Never Stop Recruiting

A couple of weeks ago there was an ERE article comparing recruiting to dating. I recently had an experience of a different nature. I was on a plane returning from an engagement and a man named Ted sat down next to me. He spent the next 90 minutes trying to save my soul.

This was a waste of time.

Not that my soul isn’t worth saving. But it was a waste because I am very firm in my religious beliefs and am not about to change them because of a 90-minute conversation with someone.

It was not an unpleasant conversation. He seemed like a delightful man and we laughed at times as we talked. He was not going to change my mind, but I did respect his commitment. His dedication. He did not let go. Our flight took off at 5:45 in the morning and he was in full swing. He started the conversation before he had his seat belt buckled and he kept it up even as people were deplaning.

He was recruiting.

I was impressed with his zeal. Then again, he is recruiting for a very important cause. It occurred to me that he probably started up these conversations whenever he traveled. He was always looking for recruits, and to put this in recruiting parlance, he is frequently looking for “passive candidates.” He never rests in his search, as there are always openings in his organization. Was he effective? Not with me, but I wonder how many people he has successfully recruited. Lots, I would guess, from the extent of his travels. He has been all around the country and all around the world. He finds people wherever they are. That’s his mission, and that’s what his organization needs.

What’s your mission? Professionally speaking, what are you trying to accomplish? There’s a lot we can learn from Ted. Are you constantly recruiting? Do you strike up conversations with people on planes, in malls, or at events? Are you always trying to meet new people? In the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” the sales manager says selling is as simple as ABC: Always Be Closing. There are lots of similarities between selling real estate and recruiting, but that’s for another article.

Perhaps we need to create acronyms to remind us how to be successful recruiters. Maybe, if you’ve been finding yourself lax in the networking department, your ABC is “Always be connecting.” If your pipeline is drying up and you’re feeling frustrated, JKL – Just Keep Looking! Or NOP – Never Overlook Possibilities. But don’t compromise your standards. Remember PQR – Persistent Quality Recruiting. But be sure to MNO – Make Numerous Overtures if you’re going to EFGH – Effectively Find Good Hires. OK, I mean, okay, maybe I’m getting carried away, but we do need to remember that candidates don’t always present themselves neatly at our office door. We find them when and where we least expect them.

When I was a human resource generalist for a large organization, I used to say that HR people never take off the HR hat. Whether you are at a meeting, on the phone, or at the holiday party, you are always on duty. Same goes for a recruiter. You never know when or where you are going to find that next great candidate. Ted had no idea about my religious background, my views, or the depth of my belief. That didn’t stop him, and he never lost his good humor as we talked. He did get a little more earnest as we began our final approach because he realized that he had precious little time left to complete his mission.

We can follow his lead. It’s easy to get turned off by a candidate. If we stop recruiting at the first “not interested” from our candidates, we’re going to have a lot of short phone calls. Ted didn’t give up. He made sure to get my business card early in the conversation, so I’ll be very surprised if I don’t hear from him. (Note: before I completed this article I had received e-mails from him.) He sincerely cares about what he’s doing. He’s good at what he does because he has a passion for recruiting. Do you? Do you find yourself getting burned out? Too many candidates, too many openings, or too many rejections?

I remember one time when a friend of mine was returning home from a college-recruiting trip. He did not usually take part in the college visits, as he was primarily an executive recruiter. His focus was management positions. But this trip included a couple of business schools from which his organization hoped to recruit people to be part of the management-trainee program as well as recruiting at other schools. So Mike went along for the whole trip. Now he was on his way back. He was tired, he was cranky (he always said that he didn’t care particularly for campus recruiting because it reminded him of how old he was) and he just wanted to put on his headphones, recline his seat, and close his eyes ’till he landed.

Well, you know what happened. The seat next to Mike was empty until just before the door closed. Mike was anticipating having a little extra elbowroom and then this guy came down the aisle carrying just a briefcase and a trench coat. He looked stressed out. Mike assumed it was due to his almost missing the flight. The man stashed his coat and case overhead and flopped into the seat next to Mike. Mike could sense that he wanted, or perhaps needed, to talk. Fighting every urge to close his eyes and pretend that he was listening to music, Mike removed his headphones and asked, “Rough day?” That was all it took.

His name was Bob and he was out of work. He’d been looking for about six months. He’d had a few leads but nothing had panned out and now he was returning home after a trip that he had hoped would result in an offer, but it didn’t look good. He had made this trip at his own expense to follow up on a lead and a phone interview. He thought that by making the effort and covering the expense of the flight, he might impress the company with his interest in the position and commitment to this opportunity. Bob wasn’t keen on relocating. He would rather stay in the Northeast, but he hadn’t been having any luck so he took a chance on casting his net a little further even if it meant uprooting his family.

But the interviews had gone terribly. The person he’d spoken with on the phone was too busy to spend more than a few minutes with him, he had to start from scratch with every person he met (hadn’t they prepared at all?) and several had no idea why they had been called in to meet with him. It was a frustrating day all around, and right now he didn’t have a particularly high opinion of the company he’d visited. He even said at one point, “I was going to pull my daughter out of the school she loves and away from all her friends for a company like this? Seems like this day was a total waste of time and, unfortunately, money too.”

In the fairy tale version of this story, Bob was perfect for a hard-to-fill position that Mike was working on. No, that didn’t happen, but they did exchange cards and Mike met with him back in New York. Mike didn’t have an opening, but he was very impressed with Bob’s strategic approach to finding a job, his clear analysis of the organizations with which he had met, and his insightful manner of summing up a complex situation, looking at it from all perspectives. Mike referred him to a colleague who was recruiting for someone with Bob’s skills, and he succeeded in securing a position. Mike succeeded as well. Bob always had good things to say about Mike’s company. The recruiter to whom Mike referred Bob has become a more valuable part of Mike’s network, referring several good candidates, a few of whom Mike has hired.

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There’s a lot we can learn from Ted, and from Mike. Never stop recruiting, wherever you are, no matter how tired you are, no matter what time of day it is. You never know where that next great candidate will be, or who will lead you to that person. Would you have caught the signals that Mike picked up on? Guy comes on a plane looking stressed, carrying nothing but a trench coat and briefcase, dressed in a suit appropriate for an interview — this might be a guy worth talking with. Maybe it’s just someone who needs to talk, not someone we can hire or refer. It never hurts to hone our networking skills.

To best serve our organizations we need to be constantly on the lookout for talent, and we can never predict where we’re going to find it, or when. Very often candidates will present themselves when we least expect it. By keeping an open mind we increase our likelihood of success. Maybe not immediate success, but somewhere down the line. Gary Player used to say, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” I tell people, on both sides of the interview table, that the only way to get good at interviewing is to interview. The best way to keep our recruiting antennae honed is to constantly look for signals and indicators, then to test our assumptions. The more we practice the more we’ll succeed.

And don’t close yourself off the next time someone plops down next to you on a plane. It might be your next great hire, or it might be Ted. Either way, you’ve got something to learn and possibly a lot to gain.

You may not save a soul, but you may help someone and you may even fill a job. And for a recruiter, that’s a pretty good day.

Ronald Katz
Ronald M. Katz, SPHR is the president of Penguin Human Resource Consulting, LLC and a speaker at the 2012 ERE Expo in San Diego. Penguin HR helps organizations to achieve their business goals by showing them how to manage and motivate staff so that they give their best efforts to the enterprise. Ron has delivered training to human resource staff and line managers of a wide variety of industries. He provides consulting in interviewing skills, performance management, diversity, and sexual harassment. He is an accomplished public speaker and has spoken nationally on human resources issues.