What Getting Yelled at by a Hiring Manager Taught Me About Recruiting

January 5, 2017

A rite of passage for every recruiter. Here's the story from my first recruiting job years ago, when I found the perfect candidate and angered a hiring manager.

I was the sole recruiter for an education reform nonprofit startup that grew from 35 to 120 employees in a year. At one point, I was working on 2 entry-level research positions on different teams. One had a keyword-friendly job title, "Research Assistant" but the other’s searchability was laughably dismal: “Prospect Researcher.” I unfortunately didn’t have the power to change it to make it appeal to more candidates. The former had a steady stream of incoming applicants, but the latter practically none, despite the high overlap in competencies and ideal candidate profiles. So after a phone screen with a particularly promising candidate – let’s call her Julie – for Research Assistant, I added an interview with the hiring manager for the Prospect Researcher role to her onsite panel.

This is where I messed up. Showing my naiveté (again, first time recruiting and on a team of one!), I didn't realize I should have given the Research Assistant hiring manager a heads up first. He worked remotely and I only saw him every 6 months, so we didn’t have much of a working relationship. It just didn’t occur to me to check first, and that was my mistake.

The two roles were similar, with some key differences. The Research Assistant's primary responsibility was opposition research – being assigned a target and putting on your investigative hat on to find out every detail you can, using every available database and resource. On the other hand, the Prospect Researcher on the Fundraising team was more like outbound sales development: instead of being given clear guidelines, the role required greater comfort with ambiguity and creativity, to go out and *build* a pipeline of potential donors. Both jobs required research skills, but one went deep with given constraints and the other went wide, creating their own playbook.

From my conversation with Julie, she was obviously a great fit for the company: hardworking, ambitious, and bought into our mission to improve U.S. public education. She was not aware of the Prospect Researcher opening (Laughably. Dismal.) but was excited about the idea of the role and grateful for the opportunity to interview for both. She did very well in her onsite interviews, and that’s when the hiring manager for Research Assistant came to my desk in to yell at me for 5 minutes in front of the whole team.

I sat there, horrified, and had no response as he towered over me. I don’t remember many details of the interaction. At the end of his tirade, I apologized and told him I’d fix it. Julie ultimately did get hired as Research Assistant after we pulled her out of consideration for the other role. Don’t get me wrong – she was a great employee and seemed happy, but I always wondered what could have been.

Looking back now, I understand where the hiring manager was coming from. He was frustrated. As a young manager, his strong suits were not yet in people management and hiring. I also owned up to my mistake – I should have asked first. But having gained much more perspective, I’ve since realized this interaction was due to the lack of a collaborative hiring culture.

First, as the recruiter, it was *my* responsibility to figure out how to be a hiring manager’s partner, as opposed to just an interview coordinator. This particular hiring manager was out of his element, pressured to hit recruiting goals but not equipped to do so. I did have that knowledge, but had skimped on relationship-building: walking him through the process, getting buy-in, setting ground rules for our collaboration, estimating timelines, etc. One thing I wish I learned much earlier in my recruiting career is that most hiring managers *want* to be pushed back; they won’t claim to know everything about recruiting because it’s not their job to be the experts, it’s mine. Many headaches would have been saved in all of my reqs if I had developed the confidence to call out hiring managers when they were wrong, and truly partner with them to raise the talent bar, optimize processes, and train others in interviewing, negotiation, selling, etc.

Second, the hiring manager saw Julie potentially joining the Fundraising team as a “loss” to him, and in some ways it was true – hiring is a zero-sum game: If you hire Joe, that means I can’t. But, I was disappointed by his failure to see this as a win for the broader team, had Julie joined the company and was able to kill it in Fundraising, which of course would benefit the entire operation and our mission. After Julie was hired, the Prospect Researcher job remained open for a while and I couldn’t help wonder if she would have found it more fulfilling and even a better match for her motivations and skill set.

That’s what it comes down to, what separates good recruiting from *great* recruiting: being able to match the right people to the right roles, and not just the good-enoughpeople to that-kind-of-works roles. On the flip side, I believe truly “bad” employees are rare. More often than not, it comes down to a poor role fit, manager fit, or company/industry/environment fit. Change one or more of those factors, and they could be more successful and professionally fulfilled. But unfortunately, as I’ll address in a future post, too many of us sign up for the wrong jobs and get stuck in them.

Despite this cringeworthy memory, I’m still grateful for the experience. And even though I eventually realized recruiting isn’t the perfect job for me either, I wouldn’t trade what I learned for anything. I’ve luckily since been part of organizations with much more collaborative hiring cultures, and have seen the power of true partnerships between recruiters and hiring managers – something I'm passionate about getting to help foster every day in my current role at Lever.

If you liked this post, I’ve written more about my first recruiting job  here

Connect with me on Linkedin and find me on Twitter - I’m a former recruiter and write about tips, learnings, mistakes, and everything in-between.

*Image by Pablo Fernández

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