MazeThe recruiting process never moves in a straight line. Think of it as more of a maze: you are always running into unexpected barriers, and you need to find the opening to get to the finish line.

The process also poses a “hurry up to slow down” conundrum. When the hiring manager is ready to get started, it usually means they need to hire as soon as possible, but they also want to see a full range of potential candidates. In an ideal world, you should have five candidates ready to present concurrently. But as all recruiters know, this outcome is never the reality. The goal is to all make it through the labyrinth together!

So, how do you run an efficient process and reach a successful resolution in a timely manner that makes everyone happy? Below are a few rules I try to follow for every search we conduct to manage a lengthy recruiting process. When we start to deviate from them, we usually leave someone unhappy.

1. Set Expectations Early and Often

This begins when you sit down with the hiring manager and put a strategy in place. Prepare both the hiring manager and candidates to be flexible on job title and compensation range. This is a two-way street. You also need to give both parties realistic timelines and parameters around the search, so they can set expectations accordingly.

There are always candidates who are anxious to move the hiring process along; in fact, the “right” candidate can often be the first one you meet. You have to be very clear with them that the process in most cases cannot be accelerated. If you are upfront with a candidate from the beginning, he or she will also be transparent with you. I keep the dialogue open with the lead candidates to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.

And just like candidates need to know what to expect, so do hiring managers. If the top candidate is about to move on because of the timeline, it is important to communicate that to the hiring manager. Review the available candidate landscape and let them know that it is better to pull the trigger on their top candidate than it is to risk losing them. Even though this may mean that the hiring manager will not see every potential candidate for the role, helping them to focus on the top candidate will minimize the risk of losing that person because of an unnecessary focus on process.

The bottom line is: maintain an open avenue of communication regarding timing considerations on both sides. When all parties involved are kept in the loop, both the candidate and hiring manager can make the most informed decision possible.

2. Keep Messaging Consistent

Once you have a plan with the hiring manager, stick to it. The recruiter, hiring manager, and any other points of contact in the firm have to be on the same page. This way, you avoid giving the candidate mixed signals.

This communication is especially important when discussing aspects of the role during the interview process, such as title, compensation, and responsibilities. Compensation is usually the trickiest. Never overstate what the role is or what the compensation will be. Even if a candidate is making less than the job could potentially pay, if you state a number upfront, they are going to ask for it at the end. Candidates can feel misled if a number stated in the beginning of the process is different than the one on the offer. The same goes for title: a VP is very different from a Director.

After the candidate and hiring manager start to build a relationship, it is even more important to keep lines of communications open. As a recruiter, I am always sensitive to a candidate’s need to feel loved, especially at the higher levels. Usually, I will encourage the hiring manager to touch base with the candidate and maybe even get together in an informal setting to keep things moving. Being clear and consistent throughout the process allows everyone to have a better recruiting experience.

3. Treat the Candidate Like a Partner in the Process

We’ve found that the most successful searches are conducted by doing the obvious: building strong relationships with candidates. By listening to what the candidate is looking for and knowing all of their extenuating circumstances, it is easier to educate the client on realistic timelines and offers, and the chances of a candidate accepting the job increase.

I have been blindsided in the past when I have assumed a candidate was on board, only to find out that they had either personal issues or specific concerns with the firm that made a successful outcome unlikely.

Becoming the candidate’s confidant is part of the process and should never be overlooked. The more information a recruiter has, the better we are at acting as the arbitrator between both candidate and hiring manager. We as recruiters also need to be objective: it’s okay to have favorites, but we have to remain unbiased throughout the process. The end goal is to find the best candidate for the job, and ultimately, the firm will choose the right person.

This candidate might be different from the one with whom you established the strongest connection. I am amazed at how often the No. 1 candidate drops back to the second or third slot very late in the process and we are grateful we kept the other two candidates engaged. The candidates don’t need to know that they were not the top pick throughout.

At the end of the day, what really matters is that both the client and the successful candidate come together and are excited about getting started. They have a long road ahead together — I, on the other hand, get to emerge from the recruitment maze, pull up a lawn chair, and admire the hedges!

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