Lure quality candidates with the truth, not false promises
I'm not sure why, but I'm fascinated by cons and confidence
games. When I lived in New Jersey, I loved walking around New York
City just south of Times Square because I was always sure to see
some tourist happily handing over his vacation money to a Three Card
I'd stand cautiously and observe as a team of experts would
masterfully lure a "Vic" to the game, peek into his wallet to figure
out how much money he had, let him win a few games, block his wife
as she desperately tried to talk some sense into him, and finally go
for the big payoff.
It's hard to feel sorry for someone who actually believes he's
playing a game with any chance of winning! No matter how many times
these old ruses are exposed on television, you can always count on a
new set of suckers to fall for a well-executed shell game, or some
other old carnival leftover.
Just to be clear, I'm not a fan of taking advantage of innocent
people, but I have a strange admiration for those who make a living
skillfully pulling these tired old cons. The only one that fails to
draw much admiration from me is the "bait-and-switch." It's really
not even a con at all, as it requires absolutely no skill on the
part of the perpetrator.
Car dealers used to be famous for this one, advertising a car at
an unbelievably low price in the weekend newspaper. Lured by the
notion of a fabulous deal, customers would show up at the lot, only
to be told that particular car was already sold, but wouldn't they
like to see something even better? As unsophisticated at that old
bit of business is, it's still around.
A few years back I was contacted by a friend who works for a
well-known company. They'd been doing some phenomenal work in the
area of employment branding and attracting Millennials to the
company, two areas of great interest for me.
My friend made small talk for a few minutes and then asked me
outright: "Michael, how would you like to run talent acquisition at
this company?" I was stunned (and delighted!). This was a phenomenal
organization, and I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
In order to save time, no requisition had been created. Further,
so as not to raise the suspicions of the recruiting team, my
interview schedule had no title. I came in several days later and
met with company leadership. The position was not well-defined, but
I was assured that was because I was expected to develop a new
talent acquisition process myself. I returned home and waited.
First, my friend called and asked how I liked my visit. I told
him I enjoyed it very much. Some weeks later, I was asked to have a
follow-up phone call with several more people, which I did. Several
weeks later, another set of phone calls were arranged, and finally,
a third set. At the end of this process, my friend called back and
offered me a position two levels below the one I thought I was
Don't feel sorry for me! I might as well have been walking around
some used car lot with my checkbook looking for the "cream-puff" I
saw in the Sunday paper. I'd been the willing victim in a classic
As organizations begin to really struggle for talent, they've
dreamed up all sorts of ways to get job-seekers in the door. Every
way, that is, except being clear about their hiring needs.
Some people will do just about anything to attract candidates,
even at the cost of losing them in the long run. I could have easily
figured out what was happening to me, and you can too if you look at
the clues I missed.
Wake Up and Smell the Signs
This is useful information for anyone: whether you're a corporate
recruiter trying to manage a panicky hiring manager, a third-party
recruiter trying to figure out what your client really wants, or
even if you're one of the thousands of people who plan to look for a
new job in 2008.
No clear job description. At no point in the
interview process was I ever presented with a job description.
People can argue back and forth whether they're
sufficient for recruiting a job opening, but I believe
they're definitely necessary. Beware any hiring manager
who won't discuss specific job responsibilities with you, but
instead just asks you to "find talent, we'll put them in the right
job once we get them here." That's the mark of an organization
that doesn't understand its talent portfolio.
No title on my interview schedule. More and
more recruiters I know are reporting that hiring managers and
human resource partners are asking them to leave job titles off of
interview schedules. The reasoning goes like this: if someone
takes a vacation day or two to come out for an in-person
interview, they'll accept a lesser offer because by then they'll
have fallen hopelessly in love with the company and the hiring
manager. By then, the title and salary will no longer mean
anything to them. Again, insist on clarity from your hiring
partners. If they have an opening for a Director of Marketing,
then presumably they've done an analysis to determine that a
director-level hire is critical to the successful operation of the
business. Trying to hire at the manager level means one of two
things: either they didn't scope the job out correctly in the
first place, or they want a director but only want to pay for a
Dragging out the process. People who study
behavioral economics love to point out the fact that human beings
are fundamentally lazy. Indeed, as the recruiting process draws
out, and a job-seeker feels like he or she has already invested
opportunity cost into the process, he or she might be willing to
take a job they wouldn't have taken if simply presented with it
upfront. I imagine it's a bit like buying a car or a time-share.
Do you really believe it takes hours and hours for a salesperson
to come up with the forms and approvals they need to sell you a
high-value item like this? Of course it doesn't. Time is on their
side, and the longer you sit in that sales office, the more likely
you are to sign the papers just to end the agony!
Emphasis on "great things to come" instead of the job
that's open. As a recruiter, I've spoken to candidates
hundreds of times about the up-side to different jobs. Candidates
are sometimes disappointed by the salary the company can pay, or
wish they'd had a bigger title. It's a recruiter's job to help the
job-seeker see the whole picture and present a realistic and
objective perspective. Recruiters who know their companies well
can talk about how past candidates have used a particular role to
advance their career, or provide insights on titling within the
organization. This is appropriate and ethical. What was
interesting about my experience was that the "great things to
come" were all anyone talked about! Again, with no job description
to work from, it was easy for people to weave an entire world of
possibilities with no basis in reality. A related tactic is to
belittle someone's credentials: "Well, you didn't exactly graduate
from Harvard, you know. Also, your company is well-known for title
inflation." Both tactics are used to make someone believe they're
making a move to something of higher relative value.
Matching job seekers with opportunities is hard work, and it
requires honesty and authenticity on the part of all participants.
Your organization should have a crystal-clear idea of what types of
people are successful in it, and it should be honest with those who
invest time in your recruiting process.
Hiring managers are learning that talent isn't so easy to find
these days, and good candidates are commanding higher salaries. HR
partners are scrambling to figure out why entire departments are
walking out the door. Recruiters are being called upon more and more
to explain the new realities of the global employment marketplace,
and the implications of a multi-generational workforce.
Getting someone to sign an offer letter is no longer a guarantee
that they'll just "stick it out" for a few years. I've seen people
leave in under a month once they decide that they've been had.
(By the way, bait-and-switch is NOT the same as an exploratory
interview. They often look similar from the outside, but they
couldn't be more different. I'll discuss exploratory interviews in
These are challenging times for those of us in talent
acquisition. The temptation to lure candidates into your
organization before they have a clear understanding of the job
that's actually open can be powerful.
Does it work? It depends on your outcome. If your outcome is to
attract the right person, get them into a job they feel great about,
and watch them deliver long-term business results, then you're out
of luck. That happens about as often as a tourist outsmarting a
"friendly" Three Card Monte hustler!