Don’t Sell the Job, Sell the Next Step!

Nov 21, 2008

Too many recruiters rush the closing process, trying to push the candidate across the finish line before the race has even started. If you want to win the recruiting game, stop the Hail Mary’s.

Instead, consider successful recruiting more like a well-planned football drive, where time of possession is key. If you’re not into football analogies, the idea here is that top people don’t make critical career decisions on the first call or after the first interview. And if you try to push too hard to get a commitment you’ll drive the best away. This is equivalent to a turnover.

With a great football weekend ahead, here’s what it takes to turn a successful drive into a touchdown:

  1. Don’t fumble the kickoff. On the recruiting playing field this is equivalent to the candidate asking about the compensation first, or telling you she’s not interested. It’s also forcing a candidate to apply for the job before she can talk to someone about it, to get a better idea if the job is even worthwhile considering. For better kickoff returns, add a chat feature today to your career website and let your candidates IM a recruiter. Or add a series of FAQs about each job. When calling a candidate on the phone for the first time, whether the person’s active or passive, you must not discuss compensation under any circumstances for at least the first 10-15 minutes! The goal of the first encounter is to switch the conversation to career opportunity and away from compensation, or any other form of “not interested.” (Here’s an article with more on this critical step.) Rather than sell the job, your goal is to sell the next step. In this case, it’s a 10- minute conversation just to figure out if the job is worth getting serious about. A good kickoff return will give you great field position, and this is just as critical in football as it is in recruiting.
  2. Get lots of first downs. While you might have a big 30- or 40-yard play now and then, this should be the exception, not the rule. If you’re relying on big plays to score, you’ll lose a lot of candidates who need to move slowly to digest what you’re offering. Force-feeding information at hyper-speed won’t work. A career move requires time for the person to digest the information. Nurturing the candidate along, suggesting another interview or discussion is how this information is best presented in order to be absorbed properly. This is why selling the next step is so important, rather than forcing the candidate to consider the job, the comp, and the location during the first call.
  3. Prevent turnovers. Once you begin a drive downfield, don’t do dumb things that cause the deal to instantly fall apart. Recruiters who don’t know the job and managers who over-talk and sell too soon are two examples of recruiting turnovers. Managers who expect top performers to be excited about the job before they know anything about it are the most turnover prone. Turnovers can also be caused when members of the hiring team ask superficial question or are equally clueless about real jobs needs. Lack of professionalism at any step in the hiring process can result in unnecessary turnovers and the loss of some great candidates.
  4. Convert your third-downs. Once in awhile you’ll only have one shot to keep the deal alive. For example, if the candidate says she doesn’t like the manager or the job isn’t big enough and wants to withdraw her name from consideration, you’ll have to come up with a big third-down play. In this case, ask the candidate if she’d reconsider if you made the job bigger, or if you could demonstrate that the style the manager used during the interview isn’t the same as his on-the-job persona. Of course, you then have to prove it if the candidate agrees to go forward, but that’s how you convert third-downs and keep the drive alive.
  5. Keep the defense honest. Don’t tip your hand too soon. Overselling the candidate, over-talking, and under-listening are equivalent to telling the defense you’re going to pass on every play. This is no way to win a ball game or hire a top performer. Keep the candidate guessing, mention other top candidates, question the candidate’s breadth of experience, and excite the candidate with projects bigger than he’s handled in the past. This is how you keep the person interested throughout the assessment and recruiting process.
  6. Time of possession is key. Don’t rush to close. Not only does the candidate need time to evaluate what you’re offering, you’ll increase your close rate by getting the person to invest more time in evaluating your opportunity rather than the competition’s. I suggest more interviews spread over a few days or weeks, rather than pushing them all into one day. Also add a take-home case study and a Profiles International online evaluation for all your candidates once you get serious. (Email for information about the Profiles International online evaluation.) The case study allows the candidate a day or two to evaluate a problem likely to be faced on the job with the results presented in a formal give-and-take panel interview. The Profiles is a one-hour cognitive and behavioral style assessment and provides invaluable insight into the candidate. Not only are the results useful, but when candidates agree to participate in these time-consuming tasks, they’re expressing serious interest and increasing their commitment to you.
  7. Know your competition. One size doesn’t fit all. Some candidates are interested in security, others want challenging projects, and some want career growth. Customize your approach depending on the candidate’s needs. We suggest a multi-factor close where the candidate rank orders his job requirements. Some of the items to be considered include work content, job stretch, job challenges, growth opportunities, company culture, compensation, security, the hiring manager, and team. (Send us an email,, if you’d like to see the whole list.) With this custom playbook you can change your play calling at the line of scrimmage to ensure your candidate gets the information required to make a well thought-out final decision. Of course, evaluate the candidate across multiple factors as well, so stop the traditional series of one-on-one interviews that are both duplicative and exhausting. Instead, consider tours with debriefing sessions, group interviews, some intense one-on-ones, a take-home project, and a business lunch. Then formally debrief using a broad-based selection criteria. (Here’s the 10-factor candidate assessment form we suggest for this.)
  8. Maintain a competitive edge throughout the drive. The key to effective recruiting is applicant control. This means staying the buyer from first contact through offer acceptance and final close. As part of applicant control, your job is not only to advance downfield, but recognize that first downs are earned by getting the candidate to agree to something significant at each step in the process. For example, don’t arrange the first interview with the hiring manager unless you get agreement from the candidate that she’ll be looking at the job as a career move with a modest increase in salary. Use the second round of interviews to gain more concessions, like a possible start date and informal agreement on the benefits package. Set the final offer meeting with the candidate agreeing to formally accepting within 24 hours. This is applicant control, and it essential for closing the best entry-level candidates as well as senior executives.
  9. Don’t fumble in the red zone. You must score when you’re within sight of the goal line. Make sure you know where you stand compared to the competition on all critical decision factors the candidate is likely to consider. Giving the candidate the multi-factor decision form mentioned above ensures the candidate is looking at the job broadly, and you’re not surprised by their order of importance. This way during the drive to close you can use each subsequent interview step to cover each of these factors. Caution: don’t present the offer too soon or reveal your hand. You haven’t scored yet.
  10. Score. Everything has been a waste of time if a candidate says she’s not interested or accepts another offer or counter-offer. Scoring in the game of recruiting means the candidate has accepted your offer on fair terms and shows up on the start date. The best way to score more often is to test every aspect of the offer before you make it. While it’s important not to fumble the kickoff, it’s more important not to fumble on the one-yard line. Before making the offer formal, review the terms in detail and ask the candidate if she’ll accept it on these terms if it’s formally presented without hesitation. If you sense hesitation, side-step the forward progression and find out the concerns. Then ask the person if she’d accept the offer if the concerns were satisfactorily addressed. Uncovering the candidate’s concerns before you make the offer is essential if you want to make more placements. Of course you’ll need to address the concerns to close the deal, but rushing the offer without knowing if the person will accept is naïve at best, and one sure way to lose more candidates than necessary.

Slow down and make more placements. While you want to move as fast as possible, the best people will not move faster than they can absorb the information. They’ll opt-out otherwise. It’s just like being pushed into buying anything that requires some significant degree of comparison shopping and evaluation. Build this slow and steady process into every phase of your recruiting efforts and watch your placement rate soar.

Fumbles, turnovers, incomplete passes, sacks, and failed third-down conversions are all caused by going too fast. Don’t sell the job, sell the next step.

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