Telling the truth about SME life today

The real reasons for leaving a role and listening skills

I’ve been in recruitment since Ant and Dec were in Byker Grove (well almost!) and of course I’ve had my fair share of conversations with candidates about their reasons for leaving their current employer (RFL). Nothing new there. Recently, though, I’ve seen a real shift in the openness being offered by candidates, and it’s this interesting change that brought me to write this.

As a recruitment ?newbie in the noughties, I was taught to question and query every RFL given to me. Make sure you REALLY know, I was told. Ask again in a different way, ask for referencesthe reasons go on and on. As a youngster, I probably asked too much, was too intrusive in the wrong ways.

Over the years, I’ve refined what I ask, how I ask it and always been very conscious of my audience. It would have been unheard of for a candidate to give anything but a standard response (new challenge, lack of opportunities), until recently, when I spoke with a candidate with a different story to share.

I?d received a CV from a male candidate, experienced in his field and with a wealth of knowledge (assuming the CV to be correct!). A few years ago, he opened up about how one of his close friends lost their teenage son suddenly. Overnight. Just like that. He explained how this event had had such a profound impact on him, he lost his way at work, and couldn?t focus or gain satisfaction from the field he d been working in for many years. This led to a cycle of depression, and he eventually left his role, took some time out and subsequently found another position with a similar business to the one he d left. Should be the end of the story, shouldn?t it?

Not so. The reason that he was talking to me was that he d not been able to perform to the standards the new business required, and he d been let go from his new role after a year. I felt for him. And I admired his approach to be open and honest with me, someone he d never met and didn?t know.

It got me thinking. There’s plenty of talk now about mental health and I strongly suspect that had this happened now, he d have had access to more support than has ever been offered.

But the real change I felt was that as a recruiter, we have such a duty to support candidates, whatever their reasons for moving on. Not everyone has a CV stuffed full of market-leading achievements, an array of blue-chip businesses they?ve worked for, and a first-class degree. That’s not how life works.

I was humbled by his experience and the pain he d been through. I felt compelled to make sure that I think carefully about how and why we ask about reasons for moving on. And to bear in mind that everyone has a back story and things going on that no-one knows about. My approach is now different. The candidate in question will absolutely secure a new role he’s good at what he does. I wish him well.

What have I changed, and how can we, as recruiters, show the empathy and respect for individuals we should, while still hitting the never-ending targets (whether in house or agency). My thoughts are as follows:

  • Take time. Listen to what people have to tell you, rather than simply listen to reply.
  • Have an open mind. The experience people have shapes them, and everyone has something to contribute.
  • Challenge perceptions with hiring managers. Gaps in CVs, unusual RFL, changes in direction all mean something to the individual, and there could be a real opportunity for someone in a business if the ?norm” is challenged.
  • Think like a candidate. How do they feel” Looking for a role can be extremely humbling.
  • Give an amazing candidate experience. As recruiters, we re ambassadors for our clients and hiring managers, and we need to make them stand out.

And so my final thoughts are this as a recruiter. We deal with people, not in people. And we have an opportunity to leave an impression on our candidates as they do with us.

In the words of the late Maya Angelou (American Poet):

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.


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