Recruiting “Failed” Candidates

I recently spoke with a recruiter new to the high tech field. “So many of these people have suspect experience on their resumes. They’ve been laid off, and then out of work for several years. I can’t believe they would be good for our organization.”

If you’ve worked anywhere since 1999, you know some “failures”—people who were laid off more than once, or even fired. Am I actually suggesting you recruit these people?

Yes, I am. “Failed” candidates are not necessarily failures. Too often, they’ve been guilty of bad judgment in choosing employers, not in their work. You’ll need to think long and hard about the candidates, but looking for people who had trouble holding onto jobs or were out of the job market for a while might be a welcome source of candidates.

First, let’s look at why people are laid off or fired. Too often, it’s a culture clash—where the company or the manager’s culture does not fit the candidate’s necessary culture. Sometimes it’s not even a culture problem. If you’re looking a middle- or senior-level manager, a change in C-level management ripples down the management ranks—whether those managers were doing a great job or not.

Review a candidate’s resume and look for industries, companies, or environments similar to yours. Can the candidate point to a success there? If so, consider a phone screen—that’s where you can ask about their successes.

You may have to dig a bit to help candidates articulate those circumstances under which they were successful, especially if they’ve been out of work a long time. One good question you can ask in a phone screen is “Tell me about a time you felt successful. What contributed to your success?” Be ready to ask follow-up questions.

Here’s an example from an interview I conducted about a year ago. I asked a candidate the success question, and heard this answer. “A few years ago at XYZ, I worked for a manager whose group thrived on lots of dialogue—what they called constructive conflict. They were bought out by a larger company, and my original manager was fired. My new manager avoided conflict, and all of us who had been big discussers—we were all laid off.”

I used that answer to ask more questions about the candidate’s concerns and how the candidate was accustomed to working in projects. This candidate enjoyed exposing product problems, and was a good fit for the new company.

Don’t assume someone who’s been laid off or fired is a failure. Too often, the most these candidates are guilty of is not seeing the future. Use your detective skills and delve into why people were laid off or fired. You may find perfect candidates, who will fit your organization to a T.

© 2007 Johanna Rothman. This article was originally published on

Like this article? See the other articles. Or, look at my workshops, so you can see how to use advice like this where you work.

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