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6 Selling Secrets That Will Help You Hire Stronger People

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The customer is king, except, it seems, when it comes to hiring.


Just as for any sales process, there’s a funnel for recruiting: moving prospects and candidates from first contact, through the recruiting and assessment process, and ultimately into great hires.

The big steps are summarized in the graphic below. And, just as in sales, the more complex the process, the more steps in the process.


In recruiting, when the demand for talent is greater than the supply, all of the steps shown in the funnel are required. When the supply of strong talent is greater than the demand, shortcuts can be taken. This talent-surplus process is shown by the active-candidate path on the left of the funnel. The problem for most companies is that they use a surplus process even in a scarcity situation.

For most companies, the entire recruiting and hiring process is too transactional. It starts by filtering people on the basis of their skills and experiences, weeding out the weak, using the interview to minimize mistakes, and having candidates agree early on to a price range (compensation) before they even know the job. While demeaning, the process might actually work if there is an excess of top people available. If not, it will backfire: Companies will wind up working way too hard to hire people just like whom they’ve always hired.

In a talent-scarcity situation, recruiters and hiring managers actually need to talk with people and convince them that what’s being offered is better than what they have now. This process is represented by the extra two steps at the top of the funnel: getting high-quality leads and referrals, and converting these people into prospects. A prospect is someone who is fully qualified but needs more information before agreeing to become an official candidate. These extra steps are comparable to the discovery process in more complex sales: spending time to uncover the buyer’s needs and offering a custom solution. Done properly, this procedure can actually raise the quality of people hired.

Here’s how this is done:

1. Differentiate the job.

A job isn’t a list of skills, experiences, and generic responsibilities. A job is what a person does with these skills and experiences, whom he or she does it with, and the importance of the work. A career is what the person can learn and become if the work is done well. If the recruiter and hiring manager can’t describe the work this way, they’ll lose every top passive candidate they see.

Our hiring troubleshooting guide shows a number of ways to prepare these types of performance-based job descriptions. Just as in sales: The best sales reps know what they’re selling.

2. Obtain prequalified referrals.

Because most of the best people in any field find their jobs through some referral or trusted source, recruiters need to spend most of their time getting prequalified warm referrals. This is typically how the best salespeople find their best clients, and the same is true in recruiting.

3. Slow down. Sell the discussion, not the job.

People who aren’t looking aren’t impressed with recruiters who filter on skills, don’t know much about the job, negotiate the price during the first call, and rush to close. The recruiting discovery process is more like a slow dance with the recruiter always leading.

4. Conduct a gap analysis.

The objective of the discovery process is to determine if the difference in what the company is offering and what the candidate has done represents a career move. This Job-seeker’s Decision Grid will allow you to quickly determine what it would take to position your job as a career move. The big idea: Don’t let the prospect make long-term career decisions using short-term information such as compensation, location, company name, and job title.

5. Engage the hiring manager early and often.

Truly passive prospects are unlikely to become serious candidates without first having anexploratory call with the hiring manager. Though it takes some finesse on the part of the recruiter to pull this off, the call allows the passive candidate to gain more insight about the career potential of the job without too much of a commitment. The role of the hiring manager is to entice the person to seriously consider the job.

6. Close on career growth, not compensation maximization.

When a passive candidate is first contacted, a significant compensation increase is often the primary criteria for considering a move. This becomes less important if the new job represents a true career move. Unfortunately, too many recruiters and candidates filter each other out before they ever get to this level of full disclosure. That’s why some type of formal, multistep discovery process like the one described needs to be implemented.

The customer is king, except, it seems, when it comes to hiring. In order to hire the best people possible, every step of a company’s hiring process needs to be based on how the best people find jobs and why they select one opportunity over another. Few companies have designed their hiring programs from this perspective. Most are built on the false assumption that there is a surplus of great talent and all that’s necessary is to weed out the weak. In a talent scarcity situation, this will not only fail, but it will also be counterproductive, demeaning, and costly. Hiring the best and raising the talent level of a company is not a cost; it’s a strategic investment. It’s one most companies want to make, but few know how. It starts by making the candidate the king.