After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Encounters of a Stranger Kind

I am a people person, so meeting strangers is one of my favorite parts of the headhunter’s role.  (Meeting strange people is not, although occasionally that happens as well.) 
After a brief phone conversation in which I decide that a recruited candidate has the basic qualifications for a position, I generally arrange a personal interview to evaluate that candidate’s background in depth before presenting him/her to my client.  Often this meeting occurs in a public venue such as a coffee shop or restaurant.

The first hurdle in a meeting between strangers is actually meeting the stranger.  This should be simple, right?  Especially for a headhunter who has been scheduling interviews with candidates for over 25 years.

Yet, more often than I would care to admit, valuable time is wasted between the arrival and the introduction phase of one of these interviews.  Maybe it’s just me, but I hesitate before walking up to each well-dressed individual sitting alone in a restaurant and asking, “Are you Joe/Joan?” (Note - When my candidate happens to be female, I only get about two or three such unsolicited encounters with female customers before I expect an unsolicited encounter with the manager.)

In my book, I say the following:

It may not be necessary to wear a red rose in your lapel, but providing a general description of yourself including height, hair color, or what you will be wearing will help to facilitate an early introduction and prevent awkward overtures to strangers.

Even this may not always work, as the guy who describes himself as tall with brown hair may end up being the guy with the paunch and the wrinkled shirt, but at least I have a chance.

If you are a candidate meeting a recruiter or interviewer in a public place, I suggest:

·         Arrive on time, but not too much prior to the scheduled time.  Time of arrival may serve as a clue to identity.  If you arrive early, seat yourself at a table where you are visible from the entry.  Do not become involved in a meal;

·         Look for the one who is looking for you.  Keep your eyes focused around you, not glued to your coffee or the tabletop;

·         If, at or near the appointed interview time, you see someone with a briefcase scoping out the room as though looking for someone, assume that it might be you, and that his briefcase does not hide an axe.  Make yourself visible;

·         As stated in the book excerpt above, provide a brief description of yourself or your attire in advance and ask for a general description of your interviewer;

·         Or wear a rose in your lapel.

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