How to Customize the Sales Message for the Candidate

Bryan Adams-AES-033488Everyone loves a trip down memory lane. That’s why VH1 made those retrospectives about the 1980s, 1990s, etc. Admit it: once you caught five minutes of one of those shows, the next four hours of your life were forfeited.

A few years ago, when I was an IT recruiter back in Washington, D.C. (see what I did there? Clever, right?), one of my favorite parts of the job was getting to know each candidate and figuring out what their “story” was. What were their unique aspirations and hot buttons? How did they get to this point in their career? What were they passionate about in their lives? Being able to get to know someone, then matching them up with a company that matched their professional and personal ambitions was, to me, one of the best and most rewarding parts of the job. It was always a delight to follow up with them six months later and learn that they were indeed happy with the new direction in their career.

Any recruiter worth their salt will tell you that their ability to sell a candidate on a company or a job is their “raison d’etre” (for those of you who slept through French or Philosophy 101: reason they exist). Now, with skill set requirements and qualifications that rapidly evolve with each new technology and regulatory change, creating specialized pockets of highly competitive positions, this ability to differentiate an opportunity from the rest of the landscape has become more important than ever.

So how exactly, beyond sheer luck, do you ensure that “just right” fit? Let’s take a cue from VH1 and fire up a couple of classics for some help:

For the companies in the crowd:

Notorious B.I.G., “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems”  While not a perfect analogy, I wanted to use this 1997 hit to remind everyone to think beyond the 401(k) and standard benefits package.

Whether you work at a Fortune 500 company, as part of an outsourced recruiting team, or as an agency recruiter/headhunter, when you’re developing your quick sales pitch about a company, take some time to consider some of the unique perks of working there. Most major organizations have a 401(k) and health care options, so a lot of candidates are looking for true “differentiators” in the form of other benefits or perks. Perhaps the company’s employees have young families and so people come in early and leave early (flex hours). If they’re in the travel or hospitality industries, do they have travel discounts or partnerships employees can leverage? Do team members collaborate on outside projects, made famous by Google’s “10 percent time”? The idea is to look for what is not readily seen on a bulleted benefits list on a company website.

EMF, “Unbelievable”  Yes, I chose this jock jam also from 1991 just so it would get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. But, “believe” it or not, you have to craft compelling stories about a company to spark candidates’ imaginations.

If you’re not already working onsite at the company, take the time to visit them in person. Don’t just limit your interactions with management; talk with employees as well. Ask them to be candid about what they value. What is the culture like? What are the “soft” perks (e.g. flex scheduling) that they enjoy? Based on what you learn, discern what the unique selling points are and craft several short, anecdotal, easy-to-convey stories. This makes them easier for a candidate to remember, and repeat when they’re describing the company to the people they’ll seek advice from in their job search, like their friends and family members. Just as important as a good story is one that you can tell simply, quickly, and accurately. If you over-complicate it and try to jazz it up with corporate speak, it’s going to seem complicated, and more importantly, phony. Keep it real.

Along the lines of keeping it real, don’t just look for the positives. Candidates are going to check out Glassdoor and other sites that give “real” feedback about companies, so you would be wise to do the same. Know what former employees have found difficult, or how the company’s employment brand differs from the current reality of working there. Discuss any potential objections with the hiring managers you’re recruiting for. How are these issues being addressed in interviews? Are they even prepared to address them? Candidates know that every company has its pros and cons. Being authentic and upfront about the good and the bad will help you earn their trust in the long run.

And now, if all the candidates will please join us on the dance floor:

Extreme, “More Than Words” — OK, so 1991 wasn’t exactly the greatest year for music. But the point I’m trying to make with this sappy ditty is this — Listen to what is not being said. Candidates will always want to present their most employable self to you. And a lot of times, that “self” is going to be fairly mono-chromatic: “great at what they do, career-oriented, loyal, hard-worker, etc., etc., etc.”

You need to dig a bit deeper. Resumes reflect the highlights of their potential, but don’t usually tell you their personal story. Ask questions and get to know your candidates as real people. Who are they outside of work? Single parents? Supporting kids in college? Sole breadwinners in a traditional household? Part of a two-income family with a hectic home life? What are the pressures they’re facing in their job search because of that? What do they value most in their day-to-day work life?

Don’t assume and don’t guess. Clarify your understanding of who they are by summarizing it back to them the way you would say it to a hiring manager. You’d be surprised what you leave out, or gloss over, that a candidate feels you shouldn’t.

Never assume two candidates are the same because they have similar backgrounds or personal situations. They all share similarities, but their situations, goals, and motivators are all different.

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Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”  Just as Kevin Costner put a slightly different spin on the Robin Hood tale that went along with this 1991 middle school dance hit, you’re going to have to put a spin on things and customize your sales pitch.

This is where your deep understanding of the company and your candidates from above will pay off. Take an objective look from the perspective of both sides: is this going to be the best match between the candidate and the company?

Communicating that vision of a long-term match will require you to sometimes remind both sides of what they’re truly looking for. Hiring managers will get hung up in the process on the lack of a particular skill, or the absence of some piece of experience, or tenure in a candidate’s work pattern that they consider vital to a good employee. The reality is that the majority of the time this issue really shouldn’t be a show-stopper. Likewise, candidates can invariably focus on a detail like their title in the new job, the length of the commute, or the amount of windows in the workspace.

While I’m obviously trivializing and generalizing the perspective of both sides, the point is that both candidates and hiring managers will occasionally need to be reminded about why a job is a good match for them. If this is directly related to the role itself, then that’s fairly easy. However, if you don’t also have the details around indirect issues (e.g. work-life balance, length of commute, etc.) from previous conversations to back yourself up, you’re basically going into an archery contest without any arrows. Or, if you don’t have any of those details to start with, like the fact your candidate is looking for a new job because of the long commute they already have, then you’ve completely missed the target.

R.E.M., “Shiny Happy People” – OK, so 1991 was an off year for everyone (even rock icons like R.E.M.). With all this talk of crafting selling and compelling messages, it’s easy to get enthusiastic and start laying it on a little thick. Do not oversell. Pushing the same selling points over and over can create distrust.

Think about it for a minute. If someone is working to convince you of something and keeps gravitating back to the same point multiple times, focusing entirely on one unique selling point, wouldn’t you start to wonder what they might be hiding? Candidates will do the same thing. And, whether it’s fair or not, a lot of candidates out there are skeptical of recruiters who claim to not have their own agenda.

So, paint a holistic portrait. Your goal is to leave them with one or two key features that really engage their aspirations or inspire them that working there will make their overall quality of life better in the long run.

Yes, customizing a sales pitch for a candidate takes a bit more investment from you as a recruiter, but the potential satisfaction for both the candidate and the company is well worth it. Otherwise, their tenure is going to be like a one-hit wonder … just a flash in the pan, soon to be forgotten.


photo of Bryan Adams from Starpulse

James Holt is business development manager of RPO Services at Seven Step RPO. Seven Step RPO is a recruitment process outsourcing firm based in Boston and Denver. We provide large-scale sourcing and recruiting services in a team-based outsourcing model. The clients are companies that hire between 500 and 10,000 people a year.