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Turn Reference Checks into Placements

Posted By APSO, Monday, 26 January 2015
Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2014

On the surface, a reference check's purpose is to verify a candidate's background information: Education, work history, job title, salary, professional accomplishments and so forth.

Due diligence, after all, should play a key role in any important decision. And as recruiters, it's our professional responsibility to make sure the hiring managers we work with are empowered by the data we provide, and protected against misrepresentation, deliberate or otherwise.

To the savvy recruiter however, a reference check is much more than a fact checking exercise. It's a vast ocean of information to explore, and an invaluable tool that can turn doubt into confidence.

There are several different objectives—and potential objectives—with respect to reference checking. These range from the obvious, like making sure everything lines up properly in the candidate's chronology, to the less obvious, such as exploring marketing and lead-generation opportunities with the person you're talking to

Hidden Potential

But there's one objective that's mostly overlooked by recruiters. And that's the chance to cross-reference the prospective employer's concerns about the candidate, and find out whether any perceived weaknesses are real, relevant or potentially game-ending.

Here's an example. Let's say the prospective employer you’re working with and your candidate has interviewed with each other a couple of times. Both meetings went well. At the conclusion of your second-level interview debriefing with the candidate, you correctly ask the closing question, "Do you want the job?" and the candidate says yes. Later, at the end of your debrief with the hiring manager, you ask if he likes that person and wants to move forward, and he says yes. So then you ask the question, "Should I go ahead and contact the candidate's references and verify his degree?" To which the hiring manager says, "Yes, by all means."

Now, here's the point at which most recruiters end the conversation, go off on their merry way and start calling the references.

What you should do is slow down. Take a deep breath. And ask the following question. "Are there any areas of concern you have about the candidate? And if so, is there a question I can ask the referees that might be useful in evaluating the candidate with respect to that concern and how it could potentially impact the candidate's performance, if that person were to join your team?"

Now, you might think this is exactly the wrong path to take. In other words, why inject the element of doubt in the employer's head—or worse, reinforce a potential negative?

My answer is that the concern is going to be there anyway. And if that’s the case, I'd rather get it out in the open and deal with it now than sweep it under the rug and let it become a big problem later.

Besides, the most powerful aspect of a reference check is the ability to focus on the exact issue that concerns the prospective employer and let a disinterested third party allay that fear. If I, the recruiter, were to try to deal with the concern, it would probably be seen as an attempt to serve my own interests at the expense of the employer’s.

But if the former employer can vouch for the candidate, the whole issue can be put to rest—or depending on the judgment of the previous supervisor, might even have the effect of converting a negative into a positive. In sales, we call this technique "closing on the objection." And it can be a beautiful thing.

If it turns out the hiring manager's concerns are well-founded, I suggest you ask the same question to the next reference—and the next. If there's unanimity of opinion, it's your duty to report back what the references have said about the candidate. You may not be thrilled by this turn of events, but at least you've done your duty, by providing accurate information that can be used to weigh the candidate's suitability for the job.

If there's no clear consensus regarding the concern, it's also your job to put the feedback on the table, or even encourage a dialogue (if it's appropriate to the situation) between the references and the new employer.

I've learned that if you work proactively, reference checks can work not only to your advantage—but to everyone's advantage. On the flip side, being in denial or delegating the reference checking process to people who are less experienced only closes the door on opportunities. And once that door is closed, it can be a real struggle to get it opened again.

AuthorBill Radin is a top-producing recruiter whose innovative books, tapes, CDs and training seminars have helped thousands of recruiting professionals and search consultants achieve peak performance and career satisfaction. For more, visit Article first appeared on

Tags:  APSO  APSOgram  candidate  placements  reference checks 

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How storytelling can help you make more placements

Posted By APSO, Monday, 17 November 2014
Updated: Monday, 10 November 2014

How storytelling can help you make more placements

According to Rivka Willick, a story coach and writer who works with salespeople to help infuse a story into their brand and content, storytelling is the hot new trend in sales. She believes that the ability to tell a story escalates a salespersons success dramatically and says, “A good salesperson knows how to talk; a great salesperson knows how to tell a story”.

Whilst reading the associated article I got to thinking: in my experience the most successful recruiters are those who are able to tell their clients the candidate’s story and help them to visualise why the candidate would be a great addition to their team. Far from simply pushing CVs at a client, the ability to unlock the candidate’s story from them, and then to tell this to the client in a way that helps them to understand why this candidate would be a great fit is crucial to making long-term mutually successful placements.


Why stories sell

It is well documented and scientifically proven that stories have a profound effect on our brains and our behaviour. Experiments by neuroeconomics pioneer Paul Zak found that for stories to be highly engaging they should contain key elements including a climax and the final wrap up where all the strands come together connecting the dots. A successful story can trigger empathetic responses, associated with the release of Oxytocin, often referred to as the “trust hormone”, that when released in the brain of your prospect can help to build trust in you, your brand and product or service, and in doing so increase sales.

Building a Successful Story

Killer stories are those that are full of visual and sense-based detail and should move in “real time”. Of course, no matter how good the story, unless it is relevant to your audience, it is not likely to have the impact you’re looking for. Here are some top tips for building a successful candidate marketing story:

1.       Appeal to both logic and emotion by combining facts with narrative

Combining compelling facts with attractive stories is a winning recipe as the combination of logic and emotion helps to engage both the left & right hemispheres of our brains.

E.g.: Incorporate facts about the candidate such as their qualifications with stories from their previous jobs, ones that illustrate just how the candidate has utilised their qualification, experience and expertise in solving a previous employer’s problem, particularly if this is a problem that your client (and their prospective employer) is also experiencing.


2.       Be structured

Stories that do not have a clearly defined beginning, middle and end do not engage our brains in the same way, in fact, according to Zak, people ignore them. To tell an effective story you should spend time developing it. Find the story. Write it. Hone it to perfection by re-writing it. Run it by someone you trust and then commit it to memory. Stories should ideally be confidently told, not simply read, in order to have the most effect.


E.g.: Once you’ve interviewed the candidate and have sufficient stories from them, review your client’s key issues and find the relevant candidate experiences that would clearly show why they are a good option. Build the story logically, taking care to structure it in a logical flow.


3.       Use metaphors

Stories, especially metaphors, work on the subconscious mind. In sales situations, stories allow the subconscious mind of the prospect to truly “get” and see the valuable application of the product or service. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) shows that all humans run 99% subconsciously and only 1% consciously and so metaphors help our brains to experience the story, as if we are living it ourselves. Semantics matter! Choose your words carefully to help the prospect feel the message you’re trying to convey.


E.g.: When presenting a candidate as a potential employee, take care to use descriptive words that resonate with the client and help him to imagine him/her in that role.


4.       Do your homework

No matter how compelling your story, if it does not mean anything to the listener then it will not have the desired effect. You need to do your homework and truly understand your client’s points of pain and what they believe they need to resolve them. Once you understand this, you can craft the story to illustrate exactly why the candidate you’re presenting will be their best choice.


E.g.: If your client has previously had difficulty finding someone to lead a team of highly strung creatives you need to find examples from your candidates that can clearly show the client how he/she has previously worked in a difficult environment and ideally provide examples of where they have managed difficult individuals to maintain team dynamics and overall goal achievement.

The process of uncovering and re-telling candidate stories may seem like extra work but the rewards will be evident. As access to information becomes increasingly easy for clients directly, consider this a unique opportunity to reinforce your value.

Don’t be a data-seller, be a story-teller!


Tags:  APSO  APSOgram  emotion  facts  logic  metaphors  narrative  placements  storytelling  structure  success 

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Performance Managing your Recruitment/Staffing Providers

Posted By Natalie Singer, Thursday, 06 June 2013
Updated: Thursday, 06 June 2013

Most companies have structured performance review systems in place for their employees but only a handful have anything to assess their recruitment/staffing provider.

Recruitment costs are significant and whilst many companies have strict tendering requirements and service level agreements in place with their preferred suppliers, too few have a system to accurately assess delivery. After all, what do you measure?

  • Price / Spend?
  • Number of CVs submitted per vacancy?
  • Number of interviews set up with candidates?
  • Number of placements?
  • Success of the placed candidate over a period of time, i.e. 6 months?

People are not products

Applying simple service delivery assessments, as associated with products, doesn’t work. People are by nature flexible, unreliable and open to a myriad of things that can change their circumstances and affect their employment. You can’t say that if "employee A” doesn’t work out the provider should simply substitute with "employee B”, as would be the case with a defective product. 

Most of the staffing industry provides a form a guarantee but companies are cautioned against viewing this as a guarantee on the individual. After all, no one can predict what another person will do in the future. Rather, this guarantee should talk to the delivery of the service that has been agreed between the provider and the client. For instance, it would not be reasonable to expect an agency to replace a candidate who suddenly becomes ill and incapable of doing the job, except if it could be proven that the agency knew about the illness and purposely did not disclose this to the client, knowing full well that the placement would not be successful.

The controllable aspects are the recruitment methodologies and due diligence undertaken by the agency in assessing the candidate, not the decisions of the candidate or employer once the placement has been made.

Avoid comparing apples with oranges

On the surface most recruiters seem to be offering the same service, but don’t be fooled. There are a myriad of different recruitment methodologies and clients should ensure that they fully understand what they’re buying. When assessing a provider, ask the following questions:

  • What is their area of specialisation?
  • Can they prove success?
  • How do they source their applicants?
  • What processes are followed to screen applicants?
  • Method of interview, assessments, verification checks etc
  • What is the experience/expertise of the consultant assigned to manage the account?
  • What kind of success do they have in terms of placement and do their candidates remain in employment for a significant period of time?How much do they know about your business?
  • Will they be able to effectively source people who not only meet the technical requirements but would also be a good "culture fit”

It may be worthwhile to invite interested providers to do a formal presentation to your HR team. This way you can access their level of expertise, question their methodology and determine whether there is a "fit” for a mutually beneficial partnership going forward.

Annual Reviews

There is no point in having a preferred supplier list as long as your arm if the companies on it are not performing. Spend time each year assessing the suppliers against your expectations and their actual delivery and chop those that haven’t made the grade.At the end of the year, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which agencies actually made placements in the past year? Remove any that haven’t.
  • Of those who made placements, what kind of placements did they make? For example, have the tended to excel in placing IT people, finance, or technical? Separate your suppliers into subject-matter experts. Keep these lists separately and only send them specs for relevant positions, rather than the shotgun approach of sending all specs to everyone on the list.
  • Of the candidates who were placed, how many did not make it through the probation (or guarantee) period? Interrogate why this happened? Was it related to poor recruitment, or something else? How often has it happened per agency? If the problems appear to be with the initial recruitment process then consider ditching agencies that consistently don’t perform.
  • How many of the placed candidates have proven to be value-added employees who are contributing to the overall goals of the organisation? These are the agencies you want to work with so invest time in these relationships.

A shorter list of specialised providers is not only easier to manage, but you’ll be surprised at the increased quality levels that will come from providers who are no longer competing with every Joe Soap and who feel they can invest time and effort in developing long-term relationships with you.

Tags:  agency  APSO  assessment  candidate  CV  guarantee period  interview  performance management  placements  preferred supplier listing  recruiter  shortlist  skill  staffing  verification 

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