Category Archives: Interviewing

On Reference Checks


By Jennifer Brownell, Managing Director, Q4B

Be honest. If there is one part of the recruiting process that most recruiters would rather not do themselves, would rather that someone else, anyone else, take responsibility for doing (someone in HR, hiring manager), and sometimes don’t even see the need for doing (the guy is that good, “A” player) it is the reference check. And since this is Halloween, it is as though we expect the reference to say ‘Trick or Treat” when we ask them to give a reference on one of our candidates. We always hope for the “Treat”.

As a third party recruiter, I view the reference check as the life blood of successful recruiting. It is not something that is only done when one of your candidates is being considered for a position; it is not something that is only done because you feel that there are some holes in the candidate’s work history that he/she can’t or won’t explain; and it is not something that is not done because your client company tells you that they will do the reference check if your candidate is made an offer. It is not an option. It is not some part of the recruiting process that is only done occasionally. Reference checks should be done for every candidate that you expect to represent. References should be obtained from every candidate that you interview, whether you represent them or not.

And it all starts in the interview.

We all approach the candidate interview in our own unique way but the end result should be somewhat the same. In other words, all recruiters want to hear the candidate talk about his/her experience as it relates to the requirements and expectations of the client’s position (job order, not JATS). Can the candidate solve the client’s problem, how would he/she solve the problem and has the candidate ever done anything similar to this in his/her past? Now, who could verify this? Who could be used as a reference, supervisor, peers, team members, vendors, stakeholders? Get the names, titles, relationship, contact info for each reference and let the candidate know that you will be calling.

LinkedIn has made some of this reference gathering a little easier with the use of the recommendation and endorsement features. If the candidate has recommendations and endorsements on his/her LinkedIn profile use this information as a starting point and have the candidate provide more detailed information and additional references as they relate to the position to be filled.

Now comes the hard part.

You call those references. You approach the reference check with an open mind, no bias towards your candidate. You are not just looking for “Treats”. You gather information from the references based on what the candidate has given you and the requirements and expectations of the client’s position. You let the reference know what the opportunity, problem and position is and ask if he/she thinks the candidate can do what is required and ask for examples of past related performance.

What you now end up with is a pretty complete picture of your candidate with actual examples of his/her capabilities, qualifications and experience that would make a good hire for your client. It is information that should then be used to pitch your candidate to the client, preferably on the phone or in person to schedule the first client-candidate interview.

You might also get information from the references that would be at odds with what your candidate said in the interview, contradicting how he/she represented him/herself and potentially damaging to the candidates reputation. All of these issues need to be discussed with your candidate and decisions need to be made. You may decide not to represent this candidate to your client or to any client. Better that you discovered this now rather than later in the interview process.

Now comes the payoff.

All of this hard work for every candidate that you represent would be worth it if you made more placements as a result. And if you did this part of the recruiting process consistently it would certainly allow you to promote your recruiting service as being more professional, better and different from some of your competitors.

But the real payoff is in the information that you gathered from your candidate’s references and the reference checks. Regardless of your area of specialization, most every reference given by your candidate (who is in your market) could either be a potential recruit or a potential hiring manager; every company where the references work will be a potential lead; every reference will provide you with market information that you probably don’t currently have and would have a hard time getting.

Recruiters, like all sales people, are numbers driven. We know how many candidate-client interviews it takes to make a placement; we know what our average fee is; we know how many candidates we need to have in our pipeline for one job order in order to submit a number of qualified, interested and available candidates to our client. We know our ratios, our turns.

If for every candidate that you interviewed you got at least five potential candidates and three potential hiring managers as references and you checked all of them for your candidate would you have more business?

So if you are not doing the reference check, why? Don’t you want more business?

I mentioned earlier that I considered the reference check the life blood of recruiting, so in keeping with the true spirit of Halloween I will dress up tonight in the only costume appropriate for a recruiter, A Vampire!!!!!

Happy Halloween Everyone!



We All Sell, We Are All In Sales


By Carmen Lapham, Director of Recruiting and Operations, Q4B

If anyone asks you “What do you do for a living?” how do you respond? Most people answer with their job title and their company, as in “I am the owner of VF Transport” or “I am the head of production with MQ Manufacturing” or in my case, see my info above. Nothing wrong with this type of response but on the other hand it isn’t really the answer to the question. Saying you’re the owner doesn’t mean that you “own” for a living, nor does saying you are head of production mean that you “produce “for a living.

The best answer to the question, believe it or not, is one that most people tend to avoid. We don’t want to admit that the answer is something that all of us do, day I and day out, regardless of job title and name or type of company that we work for. Even some people who do this for a living call it by some other name as though there is some stigma attached to it. And yet the answer when viewed as a career provides those who do it well the greatest opportunity to make more money than any other career choice.

So, what is this answer? The answer to the question “What do you do for a living” is “I sell, I am in sales”.

The owner of the transport company sells every hour of every day. He sells himself, his products/services, his company’s capabilities and solutions. If he doesn’t sell his company will die. The head of production at the manufacturing plant sells his ideas, his boss’s ideas, the opportunity for advancement for his team, his vision. If he doesn’t sell there will be little or no production and he will be out of a job. And, as Director of Recruiting and Operations, I sell everyday as well. I sell candidates on great career moves; I sell hiring managers on great candidates; I sell my boss and other stakeholders on new and better technology that has a better than expected ROI. I sell, I am in sales.

This is a concept that is not easy for everyone to accept. Even those who are in a sales position (recruiters included) have a difficult time saying “I sell, I am in sales.” And yes there are those who would argue that not everyone sells and use as an example those starving artists who create their art for its own sake and would never think of calling themselves salesmen. But isn’t that why they are called “starving artists”?

From my experience in the recruiting field, the one group that has the most difficult time accepting the concept that “we sell, we are all in sales” is job candidates, active or passive. Most have been told by recruiters and career coaches that as job candidates they need to be selling themselves, especially to the hiring managers; that they are the product and that their resume is their product literature; that job search is all about selling and marketing themselves. All true, but very difficult to accept.

I have a suggestion for those job seekers who struggle with the “I sell, I am in sales” concept. Instead of thinking of selling just yourself, as though you were a product, think of selling what the buyer (hiring manager) needs. Think of selling a solution to his/her problem since as we all know the only reason that a company is hiring is that they have a problem, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but a problem nonetheless. Think of selling an increase in revenue from a problem territory; an increase in collecting receivables; a better return on the investment made in a new ERP system; a quicker turnaround in invoicing; a better quality pipeline for new business; a better and more responsive customer focused web site with social media channels.

If you think of selling what the buyer needs, your chances of making the sale will be that much greater. Making the sale means that you will get the job offer. Now that is selling!

My hope is that someday, when any one is asked the question “What do you do for a living” everyone will answer “I sell, I am in sales.”

Now, are you buying any of this?

A Different Type of Candidate Debate

By Jennifer Brownell, Managing Director, Q4B

In a recent blog posting (Politicians and Recruiters Make Strange Bedfellows) I suggested that there are some interesting similarities between the process that companies use to fill their open positions and how voters end up choosing a candidate for a political office.

If you think about it, political candidates are actually applying for a job, a job that carries with it certain responsibilities and in many cases comes with a pretty generous compensation package and opportunities for career advancement in or out of politics. In other words it is a good job.

And the voters make up the hiring committee, that group that will ultimately decide by majority vote which candidate will get the job, will be hired.

Candidates for any political office should be required to apply for a particular position (office), their application including resume should then be reviewed (vetting process) by the hiring committee (voters) and those deemed qualified and who are interested and available should be invited in for a series of interviews (primaries).

I was thinking about this comparison over the past couple of weeks while watching some of the highlights (and low lights) of the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. In the political arena the debate format is used as a series of final interviews for the candidates.

Regardless of which side you are on, most voters would agree that if conducted properly a debate is a good format for addressing issues that are important and sometimes critical to job performance for that office, and for observing how each candidate responds to the various questions, thus giving the voter (sometimes undecided) enough information to make a decision for or against a particular candidate.

Could a debate format work as part of the hiring process?

Let’s say that a hiring manager has an opening to fill and a number of candidates have been screened and presented for consideration. A series of interviews have been conducted, phone and face-to-face by various stakeholders in the hiring process, including internal recruiters.

The hiring manager has selected three very qualified candidates that he would like to schedule in for final interviews before he makes the hiring decision. Normally, these three interviews would be set for each candidate and each would be interviewed, hopefully by the same individuals or team and each would have been asked the same questions. Debriefing meetings could be held after each candidate is interviewed and notes for all interviews would be compared and a decision made.

But what if all three candidates were brought in at the same time for a Job Debate?

The audience could be made up of company employees, vendors, upper management, customers, board members, anyone who might have an interest in hiring the best candidate for the position to be filled. The moderator would be the hiring manager and the questions that each candidate would be asked would have been prepared with input from all stakeholders and would deal only with issues that were necessary to performance for that position.

The candidates would be made aware of the topics to be covered, would have been given, if they did not already know, the performance expectations for the position, the critical initiatives that they would need to address and accomplish within the first 90 -180 days in that position.

Depending on the position, upper management, mid-management, staff, the job debates could be one and done or a series of up to three. All relevant topics would be covered, each candidate would have a chance to sell himself/herself to a much broader audience, and decisions regarding the hire could be made based on a comparison of each candidate’s responses to the questions and to the other candidates.

So, would a Job Debate work? I have a feeling that most hiring managers would not want to try because, not unlike the political debates, they have already made up their minds regarding which candidate will be hired.

But here is the upside to at least considering a Job Debate. More people will have an opportunity to see and hear each candidate. Other opportunities may present themselves to other hiring managers in attendance, thus allowing for more than one candidate being hired. The entire hiring process would become more transparent and candidates would be excited and anxious to apply to future openings just to participate in the process.

Now, I for one would like to be the fact checker in these Job Debates, unless you think that none of these candidates would ever stretch the truth.

Ask and You Shall Receive


By Carmen Lapham, Director of Recruiting and Operations, Q4B

Someone once asked me to give them some advice about the recruiting business and my thoughts on what it takes to be a successful recruiter. Most of the answers that I gave were pretty straight forward, namely, you have to be persistent, willing to take rejection after rejection; you have to know your market; you have to be creative; you must be able to make connections not just with people but with information about companies, candidates and how that information can best be presented; you must have a goal, have a plan and understand that the recruiting business is a numbers game. In other words you have to sell, yourself, your candidates, your client’s opportunity, your organization, your ability to deliver what you promised. You have to be a successful sales person.

Midway through my response to this individual I had the sense that what was being asked was not what I was answering. This individual was looking for the quick, easy answer and we all know that no matter what business you are in, there are no quick, easy answers to how to be successful.

Looking back on this incident I should have handled it differently. I should have asked the individual a question instead of immediately jumping off into giving my 30 second elevator speech answer. The question I should have asked was “Do you know how to ask the right questions?” Being able to ask the right questions is truly the key to success for recruiters, sales people in general and many other professions.

But just asking the right questions is not enough. In a recent blog post from Jim Connolly (one of the marketing thought leaders that Q4B follows) the suggestion is made that there are three additional components to be considered when seeking the best and most complete answers to your “right questions”. You need to ask the right people, you need to ask more questions and you need to question the answers.

Isn’t that what good recruiters do?

In our case, the right people are the hiring managers, the decision makers who can give us answers regarding the position that needs to be filled, why it is open, what the requirements are, the must haves, the performance expectations, the sense of urgency, the profile of the person who last held the position, the opportunity, the selling points for our candidates as to why they would want to work there and an understanding of realistic salary ranges for the position.

And based on the answers that we get from the above questions, we ask more questions in order to get a deeper and more complete understanding of the job order that we are working to fill, the type of relationship that we can expect to have with the client (cooperative or not) and the level of commitment on the part of the client to interviewing and hiring our candidates.

And we sometimes need to question the answers if they don’t ring true or sound too canned. Asking why is the position open and getting the answer that the company is expanding should prompt more questions that will in turn provide better and more complete information that can be used to sell our candidates on the opportunity. Asking what are the performance expectations for the position and getting a laundry list of requirements (see JATS) should elicit more questions about what the candidate needs to be able to do in the first 90 to 180 days and what the client will be evaluating the new hire on when it comes time for review.

There needs to be an understanding between recruiters and hiring managers and decision makers that both sides know that the only reason a company is hiring is that they have a problem. It could be a good problem or a bad problem but it is a problem. And any company that we contact should be asking us one question, their right question and that is “Can you solve my problem?”

So, what would your answer be?


Carmen’s Hot Jobs, Vol 1, No. 13

By Carmen Lapham, Director of Recruiting and Operations, Q4B

The topic for this week’s blog was somewhat of a forgone conclusion. Oh sure, I could have ignored the obvious. I could have thrown caution to the wind and forged ahead with some other idea that had been floating around in my head for weeks. I could have just put on that somewhat faded t-shirt that said “No Fear!” and just written something else because I believed in what I was wearing. But why take a chance. Why tempt fate or the gods of blogging!
So I am yielding to some power greater than myself and writing about superstitions, this being my 13th blog in this series. (Freddy Krueger music playing in the background)
According to the dictionary, Superstition is an irrational belief arising from ignorance or fear. I think most people have made decisions based on a superstition some time during their lives. I know that I have. Most superstitions are a matter of doing something, such as eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away; or avoiding doing something, such as not washing your car, because washing your car will bring rain. This last one is my husband’s favorite.

There are lists of superstitions, some familiar such as;

• To give someone a purse or wallet without money in it will bring that person bad luck
• If you shiver, someone is casting a shadow on your grave
• To find a penny heads up, brings good luck
• Toads cause warts
• If you blow out all of the candles on your birthday cake with the first breath you will get whatever you wish for

Then there are some that are just downright weird, such as;

• A loaf of bread should never be turned upside down after a slice has been cut from it.
• Dropping an umbrella on the floor means that there will be a murder in the house.
• You should never start a trip on Friday or you will meet misfortune.
• It is bad luck to light three cigarettes with the same match.
• Never take a broom along when you move. Throw it out and buy a new one.

Now here are a few more superstitions that are more job search related.

• Never show up for an interview wearing white socks, unless you are applying for a job as a tennis coach
• Always arrive for your interview at least 15 minutes early, because the early bird catches the worm
• If you drop your resume or your coffee or anything else during the interview chances are the interview is doomed
• If there is an elephant in the interview room, such as your age, your education, your reason for leaving your last position, the length of time since your last job, etc. immediately address it and get it off the table.
• Never leave an interview without some commitment to next step or at least some understanding of the hiring process and where you stand in that process.

On second thought, are these last five items superstitions or are they really good advice for interviewing? Either way, I would encourage any candidate to heed the advice given whether you are superstitious or not.

Now, here are the Hot Jobs for this week and you don’t have to find a four-leaf clover in order to apply.
• Enterprise Network Architect – Ever dream of being the Frank Lloyd Wright of networks? Now is your chance.
• Technical Recruiter – We are looking for the best recruiter for the best company, Q4B. Enough said!
• Mobile .NET Developer – A great contract position that will make you feel good because the company’s service helps others feel good.

If you are interested in the Hot Jobs above click on the link and apply through our Talent Hub. We will respond quickly and we will value your time. At Q4B candidates are our customers too.

And remember after reading this blog be sure to Like, Retweet, Pin it, and +1 this post. You never know who is going to see the positions and think that it is the perfect position for them.

And remember also while you are reading this blog, if a black cat walks towards you then good luck, and perhaps a good job is in your future. But don’t ask me what happens if the cat is walking away from you. You don’t want to know.

Til next week!

Are We There Yet?

By Carmen Lapham, Director of Recruiting and Operations, Q4B


If you are a parent with small children starting out on a road trip of any length you have heard this question numerous times, even if the trip is just across town. Depending on how old you are you may even remember asking the question yourself when you took trips with your parents, perhaps even last week. It’s as though kids have the idea that we live in a Jetson’s age where everything happens at hyper speed, especially going from one place to another.

On a recent road trip one of my kids asked this question (not two minutes out of the driveway) and after responding nicely I began to think about the question from a business perspective. I asked myself, as a recruiter, are we there yet? Do we use the technology that is available, everything from LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blogging, etc., to make ourselves better at what we do? Do we use this technology to provide a better service for our clients and our candidates? Are we better recruiters today than those who were recruiting 25 years ago?

As you might guess this was going to be a long road trip and the kids were still asking that question every 50 miles but I was too deep into my own thoughts to be discouraged.

I began to explore this question in thinking about resumes. Over the past couple of weeks there have been some interesting blogs and comments regarding resumes, and whether the whole idea of resumes was in fact Dead. One blog in particular by John Kreiss addressed this quite well. That no resumes are not Dead, that they are still necessary for sourcing, screening and interviewing candidates for both recruiters and hiring managers and that although the way resumes are delivered, viewed and used may be different (hard copy vs. online) they are still very much a part of the whole hiring process.

But resumes have always been a part of the hiring process. Twenty five years ago resumes were sent to recruiters or hiring managers through the mail (Snail) or were faxed. Today they are sent, viewed, stored online, in a database to be used immediately or hopefully later when a new assignment is posted.

So, are we there yet? Is there something more that recruiters can do better with the technology available that would change the resume’s purpose and value from what it has always been but in a new format, to become a source of easy to access information on potential job leads, company information, contacts within those companies, market information, potential recruits, industry trends and so much more?

There is a perception that most recruiters spend no more than 2 minutes quickly reviewing a resume. Whether that is true or not or if it only applies to in-house recruiters and not 3rd party recruiters it doesn’t matter. We can argue over how much time is spent but suffice it to say, recruiters do not spend nearly enough time on resumes that they should. And, yet the technology is there for us to gather tons of great information that would in turn make it possible for recruiters to be more knowledgeable, more productive, more valuable and more successful than their counterparts of 25 years ago.

I have begun to put these thoughts into an action plan for my company, Q4B. We will begin tracking all of the information from company leads, contacts, market intelligence, recruits that we gather from each resume that we receive. I hope that we can demonstrate the value of every resume beyond its initial purpose (candidate info) and very quickly be able to say, We Are There!

Now, I need to make a quick stop before I press on with the road trip. The kids are now asleep so I know that they have gotten the answer to their question, Are We There Yet?

What about you, are you there yet?

Politicians and Recruiters Make Strange Bedfellows

By Jennifer Brownell, Managing Director, Q4B

I got my political fix over the last few weeks that should carry me for a while, at least until the debates start. I watched some of the proceedings from both conventions, read the analysis from some political wonks that I follow and caught snippets of video from a few of news shows. I like being informed. I am interested in the issues and am willing to listen to those who want my vote as they attempt to explain their solutions, their vision, their qualifications for the job that they want to be elected to.

I will make my decision (maybe I already have) based on a number of factors the least of which is party affiliation. I want to see the best qualified person elected. I want to make an informed decision and I think that every voter should want the same. Otherwise any election for any office becomes more American Idol and not what our founding fathers envisioned.

During both the conventions there was a good deal of chatter about the vetting process. When I heard this phrase repeatedly I all of a sudden realized how similar that this process used in the political arena was to the process that recruiters use.

The Vetting process is employed by a political party to look for and uncover any and all issues, scandals, misdeeds, skeletons-in-the-closet events or relations that might pose a problem for a particular candidate and potentially make him/her unelectable in the eyes of voters. It is not used to determine proper qualifications for a particular position/office but it is sometimes used to determine the candidate’s positions on certain key issues how aligned and in agreement those positions are with the party or in some cases a running mate.

Recruiters have their own Vetting process and it is called the reference check. Good recruiters use the reference check to verify much of the information that the candidate has supplied during the interview and use some of this information when making a presentation to a hiring manager.

The true reference check is much more than dates of employment and title of position held. A true reference check comes from the candidate’s peers, supervisors, customers, suppliers and includes such things as verifying RFL (reason for leaving) a job; type of employee; type of co-worker; college degree; rehirable or not; strengths and weaknesses; recommended fit for position to be filled; and if and when there is not a strong reference, advising the candidate not to use that reference in the future.

All of this information becomes part of the candidate’s history that the recruiter could use in presenting the candidate to the hiring manager and to provide evidence that this candidate is the right candidate for the job. Additionally, if during this vetting process information surfaces that suggest some issues such as scandals, misdeeds, skeletons-in-the-closet events that would pose a problem with the candidate being hired then the recruiter can decide to not represent the candidate or take other action.

Recruiters also use a vetting process in determining the clients they would want to work with. Or do we just take a job order from any company that has an open position that is somewhere in our market space? How you answer that question goes a long way to defining what type of recruiter you are and what your client’s perception of you truly is.

Good recruiters struggle with vetting their clients but in the long run they know that it is worth the struggle. Before deciding to pursue a prospective client recruiters should do some research and gather as much information about the company, profitability, market position, number of open positions, history of layoffs, viability of product or service, BBB reports, Hoover’s info, references from former or current employees, references from customers. More information can be gathered in the needs analysis portion of the process where recruiters can get a sense of how cooperative the hiring manager will be, how much HR or internal recruiters will be involved, commitment to the recruiter’s process for interviewing candidates, commitment to quick feedback and access to those involved in the interview, complete specs for the position and a signed fee agreement.

If during the course of your upfront research and the needs analysis you discover anything that would cause concern, anything that would make you think that this may not be a good engagement then make a decision. Cast your vote to either go forward with the assignment or decide not to do business with that company and be professional about it.

The recruiters vetting process allows the recruiter to provide the best qualified, interested and available candidates for the most cooperative, appreciative and long-term clients.

Now, if that only could work in the political arena.

My next blog will be about another phrase I heard repeatedly during the conventions, Fact Checkers.

Til then.