Candidate Personas: The Motivated Mover Versus The Happy Hard Sell

Candidate Personas Series: Introduction, and Part I

When looking at candidates, it's important to look at their motivations for the job search. Over time, and with enough interviews, you can begin to identify candidates based on why they would consider your position.

This is not a cure-all. It's not a substitute for behavioral assessments or proper interview procedures. It is simply a way of thinking about a candidate's point of view, so that you can learn to identify their needs and communicate in a way that will increase your likelihood of success. This is a... basket of general attitudes. It's not candidate-specific, but as you see the patterns, you should be able to clearly place someone into a general category.

Let's take a look at three candidate personas, and then we'll look at ways to start conversations with them.

Motivated Mover:

This is every recruiter's favorite candidate. The Motivated Mover is an in-demand, talented candidate who interviews well, understands their value, makes good choices, and is absolutely looking to make a change. 

Motivated Movers have a track record of success. They ask questions about what is needed and who they'll work with because they're trying to picture success at your company. Interviews are two-way conversations. Negotiations are tough, but they're part of the decision-making process. The Motivated Mover isn't looking to just get the best deal, they're determining if your compensation policies deliver success. Throw money at this person, and they'll know you overpay to cover flaws in the business. Come in too low, and they know that you can't or won't pay for the right kind of talent.

Motivated Movers also have multiple options. They don't interview with one company. They have multiple interviews and multiple offers, which means speed is important as well. Wait too long, and a Motivated Mover will get a better deal.

This is prime candidate beef.

How to win: You need a transparent hiring process that is clearly communicated and actually followed by the company. You need high responsiveness from everyone on the hiring team. It's as simple as saying what you'll do and doing what you said.

Cons:  When all is said and done, if you're truly dealing with "A" talent, you're still only going to nab 50% of them (that's a good thing. If you win every pitch you make to a candidate, it's because you're not talking to a high enough quality candidate). 

Happy Hard Sell:

The Happy Hard Sell isn't a candidate you're going to see very often. They're as talented as the Motivated Mover, but they're not motivated to move. They're still quality beef, but they're the steak behind the glass. They like where they are, and they're not particularly interested in hearing a pitch. 

Recruiters often make the mistake of finding a Happy Hard Sell and thinking they can talk them into an interview. If you can talk them into an interview, you then assume they'll take an offer. They're attractive to managers because they are talented and exclusive.

How to win: The Happy Hard Sell isn't interested in being screened, they're interested in being challenged. If they sense that they're just another candidate, they have no reason to continue interviewing. What they want to see is a well-thought out pitch that makes sense for them. Be prepared ahead of time. Focus on the work, and not on selling. The benefits and perks and salaries need to be competitive, but they're not the hook.

The hook is the problem you're trying to solve. During your pitch, you need built in problems that the Happy Hard Sell wants to solve.

Cons: The Happy is a Hard Sell for a reason. That reason may be something you can't match. If so, you can spend a lot of time and resources courting someone who will never move. There's also an element of luck. If a Happy Hard Sell is on the verge of finishing a product, and they're current company hasn't planned out their future, they are susceptible to a pitch. That's a very hard timeline to match.

Planning Player:
This is my favorite kind of candidate for digital marketing management. In our industry, there is an 18-24 month window for advancement. In general, a manager will either be promoted within their company or they'll take a new position at another company. That length of time varies by industry, but it's a good balance between completing a project and embracing new technology and trends.

The Planning Player is clear that their career is the motivation. The promotion is recognition that they are improving, and they are protective of making a smart move. They're okay with a less-defined process, and jumping through your hoops, because they understand that's part of the process. It's not what they care about. They care about your reputation, and the chance to get a short-term win. They're also very focused on selling themself. 

How to win: The planner looks for clarity. They want to know that there aren't hidden risks. They will be sensitive to the company's reputation, and the job description, and the planned budget. The easiest way to pitch is to keep it simple. If they can quickly understand the opportunity, and they can quickly run it past their friends and family, they'll probably interview. And once a planner is in the interview, just don't mess up. 

Cons: Planning players don't like ambiguity. They don't like managers who want to shoot the breeze and get to know them. They believe if they're interviewing that the company has an interest in them. They're not prima donnas - but they're not sheep. You can mistreat them as a function of the process (they're not as sensitive to extra demands or steps), but when they're done with you, they're done. It's like a stress test. They're fine until they're not, and their seeming unflappable nature is hard to judge when they're close to being done with you. The problem is they don't pull themselves out of the process. They will go through to the end to see if they can get the offer, but you're dealing with a dead candidate who is just practicing their interview and negotiating skills.

Things To Say To Each Candidate Type

Motivated Mover: 
1) I know you're looking at several companies. Are they all the same position? Do you clearly know what you want to do next? 
2) Thinking about the company you're at now - what do you wish they would have done to make your last project more successful? 
3) This process is going good places, so let's stop and have a conversation about compensation. This is the ideal package the company would like to see. You can see it places you a very specific niche below a VP but above a typical Director. That's because they want you to have autonomy, but not fall under a normal salary band that requires a certain number of employees to manage. Now in this, you'll be reporting directly to this executive, but will have dotted lines to these three, and regular contact with senior executives during planning. 
4) What are we missing here? If you take the job or don't take it, what do we need to add to the work to make it successful. Is our timeline right? Is our project too ambitious? Maybe not ambitious enough? 

Happy Hard Sell:
1) What did you want to accomplish when you started your current position? 
2) When looking at our company's future, it was clear that the right team in the position takes more than a job description written by a recruiter like me. There's a tension between what we think we need, what we actually need, and what the right candidate thinks they need. It's kind of impossible to know where any of us are right. We need to be flexible, but everyone can't do this. It's a commitment to the right person, to give them the tools they need. 
3) We're not looking for a moon shot. It's not the impossible - but you don't get the chance very often to make a real impact. Our company has this window, but it's not doable unless we find the right person, and put the right team behind them. 
4) Does any of this sound interesting? Is it even worth you hearing more about, or is there someone else you feel would really be able to get their teeth into this? 

Planning Player:
1) I like your background. It's methodical, it's planned. You've managed your career well. Is this the move that you anticipated? 
2) The roles you've had in the past show you can succeed, but the next rung in the ladder is an important one. It has more competition, more risk, and is fundamentally different from your last few roles. The interview, the process, the negotiation - they're more difficult because there's more at stake. 
3) Many of the candidates that have been successful in your roles had a mentor. As their mentor was hired, they brought them along. Has that been your experience? I mean, it's great, until the mentor's career stalls. Have you been largely self-motivated, or have you been trained and led? How does that effect you now? How do you plan to adapt without...air cover? 
4) I don't like to dig into salary history, but I do want to ask, have you thought through what you need to take this next step? Financially, are you in a position to make a move, and is it about a specific dollar amount or a specific increase? What is the reward for your work, and why hasn't that occurred at your current employer? 



Conversations: The Rise Of Employment Branding

Talent-Acquisition-GraphReporter: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today - this is a pretty straightforward story - we're trying to describe the growth of Employment Branding as a category of recruitment. Did I say that right? Is recruitment the right word?

Former TA Head: It's fine. A little awkward, but it gets the point across.  

R: A little awkward - yeah, it felt that way - but I saw it on a blog, and thought it was jargon you guys use. 

TA: It's fine.

R: Okay - the premise so far is that Employment Branding is the application of digital marketing to how we hire. It's a natural progression from a marketing agency building a company brand to the HR department creating a brand around working for the company. Does that sound about right?

TA: I see the story thread, but employment branding has always been around. The change in the last decade has really been employment branding is now a line item in the budget. The story would more accurately be described as the story of recruitment marketing, which was originally simply writing job descriptions and posting them in newspapers, and has now emerged into storytelling, advertising, video, and the testing of candidate experience through a digital process. 

R: Okay, so - recruitment marketing was job posting, but employment branding is something else?

TA: It's grown in importance - which is why it's now in the budget separately, and has its own title and sometimes employees, and even consultants who specialize solely in improving a company's image and application process. 

R: Do you think this was a natural progression? An outgrowth of digital tools filtering down to different departments? I mean, it's not like Photoshop is a skillset that you look for in a Director of Human Resources.

TA: That's a good question. There are probably two responses. Digital is certainly in a progression, and as the tools become cheaper, more departments have access to them. Information Technology is the backbone of our systems, but we purchase our own software for the candidate process. 

R: This is the ATS, the Applicant Tracking System. 

TA: Yes, but it's also traffic to the careers website, and big data from interviews, and behavioral assessments, and a number of recruiting tools like LinkedIn and Entelo that are run by my team. It's not IT and it's not marketing. We don't need a software analyst to help us on loan - we have our own. We even call them HR technology and not Information Technology. That might be a distinction without a difference, but again, it goes back to where that person falls in P&L negotiations.

R: The cost in software drops, and it's easy to use, and because of that, you can do marketing - uh - things, that couldn't be done before.

TA: Yes, a little simplified, but yes. We can do more without a large team, the same way that software lets my daughter edit movies on her phone that are technically a higher quality than Disney was putting out in the 60's. And it's an afterthought - not even the purpose of the phone. 

R: The first response is that it's happening because it finally can happen. That's the thrust of the article, but you mentioned a second response.

TA: I don't know how popular this is, but I find it interesting that Employment Branding, and even the term I have in my title, my former title, Talent Acquisition, gained popularity at the same time. In terms of trends, this could be a reaction to talk of moving Recruiting into its own function outside of Human Resources. At one point, they were even talking about moving it under the Marketing umbrella. There was certainly the sense in the boardroom that as marketing budgets grew, the CMO was amassing too much power. It was the corollary to "Software is eating the world." The CMO can't have everything, so perhaps the change in our titles reflected a desire to protect turf.

R: That would be something if it were true. Is it true?

TA: Possibly. But it's also a very corporate way of looking at trends. Are you familiar with social intelligence?

R: Is that like EQ?

TA: No, it's group intelligence. It's basically the sum total of a group's decisions, which tends to be more accurate in describing a current situation. Regular intelligence is good for new ways of thinking, but the group has to follow that thinking for it to take hold. Most "smart" solutions are abandoned by the group because they might sound good, but the group collectively rejects them. Group, or social intelligence is collectively a better tool for determining what works and doesn't, but it's terrible at explaining. The world is a complex place, and no one is smart enough to fully understand it even the simplest of human interactions. Social intelligence posits that the group is smart enough to react, without needing an explanation. When I said corporate, I meant solipsistic, which is a focus on oneself. The idea of Talent Acquisition appearing to counter the growth of the marketing budget sounds appealing. It's very logical. I like it. And because of that, it's probably not true. 

R: That's very interesting. So, mostly - you'd agree it's just availability of the tools that brought Employment Branding to the fore. 

TA: Perhaps. But you just switched topics. Employment Branding is a skillset under TA. To figure that out, we can look at social intelligence to try to figure out where it came from.

R: Didn't you say that social intelligence doesn't explain? That it just reacts?

TA: That's true, but we can take a crack at it. How about this. Company loyalty has been in decline for almost 40 years. The dream of the Boomers of working for one company is long-gone, as is the trust in authority that was a hallmark of American society. It's important to recognize this was a distinctly American trend. The classless structure of the US, or rather the assumption that it's classless, required a different kind of loyalty. That was company loyalty. If you think about it, this was actually a enormous reservoir of goodwill. The average applicant assumed goodwill on the part of the company unless they were specifically told this was not the case. 

R: Employment Branding is a reaction to job-hopping?

TA: Or rather, the rise of job-hopping as acceptable behavior led companies to adopt Employment Branding. Look - the challenge of hiring is a basic marketing problem. If they know your name, they apply. If they don't know your name, they don't apply. Today, knowing a company exists is not enough to make someone apply. They want to know about you. They want more from you. 

R: They want more. 

TA: They want more. And thus, to give them more - Employment Branding was born. What's funny is the public doesn't know it's called Employment Branding, but they do have expectations that the company sell itself prior to them applying. From our side, we can see that if we're liked prior to the application, they're more likely to take the job. This is pretty new. I didn't have to think about this when I started, but I've also worked with well-known companies  for my career. It's interesting to note that small companies, start-ups, and companies expanding into a new region always had to think about employment branding. When Microsoft, American Airlines, and even the US Army have to think about it, you're in a new paradigm.

R: So the story then becomes that Employment Branding was made possible by technology, but is a response to the uncertainty in the job market, even for those who are employed 

TA: That sounds about right. 

R: That, is a very good ending. I'll see if I can work that in. Anything else to come mind I should add? 

TA: Nothing important. Good luck on the article. Send me a link, when it's live. 

(the rest of the transcript was fact-checking, spelling, and other basic reporting techniques)

Conversations: I'm Too Busy To Get Anything Done

Sister: So when are we going to lunch?
Senior Manager: This week is just shot. 
S: You're not planning on eating lunch this week? 
M: I am - but, I can't get away. I am over-booked. Back-to-back-to-back meetings and that doesn't even include the work I have to do. 
S: Do you do any work? 
M: All I do is work.
S: You say that, and yet, you're always in back-to-back-to-back meetings. Can't you cancel them?
M: I wish. We're supposed to be open, and give input across divisions. If I'm not there, it slows everyone else down.
S: You're doing it wrong. 
M: Excuse me?
S: You're doing this whole management thing wrong. If you were talking to me like this as an employee, I'd roll my eyes and go get a smoothie.
M: That's why you don't have a corporate job, sis. 
S: That's why you're so bad at yours. Seriously? Back-to-back-to-back? What does that even mean? You walk into every meeting late, unprepared, and with everyone afraid to start because they'll just have to start back over when you arrive. 
M: Ha! I had a manager when I first started who would shut and lock the door one minute before the meeting. You were either in or out. 
S: How did that go over? 
M: I transferred to a better division. 6 months later he was fired when they found out he was sleeping with one of his direct reports.
S: They fire you for that?
M: No. They fired him because that little door-locking stunt was just one of many weird things he did to maintain control, and his division was failing. 
S: It's like what Mom says - that's Business Ethics!
M: So what were you saying? You don't think I'm prepared?
S: You showed up to my birthday party 25 minutes late and with the phone in your ear. When you got off the phone, you were boring to talk to for an hour.
M: I just needed to get out of my head - and into the party. 
S: Exactly. What you should have done is finished the call, got your head right, and walked into my party smiling that your baby sister was turning 30. Now - I happen to know that nothing in life with the exception of the kids, and maybe your husband, is more important than your baby sister, which means that your employees and other work manager type people aren't getting any of your attention. And that, dear sister, is because you're pretending that it doesn't bother you when you're booked back-to-back-to-back. 
M: You really like saying that, don't you. 
S: It's so stupid. Back-to-back is fine. When you say back-to-back-to-back, what you're really saying is "I'm so important - look at me and how busy I am!" 
M: I decided I like your brother better than I like you. 
S: Impossible. Seriously - you said it yourself. I have to get through these meetings and then I'll get the real work done. 
M: You might be right - there's actually some studies on that. 
S: Some studies - and your brilliant, beautiful, perfect sister telling you that if you're whining to me, you're whining to everyone. 
M: I wish it were that simple. 
S: What's the point of being the boss if you can't tell people to do their own work?
M: I'm not the boss. And even if you are the boss, that means less time. You're responsible...
S: For all the you's that are running around not getting anything done and pretending to be busy. 
M: I can't do lunch this week. 
S: Okay - then you should treat me like our brother and pay for my lunch even if you can't go. 
M: That happened one time. 
S: And that's why I'm your favorite. 

Conversations: Al Pacino On Job Offers

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 9.24.44 AM
Guy walks in with an envelope. Pacino is talking to the bartender. Guy sits down next to him

Al Pacino: That looks like a story. What do you have in the envelope?

Guy: It’s a job offer. They sent it over, and I told them I want to think about it over the weekend.

Al: The weekend? How long have you been interviewing?

G: 2 months.

Al: 2 months: And you just need..2..more..days. Just a little more time. 

G: Yeah - I want to make sure this is the right choice.

Al: I get it. You want to be smart about this. You want to take your time and make sure that if you’re jumping from one rock to the next, you don’t slip and fall. I get it. You want security. That’s good, it’s good to want security.  That’s what this is about, right? But uh, forgive me for intruding - life doesn’t work that way. You look at what’s in front of you, or you can peer back into the past, but life itself - is always moving forward. Every tick of the clock is one second closer to death, and we are all terrified of it. We know - we know we take nothing with us, but for today, well, we just want to put a little bit of space between us and the future. Right? 


Jobs, promotions,  layoffs - what are they? An opportunity. An opportunity to make a little more, maybe to prove we have what it takes? Maybe a chance to fail, and in the process get a little tougher because we can’t shake the idea that maybe we had it too easy. A guy comes to you, asks if you want a job. What do you do? You call your mom. You think of buying your wife a mug that says San Diego. You check the weather app on your phone. What does it mean? You think looking at house prices is really going to make a difference? 

So what - what are we talking about. An offer? A decision to take an offer? No. We're talking about you. Your life is changing no matter what you do. Let’s say your boss leaves. You want their job. You get it, but you do not get a raise. What did you think was going to happen? Your bosses want the same security you want. They pay you more, then they gotta listen to the next sob story and the next, until their whole day is saying yes or no to people at their door, hat in hand, asking for just a little more. You want to be in that line? That’s security? No, If your bosses understood what they had, they'd already have paid you and you’d be sitting on the other side of that offer, waiting for some guy in a bar to tell you he needs the weekend to think about it.

Hey. You got an offer in hand. You should take your time. Call your mother. Talk about the past. But if you’re going to sit there, with your foot on the brake, checking to make sure that you’re okay, someone might pull into your spot. When they do - you’re going to find something about yourself. You might feel relief.. Well, relief feels good! At least, until it’s time to stand in line, with your hat in your hand, asking for just.. a little more. 

Guy: That’s, that's uh, some good advice. So what do you do?

Al: Pal, you got a decision in front of you and you want to push that off to talk to some guy in a bar? I tell you what I do. I don’t stand in lines.

Do You Believe In The Curse Of The First Resume?

"I never look at the first resume. It's cursed, you know. You print them off, then take the first one, crumple it up, never look at it, and throw it away. That's the only way to ensure a successful hire." - anonymous Reddit User,  /r/recruiting, July 2009

Bill Stevens wasn't your typical recruiter. His background was in documentary film making, which made for interesting stories but did little to put food on the table. After working in New Orleans during Katrina, and then following  a profiler for the FBI, he got a plum job working in the Polynesian islands. What should have been two years in paradise ended up being two months and no paycheck, and he found himself in Los Angeles, unemployed, in the middle of a recession.

Out of desperation he answered a job ad for a staffing firm, where,  based on the strength of his interviewing skills, he was hired and sent to training for a week. And then he was dropped in a cubicle with a phone and a list of contacts to call on a computer screen. The company had a lot of openings, even in those grim times, and Bill's job was to sort through the resumes and call the best ones. He was a natural, as years of pointing a camera at a person made him easy to talk to. Candidates loved him, his bills were paid off, and like many recruiters do, he took a job inside a large company that offered more stability and less sales.

Megacorp wasn't a bad place to work - the benefits were good, the hours reasonable, and the work wasn't that difficult. Perhaps that's what led Bill to start looking around for entertainment. He loved a good story, but stories take time, and his time was taken up with the process.

It was the process that led to this amazing film, and the recruiting discovery of a lifetime. Welcome everyone, to the story of Bill Stevens, the man who uncovered, The Curse Of The First Resume.


Many of  you have heard of the curse - many of you believe it. It's been trained to generations of recruiters, justified dozens of ways, and eventually, merged with the myth of a Hindu God. Today, it is considered a best practice in the halls of the Fortune 500 and the consulting firms that prowl them. 

What is the curse? Quite simply, it is the fear of looking at the first resume in a stack of resumes. Our study of other 20,000 recruiters showed that not only did 85% of them know of the curse, over half actively avoided the first resume. Not all believed it was a curse - but they knew the activity by many names. First is Worst, Not That One, and the earliest version, The Nod to Edith. They all meant the same thing - in a stack of resumes, if you take the top one and read it, the person you hire won't be any good. 

Many people we interviewed for this documentary actively addressed the curse, printing out a stack of resumes just to crumple up the first one and throw it away. It wasn't the paper - crumpling a blank sheet didn't count, and neither did skipping the first resume on a computer screen. You had to print out a stack, crumple the first resume, and throw it away. Only then would the curse be lifted.

That's where Bill Stevens entered the picture. New to the industry, he first encountered the curse when he worked a position for a product manager in Culver City. A fellow recruiter handed him a stack of resumes, but assured him he'd already given a Nod to Edith. When Bill asked what that meant, the answer led him on a seven year journey to uncover the secret origins of the Curse of the First Resume.

The story begins in late 1980's in a branch office of Megacorp. A manager by the name of Ronald McIntosh ran a call center in Pasadena. Ron, known as Big Red by his co-workers because of his tall stature and unkempt red hair, managed about 60 people handling collections for the company. His secretary at the time was a woman by the name of Edith Stossel. One day, in late fall, a young salesman from Apple One came to the door, offering new staffing services in an attempt to replace Kelly Services, the long-time vendor for Megacorp. The young man, whose name is unknown, had a secret weapon. He offered to "fax" new resumes over instead of bringing the resumes to Ron each day to review. We can imagine the conversation as Ron and the Apple One salesperson talked. 

"Fax machine," "technology," "time-saver," "wave of the future." Maybe the young man was good, or it could have been that Megacorp had been an early adopter of faxes for corporate communications, and with Apple One local, there would be no charges for receiving resumes. Ron, the manager, could review them at his leisure at night or in the morning. Whatever the reason - he signed on. The very next day, Apple One began faxing resumes to Ron to review. 

Edith Stossel was in charge of the fax machine. She treated it like a mother hen, and made sure it ran smoothly and had proper care. Twice a day, she would go to the fax and retrieve resumes that had been sent over. She would remove the cover sheet, and place the resumes in a basket for Ron.

This went on for several years, and as Megacorp grew, it expanded it's offices in Pasadena, adding several departments including human resources, credit, audit, accounting, and a new division called Information Technology. Ron advanced quickly as the company grew, and Edith was promoted along with him, every step of the way. In 1996, Ron left Megacorp, but Edith stayed on and begin to report to a new manager, David Hedrick. David had a business degree from Stanford, three years at IBM, and his plans were to quickly grow in the executive ranks. Finding Edith very useful for her knowledge of the departments and the processes she ran, he largely delegated responsibilities involving paperwork to her. 

For hiring, which now included several departments, Edith connected with an HR generalist named Jackie Sobyak. Edith still collected the faxes, but she would bring them to each manager as they came in, and then deliver them to Jackie to contact for interviews after they were screened. Jackie saw an opportunity, and offered to take the resumes, screen them, and deliver them to managers. This would allow her to determine how many resumes were delivered, as Apple Ane charged per resume at the time. Edith liked the idea, both because it took work off her plate, and because it saved the company money. Jackie was given responsibility, and after that, she would deliver resumes to each manager. 

The first day Jackie delivered resumes, the managers were displeased. They saw Jackie deliver them, but didn't see her remove the cover sheet. They correctly assumed that she had pre-screened the resumes, removing some of them  from the stack. Two of them quickly went to David Hedrick and complained. Hedrick didn't want this marring his upward mobility, so he called Jackie in, explained the situation, and told her to bring in resumes with the cover sheet, as a "Nod to Edith." Jackie did just that. The managers were happy. David was happy, and Jackie was able to cut the spending in her department considerably. When Hedrick was promoted six months later, Jackie was named the Director of Human Resources.

One of the first things Jackie did as Director was to login into job sites. Instead of paying per resume, she paid a fixed amount, and could download all the resumes she needed. When she delivered them to managers (or rather, when her assistant did), she made sure there was always a cover sheet on top. She literally had her assistant print out a cover sheet for a printed stack of resumes, prior to delivery. Many managers never knew they stopped coming from the fax machine.

 As Megacorp grew, an entire generation of recruiters grew up following Edith's workflow, which included always throwing away the first page. In 1998, Jackie left Megacorp to join a dot-com, which received massive amounts of media attention as they grew. Jackie's methods spread throughout the city, both through Megacorp, and through her own work. The spread of the idea was like wildfire.  The First is Worst idea was seen in a recruiting handbook in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1999, and The Nod To Edith was actually found in a Usenet forum for recruiters in Boston in 1997, while Jackie was still at Megacorp. The name changed, but the process spread. When you delivered resumes, you delivered them with a cover page, and remove it in front of the manager. With the growth of the job boards, cover pages were no longer standard. Faxes still came in, but these resumes were stored  in giant file cabinets, next to the resumes from the job boards, and those received in the mail. Even as resume storage went online, delivery of resumes was still done with paper. And with every delivery, more and more recruiters learned the "Nod to Edith." By May of 2002, there were over 70 mentions of removing the first piece of paper in a stack of resumes. Unfortunately, we can't track those 70 mentions - they are noted only in passing in the Internet Archive from a site called Hiring Roundup that submitted a blogpost to something known as a blog carnival. 

The name of the curse began to mature over the next seven years. Mentions of the First Resume are noted in blog comments along with a Nod to Edith, and First is Worst. But it was in 2009, that the story took an ominous new turn. 

In July of 2009, a subforum on the popular Reddit website for recruiting has a quote. The user is anonymous, but in this quote, supposedly directly from a manager, is the first use of the words, "successful hire." It received 35 upvotes. 

"I never look at the first resume. It's cursed, you know. You print them off, then take the first one, crumple it up, never look at it, and throw it away. That's the only way to ensure a successful hire." - anonymous Reddit User,  /r/recruiting, July 2009 

The subreddit would use this formulation as an inside joke for many years. In 2011,  a user from Hyderabad spoke of a Hindu god who was given the first portion of everything, or it would be cursed. This new version of the story became the inside joke, and it soon spread to other parts of the Internet. In 2014, a Buzzfeed writer picked up the story and rewrote it as original content, which was then shared over 7,000 times, garnering over 30M views on Facebook.

Shortly after that, references to the Curse of the First Resume became common. They made it into several corporate presentations over the years, and actually were written into an episode of the Office in their last season (only available as a deleted scene on the 4th disk). When we conducted the survey in 2016, almost 16,000 recruiters nationwide knew of the curse, specifically by name.

So it was in Century City, in a complex for Megacorp built for the IT department, that Bill Stevens first heard of the Nod To Edith. When he left Megacorp in 2010, he worked on several projects as a documentary film editor, but still sought out recruiters to find the origin of the story. When the Buzzfeed story on the Reddit jokes hit the mainstream, Bill began contacting recruiting departments and searching the internet archive for the earliest clues. This caught the attention of our producers, who agreed to fund the documentary if Bill could find enough content. 

Imagine Bill's surprise when he met Jackie at SXSW in 2015. He was telling his story to a friend in a bar in Austin when Jackie sat next to him. He quickly realized her place in the center of the story, and was amazed to find out that after years of research, it was indeed Megacorp that had originated the process. She was able to contact Edith, who had retired many years before, but still lived in Pasadena, and both Jackie and Edith agreed to be interviewed. Ron "Big Red" McIntosh had sadly passed, and David Hedrick, now a SVP for a hedge firm, refused all inquiries.

As the documentary wrapped production, legal threats from Megacorp prevented the initial release, until the threat of an Indiegogo crowdfunding attempt convinced the company to cease litigation. 

We are proud to announce that in the fall of 2017, Netflix will air the original documentary, "The Curse of The First Resume," by Bill Stevens, and a pre-release download will be available on the website, 

Thank you for your time, and if you have your own stories of the curse, please leave comments of your experiences to have the chance to be in the extra features.

Conversations: Probability Texts

Staffing Salesperson: Have you heard back from her? 
Recruiter: Not yet, but I'm hoping she'll call soon. 
S: She has everything she needs? 
R: I sent the offer letter, and we talked for a good 20 minutes about the job. 
S: You sold her on it? 
R: I told her about the benefits, reminded her of the salary increase, and told her how much they wanted her to join the team. 
Staffing Manager: So why are we waiting on the offer letter? 
R: She said it was at work, and she wanted to read it tonight before making a decision. 
S: Why does she need to read it? 
M: Get her back on the phone. Here's what you tell her. You let her know the client has a call tonight with your salesperson, and they're gonna ask if you accepted. Then tell her you're excited about this, but if she holds onto that letter, all that's going to happen is people at work are going to know something is up. 
R: We talked about a counter-offer - she says she's not taking one. 
M: She doesn't know what she's going to do until she walks into the office and her boss, the person who hired her, looks up with those big doe eyes and asks what they did wrong, and starts talking about it being a bad time to leave. Next thing you know - it's a six week wait, that leads to a three month month - and no deal. 
S: Get her on the phone, and if she hesitates, pass it over to me and I'll see if I can't close her. 
M: Thank you, but this is [Recruiter's mess], they can clean it up. 
S: And if we lose this deal because they let her get away? 
M: Let's just get her on the phone. 
-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

Recruiter: {dials phone}, Hi, [Candidate]? Listen, this is [Recruiter] and I wanted to make sure you received the letter I sent. If you could call me when you have a moment, that would be great - or text me and I'll call you as soon as you have a moment. Thank You!
S: Voicemail? 
R: Yeah - she must be in a meeting.
S: Come get me as soon as she calls. And call her back in 20 minutes if you haven't heard from her. 

{Staffing Manager and Salesperson walk away}
-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  - 

2nd Recruiter: Wow. That was brutal. 
Recruiter: I never should have let her off the phone. How is she going to call back when she told me she wants to read it tonight? Ugh - and now I have to call her again?
2: No, you don't. 
R: Yeah, I do. [Salesperson] is going to be checking up on me in 5 minutes, not 20. 
2: So try this  - wait a few minutes, then text her.
R: What do I text?
2: You start off with a safe one. "good to catch up with you today." 
R: Why?
2: In case her phone shows the messages, it won't get her in trouble. 
R: I should warn more people of that. Then what? 
2: Ask, "What do you think the probability of us getting together in the next two weeks is? 70%? 80%?
R: That makes no sense. 
2: Sure it does. The message gives her plausible deniability if someone reads it, but she knows that you're talking about a two week notice. 
R: So why the probability question? 
2: It's called priming. People like to be consistent. You're asking her if she's taking the job, and asking her to assign a probability to it. If you leave it open ended, she can answer, "pretty good," or "let me read the offer," or just ignore you. If you put a number down, 70-80%, that is way off her expectations, she'll be compelled to answer you with a number. If she writes a lower number, she's not taking the job. 
R: That is some bizarre mumbo jumbo right there. 
2: Try it. She'll respond, and when those two return, you'll have a concrete number to give them. They'll leave you alone, she'll read the contract, and if she was being honest about being cautious, she'll say yes.
R: Do you think?
2: What do you think the probability of you eating at the Olive Garden is tonight? 70-80%?
R: I'm not eating at the Olive Garden.
2: If I said, ordering pizza at home, you'd pick it up on the way home and skip the gym.  

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  

Recruiter: good to catch up with you today
R: What is the probability of us meeting up in two weeks? 70%? 80%?
Candidate: 75-80%. I'll call tonight when I check my calendar. 

Candidate Personas: Why We Ask Candidates Questions

Part I of the Series on Candidate Personas for Recruiting

The goal of this series is to give recruiters a framework that allows them to imagine responses. You have to see the candidates as people so that you can speak to them, but you can't do that until you understand that every candidate has a different motivation. 

We can't know what's in the secret heart of a person, but we can develop categories that over time allow us to fill in the blanks with responses that are similar. 

An example from my recruiting comes from one of my favorite questions: 
Let's think about your current job. Picture where you work, think of the people you work with. And now, just tell me what you did last Tuesday. Start from the beginning. When did you get into work and what did you do?

I like this question. A lot of recruiters tell me they hate it. But you should try it. The question itself is straightforward. "Tell me what you did." An organized person will be able to walk you through the day. They may be a little perplexed, but if you push against their responses to get granular, you'll hear real responses about their day-to-day activities. 

What kind of responses do you get? 

1) Some people pull out their calendar and walk you through minute by minute. I like this. It gives me the opportunity to ask about who they work with, observe their facial responses to their co-workers, and and most important, ask questions about the impact of the work. Do they know why they are doing the work? Can they tell me why it's important? The "Tell me what you did" question pushes them to describe real world events, including, oftentimes, what motivated them to leave. While reciting a factual rehash of their day, they're also painting a picture of what they like and don't like about the job. That is what is known as 3d and 4d recruiting.  

Can you think of a question that does a better job of allowing you to learn about the candidate's real work and real motivation? Leave it in the comments if you can. 

2) Some people dodge the question. This is a huge tell for me in what kind of candidate they are. It's comical how many times someone who doesn't do much work will say, "Well, Tuesssdaaay? That was kind of a weird day for me." 

It's important not to let them off the hook. I'm not interested in them cherry-picking some perfect day that makes them look good, especially if it's the one good day of work they did in Q3. When using this question, you have to understand that they want to use your reluctance to confront someone to avoid the question. They want you to move to the next question, and because their main skill is avoiding work, they are very, very good at working your emotional triggers to get you to not keep badgering them. 

They just told you Tuesday was a bad day. What kind of recruiter wants to know about a weird day? 

A great one.

Over time, if you ask this question enough, you'll find that most people either give you great information, or they duck the question. And because they aren't used to it, they'll default to a standard response. For me, time and time again - it is the exact language, "that was kind of a weird day for me." That might not be the case for you, but you will get a response, and it will be the same one, and when you hear it for the 300th time, you'll know that you have identified a candidate motivation.

Extras and How to Keep Pushing

The primary purpose of this post was to get you to think about categories. To avoid having you make up things, you'll want to limit your initial categories to real life repetition. Patterns are helpful in recruiting, and the same response almost always leads to the same outcome. 

But I can't leave you hanging on that question, so here are some more of the basics. 

a) Don't use humor to deflate the weird day response. The candidate is trying to suck you in, to get you to listen to a story, to feel sympathy, and to give them what they want (I got this from landlords, who know that prior to telling you they can't pay rent, every tenant will want to tell you a story). Instead, reply with a dry, "Fascinating. Let's start from the beginning and talk about what you did."

That was a direct request for an answer. It was polite and directed, and there is no reason why they would want to avoid it. They worked and were paid for 8 hours that day, and they have nothing that was useful to report? Smile, but be firm. Remember, the goal is to understand what they do at work. What better way to describe what they do than a day that wasn't 100% perfect?

b) Depending on the kind of job overly technical answers or even pushback if the work they do is confidential. This isn't a bad sign. It is an opportunity. Remember that our goal is a pattern of responses that will identify categories and motivations. A candidate that is guarded could be hiding their lack of work, but I have never seen them react that way. Liars and slackers want you to believe they are good workers. They want you on their side, because it's the only way they can function. Private workers want to protect their company's secrets. Your job is to find what is not objectionable, not what they want hidden. The patterns will show themselves, but many a great candidate has been lost because they care more about their integrity than your need for information. 

c) Finally, we get to the vague and the ambiguous. This is an interview style that is prevalent in digital marketing, and somewhat in technology, and in general with creative types. The vague answer pretty  much only has two causes.

  1. They are vastly under-qualified to do the work, and really only know the definition of a word rather than it's use.
  2. You're vastly under-qualified to understand what they're talking about, and they fall into vague, broad concepts because their experience with recruiters is that talking about their work is a waste of breath. 

You didn't expect that one, did you? Well, I've been in technical staffing and marketing staffing, and I've been on both sides of this. Candidates have patterns, just like we do. The more talented they are, the less experience they have with a great recruiter. While it's possible that the problem is them, it's also likely, in a talented field, that they have been trained not to spook the horses. And you're the horse.

So. Categories. Patterns. The importance of gathering data. And the tendency of candidates to answer what they think you need to hear to advance them instead of what they asked. It's all part of understanding candidate motivation.   

Conversations: The Tyranny Of Words

Recruiter: I tell you something I'd like to get rid of - it's the word, "hiring manager."
Executive: You don't like hiring managers?
R: I don't like the word.
E: The word, "hiring manager."
R: Exactly. It's not a title, it's a description we use that conveys a sense of authority where none is deserved. In giving a manager the description of "hiring manager," we give them the false impression that they are skilled at hiring. In reality - if they don't hire a person - you know what they are?  
E: ...
R: Just some guy.
E: They don't call themselves hiring managers.
R: They what?
E: Managers never hear that word. They don't call themselves hiring managers. 
R: But we do.
E: Your point was that hiring managers, or, to be more accurate, managers, have an inflated sense of authority because they think their title gives them an authority they haven't earned. For that, to be true, they have to know of, and more important, call themselves hiring managers. 
R: .... Okay, that's a good point. 
E: So what else can I solve for you? 
R: The logic was not sound, but there are more legs to this stool. First, they have heard the term hiring manager, even if they haven't incorporated it into their identity. One would assume that in calling themselves manager, they assume the power to hire and fire brings a credibility to an interview, because they are making a choice. Recruiters, in their descriptions, make the mistake of loading one side of the equation in favor of the manager, adding the adjective, "hiring" to manager, without adding an adjective to the side of the jobseeker. These words still have meaning - and when we, as recruiters, make an introduction to a manager, we are subconsciously and through our words granting power to the manager. 
E: That's a stretch. 
R: What do you call it when you make an introduction?
E: A referral. 
R: Internally, maybe - but what do we call it when we send a manager a resume?
E: A submittal
R: And the candidate becomes an applicant - a legal term for someone who is in our hiring process.
E: Perhaps those words are there because there is a power differential between an applicant and a manager making a decision to pay that applicant to perform work.
R: You already agree with me.
E: In what way?
R: You already recognize this power differential in other parts of your work. 
E: And how is that? 
R: You've been a vendor to companies. 
E: That's correct.
R: And what do you seek to do to elevate your vendor status? Are you satisfied with Preferred Vendor? Tier II Vendor? Small Business Set-Aside?
E: We prefer the term, partner. 
R: Because a partner is on equal footing, while a vendor is a classification. 
E: Clients don't really see themselves as partners most of the time.
R: They do it all the time. Usually when it's time to make price concessions, or to appear more reasonable in their demands.
E: So in this demonstration of language, you're making the comment that power differentials do not exist, and our language is responsible for creating inequality in work relationships. And you want that to stop. 
R: Well - I've already had to back down from the definitive comments about hiring managers - although I'm not convinced they don't see themselves this way, I think it's obvious that recruiters still do. In continuing to do so, we are locking ourselves into language that distorts the point of an interview.
E: The point of the interview isn't for the manager to make a decision about hiring?
R: Not at all. The point of an interview is for two or more people to gather information. Making a decision about that information is a post-interview step. If a manager can make a decision about a candidate, it's because they are judging the candidate instead of speaking with the candidate. This is a mental framework that prevents the manager from conducting an effective interview.
E: Because you can't learn when you're tasked with providing feedback.
R: Yes. The second you think that a decision is the purpose of the interview, your brain shuts down its ability to learn and begins to process answers based on a pre-set criteria. That criteria is, almost always, information obtained prior to the interview, which is why thin-slicing can predict outcomes as well as an hour long interview.  
E: I thought you said that was a bad experiment. 
R: It was. It simply reinforced the common sense view that bad questions lead to bad answers. 
E: And getting rid of the word hiring manager is how you think you can fix this? 
R: Not at all. That is one branch of a tree that is in need of serious pruning. 

Candidate Personas In Recruiting: An Introduction

Developing a persona is standard in the full marketing stack. The goal is to create a series of customer segments, create an individual who represents that segment, and then tailor messaging to that individual.

It's effective because good messaging is written to a person, not to a group. What "sounds good" is not the same as "what appeals to an individual. 

Recruiting has a real problem with this. We're obsessed with data, which means that we tend to view candidates in terms of lists, instead of as individuals.

This is good. 

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 3.27.02 PM


This is bad. 

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 2.04.02 PM

It seems to be common sense. Of course you want to talk about people as individuals instead of as a group. Then why don't we? Why do our ATS's lack pictures of the individual? Oh sure, compliance. Can't have any bias creeping in. Instead of an accurate picture, what if we had random pictures of people we could look at as we searched resumes and talked on the phone? That is literally the purpose of personas in marketing.

A persona is a lens that focuses our messaging on a real person and let's us discuss the impact of our message in terms of a real person. Does that sound confusing? Let me simplify it.

Your emails and phone calls are bad if you're looking at a list. They're better if you're looking at a person.

Lists focus are attention on what we want. Titles, companies we recognize, skillsets, keywords... when we write with a list in mind, our tone and message tends to be focused on what we want.

"I'm looking for full-stack programmers to work in our office in Seattle."

"We're on the search for great talent for our product team! B2B marketers experienced in lead generation using Marketo should apply now!"

I'm bored just writing that. 

When you focus on a picture, you take the attention off of your needs, and put it the candidate. Try these out.

"Your profile had links to code samples that were pretty impressive."

"Brian, your background in B2B marketing with Marketo could be a good fit for our team." 

They're still generic, but shockingly, they work. Candidate response to personalization works every time it's tried. That's not actually a positive thing. It means the bar for response is so low that your Yorkshire Terrier can jump over it. And those are very little dogs with tiny little legs. Don't get me wrong - response is important - it's the first step. But truly great recruiters and truly great hiring teams know how to take it further. They use a persona to create a messaging framework the candidate and the hiring team throughout the hiring process.

Customizing your personas requires you to do that most dreaded of exercises - putting yourself in the shoes of a candidate to understand their motivations. This series will help you do that. Stay tuned.