“The Phone Rang…”

Some years ago I came across a very detailed description of what we, as recruiters, do for a living. This is the first paragraph of that six-page, 1,469-word long document*:

“The basic function of this position is to promote sales of placement services to customers and prospective customers within the assigned desk specialty. To maintain and develop satisfied customers for the company through proper handling of customers and candidates and cooperate with management in resolving problems in areas of collections, guarantees and any other negotiations or functions that may be assigned.”

It went on to list our nine major responsibilities:

  • Selling Placement Services
  • Account Development
  • Pricing
  • Customer Service
  • Sales Estimates
  • Candidate Development
  • Records and Reports
  • Expense Control
  • Maintain Professional Standards

Does this sound like what you do? While in some ways I admire the detail (and I hope I handle all of those responsibilities effectively on my desk on a daily basis), I am not sure that it gives a true sense of what we recruiters truly do for a living. (*Call me if you want a copy of the six-page position description.)

To borrow liberally from another article of mine, there are five major tasks that we perform on a daily basis — and they all have to do with picking up the telephone!

What We Are

First, and foremost…

1. We are Marketers. We make daily marketing, or sales, calls. It is our first key to success. In the immortal words of the famous Sidney Boyden who founded Boyden Associates in 1946 (as quoted in The Headhunters by John A. Byrne),

When I employed an associate I was interested in a man who could be a business getter and a merchandiser. I was looking for widely acquainted top sales executives. Because the ability to go out and promote business and get business is more important than finding the men. I was least interested in somebody who would know how to track down a man and find him.

2. We are Recruiters. We recruit for a living. That means we find prospective recruits who are happy, well-appreciated, making good money, currently working and we entice them to move for better opportunities (i.e., our search assignment-quality JOs). We don’t work with job-hoppers, job-shoppers or rejects.

3. We are Discriminators (in the positive sense of that word). We are especially selective of our job orders, only choosing the best, search assignment quality, job orders on which to spend our straight-commission time. These JOs fall into the following three distinct categories:

  • Those JOs that have a tremendous urgency attached to filling the position. We are often paid to circumvent the time factor.
  • Those JOs that are very difficult positions to fill. This is where our client companies have run ads, offered referral bonuses to their employees, checked with competitors, consulted with colleagues, and extensively interviewed with no success. In these scenarios, the recruiter offers the company a window of opportunity — a “court of last resort,” if you will.
  • Those JOs from good client companies who wish to be kept apprised of top-notch talent as those talented people surface, regardless of whether there is an opening.

4. We are Negotiators. We pre-prep, prep, educate, debrief, act as buffers, and close our deals.

5. And ultimately, we are GREAT Salespeople. We thrive in a marketplace where our normal Marketing Attempt to Marketing Presentation ratio is somewhere between 10%-25%. We are successful in that marketplace where we only place with 4% of our client base. And we deal, on a daily basis, with emotional people on both sides of our transactions (refrigerator salespeople don’t have to worry about their refrigerators changing their minds, getting pregnant or moving to Topeka!). And we do all of this via the telephone, which effectively eliminates 3/5ths of our sales tools. We can only talk and listen. We can’t reach out and touch, use body language and physical mirroring or make eye contact. We have to be exceptional to accomplish all that we accomplish!

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The Qualities We Possess

Now, what qualities must we possess? I believe that five are essential. We must bring these to the table. They cannot be taught:

    1. Intelligence — not Mensa membership, but we must be smart.
    2. Creativity — because each phone call, no matter how it starts, may go in a different direction; we must be flexible enough, creative enough, to flow with the call. We must be noted for our flexibility.
    3. Corporate Maturity — this is not a function of age, but of maturity at the corporate level. Having the ability to call the CEO of a client company and not being intimidated if we’re asked to make that call.
    4. Tenacity — this is important in any endeavor. If you want to put a “star” by one of the most important traits, star this one! The ability ‘to hang in there’ is critical. This is important in any profession, but especially in ours.
    5. Balanced “X” Factors—any changes in your life — even good ones — produce stress. Stress is a physical, mental or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. This tension itself is stressful, often leading to illness or depression. So we must have this element under control.

After these “Have to Possess…” traits, I like to see the following, but I can live without them:

  1. Successful Failures — people who were successful, but their past employers failed them.
  2. Positive Hostility — the ability to be confrontational but in a positive way. We don’t want you to be a ‘professional visitor’ where everyone loves us, but nobody buys from us — but we don’t want to be purely hostile either, since rapport building is so important to our success.
  3. Good Sense of Humor — the ability to not take ourselves too seriously and to be self-effacing. Humor can go a long way in getting us back on the phone. Our job is supposed to be fun. If we carry that humor out with us to our marketplace, it will come back to us.
  4. Empathy — the ability to understand both sides, from their points of view.
  5. Ego-driven — we must have a big ego. It’s amazing to me how a group of big billers all fit in the same room at the same time with their giant-sized egos.
  6. Need to convince others to do what we want them to do — the ability to want to convince others of the right way to do our business; not to buy off on the first objection when we hear it.
  7. Ability to listen and give positive feedback — this is key; we are not in a profession made up of ‘silver-tongued’ devils; listen between the lines, don’t answer questions too fast; the other side will give us the information we need as long as we listen and give positive feedback.
  8. A decisive person — we can’t be wishy-washy in our profession.
  9. Intuitive — usually our first sense about something, whether it relates to our candidate or to our client company, is true. Go with our intuition. Things don’t go sour unless they smelled a little along the way.
  10. A tight need for organization and planning — it’s not that we love it, but, over time, we become expert at it.
  11. A Leader — someone who wants to lead, even if it is just on our own desk — our own manufacturing plant. This trait encompasses many of the preceding ones.

And finally, after all of these, I think of the attributes that the legendary recruitment trainer, Lou Scott, spoke about. He used to say that the biggest billers:

  1. Ignore conventional wisdom; they are never satisfied with the norm; they play outside the box.
  2. Have written goals for measurement; if they are not written down they are wishes, not goals.
  3. Visualize completion of their goals; have a clear visual picture of their goals.
  4. Learn to deal with their anxieties regarding their performance; everyone has anxieties; big billing is not the absence of anxiety, but the controlling of anxiety. Courage is not the absence of fear, but positively dealing with that fear. You need fear in order to have courage.
  5. Avoid comfort zones; take calculated risks.
  6. And, live in the present. Be where you are at. When you are at work, be there. When you are at home, be there. But don’t be at home when you are at work and don’t be at work when you are at home.

The 12 Principles

During one of my favorite recruitment years, I had the honor of coaching a recruiter (I’ll call him David) who wanted to bill $1,000,000 in 1 year. He called Paul Hawkinson (formerly the Editor of The Fordyce Letter) and Paul recommended that he speak with me. Ultimately, David reached his goal during the year that I spent with him as his personal trainer/coach. For your interest, we focused on the following twelve principles that top producers possess:

  1. They stay on the phone more often than not; usually double to triple the time of the average biller.
  2. They make each call with higher quality, not because they are smarter, but because they get more practice by doing it more often.
  3. They know they will be successful; they expect success. When they make a placement they instantly use that excitement and get back on the phone. They use that excitement to make more calls with a higher success rate. They get in the ZONE.
  4. They delimit their marketplace by having borders; they identify 1,500 company contacts in their chosen niche and call those contacts every quarter (25 calls per workday). They want to selectively hand-pick the 4%, or 60, who they will develop as clients and with whom they will place.
  5. They always know their numbers and ratios.
  6. They always market to get new blood, new business, and to hone their marketing skills.
  7. They always treat this business as a process, and not as a series of events.
  8. They always plan the previous day and have an MPC (Most Place-able Candidate) ready to market so that they can hit the ground running the next day.
  9. They know when to turn down a job order and not waste their time.
  10. They have a lot on their hot sheet (at least 5 full deals); they are not dependent on any one deal at any given time.
  11. They implement “The Theory of Threes;” this is taking 3 candidates to 3 companies and arranging 3 send outs with each company — or a total of 9 send outs — thereby tripling their chances for success.
  12. They are focused on the right activity. They are disciplined. They know that all deficiencies come down to two areas: either a knowledge deficiency or an execution deficiency. They know how to fix either. They strive for consistency. They know their actions become their habits.

So there we have it. That is our foundation. So now that we know who we are, we can move on.

In next “The Phone Rang…” article, look for time-tested tips in “How to Make a Successful Marketing Call.”


“The Phone Rang…” by Bob Marshall is a series that defines what we, as recruiters, do for a living. This article series ran in The Fordyce Letter over the past year and we are proud to bring you the series online. To subscribe to the print edition of The Fordyce Letter, click here.

Bob Marshall began his recruiting career in 1980 when he joined MR Reno, NV. In 1986 he founded The Bob Marshall Group, International, training recruiters across the nation as well as in the United Kingdom, Malta, and Cyprus. In 1996, he returned to working a desk full-time, while continuing to train recruiters. In late 2011, Bob will begin licensing his proven training system in selected U.S. and international territories.

To learn more about his activities and descriptions of his products and services (including the Double Production-guaranteed program), contact him directly at: 770-898-5550, www.TheMarshallPlan.org, or bob@themarshallplan.org.

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