If it weren’t for hiring managers, recruiting talent would be so easy. But alas, that’s never to be. Rather than succumbing to the vicissitudes of those who determine whether you’re successful or not, why not try to get them to better understand your point of view? In the process you just might make more placements with fewer candidates. Here are two short stories that will give you a sense of where I’m going here.

Get your hiring managers to stop gleefully using skills-infested job descriptions.

I remember a CEO in Silicon Valley who insisted on a Stanford MBA, a BSEE from a top five engineering school, and a minimum of five years experience in a leadership product marketing role with a fast-growing Internet hardware manufacturer before he’d even see a person for a VP Marketing position. When I asked him what was the most important thing this person needed to do to be considered successful in this role, he stopped dead in his tracks.

After 15 minutes of stumbling about, he demanded that the person complete an in-depth three-year product roadmap within the first six months. He then went on to describe the requirements for the product plan including detailed specs, how these tied to industry evolution and technology changes, and a description of how these products would compete in the marketplace.

I then looked at him and asked if he’d at least see a few candidates who have done work just like this, even if they didn’t have the academic pedigrees and the exact level of experience he initially insisted upon. He looked at me and said as clear as day, “Yes, that’s exactly what I want. I’m surprised you’d even consider the original requirements as reasonable.” Three weeks later he hired a great person from me for the role, and over the next two years hired a COO and three other VPs.

Hiring great people starts by asking the hiring manager to define what on-the-job success looks like when first taking the assignment. Then find someone who is motivated and competent to do this work. To seal the deal, don’t ask if they’ll hire the person, just ask if they’d see people who met the performance criteria, but have a different mix of skills and experiences. Most will happily say yes.

Don’t work with hiring managers you can’t leave alone with your candidates.

I had another CEO who admitted he was a terrible interviewer. It turned out he was right. Worse, as you’ll soon discover, he was a terrible recruiter, too. To test out the “terrible interviewer” part, I asked him to meet a “test” candidate for a division GM job using his traditional questioning approach. The debrief from the candidate affirmed the “terrible interviewer” confession. The candidate said the CEO talked too much, asked superficial questions, and interrupted his answers. The CEO said the candidate was great, but emotions and gut-feelings dominated his decision-making.

Rather than leave the process to chance, I recommended that I join the CEO for all of the first round interviews and lead the questioning. We used the two-question Performance-based Interview and Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard as the basis for making the hiring decision. After a few times leading the process, I had the CEO lead the questioning, with me there for support and clarification.

One candidate was particularly impressive who we both agreed was the best person for the role. Going out on a limb I wanted the CEO and hiring manager to meet a final time without me for the final interview and to negotiate the terms of an offer. Regardless, I made sure I closed the candidate on a solid offer, and rehearsed with the CEO how he would conduct this final session. This was a mistake.

When the CEO asked the candidate what he would need in order to take the job – which was not part of the plan – the candidate described a package 25% higher than what he had already agreed to. The CEO thinking he’s a good negotiator asked if he’d be willing to take 20%. The candidate agreed. So while I closed the deal, I asked one of my recruiting partners if he’d handle future searches with this client, of which there were many.

So the morals of these stories, if there are any, is to not use job descriptions if you want to see and hire the best people, and don’t work with clients who can’t be left alone. Of course, you might want to modify moral two if you have a high degree of tolerance and are willing to present twice as many candidates as normally needed to make one placement. Moral one should never be broken; it should instead become a guiding principle of every search assignment you ever take.

* image by Phahie / TomFahy.com

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