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When ‘Good’ Job Candidates Don’t Pan Out

When ‘Good’ Job Candidates Don’t Pan Out

Rejected job candidateOriginally published on July 19, 2013 in the Philadelphia Business Journal

It is difficult but critical to say “no” to candidates who do possess some basic qualifications but lack key talents.

A while back, I was in the middle of an executive search for a food and beverage manufacturer. The search was progressing, but as with every executive search, the clock was ticking. I wanted to find one more strong person to include in the “slate” of candidates that I presented to my client.

With two excellent candidates already identified, a third would help the search be a home run. As luck would have it, that day my senior recruiter talked with a factory manager who really impressed her.

He seemed to have a natural inclination for coaching and developing his managers. He understood that an important part of his job was identifying and developing the next generation of leaders in his factory. He also seemed to have good experience with using lean manufacturing systems, which was important. On top of it, he was an “alumni” of one of the premier food and beverage companies in the world. That never hurts.

Based on my recruiter’s recommendation, I scheduled a phone conversation with this individual — and I liked what I heard. He did come across as a natural leader. We talked for an hour but I knew after 20 minutes that I wanted to meet him in person. A couple of calls to my travel agent later, and I was scheduled to fly across the country to meet him.

Later that week I flew in, rented a car, and drove to meet him. I will admit to you, I was excited. If this guy was the real thing, I would have three great people for my client, and they in turn would be able to select the rock star they wanted to take this factory to the next level. I really wanted him to be as good in person as he was over the phone.

I pulled into the hotel parking lot and headed into the restaurant. We got introduced, were escorted to our table, and went from friendly initial chit chat to more in-depth conversations about the role and his background.

Ten minutes into the conversation, I was not feeling good about him for this role. Twenty minutes later, I felt worse. After half an hour, I knew he was not a fit for my client.

What changed? How could someone that both my recruiter and I “fell in love with” from a distance so quickly reveal himself as a poor fit? It’s not that he lied or misrepresented himself.

He was a leader — but in person it became clear he was not as sophisticated a leader as I had hoped. Face-to-face, I could also tell that he lacked the polish and energy that so many of my client’s people possess. If he had the right leadership style and results, I could have gotten past the personality traits he lacked. But the leadership deficiencies combined with the poor personality fit disqualified him in my mind.

I really wanted to be impressed with this guy. On paper and over the phone he was great. I had invested both time and energy to pursue him, and I badly wanted to present a third candidate to my client. Yet I said no. In the following weeks, I had two more such meetings where I said no to fundamentally qualified candidates before I found the right third candidate. The best leader of the three final candidates ultimately got the job.

What can we learn from this story?

  • As the president of one of my clients once said to me, “we have to teach managers that saying no to a job candidate is a win not a loss.” If you say no for the right reasons, you avoid hiring mistakes. Don’t drop your standards during the interview process. Say no when you should.
  • Don’t get so caught up in making the sale that you fail to weed people out. Recruiting requires you to simultaneously be a salesperson and a forensic auditor. On the one hand, you are prospecting for A-players and selling them on yourself and your business. When you meet a qualified person, its natural to want to close the deal and get them hired. Yet every person has weaknesses, and it is your job to figure out what they are before you hire someone. Stay objective and don’t fall in love with people too soon.
  • Face-to-face is the best way to get to a definitive yes or no when hiring. By all means, use the telephone and video conferencing to conduct initial interviews and weed people out. But don’t convince yourself they are equivalent to face-to-face conversations – they are not. It is astonishing how much we pick up about people through in-person, non-verbal communication.

What do you think? Leave a comment!