The Myth Of Candidate Control

So the candidate told you he is happy where he is in his career but also just admitted to you that there may be something better out there?

What next? How do you handle this critical conversation where the candidate seems to be on the fence so early in the process?

Remember, the moment they give you an objection, your job isn’t to overcome it. It’s to have built enough of an emotional bank account with them so that you now have the right to make a withdrawal from that relationship. And your withdrawal is the rebuttal itself and how you bring them along to a decision that they perceive will ultimately benefit them. Your primary job as a recruiter is to build a relationship of authenticity with this person, a complete stranger, so that they trust you at the beginning of the process and all the way through to its end, when you are telling them not to take that counteroffer that their boss, friend, and mentor will eventually give them to keep them on their team.

Most recruiters make the mistake of giving an objection immediately after the candidate displays some sort of concern or says he is happy where he is. They go right into how great the opportunity is, how fantastic the advancement potential is, without having enough of an emotional bank account to make a withdrawal from.

Here’s a phrase you can use to get them to open up to you, to share their concerns, and to tell you what would motivate them to go forward, and to do it in a way that isn’t duplicitous and manipulative, but genuine. Just say this:

Joe, what I’d like to do is find out more about you. I’d like to find out about where you have come from in the past in your career, what you are doing currently, and where you would like to go in the future. And if the direction you want to pursue is a place that my client can take you, then I’ll tell you everything about this opportunity and you can decide for yourself what you’d like to do. Whatever you want to do or pursue is fine with me.

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This soft-sell approach relieves tension in the relationship by giving control back to the candidate. In my experience, the more I push people, the more they will either push back or run away (like not returning my calls, telling me they are going to send me a résumé and never doing it, or just falling off the ends of the earth). So instead of pushing them, I lead them. I let their internal desire guide the whole process, and I am just a facilitator helping them get to a place where they want to go but might not even know what that place is just yet.

What is the primary focus of this conversation? The candidate’s motivation. It’s all about the candidate. It’s not about the strength of your client’s opportunity or that person’s potential. It’s about giving the candidate control of his or her career. People want to be in control of their own careers, and the myth of candidate control has pushed many candidates into the abyss of “I don’t trust recruiters.” Many recruiters mistakenly think that “candidate control” is all about manipulating someone to do something that will culminate in a fee. Instead, your job is to find out where they want to go and then show them how your client’s opportunity will get them what they really want. Use the candidate’s intrinsic motivation as the energy that guides the whole process. If you do that, you’ll minimize fall-offs, decrease counteroffers, and have candidates as willing participants all the way through.

Scott Love is a recruiter who has created a big billing model of success that anyone can duplicate. His website has over 150 free articles, free tools, and free downloads that can help you bill more. Visit it at Copyright © 2007 Scott Love

Scott Love increases company profit margins by working as a management consultant, author, and professional speaker with special emphasis in the executive search and staffing industries. He has been quoted in major city newspapers, national trade magazines, international business magazines, and the Wall Street Journal. He has his own weekly business column in the Gannett News Service. His free website for recruiters has over 50 free tips and tools to help you bill more.


8 Comments on “The Myth Of Candidate Control

  1. Good post, Scott, but candidate control is not a myth…it’s a necessity. One big problem in our industry: too many practicioners trying to gain “buy in” rather than not viewing themselves as at the same level as top attorneys and physicians. The best attorneys, physicians (and headhunmters) do not try to gain buy in…they dictate. They tell us what they are going to do, and when, and they tell us what we must do, and when. If we argue with them, they fire us. How many people will jerk around their doctor or lawyer? We need to see ourselves on the same level, and trying to sell them is dealing from weakness. Candidate control is best accomplished by building rapport first, but then taking charge of the relationship by setting YOUR ground rules, in the first conversation, in a direct, dictatorial, yet respectful and tactful manner:
    (1)”You must do everything I say, when I say it”(2) “From this point onward, I must be involved in everything related to your job change..nothing can occur without my involvement, just as if you were a sports star and I am your agent. Someone contacts you, you must give them my number and tell them to call me.”(3) “If I place you, defined as a verbal offer and your verbal acceptance…and you do not report for work, and work at least 60 days, then you must reimburse my expenses, which will be roughly one third of what the fee would be” (note: expenses ARE recoverable, fees are not in most states). We must deal from strength, at all times. Sadly, 95% of everyone in our business deals from weakness and fear.

  2. You don’t actually say that do you Neil? I’m all about influence, guidance, (control?) and being the career change authority. I’m positioned firmly in the driver’s seat as much as possible……but if anyone laid that on me – “You must do eveything thing I say” I would have to either laugh and hang up – or just plain hang up.

    In respectful disagreement,

  3. Jerry,

    Having worked with Neil over the past year and a half, I can say this, “what he teaches works.” I am a firm believer in watching the crowd, folks like you, and going in the opposite direction with folks like Neil. M time spent working with Neil has elevated my production to where I average between 3 and 4 placements per month.


  4. Thanks for the comment, Jerry. Try it sometime. See yourself as a “doctor” of career change. NEVER treat people rudely…but they are so used to lap dogs in our business that the one who takes firm, uncompromising, complete control will get them thinking “wow…this guy is different.” However, you don’t just hit them in the nose in the first minute…you need to get them interested in what you are working on. Then, when they are interested, dictate your rules. They may laugh and hang up on you…but a few days later, they will call you back if what you discussed was an opportuity of interest. Then, when you place them…you will laugh all the way to the bank while other recruiters are crying in their popcorn.

  5. Hi Neil. Thanks for the professional reply.
    I’m wondering if perhaps the folks you work with – being Ex Military – might also add a bit of conditioning to, in a sense, “taking orders”? I can tell you have quite a track record and am always interested in trying new things. Thank you for continuing the discussion.

    As far as Peter’s reply – I’m not sure why he felt the need to slam me (as being part of the “crowd”) he watches. He must be under the impression that visibility in the marketplace has something to do with methodology and approach…though it clearly has no bearing. I’m as far out of the mainstream in my approach to servicing my clients as anyone I have met.

    So Peter – If you can pull off the McNulty style then more power to you. It’s just not the only way to set the tone of expectation, moving forward and accountability in our world. But again – good luck with that.

  6. Neil, We agree on a lot of points about this business but I do pretty well without anything like your points 1 and 2 from your first response to Scott. There are methods other than yours that have nothing to do with weakness and fear. You make me want to re-read Sun Tzu.

    It is just not necessary to goose-step all the way to the bank and it is also not necessary, wise or persuasive to imply that’s the only way to get to the bank when it so obviously is not.

  7. I certainly see myself as a top professional although the template would be more of an attorney rather than a doctor. I present my case to the candidate with a little salesmanship but don’t push all that hard.

    My presentation to a strong candidate with objections or hesitation goes something like this:

    “Look Bob, I’ve been doing this for long enough (28 years) to know that I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. I think it’s important for you to understand that I realize that.

    If you check out this opportunity and go and meet the company then one of three things will happen.

    1) No way, no how! You hate the company, the job, the guy you would be reporting to, whatever. I’ll ask you what your concerns are. If I can get them resolved, I‘ll let you know. If not, well there’s no harm done and I won’t be pushing you.

    2) You will like the company and the position, etc. but there’s just not enough there to make a change. Again, I would ask what your questions and concerns are. If I can get them resolved. You may want to continue. If not, no harm, look at it as a networking episode. I won’t push you and you will know some new people in your field which may be helpful someday.

    3) Wow! I was really just checking it out but now I’m super interested and the company is super interested in me. Then, hopefully, we get a job offer and you decide what you want to do. If you have any questions or concerns I will ask you bottom line what do you need to accept the job (rather than just thinking about it) and I will do my absolute best to secure that for you.

    Bob, by at least checking out this opportunity you are empowering yourself to be able to make choices. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do but what I can do is work toward maximizing your opportunities. All I ask is open, honest and timely communication and you can expect that I will do that same.”

    Then I wait…..and see what comes out of his mouth.

    I don’t want to push the opportunity too hard (a sure path to a candidate disappearing act or a counter offer). Rather than sell the opportunity, I sell the idea that it’s better to have more choices then less choices – which is a much easier sale. In the recruiting business we have to master two very different types of sales. Hard sell companies, soft sell people. Now, I don’t go through this whole rigmarole all the time. I just roll it out when I need it.

    Tom Keoughan

    P.S. Dave Staats blog can now be found at

  8. I was going to suggest that maybe Neil is way older or way younger than Tom or me…but now that I went where Jerry obviously did (Neil’s carrier…, it all makes sense. Engineers and Toy people do not react the same as Military Officers.
    He looks a lot more like a General than a General’s Aide de Camp.
    It’s all pretty damned good…Let’s be careful out there…go,take on the day…I shall return…(One of those is mine)

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