What It Takes to Be a Great Recruiter: Applicant Control

Jul 24, 2002

In my work with some of the top staffing executives in the country, I constantly hear about their biggest concern: that many of their recruiters lack good fundamental recruiting skills. Somehow the Internet, coupled with the slowdown, has made many recruiters overly reliant on passive recruiting techniques like advertising and resumes databases. This will become even more serious as the economy recovers. More proactive, hands-on recruiting skills are again needed to find and attract top candidates. In Part 1 of this series I described the eight essentials of great recruiting and indicated that I would address each of these topics fully over the next several months. This time, I’ll focus on applicant control. While good recruiting starts by developing a list of top names to call, the real challenge comes into play when you make your first call to one of these unsuspecting people. You first wonder why they’re not overly anxious to talk to you. Sometimes they won’t even return your voicemails. If you do get one on the line, you’re often quickly forced into a sales pitch when the person asks you to describe the job. If the job isn’t up to the person’s standard, you’re quickly dismissed ó despite repeated protestations. The best recruiters don’t allow this to happen. They know how to effectively control the process from the first phone call all the way through the negotiation and close. How well you handle this first phone call will be the difference between being a good recruiter or great one. This is the start of applicant control. Let’s first consider your call from the perspective of a top candidate. Whether the person is active or passive, he or she will always have multiple job opportunities ó either competing offers or a potential counter-offer. A top person like this treats your call as an intrusion. While they might eventually want to talk seriously about your opening, they’re first considering if they should talk to you at all. To determine this, they want to know the job title, the compensation range, the company and the location. If this is good enough, and if the recruiter sounds professional enough, they might talk to you for 10 minutes. The best recruiters know that they’re really not calling this person about the job at all. They’re calling this person to begin the networking process. While the job is not unimportant, it cannot be the total focus of the first few minutes of your call. A good recruiter needs to get the candidate to begin talking about him or herself right away, before much is known about the job. This way, the recruiter can determine if the candidate is qualified or not. If the person is qualified, then you’ll need to present some information about the job to move the process forward. If the person is not qualified or too strong, you must then begin networking with this person. You’ll never be able to do either of these two important things if you’re doing all the talking and trying to sell the candidate first. While there are multiple ways to pull this off, here’s what I do, and what we’ve trained some of the best recruiters and researchers in Southern California to do over the past 15 years. Start the call with a scripted opening like this: “Hi, my name is ________. I’m a recruiter with [organization] and have been given the responsibility to find a senior-level marketing executive for a top [consumer products company, for example]. During the process of this search, your name came to my attention as someone I should contact. Rather than waste anybody’s time, let me ask you this direct question: would you personally be open to explore a situation if it was clearly superior to your current job?” While you’ll need to tweak the words to fit your situation, we’ve discovered that if you sound professional most people will say yes to this question. Then immediately go on with the following: “Great. Let me first ask you just a few questions about your background, it will take a minute or two, and then I’ll give you an equally quick overview of the position. If it makes mutual sense to seriously explore this situation, we can then schedule a more detailed discussion.” Then go on and conduct a quick five to ten minute interview obtaining the candidate’s essentials. If the person is worthy of consideration, provide a quick general overview of the job and then schedule another call, or continue the phone screen. The key to making this process work is to be a bit vague about the job. It must be big enough to interest the candidate right away. That’s why “executive level” or “senior position” are good choices. Candidates tend to make quick decisions on superficial data ó title, location, etc. If you’re too specific, many will quickly remove themselves. Instead, engage them and change their decision from thinking about the job to just exchanging information. It’s also essential that you obtain their profile first. This way you can determine if the candidate is qualified or not, rather than having the candidate decide. If you let the candidate decide on superficial data right away, you’ll lose 75% of the best candidates! Equally important, if you don’t spend at least 10 minutes with the person on the phone, you won’t get one decent referral. Even for those candidates who balk at this process, it’s important to engage with them for about 10 minutes. You can tell the person you’d still like to obtain a quick profile of their background for a future assignment, even if they are not currently interested. This sometimes works. If the candidate really balks and says he or she is not interested under any circumstances, then you’re forced to give them an overview of the job. Engage with the person, telling them you’d like to provide a quick overview of the job, in the chance they might know someone qualified. Then describe the key challenges and the compensation range. Use a vague title ó senior manager or senior executive position works well. Titles are often used to filter in and out candidates; that’s why it’s best to be vague. Try to still probe about the candidate’s background. You might be able to get the person to reconsider if the job is compelling enough. If not, you’ll still be able to obtain referrals. Applicant control is important. You want the candidate to seriously consider your job opportunity. If he or she bases the decision to move forward on titles, compensation and location, you’re not fulfilling your role as a recruiter. In this case, your clients and your candidates are being ill-served. Top candidates are always willing to explore a situation if it’s clearly superior to their current job. The best recruiters make sure that every person called obtains all of the information they need to make a good decision. They won’t, if you begin selling too soon. Applicant control is all about asking questions, not selling the job. Learning how to do this is the first step in becoming a great recruiter.

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