Thursday, June 21, 2012

Top Five Candidate Blunders

The ink is not yet dry on the offer letter and you're already having second thoughts about your candidate choice. You can't put a finger on exactly what is troubling you, but chances are you can identify a few exchanges between you and your candidate that resulted in feelings that don't sit quite right. Some of these disconnections can be explained by a lack of experience with the interview process (usually on the part of the candidate), a loss of confidence in one's decision-making (either theirs or yours), or a pure lack of comparative data (not enough qualified candidates, so you settled for first runner up). In most cases, these doubts clear up once the candidate becomes an employee and they've spent a few weeks on the job proving they were the right choice. But in other cases, those nagging doubts can gain strength and new evidence arises to validate your gut instincts. So what do you look for in advance of tendering an offer that are significant signs of a potential problem employee? Here are a few examples I can provide (from experience) and I'm sure anyone reading this will chime in with their own unique early identifiers:

1) No thank you note from your candidate: If you don't get a thank you note from someone with less then five years of experience, you can pass this off as a "Rookie" mistake. Also, the days of thank you notes and "Resume Received" emails are over. With a few exceptions, there's not a lot of common courtesy coming from companies these last few years. Again, we can blame that on a lack of time and resources. But a company receiving a thank you note from a candidate should give that person a second look for another potential position within the organization. You can teach someone good manners, but you can't teach them to have a conscience. Someone who takes the time to hand write a note may be old fashioned, but take a look at their hand writing and file their resume into your "future hire" file. Class never goes out of style.

2) Disappearing after receiving an offer: If a candidate hasn't acknowledged receipt of an offer, avoids emails/phone calls to follow up, or holds onto your offer for more than 48 hours without responding...start worrying. Once a candidate gets hold of an offer, they either get a paralyzing case of cold feet, are using it to get their current employer to counter, or they may be waiting for competing offers to come in the door before making a decision. That's understandable, albeit disappointing....but if they don't have the common courtesy to respond with an email or a call to acknowledge receipt of the written offer, and provide a time frame for when they will give you an answer, you may want to make note of the offer's expiration date and mark it on your calendar. I wouldn't consider hiring anyone that takes any offer for granted. Once that written offer is signed and in their hands, its a binding legal document. Withdrawing an offer can create legal headaches you don't want to create for yourself, so make sure you really want this candidate and put an expiration date on the offer letter.

3) Nitpicking the offer after receipt: I always expect my candidates to negotiate, and I prepare my clients for this well in advance of a verbal offer. I also like to get hard dollars on the table before putting anything in a written format. But if a candidate who has already agreed to a compensation package changes their mind after a verbal agreement and receipt of a written offer, I have to start wondering whether they're going to become a management problem for my client. That's when I experience a numbing sensation in MY feet...brrrrr. Once you've stated your expectations and needs, as a candidate, you need to stick to it. Otherwise, you look like a money focused flip-flopper, and you're one step away from seriously damaging that light tether of trust between you and your new boss. Waiting until after the offer is tendered to negotiate is only acceptable if you weren't given the opportunity to negotiate beforehand. But if a hiring manager or recruiter is telling you "this is your opportunity to tell us what you really want" (even if they're not sure they can get to your number), that's your moment to grab your calculator. If you hear from a candidate three days after they've received the offer that they just can't accept less than X, you have to wonder what else they can't accept.

In the case of a compensation, bonus or equity adjustment in the offer, before you change anything, the candidate absolutely MUST agree to accept in advance if you are to go back and deliver what they need. If they are still unwilling to commit to an acceptance upon learning that their needs will be met in a revised offer, run screaming from the room...and take your offer with you.

4) Pushing back the start date: Generally speaking, this is not a good sign. Unless there are extenuating personal circumstances, if your new employee is voluntarily pushing back the start date, that means they're not ready to leave their current employer or someone else is wooing them. Invite them to meet you for coffee and ask them what's causing the delay if they haven't already told you. If they don't accept, you may want to call up your other top candidate and keep the process going.

5) Changing their LinkedIn profile before starting, or not changing their LinkedIn profile within the first month: If you found them on LinkedIn, and they seem to have an active and current life there, chances are they'll want to "shout out" to the world about their new job. But doing so before their first day (maybe not the Sunday night before, but the day after they give notice is a concern) might send the wrong message and your HR Manager might have a heart attack. If someone is attaching themselves to the company prematurely, is it because they're desperate to get out of their job or because they're just so excited to start their new job? Maybe that's not such a bad thing, and could be considered flattering. However, if your new employee has been in their seat for a month or two and hasn't updated their profile to reflect the change in employment, you may want to prompt them to do so. If they choose not to, you may want to ask them if they're happy in their new job. If they are still looking, but keeping this job as an "insurance policy", updating might chase off prospective hiring managers.

We can talk about the sixth "blunder" in the next post...but just to give you a hint, it has to do with candidates who want to recreate the prior glory of their old company. In other words, why it can be a good and a bad thing to interview a new employee's prior colleagues.

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