Candidate or Wooden Duck? First Interviews and Candidate Decoys

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First Interviews, Candidate DecoyWhen buying a house, most people don’t pick the first one they visit. Even if that house has everything they could ever wish for, they still feel like they haven’t seen everything that’s “out there.”

The real estate agent that took those people to their dream house first just made a costly mistake. Now those buyers have to tour all the houses that match none of their criteria so that they can feel secure in their decision to buy the first one. The problem is, by the time they see all those other options, the house is off the market.

The same principle holds true in hiring. Hiring managers don’t want to hire the first candidate they see. Every recruiter has experienced this phenomena. A recruiter “gets” the job order cold. They send their top-of-mind candidate that fits all the criteria, matches the hiring manager’s personality, and has all the right energy for the job. We all know what happens.

The hiring manager loves the candidate and calls the recruiter. “My goodness,” the hiring manager says, “You nailed it with that candidate. Jim was perfect. I can’t wait to see who you send me next!

The recruiter has a problem. There is no other candidate. They want to say to the hiring manager, “Sorry buddy, that was my best shot – that’s it – I’m done – take him or leave him.” Of course, they never say that and are left trying to round up some less qualified candidates to make the hiring manager feel like he did his due diligence. Psychologically, the hiring manager can’t hire Jim until he’s seen two or three other candidates.

Candidates know that being the first interview has some real disadvantages. Smart candidates will often ask how the interview process is going and then schedule their interview out a little bit. Compounding the problem is that hiring managers learn about what they want through the actual interview process – the real job requirements often don’t surface until after a few interviews and lots of conversations with the team.

Sending in decoy candidates to the first interviews seems to be the best thing for a smart recruiter to do. Save your best candidate for a while until the hiring manager has done some shopping and feels comfortable enough to make a decision. It’s just like real estate agents taking prospective buyers to one house that’s much too small, one that’s too big and expensive, and then one that’s just right.

Is it mean to send in a wooden duck candidate? These are people we’re talking about after all, not houses. The answer is, maybe. But there’s a right way to do it that respects both the candidate and hiring manager.

  • Only send qualified candidates: You don’t ever want to send a candidate that doesn’t meet the basic hiring criteria. If you know that a candidate has a resume weakness that will necessarily prevent them from getting the job, don’t send them. It’s dishonest and wastes everyone’s time.
  • Send what they ask for: Recruiters know that hiring managers often don’t know what they really want. They ask for a certain set of qualifications, but internal and even external recruiters who really understand the team dynamic and skills that they need can often develop a more nuanced understanding of what the hiring manager really needs. If you are sending in candidates for the first round of interviews, go by the book – send the hiring manager what they ask for, but not the candidate that you instinctively feel that they really need.
  • Take the candidate on their word: Recruiters know that candidates, like hiring managers, often don’t portray their true intentions or needs and sometimes actually don’t understand what they really what. If a candidate says, “Sure, that hour and a half commute will be fine long-term,” a recruiters knows to take this with a grain of salt. People like 35 minute commutes better and there is no two ways about it. But when you are sourcing candidates for first interviews, let them have the chance. Take the candidate exactly for their word and don’t try to interpret things. If they meet the qualifications on paper and on their word, it’s worth giving them a shot.

No one wants to be a wooden duck candidate. Recruiters that send obviously wrong candidates are giving false hope to people and wasting the hiring manager’s time. But first interviews really are problematic, so recruiters are often in a bind…

For the first round of interviews, you want to send candidates that are qualified and can possibly get the job. People who deserve a shot and might be able to land the job. If you are getting that strong gut-feeling about a candidate though – a candidate that is not only what the hiring manager says they need, but what you know they need, it’s a good idea to wait for a few interviews to happen first…

So you are being true to both the candidate and hiring manager from the start of the first interview, but true to your own gut feeling for what should be the last.

Read more in Interview Process

Marie is a writer for covering career advice, recruitment topics, and HR issues. She has an educational background in languages and literature as well as corporate experience in Human Resources.