Publicly, you’ll usually hear me giving advice to companies looking to hire their next amazing executive. But behind the scenes, I spend a lot of time advising the executive job candidates who are being reviewed by these companies, too.
The candidates’ number one question: how do I know that this is the right move for me? It’s not something they verbalize, but it’s what most candidates are getting at whenever they reach the final stages of interviewing.
It’s tricky when a recruiter contacts a candidate. We frequently serve as guides and liaisons, which in the mind of a candidate can seem like an inside connection to the company. But not always.
The natural response of most recruiters faced with a waffling executive candidate would be to talk up the salary, benefits, and hiring company. If you’re a contingent recruiter, your paycheck is on the line because you’re compensated only upon a successful placement. That makes it easy to convince a candidate that this is THE dream job they’ve been waiting for, even when it’s not.
If you’re a contingent recruiter, your paycheck is on the line because you’re compensated only upon a successful placement. That makes it easy to convince a candidate that this is THE dream job they’ve been waiting for, even when it’s not. But my team works differently.
But my team works a little differently. Years ago, I set up a guarantee for our clients -- if a candidate we place doesn’t stick around for at least one year, we redo the search at no additional charge. I did this so that clients would understand how committed we are to placing the right people in the right positions. I probably also wanted to ensure my own recruiters were just as committed.
When a candidate is unsure, don't sell -- talk!
This means that when a candidate hems and haws about a role, we don’t sell, we talk. We recap the interview process and the people whom the candidate spoke with at the company. It says a lot when your first interview is with a junior recruiter in the HR team rather than the CEO or CMO. We talk about whether a career path has been communicated and if it fits the candidate’s expectations. We discuss the culture. What on-site vibe did they get? What happened between meetings? We determine the relationship between upper management and the rest of the organization together with the candidate based on our observations and theirs. And we always ask the candidate’s biggest concern(s).
So, what do all of these questions do? They dissuade a candidate from jumping into a new role because of a high-rolling compensation package, a new title, benefits, or even location. They encourage a candidate to select a role because it aligns with their goals and dreams. We’ve all known people who took a new role either to score a bigger paycheck, get out of a bad situation, or even avoid an inevitable layoff with their current employer. But nine times out of 10, when a candidate moves for any of these reasons, the move doesn’t last because the candidate focused on all of the wrong things.
My job has never been to get an empty chair filled with just anyone. It’s to get the chair filled with the right leader. If I were simply interested in filling jobs and earning a commission, I probably wouldn’t include stats about our successful placements on our website -- it’s much easier to say you have a 99% success rate (ours is 94% because I’m willing to admit that sometimes we miss, everyone does) rather than be truly honest about your record and why it’s not perfect.
My job is also to ensure the leadership candidate is completely honest with him or herself. It’s rare to find someone who’s presented with a new job opportunity who is seeing the role objectively, and it’s understandable. Job changes perpetually fall near the top of the most-stressful life events. https://www.dartmouth.edu/~eap/library/lifechangestresstest.pdf Candidates may be considering factors that aren’t associated with long-term happiness more so than the job itself. For example, will the position put them on the right career trajectory? What career growth opportunities are they certain they’re going to see? Which opportunities do they think they’ll miss? While no job is perfect every day, what’s the candidate’s assessment of the percent of great days they’ll experience? What will make the other days seem not-so-great? How much do they expect to learn on the job? How important is learning to their happiness at work? How similar is the new role to what they’re currently doing? If it’s nearly the same, is that enough to warrant a move? At what point in the interview process did the candidate finally tell a spouse, partner, or anyone else about the role? Why then? And what was the message?
Why is the candidate taking this job?
These may seem like silly questions but each makes a candidate stop and think about the reason they’re considering taking the role. I’ve had candidates decline jobs based on these questions. You don’t want to see all of your search effort go up in smoke like that, but it’s better than the alternative -- a candidate takes the job and leaves less than six months later. Honestly, if I just wanted a candidate to say “yes,” I’d remind them of the bump in salary and stock options or how this position can be used as a stepping stone to something greater. But do either of those seem like reasons to stick around long-term?
While my company works for employers, we indirectly also work for candidates (a lot of whom eventually recommend us to find their new employers’ next executives, too). We don’t want candidates taking jobs that aren’t really right any more than we want employers hiring candidates simply to fill a seat. That’s why filling an executive role isn’t about collecting a commission for my team. It’s about successfully completing a goal. To do that, candidates need to know that the job they’re being presented with is right for every facet of themselves. And, honestly, they need to convince me, too.