Close at the Beginning to Increase Quality of Hire

Mar 3, 2011

Many recruiters lose too many good candidates at the beginning of the sourcing and recruiting process, due to lack of basic recruiting skills. As a result, they work too hard screening more candidates than necessary and lowering overall candidate quality, since they let the best ones get away without a fight. The problem starts by not responding properly to the “what’s the job?” or “what’s the comp?” question when first engaging with a hot prospect.

(Here’s a short video demonstrating the problem and the solution offered in this article.)

More than 30 years ago, when I started out as a newbie headhunter, I discovered I never had enough top candidates nor enough money in the budget to pay them what they were worth. This problem has not gone away. At a LinkedIn Recruiter training course I recently led, most of the 72 attendees described a lack of enough qualified candidates due to inadequate compensation as their primary hiring challenge.

If you’re a recruiting leader, don’t accept this excuse. Instead, blame it on the lack of good recruiting skills.

Thirty years ago, I had a choice: I could either live with the excuse, and fight for every nickel, dime, and dollar, or I could reframe the problem and look for a different solution. The latter approach seemed more logically sound, since there would never be enough top candidates available, nor enough short-term money to pay them. However, something was needed to offset the lack of an immediate and significant compensation bump. To get at this, I just asked a bunch of top people why they accepted their current jobs. While compensation was on the list, it was typically in the middle of the pack, rarely No. 1. Instead, No. 1 was the overall career opportunity itself, based on the company’s underlying business-growth prospects, the scope and challenges involved in the job itself, the company culture, and of course, the hiring manager and the team. Underlying all of this was the idea that the growth rate of compensation increase was more important than the absolute level of current compensation. Collectively, this reprioritization process became the solution to the lack of money problem: get candidates to focus immediately on the long-term career opportunities and the growth rate of the compensation increases, rather than current and short-term tactical issues.

Of course, this was easier said than done, since typical job descriptions define lateral transfers, not career opportunities. Luckily, I had a few early client companies that didn’t use job descriptions as a means to define their open positions. The best of these was Bentley Labs in Southern California, ultimately acquired by American Hospital Supply, and then Baxter. At Bentley they defined the job as a series of performance objectives, based on what the person needed to do to be successful, not what the person needed to have in terms of skills. In fact, Bernie Suttle, the HR VP at the time, told me he’d see anyone from any industry, as long as I could prove they could do comparable work. This changed everything. It wasn’t about a list of skills. It was about a series of performance accomplishments.

I then used these performance-based job descriptions (aka performance profiles) as the basis for defining the career opportunities when first engaging with prospects. But there was still one more hurdle to overcome. When calling a prospect you don’t know, especially a passive candidate, the person is first naturally going to ask a few basic screening questions just to see if the job is even in the ballpark. These include what’s the comp, company, title, and location. Rather than handle this head-on, I changed the way I first engaged with a person I didn’t know. The process goes something like this:

  1. Start by asking a career-oriented question. Rather than asking prospects if they’re interested in a specific job, ask if they’d be open to explore a situation if it offered a superior career opportunity. This changes the whole nature of the ensuing conversation by focusing on career strategy, instead of tactics.
  2. Don’t rush it. Recognize that converting a top prospect, especially a passive candidate, into a hot candidate involves a series of information-sharing conversations. At the end lies a potential career move. If you rush it, the candidate is forced to use some type of tactical decision-making process before learning what you really have to offer.
  3. Deflect the “show-me-the-money” question. For this step, you’ll need to reframe the conversation. One way to do this is to suggest that by focusing on the money, the person might be making a long-term decision using short-term information. Then go on to suggest that the criteria a person is likely to use to engage in an initial conversation is not the same as that used to make a yes or no about an offer. (This video summarizes this part of the technique.)
  4. Persist — no “no’s.” If these techniques don’t work exactly as described, you’ll need to fight through the “not interested” candidate response. In this case, invoke some type of attention-getting mechanism like saying “that’s exactly why we should talk.” Then start over with Step 1 above.

Too many recruiters don’t recruit. Either because they don’t know how, or they have too many reqs to handle. Regardless, lack of fundamental recruiting skills requires them to contact more people than necessary, letting some of their best prospects get away. Remember, you’ll never have enough top candidates nor enough money. This situation is likely to get worse as the demand for top talent increases. In the end, never forget it’s never about the money, it’s always about the career path. More important, make sure your candidates never forget it, either.

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