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Goals and Pitfalls
For many busy and distracted hiring managers, a first conversation with a candidate may feel like a way to quickly determine if someone is a fit, and rule out poor fits quickly, much like a technical phone screen.
We suggest taking a more thoughtful, candidate-focused attitude.* Approach every first conversation with the intention, “How can I best help this person?” At its core, hiring is about building deep, trusted relationships. Directly optimizing for the candidate’s outcome (how can I help them be successful?), particularly at this early stage, leads to the best long-term outcome for your company. So start by putting the candidate first. Treat them as you’d want to be treated, or how you would a future teammate. Think about the long term. At this point, some hiring managers might scoff. “This is idealistic! It’s impractical! We’re crazy pressed for time over here!” In reality, this candidate-centric approach is the best way to ensure strong fit, longevity of employment, and a number of other pragmatic hiring goals:
Maintaining the efficiency of your pipeline. One important function of this first conversation is to prevent yourself from investing more time if there obviously isn’t going to be a fit. If you’re being considerate of the candidate’s time, you’ll find yourself more effective with your own time as well.
Getting the candidate more interested in your opportunity (if it makes sense). You’ll be able to build a solid rapport with the candidate, since you’re looking out for their best interest. This can help now (by encouraging the candidate to explore your opportunity) and in the future (you’ll more likely be able to convince them to join if you extend an offer). If things don’t end up being a good fit at the moment, you’ll have built an important relationship for the longer term.
Determining the best fit for candidate within the company. By really understanding the candidate, and putting them first, you might be able to better match them to a different role at your company.
A candidate-centric approach will make you more successful at reaching all of these goals. You’ll engage in the conversation with a more curious mindset and avoid some of the more transactional dynamics that plague recruiting today.
caution It will also help you avoid some common pitfalls:
Avoid hard selling. A common mistake is to try and convince a candidate to engage in your recruiting process without really understanding what they’re looking for. This can be a strong turn-off and deterrent for candidates. Even if your sales pitch works, and they continue for now, they’re more likely to withdraw later.
Don’t spend the entire time assessing the candidate. It’s easy to assume that the goal of that first conversation is to dive into immediately assessing the candidate’s skills and experience, but you shouldn’t do that until you and the candidate both understand each other’s needs and goals. There are other opportunities before and after this touchpoint to assess the candidate’s skills.
Don’t be too scripted or transactional. This can rightfully turn candidates off and cause you to miss opportunities for engaging them on their interests and talents. For instance, maybe the candidate would be a great fit for a different role or team at your company, but if you’re too scripted, you’ll never get a chance to explore that possibility.
dangerBroadly, you want to avoid two negative outcomes:
Force-feeding your pipeline. Trying to push a candidate forward to the next stage in your process prematurely might feel like progress, but ultimately, can be inefficient both for you and for the candidate. You might not truly understand the candidate’s needs and priorities only to discover them later on in a downstream stage. You might also miss opportunities to match them with a better team or role.
Providing a poor candidate experience. It is a truism that first impressions last and are hard to change. If your first interaction with a candidate feels inauthentic, transactional, or adversarial, it will be difficult to change that impression later on in the process—if your candidate makes it that far.
Recruiting can be a grueling process on both sides of the table; it can even get adversarial at certain times. We don’t think it should be that way. Taking a candidate-centric approach can make the overall process both more humane and more effective. It will make the time you spend on recruiting a lot more fulfilling—which, as an added bonus, will make it easier for you to dedicate more time to it.
By putting the candidate’s needs first, you might find that after one or two first conversations, you end up telling them that you don’t think you can offer what they are looking for, or you may even introduce them to a different company that can be a better fit. That’s OK. It’s better for both you and the candidate, especially in the long-term.
Getting Into the Right Mindset
It’s easy even for people with the right intentions to revert to a more transactional, “let’s get down to business” attitude when they jump into a call with a candidate. To avoid that, we’ve found it helpful to take a few minutes before any call to get into the right mindset.
Timing can make this task easier. Try to buffer some time before every call to mentally prepare. You should also schedule calls for the time of day where you will have the most focus and energy to devote to candidates. Try to avoid times when you might be stressed, drained, or crunched for time. In particular, doing several back-to-back recruiting calls might make it more difficult to maintain focus.
caution Make sure that during your call, you are solely focused on the conversation. If the hiring manager or recruiter is reading and responding to emails or checking messages during the conversation, it’s disrespectful of the candidate and will reduce the value of the call.