Avoiding Surprises in the Hiring Process

The hiring process usually begins with a polite optimism. All the stakeholders get together and agree on the job description and various “must haves” and “ideally would haves” of the imagined perfect person. Everybody believes they are on the same page.

Yet all too often something goes wrong. Once enough time passes without a hire, everything can come apart at the seams. Hiring managers become disenchanted.  Everyone suddenly seems to disagree on what they are looking for and how to evaluate who they have found. Candidates become suspicious or, even worse, they begin to feel mistreated. Blame start ricocheting through office halls.

Where does it all go wrong?

Most would think that attracting or finding the right people is the challenge in recruitment, but it is only half the battle. The process of hiring someone is wrought with pitfalls and traps that only the HR professional (or recruiter) is in the right position to navigate.

I have learned that most failures in the hiring process are caused by communication problems. The HR professional may not be the most senior person in the hiring team, but he/she is the only person in regular communication with everyone involved. He/she is the person that must see potential problems before they are realized. This requires a proactive and experienced approach towards dealing with everyone.

Dealing with the employer

The best way to avoid problems later in the process is to ensure that all of the stakeholders are aligned in terms of priorities, expectations and salary ranges at the outset. This may seem simple at first, but it is often a trap. While it is easy to agree on “yes or no” skills, people often don’t discuss or even consider other underlying factors that will actually drive the decision. For example, hiring managers may be focused more on short term immediate needs to help them day-to-day; meanwhile, executives may be looking longer term and focused on potential. It is very common for this kind of disconnect between practical skills and long term potential to lead to inconsistent assessments and disagreement about candidates.

When the HR professional takes this alignment for granted, he or she can end up in the middle of a conflict and start to feel a job has become “unfillable”. It is much easier to have this discussion at the beginning, asking tough and probing questions of everyone to truly force a consensus goal. Knowing the priorities gives the HR professional the power the keep everyone focused and prevent the “scope drift” that happens when lots of voices are involved. Learning the priorities by trial and error during the recruitment process leads to wasted time and lost candidates.

Dealing with the candidate

While busy dealing with all of the different interests and personalities on the employer’s side, it can be all too easy to take the candidates for granted. As everyone knows, losing a great candidate at the final stages can be a crushing blow.

As with dealing with employers the key is having open lines of communication. It begins with keeping candidates informed. Delays in the process are inevitable as schedules are misaligned and business issues distract from moving the process forward. When candidates are informed at every step and engaged, this is easily navigated. However, we must never forget how much we ask of candidates when we look for them to make a job change. Their livelihoods and egos are all invested in the process, and if you make them suffer through long silences or unexplained changes or delays, it is completely understandable that they start to emotionally withdraw from the process.

The other critical piece of communicating with candidates is more complicated. It involves not just open communication but also a certain amount of reading between the lines. Some candidates won’t realize that they do not want a job (and will thus decline your offer) until put to a decision (having an offer in front of them). The HR professional is in the best position to evaluate whether the role is aligned with the candidate’s goals and expectations, and this requires some proactive thinking:

  • Has the candidate clearly articulated what he/she is looking for? Has he/she expressed concerns? Have all these questions been addressed?
  • Has the candidate demonstrated he/she is serious by being able to articulate specific details about how his/her life would change? (commute, child care, spousal conversations)
  • Does the candidate have other opportunities in the mix or is a counter-offer from the employer a possibility? How serious is the threat
  • Are expectations around offer details (salary and title) all aligned?

A strong HR professional builds the kinds of relationship with candidates that allows for these questions to be answered. This offers the chance of either getting in front of problems before they happen, or just knowing when to shift gears.

Avoiding surprises in the hiring process

The temptation is always to remain optimistic and assume the candidate will come on board, but great HR professionals strive to understand what will happen and how different scenarios will play out even before the candidates and employers do. What better way to give proper counsel?

When things fall apart, it often comes as a surprise, but this does not mean the problems were not avoidable. The difference between a success and failure can be a simple matter if making sure all parties have effectively communicated their priorities and their expectations. This is the mark of an HR professional who knows how to manage the hiring process: there are no surprises.

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Mark Nelson

Mark has spent his career in executive search and human resources as a recruiter, a salesperson, an HR leader and a business owner. He also writes and manages the career advice site Career Digressions. Connect with Mark.


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