5 Ways to Establish Trust With Candidates and Make Interviews More Effective

May 24, 2017

A recruiter’s job can be a bit of an odd conundrum. You’re there to help candidates find their dream job—but from the start, a lot of candidates don’t believe you’re on their side. They may see you as wanting to low-ball them on salary, or just as someone trying to fill a position as fast as possible without truly caring about their career goals.

If the candidate-recruiter relationship starts off with this kind of trust deficit, that’s obviously bad. If a candidate feels you are withholding information about a company, or that they’re seen as a resume and not a human being, they probably won't feel comfortable working with you.

Meanwhile, the benefits of gaining candidates trust is huge—they'll be willing to share information with you about their goals so you can best place them and might even send you referrals of other qualified candidates.

So to figure out the best way to establish trust right off the bat, we asked a slew of recruiters and executives involved in the game to answer questions about what tactics they use to get candidates to see them as a partner. Here’s what they said:

1. Establish a conversation, not a Q&A, in a neutral location

The problem with interviews is that they can become a stilted form of question-and-answer. Instead, recruiters should open up into more of a natural, two-way conversation to improve communication. For example, Cynthia LaBarge, Head of Corporate Recruiting at Consilium Staffing, writes that this helps her “gain more (and give more) information while simultaneously building genuine rapport.”

Even better, do it in a casual environment outside of your office to make candidates feel more at ease. Brad Stultz, the HR coordinator at web retailer Totally Promotional, conducts his first talk with a candidate in a quiet corner of the building on two sofas, making them “much more at ease, which translates to a better rapport.”

2. Ask open-ended questions 

Instead of starting with mind-bending, classically tough interview questions, begin with more optimistic questions that reflect a curiosity about the candidate's work style and goals. The point here is to put them at ease and see you as an informal advisor invested in them.

LaBarge asks candidates, “What is their ideal work environment?” and “How are they best led, or what is their preferred leadership style?”

Another strategy is to provide candidates the opportunity to “convey what matters most to them,” wrote Sarah Dabby, Head of Talent at ClickTime, a Bay Area-based software as a service (SaaS) company. Dabby starts with questions like, “What do you hope to learn in your next role?” This sends the message that her team wants to see the candidate succeed and are “genuinely interested in helping them find the right fit.”

3. Be open about yourself and your career 

Another way to build rapport with a candidate is to establish a level playing field by offering up background information on yourself and your own career path during the interview.

LaBarge calls this a “recruiter credibility statement,” where recruiters talk about their professional story, offering it up right at the start of an interview. This kind of openness works against the authoritative dynamic that can put candidates in defense mode.

Michael Quoc, the CEO of DealSpotr, agrees. He suggests starting the interview with info about the company, the role, and yourself.

“Share personal stories that can give the candidate a little bit of insight into who you are and what the people at the company are like,” says Quoc. “This can go a long way towards putting them at ease...throughout the interview process.”

4. Be transparent about the interview process and the job

For recruiters who say they’ve established trust, transparency has gone a long way. The key is to be upfront: First, give candidates all the important info they need about the job, and second, tell them about how the process will unfold.

To accomplish this, Sarah Dabby suggests being transparent about the pros and cons of the job—something that’s critical to candidates determining whether the job and company are a fit. For example, Dabby will be direct about the size and stage of the company, why it’s hiring for the role, where it’s struggling, and what its values are.

On the second point, Kristen McAlister, who places executives in interim jobs, suggests laying out the basic timetable, when candidates should expect to hear from you, and how often you’ll keep in touch from the get-go.

To put the candidate at ease and reduce stress, Nelson Scott, who conducts training for recruiting managers at SEA Consulting in Alberta, Canada, even gives the candidate the skinny on the interview before it takes place, with intel such as the number of people on the interview panel, who will be asking questions, and where the candidate will be sitting.

5. Follow up and provide frequent updates to the candidate

We all know the feeling of sending out a feeler, putting lots of time into an application, and never hearing a peep in return. For some candidates who work with recruiters, this is the biggest headache of all—and recruiters know it.

“The biggest complaint we hear from executives working with recruiters is that they jumped through hoops getting information to them, did an interview, and never heard from them again,” writes McAlister.

To counteract that, her advice to recruiters is that “bad news is better than no news.” She’s right, of course—and the antidote to getting no news (and feeling like nobody is on your team) is receiving frequent updates.

Elizabeth Webster, a staffing manager at WinterWyman, updates candidates after she sends in their resume, or after they interview, to provide quick feedback—whether it’s positive, negative, or somewhere in between.

And updating candidates is far from a waste of time. Larry Nash, a Recruiting Director at Ernst & Young, recalls a time when he let a candidate know that he wasn’t the right match for a job, then received a detailed thank you note from the candidate—who felt the job wasn’t right for him, either. “You took the time to get to know me and understand who I am beyond my resume,” the candidate wrote. “You listened carefully to my career objectives and you were honest in answering all of my questions.”

The same candidate wrote that he thought a former classmate might be perfect for the role and referred his friend to Nash’s team. The lesson for Nash was that because they prioritized the candidate’s experience, they gained a networking contact and received a highly-qualified referral.

Although talent pros do face the challenge of skeptical candidates who don’t feel recruiters are on their side, the onus is on recruiters to establish a more open process—where there’s more of a give-and-take conversation, and where recruiters truly demonstrate that they care about the candidate’s career. When recruiters can accomplish that, the outcome is satisfied candidates and more referrals.

*Image from Death to the Stock Photo

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