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10 Commandments of Recruiting

Lou Adler

Recruiting is like sales and marketing rolled into one. If a company has a great brand, a great job, and a great hiring manager, not too much marketing or recruiting is required. But if your company lacks one or more of these factors -- or if you're targeting hard-to-fill positions -- then stronger recruiters are required.

Use the following "10 Commandments of Recruiting" as a guide to assess yourself, your team, or any new recruiter about to be hired when these strong recruiting skills are necessary.

1. THOU SHALT NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER. Do not accept a "no," either literally or personally. A premature no really means, "I don't have enough information to say yes, so rather than talk to you, I'll say no." As a recruiter, you must convince candidates to be open-minded enough to fully evaluate the job before making either a yes or no decision. When confronted with a premature no, saying something like, "Are you aware you're making a long-term decision using short-term data?" will get the candidate to think. Then follow up with, "If I could demonstrate that this position offered significant job stretch, in combination with a faster growth rate than you're currently experiencing, wouldn't it make sense to spend at least 15 minutes discussing it in some depth?" Recruiters can't afford to take no for an answer. This is the number one trait of all salespeople and -- unless you have an over-supply of hot candidates -- it should be the number one trait of all successful recruiters.

2. THOU SHALT HONOR THY CLIENT AND CANDIDATE. You do this by becoming a real partner in the hiring process. Clients and candidates need (and want) to see recruiters as true experts. This means that you must know the job, know the market for talent (sourcing channels, compensation issues and demographics), be strong at interviewing, be an honest career counselor, be able to consistently find top people, and be strong at recruiting and closing. One of the reasons hiring managers tell us they are disappointed is that they believe recruiters don't really know the job. One of the reasons candidates tell us they dislike recruiters is lack of real job knowledge and an inability to offer meaningful advice. Becoming a better all-around recruiter is how you become a true partner to your clients and candidates.

3. THOU SHALT COVET THY COMPETITOR'S EMPLOYEES. You must become a semi-sourcing expert. Semi-candidates are those who are less than active and more than passive. Less active candidates are those who look in on traditional and niche job boards every once in awhile, generally on particularly bad days. If you have compelling advertising and a quick-response process, you can hire some very good people very quickly. Semi-passive candidates are strong people who want a better job and who would be willing to talk to a recruiter if called on the phone. When you call these people, ask them if they'd be open to discussing something clearly superior. Then get them to tell you a little about themselves before you tell them much about the position. Once you have a dialogue established, if it's determined the person is not a fit, you'll need to ask him or her for some names of top people you could network with. Don't ask, "Who's looking?" -- and don't take no for an answer.

4. THOU SHALT NOT MISLEAD NOR BEAR FALSE WITNESS. Instead, you must know the job. Every job has four or five performance objectives. These are things the person in the job must do in order to be considered successful. For example, salespeople have to consistently achieve quota and hunt for leads, while engineers have to work with marketing to prepare detailed product specs, then design and test the products. Recruiters need to know what drives on-the-job success. When you take the assignment, ask the hiring manager what the person needs to do to be successful. This is your first chance to demonstrate that you're not just another recruiter.

5. THOU SHALT NOT WASTE TIME. The best way to do this is by only dealing with top performers. This means you only cold call good people, and you never look at the resumes of unqualified people. Make sure you can use your candidate tracking system to separate the good resumes from the bad. If the best resumes on a search don't result in any good candidates, don't look for any more in that stack. When hunting for referrals, only call strong people and only ask strong people for names of other strong people. Proactively ask your best employees to give you the names of the best people they've worked with in the past. Eliminating the time spent talking with, or reviewing the resumes of, unqualified people is how you stop wasting your time.

6. THOU SHALT LISTEN MORE THAN TALK. Stop selling and make the candidate earn the job. You can't sell a top person into a job. If over-talking is your primary recruiting approach, you're losing too many top people, paying too much, and hiring people who are only partially competent. Knowing the job and knowing how to interview are the foundations of good recruiting. Start by describing a big company initiative and the roll the new hire would play. Ask the candidate to describe a comparable accomplishment. Dig deep. Find a few areas where the candidate has limited experience, and suggest that the candidate will be a bit stretched here. For example, "I'm a little concerned that you haven't handled a budget (or team, or project) of this size, but let's discuss this further." Done properly, the candidate will then sell you. Asking questions is how you sell top candidates, not talking without listening.

7. THOU SHALT NOT DO SEARCHES OVER AGAIN. Get your clients to assess performance, not presentation. The key here is to get every person on the nterviewing team to agree to real job needs. When interviewers don't know the real job needs, they substitute their own biases, perceptions, and ideas about top performance. I once had a chairman of company demand a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (MSEE) for a division president's job. When I asked him what the person would do with an MSEE, he quickly said, "Lead the development of a five-year product plan and business strategy." He then agreed to see people who could do this even if they didn't have an MSEE. By converting an arbitrary requirement into a performance objective, it was easier to find a few top candidates without some artificial requirement. Making sure everyone who has a vote knows the real job is the first step in not having to doing searches over again.

8. THOU SHALT NOT MAKE OFFERS UNTIL THEY ARE ACCEPTED FIRST. Test every offer before you make it formal. While you want people to think about an offer, you must get agreement to every term before you formalize it in writing. To do this, just ask candidates what they would think about an offer if one could be put together. Ask when the person could start if a satisfactory offer could be put together. Ask if the person would accept an offer if the extra benefit were included. Testing an offer this way ensures that the candidate will accept it once it's put in writing and signed. This minimizes counteroffers, misunderstandings, and unwelcome surprises.

9. THOU SHALT USE THE 30% SOLUTION. Don't focus on the money issues when recruiting top people. Less active candidates want better jobs. Passive candidates want much better jobs and better career opportunities. To address this, break every job into three dimensions: 1) the compensation package and quality of life issues, 2) the job stretch, and 3) the job growth and opportunity. A big comp requirement can be reduced if the job has 10% to 15% stretch and 5% to 10% company growth. Collectively, shoot for 30% total. Knowing the job in comparison to what the candidate has already achieved is the first step to successful recruiting. Candidates need to determine for themselves that the job is 30% better. You do this by testing offers, asking good questions, and listening well.

10. THOU SHALT CONVERT RECRUITING FROM ART TO SCIENCE. Hiring top people consistently throughout a company requires that every recruiter use the same best practices. Every successful company trains its salespeople to follow a systematic, proven sales process. But in the world of recruiting, we still rely on individual recruiting stars doing their own thing. Recruiting managers need to convert every recruiter on the team into a strong performer who can consistently achieve quota-like performance goals every month.

Measure yourself and each recruiter on your team against these 10 commandments. Then start some type of self-development or training program. Hiring the best is hard work. It's harder still when everybody uses their own commandments -- or worse, none at all.


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