Originally published January 31, 2007.
What’s your plan to find the best candidates? Post more ads and hope for a response? Connect with even more people on LinkedIn? Search the job boards for resumes? Look at the phone and hope that it will ring? Do the same things as you did last year?
If it didn’t work in 2006, why will it work now? Before you continue with more of the same activity, think of the story of the processionary caterpillar.
The larvae of the moth Ochrogaster lunifer otherwise known as the “processionary caterpillar” leaves a thread of silk as it walks along, which enables the caterpillar behind it to follow the thread. As each caterpillar follows the silken trail, it begins to walk in single file, nose to tail, and move along like a miniature train.
What makes this caterpillar special is its instinct to blindly follow the caterpillar in front of it. This behavior not only gives the caterpillar its name, but also a deadly characteristic.
The French naturalist Jean Henri Fabre demonstrated this unique behavior with a simple experiment. He took a flowerpot and placed a number of caterpillars in single-file around the circumference of the pot’s rim. Each caterpillar’s head touched the one in front. He then placed the caterpillars’ favorite food in the middle of the circle created by the procession around the rim of the flowerpot.
Each caterpillar followed the one ahead, thinking that it was heading for the food. Round and round went those caterpillars for seven days and seven nights.
After a week of this mindless activity, the caterpillars started to die because of exhaustion and starvation. All they had to do to avoid death was to stop the senseless circling of the flower pot and head directly toward the food, which was less than six inches away. However, the processionary caterpillars were fixed into this routine and couldn’t extricate themselves from this mindless behavior.
They mistook activity for accomplishment.
As human beings, we are different from caterpillars. We surely do have the ability to change our direction in life. Or do we? We often confuse motion with meaning and activity with accomplishment.
Most people are followers and are persuaded more by the actions of others than by anything else. When we see a lot of people doing something, we assume it to be correct. We copy other people’s actions to be safe rather than stand out and try something different.
When we see the critical mass of recruiters using the well-promoted tools like job boards, media advertising, social network sites, and the many others that are supposed to help us find the perfect candidate, we think that is the way to do this job because everyone else is doing it. This surely makes us no different from the caterpillar.
You need to break that circle, stop following the crowd, and go directly to the food. Or in this instance, to the right candidate.
The Next Assignment
The next time you have an assignment to fill, don’t use the same tools as everyone else, because you will only find the same candidates as everyone else. The best person for the position you are looking to fill is probably not actively on the job market right now. They are too busy being successful where they are.
The good news, however, is that they will nearly always listen to new opportunities. All they need is your telephone call to tell them about it.
Like the best sales professionals love to cold-call, the best recruiters love to headhunt. That’s where the real thrill is, and that’s where most people fail because they don’t like doing it.
The salesperson who doesn’t like to cold call should work in a shop where customers walk in. The recruiter who does not like to headhunt should work in HR.
Identify the right people through your own research. This will most certainly mean calling into companies. If you can get names by simply asking, “Who is responsible for ??” then do so. It has worked for me many times. Sometimes keeping it simple is the best way. If that does not work and you need to be a bit more creative, then work within whatever method you feel most comfortable with.
Harmless rusing should not be a problem for anyone if they want to be successful in recruiting. By harmless, I mean making up a name and a story is okay. Pretending to be someone else that actually exists certainly is not.
For example, if I say I am Fred Smith from ARL Consultancy and I want to discuss a business project with the person responsible for purchasing, there is no harm done. In a way, it’s true.
Using a real name and company and some story however, could be a serious mistake. I’ve had to deal with a real situation where this happened with one of my consultants back in the late 1990s. It is not good. So keep the info clean.
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Be confident and positive when making the call. Use LinkedIn or a similar platform as a starting point to find candidates, but don’t rely on these services. It’s all too easy for these tools to become a crutch and the sole method used to find people. When that happens, you again only have the same small pot of candidates that everyone else has.
Use it as a tool for initiating any assignment, even though in my experience it rarely ends up that the person I find on there gets the job. What it might do is identify some of the right companies to call on. If you’re lucky and the information is up to date, which is often not the case, and the person is still there but not interested or not right, then get a referral.
Who Do You Know?
Getting referrals is the most powerful tool any recruiter can use for finding the best candidates, because it’s most likely that the referred candidate has the right background. Otherwise, they would not be referred in the first place.
Don’t ask closed-ended questions such as, “Do you know??” Ask, “Who do you know??” It’s a good open-ended question and one that is more likely to end up with a name. They will be the most important four words you will use when researching for candidates.
When you first talk to your prospective candidate, don’t waffle, oversell, or lie about the opportunity. It will only come back to bite you on the bum later.
The first 30 seconds of the call are the most crucial to get their interest, so make it powerful. Be enthusiastic, sincere, and positive about the opportunity you are selling them and use a good open-ended question to enable the conversation to continue. For example, you can usually end your sales pitch with something like:
“My client is looking for a candidate who has the ability to raise their game, meet this challenge, and be the best in their field. (Pause.) Tell me, Sue, are you the sort of person who is ready to meet such a challenge and be the best?”
What do you think she will say? No?
This is only an example, of course, so use your own wording. Whatever you use, make sure it is powerful and can only be met with a positive response.
Once you have them hooked into the conversation, the rest is up to you to successfully sell them on the company and the opportunity, so make it good. Be aware that this method will not work if you pitch the wrong people, so make sure you research effectively and accurately.
It also won’t work if you’re not sincere about the opportunity you are working on, and if you’re not sincere about it, stop working on it immediately. Only work on positions and for companies for which you have a genuine belief will put the candidates you are talking to in a better position than they are in today. Anything less is not doing your job correctly or professionally.
Remember: it’s about them, not you. You’re not in the business of ruining people’s careers so don’t be blinded by the fee or pressured into lying to save your own job or trying to impress your boss.
You are trying to put both parties involved in a position to benefit from the activity, and when you do this successfully, you will also benefit. Just keep the correct order when it comes to who benefits first. Put yourself first and it is unlikely either of the other parties will benefit at all.
Try something different today, because you have nothing to lose other than another year mistaking activity for accomplishment.