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Recruiting Passive Candidates in Tough Economic Times

by
Lou Adler
Jul 18, 2008, 7:30 am ET

Consider this as a basic truth: in tough economic times every job looks better, especially the one you already have.

This would imply that during recessions there are fewer good people actively looking and it’s tougher to get the best passive consider to even discuss your career opportunity. If this is the case, one could conclude that the bulk of the people who are looking during economic downturns tend to be those who are unemployed or marginally employed.

Since this group does not represent the best-of-the-best, you’ll need to rethink your entire sourcing strategy to make sure it’s targeting the people you want to hire. Here’s a short video describing how good people enter the job market. Now here’s a quick test to determine how well you’re doing: if you’re seeing less good people than last year using the same sourcing techniques, stop using them!

However, if you do find a few good people, regardless of how you’re finding them, expect these candidates to have more objections and concerns than usual. And the better the candidate, the more objections the person has. So, if you can’t smoothly and professionally handle objections, you won’t be placing many top performers.

Here are some ideas on how to deal with some common objections. They’re more prevalent with the economy on shaky ground. The theme behind them all is to reveal very little information about your assignment until you have a complete understanding of the candidate’s background. By withholding information, you’ll gain candidate interest. This is the key to applicant control.

Handling Common Early Stage Objections

  1. What’s the compensation? When someone asks, don’t tell! Say, “Before I tell you that, I’d like you to think about the best jobs you’ve ever held, those that gave you the most personal satisfaction. Were the reasons they were the best due to the amount of money you were making or due to the work you were doing?” (PAUSE and wait for an answer.) “Now, if the job I’m representing offered you a chance to maximize your personal satisfaction plus offered a competitive compensation, wouldn’t it make sense to at least discuss it for 5-10 minutes?” Most people will say yes.
  2. First, tell me about the job. You must never tell the person about the job, even the actual title, until you have conducted a quick work history review. Start the conversation by asking your prospect if she’d be open to discuss an opportunity if it were clearly superior to what she’s doing now. Most people will say yes, then immediately say “Great. Could you please give me a quick overview of your background, and I’ll then give you a quick overview of the job. If it seems mutually interesting we can schedule some time to talk in-depth.” You have applicant control when the person says yes. You lose it if your job is less appealing than the one the person has now. By having the candidate talk first, you can look for potential areas where your job is bigger. If not, you’ll have developed a relationship with the candidate that will allow you to ask for referrals.
  3. I’m not interested. If anyone says this, you’ve violated a fundamental law of recruiting – the candidate must tell you about their background before you tell them about the job (see Point 2). To recover from this faux pas, say, “That’s exactly why you should consider this job.” Just the fact that it’s illogical helps gain the person’s attention. Follow up by asking, “Are you aware that you just made a major career decision using minor information?” Describe a few strategic nuggets about your job that make it worthy of a short discussion. Something like your company has just invested in a start-up to exploit a new market opportunity, so growth should skyrocket over the next few years, would be a good example of how to get someone to talk a few minutes. Here’s a YouTube video podcast describing my “Magic Bus Theory of Recruiting” which will provide you some insight on how to better handle the “I’m not interested” objection.
  4. I don’t like the company. If your company is struggling, or has received some bad press, you’ll need to conduct some preventive PR to offset the recruiting damage. Describe the impact the person could have in restoring the company’s image. It’s also possible the company’s reputation is based on old info, and a turn-around has begun. In this case, make sure you have some real evidence you can use to offset the negative beliefs. As you begin these damage-control efforts, make sure you understand the candidate’s concern and then ask, “If we can demonstrate that your concerns while true in the past have been rectified, would you be open to explore an opportunity with our company?” Of course, then you have to prove your case, but at least you’re moving the process forward.
  5. I don’t have time to talk. Calmly say, “Let me rephrase my question then. If the job opportunity I’m representing is clearly superior to what you’re doing today, would you have some time later today to discuss it on a very exploratory basis?” (This is an example, of the “close upon a concern” solution selling technique.) If the person says “no” to your suggestion, something else is really the issue, not lack of time. It could be you gave away too much information when you initially described your reason for calling.
  6. I’m happy where I am. When confronted with a happy camper, say something like, “That’s great. You’re the first person I spoke with this week who actually said that to me. Most people nowadays are just hanging around due to the bad economy. Is this really the situation for you?” Then dialogue with the person a bit to understand if she is really happy, or if it was just a brush-off. Then ask, “Under the possibility that if the situation I’m representing is clearly superior to your current job on (causes of happiness), would you at least be open to explore it for a 5-10 minutes.” Then conduct a mini-work history review as part of the phone screen.

You can’t afford to accept these negative responses without a formal rebuttal. This is the only way you’ll be able to find enough candidates to fill your requirements. All good candidates have concerns. It’s the recruiter’s job to ferret them out and address them properly.

While you won’t overcome them all, you’ll probably recover at least 50% of the candidates you would have formerly lost. And if the techniques are done properly you’ll probably wind up with some great candidates for future assignments and plenty of referrals for your current ones.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Ask a Manager

    I have to say that I would cut a conversation short with any recruiter who used these tactics with me. If you call me out of the blue and demand that I give you an overview of my current job before you tell me about the position you’re calling about, I’d be really annoyed. Most of the advice here would come across as game-playing and high-pressure sales tactics, and I’d want nothing to do with it.

  2. Lou Adler

    I’d cut short the conversation, too, if someone “demanded” that I reveal my background. On the other hand, if I was talking to a highly-regarded executive recruiter who handled multiple executive-level positions, and requested that I provide a short two-minute overview of my background, I’d want to make sure the recruiter knew who I was. This is a minor piece of information of to provide, in exchange for a potential career-changing opportunity.

    What we’ve discovered that is top performers always consider the long term career opportunity in balance with the short term issues when deciding whether to accept an offer or not. However, these same people, only consider the short term issues when first talking with a recruiter for the first time. This is usually due to lack of time, etc. When recruiters delay this “instant judgment” in the first call, they tend to have much more in-depth meaningful career decisions. Some unprofessional recruiters come across as crass when they try this delaying tactic, the better ones come across as professional. But the key point, is for both the recruiter and candidate engage in an open dialogue, rather than making long term decisions using short-term information.

    Regardless, what I tell managers is to always talk with a recruiter to find out the generic types of positions the recruiter handles, and if they’re in your career zone, you should spend time describing your background at a pretty high level. This way you’ll at least learn about new career opportunities. You never know, one might turn out to be a great move.

  3. Rose Knows

    “highly-regarded”? By whom? Subsitute “purse” for “position” in your schtik above and you can use it to sell knock-off handbags in Chinatown.

  4. Recruiting Myths: Good People Don’t Look for Jobs in a Recession « The Staffing Advisor

    [...] candiates in a recession (Look here and here). I’ve heard variations of this argument from people I really respect in the industry (all vaguely implying that “active” candidates are somehow inferior to [...]

  5. Kaurik Raj

    This is not be very different from the MLM spiel. I would never share details about what I do whithout knowing which position we are discussing. What you wrote above, “you’ll probably wind up with some great candidates for future assignments and plenty of referrals for your current ones” – is my concern. Most such calls will be for generating leads / referrals and most executives in a down-market don’t want to be the ones’s promoting their colleagues as ‘candidates’.

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