Eat What You Kill: Using the Sales Model To Improve Your Recruiting

“You eat what you kill!” That was the way my compensation program was explained to me by my manager on my first day in the agency business back in 1931. I was so new to the business that I did not know what “eat what you kill” meant. I was also too embarrassed to ask, and so I had the sudden urge to kill my new manager ó but managed to refrain from what would have clearly been a bad career move. I later found out that “you eat what you kill” is a common agency expression that means you will be paid a commission on the number of candidates you place into client companies. Place many candidates and you do well. Place only a few and paying the mortgage becomes an exercise in creativity and theoretical mathematics. A small draw against commissions is offered for the first few months but that just amounts to gas and grocery money. Steak, lobster and vintage cabernets are absent from this pauper’s menu. What is an agency recruiter to do? Good question. The answer is make placements as fast and furiously as you possibly can and do virtually anything you must to make those placements happen. Clearly, the agency recruiter is as much a salesperson as the hungriest account executive your organization has on staff (so of course are the folks who do retained search with offices in New York, Chicago, and London. They just wear more garish suits and favor French cuffs). The all important difference between agency and corporate recruiters is as follows:

  • The agency recruiter knows they are a salesperson because their life depends on it.
  • The corporate recruiter often forgets this simple reality and as a result can tend to be less driven than they should be.

The only other real difference is that the agency recruiter has to sell both the company to the candidate and the candidate to the company. If either pitch flops, there is no placement, and no compensation. The corporate recruiter, on the other hand, only has to sell the company to the candidate, by making them aware that their future will be far rosier if they join the organization rather than staying with their current employer. Here now, is the rub. In order to do this successfully, the corporate recruiter has to see themselves in the sales business just as much as the people who comprise your sales force and sell your goods and services. (Please do not email the correction that recruiters are in the service business. We are ALL in the service business, but you can’t fill requisitions if you can’t aggressively seek out and close good candidates. That service is the one you are expected to perform day in and day out.) With this small but hopefully significant rant behind me, let me say this: corporate recruiters need to be more aggressive. Their job is not to simply forward on resumes they collect from job boards, manage agency-provided candidates or expedite offer letters. That’s clearly part of making the machine operate, but those activities smack of being highly administrative and somewhat transactional, while adding little real value to the recruiting (think sales) process. The job of any recruiter ó corporate or agency ó is to recruit. Like the great account executive who will crawl over ground glass to make a sale, the great recruiter has an almost predator-like mentality that will drive her to do almost anything to uncover fresh talent, contact that talent, and tenaciously work over whatever period of time is required to build a relationship, get that candidate in front of a hiring manager and get referrals to find more candidates. This is not as difficult as it may seem. When the recruiter’s call comes, common sense dictates that the candidate being called will close their door, listen to what you have to say, or give you a number to reach them after hours. (If they do not give you the number, ask. The worst they can do is tell you no. Salespeople are told no more often than they are told yes.) That is what aggressive recruiting is all about. If you doubt this, ask any of the recruiters who made their living when there were no job boards, no Internet to speak of, no PC on every desk, and no job fairs. It was one call after another, for the purpose of endless networking, until you got a name ó and then the recruiting call was made. Happen to be checking references? Those were ripe for networking and often recruiting as well. The hunger to get that next recruit should never dissipate as the pipe must be kept filled for future hires and the building of relationships. Case in point: It’s Sunday and I am writing this article in longhand at a place called Breaking New Ground in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I do most of my writing there (I’m surprised they do not charge me rent.) Not five minutes ago, a woman came in from a local real estate agency and looked the place over. She was a shark dressed in a suit. She stopped at one table and chatted with a couple for about five minutes, left a business card, and then got up and came over to my table. She introduced herself, sat down, and told me that my Brooklyn t-shirt made her think I might be new to the area and looking for a place to live. I was stunned and impressed with her friendly yet no nonsense way of doing business. Now that’s aggressive sales! Don’t get me wrong, she was pleasant and professional, but she was on a mission to succeed and was working the room. I have a strange feeling that she moves a lot of houses. That style might be a bit much for your average corporate recruiter, but I will ask the following questions of corporate recruiters:

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  • On any given day, are you asking everyone you know who they know that can do the job for which you are recruiting? Not IF they know someone ó but using the assumptive close of WHOM do you know. Anyone doing a given job simply must know others doing the same job. The opposite hardly seems possible.
  • Are you asking for the resumes of people who just told you that they are not interested in the position? You should. It allows you to start a small folder of people to touch base with every month or so to catch up on their career and discuss your organization’s progress.
  • Are you building a tickler file of people you contact that you might be in need of down the road, for anything from more referrals to the opportunity to run a new job past them? It’s a funny world. Catch them after a bad day, a performance review, a time when they heard word that their company is on the ropes, or as they try to get used to a new boss, and they just might send you that resume you were asking for after all.
  • Do you ever call candidates in the evening? Yes, when you are not “working.” I can tell you with absolute certainty that agency people do. Many people can’t talk at work because they just have office cubicles, and the evenings are the only time they can really open up. Put in a few extra hours this week to recruit at night. I am sure the results you achieve will convince your boss to give you a long weekend to make up for it. After all, they are looking for results, not time spent.
  • Are you personally sitting down with ó or if it’s not geographically possible, calling ó new hires you recruited into the company for at least three referrals of people they have worked with whom you might want call and use for the purpose of networking? This is such a good thing to do. The first five days of employment are a great time to catch employees as they begin to settle into the new position but before their old company begins to fade into distant memory.

If you are not doing the above, you should. These types of activities will help you to be more of the salesperson that you need to be, build your confidence, find and create a larger candidate pool from which your hiring managers can select new employees, and as a result make better hires. The best employees must work for someone’s organization. Why not yours? Just as great account executives make a company prosper by delivering financial capital, we as recruiters can make a company prosper by delivering high-end human capital and upgrading the workforce. This is a must because both are necessary for your organization’s long-term success and ultimate domination of their given industry.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at


2 Comments on “Eat What You Kill: Using the Sales Model To Improve Your Recruiting

  1. excellent points, Howard! Having been on both sides of the recruiting fence, let me sum it up like this; Its the thrill of the kill! If you dont get a charge over placing a top candidate, corp or agency recruiter, its time to move over.


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