How to Out-SMARTe Your Hiring Managers

March 17, 2014

Sometimes hiring decisions are based on superficial information, biases, or narrow-minded thinking. We all know a hiring manager (or two) who may be guilty of one of these.

If you are in a situation where such thinking is preventing the hire of a great candidate,while you can't out-yell your hiring managers, you can out-SMARTe them and show them the candidate is worthy.

What is “out-SMARTe” you may ask? Well let me tell you a true story that happened to me about 30 years ago.

Here it goes…

My early days as a recruiter were spent placing accounting and operations people on a contingency basis. It was my own firm and my search projects were for positions which I personally knew a good deal about – mostly in manufacturing and related accounting positions. This turned out to be essential.

At the time, I was trying to obtain a fast growing medical device company as a client. The controller agreed to see my best candidate for a cost manager role, and was so impressed that within a few days he had the candidate meet the Directors of Accounting, Financial Planning, and Internal Audit. All that was left was for my candidate to meet the CFO for a final interview. I was told that if this went well, they'd make an offer the next day. I was so jazzed, I already had the invoice prepared, knowing this would be the first of many placements.

However, sometimes things don't work out as planned. I was told the CFO was “tough as nails,” and would make an instant and irrevocable decision right after meeting my candidate. I was not concerned. I knew my candidate was a star, and anyone who knew anything about cost accounting would agree.

The interview was scheduled a few days later at 9:00AM. Since this was the pre-cellphone era, I always had my candidates find a pay phone and call me immediately after the interview was over. I expected the call around 10:30AM. I was concerned when the call came in at 9:22AM. All it could mean was that my candidate missed the interview, which was bad, or the interview was over, which was terrible. It turned out to be terrible.

The candidate told me the interview was short, 15 minutes. Nothing of significance was discussed and the CFO dismissed him curtly, soon after the handshake. His parting words were “We’ll get back to you next week.” This was the terrible part. The plan was for the CFO to say something about putting an offer together. My plans for “owning” this biggest and fastest growing public company in my area just fell apart.

It took me until the end of the day to work up the courage to call the CFO and find out what happened. So I waited and waited and waited, until almost 5:00PM, hoping I could just leave a message. But no luck, the CFO took the call and instantly went into a five-minute berating spiel about how slimy and useless recruiters were in finding and identifying talent. He even said his 16-year-old son had better cost accounting skills than this candidate. At this, being fed up with the verbal abuse, I fired back with, “If your son is that good a cost accountant, would you mind sending me his resume? I might have a good job for him.”

This broke the ice. He was stunned, and actually laughed. I then told the CFO he obviously didn’t know much about cost accounting. I then gave him a SMARTe answer. It went something like this:

Out-SMARTe Steps You Should Follow

Describe your candidate’s biggest accomplishment this way:

  • Specific Task: The candidate led an 18-month project implementing a state-of-the-art cost system at the largest plant of a major auto manufacturer.
  • Measureable or More Specific: In-process costs were tracked in real time – the first time this ever happened. This resulted in a cost savings of 7.5% in the first year alone.
  • Action or Actual Role: the candidate was the project leader with support from manufacturing, accounting, and IT.
  • Results and Recognition: Not only was the project successful, but the person was asked to lead a global program to implement the process at the company’s eight biggest plants. He was in SoCal only because his wife was getting her MD at UC Irvine.
  • Technical, Team, and Time: He was charged with the conversion of the entire standard cost system to the new activity-based costing system, he led a 15-person team, and the task was successfully completed on time and on budget.
  • Environment: A big project like this had never been done before, but it had the support of company executives and VPs – finance, operations, and systems. While he had all of the resources, he was under the microscope, and he had to be successful.

Once I gave this three-minute summary of the candidate’s accomplishment, the CFO knew he made a superficial decision. The candidate had been more thoughtful than dominant, and was a bit nervous going into the interview. This turned off the CFO, but he agreed to interview the candidate again. This time it went a lot better and the candidate was hired. Over the next two years we placed eight more people with the company in finance, accounting, and operations. The CFO moved to another company and used us as his exclusive search firm to build his entire accounting organization.

That’s how you “Out-SMARTe” your hiring manager clients. You certainly can’t out-yell them.

* image by Al Fed

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