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Recruiters Aren't Salespeople or Marketers, They're Career Consultants

Recruiters are marketers.

Recruiters are salespeople.

Recruiting is like dating.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Yes, recruiting is hard, and yes, to do it well you have to borrow from other disciplines. But as my friend Bill Boorman once told me with a scoff and a chortle, “Recruiting is recruiting”.

Sure, you can forecast hires (revenue) based on talent pipelines (lead funnels) and use a phone screen (qualification call) to set up an on-site interview (product demo). But once you’re done with the plumbing, thoughtful recruiters still have much more at stake than your average salesperson or above average marketer. At the end of the day, you’re going to be coaching someone through a life-changing career move. Their opportunity to advance their career, make more money, and work on the things they like in an area they care about, rest firmly on the recruiter’s shoulders.

Career Consultants

In light of this awesome responsibility, the best recruiters do something which on paper seems counter-intuitive: they tell qualified candidates they aren’t right for the job.

Of course, you’re always going to be pressured by your boss or pesky hiring manager to sell the role and close the candidate. But if you move people forward on their potential to take the job rather than their potential to succeed and be happy, you’ll see your churn rate swell and in a few months you’ll be right back where you started hiring for the same role. Rather than disparage recruiting by conflating it with another department in your company, allow me to cast the job in a different light.

Talent acquisition folks are tasked with identifying what about someone’s next job is most important to them, finding people who will be a long term asset to the company, and connecting someone with a role in which they’ll flourish. As a result, thoughtful recruiters more closely resemble career consultants than they do salespeople, marketers, or hopeful singles at a speed dating meet up. On a recent episode of Hired’s Podcast, founder of Erin Wilson waxed poetic on this very topic:

As you pursue this recruiter’s privilege, consider the following ways you can take the consultative approach to  ensure a great candidate experience, prioritize people who are a great fit for your role, and build a repeatable, predictable hiring process.

Identify Key Motivators

When it comes to what’s exciting and important about a new job, every candidate is different. Some want the standard career ladder stuff: a raise, a promotion, direct reports. Some want an office closer to their home so they can slash their commute in half. Some just want a well-architected team where they know the systems and their position are secure. If you can identify what makes them tick on the first phone screen, you’ll know right off the bat how close of a fit your role is. If their main motivator is something you can offer, you can orient your entire pitch around it. As you get further in the process, you’re likely to find yourself competing with other companies. Your candidate’s head may be turned by another company’s sexy brand or high compensation, but if the key motivator you clued in on is actually crucial to them, you may still be able to win the day.

On the other hand, if their must-have is something you can’t offer, warning the candidate allows you to weed out someone who might get all the way down to the offer stage before rejecting you. This will pay off huge dividends down the road, as offer rejectors often represent the largest time sink when it comes to the hiring process.

Help Them Prioritize

Another thing you’re likely to come up against is the candidate who’s interviewing with a dozen companies. While volume isn’t necessarily a reason to pull back on a candidate, it is an opportunity to see where you stack up and also hold true to your predictable and repeatable hiring time frames. Ask your candidate where you rank among the companies they’re talking to, and if you’re not in the top 5, tell them to focus on the ones they’re excited about and come back to you if things change. Might you sometimes win that fight against 11 other companies? Sure. So yes, this means you agree to occasionally lose out on a great candidate. But more importantly, you’ll be building a repeatable, predictable hiring model, one that allows you to set attainable goals with hiring managers and delegate work to your team in accordance with their bandwidth.

Plug and Play

When you arrive at the realization that a candidate may not be a great fit, there’s still some work to do before you pull the ripcord. First, be thoughtful about other teams and roles in your company that might be better for them. Is a different manager open to more frequent work-from-home days? Are other teams using different technologies, or do they carry a greater likelihood for additional headcount under a specific hire? It’s not going to be easy, as pulling this off requires an encyclopedic knowledge of your company’s positions, as well as the grace to shift a candidate’s attention to a completely different role. Take this one step further and send them the way of another recruiter friend of yours at a different company. Talent pools for a specific role can be small, and this sort of good will can pay off.

Remember, talent acquisition is only like sales or marketing, it isn’t the skillset itself. Part of what makes recruiting so difficult is the need to roll abilities refined by other trades into your own. It’s not enough to use this understanding solely in your technical day to day, though. As you endeavor to position yourself as a thoughtful, caring career consultant, you have to speak your candidates’ language and understand some of the intricacies of the role. When you truly understand your candidate and help them make the best possible personal career decision, you turn the process of mere role filling into one that’s human and borne from trust. That’s recruiting.