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4 Ways to Get Job Candidates to Sell You

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It’s not the job of recruiters to persuade candidates–no matter how sought after–to consider a position or accept an offer. It’s their job to get candidates to sell them on why they’re the perfect person for the job.


My fundamental rule for recruiters: Play the buyer from the moment of first contact to final close. To do this, you must get the candidate to sell you–not vice versa–and that’s no easy feat.

If a candidate needs your job–for economic or professional reasons–it’s pretty easy to remain the buyer. Needy candidates are always in sales mode, trying to convince you they’re worthy. However, a high-demand candidate with multiple suitors is a different story entirely. In this case, managers and recruiters typically switch roles and kick into sales mode, using hyperbole and PR-speak to convince the hot prospect of their offer’s worthiness. If the person doesn’t opt out, you’re almost certainly looking at a bidding war of offers.

Consistently playing the buyer not only prevents this problem, it also increases assessment accuracy and the probability of closing on fair and equitable terms.

Here are four ways to remain the buyer throughout the recruiting process:

1. Start by listening four times more than you talk. Ask tough, detailed questions about the person’s accomplishments, following the guidelines of the One-Question Performance-based Interview. Probe for details about the person’s most significant accomplishments in relation to the actual performance needs of the job. If you preface each question with a description of what you need accomplished and why it’s important to the company, the best and most worthy candidates will naturally get excited and try to convince you they’re qualified. This is part of the “slow dance” described in a previous post.

2. Make the candidate earn the job; it has more value this way. Don’t accept superficial answers. Peel the onion, and get facts and specific details about each accomplishment cited. Challenge the person. Top people will leave this type of interview knowing they’ve been assessed properly and, if the job appears to be a real career move, thinking about why they want it–not why they don’t. If a candidate can’t sell herself on the merits of the job, then she won’t be able to convince anyone else, either. Because top candidates never make the decision to switch jobs alone, this is a critical step you must address in the recruiting process.

3. Create the career gap. For a job to represent a career move, it needs to offer both stretch and growth. Stretch represents the actual difference between the person’s current job and the job you’re offering. It covers the scope and scale of the job in terms of team size, overall responsibility, budget, what the person can learn, the challenges involved, and the role’s impact on and importance to the company.

Growth is the future. It represents what the person can become if the job is handled successfully. This relates to taking on bigger assignments with more impact, embracing unique learning opportunities, and getting exposed to more challenging situations.

Though hard to quantify, a job that’s 15 percent to 20 percent bigger than the person’s current role would represent an excellent career move. If the combination of stretch and growth is less than 10 percent, the job is more like a lateral transfer, and if it’s more than 25 percent, the job is probably too big a jump. To demonstrate the opportunity’s stretch and growth, introduce the candidate to other people who have been successful and have taken on bigger roles in the company. You need to prove the company’s claims of growth opportunity; otherwise, you’re pulling a ruse that will lead to disappointment, underperformance, and turnover.

4. Convert jobs into careers. The process of “slow dancing” allows a person to see that small differences can often represent a big career move. For example, a slightly bigger team, more influence, bigger impact, and broader responsibility combined with a faster-growing company is often all you need to convert what seems like a lateral transfer into a significant career opportunity. A performance-based interview achieves this far better than does overt selling. Then, if an offer is made, the candidate is in a better position to favorably compare your opportunity with others from a long-term growth perspective, rather than strictly on the size of the short-term compensation increase.

You’ll never have enough money in your budget to hire every great person you want. However, if you stay the buyer and get the candidate to sell you on the career merits of your job, you’ll hire everyone you should.