One of my clients is a guy named Kyle. He’s been a CEO many times over. Every time he meets a CMO candidate, Kyle tells the candidate the same thing:

“If Erica brought you to me, that means you are qualified for the role. So my job is simply to sell you on it.”

Kyle realizes that selling candidates is just as important as evaluating them. But it’s more than that.

Kyle forces himself to be comfortable with a candidate. He pictures the person in the role and settles into that vision – from the very first conversation.

And candidates respond very well to it. They often later tell me about how compelling and substantive the conversation was, and how it felt like they were already in the job.

Kyle treats candidates more like guests.

puppy giphy - guest

While it may sound obvious, it is also unusual.

By contrast, some other hiring leaders treat candidates like intruders. They are skeptical of candidates. Maybe even scared of them.

intruder-guard dog

This can show up in:

  • Closed body language
  • Questions that are worded in a barely-veiled jostle to stay ”one-up’: “Why should we hire you over all the other marketing leaders out there?” [Note: While this is not in and of itself a bad question – in fact it is THE question! – tone and intent come through louder than words.]
  • Us versus you-ness: “We already have someone with your name/hobby – you’d have to change it if you came here.”

Think about how you treat a guest who you invite to your home.

  • You look forward to their visit.
  • You assume they will bring the fun.
  • You think of how to make their visit a good experience – what foods and drinks they will like, for instance.

Why? Because hosting that guest is often the start of a wonderful friendship. Or the continuation and celebration of an established relationship.

And even if it’s just a one-time thing, and that guest is unlikely to visit again, we know that it can’t hurt to have a good visit, and for that guest to speak well of us afterwards.

Now, think about how you treat someone that you see as an intruder:

  • You feel unsafe, exposed.
  • You’re guarded, on edge, unwilling to share freely.
  • You can’t wait for that person to leave.

While some people love “talking to strangers,” others are terrified of it.

It’s hard to switch from seeing candidates as intruders to welcoming them as guests. It’s natural to feel weird when someone new comes into your space – especially when the stakes are so high for hiring ‘the perfect fit’. And especially if your team is tight and you have worked together for a while.

But when you treat candidates like guests rather than intruders, good things happen:

  • You are yourself more, and so are your candidates. That tends to yield more honest conversations and assessments of fit.
  • You’re more likely to land dream candidates in a tight economy.
  • You’re more likely to leave a positive impression of your and your organization, which leads to good recruiting outcomes, even if you part ways with a particular candidate.

Here are some tips for treating candidates as guests:

  • Pair up. If you’re more likely to see a candidate as an intruder, pair up with someone who sees them more like a guest. Interview together. You can channel your skepticism into great questions rather than into snap judgments. And you can then discuss what you learned. You and your partner may interpret things differently.


  • Remember that the first step to making others comfortable is making yourself comfortable. As the person who is more likely to have home field advantage, you can make yourself feel more comfortable. Sometimes it helps to simply do the talking and sharing first.


  • Delay your intuition. Counterbalance your initial reactions to candidates. When you think, “This is the one,” hardball the candidate. And when you think, “Nope, not the right fit,” softball them and treat them like a highly-paid expert consultant.


  • Take the pressure off yourself. Treating someone like a guest does not mean talking with them the same way you would with your BFF. You don’t have to give up too much of yourself. After all, it takes time to truly trust someone. Look and see how they are reacting to the job and your environment. Encourage them to steer the dialogue and pay close attention to the questions they ask.


  • Break the frame of the interview. Ask to see work samples so that you have a different structure for meeting people.


  • Realize that you don’t need to make a yes/no decision right away. Just like dating, in most instances you only need to ask yourself, “Do I want to see this person one more time?”