Want to Keep Candidates Fully Engaged During the Hiring Process? Do What Teachers Do

Teachers have a secret weapon for keeping students engaged — homework. As students do their homework, the subject matter stays top of mind even though the teacher isn’t present.

That’s the benefit of giving candidates homework during the hiring process. You and your company remain top of mind even though you’re not physically present.

You rarely make a hire in the very first interaction with someone. There will be some downtime between your initial connection and each step of the hiring process. These gaps in interaction are when doubts arise, concerns develop, or people simply forget to think about your company and the opportunity.

Candidates jump on the Internet to research other jobs, recall conversations they’ve had with other companies, and get feedback from friends and colleagues about what you’ve put on the table thus far.

Shape that downtime, as much as you can, into something that benefits the candidate, the hiring process, and your developing relationship. That’s where assigning homework comes in.

You may be thinking, “How in the world am I supposed to get candidates to do homework? Especially in this competitive job market.” That’s a common reaction. This is why any homework you give has to be in the best interest of the candidate.

When you design candidate homework, each question, task, or thought assignment is geared toward benefiting the candidate. People are much more likely to engage in a process when they can see the obvious benefit for themselves in completing the task.

My interactions with Melissa are a good example. We were introduced at a social event by a mutual friend who thought Melissa would fit in well at my company.

My first conversation with Melissa was brief, but it was clear there was mutual interest. We set up a time the next day for a phone interview. In preparation for that, I asked Melissa to do two things. First, send me her resume. Second, think about her objectives if we had the chance to work together and be ready to discuss those in our call.

This particular homework assignment was mutually beneficial in four ways:

  1. If Melissa were considering other jobs, she’d still be thinking about the possibility of working with me.
  2. The homework assignment was about visualizing a positive, successful working relationship together.
  3. Melissa would come to our call with specific needs and goals, allowing me to share specific details of how a job on my team could address those.
  4. I’d get a real experience of Melissa’s ability to take direction and follow through, both important traits among people who’d succeeded on my team.

Our phone interview, including our discussion of how her wants and needs matched up with our company, went well. We scheduled a face-to-face interview for the next day. In preparation for that, I gave her another homework assignment: think about what she’d learned so far about our company and come prepared to discuss how we fit her professional and personal goals.

This second homework assignment kept our company top of mind. Plus, it gave me another opportunity to experience her ability to take direction and follow through.

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The face-to-face interview also went well and, you guessed it, included more homework … with a twist. She appeared to be a good fit, so I wasn’t going to delay taking action. While expediting her background check that afternoon, I gave her two questions to ponder and asked her to call me a few hours later with the answers. Those questions were

  1. If we work together, how can we make it mutually beneficial?
  2. If we both agree to proceed, when could you start and what will you need to do to make that happen?

Like the previous homework, these questions kept up the mindfulness and momentum. This assignment also let the better closer close “the deal.” That was her, not me. I knew she’d believe everything she said but may or may not believe me. Rather than trying to talk her into accepting an offer, I let her do it instead. All the while keeping me, the opportunity, and the company top of mind until we spoke again in that final conversation.

I did make Melissa an offer in that final call, which she accepted on the spot. Shortly after she started the job, she told me, “It wouldn’t have made sense to say no. I was considering other opportunities, two of which paid more money, but I couldn’t get the job on your team out of my head. I’m so glad I said yes.”

Giving homework to candidates allows them to continue to experience the benefit of remembering you, your company, and the potential value of working together. Instead of being out of sight and out of mind, which could push you out of contention of landing a talented person, meaningful homework improves your chances of celebrating your latest, greatest hire.

Scott Wintrip

As president of the Wintrip Consulting Group, Scott Wintrip has helped thousands of companies improve their ability to hire talent on demand. He helped these organizations to grow faster, increase revenues, improve profitability, and expand market share. In the process of advising, educating, and coaching his clients, he has created more than $1.3 billion in positive economic impact for them. An astute strategist, he is respected for his strong leadership and practical advice. He is also the author of High Velocity Hiring: How to Hire Top Talent in an Instant (McGraw-Hill, April 2017). You can learn more about him and his services at WintripConsultingGroup.com.