“Do you have a different process for recruited candidates?”
We all know that candidates for job openings can have very different motivation for pursuing the role, so leading-edge employers adapt their interview processes for each candidate. An “applicant” is someone who is actively looking for a job and applies directly to an employer, typically in response to advertising. These are usually unemployed or under-employed workers who have updated resumes ready to send to job postings that may be close to their interests.
Employers – particularly larger ones – view these applicants as sellers of services, with the employer playing the role of buyer. It’s common for employers to treat applicants like they do other vendors or sellers: with skepticism and unresponsiveness. They recognize the need to be civil because they may need those vendors someday, but in the near term most employers feel little pressure or incentive to pay much heed to “applicants.” Unfortunately, the majority of hiring organizations behave this way because to do so otherwise would require time, effort and a commitment to “hi touch” that they’re unwilling to make.
In contrast, there is a different breed of candidate out there who is not actively looking for a new job, but they are actively “listening.” These are passive, opportunistic job seekers who are generally satisfied with their current situation and reasonably happy – so they need to be convinced that they should become a candidate for a new job that might improve their situation. These are truly recruited candidates and they often need a high-touch interview and selection process if they are going to make a job change.
So I ask my hiring managers and HR clients – who I’m trying to help fill positions with the best available people, whether applicants or recruited – if they have a different process for these candidates based on their motivation. Most often the answer is either “no” or “what do you mean?” That leads to a discussion about the importance of “selling” the opportunity to a recruited candidate, and the need to understand the candidate’s needs and desires so they can explain how the job can be a match. Those companies that are winning the War for Talent want to know about the hot-buttons of a recruited candidate so they can sell to them and secure A level “Impact Players” on their team.
The vetting and qualifying process should be consistent for all candidates in a selection process, but it’s important to recognize that you often have to earn the right to fully qualify a recruited candidate or they will likely remove themselves from the interview process before ever getting to the extended qualifying stage. So as in fishing, success in landing a recruited candidate is often based on timing. Examples of less-than-optimal hiring practices that dissuade recruited candidates from pursuing a job include having them complete extensive applications and / or assessments before they’ve had at least a few conversations with the employer, requiring them to provide references before a live interview, and lumping them into a “cattle-call” interview day where many candidates are brought into the same location to compete for a limited number of jobs. But the most common deal-killer for recruited candidates is the lack of responsiveness from employers after phone calls and live interviews – we call it “reverse rejection,” where a candidate’s self-defense mechanisms kick-in in order to pre-empt what they expect will be a rejection from the employer. If a hiring manager has any interest whatsoever in keeping a recruited candidate interested in a job, they must follow up with some meaningful feedback within a few business days of the contact.
We may be tempted to consider these relatively fickle recruited candidates as prima donnas – people we would not want on our team anyway. But the reality is that preparing for and going through an interview process is hard work and they need to be convinced that it’s worth it. In the same way that employers become disappointed when a candidate is just “kicking tires” and not serious about making a job change, recruited candidates are also suspicious that employers may be using them as fodder to benchmark against other candidates (often internal candidates who are in line to get the job). “Before we hire him let’s see who else is out there . . .” Nobody wants to have their time wasted – neither employers nor candidates – and this is particularly true if candidates are good at what they do and reasonably happy in their current job.
It takes extra effort to follow a modified process for a truly recruited candidate, but it can bring huge rewards. As we all know, it’s very expensive and time consuming to hire the wrong person. Given the risk involved in selecting employees for key positions, the best staffing people feel like they can’t afford NOT to have a selection process that includes an effective sales program for targeted, recruited candidates.