How to Make a Great Impression With Your Candidates

There are literally thousands of articles available for candidates on how to leave a lasting first impression throughout the recruitment process. Everything from how to craft an engaging cover letter; to how to make a résumé stand out; and even to what not to wear to a job interview. I even wrote an entire book on the subject a few years ago!

With the war for top quality talent raging pretty fiercely right now, it’s also critical for recruiters to leave a positive first impression on their candidates – that is, of course, if they want their candidates to remain loyal and to not run straight into the arms of their competitors.

I recently shared some feedback on what clients think about recruiters. Now it’s the candidates’ turn to have their say. And whilst a few of these tips might seem pretty damn obvious, unfortunately far too often the way we interact with our candidates adds to the ‘not so positive’ reputation that recruiters have out there in the big wide world.

1. “Hello? Is anybody out there?”

If a candidate has taken the time to apply to an ad you’ve posted on a job board, then you should give them the courtesy of some kind of response – yes … even an automatic response is sufficient. But just don’t keep them waiting in antici … pation!

Here are a few quick suggestions:

You might want to include a ‘disclaimer’ at the end of every ad that says something along the lines of “only applicants meeting the strict criteria outlined above will be contacted as part of the shortlisting process”. That way if the candidate doesn’t hear back from you they understand that in this particular instance no news unfortunately doesn’t mean good news.

Setup an auto-response advising candidates of how long the shortlisting process might take. At least this helps alleviate the feeling of them being kept in limbo.

One of the most common pieces of candidate feedback is that they never hear back from the recruiter even though they followed all the necessary steps in the application process.

2. “‘Be Prepared’ shouldn’t only be a motto for the Boy Scouts”

Don’t wait for the call telling you that your candidate is waiting for you in reception before quickly printing the CV and grabbing it off the printer on your way to meet the candidate. It really isn’t a good look if you start flicking through the CV in front of them making it very apparent that no preparation has taken place.

I remember sitting in on one of my own consultant’s candidate interviews many years ago. I was quite shocked when two minutes into the interview the candidate pointed out that my recruiter wasn’t even looking at her CV. It was a bit embarrassing for all parties.

Here’s a hint: If you are booking a candidate in to meet with you at 3:00pm, block your calendar from 2:45pm, allowing you sufficient time to print the (correct) CV, and to sufficiently familiarise yourself with the candidate’s work history and background. This is also the perfect opportunity to prepare four or five key interview questions before you walk into the interview room.

Oh … and whilst this might sound pretty obvious in terms of preparation, ensure that your interview rooms are tidy and presentable. No half finished glasses of water from a few hours earlier; no notes from previous interviews; and no Mentos wrappers scattered across the table!

3. “You’re sorry to keep me waiting? I don’t believe you!”

No matter how qualified or experienced a candidate is, a job interview can still be a daunting situation. So as a recruiter it’s important that you make the candidate feel comfortable and relaxed.

Try not to keep them waiting. Assuming they are on time, then meet with them immediately. There’s no need to pretend you’re more important than they are, or that you’re any busier than they are. Making them wait in your reception or in a meeting room is like a dentist keeping a patient waiting unsure of how painful the next 45 minutes will be.

One more thing on this topic: If for whatever reason you do keep your candidate waiting, please offer them a glass of water. Then when you eventually meet with them please avoid the all too clichéd (not to mention overused) “So did you get here OK?”. Unless they look like they fell off the ferry or have been caught in a tornado, then just assume that they had no problems finding your office!

4. “I spent longer getting to the interview than I did with the recruiter

Whilst there are some recruiters who still choose to operate under the philosophy of “get ‘em in … get ‘em out”, this is one instance where common courtesy should prevail.

In order to avoid being tarnished as just another ‘churn and burn’ or ‘bums on seats’ recruiter, you should try to spend at least 30 minutes with every candidate. Trust me, your first reaction about whether your candidate is right for your client’s role could well be wrong … as I learned when I interviewed Serge back in 2003.

When our receptionist called to tell me that Serge had arrived and was waiting for me in one of our meeting rooms, I could tell that she was trying her best not to laugh.

I walked into interview room #4 and was greeted by a very large gentleman wearing a bright fluorescent green short-sleeved shirt, a Charlie Chaplin like bowler hat, and a bow tie that illuminated red flashing lights every few seconds. It was a hot day and Serge was perspiring … a lot.

What made the situation even more awkward was when I gestured to Serge to take a seat, I noticed that he wasn’t able to physically fit into our tub chairs, so I quickly moved the meeting to a different meeting room where we had a small sofa.

If I’d ever been inclined to “go on gut feeling”, this would have been the moment. I was sitting opposite a combination of Hagrid from Harry Potter and Krusty the Clown. To be honest many recruiters would have wrapped the interview up pretty quickly, perhaps even writing Serge off as totally unsuitable.

Instead I pretty much grilled Serge for 30 minutes on his past work experiences and I have to admit his answers were fantastic. He was more than capable of fulfilling the responsibilities required by my client.

In preparing him to meet with my client, I completely refined his wardrobe and suggested he arrive in their lobby at least half an hour before the interview to cool off. I then briefed the client and suggested that they too book in a meeting room with sofas.

Serge was successful at interview and was offered the job on the spot. Over the next 18 months he needed to grow his team and briefed me exclusively on at least 10 positions … all of which I ended up filling.


5. “What can ice cream flavours possibly have to do with the job I applied for?

If you’re lucky enough to have a great candidate sitting in front of you, you need to ensure you make the most of the situation … and not waste either party’s time.

This can be achieved by collecting, confirming and clarifying as much information as possible through thorough questioning.

A candidate shared a story with me the other day. He’d recently applied for a sales role in the tech sector and apparently the recruiter had asked him just three questions:

  1. In your own words, could you please explain the internet?
  2. If our company was a sports star, who would we be?
  3. What Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream flavour can you relate to most and why?

Ineffective. Pointless. Futile.

Whilst the answers to these questions may be interesting, in no way do they help you accurately assess a candidate’s past behaviour, core competencies or ability to in fact do the job in question.

Gone are the days of just asking about strengths and weaknesses. And hypothetical questions are a thing of the past. The only way to determine how your candidate will perform in your client’s role, is to ask questions around how they performed a similar task in the past.

Here’s an in-depth list of 75 behavioural based interview questions relating to the traits or attributes that your clients may find most desirable in their candidates.

6. “I didn’t even get a word in

Another common reason for a candidate to lose faith in their recruiter is if they felt the recruiter just talked to / at them as opposed to asking them any meaningful or relevant questions. In other words the recruiter just went into sales overdrive and talked about themselves or their client’s opportunity for the entire interview.

Remember that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. This means that you should listen twice as much as you talk.

Never oversell the role.

Ensure your candidate feels comfortable but also don’t spend an hour just chatting to them either. You want to make the right hire for your client so make sure you run a professional and effective interview.

7. “I couldn’t believe I was rejected via text message!

Sure it’s nice to call a candidate, tell them how impressed you were with them at interview and to arrange a time for them to meet with your client. And we all know how good it feels to call a candidate on behalf of our client and to verbally offer them a job.

It’s not so nice to have to call a candidate, thank them for their time, but let them down gently and tell them that they have been unsuccessful. But this is still something you must do if nothing else to maintain a professional reputation in the market.

Please don’t just send a standard email (or text message!) letting them know your decision to not include them as part of the shortlist. Or to let them know that your client has decided not to take them to the next stage. They more than likely took time off work to come to meet with you, probably did the best they could at interview, so please have the decency to call them and let them down over the phone personally.

Please don’t let days (or weeks) go by without providing your candidate with feedback. Some candidates might think that “no news is good news”, while others might think that “silence can only mean one thing”. Don’t keep candidates in a state of uncertainty. Provide them with feedback – whether positive or constructive – regardless of the outcome of their interview. They will be grateful either way and more importantly they will respect your level of professionalism.

Remember, a satisfied candidate might tell a friend about their positive experience. But a disgruntled candidate will tell at least 10 friends how appalled they were with their interview experience. And there’s no stopping the damage they could bring to your (and your agency’s) reputation when they begin their social media tirade.

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