Diversity in Recruiting – back on jump status

Apr 1, 2004

Patrick Coyne was popular with the other sales people in his firm but he was always the lowest producer in his region and in the country. As a matter of fact he finished dead last in sales production for five consecutive years. The new vice president of sales ordered Coyne’s manager to give him one month to improve or be fired. Patrick got the message and would you believe that in one month he was the top salesperson in the company? Amazed, the vice president and the regional manager sat down with Patrick to learn his secret. “Tell us how you did it,” pleaded the vice president. “What did you do differently this month? Describe your sales calls.”

“OK,” says Patrick. “Last Tuesday I called on two purchasing directors and both placed huge orders. One guy told me that his wife was the most beautiful woman in Wisconsin.

I said: ‘fantastic.’ Then he said both his sons were not only top athletes but exceptional scholars. I said ‘outstanding.’ The other purchasing director boasted that he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. I said ‘fantastic.’ Then he added that he was voted the most likely to succeed and that he married the home coming queen. I said ‘outstanding.’

The vice president remarked. “That’s it? That’s all you did? What did you do differently?” “Oh, well,” says Patrick, “before this month, instead of saying ‘fantastic’ and ‘outstanding,’ I used to say ‘bull @#$%.'”

In January I returned to the business after a three-year absence. Since then I made 61 face-to-face sales calls. I would like to share what I learned and relearned and to call your attention to some trends.

Business is definitely picking up, companies are hiring but they are cautious. HR is concerned that critical people are starting to test the waters and may leave the company for more opportunity and better compensation. Organizations realize that Internet recruiting is not the answer to their critical staffing needs. Corporations are serious about building partnerships with recruiting firms that produce and can solve their problems.

Companies do not want to do business as usual: some are impatient and do not intend to wait an inordinate amount of time before they start seeing candidates. Some few are looking for deals that are pretty one-sided, others want value for their money and a performance based fee structure. Most want to know how you differ from your competitors, the specifics of your search process, and what value you will add to their staffing initiatives.

What makes your firm unique? Some human resources professionals think all third party recruiters offer the same services. Your “differences” should play to the company’s needs. Companies want to partner with recruiters who can help them. Find out what it would take to become a “partner” with a specific company. The death knell is when the staffing people think you are ‘just like all the rest’ and are doing business as usual.

Last month in TFL, Mark Berger and Wade Haught talked about “differentiation” and advised: “to find a way to differentiate your services, look at two things: the problems that cause businesses to need search services, and, the reasons why your clients dislike using search services.”

Most companies were glad to be called upon and were very generous with their time. This reinforced a long-standing belief that, in our industry, forging and enhancing relationships is everything. We have to be experts at relationship selling, we have to do what we say we are going to do, we have to produce in a timely way, and we have to see our clients.

I’m selling diversity searches so I learned a lot in these sales calls about the status of diversity in corporate America today. First of all, diversity is really on the table. Some companies truly get it; others, as Roosevelt Thomas says, “are stuck.” Employee referral programs, advertising, and the Internet are not bringing in diversity candidates. Companies are looking to recruiting firms for assistance. Staffing people seem much more knowledgeable in diversity issues, e.g., the population numbers of diverse communities, how to cast a wider net, telling their diversity success stories, and cultural awareness and sensitivity.

A growing trend is that many companies are reticent about targeted searches for diversity candidates. Instead they insist that search firms present a final slate of candidates made up of people of color, traditional people, and women. I fought against this years ago because I had been burned so often by companies who were just getting fodder for their EEO reports. I remember doing six searches for one client who insisted on this representative slate. I worked hard to make sure that the female and diverse candidates were equal to or better than the traditional candidates. The company hired five white males and one Latino male. How do I feel about this emerging trend? Okay, as long as the diverse and female candidates are given equal consideration and that the recruiting firm can substantiate and document why they couldn’t identify and present diverse and women candidates.

Companies are interested in learning more about cultural differences, especially when these differences cause interviewer bias. Informed human resources professionals think interviewer bias may be keeping talented diversity candidates from being hired.

The integration of newly hired executives is a considerable concern in corporations. Replacing executives who do not make this transition is costly not only in dollars but in lost productivity, mismanagement, poor customer service, and lowered workplace morale. This issue has given rise to “on-boarding programs” which provide for the successful and rapid integration of the new executive. Companies expect that the recruiting firms they use will know about “on-boarding” and be able to recommend consultants that provide this service.

Candidate research is still popular with staffing people. Many used it throughout the recession and plan to continue to build databases of prospective candidates by using research. At one of my recent sales calls, the director of strategic staffing of a huge company told me that they plan to get all their diversity candidates through research.

I’m sure I will learn more as I continue to make sales calls in the months ahead. The advice I give myself is simple:

Plan your marketing: write it down, continually update your plan, and work your plan.

Make sales calls: see your customers; make 5 face-to-face calls each week.

Differentiate your firm: know and sell your differences.

Capture all the information you learn on sales calls: get it into the computer ASAP.

Follow up after each sales call, e.g., email, note card.

Stay tuned.

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