How much do you tell the candidate? What do you tell them about your client company? And if there’s a lot of challenges in the employing company, what language should the recruiter use to get the facts across? – assuming the recruiter knows the facts. The temptation is to really ‘sell’ the role, and often, that’s exactly what happens, but in my book that’s the REALLY dumb way to go. “Selling” the role can blow up in your face – especially if you give a guarantee (as I do) – you don’t need a candidate walking out on the first day telling you “that job’s not what you described to me”.
I have used all the phrases below when headhunting for senior positions. They need to be carefully measured to attract the right candidates and scare those not up to the task in hand. They are simple and dumb, and that’s just the way I like it!
1 – “This is a big job for the right person”
I use this when the client’s got real challenges. For senior people who have to make a difference, this will excite good people and scare those who would prefer to stand in a corner sucking their thumb.
2 – “There’s a lot to get your teeth into here”
Usually used after point 1 when there are huge problems to be overcome. I find this really engages the right people and they often want to know more.
3 – “They aspire to a market leading position”
Often means that’s what the client does want, but they don’t have a joined up plan to do it – They need the candidate to drive in change.
4 – “The boss has the brain of a weasel on speed”
Meant to imply their new potential boss is fast thinking and demanding. I’ve learned that many candidates think they could do their current boss’s job better and want a new boss that can really learn from. It also opens them up to the possibility of a challenging interview should they make the shortlist.
5 – “My client company knows they have to strengthen their gene pool”
Often used when a client company has to drive in management change. It implies to the candidate they may have the resolve to get things done. This one always gets a good response from good candidates – bad one’s tend to go quiet at this point!
6 – “This is a high-profile and very visible role”
Most senior roles are intended to be high-profile, but too many people manage from behind a shut door. This emphasizes that this candidate will have to be brave!
7 – “The Balance Sheet (or whatever the client company’s single business challenge may be) really needs sorting”
Getting the big issue on the table early emphasizes what needs to be done. The candidate can be in no doubt what they’re walking into. Again, good candidates get excited and poor candidates lose just a little colour……..
8 – “Their customer retention (or whatever the client company’s single biggest strength may be) is excellent”
Give the candidate some good news! If they’re isn’t any – have you taken on the right client? Will they have the cash to pay you?
9 – “Trading trends during the past couple of years have been up/flat/down”
Just be straight. Don’t get involved in long detailed discussions about trading. Frame a general picture. Just manage candidate expectation so they’re ready when the client takes them through the detail later on.
10 – “This is a really exciting challenge for the right candidate……” (OK. I’m cheating. It’s a repeat of point 1. But it’s a great way to introduce AND summarize the job – Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em. Tell ‘em – and tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em)
……Implying it’ll be hell for the wrong candidate! Senior people need to be ready for the challenge and not blanch at the first thought of any difficulty.
The truth is the most difficult job is to take over a role that was being done very well by the previous incumbent – especially if they’ve been promoted and will be the new managers direct boss! This needs some dumb honesty applied – even I would hesitate if I was going into this position. I’d worry my new boss was going to do my job for me. It would be my overriding concern, and that of any decent candidate even if they didn’t admit it.
These days, the best headhunters focus on candidate engagement and motivation. Finding candidates is easy (or at least loads easier that it ever used to be!). There are more recruiters chasing too few good candidates, so the best headhunters have to be a little different – and dumb – to make the process one that's enjoyable, informative and useful. Candidates will follow you if you treat them right and manage their expectation with ‘dumb’ language – too much intelligence can lead to complicated communication and confusing messages – Keep it DUMB!
And when you have your candidates ready, here's 10 Dumb Interview Tips I give them.
Written by Martin Ellis – firstname.lastname@example.org