On Becoming a Great Recruiter, Part 5

If you’ve followed the advice provided in the previous four articles, you’re now finding more top active and passive candidates. Finding top people is actually easier than hiring them (Part 2 and Part 3).

Here’s why: First, they won’t accept offers unless they’re for bigger jobs with better long-term prospects than their current jobs or competing offers. That’s why taking the assignment and preparing performance profiles are so important (Part 1). You need to understand real job needs to present a convincing case that the job you’re representing offers a true career opportunity.

Second, top people who are in demand generally want a nice bump in compensation as an incentive to accept one offer over another. The situation is worsened because these people are generally already at the top end of their salary ranges for comparable positions. However, you can alleviate these problems if you know how to use the interview to shift the decision to accept an offer from one based on compensation to one based on opportunity. This is what we’ll cover in this article. First, you should retake the online recruiter diagnostic to determine how you’ve progressed so far in becoming a top 10% recruiter. Then, you should take our current Recruiting Challenges 2006 survey. Especially review the questions on recruiter compensation.

Once you learn how to use the interview to both assess competency and negotiate offers, you’ll be able to command compensation for yourself in the upper half of the ranges shown in the survey. Many recruiters, and just about everyone in HR and OD, think that the primary purpose of an interview is to assess candidate competency. Yet, this is only one of many competing objectives, with the most important being the need to use the interview to demonstrate to your awesome candidate that she is not as awesome as she thinks she is in comparison to the job you’re representing. Now that you know the ending, let me start at the beginning.

When I left Corporate America to become a third-party recruiter, I was very good at finding and identifying top people for jobs I was quite familiar with, including staff to mid-management spots in operations, as well as engineering and finance/accounting jobs for manufacturing and distribution companies. In those days, the key to recruiter success was networking. While I could always find the right people, many deals fell apart because the compensation plans offered were not attractive enough. To minimize this, I developed a two-pronged recruiting strategy. The first was to get my hiring manager clients to shift their decision to performance and potential rather than skills and experience. Creating a performance profile opened up these jobs to a broader range of candidates with high potential, but with a slightly different mix of skills, lighter experience, and generally lower compensation. The second part of the strategy was to start convincing candidates early in the recruiting process that compensation shouldn’t be the reason for evaluating or taking a new opportunity.

To accomplish this, I just asked candidates if they would be open to explore a career opportunity if it could be demonstrated that the job offered was at least 10-15% bigger than their current jobs, and that it was growing 5-10% faster per year. I then went on to say that this should be the basis for their decision to accept an offer or not, even if the compensation increase itself was modest. This point was stressed by presenting evidence that those people who made compensation the primary reason for accepting one offer over another usually were disappointed when they discovered that the jobs themselves were not as substantive as they had hoped. Most accepted the logic, and over 90% agreed to proceed on this basis. Now, all I had to do was prove to them that the job offered both immediate stretch and increased long-term growth. I’ve written about performance-based interviewing before, but to demonstrate job stretch you need to be especially good at two parts: 1) conducting an in-depth work history review; and 2) digging deep into the candidate’s major accomplishments. During the work history review, you need to find out why the person changed jobs, how successful these transitions were, the scope and scale of the jobs held, the person’s trend of growth over time, the types of work where the person excelled, any recognition received for doing great work at each position, and the types of people the person worked with, including the breadth of management or project responsibility.

Since you’ll be negotiating the offer on job stretch, during this work history review you need to specifically look for areas where the candidate is deficient in comparison to your job needs. This generally involves factors like the size of the budget managed, the team size, the chance to do and learn different things, the complexity of the task, exposure to different types of people, and the importance of the job in relationship to the overall company business strategy. But, telling (or selling) the candidate about these doesn’t help the negotiation process. It’s far better if the candidate internalizes or figures out for herself where she’s deficient.

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One way to pull this off is to challenge the candidate a little bit by suggesting that while she has great skills in one area, the job itself might be a bit of a stretch in another. Here’s an example: “While I’m quite impressed with your technical depth, this job might be a real challenge for you in the areas of dealing directly with our major clients in negotiating product requirement specifications. Can you give me an example of a major accomplishment in which you’ve done something comparable?” If you have conducted an in-depth work history review, the candidate will more likely trust your judgment and will see this as an important skill to add to her resume. Better, she will shift her attitude and attempt to convince the interviewer that she’s capable of handling the task. Now, you’ll need to spend 10 minutes or so digging deep into the accomplishment to validate the person’s skills. Even being a little skeptical helps, but, in the end, the person will clearly understand the importance of the task and your professionalism in understanding her capabilities. If you do this a few times for other critical tasks, the candidate will clearly understand where the job offers real stretch. To create long-term growth, you can use a similar accomplishment question, but with a twist. In this case, rather than challenging the candidate, offer an inducement by tying the job to some major company initiative.

Here’s an example: “One of our major challenges in this job is to lead the launch of a new series of products. We’re putting significant resources into this product and assigning some of our best people to run it. Can you tell me about your most significant product launch accomplishment?” Again, you’ll need to spend about 10 minutes digging into this accomplishment to understand the candidate’s role, the challenges faced, the decisions made, and how comparable it is to your needs, the environment, the team, and the culture. As you do this, you might uncover some areas where the candidate is a bit deficient compared to your needs. Then, you can suggest that you have a bit of a concern here, but probe further and see if the candidate has overcome comparable deficiencies.

The key to all of this is to dig deep into the person’s accomplishments and then compare these to real job needs. If the person is a top person and the job is significant, you should easily be able to find areas that offer 10-15% job stretch and 5-10% job growth. To do this properly, you must know real job needs and be a pro at the interviewing process suggested. To accept an offer with only a modest increase in compensation, the person must be convinced that the job offers both immediate stretch plus long-term growth. The interviewing method suggested above starts this process. But, don’t stop here. Recruiters can only facilitate the process. The hiring manager and hiring team need to become personally involved in the recruiting and selection process. This includes spending extra time conducting this type of in-depth interview, taking the candidate to lunch or dinner, handling follow-up calls, and even making the offer some type of big event. All of this helps, since the candidate not only must internally justify the decision to accept your offer with less compensation, but she must also justify it to her circle of personal advisors and even to her boss when she turns in her resignation.

To help this along, give the candidate a marketing version of the performance profile summarizing the major tasks, challenges, and opportunities. Collectively, this is how you use the interview to switch the decision criteria for accepting your offer from one based on compensation to one based on opportunity. This is a critical process you’ll need to learn and implement if you want to become a top 10% recruiter placing top 10% people.

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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