Recruiting is Sales: How to Become a Better Salesperson Today

Before you begin reading this article, write down all of the reasons your candidates and hiring manager clients give you for not moving forward. Here’s my list. How does your own compare?

  • Don’t have time to talk.
  • The job (or compensation package) isn’t big enough.
  • The hiring manager is a jerk.
  • The candidate just wouldn’t fit.
  • I’m happy where I am.
  • I don’t want to relocate.
  • I have just accepted another offer.
  • I don’t like the company (bad reputation, bad industry, bad prospects).
  • The candidate isn’t technically strong enough.
  • The candidate (select from this list): doesn’t have enough of the right experience; went to the wrong school; has weak interpersonal skills; lacks technical skills; is not strong enough; is not dynamic; is not a good leader, etc.

Each of these problems has been heard by every recruiter in every single company every single month for the past 30-plus years (this is as far back as I can personally attest). More importantly, each one can be addressed by learning good selling skills, which involve only six fundamental principles. Using them will not eliminate every problem 100% of the time, but you will be able to improve your personal performance by 25-100% by using these techniques. Collectively, you’ll be able to reduce your interview-to-hire ratio, increase your offer acceptance rate, minimize the number of counteroffers accepted, and get more consensus from the hiring team.

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The Six Core Selling Principles Of Recruiting Top Talent

  1. Know the Job. You must know the job to establish credibility and maintain control. Knowing the job allows you to become a partner with your hiring manager clients and a counselor for your candidates. The best salespeople in the world – whether they’re selling vacuum cleaners, cars, software, or high technology – know their product lines and the benefits they provide their clients. If you don’t know the product, you come across as being either superficial or overbearing. This is not how you recruit top talent. Knowing the job means you can describe the challenges and growth opportunities in the job and how these relate to the company strategy. This also means you have time to confer with the hiring manager and hiring team to discuss what’s important and what’s not. The traditional job description is not the job. The job is what the person needs to do to be successful, not the list of skills the person is required to have. I refer to these types of objective-focused job descriptions as performance profiles. (More on this topic.) As you’ll see below, converting the traditional job description into the real job is how you switch the decision-making criteria for both the hiring team and candidate into more objective and measurable criteria. To become a top salesperson in any field requires great product knowledge. It’s no different for recruiters who want to place top talent with top managers.
  2. Use Solution- Or Consultative-Selling Techniques. There are two basic types of selling techniques: transactional and consultative. Transactional selling tends to involve goods and services that require little customization. Price and time to close are the keys to success here. Straight contingency recruiters fall within this model, especially if they are competing with other contingency firms. Consultative or solution-selling is used when customization is required. This involves needs analysis, the development of product specs, and more interpersonal involvement with the salesperson and customer. Retained search is similar to this type of sales model. The likelihood of consistently finding good people using a transactional sales model is low, but with a consultative sales model, it’s high. Using a consultative sales approach, the recruiter needs to have more personal involvement with candidates and the hiring manager. As part of this, recruiters shouldn’t look at success as closing the deal but in moving the process forward. They need to first find out what the person is capable of and interested in doing. Then, they need to move the process forward, using each step in the interviewing process as a means to exchange more and more information.
  3. Close Upon An Objection. The key to solution-selling is the ability to overcome candidate and hiring manager concerns with a promise of getting the required information. For example, “If we could demonstrate that this job clearly offers 15-20% job stretch in combination with 5-10% long-term growth, would it make sense to spend a few hours meeting with the hiring manager and a few key members of the interviewing team?” This is a good rebuttal to use when the candidate balks about coming in for a personal interview. You’ll need to find out what’s holding the candidate back; if she says that the online job description doesn’t look like a big enough position, say that the offer to come in is predicated on the fact that the job is in fact bigger than described. Of course, don’t waste your time here if the job isn’t truly bigger. Alternatively, you can try to get the hiring manager to make the job bigger by adding a few important projects or by expanding the scope of responsibility.
  4. Persist – don’t take “no” for an answer. When candidates say they are not interested or won’t proceed, it’s usually due to one of two reasons: either they don’t want to talk to you, or they’re using incorrect information to make a decision. The “don’t take no” advice is based on the idea that you need to consider a “no” as a request for more information, not a “no” decision. If the recruiter accepts the “no” as real, he’ll normally go into defensive mode or try to intimidate the candidate in some way. It’s far better to get the person to reconsider her position with the proviso of providing correct information. For example, if the candidate says she’s not interested in meeting the hiring manager after you’ve conducted the phone screen, you’ll need to quickly find out why. If she then says that she’s heard bad things about the manager, you’ll need to say something like, “That’s exactly why you need to come in and evaluate the situation for yourself.” When she asks why, just say that it’s obvious she wouldn’t even consider an offer if what she believes is true; however, this is inconsistent with what others say about this manager. Then use the close-upon objection technique and ask, “If it were shown that the manager is really a strong mentor, would you consider coming in and determining this for yourself?” Not taking “no” for an answer, in combination with the close-upon objection technique, can keep many deals alive which would have normally died were it not for the recruiter’s intervention.
  5. Switch the decision-making criteria. When evaluating career opportunities, most candidates instinctively overvalue short-term tactical criteria (such as location, company name, title, and compensation) instead of the long-term strategic career factors (like job stretch, chance to make an impact, job growth, and visibility). On the evaluation side, most interviewers overvalue skills, presentation, the likeability factor, and one or two narrow competencies, instead of the candidate’s ability and motivation to handle all of the broad requirements of the job. To be a good recruiter, you need to change the criteria that candidates and interviewers use to make decisions. Preparing a performance profile is the first step. This forces the interviewing team to focus on measurable criteria, rather than on vague subjective data. The performance profile also becomes the basis for establishing an opportunity gap for the candidate. This is the difference between the candidate’s current job and the new position. You need job knowledge, solution-selling skills, persistence, and the ability to counter rebuttals to switch the decision methodology that both candidates and interviewers use from something superficial and flawed to something more meaningful and predictive.
  6. Defend your candidate. By the very nature of the relationship, hiring managers have more influence in the hiring decision than the recruiter. Despite this, recruiters need to be able to counter bad decisions made by hiring managers due to weak assessment skills. Since recruiters don’t outrank their clients nor can they outtalk them, recruiters can only do this by providing evidence of competency. Knowing the job is part of this. During the interview, recruiters need to obtain detailed examples of past accomplishments that compare most directly to those listed in the performance profile. (More on this topic.) If there is a formal debriefing session, the recruiter can present these facts, dates, figures, details, and points when anyone on the interviewing team presents superficial, vague, narrow, or invalid information. If the recruiter can lead these debriefing sessions, all the better. (Here’s a 10-factor assessment form we use to collect this information.)

Being a successful recruiter is not about presenting a bunch of resumes with the hope that one sticks. It’s about knowing the job, finding candidates who are fully capable of doing this work, and then closing the deal. Recruiting is a complex form of solution-selling made more difficult by the fact that both buyers and sellers have to be sold. However, by just using the techniques described above, you’ll be able to handle nearly every objection you’re likely to hear from your candidates or your clients. As far as I’m concerned, it takes great recruiters to hire great candidates, and it takes great selling skills to be a great recruiter.

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).


6 Comments on “Recruiting is Sales: How to Become a Better Salesperson Today

  1. This is right on the mark for me today! Thank you for providing such relevant and reliable information!


  2. Great article.

    I’ve heard so many recruiters call up potential candidates, pitch the job and ask if they might be interested. If they say no, then they ask who they know that would be a good fit. Every once in a while they might get lucky and find someone with superior talent, but this is only playing the numbers game. I guess they figure that the more people that they call using only this metheod, the better chances of someone saying yes. It works sometimes, but like it doesn’t typically attract the better talent.

    The truth is that the better recruiters ask a lot of questions and do a thorough job of educating the candidate on the company, the position and the hiring process itself. The more that the recruiter knows about the candidate and the opportunity, the easier they will make it on themself.

    Candidates that I call out of the blue will often try to rush me by persisting that I tell them what the job is, what it pays, etc. I quickly tell them that I don’t use the shotgun approach where I call people all day long and just pitch the job. I’d be bored to death. When I am recruiting sales people, I ask them if when they call on new customers do they say here is the product and here’s the price, are you interested? Of course they don’t. It’s a process.

    Lou, you made some very good points!

  3. Hi Lou;
    As great as your article is, it has not cleared a doubt in my mind. When we talk about Consultative Selling, the primary data should be available with us. Like, the basic Job Specifications, The reporting structure, Fitment, Growth prospects, A ball-park figure on the remuneration part et al. But the problem with 3rd party recruitment is that the Hiring Manager (Client) doesnt necessarily convey this data. Sometimes even the full job specifications are not available.
    I beleive that data is the most powerful selling tool. In a case like this, could you suggest how could we tap the maximum benefit?

  4. For TPRs – I wouldn’t ever take a search assignment if the client refused to let me meet with the hiring team and prepare a performance profile. This is how we established our capability.

    For Corp Recruiters – you’re wasting your time if you don’t know the job.

    Knowing the job is the key to being a great recruiter

  5. This is an excellent Article. The points were right on, and easily applied. The hardest part in recruiting sometimes is to get the company you are working for to buy on that recruiting is as hard and valuable as the Account Managers (Sales) group. There should be a symbiotic relationship between the two. It is as important to close a ‘talent’ as it is to close a ‘client’.

    Alex Brown
    Proposal and Federal Contractor Recruiter
    Bethesda, MD and Baltimore, MD Offices
    301.656.7744 Phone (Bethesda)
    410.244.0944 Phone (Baltimore)
    Member of APMP (Association of Proposal Management Professionals)
    Member of WGN (Washington Network Group)
    2006 Best Places to Work: BOSS Staffing ranked 3rd among the Top 10 small companies in greater Washington — by the Washington Business Journal

  6. Excellent Article Lou.

    I have been a corporate trained sales professional prior to becoming a professional recruiter.

    I have learned over the years that being a sales professional is building positive relationships with people whether that be my customers, my employers or HR professionals.

    All business professionals whether they are human resources professionals, purchasing managers or recruiters who are the ones selling themselves or their ideas to various corporate audiences whether that be clients, bosses, shareholders, creditors or qualified candidates.

    Unfortunately in the Recruitment professional there is seems a preoccupation with the corporate customer rather than the job applicant customer who in some cases is treated with lack of respect or consideration.There is an element of lack of social skills that create a negative social encounter that impacts not only the candidate but also referrals associated with this candidates as well. I quite frankly don’t understand why a corporate client would continue to use a this type of anti social recruiter that creates a negative impression of not only the recruiter but the corporate client.

    There is a simple cardinal rule to selling: People like to deal with people who they trust. People Like to deal with people who are a lot like them. The reality is that most people will not succeed in selling themselves or their companies by not being likeable no matter how legitimate the job opportunity.

    The negative social encounters will not be forgotten by the candidate who will simply work with other recruiters or worse work for a competitor.

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