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How to: Take an Effective Job Briefing from Your Hiring Manager

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In order to be able to find the right person for the role, it is essential that you fully understand who the person that your organisation want, actually is. How you find that out is by taking a job briefing from your Hiring Manager. Taking a job brief from the Hiring Manager is your opportunity to learn everything and anything you may need to know about the position and the person needed to fill it so that you have the knowledge and insight to go out and find the right candidate for the job and company. However, although it is one of the most important facets of the recruitment process to get right, how to take an effective job briefing is one of the trickiest skills for a recruiter to master and is, more often than not, done incorrectly.

“Taking a complete job brief is step one in any recruitment process” as it “sets the foundations,” say the folks at RecruitmentEntrepreneur.com. “Creating an effective job brief isn’t a quick 10-minute job – it is the lengthiest process you will go through and should always be meticulously thought out.”

But the problem is, many recruiters think that the best way to take a comprehensive job brief from a Hiring Manager is to send them a particular set of general, hypothetical questions in the hopes that the Hiring Manager will provide them with a unique insight into who they’re actually looking for. And countless pieces of online literature promote this thought by “helping” recruiters with the “right” questions to ask.

Questions like; “What are your must-haves versus your nice to haves?”, “What companies would you hire from or not hire from?”, or “What sort of people have worked out in this role before?” are all well and good but, the answers to these questions are actually quite difficult for a Hiring Manager to articulate.

It’s a bit like how a writer feels when faced with a blank piece of paper. The task of beginning to write is more daunting when all that’s staring back at you is a plain white sheet. However, the task becomes much easier if you already have some words or phrases written down on the sheet. Those words and phrases act as a starting point. They give you something tangible to work with and spark ideas.

Your Hiring Manager feels just like a writer faced with a blank page when they receive your list of questions. Without a starting point, they will struggle to come up with real, insight-giving answers and will instead answer your list of general questions with a list of general answers. The type of answers that won’t give you any special insight into who they’re looking for.

The Real Key to Taking a Comprehensive Job Brief

Recently, we were asked to work with one of our clients to help reduce their time to hire from 55 days to 45 days. According to the client, the single biggest blocker to them achieving that goal was their Hiring Managers. Their Hiring Managers were slowing up the recruitment cycle by not setting up interviews fast enough, by not coming back with candidate feedback fast enough, by rejecting almost every CV they were sent, and by not coming back with a candidate decision fast enough. All of which were resulting in the company losing hot candidates and increasing their time to hire.

Almost every recruiter onsite agreed with this theory. All except one. At the back of the room, one recruiter put up his hand and explained that he had never had such problems with any of the in-house Hiring Managers he’d worked with.

Why was he the only recruiter who didn’t feel the Hiring Managers was holding him back? What was he doing differently to everyone else?

When quizzed, the recruiter explained that when he knows a vacancy is coming up, instead of just emailing the Hiring Manager with a list of questions, he gives them a call or he goes directly to their office and asks them a couple of questions surrounding the role.

The first question he asks them face to face is, “what are you looking for?”. Then, as the Hiring Manager proceeds to list out their requirements for the role, the recruiter takes the key points and enters them into a live LinkedIn Advanced Search right there and then. Then, upon clicking Search, one of two things usually happens:

1. Loads of search results pop up – if this happens the recruiter spends time going through the search results with the Hiring Manager, asking who from this search is suitable, who isn’t and, most importantly, why. If the Hiring Manager says something like, “they’re not suitable because they’re too senior”, the recruiter probes further into their reasoning by asking them what word on the candidate’s profile makes them too senior. He then removes that word from the search and performs a new one. Similarly, if the Hiring Manager tells him they “wouldn’t hire from that company”, he asks them why and to tell him what companies would they hire from.

Slowly but surely, he starts to build up a picture of the right candidate by exploring the candidates on offer with the Hiring Manager by his side.

2. No search results appear – if no candidates with the exact skills the Hiring Manager is looking for show up, he asks the Hiring Manager which of the requirements they’ve mentioned aren’t as necessary for this candidate to have as some others? He then removes those skills/requirements from his search and performs another. And continues to do so until he starts to see some results popping up. If after removing some search terms he’s left with 6 results, he asks the Hiring Manager, “which of those 6 would you contact and why?” and “what makes them interesting?”

By asking which ones the Hiring Manager would choose he can then expand his search by looking at the connections of the candidates that stand out to the Hiring Manager, or change his search criteria accordingly.

The recruiter found that the best way to tease the information he needed out of the Hiring Manager was to present them with tangible search results, and allow the Hiring Manager to say “Not him”, ”Not that college”, or “I love that company” and crucially, explain why.

By showing the Hiring Manager real examples of real candidates based on their requirements and involving them in a preliminary search, not only is he able to gain an understanding of exactly who the Hiring Manager is looking for, but when it comes to sending them a list of potential CVs, he can easily explain his reasons for selecting those candidates based on the search they conducted together. Your chosen candidates are no longer random selections to the Hiring Manager, they have context and shared meaning, making the Hiring Manager more likely to select a candidate or two and faster. Similarly, if you’ve already shown them how few people there are with the requirements they requested, when you send a list of potential candidates for them to review, they will feel a greater sense of urgency to reply back to you with a decision as they have seen first hand how few candidates there are with those skills.

So, the real key to creating a comprehensive job brief is to speak to the Hiring Manager face to face or over the phone and start the recruitment process together by performing a live search in their presence. Only then will you get a real idea of who they are looking for and the skills/requirements they really want/need. Sending the Hiring Manager a list of questions without any context will only result in them responding with a long list of demands. If they have seen the process first hand, they will be much more appreciative of the market and what’s out there.

What if Plan A doesn’t work out?

If it’s not possible to start the process together (e.g. they can’t give you desk time), pick 5 random CVs from LinkedIn based on your own preliminary search, send them to the Hiring Manager and ask for their feedback on those five. Don’t spend ages sourcing, don’t contact any of the candidates who’s CVs you’re sending, just wait for the Hiring Manager to come back and tell you why they rate or don’t rate the candidates you’ve sent them. In the absence of a briefing, you need some data to go on. By asking why they like or dislike the candidates you send them, you should get more insight.

If they reject those 5 without giving you sufficient reasons why, send another 5 and tell them, “I will keep sending you 5 random profiles until you agree to a 20-minute call!”

Conclusion

Sourcing and recruiting aren’t about being a servant to the Hiring Manager, it’s about being a peer and working together to achieve the common goal of finding a really great candidate to do the job that needs doing. The Hiring Manager needs you to find the right candidate, but equally, you need the Hiring Manager in order to be able to find the right candidate.

Therefore, when it comes to taking a job briefing it is vitally important that you speak to the Hiring Manager in person or at least over the phone. While you’re with them, perform a live search based on their stipulated requirements and show them the type of candidates that are available based on that search criteria. Ask them who from the search results they’d like to look at and why. Keep asking them why.

Bottom line: Hypothetical and general questions won’t get you very far. In order to tease out the information you really need from the Hiring Manager, you need to make the process real and concrete for them. Show them who’s out there, show them real people with real skill sets. Work together. And keep asking why!

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