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Gaining Commitment from Candidates: A 10-Point Checklist

by
Nancy Parks
Jul 17, 2012, 5:19 am ET

Does this sound familiar? You are having a great conversation with a “rock star” candidate who has applied for one of your positions. You share the details about the position and your candidate seems genuinely excited. You might even be getting lots of “buying signals.” You assume that you are both in “violent agreement” that this is the perfect position!

So you move your rock star forward — setting up an appointment with the hiring manager. Your candidate sounds excited, and you are looking forward to one more “fill” on your scorecard for the month. Life is good!

But not so fast.

A couple of days later, you find out from your hiring manager that your rock star was a “no-call, no show” for the interview. Or perhaps you got a “courtesy call” or email from your candidate letting you know he or she has accepted a position with your biggest competitor. Ouch! What happened?

As a young salesperson, I was trained that to ensure commitment and to move sales forward, you needed to “ABC”: Always be closing. And we learned many, many closing techniques.

But today’s sophisticated buyers expect more than pressure sales tactics and gimmicky trick questions (“Don’t you agree that ….?”). It’s the same with candidates in the job market. Prospects and candidates making important career decisions don’t need scare tactics or aggressive recruiters who oversell for personal gain.

Great recruiters — like great sales professionals — need to be able to know how to gain commitment and influence candidates in a way that aligns with (and respects) the needs and style of the other person.

Anatomy of Commitment

When you are engaging with candidates who have applied for positions, know a couple of basics about any buying decision – including decisions to accept job opportunities.

The first thing to keep in mind is that decision-making is a process, and processes take time and involve specific steps. When you are engaging with the candidate, they are in a decision-making process. The final decision to accept an offer has not yet been made. Candidates can appear excited, but excitement alone does not guarantee commitment.

Candidates — like customers — want to make the right decision. They want to minimize the risks involved in making a very important decision, and they need to work through any fears, uncertainties, or doubts associated with the decision. The decision to “commit” comes when the person has no concerns that the “solution solves the problem” and the risks do not outweigh the benefits.

Your 10-Point Commitment Checklist

Of course, no technique or tool will offer a 100% guarantee you have commitment. However, there are some key things you, as a recruiter, can do to help ensure you have the commitment you need to move forward with confidence.

  1. Identify the decision-making criteriaDo you know what’s important to your candidates? Can you list their “pain points”?  (e.g., growth opportunities; flexible schedule; location; culture; company reputation). As a recruiter, you must be able to ask questions that help you develop a list of the pain points — also known as the “customer decision-making criteria.” The candidate is going to base the decision on the extent to which he or she believes that your job opportunity will “fix” the pain points. If you don’t know how they will make their decision (think “pain points”) you won’t be able to hit the target with your “selling points.”
  2. Align the pain points with the position. Let them know what your position/company offers that’s a match for what they are looking for! Again, remember they are going to make their decision based on the extent to which your company or position is going to be a match for their pain points. Their commitment depends on them being able to say yes to one key question: Does this position solve the problem I am trying to fix? In other words, will I actually receive the things I am looking for? (e.g., growth opportunities, flexible schedule, company culture).
  3. Listen, clarify, respondTry to get as much information as you can before you respond. For example, when candidates say they need to learn more about the benefit package your company offers before making a decision, start by asking them what’s most important to them in a benefit package. Don’t assume that because you share everything you offer — or that your company has won awards for its benefit packages — that you’ve met their needs and have their commitment. Make the target very clear. Then hit it.
  4. Directly address concerns and/or questions. Learn what concerns they might have about accepting your position. Don’t be afraid to ask if they have questions or concerns throughout the call. And, of course, answer their questions as completely as possible. If they have a question you can’t answer, have a concrete plan for how the question will be answered — including a timeline! Be careful about simply saying you’ll “send them information” and assume that “receiving information equals commitment.”
  5. Confirm, confirm, confirmWhen answering questions or addressing concerns, get in the habit of checking for feedback to be sure you have closed out any possible issues. Simply answering a question and moving on can lead to (false) assumptions about commitment. After answering a question, simply ask, Does that answer your question? Or What other questions do you have? Throughout the call, try “little closes.” Don’t be shy about asking, How does this sound so far? Or simply, Have I left anything out that’s important for your decision-making?
  6. Find out who your competitors areAlthough your candidate has applied for your position, don’t assume they may not have applied elsewhere. Remember the “anatomy of commitment.” That is to say, while your candidate is talking with you — they have not yet made the decision! They may well be weighing their options (and risks). And at this point, you are but “one option” to them. Remember, the fear: What if I make the wrong decision? Here are some questions that might help you find out about the competitive landscape you may be up against: a) Do you mind if I ask a couple of questions about your job search? b) Have you applied anywhere else? c) Is it for a similar position? d) How far are you in the process? e) Let’s say you had two offers on the table next week. How would you make the decision, or what will be the deciding factor for you? I don’t recommend lots of “bashing the competition.” However, if you know that you might have a key, competitive advantage in an area that is very important to your candidate, this is the place to bring it up.
  7. Do a playback — aligning “pain and gain.” As you prepare to close the call, get in the habit of doing a short “playback” of the key decision-making criteria (pain points) and align each with what this position will offer the candidate. No need to do any elaborate “selling back” at this point. Just a quick reminder that summarizes what the candidate can expect in terms of matching the points that are most important for making the decision. Finish the playback by asking if you left anything out that was important to the candidate.
  8. Address objections — and close themNaturally, if any objections arise during the call, manage them carefully and completely. Start by acknowledging the objection. Let the candidate know you heard their concern. Resist the temptation to simply go into problem-solving mode – even if you know you can “overcome the objection” right away. Ask questions to clarify and understand their point of view. See if you can become a consultant at this point. Offer helpful advice, answer their questions, and share perspectives that help them make an informed decision, while addressing the objection. Before you can move forward after managing an objection, ask if the candidate has any other concerns about the position (besides the objection). Keep testing to ensure the commitment is still there before moving forward.
  9. Establish the appropriate advanceNot all candidates may be ready to commit to an interview right away. By listening throughout the call and addressing issues and concerns, you will be in a good position to know what the appropriate advance is (think: what the candidate can reasonably commit to). Some people might need an evening to talk over the decision with a spouse. Others might just need time to confirm some logistical details. Perhaps you need time to follow up on something that happened during the call. But whatever the situation, just know how to recommend the appropriate advance. Then, get commitment for the next step that is right for both of you. Resist the temptation to “push the river” with an aggressive step that may be out of line with what happened on the call and is loaded with lots of (untested) assumptions about interest.
  10. Ask if they would like to move to the next stepThis might seem a bit obvious, but are you in the habit of asking candidates if they would like to move to the next step in the process? Or do you assume they are interested and begin talking about the next steps without even asking them?

If you are making assumptions about interest in moving forward, be careful. Ask the candidate if they would like to move to the next step. Of course, their “yes” is not exactly a “written contract.” But in terms of getting their commitment, it’s an important psychological shift. Think of it. In general, would you rather be asked or told? Most people like to feel as though they are part of the decision.

So next time you have that rock star candidate, forget your “ABCs.” Pull out this checklist and be confident you are doing the right things to gain commitment and get a true “win-win.”

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. Linda Brenner

    Great article, Nancy. I really like the practical, realistic nature of your tips. Excellent guide for anyone on point to manage candidates. And see you at ERE – right??!

  2. Tom Gimbel

    While the 10 point commitment checklist is great, it’s missing a crucial point. Number one needs to be: develop a solid, trusting relationship with the candidate. Recruiters that take the time to build rapport and demonstrate genuine interest in their candidates have fewer instances of No Call No Show. It’s a fact. Candidates that feel their recruiters care about their personal and professional interests are less hesitant to say they are entertaining another offer or aren’t interested in the position.

    Here’s a link to some other advice I give to my recruiters: http://pastfive.typepad.com/pastfive/2012/05/advice-for-recruiters-remove-the-blinders.html

  3. Piyusha Negi

    Its quite true that at times recruiters rush & forget to ICE- i.e interests, clarify & explore to align the pain to the gain & thus are not able to sense the most appropriate situation to seek commitment. Unless its a win-win, it would be a hard close which can be temporary in nature.

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  6. JP Caffery

    Some useful tips Nancy although with such vast exposure of vacancies to candidates through social networks, referrals, career sites, rec con’s and job boards any ‘rock star’ candidate should always compare and contrast what’s on offer to make an informed choice. If they’re a no show then either the recruiter has not done a good enough job of gaining the candidates commitment or there was a better opportunity they’ve chosen to pursue.

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