How to: Better Coach Your Candidates

coach candidates

How often do you find yourself coaching your candidates? In the recruiting business, you wear many hats, one of which is as a coach to your candidates.  No matter what type of recruiter you are, coaching playsor should playa vital role in your day-to-day activities. Coaching your candidates is like coaching athletes, and you can learn a lot from comparing the two.

A great coach can elevate his candidates. After playing Division 1 tennis in college, I chose to coach professionally. I spent several years working with junior players of all levels, college athletes, and professionals both as a coach and practice partner. I’ve talked coaching strategy and motivation with sports legends and Olympic athletes.

While everyone I’ve spoken with brings something different to the table, certain themes are constant predictors of success: hard work, a willingness to improve, an openness to being coached, and having a great coach. None of these athletes could have reached the same heights without a strong coach to guide them. A great recruitment coach can do the same thing for his or her candidates. Here are three qualities of a great coach of candidates or athletes and how they can help you create a better candidate experience, increase fill rates, and grow your business.

1) Establish trust

If you want to be an effective coach, you have to start by developing trust. This isn’t UberI’m not getting in your “recruiting car” and heeding your career advice just because you got a 5-star rating. Why? Because my next job is more important than whether your Toyota smells nice or not.

By choosing to work with you, your candidate has made a conscious decision to enter into what I see as a “coach-player” relationship. The player believes the coach can take them where they want to go and help them achieve their goals. The coach believes that the player is willing to put in the work and trust their process and that investing their time will be a worthwhile experience. It is likely that there are many recruiters going after your candidate, so remember that they’ve chosen you. The way you act now can set the tone for a successful relationship.

The first conversation is critical for building trust in this relationship. Use this conversation to learn about them and also to share more about you and what your approach can offer them. The trust that can be gained from this initial meeting will give your candidate confidence that working with you is the right decision. It also allows you to go to them with honest feedback throughout the process. Whether or not this process turns into a placement, the candidate is now more likely to refer you or come back to you.

“Inspiring a sense of loyalty in the candidate-recruiter relationship is the only tool we all have.” Mark Eldridge, CEO and Founder, ALKU

2) Know your “player” and how to communicate with them

Good coaching is not just what you say, but it’s how you deliver it. I found out the hard way from many situations where I could have handled my feedback and approach differently. For example: by being too direct, not direct enough, or giving tough love to someone who doesn’t take it well.

It is likely that other recruiters have given similar advice to your candidates, but most don’t communicate that advice effectively, and therefore it won’t resonate. How does your candidate respond to constructive criticism? How would they react if you tell them what to do? How do they like to learn and prepare? Some people like more direct feedback or direction while others take it poorly. Sometimes, a simple shift in phrasing can make all the difference.

For example: If someone doesn’t respond well to a direct approach well, instead of telling them what to say or how to prepare for an interview, try approaching the situation with a question like, “Considering this information about the client’s interview process, have you thought about how you want to tackle those questions?” Instead of telling the candidate how to navigate a certain question, try asking “What if you tried ___.”

One of the best coaches I know had to navigate his pre-match strategy conversations with his top player in a way that let the player think he was the one coming up with the ideas. Sounds a little crazy, right? This isn’t the right approach for everybody, but it highlights the fact that everyone responds differently and spending the time to get to know your candidates will help you communicate better and be a better coach.

3)  Develop your candidates’ skills

Talent can only get you so far—an age-old phrase worth repeating. A candidate who’s willing to listen, take your advice, and work hard will beat out those who are perhaps more talented but aren’t doing what’s necessary to reach their goal. In some cases, it is up to you to take the time to help them develop those skills.

In today’s market, it’s all about differentiating from the competition by adding more value to your candidates. For agencies that are working in a generalist market and dealing with high volume, perhaps your training comes in the form of online courses or ebooks. If you’re in a niche field, you can look at organizing events with keynote speakers, webinars, and personalized training. If you can appeal to your niche, you are going to get referrals of other top candidates in that industry.

Earlier this year, a McKinsey study showed that 82 per cent of executives at large companies see reskilling and retraining as imperative for addressing the skills gap but only 16 per cent feel prepared to do this. Staffing firms are increasingly seeing the opportunity in addressing reskilling. For example, Adecco recently acquired General Assembly as part of their upskilling and retraining efforts.

The byproduct of such effort is your candidate or employee becoming a better professional in their chosen industry and their preparation will serve them well when they get into “competition”. Another common phrase and a personal favourite: “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”. You can’t make a candidate prepare, but if you do your part, you’ve given them the best chance for them and your company to be successful.

More goes into being a good coach than one might expect, but if you consider these three tips, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an incredible coach to your candidates.  The next time you’re talking to or reviewing current candidates or employees, ask yourself: am I being the best coach I can be? The small steps you take to get better in this area will allow you to provide more value, increase fill rates, get more repeat and referral business, and positively impact the people you work with.

Coaching candidates

About the Author: Christian is a Senior Account Executive at Bullhorn. Before working for Bullhorn, Christian helped start Ivan Lendl Tennis Academy where he also served as the Director of Tennis, and most recently, spent three years in the Sports Entertainment industry working in Corporate Sponsorship Sales. Christian can most commonly be found at the nearest tennis court or golf course, all while figuring out which TV show to binge next.

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