To Get Good Feedback, Know When to Keep Your Mouth Shut

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Feb 27, 2015

Our reputation and success as recruiters are closely tied to confidentiality. We need to keep the confidentiality of both our candidates and clients.

When I reach out for G2 (a government term meaning intelligence) on a candidate or client, the individual giving me information has to trust that I will keep his comments to myself and that I will use this information judiciously and never put him in jeopardy. I always tell people that conversations with recruiters are like conversations with your attorney, physician, or religious leader. We need to know when to keep our mouths shut because breaching confidentiality may cause your client or candidate (or both) never to trust, or work with, you again.

I was glued to Matt Lowney’s article (“Why You Don’t Get Better Client Feedback”). He told the story of a candidate he’d interviewed who didn’t seem interested in the opportunity, and even seemed “annoyed” with some of the questions Matt asked in the meeting. He explained that he gave specific feedback to the recruiter about the candidate, but that he “asked the recruiter to cushion the feedback” to the candidate, which the recruiter didn’t do. Because this recruiter doesn’t understand confidentiality, and provided “almost verbatim” feedback to the candidate, the candidate sent an inappropriate follow-up email to Matt and the leadership team.

Whose Fault Is This?

The recruiter, just like Matt said in his story.

The recruiter should know better than to have verbal diarrhea, especially when told to soften the feedback. The recruiter, if worth a damn, should know enough to know how to soften the blow. Remember people — it’s not what you say but how you say it. The recruiter should know how to get the message across without pissing everyone off in the process.

Additionally, what kind of recruiter would send a disinterested candidate to a job interview? Didn’t he prep his candidate?

It seems apparent to me that the recruiter in question has no relationship with the candidate. In 22 years of recruiting I’ve never had something like this happen (I’m not patting myself on the back here); I’m sure many reading this can say the same. If you make the time to get to know someone you should be able to get a sense of someone’s behavior. Making the time means more than a 15-minute call. It means getting to know who they are, what motivates them, what upsets them, etc. It means lengthy conversations where you (the professional recruiter) ask thoughtful questions that elicit thoughtful answers — complex answers – answers that provide insight into someone’s behaviors.

Does Fault Lie With the Candidate?

Sure. Some fault lies with the candidate. But Matt suggests that the recruiter can’t prevent bad behavior from a “rogue candidate,” and that the “incident reflects more negatively on the candidate than the recruiter.” Hogwash! The recruiter produced the candidate. Granted, there is no foolproof solution to predict behavior; however, the more time you spend getting to know someone, the lower the chance of this behavior (Please see the paragraph above).

Where Does the Onus Lay?

Ultimately, the onus belongs with the client. Saying, “I need to be more guarded in my feedback to agencies about their candidates,” is a copout. To say, “If there was a better match to the position in the first place we could have avoided the situation…” is just pointing the finger at someone else to avoid looking at yourself and determining what you need to do differently to have a successful search outcome. Not being candid with the recruiter with your feedback DOES NOT solve the problem.

What Is the Solution?

There are actually two solutions, and they should be used in this order:

  1. The client should have a firm heart-to-heart with the recruiter. A great recruiter is in a partnership with the client. We work together to solve problems. If or when something isn’t working from the client’s point of view it’s his responsibility to fix it. I’d like to know if the recruiter in the story had a conversation with the candidate to see if there was some reason for his imprudent behavior. Not for nothing everyone deserves his or her day in court.
  2. The client should NOT work with the recruiter ever again. I mean, what would possess someone to work with a service provider who’s not providing quality service?

Remember what Harry Truman said:

The buck stops here.

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