Recruiting Recruiters

As our survey shows, practitioners are beginning to again restaff. As hiring becomes the order of the day for many, we thought we would reprise this article. It is as applicable today as when it was first published.

If ever there was a key ingredient to the success of any placement or search organization, it has to be in the quality and caliber of the people on the “front line” . . . the consultant, counselor, account executive, recruiter . . . or whatever you choose to call these people.

Yet, surprisingly enough, far too many recruiting firms let this area grow fallow by sheer default.

As one manager told us, “Listen, it’s hard enough to get someone to work a desk as it is, much less having the option to pick and choose who I’m going to hire. I’ll give almost anyone a chance.” And his success in keeping turnover low was reflected perfectly in the fact that his firm uses “desk names” rather than “real people names.”

His philosophy was simple! “If they haven’t been placed within two weeks or if they are desperate for a place to spend their days, I give them a desk and a phone and tell them to have at it. Who knows,” he sighed, “they’ll at least stir up some dust, may make a placement, and might even wind up finding themselves a job for which I can collect a fee.”

This, of course, is absurd. If we ever heard a more fallacious reason for letting someone represent an organization with its customers and clients, we can’t recall it. But the glaring reality is that it is often true and frequently denied.

No one likes to see an empty desk, cubicle, or office . . . but in the majority of cases, an empty desk is better than filling one with the wrong person. While an unfilled consultant opening is a drag on profits (since you still have to pay nominal expenses to maintain the empty desk, phone, etc.), it is insignificant when compared with the profit-dampening mischief that can be caused by an incompetent or inept inhabitant.

Let’s face it, a consultant is primarily a seller . . . but unlike the salesperson who can face a buyer with a product, having the assurance that their product won’t change, consultants deal with a host of intangibles, very few of which can they ultimately or totally control. Ours is a “people” business . . . and people talk . . . many times saying exactly the wrong things. No matter how well “coached” a candidate is about a particular company or the opportunity they offer, they have a penchant for saying “the wrong thing at the wrong time.” Think how happy (and wealthy) we’d all be if every candidate (or employer) followed the script as we envision it every time we sent a candidate to be interviewed by a potential employer.

Consultants must, by the very nature of their “product,” be a major cut above the average peddler. They must be creative, blessed with an overabundance of empathy, enjoy those better things in life that money can buy, be reasonably intelligent with good verbal skills (able to paint word pictures), be bold and unafraid of failure, be familiar with the business world and its needs, possess emotional stability, be sensitive to the needs of others, and have what one manager calls “true grit.”

“I look for the semi-controllable maverick who not only walks on water, but carries his own lake with him just so he can prove it whenever the need arises,” according to one owner whose average consultant tenure is six years. His philosophy: Hire the best and place the rest!

Not one of his consultants came from an ad seeking consultants. Although he admitted running such ads from time to time, since it permitted him to place the ad (always sales oriented) into the Help Wanted section of the paper rather than buried in the “Employment Agency” section, the only thing these ads brought him was increased traffic for placement purposes.

“The unique qualities I seek,” he continued, “are not usually available in the type of person who answers my ads.” Four of his people are ex-employer/client personnel. “After working with them as customers and watching them in action, I knew I wanted them on my side. The courtship, in one case, took 15 months . . . but it was worth it to us both. Twenty years ago, when I first got into this business, I’d hire them if they were breathing and available, but no more. You get to recognize a certain ‘glint in their eye and an enthusiastic spring in their step’ when you meet the potential winner.”

Probably one of the most difficult tasks in recruiting recruiters is to define exactly what must be done to become a success. The average person thinks of the job in one of two ways: either just a matter of putting candidates and jobs together; or as a day-in and day-out telephone hustler trying to talk one person into hiring another. Misconception about the placement and search business is widespread among those who have not had firsthand experience or exposure. And surprisingly, many managers, whose job it is to screen people for others, find it almost impossible to screen for themselves.

Once you’ve decided to pursue a particular individual, you must have a well-ordered and persuasive presentation about the business you’re in and, where necessary, the specialty you handle. Don’t assume that your candidate knows either your company or about the business in general. Do assume that you’ll have to begin at the beginning with your presentation . . . because no matter what your candidate tells you, you can be certain that they are laboring under many misconceptions.

They’ll want to know how long you’ve been in business, how many offices or branches you have, your network affiliations, how many people you employ (along with success stories), your prestige clients, your approximate dollar volume, your future plans, your benefits, a realistic recitation of the income possibilities for them, your training program, your reputation (among both clients and competitors), and why you are currently seeking to hire them. You must excite them.

Now that you’ve told your side of the business, taken your candidate’s temperature, and concluded that there is a mutual interest, it’s time to dig a little deeper into their background.

Be a little negative. Remember, you’re interviewing for a job where the right man or woman can (and should) make between $80,000 and $200,000. Make them come to you. Let them try to convince you to hire them. If you’ve done a proper presentation of the opportunity, they’ll do just that.

Sit back in your chair. Relax. Be comfortable. When you ask them a question, really ask it. Don’t be mechanical. Make notes while they’re talking. Use such things as:

– Uh-huhs.
– Good.
– I see.
– How do you mean that?
– Why do you feel that way?
– Tell me more about that.
– What makes you say that?
– Anything else?
– Give me an example.

You’ll find that by properly directing this initial personal interview phase, not only will you acquire the type of information you need, but you also maintain the control necessary to make the decision seem to be yours . . . rather than theirs.

After candidates have “passed” this initial interviewing session, many managers use one of the many commercially available aptitude tests as a bridge to the next step. Make sure, however, it is one that can be completed by the potential consultant at home. Also be sure that you can grade and evaluate the test yourself, without having to utilize an outside firm to get the results.

Not only does this provide you with one more step in the “negative” selling process, but it is also a useful tool in determining “real” interest in the job you have to offer. This is judged by the speed with which they complete the test and return it to you. Some may even ask if they can complete it in the office. Others will complete it and hand-carry it in the next morning, mail it “Express Mail,” etc. If they do any of the above, you’ve got yourself a “hot prospect.”

But . . . never grade the test while they are in your office. Rather, it is far better to tell them that it must be sent elsewhere for grading and evaluation, once again because of the negative selling impact.

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We are not suggesting a test merely as a “device” in your hiring process. It should be selected because of its prospective ability to evaluate sales ability and those unique personality traits that are indigenous to our business. Although the results are of secondary interest, the type of test selected should convince the test taker that it is being given for a valid reason.

We have also found that managers with staffs having longer than average tenure tend to utilize some form of telephone test somewhere in their selection phase. Since the phone is such an integral part of the business, it strikes us as elementary to test a candidate’s ability to use and effectively communicate with the major “tool of the trade.”

The most effective telephone tests seem to be those in which the candidate is given the application of a fictitious job-seeker. He should role-play over a phone, attempting to arrange for an interview with the role-playing employer (you). How well candidates are able to identify and accentuate the positive, field objections (thrown in by you), and generally handle an effective sales presentation on a telephone can tell you a lot about their success potential.

“It’s easy to say that telephone selling isn’t frightening,” related one manager, “but I’ve seen real pros freeze up when they have to perform via Ma Bell. Before I started giving telephone tests to prospective consultants, I found that a number of them, who I thought loved the telephone, were spending six hours a day calling Time & Temperature and Dial-A-Prayer after I hired them.”

Once you have gone through the preliminaries, and you’ve decided this is your next superstar, it’s time for the final hiring interview. Although much depends on the rapport that you’ve built during the prelims, we still recommend that you have your secretary, receptionist, or another employee call the candidate and schedule the final chat.

Even though you will have already answered the majority of the candidate’s questions, you’ll find that this last session will be the time when they’ll ask those “nitty-gritty” ones that they hadn’t the courage nor the desire to ask during the “Gee, I wish you’d hire me” phase.

There is only one way to treat a potential consultant’s questions during this phase – TOTAL HONESTY.

As in any hiring situation, a certain amount of “romance” is necessary, but you do neither of you a favor by not, at this point, letting your candidate know exactly what he can expect . . . in terms of your training program and, afterwards, during the first couple of weeks on the desk.

Those first few weeks can be devastating to a person who is used to instant results, and you must prepare and program them for what to expect.

Of course, the ideal situation is to have the consultant start immediately . . . but in many cases, they must give notice, and this period is crucial to maintaining their interest in joining your organization.

Many managers, in order to stress the importance of sticking by the decision to join their firms, make a “big thing” of the amount of work and preparation the manager must do to define the new employee’s area of activity, the research that he must do to make sure there is as little downtime as possible before getting the consultant productive and in making other preparations for the rapid assimilation of the new consultant in the organization. Telling them that news releases and publicity will be prepared and released, having them complete the necessary tax forms NOW, etc., go far toward making new employees feel as though they are already a part of the firm and lessen the chances of their “backing out” after telling their boss they intend to leave for a new job.

A word of caution is in order. Successful people in our business come in all sizes, shapes, and personalities. Do NOT try to hire a mirror image of yourself or of some of your best producers. True, there is a definite “success” profile for these people, but they can certainly be packaged differently.

When this writer first entered the recruiting business in the late 1950s, he was given an applicant, a desk, a phone, and the Yellow Pages. The extent of the training period was as long as it took to say, “Find him a job.” Although it worked, it is not recommended procedure.

The first few weeks must be highly structured and will dominate your time unless you’re one of the very few who enjoy spending their time continually restaffing your organization.

Seal your deal with a handshake, follow it up with a “kiss” letter to the new employee (and his wife), and make very sure that, from the very first day, they get the guidance and understanding they’ll need to “make it big” in the business. It’s well worth it. As Euripides once wrote, “A bad beginning makes a bad ending.”

Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.

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