How to Overcome the Classic Objections: First Contact

In every search, something will always go wrong. So why complain about it? That’s the life of a recruiter. That’s what you get paid the big bucks for. If it was easy, all you’d have to do is post an ad, then sit back and wait for great candidates to apply. But if you’re trying to hire the best candidates, you must be more involved every step of the way. The best candidates consider more variables when deciding to explore a new opportunity or accept a job offer. And they always have concerns and objections before they’ll move forward to the next step in the process. Overcoming these objections is the key to successful recruiting. In this article, we’ll explore the most common objections at the initial contact phase. If future articles, we’ll describe how to move candidates along at every step of the recruiting process, including how to negotiate the close. (Email me at if you have some specific concerns or objections you’d like me to address in this series.) First Contact: Creating Interest and Convincing Phase When you first contact a candidate, it’s important not to give too much information away. This way, the candidate can’t make a real decision without learning more. I always start every call to a new candidate with something like, “Would you be open to exploring a situation if it was clearly superior to what you’re doing today?” It’s pretty hard to say no to this. To ensure a 99% “yes” response to this opening pitch, never mention the title of the job or the location. It’s always better to say, “I’m conducting a search for a senior-level position in marketing (for example), and your name came to my attention as someone I should connect with.” See my article on networking if you’d like to see some examples of more opening scripts you can use. The key to success at the initial contact phase is to first gain candidate interest by being vague, and then straight away ask the candidate to give you a quick profile of his or her background. Under no circumstances should you tell the candidate anything about the job at this point. This will only give the candidate a chance to say no. Recruiters must stay in control and make the decision if the candidate is qualified for the job, not the other way around. At this initial point, a strong candidate is only trying to get you off the phone?? and they’ll use superficial data to make any excuse to get rid of you. You can’t let them do this. You must decide if the candidate is worthy. If not, then you can either network with this candidate, or move on. If you let the candidate make the decision to proceed, you lose a potential current or future candidate, plus an immediate networking opportunity. To prevent this from happening, immediately after the initial “yes” say, “Great. Let me just ask you a few questions about your background, and then I’ll give you quick overview of the job.” Despite the best openings, you’ll still encounter plenty of objections. Here are the most typical ones, and some ideas you can use to keep the conversation going. “Please tell me a little about the job first, to see if I’m interested.” Don’t. Be vague. Reiterate that you’re conducting a very confidential senior-level search. Say that you’ll be happy to give as much information as the candidate needs, but you’d first like to just obtain a two-minute overview of the candidate’s background. You can say you have a couple of different spots, so you need to know which one the candidate is most qualified for. Or you can say you’d like consider the person for future opportunities if this one isn’t big enough or in the wrong area. Your goal is to get the candidate to give you two minutes. It actually takes about five minutes to get the profile (name, background, education), but you need this background information in order to position the job properly. “I’m too busy to talk.” Just say “fine” and ask for two minutes for the overview, and two minutes to explain the job. Everyone will give you four minutes. You could try to schedule another call, but it’s best to profile the person once you have them on the phone. First, get the candidate’s quick profile, then quickly describe the job in compelling fashion. Even if the candidate seems good, express a slight concern that the candidate might not be strong enough in a certain area (you need to create job stretch), but that you’d like to explore this in more depth in a subsequent phone conversation. If the job really isn’t big enough, you’ll never close the candidate, so it’s important to look for these points during the first discussion. The “I’m too busy” objection is normally an “I’m not interested” objection, so it’s best to persist. If it’s a question of confidentiality and the person can’t talk, then just schedule a more convenient time to talk. You must then get the candidate’s home number at this point. This is critical. If you can’t get the home number, then you’re not doing your job as a recruiter. “I’m already well down the path with a few other companies.” This is a pretty typical response for good, active candidates. Most recruiters will just give up at this point. The best won’t. If the candidate has other opportunities it’s a great clue that they’re strong, so these are the ones you want to purse. Rather than hang up, say, “That’s fine, but let me ask you this: If the position I’m representing is better than what you’re now considering, wouldn’t it make sense to at least compare the two?” Once you get the yes, go into your quick profile pitch. If you have a resume, ask the candidate to explain one key area, or have the candidate describe one of the other opportunities. Getting competitive salary information is also useful. Your goal with an active candidate who is considering other real opportunities is to position your opportunity as one with more stretch. This is where a performance profile really comes in handy (see my two articles on creating performance profiles for more on this). By describing what the candidate will learn, do, and become, you’ll be able to quickly blow away the competition. “I like my job, and I don’t want to consider anything else right now.” Appear to accept this as fact; you can ask why or change the subject. Most of the time, this is just a ploy to get you off the phone. To overcome this objection, you’re going to need to first engage the candidate by talking about something else, like networking, and then through this process indirectly convince the person that your position is really more attractive. While you can try to obtain the candidate’s profile right away, you don’t want to put the candidate’s defensives up, so changing the subject is a good idea. There are many techniques you can use at this point. Here are two. The first one is a delayed frontal attack. Just respond by saying, “That’s great, but 95% of the people I call like this are at least open to exploring a situation. What about your job is so compelling that you wouldn’t even considering evaluating something else?” This usually starts the conversation going. During the candidate’s response, you might want to interject with something like, “Boy, your background is great; I’d certainly like to consider you for this job, or perhaps something like it in the future. I’m consistently involved in looking for top candidates in your field, and I’d like to be a position to call you about something over the next six to nine months. Would you be open to this?” If the candidate answers yes, prepare the profile and then try to recruit the person again for your current opening. Alternatively, you can try an end-around approach. In this case, you’ll first explain the position to the candidate, network, and then attempt to convince the candidate to explore it him or herself. To use this technique, you’ll need to prepare a compelling two-minute profile of the job ahead of time. While vague, this profile describes the compelling nature of the job, some of the big challenges, and the impact these initiatives will have on the company’s success. Before you describe the profile to a reluctant candidate, you need to position your remarks. For candidates who are happy in their job, use the profile as a means to network with the candidate. Say, “Since you’re not interested in the job, let me tell you a little about it anyway. This is a high-impact position with a growing company, and someone you know might find this job right up their alley.” Then go on with your job profile. At the end, you can either network with the candidate, or ask the candidate if this job would be of interest now that they know a little about it. If the answer is yes, obtain the candidate’s profile before you start networking. If the answer is no, you can still obtain it by asking if the person would like to hear about future opportunities. The key is to keep the candidate talking. This way, you’ll be able to obtain some good referrals, and possibly even get the candidate to reconsider. “I don’t want to relocate.” You will not be able to overcome this objection in the first phone call, so my advice is don’t even try. There are at least three steps to getting someone to consider a relocation, and we’ll address this in my next article on overcoming objections. For now, recognize that recruiting is more than selling and talking. It’s about listening and consulting. Fundamentally, you need to know the job so well?? and why it’s a great career opportunity for the right person?? that you can handle any objection smoothly and naturally. In the “first cold call contact” phase, the key to effective recruiting is to get the person’s attention, obtain a quick profile, and then either convince the candidate to schedule a more extensive phone screen, or network with the person if they’re not qualified for the job. In every search, at every step, something will also go wrong. How you handle these “opportunities to influence” represents the difference between good recruiting and complaining. (Note: As many of you know, I host two monthly online discussion groups where we explore these topics in greater depth around the theme “Metrics for Recruitment Management.” Improving recruiter effectiveness and how to measure it is one of the topics. One of the discussion groups is exclusively for those in corporate recruiting management, and the other exclusively for third-party recruiting management. Both groups are sponsored by POWER Hiring,, and ERE. If you’re on the corporate management side you can join by sending me an email at, and for third-party recruiting management the email is I’ll be presenting much of this information at ERE’s ER Expo 2003 West in San Diego in March, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet there. This is an event you won’t wan to miss if you want to be on the leading edge of recruitment management. Also, if you’d like a white paper prepared by Fisher & Phillips on why using performance profiles is the best way to both minimize your legal exposure and maximize your effectiveness, send an email to

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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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