The Art and Science of Recruitment – Chapter 3

Landing the Best Candidate

In the first two chapters of this series, I described the groundwork required to land a pipeline of candidates for that high-impact position on your team. Chapter One dealt with the job description and verbiage used in successful job profiles, while Chapter Two was more about the networking process and how to add your own contacts to the web applications that come in along the way.

This month, I’m assuming you (and possibly your HR colleague) have had a nice roster of resumés come in, and the focus has shifted to identifying and recruiting the best.

Making the First Cut

Even though you have already asked for help from HR or an external recruiter, you will want to do a first-pass with that person in order to ensure they’re on the right track and working with the specs as written. It’s more than ensuring they have your list of key words . . . Yes, they know it’s a Fermentation Scientist job, and they’re looking for a PhD and 5+ years of experience out of school. And you’ve given them a couple of buzzwords like “media optimization” and “10 liter scale” and so on. But more is needed on this first cut!

Take some time to review the entire batch with your HR colleagues. Broaden their thinking in some areas, but in others be very specific. For example, describe why the job could be done either by a microbiologist with process development interests, or by a process engineer with microbiology experience. Give your resource some examples of CV’s for that “short list” you’ve asked for. And more than this, explain why you’ve selected those few.

If you are working with an external recruiter, the best sources are going to want to “calibrate” with you in a similar fashion, but they will have already developed a short list. They’ve recruited these from other organizations and have put together a nice handful of prospects, but perhaps only two of the five they show you are a possible fit. That’s OK . . . take the discussion towards what you like with those first two and what you don’t like about the other three, and let them learn from your commentary. Ensure you spend plenty of time on the CV’s that didn’t go forward; if they don’t “get” your reasons for excluding those, the search becomes a mystery. Take it from me, nothing stalls a search faster than when key elements of a search become a mystery.

Either way, whether you’re working with HR or an external resource, you’re now in a very important part of the process. The funnel has narrowed – and you’ll shortly see what will become a nice, tight list of prospective new employees.

Fine-Tuning and Moving Ahead with Recruitment

No matter how tightly you wrote those specs, you’ll probably have too much coming your way from Human Resources or your recruiter contact. It’s in the nature of people working in recruitment to load you up with CV’s. In addition, job seekers send too many unsolicited applications. (It’s funny, even people who already know they won’t move to your high cost-of-living zone will often write and express an interest. Why would someone do this? My guess is it’s the need we each have to be wanted.)

This means that you’ll still do your own fine-tuning and reduce the load on that first step of the interview process. If you’re the typical manager, you may have time for 8-10 first-pass phone interviews, so you’ve got to screen tightly. Anyone who comes highly recommended by a friend or trusted advisor – perhaps your mentor during your graduate school years – will automatically go into the “talk to” pile. While you’ll use your own series of check boxes for how you move people into that category, I’ll bet it will involve items like educational credentials, current employer, strength of the cover letter, and so on.

Here’s a caution, because the thing about resumés and CV’s is this . . . We’ve all seen a great looking CV and then later find out the person behind it is a real dud. Or, half the things you noted as positives in her CV end up being elements of a class she took one semester. The point is, great looking CV’s aren’t always great candidates, and vice-versa. I would strongly recommend that you look through the mix of those who didn’t quite make the cut and find a reason to be inclusive. Add a couple of those marginal CV’s to your short list, perhaps just because there was a glimmer of something there that caught your eye. You’d be surprised how many great, hard-working and smart people there are out there who can’t write a masterpiece of a CV.

Reaching Out and Starting the Recruitment

Every organization has a different way to start the process, but most hiring managers and HR staff like to start with a short introductory call. That first step can easily come from your HR department, or you can invest the time yourself. In some cases, the HR department will have already reached out to the candidates to begin the ranking process. All of your external recruiters are going to have had preliminary meetings and can tell you more about the candidate’s personal situation, communication style and so on. That’as fine – take this information and add it to your knowledge bank, and for those who merit it, schedule a more detailed interview by phone or, in today’s world, by Zoom.

Here are some key reminders that I’d like to pass along for this stage of the process. Each one of these has an impact, and at this stage, the more professional and appealing your early process, the higher the chances are of landing the top candidate:

  • It’s nice to start by extending the invitation yourself. Is it worth having some low level HR person reach out only to arrange something on your schedule? We’ve found that the more personal involvement from the prospective boss right at the beginning, the more positive the candidate views the opportunity.
  • Always give several choices of times and, if possible, place one of those at a time of the day when she would logically not be at her desk . . . before work in the morning, late afternoon, or perhaps lunch hour.
  • If using Zoom, ensure that you make it clear at the onset that it’s “audio only” or “video enabled” so they can be prepared to look their best.
  • Leave adequate time for the candidate to ask questions. Don’t make it a one-sided eruption of hardball questions . . . start out by pointing out some common ground you see in his CV, bring up the great company culture and the makeup of your team, and then provide a short recap of why the job is important.
  • When your job-related questions begin in earnest, don’t be afraid to interrupt if they go on too long in response. Everyone has a different level of comfort in an interview, and the nervous types will always ramble on a bit too long. That’s not a deal killer – that’s just interviewing style. Ask that candidate to be a bit briefer in response on the next one, “in order to get through the short list of questions I had for you.”

Moving on to Interview Day

In my final chapter of this series, I’ll walk you through some of the dynamics of an in-person or final interview for your open job. In addition, I’ll provide some key guidelines to ensuring that a job offer will be accepted. While every company has a culture and a process they use for the finalist interviews and the extension of the job offer, there’s no doubt in my mind that a hiring manager can have a very positive impact on making it all come together successfully.

Author: David G. Jensen, CTI Executive Search,