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Recruiting through change: A marketing VP shares her insights

Imagine: your company has just landed a star candidate – let’s call him Ethan – and he’s ready to start Monday. But suddenly, changes happen in your organization that directly impact his new role. How would you navigate that as a hiring manager?

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

recruiting through change

Consider these potential scenarios and their many variations when it comes to recruiting through change:

  1. The boss Ethan was going to report to is let go or has moved on just before Ethan’s first day. Suddenly, he’ll be reporting to someone different than the hiring manager they originally interviewed with.
  2. A restructuring takes place, a round of layoffs happens, or the company has been bought outright by another company, and this shifts Ethan’s working environment or office culture. Or he now reports to a different boss or new team.

Not palatable situations, but recruiting through change does happen, especially in today’s dynamic economy of agile startups and enterprise takeovers. Zoe Morin, Workable’s one-time VP of Product Marketing and thereafter SVP of Marketing, has been through it as a manager who ultimately took on a new hire, and also in Ethan’s shoes as a candidate herself.

She recounts a time where she was assigned a new hire. That person was hired by someone who was no longer at the company by the time the new hire started.

”I wasn’t part of that hiring process, so I wasn’t even sure what their strengths were, or why they were interested in the role, or why we even chose them for that job because I wasn’t part of their evaluation process at all.”

She also recalls another time where, as a candidate, she found out shortly before her first day that things had changed drastically at the company she’d be working at:

“By the time I started, the company had been acquired by a different company. And so then, you know, things, even down to the name of the company, had changed. I remember my new boss saying to me, ‘Well, you know, you interviewed with us as [old company name] and now you’re starting your first day as [new company name].’.”

Suffice to say, Zoe has learned a lot about recruiting through change in her own career, and shares four things she says you can do to succeed when everything around you seems to be turning on its head:

1. Turn the unpredictability to your advantage

Startups can be volatile. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Zoe notes that some candidates actually thrive in that environment.

“If you are the type of company that is a living, breathing thing [and changes] at a faster rate than a more corporate or more established organization, then you’ve got to make that part of your search criteria.”

In fact, you can be blunt, Zoe says, in telling people like Ethan during the interview process: “‘We’re constantly changing, we’re constantly iterating, we’re in that phase of growth where we’re deciding what the best organization is, and how we should be structured and that might change. In fact, I can almost promise that that will change.’”

And it’s OK if some candidates aren’t cool with that, preferring more structure and clearer career trajectories. The key is to help candidates self-select into or out of the process by being clear from the get-go.

“If someone thinks that they’re interviewing for one thing and there are changes coming and they’re not quite comfortable with that, it’s only fair to them to let them pursue another opportunity that might be a better fit.”

Key takeaway:

Get ahead of the curve. If your company is rapidly evolving and subject to change, make it part of your messaging. You want candidates who can adapt at every turn without compromising their performance.

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2. Be proactive and supportive

As a hiring manager, you can take action to ensure a top-tiered candidate experience even when recruiting through change, by helping the candidate feel comfortable wherever they are in the process.

Zoe recounts her experience of a new hire being moved to her team just days before starting. She opened up the channels of communication right away:

“We had that conversation of, ‘What were your expectations so that I can make sure that I’m fully aware of the role you were promised and how can I help to fulfill that? Or how can I help if that’s not where my mind is at?’ So that again we can have that open and honest conversation about, ‘Is this what you were expecting and are you still comfortable with it?’”

What if it was a one-off change and not emblematic of the organization at large? Zoe suggests exploring the nuances in the candidate’s motivation to work there. For example, find out if the new hire is OK with reporting to a different person – after all, they may have made their decision based more on the person they’d report to than the company itself.

What if it was indeed a large-scale restructuring? Zoe shares from her experience joining a company that had been through an acquisition: “I could sense that new candidates coming in could feel the energy around them as a result of changes that were kind of happening and ongoing. And I felt awful for those folks coming in thinking that it’s not fair to them. They don’t understand the baggage.”

Zoe says you need to communicate to them that your company is still a pretty good place to work and that they’ll be happy there, and acknowledge the fact that this may just be a temporary challenging period that’ll blow over at some point.

While there’s no perfect workaround, one strategy is to emphasize what hasn’t changed ahead of what has changed. That helps shed perspective, and makes it seem not as fully blown as originally perceived. As Zoe explains:

“You can reassure them, ‘Your role hasn’t changed, the reasons that we wanted you for this role have not changed. The only thing that’s changed is the name of the person that you’ll be reporting to.’”

Key takeaway:

Be open about what happened and be empathetic to their situation. Candidates like Ethan are human beings too, and they’re making a pretty big decision. “Ultimately.” says Zoe, “what anybody wants is for the candidate and the new employee to be happy, and for the company to be happy as well.” Assure them that they still made the right decision in working at your company.

3. Maintain a constant in the process

Consistency is absolutely key – not just in the messaging and communications, but also at every touchpoint in the process. That’s challenging in the midst of a reorg, but you can still find a constant, Zoe reminds us:

“The person to break that news shouldn’t be the new hiring manager or the new team, but the recruiter or one of the peer interviewers that the candidate built a relationship with. Give [your new hire] something that they recognize to help have that conversation, before ever throwing them in front of their new team, their new manager, their new peers.”

That kind of familiarity can be incredibly reassuring, Zoe notes.

“Make sure that new hires still have contact with those people that they formed that initial connection with. It’s important to remember that if that person accepted the offer, it’s probably in some part to the relationships that they started to develop around the interview process.”

“Have some continuity so that it doesn’t feel like everything has changed drastically.”

Zoe, in fact, saw this first-hand in her experience as the suddenly new manager to an incoming employee. Zoe’s own boss – an executive who was one of the decision-makers in the restructuring at the company and one of the interviewers during the process – was the one who broke the news to the new hire, and reassured them by answering questions to the new hire’s satisfaction.

Key takeaway:

It’s easier to hear unexpected news from someone you know already rather than some stranger you’ve never met. Maintain that constant point of contact throughout the process so the new hire can feel comfortable and reassured that not everything has changed.

4. Give the candidate control

Remember that candidates like Ethan are making a career move, and they’re coming in for their first day with a multitude of expectations – their lunch buddies, their desk environment, their day-to-day work, and the team members they’ll work most closely with. A shift in any of this can have a marked impact on how a new employee feels about the job, especially in those crucial first few weeks.

You must help the candidate know that you totally get it, and that you understand if they’re feeling weird about it. Zoe suggests: “Ask them, ‘Hey, you know, you signed up for this and now this has changed. The goalposts have moved. Are you still comfortable with it?’”

This gives Ethan permission to feel OK about making a different decision based on what’s just happened. As she explains:

“As the hiring manager, you have to be prepared for the fact that if that person is not comfortable with that change, then you have to give them the freedom to walk away.”

Key takeaway:

You are contributing to the overall culture of your company in helping the candidate narrow down what they want to do and where they want to be – even if not with you. Not only is that powerful, it’s the right thing to do, says Zoe, and it can have benefits later down the road – set them free and should they decide to stay or apply again in the future, you know they’re in it to win it with you.

The times they are a-changin’

Companies, like people, can be unpredictable. And in today’s world of work, it’s almost expected that many companies are different now than they were five years ago. It’s a tough place to be sometimes when you’re a recruiter, hiring manager, or candidate, but, as Zoe says:

“That’s kind of the one thing you can’t control because the company can change in a myriad of ways day-to-day. You just have to learn how to put your candidate in a position where they don’t feel like the world is crumbling around them.”

The way you’re recruiting through change also means your employer brand may actually be at stake; after all, people do talk.

“The care you take to make a good candidate experience, the care that company takes to make a candidate feel valued, or a new employee feel comfortable with a tremendous amount of change, that says a lot about the culture of your company.”

Ultimately it boils down to a solid work environment where everyone can thrive because of – or rather, in spite of – changes. The Ethans of the world will thank you.

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