Sometimes good candidates don’t land the jobs they’re qualified for. As a recruiter, you know it happens for all kinds of reasons, from mismatched cultural expectations to hiring managers who feel threatened by a candidate’s superior credentials.
Whatever the reason, it’s inevitably the recruiter’s job to deliver the bad news, which is uncomfortable even in the best of cases. In addition, there’s more pressure around the conversation than simply gathering the will to say: “They’re making an offer to somebody else.”
Good recruiters succeed because of their relationships, and while bad news is bad news, sharing it provides you with an opportunity both to strengthen your candidate’s presentation and deepen the relationship you’ve developed with them.
You do this by making the conversation constructive, recruiters suggest. Of course, tech pros want to know whether or not they got the job—and when they didn’t, they also want to know why. But according to Kimberly Schneiderman, practice development manager for the outplacement firm RiseSmart in San Jose, Calif., only 57 percent of the recruiters she’s surveyed provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates.
“They hesitate for fear of giving offense,” she said. “What they should say is the candidate’s experience may have been perfect, just not for that particular company, so let’s go find the right company for you.”
Keep It Honest, Keep It Positive
Schneiderman’s approach mirrors that of many recruiters, who say your approach to these talks should be both honest and positive. “This is the hardest feedback to deliver,” observed Kelly Finn, principal consultant in the tech search practice of recruiter WinterWyman in Waltham, Mass. “You have to be honest in a constructive way. You have to help the candidate understand the decision.”
In such conversations, Finn uses real estate as an analogy: The client describes the kind of house they want and the realtor arranges tours of several homes. While all of them may meet the buyer’s criteria, it’s possible none of them will have the right feel. “Most people get that kind of analogy,” Finn said. “This candidate may have fit, but someone else [may] fit a little bit better.”
But that’s only the beginning. The real meat comes when you discuss the employer’s feedback about why that “someone else” got the job. “The recruiter needs to get as much information [from the employer] as they can,” Finn said. “They need to let the candidate know what the employer liked about them and why.” From there, Schneiderman continued, the recruiter and tech pro can “spend some time talking about your story and how we can refine it.”
This is important because, with tech talent at such a premium, employers want to keep their options open. Finn has had many companies call her about a tech pro they’d interviewed months in the past. Although the candidate didn’t get the job the first time around, a new role has opened up, and the company sees a fit.
“I go back to the candidate with precise feedback,” said Justin Laliberte, managing partner at the Atlanta-based executive recruiter Lucas Group. He keeps the conversation on a positive path, and makes sure it involves more than him talking while the candidate listens.
For instance, if an employer feels a tech pro was overqualified and would be bored with a position, Laliberte asks whether the candidate agrees. If they say, “Yes, but I’d still take the job,” Laliberte encourages them to focus on their original objectives. “You said you wanted to do more development,” he might remind them. “Let’s be picky and find something that’s better suited to you in the long term.”
Laliberte also stresses the importance of choosing your words wisely. Interjecting specific phrases and words that come off as encouraging can help elevate the “no” to a more positive message. For example, you might tell a candidate with experience in the manufacturing sector, “You nailed the interview and demonstrated your technical skills, but the company is also looking for experience around finance and accounting. They can see how well you’d do in a manufacturing firm.”
Strengthening Your Relationships
Throughout all this, it’s important to keep your eye on the long term. Helping a candidate sort out why they missed a particular opportunity demonstrates that you’re not the kind of recruiter who’s going to disappear when a job evaporates, but a professional who wants to develop a long-term partnership.
“It helps the recruiter cultivate a real, non-transactional relationship,” Laliberte said. “Closing the loop is key to a long relationship.”
So is being proactive. If a candidate wants him to go back to a client and argue their case for an in-person interview before a final decision is made, “I’m going to do it,” Laliberte added. “It’s part of maintaining the relationship.”
Beyond that, Finn said, effective recruiters keep in regular contact. “I’d rather call with nothing to report and just touch base to find out what the candidate’s up to,” she said. “You have to feed the relationship. It’s not a big-time drain, and candidates appreciate it.”