Clarify Expectations And Follow Up With Those Tough Questions

To get people to do what we want them to do, we need to give a clear understanding about how we work and ensure that the client and candidate are willing to comply. Then we ask questions throughout the process to make sure that everything is on track. Such questions include “Has anything changed since we spoke last week?” “Have any other recruiters called you with any opportunities since we last talked?” “Are you still on board to turn your notice in tomorrow?” To make matters worse, the longer you have been in the business, the sloppier you become because you just sort of assume that everyone can read your mind and will follow in your glowing and glorious wake of experience.

About a year and a half ago, I was marketing a candidate who wanted to make a move to southern California. The relationship was strong and I had known him for several years. I told him that I felt I could help him and he was an eager and enthusiastic candidate. He returned my calls right after I left messages. He was sharp and happy and had the perfect career background. His spouse was an enthusiastic supporter of the move. His employer loved him and didn’t have any offices there. The motive to move was strong and pure. The candidate was ready to go. All I needed to do was conduct a ‘slam dunk’ round of calls to my relationship base and collect the fee. “I’ll take care of ya, John,” was pretty much my prep with him.

“Scott, for some reason this candidate’s background sounds familiar to me,” the prospective client said when I presented this candidate’s background to him. I only had three conversations with prospective employers and this fourth one seemed the most promising and the most eager to talk with my candidate. “Is he from Charlotte?” he asked.

“Um, yes. Why?”

“Wait, I think I have his resume right here in front of me. Here it is. Is his name John Smith?”

Yes, that was the candidate all right. When I asked the prospective client how he got the candidate’s resume he said that it was emailed to him the day before from another recruiter.

Why that little. . . wait. Wait. Wait. Did I tell him to work with me and only me? Um, no. I sort of assumed that he would because the relationship was so good. When I talked with the candidate and explained the situation to him he said that he got a call from another recruiter shortly after the two of us talked and decided to send his resume to him. “Should I not have done that, Scott?” was all he asked me.

My mistake. He had no idea about exclusively working with me because I never told him about it. I learned the lesson once again of why a recruiter should make sure that everyone is on board with their protocols and is willing to comply. In this circumstance, I should have told John something like this:

“I’m interesting in partnering with you to help you find an opportunity that you might not be able to find on your own.

What’s even better for you, once I come across something, is my ability to sell you as a top performer. Because I’m an expert in your niche and make a living presenting top performers, they’ll take me seriously when I have a candidate that they need to hear about. If you call them they probably won’t take you as seriously and will put you in the human resources corral with all the other cattle. With me you get head-of-line privileges because, typically, I bypass HR and go right to the top or to those who are really running things.

That way, I can tell them something like, ‘Hey, John’s a good guy,’ and they’ll believe me more than you saying ‘I’m a good guy.’ I can give you the power of third party credibility.

What I need from you to be able to do this is a commitment that you and I are going to work together and exclusively. I’ll uncover as many opportunities as I can and will make sure that they’ll all hear about you, and if you hear about any opportunities then call me first so I can see if I can open the door a lot easier for you.”

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If only I had spent the thirty seconds saying that to John. He would have agreed, would have turned me on to the other opportunity, and I would have had another fat check to deposit. But at least the experience gave me a lesson I’ll never forget.

Remember, client control and candidate control does not exist and are deceptive myths of our industry. Whenever you need compliance from someone, follow these three steps to increase the likelihood their commitment:

1. First tell them exactly what you need. “We need to work together and I need you to work exclusively with me.”

2. Second, tell them why this will benefit them. If it’s a client and you are trying to get an exclusive from them, tell them why it will benefit them to give you this. “Because of the type of performer that you are looking for in the market, I will have to spend a lot of time and dedicate my resources that normally I would give to more of my established clients. (contrast principle). I’m okay with this, but I need to ask from you a greater commitment in terms of an exclusive or a retainer (reciprocity principle).” The odds of compliance increase significantly when you tell people why it will benefit them. Remember that it’s not about you. It’s about them. Make it that way in your communication with them. And if you have not yet bought Robert Cialdini’s book on influence, you need to pick it up. (Influence: Science and Practice).

3. Ask those tough questions. When you follow up, ask questions to test that they are still on board. If I had communicated the exclusive nature of my marketing relationship with the candidate, I would have followed up every once in a while, asking things like, “Are you still on board with everything?” “Have you had any contact with anyone else regarding career issues since we last talked?” “Have you received any other calls from other search firms since we talked?”

I think the reasons why we fail to spend the time to explain what we need from people, such as an exclusive relationship in this example, is fear. We are afraid of getting a ‘no’ from them, even though we know that we are doing something in their best interests and that they’ll probably be okay with it. We are afraid that we are coming across too salesy or too pushy.

Get over it by making yourself do it. Recognize your feelings of anxiety when you come across these situations and validate them. I feel anxious asking this candidate for an exclusive. Then tell yourself why you need to push through it. But I need to because if I do not then I open myself up to variables that could take him out of the placement process. If you feel you are too pushy and think you are too salesy, remind yourself that it really does work in their best interests if they follow your lead. If John makes calls on his own they won’t take him seriously. If he works with me he’ll be on a plane next week flying to an interview.

Remember that your job as a recruiter is one of the most powerful in corporate America. You build companies. You build futures. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking someone from Rut A and putting them in Rut B. But Rut B is always a better rut. Believe in the power of what you do and take charge of your desk when it comes to communicating effectively with people. And you’ll be amazed at how much of a difference this minor change will make in your billings.

Scott Love increases company profit margins by working as a management consultant, author, and professional speaker with special emphasis in the executive search and staffing industries. He has been quoted in major city newspapers, national trade magazines, international business magazines, and the Wall Street Journal. He has his own weekly business column in the Gannett News Service. His free website for recruiters has over 50 free tips and tools to help you bill more.


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