“The Phone Rang…” How To Acquire the Right Attitude

Article main image
Oct 7, 2011

I caught myself staring out the window at the front pasture so icy and desolate in the late winter afternoon. It had been cold lately…unseasonably cold for Atlanta. And, with the vanishing warmth, I started having negative daydreams. Was this economy ever going to recover? Did our political leaders really know what they were doing? Was recruitment, as I had known it, a thing of the past, like typewriters and Polaroids? Sad thoughts. And then, as always, the phone rang.

I returned to the present and answered the phone. Another like soul was full of some of the same doubts I had just been having. But it was his question that shook me out of the doldrums. He asked, “What is the difference between success and failure in recruitment?”

This took me back to a meeting I had in Atlanta with one of the greatest sales trainers who ever lived. His name was Steve Brown and he was the Chairman of the Board of The Fortune Group. I told the caller to sit back and relax and listen to what I remembered from that memorable meeting — the meeting where Steve explained to me how salespeople acquire the Right Attitude.

First, let’s remember the three major differences between big billers and average billers, with an emphasis on point number three:

  1. Big billers do what average billers do, but they do it more often;
  2. Big billers do what average billers do, but they do it with higher quality;
  3. Big billers do what average billers do, but they have a better attitude; in other words, they believe they are going to be successful, when average billers are just not sure.

Number three is the key point. As Steve Brown would say, “The difference between success and failure in sales is attitude.


Over the years in my career, even though I am considered a ‘nuts and bolts’ type of a trainer, I have been lucky to associate with some of the great sales trainer motivators of all time. I grew up in recruiting listening to Tommy Hopkins and J. Douglas Edwards; flew with Zig Ziglar from Atlanta to Dallas; heard Cavett Roberts in person and Dr. Leo Buscaglia on videotape; and had a day-long meeting with Steve Brown, who is recognized by many as one of the foremost sales and management trainers in the world.

When I lived in San Diego, Lou Scott, an icon in the industry, arranged for me to meet with Steve Brown during an Atlanta stopover on my way to Nashville to do some recruiter training. Steve and I met in the morning over breakfast and then he took me over to his headquarters and introduced me to his staff. I spent a full day with Steve watching him in action and seeing how he interacted with people. He was brilliant. And upon leaving he gave me an autographed copy (“for Bob Marshall who knows the thrill of Training. Steve Brown”) of his book, 13 Fatal Errors Managers Make* And How You Can Avoid Them and his seventeen module training program entitled “Creative Selling Skills.”

Based on that meeting, and my own personal ‘take’ on the subject, let’s consider this topic of Attitude – how to get it and how to keep it.

As soon as we start talking about attitude, we face our first hurdle. “Attitude” seems to be one of the most over-worked words in selling. How many times have you and I heard that we had to have a Positive Mental Attitude in order to be successful? Believe me, we recruiters hear it so much that we either:

  1. Stop hearing it (tune out), or;
  2. Become rebellious.

But think of it a different way. Any true professional’s real secrets to success are their highly trained skill and ability, which will lead to the right attitude. A doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, the captain of an ocean liner will tell you this.

The mistake we make in recruitment is that we try to magically acquire this Positive Mental Attitude. Well, it is a proven point psychologically that the more we try to force an attitude into the mind, the more the mind rejects it. The bottom-line is that positive attitudes are not acquired by will-power.

How Attitudes are Acquired, Changed, or Modified

Attitudes are acquired, changed, or modified in two ways, and two ways alone:

1.    Change in environment or conditions (temporary)

If I can change your environment severely enough, I can change your attitude. If I can magically put $1,000,000 into your pocket, once you realize that change, your attitude will completely change.

On the other hand, if I can change your conditions adversely, I can also change your attitude. If I can magically transport you, moneyless, to a strange country where you don’t know anybody and you do not speak the language, once you realize that change, your attitude will also change completely.

Implementing this theory, when a recruiter hits a slump, how do we change their environment or conditions? We tell them to work harder, suggest longer hours, or change their desk location. We give them a new candidate to market or even suggest a new specialty niche—anything so that they will have a chance to feel more successful and be able to sell more successfully.

The only problem with this approach is that we are ‘manipulating’ attitudes, and that won’t last for an extended period of time.

2.    Acquisition of ideas or knowledge (long-lasting)

Ah, yes…this is the long-lasting solution because the knowledge becomes a part of you. Through knowledge, attitudes have sources and you will have the ability to return, when necessary, to your sources and the knowledge you have acquired. This is where the trainer enters the picture with new training manuals, daily planners, quick resource guides, and sets of DVDs and CDs.

Ours is a unique profession. Most of us got into recruitment after pursuing some other endeavor. Most of us didn’t go to college or university to get a degree in recruitment. But, for whatever reason, we ended up in this fascinating profession. And then, right away, our manager, or some trainer, told us that we needed to have the right attitude in order to be successful. And so we started to force that attitude in our mind.

Now don’t get me wrong. While a positive attitude is critical, most professionals have it because they have spent a lifetime acquiring knowledge that causes that attitude to naturally be there. If their confidence ever gets low, they don’t go home and look into a mirror and try to force themselves to have the proper attitude. They merely return to the knowledge they had previously acquired.

So those of us in selling need to follow the same path as any true professional. We need to have the ability to revisit our sources of knowledge.

The Right Attitude is comprised of two elements:

Enthusiasm and Self-Confidence.


What are the two sources of enthusiasm?

  1. Product Knowledge (knowing what we are selling): this involves a detailed understanding of the specialty area in which we recruit and the candidates who populate that area.
  2. Knowing what we can do for others (knowing the miracles we can perform for our clients and candidates; how we can help them):  we change lives for the better, on a daily basis. We help both our client companies and our placed candidates to become more successful more quickly.

But occasionally even the best recruiter loses their enthusiasm for their desk. Why do they lose their enthusiasm?
They become exhausted, worn out. If this happens they need to take a couple of days off; relax; play golf; go fishing.

Or they become too accustomed, or hardened, to what they can do for others. It gets to be ‘old hat.’ So get in the habit of conditioning your thinking so that you can go back to what you can do for your clients and your candidates.

On every day of your selling lives, have a personal sales meeting — something that includes motivational literature, maybe a testimonial letter from a satisfied client or candidate. Read these over aloud for the animation to help get the words into your subconscious. (That’s the nine tenths of your brain that controls your behavior.)


What are the three sources of self-confidence?

  1. Product Knowledge. You need to know your specialty niche and the companies and candidates who live there. You need to know the lexicon of your specialty.
  2. People Knowledge. You need to know the answers when your client, or your candidate, asks you a question. Remember, we are always looking for candidates who can make an impact on our client companies—either Superstars (candidates who can make our clients money) or Heroes (candidates who can save our clients money).
  3. Recruitment/Selling Skills Knowledge. Here is the foundation that any good trainer will lay out for you. These are the tools of our trade—the MPC; the FAB; Sales Linkage; the Qualifier JO; the Eight Point Candidate Prep, etc. You just need to learn them and then use them on a daily basis. Treat your recruitment profession as a ‘process’ and not a ‘series of events’ and you will be consistently successful.

Don Miguel Ruiz

In my Fordyce Letter December 2010 article, “The Phone Rang…Goal Setting for 2011,” I briefly mentioned a little book with profound advice. This is a book entitled The Four Agreements (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz.

In the beginning of his book, Don Miguel says that we didn’t get to choose our beliefs, but that they were handed down to us from our ancestors who learned these beliefs from their ancestors. Then our ancestors passed that information; whether right or wrong, on to us on how to live and how to dream (he calls this our ‘domestication’). But when that information is faulty, how can we change it? Don Miguel gives us the solution to this dilemma when he covers the four agreements that can move our attitudes in a more positive direction. Here they are:

1.    Speak with integrity; take responsibility for your actions; don’t judge.

Every client and candidate is looking for an honest recruiter. I don’t know one big biller whose success is based on telling fibs. They are all ‘straight arrows’ and their clients and candidates respect their integrity. As my favorite CFO once told me, “If you treat people with honesty, that honesty will be returned to you. And if you treat people like crooks, they will start acting like crooks.”

2.    Don’t take anything personally; become immune to the opinions of others.

The big billers don’t read their press clippings and don’t rely on others to establish their sense of worth. They know that they are great producers and simply act that way. And, as Robocruiter always said, “I never take rejection personally. It is simply a refusal to do business with me at any given point in time and I can live with that.”

3.    Don’t make assumptions; always ask questions; communicate clearly.

Big billers ask a ton of questions and learn from the answers they receive. They always ask one question at a time (‘unbundling’) and wait for the answer before asking their next question. They know that the person asking the questions always controls the conversation. And they practice the technique of Rudyard Kipling who, when asked how he became such a great writer, said, “I had six guides that taught me everything I knew. They were ‘what’ and ‘when’ and ‘where’ and ‘how’ and ‘why’ and ‘who.’”

4.    Always do your best; avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

In the words of one of my favorite people to quote, Anonymous, “Successful people aren’t born that way. They become successful by establishing the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t like to do. The successful people don’t always like these things themselves; they just get on and do them.” Always do your best and you will end your journey with no regrets.

It is my belief that, if you make those four agreements, and blend them with the sources of enthusiasm and self-confidence, then you can’t help but attain, and own, the Right Attitude forever. Then your sad daydreams will disappear. You will realize that the economy will recover; that our political leaders will see the light; and that recruitment, as a profession, will never disappear from our economic landscape.

In the next article of “The Phone Rang…” series, I will cover “Objection Responses.” Until then, strive for that Right Attitude…

“The Phone Rang…” by Bob Marshall is a series that defines what we, as recruiters, do for a living. This article series ran in The Fordyce Letter over the past year and we are proud to bring you the series online. To subscribe to the print edition of The Fordyce Letter, click here.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!