Go to Menu Respecting The Candidate
Instructions For Employers
By Nick Corcodilos

Most of The Headhunter Articles are directed at the job hunter. This article comprises instructions for employers, but it's designed to help everyone by emphasizing the importance of respect when hiring.

In Death By Lethal Reputation I told the story of a Silicon Valley company that passed on to the great clean room in the sky because it lost respect for its professional community. Specifically, the company got lazy and sloppy about the way it presented itself when recruiting and interviewing prospective job candidates. In that article I outlined some basic rules for interviewing that every company should adopt -- or ignore at its peril. But rules are easy to accept. The challenge is to live by them.

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Let's review the rules, then look at how to make them useful when you're hiring. To stir things up a bit, at the end of this article I'll also talk about how job candidates can raise interviewing standards by raising their own expectations.

The quality of an interview is the employer's responsibility.
In Ask The Headhunter: Reinventing the Interview to Win the Job I devote an entire chapter to this point: job hunters don't schedule interviews, employers do. While it's the smart job candidate's challenge to take control of an interview, it's the employer who sets the tone. If that tone isn't one of clear mutual respect, all is lost.

The tone of an interview is set by the person conducting it. When I talk about the New Interview, I always emphasize the importance of the hiring manager handling the meeting. There is no justification for anyone else doing it. A first interview is not a place for Personnel to screen; it's not the time for filling out forms; and it's not for asking presumptuous questions. You're recruiting, for heaven's sake. You're trying to entice top talent. The candidate didn't accept your invitation to see how efficient your personnel department is. He came to meet the manager he'd be working with. He came to get an impression of your company's expertise in its business. He came to discuss his work and yours -- in your area of specialization, not in human resources.

A respectful meeting with a job candidate should be a challenging but appropriate engagement of two professionals. Your goal is to keep it at that level.

The candidate is not there "at your pleasure." He's come to your office to conduct business and to derive some gain for himself. Treat him as if he were a prospective customer coming to visit your facility. Create an agenda that will both please and stimulate the candidate. Then give him that agenda before he comes to the interview. That shows a lot of respect, and it demonstrates your ability to focus on what matters. It tells the candidate this is a business call, not an awkward interrogation. It tells the candidate you know what you're doing.

Don't be presumptuous. Don't ask the candidate to open his kimono until you've opened yours. Don't poke and prod too soon. Imagine going on a first date and asking a person you barely know about the facts and figures of her life: "Who are your parents? How were you raised? Why is it you're attracted to me? How many kids do you want to have?" Don't laugh. The analogy is very apt. Nothing upsets a job candidate like a presumptuous interviewer, and rightly so.

State your business clearly. You're the host. You asked for this meeting. So take the lead. What does your company do? What's the long term goal? The immediate challenge? The problem you're facing? What's your interest in the candidate? Then let the candidate show how he'd apply his skills and abilities to approach it all.

The interviewer should be as knowledgable as the candidate.
The tone and outcome of an interview is largely determined by the subject of the interview. Make sure everyone on your end is clear about what the subject matter of the interview is going to be.

Everyone interviewing the candidate should be prepared. They should all be of such a caliber that they could win this job if they were interviewing for it. To send in lesser troops is to insult the candidate. If you want to introduce the candidate to people in other departments, and to support staff, do it later. after you've ensured the candidate has a good picture of your team's acumen.

Avoid follow-up interviews the first time around. First impressions -- and intentions -- count. A personnel clerk who isn't expert in the work of your department is not the person you want to represent your company to the candidate. Likewise, when you schedule those five interviews, why would you let a junior team member who is nowhere near the candidate's speed grill him about his work ethic? Why let a sales manager quiz a programmer about his long-term career goals?

Best foot forward. Introduce the candidate to his peers. Your goal is to assess the candidate, but it is also to establish your credibility. Will a particular interviewer impress the candidate and be able to hold his own in the discussion? Is he a motivated employee? If not, don't put him on the front line. If the manager himself is not technically savvy enough, then find someone who is and include that person in the meeting.

Cut to the chase. If you want to show a candidate true professional respect, don't interview him. Instead, have a working meeting. In what I call "the New Interview," the subject of your meeting isn't the candidate, your company or even the job. The subject is the work. That's the great equalizer. That's the subject that opens up all the other hidden doors to a candidate's personality, character and background.

When you're sizing up someone you might want to marry, you don't ask them to tell you all about themselves, or even to demonstrate how wonderful they are. Instead, you spend time with them in real-life situations where you can do things together so you can see first-hand how they perform and how the two of you get along. The less contrived the situation, the more valid the data you'll get.

The same goes for an interview. Why ask a candidate "interview questions" when the career counseling industry publishes crib sheets of the most clever, most "right" answers? Forget about quizzing the candidate. Work with him. Watch. Talk. Listen. This is where you learn whether he's "marrying material".

Put the work first. Work with the candidate, right there in the interview, or you learn next to nothing about the candidate and he learns nothing about you.

Don't waste everyone's time. Address the work first because it's the first deal-breaker. Deal with personality, philosophy and even credentials later.

When the manager makes that first call to the candidate, he should be prepared to discuss the work that needs to be done. In person, the manager should roll up his sleeves and work with the candidate on some aspect of the job. Present the work as concretely as possible. Lay out a live problem. I'm not suggesting you should divulge proprietary information. But if you want to engage the candidate (whether she's to be a staff member, a manager, or an executive), you'll get her attention by sticking to the subject that you and she are expert at. If there's not a match, you'll find out right away. If there is reason to talk further, you have established your credibility from the start.

Are you interviewing to talk, or to hire? Too often, an interviewer wastes the meeting by holding forth on the wonders of his company. Worse, he waxes eloquent about himself. Or, he spends the time interrogating the candidate about the past or the future; about the candidate's opinions and experiences; about the candidate's perceptions of himself and others. All these might be important topics, but not until the key issue is addressed: the work.

If this runs headlong into your normal approach to interviewing, consider these two challenges:

1) If the candidate passes your personality and credential tests, would you hire him if you then found out he couldn't do the work profitably?

Of course not. So, get to the real issue first: the work. Find out whether the candidate can do it.

2) Managers sometimes avoid detailed discussion of the work that needs to be done because they don't really know what that work is. (A head-count requirement dictates that someone be hired, but no one is clear about why.) Does this shoe fit?

Don't interview busy people unless you know exactly what it is your business needs, and unless you're qualified to do the hiring.

A job candidate is an invited guest to be shown hospitality and respect.
IBM's old adage still holds in the business world, even if everyone has forgotten it: THINK.

Recruiting and interviewing are not an administrative process. This is a highly social art: the art of tactful influence. You're guiding professionals into your fold. Do it gently. Do it responsibly. You must constantly keep your eyes on the state of the candidate. Is he warming up? Is he glowing? Is he confused? Is he smiling? Is he disgusted?

What he thinks when he leaves the interview is your responsibility. And it could be your downfall.

In Death By Lethal Reputation I described how a company trusted hiring to an administrative process. The company completely forgot that job candidates talk to other members of their professional community, and that the company's reputation (and success) hinged on what those candidates had to say about that process.

THINK. Who makes that first call to the candidate to invite her for an interview? If it's not the hiring manager, you're making a mistake. A call from an intermediary is, to put it bluntly, cheesy and rude.

"But," you say, "we're Human Resources and the manager doesn't even know we're screening the candidate yet. The candidate has to talk to us first."

Well, don't waste the candidate's time. Keep HR in the background. I coach job hunters to keep their standards high: "No dice. I meet with the manager or there's no meeting."

When you invite a job candidate to visit:

  • Don't let anyone beat him up.
  • Don't make him wait in the lobby.
  • Don't send a clerk to meet him.
  • Don't run him through a gauntlet of your lackeys.
  • Don't provoke him.
  • Don't test him until you've earned his trust.
  • THINK. Your goal is to recruit him.
  • Be glad to see him.
  • Welcome him and personally take him into your office.
  • Thank him for accepting your invitation and taking time to visit.
  • Explain your interest in him.
  • Make him feel like a valued guest.
  • Get to know him.
  • Stimulate his professional interests and goals.
  • Offer your honest opinion of the prospects of working together.
  • Thank him again.

Whether you hire the candidate or not, there is no excuse for anyone but the hiring manager doing the initial interview. In fact, this is the quickest, least costly way to eliminate the wrong contenders. I'll take a manager's sixth sense about a candidate as gospel before I crank up the administrative engine that will examine the candidate's teeth and his background.

If anyone's going to turn a candidate away at the outset, let it be someone whose credibility will at least rank high with the candidate -- the manager. Oh, the ignominy of getting turned down by a personnel jockey! There is no greater disrespect. Believe me, you will be judged by how professional and reasonable -- and respectful -- you are. Word will get around.

Destroy the traditional interviewing process at your company if respect for the candidate is missing. Make it a professional experience. Earn your professional community's respect with every interview you conduct, because your company's reputation -- and its future -- depends on it.

For Job Candidates: How to goose the system
Now let's shift gears. We've covered some do's and don't's for employers. But I know most people who read these articles are job hunters -- and if you've ever been a job candidate, you know whereof I speak. So, let's offer some pointers to job candidates -- because at some time or other, we're all candidates.

How do you, as a candidate, goose an employer into showing you appropriate respect? You refuse to accept less. When you're called to an interview, make your own requirements clear before you go.

Insist on meeting or talking with the hiring manager first. Your time is valuable, and every hour you take "off" from your current job creates a risk to your security. So, don't be shy about saying, "Take me to your leader." If things get serious, you can talk with Personnel later.

If Personnel issues the interview invitation and insists on screening you first, don't fall for it. Either the manager doesn't even know you're being screened, or he asked a clerk who has little expertise in the work you do to assess you first. Would you let a nurse perform exploratory surgery on you? Would you trust a doctor who took that attitude about your health?

State your expectations. Ask for an agenda of your meeting. "I'd like to prepare, so the meeting will be profitable to us both." In the absence of a written agenda, talk with the manager on the phone before you meet so you can set one.

Emphasize that "time is of the essence". Agree to an exact time to meet. Be a little early. If the manager is late and there's no explanation, leave after 15 minutes. If no one calls to apologize profusely, ignore the company; they don't respect you. Then tell your friends about your experience. Your professional community deserves to know.

Expect respect. If the manager doesn't greet you personally, think three times before ever accepting another invitation from that company. Yeah, the manager's busy. But so are you. It's called deference. Believe me, you'll be expected to display it later. Expect it now.

Employers won't get smart about recruiting and hiring on their own -- not unless you show them that how they treat you matters.

Your success in the job hunt turns on your expectations, and on your willingness to act on them. Keep your standards high, and in turn raise every hiring manager's standards. Elicit his respect. If you don't get it, walk. If you do, relax. You're in good company.

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