Ask the Expert: Candidate Coaching – How Much is too Much?

Welcome to another installment of ATCHub’s very own “Ask the Expert”, where experts in recruitment and HR gather to answer your everyday talent acquisition/workforce-related queries. Let us know if you have any questions. Leave them in the comments or email them to us, and you might just see it in the next issue of ATCHub “Ask the Expert”!
Business Insider published an article recently describing the length to which a Google recruiter prepped his candidate for an interview with his hiring manager. That included sample questions, tips on what to expect during the interview, what to do to prepare, what is the hiring manager’s preferences/inclinations etc. Basically, this is poker’s equivalent of a “show hand”.
Do you think this is too much of an overkill? Is the sole role of the recruiter to make the hiring manager fall in love with the candidate? 

Name – Maarten Roosenburg
Title – Director
Company – SMAART Recruitment
Absolutely, this is the role of a recruiter, or at least part of it! Perhaps the best and easiest comparison is when you study for an exam – what do you do in terms of preparation?
Sure, you go over your course notes but more importantly you also obtain copies of previous exams, speak to your lecturer and ask “what should I expect” or even seek advice from previous students who have completed the course and in some instances pay for the professional services of a tutor.
So, what is the aim of all this? – to be the best you can possibly be prepared and ensuring you don’t get hit by something from left field when you open up your exam paper on exam day. Comparatively speaking, the same applies when seeking a new job and preparing for an interview, especially via an agency. Why would it be considered overkill or too much once a consultant has short-listed you for a role to not expect them to provide you with sample questions, tips on what to expect during your interview and how to best prepare?
Granted, the consultant wants you to get the job but he/she also wants the other three or four candidates on his/her shortlist to get the job as well, so there is no bias from a candidate perspective. On the flip side, when a client works with an agency they are doing so because recruitment agencies fill a specific need. Employers need the right people to apply for their jobs, but often they don’t have the time to go and find these people themselves. They use recruitment agencies to do this for them, so that the employer can spend more of their time interviewing applicants in a timely and efficient manner.
With this in mind, employers want candidates who have been well briefed and prepared – they are paying a fee for this service and are therefore entitled to receive all the extra benefits which an agency can offer. The role of a recruiter is a complex one, from sourcing to interviewing and closing the deal we try and extract as much value as we can for both the candidate and our client, anything else would be selling ourselves short. However, at the end of the day the candidate still needs to attend the interview themselves and even when they are armed with the best knowledge available it’s still sometimes not enough, it’s all about risk mitigation and giving yourself the best possible chance of success.

Name – 
Stan Rolfe
Title – Lead Talent Scout
Company – HealthEngine
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I’m currently having similar conversations internally at HealthEngine. Our technical positions require candidates to participate in and pass through a number of steps. These include an online third party coding test, and if they meet our threshold then invited to a face to face interview where further testing takes place. Failure rate is worryingly high for a smallish pool of talent in Perth. I’m talking over 50 percent at first test and close to 70 percent and second test.
I asked Glen Cathy about his thoughts on this and potential ways around it. He put me onto Cracking The Coding Interview written by Gayle McDowell. McDowell is an ex-Google Engineer and Hiring Manager who is educating technical people on how to prepare for interviews with the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook etc. She talks about preparing candidates but not to the extent of giving it away.
My approach has always been to provide some loose guidance and leave it up to the candidates to work it through – ‘We’re going to give you some problems to solve on paper, they will be focused around PHP and algorithms and we’re looking for how you work through problems. Your methodology, considerations, how you explain it to others, can you enhance it etc’. 
I am all for preparing candidates to a certain point. Give them the recipe but they need to put the ingredients together and cook it. It is a far better candidate experience, than giving them nothing.

Name –
 Cathy Riach
Title – National Recruitment & Resourcing Manager
Company – BAE Systems Australia
As recruiters, our role is to source great talent that hiring managers want to employ BUT that talent needs to be able to perform … not only in the interview but also on the job! So should we school the candidates up on what to expect? Definitely. But there is a fine line.
We should support candidates in putting their best foot forward. Let’s face it, being interviewed can be rather daunting. Knowing the style of interview and the types of questions can help candidates to prepare. However, this may result in a well-rehearsed and well-researched set of answers – not necessarily based on actual experiences. Sure, the hiring manager may fall instantly in love and your vacancy may soon be filled but longer term, this could potentially spell disaster. If upon commencement that incredible experience and fabulous examples don’t translate into actual competency … “Houston we have a problem!”
Consider the scene – performance management, possibly leading to employment termination. Unhappy hiring manager. Unhappy candidate. Reputation in tatters. Start again!
I vote for a happy medium. Provide candidates with an overview of what to expect and even the type of questions without going overboard. Then, when you meet them, use your interviewing skills to probe and dig deeply to truly understand their competence. A hiring manager will love a competent performer more so than a glossy candidate who says the right things but is unable to deliver.

Name – Dan Nuroo
Title – Director: Recruitment
Company – IMA Management and Technology
I’m not sure if this is to make the candidate look good or the Recruiter? Maybe the Recruiter gets incentivised on the success of the people he/she presents? I’m not sure. I have my reservations.
Setting expectations for an interview is nothing new, something I’ve done from both my Agency days and in-house days. Stakeholder management is an essential part of any role, this does however take it to a new level. I love the idea of just saying how it is, “Hiring Manager a) is a bit like this…… has weird eyes and a toupee that won’t lie down” OR “Candidate b) is great but you may notice an eye catching mole right next to their mouth”.
Going into specific questions may however, be a false economy. What if the Hiring Manager, goes off script, asks their own questions? Will your candidate freak out and be put off? (Have you ever interviewed someone who has prepared so much for the interview and wants to show off what they know, but doesn’t listen to or answer any question you pose directly? Very frustrating!) Do you think that having someone answer pre-allocated questions will give you a true indication of how much the individual want to join your organisation? I highly doubt so.
I always recommend giving candidates the full picture and the same goes with the Hiring Manager. I give them most of my thoughts, but I also want them to make up their own minds and decide how much to prepare for the interviews. Sure I can influence, but these are the people that have to work together, day in day out. Their connection needs to be real not one manufactured by a Recruiter.
Hiring someone is great from a Recruiter perspective, I get it (it’s the buzz most of us do this for), but if you’ve ever had to sit across the table to let from someone go during their probation (or trial) period because they didn’t live up to expectations, it might be a little wiser to avoid going complete full disclosure in the first instance.
Cover image: Shutterstock

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