I know a lot of recruiters who are pretty jaded and rarely fall in love with candidates anymore. But their clients do. The long suffering fans of the Oakland Raiders know that Al Davis did it with JaMarcus Russell. A Division President I worked with a few years ago fell hard, too. He chased a senior guy at a competitor for months, and he came in one day to tell us the deal was rocketing to a close.
This candidate the Division President had fallen for, he had been the key leader on three major projects for our competitor, and our contacts at those clients told us we had to get him—it would help us and significantly hurt our competitor at the same time. As the pursuit went on, there was one problem: I didn’t trust the candidate who my senior exec loved.
The recruiting team had gotten him on the line, but the exec who had done the chasing initially decided to skip a few steps and invite the candidate in to “talk turkey.” During the afternoon love fest, the candidate answered a few questions. (Not to be mistaken for an interview though. People who sell time shares would have thought our “interview” was too aggressive.) Later on, a group of execs took him to dinner to keep up the schmooze. Things were moving fast, and I was torn between the excitement of closing a top guy and a nagging feeling that as I spent more time with the guy, I just didn’t like him.
As I was trying to figure out if I had enough guts to tell the Division President that he was perhaps skipping two steps in the hiring process, one of the junior execs who sat next to the candidate at dinner pulled me aside. “I think we need to dig in a bit more.” No, no… no digging in, I thought. He’s the guy; the one our clients told us did such a great job for our competitor. The Division President called him a rock star, for crying out loud.
But through the course of dinner, it turned out the candidate had made a side comment to my guy about how he had been able to really stick it to a major supplier on his last project, increasing project profitability by almost a full percentage point—not chump change in the industry I was in at the time. And there you had the Deal Killer—sticking it to suppliers was not our style. Not even close. Our culture wasn’t keen on stabbing others in the back to get ahead. And with that, the glory I was expecting in being able to close the offer was now turning to fear. We now had to kill the deal and tell the Boss that his rock star was really a Milli Vanilli.
The junior exec and I talked to the Division President the next day. The Boss was grateful for the feedback, which was a great lesson for me: senior guys don’t like to make mistakes any more than you or I do. I was worried about getting blasted for bringing in the wrong guy; instead, we got credit for saying he was the wrong guy.
And the other lessons learned during this fiasco?
- Talent Acquisition is not just moving a job from open to closed
- Assess every candidate with the same rigor—sell when you need to, but find balance
- Don’t get blinded by client references
- Killing a deal can be more important than making one
Instead of hiring the candidate to hurt our competition, we decided to let him stay there and do it himself – and he was superb.
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.