Recruiting Lessons from Avatar

Jan 8, 2010

Picture 4There was a great op-ed in a recent LA Times written by Jonah Goldberg, called Avatar and the Faith Myth. Mr. Goldberg, obviously a very educated person, at times complaining about the superficiality of the movie and at others describing the religious implications of the movie, both positive and negative, depending on your point of view of God vs. god. As for me, I thought it was great entertainment. I must have missed the religion connection, since all I noticed was that it was filled with great recruiting tips.

If you haven’t seen the movie, what I’m about to discuss won’t affect your reaction to it, and if you have, you’ll probably appreciate it more. And whether you’ve seen the movie or not, or plan to, these recruiting tips have enormous value if you want to hire more passive candidates and early-birds on a continuous basis.

In my last ERE article for 2009, I described the recruiting skills needed to influence top people who have just started looking — the early-birds — and those who are open to explore new opportunities even though they’re not really looking — the classic passive candidates — to consider what you have to offer. Some of the discussion comments went off on a tangent about the value of sourcing vs. recruiting. Regardless, it’s clear that name generation by itself is not nearly as valuable as it once was, given the ease of developing an initial list of prospects. However, because of this ease, calling and influencing these prospects to consider your opportunity is much more challenging and worth a heck of lot more than mere name generation.

While the eight required rules for great recruiting make logical sense, implementing them on a daily basis requires significant effort. This is the aspect of recruiting that I took away from James Cameron’s Avatar. It starts with persistence. Jake Scully — the lead character and a Marine who lost the use of his legs in a battle — is determined to save the indigenous people on the mineral rich planet of Pandora from the American conquistadors. He won’t give up, from riding bucking broncos (of sorts) to climbing their version of Mt. Everest. Being a good recruiter means you can’t give up, either.

Most of the best candidates are bombarded with calls, so they’ll rarely be openly interested in what you have to offer, at least at first. So if you too easily accept a “no” for an answer they’ll never have a chance to see if your opportunity is a potential career move or not. Getting past a “no” is no small feat. One way to pull this off is to not ask questions that can be answered by a “no.” For example, asking if someone is interested in a cost job in Ashtabula is likely to garner more no votes that if you ask the person if they’d be interested in discussing a senior financial management job if it offered a good career opportunity. If you dissect this difference, you’ll notice that the first question was asking about their interest in a specific job. The second question asks if the person would be open to having a career discussion.

However, if you forget this and get a “no,” just suggest that that’s exactly why you need to talk. Then go on and rephrase your original question as a career move or ask something like the above. Here’s a link to more ideas on how to handle the “no,” but for now implant in your mind the Jake Scully admonition of “No No’s.” While you’ll stumble at first, before you know it you’ll be engaging in useful discussion with a lot more great people.

Another way to avoid a “no” and gain instant interest is to give an intriguing 20-second elevator pitch about the merits of your offering. (Here’s an example.) This is another big takeaway from Avatar: you need to have a vision. Jake had a great vision of the future. This is what drove him to persist. Recruiters need the same thing. You need to have a pitch for every job that links the biggest aspect of the job with some major company initiative. This sets the stage that your discussion with the candidate is about a career move, not a lateral transfer. Get your hiring managers to help create this hook when you take the assignment and prepare the performance profile.

Another way to overcome resistance is to constantly sell the long term. Jake had to convince a lot of people about the future vs. the present if they didn’t change their current course of action. From a recruiting perspective, this means you have to continually remind the candidate about the career aspects of the move, rather than the tactical (location, pay, title, etc.). Candidates will always raise concerns throughout the interviewing process. Expect this and keep track of their concerns. You’ll discover most are tactical issues. A recruiter must get the candidate to see the job as a balance between the short-term concerns and long-term benefits.

Seeing the job in short- vs. long-term perspective is critical. This is especially important, since so many recruiters overtly push their open job as soon as the candidate decides not to hang up. In their excitement of even the remote possibility of a potential sendout, they put on the hustle. In two minutes they give their best stuff away, before they know a thing about the candidate. It’s like selling an iPhone to someone who’s looking for power supply for a Droid. Not cool. This is why the idea of a career discussion is more likely to yield success. I suggest using a formal approach for this, involving the candidates ranking their job needs in priority order. This way the recruiter can refer to this ranking throughout the interviewing and selection process.

But enough about Avatar. There are plenty of other movies to see to this season if you want to become a better recruiter.

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