The Cost of Negotiating

As an executive recruiter, I've been able to observe the many different ways candidates handle receiving job offers. As different as everyone’s reactions may be, I've recognized that deep down most candidates feel they should at least try to negotiate. I sense that most people want to avoid feeling like they left money on the table, and they feel that if they don’t try to get more money, they are foolish in some way. I wanted to share what I've learned about negotiations because I don’t want anyone to potentially lose more than they have the opportunity to gain. Yes, in regards to a job offer, there could be a very steep cost to negotiating.

Political Capital: The first idea I would like to share is something called political capital. By the time someone receives an offer, the new company loves them. In other words, their political capital is high, and there is a symbolic bank account with their name on it filled with this political capital. Every day someone takes to accept the offer, withdrawals of political capital are being made from that bank account. The same is true when we go back and ask for more money without easily verifiable reasons. Let’s say a candidate asks to increase the offer because…well, just because they feel like they need to negotiate…they are lighting their political capital on fire. They may gain a few thousand dollars, but it may cost them a fortune in political capital. What candidates don’t see is the company venting to me about their tinge of buyer’s remorse and their second-guessing if the candidate is the right person.

“Are you saying that I should never ask to increase my offer?”

No, that is not what I’m saying. Read on.

The Unacceptable Offer: Asking for an unjustifiable increase in the offer is when a candidate begins to bankrupt their political capital. Asking for an increase so that the offer is to a level of acceptability is appropriate, and both people are working toward the same goal. The bigger issue is this: Why did the company extend an unacceptable offer? Candidates should tell their recruiter long before the offer comes to them what will be acceptable or not. Let the recruiter professionally advise, not negotiate with, the company to what they should offer you. This begs the question, should the candidate be negotiating their job offer?

What is a Negotiation?: A negotiation takes place in one-time buying events, where you try to extract as many concessions from them, while also reducing concessions on your side. Does that sound like the right way to start off the relationship with your new employer? A job offer is not a buying situation comparable to buying a house. A job offer is closer to a marriage proposal. When I proposed to my wife, I hoped for a “Yes.” In fact, I hoped for a “Yes, of course!” I would have been shocked by a “Yes, but…” or a “Yes, if…”, and I would have been crushed by a “No.” When a company extends a job offer, they, too, are expecting a “Yes, of course!” The proposal is not time to negotiate the size of the ring.

Solution: As mentioned earlier, the solution is working closely with your recruiter with full transparency about all the moving parts that make up your employment package. Educate your recruiter so they can advise their client. Many low offers are due to the candidate not looking deeply into their employment package ahead of time. Let your recruiter burn up their political capital trying to raise the offer to an acceptable level, and keep the political capital that you’ve earned intact. If the company you want to work for offers you a job for an acceptable amount of money, say “Yes, of course!”

Here’s a script: “Mr. Manager, I am very grateful that I am the person you want to hire, and I am excited to be on the team. I can’t wait to get started on PROJECT-A and PROJECT-B. The only hesitation I have at this point is that the financial part of the offer was below what I was expecting, and at this level it isn’t acceptable. I wanted to say clearly what I would accept so that we can get started on these projects. I would, without hesitation, accept an offer of __________. The reason I think that is appropriate is___________. Do you think that is possible for XYZ to do?”

I hope this helps, and I hope I can help you receive your next offer!

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Offer Anxiety

As an executive recruiter, I recognize that some candidates will tell me what they think I want to hear. For the most part, I give people the benefit of the doubt that they are being truthful, although there is one statement that candidates say that I no longer allow myself fully believe, “Money is not that important.”

I used to love hearing “money isn't that important” because I thought it meant that the candidate was truly evaluating the job without dollar signs in their eyes. Yet, too many times when we were at the offering table I’d find myself on the phone with a seemingly different candidate than who first uttered those words. Over the years, I've learned that money is always important.

Now, I don’t think anyone is being purposefully untruthful; it is just that people get uneasywhen a big decision is being presented to them, especially when money is concerned. Considering a job offer is foreign territory for most people, and they want to make sure they don’t leave money on the table. I call this uneasy feeling Offer Anxiety. I wanted to answer some routine questions I get around offer time with the hopes that it will ease the pressure of this big decision on unfamiliar footing:

1. Are you (the recruiter) going to negotiate for me?  First, I want to say that most offers are generated with careful consideration and companies extended the thought-out offer with the expectation that a negotiation will not take place. Much effort goes into the generation and approval of an offer, and companies don't desire to unnecessarily go through it more than once. The best time to influence your offering is before the offer is even formulated, not after, and that is where a recruiter can help the most. 

Before the offer is generated, a recruiter should have a conversation with their client about what would and would not be acceptable to the candidate. Fraught with Offer Anxiety, some candidates begin playing coy with their recruiter, not clearly directing them. The recruiter and the company simply want to find out what is and what is not acceptable, so that they will get a "yes" when extending the offer. The recruiter speaks in your behalf to broker the best deal for each side.

2. Should I accept their first offer? A major misconception out there is that it is a best practice to never accept a company’s first offer even if it is great. There may be some who would agree with that, but I don't necessarily subscribe to this way of thinking. Let me explain...

In a following article, I will address my philosophy on accepting a company's first offer, so stay tuned for that.

3. How do I politely ask for the offer to be increased without burning up political capital?  If the offer is not acceptable but you really want the job, then that is a separate topic than just asking for an increase without well-founded reasons. The simple way to get them to an agreeable set of terms is to tell them exactly what you would accept and explain why the current offer is not something you can accept. Don’t allow them to generate another offer without them clearly knowing what would get you to say "YES!". 

Here’s a script that you can form into your own words, “Mr./Mrs. Manager, I am very grateful that I am the person you've chosen to hire, and I am excited to be on the team. I can’t wait to get started on PROJECT-A and PROJECT-B. The only hesitation I have at this point is that the financial part of the offer was below what I was expecting. Can you help me understand what factors XYZ used in generating this offer? (HEAR THEM OUT) I understand. With the financial responsibility of my family resting on my shoulders, the current offer is not something I can accept. I wanted to say clearly what I would accept so that we can get started on these projects. I would, without hesitation, accept an offer of $__________. The reason that is an appropriate offer in my situation is because __A,B, and C__. Do you think an offer like that is appropriate and possible for XYZ to do?” 

I hope this insight is helpful as you work through the very real anxieties that exist around offer time. I recommend to develop trust with your recruiter throughout the process and confide in them about what would be an acceptable and unacceptable offer. To alleviate Offer Anxiety, be candid about your expectations so that your recruiter can successfully broker this touchy part of the process and save your political capital. If you want the job and like the people, be fair and reasonable as you consider their offering. This will ensure that you start this new journey on the right first step.

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When Lateral Moves are not Lateral

As a recruiter in the Pharmaceutical Industry, one of the most frequent phrases I hear is, “I’m not interested in making a lateral move.” Sometimes I hear that someone would only make a job change for a certain level position or a certain title. I understand the spirit behind these comments because we all want to show progression in our careers, but let me invite you to consider expanding your view about how seemingly lateral moves are sometimes not lateral moves at all.

In my time as a recruiter, I’ve helped more than 600 people make job changes, and I would guess that about 90% of them were “lateral moves” based on title. I would guess that the majority of those candidates were not in-between jobs but employed with another company performing the exact same function. So, why would so many employed people take jobs at other companies for seemingly lateral moves?

Why would so many employed people take jobs at other companies for seemingly lateral moves?

Let me explain this way. In the 2018 Major League Baseball Season, the Red Sox ended the year with 108 wins and won 2/3 of their games, truly amazing, the best team in baseball during the regular season. In their same division, the Baltimore Orioles had the worst record in baseball, only winning 29% of the time. Let me ask you this, if the shortstop of the Orioles got to move over to play shortstop for the Red Sox, would that be a lateral move? It’s the same title…Short Stop, not senior shortstop or executive short stop.

I would argue that this is not a lateral move at all. He is going from the worst team in baseball to the best, likely getting some financial incentive to do so. Even though the title is the same, he has greatly improved this situation, advanced his career, and improved his resume. Let’s flip this baseball analogy on its head, would the shortstop at the Red Sox, leave to go play shortstop for the Orioles (So, the same functional job) simply because they were willing to give him a bigger title, like executive shortstop…or Tall Stop!

Here are three factors that would make a move to another company, even at the same title, not a lateral move:

Company Positioning

If I look at the resume of two people doing the same job at two different companies, I evaluate them differently based on where they work. Right or wrong, I view the person at the well-known company as better than the person at the no-name company. Clearly that is not always the case, but if I’m being honest, that is what I do. So, if you can go from no-name company to well-known company, even in the same role, that is not a lateral move.

Scope and Experience

If we think about the shortstop analogy, the Red Sox’ shortstop is going to have different opportunities than the Orioles’ shortstop. For instance, the Red Sox’ shortstop may gain valuable play-off experience and learn to handle a heightened amount of pressure while playing on a bigger stage. In the same way, sometimes, even a role that is lateral will expose you to a bigger scope or responsibility and perhaps afford you to new learning opportunities. If you gain these valuable assets while performing the same job at a different company, it is not a lateral move.

On-Strategy

I’ve seen candidates make moves that were lateral in title and lateral or downward in compensation to gain an experience that was part of their career strategy. As an example, I’ve seen people move laterally to gain Immuno-Oncology experience, or managed care experience, or some other experience. But they key is that they weren’t actually lateral moves because they were on-strategy. These moves were progressive even though their title or compensation didn’t change. Also, I've seen people take a lateral move or even a downward move when they've made the personal decision to relocate to a new area. So, if you make a purposefully move that is on-strategy to the career you want to build, it is not a lateral move.

When we consider just these three things, and there are more, we can see that there are scenarios that on the surface may seem lateral but they’re not. So, the next time we talk, let’s talk about what would be a career enhancing, progressive, on-strategy move for you. I look forward to that, thanks!

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Q4 Hiring Challenges

A hiring manager recently asked me, which quarter of the year is the most difficult to recruit and hire people. Great question, and I thought you may be interested in the answer.

First, I want to say that hiring is never easy, but it becomes especially difficult in Q4 at least as it is related to the Pharmaceutical Industry. Unlike any other quarter of the year, Q4 poses to most significant challenges… Why?

Expensive

The first major challenge is that hiring in the fourth quarter is expensive. Candidates have worked nearly a whole year with their company, exceeding expectations, and dreaming about how all their hard work will pay off come bonus time. Now if they leave, they are walking into a situation where they may not be eligible for a bonus at your company. What has become “customary” is to pay out sign-on bonuses to keep the person whole for their loss of annual bonus. This becomes expensive and a challenge for some companies to pull off. If you’re at a company that won’t buy out a candidate’s bonus, then you’re forced to target candidates without bonuses, like those who are between jobs or come with no experience.

Psychology

But the expense is only one part of the problem, the second challenge is the psychological one. As the year draws to an end, people’s minds aren’t in job change mode. They are focusing on wrapping up projects and getting through the finish line of a long year. Once Thanksgiving approaches with the winter holidays right around the corner, people shift to vacation and family mode. Some candidates may have major vacations already planned, approved, and paid for, which deters them from considering new opportunities.

Relocation

Another thing to consider is candidate who need to relocate… when the fourth quarter hits, their kids are about a month into a new school year, which may be an awkward time for them to think about a new role that may require them to relocate.

These challenges really pose a problem, and the Q4 candidate pool really dries up quickly, which is bad news for managers trying to fill spots in Q4, especially those who may lose the headcount if they don’t use it. That doesn’t mean you can’t hire in Q4, but if we had to pick a quarter that is the toughest, Q4 is the dubious winner of the award.

Needless to say, if you’re feeling the Q4 Crunch and need some recruiting help, I’d welcome the opportunity to partner with you. Thanks!

About the Author

Too Much of a Good Thing: Is Your ambition or confidence costing you?

In the interview setting a candidate can actually have too much of a good thing.  What do I mean?  Well, there are qualities that most people would classify as a good quality, but if a candidate interviewing for a job has too much of that quality, it can work against them.  I wanted to highlight two qualities that can quickly turn from positive attributes to negative ones in an interview setting:  Ambition and Confidence. 

Ambition

Ambition is a wonderful and admirable quality, and so I am not saying that ambition is bad.   Also, most hiring managers would see a healthy amount of ambition as a desirable attribute in a new hire.  Yet, I do see some candidates where their ambition has worked against them and has actually cost them the job offer. 

Overly-ambitious candidates can be difficult to manage when their unrealistic expectations for career advancement cannot be met by the company.  When the promotion train doesn’t move quickly enough, the employee begins to feel frustrated, which could lead to an array for challenges for the manager.  To avoid all this, managers tend to avoid hiring apparently over-ambitious candidates.

I would advise potentially over-ambitious candidates to avoid a potential trap that happens in interviews.  If the interview takes a turn where future positions and bigger roles within the company are being discussed, my advice is to bring the discussion back to the job that is available and at hand.  Otherwise, the company may see the candidate as not truly interested in the role available today.  Managers generally don’t want to hire people who are only concerned about how the manager’s available role positions the candidate for the next step in their career.  The take-away is to focus on the role that is available today and do not allow your ambition to sweep you away and cost you the job. 

My advice is to bring the discussion back to the job that is available and at hand.

Confidence

Like ambition, confidence is an attractive quality that in proper amounts is seen as admirable.  Yet too much confidence is perceived as arrogance, which is not admirable at all.  Managers want to hire people who have enough confidence and ego-drive to be resilient and decisive employees, but conceit and self-importance can poison a team environment. 

Humility is the antidote to arrogance.

If you feel like perceived arrogance is a challenge for you when interviewing, remember that humility is the antidote to arrogance. Perhaps try to express that you’re impressed with others’ accomplishments versus trying to impress them with your accomplishments. Exercise active listening versus dominating the conversation.  My favorite quote about humility comes from CS Lewis, who said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”  When I meet a candidate who is good AND humble, I know that my clients are going to want to hire them. 

One way to counteract both over-ambition and arrogance is with gratitude.  An overly ambitious person may come across as unappreciative for the opportunities they’ve been afforded and the one at hand.  An arrogant person may not fully acknowledge other people’s contributions to their success.  A humble and grateful person is always well-received in an interview. 

Showcasing a proper balance of these qualities can help you tightrope your way to a job offer.  If you have too little of these qualities you can certainly lose the job offer, but the more common problem is that candidates have too much of a good thing.  I hope this information helps you develop a balanced approach for your next interview. 

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Thank-You Note Protocol

Here’s a question: What is the proper thing to do following an interview in regards to thank-you notes? I’m convinced that thank-you follow-up correspondence is critical, but I must say I don’t think it gets you the job. Although this alone won’t get you the job, this alone can certainly cost you the job.

I want to share with you a real story that happened recently. I had a candidate that narrowly beat-out his competition. The winning candidate was being a very tough negotiator, and the company was getting turned off by his demands. I recommended that they offer the job to their runner-up candidate. The response for the hiring manager was, “I would, but I never got a thank-you email from her. I’d never hire someone that doesn’t have professional follow-up skills. How can I trust her to follow up with our customers?”

When you are crafting a Thank-You note, here are a few must-haves:

-Timely— Send the email within 24 hours. If you don’t, it could be perceived that you’re not interested.

-Grammar– Essentially, the management team is evaluating your ability "two" communicate with "there" customers. So much of communication nowadays is written, so demonstrate strong writing skills. If at all possible don’t send it from your phone. Check it twice before pushing send. Common mistakes are the wrong version of two/to/too, there/their/they’re, as outlined above. Beware the grammatical errors that don’t show up on spell check! Another common error committed in thank-you notes is not using full sentences (Will look forward to hearing from you).

-Appearance— Formatting is also a big deal. Remember, you’re not sending a text message. You’re essentially sending a formalized letter but through email. Have a salutation (John,), paragraph breaks, capital letters (believe it or not this is a common problem), and put something at the end before typing your name (Regards, Thanks, etc.).

Although this alone won’t get you the job, this alone can certainly cost you the job.

 

FAQ:

*When should I send a “handwritten” thank-you note?*

Here's an idea: use email thank-you notes up until the final interview, and then after the final, send a handwritten note. When you are preparing for the final interview, bring with you the cards you are going to send expressing your thanks. When you’re sitting in the airport on your way home (while you’re in the same city), write the thank-you note and send it from the airport. That way, the company you’re interviewing with will get them in a timely way. If you wait until you get back home, and then wait for the USPS, it might get to them long after they make their decision. Alternatively, have the notes written before the interview and leave them with the company's receptionist on your way out the door. I’m completely fine with sending email thank-you notes after the final interview as well. In fact, you should probably do both email and handwritten thank-you notes if you reallywant the job.

*If I interview with 8-10 people, should I send them all thank-you notes?*

The best practice would be to target the top 3-4 decision makers for thank-you notes. For instance, send an email to your new manager, their manager, HR, and a peer if applicable. Here are the tricks of doing this well. Definitely, customize each email. You can email each person directly; you don’t need the recruiter to send it along for you unless the recruiter advises otherwise. If you are going to email your new manager’s boss, make sure you say good things about your potential new manager to avoid any feeling that you are going around them. At the end of the thank-you note to your potential new boss, ask him/her to send your regards/thanks to others that were part of the interview panel. My disclaimer is that the above advice is for individual contributor roles. If you are going for a management or C-Level position, thank everyone you interviewed with, even if it’s an army of people.

*What should be in the thank-you note?*

This depends on where you are in the process. The first thank-you note to the hiring manager should include thanking them for their time, the reason the job is a good fit for what you are looking for, how your skillsets meet their needs, and an affirmation of interest (I look forward to meeting you in person). The second thank-you note (after the face-to-face), also thank them for their time investment and show more excitement about joining the team, with a close to meet more team members/get a final interview (I am even more excited about the role than I was before meeting you, and I hope to meet the rest of the team soon.). Remember, your new manager isn’t going to burn up political capital bringing in a bunch of his/her colleagues to interview you if there is even a slight perception you’re not fully interested.

The Takeaways:

The takeaway is the thank-you email is a forum to express your interest and demonstrate your writing ability. Simply put, do it and do it well. With so much talent vying for every position in today’s market, don’t let something as trivial as a thank-you note stand in the way of you getting the position.

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MSL Titling - A Retention Tool

A common question I field from thoughtful Pharmaceutical Companies is “How are companies with the best retention tiering and titling their MSL teams?”

What I’ve seen from the top companies is that they utilize a three, or in some cases, a four-tier MSL titling structure. Today, I’ll be going over the structures I’ve seen and how having such a structure can be a great retention tool.

Experienced MSLs on the team can become slightly disgruntled if someone without experience comes in with the same titles as they have.

The MSL role is a great one, but it doesn’t promote a lot of career growth or trajectory. I heard one candidate tell me one time, “An MSL is the best dead-end job in the world!”  To avoid your MSLs feeling like they are in a dead-end scenario, below is how a four-tier structure could look like for your company:

The first level would be “Associate MSL." This is would be for a person who comes to your company with no prior functional experience.  Why is this a good idea?  Well, what I’ve seen is other experienced MSLs on the team can become slightly disgruntled if someone without experience comes in with the same titles as they have.  My advice is to have a distinctly different level for someone without prior experience.

The second tier is “Medical Science Liaison,” which is a role that would be fulfilled by someone with more than two or three years of MSL experience. This title is a good fit for someone who isn’t at an introductory level but isn’t quite at a senior-level either.

The third tier is customarily referred to as a “Senior MSL.” This would be for someone with more than three to five years of experience who is taking on extra projects and responsibilities.

The fourth tier is the role of “Executive MSL” or “Principal MSL.” This level of liaison is typically for those with more than eight years of experience. Some companies only keep this distinction for people within their company, meaning they wouldn’t bring an outside person in at this level.   

Along with ratcheting up the titles, here are some other incentives that will keep your MSL team engaged and striving for the next level:

1.     Increased salary band. I see most companies have a salary-band increase per level of MSL.

2.     Increased bonuses. Similarly to a raise in pay, a boost in bonuses will provide positive reinforcement as someone advances in title.  Related, some companies give additional stock options or grants according to the level of MSL as part of their annual bonus package.

3.     Increased responsibilities. As a person advances through the tiers, give them additional responsibilities to keep them stimulated. For example, you may consider having higher-level MSLs train those at a lower tier.  Additionally, you could have the senior-most MSLs be part of the interview panel that chooses other liaisons for the team.

If you have any other questions or would like more information, feel free to give me a call or send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you soon. 

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Logistical Fit: Handling Compensation Questions

In previous articles, I’ve addressed three-of-the-four assessment areas companies use in evaluating hires.  As a review, the previous areas are Motivational Fit, Functional Fit, and Cultural Fit.  The fourth element is Logistical Fit.

A person can "fit" in every other way but then the whole thing can blow up purely based on logistical issues.  Logistical Fit has two main elements: Start Date and Salary Expectations.  

At some point in the interview process, you want to disclose any extended vacations you have planned for the remainder of the year or any that will delay a potential start date.  Also, you want to disclose if you’re obligated to give a notice that is longer than the customary two-week notice of resignation.

The other element, and the biggest element of Logistical Fit, is compensation.  There is a lot of buzz around if candidates should disclose their earning history to employers.  My advice is to learn the laws governing your state and know what your rights are.  

My advice is to learn the laws governing your state and know what your rights are.  

Ultimately, there are two questions you need to be prepared to answer.  They sound similar, but they are vastly different.  The first question is: What are you earning now?  This is a factual question that deserves a factual response.  I would recommend that you lay out everything…base, bonus, stock, LTI, 401K match, vacation, and car benefit....everything.  The reason I recommend this is because it is in your best interest.  Companies simply want to understand what you’re earning now because that is a starting point to figuring out the appropriate offer to extend you.   

Companies simply want to understand what you’re earning now because that is a starting point to figuring out the appropriate offer to extend you.   

What you're currently earning is one of three factors in determining your offer, so factor one is what you’re currently earning.  Companies don’t want to offer candidates the same or less than their earning because no company wants their offer to be turned down. 

Factor two is internal equity.  What that means is that companies are obligated in some respects to pay people who have the same experience and qualifications who are doing the same job relatively the same salaries.  So, if you’re earning WAY more than people with like experience in the company, that may be a problem.  If you’re currently making WAY less than people with like experience in the company, you may very well see a substantial increase due to internal equity.

The third factor is how well you interview.  If you knock it out of the park and they feel they just have to have you, well then that may marginally increase your offer.

So again, lay all your cards on the table when asked about what you’re currently earning.

The trickier of the two compensation question is: What are you looking to make?  The salary expectations question that we all love…  Now unlike the first question that was factual, this one is in the subjective zone.  There are two schools of thought on how to handle this tricky question. 

The first is to just simply tell the company what your expectations are, but maybe shoot high in case they attempt to widdle it down.  Again, this is just one school of thought, and you are certainly welcome to handle it that way if that aligns with your thinking.

The other school of thought is to keep it in the subjective zone.  Take their subjective question and punt back a subjective response.  People in this school of thought have the stance that if you name a salary that is too high you might turn them off from offering you the job AND if you name a salary too low, you might leave money on the table.  People who prescribe to this philosophy will advise you to respond like this:

  • “I’d be looking for something fair and reasonable, reflective of the scope of the position.”
  • “I’d be looking for something competitive and in-line with what I’ve earned in the past.”
  • “I’d be looking to be paid commensurate with my experience and equitably with the rest of the team.”

I want to be clear that I’m not advising you either way on this.  Answering this type of question is purely based on how you want to handle it.   There is no right or wrong necessarily, it is just up to your level of comfort and your style.

If the company feels that they can afford you, that you can start in a reasonable amount of time, and that there are no other potential impediments to you taking the job, then they will consider you a Logistical Fit.  And on the road to getting the job!

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The Hidden Cost of Going Back to Square One

People develop opinions about companies in a few ways. Sometimes their opinion is developed through being a customer or a vendor. Other times it is based on the advertising messages they see or hear word of mouth. I want to discuss another way perceptions about companies are developed and that is through being a candidate for employment.

When a candidate is being recruited to a company, there are three ways advertising messages get communicated. One vehicle for this marketing message is through the phone lines of a recruiter. The second one comes from other people the candidate knows who may have more information about the company. The third advertising message that shapes a candidate’s perception of the company is what they experience for themselves during the recruiting process–whether as a candidate or prospective candidate.

As an executive recruiter, I get to see many companies handle hiring in many different ways. Some companies have a chronic behavior that sends a negative ripple through the candidate pool. The ripple occurs when a company conducts a search, gets to the end, and then decides to keep looking. Yes, the ole “back to square one” is potentially causing a wave of misinformation to candidates and prospective candidates. Let me explain…

When a company goes “back to square one,” they run the risk of the candidate pool concluding three negative assumptions as they say, “That job is still open?”:

That job is still open?

Attract: When a company goes “back to square one,” they lose the allure of scarcity and appearance of opportunity. Imagine you’re a candidate being readdressed by the same recruiter about the same opening as a month ago. Would you assume that the company is having trouble attracting people? Could you see yourself thinking, “If others don’t want this, why should I?”

Afford: Perhaps the candidate doesn’t think that the company is having trouble attracting people. Instead, what if they start thinking the company can’t secure the winning candidate financially? Typically when a company is “back to square one,” they have offered the job to someone and been turned down. Candidates aren’t oblivious to this. What I’ve found is that candidates aren’t attracted to what they feel someone else has turned down regardless of the reason. Even if this too is a false assumption, going “back to square one” allows the hypothesis to hatch that there is some deficiency in the company or the company’s offering.

Agree: Companies that attract the best candidates are ones that show cohesiveness and sound decision making in the interview process. When organizations have to restart a search, candidates may think that the company has trouble making decisions or agreeing internally. In this scenario, I’ve heard candidates say, “They must not know what they want.”

As a balancing statement, I’m not saying that companies should make a hiring decision just to avoid these three assumptions. Hiring the wrong person can be much more costly than going "back to square one". Sometimes going “back to square one” can’t be avoided and wasn’t brought about by any of the above reasons. What I would advise against is allowing a chronic behavior to develop. There is a cost for duplicating efforts, and as outlined, it may be costing companies in ways that don’t show up on balance sheets.

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The Art of the Preface

One luxury I have as an executive recruiter is that I get to interact with some world-class communicators. I have truly benefited by hearing how these exceptional people express their ideas. I’ve noticed that the best communicators have a disarming way of asking tough questions. They have an artful way of prefacing their questions so that the other party knows exactly why they are asking. This translates well into the interview setting, and so I wanted to explain it further.

One of the toughest questions I have to ask candidates is what they are currently earning. Most of the time, I am inquiring within minutes of introducing myself. The next time you are at a dinner party and you meet someone new, within the first five minutes of meeting them ask what they W2’d last year. As you play that scene through in your mind you might be filled with anxiety. I know how you feel, because I have that feeling several times a day.

To alleviate this anxiety, I have to do an excellent job of prefacing my question before asking it, and this is the way I like to do it, “John, I want to bring to you only the most relevant and career advancing opportunities. I would never want to bring an opportunity to you that was too junior financially and waste both of our time. So, with that said, can you give me some direction about how I should screen out positions for you in regard to money?”

If I ask the question this way, the usual response is, “Well, I certainly don’t want to make less money than I am now, and my base salary is…” Because the preface was utilized in such a way, I didn’t even have to directly ask him what his salary was. Now, let’s make this work in an interview.

They have an artful way of prefacing their questions so that the other party knows exactly why they are asking.

Root Question: How will I be evaluated?

If you ask this question, what might be going on in the interviewer’s mind? Perhaps they are thinking that you are running from unreasonable metrics. Maybe they would be thinking that you’ve had trouble meeting expectations before. My suggestion is to preface your questions artfully to avoid any mystery about why you’re posing the question.  An artful preface can eliminate an over-analyzing hiring manager from potentially reading too much into the question.

The Preface: I strive very hard in my current role to exceed expectations. It means a lot to me exceed the goals that are set for me, and so, what does one need to do to meet expectations in your organization—and then how have you seen people exceed expectations?

Of course, you might use different language, and that’s fine. The key take-away is that there is no mystery about why this person is asking the question. In the end, this person will find out not only how they will be evaluated but how to be a superstar. Also, you have dissolved any chance of them speculating that you are asking for any negative reasons.

An artful preface can eliminate an over-analyzing hiring manager from potentially reading too much into the question.

Root Question: What is the territory?

If you ask this question, what conclusions might the interviewer be prone to infer? Maybe they will assume that you have travel limitations. A candidate’s questions uncover their concerns or what is important to them. If travel and territory is of major importance, the interviewer is going to want to find out why OR they are going to invent a reason. Why not just share the reason with them?

The Preface: Over the years, I have had the great privilege of getting to work with the top thought leaders in the Southwest Region, and as you can imagine, those relationships are meaningful to me. I know this role is supporting the Southwest, which is exciting, but how does XYZ define the Southwest exactly?

Again, this is just an example. The key thing is that with the preface it is clear that the question is about impact and has nothing to do with travel. Plus, the preface strengthens your candidacy, whereas going without it may weaken it.  Also, not using a thought out preface leaves the door open for the potential for speculation as to what is behind the question.

These are a few examples of how prefacing your questions can clear up confusion and avoid the chance of speculation while strengthening your candidacy. I’ve been saying for a few years now that the better the questions, the better the candidate. The consistent feedback I get on the best interviewers is that they had the best questions. I’m confident that prefacing those questions will make you a stronger candidate instantly.

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