Candidate Coaching Improves Hiring Results — So Stop Losing Candidates For Preventable Reasons

As seen on ERE Media (March 27, 2017).

If you are failing to coach your candidates prior to their interview,  you may be unnecessarily losing as many as 20 percent of your qualified candidates simply for trivial reasons. Candidate coaching is where a corporate recruiter provides pre-interview guidance to qualified candidates on what to expect, areas to focus on, and any trivial knockout factors to avoid. The goal of the pre-interview coaching is to provide the candidate with insights into the firm’s expectations and to reduce the number of candidate rejections as a result of minor preventable factors. Remember that a feeling of sharing is an important part of improving the candidate experience.

Highlighting the Benefits Associated With Candidate Coaching 

Executive search and third-party agency recruiting firms include candidate coaching as part of their services. Firms in these areas have been touting the benefits of this practice for years. Some of the arguments that these firms make include: it helps to build the all-important trust relationship between the recruiter and the candidate, it creates a better candidate experience, and it reduces unnecessary candidate rejections. They also argue that coaching a candidate can build their confidence, which will improve their interview performance while simultaneously reducing the chance of them dropping out.

In the corporate world, as a result of providing guidance, it is likely that fewer qualified candidates will be summarily rejected because of their dress, arriving late, body language, or limited knowledge about the company. It simply doesn’t make economic sense to lose qualified candidates merely because of a minor stumble or pitfall that coaching could have minimized. If you question the recruiter’s role as coach, remember that recruiters have always been considered to be “brokers.” And even though they are employed by the corporation, as professionals they have the shared responsibility of looking out for the needs of both sides. Many additional benefits that accrue from candidate coaching are listed later in this article.

Candidate Coaching Isn’t Uncommon 

As mentioned previously, candidate coaching is routinely practiced by executive recruiters and agency recruiters around the world. In the corporate world, the recruiting machine at Google considers candidate coaching to be so important that it offers sessions and YouTube videos on the subject. Coaching is not foreign to almost all corporate recruiters because they routinely coach hiring managers on how they can best assess and sell top candidates. However, for hard-to-explain reasons, some in the corporate world unexplainably view the coaching of candidates as unethical (it’s not). The goal of candidate coaching is not to make a poor candidate look good or to slip one by the hiring manager. But instead, it benefits both sides by focusing good candidates on the most critical areas and by not losing them simply because they make a minor error that might have nothing to do with on-the-job success.

The Top 10 Candidate Coaching Areas With the Highest Impacts

As always, use data and not simply intuition to determine the most appropriate and effective coaching areas at your firm. The content of the best candidate coaching is, of course, specific to each hiring manager and candidate. But to give you a general idea about what can to be covered, the following list covers the 10 areas where coaching generally has the highest impact. The highest impact guidance areas are listed first.

  • Fully understanding the company culture — many companies are justifiably proud of their company culture. As a result, it makes sense for the recruiter to alert candidates when they need to have in-depth knowledge about the company culture. Recruiters can also refer the candidate to web links that fully illustrate and explain the culture.
  • What to expect during the upcoming interview process — not understanding what to expect during the interview process may result in under-preparation. Or it may increase anxiety, which decreases interview performance. Therefore it makes sense for a recruiter to outline the process. The recruiter might also provide broad guidance covering the steps in their upcoming interview, who will be interviewing them, what will be assessed, or how long the complete process will likely take. If the hiring manager uses unusual types of questions (e.g. brainteaser questions or whiteboard tests), a heads-up might be appropriate. Knowing more about the process will allow candidates to focus their preparation and to better estimate the time that they will need to be away from their current job. Fully understanding the interview process is even more important if the interviewee is an international candidate or someone that is entering the workforce for the first time.
  • Ensuring that the candidate will arrive on-time — arriving late is almost always an instant knockout factor. A candidate who would never have difficulty arriving on time in their normal life might falter and be late when they are nervous and they are visiting a brand new location. So, consider providing the candidate with foolproof and thoroughly pretested driving and public transit directions that can’t be misinterpreted. Don’t forget to tell them which door to enter on interview day. Also, advise them about rush-hour traffic, parking issues, and whether lunch will be provided. Foolproof directions are especially important for out-of-town and international interviewees. Many recruiters also advise the candidate to arrive an hour early and to wait at a nearby coffee shop while they compose themselves. If canceling or postponing an interview is a knockout factor for this hiring manager, make sure that the candidate is aware of that. Part of your coaching might include sending a reminder to the candidate one or two days before the interview.
  • Outline the critical success and failure factors for this hiring manager — anxiety related to the positive and negative factors that a hiring manager cares about can reduce interview performance. So, depending on how well you know the hiring manager, a recruiter can provide a heads-up as to the specific factors that concern this hiring manager. Positive factors that hiring managers care the most about might include proactively asking questions, using data and dollars in your answers, showing enthusiasm/confidence, providing innovative solutions, and having specific career goals. Making candidates aware of hiring manager “turn-off” factors can be equally as beneficial in reducing anxiety. Those negative turn-off factors often include: being overly focused on money/benefits, long rambling answers, and criticizing previous managers. Other knockout factors might include the overuse of clichés/jargon, arrogance, not being a team player, a lack of flexibility, and too little eye contact and listening. In most cases, it’s not appropriate to provide more than the names of the positive and negative factors.
  • The expected level of job and company background research — in addition to knowing the company culture, some hiring managers expect a top candidate to have done more than a perfunctory Google search on the firm. So in those cases, it’s okay to recommend the best company and job information sources and to encourage candidates to visit the LinkedIn profiles of key interviewers. If the company is particularly proud of new initiatives or products that are hard to find out about, limited guidance might be appropriate.
  • The appropriate dress for the interview — inappropriate dress can also be an instant knockout factor. So to completely alleviate anxiety about this factor, provide a candidate with details covering over- and under-dressing. Refer them to corporate website pictures and provide them with a list of stress related dos and don’ts. If this hiring manager has issues related to visible tattoos, body piercings, excessive jewelry, etc. a heads-up warning may be appropriate. Some recruiters even provide “right before the interview” fine-tuning advice on how they are dressed to ensure that the candidate looks their best.
  • Make them aware of their strengths — candidates are often in the dark about many things, including what specifically you liked about them. So you can reduce at least some of their anxiety by letting the candidate know what impressed you and the top reasons why they would likely be successful in this job. This positive information can help build their confidence and allow them to focus on other less-certain areas that might require additional information and support during the interview. Some recruiters also mention areas of concern, so that candidates know that they are expected to provide more information in these areas.
  • The types of interview questions to expect  obviously, you don’t want to reveal the actual interview questions. But if you know them, you should at least consider making candidates aware of the types of interview questions they are likely to get from this hiring manager. Including behavioral questions, brainteasers, line-by-line questions from the resume, walk me through the steps or standard questions (strengths/weaknesses, your goals, where would you like to be in __ years, tell me about yourself, etc.). A few recruiters even remind their candidates that and other similar sites may be helpful in giving them some idea of the typical interview questions used and this firm.
  • What to bring and what not to bring to the interview — one lesser but still important area that can create uncertainty is what to bring to the interview. Let the candidate know if they need to bring extra copies of their resume, a photo ID, reference letters, and any required certifications or licenses. For security reasons sometimes it is desirable to let them know not to bring laptops, mobile phones, cameras, and even weapons.
  • Miscellaneous areas to cover — once again, take actions to reduce anxiety and improve the candidate experience. For example, if travel is involved, let the candidate know about the process for getting reimbursed. If you know it, reveal the expected timeframe before they receive feedback. And if you anticipate them getting a second interview, some recruiters take the time to describe that process, if it is different. 

The Top 10 Benefits of Candidate Coaching 

A data-driven structured candidate coaching process can have many advantages and benefits. The most impactful benefits and advantages are listed first. They include:

  • A higher interview pass-through rate — more candidates will make it to the second round of interviews because as a result of coaching, they are more confident and focused. Knowing what to expect and that they won’t be blindsided will improve their performance during their interviews.
  • Fewer top-quality candidates will be summarily rejected — the very best candidates are likely already fully employed. And as a result, they have less time for interview preparation. The best might also be overly confident, even though they haven’t looked for a job in a while. Taken together these factors can contribute to a degree of sloppiness that gets some top candidates summarily rejected. You can take a laissez-faire attitude or you can take proactive actions to reduce to nearly zero the chance of losing these top candidates because of any minor faux pas that would not reflect on their ability to do the job. You can also improve your offer acceptance rate for top-quality candidates by asking them in advance what information they require and who they would need to meet before they could make their final decision.
  • Less wasted hiring manager time  when a candidate is dropped from consideration as a result of a trivial mistake that could have been avoided, the end result is that you have wasted a great deal of our manager and recruiter time. Plus you have unnecessarily missed out on the hiring of a top candidate.
  • Coaching may improve your hire quality — when you lose your top candidates because of trivial reasons, your chances of getting a quality hire obviously improve. When coaching reduces anxiety and stress levels, top candidates will perform better during interviews. And because coaching improves the candidate experience, fewer top candidates will voluntarily drop out of a tedious interview process and many will consider another job with the firm if they are rejected for this job.
  • Coaching may improve diversity hiring — diversity and international candidates may be less aware of recruiting nuances and they are almost certainly more anxious. Fortunately, coaching will build their confidence because they fully understand what’s ahead of them.
  • An increased ability to sell the candidate  having a higher level of trust may influence the candidate to tell you more about their concerns, expectations, their salary needs, and their job acceptance factors. Taken together, this information will aid the recruiter in successfully selling them if they become the finalist.
  • Coaching operates within limits — the purpose of coaching isn’t to hide serious candidate flaws from the hiring manager. Instead, it is designed to bring out the very best while the candidate maintains their genuineness and honesty. And because corporate recruiters are professionals who are not incentivized for each individual hire (as third-party recruiters are), there is less pressure on them to “over-coach.” The best approach is to start with a little coaching, and with success, broaden it into other areas. If you’re unsure about the maximum limits of coaching, talk it over with other recruiters or your hiring manager.
  • Coaching may also improve your employer brand — improving the candidate experience and providing helpful feedback across many candidates may improve your employer brand image. If your candidates are active on social media, your firm’s interview and candidate experience ratings will also improve. Remember that rejecting a top candidate for what they might consider being a minor reason may turn them off and literally prevent them from ever reapplying for another position at your firm.
  • The ROI is easy to prove — the minimal recruiter time required to provide coaching to an individual candidate (15 to 30 minutes) will more than pay for itself in improved hiring results. If you’re unsure of the impact of candidate coaching, focus on already measured jobs like sales or call center positions. Randomly provide half of the interview slate with candidate coaching and keep the standard routine for the remaining half of the slate. Don’t be surprised when the “coached” new hires perform at least 10 percent better on the job.
  • Over time, data can help you improve your coaching — learn from every candidate that is lost because of a factor that can be covered in coaching. In order to gather data, hold a brief conversation with the hiring manager after any qualified candidate is rejected for a coachable factor. Probe so that you can identify the “fixable factors” so that you can improve your coaching in those minor areas. Over time you should also identify the knockout factors of individual managers, with the hope that over time you can convince them to drop the ones that don’t predict on-the-job success.

Final Thoughts

In the corporate world, everyone wins when the candidate is focused on the right things, they are confident, and the possibility of minor errors is minimized. Candidate coaching can have a small but important impact on your recruiting results. But despite its impact, it is a topic that is seldom discussed at corporate recruiting conferences or on recruiting blogs. It only has modest goals and it isn’t designed to turn a “turkey candidate” into an eagle. However, it clearly can keep you from losing many qualified candidates for preventable reasons. And the trust that it builds in a candidate may linger for years.

If you have an eye toward the future, you should also be aware that recruiting technology will inevitably take over much of the work that current recruiters do. As that transition occurs, the best recruiters will eventually become internal talent consultants. And with that increased focus on coaching hiring managers, those recruiters who have already developed their coaching skills will perform much better. So consider coaching candidates as valuable preparation for your future. Remember that you learned it here.

 Photo credit: Pexels

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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