Recruiters: Five ‘Must Know’ Things for Placing Candidates

By Jenifer Lambert

To know me is to close me.

It’s often said that the number one job of any recruiter is to source high-quality candidates sufficient to meet business demands. While it’s hard to argue that it’s not important to source top talent, all that sleuthing and talent scouting doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t land the candidate you want. In an informal survey, hiring managers named the recruiter’s inability to onboard the candidate the hiring manager wanted as one of their top five frustrations in working with recruiters.

Sourcing and identifying a candidate and then failing to get them to come on board is akin to putting a juicy steak in front of a hungry dog and then tossing
it in the trash. Your “hot candidate” has only whetted the hiring manager’s appetite and then left her unfulfilled. It’s disappointing, a waste of time and completely unnecessary.

Kim Knoll

“It’s really important for hiring managers to understand that there’s competition in the market for good candidates, says Kim Knoll, IT recruiter with Executive Resources in Des Moines. “We’re getting back to a candidate-driven market in some skill sets and the best candidates always have choices. If I think there may be challenges closing a candidate, I let the hiring manager know early.”

Most recruiters put more care into assessing the candidate’s qualifications than they do in evaluating the candidate’s seriousness and willingness to make a change. The result is rejected offers and unnecessary disappointment.

“I make sure the candidate truly prefers the position my client is offering throughout the process,” says Kim Downey, President of Downey & Associates, a national search firm specializing in IT and executive talent. “It is better to find a new A-player that is 100% committed to making a change versus having an offer declined.”

1. Money aside

The weakest motivation for changing jobs is money. Worse, if it is your candidate’s primary pain with their current job, it’s the easiest problem for his current boss to solve. When that top software developer goes to give his resignation and tells his boss the only reason he’s leaving is an increase in pay, don’t be surprised when the counteroffer submarines the “lucrative” offer you just extended.

The key question to ask any candidate is “why make a job change now?” Weak recruiters are too afraid to ask this question. Top recruiters know the answer to this question will tell you everything you need to know to close a candidate. Most candidates will start by telling you their motivation to change is money because it’s the easiest and most politically correct answer. It’s nicer to say, “I’d like to make more money” than “my boss is a micro- managing idiot.” Your job is to keep drilling until the real reason is surfaced. Get past the “I’d like to make more money” response by saying something like, “Of course everyone wants to make more money. What else do you hope to accomplish by making a change?”

2. Cost of change

So now that we’ve just argued that money is the weakest reason for making a job change, the reality is that no candidate wants to lose money in the process of making a change. That seems fairly obvious, but too often we focus so much attention on convincing the candidate of what they have to gain by switching teams that we don’t help them honestly assess what they stand to lose. For example, successful salespeople will always have commissions pending. Stock options have vesting schedules. Bonuses get paid at specific intervals. The best candidates will be walking away from something by making a change.

“A lack of insight into a candidate’s current comp program can burn you big time,” explains Boris Epstein, Managing Partner of BINC, a tech recruiting company based in Silicon Valley. “It doesn’t matter how much the candidate wants the job. If they’re tied down with some major golden handcuffs, you’re not going to get them to move. I bring this up early and make the candidate calculate what a move will cost him before we move forward.”

Find out early in the process and address that concern head on. If the candidate is sufficiently motivated, he may be willing to walk away from that bonus. If not, perhaps a start date can be delayed until the bonus is paid or a signing bonus could make up the difference. The key is to find this out early so both the employer and the candidate can proceed with eyes wide open. This also goes a long way toward building trust with the applicant. Your willingness to bring up what could be perceived as “bad news” shows that you’re looking out for everyone’s best interests and not just looking to put together a deal.

3. The “cabinet of concern”

Just like the President of the United States has a cabinet of advisors, your candidate has people in her life who are sure to have opinions about her potential job change. As a recruiter, you need to know who these people are and what their concerns might be. Unless your candidate is single with no family or friends, someone will be affected. Of course, there are liability concerns about asking questions related to a candidate’s marital status or family situation. A simple question will open the door: “Who have you told that you’re considering making a job change?” If the answer is “no one,” you should be very concerned about this candidate’s seriousness. It’s illogical for someone who is contemplating something as significant as a job change to not tell anyone. She is either stonewalling you or is not serious. Most often when you ask that question, the response will be something like, “Of course I’ve talked about this with my spouse.” Once the candidate has volunteered that information, you can ask how the spouse is feeling about the possibility of a change and what concerns he might have.

4. Beware the boss

There’s a saying that people don’t quit companies, they quit their bosses. The relationship with the boss is one of the most significant factors in an employee’s satisfaction with her job so it’s important to know early if breaking up with the boss will be hard to do.

When reviewing the candidate’s work history, ask her who she reports to currently. “And how’s your relationship with him?” If the relationship is bad or neutral (which is politically correct for bad), consider this one more check in the motivation for leaving column. On the other hand, if she loves her boss, you could have potential closing problems. Address this head on by asking if she’s truly prepared to walk into this person’s office and give notice. Her response will be telling. Don’t move forward unless you are convinced that her desire to make a change is greater than her relationship with her boss.

“It’s so important to know what’s going on interpersonally with the employee and their current boss,” says Jason Radach, President of Vital Source, a Seattle-based software and IT recruiting firm. “If the candidate has a good relationship with their boss, I ask if her boss knows she’s looking. If she hasn’t told the boss, I take that as a bad sign and then drill deeper to see how she thinks the boss will react when she resigns. I want her to try that on emotionally before we get to the end of the process.”

5. Legal landmines

This seems so obvious, but it’s so often missed. Be sure you are crystal clear on any legal obligations that the candidate has to her current employer. Does she have a non-compete? Has she signed a non-disclosure agreement or any other restrictive covenant? If the answer is yes, you should request a copy of the agreement before you proceed. Have your legal counsel review the document or, if you’re a third-party recruiter, share a copy of the agreement with your client so they can make an informed decision about proceeding with this candidate.

Depending on the jurisdiction and the details of the agreement, it still may be possible to hire this candidate, but it could affect the way the offer is structured or the candidate may need to request a release from the agreement before an offer can be made.

Regardless of what position you’re recruiting for, one of the essential qualifications of any job is a candidate’s ability and willingness to make a job change. Get beyond questions about technical competence and make sure you are assessing the candidate’s seriousness. This will prevent you from suffering serious disappointment when you extend the offer.

About the Author

Jenifer Lambert is a VP with Terra Staffing Group, a Pinnacle Society recognized Executive Recruiter, and President of Elevate Performance Systems, LLC, a consulting and training firm that helps third-party recruiters grow their business.