Excellence is an art won by training and habituation… We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit… Aristotle 322 BC

What makes a business relationship successful? Aristotle was onto something when he identified excellence as a learned behaviour. Attracting and recruiting new talent for your business may be cause for philosophical discussion, but relationships developed with candidates as a result of an approach to market can greatly impact an organisation’s future: Identifying exceptional executives can significantly improve the performance of the company as a whole, while providing opportunity to further the career of the successful candidate.

Last month I presented at the TRANSEARCH International convention in Cape Town, South Africa. No matter the location, it’s always interesting to see what happens when you bring together a diverse group of business people, in this case a global contingent of 70 executive search consultants from 40 different countries in one room. The topic of my presentation, Building Successful Relationships, with candidates in particular, is widely acknowledged as a common concern – one that resonates with hiring managers, human resources and recruitment professionals all over the world. For an issue that transcends geography, culture and industry, and one that everyone acknowledges is important, it may be surprising to learn that few do this consistently well every time. Those textbook examples where candidate expectations are managed to the letter are, as Aristotle says, the books we need to keep rereading and letters we should be rewriting.

I recounted a story about a client I’d known for quite some time. In fact over the years I recruited his whole senior Business Development team. He was at an industry conference, not unlike this one, when his biggest client came to him and said, “Michael, congratulations, you have the best and most professional team in the industry!” My client was so delighted, he called me to let me know. “I’ve just been given the best feedback I could possibly receive and wanted to congratulate you for helping me assemble my team,” he said. Needless to say I felt great – such acknowledgement is one of the reasons I am still in the industry after 20 years.

As is often the case, Michael’s career progressed and our relationship evolved from client to candidate. Unfortunately I was unable to place him in his next position. Nevertheless, I did take time to see him, suggested improvements on his CV and provided career advice. Although I had given Michael some tough love, he appreciated it nonetheless. The executive search consultant who had placed him in his new role could reasonably expect reciprocal business. Sadly Michael felt used and abused throughout the process. He describes his experience with the other firm: “It felt like a one night stand.” Perhaps they lost sight of their candidate relationship while focusing on securing the appointment? We’ll never know – Michael hasn’t used them since. He continues to work with me as client today in his capacity as a hiring manager on search assignments.

I’m sure many of those responsible for talent acquisition in the corporate sector, as well as recruitment industry professionals, have observed good candidate management and been rewarded in the long term. My personal philosophy is simple: Treat candidates fairly and you’ll receive positive engagement and referrals; Candidates treated discourteously (or simply ignored) result in lost opportunities. For an industry that’s in the business of saying no to 99% of its applicants, my motto is regardless of outcome the experience must be positive. Keep reminding yourself of that during every candidate encounter and you’ll achieve it. Business relationships are self-perpetuating. The cycle may begin with someone like Michael.

Whether you are hiring directly or using executive search services, here are my top five tips for building better candidate relationships:

  1. Make time to meet high calibre candidates, not just when you have a need
  2. Be professional with every encounter, make the total experience positive
  3. Communicate frequently, follow-up and provide timely and constructive feedback
  4. Provide career advice and be open to knowledge sharing
  5. Include prospective candidates as part of your social media strategy and invite them to networking events

Featured image: The School of Athens by edlimphoto, Creative Commons licence and copyright