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How to put job candidates on hold without losing them and build a stronger relationship while you do it

Not long ago, two of our clients were in a tricky situation. They both identified strong candidates for hire, but they decided to wait before offering them a job. They wanted to find other candidates that they could compare them to before they made a final decision. Sound familiar?

This happens all the time with busy hiring managers, and sometimes while they are preoccupied making their decisions, their highly skilled candidates were left waiting in the dark. This awkward position can push your favoured candidates towards other job offerings, leaving you with the less desired choice in the end. Here are a couple of reasons why.

Most of the candidates that we talk to are actively looking to make a change. Whether or not they are open about it, they are likely to have other irons in the fire. The longer you wait, the likelier they will have success with other companies and possibly receive other offers. Either way, you may find yourself in a competitive situation that didn’t exist before, or you may lose them altogether.

Other candidates may have been considering a change, but they hadn't taken any action until found out about your job opening. Finding a new job is hard for everyone. Taking the first step is the hardest part of the process. When you reach out to these passive candidates, you give them the confidence and momentum to start seriously looking for a new job- either with you or if you wait too long, with someone else.

The best solution is to be confident in what you are looking for in a candidate, keep the process moving, and hire when you find the right person. However, if you find yourself having to stall the process for one or more candidates, here are some tips to help you keep them interested, and even strengthen your relationship with them along the way.

Use the opportunity to build a relationship

Someone once told me that the best deals are made after the negotiations are over- when you’ve wrapped it up, shook hands, and then asked, “That’s a pretty good deal, but what would have made it better for you?”

It’s the same with interviews. People are more guarded while in the interview. If your “keep warm” conversations are more relaxed, the candidate will feel like the power has shifted and will relax as well. Use this opportunity to get to know them better.

Start by revisiting their thoughts on where they believe they will really excel in the job, and what excites them about joining your team. Then explore where they are having doubts, and how they feel they could be supported to overcome those challenges.

Next, look for opportunities that will make them an insider, or as one of our clients recently said, “Let them do the job in the interview.” Provide them with scenarios that challenge their critical thinking. You may want to say, “We are challenged with this technical problem, have you run across this issue before?” The best candidates are looking for problems to overcome in their work, and these challenges are likely to further engage them with your brand, which will provide you with even more insight into their capabilities.

Finally, be sure to update them on your company's successes, like technical achievements or big customer wins. This may motivate the candidate to pursue the job even more. Don’t be afraid to be transparent about emerging issues as well.

Using the delay as an opportunity to build a relationship with your candidate, will give you the best chance of retaining the candidate's interest. You may even find that you’ve missed something, and the fit isn’t as good as you thought, which may make your second-place candidate become your first.

Be honest and empathetic, and know when to let go

You would love to build a better relationship with your best candidates, but first you need to tell them that they’re going to have to wait. What should you tell them?

Start by being honest. It may seem easy to fib about why you are stalling someone but remember that the hiring process is the first step in the employee relationship. It is much better to build a foundation based on honesty. There is always a way to communicate the truth in a manner that shows respect to the candidate. You may need to put some thought into this, and if you can’t tell the whole story, be clear about that too.

Landing a great candidate is important, but not at all costs. As much as you want to manage your own situation within your company, be empathetic to theirs. Learn about the status of their other opportunities and support them like you would your own employees. There may come a time when you have to agree that the offer in front of them is their safest choice, even if it’s from someone else. You may lose that candidate but being honest and empathetic will build your reputation as a great employer, which will help you in the long run.

Hiring is personal, make sure your actions reflect your values

Making hiring decisions is tough and it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to keep your distance from your candidates right up until you make the hire.

Yes, early in the process when you are dealing with a hundred applicants, you need to rely on templated communications to keep things manageable. Applicants expect it, and as long as they know where they stand, they are satisfied. However, as you move further through the screening and interviewing process, you will need to invest more in the candidates that make it through - you have to make it personal.

Some would argue that the biggest investment here is your time, but what this really takes is courage. The courage to build a relationship with someone you know you may need to disappoint in the end. Taking this risk may seem scary, but it will lead you to naturally building relationships with those people and allowing them to get to know you better as well.

Ultimately, this will garner a greater candidate experience and better hires now and in the future.

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