can’t find anything, use the obvious. Compliment their outfit, “I love the tie,” or simply compliment the company as a whole, “I have heard a lot of great things about the company and appreciate you for giving me the opportunity to interview for this position.”
Try not to be too overbearing as there is a fine line between dropping a few flattering comments and coming off as being desperate.
Find Common Goals
Achieving resolutions to common problems brings us together. Even our enemies can become our friends when we are faced with a common problem that requires mutual effort to solve the issue, thus increasing our (and their) likability. The good news is that the interviewers are not your enemies, in fact, they may even be your proponents based on previous contact or excitement over the qualifications that you presented on your CV. Throughout the interview process, it is important for the team to feel a sense of perceived comradery where they can envision you as being a part of the team.
To achieve the feeling of comradery, try to identify the team’s pain points and, as mentioned before, offer solutions. A solutions-based approach is the key ingredient to the recipe. The better you are able to identify and tackle challenges, the more the interviewers will perceive you as being part of the team. The best case scenario would be to talk about how you were involved in solving the same or similar problem in your current or past positions. Not only are you offering solutions, but you are showing them that you have experience with an executable plan that can be modified and replicated to bring immediate value.
Relating to corporate culture, most organizations look for employees who are able to work independently, without much direct supervision, while also being able to collaborate internally, either within their group or cross-functionally with other teams. With this in mind, the best solutions involve your individual contributions along with how you would interact with other team members. Perhaps you would delegate and motivate junior level staff while you are off working on a specific task. Maybe you would be meeting with the department heads to create a plan that would split up tasks that best fit each person’s, or department’s, skill sets. Either way, identify the pain point and offer a solution that includes your individual contributions along with your interactions with the team.
Be Associated with the Positives
Another unconscious shortcut that we use is our tendency to associate people (and objects) to their surroundings and actions. For example, if we are driving down the road and we see someone driving a brand new Ferrari in the other lane. Most of us would associate the driver of the car with wealth and success. However, the driver could simply be someone who is valeting the car for the owner, or perhaps it is an admin from the dealership who is moving inventory around. The same is true when it comes to the company we keep. We assume that people have similar personalities and traits to those they keep in their inner circles. What is helpful to know is that the power of association goes both ways, influencing both positive and negative connections.
In the context of interviewing, we only need to associate ourselves with positive outcomes to produce a positive influence. In this spirit, it is advisable to keep the conversation positive and focus on successes. Talk about personal achievement, but don’t leave out team or company achievements as well. For example, working in the drug research field, although you may have played only a small role in the clinical trial, it is powerful to say that you were a part of the team involved in getting ABC drug approved by the FDA. You are surrounding yourself with success which in turns makes you more likely to be perceived as successful.
The principal can also be applied when utilizing internal referrals. Candidates who are referred by internal employees are exponentially more likely to be hired compared to outside applicants. The idea is that top producers keep other top producers in their network and if they the employee is willing to put their reputation on the line by referring a potential candidate, then there is a good chance that the candidate is someone of a similar caliber. Taking this one step further, even if a friend of a friend works at the company, it could be useful to “name drop” in order to make the association. However, keep in mind that this only works when the person doing the referring is perceived in a positive way. Using a below average performer as an internal referral will surely backfire. No one wants to hire the friend of the guy that is about to get the axe.
Making a positive connection can be extremely helpful in determining cultural fit. Using the principals of association, the referral coming from a top producing employee most likely shares similar traits of the referrer. This is probably the easiest of the shortcuts to determine cultural fit because a positive association is created from very early in the process and it is harder to change an impression after the initial one is made. It is important, however, to continue to exude those traits throughout the interview process to add validation to the assumptions. Another benefit of having an internal referral is simply being able to pick their brain on what challenges the team is facing, which will allow you to get a jump start on creating a possible solution to offer.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning the importance of being cognizant of the reputation of those who you provide as professional references. In accordance with the association principal, you want to be associated with others that will provide a positive influence. Avoid providing references from those whose opinions are not well respected, even if you are confident that they will sing your praises. You want to be perceived by others as walking amongst giants.
After discussing some of the ways to be perceived as being more likable and aligned with corporate culture, the most important tip is to be yourself. It shouldn’t take a lot of effort to be likable. If it is, then maybe the position (or company) is not right for you. The worst thing you can do is to pretend to be someone you’re not during the interview to then have to assimilate yourself with a company that doesn’t align with your wants and needs. The more you are interested in a company/position, the harder it is to detach yourself from the short-term benefits which, in turn, makes it more difficult to assess long-term happiness. Luckily there is a telltale sign that things may not be as perfect as they appear.
There will be a lot of emotions floating around during the interview process. It is common to feel nervous or critical of yourself, second-guessing some of your responses. It is normal to want the position more the further in the process you become (which is partially to justify the time you spent with the interview process). Regardless of the emotions that pop up, it is important to identify the nature of the feeling. One of the telltale signs that a position may not be right for you is when you are trying too hard to be liked. There will be a feeling in the pit your stomach, either when you are knee deep in the interview or afterward when you are reflecting on the conversations. If something doesn’t feel right, it is worth evaluating all of the emotions bouncing around your brain to see if your “want” of having the job matches your personal “need” of finding satisfaction with your career. Remember, an interview is a two-way street and the company has to be likable as well, aligning with your goals and personality. There is no harm in giving yourself an advantage by being a little more likable, but the key is to do so in a way that protects your career interests.
A reference check can be a phenomenal tool to help avoid hiring someone that may be hiding something during the interview process. References can be used before an offer is made to provide higher level detail on two (or more) top tier candidates to give more information before an offer is made. They may also be used as a part of a full background check to add an extra layer of confidence beyond confirming employment, education, and lack of criminal history. When done properly, reference checks provide confirmation of a candidate’s skill sets, achievements, and work ethic (making sure they match both their CV and their interviews). When done without structure, they can instill a false sense of comfort.
Reference checks can be quite tricky. By nature, references tend to be very positive. At the end of the day, a candidate is referring people whom they expect to sing their praises. It is very easy to ask vanilla questions and receive vanilla responses regarding past performance. However, by following these best practices, there are tricks and tools that hiring managers can use to sleep better at night, knowing that their next rock-star is on the way.
The Hiring Manager Should Conduct the Reference Checks
Sure, hiring managers are busy running their department, managing people, and trying to sneak in some time to hire the next person on their team. There can be a case made that they just don’t have the time to perform reference checks with all of their many duties pulling them in other directions. Sometimes they will past the duties onto HR or their agency recruiter, only wanting to be notified if something drastically negative comes from the call(s). However, if you consider the time and money that it takes to onboard and train someone that isn’t going to work out, it is fair to say that two to three 10 minute phone calls are well worth the time. Vetting a candidate is important, but unfortunately, some of the best interviewers are not top performers. The 20-30 minutes that it takes to check references can be well worth the peace of mind and be a huge time saver in the future. Furthermore, hiring managers can be strategic with their Q&A ensuring that all of their questions or concerns are being addressed.
Make Sure the Provided References Will Be Able to Provide the Information You Want
Most professional references will come from a past manager, colleague, client, or someone else who can attest to the quality of work and behavior of the candidate.
It is important to figure out whose opinions matter most when checking references. Ask the candidate to provide the best match for your criteria.
A general rule of thumb is to always ask for current or previous supervisors, especially if the hiring manager is the one conducting the calls. When a hiring manager calls a past supervisor they immediately have something in common which leads to advantages. First, it is easier to gain one another’s trust as they sit in similar roles, or least, have somewhat similar responsibilities…hiring talent. Second, the supervisor will be able to better address the hiring manager’s concerns, with the underlying assumption that the supervisor is also involved in hiring and vets for certain qualities when hiring on his or her team.
If you are hiring someone that will be responsible for direct reports, ask to speak to one or two of their previous direct reports. A supervisor can make or break a team so making sure people like working underneath them is extremely important. Time and time again I have seen top talent driven off from a terrible manager who interviewed well, but was not a great leader. Don’t make the same mistake.
If you are hiring someone who is client facing, ask to talk to one of their clients and see how satisfied they were with the relationship. At the end of the day, anyone who is client facing is supposed to be leaving a positive impression with their end user. A happy client is a repeat client.
Checking colleague level references can be important as well, but it is usually hard to get a full understanding of the candidate’s achievements. Most colleague level references will say nothing but great things as it makes for an easier call. They also tend to have a narrower idea of performance and are less able to answer specific questions about past achievements. Not to mention, colleague level references tend see themselves as being equal as their colleagues and will project the positive feelings that they have of themselves to their colleagues. No one wants to admit that they are working in a similar capacity to group of bottom-level performers as it would discredit their professional experience.
Something else to remember: sometimes HR has a policy that does not allow supervisors to answer any reference check questions outside of confirming employment dates and titles. If this is the case, ask the candidate to provide another reference.
Understand Who It Is You Are Speaking With
Start the conversation by getting a better understanding of who the reference is, including their current company, title, how long they worked with the candidate and in what capacity. The best references come from those who have worked with the candidate the longest and who are the most recent. Since many companies will conduct reference checks before a candidate gives notice, you may not be able to talk to their previous manager which is not uncommon. However, you may be able to talk to a previous manager that is no longer with the company or a supervisor from a past company. The more background data you collect, the better idea of whose perceptions you are questioning.
Identify What Information You Want to Walk Away Knowing
Have a plan of attack when reaching out to references. Identify what knowledge you want to gather prior to making the call and create a plan on how to extract that information. If your two main concerns about the candidate are their ability to work independently along with their technical skills then ask questions regarding their experience working on projects by themselves along with what skill set they would be able to mentor more junior level colleagues. Make a list of the information that you want, then start to come up with questions that will lead to appropriate responses. It is highly suggested to have a list of questions written down to keep your conversation on track. There is nothing worse than hanging up just to realize that you forgot to ask something that was really important going into the call.
Ask the Right Questions to Avoid Generic Responses and Encourage Candid Answers
With the human tendency to provide nothing but positive feedback, how do you get references to feed you the unfiltered truth?
The first step is to gain their trust. Assure them the conversation is completely confidential. Second, you need to warm them up. Always start by talking about something positive and talking about the industry. A good tactic is to ask the same type of questions that you asked the candidate during the interview as it will show that you are both industry professionals and it will set the tone for the rest of the call. Third, phrase your questions in a way that don’t allow for generic positive responses. Avoid questions that allow the reference to answer with a couple of words, but instead, need to be explained.
Do Not Accept (Just) Written Offer Letters
Written reference letters can be extremely persuasive, especially when they are written by someone whose opinions carry a lot of weight. The challenge is that the letter is only a snapshot taken at a specific time which doesn’t mean that their performance could have gone downhill since.
Written reference letters can also be used for mangers trying to do the candidate a favor even though they really didn’t perform. I have seen many people who were terminated, only to find their supervisor writing a reference out of guilt. This is especially true with newer managers who are still uncomfortable letting their team members go. To take this one step further, some managers will provide a written reference so they won’t be called for a reference check. There is nothing more awkward than checking a reference of someone who did not perform well. The reference has to either lie and stay positive or have that uncomfortable conversation of throwing the candidate under the bus. The written reference makes for an easier way out.
Be Wary of Red Flags
When conducting a reference check you need to decide what information is important to you and your team. Some previous strengths or weaknesses may not relate to the position you are considering the candidate for and each question (and answer) needs to hold a certain amount of weight in your decision making process. That being said, there are a list of red flags that should at least be taken into consideration if they come up during the reference check process.
The best indication of future behavior is past behavior. Humans tend to be extremely consistent in their behaviors. If you check three references, all of which are telling you to hire this candidate immediately, there are probably good reasons to do so. On the flip side, no one is perfect and you need to figure out if your team is able to work on areas for improvement. Generally, it is easier to take a motivated employee and teach them rather than hire an expert that lacks drive. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If the horse isn’t drinking you just need to find a thirstier horse.
Epic Interview Fails: Real Life Examples of Poor Decisions That Led to Rescinded Offers and Terminations
Proper interviewing technique and etiquette are taught very early in life. Being professional, courteous and attentive to detail are all important factors that lead to job offers, whether you are brand new in your industry or a seasoned vet. The longer I have been in the staffing industry, the less I am surprised by the crazy things even the most intelligent people do. Some of the most qualified candidates who have some of the best interviewing skills may be the worst hire you make this year, leading to an implosion of wasted time and money.
One of the goals of The Headhunter Guide is to help you learn from other people’s mistakes. The following accounts are real-life examples of some of the jaw-dropping actions that I have personally encountered (either directly, a horror story from a client, or through close colleagues) that have led to disaster. The names are fake, to protect confidentiality, but the stories are real. Although these are extreme examples of what NOT to do, the morals still hold true.
Each are examples of seasoned professionals who are considered experts in their field with annual salaries of over $100k (some much higher as noted below). Many are well educated and some are even subject matter experts in their respective fields.
Sit back, grab a cup of coffee, get ready to shake your head, laugh a little, and introduce your palm to your forehead reading these epic fails of intelligent people making poor decisions.
Dr. Dre was a very successful US Board Certified Doctor who liked to be challenged. After many years with his current company, he looked for an opportunity that would help him continue to multiply his brain cells by better utilizing his education, extraordinary work history, leadership, and drive.
Due to his executive-level status, Dr. Dre was historically a very busy guy. Most of the calls that I had with him were from his Porsche as he was zigzagging from meeting to meeting. We had identified an opportunity that checked off all of the boxes on his career goal wish list. The position was an executive level role at a company across the country that would allow him to work from home part-time, travel to the office from time to time, and would involve both domestic and international travel to act as a subject matter expert representing the organization. The position was paying well over $300k in base salary, plus all of the bonuses and perks of executive leadership.
Throughout the interview process, Dr. Dre wound up charming the company as he proceeded through seven separate phone and video interviews. Yes, seven. After the seventh interview, the team wanted to have him fly out and meet with the rest of the executive staff to shake some hands and extend a formal offer. All Dr. Dre had to do was show up, smile, nod a few times, and he would be signing the offer letter in no time. Unfortunately for the doctor, his ego got in the way.
He arrived at the interview well dressed and a little early. Off to a good start, right? As he checked in at the receptionist’s desk he began to (and I am quoting the feedback directly from the team), “uncomfortably flirt with the receptionist to the point where she felt that she needed to remove herself from the situation and leave him by himself until the first interviewer was ready.” He then proceeded to meet with all of the top executives, each of whom were appalled by his language. He had dropped more explicit content than your favorite rapper’s last album.
Needless to say, Dr. Dre was sent jet-setting back across the country empty-handed and is now blacklisted by the company. Good thing they didn’t hire off the seventh interview, right?
Ben and Jerry- The Double Dippers
The story of Ben came from one of my clients, Ben’s direct manager. Ben was an independent consultant in a work from home position who was billing $85/hr for his services. He had multiple clients and managed his workload so that he would be able to bill well over 40 hours per week from his combined assignments.
From time to time Ben had to travel for his job and once in a blue moon, he would travel with his manager. This particular instance was one of those times. Ben and his manager had a couple of days to work on site together to meet a deadline. The first day went well. Both Ben and his manager were able to collaborate throughout the day. They both had individual tasks, but would meet multiple times during the day to collaborate.
They had planned for a similar process for day two; however, the execution didn’t quite go as expected. Ben and his manager broke apart to work on their separate tasks, but when it was time to get back together Ben was nowhere to be found. Hours went by, still no Ben. Ben’s manager went door to door trying to track him down, hoping that he was okay.
An hour into her search Ben’s manager finally found Ben locked away in an otherwise empty conference room, back to the door, on another laptop. At this point, his manager didn’t know what to think. She was partially relieved that Ben was okay, partially shocked that he was calmly sitting down after she has been frantically trying to find him for over an hour, and partially in bewilderment that he had two laptops with him. She confronted Ben and asked him what was going on.
Cool as a cucumber, Ben casually turned to his manager and proceeded to explain that he was trying to meet another deadline with one of other company he was consulting for and he needed to work on the other assignment for the last three hours. Time must have slipped away from him. Furious, Ben’s manager exclaimed, “But, Ben, we are here together to hit our deadline TODAY and I just spent the last hour trying to track you down. Now you are telling me that you have spent the last 3 hours on another assignment? This is unacceptable.” Ben apologized, shut down his other laptop, grabbed his company laptop and picked up where he should have been three hours ago, now with his manager trying to pick up the slack. Both he and his manager had to stay an extra three hours to complete the work.
When Ben returned home he proceeded to send his client a bill for 11 hours that day, trying to double bill both clients for his hours. The end result, he was paid for 8 hours and immediately terminated.
Jerry was also a career contractor like Ben, but after years of hunting contract assignment after contract assignment, he had decided it was time to settle down and find a permanent position with a reputable company. Luckily for Jerry, he wound up getting a job offer that was paying $100k (back in 2007) with a company car, stock options, annual bonuses, among many other perks. The company was one of the top in his industry. Everything was going well, until one day Jerry was caught red-handed with his hand in the cookie bowl.
Jerry thought he was ready to retire from contracting, but the extra income was just too tempting. He violated his non-compete and confidentiality agreement by working with a competitor on a part-time contract basis. The kicker, he was using his company’s equipment to run his side hustle. He used their company provided cell phone, company laptop, company email, and office supplies.
How did he get caught? Jerry accidentally forwarded an email to the wrong manager. Jerry was terminated and the company no longer hires career contractors for permanent positions (which is a shame that he had now ruined future opportunities for others).
Buzz was a nice guy, but not happy in his work situation. He was in a job that he didn’t really like. He was underpaid, under-challenged, and the commute was over an hour each way. He had an opportunity to interview with a company that was offering a better situation all around. The job responsibilities were both rewarding and challenging, the salary was 15% more than what he was currently making, and his commute would be cut in half.
After Buzz’s interview, the Director gave us a call and proceeded to tell us that we wouldn’t believe what just happened. He started by telling us that Buzz was extremely qualified, everyone on the team was impressed with his background, and he was quite a personable guy. Sounded great so far, so what was I missing? Well, Buzz was spitting fire when he was speaking. Each interviewer could smell liquor on his breathe and was having a tough time concentrating. Buzz was literally buzzed for the interview.
Obviously, the team didn’t move forward with Buzz and he had made it on my “do not call list”.
Paula the Photo-shop-lifter
We had just extended an offer to an ecstatic Paula. She had gladly accepted, gave notice, and was going to be starting her new position in a couple of weeks. A couple of days went by and our client reached out to let us know the background check company was having a tough time confirming her education because the university couldn’t find records of her degree on file. I looked back at her CV and her application, both clearly stated that she obtained her degree. She had listed the college name, her major, along with the date of completion on both documents.
I called up Paula and gave her the update, assuming that one of the kids in the registrar’s office didn’t look in the right place. The background company asked if she could provide a copy of her degree, which they would use for verification. “Sure, not a problem,” Paula said. A couple of days later, no response from Paula. I called to check to see how she was making out in her search only to find that she was still looking. I had gotten a long-winded story that it must be in one of the boxes she had in storage. At this point, the background check wasn’t verified and the team was required to postpone her start date another two weeks (to the next training class). Frustrated, the team had now set a deadline that the degree must be supplied by the end of the week or the offer would be rescinded. Paula said she would get it to me the next day.
The very end of the next day, Paula sent a poor quality photocopy of her degree. Something didn’t look right. Maybe her scanner was on its last leg, I don’t know. With the deadline closing in, I passed it along to the background check company to close out her verification. The following morning the background check company sent an email with two attachments. A sample of what the degree from her university is supposed to look like along with the copy that she supplied. There was a night and day difference! I called Paula back to update her once again and to get down to the bottom of the issue.
Keep in mind, for the last 8 weeks, ever since our first call, she had sworn up and down that she had a degree. Well, on this day, the wall finally broke down. In teas, Paula said that she had almost finished her degree, but there was a life circumstance that forced her to leave a few credits shy. Embarrassed by her lack of formal degree she Photoshopped a copy hoping it would pass the scrutiny of the background check.
The company immediately rescinded the offer and Paula was left with no job as her previous company already found her replacement. The saddest part of the story: the position did not require a degree in the first place! The company would have hired her, paid her the same salary, and she would be working there at this very moment if she was upfront on her CV that her degree was not complete. Palm meet forehead moment all the way around.
Should have been Bud-wiser
If you didn’t learn the message from Buzz, this is a second example of how mixing alcohol and interviewing is a disaster cocktail.
This story came from a close colleague, who was working with a candidate named Bud that he had been trying to place for a while. Bud was far along into the interview process, already having two phone interviews. So far, everything was going great. He had interviewed for a remote position and had one final interview left, a video interview with a few hiring managers via WebEx.
The managers dialed into the interview to see Bud sitting in his office. Directly behind him were a pile of empty beer cans. Not one or two, like a half of a case.
The team ended the call early, Bud did not get the job, but he Bud became a little Bud-wiser that day. From now on, he tests his video to see what is in his webcam’s view before going on a video interview.
Jackie and Jill- The Fraternal Twins
This is another account from a client. Preface: Like in Bud’s situation, the position was home based with the interview process including a couple of phone interviews with a final round video interview.
A couple of weeks into Jackie’s new position, the team started to show concern for her performance. She had interviewed really well and the team picked her over the other dozen applicants. She had answered situational questions perfectly, but didn’t practice what she was preaching on the interview. Since the company was quite large, Jackie had never had the chance to meet her manager face to face outside of the video interview. Conversations were limited to phone and email, but with her lack of performance, it was time to have an in-person meeting to try to get Jackie back on track.
Jackie and her manager eventually met up. Immediately, her manager was sitting there dumbfounded. Jackie looked a lot different than during her interview. She literally looked like a completely different person. After the meeting concluded, the manager reached out to HR and asked them to dig a little deeper. Luckily, the company had access to all of the video interviews as the software that they used recorded each session (which candidates were aware of, similar to when you put a call into customer support and they say, “This call may be recorded for quality reasons.”). These recordings gave hiring members who were unable to attend the interview access to the interview, thus giving them an opportunity to review the candidate at a later time.
HR quickly located the recording. The manager was right! Jackie was not the one who interviewed, it was her colleague Jill, an expert in the space who was doing the interview for Jackie to help her get the position.
Jackie was immediately terminated and, to this day, no one knows who Jill really is as she would only be recognized from the recorded video interview.
Following this event, the company (who has tens of thousands of employees globally) went back and started reviewing additional video interviews only to uncover MULTIPLE other examples of “Jill”s interviewing only to have “Jackie”s show up. Baffled, they shared their story with other companies in their industry who went back and checked out their recorded video interviews, only to find the same thing! I have seen people provide fraudulent information on background checks (having a friend or family member pretend to be their past manager) and fraudulent self-written references (which is why I don’t accept them at face value), but having someone actually interview on behalf of someone else was dubiously ingenious and absurd at the same time.
Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Like our other doctor, Dr. Jekyll was a highly intellectual board certified Physician. He had just received a job offer for $300k plus 40% annual bonus, a vacation home worth of stocks, along with a relocation package and temporary housing.
After signing his offer letter, we all thought this was a start to a long-term relationship between Dr. Jekyll and his new company. I mean, Dr. Jekyll had quite a few interviews, both phone and in person. The company had fully vetted him and had turned down many qualified candidates before they decided to extend him an offer.
As soon as the ink dried on his offer letter Dr. Jekyll had morphed into Mr. Hyde. Every day he had a new demand. The first day he wanted to have his title changed. Day two he wanted to change who he was directly reporting to. By the end of the week even demanding the team order very specific furniture for his office space.
He went from being extremely professional and flexible throughout the interview process to, almost in an instant, having changed his personality 180 degrees after signing the offer letter. Before his start date, the company rescinded Dr. Jekyll’s offer as Mr. Hyde wound up prevailing, never to see Dr. Jekyll again.
Although candidates can elicit bad behavior and poor behaviors, clients can be a little crazy too.
I had worked with a Director who had looked to start her own consulting business. She had interviewed for a position in which the company was floored by her experience. In order not to lose her to a competitor, they made her an offer the following day. She gladly accepted and had planned on giving a two-week notice the following week. All of the paperwork was signed with us (the staffing agency) and with the client. We were all just waiting for the start date to sneak up in a couple of weeks and she would be off to start training.
At the end of the week, our client called to say that they had to cancel the contract because they wanted to hire an internal referral instead. Shocked, we didn’t know what to do. They gave a commitment to her, she gave a commitment to them, and we are stuck in the middle trying to make sense of the situation.
We called back our soon-to-be consultant to give her the news, praying she hadn’t given her notice earlier than expected. Thankfully she hadn’t, but what if she did? Hiring on a contract basis is considered hire and fire at will. It is actually one of the beauties of hiring contractors because there is no long-term commitment. That being said, I have never seen a contract offer disappear out of thin air like this AFTER the contract was formally accepted, but before the contractor started their assignment.
Most people will look at these examples and think to themselves that this would never happen to them. You would never do anything like this. You clearly have the foresight to understand the implications of your actions. Unfortunately, most of the people who committed these epic fails would have said the exact same thing…until they made their poor decision(s). Some have learned from their mistakes while others are gluttons for punishment who continue to try to scam the system. It must be respected that everyone has their own personal situations, reasons for their actions, and sometimes the best intentions. If I can, at least, talk one of you off the ledge from doing something that you will later regret in your career (or, if you are a hiring manager, help you vet a candidate just one step further to patch a potential hole in your interview process), then I have fulfilled my goal of sharing this epic fails.
According to the American Staffing Association (https://americanstaffing.net/), Temporary and Contract Staffing accounted for $127.5B in annual sales across the staffing and recruiting industry in 2016. On average more than 3 million temp/contract employees were on assignment during an average week with a total of 15 million temp and contract employees hired each year. Of the 15M contract employees, 76% work full time and 35% were offered a permanent position by the client they were assigned to. Contract and temporary revenue has been steadily rising since 2009 and has nearly doubled since 2002 which is no wonder why a majority of staffing agencies (55%) only provide temporary and contract staffing services.
*Note- These statistics don’t take into consideration the number of contractors working directly with their client/employers so the industry is quite larger than $127.5B with well over 15M contractors placed each year.
With contracting becoming more and more commonplace it is important to understand the differences between the types of contracts to get a better understanding of what contracting model works best for you.
Types of Contracts
There are two main types of contracts: W2 and 1099 (which are both government tax forms). Under W2 we will discuss the differences between W2 salaried (of annual) vs W2 hourly. With 1099, we will discuss self-employed consultants vs Corp-to-Corp contractors. To note, there are similarities will all contracts in that they are considered temporary and will either be completed (or renewed) based on a predetermined length of time or project completion.
Generally speaking, W2 contracts are the most straightforward as they are set up very similarly to permanent positions with only a few exceptions, including an end/renewal date to the contract. The main similarity comes down to payment terms. W2 contractors are generally paid on a normal schedule with the employer taking care of withholding income taxes, social security, and Medicare. Come tax time, the employer will send a W2 form just like they do to all of their permanent employees. If you worked multiple W2 contracts throughout the year you will receive a W2 from each employer. Employers will also pay their portion of taxes and may pay for part of your healthcare premium (if benefits are offered).
W2 Salaried contracts can also be called W2 Annual contracts. W2 Salaried contracts are set up just like permanent positions where you are being paid an annual salary broken down into pay periods. These contracts are perfect temp to perm or for longer-term assignments as salaried contractors are generally able to participate in company benefits such as healthcare, benefits, along with PTO which makes the temporary status feel more like a permanent position. Depending on job duty, W2 salaried contractors can be classified as being as Exempt (meaning employers are not obligated to pay overtime). Similar to their permanent counterparts, W2 Salaried contractors may work over 40 hours and only get paid for 40 hours. On the flip side, if they work under 40 hours, they may have to dip into their PTO bank to receive their full, regular payment. If non-exempt, the employer may limit the hours to 40 per week.
Due to co-employment law (check out my blog “Why do companies use agencies when they have their own recruiters?” to learn a little more why co-employment law has become such a hot topic) there is usually a maximum duration of an assignment followed by a mandatory break before you are eligible to return to the assignment. For example, you may be allowed to contract for 2 years followed by a 6-month break in the assignment before you are able to return.
W2 Hourly is set up similarly, in many ways, as W2 Salaried in that taxes are still taken out by the employer; however, payment terms are a little different. Instead of being paid based on an annual salary you are paid based on an hourly rate. Payment is still on a set schedule which can include weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Depending if you are classified as Exempt or non-Exempt, companies may limit the hours to 40 per week (or 8 hours per day in some states like California which have daily overtime laws). If you are approved to work overtime, you will be paid for every hour you work with overtime hours being even more lucrative, time and a half (or 1.5 times your rate for those hours). You may not be eligible for company benefits (especially if you are working under a certain amount of hours per week); however, you may be able to decline company benefits and negotiate a higher hourly rate. This is a great opportunity for someone who has another source of healthcare benefits and is looking to make more per hour.
If you are planning on working full-time hours on a W2 hourly assignment, an easy “hourly rate” to “salary” conversion is: “Hourly Rate” x 2080 work hours per year = Annual Income. Keep in mind this does not take into consideration any PTO or hours missed due to company shut down nor the potential of time and a half for overtime.
W2 contracts are pretty simple and straightforward compared to their 1099 counterparts. They can be a foot in the door when a company wants to “test” out a new employee before bringing them on as permanent headcount and if you are working hourly you can protect your home/work life balance or have the ability to build up your nest egg by earning overtime compensation.
W2 contracts are pretty easy for most people to digest because the differences between permanent employment and working on a W2 contract are relatively minimal. In both situations, you are being paid on a regular basis with taxes being withheld. 1099 contracts can be a little more confusing, but offer the most flexibility, allowing greater control of your workload and the projects you accept along with the highest hourly/project rates. In other words, more risks = more rewards.
1099 contractors can be self-employed or business owners who are responsible for paying their taxes on their own, meaning their invoices are paid in full without any taxes being withheld. These types of contracts require an expert knowledge in bookkeeping and will generally have the additional cost of using an accountant to ensure proper IRS compliance along with maximizing tax deductions. 1099 contractors are generally reporting their taxes quarterly and are responsible for their own benefits.
1099 contractors can bill for each hour worked; however, their clients are not required to abide by overtime laws. They can still bill over 40 hours, but will only be paid straight time for all hours worked (unless otherwise negotiated in their contract).
As mentioned above, independent contractors/consultants are self-employed and are responsible for paying all of their applicable taxes and benefits. If you are working on a 1099 you are not eligible to enroll in company benefits. Independent Consultants are strictly unincorporated and companies who utilize services from independent consultants MUST follow the IRS guidelines for 1099 classification. These guidelines are a laundry list of conditions that classify an individual as either an employee or consultant and can be interpreted in many different ways; however, if a project is short-term or if you are working on multiple projects at a time, you may be just fine working under a 1099 without having a business set up. All of your profits are subject to self-employment tax and income tax and you are not protected by any minimum wage laws.
Regarding proper classification of consultant vs employee, according to the IRS (https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/independent-contractor-self-employed-or-employee) there are three common law rules that the IRS uses to determine whether someone is properly classified as an independent consultant. In short, summarize the 3 common rules as:
Corp to Corp (C2C) Consultants
Many agencies will only engage in a 1099 contract with people who are incorporated (also called Corp to Corp or C2C) to help protect themselves against co-employment law risks. One of the easiest ways to become a C2C contractor is by setting up a single member Limited Liability Company also referred to as a Single Member LLC. A Single Member LLC is a business entity that is registered to the state as a business and operates as such.
The business owner takes money out of the business for expenses to run their business. Expert level bookkeeping is required as one of the beauties of running your own business means that most expenses are taken away from revenue which means you are taxed on your profits. In other words, business expenses become tax deductible. Working with an accountant is highly suggested as they will make sure that you are deducting everything possible to save as much as you can come quarterly tax time.
LLC owners will generally carry liability insurance and members are not typically personally liable for debts of the business. For example, if the LLC gets sued (hopefully this never happens), or if the LLC goes bankrupt the owner’s personal assets are not at risk. Whereas, if you are working on a 1099 as an unincorporated individual (in other words you are working under your SSN) and are involved in a lawsuit, your bank accounts, home, etc. are all fair game!!
Single-member LLC's should register for an Employer ID Number (EIN), even if the business has no employees. Most banks require an EIN to open a business bank account.
If working through an agency, the contract will be between the agency and your company name. If they offer direct deposit they may require the bank account to be a business account (another step to ensure co-employment laws are being met).
Similar to 1099 consultants, C2C contractors are able to take on multiple projects at a time and have more flexibility to choose which projects to accept. There is an opportunity to add employees and grow the business if the opportunity arises, though many companies may classify a multi-member LLC as a vendor and may prohibit work being given to these types of companies to maintain confidentiality and quality.
1099 contracts require more work, more bookkeeping, no option for client paid benefits, and do not offer any tax withholdings. You are going to be physically seeing your tax dollars go to Uncle Sam every quarter and there is a lot of extra administrative time and costs associated with going 1099.
On the flip side, 1099 contracts pay the highest hourly/project rates. The reason why they pay high is because of the lower cost to the client compared to W2 (no employer taxes, no benefits, etc.). You have the flexibility to be the boss of yourself and have the opportunity to pick and choose the work you accept, something that employees can only dream of.
Best Practices: if you are working on a 1099 basis, do yourself a favor and find a really good accountant. Unless you are an expert accountant or have a lot of free time on your hands, the costs associated with utilizing an accountant are offset by maximizing tax deductions along with the peace of mind knowing you are complying with all government regulations and policies.
If you are thinking about setting up an LLC or another type of business, Legalzoom.com is a widely accepted resource that will help educate you on the process and can walk you through the process of setting up your company at a cost that is generally much lower than an accountant or lawyer.
The Headhunter Guide is RECRUITER WRITTEN'S way to provide insider's knowledge to candidates and employers alike. Enjoy!