Convincing Reluctant Candidates on the Right Day

If you were going to ask someone to marry you, you would know almost instinctively that there are certain times when your chances of getting a yes improve dramatically. Asking on Valentine’s Day, for example, would most likely get a yes, while asking on the day a close friend died would not only be in bad taste ó it would undoubtedly generate a no. Smart recruiters realize that it’s not just the attractiveness of the offer that gets reluctant candidates to say yes. It’s also the timing.

Look at a widely recognized recruiting event as an example. Let’s say you are trying to attract Shaquille O’Neal away from the Lakers when Phil Jackson was his coach. You could literally ask him if he was interested in another team, and each time he would sincerely say no. However, the day after Phil Jackson retired as coach, his answer might be an enthusiastic yes. The same “right day” phenomenon occurs when you’re asking a friend for a loan or asking your boss for a raise. Every recruiter encounters individuals whom they’re trying to attract, maybe over a period of months or years, who consistently turn them down. The candidates are polite about it, but they always say, “No, I’m happy where I am now.” The lesson to be learned is that while they consistently say “no,” there will be some days where the they would say yes to an offer to interview even though they said no emphatically the day before. The key is learning how to identify the “right day.”

Right Days and Wrong Days to Offer Someone a Chance for a New Opportunity

  • Wrong day: Any day during the week before a targeted individual is expected to hear about whether they got their expected promotion.

    Right day: The day after they were rejected for that promotion.

  • Wrong day: The day before management jobs are consolidated, right after a major merger.

    Right day: The day after your target candidate was not selected for that key job during the consolidation.

  • Wrong day: The two months before the target candidate gets a large year-end bonus.

    Right day: The day after the candidate gets the bonus and they can leave without a huge financial penalty.

  • Wrong day: A day before your target candidate receives a year-end performance appraisal where they expect to get significant praise and a big bonus.

    Right day: The day after they receive their below-average performance appraisal which includes no praise or bonus.

“Right” Business Days

The first category of “right days” to focus on are days in a target candidate’s business life that change their perspective on the future. In particular, you’re looking for events or occurrences that excite them to the point where they would never leave (so that you can give up) or that frustrate them to the point where they might leave tomorrow. Business events that tend to increase someone’s vulnerability to a recruiting sales pitch include:

  • Performance appraisals. It’s a good time to recruit on days right after a performance betrayal is completed and the period of time prior to the delivery of the appraisal, when they are nervous.
  • Bonus/options paid out. Individuals who have to wait nearly an entire year for the next bonus payout are vulnerable.
  • Boss or best friend leaves. If the employee is loyal — and great recruiting targets almost always are — that loyalty can change almost instantly when the employee’s supervisor or best friend leaves.

Other good recruiting opportunities related to business events present themselves when:

  • A major layoff is rumored, is soon to be announced, or has just been announced.
  • The employee is passed over for a promotion or overdue for promotion.
  • The employee is turned down for a raise.
  • A long-term project or product ends or is canceled.
  • A longtime CEO quits, or a new CEO takes over.
  • A major merger or acquisition is rumored or announced.
  • Budget is cut dramatically.
  • A pay or hiring freeze is implemented.
  • The stock price drops dramatically or to a new low. (This is especially powerful when individuals have stock options or have a large amount of own company stock in their 401k.)
  • A major loss in revenue or profit is announced.
  • A competitor trounces the company in the marketplace.
  • The organization is under accreditation or union-related troubles.
  • The organization is undergoing a major scandal or legal issues.
  • The relocation of the plant or office is speculated or announced.
  • A major upcoming drug or product is rejected by a regulatory agency.
  • A frequent traveler receives their annual announcement listing the miles they traveled that year (this may be a reminder to them that they travel too much).
  • Anything happens that damages a company.

Right Days Related to an Employee’s Personal Life

There are obviously events in an individual’s private life which tend to increase their vulnerability to a recruiting sales pitch. I realize that some of these are generalizations, but they might give you some indication of what an individual you’re targeting is thinking. It is important however to find out for each individual what triggers their frustration in their current job and their willingness to consider new jobs. If you or your firm has privacy policies, only select the items that fit within those policies. Some of these “right” personal events might include:

  • College graduation day (especially where the employee has attended night and weekend classes for a long period of time and upon graduation receives no recognition).
  • The day their youngest child graduates from college or from high school and moves out (indicating a relief from a financial burden).
  • The day a divorce is filed or completed.
  • When the employee or their spouse becomes pregnant, or a child is born or adopted.
  • When a child reaches daycare or elementary school age and the local schools are not very good.
  • When a parent or family member becomes gravely ill and requires personal attention.
  • Any holiday where you can catch an employee working at the office (especially if they have family).

Cookies, Days of Reflection, and Days When You Would Consider a Life Change

Days of reflection are days that people reconsider their lives and their jobs. On these days they ponder their future, and that thought process might cause them to seek out a new opportunity. When Michael Homula, the recruiting genius, was at FirstMerit Bank, he sent out cards and designer cookies to targeted individuals on their birthdays. These were individuals who were highly sought after but who had been reluctant to even come in for an interview. In one instance, 135 out of 170 individuals called the bank after receiving the cookie on their “right day.”

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This is a phenomenal response rate for any group of individuals, but a stratospheric result for individuals who had already expressed little or no interest in FirstMerit Bank. The great part about the cookie was that it tasted very good and that it took a long time to eat, which of course meant a long time to ponder and think. Michael has been criticized for this approach, but these critics are probably ancestors of the same people who criticized Columbus, the Wright Brothers, as well as Starbucks for charging three dollars for a cup of coffee. Sometimes you have to judge your degree of innovativeness by the number and type of people that criticize your new approach. Universal days of reflection include:

  • Birthdays.
  • Special birthdays where your target turns 30, 40, 50, or 65 (the probability that they are rethinking their life increases).
  • New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (remember this day varies around the world).
  • Christmas (especially when spent alone or away from home).
  • Valentine’s Day (especially when spent alone or away from home).

Bad Weather Days Are Right Days

One California police department actually chose to run a videotape recruiting police officers on the worst snow day of the year in a northern city. Of course, the video showed police officers on bicycles and in shorts as well as some other pictures of what you could only call “attractive citizens.” It really wasn’t fair — and of course it worked like gangbusters. The same approach worked in Florida after multi-hurricanes hit in just a short period of time and in California after several earthquakes hit simultaneously. “Right days” relating to natural phenomena include:

  • Right after major tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.
  • Right after major snow storms, wind storms, or heat waves.
  • Right after major outbreaks of fire.
  • Right after a major outdoor sporting event in a warm-weather city is televised in cold-weather cities (and vice versa).
  • Right after a candidate has visited a warm or cold weather site on vacation.

“Their Location Is Going to Hell” Right Days

There are certain days and events that awaken people to the fact that they are living in the wrong city or region. If you’re trying to get a target candidate to relocate, there are just certain times when they’re more willing to listen. Identifying these occurrences can help you sell the candidate that now’s the time to move out of the geographic area. Some of those “time to move” events relating to quality-of-life include:

  • When negative crime statistics are announced.
  • When negative cost of living or housing expenses are announced.
  • When long commute times are publicized.
  • When large tax increases are announced.
  • When significant cuts in local services are announced.
  • When school closings are announced (especially if their children are involved).
  • When a plant closing results in the target’s spouse losing their job.

Each of these becomes more relevant if the schools, crime, taxes, or commute times are clearly superior in the region to which you want them to relocate.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

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