The Subtle Art of Nudging

Changing How Hiring Managers Think

Have you ever tried to get a hiring manager to change the job requirements they are asking for? Maybe you have tried to explain the labor market scarcity of the position or imply that their list of qualifications was a bit too extreme? And you have been unsuccessful.

Most recruiters have been in this kind of situation and are frustrated by their inability to change hiring managers thinking or get them to ask for more reasonable requirements.

I was recently speaking with a recruiter who wanted a hiring manager to reduce the number of job requirements and simplify the overall description. Many of the skills the hiring manager was demanding did not correlate with the job when compared to others in the same role. And given the pandemic and the growth of virtual work, it seemed logical to expand the search to include people living remotely. The manager refused this idea.

Why won’t the hiring manager listen, and what can a recruiter do?

We all suffer from confirmation which bias is the tendency to accept evidence that is in line with our own opinions without any real analysis. At the same time, we tend to subject any contradictory evidence to extreme analysis.

Hiring managers, like many of us, have their own experiences and assumptions. They believe that whatever skills they are seeking are necessary and available. After all, they have probably hired people with those requirements before and they believe they have made good choices. They may have never really examined how successful their hires have been nor really thought about how many failed, but they are convinced they have made good choices. It is unlikely that any data or evidence will really convince them to change their thinking.

The Responsibility

Yet, recruiters are the few people inside an organization focused on understanding the labor market. They know what skills are readily available and what ones are difficult to find. They know comparative salaries between firms. They see what competitors are looking for and who they hiring. And smart recruiters are aware of suddenly changing skill requirements that might signify a strategic change of direction.

This means they have a responsibility to the manager, the company, and to potential candidates to try and reduce the confirmation bias. They should try their best to ensure that the manager is being presented with honest and clear information.

The Challenge

Sadly, the relationship between a recruiter and a hiring manager is often one of master-servant which makes it hard to influence them or have credible input into a decision. This puts the recruiter in a tough situation. How can a recruiter be brave enough to challenge hiring managers or to even bring up the areas of disagreement? And, how should they try to change the managers thinking?

The risk is that managers will find the recruiter arrogant or not competent to give them advice. This is especially true if the recruiter tries to lecture the manager or inundate them with facts.

So how can you as a recruiter get a hiring manager to think differently, realizing that the decisions we make are based as much, if not more, on emotion as on facts or data? We often say something like, “I just felt it was the best choice” even when the data is telling us the opposite.


No one appreciates a know-it-all who lectures us on what we should do. The best approach with a manager is not to attempt to be more knowledgeable or better informed than they are. Do not lecture or try to educate them with facts and charts. We generally think that objective data will change behavior, but we know from behavioral psychology, politics, and other areas, that facts and data rarely change how people think. By presenting a manager with data and charts you may actually make them more resistant to your ideas.

A more effective approach is to use an indirect, subtler, and longer-term strategy of gently nudging a hiring manager to think differently.

Nudging is a concept in economics and politics where consistent, small, positive incentives and indirect suggestions can better influence people than facts, education, or rules. Nudging is the art of subtly influencing, suggesting, and reinforcing information and ideas that support your position.

“Nudging is an acknowledgment that our environment informs our decision-making, and explores how we can set up that context to make informed decisions, rather than automatic, potentially uninformed decisions,” says Robbie Tilleard of the Behavioural Insights Team in the UK.

Many research studies have shown the power of nudging and how it can be highly effective in changing opinions and attitudes.

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Here are some tips on how to use nudging to get managers to be better recruiters.

Tip #1 Understand Them

Understand the hiring manager and what is top of mind with them. Where is their pain? Take the time to buy the manager a coffee or spend some time with them discussing the company, their business, and where they are heading. Get to know what they are feeling and what they are really looking for. Appreciate and acknowledge the challenges they face and offer ways to help. Building relationships is the beginning of a nudging strategy.

Tip #2 Be proactive

Provide them with information without opinion or comment. Create a weekly or monthly internal newsletter or email and send a continuous stream of news about the talent market, skill shortages, successful recruiting efforts, what other managers have done that was successful, and similar types of information. Share relevant benchmark data, news articles, videos, and other information that gives a hiring manager some basis for thinking differently. Even if this is only a few tips, it will slowly inform and begin to change the way managers think. But do not take a position or ask them to do anything different. Let the information slowly penetrate.

Tip #3 Offer Choices

Give managers choices - present them with 2-3 different potential position descriptions and discuss with them which one might be the best one. Have one that is exactly what they want and another that is simpler and in line with your thinking. Listen to their concerns and offer suggestions on how they might better align their description to the market. Keep your advice to a few good points. Do not push too hard or too far. Let them decide.

Tip #4 Help Them Think Differently

Help them reimagine a job by showing how other managers have written different and more realistic job descriptions. Do this is a quiet way by mentioning that hiring manager X has had great success by doing X. Never be blatant about this or make them feel inferior. That will just reinforce their current position. We are all more inclined to do what our peers are doing - but we need to get there at our own speed.

Tip #5 Share

Share the results of conversations with candidates. Send the hiring manager a short summary of feedback and comments from candidates, especially if what they are saying reinforces the point you are trying to make. Do not comment to express an opinion.

Tip #6 Leverage the manager’s staff

Current workers often have great ideas on how a job could be redesigned or changed to accommodate a new set of skills or even a lesser set of skills. If it is possible have an open discussion with the manager and his staff about the positions, the talent market, and what type of person should be recruited. The hiring manager's staff will nudge him or her to begin to think differently. This will improve any referrals you get and also ensure that the candidates you present will generally be acceptable to the manager and his team.

Tip #7 Get them more involved in the process

Most of the time, hiring managers have limited contact with candidates and almost no involvement after generating the position description. Recruiters do the sourcing, engagement, and initial assessment of candidates. By leaving the hiring manager out of this process, you reduce her exposure to the challenges of the talent market. You shelter the manager from difficult conversations and limit her knowledge of how candidates respond. Try to convince the manager to take part in the process. Include them in your discussion with candidates. By making the manager an integral part of the recruitment team, and getting them to take part in candidate evaluation you will educate them and improve their understanding. Have the hiring manager participate in conversations and calls together with you.

This quote from Earl Nightingale sums up the nudge approach: “Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become reality.”

What works best is a steady, continuous drip, drip of information, ideas, and approaches that reinforce your position. Do not express an opinion unless asked. Try to guide the manager with nudges to move in the right direction. Nudging may take time, but it will result in a lasting change for the better.


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