Wednesday Wisdom: How do you spell RELIEF?

Dear Claudia,

How do you handle an interview when the candidate is preoccupied with a personal issue? I had a candidate this week who insisted she didn’t want to reschedule, even though she was obviously speaking from the bathroom and flushed the toilet many times during the call. It was obvious she was suffering, and it was really awkward for me to continue. Should I have just cut it off for her relief?


Hi Kind-but-uncomfortable,

Alrighty then. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve discussed bodily functions, so let’s just go there. Love the question.

In learning the art of the interview, recruiters perfect the dual roles of investigator and gate keeper. This is a bit of an extreme situation, but what I really hear you asking is “How can I better control the interview?” I laugh as I write this, because the first sign of old age is when you start sounding like your parents; my old boss used to say, “The cardinal rule of recruiting is (repeat after me, children)…control every step of the process, all of the time!” Can you control others? Of course not. Can you anticipate disaster (or a steamroller candidate) and direct the outcome? You bet.

Surprise, surprise: candidates have agendas for interviews. “I want this job.” “I have the required skills.” “I’ll say what I need to get a shot at the real decision-maker.” The thing is, in that moment you are the real decision-maker. And let’s read between the lines a bit further; if we turn off the volume (no pun intended) and just watch the behavior of the candidate, what does it tell you that she insisted on continuing an interview when she was obviously incapacitated? It doesn’t smell like the bathroom to me, it smells like fear. The more interesting question for this candidate might have been, “why are you afraid of postponing this conversation?” I'd be watching like a hawk for more "tells" of fear-based behavior or questionable judgment.

Once you know the secrets of controlling an interview, you can relax and have some fun with it. Start with a standard agenda; tell the candidate up front you’re going discuss X, Y and Z, and that you’ll leave time at the end of the call for questions. Follow a standard interview template (here’s a good one, if you need it: 5 and 5 Interview Training White Paper.pdf), and always end the interview with some feedback. This might mean that you coach the candidate on an aspect of his presentation, or that you set expectations for where he ranks in the competition with others. Each of these tactics sends a subtle message that you drive the bus: you’re prepared for the conversation, you’re knowledgeable of the requirements, and you make the final decision about who moves forward, and who doesn’t.

Sometimes, it just boils down to saying what you need, instead of asking what the candidate wants. Consider changing the phrase “Would you like to reschedule?” to “I’d like to reschedule.” And if your baloney meter goes off with the answer (if you have kids, you know what I’m talking about), don’t hesitate to ask why; the answer to that question could tell you the really important stuff you need to know about your candidate.

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

Do you have a question you'd like answered in this weekly forum? Drop me a line!

Views: 124

Comment by Jim Canto on May 21, 2008 at 11:43pm
I don't want to hear ANYONE flush in the background. Other noises... well.. I guess I'd ask myself; "is it something the candidate can control?" And, if you can't control that which must be flushed.... call me back! I'll wait!! The Serenity Prayer comes to mind.
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on May 21, 2008 at 11:51pm
Giraffes have abnormally long tongues and make a spitting sound when eating leaves and scrumptious bundles of hay at the zoo. For example, here's a YouTube video:

Or eating a cracker:

I've actually heard this in the background before! :)
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on May 21, 2008 at 11:51pm
Please, nobody take me serious here :)
Comment by Jim Canto on May 21, 2008 at 11:58pm
I guess this is what's called a "Sticky Conversation" in the blog world. Too funny.
Comment by Claudia Faust on May 22, 2008 at 9:56am
Josh, you are a guru of the most AMAZING information. Who knew what giraffes sound like???
Comment by Meg Campbell, CIR, CDR, ACIR on May 22, 2008 at 10:28am
Rayanne – If a smellivision is invented…I might have to change industries! Haha

Josh - You're comments are fabulous!

RecruiterGuy - I am in the same boat with you...when I spoke with these dime-piece candidates (sarcasm) I definitely did NOT pursue.

Maren - I agree! Standard background noises are fine, but flushing...big no-no.

Cora – Those are exactly the questions that I talked about asking myself in my first post (great minds think alike :)). And the answers that I came up with to both questions, still did not justify the candidate's choices.

Jim – I agree. When my candidate wouldn’t reschedule, I had to wrap it up quick (As Rayanne said, by flush 3 it’s time to go!)

Claudia – You were right…I guess I have to check in during the night to catch the activity :)
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on May 22, 2008 at 10:41am
As I think about this, I would definitely have to consult the candidate that they're committing a major faux-pas! However, if it's a super-niche, I may consider this an opportunity for career coaching! :) I have seen positions open up to 12 mths in certain Energy and Defense applications . . . so can you imagine finally getting an A-level candidate on the line? (especially an 'impromptu' call?) Jeez, that would be a dilemma considering our client is relying on us! :)
Comment by Jim Canto on May 22, 2008 at 11:17am
"Yeh but"..... if they don't have the sense to "come in out of the rain".... are they really "A-Level"?
Comment by Claudia Faust on May 22, 2008 at 12:14pm
Career coaching on bathroom etiquette for interviews? I'd like to see a blog post about that ... unfortunately, it might get us in as much trouble as Hair of the Dog.
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on May 22, 2008 at 12:34pm
Claudia, perhaps brain-food for a new post: I know 99% (4-sigma, not 6, for you math-heads out there) of recruiters are trained with the old shool mentality of "screening out" . . . and I know this is contrary, but I mean this:

I aspire to the type of candidate relationship where they are so comfortable with me that they pick up my call, anywhere and anytime. When I have them at the point that they answer me while picking up their children from daycare or at the grocery store, I know that I've completely humanized myself and the recruiting process.

Isn't that relationship (candidate friendship) what all recruiters aspire to? I mean, I build long-term relationships this way; candidates who become hiring decision makers. Loyalty is a wonderful thing :)



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