Guerrilla Tactics That Recruiters Can Use on Managers

July 19, 2002

Carefully used guerrilla tactics can help foster an effective hiring manager and recruiter relationship.

Ask five recruiters who their most difficult hiring manager is, and I'll bet the war stories start flying about how you were disrespected. Like the time when an out-of-town candidate was scheduled and the manager blew it off for an emergency client meeting that always seems to pop up on an interview day. This makes the recruiter, the manager, and your company look bad. The candidate leaves the interview with a bad taste in his or her mouth.

But you're a solid recruiter. Somehow you pulled it off, taking the blame yourself, spinning a few tales, and, voila, the candidate gets hired. You know the drill. We've been trained and conditioned to think that the hiring managers are always right since they're our customers; thus, we let them walk all over us. Many managers think they can do our job better than we can but there's just not enough time in the day.

Ultimately, though, the role of project management falls on the recruiter's shoulders. Most hiring managers have to be effectively managed every step of the way. Whether you are new to a company and haven't earned the manager's trust or are well entrenched in your company, these tactics can be implemented when and where necessary.

Partner vs. Customer
The catchphrase of the century, but easier said than done: Treating a manager as a partner can't mean rolling over at every whim and saying yes to everything to make him happy. The customer's-always-right mentality can be counterproductive. In a partner relationship, the recruiter manages expectations (crucial), and also drives and manages the hiring process from start to actual hire date.

One strategy is to sit side by side with the manager and go over an existing candidate pipeline with an "intellectual honesty" approach. Re-evaluate past hiring miscues, rejected offers, delayed responses, or an existing candidate pipeline. Clear out the "maybe" candidates from the existing pipeline, scrap dated job requisitions, and re-prioritize. Basically, we are where we are.

Driving the Recruiting Process
First, you have to set the table for success. Visually map out the recruiting process so the manager understands how you want it to work. Defining the realistic hiring goals, understanding your own capacity for a requisition load, setting priorities, and redefining the goals weekly are absolute musts to being an effective project manager. Identify the key hurdles or stumbling blocks that can come up during the hiring process.

Many hiring managers require you to check off résumés with them before you can bring the candidate in for the interview. This is a good practice if you are just getting familiar with the job requirements or a manager's hiring style. But this ultimately defines us as paper-pushers. And that's OK, if you want it that way.

After that learning period, you make the call. In the interest of building trust with a manager and taking some risks, go ahead and schedule the qualified candidate if you have a good gut feeling. Create an environment in which you feel comfortable taking risks. Do it even if the manager has said, "Not interested." Having the manager screen after you've initially screened the candidate only adds another step to the process. What they are saying is that you add little value to the hiring process, and are nothing more than a glorified administrative assistant.

I myself have worked with a difficult hiring manager and had to check off every résumé with him in order for just a phone screen to take place. Ridiculous.

Who Has Control?
Your job as a recruiting professional is to control the process and guide the hiring manager in making the right hiring decisions all the time. You're the driver -- direct the recruitment process down the road you want. You own this process. A manager should be led and should be calling you for advice. Don't cheapen the services you provide. If you feel strongly about a candidate, you are obligated to push and be very aggressive. Your time is valuable and should be spent assessing, consulting, and negotiating with qualified candidates.

The recruiter has to maintain control at all times. You maintain control by asking the questions and orchestrating the process. The only thing the manager should do is show up for an interview. It should be that easy for the manager. But you must set the table before this can happen.

Here's an extreme example: One hiring manager kept blowing me off. I needed to gather job specs and confirm interview times. This person was the classic hiring manager - always complaining about not having enough time in the day and never having the people to get it done. One day, I waltzed into his weekly status meeting unannounced and explained that I wanted to confirm interview times with these three candidates.

He said he was in a meeting and he would get to it. I said that all three candidates were coming in the day after next and if he couldn't make it, he should assign one of his team leads. A little harsh, but this strategy worked well. Sometimes, you must cross the line in order to find it. This should quickly determine who has control.

Guerrilla Tactics for Difficult Managers

  1. What's the objection behind the objection? Don't let a manager off the hook by giving a weak excuse for not moving forward with a candidate. This is how you learn about the job requirements.

  2. Being too flexible is the kiss of death. Get a backbone and push for interviews and candidates you feel strongly about.

  3. Send voice mail and/or e-mail stating to the hiring manager, "Since I haven't heard from you, I will assume you have filled this position by other means, so I'm not working on this job. Please inform me otherwise."

  4. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Empower the manager. Let the manager cull the stack of résumés and call the potential candidates to screen them and set up interviews. This will last a very short time, as the hiring manager will come to understand that she needs you.

  5. If a manager is using other outside resources (e.g., multiple search firms) to fill the job, make him manage the process with those candidates. Decline to get involved. If you want my help, ask for it; otherwise, you're on your own.

  6. Interrupt meetings to get the information you need from a manager. This may seem a bit pushy, and it takes some getting used to. Think about how many times a hiring manager has taken a phone call or a team member interruption while you were gathering job specifications.

  7. Say things like "I'll be frank: your group is my least favorite to support, and this is why you make things difficult." This can be a good way to set expectations.

  8. Copy your hiring manager's boss and your boss on all e-mails/voice mails.

  9. Recommend that the manager make the job offer and check references. Sometimes you have to put on your coach's hat to guide a manager through the job-offer process.

  10. Sit in on the interviews with the hiring manager. Get to know his or her style. This can take some getting used to, but it is extremely effective in finding the hidden snags in the process.

  11. If you can't lock down an interview because the hiring manager is too busy, go ahead and schedule it anyway. Notify the manager that this is the day and time when the candidate will come.

  12. Gain control access to your hiring manager's schedule.

  13. Saying no to a request is better than saying the accommodating yes. Can we move this interview to next week? No.

  14. Hiring managers inevitably procrastinate, always thinking they can get someone better or have me look at one more candidate next week.

  15. Make sure the hiring manager lives up to his or her recruiting commitments. Don't let managers off the hook.

This is an iterative process. Even if you have worked with the manager for years and found the person extremely difficult, having a heart-to-heart can clear things up.

Is it always possible to turn around a difficult hiring manager? And how much effort will you expend in doing so? You make the call.