Cheers to recruiters! It’s your work day in and day out that brings the best talent to your organization – and the fresh ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds that reinvigorate the business. Yet, there will inevitably come a time, no matter how dedicated a professional you are, when communication barriers with a hiring manager keep you up at night thinking through the long list of job requirements, failed interviews, and hard-to-fill roles on their team.
The reality is that a lot rides on your relationship with your hiring manager. Better relationships make workplace challenges easier to solve – even the most difficult hiring conundrums. In this post, we’ll focus on the soft skills you need to improve your relationships so that working with anybody, including the crucial hiring manager, becomes a breeze. You may or may not land the unicorn operations director your hiring manager is seeking, but these shortcuts will serve you for a lifetime.
But first, trust.
Trust is a choice each of us makes a million times a day. A dubious hiring manager withholding trust requires you to improve your trust hacking game to secure the perfect candidate. Liane Davey shared this beautiful tidbit in a Harvard Business Review podcast, “We often get trust backwards and we wait for someone else to demonstrate to us that they’re trustworthy, rather than doing things ourselves that increase the other person’s trust in us.” How can you proactively engender trust?
Ask for Help
Positive Psychology finds that helping another person, even if it provides no benefit to you, builds trust. Authentic kindness helps to build trust. Giving someone else the opportunity to be kind to you with limited effort opens the door for a wholesome exchange of sincere gratitude and validation. Try asking for a quote for the company newsletter on their favorite hobby, feedback on a short description of their department, or their thoughts on the latest hiring team Instagram post. Anything that gets non-obligatory communication flowing is good.
Accept that You are an Unknown Factor
The ego is a burden everyone carries. Some lightly. Some slung over their shoulder heavy as a horse. If you are reading this, you are likely a smart cookie that goes above and beyond to achieve high performance. A difficult relationship can threaten your status as a “star recruiter” or endanger your post-interview feedback ratings. It’s time to take a step back and admit that building trust takes many small interactions, actions, and conversations. Remind yourself that you are on a journey with a new contact and celebrate each step forward you take on the path to partnership.
Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has developed a Trust Project to collect ideas and research about building trustworthy teams and corporations. They describe differing expectations as a very, very complicated and delicate negotiation. If you are starting a new project with a new contact prepare as if you are making a deal. Conduct discovery, scope the task, assign responsibility on both sides, and seek agreement and confirmation at each step. Your kick-off meeting follow-up email is akin to a contract. Your seriousness of purpose will increase trust immediately.
Praise and recognition.
Managing a team is incredibly hard for most people. A 2013 Gallup survey revealed that only about one in ten people possess the five key traits of a good manager. Your hiring managers are stretching themselves every day to be the best they can be. A little encouragement and recognition can go a long way.
You have to be intentional to catch people doing good. Look for specific behavior to acknowledge and praise in your interactions with hiring managers. Create channels to share the good news: a dedicated #kudos Slack, a single sentence in an update email (“Your thorough feedback really helped us bring in a higher quality second round of feedback.”), or a shout-out during a company meeting is effective. Good recognition, especially from peers, builds interpersonal trust, resilience, and confidence in future projects.
I hope this is constructive…
Difficult hiring manager relationships are often marked by harsh feedback or frustrating radio silence. Receiving and applying feedback is a very different skill from getting someone to talk to you.
Look Who’s Talking
The cold chain of emails with nary a reply can break a well-meaning recruiter. If you are pushing information and requests with no response, try pulling. A tried and true sales tactic is to bring in responses without intruding on your hiring manager. Some novel ideas:
- Send general messages that include enticing hiring news like, “Competitor X has a layoff and I see lots of Required Hires updating their LinkedIn profiles.” No action requested, but hopefully curiosity piqued.
- Join a team meeting that includes the hiring manager and celebrate the new hires you have made with plugged in hiring managers. Highlight your tricky job opening as your next big goal post. *Cue big smile in tough manager’s direction*
- Put a bounty on referrals for the role to help make Hiring Manager’s day. Offer the Hiring Manager’s favorite lunch as a catered prize day.
Batten Your Hatches
Is there ever a great time for feedback? Not really. But there is a great mindset for feedback. Look away from those popular mindset research studies, looking at you growth mindset, and refocus on how you best receive difficult news. Whether you need to meditate first, treat yourself after, or call your comfort person, make a plan to care for yourself emotionally and process difficult work conversations.
Allow Yourself to Be Coached
We all have room for improvement and other people can help you get where you want to go. A few key ways to create space for learning:
- Listen to feedback before you decide whether it is actionable. Choose what makes sense and what does not.
- Teach people how to give feedback that is truly constructive. Proactively ask for feedback with instructions e.g., “please share which step in the hiring process you found most challenging. Examples will help me change the standard for the next role.”
- Set boundaries to have good relationships. Sometimes work relationships can cross the line from difficult to toxic. If you suspect you are in over your head, ask for help and coaching from a more experienced or senior colleague to navigate the situation.
With your growing emotional know-how, you are equipped to tackle business partner snafus from a new strategic angle. Best of luck with your hiring manager hurdles!