About five years ago, I interviewed for a job with pharma bro and recently convicted felon, Martin Shkreli. In the time it took him to storm into the room sans introduction, waive my resume around, question why I was even there and abruptly depart -- a span of approximately 10 minutes -- I heard more than my fair share of insults and came to the general conclusion that this was not someone I could work with. But you know what? It wasn’t my worst interview experience. It wasn’t even close. Because I’d been warned, which meant I was prepared.
Are you preparing your job candidates
It might seem odd to prepare a job candidate, but as an HR professional, I can tell you it’s one of the most important parts of the process. When you prepare candidates, you’re not trying to give them an unfair advantage. You're simply hoping to help each one shine by setting up true expectations.
You’re also doing two other things: Painting a picture of the role and the organization for your candidate and getting to know the person who you might hire. Both are essential to a good fit.
For example, one of the worst interview situations I found myself in was when I was recruited for an HR role by an external placement firm. We talked and the role sounded interesting. The recruiter divulged the organizational structure, explained the role, and built the position up to be incredibly interesting. But when I asked him a few key questions about how the company operated, he hemmed and hawed and generally dismissed them. For me, that’s usually a red flag.
I took the interview anyway and assumed the recruiter was simply inexperienced. After all, everything about the role sounded great, until I asked those same operations questions during my face-to-face interview. I learned that I would be dependent upon the international office to either make or approve almost every executive-level decision from my team. While that may not be a deal-breaker to everyone, for me it was. I thrive in a fast-moving environment that’s built upon respect. If I had to wait for the international team’s blessing each time we wanted to move forward on something, my frustration would skyrocket and my productivity would tank.
When the recruiter called afterwards to tell me the company was interested in moving forward, I respectfully declined. It wasn’t the right culture for me. The recruiter was audibly annoyed. Had he simply answered my questions up front, I would have never taken the interview. We would have all saved a lot of time and frustration.
Candidate care: it starts by getting to know your candidates
Whether you call it candidate care or just include it as part of your employer branding, treating all job candidates with respect requires you to get to know your candidates. A three-minute review of the resume followed by a 15-minute screening call isn’t going to do it. You’ve got to really get to know who these people are so you can find out if they’re going to thrive -- or run! -- when they’re thrust into your culture and to help them prepare to be the best candidates they can be.
When you’re staring at an executive-level vacancy, candidate preparation is even more important. While every person in your organization adds to the culture of your business, executive candidates are even more influential since they interact with so many other employees, and internal and external stakeholders. Masking problems may help you get a brilliant mind to join the team, but won’t get you someone who fits your culture or who can help fix those same problems.
In your own organization, this means taking the time to get to know each candidate. I’m over-simplifying here, but you may, for example, learn that one candidate thrives in situations where resources and input are scarce while another prefers to operate with clearly spelled out guidance. Which one would fit your role? Yes, you can just ask the question but there are probably a thousand other factors you should consider, too. You should also be giving candidates insight into your organization, how it operates, the culture, known concerns, and pertinent details about the interviewers. Preparing candidates simplifies the interview process and helps the candidate pick up on questions they should ask, too. Everyone walks away from the experience with expectations met.
If you’re working with an executive search professional, like I was in the interview where I hadn’t been prepared properly, make sure they’re doing this as part of their shortlisting process, too. The recruiting team at The Hennessy Group spends hours talking to and getting to know candidates before a candidate is ever put in front of a client. We also spend considerable time learning about our clients -- what are they hoping to solve with this candidate? What challenges will the candidates face? Why have previous candidates failed or succeeded? Our goal is to paint a true picture, not a sugar-coated one. Honesty and transparency are how you get the job filled right.
One poor executive hire can impact your organization for years, stifle your growth and hinder your ability to retain and recruit the talent you really need.
In my case, had I taken the role that required all decisions to be approved internationally, I would have failed miserably and quickly. They were considering me to lead the company’s U.S. HR -- can you imagine the impact that would have had on future hiring?
I’m still unsure why the recruiter didn’t answer my questions: either he hadn’t done his homework or he was trying to hide the truth. Did it reflect poorly on the recruiter? A little, but I don’t remember his name -- I do remember the hiring company. They sent the wrong team out to fill a vacancy, and, in the process, they tarnished their employer brand for me and anyone I’ve told about my experience. Recent research also indicates that poor candidate care may even affect future sales: 64% of candidates said they’d be “less likely” to purchase goods or services from a company where the candidate experience was less than stellar.
So while I may have had a horrible interview with Martin Shkreli, the search firm I had worked with was incredibly straightforward with me, even apologizing once they learned what happened. In the end, it was the man I didn’t want to work for, not the company.
In general, you want to be known as an organization that offers dream jobs and fosters an environment of respect. That starts by how well you and your recruiters treat your candidates. If you don’t approach the process right and/or your recruiters aren’t putting in the effort that’s required to prepare your candidates and ensure they’re the right ones to stand in front of your hiring team, you could instead be developing a reputation as the place that needs to improve its candidate care.
Ed Herpel is the Vice President of Business Development with The Hennessy Group, where he puts his 20+ years' experience with big pharma HR to good use every day.