On January 3, 1978, I became a contingency recruiter working for
a small, highly regarded, two-person search firm (I was number
three). This was a pretty odd job to take at the time, since I
voluntarily left my spot as VP and GM for a 300-person automotive
parts manufacturing company. Somehow, working 80 hours per week
didn't seem worth it.
That first morning, Mark, at the time probably one of the most
successful contingency recruiters in the country, told me the key to
successful recruiting was applicant control. I didn't really know
what he was talking about, and I only made one placement in the next
Somewhere in mid-May 1978, I finally figured out applicant
control. During the next seven months, I netted $100,308 (in 1978
dollars!), and I never looked back.
Applicant control is the difference maker. If you don't
understand it and apply it on every search, you'll never be a
successful recruiter. Let me share with you some of the secrets I
learned about applicant control in those early days that I've
applied on every search since.
While some of the points below might not be applicable to every
situation, you'll quickly see how they could help you improve your
Be the most credible recruiter the candidate will ever
work with. You must know the job, the company, the
market, and the manager if you want to influence a candidate to
consider your opportunity and move forward in the selection
process. Without this knowledge, you can't effectively demonstrate
to a top person that your open position is the best among
Sell on opportunity, not compensation.
Someone can always pay more. You'll never have enough money in the
budget to pay top dollar. Instead, you must sell on the idea that
your job represents the best long-term career move and the one
that can make the biggest near-term impact.
Recruit on strategy, not tactics. Convince
the candidate to view your opportunity as a long-term decision
based on multiple factors, not a short-term move based on just
comp, location, and title. Convince your candidate that too many
short-term moves can quickly short-circuit a promising career.
Don't take no for an answer. An early no is
usually based on lack of complete information. Don't buy into the
"not interested" or "have a better opportunity" excuse. Stand your
ground. Suggest that if you could demonstrate that if your spot
was far superior to everything else the candidate is considering,
wouldn't it make business and career sense just to talk about it
for five to 10 minutes? You need to convince the person that the
bigger risk is not talking.
Stay the buyer from beginning to end. Make
the candidate earn the job. If the job is too easy to get, a top
person won't want it. Assuming the job is really bigger, you must
ask your interview questions in such a way that the candidate
needs to convince you she's strong enough to be a finalist for the
Recruit from beginning to end. Recruiting
doesn't start after you've interviewed the candidate; it starts
the moment you meet. Early on, suggest that if your open spot is
not at least 15% to 20% better than other opportunities the
candidate is considering, it's not worth pursuing. But don't limit
the definition of "better" to compensation. Also, put into the mix
the types of projects involved, the impact the person could make,
the opportunity for upward mobility, the company strategy and
growth prospect, the industry, the culture, the team, and the
hiring manager's leadership skills.
Don't move too fast, or too slow, but always move
forward. You can't rush a long-term decision. It takes
time for a top person to consider various alternatives, but you
need to keep the candidate constantly involved gathering more
information. Advancing the process is the key concept here. For
example, to validate the upward mobility opportunity, have the
candidate talk with someone who has been promoted pretty rapidly
or is handling bigger projects.
Make the candidate earn the right to move
forward. Use each step in the selection process (i.e.,
the next interview) as an opportunity to negotiate parts of a
potential final offer. For example, when setting up the second
round of interviews, have the candidate agree to a smaller comp
increase if the job really offers more significant short-term
stretch. Don't forget as part of this discussion that the bigger
the stretch, the lighter the candidate is in terms of others
you're considering. This is a fair trade off.
Get the candidate's personal advisors
involved. Top people don't make the decision by
themselves. They consult with their friends, family, co-workers,
and personal advisors. Provide enough information in order for the
candidate to convince his advisory team that your job is the best,
even if the compensation isn't. If you ignore this step, the
advisory team will focus on the short-term tactical stuff like the
biggest comp, the best title, and the shortest drive.
Don't make the offer until it's accepted. An
"I have to think about it," response is unacceptable. Once you
formalize the offer, you've lost applicant control. In this case,
you have become the seller and the candidate has become the buyer. Before you
formalize the offer, you must get the candidate to agree to every
term listed and agree not to take a counter-offer. You do this by
testing, testing, and more testing. For example, rather than making
the offer, ask the candidate if he'd
accept it within 24 hours under the terms listed. If the answer is
no, withhold the offer and find out what's preventing the
candidate from accepting it. Then, do not make it until the
candidate agrees to all of your terms.
While these concepts and ideas helped me become a successful
recruiter, I realized after a few years I was still losing searches
for preventable reasons.
Most of these had to do with problems with hiring managers and
the hiring team. This eventually yielded another important
principle, one Mark never revealed to me: client control.
Knowing how to influence your clients and everyone who votes on
your candidates allowed me to dramatically increase my billings even
further. I'll share these secrets with you in some future article,
but for now start learning about and exerting applicant control.
Then send me your results, even the ugly ones. I'll send the top
dozen a free copy of the 3rd edition of my book,
Hire With Your Head
(John Wiley & Sons, June 2007), but the real gift will be a profound increase in
your placement rate.