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.
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.
The Headhunter Guide is RECRUITER WRITTEN'S way to provide insider's knowledge to candidates and employers alike. Enjoy!