I like to think of myself as an all-knowing, all-powerful staffing expert, but over the years I’ve learned that my influence as an Executive Recruiter has it’s limits. Sometimes candidates I try to assist in making a career transition have misunderstandings about the work that I do and the control that I have over a process. In order to avoid misperceptions that can lead to losing outcomes for all involved (candidates, hiring managers, and myself), I’ve put together a list of the top five things that recruiters simply can’t do.
1. I can’t convince a hiring manager to modify his/her qualifications they seek in a critical position unless and until we determine that there is no viable supply of those people. There is no doubt that bright, energetic people can do all sorts of great things, and when I gently explain that they don’t qualify for a particular job, I routinely hear, “Yes, but I can learn it.” That’s true, no doubt. But the job market, like all markets, is a competitive place and if other candidate’s exist who don’t have to “learn it” then they are going to be hired before non-qualified candidates.
Exception: Sometimes hiring manager’s realize that they are seeking a “purple squirrel” that doesn’t exist and they will loosen certain criteria in the list of qualifications. However, just because they do that is doesn’t mean that someone who still doesn’t meet the qualifications is going to get the job based on force of personality alone.
2. I can’t convince a HR partner or hiring manager to pay a base salary beyond the budgeted range of a particular job-band based on how well someone interviews. A strong candidate can get closer to the top of that range, but the hiring organization needs to preserve some runway for merit increases for that person, and they must maintain internal equity within their current team. When considering a candidate who has a similar background and amount of industry experience as people who are already employed by the company, the HR professional can’t bring the new person in at a higher salary simply to incent them to take the job.
Exception: If qualified candidates don’t exist at the designated job-band, an employer may have to re-level a position, pushing it into a higher band and salary range. That is rare, however, and it’s usually a lengthy process to get there, unless it’s a start-up environment.
3. I can’t “steal” people away from another company, although I can proactively make prospects aware of potential opportunities that fit their background. It’s true that this is sometimes unsolicited communication (more often they ask me to keep them abreast of interesting opportunities). It’s important to remember, however, that in the end I can’t control whether another person chooses to do something or not. Organizations who believe that a recruiter is stealing good people from them typically have a work environment that is not conducive to retention.
Exception: I can’t recruit people from my current client companies, who pay me to fill jobs at their company. My fiduciary responsibility is to them, not to would-be candidates. It’s unethical and bad business practice to place new employees in the front door of a company while trying to convince others to leave out the back door.
4. I can’t affect an employer’s urgency to fill a job. There is a difference between having a “job opening” and a genuine need for important work to be done. Hiring manager’s often have higher priorities that are more urgent and pressing, and will often begin a search process prematurely. Although I try to diagnose the level of urgency to fill a job, and the reasons behind it, I can’t create that urgency. Candidates often become frustrated at the slow pace of an interview process, or that lack of feedback after interviews – and rightly so: it’s basic human decency to tell candidates where they stand, or if a process is stalled for some reason. But as a recruiter serving as an agency for my client – the hiring company that pays me – I’m not able to expedite a process that has low urgency. Unfortunately I often have to tell very qualified, motivated candidates that since the company won’t respond to any inquires or requests for feedback we can assume that there is no urgency to fill the job, and to move on to other considerations.
Exception: Sometimes employers have low urgency to fill a job but they really like a candidate and don’t want to “lose” them in the process. When I have to tell an employer that the candidate is going to take another job, or that I’ll let the candidate know that there is no interest in moving them forward at this time, that fear of loss may re-ignite the interview process for the candidate. On the other hand, that will sometimes inspire feedback about why the company is not interested in that particular candidate. More often, however, the fear of loss is not great enough to affect the process and we determine that urgency to fill the job is low.
5. If a candidate doesn’t express interest and enthusiasm in an interview I can’t fix it afterward. When I debrief with a candidate after an interview, 90% of the time they confirm that they are interested and enthusiastic about the opportunity (IF I have done my job right in referring them in the first place). Sometimes they learn something negative in the interview that torpedos their interest, but it’s rare. After that debrief I’ll contact the interviewer, who will often confirm that the candidates has the skill to do the job, but they did not appear to have the will to do it: they lacked enthusiasm and energy, and did not communicate interest in the job. I can try to clarify the misunderstanding, but I nearly always fail. The unfortunate thing is that both sides lose in this situation, simply because the candidate didn’t take 30 seconds at the end of the meeting to tell the interviewer that he/she is interested and inquire about next steps in the process.
Exception: There is no exception here, unfortunately. Employers are looking for both skill and will, and if a candidate can’t or won’t communicate energy, enthusiasm and interest in the job I can’t do that for them.
Those are but a few things that recruiters can’t do; I’m sure there are many more. Executive Search professionals are invaluable for hiring organizations as well as potential candidates – for many reasons that have been thoroughly documented. But it’s good to remember that we can’t do everything, and that if there is open, candid information exchange where expectations are well-managed, then we can all avoid the frustrations of negative outcomes. As always your comments and questions are encouraged.