Help! My Recruiter Keeps Wasting My Time with Crappy Candidates

What should your recruiter be doing for you?  What really is their role in the process and what do you need to contribute to ensure their success? Your recruiter should provide 3 primary functions.  First, they should assist you with crafting a message that attracts the appropriate candidate and getting that message in front of a population of candidates to garner some interest. Second, they should act as a filter, though often a coarse one, for separating out better candidates from lesser ones and saving you the effort of doing the same. Last, they should act as a sales tool throughout the interview process for handling the candidate’s objections, reiterating benefits to the candidate—especially those they’ve identified are key to the candidate’s interest—and negotiating with and closing the candidate on the opportunity to join your company. If your recruiters are worth their weight, internal or otherwise, they should be providing some level of support to all these functions to help you attract and secure the talent you need.

Supplying pre-screen questions to your recruiter

For this post, I will not address the crafting of the message and all the sales skills involved to close the deal, and will just cover your recruiter’s function as a filter of candidates and so focus on the important task of developing an effective set of screening questions together. My team starts our screening with our Submittal Standards, copied below, and provides this information with every candidate we send to our customers. If your recruiter isn’t providing at least this information, feel free to share this with them as a place to start. There are other standards that could be included, and perhaps ought to be discussed before they submit them to you for consideration, but these are a start. I’ll detail the discussions that should be happening around these basics in a follow up post.

Submittal Standards

1.     Concerns we addressed – jobs less than 1 year, a career of temp work, employment gaps of > 6 months, etc.

2.     Motivations – why they are looking to leave their position AND what they want from a new position

3.     $ – current compensation and/or desired compensation

4.     Communication Rating – 1 to 5, with 5 being the best, 1s & 2s should not be submitted

5.     Location – where they live now AND your opinion on whether or not that’s a viable daily commute for them based on your conversation

6.     Job search landscape – their timeframe for making a move, other interviews, etc.

After the Basics

After these basic questions, it’s time to add a few questions unique to your position and needs. There are 3 types of questions I recommend to develop together with your recruiter. The first is what I’ll call the Hard Screen questions, which will have a clear, definable answer and a yes/no result for the recruiter to know if the candidate is viable. This kind of question can be effective for any level of recruiter or even an video interview solution. Many of these questions could be assumed from the Required Skills on your job description, such as “Experience with Federal funding sources and contracts,” but don’t expect your recruiter to make the same assumptions and instead provide them with the direction. In this example, your recruiter should ask if they have any experience with Federal funding sources and contracts, and of course you shouldn’t see the candidate’s resume if the answers is “no.” A few examples:

  • Have you developed a multi-threaded application in Java?
  • Have you been responsible for Earned Value reporting?
  • Have you ever managed staff?
  • What is the standard form of a SQL query? (Answer: “Select, From, Where” or similar)

In the current highly competitive environment for talent, I want to caution against over-use of Hard Screen questions or “Required Skills,” because the best available talent might be missing a skill you could do really do without if you thought a bit harder about it. Try to limit these questions to those skills that will be critical to the candidate’s success in the job by asking yourself the question, “If I had the right person, would they really need that knowledge on day one to be successful or could we find a way to make it work?”

Sometimes it’s tempting to add a screening question for years of experience or amount of experience, but try to avoid making that a Hard Screen. For example, if you are hiring for a manager over a team of 30, you might be tempted to add a Hard Screen to make sure the individual has managed at least 15 employees for a year, but would you really want to miss the right candidate who had managed 12 people for 2 years years? Likely not. It would be better instead use the second type of question, a Survey Question, to collect the information you need to make the call.

A Survey Question invites your recruiter to collect additional information from the candidate that may or may not be included on a resume or application to aid your decision about whether to take the next step. I recommend a written or web-based form, as opposed to having them administered over the phone by your recruiter and hoping your recruiter is able to capture the detailed answer communicated. You should limit the amount of writing and effort this may take to 1 typed page or an estimated 30 minutes. It’s reasonable to expect a candidate to invest some time, but if every company they applied to was asking for an hour’s worth of typing, plus 15-20 minutes on the phone with a recruiter, you may lose some high-performing talent who are simply not able to invest that much time in advance of some reciprocal time from the employer—and I don’t mean the recruiter’s time! Remember, you may be competing for this big fish, and if you haven’t set the hook, you might lose them by being to aggressive with your expectations. You may need to spend some time on the phone with the candidate attracting them to the role before requesting significant investment of time from them. Examples for your form could be:

  • How many lines of Javascript would you estimate you’ve written in your career?
  • Describe a multi-threaded method you have developed in Java?
  • Describe the monthly EVM report required for the largest program you’ve supported?
  • Detail the number of staff you’ve managed in your career.
  • What form did your User Stories take?

The last type of question I’ll recommend is what I’ll call an Exploratory Question. These are questions, which are often similar in form to the Survey Questions I recommend above, are for your recruiter to ask on the phone. The purpose of these types of questions is two-fold. They are a test of verbal communication skills for the candidate and they are an opportunity for your recruiter to learn and get better for the next time around.

The goal of Exploratory Questions is for the candidate to teach the recruiter something new, because if they can explain it to a recruiter who’s not an expert, they are probably a pretty good communicator. So if a Scrum Master can help me understand a little further the purpose of a User Story, wouldn’t they be more successful in getting buy-in with the customer to adopt the new AGILE development process? Or, if a Java developer can communicate to your recruiter in “normal language” the challenge he faced with processing times on a method he developed, wouldn’t he be able to communicate the issue with the same or greater effectiveness to his non-technical project manager? The Exploratory Questions are not just a verbal communication test of whether the words spoken are understandable, but whether the candidate has the patience and ability to communicate with non-experts in his or her field.

When developing Exploratory Questions, it’s important to discuss them with your recruiter to ensure they take the recruiter’s limited understanding into account and don’t expect too much from a recruiter who likely has just a partial understanding of your work. These questions require your recruiter to have an enthusiasm, passion, and ability to learn new things and ask clarifying questions, but have the added benefit of making your recruiter better. Your recruiter will have learned a little bit more about the types of positions and responsibilities of the job they are supporting for you, which will help make the process more efficient the next time around.

Developing a set of pre-screen questions with your recruiter will help you to get more of what you need to evaluate candidates and be more efficient. The dialogue required to develop these questions will be helpful for both you and your recruiter. And if your recruiter still can’t manage to get you what you need?  Well, you know where to find meand please follow Right Resources on LinkedIn for more insights and advice, or subscribe to our bi-weekly email with recruiting industry content and our newest jobs and candidates.

Mark Tyrrell is the Managing Partner and co-founder of Right Resources and has recruited professionals in the DC/Baltimore area since 2004.  He graduated from Villanova University with a Bachelors in Business Administration and started his career as an ERP consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting.  He has staffed positions for some of the most respected companies in Baltimore, including Constellation, Computer Sciences Corporation, Black & Decker, and Edaptive Systems.  He lives near Baltimore with his wife and two beautiful children and is grateful for all the opportunities God has provided, including this company.