A Surefire Way to Lose the Candidates You Want: Going Slow When You Should Go Fast

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It’s a situation that plays out thousands of time each day in the corporate world. It goes something like this:

Hiring Manager: Hi, Rick. It’s Debra Jones. I’m calling to say I’m disappointed we have not seen any new candidates from you in a while. We need to get somebody ASAP!

Recruiter: Hi, Debra. I’m glad you called. I’ve been wanting to follow up from the call I placed to you last week on the two candidates, Thomas Smith and Cynthia Lee, whose assessments both came back very strong. I was hoping to get some feedback from you on how their interviews went.

Hiring Manager (incredulously): Well, I’ve been swamped. I’ve not had time to think about them. You know I think these assessments and the detailed level at which we are interviewing these candidates is taking far too long.

Recruiter: Funny you should mention that. I just put together a little time study on the last 10 candidates we proposed, showing where we wasted time and where we invested time. Can I take you through it? I think you will find it insightful as to how we can get offers to qualified candidates faster.

Hiring Manager: I don’t have time for that. Just send me more candidates!

The cognitive dissonance between what hiring managers want and how they behave hits the corporate recruiting universe like a tsunami. In this ultra-tight labor market, ghosting candidates and their recruiters simply does not cut it when it comes to identifying, properly vetting, and hiring quality personnel.

What Is Going On, and What Can You Do About It?

In summary, employers are in a rush to find candidates, but hiring managers often delay the process unnecessarily once those candidates have been identified. This is the quintessential “go fast to go slow” behavior. While I won’t even attempt to describe the psychology behind this, I will outline some common excuses I’ve heard from hiring managers, along with the associated cognitive dissonance for each:

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Lest anyone think this is a bash session on hiring managers, my clients read this column, too! I am simply pointing out incongruent behavior that happens way too often. It prevents hiring managers from interviewing and hiring the best candidates by simply wasting time. Keep in mind that candidates are perishable assets! The goal of this article is to help you evaluate where you are currently wasting time and where that time can be better invested in the hiring process.

My recruiting contract with my clients stipulates they give me initial feedback on each candidate within 24 hours. In spite of having this in writing and getting their sworn agreement to do so, I am still disappointed with the poor responsiveness of my clients’ hiring managers in providing timely feedback on candidates. Many recruiters have had this exact same experience.

Think of it this way: In hiring, like in most sports, speed wins! Moreover, if a recruiter is not serving up the types of candidates you are looking for, then your fast feedback will serve as a calibration mechanism that allows the recruiter to dial in on the qualifications and experience you are looking for. The adage “‘No’ is great, ‘yes’ is best, and ‘maybe’ does not work” applies well to this situation.

‘Have You Heard Back From the Hiring Manager?’

That is the cry of the interested candidate! When time is wasted in the recruiting process, it frustrates the candidates. They have no idea where they stand. After the initial interview — usually conducted by phone — hiring managers often wait days before giving feedback to either the candidate or the recruiter about what the next steps, if any, may be.

The fundamental principle here is to get back to the candidate quickly with some feedback, even if that feedback is simply to let the candidate know you need a few more days to think it through. Have integrity in your commitments. If you say you are going to touch base in two days, then make sure you touch base in two days. No exceptions. In these early stages of the recruiting process, you are setting your candidate’s expectations for what it will be like to work with you. Set your best example of accountability. Besides, you need to be sharper than the other companies to which your candidate may be talking.

There is another important point that needs to be made here: If a candidate is not chosen, you need to let them know and provide some feedback to help them in future hiring processes. Getting back to all of your candidates, whether selected or not, is a classy move, and it will instill goodwill toward both your company’s brand and your own personal brand. The hiring manager should deliver the feedback here, as doing so will help build their feedback muscles, although your recruiter can help you out in a pinch. In addition, some of these silver-medal candidates may become excellent choices for future openings, which is why fostering great candidate relationships is so important.

Finally, this must be said: If you jerk a good candidate around, you will permanently sour them on your company. It is much better to be decisive and leave the door open for further discussion in the future. Remember, the candidates are interviewing you as well. They are watching how you conduct your business.

‘It’s HR’s Fault; The Interview Process Is Too Long and Difficult’

When a candidate accepts a job with another company or opts out of the process, the most common complaint I hear from hiring managers is that “the interview process is too long and difficult!” Keep in mind that in a tight talent market, most of the A players are happily employed, so the risk that you are talking to a B player or — worse — a C player grows greater. Vetting is critical!

The vetting process is one part of the recruiting process where you don’t want to skimp on investing time. You only want to hire either a full-fledged A player or an A potential. Hiring a B player or worse will be a bad hire that reflects negatively on your abilities as a manager and leader.

Specifically, your vetting process should include:

  1. A detailed behavioral-based interview with your entire team. I highly recommend the Topgrading process.
  2. A validated and easy-to-understand psychometric assessment to analyze your candidates’ behaviors and motivations. I highly recommend something like the Caliper assessment.
  3. Detailed 45-minute reference interviews with three prior direct supervisors to confirm performance claims, behaviors, leadership development opportunities, and compensation status.

Done properly, the entire vetting process can be accomplished within a few days. For example, once the hiring manager does the initial phone screen interview, we send the candidate the career history and psychometric assessments on the same day. When we get these back, the candidate moves to a Topgrading interview with the entire management team. Having the entire team interview the candidate at once and then make an immediate “go or no-go” decision following the interview actually speeds up the process versus having the candidate individually interview with each executive. As part of this process, we also have the candidate provide their reference contacts during the interview.

When the candidate sees the management team interact with each other in the interview, they get a good idea of your culture and how they will fit in. It may seem counterintuitive, but A players love the rigor of this process while B and C players drop out, which is actually a good thing.

All told, we are often able to get a candidate an answer on their drive home from the interview. Inevitably, our thoroughness, speed, and decisiveness leave a positive impression.

In one more critical step, you must conduct at least three reference interviews with your candidate’s prior direct managers. We ask the candidates to set these up, and it is amazing how quickly A players get them scheduled. This is because there is no professional risk to a prior manager in validating an A player.  On the other hand, if prior managers are less than enthusiastic about a candidate or are guarded on your probing questions about results, those are red flags that you are looking at a B player or worse!

In recruiting, speed wins. Don’t make the mistakes so many other hiring managers make. The more time you waste, the more likely you are to drive away all the best candidates. Keep in constant contact with your candidates and keep the process moving. Invest your precious time in the vital vetting process. Doing these things will ensure you are bringing a pipeline of A players into your organization!

Rick Crossland is author of the The A Player  and a certified Scaling Up coach. More resources are available at www.aplayeradvantage.com.

By Rick Crossland