Please note this post originally appeared on The RecruitLoop Blog.

I actually wrote this post on a plane from Australia to Singapore.

Before my flight I had a bit of time in the airport so I went for a wander through the bookstore and found myself looking at some of the latest releases … biographies, fiction, ‘true crime’ (really?), sci-fi (no thanks!) …

It didn’t take me long to realise that I was forming my opinion of what might lie between the covers of all these books based purely on their titles, cover design, images, and in a few cases even the size of the font if I happened to flick through the pages.

Probably not the most accurate or appropriate decision making criteria. What do you think?

And yet as recruiters we’ve probably all worked with clients who have a similar method for assessing our candidates. We work really hard to source candidates for a specific role; we write some solid candidate profiles; we present our shortlist, ranking each of the (for example) five candidates based purely on merit and suitability for the opportunity; and if we’re lucky we get a one-line email …

Maybe; Definitely not; Yes; No; and let’s wait and see.

Clearly the hiring manager has a very different set of candidate assessing criteria or a different decision-making process.

I probably won’t ever be asked to be a judge on the Pulitzer Prize panel … (“the colour of the cover is very striking, but the actual title put me off a bit!”). For similar reasons, there are many hiring managers who should never be allowed to assess a shortlist unless either you are sitting right there in front of them to help them, or they are 100% comfortable evaluating the CVs objectively.

I can’t help where I live

Given that far too many employers will flinch if a potential candidate lives too far away from the office, remove the address from the candidate’s CV when you submit it. It’s all about eliminating any subjectivity from the decision making process. It’s up to you to ‘sell’ the candidate, but you need to do so based only on the candidate’s merit, natural traits and suitability for the role … not the office zip code.

Sorry I didn’t go to Harvard!

Sure there are some roles that require a particular academic qualification; and some employers even insist on a specific result. Gosh if that were the case for my first job, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today. Whilst I had obtained the actual degree, my results … well … OK let’s just move on! So unless you are helping a client recruit for a role where university qualifications are literally a ‘make or break’, it’s up to you to explain why this may not necessarily be the case.

Trust me – you won’t meet a more ambitious 24 year old

Ah the dreaded question “but how old is she?”. If you hear that one, you know it’s pretty much over. So once again you need to build your summary or profile around what skills, competencies and attributes your candidate is going to bring to the role and the organisation. I’ve recruited many entry-level candidates over the years who have excelled far beyond my clients’ wildest expectations. Had I let them focus on age, the candidates would never have even been allowed to walk through the front door to the office. Stay strong on this one … otherwise everyone will miss out … you, your client, and your candidate.

You want me to change my name? Just ask!

I once interviewed a candidate who I knew would be absolutely perfect for my client’s role. But there was just one problem – and I am sure you can guess where I’m going here. So I did something a bit naughty (this is my confession nearly 15 years later!). As part of the shortlist I included 4 candidates. Well I actually only included 3 candidates – but 2 of them were exactly the same person – just with different names on the cover pages. All I did was literally change his name to something a little more … well … you know. But I didn’t change anything else at all. Of course my client wanted to meet ‘Stewart Woodhouse’ immediately, but the ‘real’ Stewart’s CV was tossed aside. My client hadn’t even turned to page 2!

Please enlighten me and tell me exactly how you’ll be assessing my shortlist.

I’m going to let you in on another little secret here.

Whenever I started working with a new client, before I ever presented my first shortlist, I would send them an email asking them to complete the following short exercise.

Imagine if you will, a boat sailing on the ocean. The weather turns bad and the ship capsizes and sinks. Two lifeboats get away with three people in one boat, and two in the other. The five people (hopefully these characters are familiar to at least some of you!) are:

  1. Gilligan
  2. The Skipper
  3. Mr Howell (a millionaire)
  4. Mrs Howell (his wife)
  5. The Professor

[Unfortunately Ginger and Mary-Anne must have been lost at sea].

The next morning the Skipper, Gilligan, and Mrs Howell find themselves safe on a small island. They search the island but cannot find the others. Mrs Howell looks through the Skipper’s telescope and sees there is another island about a mile away.

However they discover that their lifeboat has a hole in it.

No life can be seen on the other island, however Mrs Howell insists on getting to the other island to see if her husband is there. The Skipper says that he will fix the boat and take her to the other island but only if she gives him the massive diamond ring she’s wearing that Mr Howell had given her.

Mrs Howell rushes over to Gilligan to seek his advice. Gilligan says that he cannot tell her what to do. The decision must be hers, as he cannot do anything to help the situation.

Mrs Howell goes back to the Skipper and gives him her precious ring. The next morning the boat is repaired and they row across to the other island. They walk around the island and finally find that Mr Howell and the Professor are both safe.

Mrs Howell runs up to her husband, embraces him and immediately tells him what has happened. Mr Howell pushes her away, turns and walks off.

The Professor then walks over, gives Mrs Howell a big hug and tells her that he will look after her until things cool down.

Based on your interpretation of the story, please rate the five people from best to worst.

  1. Best
  2. ?
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. Worst

OK so clearly there is no right or wrong answer to this little exercise. And over the years I received several different combinations / ratings from new clients.

I would call my client (or ideally sit down with them face to face) to talk about the process they took to come up with their decision. This was often a great ice breaker since it really revealed a lot about how they thought through things.

I would then say how important it would be for us to talk through how they assessed my candidate shortlist and honestly 9 times out of 10 they would agree to it. This really made my life a lot easier (not to mention cementing my relationship with my new client).

Give it a go! What have you got to lose?

You and your clients both need to be assessing your candidates objectively. What better way than doing it together!

And in case you’re wondering whether I ended up buying a book at the airport? Nope … I decided that instead of reading a book with a catchy title and large font, I’d rather write this blog post and then maybe watch a movie!

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