If Recruiting is Like Sales, Let’s Act Like Sales People

I don’t run into many recruiters/staffing/HR professionals who don’t agree with the statement: Recruiting is just like sales.

While we can argue over the differences between the two professions (please don’t lose sight of the trees through the forest on this one), we all know the parallels are overwhelming.

Consider the following shared business philosophies:

  • Recruiters prospect/source for candidates, while sales people prospect/source for new business opportunities/contacts.
  • Recruiters develop relationships with prospects to turn them into candidates, while sales people develop relationships to turn prospects into viable business opportunities.
  • Recruiters assess the candidate’s skills to determine whether they are a fit for the organization, while sales people assess the business opportunity with a potential client.
  • Recruiters “negotiate” compensation and turn (close) candidates into employees, while sales people close deals and turn prospects into customers.

So if recruiting is just like sales, shouldn’t we be benchmarking the most successful salespeople/organizations and learn from them?

While there are many things we could learn and benchmark from top sales producers, you will find a lot of their energy and true passion is around the following topics:

  • Monthly/weekly/daily meetings about pipelines, activity, etc.
  • Incentive-based compensation models.
  • Ongoing motivational contests to reward top performers.
  • Emphasis on ongoing learning, execution, and time management.
  • Aggressive attitude about achieving goals and performance management.

Although many agency/staffing recruiters subscribe to some, most, or even all of these types of behaviors, I am always surprised to find that many corporate internal recruiters do not function like a sales organization!

Investigating the Trend

Why is this?

Is there really a big difference between internal and external recruiting? Again, we know some obvious differences, but really, recruiting is recruiting, isn’t it?

To this point, I am often amazed at the response I get from corporate/internal recruitment leaders. With one statement they will say “I need my recruiters to think of recruiting like it is sales. I need them to act more like consultants.”

But when I start discussing the topics and behaviors above, they get uneasy.

Article Continues Below

They say things like the following:

  • “That won’t work in our culture.”
  • “We are not a staffing/agency.”
  • “We have large req loads, so that won’t work.”
  • “We are all too busy to do these things.”

Desperately Seeking Sales-Minded Recruiters

There are many corporate recruitment organizations that function and think like a sales organization, and it’s time these people speak up.

I am not making these points to “bash” corporate/internal recruiters. That is not my intent. The main reason I bring this up is because whenever I start talking about these subjects, many (not all) people say, “Oh, that is for agency/staffing recruiters!”

But I just do not see it that way. If you can see the parallels between the two and believe that recruiting is just like sales, then you need to start benchmarking the most successful sales organizations, thought leaders, etc., and start learning from them.

Do this regardless of what type of recruiter you are!

With that said, I would love to share best practices around a variety of topics (i.e., internal, external, staffing, HR, corporate, agency recruiters, all are welcome):

  • Monthly/weekly/daily meetings about pipelines, activity, etc.
  • Incentive-based compensation models for corporate recruiters.
  • Motivational contests to reward top performers.
  • Emphasis on ongoing learning, execution, time management.
  • Recruiter goal setting and performance management.
  • Best sales organization, thought leaders, etc. to benchmark.

I will present these best practices in future articles on ERE!

David Szary is senior vice president and general manager, recruiting services, HealthcareSource. HealthcareSource is a leading provider of talent management solutions for healthcare.


4 Comments on “If Recruiting is Like Sales, Let’s Act Like Sales People

  1. David,
    You wrote a good article on a subject which is often touched on, here and elsewhere. Your comments and suggestions, however, miss some significant points.

    As you develop the subject further, please consider the following, which I believe to be irrefutible truisms, and which have MASSIVE impact on the different behaviors between corporate recruiting and TPR’s: 1. Overwhelmingly, the corporate recruiting function falls under the HR department; 2. Equally overwhelmingly, people with strong “sales” aptitudes do not seek out positions in HR; 3. “Corporate recruiting”, as an entity, is NOT sales-oriented. In the scenario you present in your article, HR would be in the role of the consumer/contact, to whom the salesperson is trying to sell.

    I see nothing in the future of corporate recruiting that will significantly alter the above truisms. I support your call for a change in the mindset, but believe it is highly unlikely to happen.


  2. I’m interested to hear more on this topic. It seems an never-ending quest to figure out how similar corporate and external recruiters are. But, there are differences, and yes work load certainly is one of them. I don’t know of an external recruiter that handles 50+ jobs postings at a time (or is expected to hire 50+ employees in a month). Additionally there are additional duties that the corporate recruiter must handle, such as presenting at middle and high school student about future careers in their specific industry (not a direct sourcing activity), or handling with superior customer service special referrals from high level management people that won’t ever be hired, providing managers interviewing and selection skills, teaching managers how to use their hiring manager ATS application and more So, I’m curious to see how others balance and blend corporate recruiting with the increasing demands to be more effective. Would appreciate to know how others have handled or thoughts on this topic.


  3. This article hit the nail on the head about recruiters.
    When I was a recruiter for the Navy we went through a sales training course to become recruiters, you have to be able to sell the position to the candidate and sell the candidate to your client.

  4. Jim,

    I find that like a horse and carriage we can carry these things together. Acting like sales people means not only do we have the recruiting skills we have the recruiting potential because we can sell. Recall the earler coversations on potential and you will see that recruiting is a hidden science that requires an artsy fartsy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *