How Recruiters Can Improve Relationships With Hiring Managers (and Nab Top Talent as a Result)

By: Brian Westfall on June 18, 2018

At a time when there are more job openings than people who need jobs, small business recruiters need to identify any areas for improvement so they can attract and hire top talent. We’re talking things like revamping an employer’s brand, optimizing the job board mix or investing in cutting-edge recruiting tools.

Those projects take a ton of time, though. If you’re desperate for a quick win, there’s one key area that you can address today and see results immediately: the recruiter-hiring manager relationship. You’ve been avoiding it, but it’s finally time to reach across the aisle to every recruiter’s favorite “frenemy.”

Why? Because simple improvements to interactions and processes with hiring managers can significantly enhance the candidate experience, lower recruiting costs and help you fill important roles faster with people that are a better fit for the position and company.

With that in mind, here are five common conflicts that recruiters can have with hiring managers and the best solutions for remedying them.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Conflict #1: Job Descriptions Are Anything but Descriptive

Conflict #2: Unreasonable Salary or Start Date Expectations

Conflict #3: It’s Impossible to Schedule Interviews

Conflict #4: Hiring Managers Don’t Know How to Interview

Conflict #5: Hiring Decisions Take Too Long

Conclusion: How Recruiters Can Help Hiring Managers

Conflict #1: Job Descriptions Are Anything but Descriptive

 The conflict:  A job requisition comes in from a hiring manager at your company that looks like it was copied and pasted from the last time that role was open three years ago (spoiler: it was). You try to set a meeting to discuss specifics, but the manager insists it’s unnecessary because a) nothing’s changed about the role, and b) the job description covers everything.

You post the job, do some initial vetting and send the resumes of some promising candidates over to the hiring manager. They reject all of them. Every. Single. One.

For various reasons they’re “not a great fit,” according to the hiring manager. Now you have to start over, setting back the hiring timeline and frustrating everyone involved in the process.

 The solution:  According to a survey by recruiting software vendor iCIMS, 51 percent of recruiters say hiring managers need to do a better job communicating what they are looking for in a candidate.

To help them, recruiters should insist on a face-to-face conversation instead of an email when a new job request comes in. This is vital to diving into the nuances of what a hiring manager really wants, so if they resist, tell them you can’t post the opening until it happens.

If you can only secure a hiring manager for 15 minutes, make sure you leave the meeting with a list of must-haves, nice-to-haves and deal breakers for every applicant.


Having these on hand as you vet initial applications should improve your odds that the hiring manager likes enough candidates to move onto the interview stage, instead of having to refine the position criteria and start over.

If you’re able to snag more time with a hiring manager though, take advantage! Pick their brain with pointed questions to get them talking and really home in on what they want to see from someone for this role. Here are some examples:

  • “How will this new hire fit into the structure of your team, and who will they be reporting to?”

  • “Which previous employers on a resume would really knock your socks off? Which ones would give you pause?”

  • “How should this new hire be similar to the last person who had the job, and how should they be different?”

  • “How will you measure the success of the person in this position?”

Conflict #2: Unreasonable Salary or Start Date Expectations

 The conflict:  It’s clear after talking with the hiring manager that they want someone with the skills and experience of a top-tier, A+ candidate in their field. That’s awesome! Except they’re unwilling to offer more than a C+ salary to attract them. Not awesome at all.

Making matters worse, the hiring manager wants the role filled by next month, when the average time to fill a position in the U.S. is more more than 30 working days—the longest time on record.

Those top-tier candidates the hiring manager wants keep declining the job because of the lowball salary offer. Soon enough, you blow past the deadline and now everyone’s on edge.

 The solution:  In 99 percent of cases, hiring managers aren’t trying to make your life miserable with over-the-top demands that will make it impossible to hire the right person. The reality is that most of them have no idea how long it takes to hire someone in 2018 or how much salary they have to offer to woo top talent.

Think about it: You’re entrenched in recruiting and hiring every minute of every day. A hiring manager, on the other hand, has to juggle a ton of responsibilities and projects unrelated to talent. So if they don’t believe you when you tell them it will take three months and a six-digit salary to hire who they want, it’s important to have hard data on hand to prove your point.

Luckily, recruiters have a ton of resources available to get information about vacancy periods and salary information for different industries and roles in their area. Here are a few examples:

But if you want to push back hard and have hiring managers tripping over the truth, you need to leverage historical data from your own company. This is where an applicant tracking system (ATS) is invaluable.

With analytics in a system such as SmartRecruiters, for example, you can show hiring managers a number of key metrics directly relevant to your company, including:

  • Exactly how long it took to hire for a position the last time it was open

  • How many candidates you had to interview

  • How much of your recruiting budget that you spent

These internal metrics, and more, will help you make your case and set more realistic expectations.



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Historical hiring pipeline in SmartRecruiters

If you’re flustered trying to figure out how to prioritize the role in your queue, propose a hypothetical doomsday scenario to hiring managers with every req: “What would happen if this role went unfilled in the next six months?”

Push for an honest answer. If that department will survive relatively unscathed, you know you can deprioritize that role. If, however, evidence suggests things will start falling apart quickly, you can vault recruiting for this role to the top of your list.

As an added bonus, instilling a little fear will motivate hiring managers to not put off responding to emails, conducting interviews or reviewing resumes.

Conflict #3: It’s Impossible to Schedule Interviews

 The conflict:  The hiring manager has finally signed off on some candidates to bring in for interviews. Knowing time is precious, you schedule one with the top prospect for two days from today. The hiring manager has bad news though: They can’t make it. You push it to next week.

When they can’t make that time either, you push it back another week. Then, on the day of the interview, the hiring manager is nowhere to be found. You check your email, and to your horror, they got pulled into an important meeting at the last second.

You scramble to find another interviewer while the candidate—who’s clearly annoyed at this point—waits in the lobby.

 The solution:  Constantly rescheduling interviews cuts both ways: The company suffers while the role goes unfilled, and the job seekers suffer from a frustrating candidate experience.

The latter can be a bigger deal than most people think. We’ve found a poor candidate experience can influence job seekers to not only not accept a job offer or apply to your company again, but also to tell others not to apply to your company either.

Likelihood to Take Actions After Poor Candidate Experience


Source: “8 Tips for Improving the Online Candidate Experience”

To avoid hiring managers dropping out of interviews, you should predefine which ones will conduct interviews for every major job category in your company. This makes sure the process is consistent and no one is surprised or caught off guard when they get an interview invite in their inbox.

This is another situation where an ATS comes in handy and helps keep processes in place as people join and leave the company. You can customize the hiring workflows for every job in your company and the software will automatically notify relevant users when it’s their time to review resumes or schedule interviews.

Once everyone knows their role, talk to hiring managers to determine which of three scheduling options works best for them:

  1. Use a shared calendar tool (e.g., Google Calendar), which enables recruiters to schedule interviews in time slots where the hiring manager has nothing scheduled already.

  2. Pick out and clear an entire day where hiring managers can knock out a full slate of interviews in one fell swoop (just make sure to leave some time for lunch).

  3. If hiring managers are incredibly busy or won’t budge on options one and two, let them pick out chunks of time where they will be “on-call.” Recruiters are allowed to schedule interviews during that time—even if the hiring manager is busy—with the understanding that if one is scheduled, it takes priority.

Another option is to phase out some in-person interviews for on-demand video interviews.

Using a platform such as Montage, recruiters can send out a list of questions to which candidates record their responses via webcam. Hiring managers then have more flexibility to review these video responses at their leisure, and don’t have to clear time in their busy schedule.



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Recording an on-demand video interview response in Montage

Recruiting software vendor Talentify found that companies lose 20 percent of candidates after waiting just three days to schedule an interview, and another 9 percent every day thereafter.

Defining the hiring process for every role early, and working with hiring managers based on their preferences, can help ensure you don’t lose top talent because of scheduling conflicts.

Conflict #4: Hiring Managers Don’t Know How to Interview

 The conflict:  Unbeknownst to you, the hiring manager strolls into a candidate interview 15 minutes late and proceeds to wing the entire thing. They rely on cliché questions that experts agree are ineffective such as “What’s your greatest weakness” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and spend the entire interview focused on why the candidate should work for them.

After weighing all the options, you and the hiring manager agree that candidate is your favorite. You call to extend an offer, only to learn that they’ve accepted a job with your competitor.

 The solution:  If hiring managers are winging interviews with candidates, the results will speak for themselves. Research from Google has shown that unstructured interviews are only half as predictive of a candidate’s future performance on the job as structured ones.

Work with hiring managers to nail down specific interview questions ahead of time. This will make sure that, not only will they have a script to work with, but also that every candidate is asked the same questions at every stage of the hiring process. This is vital to doing apples-to-apples comparisons between your different options later on.

There’s more that hiring managers need to know besides questions, though. If they treat top prospects like it’s still 2008, and don’t spend any of the interview selling candidates on why they should pick you, they’ll go elsewhere fast.

Recruiters should hold training sessions with hiring managers at least once a year to go over things like:

  • The state of the talent acquisition market (i.e., why job seekers have leverage).

  • How to avoid hiring bias (especially important for diversity initiatives).

  • How to sell candidates on your company.

  • Illegal questions you can’t ask candidates.

  • How to conduct job auditions.

Lastly, if you want hiring managers that are excellent interviewers, you should find them and bring them into your organization. When evaluating candidates that are going to be hiring managers themselves, ask about their experience with conducting interviews. Don’t ignore this important skill when comparing people on your shortlist.

Conflict #5: Hiring Decisions Take Too Long

 The conflict:  You and the hiring manager have narrowed your shortlist down to three promising candidates, and now all that’s left to do is to pick one and send them an offer. You let the hiring manager know you need their decision by end of week. The end of week comes, and still no response.

You ping the hiring manager and they say they’ll get to it; they just have other priorities right now. A few days pass and the hiring manager says they’re still undecided. By the time they’ve made their decision, it’s too late—your top prospect has decided to go with someone else.

 The solution:  When the interview stops, the clock starts. According to a survey by Robert Half, 1 in 4 candidates lose interest in a job if they don’t hear back from the company within one week after the initial interview. Another 46 percent lose interest if there’s no update after two weeks.

When one day can make the difference between hiring your first and second option, hiring managers need to be able to do a quick turnaround on their decision. There are a few ways recruiters can help with this.

The first is to standardize the scoring criteria for every role. Ask hiring managers to rate candidates on various criteria on a scale from 1 to 5 or with a thumbs up/thumbs down. This is an easier ask than the open-ended, “Well, what did you think?”

This also adds a level of predictability to the hiring process that hiring managers can learn and get better at over time.



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Candidate scorecard in Greenhouse

It can be difficult to schedule, but holding meetings where every stakeholder sits and decides on candidates together immediately after interviews are over can really help speed things along. It ensures that everyone’s on the same page as to what a great hire looks like.

If you can’t get everyone together, and don’t want to remind hiring managers about deadlines on your own, having an ATS that can automatically ping them when a deadline is approaching (or has already passed) can help keep it front-of-mind.

But what should you do about those really painful managers? The ones that always push hiring decisions to the backburner and cause you to lose out on the best workers?

If the problem’s bad enough, recommend to C-suite level executives that hiring outcomes be factored into hiring manager performance reviews and use your below-average hiring stats on things like time-to-hire to make your case. Hiring is literally half of a hiring manager’s responsibility, so it’s time they own up to it when they fail to deliver.

Conclusion: How Recruiters Can Help Hiring Managers

We’ve spent this entire article picking on hiring managers and making suggestions for ways they can better attract and hire top talent. Starting today, you can ask more pointed questions about what they’re looking for, fight back on unrealistic expectations with hard data and standardize previously nebulous workflows.

But the recruiter-hiring manager relationship is a two-way street, and if recruiters aren’t pulling their own weight, those lackluster hiring results won’t move an inch. So here are some final tips for how recruiters can help hiring managers:

  • Maintain a deep talent pool at all times. Always be on the lookout for quality talent that would be a good fit for your organization, and maintain a deep talent pool for every department. That way, when hiring managers submit a req, you can quickly have people in mind.

  • Keep candidates informed. Letting candidates know that you’re taking a little longer than expected on that hiring decision is better than radio silence. It’s better to risk losing face than losing out on top talent.

  • Join the 21st century. Three themes have emerged from our advice on mending this important relationship with hiring managers: consistent communication, process standardization and automation. Software can help with all of these. If you’re looking to implement a new ATS, head here.