Why I Don’t “Prep” My Candidates for Interviews


I had an interesting experience recently that reminded me why I don’t “prep” my candidates prior to them having an interview with my clients. I’ve been doing senior level searches over the past several years, but as I have recently been working on some Sales Consultant searches for a dear friend, I am once again reminded of the incredible power of a Candidate Prep Call. Vice President and CEO level people generally don’t need to be coached or prepped for an interview. In most cases,  I prep my clients on what they must do to capture the imagination of the senior level candidate.  However, in lower level searches the Prep Call before an interview can seem a lot more like “insider trading” than simple prep call.

As part of the standard Recruiter training protocol, “Prepping a Candidate for a client interview” is as routine an aspect of the recruiting process as the “Candidate Debrief Call.” So, then why do I say that I don’t prep my candidates before an interview? I have long-held the view that by preparing a candidate for an interview with your client, you introduce bias into the process and make the job of vetting the candidates by your client far more difficult. In fact, by doing so, you introduce a profound conundrum which enhances the candidates’ ability to tailor their approach and directly address precisely what your clients are looking for. Why is this bad? It actually undermines the process by giving your candidates an unreasonable advantage in the interview process enabling them to misrepresent their actual abilities with their “super human intelligence” provided by an insider. With preparation from an insider, they can become a better version of themselves. You may think that if you prep “all” of your candidates the same way, then you have “evened the score” making it equal, but while that may be true as it relates to your candidates having equal access to the information, it fails to recognize that what your client needs most from you is an accurate representation of the candidates’ real and natural talent. And this directly undermines this exposure.  In another blog, entitled, “Why Contingency Recruiters’ Candidates So Stinking Good?” I point out that recruiters greatly bias the interview process toward their own candidates when they prepare their candidates prior to an interview by telling them all of the nuances and details that the hiring manager is looking for. For example: “display fire in the belly passion” “make sure you ask for the job” “demonstrate your ability to ____________,” and other such things. It is as if the Recruiter gives a script to the candidates to perform in a play. The very things that the hiring manager told the recruiter he/she was looking for in a candidate gets spelled out in vivid detail. Irrespective of their actual talent, behaviors, and communication, they will follow the lead of the Recruiter who gave them the “insider’s view” of what the manager is actually looking for in explicit detail.  It’s as if an insider in a prospective target sales account gave your Sales Rep the exact road map to the hidden motivations and desires of the decision-maker. What Sales Rep wouldn’t be effective in selling to a prospect whom they have been carefully and meticulously informed of all their hot-buttons, likes and dislikes?  Any Sales Rep worth their salt would give a compelling presentation given such “insider” information. Why then is this bad? Because this is not a “real life” scenario. A competent Sales professional needs to qualify their prospect and elegantly ascertain the wants and needs that are most important to them in assessing a product or service. The Sales Rep must then present their product or service offering to the prospect and ensure that there is adequate disclosure and that any questions or concerns are appropriately overcome with information or demonstrations to dispel doubt and bring about a positive agreement that their products/services meet their prospect’s needs effectively. Then they must close the sale. However if a Recruiter carefully crafts all the objections and concerns for the prospective candidate in advance of the interview, how is that really giving the hiring manager an accurate representation of their true sales abilities? This is what I mean by saying that Prepping Candidates always biases the hiring process and actually undermines the objective of finding the best possible talent and fit.

So let’s consider why “Prepping Candidates” is such a widely accepted behavior of Recruiters everywhere.  First, this makes YOU look good!  When all your candidates perform well in their first interview, it reflects upon you as each of your candidates is well prepared in advance and their polish is a testament to your thoroughness. At the surface, this is true. However, what is the true objective of the search in the first place?  Is it to make you look good or earn a fee quickly?  Maybe it is for you. If you are a recruiter and you know that the only way you will be compensated for all your time and effort, you must take advantage of every means necessary to ensure that your candidate gets hired. If you’re like me, you notice that there is a subtle, yet profound conflict of interests if the Recruiter ever does anything that is not in the best interests of the client. Why is this conflict of interest present you may ask? It is my belief that in part it is due to the prevalence of Contingency Search. Contingency Search has several unintended consequences that elevate the risk of a company making a bad hire. By removing the Contingency terms, recruiters are able to operate as an extension of the company and not out of fear of being “stiffed” out of their fee.  Contingency Search has many potential pitfalls that recruiters must attempt to avoid. (backdoor hire, candidates who circumvent them, resume timing, active candidates etc.) But I also believe that recruiters tend to be transient and not terribly interested in the long-term success of their clients. One of the most bizarre ironies in recruiting industry is the incredibly high turnover and short tenure. I know of no other industry with such difficulty keeping people in the industry. The failure rate of rookie recruiters is over 90% by most accounts. So one might assume that if someone makes it past their first year, they do it right. Right? Wrong!

I’ve been accused of being heretical in my stance on Candidate Prepping. I guess I don’t get it.  All I ever want to do is what is truly in the best interests of my clients to mitigate as much risk of a bad hire that I possibly can. And what better way than to find the best people I possibly can attract given the company’s value proposition and introduce them to the company and later to the hiring manager. The rest is up to the candidate to conduct their own due diligence, research the company, its products and opportunity. It is up to them to manage their own performance in the way that comes to them naturally. Because that is exactly how they will perform on the job. So, whether it is prepping them by telling them to make sure they scour the client’s website and study the products to reading the last three or four press releases so that can be more prepared or advising them how to follow-up after the interview with an email to the hiring manager.  These are things that the Top Performers should do without the need of a recruiter coaching them.

Some Recruiters have laughed out-loud at me and told me that if I don’t prep my candidates, all my work is in vain and that I need to protect my investment of time. They’ve told me that I won’t be able to make a living and that they will run circles around me while I go out of business. Yet after 14 years in the business and the last 10 plus working on retainer this way, I remain convinced that what I am doing and more importantly NOT doing is in the best interests of my clients. And they keep calling me when they have new searches. In the last year, over 80% of our new searches have come from repeat customers. Keep in mind, we are not the “low-cost provider” in the market. While others settle for flat fees and lower percentages, we hold firmly to our rates, because  I believe that in the end, it isn’t about “Cost” but “Value.” The greatest value we can provide is helping our clients hire the absolute best person they possibly can. We believe the best way that they can make an educated decision and discern which candidate is best is through allowing our candidates to come as they are rather than how someone wants them to be. Unless you remove the contingency factor from this scenario, I don’t believe you can properly align your recruiter’s priorities with the company. At the same time, merely removing the contingency factor does not ensure you that your recruiter will not Prep their candidates and bias the process. Every hiring manager should work with someone who they trust to have their best interests at heart and be committed to their success beyond making a hire and earning their fee.

Back to my recent experience conducting the Sales Consultant searches; a few of the candidates came in less than armed to the T with all the preparation that one would hope for. My friend and client saw the shortcomings of a few of my candidates. While it would have made me look better to prep them, in the end he had an accurate representation of each candidate which equipped him to make the best informed decision relative to who best fit the role and had the talent to represent his company in the designated territories. However tempting it might have been to make myself look better by prepping the candidates, that isn’t the highest goal when retained by a client who trusts me to help them hire the best.


Quantity vs. Quality Reason #1 to Reject Contingency Search

There are many good reasons to reject Contingency Search in any form, but for today’s post, I’ll deal with only one reason.  Quantity vs Quality. In most cases, by no fault of their own, recruiters are forced to produce poor quality work or get left in the dust by other recruiters with a quicker trigger finger. The inherent weakness of Contingency Search lies in this conundrum: The more you endeavor to vet and qualify your candidates, the less likely you are to get paid for your work.  The take home is that if you want to get paid, you had better not take too long in skimming those online resumes and be late to the party.

A basic rule of Contingency is: If the same candidate is referred to the a client by different recruiters, only the recruiter who was FIRST to send the resume to the client gets paid for the referral. Therefore, the most conscientious recruiter will far too often lose out and not get paid for their referral. Why? Because they were too thorough in doing the job of a recruiter. Even if you want to do well on behalf of your clients, you are put in the position to have to race to the resume submission before you should. I am convinced that this is the reason that the best recruiters don’t stay in Contingency Search for long.  They either convert their business to a Retained model or leave the business altogether.

Why would a client want a flurry of resumes filling their inbox only to have to spend time sorting them to determine who sourced them only to then begin the arduous task of vetting and qualifying the new resumes?  Furthermore, because of the race to the bottom, they have been flooded with all the “low hanging fruit.”  These are essentially two kinds of candidates; Physically Unemployed or Emotionally Unemployed. In either case, they are motivated to escape a bad situation giving them an impure motive in many cases.  That severe motive can compel such people to embellish their experience and worse, misrepresent who they are in order to meet a basic need they have. If you’ve hired much, you know who this is.  Its the guy who turns out to be a very different person than the one you interviewed.

I’ve spoken to many different recruiters who suffer burnout and mental and emotional fatigue from trying to balance doing the right thing on behalf of their clients and getting paid. Okay, money isn’t everything, but its right up there with air. So the problem for many is that they desperately desire to be a good recruiter who does excellent vetting of the people they present to their clients yet they simply cannot accomplish this and thrive or in many cases survive.

The irony in all of this is that usually the FEE that a client is willing to pay  for contingency is the same as it would be on retainer. The only difference is the terms of payment. Yet the key benefit to working on retainer is the ability to gain a commitment from one firm with a good reputation that you believe understands your company and the needs of the role and giving them what they need to be successful in the search. In doing this, the company will have a slate of qualified, vetted and interested people with the right motivation that ensures the best possible outcome.  This is why it is still a mystery to me that companies think that they are better off working on contingency.  What a tremendous miscalculation!

“Is Retained Search Right for You?” Join me for a Free Webinar April 5th 1:30PM EST.

Join Drue De Angelis, Apr 05,2012 @ 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM EDT.
Cost: FREE

In this Webinar, Drue will be addressing why he decided to transition to retained search eight years ago and help you discover if it is right for you. He will also explain what steps you can take to begin this process for yourself.

Drue De Angelis is a 12 plus year veteran of recruiting. He began by purchasing an MRI Franchise. After four years of Contingency Search, he was troubled with what he saw as the “unintended consequences” of contingency search. While he contemplated getting out of recruiting altogether, he began to develop a strategy to approach his clients with a better alternative that would yield a better result for all parties. For the past eight years, he has worked 100% on a engaged/retained basis and has seen his average fee rise considerably along with the quality and level of his work.

Focusing at the VP/C-level currently, Drue is passionate about helping others see the benefit of his approach.

There’s only ONE recruiting metric that matters.

How do you evaluate your recruiting business? What metrics are important to you? Are there any metrics which enable you to measure your effectiveness? I recently read a recruiting site discussion where the person initiating the discussion asked “which recruiting metric is most important to you?” I read through some of the answers which were predictable; Send Outs to Placements, Calls to Send Outs or Job Orders etc. I am convinced that the most important metric and the only one I care to follow is; how long did the person I place stay with my client company? Are they still there, or did they leave? Were they promoted? Or were they Fired? This is the only “recruiting metric” that any of our clients really care about and frankly so should we.  I am all for improving metrics to improve outcomes. I just believe that the most important metric IS the outcome.

Queue Typical Recruiter response: “I don’t hire the person or manage them. It’s not my job” Fair enough. It is not your job to “hire” the person that they ultimately chose to hire. But, was it not you who recommended they hire this person? When you presented a candidate, you essentially endorsed them in that role. How can you present someone to your client as a prospective hire and later backtrack from them and blame them for a poor hiring decision? If it ins’t “our job” to vet the people who we bring and do our very best to assess their fit culturally as well as vet their character, what exactly IS our job?

“Win some, lose some?” Sure, no one is infallible or reads minds, but we can and should be doing our absolute best to determine the competency and cultural fit of teach and every candidate prior to presenting them.

The metric we should be interested in improving is that of the success and tenure of our placements. How long do they stay? How well liked are they? How well do they fit in with the rest of the team? Do they get promoted? This is the true test of “Added Value” which is why companies hire recruiters. Companies don’t hire recruiters to “fill open job orders!” They hire us because they hope that we can bring to bear our professional consultative insights,  reach a larger network and attract better people than they can on their own. Otherwise, they would do it themselves. They want to mitigate hiring mistakes and increase net outcomes in the position. Our job is, of course, to increase the success of the companyin as much as the search we conduct has influence to do so. If the search is a VP of Sales, then the measure of success is equal to that of the person we place as VP of Sales. So, how is sales growth?  If it is VP of R&D, the measure of success is the company’s improved product development pipeline and intellectual property position.  How are they performing? and so on. If we only judge ourselves on the number of people we place and the ratio of Send Outs to Placements,etc.,  then we are completely out of touch with our VIP, our client.

If you present someone to a client, that is tantamount to “your professional endorsement” of them for the role you have been hired to fill. If it doesn’t work out, no matter the reason, you never should have presented them in the first place. You simply cannot divorce yourself from the process and explain it away as “someone else’s fault.”  The interview process is a time where you must continue to vet and look for additional issues to raise. (If you’ve ever wondered why HR people try so hard to uncover those “red flags,” its because they don’t think that you are doing a thorough enough job of it. HR is skeptical of recruiters because they feel like you are not adequately vetting the candidates that you present.)

As far as “Metrics” are concerned, if it helps you to manage recruiters’ metrics in order to make sure that they are doing all the right activities for success, great. But don’t lose sight of what is really important to your client. Stay aligned with your clients and you will have all the repeat business you can handle.


Are you a Headhunter or Search Consultant?

I will go on the record that I don’t like the term “Headhunter” although I know it is often well deserved. I believe it best refers to recruiters who “broker Resumes.” I’ve also heard the term, “Drive By Resume-Shooter” which is apropos. Candidate’s resumes are available in abundance today online. You don’t have to be a recruiter to find active candidates. Let’s face it, all you need to become a recruiter is a telephone and a computer with internet access. That is all one needs in order to qualify them as a “recruiter.” Recruiting takes many forms today and the kind of recruiting that has the greatest value to any organization is one of a true Consultant. Companies will often utilize multiple different recruiters and will task them with different searches to suit their needs. I have no problem with this as I accept that there are different types of recruiters. However, if you are one of those “Headhunters” who are chasing fees through volume, don’t expect to So what kind of recruiter are you? Recruiters who are relegated to the bottom of the “food chain” are what I call “Headhunters.” Headhunters are in a race to the “most available” candidates. The quickest draw often wins the fee with “Headhunters.”

If you are a recruiter and you want to have a meaningful career in search, you better become a Consultant to your clients or you will forever be classified as a “Headhunter” or “Flesh Peddler.” I have found that most “self respecting” Headhunters eventually either become Consultants or eventually place themselves back into a “real job” because of the lack of respect as a “Headhunter.” As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of this type of recruiter and every chance that I get, I encourage people to elevate their game. before you can elevate your game, you need to know where you stand on Search Scale. Are you a Headhunter or a Search Consultant, or somewhere in between? To know whether you are a true Search Consultant or merely a Headhunter, there are a few questions that you must ask yourself and your answers will make the case. The first question is” do you have full, unadulterated access to the decision maker? Or is there an HR person who keeps you under wraps and only allows “supervised visits” while you discuss whatever you need to with the real decision maker. If HR is in control of your every move, then chances are, you’re just a “Headhunter.” The next question is, after an interview, do you debrief the decision maker directly or do you get informed of the decision to move forward to the next stage or not? If you are not able to discuss the interview live with your decision maker, then you are not a valued part of the process. The extent of your contribution is “headhunting.” That isn’t all bad, I guess, if that is all that you aspire to. If you have gone to the length of recruiting passive people, then you have an obligation to both candidate and client to discuss the outcome of the interview and illuminate aspects and qualities of the candidate that were not on display in the first interview. This is what a true Search Consultant does. Presuming that you have spent hours on the phone with this person and vetted them, you will know them far better than the interviewer can in a single call.

Most headhunters will never elevate themselves to the level of a Search Consultant. They will remain in the periphery only to get second-hand information from HR. If this is you, there are things that can be done now to change the way that you work and are perceived by your client. If you can’t convey the value that you bring and the need for direct and timely feedback, then you will likely never make it.

Don’t you Dare “Interview My Candidates!”

It’s one thing to convince a new client to abandon the old way of engaging a recruiting firm and embrace the best way to conduct a search by retaining us, and it is still yet another thing to get them to dispense with the old mindset of “interviewing” the potential candidates that we bring them.

Their default is to have the standard “behavior based” interview questions and ease into increasingly complex follow up questions to really vet them and see how they respond under the pressure of the moment. The problem is that if they conduct that type of interview, they will turn the person off. I often tell my clients, please don’t interview this prospect. Your job in the first call is to sell the dream. Tell them why you joined the company and what still charges you up about being part of the company. Talk to them about your vision of where you plan to take the company. Your primary goal is to get this person excited about the opportunity. Most recruiters don’t know what it’s like to be recruited, so they miss a major factor in the recruitment process when dealing with what I call a “prospect.” this is someone who you’ve networked to find plugging away in their job and they are very happy where they are. Most recruiters, once they hear this, turn the call into a call for referrals. But a good recruiter will engage their curiosity to the point that they are “open to an exploratory conversation with your client. I have found these to be some of the most incredible people to place. They don’t have a resume on the Internet, nor have they even updated it in years. It will take a phenomenal opportunity to attract this prospect and engage them as a candidate.

If you are lucky enough to bring this person to the table for an “interview,” your client BETTER NOT INTERVIEW YOUR CANDIDATE, or they will be turned off and the door will close.

So it is not merely enough to convince your client that working on retainer is better for them than contingency. You have to prepare them for this on advance.

Help me, Help You!

I recently received a call from a $100mm medical device company wanting me to help them find a new Marketing Director. They told me that they were referred to me by a few executives within their company as “the recruiter of choice.” The first 30 minutes of the call was me asking a lot of questions to determine what their ideal profile was and how they envisioned attracting that caliber person to their company. I am very familiar with their company and in the past have actually recruited from them to some of my clients. Once I had a solid grasp of what specific experience and talent was essential for this position the discussion turned to “how we work.”

I described that the way that we work in our firm is through what could best be described as a modified retainer. I explained how in order to do it right, there were a few key elements that had to be there so that we were able to do the kind of high quality work that we are committed to. The person on the other end of the phone shut me down immediately. “Well, we don’t work that way. We only do contingency,” he said The irony is that this position had been open for several months and the continual stream of candidates brought by contingency recruiters failed to deliver any result other than failure. I could argue that the results were far worse than mere failure. In fact, as they were now back to square one after months of interviews and failed attempts, my question was, “how much money and time have you already spent with nothing to show for it?” Consider all the wasted time & money on airline fares, hotels, and not to mention the loss of productivity of all the employees who were brought in on the many interviews. Now multiply that by the loss of opportunity of those people not at their desks and the empty desk of the open position. My challenge was unwelcome. He refused to give any meaningful answer, but instead explained it away that at least they got close on a few people. This is such a common problem. When a company decides that it is to their advantage to work with recruiters on contingency, they are making a huge mistake. It is obvious to me that they do not understand the problem or the solution. Not only are they creating a problem for themselves with regard to the reliability of information about their candidates, they are actually competing with other companies over the people being paraded in front of them by recruiters. Perhaps more importantly, I believe that this company will never see some of the best people in the industry because these recruiters are not willing to do what is necessary to bring them in on contingency. Nor would I under those terms, which is why I refused to accept the search.

I refused to work with this company on the grounds that I could not conduct the search properly without being formally engaged with one-third of my fee in advance. When they balked, that told me that they didn’t have a clue about what really goes on in the recruiting world. They must not know that the recruiters will not fully vet or disclose information about the candidates that could possibly derail their candidacy. Why would they? (Contingency recruiters don’t get paid unless they close the deal.) So we parted ways and within days, I received a call from a previous retained client where I placed a VP Sales & Marketing last year and a European Sales & Marketing Manager last month. They just retained me on a Director of Marketing search. They understand the value of conducting a true search for the best talent instead of the most available.

If a company won’t help you, help them; move on and find one that will. Your life will be far better for it!