The Job Search Maze: Approaching the Centre

In this second part of the hiring process through the eyes of a corporate recruitment leader, you’ll be taken through the more intricate part of the maze; towards the centre.

You’ve made the long-list. Congratulations. Based on the phone screen (which you’ve nailed by being assertive with your time and preparation), you’ve made it through to the hallowed inbox of the hiring manager, or in some situations a hardcopy folder along with 2-3 other suitably qualified candidates.

What happens next is not an exact science. Your resume’ will be scrutinized by the eyes of your potential leader, which will be staring out from a vast cosmos of personal and professional life experience and biases. Apart from the interview, lack of feedback at this stage can be quite irksome to candidates, after all, if you’ve made it this far and does a year or two difference in experience really matter?

The trouble I’ve found is that hiring managers are often quite incapable of quantifying reasons for rejecting a candidate at this stage. They apparently simply ‘’know’’.  A good recruiter will of course challenge this and assert their expertise; in reality however, most bow and scurry away to arrange the interview and reject those candidates not deemed suitable to progress further.  

The Interview

This quirky phase in proceedings has filled journals and books. Some folk make their living teaching others on how to do it successfully, therefore for the purposes of this particular article I’m going to offer my corporate experience and on the ground, face to face perspective on this climactic piece of the process. This is what we’ve been working towards; meeting the right potential candidate and doing everything we can to appear professional, positive and important. Hot tips for beginners on what actually matters:

  • The greeting – Get it right. Whether you bow, wave your hand, smile, or provide the western styled hand-shake, make sure its polite and that you adhere to the local customs. Too often candidates dribble their hand into mine and offer a wan smile.  
  • Your clothing – Quirky hats, excessiveness. I’ve seen candidates rapidly remove jackets or slip off ties after walking in to reception. They assess the situation and make the changes.
  • Small talk – Often unpleasant, but necessary nevertheless. Particularly if the journey to the interview room is arduous. So many interviews fail before they start because the gentle silence that settles in the air becomes intolerable for some and personal details erupt from their mouths before they are able to stop it.
  • Sit in the right chair – Ideally get your back to a wall.  
  • Micro-expressions – Learn to control them.  
  • Practise – Always prepare.  Always.

From a corporate perspective, this is the main show. Regardless of the fact that studies have proven interviewing to have marginal success in determining suitability for a role, this is how do we do it. Yes, it’s awkward. I’ve had a candidate lean over and vomit in a bin from nerves; another in tears as she related an unrelated part of her life to us. Others have stormed out in a rage and my all time favourite was the fellow that refused to leave and followed me back to my office to prove how much he wanted the job – and to think that his phone screen was the most promising.

The format is usually simple. We talk about ourselves, reiterate the details of the job and then hand over to the candidate to talk about themself. We then interject and asking probing questions, with the hiring manager focussing on technical items and the recruiter (or local HR rep) digging into exciting items such as curiosity, engagement, resilience etc. The smirks that cross director level candidate’s faces at this point are usually noted, but if you’re dealing with an experienced recruiter expect them to keep ploughing; even in these modern times corporations the world over hire based on technical skills and fire based on behaviours.

How to actually field the myriad of questions is an article on its own, but for what it’s worth, if your prep is good, you’ll be okay; after all, you know yourself better than anyone so it’s fair to assume that if the content is there, it comes down to ‘how’ you relate this. Your words, your speech and your body language. Don’t underestimate what your limbs, hands and face are doing. Seem like a lot to consider? It is. The stakes are high.

Of course all of this is the first round. You’ve met, fed back the right sorts of answers and proven to be worth inviting back in again. It’s true that many companies offer after the first round, however as your role and responsibilities increase over the course of your career you’ll likely be asked to return multiple times to meet higher ranked individuals and further afield from your actual work. For the rookies, be wary of accepting any more than 3 invitations to come back, as the process eventually becomes self-perpetuating whilst the organisation struggles to make a decision. I’ve always appreciated candidates being assertive about their time. Also, it screams lack of process and lack of understanding of what they want so tread warily.

The Offer

Whilst there are a multitude of hoops you may need to leap through including testing, medical assessments etc – They all lead to the final and most crucial step in the process, the verbal offer. Whilst a contract may materialise in your inbox without prior discussion, most offers are presented verbally before being put on paper to save everyone time.

What happens in the background is often a laborious process involving approvals, checks and a high five once a figure pops out. Smart operators will have already discovered your ball-park figure, if not, and you’ve played your cards carefully, the conversation with your friendly Talent Acquisition  Specialist could be awkward particularly if they miss your expectations. Usually, the line goes dead as candidates struggle to come to grips with their disappointment.  

The lesson here is to push the topic of salary during interview if the organisation is not forthcoming. Its admittedly touchy, but if you consider the potentially wasted hours spent painting a picture of success of you in the new role, its worth tabling it. For the purposes of this text however, lets assume that the discussion has been had and the figure you’ve heard is of interest; your next words should likely be a request to see it on paper.  Many executives respond at this point with an uncommitted ‘…It’s a good start’, however expect an attempt to back you into a corner. This usually comes in the form of ‘…If we offer figure x in a contract with the clauses we’ve just discussed, will this meet your expectations and how soon can we expect to have a signed contract returned…’.  I’m not in the habit of forcing others down a particular path, however it is my solemn duty to my company to get you onboard, and this role closed so expect companies to be pushy.  

Its worth mentioning at this point that the contract you receive is a legal document. I’m routinely surprised by the lack of attention and disregard shown to Letters of Offer by companies and candidates alike. Consider for a moment, that you were purchasing a house. You’d likely involve a lawyer, because its important and the contract forms the epicentre of this process, yet for many of us its our jobs that are worth more, after all, without a job one cannot support the mortgage repayments.  Therefore it’s worth your time to read your obligations and to understand what you are signing before you commit.  

Before we journey on to the internal manoeuvres in preparation for your arrival in future articles, I do propose that you reflect on the journey and take stock of the fact that if you made it to the centre of the labyrinth, you’ve done well.  Recruiting approaches vary, but ultimately are aimed at securing the right person. Conversely, you’ll be spending many a day there so its worth watching how you are treated as it offers glimpses of what you’ll face once on the inside. This is the travel brochure, so if cracks appear now, they’ll likely widen.

A joyous recruiting year ahead for all those that celebrated the recent New Years!

Author: The ‘Acquirer’ – No small dose of healthy HR skepticism. A career in Talent Acquisition leadership in global companies from the heat of the Asia Pacific to the crisp air of Europe.  Pragmatic, strategic, and every now and again… serious.

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