The Dimensions of a Qualified Candidate, Part 2:

Four Strategies for Getting the Information You Need

When you’re hiring, it’s important to understand the four dimensions of a qualified candidate, but eliciting the information you need can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some of the strategies I recommend, to make sure that you know what you need to know before making a hiring decision:

Strategy 1: Prioritize your list of qualifications into “must-have” and “nice-to-have.”

Your approach to a candidate’s background or experience should include a big dollop of realism. Make peace with the idea that you aren’t likely to find someone with all your desired traits and experiences. Today’s market is talent-tight, so you need to make some decisions about where you are willing to compromise, before you start a recruiting process. 

Additionally, and importantly, realize that this market is unforgiving. If you have a candidate you like, and who you believe is capable, don’t waste time waiting for someone better. Even a few days’ hesitation can cost you a candidate you like—you will lose her, either to another company or to her lack of interest in yours.

Strategy 2: Address money during the interview.

If you live in a place where it’s prohibited to ask about past compensation, understand the following: you can ask someone to volunteer his pay history, but you can’t require an answer. 

Should he choose not to provide that number, you have two choices: say nothing and risk wasting everyone’s time, or provide the range of compensation for that position. If you take the second route, you need to confirm that the candidate understands. “Let me make sure we are on the same page—if you are the right person for this job, and we make you an offer in that salary range, would you would accept a base salary between $X and $Y*, assuming everything else aligns?” Something like that. The idea is to get a commitment early in the process. The other idea is to get the person to verbalize his understanding and potential acceptance of those numbers.

*$X and $Y need to be real actual dollar amounts. 

Strategy 3: Find out why the candidate wants to leave her current employer.

To determine your candidate’s willingness to leave her employer, ask about her current situation and what is causing her to explore other opportunities. You’ll also want to know why she is talking to you. Please don’t ask, “Why are you looking?” It’s a fine question, but if you are dealing with someone who has been recruited, it could be perceived as insulting because, well, she wasn’t looking. A great way to ask is: “What can another company offer you that you don’t have today?”

Her answer will help you figure out whether you can provide something that matters to her. If you can’t, the relationship won’t last—regardless of her background or the rapport you’ve established. 

Her answer will also offer tremendous visibility into a bunch of things that are on her mind. First and most obviously, she’ll reveal why she is looking. And you’ll learn several other important things you might want to know: Has she thought about this answer? (She should have.) Does she rage against her current company? (That’s bad.) Has she done any homework about you and your company? (The best answer will be equally elegant in inserting details about what your company can provide, things that the candidate somehow already knows.)

Strategy 4: Minimize your counter-offer risk by playing devil’s advocate.

Once you understand why your candidate wants to leave his current employer, you can test how important these things are to him by asking some what-if questions: “What if your company was able to pay you more? Would you stay?” “What if the company stabilized? Would you stay?” “What if customers stopped leaving? Would you stay?”

If his answer is anything other than “no” (and hesitation is an answer), you have a counter-offer risk on your hands. 

You need to critically and realistically evaluate if you can provide what this candidate wants. If you can’t, or worse, if you sell some bullshit about how you can when you really can’t, you do everyone a disservice, including yourself as the hiring manager. If your candidate believes you, accepts the job, and then figures out in short order that you lied, your relationship and credibility with him will be trashed. Your new hire will either leave or start looking again. Your boss will hate you. You will risk getting fired yourself. In short, nothing good happens. 

Now that you understand why your candidate wants to leave his current company, you’ve determined that his reasons for exploring a new (your) opportunity are good and solid, and you know that you can provide the things that are important to him, you have two important tasks. I’ll talk about them in Part 3 tomorrow.

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