Understanding how the inner workings of the staffing industry can give job seekers and employers a massive advantage. Let’s face it, changing jobs is stressful for the candidates and hiring is extremely is expensive for employers. There is a risk on both sides of the coin. Candidates dedicate most of their lives to their trade and a bad job move can create a miserable experience five out of seven days per week. Meanwhile, employers are paying their employees salaries which, in a sense, is like they for paying their mortgage, all living expenses, and (hopefully) adding a little every month to their savings/investments. There is a risk of spending company money on someone that doesn’t turn out to be profitable to the business. There is also a cost of having the vacancy open. After all, the position is available in the first place because it will add value, not take value away.
One of the important goals of a top producing recruiter is to save time and money while lowering risk for candidates, hiring managers, and human resources, while maintaining quality deliverables. Working with a soft recruiter can be as painful as waiting in line at the DMV. In order to consistently maximize efficiency, recruiters need to be able to properly represent their clients/hiring managers and their candidates, fully understanding both party’s intentions by asking the right type of questions and providing follow up to their promises. It can be difficult to differentiate the empty promise keepers from the top producers. How do you find the recruiter that is loyally willing to fight in your army every step of the way, reducing both risk and stress?
Keep Away from Soft Recruiters
There are times when every recruiter walks away from a conversation beating themselves up for forgetting to ask a certain question or with their tails between their legs due to their hesitancy to ask qualifying questions. If this happens once in a while, not a big deal. The problem manifests when these one-off situations become more consistent and commonplace in the recruiter’s general practices. There are two terms that describe recruiters who have gotten comfortable with being soft, the Order Takers and the Paper Pushers.
The Order Takers are the client-facing recruiters or business development representatives who, like manning the headset behind your favorite fast-food drive through, have a habit of taking new jobs from their clients without asking any questions. The customer drives up to the window, places their order, and the recruiter throws the vanilla job description into their system and lets the team start on their goose hunt. This may sound inefficient because it is. The lack of Q&A can be caused by many factors. The recruiter doesn’t want to seem unknowledgeable and wants their client to feel assured that they know everything about their vacancy, not needing to ask further questions. I call this the “Don’t worry, I got this” approach. The problem is that the lack of information leads to more trial and error, less efficiency, and longer time to fill ratios. Another reason for the lack of questions is the fear of rejection. The recruiter may be focusing on hitting their metrics by bringing in a certain number of new positions, even if they aren’t qualified. The need for “more” outweighs the need to add value to their clients.
The Paper Pushers are the recruiters who approach the search process with two goals in mind, find as many candidates that meet the minimum requirements as possible and sell them on the position until they agree to be submitted, leaving out important information that would otherwise cause the candidate to lose interest. Conversations are kept as brief as possible in order to limit the candidate’s questions, usually covering the very basic qualifications on the job description. As long as the candidate meets the bare minimum of requirements, they pass the CV along to the hiring team for review. This is another inefficient approach that leads to wasted time and can damage relationships. The recruiter-candidate relationship can be damaged because without being fully vetted, there is lower chance that the candidate will make it through the hiring process, only receiving rejection (or lack of feedback) from their recruiter. The most common reason why candidates stop working with a recruiter is because the recruiter was never able to provide feedback, most likely because they were submitting unqualified candidates. The recruiter-employer relationship can take a beating as well since the volume of unqualified candidates leads to more of the employer’s time being wasted by reviewing and rejecting candidates. In short, the less efficient the recruiter, the less value they add to candidates and employers. Similar to the Order Takers, the Paper Pushers are motivated by limiting rejection and playing the volume game. They expect the law of averages to work in their favor. If they send a bunch of CVs over, a few are bound to stick. Some may, but at what cost?
It is fair to note that stereotyping a recruiter as an Order Taker or Paper Pusher may be a bit extreme as the staffing industry tends to weed out those who are not productive, but there is a common trend of not asking (or being scared to ask) qualifying questions in order to reduce rejection. In the short term, it may seem like they are being more productive, bringing in more new openings or submitting more candidates, but there needs to be a balance of “selling” the candidate/employer while qualifying the CV/vacancy in order to maximize efficiency and nurture long-term relationships.
Balancing the Scale of Selling and Qualifying
The staffing industry is filled with rejection (the old saying that 90% of sales comes from 10% of effort is pretty spot on), and over time constant rejection can make it easy to lose focus and motivation. More likely than not, 90% of potential candidates and potential new clients are either not interested, not qualified, aren’t looking, or already have a recruiter (or a number of recruiters) they are working with. Constant rejection leads to the natural instinct to soften up, focusing on gaining acceptance in order to minimize further rejection.
Although most people think of recruiting as an HR function, it is more of a sales position with people being the merchandise. The difference between selling a tangible item, such as a car, versus “selling” a candidate is that the paying customer (the employer) and the product (the candidate) need to be mutually interested in one another. In other words, you need to pick the car and the car needs to pick you back. I have often analogized recruiting to a professional matchmaking service where success and compensation are based on the number to matches that turn into meaningful relationships. Since the recruiter is representing both parties, a successful “match” requires a balance of selling and qualifying each party.
To some extent, early conversations with a potential client/employer or candidate start out with the sales pitch. Here is what I have to offer, is it something that you find value in? In reality, it is not so much “selling” as it is identifying a problem and trying to provide a solution. Since the customer (whether it be internal or external) and candidate need to be in mutual agreement, the focus is on aligning problems with the right problem solvers. For the employer, recruiters need to identify, attract, and vet candidates in a timely matter, leading to further interviews (and hopefully job offers). For the candidate, the recruiters need to make sure each job opportunity checks off their list of must-haves to make the career transition worthwhile. Whereas a soft recruiter ends the vetting process after the candidate shows interest, the tough recruiter takes the process to the next step further vetting the candidate by asking qualifying questions.
Qualifying Jobs and Candidates
Qualifying a candidate and qualifying an employer’s job requirement starts by asking the right questions to fully understand one another’s needs and wants. When it comes to the employer, it is important to find out what are the top requirement on the job description as well as any of the “nice to have’s” that may not be listed. Are there certain skill sets that are more important to the team than others? Who is their top performer that is currently in this role and what makes them so successful? The type of questions will be tailored to the position, but regardless of industry or vacancy, the best results come fully understanding the hiring team’s vision to the point where the recruiter can clearly represent the company’s best interests and intentions. Although it may be a good place to start, just being given a job description (which often times is vague and only offers minimum qualifications) is not a sufficient means to qualifying position. Further Q&A needs to take place to make sure the recruiter (whether they are internal or from a vendor) are on the same page. A 15 minute Q&A session will shave off countless hours of sourcing and interviewing, reducing the time to fill, saving both time and money for all involved.
Qualifying a candidate is not much different. Once a candidate is interested in a position, the recruiter needs to ask the right questions to make sure the candidate’s skill sets have the ability to solve their client’s problem. Not only does their experience need to match the job description, but they should be able to take the information from the Q&A session with the hiring team and make sure any other special qualifications are being met, such as personality fit or proper soft skills. Further understanding the candidate’s reasoning for their transition will lead to a more efficient and pleasant process. Just because a candidate is qualified for a particular position, doesn’t mean it is going to align with their career goals.
There needs to be a balance of selling and qualifying which, when done correctly, results in maximizing efficiency and proper representations of both parties. To better illustrate, think of a teeter-totter with “selling” on one side and “qualifying” on the other. They should be perfectly balanced on “efficient results” sitting as the fulcrum. When the scale is balanced you will see more interviews, more offers, more acceptances, and less time wasted. When the scales are tipped in either direction, you get wasted time, loss of trust, and damaged reputation.
It is important to mention that the balance of selling and qualifying need to be done throughout the process. Recruiters need to continue representing their client by selling the candidate’s qualifications, and vice versa. In the perfect scenario, the employer and the candidate are selling one, identifying mutual interest and natural fit. That said, the rules of supply and demand heavily influence the vetting process. When there is a high supply of candidates with a low supply of jobs, the employer will tend to be more selective, trying to hold out for the best of the best. When there is a lack of talent and an abundance of jobs, the coin is flipped, with the candidate now in the driver’s seat. Knowing the state of the job market will help you navigate most effectively.
Asking the “No” Questions
Every new recruiter is trained to ask the “yes” questions. People tend to be consistent with their behaviors and one “yes” is more likely to lead to the next. The idea is that the first yes will lead to a series of further agreed upon requests until there is a sale. While selling focuses on “yes’s” qualifying focuses on the “no’s.”
Asking the “No” question simply means taking the conversation further until you ask the question that produces a “No” response. For example, the job description may be asking for 10 years of experience. Would the team consider someone with a strong background with 9 years of experience? How about 8? If a candidate is targeting $100k to make a move, would they consider $98k for the right position? How about $95k? These questions are not geared to talk the employer down from their qualifications, nor to talk the candidate down from the salary requirements. Instead, it is a way to clarify how much weight they place on each of their decision making factors.
The hiring team might not care if they find someone with 8 years of experience instead of 10 because the years of experience is not what is important, having ABC experience is what is important, and ABC comes with experience. For example, if a position has line management responsibilities and if someone has proven abilities to successfully manage a team, a two-year difference in overall experience may not really matter that much.
In the candidate’s case, the goal isn’t to pinpoint the candidate’s monetary breaking point, instead, it’s to determine how much salary is a motivating factor. The candidate may be asking for a 10% increase, thinking it is a standard request, but they would realistically accept a lateral move for a perfect position that offers X, Y, and Z. This is great information to have, because now the focus is on X, Y, and Z instead of just dollars and cents. On the flip side, if dollars and cents are the motivators, there is a need to make sure that the employer is able to offer such compensation, avoiding any attempts of a lowball offer.
Asking the “No” question is the sticky grease that both eliminates and causes friction. You can’t have a repeatable, efficient process without identifying motivation and you can’t identify motivation until you ask tough questions. Unfortunately, tough questions can be uncomfortable to ask and if not phrased correctly can raise the defenses of both candidates and employers. Often times, intentions are misread. Using the previous examples, the employer may think recruiters are attempting to talk them down from their minimum qualifications or the candidate might think that they are being pushed into a position under their desired salary range. Recruiters become soft when their lack of clarity in their intentions results in a fear of asking questions leading up to the “No” question. It’s like each question they ask is another round of Russian roulette where, at some point, they are going to hear the word “no” and not know how to respond. Qualifying questions are simply confirming the best interests of the candidate and employers to make sure that they both aligned.
The “No” question is a time-saving tool that increases efficiency which both candidates and employers should appreciate. If an employer is looking for a set of qualifications that is unrealistic, they need to be coached on the market to see what qualifications they might be able to flex on. If they continue to be unrealistic, then save time by declining to work on the position. There is too much time wasted searching for hypothetical purple squirrels. Regarding efficiency, the quicker a recruiter is able to identify that a candidate is not a fit for the position or vice versa, the better. Less of the candidate’s time is spent interviewing only to receive a rejection letter, less of the hiring team’s time is spent interviewing a candidate that they wind up declining. This frees the recruiter to spend more time finding a better fit. One thing that I have learned very early on in my career is that every No is one step closer to the next Yes. Get the No’s out of the way as early and efficiently as possible.
Fueling the Flame
It is clear that proper representation requires recruiters to lose their fear of rejection, but what is fueling the widespread flame of softness? Sure, being turned down is uncomfortable, but if a recruiter can’t deal with rejection then they either picked the wrong profession or need to toughen up. Another potential cause stems from how candidates and clients approach recruiters, especially after having a poor prior experience.
Poor experiences cause candidates and clients to approach recruiters with reservations. Whether they felt misrepresented, didn’t get what they were promised, or otherwise walked away with a poor taste in their mouth, it can be easy to approach recruiters as if they are guilty until proven innocent. As the saying goes, “fool me once...” The problem is that even the best recruiters need to step on eggshells in order to gain enough trust for the conversation to open up. Since it is a lot easier to gain trust by being asked the “yes” questions, recruiters start selling more and qualifying less, leading to more wasted efforts and poorer experiences for both candidates and clients alike. This fuels the cycle to repeat itself, steadily breeding “yessers” rather than doers.
One of the trends within the staffing industry is the removal of the hiring manager-recruiter relationship in favor of implementing vendor management systems (VMSs) that automate the recruiting process. Once a recruiter is approved to supply candidates, the VMS system starts sending out newly approved job descriptions and funnels all applications through online applications. There is no access to management and very rarely an opportunity to ask meaningful questions to gain further qualifications for the position. What you see on the job description is what you get. In many ways it is no different than a candidate applying to a position on the company’s website, holding onto a wish and a prayer that they will get a response. For large corporations, their motivations are to keep their managers focusing on their day job rather than fielding recruiter calls, but it creates a poorer experience for both candidates and recruiters. Feedback is scarce resulting in a lack of trust in the recruiter, which ignites the flames yet again.
How to Man (or Woman) Up
Very rarely are recruiters truly classified as a Paper Pusher or an Order Taker. In reality, the industry spits them out as they become irrelevant as newer, hungrier talent takes their place. That being said, it is important to recognize when soft behaviors become more frequent as the cause is generally caused by a slow incremental tip of the selling-qualifying scale. Specifically, actions, or more accurately the lack of actions, start to become more prevalent due to the fear of rejection. When the action is governed by fear, the first step to getting back on track is acknowledging “fear got to me this time.” Keep track of how often this happens. If it is a once in a blue moon lack of judgment, then there isn’t anything to be worried about. If it the trend picks up in frequency, then it is time to take action to reverse the course. Most time, if we write down the potential logical outcomes of our fears, the worst case scenario is not that ground shaking. In the case of recruiting, asking tougher questions might result in a short-term dip in new openings or fewer candidates submitted, but overall, it will lead to less wasted efforts, increasing efficiency and filling more positions. This increase in efficiency strengthens relationships with both clients and candidates and leads to less rejection.
Another important rule of thumb is to leave assumptions at the door and make sure to qualify every new position and candidate during each conversation. The one thing that is consistent in the staffing industry is change. People change their minds all of the time and it is important to keep track of these changes as the interview process matures. For example, if a candidate is interviewing elsewhere, a slow-moving employer may be less attractive over time as the candidate becomes more vested with the others companies that are moving more quickly. Qualifying new positions is even more important to maintaining efficiency. Sourcing candidates is the most time-consuming process of the hiring process. It is not rare to see positions that have been open six months to a year…think of all that wasted effort. Just because a recruiter has a relationship with their client it doesn’t mean they should pretend like they know more about their needs than the employer does. Asking the “No” question will keep the recruiting team on track, focusing on the must-have qualifications, getting a better understanding on what the hiring manager is looking for to fill the gap in their organization. If they have filled similar positions in the past, simply ask, “Is there anything else we should be looking for this time around?” Just having that confirmation means they are on the right track. You would be surprised how many times the team has a different intention for the next hire. Moral of the story: You don’t know until you ask.
Finally, recruiters should strive to better their candidate’s and client’s experience. The more candidates and clients are exposed to resourceful and efficient recruiters, the more accepting recruiters will be accepted with open arms. Recruiters need to tailor their services to put employers and candidates, not themselves and gain trust by being efficient and productive. Sometimes a little tough love goes a long way in helping those we care about.
The Headhunter Guide is RECRUITER WRITTEN'S way to provide insider's knowledge to candidates and employers alike. Enjoy!