Episode 9

Nailing the Candidate Debrief

Published on: 16th November, 2023

Drill down on how to conduct a flawless candidate debrief, including how to get candidates to share their FEELINGS, put on your listening hat, and use the right phrasing to combat defensiveness, plus learn the 3 crucial areas of focus, T.Y.S.U.A.L. vs Z.I.A.L., and how a huge part of recruiting comes down to destiny.

Transcript
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Hi, this is Stephanie Maas, partner with Thinking Ahead Executive Search.

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I specialize in commercial banking and commercial finance search and want to introduce you to the idea of a good candidate debrief in today's talent trade session.

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So often you will hear me and other folks here at thinking ahead, talk a lot about where we have control, which by the way, is almost nowhere where we have opportunities for influence and then to learn, to let go of everything else in our world.

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It's really the only way to maintain sanity in this crazy, complex, sophisticated sales of executive recruiting.

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Today, we're going to talk about an area of influence, and that is through the idea of a candidate debrief fundamentally.

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And from a philosophical standpoint, most of us really do believe that if a deal's meant to come together, there's not a whole lot we as a recruiter can do to prevent that from happening.

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There's also not a whole lot we can do to keep a deal from coming together if it wasn't meant to be.

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So our role from our perspective isn't about using controller influence to get a deal done per se.

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That's kind of up to the people involved that it directly affects, but rather our role is to help navigate a highly sophisticated, complex process.

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So let's talk about this idea of a candidate debrief.

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Now, for me personally, and a lot of us here at thinking ahead, we like to get the candidates feedback before we go to the client.

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This is for a couple of different reasons.

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Number one, even though we get paid by our clients, it is often helpful to understand where the candidates heads at and to get that information to the client before they have an opportunity to pass too much judgment.

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If you go to the client and you don't know where the candidate's head is at after an interview, really it's hard to add any value to the conversation other than listening.

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Now, this is different when we approach the candidate first, so that's one of my first suggestions is when you prep a candidate, as we've discussed in the past, one of the things I'm gonna ask them to do is reach out to me within 24 hours of the interview, regardless if it's the first interview, second, third, fourth, fifth, whatever the case may be, to get me some good.

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Feedback quickly so I can go back to the client, but now we are with the candidate.

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So how do we get them engaged in getting their quote unquote debrief also called an AAR.

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If you're a military, that's your after action report.

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Either way, it doesn't matter.

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Oftentimes I like to start broad with my questions and then get more specific as time allows.

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Typically, by the way, this process should take anywhere, depending on the candidate and what stage of the process that they're in 15 to 30 minutes.

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If it goes a whole heck of a lot more than 30 minutes, I'm going to challenge you to see if you're really spending necessary time, or if you're spending time, most humans.

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Don't have an attention span to speak with folks for more than 30 minutes, unless they're face to face.

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So just be mindful of the timing of that.

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So very simple.

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We start in and it'll sound something like this.

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Hey Susan, thanks so much for giving me a call.

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I appreciate it.

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And I'm excited to talk to you and hear how the interview went.

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Um, Hey, real quick.

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Before we jump in on that, I just wanted to ask, is there anything new or different with you since the last time we spoke?

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This is a thinking ahead question that we love to ask to initiate conversation.

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While we truly believe the onus is on the recruiter to get information from our candidates and clients, this is a great way just to touch base.

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It's a touchstone question.

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Since we last spoke, whether it's been 24 hours, 48 hours or a week, is there anything going on with you that you think we should know or be aware of?

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So that's where I like to start.

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Second question goes into, Hey, I just want to quickly share with you my agenda and then be available for any thoughts or questions you might have as well.

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My hope in our conversation today is I just really wanted to learn how you felt the interview went.

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That's a key word there.

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Even though I'm not a huge feelings person, a lot of the interviewing is about feelings.

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So I'm already planting that seed.

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I want to know how you felt.

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I'll certainly get into plenty of technical things along the way.

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But feelings are a big deal here.

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So just wanted to hear how you felt about the interview.

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Talk a little bit about some of what you've learned and just take it from there.

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How does that sound?

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This is where you're getting their buy in to participate in the conversation.

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So anything new or different now we have their buy in to the agenda.

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And then I just really relax.

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So tell me, how did it go?

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It used to be when I was first in the business, people would say the phrase, then you shut up and listen.

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In fact, I used to have that S U A L acronym on my computer monitor screen for years upon years.

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It's a perfectly good reminder to get into a listening mode.

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However, when I started raising kids, and if anybody knows me, this is going to sound a little bit weird because I know I've got a bit of a potty mouth, but shut up just seemed harsh.

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And I didn't like talking to myself like that.

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A couple of months ago, I heard another recruiter say, zip it and listen.

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So I'm going to adopt instead of a shut up and listen, I'm a zip it and listen.

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So when you ask that question, Hey, how did it go?

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Zip it and listen.

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I don't care if you have a series of awkward pauses.

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Hit the mute button after you ask this question.

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This is where you are really teeing the candidate up to talk freely without interruption and get out everything that they have been mauling over since the interview and bring you into the loop into what and how they're thinking about the interview.

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It is critical that we don't interrupt.

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Even sometimes people believe that active listening is the occasional, Hmm, Uh huh.

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Okay.

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That's fine.

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But too often we don't time those right and we end up cutting people off mid thought, mid sentence.

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So instead just, Hey, tell me how did it go?

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Hit the mute button on your phone if you can and zip it and listen.

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What you are listening for is everything.

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By the way, feel free to take notes if you can.

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If you're not a good note taker.

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Record the call.

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If that makes sense for you, whatever the case, but this is, and you've heard me say this before, good recruiters are good listeners.

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Great recruiters are phenomenal listeners.

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When you put on your listening hat and really focus on what they're sharing with you, it's going to give you a lot of feedback in terms of how you can help navigate them.

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Through this process.

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So start big.

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Now some folks aren't big talkers.

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They're not verbal processors.

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They're going to go, yeah, I think it went pretty well.

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And boy, that desire to jump in and ask more questions is going to be overwhelming, but don't do it.

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Sit there in silence if you can and let them keep going.

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If they absolutely refuse, you've given it five or more seconds before they say anything.

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And they still won't talk, then you ask a follow up question, okay, well, tell me about it.

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Like how long did it last?

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Who did you meet with?

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Then once they get going and share some of the more details, then you can get back to some of the more technical questions, things that you coach them on to ask things like, so now that you've had a chance to learn a little bit more about the hiring manager, tell me what you thought of him.

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Again, this is a critical place to ask.

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Open ended questions.

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What did you think of him or her?

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I'm just curious.

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Were you able to ask them, you know, why they like being there?

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What brought them there?

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What keeps them there?

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And you just rattle through some of the questions that you prepped the candidate and find out what they learned.

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The three areas I like to focus on are who they met with the job itself and the overall organization.

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And what you ask them is exactly what you coach them to ask so you can learn about the culture.

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Hey, now that you've had a chance to speak with the hiring manager, what did you learn about their culture or how would you describe their culture?

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Listen, how does that match up with what's important to you?

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And then zip it and listen.

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Same thing for technicalities of the job.

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Hey, after speaking with the hiring manager, do you feel like you have a better understanding of what they're really looking for in the role?

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How does that compare with what you're looking for in your next role?

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How does this opportunity to compare with anything else you may have thought about or talked about with other organizations, get into any other details that are specific to the role, then do the same thing with the organization.

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From a big picture perspective, now that you've had a chance to have this meeting, tell me what you think of the organization.

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Is there anything different than what you thought before you had the meeting?

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How does an organization like this compare to what's important to you in an organization?

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I'm rattling through these questions quickly, but I encourage you to slow down, ask each one of them one at a time and really try to hear what the other person is saying.

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So then we get all the good stuff out.

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We talk about how it went, how long they were there, what they liked, what they didn't like.

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And I don't ask, Hey, what did you like?

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What didn't you like?

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But when we started asking, how does this compare to what you were looking for or what's important to you?

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And I like to use that.

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What's important to you versus what you're looking for.

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Most of us work with passive candidates.

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So they may have a little bit of a defensive posture to what you were looking for type of questions.

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Well, I'm not really looking.

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You called me.

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Uh huh.

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Okay.

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So instead, Hey, how does this compare to what's important to you?

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How does this compare to your current situation?

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Things like that.

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You may get a little bit more out of the candidate with those types of questions.

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Go through that.

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This usually takes up the majority of your time.

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Hey, I'm just curious as you and the hiring manager were wrapping up, were you able to get all of your questions answered now that you've had a chance to meet with the hiring manager and learn a little bit more?

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What else is on your mind about this opportunity again?

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Good, solid, open ended questions that we can get specific now that you've had a chance to speak with the hiring manager.

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And of course you call him by name.

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I'm just curious.

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And this is going to sound kind of silly, but I'm going to ask it anyway.

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Has your interest gone up, gone down, stayed the same.

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And then whatever they say, you ask them why and zip it and listen after they get done telling you where they're at and why they're where they're at.

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Then you ask the question, is there anything about the opportunity, the position, the leadership, the organization, et cetera, that gives you pause or concern?

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This is often a question people are afraid to ask because they go, Hey, they just got done selling me why everything's great and wonderful.

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Why would I throw in this something negative?

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The idea is whatever is negative.

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It's what's going to keep the deal from coming together.

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For me personally, I'd much rather know what are the hesitations or concerns and be able to talk with them, deal with them.

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Even if it pulls the plug on the deal, I'd rather learn that sooner rather than later.

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And if they aren't telling you what's a concern or a hesitation, I assure you they're telling somebody.

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So if you're their partner and navigating this process, wouldn't you want to know?

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What's going on or what they're telling other folks.

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And then you can also ask, Hey, I'm curious, who else have you talked to about this opportunity in the interview?

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Most of the time it's a support person.

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Hey, what were their thoughts and feedback?

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And again, sometimes you get super neutral feedback.

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Oh, they're fine.

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Whatever they, you know, if I think it's best for me, they're fine with it, whatever.

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Okay, great.

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But sometimes you get some really good insight.

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Hey, you know, I, I did talk to my partner and as much as it sounds like it's a really good opportunity, there is some concern about the timing.

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We just started the kids in a new school and, you know, with me having to work a whole lot, I'm not going to be around as much or, you know, who knows it could be any number of different factors, but again, information you want to know.

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Then you talk about pain points.

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Hey, one of the reasons why you share with me that you might be open to making a move was the idea to get on a bigger project.

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How would an opportunity like this?

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Satisfy that desire for you.

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And again, these are just questions you go back to if they haven't already talked about them.

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For verbal processors, they have probably talked about everything under the sun, but you may have to get a little bit more specific.

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Go back to your notes on why they were interested in the company to begin with and really get specific about, Hey, have you thought about, does this match with what is important to you?

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Then I like to ask the question, Hey, I know this was step one of several, but what else would be important for you to learn or know to make a decision?

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Again, it's a first date, so they may go, Oh my gosh, well I need to talk to this person and lower.

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And again, you're not closing them, but you're trying to get a sense for where they're at in their head.

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If they go, oh, gosh, I, I, yeah, I, I'm definitely not ready to make a decision.

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Just listen, don't react, let them be the reactive ones.

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You just listen.

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Oh, yeah, of course.

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There'll be several more steps in the process.

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I just want to know from your perspective, what else do you need to learn?

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So with that information.

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If we were to go to a next step, what do you think would be a good next step?

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And it may be, Hey, I want to meet with this person or I'd want to talk to this person or a, Hey, I'd have to spend more time with the hiring manager.

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Again, this is critical information to help them navigate this process.

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So you want to know what would make a good next step from their perspective.

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And then you ask directly very clearly at this point, do you feel you have enough interest to pursue a next step?

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And then you zip it and listen.

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Last couple of things I like to ask is again, Hey, I know you were coached not to talk about money, but I am curious, did it happen to come up?

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Was there anything else that came up that was different than what you thought or unexpected?

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Listen, listen, listen.

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Then I like to get their permission to share back what I think I've heard now.

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I don't reiterate word for word, but I do summarize and I make sure that I show the congruencies between what was important to them and what they discovered.

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And I also am willing to talk about their concerns.

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Not doing the latter part is lazy and it's what I call winging a prayer.

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It's where you literally get out there and you hope.

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By a wing and a prayer that you can make this deal happen.

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If they have concerns, it is better to address them early and often.

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Now, we don't want to make mountains out of molehills, so that's where the quality of listening comes in.

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If they just say something in passing, but it's not really a big deal to them, or you can hear that it's literally just in passing, that may not be a concern I bring up, but if they bring up something that's very real, like commute or, you know, size of organization or quality of leadership or turnover or other things.

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Hey, and hearing you, I heard you mentioned that the commute may be a little bit of an issue given what's going on with some of your family dynamics.

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Is that something you'd be willing to talk more about?

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That's how we address concerns and hesitation.

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Once we get all this information, again, another one of my favorite questions, super open ended anything else you think I should know or be aware of at this time, then you say, Hey, you know what?

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I really appreciate your time and your willingness to talk through this with me.

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As I said before, I'd like to go ahead and reach out to Tom.

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I'd love to hear his feedback, good, bad, or indifferent.

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I will get back to you with the feedback.

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Tom and I have a call scheduled today at two o'clock, or we're going to talk in the next 24 hours or whatever the case.

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The only way you won't hear back from me in the next day is if Tom and I, for some reason, don't connect and no news is not bad news.

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It's just no news.

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But I give you my word, I will get back to you with the feedback, good, bad, or indifferent.

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You'll be surprised and amazed at how much people really appreciate you just letting them know how it went, even if it didn't go well and they were hoping that it did.

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If they continue to be interested, I directly say, and again, based on our conversation with your permission, I'm going to continue to be your advocate for this role with this hiring manager.

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And let them know that you're interested in moving things forward and discuss next steps at okay with you and they go, yep, that sounds great.

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Okay.

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Well, Hey, I, again, really appreciate our time together.

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If there's anything else, you know, I'm connecting with Tom at two, you know, don't hesitate to reach back out if you think of anything.

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Otherwise, please be on the lookout for my call to you sometime after Tom and I connect.

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Cool.

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Cool.

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And that's my friends is a candidate debrief.

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About the Podcast

The Talent Trade
Presented by ThinkingAhead Executive Search
The Talent Trade is all about finding the right person, for the right opportunity, at the right time. But how exactly do you do that the "right" way? Executive Search Partner and Top Biller Stephanie Maas shares more than 25 years of experience about what it takes to be a top recruiter in today's "talent trade" market, using ThinkingAhead’s four-prong system focused on recruiting, business development, planning, and managing your mindset. It’s real, honest information about how to build your desk, perfect your niche, and stand out among the crowd in your search career.
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