Do You Really Need to Interview a Slate of Candidates? Or Just One?


When hiring, it’s tempting to rush into interviewing, rather than waiting to develop a full slate of candidates. Hiring managers are often eager to interview as soon as they approve a job description. It’s a request most HR folks try to oblige. And it’s often a mistake.

So what’s the downside to interviewing the first few qualified people who responded to your recruiting efforts? If it only takes one great person to fill the job, why wait around for more candidates to emerge? What if the good people get other jobs while you are waiting? 

Occasionally, it does make sense to interview the first few people who apply. But most of the time, you actually slow down your search by interviewing too soon. Unless you are incredibly familiar with the job you are filling, waiting until you have developed a full slate of five to eight candidates almost always results in a  better hiring decision. (To be clear, I’m talking about waiting 3 or 4 weeks, not 3 or 4 months.)

So how do you know when to jump, and when to wait? We’ve put a lot of thought into this question, and here is our decision process (click to see the larger view):

SA Candidate Slate Flowchart

For example: If you routinely hire for Network Engineers, and currently have several on staff, then you have an excellent basis for comparison when you interview another Network Engineer. Because you have recently interviewed dozens of these candidates, you can instantly recognize a good one when you meet them. And you know what to pay them. No need to wait for a slate here.

But if you have not recently interviewed any Network Engineers, you don’t really have a basis for comparison. You need to educate yourself before you can make a fully informed hiring decision. You are unfamiliar with the job market, no matter how deeply familiar you are with the job and skills required. You need to see firsthand how people from various backgrounds would bring different capabilities to the job. You need to see how compensation for the role varies by skill level. In short, the early candidates might be fine – but without a full slate of candidates to choose from, you are not ready to properly evaluate them, or to understand how your job compares to their other options.

When Hiring, Should You Ask for Salary Requirements? It Depends on the Market.


resume2I’ve talked a lot recently about how employers need to adapt to the rise of mobile job seekers – especially by making the application process less painful. Let’s tackle a related job-seeker frustration – asking that salary history be included with an applicant’s resume. A recent job seeker – who is underpaid in their current position – asked me “Is it possible to fulfill this request without revealing this information? Or do I have no choice but to disclose it?” With the job market recovering, job seekers are concerned that your compensation strategy just involves tacking on an additional 10% to their undervalued recession salary, keeping them behind the curve.

If you’re looking for a candidate with highly competitive skills, remove the salary history requirement. Asking for a salary history is instantly off-putting. High-quality, in-demand candidates will tune out and not complete the application process. And why should they? They’re being heavily recruited by other organizations that didn’t put up as many hurdles in the initial application. And they’ll likely take it as an attempt to lowball a salary offer, and steer clear.

Is the market for the position particularly scarce, where every application you get counts? Then don’t be such a stickler for the rules that you will instantly disqualify a top performer because they chose not to include the required salary history. You may have overlooked someone perfect for your organization. And odds are they didn’t include it because they want to ensure that your compensation philosophy is market-based – not based on their salary history.

Now, I’m aware that not all positions and budgets require a top performer, and not all positions are lacking in highly qualified candidates. If you’re looking to fill a dime-a-dozen position in a market with a plethora of talent, you can probably get away with including salary history in your application process. You get market data for free – so you can easily narrow applicants down to those that meet your budget. Candidates will still find the question off-putting, but the resulting few that drop out of the application process likely won’t damage your chances of finding someone to fill the position. It’s much more destructive to your chances when there’s market scarcity for the needed position.

Recently I spoke with an HR executive who had just filled out a frustrating application.  She said, “I implemented all these labor-saving components into my Applicant Tracking System, but I didn’t realize what a terrible experience the candidates were having as a result.”

Go test this – apply for a job in your own company and see if you give up before completing the application process. If you’ve instituted multiple requirements or labor saving measures, I’m betting you’ll walk away with a headache – especially if salary history is only one of many hurdles. Now imagine how many top performers did the same thing for all your past open positions.  Your search for talent might be easier (and maybe more successful) if you lower your organization’s initial barriers to entry.

Job Descriptions, Made Interesting

AFP HR final

Job Descriptions, Made Interesting

Everyone knows that most job descriptions are dull and rarely worth reading.

Which is a problem when you want to be interesting to potential candidates.

Well-written job descriptions dramatically outperform dull job descriptions…but they are still just a long string of text.

Until now.

We are beta testing a new tool that transforms job descriptions into infographics. (Go ahead, click on it, you know you want to…)

Right now we can only show you a fuzzy picture of the functionality, but in a few weeks you will be able to interact with it.

And when you do, you’ll realize that recruiting is about to take another big step forward.

(Intrigued? Look at what the Gates Foundation is doing with infographics. Text will never be the same.)

Productive Conflict


This week I had a knock down, drag out fight with one manager in my company. (I was, of course, wrong and later apologized.)

I had another manager say to me “You do realize how abnormal you are compared to other people in the staffing industry, don’t you?” (This is how compliments sound around here–so that was a badge of honor).

A third manager told me “As the company grows and adds process and structure, I realize that I’ll be increasingly resented for not following any of the rules.” (She’s our resident pirate–exempt from every rule because of her uncanny ability to serve our clients brilliantly but in her own unique way).

And that’s just the tip of the conflict iceberg this week. Of course we’ve had one of our most productive weeks ever. But not a week without frustrations. I call it productive conflict and it’s built into almost all of our processes. There are never quite enough resources to go around, or enough time to do anything to a perfectionist standard. We always raise the bar before we get too comfortable. It spurs growth.

They key to making productive conflict work for us is safety, civility and respect. Nobody was in fear of losing their job or status. Nobody was ever disrespectful to each other (well, by our standards anyway). And we were all working toward a common goal–serving our clients well.

I’ve always said that our employees are welcome to break any rule as long as it’s in service to our clients. We like having pirates on board, relish being different, and welcome a spirited debate.

But Enough About You, Let’s Talk About Me…


I recently wrote a post for the Washington Business Journal about curiosity–the one attribute smart employers look for, but job seekers rarely demonstrate in an interview. My post drew some insightful comments I wanted to share with you (below), but many people simply wanted to know why people are not more curious.

Luckily, neuroscience researchers at Harvard recently discovered why we’d prefer to talk about ourselves rather than ask someone else a question.

“Talking about ourselves—whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money.”

So there you have it…enough about you, let’s talk about me (because it feels better).

And here are the comments I promised…but make sure to leave your own comments below…I’m sure you’ll feel better if you do…

“I enjoyed your piece in the WBJ re: curiosity. However, as a frustrated job seeker, I know from first-hand experience that it’s not only potential employees who lack curiosity, employers are equally guilty…I’ve found my chief obstacle has been a lack of curiosity on the part of potential employers – expertise is king – and it’s what gets you in the door.”


“We have been conditioned not to ask personal (nosy) questions, especially of strangers but even of friends and relatives, but I agree that job seekers should be more curious about the company where they want to work and ask more questions. However, they should not ask questions about the company that they should know the answer already.

As a news reporter for many years, I learned to ask questions of people about themselves, their families or their work, but I also learned early not to ask basic questions that I should have answered already when preparing for the interview: for example, “What does your company do, make, sell?”


“Thank you for writing this article…it really hit home. I have to admit I think about this topic all the time and lament the lack of curiosity in so many people I interact with; but I also realize in reading your post that I am myself guilty of often falling prey to the same impulse.

Thank you for reminding me that life is more exciting when we are interested in learning more about others and less about what I already know about myself!”

This, for me, is the joy of blogging. What other people contribute is often wiser than what I put out there.

The Difference


The difference between a team that is almost right, versus a team that is exactly right is the difference between lightning bug and lightning.

Despicable Behavior


Some people love to tell stories of dumb things candidates do. Some people love to collect idiotic phrases from cover letters. Some people love to dwell on the details of why someone gave a terrible interview.

I detest that behavior.  Our candidates are people to be respected and served. Your candidates are potential employees, referral sources, customers, or donors.

The minute you allow petty story telling about the people you serve, you have stopped serving them and started down a slippery slope of condescension and arrogance.

I once worked in a staffing firm that had a policy of firing anyone who told a joke at the expense of a candidate. Zero tolerance. Fired on the first offense. If you want to improve your candidate experience and your hiring results, implement that policy first.

Is Recruiting About Being Exciting … or Being Safe?


People often think of recruiting in terms of old-school sales. You know the drill… pitch the candidate on an exciting opportunity, talk the client into interviewing them, negotiate the salary, and close the deal. But the Recruiting-Is-Selling philosophy is increasingly out of step with the times we’re in right now.

Sales excitement just sounds like more noise. To have an intelligent conversation about considering a new career opportunity, candidates first need to feel safe–which means talking to someone without a sales agenda. To make an intelligent hiring decision, managers also need to feel safe–which means talking to an experienced tour guide who can help them better understand the job market, think through their options and weigh the pros and cons of different choices.

Amping up the excitement, or introducing a sales agenda (which always makes people defensive) is just the wrong solution for our disturbing and turbulent times. Economist Arnold Kling explains the current employment uncertainty in five short sentences (courtesy of The Atlantic): 

The paradox is this. A job seeker is looking for a well-defined job. But the trend seems to be that if a job can be defined, it can be automated or outsourced . . . The marginal product of people who need well-defined jobs is declining. The marginal product of people who can thrive in less structured environments is increasing.

Top performers have always delivered more results (marginal product) than average performers, but that gap is widening fast in the current economy. Meanwhile, uncertainty is increasing for everyone.

Now I’m not arguing that being dull is the solution–excitement does have its place. Top performers want exciting jobs where they can make an impact … but to even begin to consider taking a new job, people first need a safe place to have a conversation about it.

The latest recruiting technology will always gather the headlines, but the reality is that your recruiting results will increasingly depend on your ability to create an environment where both hiring managers and candidates can have a safe, intelligent conversation, free from any sales agenda.

What’s the Salary Range for that Position?


When we’re recruiting someone, we’re often asked the salary range for the position, but we never disclose it.  Candidates think that knowing the salary range will help them decide if an opportunity is worth pursuing.  In fact the opposite is true.   Whether you are above, below or in the middle of the salary range, talking about it just gets in the way.

Talking about salary up front is like specifying the requirements for your engagement ring on a first date – it gets in the way of the real priority – deciding if you should be in a relationship.

Our clients are small to midsize organizations, and our searches are often for one-of-a-kind, mission-critical positions.   So in that world, salary ranges are rarely set in stone, they are simply a budget guideline, a best guess.  Even formal salary surveys are only an approximation – you never really know the true market rate until you have interviewed at least 3 or 4 people who meet all the qualifications for the job.    

As a search firm, finding perfect candidates is our priority, and perfect candidates are not always within the target salary range.  To rule out great people before talking with them – based on salary alone – would be a disservice to our clients.  We’ve often seen clients pay above their target salary range to attract someone with unique skills.  In the long run, hiring and retaining high performers is the only thing that matters.  And talking about salary too early in the hiring process prizes budget conformity over job performance.  (Full disclosure, we operate on a pre-arranged flat fee basis, so this is not a self-serving argument to raise our search fees – we’re paid the same regardless of final salary).

OK, so we’ve discussed the problem with people who are ABOVE  the stated salary range, but what about people who have a salary BELOW the target range.  That’s just as big a problem.

What happens when I tell a relatively junior candidate who is currently earning $90k that this position has a target salary range of $100k – $125k?     They proceed to ignore all the other variables that go into deciding if this is the right job, they ignore all the factors the employer uses to set a salary and they lock in on the size of the engagment ring salary range, like it’s the only thing that matters.  Big mistake.  The candidate thinks “If they really like me, they will pay me at the top of the range …  at least $120k.”   Without ever discussing whether $120k is realistic, given their actual skills, they begin to fantasize about how to spend the extra thirty grand.   

But salaries are not determined by the target range, they are determined by market rate – what other people with similar skills are earning.   The candidate never knows who they are competing with for the job.  Our $90k junior candidate does not know about:

  • The industry guru who currently earns $130k but would happily accept $125K for a better commute. 
  • The strong senior person who could hit the ground running (with no training and little supervision) and would happily accept the job at $115k
  • The even more junior person who is earning $85k but is hungry to prove themselves and would be thrilled with a salary of $90k.     

If I share a salary range up front, and then later offer my $90k candidate the job – at a very reasonable $105K, with tons of room for future salary growth – they feel like they just took a $15k pay CUT (from their fantasy $120k) instead of receiving a $15K pay RAISE from their actual $90k salary.  Instead of being happy, they are disappointed, and the employment relationship is poisoned before it even started.

Yeah, you can ask all you want, but we’re not sharing that salary range with anyone.

People Skills Test for Would-Be Doctors


My wife took a friend to a doctors appointment yesterday.  Although the medical care seemed competent, the office staff was impersonal, and the doctor stared at the chart the whole time, never making eye contact with the patient.  Obviously time to change doctors right?

But it’s more significant than just bad service. 

Studies show that a significant number of preventable deaths are caused by poor communication between doctors, patients and nurses.   As a result, medical schools are learning what the business world already knows: social skills matter as much, if not more, than technical skills.  An increasing number of med schools are now using social skills as a factor in student selection.   And as a recruiter, I think the process they are using is fascinating.

The New York Times, in an article by Gardiner Harris, reports that at Virginia Tech Carilion, the nation’s newest medical school, administrators decided against relying solely on grades, test scores and hour-long interviews to determine who got admitted. “Instead, the school invited candidates to the admissions equivalent of speed-dating: nine brief interviews that forced candidates to show they had excellent communication and social skills.

The new process is called the multiple mini interview, or M.M.I., and its use is spreading. At least eight medical schools in the United States — including those at Stanford, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Cincinnati — and 13 in Canada are using it. Here’s how the process works:

At Virginia Tech Carilion, 26 candidates showed up on a Saturday in March and stood with their backs to the doors of 26 small rooms. When a bell sounded, the applicants spun around and read a sheet of paper taped to the door that described an ethical conundrum. Two minutes later, the bell sounded again and the applicants charged into the small rooms and found an interviewer waiting.  The candidates had eight minutes to discuss that room’s situation. Then they moved to the next room, the next surprise conundrum and the next interviewer, who scored each applicant with a number and sometimes a brief note.

Virginia Tech Carilion administrators said they created questions that assessed how well candidates think on their feet and their willingness to work in teams.

The most important part of the interviews are often not candidates’ initial responses — there are no right or wrong answers — but how well they respond when someone disagrees with them, something that happens when working in teams.

A pleasant bedside manner and an attentive ear have always been desirable traits in doctors, of course, but two trends have led school administrators to make social skills a priority, writes Harris:

1)    A growing number of studies pin the blame for an appalling share of preventable deaths on poor communication among doctors, patients and nurses that often results because some doctors, while technically competent, are socially inept.

2)    Medicine is evolving from an individual to a team sport. Solo medical practices are disappearing. In their place, large health systems are creating teams to provide care coordinated across disciplines. The strength of such teams often has more to do with communication than the technical competence of any one member.

The M.M.I. system grew out of research that found that situational interviews were more revealing of character flaws than personal interviews, and that 5 minutes was enough time to make the assessment.   In fact, candidate scores on the mini interviews are highly predictive of scores on medical licensing exams three to five years later that test doctors’ decision-making, patient interactions and cultural competency. 

Not bad for 5 minutes.

Condescension – The Sure Sign of Bad HR


How can you tell if your HR team is toxic to your work environment?  Look for any hint of condescension.  If your conversations with HR sound like Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” or Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter, then it’s time to re-staff your HR department.


I have no idea why, but in my experience it is often the least competent people who exhibit the most condescension.  And the people who are most eager to enforce the rules are often the least accountable for delivering their own results.  

One thing is for certain – no matter what deparment they work in, your organization is always better off when you don’t tolerate people who walk around lecturing you using their “teacher voice.”



Matt Duren did a great presentation for a small group I facilitate - The Staffing Alliance of Maryland Employers (Project SAME).   The topic was “How to Build a Social Recruiting Strategy on a Budget.”    Matt understands how to work with a budget.  He works for a big, well-known, well-run, cost-conscious company (see his LinkedIn profile if you want to know which one).  Matt and his colleagues have done some great things.

What really impressed me about their social recruiting strategy was how authentic they were.  They started the entire initiative by looking at their employment brand – asking “who are we to our employees?”   They did not take the bland “we care about people” pablum that is locked securely inside picture frames on every office wall.  They did not even use their well known consumer brand.  Instead they really looked at what makes them attractive to their current and future employees.   They pulled together a cross-disciplinary team of people and distilled down dozens of factors into a handful that really mattered – they looked hard at what promise they could keep to their candidates.  Then they worked really dligently to convey that information as accurately as possible using social media.  Yes, they used some very interesting tools, yes they are way ahead of other employers, and of course after Matt finished his (excellent) presentation everyone was asking questions like:

  • “How many people did you end up hiring as a result of the initiative?”
  • “What was your return on the investment in social recruiting?”
  • “What did your CEO have to say about it?”

But what was most interesting was not the metrics or the ROI.  What was really interesting was what he said the senior executives cared about:

  • Did we attract and hire the very best people we could?
  • Did people join the company for the right reasons?
  • Did the new employees get what they expected when they arrived?

Authenticity.   Telling the right story – keeping promises – that’s the heart and soul of social media recruiting.  If you don’t get that part right, nothing else you do matters.

Your Top Performer Just Quit – How to Handle a Resignation


It’s Monday morning, and one of your best people just resigned.  What do you do next?  The choices you make in the next few days will either make things a whole lot better for you, or much, much worse.

At the “moment of impact” you must dig deep, and summon up every bit of graciousness you can muster.   You simply must take the high road.   Congratulate them on their new opportunity, work hard at being happy for them.  You can even take a little bit of credit for helping them advance their career.   But whatever you do, don’t be a jerk. 

Remember, every other employee in your organization will be watching you very carefully for the next month.  Stay classy.   Don’t bad-mouth either the person leaving or their new employer.   If you sink into pettiness or act devastated, all your other employees will lose confidence in you. 

Every time a top performer resigns, all your other employees will reflexively wonder if they should leave also.  Your job is to be sure they don’t find a reason to leave.

Kris Dunn started a lively debate about the pros and cons of  walking them out the door, or letting them work out their notice.  If they were one of your top people, trust them to work out their notice.  Don’t change your behavior towards them while they work out their notice.

What about making a counter-offer?   Don’t.   I advise candidates to never accept a counter-offer.  Once someone has resigned, they have poisoned the well – the bond of trust is broken and it’s time for them to move on.   They are not “sending a message” or “trying to get your attention” when they resign, they are quitting.   Let them go – nobody is indispensable - learn to get on without them.   Resigning is not a negotiating tactic – trust me on this one - you will regret the day you ever let it become one in your organization.

Michael Bloomberg famously banned going away parties for departing employees.  (OK, I agree with him on that point, those things are awful).   He would not even shake your hand when you left.    He would not re-hire you.  I think this is a missed opportunity.  Few things are as powerful as re-hiring someone who left for greener pastures and came back – they are a cautionary tale for everyone else who ever contemplated leaving.  I recommend that you stay in touch, check in with them.  If the new job was a mistake, they might be open to coming back if you keep the door open.  Of course, by that point, you may have upgraded to an even better employee and have no interest in re-hiring them … but hey, it’s good to have options.

What Neuroscience Tells us About Employee Retention


Some people dismiss employee engagement research as “too fuzzy.”   Not me.   We have successfully integrated key principles of employee engagement research into our recruiting process.   I know it works.    And naturally, as a headhunter, I’m also fascinated with how people make decisions, so I devour research on the neuroscience of decision-making.  

So when Scott Campbell used neuroscience research to validate the key findings from one of my favorite books on employee engagement, it was chocolate and peanut butter for me.  Do yourself a favor and read Scott’s post on Leader’s Beacon.  Here is a quick snapshot of his argument:

“Different (employee engagement) research organizations classify their findings in different ways. David Sirota’s formulation is a simple and useful model. His research suggests that there are three factors that, together, create strong engagement: the employee’s sense of (1) fair treatment, (2) achievement, and (3) camaraderie.[i]

Neuroscience has been making remarkable progress in helping us understand the workings of our mind and illuminating central truths about human nature. In some cases, the findings confirm the validity of existing leadership and organizational practices; in other cases it is turning them upside down. In this case, it confirms that Sirota’s three factors are real, universal, and fundamental in fostering a strong level of engagement in employees.”

David Sirota’s book,  “The Enthusiastic Employee”  - is probably the most important book on HR that nobody has ever read.   That’s unfortunate because the authors really did their homework.  Over a decade, Sirota Consulting surveyed 2.5 million employees who worked for 237 organizations in 89 different countries.  If you want to know why your new hires just aren’t that into you anymore, read the book (or at least read my blog post about it).  

And now, coming from a completely different perspective, neuroscience is backing up Sirota’s findings.   Delicious.

Internal Equity vs. Market Rate


Does this sound familiar?   “I can’t pay our new manager $110k because the other manager in that department only earns $95k.”    Hiring managers often hamstring themselves over this kind of “internal equity” consideration.  I’ve written previously about the dangers of hiring to fit the budget, instead of hiring someone with the skills to actually do the job.  This “internal equity” consideration is exactly the same kind of problem.

To hire great people, only “market rate” matters.  Market rate is what other employers consider to be a fair salary for the same candidate.  Your budget and “internal equity” issues are irrelevant.  In hiring you are competing with other employers to hire the most highly qualified person, and if you are weighed down with any considerations unrelated to “market rate” you are giving an artificial and unfair advantage to every other employer you are competing with.

Admittedly, “internal equity” only shows up as an issue when you are hiring, but it is really not a hiring issue.  It is a compensation issue. 

Internal equity problems do not occur in organizations that pay market rate.  They only occur when someone has been underpaid for several years relative to their market value.  And you cannot solve it by trying to hire new people at below-market salaries.  To let an unresolved compensation issue affect your hiring will only compound the problem, constrain your hiring, and kick the can down the street to show up every time you hire in the future.   (And you will have to hire a lot because paying below market causes turnover).

OK, so internal equity within a department is one thing, but sometimes I hear organizations debate equity between different departments.  That just defies logic.  You simply cannot try to pay all of your executives the same pay rates.

It isn’t “more fair” to pay your Director of Sales the same pay as your Director of IT–it’s idiotic.  

Internal equity within a department (or skill set) is fine, but there is no such thing as internal equity between different skills.

In hiring, market rate is the only true benchmark (you can read more about it here).   The minute you forget that, you start overpaying your less valuable people, and your more valuable people start quitting to go where their skills are properly valued.


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