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It Seemed Like A Beautiful Day


How to Lose Your Perfect Candidate and Feel Like a Dope

by John Wentworth
Wentworth Recruiting

View bio here

Sponsored by Compendium 2009

“It’s a beautiful day,” Jim, the Recruiting Director of Acceleration Service said to himself as he walked from one building to the next. It was. The sun was shining, the temperature mild and the day was bathed in a gentle breeze.

“And it seems like a fine work day,” he said to himself next. He knew of nothing wrong. All the divisions were on plan with their recruiting. His teams were happy and engaged and their hiring managers were content.

“So why am I trying to talk myself into this?” he wondered.

The answer came when his cell phone rang.

When the call was over, he just sat down on a bench, looked to the sky and muttered, “I am such a dumb piece of dirt.” The sky seemed as if it had clouded over and the air gotten 15 degrees colder. All his earlier contentment was gone.

He had been personally recruiting to fill a critical job…for himself…a recruiting manager for a new division Acceleration had recently acquired. Part of Jim’s technique, and the technique he taught his team, was to close every attractive candidate in every conversation. His theory was that you want every candidate you might possibly want to hire to want you. In each conversation, he closed them a little more. By the time he got to a couple of conversations from making the offer, he had candidates closed, committed and ready to go, making the offer letter just a formality.

He had done that with this person, a very bright, hard driving and wonderfully skilled recruiting manager from a competitor of the purchased unit. She knew the industry, where to find the candidates and how to assess them. She also knew some of the hiring managers, other individuals who had moved her from company to Jim’s division.

Jim had a solid commitment from the candidate. She was being wooed by another company but had said unequivocally that she preferred Acceleration. Jim was under the impression that the candidate must have said something to the other company because they seemed to be backing off…by her telling of the story.

This call had been a reference, an individual from a third company in that same company that had been trying to hire his candidate. The reference had worked with her a few years before. Jim was being a little mischievous by seeking a reference from the company he had been competing with for the candidate, but she had given the reference’s name to Jim and approved his calling the guy.

“I’m really surprised that you asked about her,” the had told Jim a few minutes before Jim found himself sitting dejected on the bench.

“Why’s that?” Jim asked him.

“Well, I understood that she had accepted a job with our company yesterday.”

“You’re kidding,” Jim stuttered, knowing the reference was not.

Jim did what he could to get out of the conversation with his pride at least in part intact, and then sat down on the bench.

And then his phone rang again. It was his candidate. It was a difficult conversation. Jim was mad and embarrassed. Plus, the job was now open again.

“As it turns out, I never really had a chance,” Jim told Sarah Hockney, the general manager of this new division. She had been transferred from the division that provided Jim office space, and he had done a lot of work for her. They had become friends.

“How is it that you never hand a chance?” Sarah asked Jim.

“The president of her new employer called her directly to ask her to forget us and go with them. He’s not just the president of the company; he’s a relative of her husband’s. So her choice was me or a guy who could turn her entire in-law clan into her enemies.”

“So why are you so glum and confessing your sins to me?” she asked.

“Because I did not do it right. I did not set the example for my troops. Not only did the search not work, not only did I make an ass of myself to the reference, but I also will look really stupid to my troops. Hard to inspire confidence making sophomoric mistakes.”

“What mistake?”

“I didn’t defend against this.”

“I thought you told me that she had committed, that you’d closed her.”

“She had. I did. But the controller of our new division was behind the curve in so far as the budgeting for this job was concerned. They had to get the funding sorted out before we could make the formal offer.”

“You had no control over that.”

“True. And I told the candidate what was going on, but I did not call her every day. I relied on her word. I did not defend against a full court press from someone else.”

“Like this guy, but also from her company. They could have countered, too, no?”

“Yes, and there’s a whole technique of anticipatory defense against counters.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the very simple sharing of the observation that, while the current employer may think that you are very important and wonderful now, and worth all this extra money now, how sincere can they be when they did not think any of those things before they heard you were going to leave? And if they are not sincere, is it not reasonable to think that they are recruiting your replacement right now? They don’t care about you. They just want your leaving to be on their terms and their timing, not yours. And if you do stay, how does your manager feel about your loyalty? Will you ever be in her or his good graces, really?”

“And you say that to the candidate?”

“Again and again, before they get our offer. Again when we present the offer. And again and again as we talk to them through their notice period. We rehearse with them what the company is going to say, how they feel when they hear that, what they are going to say in response, how they feel when they say that, etc. We also start getting them into the email traffic from their new department, and we get their new boss to call them, so they start of feel that they belong with us. We work hard to build the emotional connections during the notice period.”

“So what did you do with this young woman you are so anguished about?”

“Not enough. I did not talk to her every day. I did not ask what else was going on. I did not ask if her employer was proposing a counter offer. I did not ask what was happening with her new employer. I did get her into the email stream. And I did talk to her, but not often enough. It’s a stupid, sophomore move. I feel very stupid.”

“You are.”

“Hunh?”

Sarah smiled. “Being concerned, as I am, about your state of mind and emotional well-being, I want you to feel good about your analysis. You are right. You screwed up.”

“Your kindness overwhelms me,” Jim smiled back.

“However, I’ve known you for a long time. This division that I’ve been given like a bad white elephant gift, that I’ve been given to integrate into Mother Acceleration Service, that I’ve been given to fix, turnaround and do major surgery on. It will be fine, in great part because, while you do not yet have a halo or wings, and you occasionally screw up, you will support the person who replaces this person and your team will fill our halls with some of the best people available.

“I’m actually happy that she’s not coming because of how she handled it. She should have called you when she got the big call from her in-law and worked the problem with you. Her not doing so suggests a certain lack of understanding how teamwork actually works and that, were she still coming, would make me worry about her.

“So get out of here and find a replacement. I’ll bet you a coffee that you have the job re-filled within a week.”

“Thanks for the pressure.”

“Now it’s time for you to leave and go feel sorry for yourself in someone else’s office.”

Jim did. The first thing he did was tell everyone what happened. He wanted to support his reputation of being forthright by telling everyone in sight. They were, to a person, understanding and supportive. That felt good.

As Sarah had predicted, he started to get referrals that had not arrived during the first part of the search and were of better people. This was good because one of the consequences of the first part of the search is that the candidate he tried to hire was so much better than the others in the pool, that the others had lost their luster. Normally, Jim had one or more back up candidates for every job. But his lead candidate made the back up candidates back up candidates no more.

But the referrals were great. “I should write this down,” Jim thought to himself: “Sympathy produces great referrals. I can use that.” By the end of the week, he had a great candidate who wanted the job and had just come back to the area and was, therefore, available!

Jim walked into Sarah’s office. “Done! You owe me coffee.”

“Really?” She smiled. “How about now?” She reached for her purse.

“Now is great.”

As they walked to get coffee, Jim told Sarah how the new hire had come to happen. It was raining, so they had to trot to the next building to keep from getting soaked.

Even though they ran, they were good and wet when they trotted through the door. “It’s a beautiful day, don’t you think?” Jim said with a big grin on his face.

“It is a beautiful day. And I believe it will be all week,” Sarah replied and she patted him on the back, “because of the good job you did.”

All Jim had to say was, “Whew! Too close for comfort!”

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