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Candidate Help & Advice

Is the Hiring Process Really a ‘Game’? Yes, it is!

Job Hunt photo from ShutterstockI“Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!, the inaugural book in the “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets series of Career Development & Management publications, I first postulated (in writing) that the hiring process is analogous to a game. A very serious game, of course, but nonetheless still a game. And like most games, it has its own set of dynamic rules that, first, must be thoroughly learned, and second, thoroughly mastered and implemented, in order for a job candidate to have the best chance of winning at the game.

Not surprisingly, my interpretation of the hiring process was not one that everyone agreed with or necessarily was willing to accept. Still, based upon years of experience as a professional “headhunter,” and as someone who is in the job market each and every work day, that’s the way I saw it in 2010, when“Headhunter” Hiring Secrets was first published; it’s still the way I see it today, as we enter the closing days of 2014.

At the foundation of my interpretation of the hiring process today is this fundamental principle[i]:

The entire hiring process is NOT based upon the concept of inclusion. Rather, it is based upon the concept of exclusion.

Let me elaborate.

Contrary to what many (if not most) job seekers continue to believe, or at least want to believe, when a hiring professional today considers all of the candidates for virtually any open position, he or she does NOT try to determine which candidates to include in the talent pool. What he or she actually tries to do is to determine which candidates to exclude from the talent pool!

In “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets I compared what occurs during the job recruiting process to the high school football tryouts that take place annually across the nation. To the casual observer it would appear that the coaches are trying to determine which players to include on the team. In fact, however, the coaches are trying to determine which players to weed out, which to exclude from the team! Which potential players don’t seem to have the stamina necessary to make the team? Who seems to lack the basic skills and discipline to be a successful player? Who seems not to have the proper attitude to become part of a winning team?

And So it is in the ‘Hiring Game’

It’s these same types of consideration that hiring professionals use to determine if a job candidate should be included in the hiring pool! Does the candidate “fumble” even the most basic questions during the initial screening process? What kind of attitude does the candidate project? Is it positive? Negative? Ho-hum? Does he/she present evidence of having at least the minimum required skills and knowledge to even be considered for the “team”? Does he/she immediately brand himself/herself as a true professional, or rather, does he or she come across as just another person looking for a job, any job?

At our recruiting firm, The Hire to Win Group, we coach all of the candidates we present to our hiring company clients on the best ways to answer interview (and screening) questions we know they are very likely to be asked. We thoroughly coach them on what specific things they need to do and say during all phases of the job search. We show them how best to project true professionalism. Why? Because we know from years of experience in the job market that by taking this approach, and by using these methods, our candidates stand the very best chance of ultimately becoming the candidate of choice. The proof? When candidates we present compete against other candidates for the same positions, our candidates walk away with the job offer seven out of ten times! So we know our approach works!

Do most of the candidates we agree to present to our hiring company clients readily accept this type of coaching, this type of preparation? Well, not necessarily. Here is a sampling of the types of reactions we often get from candidates:

  • “Oh, I could never say something like that in response to an interview question. It sounds too ‘canned,’ too ‘phony,” too ‘dishonest.’”
  • “None of this feels ‘natural’ to me. I’d just rather be myself.”
  • “I do better in interviews when I just ‘wing it.’”
  • “I don’t like to play ‘games,’ and I know a hiring manager would think that’s exactly what I was doing, playing games.”

And on and on and on.

Only problem with these responses, these attitudes and beliefs, is that they are usually held by the vast majority of candidates who never make it past first base in the hiring process!

It’s NOT About Turning ‘Frogs’ into ‘Princes,’ ‘Princesses’

It’s of course important to keep in mind that we are not attempting to turn “frogs” into “princes” or “princesses” here. The candidates we groom are already princes and princesses or we wouldn’t present them to our client hiring companies. Our goal is to help these candidates project themselves, and be perceived as being among, the very best princes and princesses available for the positions they are seeking! Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about here.

Suppose we have two equally qualified candidates vying for the same position. They each are asked this question:

“Why do you want to leave your current position and come to work for our company?”

In attempt to be “up front” and totally “honest,” here is the way one of the candidates, who apparently does not understand and/or appreciate how the hiring game is one of exclusion rather than one of inclusion, might answer the question:

“Well, to be absolutely honest about it, my boss and I are at each other’s throats half the time, so I need to seriously consider another company. I know your company is among the leaders in the industry and I would be honored to be considered for this position.”

The other candidate, who clearly does understand and appreciate the exclusionary principle inherent in the hiring process, and therefore carefully avoids saying anything in such a way as to be excluded, chooses to answer this same, very common interview or screener question::

“I’ve learned many valuable things in my current position and I work with a great team of people. I simply believe it’s time to explore other career opportunities with a great company like yours.”

If you were the hiring professional, which candidate would make the most favorable impression upon you? Which candidate would you most likely want to keep in the talent consideration pool? Would you honestly believe the second answer branded the candidate as someone who “plays games” or as someone who gives “canned” answers? Or more likely, would you consider this candidate as being a true professional, someone who always takes the high ground and never “bad-mouths” a current employer?

So, to circle back around, yes, in many, many ways the entire hiring process is a game of sorts, and arguably, it always has been and probably always will be. The players who consistently win at this game are those who take the time to thoroughly learn— and then put into practice!—the rules of this game. They become experts at playing the game, and usually they learn to embrace the game and even have fun with it.

On the other hand, those players who consistently resist the rules, the dictates, of this game will be among the perennial losers in the game. They will continue to rail against the “unfairness” of the game. They will argue that hiring professionals don’t ask the right questions, or ask them in the right way. They will continue to insist that this is not the way things should be, even though clearly it is the way things in fact are.

Are you willing to learn the new rules of the all-new hiring game and start playing to WIN? Or, are you content to keep doing things the way you’ve always done them and merely wait for “the good old days” in the job market to return? You may remember those days . . . when the number of jobs—sometimes even good, high-paying jobs—were so plentiful that even the ill-prepared and often the unprepared were able to snag one every once in a while.

NEWS FLASH: Those days probably aren’t going to return any time soon, if ever!

I welcome your thoughts and input on this issue!

[i] It’s also a fundamental principle that informs Career Stalled?, my latest book in the“Headhunter” Hiring Secrets Series of Career Development & Management Publications.


Check out Career Stalled?, Skip’s latest book in the “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets Series of Career Development & Management Publications.

Going on a job interview soon? Know someone who is? Download Skip’s FREE PDF entitled,“How to ACE the Job Interview, by clicking HERE.