July 23, 2018

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Shall We Dance? Leading Your Candidates Through the Placement Process Tango

Turn on the television these days, and you’re likely to see ballroom dancing: there are reality shows like Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and Ballroom Bootcamp plus movies such as Strictly Ballroom and Shall We Dance. Yes, ballroom dancing has glided back onto our cultural radar, enjoying a renaissance in popularity across the country.

Some say this surge in popularity is because ballroom dancing is a metaphor for life. One thing is certain. Because ballroom dancing is a couples’ dance, it provides the ideal platform for exploring the recruiter and applicant or (for the purposes of this article) candidate relationship:

Perhaps you’ve seen this famous Fred Astaire quote: “I just put my feet in the air and move them around.” Mr. Astaire was not unaware of the skill required to dance with the appearance of effortlessness and grace he so adeptly achieved on screen. This quote is part of a much longer quote and often used out of context. Fred Astaire also said: “Some people seem to think that good dancers are born, but all the good dancers I have known are taught or trained.”

Great recruiters can be made using the same techniques used to train legendary dancers. Let’s consider ballroom dance from a recruiter’s perspective. For the sake of explaining this metaphor, we will assign the Recruiter to the role of the male dancer, and the Candidate to the role of the female dancer.

Leading and Following

In ballroom dancing, there must always be a leader and a follower. The man (or Recruiter) is supposed to lead; the woman (Candidate) is supposed to follow. The man must learn to lead the lady so that she will do each figure correctly even though she does not know which figure the man is going to do next. He creates the motion, and she goes with him. A primary concern is that the lady feel taken care of; she should not feel that she is being handled roughly. Do you create the forward motion for your candidates? Do you profile them to clients and initiate next steps, or file their information away, waiting for the day when someone plays a suitable song and you can drag your Candidate out onto the floor? Do your candidates feel taken care of?

The skills involved in leading and following center around principles of communication. The best leaders are those who communicate their intentions, while the best followers are those who respond well to the leader's intentions. This is facilitated when both leader and follower do their parts to maintain open lines of communication. In ballroom dancing, the first responsibility for good communication rests with the leader: the male dancer must always be trained. Untrained female dancers (Candidates) can often follow a trained male (Recruiter) with little or no difficulty if he is a good leader. What makes a good dance partner leader? Consider these instructions from

“Your job as the leader is to clearly communicate your intentions. The best way to do this is to move your body from one foot to another, in a clear direction. The more you attempt to manipulate the follower's movement by pushing or pulling her with your hands and arms, the more superficial and less effective your lead becomes. In fact, it's best not to think of leading your partner at all. Instead, simply lead yourself. With the right connection, your partner will have no choice but to follow.”

So, dear Recruiters, there we have it. The secret to the Recruiter/Candidate dance: Clearly communicate your intentions. Do not try to manipulate your Candidate or your lead will become less effective. Lead yourself (as a strong recruiter who gets trained, does the work, and follows the rhythms of the Client/Candidate dance) and your Candidates will have no choice but to follow.

The TAM Connection

Ballroom dancers use this thing called “connection” to control the lead-and-follow process. Think of your dance or recruitment process like a telephone conversation. You don’t want a static-filled, crackly connection; the clearer your connection with your partner, the easier it is to have a fluid and successful conversation. A connection must have three components. It must have Tone, it must be Active, and it must be Mutual.

For a dance leader (Recruiter) to function properly as a transmitter of signals, the connection must have a certain degree of muscle tone. If the leader’s hold on his dance partner is limp or weak, the lead-and-follow signals will not run through. Isn’t this true for recruiters too? What are you doing to create tone with your candidates and ensure a strong hold so they keep coming back to you as their preferred dance partner? Do you respond to their calls and emails in a timely manner? Do you keep them informed so they can follow your fancy footwork? How about sending them a thank you note following your interview? If you want your dance card (and your wallet) to be full, focus on grabbing hold of your partner. We recruiters hate a limp handshake from our candidates, but is our hold on our candidates strong, protective, and welcoming?

A connection must also be active, responsive to the situation, and ready to transmit and receive signals. Active connections are flexible and ready to change to accommodate any situation. If you are swirling around the dance floor and you are about to bump into another couple, you must change directions. As different situations arise in the recruitment process, you have to react accordingly, change your step, or move in a completely different direction, all the while making these new moves appear effortless and intentional on your behalf. As a recruiter, how adept are you at moving your candidates in a new direction? If the DJ plays a fox trot when you were expecting a waltz, can you get your partner (Candidate) to dance along, or must you walk off the dance floor and sit on the sidelines? Practice with your partner: prep for interviews, explore “what if” scenarios before they happen, and qualify your candidate before each new step in the recruitment process to make sure they are keeping up with the dance. You don’t want to step on your candidate’s toes, and you certainly don’t want your candidate stepping on yours!

Finally, a good dance connection must be mutual. As they say, “It takes two to tango.” Both parties must do their part to maintain the connection. When one dance partner falls down on the dance floor, the conversation dies, no matter how much the other may try to compensate. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you are a great Recruiter (or dancer) that every Candidate will want to follow your lead (or that you can lead any candidate through the recruitment dance). Make sure the connection is mutual by checking in with your Candidate before sending her resume for any new job (“Shall we dance?”), or before confirming interviews on your Candidate’s behalf. You don’t want to enter the dance competition if your partner is tired, has a broken ankle, or has moved on to find herself a new dance partner, do you?

Rhythm and Tempo

A good leader knows how to dance in a way that best flatters the talents and strengths of his dance partner. As a Recruiter, learn your candidates’ preferred tempo and style. Some candidates like the quickstep; some go for the one-step; others prefer a slow, romantic waltz. Dancers learn to identify which kind of dance is coming next by listening to the first four beats in a bar of music. Which initial clues do you use to determine your candidates’ style? Professional attire (do you like their costume?), the way in which she filled out an application, handshake (i.e., dance hold), formatting of a resume or cover letter? Use those clues to help you learn your Candidates’ style at the very beginning of a song before you get too far into the recruiting dance. Give your Candidates a simple “assignment” after an interview and see how well they follow through. It w ill help you avoid Candidates who dance the Jive or Hustle.

Dancing With the Stars: An MGM executive wrote this about Fred Astaire's first screen test: “Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” Sometimes the best dancers first appear as diamonds in the rough. This is true for both leaders and followers. Managers shouldn’t expect every Recruiter to immediately lead like Fred Astaire. Recruiters can’t expect every Candidate to interview like Ginger Rogers danced. But if that nugget of talent or skill is there, and if the dancer is willing to put in practice, discipline, and sweat equity, it won’t take long before you see the poise and economy of movement that is the hallmark of a champion. It may not be Arthur Murray’s School of Dance, but a little spin around the Recruiting dance floor while implementing these ballroom dancing techniques could soon have you and your candidates Dancing with the Stars.

- Charlene Dupray

Charlene Dupray hoofed her way through Recruiter’s Dance School while working as a manager of a full-service bilingual staffing agency near 42nd Street in New York. She now serves as an industry consultant and reporter for Staffing Industry Tips. With the rest of her time, Charlene and her partner, Pascal, two-step in Wilmington, NC as partners of South ‘n France Bon Bons (