Archive for April, 2015

No Candidate Hits the Bullseye

April 30, 2015

Even the most ideally suited candidates generate concerns on the part of the hiring team. I don’t care if the candidate is God’s gift to humanity, or in this case, the hiring world. Every candidate has a chink in their armor.

Quite recently, I worked with a finalist senior sales candidate for a great opportunity. He’s everything the VP Sales could ask for – specific domain experience, successful over-quota track record, relevant industry contacts, demonstrated longevity in roles, compensation in the target range, strong intangibles, interviewed well, demonstrates genuine interest, etc. Sounds like a slam dunk, right?

Well, of course there’s a hitch! The VP Sales’ boss, the SVP, likes the candidate, but is concerned about his coachability and ability to hit the ground running and ramp-up rapidly. Funny how so many hiring executives, usually quite senior themselves, routinely come up with this coachability question for senior level candidates. It’s as if age and experience equates to being set in your ways. Seems like a double-standard to me as I’ll bet that many of those same senior-level hiring executives would be challenged with the coachability concern as well.

In any case, nearly all finalist candidates will have a concern or two raised about them, often without their knowledge of it. This is where recruiters can come in handy as they can ferret out these concerns and then work in concert with the candidate to address them head-on.

Ultimately, this is where back-channel references provide immense value to the hiring process. In this age of connectedness, there stands a high likelihood that the hiring executives know someone who knows someone who can speak to the concerns they have regarding the candidate.

And then there are the formally submitted references. While some companies don’t put much emphasis into reference checks – amounting to not much more than the proverbial two-headed monster check, others take reference checks quite seriously. They’re a great opportunity to drill down into any and all remaining concerns about the candidate.

Of course, these formal references were handpicked by the candidate. So going into it, we know that they’re likely to bring noticeable biases in favor of the candidate. However, a business mentor of mine once said that a great reference is good and a good reference is poor. So yes, formal references should be taken with a grain of salt. Yet, that does not preclude the hiring team from really challenging the references, especially related to the outstanding concerns.

Beyond back-channel and formal references, hiring managers can also discuss directly with the candidate. Asking behavioral questions, such as “Give me a specific example from your recent past that demonstrates your thirst for coaching and self-development.” Or “Tell me about a time you started up in a new role. What did you do to facilitate a rapid ramp-up?” These questions should evoke answers that outline specific circumstances and actions taken as opposed to generalities (hypothetical “woulds” and “shoulds.”

If a candidate is privy to the concerns the hiring teams has, that candidate can provide additional targeted references who can address those concerns in no uncertain terms.

Concerns about finalist candidates will arise. The more effectively these concerns are addressed and sufficiently mitigated, the greater the likelihood that candidates will move on to the offer phase.


Action items:

1. Candidates: Even if the feedback is all positive, assume that there are concerns. Whether through a recruiter or direct with the hiring manager, take proactive measures to inquire about any concerns and then address them head-on. The last thing you need are lingering doubts or elephants in the room.

2. The higher the quality of references, the greater the chance that any outstanding concerns will be alleviated.

3. The bullseye is a myth. No candidates ever hit the center of the target.