Tire-kicking job candidates are the bane of every recruiter. But those candidates become nightmares when the company falls in love with them, makes an offer, and gets turned down the minute a new title and bigger paycheck are offered by the candidate’s current employer.
For the recruiter, it’s back to square one. Only the pressure is even greater now.
I saw this happen too often in my days at a large search firm. We’d put junior recruiters on the job of identifying candidates, while more senior recruiters focused on new client acquisition and sales. The junior recruiters would return with a long list of candidates -- so many to choose from -- and some had the right backgrounds. But when the motivation of those candidates was merely to see what they were worth and use that as leverage to get more from their current role (a.k.a., tire kicking), no one was impressed. Particularly not the client.
Tricks to create a job candidate short list, minus the tire-kickers
Today’s candidate-driven market means every recruiter is seeing more tire-kickers -- even professional executive search firms like mine aren’t immune. That’s why we take steps that eliminate non-serious candidates early on, long before the client ever makes eye contact. You can do the same with the following process:
- Spend extra time with candidates. Scheduling a 15-minute phone screen? It won’t be enough to ID a tire-kicker. To know who you’re really considering, you have to get beyond the rehearsed answers. Your goal is to build a relationship so you can ask questions that really matter -- and get unfiltered responses. We train search consultants on the “art of search” so they know how to motivate candidates to feel comfortable with them and open up. The only way to do this is by putting in the time.
- Know the possible career development paths for the job. At my firm, we recruit executives in life sciences. Exclusively. This gives us insight into career development paths for each search, whether CDMO, big pharma, orphan drugs or another healthcare segment. If something doesn’t fit, whether in a candidate’s background or their expressed desire for future progress, we know we have to dig further. What are they really looking for? If they fit today, for how long?
- Watch for red flags. Money. Title. Vacation. How soon can the promotion happen? These are important to every candidate, but if they’re the questions your candidate asks first or keeps coming back to, he or she may not be the best fit. You want candidates whose hearts are in the job and who want to make a difference. Those candidates will focus their questions on the product or process, culture, goals and opportunities to learn and lead. The paycheck will almost seem like an afterthought.
- Talk to the job candidate’s network. If you know your industry well, you also know its leaders and can contact them at any time for some quick feedback on Candidate A. I’m not just talking about the candidate’s references here -- you want candid insight, so you go to your personal connections in the industry. That way you know you’re getting confidential feedback (no leaks!) and honest opinions. If you’re working with an external recruiter, be sure they also specialize in your industry or else they’ll miss this crucial step.
- Address a few tough topics, like “relocation.” Use challenging topics, like “relocation,” to get the candidate to think about what you’re asking. Ask questions like, “What would be important to your family if you made a move?” and “How can we address any special attention they’ll require for a smooth transition?” These questions may catch candidates off guard, but motivated candidates will answer candidly. If the answers you receive are anything but heartfelt, it could be a red flag indicating your candidate isn’t serious about the role.
- Persist. Still not sure if you’re looking at a tire-kicker or an all-star? Keep talking and keep asking questions. Resist the temptation to put forward as many candidates as possible -- you’re sure to get tire-kickers that way -- and focus on eliminating candidates instead. Spend time reviewing your notes, and look for holes in each candidate’s story. For example, why would a candidate want to leave a high-paying job in big pharma to work for a startup orphan drug manufacturer with minimal funding? If the answer is “opportunity to advance my career,” you haven’t dug deeply enough. Hop back on the phone and get the real answer.
By the way, tire-kicking candidates may slow down your efforts to fulfill your current search project, but they may also turn into great connections for the future. I worked with a candidate recently who was “just looking,” at least on the surface, and when I talked to him more about the role, I found out he wasn’t the right person for this job. But I did learn that he was almost ready to make a move. And now that I know more about him, I’ll be calling as soon the right opportunity surfaces.