“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!" ...To Conduct That Interview


Who knew that Dr. Seuss’s wildly popular book was actually about the lengths to which executive search consultants will go to meet a candidate? Conducting interviews is, of course, a common occurrence at The Alexander Group.  These face-to-face meetings are an essential step in the executive search process.  However, bringing these meetings off the calendar and into fruition is not always an easy task. 

We have a diverse, global client base and candidates who are equally scattered.  In an industry where the deadline is often “yesterday,” there’s no time to let the stars align to schedule interviews. Sometimes we as recruiters (and in at least one case, the candidate) must go to great lengths to conduct interviews. 

Can you hear me now?

I recently conducted a search for a premier international professional service firm to recruit an executive for their Asian operations.  I quickly learned that a 13-hour time difference would add an element of complexity.  I was often calling and emailing candidates in the pre-dawn hours or long after the sun had set.  Then came the interviews.

Because of the time constraints and the location of candidates in seven Asian cities, I was not going to be able to conduct in-person interviews, nor could candidates travel to Houston.  My best option: the videoconference interview.  As we wrote in a previous post, videoconferences, when done right, can be an alternative for interviewing a geographically distant and diverse candidate pool. 

As you can imagine, communicating with people on the other side of the planet can be a logistical nightmare.  Indeed, lessons were learned. 

One candidate (I’ll call him “Joe”) was scheduled for an interview at 8 a.m. Hong Kong time.  As the hour approached, I learned that the business center we reserved for him was having “issues” with their connection.  I frantically called Joe and asked if he could find an alternative location to use Skype or FaceTime.  He replied, “Sure, no problem, I just left home,” and, I assumed, returned to his abode and his personal computer, or possibly found an internet café (do those still exist?).

As the video came into focus, I was presented with a feed of Joe… sitting in his car in a parking lot with headphones on, looking down at what could only be his phone.  This is how we spent the next 93 minutes, while people walked by his car on their way to work.  I can only imagine what they thought of this situation.  Although Joe did not end up scoring an interview with our client, I will never forget how well he handled himself in this odd situation.

TAG Managing Director Jane Howze describes two situations that exhibit our willingness to do whatever it takes to find the right candidate:

Dogged determination

Sometimes as a recruiter, you are in the non-enviable position where the best candidates are not interested in the position.  I have had that happen several times over the last thirty years but our job is to recruit the best candidate whether they are interested or not.

Once I conducted a search for a life sciences company seeking a VP of Clinical Trials. There were only eight people in the country with the requisite experience.  All told me no.  One candidate, however, said that if I happened to be in San Francisco she would meet me, though she would be on vacation so I would have to meet at her home.

Given that time was of the essence, I quickly booked a flight and set out to her home 40 miles south of the SF airport.  As I walked in the door, a giant fang-bearing Doberman pincher attacked me.  As I lay on the floor looking up at the candidate and the dog, the candidate said, "Hmmm, well, I guess this means I’m going to have to meet your client, doesn't it?"  Yep, it did, and the executive joined our client and had a very successful tenure there.

And then there was the paranoid candidate…

One of the top business lawyers in the country would only meet me at his home, high above Los Angeles in the Hollywood Hills.  As I drove up the winding road to his home, I noticed that he had company—there were two people visible in the house through the window. 

As I entered the house, I discovered they were not family members or guests but life-like mannequins.  These were not your typical mannequins but very expensive life-size dummies—identical as a matter of fact to those found at various Four Seasons hotels—true works of art, they are so lifelike.  My nervous candidate said that he bought the mannequins to deter thieves (and possibly recruiters?).  They were perfectly positioned on the sofa by the window, but added an ambience of creepiness as he and I and four (other) dummies sat in the crowded living room.

Our team has so many stories about going the extra mile to meet with candidates and clients, we could write a book—or at least another post. Check out next week’s TAGlines for part two of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” And if you have any stories about strange or interesting interviews, please share them in the comments. 

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