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When and Why Some Senior Leaders Should Stop Being Involved in Recruiting

By J. James O’Malley, Former Andersen National Director of Experience Recruiting,

Jim joined TalentRISE as a partner in 2012 to focus on clients’ executive leadership challenges by leveraging his passions for executive search, on-demand recruiting, workforce planning and analytics and executive coaching. jimomalley@talentrise.com

Are your senior leaders to blame when you lose the competition to hire up-and-coming talent?

Recently, I’ve seen several great candidates self-select out of consideration for jobs at the eleventh hour after being interviewed by a firm’s senior leader. While debriefing these candidates, what I hear are reasons such as: “the firm just doesn’t seem to be the right fit for someone like me”. In many circumstances, the translation is that the senior executive made a negative impression by offering up a dated, distorted or discouraging portrait of the firm and blew its chance to make a great hire.

That’s why I’ve concludes that there is indeed an expiration date for when some should just stop being involved with recruitment. While that may break with tradition at many firms where a practice leader or partner still signs off on all final hiring decisions, we need to ask ourselves whether it’s truly realistic to expect that these leaders, with 20-30+ years of experience under their belts, really know how to relate to younger recruits.

The problem is not necessarily numerical, but rather generational. In other words, age matters less than the partner’s work experience and mindset. Those of us who started working at firms before email was common have had a whole different experience than the 20-somethings entering the workforce today. Some of us have succeeded in keeping up with changes, including technological ones -- but others haven’t. Witness reports from Rex Tillerson’s tenure as Secretary of State. Supposedly, he had his secretary printing out emails for him to read on planes while, in the meantime, a flurry of tweets by his boss were reverberating instantaneously.

There may be several ways in which your senior team is - inadvertently - sabotaging your recruiting efforts:

  • Asking questions that are illegal or inappropriate. Many still don’t know much about, for example, the new laws regarding asking about a candidate’s salary history
  • Talking too much about themselves and their career path in the firm - what we term the “Good Old Days Syndrome”
  • Assuming that the applicant aspires to be just like them
  • Revealing how out of touch they are with how the work gets done at the level of the applicant
  • Seeming uninterested in the candidate in what essentially boils down to a “rubber stamp interview”.
  • Appearing to have read the resume 5 minutes before the meeting
  • Asking intimidating questions. While it’s important to know how someone will react under pressure, recognize that you're not initiating someone into boot camp
  • Being patronizing by, for example, underscoring an age/experience difference by talking about one’s own children and their careers. No one wants to be patronized - they are there to snag a job
  • Showing up late. Keeping the candidate waiting. Ending the interview abruptly

I could certainly add a couple more bullet points to the list but, by now, you get the picture.

So, what if this is occurring at your firm? What should you do? First, you may want to share this article to anyone doing interviews at your firm. Second, invest some time in a “refresher” session for everyone doing interviews. Go through your hiring policies; brief them on the latest legal/regulatory pitfalls. Share a list of the best behavioral interview questions that work for your firm and the specific questions that help you evaluate candidates for specific positions. If your HR team can use a bit of outside muscle to convince senior leaders of the importance of getting interviewing “right” in today’s environment, bring in an external consultant to deliver these messages.