Influencing Hiring Managers: Q&A with Maisha Cannon

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From strategy sessions to sourcing syncs, the recruiting veteran shares ideas for improving how recruiters and hiring managers work together.

Maisha Cannon, global talent strategist at GitHub and 15 year recruiting veteran.

Courtesy: Maisha Cannon

Maisha Cannon is a veteran recruiter and sourcer with more than 15 years experience. She serves as a global talent strategist at GitHub, and previously recruited for companies including Google, LinkedIn, SpaceX, and E! Entertainment. Over both email and the phone, we discussed how to manage the oftentimes complex recruiter–hiring manager dynamic and some of the strategic methods she uses to smoothly guide managers towards a hire.

“The first mistake is calling it an ‘intake meeting.’”

How much of a role should hiring managers play in the recruiting process?

Effective hiring managers who are excited to be leading a team typically want to be involved in attracting and assessing the people who will contribute to the success of their teams. With that in mind, hiring managers should dedicate whatever amount of time is needed to move the process along. However, not all hiring managers are enthusiastic about the hiring process. So, they may need a bit of coaching from their recruiting partners.

How should recruiters guide that involvement?

Thoughtfully.

Most recruiters understand that hiring managers are juggling a plethora of responsibilities outside of reviewing resumes and interviewing. Still, it’s important to educate the business that recruiting is the work of every employee.

As recruiters work to enhance the “hiring manager experience,” doing things like outlining the process clearly, being consistent in communicating updates, and being responsive to issues as they arise will be pivotal.

Can you share a story about a time you worked with an unenthusiastic, maybe even resistant, hiring manager? Did you learn anything from the experience?

A few years ago, I had a hiring manager whose positions had been open for six months to a year when I inherited them. You can imagine the manager’s perception and expectations from this brand new recruiter coming in, thinking she’s going to fill the job. So, I got a lot of resistance from him.

Because of that resistance, I tried many things that I’d never tried before to make progress and get some momentum going. We’d have face-to-face meetings, and he would be late or unprepared. I tried using email to give a visual rundown of where we were, and he wouldn’t reply. I even tried including both our supervisors in a partner meeting, to huddle up and get progress going, but that didn’t worth either.

So, out of frustration and desperation, I did something that I’d never done in my career; I went to my manager and asked if I could change client groups. I suggested I switch off with someone else on the team who was having trouble with their hiring manager, and we could get a fresh set of eyes on both cases. Thankfully, she was amenable to that. I handed my difficult hiring manager off and took a different hiring manager from a peer. I was so happy to do that! [laughs]

It can feel embarrassing if you can’t make progress on a role, and you’re oftentimes scared to ask for help or get your manager involved. But in this case, I felt I had done everything I could. I’d had the role six months, and it had been open six months before that. I started to wonder if it was a serious role – did they want it filled? So I was glad to put my pride aside, get my manager involved, and freshen it up for the hiring managers. Sometimes, the recruiter and the hiring manager are just not a match, in terms of work style.

Are there common mistakes recruiters make in intake meetings?

I think the first mistake is calling it an “intake meeting.” I was enlightened by John Vlastelica at Talent42 last year, and have been championing the “strategy session” ever since.

During strategy sessions, recruiters and sourcers should be leading a discussion, providing data, and asking detailed questions. We often end the conversation too soon as recruiting and sourcing professionals, and cease communications after the initial strategy session. It is important to continue the conversation with the hiring manager and the hiring team. Talking to, or shadowing, people in the company who are working in the role will help recruiters go beyond the job description and construct a realistic picture of it.

What questions do you need to ask the hiring manager?

It depends, but in general, after researching the role, I will ask questions like:

  • What will be the biggest challenge this person will face in the first 90 days?
  • How will this person’s success be measured in the role?
  • What makes this opportunity compelling?
  • What hiring data will be most important to you as we move through the process?

I stay away from questions like, “What keywords should I source for?” or “Where should I look for people like this?” As the strategist and researcher, I prefer to present information for validation. For example, “Would you recommend any conferences, aside from X and Y, which seem to be popular for Z professionals?”

“The key is to make the data digestible.”

How do you distinguish between the information hiring managers say they want, and the data they actually want?

The key has been to listen actively and ask questions throughout the recruitment lifecycle. Based on my interactions with the hiring manager and with professionals in the position, I do my best to create a 3D view of the role. These insights help to reconcile whatever differences that may exist between what hiring managers say they want and what they actually want.

You practice something called a “sourcing sync” with hiring managers. What is it, and how does it help you in your working relationship?

The sourcing sync is a session grounded in transparency and collaboration. I see it as being much more dynamic than the more static “intake meeting” or strategy session.

During the 20 to 60 minute session, my hiring manager and I review my research and findings, uncover profiles together in real-time, and make adjustments to the original criteria as needed. It’s extremely effective, especially if conducted 3 to 4 weeks into the recruitment, once interviews have started. We’re able to examine why those people who looked good on paper didn’t advance through the process, update the job description, and rethink the must-haves as defined during the initial strategy session.

In addition to bridging the knowledge gap, it also help us to build rapport, establish trust, and refine our strategy.

Can you offer any tips on how to present candidates to hiring managers? Are there any common mistakes to avoid? Tools that help you format the information?

It’s always great to ask your hiring manager what his or her preference is. There is really no one-size-fits-all. I also ask my hiring managers what worked well in the last recruitment and what was their biggest frustration.

I have used a variety of techniques to present candidates, including @-mentioning hiring managers in a modern ATS like Lever, or using the “Ask for Review” feature in LinkedIn Recruiter.

Some hiring managers appreciate an at-a-glance table created in Evernote for easy skimming on mobile, while others prefer detailed candidate summaries which I can create and share using Google Docs. I try to keep text skimmable and am a fan of TL;DR.

The key is to make the data digestible.

Does your approach – strategy sessions, sourcing syncs, making data digestible, etc. – take more time? Can recruiters who manage a high-volume of roles still use these methods?

It takes a little bit of extra time, as you’re transitioning from being transactional to more strategic. But after that, you actually find that you save time. It gets you into more of a routine. You can get more clarity on your own systems and your own workflow, and that’s actually going to make your time much more productive.

Jim Rohn said, “You run the day, or the day runs you.” It’s true: when recruiting is transactional, the day is running you. Meeting after meeting, call after call: you’re just chasing your day and you never get caught up.

But if you say, okay, I’m blocking this 30 minutes at the start of my day to plan, I’m going to productivity-chunk all my phone screens between 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM, I won’t take any calls or check emails during that period so I can get into a rhythm, you’ll find that it actually moves you further quicker than if you just succumbed to your inbox.

If you could only offer one piece of advice to recruiters on guiding and influencing hiring managers, what would it be?

Show a genuine interest in the work your hiring managers do and understand how their teams affect the company’s overall success.

For more of Maisha’s insights, watch her presentation, “From E! Entertainment to Google: Missteps, Metrics and Methods,” read her blog at maishacannon.com, and follow her on Twitter @talentgenie.


Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand experience at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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