Friday, November 30, 2007

Practice what we preach: Interviewing Recruiters

I've interviewed 100s of recruiters in my career, and taught a lot of recruiters and hiring managers how to interview and select great people. And, most of the time (smile), I practice what I preach.

If you're going to interview a recruiter soon, consider employing some of these situational or scenario-based techniques. I believe they help you predict on-the-job success, and they've served me really well over the years. Here's 3 examples:

  1. Role play with the recruiter. "I'm the hiring manager, you're the recruiter that works with me. Imagine I just opened a new req - one you haven't worked on before. You schedule a meeting with me to understand my target candidate profile and set up our relationship. What do you do to prep for that meeting? What questions would you have for me during the meeting? Let's role play those questions - gather my hiring criteria/requirements right now. [Throw in a few unrealistic requests to see if the recruiter can appropriately push back.] What will you commit to at the end of this meeting? What are the next steps?"
  2. Learn whether the recruiter knows the jobs and profiles they'll recruit for. Give the recruiter a req spec (detailed requirements list) and then give the recruiter 5-7 resumes to review against that req. Ask the recruiter to stack rank the resumes against the req, with the most promising candidate on top, least promising on bottom. Then have the recruiter walk you through their logic. "Why did you put this resume on top? What's on here that makes you think it's the best match? [Walk through the top 2-3 resumes.] What does [term from resume] mean? What do you look for - beyond key words - when evaluating a resume against a req like this? What are some general red flags you look for? What would be the specific red flags for this req? [Walk through the bottom 2-3 resumes.] What did you see on these resumes that made you rank them so low?"
  3. If the recruiter you need to hire will need to build a plan/strategy, then why not ask them to build something for you during the interview? I've had great success giving a recruiter a scenario and asking them to build a strategy that supports a business request for more hires. "The VP you support has just met with you, and asked you to come up with a plan to hire 30 additional people onto her team in 3 months. She needs to see a plan from you by the end of the week. Let's role play - I'm the VP, you're the recruiter. What info do you need from me to build this plan? What's your plan to source, screen, select, and sell these candidates? What are the specific tactics you will employ to generate quality candidates? How many candidates do you think we'll need to interview to make 30 hires? How did you come up with that? Is it realistic to hit this goal? How do you know if it's realistic? Show me - on paper - how you'll present the elements of this plan to your VP so that you build confidence with her that you're an expert. What do you think she'll be most concerned about (risks) and what will you say/do to address those risks?" [You can continue on with this scenario for over 30 minutes by asking for more detail about sourcing strategy, interviewing process, metrics, communication plan, etc.]
These are just 3 examples. What techniques do you use - beyond traditional behavioral interview techniques - to predict on-the-job success for recruiters?

Monday, November 19, 2007

The problem with reference checks

Professional reference check processes are - generally - flawed. Why?

First, we let candidates control who we talk to...and it's rare for a candidate to volunteer someone who's not going to rave about them.

Second - and related to the first reason - is that references rarely change the outcome of our hiring decisions. When I've informally checked with my peers and colleagues at other companies, and asked, "How often, out of 100 candidates, does a reference change your decision from a Yes/Hire to a No/No-Hire?". Generally, the response was 2-5 times out of 100! Very few people I asked could think of more than 1 real example from the past year. In other words - references almost never change the outcome.

Third, almost every company in the US has a no reference policy which prohibits their employees from serving as references for past employees. (This, however, has never stopped a good recruiter from getting a reference when one is needed. Very few companies are aware of their employee's activities, and don't have a way to enforce this policy.)

So, what's my philosophy on references?

1) References should never take you from a No-hire to a Hire. If you have major concerns, why even go to references? ("You know, I have some major concerns about Jeff after our interview. Why don't we go to references, and see what his best friends say about him. If they say good things, I'll ignore my evidence and hire him anyway." Hopefully, no one's going to say or do something like that.)

2) References should be solicited by the recruiter or interviewers, and tailored to the concern areas identified in the interview process. When I teach Hiring Managers how to interview, I often remind them to ask about the peers and people that the candidate worked with when they're asking their "Tell me about a time when..." questions. Then, if it sounds like Jeff worked really closely with a Project Manager named Julie, ask Jeff if he'd be ok if we called Julie for a reference.

3) References may help the Hiring Manager more effectively manage the new hire, so it may make sense for - ready for this! - the Hiring Manager to personally check references. I always did this myself as a Hiring Manager, as I wanted to talk mano-a-mano with someone who has managed the person I'm hiring.

How do you use references? Are they tailored to the interview concerns, or are they general? Have you let background checks replace them? Do your Hiring Managers check their own?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Things I've learned from good headhunters

I was just sharing this experience in a recruiter/sourcing training session I was doing for a health care client this past week.

I'm working in my home office one night, around 9:30pm. And the phone rings on my business line. I pick it up, and I get a surprised, "Hello...John?" (He clearly wasn't expecting me to pick up the phone.)

He introduced himself as a recruiter/headhunter. I said something like, "Do you know that it's 9:30pm here in Seattle?"

He did. "I was expecting to get your be honest, you caught me off guard."

Well, he goes on to tell me - and I LOVE THIS - that he was calling to pitch a Recruiting Director job to me, but - with a name like Vlastelica - he didn't want to butcher it when he called me the next day. So, he was hoping to get my voicemail to hear my pronunciation.

What a proactive, respectful, smart guy!

Now, I'm used to getting my name butchered, so I wouldn't necessarily hold it against someone if they pronounced it wrong. But, wouldn't you be impressed if someone invested that little extra effort to make a great first impression?

(It's pronounced Vla-sta-lee-ka, by the way. When I'm really desperate for content someday, I'll share with you the 3 most absurd spellings/pronunciations I've ever heard of my last name.)

Friday, November 16, 2007


I enjoy writing, have some stuff published in a couple books on staffing best practices, and enjoyed some success with some popular recruiting white papers and recruiting newsletters I used to write, so thought - what the heck, let's try on this blog-thing, and see if it fits.

So, my plan is to write about things that may help hiring managers, recruiters and recruiting leaders do their jobs better, or find humor in the craziness that is recruiting (and maybe life in general, too). If you've ever been to my training or seen me present at a conference, you know I like to keep things 1) practical and 2) entertaining.

Stay tuned.