Larry Anderson, Senior Recruiter at connectRN. Improve conversion rates and candidates experience with a thorough preparation & debrief processA-Players - The top startups' recipes to build teams of top performers
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- 22 Jun 2022
In this episode, I welcome Larry Anderson, Senior Recruiter at connect RN.
Larry reveals to me how to greatly improve your conversion rate and candidate satisfaction as a recruiter, by organizing preparation calls and debriefing calls with candidates.
Here’s what we talked about:
1/ Why organizing prep calls and debriefing calls helps improve conversion rates
2/ The 3 parts of a perfect prep call: logistics, process explanation, coaching.
3/ The question Larry tells candidates to ask the hiring manager to succeed in every interview.
4/ The key steps and questions of a good debriefing process
In the world of recruiting, some people have seen it all. They build recruiting teams from the ground up, hired hundreds of people in the best companies in the world, developed their expertise year after year. I'm Robin Choi and I'm on a mission to collect their learnings. These are their stories.
Hey, everyone. So today we're having Larry Anderson. Very happy to have you here in A Player. Larry, can you tell us a bit more about yourself, about your background and about the topic that we picked for today and why it's important to you?
Yeah, I guess to talk about myself. I love bragging on myself, really. Before I got into recruiting, I had sold insurance door to door for five years, which was very exciting times. But eventually I got tired of knocking on doors and reached out to a friend of mine who was also a recruiter and said, hey, you're a recruiter. Place me somewhere. And he said, Why don't you come work with me? And that was my intro into recruiting roughly six years ago. So since then, started out on the agency side, working on the national scale, helping support large integrators like Accenture, worldwide Technology, Sagety, etc, etc. And then got tired of that. Moved to a more local boutique firm here in Atlanta called Elevate and focused on supporting local Atlanta startups, some that you may have heard of, some that you will never hear of because they're not around anymore. And then eventually moved into my first internal role at Spanks, which I'm sure people have heard of. Sarah Blakely, definitely a big name and really enjoyed my time there in my first foray internally and filled out all of their It roles and didn't want to work on any fashion roles.
So I moved from Spanx to a technology focused company called Connect RN based in Boston, helping nurses find flexibility in their schedule and help scale their engineering team from nine individuals to well over 30 in the course of a year. And then now I'm here at Slalom, really helping their Atlanta market practice. Just started a little bit about over a month ago. So, yeah, just exciting times here. And love working on all technical roles from security to product management, project management, software engineering, cloud engineers, and everything that is next to all those roles.
Nice. And what's interesting is that you not only have experience from your early days in sales and then as an agency recruiter, no, in house internal recruiter. And the topic that we decided for today was something that is not a lot of dressed and that really borders one topic that is very dear to me, that is discovery and adding transparency to the recruiting process. And it's how do you prep and debrief the candidates throughout the interview process. So can you tell us a bit more about this and why you believe that's very important for everyone to work on that prep and debrief process?
Yeah, one thing I realized once I got into recruiting is there isn't a lot of trainings and help out there outside of, how do you find a candidate? I feel like I'm that dog chasing that car, and then once that dog catches that car, what do you actually do with that? So this is just a lot of experience through all these years of working, and it's still an evolving process. But prepping candidates? The reason why I do it has two reasons, really. The first is to build trust and credibility with candidates. Just creating, like you said, that transparency in the process, providing as much insight to the process to these candidates, both before the interview and after the interview, every step along the way. And then, really, the second reason is just learning more about the downstream process once the candidate has gotten past the recruiter screen. How can you, as a recruiter learn more about how your interviewers are doing, not just from an internal perspective, but also how your clients are doing from an agency perspective? Some clients have great interview processes, some of them don't. So you want to make sure that if it's a great company with a bad process that this candidate is aware of it going into it.
So that's where you learn it directly from your candidates, is there's no one going through the trial by fire more than they are, and it's a great resource. So definitely use your candidates, but you have to establish those candidates in that rapport so that way they trust you to share as much information as they can.
There is a lot of training inside recruiting firms when you're an external recruiter about how to do that prep call debrief because it's all about gathering information about your clients as well that your client wouldn't give you. So what does the interview process look like? What are the questions? But I believe there is less training for internal recruiters on the prep call debrief, because I'm not even sure everybody does this right. It's probably less than 10% of people who actually do a good prep call. What do you believe?
Certainly people have since they've worked with me internally, more people have begun prepping. But yes, I would agree. The focus on the agency side is find out what questions are they asking our candidates. Find out who they talk to. If there was anyone else that wasn't on that we weren't expecting on the call, how did that go? So it was really less about improving the candidate experience of the candidate at the time. It was more about let's gain as much client knowledge as possible. And it was very transactional, and it didn't feel great all the time on the agent side of like, yeah, I don't care how you thought it went, I just need to know what they ask you. It's kind of the feeling that I had sometimes going into that, and it just didn't rub me really well. So I definitely wanted to make sure that we're going into these preps, helping them as much as possible, and then the debriefs helping them contextualize the process as much as possible and going in there as well. So a lot of knowledge transfer in both directions, I think, is where this process for me has evolved a lot.
All right, so now that we want to make it about the candidate and about creating that credibility, transparency, if you were to coach someone on how to run a good prep process, how would you tackle this, how would you start? Where would you start?
Yeah, so every prep call has three major sections to it. The first one is always logistics. You want to double and triple check this just because you don't want to have them have any misunderstandings. So it starts out with when is it going to happen? And you state specifically the dates, times, along with the associated time zones, so that way there's no miscommunication on the time zone aspect. You determine you read out the phone number that they're calling, or you read out the last four characters on the zoom link they have, or the teams link or what have you. You get down to the nitty gritty, because the last thing you want to do is get a text or an email five minutes after the interview started and say, so and so hasn't called me, or I can't get in, sort of thing and they have the wrong link. So always on the logistics, go down to too much detail, and you always say, I'm being this thorough just because I've had incidents where it didn't work out for X reason. So I want to prevent that as much as possible. Murphy's Law is an ugly thing in recruiting, and it happens way more.
Murphy's Law reviews its head way more than it ever should. So that's why logistics always go over that first double triple check things, have them read it back to you, and then end that logistics aspect of saying, hey, and if they don't respond, or if there's any issues, I want you to text me immediately. If they don't call you five minutes by five minutes after the scheduled time, call me, text me, let me know, because I can't do anything if you don't let me know. And the worst kind of responses at the end of the call, it's like, yeah, they never called. 30 minutes ago, you could have let me know this. That's always set that up. The when, where, and how on logistics, that's the first part. Very crucial. The second part is going over what to expect, and not just from, is it a tech interview? Is it a phone interview? Is it a zoom interview? But also the interview style of the interviewer. So I always break it down into there's two ends of the spectrum of interview styles. One end is you're catching up with an old friend. It's a very conversational interview.
It'll be still technical in nature with the conversation, but there's no set of questions that they have to go through. It's all about the conversation then. On the other end of the spectrum is the interrogator where it feels like you're on a weekly news segment and they're just throwing questions at you nonstop and it's less about the conversation and more about making sure that they get to what they need to do. So that end of the spectrum. I've had interviewers literally have a list of questions that they need to go through and write it down and you want to make sure that they know which end of the spectrum, whether it's middle leaning towards conversational or middle leaning towards interrogator or extremely on one end or the other, they knowing that going into the call lets them know what to expect and just helps them understand that. So with that, on top of that, if it is a tech screen, letting them know the style of tech screen, is it going to be paired programming, is it going to be a take home project that they go over with on the call? You know, how long should they prepare for this text screen, how the interviewer typically responds to negatives or things like that.
So really just digging in as much as possible so that way they know what kind of tech prep is. It like some people love whiteboarding, some people don't, but everybody loves to know if they're going into a whiteboarding session, that sort of thing. So it just lets them understand and get the jitters out early and really let them know, hey Larry, I'm not into this process, I'm not doing it. So you're not wasting people's time. So always explaining what to expect both from the style and the type of interview.
So this is probably an area where it differs between agencies and in house recruiters is how much do you share about the content of the questions or the assessments? You say it's about this, watch out about that trap. You will probably have these and these questions agency side.
I gave them the questions that I knew were going to get asked internal side less, so I'm more hovered around types of topics or what to expect and I even would give them feedback. If I got feedback from the interviewer, I would say, hey, this is both on internal and agency side. I would let them know, hey, you have X on your resume. That's something that they really liked or you shared with me this anecdote about your project, they really liked that aspect. So be prepared to go into that in a much granular level than I did. But oh yeah, on the agency side, if I had questions that I knew they would get asked, I would share those right away and then even further on the agency side, I would give them questions to ask as preps. Because, let's be honest, candidates are not great interviewers. More often than not, they don't interview a ton. It's a practice skill. So going further into that prep is talk to them about their elevator pitch. Most of these candidates don't know what a good elevator pitch for themselves is. And if you're sending them to the client and they go into a ten minute diatribe of what they hate about their job no, like that you can share that with the recruiter.
You don't share that with the client, right? So walk over what a good elevator pitch is. Do it, live with them. If I were you, this is what I'd say based on your LinkedIn. Just give them the way I phrase it is, hey, you've got to create a red thread of your career, just like I gave at the beginning of this podcast. I sold insurance door to door for five years, and then I moved into recruiting, and now I'm here. It's like creating that. The only difference is you would want to add what they're looking for, ideally in the next position, whether it be growth opportunities, whether it be learning new technologies, what have you. That's what they want to add. And then I always ask them to add something personal about themselves. So if they run Zumba classes, or if they love, if they coach Little League, whatever, it may be just a small personal touch because you never know how that establishing rapport goes. So always a big deal to do that. On top of that, probably the biggest question I share with candidates from an agency side and from an internal perspective too, is the critical closing question, which is always goes just like this.
Based on our conversation today and my experience that you've seen on my resume, do you have any questions, concerns, or hesitations about my abilities to do well in this position? And I've had experiences with candidates. Tell me, Larry. I thought the interview was going terribly until I asked that question, and then they had this feedback, and it was a complete misunderstanding, and we went back over it, and then it was a great conversation, and we talked for another 20 minutes. I always tell the candidate, too, it's going to be uncomfortable, but I want you to say absolutely nothing until they say something after you ask that question, like, Hold your talk, rock. It may be uncomfortable, but you need to have that silence on the call, so that way they give you an answer. So with that, it does two things. It can, one, resell the client on why they want you as a candidate and want to move you through. Or they'll bring up a question and say, hey, I'm not sure why you said this. Can you go back? Or, Yeah, you're actually missing this particular technology. And then you can bring up an example of where you've actually used that technology, you just might not have had it on your resume.
It helps get you direct feedback from the interviewer right away. And you don't have to wait for me as a recruiter to go and fish that for you, because some of our clients back in my agency days weren't the most expedient feedback givers. So it definitely helps just giving that question alone, if that's the only thing you can't prep your candidates on is worth millions, for sure.
It's a great question, never heard it before, but this is something I'll probably steal for all candidates.
Oh, yeah, it's a great one. And Coach, then, if you can't ask any question, make that the only question you ask.
And what other questions do you give when you work that's an agency or quote again, would you give specific questions about the company? Like, would you tell her the questions to the company? Like, there was this big industry news, how do you address this?
Or would it be, oh yeah, I'd give as much background as I could. If there were big news of a merger or if there was news of an acquisition or a new product line offering, that sort of thing, always bring that to their attention and say, hey, this would be a great topic to bring up. It shows that you're excited. It shows that you're interested, and the good candidates already beat you to it. They already said, Oh yeah, I saw that article as well. I thought it was a really great thing. So really it helps you as an interviewer or as a recruiter if these candidates are giving you just as much information as you are them when it comes to about the company, that means they've done their research and they're excited about the role. So it's a double edged sword there. It helps you get more information about that candidate, but at the same time gives that candidate more material as well. So definitely giving them those specific questions, news about the company, prepping them, and that would be tailored from company to company.
All right, so that's the prep call. Are you doing it this prep course before every interview or do it every interview?
Yes, every step. There's always a prep, just for the very least, going over logistics. You always go over logistics every single call. The day you don't do it like a prep call and don't go over logistics is the day that they forget. So, yes, prep call before every single step.
And then, so later during the interview process, the recurring process, you would group that prep call with a debrief, right, the debrief of the produce. Would you do this or would you actually do the debrief and then the prep call are on another call?
So personally, I prefer to have the debrief immediately after their interview. That way everything's fresh. I don't have the feedback from the client, so I'm getting unabashed feedback from the candidate. On how their experience was. So that is key is getting it as soon as possible. There are times where I'm doing a debrief and then I get the feedback from the client or my hiring manager and they're like, let's move them on to the process. And then it turns into a prep, but always have a prep as soon as possible right after the call. And that can be a separate call or it can be a combination call with prep into the next round two. It's all about timing. But yes, the debrief has a very similar structure too. I always ask the same three questions. The first one is how did it go? And just kind of let them gestate if they don't give me anything outside of yeah, good. And then I asked were there any highlights from the call? That's the follow up to that 1st second. And then the second is probably the most important question I ask in the debrief, which is I phrase it exactly like this I don't always get an answer to this question, but I always like to ask it.
Do you feel there are any miscommunications on the call? And what I mean by that is do you feel that you might have said something that didn't land right with the interviewer? Or did the interviewer say something that didn't land right with you? And then I shut up. Let them say Sometimes we'll do that. No, I didn't really have anything. And you say, no, that's great, that's normal. And then sometimes they're like, oh yeah, there was this question or there was this thing. I think we worked through it, but I wasn't quite sure. Oh yeah, I realized halfway through the interview I answered that question completely wrong and I want you to know that this is actually how I was meant to answer it. Now that I realize the context based on follow up questions, we just ran out of time on the call. That's huge. So that's the most important question that I ask on every debrief, just because it saves candidates. It also is really great feedback for our interviewers as well. If you have a close relationship as an agency recruiter with your clients or as an internal recruiter, if you've got a great relationship with your hiring managers and you're consistently getting an answer to that question, you need to take that back to the interviewer.
It's like, hey, I'm coming out of this call. Every candidate is unsure that they answered this question, or you keep saying this one thing that no one quite understands, we need to fix that. So that's huge as far as feedback from both sides. And then the third question I always ask too is were there any questions, concerns or hesitations on your end candidate coming out of the call? And then sometimes they'll say, yeah, I've got other interviews going up. How is this going to go? That's a great question. Very open ended. They'll bring it up if there are any questions, concerns, and then I always phrase it that way too, just because some of them, back when I asked, do you have any concerns? And they're like, no, not really, I just got a couple of things. So that's why I always phrase it as questions, concerns or hesitation. So that way they don't feel like, oh, I'm disqualifying myself because I said concerned sort of thing. So always phrase it that way. So that way candidates feel more open about sharing stuff with you. Like everything I say is phrased in a very specific way, just so that way candidates do feel comfortable sharing a hesitation as opposed to a red flag concern.
We call them more yellow flags sort of thing. So really just phrasing it that way and then adding on top of that, just from an agency perspective, I would ask a few more questions, dabbled in, like after I'd ask how it went, I'd always ask, were there any questions that you feel you struggled on or had a harder time answering? And then let them and that's one subtle way to get, hey, what questions did they ask instead of asking it directly? And then the follow up there is, were there any questions that you feel you nailed it, that you knocked it out of the park, that you answered with flying colors? And then they'll give you some questions that way too. So that's how you want to ask those instead of asking? Yeah. So what did you all talk about specifically, word for word? What did they say?
Oh, don't, I'm just typing.
Right. So asking them and giving them associating that with their feeling is, did you struggle on anything or did you feel you did well in the process? Like asking it that way, they'll associate a feeling, and it may not be necessarily they give you the exact answer, but they'll give you the topics or a particular technology that came up. And that's really what you're looking for in that regard, is making sure that you're getting as much information about the client interview process as well with each interviewer. That's why it's always important to do it as soon as possible after the interview, just while this information is still fresh and it's still on top of mind, because you want to make sure that they're doing what they can.
And what do you think about? So this is something I've heard and that I've done myself, and I actually recommend myself. So I'd like to know if you agree, but feel free to do what do you think about that question that is, on a scale of one to ten, how ready are you to accept an offer? If we were to extend an offer now, and what's missing for you to move to a ten, what do you think?
That's that's a really great question to ask, especially from an agency perspective. I've stopped asking that since I've been internal. But from an agency side, it really tells the candidate gauging their interest. And the nice thing from an agency perspective is you have multiple roles that you're working on, and if they don't like one, then you can say, great, I'm going to let the client know that we're no longer interested in that role. We're just going to keep going with that. And then you share that with the client and they say, well, why? And that can help build better rapport with the client. I know my account managers always love to hear why a candidate in like, X Company? So that's always helped out with that and then but yeah, I think that's a great question to ask. It's one thing I just stopped asking since I moved internally, just because from an internal perspective, because you've only got one role for one thing, I always got the same answer when I asked that question, like, Oh, I love this role, keep me in the process. And also another thing, my interview style and the way I established this report, these candidates are very forthcoming with that kind of information.
Larry, based on this call or based on what you've shared with me, I don't think this is going to be a fit. That question comes up. But with the nature of the agency business, that may not be as naturally forthcoming, because they certainly feel it as more of a transactional from a candidate perspective, which is unfortunate, but that's just the nature of the game. So I think that's a must ask questions from an agency side, for sure, maybe not after the first debrief, but certainly if there's a second round asking that like, hey, what's the interest there? You definitely want to ask that as much as you can.
There is a ton of different positions on this. Some say that you should only ask it after the final interviews.
Oh, no, I go to the final.
Yeah, ask it at every stage, even the first screening call, people would say, well, I'm a six out of ten. I cannot accept right now, but this is what I'm missing. I need to meet with the team and understand the product.
They need to, I think, and part of that too. My third question that I ask in that debrief too, is, do you have any questions, concerns or hesitation? Sometimes that hesitation is, I've got other stuff going on. How fast are they moving? I'm not ready to move yet. So that certainly has taken the place. So I don't necessarily phrase it the same way, but I feel like that third question certainly is that in that same spirit, if you will, of a scale of one to ten.
And so that's the general process. So prep debrief, regular questions, almost like a script. How does this work in practice? Like when you're with actual people, how do you adapt this? Depending on some people that just want to talk, I don't know, via email or text messages and don't want to talk over phone. We all know people like this.
Yeah, sure. So if it's over email, I always have a template, one of perfect, can you confirm this is the right email? This is on the invite, this is the phone number. This is the zoom link. Can you confirm, blah, blah, blah. Always do the logistics, even then first thing and then second is I do give generic questions. I only give specific questions back in my agency days over a call, just because the last thing we need to do is get that candidate, and then they, for some reason, want to share that email with the client. And it's like, Why are you giving all of this information? So, never putting criminal stuff on an email, but like, that closing question, I always put that on that prep email if I have to. Like you said before, text, it's just a shorter thing. You just confirm, hey, this is the number on the email. Is that right? Blah, blah, blah. And then from there on a debrief. It is so important. Like, if a candidate debrief sends you a text that says, Hey, it went great, I call them immediately. If they had time to text, they've got time for a five minute call.
That's literally all it takes for a debrief. So I don't respond to that text of, Hey, it went well. I just call them immediately. And then they see the urgency that I want to debrief in, so they'll answer the call, or they'll shoot me back a text and say, hey, about to hop into a meeting. We'll call you after. And that's totally fine too. But you want to show that urgency of the debrief right away. The debrief is way more important to have over a conversation than over an email or text.
All right, well, thanks. I think that's a good coverage of those two very important steps. Any final learning? Any final tip that you want to share?
Yeah, every candidate is different. Like you said, some candidates want email, some candidates don't. One of my favorite stories is, I had a candidate Suki, one of my favorite candidates of all time. We had an hour long prep call because she's like, Larry, I am terrible at interviews, and you gave me amazing tips and things. I don't want to screw this up. Tell me what to do. And so we went through a whole scenario, and then some candidates, they just want a text of, hey, text me the invite, blah, blah, blah. So don't force candidates to fit every single step. Definitely mold your process, but at the same time, acknowledge that the one thing that's the least flexible in this process is that debrief. That's where the most value comes, because it's so exciting to get into that debrief. And the candidate, whenever you ask them how did it go? Exactly like you said it would, Larry. And I'm like, yes, that means my prep is on point. And then from there, you gain so much insight into their process. You can save candidates with that miscommunications question. You can understand where they are and how they feel about the company.
You can ask that one to ten questions, or you can ask the questions, concerns, or hesitations question, like always asking. That gives you a temperature check on your candidates 100%. So the debrief, I feel, is the most important of the two.
All right, well, thanks a lot. I think that's a very good coaching session. So it's something that I'll share to my own team, for sure. So thanks, Larry. And then we'll see you, right on other events, right?
Oh, for sure. I've got lots of events. One just later this week, June, I believe, 23rd. Is that what Thursday is? Yeah. So I don't know when this launches, but who knows?
Yeah, it should go live on Thursday morning, so a few hours before it leaves.
Right. No worries. But I've got multiple ones with the same organization, HRTX. I've already scheduled for two later this year. I don't know if I'm allowed to say when they are or what they're doing, just because I don't know if that's gone public yet. But, yes, more to come. And it's all post sourcing from myself. Like other people, I go to those same conventions to learn how to source. But like I shared earlier in the podcast, there's not a lot of post. Oh, I found them. Now what do I do? So that's what I like to provide in those as well.
Great. So I'll share the link to your LinkedIn profile, and we can all follow you there.
Thanks, Robin. Have a good one.
Hey there, this is Robin. Most of our listeners come from word of mouth, so thanks a lot for your support, and if you enjoy the players, please keep on sharing it with your team and friends. Stay tuned for the next episode, and if you can't wait, follow me on LinkedIn for more content on recruiting. Talk to you next week. Bye.