Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When Job Hunting Actions Speak Louder Than Words

When I interview people, I am very aware that they are on good behavior in every sense.  They will answer questions truthfully, but always with a spin that they think I want to hear.  I have always believed that while an interview will provide about 70% of the information I need, the other thirty per cent will come while I am working with candidates on an actual opportunity.  That's when I am able to understand how they comport themselves, how they organize, how they handle and respond to other people and whether they are truly interested in the opportunity.  Sometimes during this phase, I am even able to determine if they are truly interested in changing jobs at all.

It is important for hiring managers to assess candidates’ verbal and non-verbal communication.  I am not just talking about body language, but about how people act and behave.  Do they call when you tell them to call?  If they are unavailable when you call and leave a message, how quickly do they return your call?  Do they exude enthusiasm or are they la-de-dah?

I learn more about candidates during this phase of the relationship than I do when I am interviewing.

You can tell the relative interest of a candidate in an opportunity by the way they respond.  For instance, I always call my candidates rather than email (I may email and ask them to call me) because I want to hear their voice and judge their reaction to what I have to say.  The tone of their voice speaks very loud.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I called a candidate on a Wednesday to tell him that, based on a previous conversation with him, I had introduced him to an agency and the client wanted to meet with him.  I told him that I had just gotten off the phone with the client and I knew that he was available at that moment so that the candidate should immediately make the call to set up an appointment.  His response was something like, “I’ll get to him.”  I knew then that either my candidate was not interested or that he was simply unresponsive.

Sure enough the following Monday I received an email from my client telling me he had not heard from the candidate. When I was able to get the account person on the phone, he told me he had been very busy and also traveling on Thursday and Friday.  I knew then that the interview would come to naught.

Many years ago there was a wonderful account guy named Robert Patton who was the designated account management HR person at Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor (predecessor agency to Arnold, New York).  He did the screening of all the account management applications.  He instructed his administrative assistant to tell candidates who contacted him to call back in a week.  If they didn’t call within nine or so days, she was instructed not to schedule them.  His point was that he only wanted to see people who were determined to see him and responsible enough to do what they were told.  I learned a lot from Bob.

When a candidate is very interested, they will make the time to call no matter how busy they are.  I recently told a candidate about a job opportunity, but it was the afternoon she was leaving for a European vacation.  I don’t like making appointments for candidates simply because I don’t control schedules.  In this case, I offered to do so.  My candidate replied, “No.  I will call.  I can do so from a taxi and if I fail to get the client, I will call from London tomorrow.”  Now that candidate was definitely interested.

Responsiveness is indicative of personality.  It shows enthusiasm or lack of it.  It shows commitment to the job search or lack of it.  It shows interest in the specific job or lack of it.  I have often had to tell candidates who have not made the call that they are giving a not so subtle message of disinterest.  Some get it, many don’t.

It is always fascinating to me that when I get feedback from candidates on their interview (I always ask for feedback, as every recruiter should), I can tell from the thoroughness of the debrief both the level of interest and the very nature of the candidate.  I always ask if there were any issues that came up so that, if possible, I can handle them.  Very often there are issues which arose during the interview.  Part of the purpose of debriefing a recruiter is discuss those things while they are still fresh (that is why I ask, no, beg, candidates to call me immediately after an interview so that those things are still top of mind).   If a candidate fails to inform me or ignores those things, I cannot manage the client’s perceptions, nor can I try to resolve those issues.  Quite often, if I can discuss those issues with the HR person or hiring manager, I can solve a problem before it festers.  I have “saved” a lot of placements over the years because a candidate told me about a fluff or misstatement.  However, when candidate fail to inform me, I learn a lot about the personality of the candidate.  This non-verbal lapse in communications is often telling of the kind of executive they really are.


  1. I thought I would let my readers know something. The impetus for this posting came about three weeks ago when a candidate became less responsive to my calls and emails. She was well into the interview process and close to getting a job. The company was unusually slow. Sure enough, today she emailed me to tell me she had received another offer which she was taking. I could tell from the quality of her responses that she had lost interest.

  2. Nice post. Still valid info for 2013 and beyond.


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