The Little-known Secret to Recruiting Success: 1 Question You Must Ask Yourself

new and improved.jpgFor today’s recruiters, there’s no shortage of new. New ideas on how to become better recruiters. New systems. New conferences. New tools. New techniques. New tips. New “best practices.” New processes. New blog posts. New communities of practice. New social media sites. New articles (dare I say, like this one!). New thought leaders. You get the idea.

Savvy marketers know how seductive new can be. Companies count on hooking buyers with that “new and improved” label on an otherwise very familiar product. Just for fun, I did a Google search using the words “new and improved” and found 57,500,000 matches! Notice the subtlety here — the implication that new implies better.

I am not arguing against the importance of “newness” for today’s serious professionals. I, too, love “new.” New ideas and new technology can be powerful game changers. But lately I have been wondering: if we want to continue to grow in our professions, is it simply “all about new”? And does new necessarily imply better?

Do “all things new” guarantee you a first-class seat on the non-stop flight to recruiting excellence? Stated another way, is the right question, “How well do I take advantage of ‘all things new’ in the recruiting profession?” Or is there another, perhaps better, question? I think there is. And you may be surprised to see it’s a question that is hidden in plain sight. But first a brief story.

A Better Question

When Vince Lombardi accepted the Green Bay Packers’ head coaching position in 1959, the team (with five future hall of fame players on it finished with a dismal record of 1-10-1. When he took over the team, he was asked what he was going to change. New players? New plays? New training process? Everyone wanted to know his “new and improved” plan for turning around such a long losing streak.

He is reported to say, “I am not going to change anything. We will use the same players, the same plays, and the same training…. But we will run our plays with such precision that the other side will know what we are going to do but will not be able to stop us. We will be brilliant on the basics…”

With that strategy — “brilliant on the basics” — the Green Bay Packers went on to win three straight and five total league championships in seven years (including winning two Super Bowls). He never had a losing season as a head coach, compiling an impressive regular season winning percentage of 74 percent — and a post-season winning percentage of 90 percent. The NFL’s Super Bowl trophy is named in his honor.

So here’s the one question you need to ask yourself, “Am I brilliant on the basics of recruiting?”

Brilliant on the Basics: Recruiter Sales Skills

At the heart of key recruiter competencies are at least three basic skills that have been foundational in both sales and recruiting excellence.

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Let’s look at each of these — along with descriptions of what each looks like when done “brilliantly.” Try rating yourself on each of these three “basic skills” using a simple rating scale — say, 1-10, with 10 meaning you are “brilliant on the basic” and one being you are very weak.

Don’t trust yourself to be honest? Perhaps you can work with your manager, or find someone who has worked closely with you and who knows your recruiting ability very well. Just remember to be honest with yourself and open to feedback and growth opportunities.

Recruiting Basic #1: Questioning & Listening Skills

Brilliant on this basic: (score of 10):

  • I am skilled at using questions to control conversations.
  • I have a proven, logical set of customer-focused questions that portray my genuine curiosity and interest in understanding the needs of others.
  • When working with clients and/or hiring managers, I use “customer-focused” questions to ensure a complete understanding of both stated and implied needs before moving forward.
  • After asking questions, I seek first and foremost to understand and to learn; second to speak and to be understood.
  • I frequently use techniques such as active listening, paraphrasing, and lock-on listening.
  • Others have told me that I am a good listener.
  • In the words of Will Rogers, I “never miss a good chance to shut up.”

Recruiting Basic #2: Managing Objection Skills

Brilliant on this basic: (score of 10):

  • I am consistently able to successfully manage common types of resistance encountered on my calls, whether from prospects, candidates, clients, or hiring managers.
  • I always anticipate and regularly practice proven techniques for managing common objections (e.g., salary objections).
  • I can quickly turn around a “show me the money” salary objection into a powerful question that leads to a productive conversation.
  • I am adept at ensuring I never have to deal with salary in “isolation” — always getting salary in context with other pain points before talking about salary.

Recruiting Basic #3: Gaining Commitment/Influencing Skills

Brilliant on this basic: (score of 10):

  • I begin conversations with a clear picture of what my (end-of-call) objective is.
  • I make no assumptions about interest or desire to move forward in any process.
  • I continually ask confirming questions, check where I stand with competitors, and summarize.
  • I am careful to gain a clear picture of where others are in their decision-making process.
  • I address all objections and/or questions as they arise.
  • I am comfortable with a “clear ask.”
  • I always develop specific plans for follow up if needed, and never leave any conversation without confirming clear next steps and responsibilities.

So next time you are tempted to add something new to your recruiter tool kit, ask yourself, “Am I brilliant on the basics?”

Nancy Parks is the founder of HRPartnersplus, a training and consulting practice specializing in sales skill training for recruiters. Using a unique one-on-one training model, HRPartnersplus helps recruiters creating a road map for conducting structured, highly-focused and efficient conversations that exactly mirror the decision-making process of candidates and prospects. Contact her at


9 Comments on “The Little-known Secret to Recruiting Success: 1 Question You Must Ask Yourself

  1. Absolutely superb and spot on Nancy. In a day and age where we are bombarded with new tools, new ideas and new ways of doing things it is very easy to forget what basics are and what basics work, and work well. Many recruiters are being (rightly) accused of hiding behind technology and tools that may enable contact, but not engagement, and in that respect whole recruitment structure and set up and lever for success have not changed. Various discussions in various forums rage about the ‘future of recruitment’ and much focuses on increasing use of technology and that this will make recruiters redundant. I for one do not buy that and think many of those advocating this are missing the point of what it is people really want and what they react to. Nothing will ever replace the ‘human touch’ the engagement and the ability person to person exchange, analyse and understand what is being said and not said.
    Long live the ‘old school of recruitment’ and long may it prevail.

  2. Nancy, great post! I agree with Jacob. New tools and technology may get you more traffic, but you won’t make any more hires if you’re not good at the basics – listening, probing, objection handling, follow-up, closing. There will always be a new recruiting tool coming up on the horizon (some with more value than others). Even without those, you can be a stellar, successful recruiter if you master those skills.

  3. Nancy the timing of your post is fabulous…just last week I had a long meeting with our staff on this very topic where the majority of the staff wanted us to focus on our hiring innovation products and less on dedicated search (I was so wound up about it I wrote a blog similar to yours –

    The new wave of TA professionals that have come on the scene since 2010 are understandably focused on tech solutions. Its hard for them to realize that there isn’t an App for everything, but in the end without a humanistic approach to career communication, truly effective talent acquisition is hard to achieve (BTW- I don’t think calling it “old school” is the way to go). Let’s face it, the list in Nancy’s post are the characteristics needed for effective hiring.

    The basic goal for all of us is to attract the best talent for our openings and get them integrated as productive new employees as quickly as possible. Sure, HRTech can help, but people communicating with people is the only way for that objective to be fully realized.

  4. @K.C. As I the one coming up with term ‘old school’ I the one making a comment answer to that.
    The term may be wrong, but serves as the widely used term ‘recruitment’ (often covering far more than just recruiting) to hail the virtues and the methodologies of past and by the looks of it forgotten virtues. We can pour ‘old wine on new bottles’ and term it whatever you like, but the fact remain that we are talking about that fundamentally like washing machines that the principles and basis for successful operation remain the same and are successful (because they work) the only real differences are the add on’s or the bells and whistles and channels (as in the case of reach and and engagement).

    What I particularly love about this piece is how intelligent it is, how it elevates conversation and interlinks the various elements. There are plenty of advice out there on the basics of good hiring principles management and conversation, – this however takes it up another notch.

  5. Very good article Nancy. I have been saying for years that companies are always looking for a better mousetrap. The problem is without the “basics” of recruiting it is not possible to be highly successful.

    I wrote about this in a different way for ERE last January (, but I love how you took a different approach. What people have forgotten (or more likely never learned) is that recruiting is really a sales job…

  6. Great negotiation competency is the key skill in the set of a good recruiter, and it has to be activated the moment the position is opened and work through the entire process. You always have to keep this skill at the top level and therefore, keep improving it. New systems and tools won’t help at all if this basic skill is of a poor quality.

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