5 Ways to Manage Your Hiring Managers

June 2, 2014

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like doing searches more than once.

For a recruiter the absolute worst thing a hiring manager can say after seeing your best 3-4 candidates is “Do you have any more candidates?” It means either you or the manager screwed up.

Doing searches over again is the biggest time-waster (and income-reducer) of them all, especially when you’re only paid based on the placements you make. When I started out as an outside recruiter, I knew I could double my income by doing searches only once. It took a few years to figure out how to get there, but the first step is learning how to manage hiring managers. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way. Try them out if you’d like to do your searches only once.

(Note: I’ll be covering these points at a live event with LinkedIn in NYC on June 17th. The program, for staffing firms, will be streamed. Here’s the link to sign-up.)

1. Clarify job expectations before presenting candidates.

I’ve never used skills- and experience-based job descriptions when taking an assignment. There’s too much subjectivity involved. Instead I ask the hiring manager to define success as a series of performance objectives. For example if a manager says a sales person must have strong communications skills and be able to engage with technically-savvy senior buyers, I ask what does this look like on the job. In most cases it’s something like, “Quickly learn the entire product line, and within six months be in a position to lead customer presentations to the top 10 accounts in the territory.” Every job has 5-6 performance objectives like this. The arrangement with my hiring manager clients is that they’ll agree to see anyone who has done comparable work, even if they have a different mix of skills and experiences. Since its less subjective, fewer candidates need to be seen when the assessment is based on performance rather than skills, experience, personality and presentation skills.

2. Out-SMARTe you hiring managers, since you’ll never be able to out yell them.

Most managers use a mix of emotions, rationalizations and generalizations to exclude people who they believe are not a fit. SMARTe evidence can often change the tide (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results-defined, Time-bound and the Environment-described). I remember the first time I out-SMARTed a CFO client who contended my candidate wasn’t strong enough to lead a companywide accounting implementation. To rebut the charge, I described in detail how the person successfully led a worldwide implementation of a comparable system within a bigger company. The candidate was hired, and over the next year we made a half-dozen placements with the company.

3. Add an exploratory step into the process.

I ask all of my hiring manager clients to have a preliminary phone discussion with my candidates before meeting in-person. Not only does this minimize the impact of first impressions, but it also changes the first meeting from a grilling session to a more evenly-balanced consultative discussion. This is essential for passive candidates, since they want to know more about the job and the company leadership before they’ll become fully engaged. On the other hand, hiring managers feel more invested in the process when it’s their decision to invite a person onsite. As a result, they tend to be more intent on conducting a thorough interview.

4. Conduct joint interviews and lead debriefing sessions.

I had one company president who admitted he was a terrible interviewer. He was. Too minimize the damage, I always led the first interview with him and each candidate. This was a great way for the president to learn how conduct a proper performance-based interview. After a few of these joint sessions, he was good enough to be left on his own. However, I was always involved in the formal debriefing session to ensure the evidence was evaluated properly. This way of using specific evidence to make the assessment (not feelings or emotions) allowed me to develop the talent scorecard and share it with other hiring managers.

5. Don’t let hiring managers make the offer.

Offers can get messy. For many hiring managers their ego is involved. Some candidates also believe it offers them a chance to  demonstrate their negotiation abilities. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a potential setup for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There’s a full chapter devoted to making offers in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired , but suffice it to say that having a third-party negotiate the offer prevents a lot of problems. The key: balance any compensation increase with job stretch (a bigger or more impactful job) and job growth (a chance for more learning or an expanded role sooner.)

Along with knowing the real job and understanding how to attract and recruit passive candidates, managing hiring managers is an essential capability for any recruiter who’s tired of doing searches over again. It’s also the toughest, since you have to start over with every new hiring manager.

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