Your hiring manager approaches you and asks you to take on just one more open position. The position has an unrealistic timeline and an even more unrealistic candidate profile. We’ve all been there. We enthusiastically say, “yes!” when inside we’re screaming, “No way! Hell no!”

For the sake of your success and sanity, recruiters have to learn how to say “no.” We don’t like to admit it, but most of us cringe at the thought of turning down a request from a boss, co-worker, or hiring manager—even if we know it’s the right answer.

The mess we create

This past week I was spending time with Sally, a senior recruiting consultant. Sally spent many years in a tier 1 search firm before she jumped ship to the corporate side. Sally and I scheduled 90-minutes to discuss her progress building an internal executive search firm. Twenty minutes into the conversation, Sally’s phone rang. It was an internal client and the HM of one of their largest business units. She politely asked me if she could take the call. I nodded in agreement—even though I should have said no!—and she quickly picked up the phone.

The HM claimed to only have time to talk right then and there to do a debrief on a candidate he recently interviewed. Mind you, Sally reached out to this HM multiple times over the last few days to get feedback. He hadn’t even acknowledged her until this phone call.

Sally sat relatively silent for the next 45-minutes as the HM rambled on about the candidate. In the meantime, I checked my phone, responded to emails, jotted down some notes. Eventually, Sally ended the call and apologized for the time it took away from our meeting. She explained that this particular leader did this often, and therefore she needed to take the call. Immediately my antenna went up. I took the opportunity to ask some questions: why did the HM do this all the time? How often does he do it? What has she done to manage him?

The bottom line is that Sally’s decision to be at his beck and call trained him to believe his time was more important. Sally didn’t like that I had pointed this out, but after a few minutes, it became clear that she responded similarly to many leaders within the organization.

This situation is common among new and seasoned recruiters

I hear comments like these almost daily:

  • My hiring manager keeps adding new reqs
  • My hiring manager just wants me to send him/her resumes before we bring in a candidate
  • My hiring manager is busy – I need to take this call

My point here isn’t that we need to offer less service to our hiring leaders and to be realistic (and honest). We have to know when to say “no!”

Why we need to say “no”

”No” leaves more room for “yes.” If you don’t stop saying “yes” to your hiring managers, your plate will be so full that you won’t be able to complete the most important tasks–let alone the simple ones. Sally wouldn’t say no to the HM even though she had a scheduled meeting. His phone call threw off the rest of her day. If you don’t learn to say “no,” you’ll never leave yourself enough time to say “yes” to the things that truly matter.

Saying “no” at the right time leads to more respect. We all want to be team players, especially when your hiring manager is an executive at the company. At first, saying “yes” all the time might seem like the right thing to do. In the long-term, however, it just creates bigger issues. Knowing when and how to say “no” will increase your hiring manager’s respect and confidence in you.

Saying “no” changes behaviors. When you say “yes” to every request, this over-accommodation will reinforce the disrespectful behavior. Sally’s hiring manager continues to abide by his schedule with no regard for her schedule. He assumes she’s always available because she’s allowed him to think she is. Sally never says “no,” but complains when he insists on speaking with her any time of the day! If she were to turn him down over a period of time and follow up with an alternative, there’s a good chance his behavior would change.

How do we say “no”?

The answer “no” is not meant to stand alone. Although “because I said so” might work with your kids, it isn’t sustainable in the business or professional world. Properly saying “no” involves 4 simple but efficient steps.

1. Facts.

Your “no” should always be based on facts. Sally could have easily told her HM that she was in a meeting. The fact is that Sally did need to speak with him, however right then was not the time. The answer should have been “No, I can’t talk right now. I’m in a meeting.”

2. Feelings.

Saying “no” for the first time can provoke a mixed response. Had sally said “no” to her HM, he may have felt slighted and pressed for time. Showing empathy for that response can be as simple as, “I understand” or “I get it.” You don’t have to automatically defend your position. Rather, deal with the facts and acknowledge the other person’s emotions.

3. Focus.

Focus on providing alternate solutions. This is the “No, but…” approach. “No, I am not going to send you the stack of resumes, but I will schedule time with you to review the most qualified candidates.” When you know the right answer in a situation is “no,” understand that alternatives need to be offered. Part of managing expectations of a hiring manager and creating credibility is to deliver solutions that address the situation properly and at the right time!

4. Follow up.

Now that you have established that “no” is the best answer, what can you act on now as part of the alternate solution? Can you nail down a time to call your hiring manager back? Can you schedule a meeting to discuss the candidates and book that now?

Mastering the art of saying “no” is easier said than done. If you’re overworked, understaffed, chasing your manager or not finding the purple squirrel candidate, own it. Quit whining about it and learn to say “NO!”



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