Getting the Most Out of Your Recruiter

By Justin Roy June 15, 2006

(From the June 2006 SullivanKreiss Newsletter.)

Hiring a recruiting firm is an effective way to find candidates for key, difficult-to-fill positions. There are some important points that you should know, and a few things you can do to assist your recruiter in making sure that you get the best results.

As specialists in finding qualified candidates who are usually not actively looking for a new position, we devote many hours to the task so you don’t have to. We’ll supply qualified candidates-typically ones that are employed and often happy with their current positions-that can add critical expertise and experience to your firm. But you must keep in mind that recruiting someone who has a good job is a different process from evaluating someone who is unemployed.

Sell the opportunity. If you feel that the candidate would be an appropriate fit, it’s important to sell your firm and opportunity to the candidate. Recruited candidates are typically better hires, because once they’ve made the decision to leave a comfortable place of employment, they will have invested time to decide that the position is right for them, versus unemployed candidates who are often willing to accept the first offer. Since recruited candidates usually do not feel that they have to make a change, you will have to convince them to leave their current job for your opportunity. What is it about your opportunity that will benefit their career?

Avoid using the term “interview” in favor of “meeting.” Recruited candidates haven’t decided whether they want to make a move, and the term “interview” often inhibits open discussions.

Be willing to meet with candidates off site and off hours. Recruited candidates have comfortable positions, and do not want to do anything to jeopardize their current employment. The A/E/C community is a very small network, and candidates will often be reluctant to meet at a client’s office for fear of running into a colleague they know.

Use flexibility regarding resume and portfolio requirements during initial meetings. The best candidates often will not have this information readily available because they haven’t been looking for a new job. Even if they do have this information, the best candidates may be reluctant to share it during the first meeting for fear of jeopardizing their current position. Managers who effectively sell their opportunities at this stage usually get better results from prospects that don’t have resumes available initially.

Do not ask why the candidate is looking for another position. This is a common and good question to ask candidates seeking new employment, but recruited candidates often are not sure that they are ready to make a change. At this point, these individuals are looking for information from the hiring manager to determine why they would want to leave their current position.

Put the candidate at ease during the meeting stage and use open-ended questions. Getting the candidate to talk about himself/herself will help you determine if the candidate is right for the position. Questions such as “Tell me about your current responsibilities. How would your current manager describe you?” can help identify candidates’ hot buttons that make it easier to sell your opportunity. Avoid talking about money during the initial meeting. Based on our experience, once money is brought up, the bigger picture gets lost. In general, recruited candidates do not have money as their top priority when considering a change. Most recruited candidates are interested in hearing about the position, firm culture, and growth opportunities. If a candidate asks for the salary range, a good response is, “based on your current package, I’m confident we’ll be able to provide an attractive package, should we get to the offer stage.” (Most candidates want about a 10% raise.) If a candidate is more persistent asking about salary, then you probably have the wrong person.

Do not ask a candidate to “go home and think about it.” After the initial meeting, there won’t be a firm offer on the table. There will usually be plenty of selling yet to be done. The best way to close the initial meeting is to let the candidate know that someone from your recruiting firm will contact them.

Be patient. About 90% of qualified potential candidates that we contact are not interested in discussing a move. That means lots of rejections. I am not writing this to gain your sympathy, but to point out that to expect instant results, say, turning up a deep pool of candidates within a couple of weeks, is unrealistic. This is especially true for the specialties most in demand. It may take several months before you find a candidate to your liking. Be somewhat flexible with qualifications. For those hard-to-find specialties in particular, you sometimes can’t find the perfect candidate. When it comes to desired years of experience, for instance, 10-12 years is a narrow range that will likely exclude some good candidates. More realistic would be 8-15 years or even 8-20 years.

Sometimes the best available candidate has a little less experience than you would like, but with a year or so of grooming, can become a model employee and manager. It may be well worth it to “settle” for a little less than perfect in the short term in order to succeed in the long term.