Thought I should get the year rolling with a work-related post...

This topic comes up from time to time among recruiters. I don't want to say that we get together just to talk about things that hiring managers do that are challenging (oh, there's usually some other conversation and much of it involves hiring managers that are fantastic....promise!), but we do share what I think of as "cautionary tales" or "has this ever happened to you?" scenarios. It's a way for recruiters to learn from one another.

One of these scenarios has to do with the "cowboy" hiring manager. That term gets thrown around a lot and refers to the hiring authority that does whatever they want regardless of guidance from staffing. I think it comes from the concept of the "lone cowboy"...riding the range, doing what they please. There are a number of reasons that a manager may exhibit these "cowboy" tendencies; they may have had a recruiter (currently or in the past) that did not add enough value to their hiring process, in their opinion. They simply did not trust recruiting to do what was best for them. It could be that the hiring manager doesn't agree with what recruiting has asked them to do (sometimes this involves actually writing up their job specs...hard to recruit without those). It could be that it's just a part of their personality to do what they want without thinking about the bigger picture (for example, if a manger offers a position out of salary range that could cause internal equity issues, or the manager hires a friend or someone who has some previous performance red flags). I'm not pointing fingers at hiring managers. The cowboy is the rarity (at least in my experience) and most frequently can be reigned in (yee-haw...OK, I'll stop) by a strong recruiter that is an effective communicator. In my opinion, that's the recruiter's responsibility. For lack of proper guidance, hiring managers will fall into the cowboy mentality. I would too.

Anyway, one cowboy story that most recruiters have is the hiring manager that makes promises to the candidate in the interview. Yeah, it's one of those things that strikes fear in the heart of every recruiter. Sometimes, the hiring manager does this because they feel pressure from the candidate that is trying to "close the deal", sometimes they really intend to follow through with the promise. The unfortunate thing is that very often, something changes between the time the promise is made (maybe promise is a strong word, but the candidate may hear it that way). Saying something like "We'll have this process wrapped up by the end of the week. I look forward to working with you" may sound mighty encouraging to a candidate that really wants the position they are interviewing for.

What does this mean for candidates? It means that you don't have an offer until you have an offer (with numbers). The offer should come from someone in recruiting or HR, both of which can view the appropriateness of the offer relative to guidelines and internal equity (there's that big picture stuff). That's not to say that an offer can't be withdrawn...it can (disclaimer: I'm not a legal authority...consult one if you need legal advice or want to know the laws that impact you in your state or country). It means that if a manager tells you that you are their "top candidate", it means that you are their "top candidate right now" (it 's more important to be the top candidate when they decide to extend an offer). It means that if the manager tells you that someone will follow up with you tomorrow, they may be writing a check that their recruiter can't cash (or something like that). I prefer "I am going to ask my recruiter to get back in touch with you this week".

A number of things can happen between the interview and the end of the process. The requirements of the business may change (and the hiring manager may be unaware of the change when the interview takes place). Another candidate more closely meeting the needs of the business may arise. The headcount may be reassigned. There are more scenarios. The hiring manager may be will-intentioned but that may not matter.

I'm not trying to be an alarmist. I guess I am just recommending a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to statements that are made during the interview. Kind of like hearing someone say "I'll call you" at the end of a first date; believe it when your phone rings. As for hiring managers out there, I'd recommend being very careful with the language used during an interview; when it comes to next steps, err on the side of caution and use conservative language...make no promises until you have finalized the offer with your recruiter.