Many candidates and interviewers alike are surprised that they share a common goal: reaching a “hire” decision. Many people must be told that interviewing does not need to be an adversarial encounter. Companies have a position that they want filled and candidates want to fill that position. There is no way to design a more complete alignment in objectives.

Unfortunately, many recruiting processes behave far differently from what one would expect with fully aligned objectives. Candidates often feel like interviews are out to trick them. Interviews feel like they are required sniff out weaknesses not positives. Both think there must be winners and losers in the encounter.

How recruiting goes sideways

Companies that utilize online tools to source candidates often start the recruiting process with an overfilled funnel. Inundated with candidates, these companies often pragmatically approach the daunting task of finding the one or few best candidate(s) from the applicant pool not by searching for their target candidate(s), but by excluding those who can be identified as a poor fit.

While practical and effective, this practice generally sets the wrong tone for the recruiting process. What should be an exercise to justify including somebody new in the organization can become a race to exclude as many people as possible from consideration. Chasing the practical benefit of screening the pool of applicants down to an acceptable level of interview burden often develops a mentality of trying to exclude not include candidates. Success become eliminating not finding candidate fits.

Volume is not the only culprit for this mentality. Efficiency, simplicity and even laziness can contribute. It is simply easier to find one reason to exclude a candidate than to accumulate enough reasons to hire them. So, if focusing on exclusion is more efficient, why should companies try to avoid behaving that way?

Winners, losers and trading off control

When a company executes a recruiting process by systematically exiting people from the process, it forces candidates into have an opposing agenda. A candidate’s goal is always to continue in the process. Therefore, if a screener or interviewer considers his/her task to be the exclusion of candidates, it is not possible for both candidate and reviewer to succeed in their respective objectives. Winners and losers therefore emerge from the process.

In a recruiting process with winners and losers, a power dynamic gets introduced. Early in the process, the company is in control, but as soon as the company decides to issue the offer, the control shifts to the employee. Prior to this point, the candidate was in danger of being excluded by the company, after that point, the company becomes in danger of being excluded by the candidate.

This winner-loser situation and associated shifting power dynamic is intensified with increased transparency to the exclusionary mindset. Companies that aggressively challenge candidates with difficult questions, lengthy processes and/or opaque decision-making rationale increase the difficulty in securing acceptance of the offer. Candidates often consciously or subconsciously exert their control during the offer negotiation stage of the process with similar intensity to what they experienced during the evaluation process.

Promoting a win-only approach

If the process instead applies the philosophical approach that recruiting is about mutually proving a fit for the job, this power dynamic can be avoided and winners and losers need not be crowned throughout the process.

Candidates and interviewers alike may identify this change as a silly game of semantics, however, the case for this being a more accurate depiction of the fundamental situation is compelling. Neither hired candidates nor hiring organizations benefit from the hiring of an unqualified individual. Not hiring an unqualified candidate benefits both the candidate who avoids being positioned for failure and the company which avoids the costs associated with an employee that does not work out.

So rather than looking at the screening process as going from 100 applicants to 5 candidates by excluding 95 candidates for lacking qualifications, companies ought to go from 100 applicants to 5 candidates by identifying 5 people who exhibited comprehensive coverage of the necessary and desired qualifications.

With this mindset 95 candidates “won” by not spending time pursuing a job in which they would likely be unsuccessful and 5 “won” by progressing in the process. The same mentality is then applied in each subsequent recruiting process step.

Throughout the process, the candidate and employer representatives are on the same time and work together to achieve the mutual benefit of either proving or disproving the fit of the candidate. While this may not change who is ultimately selected, it does likely change what happens following selection. Instead of culminating in a challenging negotiation the need for the employer to “sell” the candidate on the idea of accepting the offer is dramatically diminished because the whole process has been centered around proving the mutual fit. Candidates who feel like they have been supported throughout the process are much less likely to try and “squeeze” an employer for a better offer.

Implementing this approach begins with aligning the mindset of all people involved in the recruiting process. It will not work is only the human resources organization approaches recruiting this way. Business leaders, HR and any third parties all need to align in this philosophy.

Even more important to enabling a win-only process is the understanding of what “good enough” looks like. Unless a company can articulate and identify the attributes that characterize the right candidate, it is beholden to selection by attrition and the challenges associated with adversarial recruiting practices. However, when the company knows how to convince itself of the fit of one candidate irrespective of the lack of fit by other candidates, the win-only approach becomes an option.

Lastly, one of the most surprising and exciting side effects from transitioning to a win-only mentality to recruiting is that recruiting becomes enjoyable. People who typically dreaded recruiting activities often find that removing the battle and adopting a win-only approach make the whole process enriching and enjoyable.

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