An interview with Heller Search Director of Recruiting, and veteran IT executive recruiter Carol Lynn Thistle

Carol Lynn Thistle is a founding member of Heller Search Associates, where she serves as Director of Recruiting.

Carol Lynn Thistle, Director of Recruiting

Based on your observations, what is a pitfall that keeps even the most qualified and experienced IT executives from putting their best foot forward during an interview?

Not being prepared to answer the question, "Why are you interested in this opportunity at this company?" Candidates often fall into the trap of explaining why they want to leave where they are rather than what is attracting them to this new opportunity. We coach our candidates on this and share all the information we have, but there is some onus on the candidate to be able to address this question based on their own research. 

For a talented IT leader who has been laid off or RIF’d for reasons beyond their control, what are your recommendations on how to overcome the bias many hiring managers have against candidates currently “not working?”  

Most of this depends on how long the IT leader has been out of work. The closer it gets to a year or more, the harder it is to sell them as a candidate to the client (though there is some leeway based on market conditions). In technology, things are changing so fast that you have to stay current with what is happening in the market. I do recommend to candidates who have been out and looking for a long time to make job hunting their full time job by networking with new contacts and staying in the game. If they can do some consulting, that is a good way to stay sharp and learn something new. If they lack a critical skillset, I suggest getting extra training, certification, and education.

“A direct conversation about what it will take to close a deal with their rock star candidate must take place, regardless of how hard that conversation may be.”

Considering that the market for top IT talent is extremely tight, and looks to be getting even tighter, what do you do to help your clients attract the best possible hires?

In addition to sourcing candidates, our job is to educate them on the talent we are seeing in the market every day, and how that compares to what they are looking for from a skills, experience and compensation perspective, taking into account the location. Clients determine what they seek in a candidate based on their internal needs. When that doesn’t match the skill sets available in the market, we can provide market intelligence to help clients to open their minds to new solutions. We often talk to clients about the option to hire the “athlete” rather than the specialist who has been there -- done that. Candidates who have substance, are smart and have the aptitude to do the job often become long term employees with runway to grow with the organization, creating a bench of IT executives from which the company can draw in the future.

When your client has chosen a candidate from your slate who is their total 'dream hire,' but who you know will have competing offers, what do you do to give your client the best chance of winning this candidate?

The key to closing a deal in this kind of situation is for me to know my candidate well from the start, and to develop a trusting and honest relationship with them very early. It is important to know what is driving his or her decision and remind them of the things that are most important to them, as the situation can get murky. From the client side, a direct conversation about what it will take to close a deal with their rock star candidate must take place, regardless of how hard that conversation may be.

What is the most memorable interview feedback you've ever received about a candidate?

I received feedback on one candidate in my early years of recruiting that was very surprising! The candidate's interview was at noon, and when she arrived, she asked if there was anything to eat because she was hungry! Another time, we had a candidate show up for the interview on a very hot day in flip flops and a miniskirt.

How about any interesting or unexpected feedback from a candidate after the interview?

On one of the first searches that Martha Heller and I worked on together, our client told candidates that “there is no opportunity for growth here!”

How did you get your start in executive recruiting? 

Early in my career, while working at a large law firm in Boston, I devised a simple method for tracking the staffing of litigation cases and matching talent to the needs of the business. I found that I liked HR and the matching concept so much that I moved into HR as a Manager responsible for recruitment, retention and employee relations. A few years later I decided to focus on recruitment and went into executive search, where I have been for the past 13 years.

Why is executive recruiting a good fit for you?

I believe it is because I’m not overly emotional and I try not to take things personally. I like helping people and, in recruiting, I’m helping my client to meet business needs and make a good hire. And, I'm helping candidates to do what they do best and advance in their careers. Very often I’m helping clients and candidates to focus more clearly on goals and objectives that they haven’t necessarily thought about before. I am innately restless, so I like change and challenging situations, and the role of executive recruiter seems to satisfy who I am. The diversity of industries, business needs, candidate skills, and the personality differences truly makes my job interesting.

Read Carol Lynn's full bio


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