A Sales Lesson for Recruiters

Recruiting is selling. No matter what the current hiring conditions are, recruiters need to have basic selling skills to be successful. But amazingly, in a nationwide survey conducted by our team, we found that recruiting professionals ranked persuasion skills low in importance?? 25th?? on a list of needed recruitment competencies. So in this article, we will look at the ways that selling and recruiting overlap, as well as some steps you can take to boost your persuasion skills. The key elements to successful selling are:

  1. Finding and attracting prospects
  2. Qualifying and understanding them
  3. Persuading them

To fully understand how recruiting and selling correspond, consider the decision-making factors in a major sale, as described in Neil Rackham’s book on the subject, SPIN Selling:

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  • A major sale requires many calls, and decisions are not made with the seller present. Similarly, in recruiting, the job seeker typically has multiple interviews, and decisions to accept are rarely made with the recruiter present.
  • A major sale requires the build up of perceived value corresponding to the size of the commitment. In recruiting, accepting a new position is a life changing decision, which also requires the build up of perceived value.
  • A major sale involves an ongoing relationship with the buyer, which can impact the sale. Recruiting also involves an ongoing relationship with the candidate, which can impact offer acceptance.
  • Finally, in major sales, decisions are visible within the organization and customers are cautious. In recruiting, decisions are visible with friends, family, and colleagues?? and candidates are cautious.

What this tells us is that if recruiters can begin to think like salespeople, they can not only reach a broader number of candidates, but also obtain more offer acceptances. Continuing with Rackham’s concepts, in SPIN Selling he states, “Questions persuade more powerfully than any other verbal behavior.” His extensive research revealed that in the most successful sales calls, the buyer did most of the talking. Also, the types of questions asked by the seller fell into a particular sequence. Because this method so strongly applies to recruiting, let’s explore it further. Rackham defines these sales questions as follows:

  • Situation questions focus on gathering data to understand the current status. For example, “What are your current responsibilities?”
  • Problem questions explore areas of dissatisfaction. In recruiter-speak, “Is your current position conducive to work/life balance?”
  • Implication questions further explore the consequences of the areas of dissatisfaction. For example, “What effect has this lack of company growth had on your career opportunities?” Here is where you begin to increase the need for a solution.
  • Need/pay-off questions often closely mirror the implication questions and get the candidate to tell you about the benefits your solutions could offer. For example, “Suppose you had the chance to (finish your degree), what would that mean to you?”

Think of what both your company and the position have to offer, not in terms of a list of facts, but rather in terms of how they solve a problem. By spending time asking questions and understanding what’s important to the candidate, you are in a much better position to address those needs with the solution you can provide. In other words, once you fully understand the issues the candidate is facing, you can begin to ask implication and need/pay-off questions highlighting what you have to offer as an employer. Through this process, you begin to link the candidate’s problem to your solution. It is important to note that this method can be used in conjunction with other interviewing methods. The questions can be open, closed or a combination. I have seen this work extremely well when integrated into behavioral-based interviewing, for instance. While SPIN Selling was written for salespeople, I often recommend it to struggling recruiters. Some of the most successful recruiters I know have been inadvertently using this technique for years. It’s the difference between consultative, relationship recruiting and the “used-car salesperson” image often associated with our industry in the past. Consider this in terms of shopping for a new car. By the time you visit a dealership, you have probably done your homework and know what you are looking for and what you are willing to pay. The first salesperson that approaches you takes one look at you and begins to tell you the type of vehicle you need. You know that you are looking for an SUV, but the salesperson insists on showing you the latest sports car. Out of utter frustration you leave. At the next lot you visit, the salesperson asks you a series of questions about the type of vehicle you need, understands why you need this type of vehicle, shows you the model you were initially interested in and one that is an even better fits your current situation and needs, and then works with you to make sure your expectations are being met. Which salesperson would you prefer to buy from? In other words, would you rather put your career in the hands of a recruiter that really takes the time to understand what is important to you, or a recruiter that just tells you what they think you need?

Kimberly Bedore (kimberlybedore@earthlink.net) is a consultant and public speaker who develops and implements staffing solutions for clients, resulting in increased efficiencies and significant cost savings. She uses her wide range of recruiting experience to provide companies with a wealth of information related to sourcing and sourcing strategies, recruitment training, and the implementation of solutions and metrics that enable a higher degree of staffing effectiveness.


3 Comments on “A Sales Lesson for Recruiters

  1. Kimberly – Great article! I have sent this to all of my fellow recruiters as well as the Management Team.

    I am looking forward to reading the book mentioned. I have always held the view that recruiting is one of the highest forms of sales. It’s great to see that many others share that same idea.

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  2. Sales, Sales, Sales. That’s all it is. As I
    discussed in my response to an earlier forum regarding recruiter certification(s). Being certified sure looks nice, and maybe some employers or candidates would prefer the recruiter to be certified. But if the recruiter can not sell an idea, concept, or an opportunity,
    then they are probably in the wrong profession.

    Zig Ziglar puts on good seminars and many times has speakers regarding “Sales”, many of the concepts and sales techniques that are true in selling products are also true in selling opportunities. A recruiter must also believe in what they are selling, confidence in your product (even if the product is an opportunity) will come accoss in the relationship building process.

    Great Article!
    I am passing it on to my recruiters.

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