How to Build an Effective Recruiter/Hiring Manager Relationship When You’re Both Working from Home

March 24, 2020

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With many people currently transitioning to remote work, employees across every industry are trying to figure out the most effective ways to do their jobs from home. For recruiters, that means learning how to conduct the hiring process entirely online — and how to best partner with hiring managers from afar. 

One person who’s had plenty of practice is Emily Atkins, LinkedIn’s head of talent acquisition for Australia and New Zealand. Emily has been working with remote hiring managers for seven and a half years at LinkedIn and throughout her entire recruiting career, so she’s well-equipped to help her colleagues and peers make this transition.

Here are Emily’s tips for creating a seamless working relationship with remote hiring managers. 

1. Prepare thoroughly for the intake meeting to build credibility

The intake meeting is often your first opportunity to show your hiring manager that their requisition is in capable hands and sets the tone for your entire relationship. And when you don’t have the benefit of an in-person meeting, it pays to be extra prepared.

Understanding the nature of the role and doing some homework is a great place to start. To do this, you could set up a quick call with someone who has previously held the job to learn more about the day-to-day activities. You may even be able to ask the person you call for referrals, and use all that information to pull a few sample profiles of people who could be great candidates for the role.

It’s also worth gaining a big-picture overview of the market — like availability of talent and where the biggest talent pools are located. Emily recommends doing some research online and using data tools to gather this information before the meeting.

“You might consider bringing some market data to the intake meeting,” she says, “to build that relationship, show some level of understanding, and inform the discussion.”

Finally, make sure you set an agenda for the intake meeting. Send it at least a day in advance so the hiring manager has time to read it and adequately prepare. 

2. Understand their situation and be flexible to establish trust 

When hiring managers are working from home, their schedule may be different from when they were in the office. This is especially true now if they’re dealing with unexpected challenges like school closures, helping care for elderly loved ones, or restrictions on leaving their homes. Showing empathy and understanding during this challenging time is critical. 

Before scheduling an intake meeting, Emily recommends double-checking that it’s a good time for them and letting them know that you can be flexible. This might require you to occasionally work outside of normal business hours, especially if you’re in different time zones. The hiring manager will appreciate your support, and your relationship will be stronger for it. 

Asking about their circumstances is also a good way to break the ice during the intake meeting. 

“One of the things that I’ve always tried to do,” Emily explains, “and I think is even more important now is to understand their personal context. Ask ‘How’s it going? What’s happening in your world?’”

This goes both ways. Be honest about your own situation, including where you’re working from and whether they might hear your dogs or your toddler in the background. This gives them a window into your life and can create opportunities for bonding, such as sharing tips for keeping your kids entertained when school is out or sharing recipes while many restaurants are closed. 

3. Dive deep into what the role entails and ask managers to give feedback on candidate profiles in real time

After you’ve broken the ice during the virtual intake meeting, reaffirm the hiring manager’s trust in you by asking questions to better understand the open role. 

Some questions that Emily asks include “Why would someone want to join your team?” and “What’s the opportunity for a candidate in this role?” This allows her to get a strong sense of what makes the specific role and team special, rather than just the appeal of the company as a whole. 

She also probes the hiring manager for details about the biggest challenges of the role, and the impact the new hire could have. 

“You can gain trust with a candidate,” she says, “if you can give them an insider view into the role and what it might feel like for them.”

Next, take the opportunity to have the hiring manager evaluate the sample candidate profiles you uncovered during your research. While you might normally do this sitting side-by-side with the hiring manager, you can achieve the same results virtually by sharing your screen or simply sending them links and asking them to talk you through each profile. 

This will not only open up the discussion and help you assess whether your instincts were on target, but can help you understand the kinds of skills and traits that the hiring manager is looking for — making it easier to gauge who’ll be a culture add to their existing team.

4. Review the hiring process, agree on timelines, and set expectations

Once you’re aligned on what the hiring manager is looking for in a new hire, it’s time to tackle the logistics — like how things are going to be done online, how long they’re going to take, and who needs to be involved at what point in the process. 

“Review your process end-to-end with the hiring manager,” Emily advises. “Can each task, interview, technical test, and presentation be done in a virtual context? And if it can’t, what is an alternative way in which we could test for that skill or competency?”

After you’ve developed a plan that the hiring manager has signed off on, talk them through a realistic timeline based on factors like the availability of talent and the impact of the current situation. Setting the right expectations is crucial, especially during this period of uncertainty where timelines may be a little longer than usual. Be prepared to answer their questions about how you came up with these dates and whether things can be done faster. 

“It’s very important to agree on the timeline, confirm it in writing, and ask them to align that based on their time commitments,” Emily says. “And if they have any interviewers, confirm that the interviewers are able to align with this timeline.” 

Be sure to establish whose job it is to reach out to the interviewers and confirm they can work within your timeline. You should also confirm the specific role that each interviewer will play, like who will assess technical competency or crucial soft skills, and if they’re the only person who is equipped to perform that role. With these decisions in place, you can judge whether the timeline needs to be extended if a certain interviewer is unavailable, or if someone else can stand in for them. 

5. Set up effective communication channels and check in regularly

For Emily, setting up effective communication channels can make or break a successful recruiting partnership with a remote hiring manager. While you can use phone, email, and instant messaging for future interactions, she recommends using a video conferencing tool like Teams, Zoom, Skype, BlueJeans, or Google Hangouts for your first meeting. 

“The ability to have that ‘eyeball-to-eyeball’ conversation demonstrates that both of you are giving this recruiting activity your full attention,” Emily says. “In my experience, this helps build rapport quicker, as we see each other’s body language. This is important because it may indicate if you need to clarify something or if the hiring manager feels uncomfortable with some of the ideas.”

After the first meeting, identify the hiring manager’s preferences for ongoing, effective contact. Make a note of how often they want to hear from you and what platform they’d prefer to use (like phone, email, or an instant messaging platform like Microsoft Teams or Slack). But keep in mind that as the current situation unfolds, the hiring manager may not be available when you expect them to be or may be unresponsive for longer periods, so it’s useful to have a back-up plan if they don’t pick up the phone. 

“Setting a recurring meeting at least weekly is really important,” Emily says. “We should always be giving our managers a weekly status update on progress for their role. But that is even more important right now as things change so fast.”

This status update should include key information, like which candidates are in play, what will happen in the next week, and any risks or challenges that you anticipate. If issues do arise, you’ll need to agree on who needs to be involved to resolve those, so it may be useful to start discussing this as early as the intake meeting. 

6. Give them the support and resources they need to conduct successful virtual interviews

While some hiring managers will have plenty of experience conducting virtual interviews, others may be new to the concept, especially if this is their first time working remotely. As a recruiter, you have an opportunity to establish yourself as a trusted partner by helping them feel comfortable with the process. 

At LinkedIn, all hiring managers have access to resources that they can use and send to their interviewers to prepare. You can prepare a similar list of resources to send to your hiring managers, like these tips for conducting a seamless video interview.

You can also consider coaching them, particularly if you notice they’re having trouble with the technology during your virtual intake meeting. Offer to do a test call with them before they speak to candidates, and send them a list of best practices that will help the candidate put their best foot forward during these difficult times. This might include creating a backup plan in case the candidate is having internet issues, and sending any documents at least 24 hours in advance so the candidate doesn’t have to rush to review them before their interview. 

Additionally, you may want to provide some pointers about how hiring managers can provide an exceptional candidate experience online and showcase their company culture. For example, if they already have a video tour of the office or a culture deck, they can send this to candidates. They can also use the same tactics that you used during the intake meeting to establish a strong relationship. 

“Instruct the hiring manager to get to know the candidate’s personal situation, understand their motivations, and be available to them after the interview if they have any questions or follow-up,” Emily says. “Make sure they’re very clear with the candidate about the timeline they’re working toward, and that the candidate is getting feedback so there’s no radio silence. I actually think that in a virtual context, that quick turnaround of feedback becomes even more important.”

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