When it comes to long-term open positions, it is easy for everyone to blame the recruiter. Like it or not, the recruiter happens to be that person in the middle of everything trying to make a perfect match. It can really turn into a blame-shifting game. The program manager takes heat from the client and upper management for the open position on his team, and s/he brings the heat to the recruiter.

Maybe the position is still open due to legitimate issues: picky client, poor selection of applicants, unrealistic expectations, etc. Before you get to this point and are tempted to join in the blame game, reconsider your conversations with the program manager before you write the job description and begin the search.

Program managers respect a recruiter who really listens and catches a vision for the right candidate. Once you get the vision, you can put your relational and communication skills to work and snag the perfect candidate. But it all starts with helping the program manager pinpoint what the perfect candidate looks like – on paper. Specific questions will vary depending on the industry, but here are three key areas to focus on with your questions.

1. Ask about the requirements.

This is a multi-faceted line of questions, but it requires listening to what is said and what is not said. Be sure to ask for clarification if necessary because this should be really clear-cut. Candidates should either be in or out against the requirements. Requirements cover specific skills, years of experience, education, certifications, management or not, travel, clearances, etc. Job requirements should never be vague, so don’t settle for anything less than concrete.

2. Ask about the desired personality.

Have the program manager paint the picture of what life on the program looks like – everything from client personalities and team dynamics to overall pace of work. This question is less about whether the candidate is an ESTJ or any other type on the Myers-Briggs test and more about what the job stressors will be on the candidate and what normal everyday work looks like. Answers to these questions will help you describe the position and sell it to candidates.

3. Ask about the contract length and the candidate’s opportunities for growth.

Candidates will be interested in the contract’s period of performance and the likelihood of a contract renewal. A short-term contract might be considered acceptable if the company offered other opportunities for growth outside the contract position. Smaller companies are often unwilling to keep employees on the bench, so it is helpful for recruiters to understand the contract life and the organizational environment.

Recruiting is a numbers game, but asking the program manager the right questions and listening to the response can build important relationships. A good relationship with the program manager can be especially helpful when a position becomes hard to fill.



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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.