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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Hey Becky -

Glad to see you're posting again! There have already been some great comments left, so how to weigh in on the discussion?

First of all, I have to say I agree with those who advise that perhaps you are being a bit hard on yourself. I say this tongue in cheek, though, since there are very few things that bother me more than the thought of leaving a bad impression on somebody. However, there are some people who will be hypersensitive to any activity they feel questions their motives, resolve, character, commitment, etc.

Second, I also think this is a great lesson to learn about flexibility. It really does go to show that you can't necessarily use the same exact technique on everybody you close. This is precisely why not everybody can be a successful recruiter. The human element we work with is so hard to predict and almost impossible to create a uniform approach to dealing with!

Thanks again for sharing the story, Becky. Not an easy one to put out there, I'm sure. With that in mind, I know I'm not the first to say it, but lighten up a bit, will ya? :-)
With 11 years of experience in corporate and agency recruiting I've come to the conclusion that it all boils down to respect. If you have developed trust and mutual respect with your candidates and clients, you can ask them anything without fear because they know you have their best interests in mind.

We all personally determine whether or not to extend respect to those we work with and some in recruiting choose not to respect others. Those people delight in being a "hammer". Overtly or subtly manipulating, coercing, threatening, blaming and seeking to control others to advance their own personal agenda. All of these actions are fear based. Fear of not making the numbers, not earning the commission, not being seen as the hero who can close every deal, fear of not winning (which means losing, yes?). Candidates can smell the fear and consciously or unconsciously know that those who rely on these approaches, no matter how they may flatter and smile, do not care about them.

My experience has taught me that nothing is more compelling to a candidate than sincerely caring for them. Being concerned about whether or not the position is going to be good for them, their career, their family, and their goals. If you have the humanity, skill and finesse to communicate your respect, appreciation and care to your candidates they will willingly follow your lead and advice. These people will be your candidates for life and will turn to you every 3 or 4 years when they are ready to make another employment change. Ka-ching! (Using this sincere approach enabled me to bill 40% of our company’s revenue in 2008).

But don’t be too harsh on the “hammers” out there. They were taught those ancient techniques and tools of the trade by someone who learned recruiting 25 years ago from someone who learned it 25 years before that. They make it really easy for those who use a respect based philosophy stand out and make bank.
Wow, this really took on a life of its own. Thanks so much everyone for the feedback! All sorts of new feelings about this story are brewing... In response to Levy's quandary, he did take the position, didn't he? Yup. But how many more did I "talk out of" the next step with a high and mighty attitude? I don't know... But my approach now still closes out as many candidates, and I don't usually feel the need stop to wonder about the ones that might have gotten away because of my abrasiveness.
Playing the gender card again, aren't you Maureen? Come to think of it, Metcalf is obviously a strong woman. Too bad this man couldn't handle her directness.

I'll even bet he referred to her as "That bitch."

Maureen Sharib said:
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? ;)
Becky,

I think that the true test of good recruiter is their willingness to live through their mistakes and learn from them. Those who adapt thrive, those who don't, don't.

Introspection is very hard for some, publicly flogging yourself is harder, not making the same mistake a second time....priceless.
ROFL - Wouldn't be the first time!

Steve Levy said:
Playing the gender card again, aren't you Maureen? Come to think of it, Metcalf is obviously a strong woman. Too bad this man couldn't handle her directness.

I'll even bet he referred to her as "That bitch."

Hey Becky,

Great post... I love the ones which inspire discussion. Confession time... I am not the most forceful guy in the world, often getting told early in my career that I need to be more assertive with people... I took all this on board, and changed myself. I started going harder at people, shutting them down, pushing back on clients and candidates alike. Here's the thing, it worked OK, but I wasn't doing any better or worse than I had in my natural style. I'm not saying that my natural style is being a wuss or a doormat, but just a little more relaxed.

I found that by putting the natural me away, hiding him from the world didn't do me or my candidates or clients any favours. I was able to add a lot more value by being the natural me. (I did keep a little of the assertive guy though, as he is required at times)

So my thoughts.... if you are naturally "aggressive" amd that is your style... then go for it.. people will still either deal with you or they won't, same if you're more relaxed. I used to ask clients once upon a time if they were comfortable with me being to the point and blunt with them. The amount of times I got a "yes" to that question and then a grumpy person when I was, taught me to temper it a little until the relationship was strong enough to handle it.

As long as you are known for delivering quality people, and the right solutions for candidates, they will come back, and you won't feel as conflicted, guilty or embarassed.
Steve - ya' think?
@ Sandra. Great story. "Walking inventory". Love that one.

I'm in agreeance with you. This is somebody's life. And when a recruiter advises him to take a job she is doing so with with a huge and obvious conflict of interest.
I would suggest just a few open ended questions that prompt them to recall and share where and why they see how the position aligns with their interests, and help them clarify where they don't see the alignment. You appear more helpful and sincere - and still most often achieve the desired outcome ... and generate 10x the referrals. It requires you ask solid open questions as to the candidate's interests and goals when you first meet them. Take good notes, you will need to reference them when helping them with this downstream alignment discussion.

Maureen Sharib said:
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.
Hi Becky

Shaun here - I've been at this business for a while now (more than 15 years) - and here's my take – My approach w/every candidate is from a "treat them like I want to be treated" mindset. That said though, I still establish "rules of the road" expectations of how the relationship works - during which I make it clear that if they deviate or behave in a fashion which shows they are becoming an issue - we are finished working together – that simple. I demand 3 things from everyone I work with: cooperation, honesty and integrity, which is the least you can expect from someone you represent - if they fail those principals then it's fine to push back. As to you being a "bully " I can only surmise you're protecting the client and yourself - (doing your job) from a rogue candidate – or maybe pushing a bit harder than needed to be certain things “close”. In the end, you'll only get paid if/when both parties say "I do". Reality being what it is you can't truly "close" a candidate (to 100%) to take a position - if they want it for the right reasons they’ll accept the job (if the offer is “right”). Our job is to ferret out those issues. My experience says that pushing a candidate to accept an offer only leads to a future “fall out” and disappointed client. Best wishes and good luck - Shaun
I've come to the conclusion that what many of us NEED in this profession TODAY is bullying. This, after a pretty-thorough consideration.

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