This article originally appeared January 17, 2007.
Agency folks tend to see the corporate world as bureaucratic and slow to make decisions; more specifically, they see most corporate recruiters as lacking the requisite skills and bare-knuckle tactics required to make things happen.
On the other hand, corporate recruiters tend to see agency people as mercenary, often unable to be trusted, and as slick salespeople who just want to close the deal.
As someone who has been on both sides, I smile as I write this, as I can assure you that both perceptions are, to a great degree, correct.
Many corporate recruiters want to compete with their agency brethren, but this lofty achievement is akin to losing weight; so very optimistic for the first few days but ultimately not doable because losing weight is so very hard to do.
Sadly, so is competing with agency recruiters, because you have to think differently if you want to be different, and most corporate recruiters will have to be very different to make this transition.
For openers, I urge you to consider the following concept as it relates to money, the ultimate driver of our behavior. If it makes you shiver to the bone, consider it your introduction to the agency way of thinking and doing business.
Forget the comfortable paycheck. There is no meaningful check to speak of, so let’s think on terms of a pay-cut to the tune of 75%. You must close deals to get paid, because you are no longer in the business of trying to make hires; you are in the business of getting it done, because that’s how agencies make money. No deals equals no money; no money equals no food. (See “Eat What You Kill: Using the Sales Model to Improve Your Recruiting” for further insight.)
Now that compensation is out of the way, consider the following tenets, presented as two categories, Attitude/Mindset and Action/Task, as tools for the change required if you really want to make this transition to more effective recruiting:
Attitude/Mindset: Change How You Think
- Push hard. If you want to compete, come to work on fire every day and be the driving force behind moving every deal forward as far as possible; every? single? day because a deal that sits is a deal that dies. If you are not making a hiring manager a bit crazy, you are probably not pushing hard enough. (Believe me, they will not fire you for getting people hired, but they just might if you don’t! Agency people make placements first and friends second! If hiring managers are not responsive, see “8 Secrets to Dealing with Non-Responsive Hiring Managers”.)
- Reject “I don’t know.” Hiring managers must know, because you can’t do your job of getting people hired without their direction. An “I don’t know” means no forward progress, and that is not good. If you want to compete, find out what the candidate is thinking as fast as possible, and then do the same with the hiring manager. Catch them both right after the interview; they are busy but so are you. I often wonder why recruiters act as though the time of the hiring manager is more important then their own. (See “Recruiters as Business Builders”.) Ask the hiring manager, “Can the candidate do the job?” If the candidate can do the job, you should be talking with the hiring manager about moving forward. If the candidate can’t do the job, determine why and adjust your recruiting as it relates to future candidates.
- Turn “I don’t know” into “I do know.” Some hiring managers simply do not know and never will until it is too late, so these folks need your help. (Ever have one come to you a few weeks after a candidate has practically died of old age asking if they can make them an offer?) Not knowing is incongruous with the reality of business, as they are managers and as such they are running a business and making decisions is part of their job. (Think Gates or Jobs can make decisions, or do you think they just mull things over for a few weeks?) However, if they really do not know, help them. Use the line I use: “Ok, let’s go through this together.” Sit with them for awhile and go over the requirements they laid out in the position profile, asking whether that person has that skill and to what degree. Next, look at the experience they requested and go over the candidate’s background from that perspective, one type of experience at a time. Lead the hiring manager in this way and you will help them to think things through in terms of what they really need, and help them to come to a decision on what to do with that candidate. Don’t be surprised if you end up with a totally different search profile, but do not be disturbed either, as it might be the first time anyone helped the manager to think through what they really need in the candidate you are trying to locate.
- No sleeping. The answer, “I just need to sleep on it for a few days” makes me nuts. There’s little to gain from sleeping on it. On the other hand, if the hiring manager needs more information to make a decision, that’s acceptable. Have they used JAVA Beans in financial applications? Did they design comp packages in a team or alone? Can they speak Chinese? What version of SAP do they use? It does not matter what they need to know; get it and get it fast. Before you run out the door, ask the hiring manager, “When I get you this information, will you be prepared to make a decision as to a next step?” If the answer is yes, get the information. If the answer is no, ask the hiring manager, “What other information do you need such that when I come back from my conversation with the candidate, you will be able to make a decision on the next step?”
- When talking to candidates, understand that “no” simply means “maybe.” This bullet alone can fill multiple articles and most books on sales will back up my statement. No is a normal reaction to the unexpected call from the recruiter. No is simply what the candidate says when they have no idea what else to say. Frankly, no is not a word I can relate to. How can you decline if you do not even know what you are saying no to in the first place? “No” is an invitation to listen, probe, and continue the conversation. Getting to “yes” is part of every salesperson’s job and the first “no” is just the starting point in the process of meaningful dialogue and the presentation of a great opportunity.
Action/Task: Change What You Do
- Ask pointed questions. It is the job of an agency person, after an interview, to find out whether the candidate is “up” or “down.” Up is ready for the next step; down is no longer under consideration. Let’s assume that the interview is over, you have spoken to the candidate, and they are interested in moving forward. That means the candidate has made a decision and now it is the responsibility of the hiring manager to do the same. To determine the next step as it relates to the candidate, ask about their reaction, the next step, and what you should tell the candidate. If they do not have the answers right after the interview, that is okay, but they need to have them within a day or two. John F. Kennedy once said, “Not to decide is to decide.” Please do not let this be your fate.
- Play take-a-way. At times, the managers will simply not be able to make a decision, and as a result, you are stuck. To get unstuck, tell the hiring manager, “I have an idea: let me give the candidate a call and tell them you are not interested.” Then get up and head to the nearest phone. If the manager agrees, you have saved a ton of time and grief. If the manager balks, there is your decision. It may be forcing a decision, but at times, it simply must be done.
- Send fewer but better candidates. In my days in the agency business, you sent three qualified candidates. More is not better, because the hiring manager begins to forget which candidate did what and loses the ability to put a face with a name. Give a hiring manager 20 great candidates and it will be a long time before you see a decision or a placement. Provide three great candidates who can do the job, and be done with it.
- Get on the phone. I know you’re tired of hearing how in the old days we had no shoes and ate catsup sandwiches without bread. But trust me, there was no Internet and no computers. As a result, we became great on the phone or we left the business. Agency recruiters are running and gunning all day long, and the phone is a big part of how to make things happen. You connect on the phone, form relationships, share a laugh, convey urgency, and establish trust. Your phone line is your life line and link to the candidates you need to reach. That will never happen in an email.
- Learn to source passive candidates. It is hard to get on the phone if you have no one to call so I strongly suggest you take a workshop to become a Certified Internet Recruiter.
- No more meetings (almost). In my days in the agency business, aside from weekly training, we had two meetings per week totaling approximately 60 minutes. First, we met Monday mornings to discuss who on the team was going after what new accounts. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, we discussed candidates in play and next-step strategies. (Heaven help the agent who had nothing new to report.) Of course, it is good to spend time with hiring managers in short meetings, but the rule of the day is simple: if the time spent in the meeting does not support coaching on recruiting issues or closing deals, you should be using your time on things that support filling positions.
- Do a great interview. Read “10 Things Recruiters Should Know About Every Candidate They Interview”. The more you know about the candidate you are representing, the more things will fall into place.
- Forget active or passive candidates. Learn to think in terms of candidates who are qualified or not qualified. Your job is to find the best candidate for the job and close the deal; great candidates come from many different places.
- Give great service. I tell clients they can call me anytime, and I do mean anytime. Respond instantly to hiring managers, always knowing the when and what of the next step in the process. Then, make that next step happen.
- Know the process or develop one. Everything goes better if there is a process in place because it removes the unknown for the candidate, gives the hiring manager a road map to follow, and helps you maintain some degree of control. According to Scott Weston, author of HR Excellence, “Having and articulating a hiring process means the recruiter needs to act as a project manager; be able to establish a rough timeline with a series of milestones for each stage of the process. This makes the process clear for everyone involved, sets reasonable expectations, and encourages joint accountability with hiring managers.”
- Sell the company. Agents start selling the opportunity and company as soon as they see that the candidate is viable. You need to do the same because if you do not create a dramatic value proposition, there is no reason for the candidate to change jobs. Read “Selling the Company” for more information.
- Be up on changes in the candidate’s life. If you think that the candidate will always volunteer this information because you have a “great relationship” with them, you are in for a surprise. Read “What Has Changed Since Last We Spoke?” for more information.
- Control the offer. Pre-close the candidate before the offer is made, and do all that you can to be the one to make the offer. If you can’t actually make the offer, try to understand what the offer is before it is made. Hiring managers will, for reasons that are all over the board, do things such as lowball candidates or change titles. This might not bother you, but to those who are sensitive to these considerations, it can kill the deal really quickly. You have probably worked far too hard to lose a deal in the 11th hour. Control the offer and you increase your chances of a successful placement. (See “Close the Deal and Land the Candidate” for added insight.)
- Prepare for counteroffers. There are few things more painful than getting that phone call on a Sunday night from the candidate declining the offer. It is even worse when you know that you did not fully prepare for the counteroffer. Honestly, it is a debilitating event that can send you spinning. Read “What Great Recruiters Do to Prevent Counteroffers” to get the full story.
- Say you’re sorry. If you are as successful as the best agency people, you will at times step on some toes in your attempt to make things happen. In the event that anyone might be miffed, tell them you are sorry if you drove them crazy. Explain that making hires can be stressful. Soon, the new candidate you hired will begin to do great work and make the hiring manager so happy they had you to make this hire happen. Bottom line? They will get over it.
The reality is that not all corporate recruiters will be able to make all of these changes. If I were not an agency recruiter in the days when my kids needed shoes, I might not be able to do it either.
However, all of us can become better to one degree or another, and I do believe it is worth a try if you really want to compete with those in the agency business. Besides, if you get good at this, you can always go over to the agency side and at times, double your income.
Regardless of where your career takes you, it is nice to know you can compete at a higher and more effective level.