May 21, 2018

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Are You Playing Softball With Your Candidates?

As recruiters, we have a natural tendency to go easy on our candidates, especially during the first screening. We’d prefer to treat them as if they were celebrities and we were Barbara Walters. To avoid confrontation, we ask superficial questions and accept clichés for answers. Or worse, we simply tune out the answers we don’t want to hear.

Unfortunately, there’s a downside to softball interviewing: We end up working with a lot of poor-quality job seekers who can potentially wreak havoc on our performance—and our reputation.

Every time I screen a candidate, I try to remind myself of presidential candidate George McGovern’s disastrous interview of Sen. Tom Eagleton of Missouri. When asked if there were any skeletons in his closet, Eagleton replied, "None that I can think of."

Based on his answer, Eagleton was asked to join the ticket as the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate. Yet it took less than a week for the press to dig up the fact that Eagleton suffered from bouts of depression so severe he had undergone electroshock therapy—a revelation that not only forced Eagleton off the ticket; it helped derail the Democrats’ run for the White House in 1972.

Should Eagleton have been more forthright during his interview? Absolutely. But it was the open-ended nature of the question that really caused the problem, by giving the candidate way too much wiggle room. A direct, carefully scripted question (such as, “Have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist?”) might have forced an entirely different answer, and in turn, altered the course of U.S. history.

How to Vet Your Candidates

Each candidate deserves your full attention—and a healthy dose of scrutiny. If the candidate’s free of defects, great. But if the candidate fails the litmus test, you could be in for a bumpy ride in the form of a turndown, a falloff or an accepted counteroffer. By tightening up the initial screening process, you can save time and avoid a lot of headaches down the road.

To help you decide whether a candidate gets the red light or the green light, consider these four factors:

  1. Time frame. Is the candidate ready to accept a new position now? If not, file the person away for future use or use the candidate as a source of new referrals. A typical time frame question might be, "If I set up an interview next week, and the company offered you the right job, would you be able to accept the job, turn in your resignation and start your new job at the end of this month?"

  2. Profile. Does the candidate possess the skills and work history needed for a job you’re trying to fill? If so, fine. If not, come back to the person when his or her skills are in demand.

  3. Motivation. Can the candidate give you a sufficiently good reason for changing jobs? If not, you may find yourself stuck with a tire-kicker or recruiter-manipulator. With the exception of certain circumstances (such as a spousal relocation or imminent unemployment), people only change jobs if there’s something they desperately want and can’t get at their current job, or if there’s something they have at their current job and can’t deal with.

    If the candidate is money-motivated, remember this simple rule: The only acceptable reason for changing jobs for more money is if the increase in pay will materially change the candidate’s lifestyle or self-identity. If it won’t, the "more money" candidate should be quarantined and filed under "MONEY ONLY."

  4. Urgency. A person may be genuinely motivated to make a job change, but unless there’s a sense of urgency, you may end up coddling a whiner or enabling a serial interviewer. Try to discover the tipping point that pushed the person from "passively disgruntled" to "locked and loaded." If you can’t find the urgency, you may be better off working with someone else.

By asking the right questions, you can vet your candidates accurately—and quickly. And by spending more of your time with the winners, you’ll make your clients happy and your bottom line healthy.

- Bill Radin, President
Innovative Consulting, Inc.