Strategic Interviewing: Developing Your Recruiting Sixth Sense

As a seasoned recruiter, I am often asked how I know when a candidate is the right match for vcfo or for a client. As an experienced executive and finance recruiter, mostly it comes from experience. A skill developed over time through many, many hours spent meeting with candidates, either on the phone or in person. As recruiters, we work with a lot people, from managers and company owners to potential, current and past employees. We are always watching and listening, taking notes on the people that shape companies. Recruiters are constantly looking for patterns to ensure the right hiring decision is being made faster, more accurately and more often.

For the most part, great recruiting takes practice, but it is also a skill that can be developed. As any good recruiting manager or HR professional will tell you, there is certainly a science behind hiring good talent. A defined process. But there is also an “undefined” area that recruiters call our “Recruiting Sixth Sense.” It’s the ability to quickly develop a hunch as to whether this candidate is good or bad, and tell us where to concentrate our interviewing efforts. Not every company is able to have a recruiter on staff or work with a seasoned recruiting professional. With this in mind, below are a few quick and easy ways to start to develop your own “recruiter sixth sense.” Not only will these tips help you see when a candidate is the best match, but, more importantly, you’ll see when they are not the best fit–before a bad hiring decision is made.

1. Interview Preparation
Has the candidate researched your company and hiring manager, or read through the job description in detail? In this age of technology with LinkedIn and other social media, there is no reason for a candidate to not be familiar with your company, recent events, basic company model and the hiring manager’s background. When candidates don’t invest the time to do adequate research, this can be an indication of a lack of preparation or interest in the company. This may mean the candidate is just looking for a job, any job, and yours will do.

2. Lunch
Could you have lunch with this person for a full two hours on Day 1? If you don’t  feel you could engage with the candidate over a two-hour lunch, how will your customers and employees feel? Write a short list to describe the candidate’s personality. Are the traits similar to the traits possessed by successful employees in your organization? Do they match the culture you are trying to create?

3. Job Tenure
How long has the candidate stayed at each of their positions? What are the reasons for departures? The reasons are just as important as the history, and depending on the position and company culture, you may consider each candidate’s job tenure differently. For example, changing companies every 2 years is not necessarily bad if you are hiring a turnaround consultant, since this process generally takes 2 to 3 years. Does the candidate’s job tenure match the culture you have?

4. Collaborator
Does every sentence use the word “I” rather than “we”? Does the candidate give credit to past managers, teammates or colleagues? How do they talk about these individuals, as support staff or valued partners? If this person cites management and coworkers often for job change reasons, they are most likely not someone who values leadership or collaboration, and prefers to do their own thing in their own way.

5. Repeat Managers & Employees
Has the same manager hired the candidate for multiple jobs? Has he or she been promoted regularly and at multiple companies? Does the candidate have people who have worked for them multiple times? Look for signs that people want to work with or FOR this person. That will tell you how they are viewed by managers and peers.

6. Tone of the interview
Has the overall tone been positive or negative? Does the candidate often point out other people’s inadequacies, or maybe his or her own? Is the candidate complaining about the majority of companies and mangers he or she has worked for? What is his or her body language like? Does the candidate have his or her arms folded or speak in a defensive manner? Use the interview’s tone to look for subtle clues as to the person’s work style and personality.

7. A+ Candidate
If you owned the company, is this who you would seek out to hire? Would you be proud to have this person represent you? Often, the hardest part of interviewing is not talking yourself into a candidate just because he or she is the best out of the group. Great hiring is about getting the right person, not settling because you need the position filled. Be careful to not romanticize a candidate as being better fit than they are, or to tell yourself you are just being too picky. It is important to remember that your doubts have surfaced for a reason.

8. What Does Your Gut Tell You?
We’ve all been there. The candidate answers all the questions correctly, has all the right experience and is perfect on paper, but there is something that just feels like you shouldn’t move forward. It is important to not ignore this feeling. Dig deeper to determine where your concerns are coming from, and do not ignore them. On the flip side, there will be people who don’t look perfect on paper, but you feel like the person is right for the role. Maybe they are. Listen to your hunch and use that as an opportunity to ask more questions and probe into answers to make sure you’re getting the right fit.

A candidate can be fantastic, have an exceptional background and be an impressive interviewer, yet that doesn’t make him or her the right fit for your company or right for the position at hand. Hiring the right talent is about putting the right people in the best position for them and for the company. That takes careful consideration and planning. Listen to your own gut feelings and recognize when you have red flags so that you can dig deeper. Soon, you will see the science behind your own successful recruiting.