What to Do When a Hiring Manager Expects a Miracle

By Firefish Software

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Often, recruiters really are miracle workers but there are times when a hiring manager simply asks too much. We’ve all come across tall tales of unicorn candidates and mythical 10x employees and many hiring managers have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid.

So, when they need a new hire, they put together a job description for a candidate that simply doesn’t exist. Every recruiter is familiar with this scenario: A client wants a candidate with extensive qualifications, whom ticks every box on their shopping list of skills, and whom will work for middling pay.

Yet these hiring managers typically don’t have a well-defined idea of what the successful candidate will do day-to-day, alongside what they will offer them in exchange. So, it’s your job as an expert recruiter to assist them in packaging up their shopping list of skills into an effective and competitive job description.

The Impossible to Fill Job

To highlight this exact problem, Nancy Collamer, writing in Forbes, put together this fictional job description:

‘Progressive employer seeks Harvard-trained neuroscientist and beauty pageant winner. Must be fluent in Mandarin and skilled at tribal basket weaving. Minimum of 10 years’ experience working for high-tech companies. Salary: mid-30’s.’

Of course, Nancy exaggerates for effect, but the point is relevant. Many times hiring managers put together a job spec so specific, they’ll struggle to find any relevant candidates. There’s nothing in the above description describing what the job is, nothing about the company, or what’s on offer to candidates. In short, there’s no reason for a candidate to apply even if they do possess the necessary skills (which is unlikely at best!).

Why is This Happening?

The last few years, since the 2008 recession, created a bad job market. Many hiring managers were able to be picky when looking for excellent candidates. That’s not the case anymore. Now candidates have more options. So hiring managers need to reign in their wants, and focus instead on what they need today, alongside what the job offers candidates in terms of career progression.

Often a bad job posting is put together by committee with everyone voicing the things they want from a new hire. This leads to an unwieldy and difficult to work with shopping list of ‘must haves.’ This sort of job listing also points to a collective inexperience with hiring that type of candidate. George Blomgren, in an article titled ‘Unrealistic Job Requirements: The Trouble With Jackalopes’ suggests the reason for this is:

‘When the recession began, a lot of employers downsized. Remaining employees were often given new responsibilities, sometimes completely unrelated to their primary roles… quite often, employers forgot that these unique hybrid employees don’t actually exist in the wilds… in effect, we’re no longer talking about an unrealistic job description – we’re talking about 2 or 3, cobbled together!’

What’s a Recruiter to Do?

Image of lots of CVs.

The first thing to do is adopt a diplomatic tone. You’ve got some negotiating to do. Lean on your experience in the sector and show the hiring manager other companies with similar job postings so they get a feel for who and what they’re hiring against. This will highlight what the industry standard is for this sort of job and it will help you align the client’s wants with what they’re likely to get from a new hire.

As a recruiter with experience in this market, you’re in a unique position to make recommendations. Use this as an opportunity to pitch your value. Help the hiring manager get a picture of the type of person they need, not just an abstract shopping list of desirable skills.

At Firefish, our CEO Wendy McDougall, argues that the happiest employees match the company’s mission and culture, and these employees also enjoy working with the manager. Wendy would always ask hiring managers the following questions to develop a better understanding of what they truly wanted from a new hire:

  1. Describe the working week
  2. What personalities will a successful candidate interact with on a daily basis?
  3. Describe the sort of person that works best with you and the traits of ones whom haven’t worked out (often more telling!)
  4. At the end of the probationary period, what would make you happy that your new hire has delivered for you?

The answers to these questions reveals the type of person that the hiring manager wants to work with, adding context to their shopping list of desirable skills. It helps them get an idea of the person they’re really looking for and the above questions get them thinking about culture and personality fit, which is often more important than hiring for skills.

Be an Expert

When it comes to being an expert, you need to consistently show the hiring manager that you know the market exceptionally well. They need to buy into your expertise in order to change their expectations on their new hire.

So, use relevant data, and show them why a candidate type is unavailable or unrealistic. The why is important. It means they will have actionable information to relay back to their colleagues and boss. It also means that when you do submit CVs and arrange for candidates to be interviewed, the hiring manager is already prepped for the type of skills they’ll have. Plus, if you do find an outstanding candidate that surpasses your expectations, your reputation will be bolstered.

But the key is to take the hiring manager through the problem solving process. They need to understand your objections and how you’re going to go about finding them the very best candidate. It also means they will see first-hand the value in the work you’re doing.

And dependant on the recruitment software you’re using, you should be able to show them some example candidates via client mode. This mean you only show them pieces of each candidate’s CV, not the whole thing, omitting personal details. This approach allows you to focus on specific things like salary banding, helping you to hone and narrow down the client’s wants into a realistic job description.

The important thing is managing the hiring manager’s expectations all the way through the process and if, even with the edits to the job advert, it’s still going to be difficult to fill the position, keep the hiring manager informed in terms of timescales. 

Skills Can Be Taught

Image of an award winning CV.

When it comes to selling a candidate, remind the hiring manager that you can teach skills. A candidate can become a perfect employee with the right amount of training. Help the hiring manager to focus their thoughts on things like culture and personality fit. A bad culture fit is unlikely to change over time, but skills can be learned.

A new employee can master their role and add real value to a business – it just takes the right sort of eyes to spot the candidate with the best potential. That’s where you come in as an expert recruiter with specific knowledge of the sector they’re hiring within.

Plus, as Adele Wooton of Creative Niche Inc suggests:

‘A strong-career development program can also be a great employee engagement and retention tool that demonstrates a company’s commitment (to) its workers… avoid trying to hire a jack-of-all trades or someone with skills your company simply doesn’t need. Put simply, that approach is a recruitment recipe for disaster.’

So, as a recruiter it is your responsibility to advise your clients and steer them towards a good decision. Done well, you’ll provide a client with plenty of actionable information that will help them see the potential in good candidates to become exceptional employees with the right amount of training.

About the Author: Working as their Content Guru, Andy Mckendry plans, writes, and edits articles and blog posts for Firefish Software. He holds an MA in Professional Writing, and in the early mornings is known to gravitate towards the nearest coffee pot.

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