Dear Claudia,

I work for a company that is obsessed with customer satisfaction, which is a good thing – right? I’m not so sure. The way it works in Recruiting is that the Hiring Manager is always right, which means that I can’t ever say no. Want a purple squirrel? Sure, no problem. Want to see 10 more resumes when you already have 5 great candidates ? Absolutely, I’ll get right on that. Want to do things your way, even if it’s backwards and stupid? Ok, great! The tail is wagging the dog here, and when I try to change it I’m tagged “difficult to work with.” What should I do?

Can’t Say No

Dear CSN,

Three things in life are certain my friend: death, taxes, and the fact that somebody is always in charge. This isn’t about company culture or being a team player; it’s about quiet confidence and who gets to drive the hiring process. And at the moment that person is not you.

Here’s a news flash: Hiring Managers don’t give a rat’s bupkis about being in charge as long as you produce results (and the faster the better). Oh sure, a Dominatrix shows up once in a while, but even those folks respect a good hire – and as the customer, isn’t that why they came to you in the first place?

I’m not convinced that it’s a bad thing to be tagged as difficult to work with. Most likely it depends on the reason. Communication consists of what you say, how you say it, and the level of confidence you say it with; in this situation you might consider the following:

Offer alternatives.
This is the “what you say” part of the equation. There’s the hiring process you know works best, and the hiring practice that exists at your company; I urge you to put them both down on paper so you can see where they diverge, and then use that information to your advantage in Hiring Manager conversations. Two year olds are legend for having to do things their way; smart parents avoid direct confrontation by redirecting their attention to alternate (but approved) options (do you want to wear the red shirt today, or the blue shirt?). Ask directly, “Would you prefer to see the top 3 candidates, or do you need 4?”

Speak the truth - respectfully.
This is the “how you say it” part of the equation. People disagree and deliver bad news every day; say it straight every single time, and Hiring Managers will come to respect you for it. Stick to the facts though, and speak in terms of cause and effect. “It’s been my experience that interview teams of more than 4 people take about 30% longer to reach consensus on a hire. That translates into another 60 days for this search to remain open; are you sure you want to go there?”

Deliver what you promise.
This is the “confidence” part of the equation, in that it raises your awareness of what you can deliver. Accountability is the single most important thing you can do to build and keep the trust of Hiring Managers; even the tiniest deviation builds a different kind of reputation. Get past the fear that says, “What if I can’t deliver it? What if I miss the deadline?” and make commitments based on the facts you know, then communicate frequently as your data changes. A great example of this is setting an estimated timeline to hire at the start of the search, based on your average from previous hires; then, as candidate development progresses, revise the timeline to something meaningful in the current context. Be accountable for what you promise, and your confidence in estimating future outcomes will skyrocket.

You, too, can drive the bus my friend – and the more you drive, the better you’ll get at it. Hang in there!


In my day job, I’m the Head of Products for Improved Experience, where we help employers use feedback to measure and manage competitive advantage in hiring and retention. Learn more about us here.

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I wasn't called "difficult to work with" instead the term was "bull in a china shop". But the changes came, as Claudia mentions, respect is key as is delivering on the expectations you set. Providing superior customer service to your hiring managers should include partnering with them (and some times challenging them) to help ensure the best end result, it's how you go about setting and meeting expectations that will help towards gradual changes.
It is even more difficult to drive the process w/ hiring managers when you are at an agency, but it is essential to getting the results they need. I usually tell them what will work, what is needed, and above all never leave a meeting without setting everyone's expectations. Once I am out of a meeting, I over communicate and shoot straight with them and they are loyal to a fault.

Having someone ask for 10 candidates? I would say, that is interesting, is that your inability to make a decision or have the candidates been that bad to date. lol, well not really but wouldn't it be nice?
Becky, I like how you balance partnering and challenging a hiring manager - often customer service is equated with simply saying yes, when it's much more about providing a solution to a problem. Some of the toughest managers I've ever worked with became raving fans once they really believed that I had some skin in the game as their internal recruiter, and was as committed to finding the "solution" as they were.

Becky Metcalf said:
Providing superior customer service to your hiring managers should include partnering with them (and some times challenging them) to help ensure the best end result, it's how you go about setting and meeting expectations that will help towards gradual changes.
Part of giving good service though is educating that hiring manager on what is reasonable and most effective for him/her to find the best person for the job. Interviewing 10 more candidates when he has 5 good people isn't a good use of anyone's time. Unfortunately sometimes it takes getting burned though before they believe you..if you warn them they could lose their top people if they dilly dally and see more people just to do it...and then they do lose that top candidate, it may sink in. You do need to nicely and firmly push back when it is an area that you have more expertise in, so that you can advise them and get the end result they're looking for.

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