How to Win Candidates and Influence Clients

[Note: Last week, we held a free conference call for ERE members a few hours after my article appeared. If you didn’t attend, you missed a great chance to improve your recruiter skills. You’ll have another chance today. See below for information on how to attend today’s 11AM PST/2PM EST online discussion. I’m not able to do this every week, but how to be a better recruiter is a topic that can’t be adequately addressed in a short article. As you read this week’s article, you’ll know what I mean. ó Lou Adler] Here’s a basic principle worth considering: a recruiter’s performance is based largely on the quality of the last candidate recommended. How well you do here depends primarily on how well you handled taking the job assignment. So let’s start at the beginning. The most commonly voiced recruiters’ frustration is the need for more influence with their hiring manager clients. Without influence, you’ll never be able to present enough strong candidates, since you’re not 100% sure of what your client wants. This leads to the next most common recruiter frustration: getting stronger candidates to be more receptive to their job openings. If you can’t get enough strong candidates on the short list, you’ll be judged as ineffective by your clients and you’ll be quickly branded as ineffective. This does little for your influence. This is a bit of the chicken-and-egg problem. In this week’s article, I’d like to offer some ideas on how you can quickly increase your influence with your clients. To keep it, however, you’ll need to quickly deliver some top candidates. Whether you’re a sourcer or a full-lifecycle recruiter, you have to possess certain core competencies to be successful as a recruiter. Four behaviors or competencies stand out:

  • Convincing. You must be able to persuade hiring managers and candidates alike to move forward in a direction you want them to, despite numerous alternatives. If you’re not convincing, it’s impossible to be influential.
  • Confident. You must be able to convey the idea to your candidates and clients that you know what you’re talking about. Timidity doesn’t work too well when presenting a slate of candidates to be interviewed or when trying to schedule a top candidate to interview at an inconvenient time.
  • Smart. You’re dealing with top candidates and hiring managers who outrank you in the organization. They must recognize that you’re a knowledge expert if you’re going to be welcomed on to the team.
  • Assertive. Recruiters must create activity, not wait for it to happen. You can’t wait for referrals, or wait for people to respond to your ads, or wait to be invited into the debriefing room. Recruiters don’t have time to wait or react.

Where do you stand on these four core traits of recruiter success? If you’re not convincing, you’ll need to send out too many candidates to fill an assignment. If you’re not confident, your opinions will count for little. If you’re not smart, you won’t be able to figure out how to get things done more efficiently. If you’re not assertive, you’ll be spending too much time doing the wrong things. But if you are convincing, confident, smart, and assertive, here are four ways to generate instant influence with your hiring manager clients:

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  1. Be great at sourcing. Once you get a new assignment, ask your client to meet and discuss your sourcing strategy. Tell the hiring manager that you want to expand your traditional sourcing channels in order to find more top talent. During this meeting, describe how you’ll be using a multi-step sourcing process targeting non-active candidates. These are candidates who look infrequently, but are open to exploring opportunities if they are compelling enough. Then find out what’s compelling about the job. Ask why this job would be a strong career move for a top person with multiple opportunities. Then describe how you’ll write compelling ads that emphasize opportunities instead of listing requirements. In the meeting, make sure you obtain a list of target sources, including direct competitors, conferences the ideal candidate likely attends, and associations the person would join. The process of creating a comprehensive sourcing plan with your hiring manager client is a great way to be recognized as a knowledge expert in this area. Of course, you then must execute the plan.
  2. Know the job. Before you make the call to your hiring manager client, spend some time with the two or three best people already on the job. Find out what they do that makes them successful. Next, read the online job descriptions from other companies doing the same work ó especially your competitors. Then take the list of skills and experiences on the standard job description and convert these into action tasks. For example, if the description lists five years of accounting experience as a requirement, the task might be “review and improve the financial reporting system by September.” With all of this background, prepare a draft performance profile listing the six most important things successful people do on this job. Then send this to your hiring manager client and tell him or her that you want to convert this rough job profile into a list of prioritized deliverables. Mention that this is the number one criteria which top candidates use to select new positions, and if the manager wants to see more top people you’ll need this information to convince candidates to explore your opportunity. Doing the pre-work and making the call instantly brands you as smart and assertive. With the completed performance profile, you’ll have the confidence and conviction to move top candidates and hiring managers forward at every step in the process.
  3. Recognize top talent. Make sure that the candidates you present are both competent and motivated to do the work described in the performance profile. This requires accurate assessments and good candidates. One without the other doesn’t gain you much. In the eyes of your clients, this is your most important metric. Presenting them quickly is also important. Sending in top talent for every assignment provides proof that you’re a top recruiter, and if you do this you won’t have to fight to gain influence. You’ll have earned it.
  4. Recruit, negotiate and close the deal. Not only must you find top people, but you must also keep them involved at every step in the hiring process. This is no small task. It requires all of the skills noted above and more. You must know the job, convince candidates with other opportunities to spend valuable time evaluating yours, and then negotiate a reasonable offer package. One clue that you have a problem here is if you have too many candidates coming up with too many excuses why they don’t want to proceed. The problem is even worse if the remaining candidates need a salary incentive to accept your offers. Getting top people hired at reasonable compensation levels is what recruiting is all about. You’ll be quickly recognized as an expert recruiter if you develop the reputation of landing top people at reasonable comp levels. Don’t be surprised that you’ll also be great at steps one, two, and three.

There’s no magical formula for increasing your influence with your hiring manager clients. If you’re already doing what’s described in this article, you know what I mean. If you’re in a rut, reacting to events, and feeling frustrated that you don’t have the time to do it right, then you’ll need to take a different course. For one thing, you must stop doing what’s not working. Doing the same things but faster won’t help. Trying out points one and two is a good place to start. Not only are they different, but they’re interesting enough to gain the needed meeting with your hiring manager clients. This is a vital step in becoming a true partner with your clients. If you’re not a true partner, you’ll never become a top recruiter. So this must be your primary objective. Finding and delivering good candidates is how you retain this partnership. If you’re smart, assertive, confident, and convincing, it only takes hard work and focus to become a very successful recruiter. In this article, I’ve described the path and provided the compass for you to become a better recruiter. Taking the journey is now up to you. [Conference Call Note: if you’re reading this article before 11AM PST/2 PM EST on February 13, 2004, you now have a chance to attend a free online conference call with Lou Adler to discuss how to increase your influence with your hiring manager clients. We had a great conference call last week, so this is something you won’t want to miss. The first fifty people who call 716-566-6016 pin 565136# will be able to begin increasing their influence with their clients before the day is out. Send an email to if you have any specific questions you’d like to ask about this topic. Some of these will be addressed during the call.]

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).