2020-03-02 HR Examiner article Jason Seiden Fixing Recruiting Hiring Managers Hold the Key photo img cc0 by jonathan hoxmark 6VWTC9sWu8M unsplash 544x361px.jpg

“As long as hiring managers talk about the best candidate, they will always anchor on wanting the candidate who is able to “hit the ground running,” who will require the smallest investment before becoming productive, and whose credentials are defensibly superior to all other candidates.”
- Jason Seiden

Hiring managers get no love. And maybe—just maybe—that’s why recruiting is so broken.

I know it’s de rigueur to speak of candidates as customers, but in actuality, candidates are not Talent Acquisition (TA)’s customers.

Hiring manager are TA’s customers. Candidates are TA’s products.

And as with most things in business, it’s not the products that drive change, but the customers.

This is why investments in candidate experience—important for protecting a company’s reputation and ensuring a filled talent pipeline—can’t help fix recruiting’s core problems.

What kind of change can hiring managers help recruiters achieve?

As long as the recruiting process starts by matching a résumé to a job description, the whole thing is going to be—to put it diplomatically—awful.

The reasons for this are many and well known, and include:

  • The job descriptions used to kick off the process :
    • Are often inaccurate, leading to submissions that aren’t what the hiring manager is looking for; and
    • Commoditize the most personal aspect of business: the hiring process. Also,
  • Traditional résumé formatting is such that:
    • The ability to generate short-term wins get prioritized, even at executive levels;
    • Culture- and team-building skills go almost completely unrecognized;
    • Non-traditional backgrounds prevent some candidates from even being able to get through an ATS; and
    • Obsessive attention to detail—at the most atomic, inconsequential level—outweighs nearly every other aspect of a candidate’s capabilities, regardless of the role being filled.

But what if hiring managers thought—and acted—about more than job descriptions and résumés?


Jason Seiden, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Imagine a world in which hiring managers didn’t reject candidates because they lacked some specific phrase under their previous experience, or because they didn’t (or did) list their college GPA. Where critical thinking ability counted for more than one’s use of an Oxford comma. Where candidates weren’t held to a different set of standards as existing employees, and where existing employees didn’t need to leave their employer to keep their salaries competitive as they got promoted. Where the company looked at internal candidates with an eye toward their full backgrounds, and not as if the job they’d been doing the past 2.5 years was the only job they’d ever held.

Just imagine.

So how do we get our customers—the hiring managers—to demand this change?

With patience. With help from HR. And with a first step that might seem almost too small to matter: an intentional change in how we describe candidates.

Specifically, any time there is a discussion about “the best candidates,” TA should redirect the conversation to be about “the best future employees.” Literally, correct hiring managers any time they say anything other than “best future employee.” Not prospective employee, not employee, but best future employee, as if looking 1-2 years into the future.

This is the literal action step: if you’re in TA, act as if you have a search & replace function for the way you talk and replace “candidate” in your conversations with (and emails to) hiring managers with “future employee.” I recommend that TA do this every single time when discussing candidates with hiring managers until the hiring managers start copying you.

This seemingly small, semantic shift comes with a big, strategic punch: it gets everyone (especially including hiring managers) to start thinking about candidates and employees differently. Or, more to the point, similarly. It puts both groups in the same pool of “best future employees.” It reframes the conversation in such a way that hiring is just one piece of what the hiring manager is trying to attain; the other steps, including training, performance management, internal mobility, team building, and transformation, now get considered at the same time as recruiting, rather than afterward. And when all of these things are considered at once, the very notion of what hiring managers are looking for from TA changes.

In other words, this reframe can lead to a shift in the customer’s needs…

… and that’s when new opportunities start to become visible.

Of course, HR needs to be part of this, too, because all of the steps beyond hiring are outside the control of TA. This will require a cross-team approach.

And if we don’t change the way hiring managers talk?

As long as hiring managers talk about the best candidate, they will always anchor on wanting the candidate who is able to “hit the ground running,” who will require the smallest investment before becoming productive, and whose credentials are defensibly superior to all other candidates. This will always, always default to the candidate whose résumé includes a recent role that mirrors the job description posted, and who—in the case of a “tie” with other candidates—either worked at a better-known company or went to a better school.

Always, every time. No amount of candidate experience work, creative sourcing, social recruiting, talent network building, or anything else will make a dent in TA’s real problems as long as this is the case, leaving TA forever on the hunt for purple squirrels.

It’s in getting hiring managers to think about the best future employees that will allow for a more realistic assessment of talent. For a recruiter, it creates an opportunity to ask about what might happen after someone is hired: what training resources might become available, for instance, or what other positions might open up that this person might move into, or how other people on the team might shift their responsibilities to make space for the new rock star.

Linguistically framing conversations doesn’t change anything at first. But it does change peoples’ perspectives. And in time, that changes everything.

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