Recruiting In Any Economy

Actually, it’s not so much “new thinking” as it is “old thinking” that the current economy has forced back to the surface. To my way of thinking, it never went away; we just ignored it. Rule #1: “There is no ‘bad economy,’ there is no ‘good economy,’ there is just ‘The Economy,’ and it has cycles.” This may seem like a minor point, but often semantics play an important part in our perception of reality and, consequently, how well we manage our business affairs within that reality. If it’s a “bad economy,” failure and declining revenue is not our fault. (Hey, it’s a bad economy man! Bad economy! Go to your room until you are ready to behave like a good economy!) Suddenly, we do not need to reflect on our business practices, review our process or procedures, or develop a better understanding of what has worked well and what hasn’t. We need do none of the above because it is a bad economy. All we have to do is sit back and wait for a “good economy.” And in a good economy, we can forget long-term client development, because “anybody can make money in a good economy!” Right? Actually, this is true, anybody can. But who wants to just settle for being “anybody?” If we recognize that “The Economy” has up and down cycles, then we plan our business affairs accordingly. Rule #2: “Always run your business and maintain your client relationships during an up cycle as if it were a down cycle, and you won’t notice the changes as drastically as they occur.” During good times, sales and recruiting training is often postponed due to the need to meet urgent customer recruiting requirements. Training is also sometimes lacking due to the old “sink or swim” sales-management mentality (which to my way of thinking is right up there with the old “flat world theory” and the belief that magicians are in league with the devil). Therefore, a review of “Recruiting 101” basics might not be a bad idea for any of us. Even we old dogs need to review our old tricks lest they be forgotten, especially those that might not have been as obvious during the last five to ten years. Rule #3: “Before you can build a house, you have to build the foundation, and the foundation will remain as either the single greatest asset or the limiting factor on future growth and development, till you tear it down and start all over again.” Ever notice how even the most successful and elaborate structure starts with a rather simple and sturdy foundation? If you are in sales – and you are if you are a recruiter you are in sales – then you really have a simple job: Rule #4: “Find out what somebody really wants to buy and then sell it to them!” Anything else you add to the above statement is window-dressing and takes away from the simple purity of the craft of selling. But even though the mission statement may be simple, that doesn’t mean the actual process and steps required to complete the job are. The next time you hear two salespersons complaining about a client who is a real “dope,” or “doesn’t know what they are doing,” remember the first four rules of successful recruiting. The sales person disagreeing or distaining their client may not have something that particular client wants to buy. The “dope” in a selling situation is always the sales professional who tries to compel a sale rather than look for the “natural sale.” So what’s a natural sale? Rule #5: A “natural” is a sale where the product and the buyer only need to be brought together, by a competent sales professional who knows how to: identify a real need, locate a product, run a meeting, and close a deal.” It’s “kismet.” Like meeting your first love, it happens all by itself, your eyes just have to meet. But you have to know your product and you have GOT to know your client, otherwise, how can you tell what it is they want to buy? How will you recognize it when you see it? To begin with, you have to understand what constitutes value from your client’s point of view. Rule #6: True value in a sale has nothing to do with you or with what you think is important. If you wake up tomorrow in a world where gasoline is cheap and water rare, then your first call should be to your broker to dump your Mobile Oil shares and buy up Poland Springs. You may still feel, based on your previous experiences, that gasoline is more valuable than water, but you are now wrong, even though you were right yesterday. Why? Remember, what you think only matters if you are the buyer. (Repeat this about one hundred times each and every time you end a phone conversation where you tried to talk a client into buying something they did not want only because it was the only thing you had to sell.) Rule #7: “Tough selling does not prove your ability as a sales professional, it only proves you have a lot to learn about selling.” There is the old sales clich?: “They’re such a great sales person they can sell refrigerators in the artic!” This old false clich? creates the impression that great sales professionals waste their time on tough sales. In reality, great sales professionals look for value in their product and then find the person who needs the value of the product to satisfy a need of equal or greater value to them than the cost of your solution. Therefore, if you think about it: if you live in the artic, freezing your food may not be an overwhelming problem; but, in the artic you need a refrigerator to prevent food from freezing. Otherwise you will always have to defrost everything you want to eat. So it is no big deal to sell refrigerators in the Artic. (Now, air conditioners, there is a challenge, but why bother?) Sales professionals understand that they need to look beyond their own beliefs and value propositions when selling. Why? (If you guessed the correct answer, “Because they are not the buyers,” buy yourself a gold star and stick it on your forehead.) Gold is a great example for understanding the origin of true value and how to identify it. Value has three critical components; the absence of any of them negates an item’s potential to have real value:

  1. The item is rare and difficult to find.
  2. The need is critical to the potential buyer.
  3. The potential buyer can afford the product.

If gold were merely rare, that would not give it a value. Many other minerals and elements are more rare than gold, but even if we have some, we can’t use them or nobody wants them, so they do not have value. But many people have a desire or need to own gold, hence it has high value. There are sufficient buyers for gold to make selling it a profitable business. Copper has value in the manufacturing of wire and other items (even a wireless world has some wire in it). It is also difficult to find, but it is much more plentiful than gold. Its usefulness gives it value, but the relative ease of mining decreases that value to less than gold. The numbers of potential buyers has increased since the cost is lower than gold. Salt has numerous uses, but it is also plentiful, and therefore has less value. Zinc has some useful applications, and it is relatively easy to find. Its value diminishes as a result of limited appeal and the relative ease of locating the needed quantities to satisfy the market. Consequently, you can have all the zinc you want, large amounts of salt, and some copper-but gold will cost you dearly. Within things of value, there are subcategories. Gold may be 14 or 12 carets, and the value adjusted accordingly. That is why the “Solid Gold Dancers” got paid more than the “Gold Plated Dancers.” (Many of you may be too young to remember the “Solid Gold Dancers,” but thanks for not telling me. Ok?) So if you plan on selling “gold,” remember that there will be a difficult mining process, but more eager buyers. You have to have a lot of faith in your ability to discover your potential product. In traditional mining operations, it takes 2,000 pounds of gold-bearing ore to give up 4 ounces of high-grade gold. This end of the market is less crowded because of the skill level required, not to mention the self-confidence you must have in your ability to succeed in closing a higher percentage of fewer potential deals. On the other hand, copper has fewer potential buyers, but is relatively easier to find and therefore less value per sale. You have to make up in your potential sales volume what you give up in your potential of high closing ratios. This is a more rushed and harried sale, facing more competition per sale. (There are a lot more copper mines and copper miners than there are gold mines and gold miners.) The end buyer may be less concerned about a slight variable in quality between two competing products if the price to acquire varies greatly. If you are mining for zinc or salt, don’t give up your day job. The Economy drives the buyer’s potential to afford your product offering, and your desire to “move product” interacts with that to establish the “fair market value” of your product or service. Gold’s value fluctuates with the cycles of the economy, and so does the value of the recruiting industry. Yesterday’s 30% fee may need to be reconsidered not based on “the economy,” but rather on the current fair market value of your product. You have to represent what the buyer values highly, is still willing and able to buy, and is still difficult to find. But it may not be what they valued yesterday. Be aware of the market and its changes, be flexible. Only in recruiting can gold turn to copper and copper to gold, and sometimes to zinc (alchemy lives!) Let’s create a hypothetical situation. For the last five years you have had a good working relationship with a software development company. (This could as easily be a financial services, biotech, retail, or a general business situation.) They have hired any competent Java Developer (gold) you could find for the last three years. However, their new product floundered and the “big shots” have decided to eliminate the project and go back to the basics of supporting, servicing, and upgrading their old products and their established clients. Well, the IS and IT candidates you used to ignore as copper have just turned to gold before your very eyes. Your “Java gold,” not so much (just like a lot of gold Cobol Programmers turned back into zinc five minutes after midnight on New Years 2000. No Y2K bug.) So in this new and tighter economy, there are still fees to be made, but the environment in which your clients, candidates, and your own business operates will have to keep with the pace of the economic cycle. But remember a successful sale, more than ever, requires:

Article Continues Below
  1. A product with current market value based on current market need.
  2. A product that is difficult for your client to locate.
  3. A product that your prospect can afford to acquire through your services.

Eliminate any of the above and you’ve got zinc on your hands. Over the next few weeks I want to look at the three components of our business in light of the current business cycle:

  • Your clients: finding “real requisitions.”
  • Your candidates: the new reality
  • Your business: one person, or a franchise of hundreds, your business will feel different.

Some feel this economy is due to recycle (a.k.a. rebound) soon, others say “in a short while,” still others say “within a reasonable period of time.” On the other hand the real pessimists say, “if it comes back.” The other consideration is, when the economy does return, will the good old days of recruiting come back with it? Will we recognize our “old friend” when it returns, or will it be a new and different kind of business? These concerns give us even more reason to go back to the basics. If we merely wait to see what the next economic cycle looks like, we will be doomed to spend our careers chasing the economic cycles rather than keeping pace with them. Rule #8: Sales as a profession and the basics of sales as a science have survived as long as somebody had something they needed, were willing to pay for, and did not have the ability, time, or inclination to go find it themselves.” Five thousand years ago in Egypt, gold had value. In Phoebes, gold was bartered for trade goods and food. Water had little value in the market as the Nile offered an ample supply. However, the value of gold declined in the desert, whereas the value of water increased. In our concerns for the future based on our memories of the past, I leave you with Rule #9 in recruiting and sales, but the number one rule in auto racing; Rule #9: “What’s behind you is of no importance, look forward to win the race! Avanti!” Have a great day recruiting! <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


Leave a Comment

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