NextGen HR Pro Skill #14: Schmoozing…

NextGen HR and recruiting pros… here’s an essential skill I’m going to add to the mix, and this goes into the soft skills category… NextGen HR pros gotta know how to schmooze and must learn to become good conversationalists.

Most junior HR and recruiting pros get requisitions for other junior or entry level positions. One potential Smooth-talker hurdle for this arrangement? Let’s say you’re a big fan of behavioral interviews. You fervently believe that the past is the best indicator of future performance. But entry level or junior hires don’t have much of a past. They have internships. They have academic experiences. They have extracurricular activities. And meanwhile, your junior recruiter is learning the ropes, still figuring out how to read people and sniff out the B.S. They are still figuring out how to get at motivation and cultural fit, yet they are sitting there talking to an entry or junior level candidate – different discipline, but let’s say within a year or two of experience of each other – neither of them are really fully comfortable with the whole interview setting. Your junior recruiter patiently waits for that S-T-A-R response to the list of behavioral interview questions you’ve helped them prepare. And meanwhile the kid across from them is fumbling.

Ummm. Awkward! That sounds painful actually.

NextGen folks need to learn how to have conversations. Sounds basic, but it isn’t folks. Especially when we, the NextGen, have grown up spending so much time in front of computers and on cell phones. Digital communication excellency does not substitute for good ole schmoozing.

90%, maybe 80% at best, of entry level and junior pros suck at having a conversation with a recruiter about their skills. Most haven’t mastered how to sell nor schmooze themselves… meanwhile, your junior recruiter is sitting there waiting for a S-T-A-R response to behavioral interview questions. And it’s a bit of a disconnect because how do you get at whether someone is qualified when they don’t how how to talk about themselves and their communication skills stink, or they just don’t have a lot of experience to draw from? You gotta know how to listen really well and drive a conversation, folks. You’ve gotta figure out how to get that person talking about themselves. And you’ve gotta get them talking about things that will help illustrate whether they are going to be a good fit. This, I call schmoozing.

The alternative… you could say to hell with it and just be concerned with that 10 to 20% who can talk about themselves in an articulate manner. But a good recruiting pro? You’re not willing to alienate that other 80-90% because you see every interview as an opportunity to evangelize about your employment brand. That 80-90% who suck at communicating with you probably can communicate well enough that they will go tell their roommate, friend, neighbor, aunt, mom and mentor about the experience they had… So, you want to leave them with a positive impression, but awkward interviews with fits and spurts of weird conversation isn’t going to bode well in that arena. NextGen HR or recruiting pros better know damn well how to steer the conversation, make small talk and figure out whether or not the candidate is going to be a good fit culturally to the organization.

And we’ve gotta cultivate this ability to schmooze. Seriously. So, the big question? How? Hit the comments with your thoughts.

FOT Background Check

Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don't be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she's still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life... she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat. Talk to Jessica via EmailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook... See Jessica's riffs and rants on Fistful of Talent here...


  1. There are several issues here: 1) how can GenY learn to schmooze or to develop EQ skills, 2) how can organizations build employment brands effectively – and more economically than one-person-at-a-time in recruitment interviews, and 3) how can we train junior recruiters to assess inexperienced candidates more effectively.
    We know that, scientifically, “gut interviewing” is not a worthwhile predictor of candidate talent, skill or fit, so behavioral interviewing, team interviewing etc are the only logical alternatives that are interview-based. I’m in favor of a two-step process, in which candidates are first assessed for attitude, and then assessed for skill if they pass the “engage-able attitude” test, i.e. they are adaptable, willing to work, emotionally mature, positive/optimistic, confident/resilient and achievement oriented.
    Splitting the skill component from the attitudinal component helps remove the temptation to hire someone who will be a warm body or a brat, just because they have all the immediate skills for the job. We’ve all done it, and we all know how easy it is to hire people for what they can do, then wish we’d thought more about who they are… as we ease them out.
    So how do you train junior recruiters? I think you use GenY strengths. Put them together in a team and get them to work out how they could discover whether someone was adaptable, willing to work, emotionally mature, positive/optimistic, confident/resilient and achievement oriented. Then get them to test out their methods, and yours. Good, inductive training always saves big on the bottom line, and they’ll probably give you some new ideas too.
    As to employment brand, I’m a fan of Dov Seidman’s How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life). Interestingly, he doesn’t pass the engagement brand test himself – check – which makes the point even more strongly. We really do live in a transparent world, and everyone is on notice to walk the walk, not simply talk the talk.
    GenY will learn more EQ skills with time, training, support and experience, but for the moment, the ball is in the recruiters’ court to draw them out. The economic environment places many interviewees in a disempowered position, and trust is limited in a world where corporations are seen to hire and fire people as needed. The recruiter is challenged to reframe interviews as win-win situations that seek the mutual benefit of both parties, and then build trust so that interviewees can relax and talk about their favorite subject, themselves.

  2. Conversation, with anyone, takes practice and some guidance. I used to marvel at how my father, who was not in sales, was able to talk to anyone. When I was in my teen years I used to think he knew everyone. I oftne thought “I could never do that.” He just liked meeting new people. He would start a conversation with just a minor observation.. often an out of state license plate.. and he would ask them where they were from or some such question. Well I guess I learned through observation because I can usually strike up a conversation without too much difficulty.
    Having younger recruiters work with someone with grey hair, as painful as it may be, can help with the conversational skills. Having them accompany an older HR pro to a SHRM meeting is a good way to expose them to the art of conversation. And of course tried and true programs such as Dale Carnegie and Toastmasters will help with ease in speaking, including one on one situations.
    My favorite self-improvement author and speaker, Denis Waitely, says in one of his programs, “to be interesting, be interested.” This means talk to people about who they are and they will think you are the most interesting person.
    Just some thoughts. Also, I would not call it schmoozing. People do have a negative reaction to that word.

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