You’re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring, a book by Osman (Ozzie) Osman and over 45 other contributors. It is the most authoritative resource on growing software engineering teams effectively, written by and for hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers, and candidates. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, over 800 links and references, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

If you’ve covered everything in the previous sections and the conversation has gone well, you may not need to ask the candidate further questions. You’ve already spent time understanding what the candidate values and what they have worked on in the past, so you may already be able to tell whether they would work well with the team or have the particular skill sets required by your role.

If you feel like you do have a few specific questions you need answered, now’s the time to ask. But the less evaluative you can make the first conversation feel, the better. Leave the technical grilling for later, when both you and the candidate have more explicitly opted-in to continuing the process.

At this point, there is a menu of options, and you have to pick one:

Advance. If the candidate seems like a fit for the role, and has shown genuine interest, you can advance them to the next stage of your funnel.

Pass. If the candidate is not a fit, and would most likely be rejected further in the process, you probably shouldn’t move them along. Don’t waste your time or the candidate’s. If you can still help the candidate in some way, easily, this is always a good thing to do! If you know another company where they might be a good fit, tell them.

Explore other roles. If the candidate is not a fit for the specific role, but could be a fit at your company, is there another open role at your company they might be a fit for?

Deepen the relationship. If the candidate is a fit, but you’re not confident they are genuinely interested, you shouldn’t move them forward yet. There are a few options here:

  • If you believe you know what their reasons for lack of interest are, and that you can overcome those concerns, you can introduce them to someone else at your company. For instance, if they aren’t sold on the technical challenges, you can have them talk to another engineer on the team. If you’re a startup and they aren’t sure about the company’s potential, you could put them in touch with one of your investors.

  • You can try to maintain a long-term relationship with them.

If the outcome of the decision seems obvious to both sides (for instance, you both agree there is not a fit at the moment, or you both agree to move forward), some hiring managers or recruiters will communicate that immediately at the end of the call. But this requires experience and finesse, so we usually recommend following up with the decision later.

important You need to set expectations for the rest of the process. Most people are stressed about uncertainty more than anything. While you can’t guarantee the candidate that they will get an offer (or even move forward past this point), you can remove some uncertainty by explaining what the process looks like and what the timeline might be. In other words, while the outcome might be uncertain, you can add certainty around the process and timeline.

Even if you feel like you have made a decision, delivering that decision a little later can help in a few ways:

  • You don’t want to rush into a decision. You might change your mind after reviewing your notes, talking to your teammates, or just sleeping on it.

  • If you are rejecting the candidate, it might be better to do it after the stress and adrenaline of the call has worn off a little bit.

  • Of course, never leave a candidate hanging for more than two or three days before delivering a decision, whatever it may be.

Maintaining Contact

For candidates who will be moving through the process, this is a great place to establish a few elements that will help you maintain a great candidate experience and be well-situated to close a candidate should you end up extending an offer.

First, establish someone on your team to be the candidate’s confidant. The candidate should have someone that they can reach out to if they have questions or concerns during the process. At larger companies, this is often a recruiter, but it may be someone else at the company. Either way, the confidant should be someone that the candidate will feel comfortable talking to without risk of hurting their future working relationship (in other words, usually not the hiring manager). The candidate should really trust that they can talk openly to the confidant, and that the confidant will be quickly responsive, available to reply to emails or hop on the phone at short notice. The confidant is important throughout the process, but perhaps will be most critical at the offer stage.

Second, make sure you (or someone on your team) maintains a regular cadence of contact with the candidate to stay top of mind, keep them engaged, and find out if there are any updates from their side. This can involve sending them updates about where they are in the process, or sometimes just sharing exciting milestones or announcements from your company. If, at any point, a candidate is confused about where they stand or is reaching out to you for updates, you’ve probably done something wrong; either you haven’t set expectations with them about the timeline, or you’ve set expectations and failed to meet them. It can be a good idea to have regular pipeline review meetings with your team, to check on the status of everyone in your pipeline and make sure no one is “stuck” or hasn’t been communicated with in a while.

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