Get Off the PC and On the Phone

We’re now in the midst of my annual recruiting and hiring challenges 2005 survey. You might want to take it. You’ll be doing yourself a favor by participating in an important industry study. It will be especially important to you if you’re not hiring enough top candidates right now. The survey will show you what you need to do to break this bottleneck. The preliminary results so far are quite revealing. Two big findings stand out:

  1. Few corporate recruiters are actually cold calling passive candidates. The survey shows that less than 30% of corporate recruiters do it, and few of them are any good at it. This is a big issue if you want to compete effectively with external search firms. It’s one way to hire more top people without paying agency fees.
  2. Most of the respondents felt that they had a strategic hiring plan in place, but these same people indicated that didn’t have an actual workforce plan. I don’t know how you can be strategic without a workforce plan. This is how you convert business strategy into actual tactics. To be strategic, you have to know at least three to six months out who you’ll be hiring in pretty good detail. A workforce plan allows you to develop a multi-channel sourcing plan to make sure the people start on the day you need them. So if you’re now working on future hiring requirements, you’re probably strategic. If you’re just filling current hiring needs, you’re probably not.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be summarizing some of the other trends coming out of the survey. This week I’ll provide some tips on how to be better at the cold calling part and how to overcome some common candidate concerns. Topics on the table include the following:

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  1. How to handle the “I’m not looking,” “I’m happy where I am,” or “the job’s not big enough” responses. The easy answer: Don’t tell the person anything about the job.
  2. How to handle the “I don’t want to relocate” issue. The easy answer: Don’t talk about it. The hard answer follows later in this article.
  3. How to handle any “no” to any question. The easy answer: Only ask questions that can be answered by a “yes.”

Handling these types of concerns is what being a recruiter is all about. Quite frankly, if you’re not afraid to pick up the phone and start talking to complete strangers who are not looking, everything else about being a recruiter is pretty simple. All it takes is the ability to smoothly handle these three concerns, since they’re representative of every other concern. The “I’m Not Looking” Objection The key here is to recognize that everybody is looking for something better; it just might not be the job you have available. So don’t ask the person you’re calling if they would be interested in your job. Instead, ask if the person would be interested in exploring an opportunity if it were clearly better than the one he or she has now. Just about everybody will say yes when the question is phrased this way. When they do say yes, don’t then tell them about your job at first. Instead, ask them what they would consider to be a superior job. If yours falls within this category, recruit the person. If not, get referrals. Recruiters need to lead the cold call conversation by asking appropriate questions. The best ones are those that can be answered by a yes. Equally important is the fact that no one will give you any referrals unless you’ve had a reasonable dialogue and an exchange of career and job information. This takes at least 10 minutes. So if you can’t keep the person on the phone getting details about their background first, you won’t get any referrals later on. If you realize the person isn’t a good fit for your job, don’t ask if they know anyone looking. Ask the person who was the best person they worked with at their prior company, or someone who might know someone else. Mention that you got their name through networking this way. Then cold call with these people and ask if they’d be open to discussing a career opportunity if it was far superior to what they’re doing now. The “I Don’t Want to Relocate” Objection No one does, so stop asking this question too early in the conversation. For one thing, people will only relocate if the job opportunity is too compelling to resist. For another, they’ll only relocate if they can convince their family that it’s also too compelling to resist. You need to move very slowly to pull this off. Here’s how: Avoid the relocation discussion early in the conversation. Instead, ask if the person would consider just discussing a career opportunity if it was extremely compelling. Most people will say yes to this. Then get the candidate’s profile and give them a quick overview of the job. It had better be compelling, or forget about the relocation. Then ask the person to just consider the idea of relocation if it could be demonstrated that the job offered very unusual and significant upside potential ó including a very attractive compensation package. In a few days, casually call up the person to see if he or she would be open to an exploratory phone call with the hiring manager. About a third of the people you initially pursue this way will take the call from the hiring manager. This is much better than the 5% who would have said yes to a relocation at the beginning. While this is going on, the candidate is offhandedly mentioning your call to his or her family and stating it’s nothing serious, “just talk.” At the end of the call with the hiring manager, have the manager ask the candidate if he or she would be interested in coming down to visit the facility, again with no strings attached. If the candidate says yes, you’re done. Not everyone will come down or take an offer if made, but more will when you move slowly like this. The key is to offer a compelling strategic career opportunity and give the candidate plenty of time to shift from a short-term to a long-term decision-making posture. This allows enough time for the candidate and the family to get used to idea that a move is possible. Don’t Take No For an Answer When a candidate says no to anything, especially early in the recruiting process, it’s usually because he or she doesn’t have enough information to say yes, and the opportunity doesn’t seem worth spending the time to consider it. There are two things you can do to address the problem: 1) avoid it and only ask questions that can be answered by yes, or 2) confront it head on. First, don’t take a no personally. Assume the person is saying no because he or she doesn’t have enough information yet to say yes. So just acknowledge the no, and then get the person’s attention by asking something like, “I can understand why this might not be the perfect time to talk, but are you aware that you have just made a long-term career decision based on short-term information?” During this pause ask, “If I could demonstrate to you that the opportunity I’m involved with represents a major career move, would it be worth spending just 10 minutes to evaluate it?” This is how you convert a no to yes. Of course, the opportunity must be compelling or the candidate will opt out. But if you handle the call properly, you’ll still be able to get some great referrals, and possibly a candidate you would have normally lost. Closing upon an objection is the actual name of the technique described above. It starts by asking the candidate if he or she would do something (consider, evaluate, have a phone call, go on an interview) for the promise of more information. You can use this “close upon an objection” technique throughout the recruiting and hiring process. Evaluating a bigger job is one of these “if/then” situations. Getting a person to come back in for another round of interviews if the hiring manager would discuss some of the big projects is another example. Getting the person to agree to accept an offer if the compensation met a specific target is still another. This is what recruiting is all about ó not taking no for an answer, only asking questions that can be answered by a yes, and using the “if/then” close upon an objection to move the process slowly forward. Slow is important when dealing with top people, even if a relocation is not involved. This gives the candidate the time needed to shift from a short-term tactical point of view to a long-term career opportunity perspective. This is what it takes to hire the best, and why good recruiters are essential. It also helps if you have a workforce plan in place to give you enough time to do it right. So if you’re not an employer of choice with plenty of candidates to consider, you’d better get off the PC and on the phone.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).

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