Recruiting: Sell or Die

I was reminded this week how important it is for a Recruiter to be able to sell.  As a spoiler alert (and I’m ashamed to admit his) I was unable to close a candidate this week.  I have a particularly tough position to fill (high level, niche specific, very technical, sensitive environment).  I was able to find a great candidate, get an interview set up and get him an offer, however I was unable to get him to accept my offer.  Being the analytical person that I am, I went back through the whole process to see where I slipped up.  It came down to the sell, and so I analyzed my understanding/execution of selling.  I found my results interesting, and wanted to share them here.

As a Recruiter, being able to sell is an essential skill which is critical to performing our job.  A recruiter’s success is based on how good we are at selling.  One of the first things I learned when I became a Recruiter was that you had to sell in all facets of the job.  If you’re great at finding talent but not great at closing the deal, you’re merely a Sourcer who is good at boolean searches.  You’re easily replaceable if you can’t sell.

A true Recruiter is someone who can recruit from inception to completion.  A true Recruiter can act in a consultative manner to determine the scope of the opening with their hiring managers, then go find the talent, get them to interview, then convince the talent to take your opening, and finally keep the talent happy in their new role.  The better a Recruiter is at selling sometimes is directly reflected in how he/she is compensated.  That is where a lot of my brethren get tempted by dollar signs and go wrong.

Recruiters get a bad reputation because of how obsessed we are with selling.  We follow the “ABC” method, always trying to close the deal as quickly as we can.  I’ve heard Recruiters so many times push the candidate in the direction that benefits the Recruiter, but not necessarily the candidate.  There is so much fluff, so many inflated promises which turn out to be nothing but hot air.  As a job seeker, how many times have you heard “Just accept this salary now, and once you get your foot in the door you can move up.”  That sounds neat, and the Lottery Ticket buyer within me wants to believe that, but in reality there is no guarantee you’ll see a quick raise.  In reality it may take you years to move from the salary the recruiter sold you on to the salary you originally wanted.

Recruiters who focus solely on closing deals give the rest of the Recruiting community a bad name.  We get that Used Car Salesman Reputation, and have a negative stigma assigned to us before we even talk to a candidate.  I can’t tell you how many times candidates are hesitant to talk to me because of my job title.  Pushy Recruiters make it very hard on the rest of us.

However, I’ve learned to use this to my advantage.  I allow it to act as a differentiator that separates me from other Recruiters.  I still sell.  I sell every single day and I close deals daily.  But I take a different approach to selling.  The only thing I focus on selling upfront is myself.  I sell myself as a valuable resource to the candidate.  It is critical as a Recruiter to separate yourself from the other dozen Recruiters who are also calling that candidate.  You have to build a relationship with them, show them the value of working with you, and earn their trust.  You won’t be the first person, nor the last person, who will try to sell them the same or a very similar product.  So you have to show them the value of working with you.

Once I’ve built that rapport and have earned the candidates trust, then I can focus on moving on from selling myself to selling my product.  In order to properly and efficiently sell your opportunity to the candidate, you must have a deep understanding of three main areas:  Understand your company, understand your competition, and most importantly understand whats important to the candidate.

By really focusing on the latter of those three areas, I am showing the candidate why they should work with me.  I’m finalizing the sale of myself as a valued asset.  I concern myself with them and what’s important to them.  I am not trying to push my job on them, and I’m not trying to hang up the phone the moment I realize they aren’t a fit.  Understanding what is important to the candidate gives you an inside edge to close the deal.  You sell the aspects of your job that appeal to what they want.  Don’t sell an SUV to someone shopping for a Coupe.

I know what you’re thinking…here I am talking about methods of selling for Recruiters- yet in the beginning of this post I mentioned that I failed to close a deal.  Stick with me, here is where I tie it together for you!

After the candidate told me his final decision I asked him to share with me the determining factors.  Why had he selected the other job over mine?   For my own edification, I wanted to know where I had failed in my sale.  (Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, it is the only way you’ll learn from your mistakes). I had built such a strong rapport with him that I felt comfortable asking him that candid question.  And more importantly, he felt comfortable sharing his feedback with me.

We systematically went through each aspect of the offer, from salary to benefits to PTO to work environment, etc.  The reason he selected the other offer was simply based on numbers, they had a cherry on top that I wasn’t able to match.  It had nothing to do with my sale and there was nothing I could have done better to convince him.  I appreciated that and told him I wanted him to do what was best for him and his family.  We spent another 10 minutes on the phone together after he turned me down.  He went on to tell me how impressed he was with me as a Recruiter.  Since he was on the job market he dealt with dozens of Recruiters and none of them showed him the attention that I showed.  He said he never felt pressured with me, he felt like he could bounce ideas off of me and he saw me as an Industry expert.  That is when I learned that I hadn’t failed in selling to him.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  I’ve added a strong addition to my professional Network, and he has already referred some of his Network to me.  I did not get to place him in my opening, but the relationship I built with him will allow me to place multiple openings in the future vs. just this one now.  (I have two other candidates interviewing for the slot he turned down, don’t worry!)

If you’re on the Staffing Agency side, you may scratch your head a bit at my approach.  How can I consider it a success that I didn’t get the placement?  Why on earth did I spend so much time with this candidate when it didn’t result in an immediate placement?  I was on the Agency side for 5 years and I understand how hard closing the deal is pushed on Recruiters.  It is ingrained in us to close as many deals as we can as quickly as we can.  However, I’d urge you to be careful there.  Don’t focus so hard on filling your position now that you end up hurting yourself professionally in the long run.  Those pushy Recruiters who cut corners and do whatever it takes to get a placement will do well in the short-term.  They’ll make a lot of placements quickly and their commission will get high.  However, in the long run success for them won’t last.  The candidates they pushed into accepting jobs will eventually leave.  They’ll leave for the opportunity that they were looking for the whole time.  I’ve seen countless Pushy Recruiters jump up in ranks quickly, but they always fizzle out.  I can’t point at one single circumstance where they were successful in the long run.  They all burned out and left Recruiting because they couldn’t maintain.

So my advice to Recruiters is to sell, and sell hard.  If you can’t sell as a Recruiter you won’t be successful.  But make sure you’re making the right sale.  Sell yourself first.  Learn what your customer wants and sell to their needs.  Become a resource for them.  Don’t be afraid to talk candidates out of a job.  Don’t be afraid to let the candidate tell you no.  Remember that the relationships you build with that consultative approach will benefit you in the long run way more than making the quick and sloppy placement now.  You will gain a trusted addition to your professional network.  If you can’t build and sell your own brand as a Recruiter, if you can’t build a strong professional reputation and a strong pipeline of trusted professional contacts, your career as a Recruiter won’t last.


Please send any questions or comments to  Be sure to also follow me on twitter @RecruiterMann23

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