Let me start by saying that for most of us in the recruiting industry we do care about finding the right person for the right role. We don’t want to find a close match; we want to find the perfect match. The rock star. The unicorn. None of us venture into this line of work to “sell” a candidate or sugarcoat a job (other than some of the recruiters that everyone complains about on LinkedIn). So, how do so many of us end up coaching a candidate on what to say and not say in an interview? Why do we amend resumes to better fit what we know our hiring manager wants to see, or the worst of all offenders, telling a candidate that a role is something that you know most likely will never happen? How did we get here? I’ll tell you how we got here: somewhere in our careers, someone told us to slap some lipstick on it and make it pretty. Make it work. You have to fill the role.
That Nasty Boolean String
In this new era of technology and the impact it has made in the recruiting process, we are quick to judge a candidate based on an ATS (application tracking system) qualification algorithm or the results of our Boolean string. We get excited based on a profile, a piece of paper, and application. We get so excited that we tell Mrs. Hiring Manager, “I think I found the one!” But then we start going through the human elements of our process, we talk to Susie Candidate and realize that maybe, just maybe, those keywords and search strings lied to us. Dirty, filthy, stinking liars. Shame on you for making me get so excited about someone on paper, excited enough to start talking them up to Mrs. Hiring Manager only to now find out they’re a mess! Holy crap what do I tell my hiring manager now because I already told them about Susie Candidate and how perfect she is so it has to work, or they’ll shut the search down. Find a way to get the deal done even if it takes some coaxing. You can do this. Breathe in, breathe out, and handle it.
Now, cue our terrifyingly fast and frazzled re-typing of Susie Candidate’s resume to remove things we know. Mrs. Hiring Manager may see as red flags, then a quick call to Susie Candidate to tell her how Mrs. Hiring Manager hates anyone who chews gum says “um” a lot and talks about themselves in the third person. We tell Susie Candidate to sit up straight, make eye contact, ask for the job, and make sure you tell Mrs. Hiring Manager that you love to show up early and stay late every single day and that everyone you’ve ever worked with loves you. That’ll make it work, right? I mean I’m a good person, I’m helping someone get a job. This is good. I’m okay, and you’re okay. Wooosah.
It’s Um Like a Reality Check
Okay, so maybe you’re not that extreme, but you know you’ve done this on some level. Something that may seem benign and harmless like “make sure you dress professionally for the interview” or “make sure you show up early” is still leading a candidate. The reality is that we’re removing authenticity from the human we’re presenting by giving them advice about how to present themselves. If showing up to an interview in jean cutoffs 15 minutes late is a natural thing for them do you think this is going to work out long-term?
What about someone who says “like” every other word but the hiring manager knows that polished verbal communication skills are imperative to the success of the person in this role? You coach them to speak formally in the interview, so they’ll get the job but if they don’t command that skillset naturally are you not, again, changing the person to suit the role? And we do the same on the flip side. We talk to Susie Candidate about the position, and she asks about how flexible the work schedule is, and we respond saying “Oh I’m sure if you talk to Mrs. Hiring Manager once you start you can work something out!” However, we know that Mrs. Hiring Manager is a firm believer in 8-5 with a one-hour lunch break. That would be a deal breaker for Susie Candidate, so we sweep it under the rug for them to figure out later. Are we not doing a huge disservice to everyone in this relationship, not to mention the reputation of our industry, even with the harmless “Oh I’m sure it’ll be fine” type of coaching, selling, changing, and amending of people?
So here’s the fix, STOP IT. I know, brilliant advice, right? No wonder I’m in this line of work! It all seems easy when I say it that way, but we have to check ourselves at every step in the process to make sure we’re not harmlessly, even with the best of intentions, leading anyone’s behaviors or putting lipstick on something to make it pretty when we know it’s the ugly duckling.
Change the way you describe things and communicate. If you know, they are not right then don’t present them, period. If you still think they’re an excellent candidate, but they have some things you know the hiring manager may be concerned by, don’t coach the candidate to hide them. Instead, have a transparent and honest conversation with the hiring manager about your perspective. Remember, you’re the expert! Tell them what you like about the candidate and where your areas of concern fall. The hiring manager will appreciate your honesty.
Now, do the same in reverse with a candidate. If they want a business casual only workplace and you know the role is within a formal business environment, tell them and let then make the decision. Maybe the future growth of the role outweighs the formal business aspect, but you should have that conversation honestly and authentically with them.
A Little Lipstick Does Hurt
Remember, these are people. Real live people that you’re working with so slapping lipstick on anything, for either side of the equation, is hurting more people than you might realize. Next time someone asks you a question, either a candidate or a hiring manager, pause and check your “salesman” response at the door and just be real. Just today I had a candidate say, “this process has been so comfortable, it doesn’t feel like the typical recruiting that I’ve been through before!” Do you know why? Because I didn’t put lipstick on anything or try to make a challenge in a position seem like it’s something easy, and she was excited. The things I was nervous she might not like ended up being what she fell in love with about the role. I would have never known that if I had tried to paint a picture of what I thought she wanted to hear versus giving her the real picture.
Honesty counts. Authenticity matters. Trust your experience, your gut, and know that if you do the right thing for people, it’s always going to be the best choice at the end of the day. And if you still feel bad about being authentic and struggle to have the real conversations, just do like Elizabeth Taylor taught us and “Pour a drink. Put on some lipstick and deal with it.”