How to Judge Your Candidate

As a headhunter since I was 23, while I had some excellent training from my employer, the only way I could learn how to recruit was talking to candidates directly and learn how to correctly judge a candidate in real time by making as many calls (and mistakes!) as possible.

Once you get the hang of it, recruitment is very straightforward, however the time to get up and running will be painful, littered with setbacks and mistakes of wrongly judging your candidates which results in the drama that is a part of life of being in our profession.

Here’s how you can minimize the issues you’ll run into with candidate quality:

#1. Ask open questions.

Don’t ever assume you know anything about the candidate or what they’re interested to hear about. Most definitely, don’t ramble about your firm, how you’re different, and what you can do for them. The time to do that is at the end of the call. Right out of the gate, you need to quickly make small talk and move right into open questioning as the main focus in the first half of your call.

Ask about their experiences thus far, their situation at work, why they got on the phone with you, push and pull factors (as I show you how to do here on the DG Recruit Podcast), and then that’s when the clues to the quality of their candidacy start appearing.

#2. Are they answering your questions head-on?

When candidates are charming, friendly, and very eager, that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Don’t ever take someone’s word for who they are – observe and make judgments along the way. Pivot and ask smarter, more tailored question to really dive into this unique individual’s mindset and worldview. Definitely, don’t rely on a one-size-fits-all script.

The best candidates tend to be realistic, practical, and normal by most accounts. They’re not going to deviate into either extreme of overly rapport-building or being entirely under-whelming (definitely an issue down the line too because your candidate will struggle to make it through interviews). When someone is extra chummy, be en garde. Your candidate could be utilizing you to get what they want, not the other way around.

See below chart to view the general candidate personality types and what you should do in relation to where they fall on the spectrum:

How you can judge this is by the directness of their answers. If your candidate is earnestly answering your questions, being transparent, and totally open with their rationale, decision-making process, and career drivers, then you can move into having a real conversation. If things aren’t adding up, and they’re just talking about random stuff – no matter how “eloquent” they may seem, they are probably full of –it.

Or worse yet, a fake candidate or a competitor gauging you for your CLIENT LIST!

#3. What is their actual reason for speaking with you?

People don’t just hop on a call for no reason at all. Why is this candidate actually going to be interested to move forward? If they’re unemployed (immediately not ideal as clients prefer actively working candidates who are properly headhunted), why? It’s unnatural for people to just quit without having a job lined up.

Even if they got a severance, it’s still a red flag! Most go-getter career-oriented people don’t let themselves get severed and just coast until money runs out. Furthermore, it raises the very reasonable question, why out of all the staff, were you chosen to be severed? All clients want ideally the best of the best who have strong personal and professional goals – all of which would include staying employed.

Most people have bills to pay. It doesn’t make sense for most people just take a gander with no Plan B, especially later in life when their cost of living and overheads increase. Thus, I’m looking for answers such as “well, I do have a lot of money stocked up due to my success and previous achievements” or “I own a bunch of houses so I have income from other sources”.

Any reasonable explanation would make sense. Furthermore, if the candidate didn’t do a fantastic job at their last role, I’d like to hear the candidate own up to it. I’ll still rep them as long as the attitude towards their next job is correctly adjusted. This is the level of detail your candidate NEEDS to share otherwise you will look underprepared when talking to your client about your candidate. How could you NOT know this? It’s professional incompetence to leave very gaping topics uncovered or “I don’t know, I’ll have to double check”. Not ideal.

Tip: It’s on the recruiter to educate the candidate on WHY certain questions need answers. As in, if you don’t have a job, I’ll need references and why.

#4. Where else are they interviewing at?

If your candidate doesn’t trust you enough to share with you their processes, then you need to make a judgement call. Either you’re not educating the candidate correctly on why this is crucial information or you personally don’t know how to ask this question effectively or you don’t have conviction in WHY you need to know. Or you simply don’t have a lot of actual confidence in what you have to offer to be worthy of your candidate’s time and compete against their other opportunities.

Early in my career, I made a few no-go decisions when it comes to judging candidates. For those who don’t trust me or tell me need-to-know information, I take my business elsewhere. Unless the candidate is TRULY exceptional, I don’t tolerate any unwillingness to to cooperate as we’re supposed to be a completely aligned team, me and my candidate. If you let people take advantage of you, they can make your life a living hell! At some point, you’ll need to create a code to live by and judge who to represent or whom to avoid.

Tip: However, it’s on the recruiter to earn the trust of their candidate; it’s an earned right of transparency. If you genuinely have the right intentions, the candidates’ best interest at heart, and plan to do nothing to sabotage your candidate, then you must have the courage to explain it, loud and proud! Tell your candidate how well you’ll treat them – what you will or would never do (i.e. send out resumes without agreement – clearly an act done in bad faith with moral ineptitude, a clear violation of your candidate’s trust).

#5. Do you like your candidate on a personal level?

If your candidate is rude, aggressive, demanding, entitled, and impatient while being dodgy, unwilling to share information (despite you explaining why very logically), then this could just be a very paranoid person. Clearly, this person distrusts society, people, and institutions. Worse yet, this person could be a lying or faking it. Is this someone who actually can last their rebate period, even if they miraculously make it past the interview and offer stage?

My general rule of thumb to judge whether or not I move forward with a candidate is, do I genuinely like my candidate? If I don’t, why would they be able to charm my client when my client is also a reflection of my judgement? My client usually is on the same page as I am because in the role of a headhunter, I’m a DUAL-agent! I have a fiduciary duty to BOTH parties and I need to be highly alert and attuned to judging people on both ends. Usually when I don’t like someone, my clients don’t either.

Long Story Short

I want to make a happy placement for both the client and candidate. It is very much a two-way street. Candidates who are antagonistic towards their recruiter have almost no chance of getting the job and will certainly lose out on getting the recruiter’s support. On the same token, recruiters who are incompetent will find it very hard to survive in this industry. It’s on YOU, recruiter, to get better at your job EVERY time.

Food for thought

While we are crucial in the candidate intake and judgement process, our job is NOT to be the judge, jury, and executioner. We need to have clear parameters of what our clients want to see and do their bidding too. While not all candidates are not nice and respectful of us, we need to be fair on what the client needs.

Even if some candidates treat us horribly, if our client wants that profile, then we must swallow our pride to do right by the client, on a case by case basis. Ideally, our skill and our network will be such that we’ll have better candidates in the pipeline that again, we can be more selective as we get more experienced who to represent and whom not to.

If you’re eager to talk about recruitment, your job, career prospects, and conundrums as an experienced recruiter or emerging headhunter, my team at DG Recruit would love to speak with you. Please connect with me directly to have a private discussion on your past, present, and future in recruitment!

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