Five sure-fire ways to break the deal with candidates

Karalyn Brown, Founder of InterviewIQ, Co-Developer of myPitch app

I was very interested to read Dan Nuroo’s post next door on the importance of candidate conversations. It’s a topic close to my heart, and to the many people I have worked with through my blog, InterviewIQ – and through the work I have done coaching people through the recruitment process.

With so many companies cutting back on entry level and middle management positions, within the next five years we will be really finding it tough to find the talent that has the business knowledge, strategic nous, communication and problem solving skills that we need to work in a global environment.

As the hidden gems become harder to find, and possibly more risk averse to moving, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the deal-breakers in the recruitment process. Naturally if you’ve worked so hard to find someone, the last thing you’ll want to do is to mess it up with something that’s easily avoided. With some of these you may scratch your head and say “really – teach me how to suck eggs Karalyn.” However if hiring people is something you do every day, it’s easy to forget that you are more than just a quick call or email to someone. You are actually signalling the start of a process that could dramatically change someone’s life.

It is very easy to forget that people identify so closely with what they do. Changing jobs is one of the most stressful life decisions. Talented people will generally only ever have to formally apply for one or two roles in their lifetime. So they experience a lot of confusion about what to say or do. In many cases because work is life for people, when you are discussing the role on offer, you are actually talking through someone to their entire family.

This is the challenging context in which your words and actions are judged. So seemingly little things to you do have the potential to become big things in the eyes of the person at the other end.


1)      Communication – this can include not being available when you say you are, not returning calls promptly, not making contact when you say you will.

This is close to the number one complaints people make about recruitment consultants, and now the many internal recruiters that have taken their place. It is often very difficult for someone to get away from work to make a quick call, or send an email via the work system. So you can guarantee if someone is waiting and you have said that you’ll call or be available at a certain time, and you’re not – they will note this down as a big black mark. Or they’ll just give up.

Think about it like this. You’ve entered into a relationship of trust with the candidate. They’ve not seen the deal in action – the job. So their trust in the deal is being reinforced, or not, by the people who represent it.

2)      Long winded recruitment processes – I often have clients that tell me that they’ve been through 4 or 5 meetings over 3 months plus taken psychometric and aptitude tests and been reference checked, only to be told they’re put on a “waiting list” or the job is on hold.

Many people read that as “can’t make a decision,” “poor internal processes,” “still looking for someone better” and get mightily annoyed.

To me the ironic thing is that the organisations that do this often cannot support their processes with solid research that shows they work as single or whole parts of the process, yet they persist in putting candidates through the process.  The bottom line here is that people don’t tend to stick around after you’ve put them through the hoops then made them wait.

3)      Impenetrable information about the role

Many organisations have advertisements, processes and position descriptions that confuse and bemuse. There’s a huge trend in HR towards dressing up jobs, perhaps based on the assumption that everyone wants to have a superstar career and strive to get to the top of the ladder.

I’ll often see a lot of words about the requirements for the role, but only a line devoted to the one thing that will make a big difference to someone’s application or decision to take it further – that is “what will this person be doing every day.”  Yet this is essentially what people want to know.

4)      Weird interview questions – here’s a list of the interview questions people struggle with – including “tell me about yourself,” and “what are your strengths and weaknesses?”  

I call these weird questions because they are way too general. Candidates don’t tend to answer them very well. To get any value out of these questions, you need to assume that the candidate has a) a lot of interesting self-insight and b) a willingness to share something that they may be judged harshly for. Candidates will respect a well researched interview as it gives them confidence that you are making the right choice about them.

5)      Dodgy discussions around salary
It’s amazing how many people will get to the end of the process and there’s been no word on the salary package. Or the recruiter has insisted that they name their price before giving them information about the role.

Any evasiveness around salary eats into the candidate’s sense of financial security – which is pretty much the number one issue in changing jobs. People much prefer a more honest discussion that shows the organisation has done their research on market rates for the level of accountability and outcomes they expect, plus have an understanding of why that salary structure fits into their business practice.

Karalyn Brown will speak at #SOSUAU about candidate engagement at #sosau.

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