The Unreasonable, Overly Picky, Short-Sighted Hiring Manager

You've likely had to work with more than one of these. Here's how to get them to say yes to your candidates.

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Jul 5, 2023

You may have heard of the so-called purple unicorn. I’m here to tell you it only exists in fairytales. I’ve had many conversations with recruiting professionals about hiring managers who want to “be picky” or “continue to see who is out there.” What is this dream perfection many think they are looking for?

Let’s step back and examine the hiring process, starting with job descriptions. These documents originated as a communication tool for companies to share the knowledge and skills someone needs to be effective in a position. Somewhere along the line, though, the focus for hiring managers shifted to building an extensive dream list of everything a candidate should be or do.

Even beyond these lists, candidates are being rejected for many reasons — so much so that employers have lost focus on potential and core capabilities.

Below are three of the most frequent reasons managers typically reject candidates — and why they should consider them.

A candidate’s current or past job titles are at a lower level.

A hiring manager is likely to have concerns about someone who has never held a current role’s title before. How can I be sure they can do it? What if they can’t build effective partnerships with the level of employees they will be supporting? If they can’t handle the level of responsibility, their work or duties will fall back on me. 

However, it’s worth pointing out that all companies have different job-title structures. Let’s be honest; many companies focus on saving money where possible, with people taking on additional duties without the related title and pay increases. Instead of focusing on title, focus on capabilities and depth of experience.

Individuals looking for the next step often have something to prove, especially to themselves. They will likely rise to the challenge if they are looking for growth. Never mind that sometimes an employee may not have had the same mentorship or advocate opportunities as others within a company. They may be ready for the next step but have not had the same options.

A candidate’s work history has short-term jobs.

There is a perceived risk when hiring managers see someone who has been at one or more previous companies for a short time. We invest in training and development for onboarding employees, and it can be concerning to think that someone may not stay very long.

But here’s the reality: Due to the pandemic, the job market has been volatile. We saw entire industries shutter. People were forced to leave jobs or make frequent changes when businesses closed or had layoffs. As a result, something in the psyche of many people changed after COVID. I’m not a psychologist but working with thousands of candidates has given some interesting insights. Nowadays they are more likely to change jobs if they don’t feel valued or supported.

In addition, we are operating in a tight labor market. More companies are competing for the same talent pool. It will become more common to see candidates who make changes to fit their personal needs more quickly than in the past.

A candidate is not a good fit.

This is one of the top reasons that hiring managers have told me they don’t want to move forward with a candidate, but what does this mean exactly? It’s often unclear, and so it becomes easier to reject a candidate.

Often, it’s because the candidate is different from the hiring manager or the team, and we feel more comfortable with known variables, especially during the stress of hiring.

Instead of rejecting a candidate, a hiring manager should identify the specific concern, then determine if it is a valid concern related to their ability to do the job. The best addition to your team may be different from those you have on your team today. Differences in opinion, thought process, communication style, and approach will strengthen your team.

Many people are capable of succeeding within a position type. I can’t say how often a manager told me they ultimately hired someone very successful in the role but different than they thought they needed at the start of recruitment.

The truth is that no candidate will be perfectly prepared for your open position. Training and onboarding will always be needed to help someone become the ideal employee. In any hiring decision, you will take a leap of faith. After seeing many close-up success stories, I can tell you that assumptions are often proven incorrect, and people can successfully rise to new challenges.

The next time you hire, I encourage you to pause when you are about to say no and focus on what you truly need and where you may be making assumptions. Many remarkable people could benefit your team and add value to your open position if you only give them a chance and say yes more than you say no.