Often, the most challenging part of the interview process isn’t sourcing qualified candidates, holding phone screens or negotiating a starting salary — it’s working with the hiring managers themselves. In fact, Jobvite’s 2017 Recruiter Nation report revealed that the two biggest bottlenecks in the recruiting process are hiring managers failing to move candidates through the hiring stages and review resumes expediently.
But that doesn’t mean working with hiring managers is inherently difficult — on the contrary, developing a strong relationship with them can make your job much easier. You just need to be diligent about developing your working relationship.
If you’re currently having a hard time working with a hiring manager, or just want to know what you can do to improve your working relationships with them moving forward, read these six expert-approved tips.
1. Get to Know Their Needs
It’s not enough for recruiters to be masters of their own field anymore — they also need to understand the specific functions they’re recruiting for. Otherwise, they can expect frustration and resentment from hiring managers.
“Hiring managers balk when they feel like recruiters don't understand what they want and need, and bridging that gap of understanding can build trust and lead to successful placements,” says Jill Santopietro-Panall, HR consultant and owner of 21Oak HR Consulting, LLC. “In order to be a good recruiting partner, you HAVE to understand the business.”
A good way to do that, Santopietro-Panall says, is to immerse yourself in the hiring manager’s world.
“I found that my greatest successes came when I could get recruiters to attend regular business meetings for the group with the open position and listen to what the team is doing and understand the skills needed to succeed in that group,” Santopietro-Panall says.
This may not be possible for every company, Santopietro-Panall acknowledges, but at the very least you can approach the hiring manager and dig into their team’s goals and needs.
“Recruiters should come into this as a partnership with managers, really sit down and listen and understand their business challenges overall, not just in the context of this specific hire,” she suggests. “Ask a lot of questions about their pain points and what problems they are trying to solve with this new hire. I'd also ask about their best current employees — rather than just their ideal candidates — and I might even ask to speak to those employees and try to capture what traits and skills make them so great.”
2. Educate Them on the Recruiting Process
A successful partnership between a recruiter and a hiring manager is a two-way street, so just as it’s worth taking the time to learn about their world, you should try and teach them about yours as well.
“Hiring managers are short on time and impatient to fill the role, in general. They often don't know ‘how the sausage is made’, so to speak, in the recruiting process, and they often expect recruiters to magically have many qualified candidates just laying around,” Santopietro-Panall explains.
But you can help hiring managers set the right expectations by informing them what exactly the recruiting process involves, how long it typically takes and what your strategy is in particular. You can also ask for their feedback in certain areas where they may be subject-matter experts.
“I would start early on educating them on the recruiting process and get their thoughts on great sources of candidates, such as competitors they particularly admire or university programs with strong reputations for graduates in your industry,” Santopietro-Panall adds.
3. Narrow Down the Job Requirements
Ever worked with a hiring manager who had a list of requirements a mile long? According to the experts we spoke with, it’s one of the most common obstacles to a successful recruiter/hiring manager relationship.
“Managers often try to cram too many requirements into a single job. Whether that's because they are short on headcount or haven't taken the time to think through what they really need, the result is a skill set that no candidate possesses. Recruiters call this a purple squirrel — it doesn't exist,” says Mikaela Kiner, founder and CEO of uniquelyHR.
The solution? Work with them from the beginning to pare the requirements down to the essentials.
“Engage early in the process and help [hiring managers] think through the required skills, including must-have vs. nice to have,” Kiner says. If they protest or claim that all of their requirements are must-haves, “help the hiring manager understand that s/he will lose valuable time if they don't narrow down the scope of what they're looking for,” Kiner advises.
4. Be Transparent and Check-in Regularly
You may have heard the phrase “no news is good news,” but that definitely doesn’t ring true for hiring managers who don’t receive regular updates from recruiters.
“If [hiring managers] don't see it happening, they tend to default to thinking nothing is happening, so do your best to avoid that perception,” Santopietro-Panall says.
After all, “this is SUCH a tough market in many industries, and you're really looking at a lot of passive candidates, who will take time to both cultivate and convince into interviewing,” she points out. “You've got to educate hiring managers on how cultivating passive candidates works, so they know time delays are not at all equal to lack of effort.”
To make sure that doesn’t happen, Santopietro-Panall says she “would insist on a weekly meeting (or however often suits you) where you review the candidates and get specific feedback on why the manager passed.” That way, not only can they see that you’re doing your part — you can also learn how to improve your efforts moving forward.
5. Demonstrate Understanding
We get it — it’s frustrating when hiring managers get in the way of you being able to do your job as well as you’d like. But try not to get too frustrated with them: odds are, they’re dealing with plenty of issues already.
“Usually hiring managers are moving fast, have too much to do and needed to fill the role yesterday. It's rare that any company is hiring well in advance. With that in mind, have empathy,” Kiner advises.
That doesn’t mean you should let something like failing to give feedback on a candidate or missing an interview slide, but keep in mind that there’s a fine line between nudging somebody and nagging them. You may even want to have a conversation with the hiring manager to figure out what’s getting in the way and how you can work around it. This will not only help you troubleshoot, but also build goodwill, which is essential for hiring manager/recruiter relationships.
“I remember recruiting for a hardware operations team where engineers were working 80+ hour weeks. I was really motivated to fill their open jobs and they knew I was on their side. Building that trust made them receptive to my feedback because they knew our goals were aligned,” Kiner shares.
6. Know When to Escalate Issues
Most hiring managers, even those who can occasionally be hard to work with, only need a little bit of education and the occasional reminder to correct misunderstandings or missteps. But every now and then, you might need to flag issues to a higher-up.
Santopietro-Panall recommends turning to a manager or leader for help in the following three situations:
- When a manager's expectations are way out of whack and they refuse to listen or adjust them
- When a hiring manager has been inappropriate, harassing, rude or abrasive with you as a recruiter
- When a hiring manager espouses discriminatory recruiting practices that your company cannot condone
For instance, “if you have a hiring manager who's pressuring you to get ‘fresher, greener’ candidates or ‘more All-American’ candidates, those can be potential signs of age discrimination or national origin discrimination,” Santopietro-Panall explains.
In situations like those, Kiner recommends educating the hiring managers themselves — but “if the pattern doesn't change, considering talking to HR or management to see what kind of support or training is available.”
“Candidate experience is critical, so regardless of how qualified a candidate is or isn't, they should always be treated with respect,” she adds.
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