23 April 2008

The Marketing Power of Evidence

This lead story appeared in Issue 29 of my Newsletter, InSight. Published: 23 April 2008

Recently I watched and listened as a reasonably experienced consultant (let's call him James) put a candidate forward for a permanent role, to a client over the phone. 

The candidate was not ‘ideal' but was certainly close enough for at least an interview, given how hard it was to find ‘ideal' candidates for that particular role. 

The resume was never going to sell her because she lacked the client's requested ‘years of experience' and previous ‘relevant industry experience', so this pre-resume-sending conversation was crucial. Despite James' best efforts the client declined the candidate. 

After observing James slam down the phone with an exasperated sigh, I asked him why he thought the client didn't want to proceed with the candidate.  This was our exchange: 

James:  She's the world's fussiest client, Ross, she never wants to see candidates unless they are perfect. 

Ross:  What could you have done differently?  

James:  I don't know. I told the client she was a great candidate and would do a great job. 

Ross:  Did you give the client any evidence? 

James:  What do you mean? 

Ross:  I mean - all I heard in listening to your conversation was your opinion of the candidate being great.  You didn't once present the client with any facts to substantiate your opinion. 

James:  I don't understand.  What you mean by facts or evidence?  You're talking like you're Horatio on CSI!" 

Ross:  Exactly my point. When you watch CSI Miami, you don't see Horatio go to the District Attorney to make a case for a charge to be laid against an alleged criminal unless he has compelling evidence to support these charges. No matter the strength of Horatio's opinion of the person's guilt, Horatio knows that only evidence will lead to a successful prosecution" 

James:  So how is this relevant to recruitment? 

Ross:  Well the principle is the same. An effective recruiter gathers evidence that the candidate is ‘guilty' of having the technical skills, behavioural competencies and motivators necessary to do the job. When you present this evidence, rather than your opinions to the client, you have a much better chance of the client agreeing to the interview. 

James:  So what is relevant ‘evidence' for a recruiter? 

Ross:  Three things constitute relevant evidence for a recruiter.  They are - answers to effective behavioural interview questions, the results of any skills or psych testing and reference checks. 

James:  But Ross, there's a lot of work in getting all that information! 

Ross:  Yes I know.  But how much more work will you need to put in to find the ‘ideal' candidate, or at least one that the client is prepared to interview? 

In this specific case, the ideal candidate needed to have a proven, strong capability of "dealing with conflict, problem solving and initiative".  The resume didn't highlight this in the best light and skills testing wasn't appropriate in this instance, so James spoke to the most relevant, recent referee of that candidate. 

In taking the reference, James was very careful to gain answers to the reference questions that provided evidence of the candidate's capabilities in the areas that the resume didn't show clearly or strongly enough. 

Having gathered the relevant supporting evidence from his reference check, James took a deep breath and called the client back. 

This time he used the evidence from the reference check to substantiate his opinion by saying "I spoke to Sally's referee about her capabilities in dealing with conflict, problem solving and initiative and he said....". James then proceeded to succinctly outline the compelling evidence as communicated by the referee. 

Critically, James had also asked the referee a really smart question - the answer to which had real marketing power: 

"Given Sally's lack of experience in X when she started the job, how effectively did she pick up the required skills and how long did it take for her to become productive in the role?" 

Why is it a smart question?  Because James was anticipating his client's push-back about the candidate's lack of relevant experience (ie. resume looks ‘wrong'). 

James wanted to provide evidence that when the candidate was faced with this situation previously, (picking things up quickly), she came through with the goods. 

This time around, having heard evidence rather than opinions about the candidate's capabilities, the client agreed to the interview, met the candidate 2 days later and 3 days after that an offer was made to the candidate and it was accepted. One happy (and relieved) consultant! 

A highly effective reference check not only confirms a candidate's capabilities, it is also an opportunity for the consultant to ask questions about areas of the candidate's performance that are likely to be (or known to be) areas of concern for the prospective client (ie. picking new skills up quickly, learning new computer software, teamwork etc). 

Your opinions do nothing to change or influence the client's mind. It is only carefully gathered and well presented evidence (think like a CSI!) that gives you any chance of moving the client from ‘no' to ‘yes' with a candidate who ‘looks wrong' but ‘is right'.

Unless evidence is presented to the contrary, the client's limiting generalisations and negative beliefs about certain aspects of a candidate's resume, will win each time ... and cost you a potential placement.

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