A comment made by Maureen on my recent blog post prompted a painful memory about a lesson learned about ineffective "push back". I thought I would bare my soul in hopes you may leave a note about a lesson you've learned as well.

One mistake I recall making was on the candidate side, early in my career I got cocky and began to take the gut instinct that I felt when a candidate didn’t respond well to my push back to mean it was always a red flag. I was proud of this notion; in fact I wore it brazenly as I conducted my follow ups after interviews, closing each candidate down every step of the way. “Locking them down” I called it.

One candidate made it all the way through this process with me, and came on board with my client. About 2 months into his project he came in to meet with our Consultant Representative and after the meeting she came to me. She told me the candidate shared with her that while he enjoyed working for our company and liked the project we had him on, he had felt bullied in the recruiting process. “Bullied”. It hit me like a brick wall. Anyone who knows me would be floored to know I had treated someone that way.

I would push and push until I was sure they were 110% committed, or do a take away – and in many cases I felt that I was justified because they took it. I shudder to think of how many solid candidates I screened out in this process, folks who walked away not because they weren’t committed to the opportunity, but because they weren’t committed to me – and rightly so! In reality they were exercising their own self-respect by walking away.

This is a difficult story to tell, as I am very embarrassed by it. I was determined that I would NOT give a candidate the opportunity to decline an offer, that I would always screen it out ahead of time, no matter the cost… I learned a great deal from being shown the error in my ways. I hope someone else may benefit from the lesson as well. Please, share your own learning experiences – good or bad, candidate or hiring manager – that helped shape your successful “push back” technique.

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You know Becky, you make me think. I am well aware that my approach can turn some people off - even so, I keep on keepin' on at it. It's overkill at times, I understand this. I sometimes wish I had an "edit" button that would make me stop.

A few years back, I was exhorting others over on ERE to become their own employers. I was stunned one day when one of the female members sassed me down in one of my own groups (I think it was Working From Home), telling me that NOT EVERYONE was cut out to work for themselves and some people enjoyed the employee experience and I was really being insensitive to keep insisting that people go out on that limb.

I remember siitting back and looking at that post and realizing she was right! There are many reasons, when I look back at my own life, that explain to me why I can be insensitive to others and I know I should more constantly guard my propensity to tell everyone how things "should" be done. I can be a smart-mouthed know-it-all at times and I know this about myself, believe me I know it. But does that stop me from espousing certain creeds that I've come to believe in? Once in a while, and more and more lately, I find myself writing a response to someone only to leave it, unposted. I think of it as seeking greener pastures, looking for other fish to fry, but I wonder. Is the world better off with what I had to say left unsaid? Maybe. Probably. I've gone through a lot of stop signs in my life. These days I try to proceed more slowly so I see them coming.
I think there is a fine line in terms of balancing between our own personalities (which naturally are larger than life in this business) with that of those we are working with.

I do have to say though, the online forum most certainly does lend to my being a bit more brazen, something I explored in a previous blog post .

Sometimes it makes sense to take a step back and look at ourselves. We know we can't please everyone, and shouldn't want or need to, but that doesn't mean we can't make a concession here or there for the sake of others. Especially when we find ourselves being a bit bullheaded. A heartfelt comment Maureen, thank you!
Listen, Becky, in my experience the candidates don't like hard questions. They say they have the experience you need and when you AXE DEM TO CLARIFY you can HEAR the irritation in their voices because they don't like being cornered when they are trying to bluff.

To me it just sounds like you were just weeding out the bluffers. You might have had a bad tone in doing so but, if so, you didn't make that clear.
Thanks for sharing, that type of "push back" and style is very common and I feel that most recruiters don't realize what it's like on the candidate side when that happens. At the same time, it's wise to trial close and be alert to "red flags" in the candidate's answers. Since many candidates will be wishy washy or trying some type of negotiation themselves in the process, it's helpful to have a style that brings the concern(s) to the front.

Again, thanks for sharing,

Greg Stenz
Executive Recruiter
You obviously lack professional ediquette and could be an embarrasment to your comment. After which you will gain a 'tarnished' reputation....which eventually will 'bite you back'.
This is a great exchange on the value of a solid sense of self-awareness. Becky, I admire your candor and your ability to to accept that critique and learn/adapt from it. Honest self-assessment is tough for most of us who normally walk around with strong egos.

I'm interested to hear about your new and improved push back technique-- what do you look for that triggers you to push harder or throttle it back? What kinds of changes are you seeing in your candidate/candidate interactions and feedback? What is the net effect on your numbers?

Again, this is very valuable. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for your insight Animal, you are right, I didn't really make clear that the error was not in asking the tough questions (which is a plain and simple rule, asking the tough questions is what we get paid for) but in the way I did it. I became like a freight train, barreling over my candidates rather than tactfully being straight and requiring the same of them. I'm not proud of the behavior, but having it pointed out to me helped shape the effective push back technique I use today. The questions remain, the delivery is slightly different.

This particular situation centered around "candidate control" (sorry Jerry!) during the time leading up to an offer, rather than determining the fit. We've already decided they are a good candidate, now, are they going to accept the offer we extend?

Some of the questions I ask haven’t changed much, although they have been tailored over the years and focused on the internal close. One of my favorites – which can be used effectively on either side of the house – is “when the hiring manager comes back to me and lets me know that he/she is prepared to make an offer at $xxx, do I have your permission to accept on your behalf?” If I’ve done all the upfront work and know everything I can about where the candidate is in their decision making process, they trust me enough to answer yes to this straightforward question. I don’t ever actually accept on their behalf based on this conversation, rather I am simply well informed as to their true intentions and their level of commitment. And, it only works when you have a great relationship with said hiring manager who also trusts you to engage in the negotiation process throughout. I ask similar questions as I push them through the process, to test their commitment at every level.

Another thing I do is tell them how embarrassing it is for the recruiter when someone pulls out at the end of this process, how it makes me look bad when I am uninformed of their intentions. If you are honest about this I find they are *sometimes* more willing to offer things up about where they stand rather than having to browbeat it out of them. A firm but gentle approach makes for a pleasant and effective interaction. Of course, this is not to say that there isn’t an appropriate time to do a stiff take-away from a candidate who is showing all the warning signs of not laying all their cards on the table.


Recruiting Animal said:
Listen, Becky, in my experience the candidates don't like hard questions. They say they have the experience you need and when you AXE DEM TO CLARIFY you can HEAR the irritation in their voices because they don't like being cornered when they are trying to bluff.

To me it just sounds like you were just weeding out the bluffers. You might have had a bad tone in doing so but, if so, you didn't make that clear.
"...while he enjoyed working for our company and liked the project we had him on, he had felt bullied in the recruiting process."

Huh. He took the job.

There's more here than meets the eye. I think being called a bully is often confused with working with someone who is committed and forceful. When someone is like this, those whose self-esteem and confidence are low would rather blame others than question themselves.

Metcalf - ease up on yourself.
Becky if you want to be a guest on The Recruiting Animal Show let me know.
Funny Steve you brought this up. I've been thinking about this all day.
Huh - yes he DID take the job didn't he? I think you're hitting on something when you tell Becky to ease up on herself. Do you think a man would've had the same reaction as Becky did (and as I originally did)? You think maybe Becky and I need to get on a high horse and stay there a little more?
;)
See what self-flagellation brings? Fame, I tell you! Fame!
Recruiting Animal said:
Becky if you want to be a guest on The Recruiting Animal Show let me know.
Becky, great story, and I don't believe your the first person to have that happen (we are all trained to keep our eye on the prize). I am a strong believer in good solid preclosing, but one of the lessons I've learned is to cater my preclose to the type of "buyer" customer or candidate I'm working with. Preclosing is not a one size fits all in my experience.

Have a great day!

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