Recruiters have to walk a fine line between their desire to build lasting relationships with candidates, and their obligation to rigorously assess them, says Organisational Psychologist, Joshua Wood.
“It might sound like a minor point, but getting this balance right can be challenging, particularly early in one’s recruitment career. And the approach you take can have a big impact on your long term success,” he says.
The danger in getting it wrong is that recruiters sometimes lean too far one way – often starting out by trying too hard to be a candidate’s best friend, and then once their confidence grows, swinging to the other end of the spectrum – mercilessly interrogating a candidate with no regard for their feelings, he says.
Wood recalls interviewing, in his early career, “a senior candidate who gave off an arrogant vibe of ‘do you really need to be asking me these questions?’ He also explicitly said that his experience was strong enough that he couldn’t see the point of being interviewed, particularly by me. At the time I questioned whether I should go ahead with my entire set of questions. But, I nervously pushed ahead and as the interview progressed he turned out to be ill-equipped for the role. He also had a few half-truths in his CV. His confidence quickly fell away as I continued to ask questions, because I had a clear idea of what I was seeking, and arrogance and rudeness weren’t among the requirements.”
For more senior positions it is especially important that recruiters do ask the hard follow up questions and try to dig, because “getting it wrong for these senior roles is likely to have far more impact on an organisation”, Wood says. “And you need to do it even when it’s obvious that a candidate really doesn’t want you to; especially when a candidate really doesn’t want you to! What makes it difficult is that they may be someone you want to build a good relationship with in the future. This can be difficult if you have to interrupt them going off on major tangents, keep asking questions of someone who is deliberately vague, or uncover embarrassing exaggerations in their CV. By the same token, the candidate should probably be the one feeling apologetic if they do have those exaggerations in their CV in the first place.”
New recruiters sometimes forget that it is actually their right to ask questions, Wood says. “The candidate is applying for a position that in some cases pays a substantial salary and their performance may have a significant impact on the success of the organisation. Given the importance of the hiring decision, of course they need to be interviewed by you. And yes, it’s okay if at times it makes them a little uncomfortable.”
Wood recommends keeping the following factors in mind when attempting to get the “friendliness balance” right:
1. Your obligation to the client – “First and foremost, if you don’t perform due diligence and properly assess your candidates then you are more likely to send poor performers to your client. Bear in mind, though, that if you don’t treat the candidate nicely and respectfully, it might decrease your chances of them actually accepting an offer when it arrives – and off to another company they go.”
2. Professional ethics – “Again, if you aren’t properly assessing candidates and are instead giving them a free kick, then you aren’t doing your job as a recruiter – this has repercussions for both the client organisation and all of the other candidates for the role.”
3. Reputation of the recruitment agency – “If you don’t interview properly then it will eventually catch up with your agency, because clients won’t get the quality of candidates that they should. “In the long run, poor or incomplete interviewing also lets the whole profession down.”
4. Common courtesy – “He or she is a real human being you are dealing with and it’s often an uncomfortable situation for them. They need to be treated with respect for no other reason than that. Put yourself in their shoes – we’ve all been interviewed before.”
5. Your future relationship with the candidate – “If you build a strong, respectful working relationship with a candidate you may be placing them in roles for the rest of your career. They may also refer other talented staff to you. They might become a future client of yours, asking you to recruit staff for their team… or their company.”
“The best interviewers I’ve worked with are always very friendly and polite to candidates, while also making it clear that the candidate is here to be interviewed for a job… a job they haven’t been put forward for yet,” Wood says. “You can smile the whole way through if you want, as long as you keep asking the questions you ought to. It is an investigation of their suitability, not just a fireside chat.”First published in Recruiter Daily May 2010