Stay the Buyer – The Secret to Recruiting Top Performers

by Adler, Lou Wednesday, March 17, 2010
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Most recruiters think that recruiting means being able to sell or talk your candidate into the merits of your job. To me, this is a 10% solution at best. While it will work some of the time, it misses the forest for the trees.

The best people – whether they’re active or passive and not desperate – will not be swayed by your cleverness. Instead, they will make a career-oriented decision focusing on short- and long-term criteria like the growth opportunity, the size of the challenge and potential impact, the chance to learn and grow, and the compensation package, among others.

Aside from the variables they’ll consider, the way they make the decision is equally important. While some will be more formal than others, they’ll all take more time to decide than you’d like, and they’ll all consult their friends, family, and advisors hoping for support. Managing this group of personal advisors is essential if you want to maximize your placement rate.

The problem with the personal advisory team is that they are not honest brokers. They will take a short-term view of things (more money and/or benefits) or maximize their personal stake in the situation (don’t relocate). If you want to get this group to give your job a thumbs-up, you’ll have to ensure your candidate has the information needed to make a persuasive case that your offer is, on balance, the best career move among competing alternatives. You do this by getting the candidate to sell you on why he or she is worthy for the position, rather than you selling the candidate.

If candidates can’t honestly sell you on why your offer represents a career move, how can they possible convince their family, friends, co-workers, other recruiters, personal advisors, and boss when the person resigns? That’s why getting the candidate to convince you of his or her merits is a critical aspect of recruiting and closing top performers.

Here are some ideas on how to pull this off:

1. Know the job – prepare a performance profile when you take the assignment. A performance profile defines the work that needs to be done, not the skills required to do the work. Recruiting is sales, and when you’re dealing with top performers your candidates are very discriminating buyers. As you know, in sales lack of product knowledge can kill any deal before it starts. Recruiter credibility with clients and candidates alike starts by knowing the real job, not the qualifications required to get it. Once you know the real job, you'll discover that the hiring manager will focus more on the candidate's ability to achieve comparable results rather than having comparable skills. This is a great shift to make right away. From a candidate perspective a performance profile provides you the information you need to represent your position as a career move. You do this by looking for gaps or stretch points between your job and the candidate’s experiences.

2. Create an opportunity gap. This is the difference between the candidate's current job and the real job you're representing. You can’t figure this out unless you’ve prepared a performance profile when you took the assignment. By asking questions during the screening process, good recruiters look for areas of growth and challenge that can offset other objections and concerns the candidate might have, such as location and compensation. This is how you convert a job into a career move. If the opportunity gap is more than 10-15% in comparison to the person’s current job or other opportunities the person is considering, you’ll be surprised at how soon the candidate begins selling you on why they’re qualified.

3. Delay the comp discussion. Don't get caught in a compensation discussion too soon. This is a clear sign of an unsophisticated recruiter and shows a lack of applicant control. Instead, call a time out and ask the prospect to consider the jobs he/she has previously held that provided the most personal satisfaction. Then ask if the satisfaction was due to the pay or to the type of work being performed. Then ask, “Wouldn’t it make sense to at least discuss an opportunity if it offered the chance to maximize personal satisfaction and growth in combination with a competitive compensation package?” Most people will say yes. This shift gives you the chance to look for the gaps and voids required to shift the decision from one based on compensation to one based on growth and learning.

4. Advertise careers, not jobs. "Don't use Wal-Mart advertising techniques to attract Tiffany customers." Discriminating people don't make decisions about applying for a job based on a boring title and a list of qualifications. Instead, describe the challenges and growth opportunities and add a clever title. Then put the job on a niche board the good people you're trying to attract use. One of our clients near Napa Valley used this ad to attract government contract administrators to a non-aerospace locale: "Contracts and wine...together at last!" The ad copy described the challenges with little about the qualifications. She had 15 qualified candidates the day the ad ran.

It’s never been a buyer’s market for top talent. It will be even more difficult to hire these game-changers once the economy starts creating jobs. The key to this is to convert your jobs into career moves and get the candidate to convince you they’re worthy enough to take on the career challenge you’re offering. In the process of convincing you, they’re also convincing themselves as well as their personal advisory team. In the overall scheme of things, managing this group you’ll never meet is the real secret to hiring more top people.