The First Rule of Engagement: LISTEN!

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Hiring Professionals Should Listen

Managing communications well with a jobseeker or candidate is imperative when checking responsiveness and feedback expectations.  A friend long ago told me that she had learned a trick or two about “candidate control” after two decades in the hiring industry. Her extensive background in recruitment has been built upon a zest for candidate interaction and commitment to the recruiting process. She combined her varied experiences in third-party search and corporate recruitment with her trademark style to get to straight to the heart of her candidates.

She said,

“When starting a relationship with a jobseeker, you have to know where their heart is. By that, I mean: what does that candidate really want? Additionally, I need to know what they are feeling about me. Have they connected with me? Do they trust me? It is crucial that I understand the their mind set.”  She used a standard set of questions when starting a conversation with a potential job candidate: “Fast forward two years, tell me where you see yourself…”  If the candidate is just kicking tires, a listening recruiter will discern this within the first few minutes of the conversation. Understanding a jobseeker’s motivation is key and is illustrated by how much pain they are in.  Translation? How much do they really want a new job? Are they currently unemployed and desperate? Are they unwilling/willing to relocate? Are they willing to take a pay cut? Are they completely miserable in their current position?”

What’s Going On in the Jobseeker’s Head?

Recruiters need to know what is going on in the candidate’s head and then make their own expectations clear. A pitfall for many recruiters occurs when a search becomes protracted and desperation sets in – desperation on the part of the recruiter who needs to fill the position in order to get paid or retain the client or their job (if they are an in-house recruiter).  It is very tempting to ignore what a jobseeker is really saying, to miss it when motivation isn’t what it should be, and begin to think desperately, “If I can just get this candidate in front of the client.” I have said this myself.

One time, during a difficult executive recruitment for a foundation, this same recruiter identified a rock star candidate. Everything seemed to be aligned and the client was enthusiastic about the potential represented in this particular candidate. But a nagging thought kept popping up, “What is this candidate’s motivation? He keeps saying how he loves his current job but thought foundation work would be great.” First and second client interviews were conducted but definitive feedback from the candidate was just not forthcoming.  Control and understanding was slipping away and that necessary excitement and eagerness in the candidate just wasn’t present. If the motivation isn’t right, the candiate won’t take the job – sure enough, just one day later, the candidate declared, “I’m thinking I might just stay where I am.”


The recruiter went on, “Because I was really listening, I could hear the internal struggle and asked the candidate about it. He softened a little and said that he had two disabled children and that relocation was going to be an issue. In a perfect scenario, he would have shared this much sooner, but he didn’t. I spoke with the hiring CEO about what was going on. In a last interview, a higher salary was negotiated that made relocation plausible. The candidate accepted the offer, is still there now, and very happy in his current role. I could have walked away and not pushed, but I listened to his needs.”  This recruiter heard what the candidate was saying and shared the appropriate information with the client to make sure everyone else heard too.


Understanding is  the key to any communication with jobseekers: you have to listen. Building trust is a worthy pursuit; candidates need to know you have their best interests at heart.  Recruiters need to give candidates a feeling of safety, so they feel free to disclose what they need to – it could make all the difference in the world.  It’s answering their unasked questions. When a recruiter says, “I want to know about you!” They mean it and it always works – for everyone.

Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.
-Bernard Baruch, Philanthropist and Political Consultant

by Rayanne Thorn



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