Lessons From a Three Decade Recruiting Career

Feb 1, 2013

recruitment cartoonHow much consistent success would you, could you earn if every top performing, most sought-after candidate in your niche (or your chosen market) knew about you, loved you and the way you treated them as an executive recruiter?

Well, believe it or not, once upon a time, third-party recruiters earned fees from candidates as well as from client companies.  And I am here, after 31 glorious years, to explain how, by living and working thru the tail end of that APF or Applicant Paid Fees era, I maintain a posture of candidate advocacy that benefits me tremendously, and how it can work the same for you.

The net-net of my philosophy is to place as much value in developing, maintaining, nurturing and honoring the relationships you enjoy with candidates as you do with hiring authorities.  After all, once you know that a client is sincerely interested in hiring one of your candidates, doesn’t that candidate become your protected product that you believe in to the max?  And isn’t it feasible, as it is evident for me, that if you stay in the search/placement industry long enough and consummate enough placements, that some of your placed and coveted  candidates will become your next clients?  The reality is that by positioning yourself as an objective adviser, as opposed to an omniscient persuader for the candidates you recruit, you will create a successful, self-sustaining executive search desk and practice. 

The Short-Termer Approach

Awesome trainers like Barb Bruno and Scott Love taught me years ago to place and keep the best interests of my top candidates ahead of mine, and to verbally acknowledge that I would take my cues and directions from them.  In other words, if you are not asking recruits what their goals are by assuming your current search is a fit for them simply because you are enamored with their (LinkedIn profile?) credentials, you are taking a short-termers approach to a long-term, relationship driven business.  My strategy is effective in the short run too, as elite candidates who develop a trust in our relationship yield truly valuable, quality referrals.

This is not to indicate that I hold back from aggressively recruiting candidates.  In fact, I write up and recite the praises of my clients’ opportunities’ to “A players” every chance I get.  Being a creative storyteller, and revealing the “sizzle” of a new search is one of the most exciting and enjoyable aspects of our job.  But there’s a fine line between opening a candidate up to listen to you and get their attention, and then trying to coax them into sending you their resume and jamming them into an interview slot on the first call.

Consider Specializing

So, first things first.

If you’re not excited about your client companies’ searches or requirements, and those companies’ distinguishing qualities, consider specializing in a niche and sticking to it!  Be willing to accept the inevitable ups and downs of all specialties, and be ready to fight for a sustainable place within that customer base.  As you grind away at developing fruitful relationships, you will become educated about top source companies, and then make contact with the best candidates within these firms.  Once you establish credibility in that niche, you will earn the respect of the healthiest companies, and get a chance to represent them.

Then, it’s time to recruit the superstar candidates and entice them to consider your best clients’ current position.  But here’s where you need to very carefully and skillfully use your new found, but well-earned power.  Once you persuade these hardest-to-attract to listen carefully to you, the key is to stop short of overselling them, and to start asking them what their priorities are.  In this way you become empowered by their words and feelings and goals.

A Good Fit Doesn’t Need a Shoehorn

Record , remember, and respect what the top earners have to say about their aspirations and future plans, and use that information to steer them toward the search assignment you are currently working if, and only if, it feels right.  If not, ask them for referrals, and tell them that now that you understand their specific goals, you will contact them as soon as you have a better fit.  Or, if the candidate is eager to pursue new opportunities, set up a time to conduct a full screening interview and market that candidate to appropriate suitors.

As tempting as it is to push a “perfect” candidate into an interview, chances are it will backfire.  If you let that valuable candidate decide along with you, from the proprietary information you provide, whether or not to pursue an opening, you will establish a base of trust for the future that will pay off each and every time you communicate in the future.

A Selfless Posture

To take our legendary trainers’ theory even one step further, I have found that maintaining a selfless posture throughout negotiations with a candidate is also the most productive philosophy.  I know that by sitting perfectly centered between my client/hiring authority and my candidate, that my ability to facilitate, mediate and negotiate is dramatically increased.

I relay information before and after every interview as thoroughly and accurately as possible; and then I sit back and listen.  Very often what I hear are two parties, the two that matter, affirm and declare one another’s positive traits.  But when obstacles arise, I address them immediately, and advise the principals to discuss the issue at hand in detail.  In other words, it’s not always wise to attempt to overcome objections with a slick rebuttal.  If you want truly long term, mutually beneficial relationships to be the foundation of your business,  be a transparent conduit for your paying clients and coveted candidates alike.

There is no greater feeling in my business than receiving a phone call from a satisfied CEO telling me that after a six or eight-step interview process, that she just spoke to my candidate and they both agreed to the terms I outlined; they have a start date, and by the way, go ahead and send me an invoice.  I have learned that when I focus on the process, and not the money, the fee will come.  And that when I firmly take the best interests of my candidates to heart, the results are incredibly gratifying.

Be Perfectly Centered

I believe that as a collective business community we have evolved to a place where listening sincerely, and then working diligently towards a common goal trumps transaction-oriented selling.  So, try to remember that even though our client companies pay our fees, that the way we earn fee is by maintaining equal respect and admiration for both parties and staying centered.

That’s why I like to refer to this positioning as being “perfectly centered.”  And I find that the more time I stay in this posture, the more receptive I am to actually hearing my clients and candidates.  In other words, when they know I am listening without bias, they are much more likely to expose themselves and their desires, and the more quickly we, together, come to a meaningful resolution and, very often, a lasting commitment.  At the very least, I am sure this is one of the main reasons I will begin year 32 in this industry with a big smile on my face.

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