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Ask the Headhunter: Employers, respect job applicants. Your company’s reputation depends on it

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

As a headhunter, I marvel at the silly behavior employers demonstrate to the professional communities they want to recruit from. While companies devote enormous effort (and money) to public relations, image campaigns and marketing, they usually invest next to nothing in making a good impression on the people they need to hire. I think it’s because employers have no idea what it takes to attract hires. They need basic instruction.

Recruiting and hiring does not mean herding cattle — yet managers send HR to do just that every day. Recruiting and interviewing are not administrative processes, but when managers deploy HR clerks to talk to engineers, programmers, marketers, accountants, actuaries and IT experts, they get what they deserve — a “talent shortage.”

Recruiting and hiring is a highly social art: the art of tactful influence. You’re guiding professionals into your fold. Do it gently. Do it responsibly. Don’t send a clerk. Do it yourself.

To be an effective hiring manager, you must constantly keep your eyes on the state of the candidate.

  • Is he happy to see you?
  • Is she glowing?
  • Is he confused?
  • Is she smiling?
  • Is he disgusted?

What job applicants think when they leave your interviews is your responsibility. And it could be your downfall.

In an old article — “Death By Lethal Reputation” — I described how a big Silicon Valley company trusted hiring to an administrative process. The company completely forgot that job candidates talk to other members of their professional community and that the company’s reputation (and success) hinged on what those candidates had to say about that process. Sadly, there’s nothing old about this story. It happens all the time in today’s world, because employers forget that job candidates deserve respect.

How does your company recruit and hire people?

Don’t process job candidates — respect them

Every good sales person knows the art of seduction — how to attract and entice a prospective customer and how to respect and satisfy them, so they will stay customers. Sadly, few HR departments even realize their job is to entice, respect and satisfy the people they need to hire.

A job candidate is an invited guest to be shown hospitality and respect — not a beggar. So why do employers treat applicants like cattle?

The first mistake your company probably makes is with initial contact. Who makes that first call to the candidate to invite her for an interview? If it’s not the hiring manager, it’s a mistake. A call from an intermediary is, to put it bluntly, cheesy and rude.

“But,” you say, “we’re Human Resources, and the manager doesn’t even know we’re screening the candidate yet. The candidate has to talk to us first.”

Don’t waste the candidate’s time. Keep HR in the background. Put hiring managers out front from the start. I coach job hunters to keep their standards high by taking this position when HR calls to interview them: “No dice. I meet with the hiring manager, or there’s no meeting.”


When you’re trying to fill a position in your department, the first rule is to do it yourself — because no one sends a surrogate on a first date. When you invite a job candidate to visit:

  • Don’t make the candidate wait in the lobby, and don’t send a clerk to meet her.
  • Welcome him yourself and personally take him into your office.
  • Thank her for accepting your invitation and taking the time to visit.
  • Be glad to see him.
  • Don’t let anyone process her — no forms until after your meeting.
  • Don’t run him through a gauntlet of administrative lackeys.
  • Don’t waste her time with tests until you’ve demonstrated your company is worth working for.
  • Don’t challenge him. Your goal is to recruit him.
  • Explain your interest in her — don’t play 20 questions.
  • Make him feel like a valued guest.
  • Get to know her.
  • Stimulate his professional interests and goals.
  • Offer your honest opinion of the prospects of working together.
  • Thank her again.

There is no excuse for anyone but the hiring manager doing the initial interview. In fact, this is the quickest, least costly way to eliminate the wrong contenders. I’ll take a manager’s professional judgment — and sixth sense — about a candidate over any personnel jockey’s, mainly because HR is not expert in the work the manager’s department does. It’s simple as that. (See “Why HR should get out of the hiring business.”)

Not all candidates are worth hiring. But if anyone is going to turn a candidate away, let it be someone whose credibility ranks high with the candidate — the manager. Oh, the ignominy of getting turned down by a personnel jockey! There is no greater disrespect.

You (and your company) will be judged by how professional, reasonable and respectful you are toward members of your professional community. Word will get around.

If respect for the candidate is missing, destroy the traditional interviewing process at your company. Make it a personal, professional experience that leaves the candidate feeling they’re a valued guest. Earn your professional community’s respect with every interview you conduct, because your company’s reputation — and its future — depends on it.

Next week, we’ll talk about how job applicants can turn the tables to get the respect they deserve.

Dear Readers: If you’re a manager, how do you demonstrate respect to your job candidates? If you’re a job seeker, which employers showed you the respect you deserve? Which treated you like cattle?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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