Apply Your Recruiting Game

I have an old college friend that I get to see about once a year. Back in school, “Joe” was a happy-go-lucky guy with above-average looks. He’s in excellent physical shape, and he always applied the appropriate amount of attention to his wardrobe. His personal hygiene is impeccable.

However, he had one problem. He could never get a date, nor could he approach women in public settings. We used to marvel at how a guy who appeared to have all the necessary attributes would strike out every time he stepped up to the plate.

What’s even funnier is that women would ask me, “Who’s your friend?” In answering, I would silently muse that perhaps this was going to be the time when all the cards were dealt and Joe would come up with a Royal Flush, simply by chance, but no luck.

Even when the stars were aligned, Joe would manage to do something, albeit incredibly subtle, that would broadcast a message that announced he was not desirable. Poor Joe.

Fast-forward a few years, and Joe has now become something of a dating guru. In Casanovian circles, the once dual-left-footed klutz of dating is now collecting more numbers than a Lotto machine at your local quickie-mart.

I can’t even get him to answer the phone; lacking the right equipment, I no longer make the cut of a same-day call back. Good for him! What a turn-around.

He was in town not too long ago. At dinner, I noticed that he was looking beyond my shoulder at someone else. It was then that I realized that I was not in the presence of the same person. Just behind me, two tables away, were two attractive women.

One of the women briefly left the table, and in the blink of an eye, Joe was then sitting at that table having a glass of wine (from their bottle) and laughing it up with the other woman. When the other woman returned to the table, she too jumped right in to the laughter; it was as though the three of them had gone to war together and were having something of a reunion.

I had to investigate the rage. I walked over and Joe introduced me to his two new friends. He hadn’t met either of them before that moment, but it appeared that the three had a lifetime’s worth of stories to share. What the heck was going on, I wondered?

The Smooth Moves

That night I witnessed one of the smoothest bachelor moves ever pulled off. Joe got both of their phone numbers at the same time! He asked the one, wrote it down, and then asked the other, and on the same napkin, wrote it down as well.

A few minor details worth sharing: Joe told both of them that he lived about 1,800 miles away and was only in town for two nights. Joe said that although it might have been fun to see them the following night, he already had plans and could not. He also told them it was unlikely that he would return any time soon. Yet, the women were not at all dismayed. One even said she had always wanted to visit the city where he lived.

It took about 10 minutes for me to clean the dirt off my jaw, as it had been stuck to the floor for the duration of the entire episode. I just could not comprehend what was going on.

This guy was for so long incompetent at meeting women. Then, right before my very eyes, it was as though he had hypnotized them and they were clinging to his every syllable.

Now, I know that up until this moment, this account might seem more appropriate for a publication of a different sort. But there is a recruiting lesson to be learned here, and I am about to share it.

Four Recruiting Moves

Later that night, Joe taught me something that has forever changed my recruiting talk-track. He said he got some “game” after starting a mission of diagnosing and curing his loneliness problem. He spoke with psychologists, read books, joined singles clubs, and studied the habits of successful people.

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Essentially, Joe had become a recruiter. He wasn’t recruiting to fill jobs like most of us; instead, he was recruiting people to enjoy his company, plain and simple.

Here is his strategy:

  1. He had memorized and internalized 20 different “openers,” simple, non-threatening stories or questions that demand thought and response.
  2. He had memorized about five different transition questions, or positive topics that move away from the opener and stir up something positive in the other person.
  3. He would retreat and transition back slightly, acting as though he may or may not be interested in continuing the conversation.
  4. He developed a limitless supply of stories to tell, as with a good story, anyone will remain captivated.

As recruiters, apply these “boot camp” basics to shift your initial habits. For example, I charted out my initial approach. First, I wrote down what transpires in my first 60 seconds with a candidate. For quality assurance purposes, I even considered recording my calls to analyze them. Second, I wrote out my openers, although I would prefer to call them introductory rapport statements.

Third, I wrote out numerous transitional statements/questions, and figured out how to apply the retreat, without closing the door, so to speak. I wrote all the possible statements I could make in response to the myriad statements made by the candidate.

Finally, I created a hook-setting script that would almost compel the person to make time for me, but by their own choosing. I got out my tape recorder and rehearsed these lines over and over, until at a moment’s notice, I could rattle them off and make it sound like this was the one and only time that these words, in this order, would ever pass my lips.

You know what? About 10% of the people I call hang up on me right after I hear them say something such as, “Sorry, not interested.” When that happens, it never feels good. But that is better than my previous 25% rejection rate.

Simple Lessons for Successful Recruiting

Every time you approach a new potential candidate, there is an exchange of dialog. The person who is on the receiving end has not formally practiced his game. He really doesn’t need to.

At a moment’s notice, he can push the conversation ejection button and put you on the receiving end of the click dial tone. Learn, script, and practice your techniques to remain nimble, because at any moment, someone may throw you off balance.

I liken it to Tiger Woods hitting in to the rough, behind some big oak tree. He didn’t expect to do it, but when it happened, he had practiced it enough to know how to fix it.

I’ve found that by taking Joe’s charm and applying it to recruiting, it’s far less often that I head back to the dugout without seeing my shoes set foot on first base. And that is how you start your journey to closing the deal.

Todd Rogers is the sole partner with The Alva Bradley Company, LLC, a professional services firm in Fishers, Indiana. Prior to founding ABC, LLC, Todd worked in sales for He has a total of eight years experience in the recruiting industry, which by his own account feels more like 80 years. He also served five years in the U.S. Marines, and has a B.A. in philosophy from Kent State University in Ohio.