8 Cool Ways to Engage Your Hiring Managers and Hire More “A-level” Talent

May 29, 2009

If it wasn’t for hiring managers, recruiting would be so easy. But, alas, this is not to be. Instead, we can either confront them head on, or put our heads down in despair, and find still other perfectly qualified candidates they still won’t like. Unfortunately, too many recruiters fall into this endless productivity-draining black hole, and wonder why the latest new sourcing wonder drug quickly loses its effectiveness.

If you’re like me, I don’t like doing searches over again. Early in my recruiting career, this was the driving force behind the creation of Performance-based Hiring — a tool for taming hiring managers. I offered its use to hiring managers for free by suggesting a simple trade-off: they’d see better and fewer candidates from me if they followed some simple steps. Most agreed. As a result my search firm got as many assignments as we could handle, since we were the only one using this performance-based hiring process. It also worked.

With the goal of taming hiring managers in mind, here are some of the basics of Performance-based Hiring. Try them out if your hiring-manager clients want to see too many candidates, can’t decide among the best, or exclude these best ones for bad reasons:

Throw away the job description. We all know that lists of skills, duties, responsibilities, academics, required experience, and industry background are useless for attracting, screening, or selecting top performers. Hiring managers know this, too. So the next time you take a search assignment, ask the hiring manager what the person needs to do to ace the performance review. Then ask what the best people do differently than the average people in the department. Then ask why a top person would want this job. Then ask the manager if she’d see someone who could do all of this work successfully, even if the person didn’t have all of the skills and experiences listed on the job description. (If the manager says “no,” read this article on how to take the assignment.)

Don’t take the assignment until you know the job. Since you’ve thrown away the job description, you can’t leave the room until you have a complete understanding of what the person taking the job must do to be successful. To do this, take every item on the traditional job description and ask the manager what the person must do with it to prove superior competency. For example, if the manager says the person must have three to five years of industry experience, ask what will the person do with this on the job. This is how you convert job descriptions into performance profiles.

Train your managers to focus on performance early in the interview. In addition to the resume I ask candidates to separately summarize two different accomplishments related to the job — one team-based and one as an individual contributor. I then ask the manager to review these during the first 30 minutes of the interview. By having the hiring manager focus on the candidate’s most comparable job-related accomplishments early-on, the interview is more focused, and emotional biases are minimized.

Go out of your way to minimize the impact of first impressions. More mistakes are made in the first 30 minutes of the interview than any other time due to the impact of first impressions. The tactic described in the point above, about focusing on performance early on, offsets this to a great degree. For one thing, the candidate is more confident since she has prepared the write-up. In addition, you should desensitize the manager ahead of time if you perceive a potential first-impression problem. Having the manager conduct a phone screen before the personal meeting can also be extremely helpful. You might to suggest that the manager measure the “first impression” at the end of the interview when he or she is more objective.

Prep your candidate. Here’s a short sample of a video I send to my candidates to prep them before their first interview. As you’ll see, the idea behind this is to minimize candidate nervousness, allow them to ask job- and performance-related questions, and to recognize that there is a formulaic way to answer questions that will overcome the typical weak assessment skills of hiring managers. A formal prep is one of the best ways to minimize the impact of hiring managers who aren’t well trained.

Out-fact your manager. The one-question fact-finding interviewing process was developed to give recruiters enough information to disprove false conclusions. The idea behind this question is to ask the candidate to describe a few significant job-related accomplishments in great detail. The fact-finding process involves getting details, dates, metrics, org charts, and examples of going the extra mile. If you do this for two to three different accomplishments, you‘ll have enough information to challenge any false assertion. From a recruiter’s perspective, accurate information is the only defense for conclusions based on intuition, biased first impressions, or narrow assessments.

Don’t let managers conduct the first interview alone. Unless it’s structured, pre-planned and focused, the initial one-on-one interview can quickly become an irrelevant or personality-based discussion. Making matters worse, if the candidate makes a positive first impression, the interviewer asks easier questions, and if the candidate falls short on the first impression hurdle, the interviewer asks tougher questions. For every new client, I ask to lead the first round of interviews to avoid these problems. You should, too. A well-run panel interview also avoids these pitfalls, since small talk is minimized and structure is ensured. A good lead interviewer can also watch out for — and reduce —  temporary candidate nervousness, by quickly intervening.

Use a multi-factor assessment. Practically speaking, untrained interviewers — like most hiring managers — are unlikely to glean much insight into the candidate’s ability to do the real work required for job success. While technical competency is part of this, it doesn’t represent a complete assessment. For proof, consider the fact that when new employees underperform, it’s typically not due to technical weakness; rather, it’s because of weak team skills, lack of motivation to do the work, or a problem with the hiring manager’s style. To address this, broaden the selection criteria and ask each interviewer to focus on a subset of these factors. A formal debriefing is part of this type of evidence-based assessment process. Here’s a link to the 10-factor candidate assessment template we train managers to use to formalize this approach.

Consider this: if you send in one less candidate per search using some of the techniques above, you’ll increase your productivity by 20-30%! If you use them all, you’ll double your placement rate and be the most sought-after recruiter on your planet.

Taming hiring managers is the big 500-pound gorilla in the room. Yet, somehow in our quest for the next silver sourcing bullet, we ignore which side of the desk we should be aiming our guns at.

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