The Art and Science of Recruitment – Chapter 4

Bring the top candidate to the table

I’ve discussed the process of writing your job description, networking and getting the search started — and then, how to get the ball rolling with the prospects you’ve identified from that effort. In my conclusion, I will cover interview day and how important the hiring manager is to the process. You may be in an organization where many participate in the interview, and it’s possible for the hiring manager to feel like it has spun out of her control – that others will have as much or more impact on the day. Let me assure you that’s not the case!

At my firm, we consider the hiring manager’s efforts that day to be the “make or break” element that brings in the better candidates. Consider the manager who allows the first meeting of the day to be filling out forms in Human Resources, or who makes the candidate sit outside her office while engaging in phone calls. How does that contrast with a prospective boss who meets the night before for a meal, or who provides a quick intro to the day before things get hot and heavy for the visitor. These things are not optional . . . your engagement in the process is at its pinnacle at this point.

First Steps to Ensure a Successful Visit

One of the most important elements of interview day actually takes place a week or two before the big event. That is, the hiring manager alerts the candidate to the pending process and whom they will meet. I can’t even begin to describe how important this is and the impact it has on the candidate.

Imagine you’re scheduled to go to an interview at XYZ Pharma and that it is one of the most important days of your life. How would you feel if it were a big mystery — that you knew only one or two names of people you’d be meeting with, and yet reference had been made to panel discussions and a presentation without further detail? Does it work to the benefit of the prospective employer for this to remain a mystery? Of course not! Instead, the proactive hiring manager will ensure that whatever the schedule, the candidate has that agenda in advance complete with the names and job titles of the team members she will be meeting with.

Doing this will allow the candidate to review those backgrounds and experiences on LinkedIn or through publication searches. It’s a part of your efforts as the boss to help that person come down from the high stress zone and become a “real me” interviewer. While no candidate will ever show up without being a bit on edge, the candidate who knows what he/she is going into is always a better prepared interviewer. The risks of hire are reduced because that person is more likely to be themselves on interview day.

As I referred to in my introduction, another critical element is to ensure that you are the candidate’s first meeting. This isn’t your big, hardball interview – that can come in the afternoon. This is a short (often 30 minutes) overview, helping to ease the stress level by talking a bit about your company culture and the team members they will meet, generally steering him or her into a successful visit by bringing a comfortable footing to the first part of the day.

Presentations and Panel Interviews

In the business we work in, hiring managers often ask their in-person candidates to deliver a presentation (this also occurs in Zoom interviews – see Sidebar). This is often a real stress generator for the candidate, and an advance knowledge of the audience and a few words from the hiring manager about what the room will consist of and his or her expectations for the talk itself can be very helpful. Ensure that you ask the candidate to supply a talk title in advance, and course-correct him if he’s going off into the weeds.

Consider how the candidate views the presentation and do what you can to eliminate some of their concerns in advance. Does a company-wide announcement of their talk send a possible message about a lack of confidentiality? While every interviewing candidate knows that they are putting their present position at risk along the way, a company-wide announcement and posters on every bulletin board and elevator really signals that their personal risk is real. Perhaps there’s a way to make the announcement a bit more discretely. 

As you know, talks tend to run a bit longer than they do in their rehearsed version. My suggestion is that you make it very clear that the talk is to go no longer than 35 minutes – or whatever your guidelines are – and once stated, watch to see how your candidate performs against that metric. Launch the Q&A, and watch/listen to see how comfortable your candidates are in this very important aspect of interpersonal communication.

In most agendas, this job talk comes at the front end of the day and sets the stage for discussions in the following interviews, several of which are by panels. There’s something very stressful for candidates about panel interviews, but it’s still a great way to get information and flesh out any personality issues. One common mistake is to allow panel interviewers to take off on their own mission. Instead, ensure that each panel has a goal, and that these pieces fit together into the general picture that you’d like to generate about the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

Moving to the Offer

Let’s assume that the day went great and you’ve now decided to conclude the process and put an offer on the table. Will you pass the responsibilities over to HR for this, or will you be personally involved as well? Every company has its own formula, but I would urge you to remain close to the process. Even if your role is only to bring them the good news that an offer is forthcoming, stay in the game here. Remember that more than half the decision to make this job change will be the impressions that this new hire has about their prospective boss.

It’s perfectly fine for HR to lead this element, and most will do so. But many very successful executives I know take it on themselves and move through the negotiation process with their new employee. You learn a lot about a person when you are in a conversation like this . . . what’s important, what’s not all that big a deal, and how he or she feels about the job itself. Regardless of what role you assume, give that candidate an opportunity to see that not only are they joining a great company, but that they’ll have a new boss who listens, who cares, and who supports them through their career plans. That’s what the best candidates deserve, and what will keep your own career on a fast track as well.

Addendum: Interviewing in a Pandemic

Clearly, there’s a completely different interview process in place as I write this column, and of course no one knows how long it will last. However, I’m certain that there will be long term changes in the interview process. While companies will work as quickly as they can to safely bring back face-to-face interviews, the Zoom or video interview is here to stay. Where in the past you may have flown four or five candidates in to visit on-site, perhaps in the future we’ll Zoom interview 90% of them, and then only bring forward the finalist to a face-to-face.

While there are differences in the video interview process, all of the important elements of this month’s column – those actions which can be taken by the Hiring Manager – still apply. While you clearly can’t meet with the candidate the night before, you can still ensure you are on the schedule in a preliminary intro conversation before the Zoom panels become intense. You can still ensure your candidates receive an agenda beforehand, and you can still follow up with them at the end of the day about their impressions. Your role will be to act as the closer, as (with any interview) the prospective new boss is always one of the most important reasons for a job change.

Author: David G. Jensen, CTI Executive Search,