I have three big recruiting rules I suggest every external and corporate recruiter follow if they want to make more placements with better candidates.
Adler’s first rule of recruiting: don’t do searches over again. Once is enough. If you’ve presented a slate of 3-4 strong candidates for the position one of them should get hired. If not, you have a problem. Here’s a recent ERE article describing how to minimize this problem.
Adler’s second rule of recruiting: if you present more than 3-4 candidates to a hiring manager on any search and one of them doesn’t get hired: STOP! Don’t send any more candidates to be interviewed. Something’s wrong. Figure out what it is and correct it before you waste your time on a fool’s errand.
Adler third rule of recruiting: when you first meet a person, wait 30 minutes before making any yes or no decision. If you and your hiring managers put your emotions in the parking lot for these first 30 minutes, you’ll cut the number of times you need to follow rules one and two by 50%.
Over the past 12 years I’ve written over a thousand articles, multiple books, and spoke at hundreds of conferences and training sessions on this and related topics. Here are the top five things that are the typical reasons for “too many candidates before one is hired” syndrome:
- Someone doesn’t know what they’re looking for or how to find the person, or typically both. Banishing job descriptions and using performance profiles instead will solve this problem.
- Someone doesn’t know how to interview properly. This is always part of the problem. Here are some webcasts and events you can attend to help you figure out how to solve this problem.
- Everyone overvalues first impressions. This is a big problem, even if you do everything else right. Following my third rule (more below) will correct some of this.
- You have a real company constraint, like the person as described doesn’t exist, your job or company really is awful, or your pay is not competitive. You need to get your executive team to solve this problem. Doing searches over again won’t help.
- At the core of the problem is likely the wrong talent strategy. You’re probably using a talent surplus approach to hiring in a talent scarcity situation. Watch this video and then get your executive team involved. This change is so big it impacts all of these problems.
The “number of candidates interviewed to hired” ratio is a great metric for recruiters and recruiting leaders to track on a weekly basis. Four is a good cutoff. If it’s more than this, or trending up, it’s an indication that something is wrong. Surprisingly, most recruiters blissfully ignore this obvious warning signal.
While four of the above five causal factors require significant process or strategy changes, the “Wait 30 Minutes” rule can be applied on your very next search. The only point is that everyone on the interviewing team needs to follow the rule, so it is a bit like herding cats. Nonetheless, it might reduce your candidates-interviewed-to-hired ratio by 50% or more, so it’s worthwhile spending a few minutes learning how to use it.
More hiring mistakes are made in the first 30 minutes of the face-to-face interview than at any other time. Most interviewers unconsciously react to the candidate’s first impression, good or bad. Prospects who are prepared, confident, friendly, outgoing, communicative, and professional in appearance tend to be instantly considered viable candidates for the open position, even if they lack critical skills. If you’ve ever hired someone who makes a great first impression, but doesn’t deliver the results needed, you’ve experienced one side of this first impression bias problem first hand — hiring the wrong candidate for superficial reasons.
However, if a candidate is slightly less professional than expected or a bit nervous, managers become uptight, convinced the person is not qualified, and then go out their way and ask tougher questions, attempting to prove the candidate is not qualified. This is how we lose good candidates who are actually top notch. Stopping or minimizing this unnecessary loss of good candidates is one way to improve your interviewed-to-hired ratio. Waiting 30 minutes before deciding yes or no can help the interviewer become more objective and see past the superficiality of presentation and focus on the person’s ability to meet the performance needs of the job.
Many of you will loudly protest the need for this 30-minute delay, arguing that good first impressions are essential for anyone in a sales position, working with executives, or being part of multi-functional teams. However, if you just try it out, you’ll discover that after just 30 minutes about a third of the people aren’t nearly as great as you initially thought. Another third will be a lot better than you first imagined. You might even want to hire a few of them. The remaining third will turn out to be pretty much as you first imagined. In addition to reducing the need to present too many candidates, you’ll also stop hiring people who are long on presentation and personality, but short on ability.
Here are some practical ways to force yourself to remain objective for at least 30 minutes:
- Use Yellow Stickies. Put these on the top of every resume with the words “Wait 30 minutes.” During the initial 30 minutes of the interview conduct a work-history review looking for the Achiever Pattern and ask one job-related Most Significant Accomplishment question. Your emotional reaction to the candidate will have changed completely by then.
- Use the Plus or Minus Reversal Technique. When you first meet a candidate note your initial reaction to the person with some type of plus or minus indicator. Then force yourself to do the exact opposite of what you’d normally do. For those people you don’t like, ask them easier questions, going out of your way to prove they’re fully competent. Ask those you do like tougher questions, going out of your way to prove they’re not qualified for the job. This mental reversal is how you offset your natural reactions to first impressions.
- Treat candidates as consultants. Assume everyone you’re meeting is an expert for the job at hand. Under the consultant umbrella you assume competence, you give respect, and you listen attentively, assuming the person has more expertise than you do. You do this even if the consultant makes a bad first impression. Since you don’t require a consultant to be a close co-worker, first impressions and friendliness are less important in your ultimate decision, so it’s a great way to reframe the situation.
- Phone screen the candidate first. You would never invite a person for a face-to-person if you didn’t think they were reasonably qualified. Conducting a 30-40 minute phone screen helps you make this assessment. When you meet a person whom you know something about, first impressions are naturally far less impactful. You also have something already invested in the person, so you feel more obligated to conduct an objective assessment.
Doing searches over again is a waste of time. If you didn’t do it right the first time, figure out why before continuing. You’ll discover it’s usually some fundamental process problem or a skills gap with the recruiter, hiring manager, or someone on the hiring team. While these changes could take weeks or months to implement, they are essential changes you need to make. However, you can get started right away by waiting 30 minutes when you meet your next candidate. In a half hour, you’ll notice the difference.