Question

I head up a large sales team. Every year it’s harder and harder to attract and hire good salespeople. I’m fed up with HR’s lack of answers. HR posts our jobs on all the top websites from LinkedIn to ZipRecruiter and several specialty sites. I used to read your advice columns on Adobe’s CMO.com so I know you know something about sales. Where should we be posting jobs? What can I do to get our HR to wise up and make recruiting a priority?

Nick’s Reply

posting jobsWe covered a related topic last month but judging from the number of hiring managers I’ve heard from, I think it’s worth taking another whack at it.

Posting jobs doesn’t yield the best talent because the best workers expect what your customers demand: the personal touch. They don’t read job boards or respond to recruiters dialing for dollars. They want to hear from people like you — top managers who can talk shop, and who can attract exceptional workers.

That’s why — if you want to hire the best talent — you need to consider a few old recruiting rules that have never changed and that will serve you well if you follow them. The state of corporate recruiting is so bad today that I’m framing two of these rules as “do nots” simply because, before you can do this right, you have to stop doing it wrong.

Rule 1: Do not send a flunky to do your recruiting

Yes, I said a flunky. A stand-in. Don’t expect a personnel jockey from your HR department is going to impress a hard-to-get salesperson. Only you can do that.

It’s also an old rule that most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts, not by posting jobs. So, why would you take an impersonal approach to hiring while your best competitors are scarfing up the best people by making recruiting personal?

 If you want your HR department to do something useful to help speed up intelligent recruiting, assign them the task of figuring out where the best talent hangs out. Then go there and impress the talent with your motivation to reach out and attract them yourself.

Rule 2: Do not ask busy people to fill out forms

Do you launch marketing campaigns that require prospective customers to fill out five pages of online forms to qualify for a sales pitch to buy your company’s products? Of course not.

So what makes you think it’s okay for your HR department to treat sales professionals like they have to qualify to talk to you about a job? Your head of HR will explain that someone has to “screen” and “qualify” those people — that’s why they have to fill out forms and provide their experience and history.

Sheesh. Why is your HR department recruiting people whose experience and history HR doesn’t already know? Do you let your sales team chase low-probability prospects, or do you invest loads in big data analytics that tell you exactly who’s worth selling to? Why do you let your HR department post jobs that anyone can apply for? That’s not recruiting. That’s trying to drink from a fire hose.

When you identify people worth recruiting, wine and dine them like you do the customers you hope to land. Don’t ask them to fill out forms.

Rule 3: Be ready to close the deal now

When you have a high-value sales prospect in your office, someone who’s ready to buy your product after they’ve heard your pitch, do you thank them for listening — then explain that you’ll get back to them in a few weeks about closing the sale? Why do you let your HR department do that to job candidates?

This rule can actually be re-written another way: “Interview only candidates worth hiring.” It’s no different than qualifying a customer before you invest in selling to them. Of course, you know it requires a big investment to qualify customers. So, where’s your investment in real recruiting?

When you bring a job candidate into your office, you should already know whether they’re worth hiring. You should have made that investment in advance. The job board industry wants you to forget that step, because the more people you interview and the fewer you hire the more money the job boards make from you.

Before any interview, ask yourself, do I already know enough about this candidate to make a hiring decision at the end of our meeting? If not, your recruiting process is broken and you’re wasting enormous resources talking to essentially random people. Plan your recruiting so you’re ready to close the deal now.

Put down the fire hose!

This is not to say that job interviews are for making job offers every time. A job interview helps you determine whether a person is really worth hiring.

Now I’m going to blow up the unspoken rule virtually every hiring manager and HR jockey accepts and follows blindly: “Interview all the candidates then decide which to hire.” Wrong!

When an interview meeting ends, you should have the final bits of data you need to look the candidate in the face and say, “No, thank you — this won’t work out, but thanks for your time,” or, “I’m so glad we met to talk shop. I want you to work with us, so I’m going to offer you a job right now, before my best competitor snatches you up!”

I can hear the HR posse coming to torch my house. Hire on the spot? Nick, you reprobate! What about all the other candidates we got by posting jobs? But think about this carefully: You should be recruiting and interviewing only candidates that you have vetted first. Put down the fire hose! Stop posting jobs. Pursue only sales candidates that have already been highly recommended to you. Another way to think about this: check references before you decide to even approach a candidate.

Be ready at the end of any interview to do what candidates wish every manager would do: Say “REJECTED!” or “YOU’RE HIRED!”

Nothing has changed in sales and marketing or in recruiting. Know your target in advance. Pursue only high quality targets. Be ready to close a deal quickly before our competitors get the jump on you.

It’s critical to remember that when hiring we’re not dealing in commodities. Our competitive edge is hiring only the best, and we cannot let HR do it. The basic rules have not changed: Do it yourself, respect your candidates, and be ready to hire them now.

What are hiring managers missing? Is the idea that job candidates deserve and need real attention so hard to grasp? Is the importance of “doing it in person” really lost on employers? What’s it going to take before hiring managers show respect to the people they need to hire?

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14 Comments
  1. Nick, you seem to be stating above that no new people can ever become salespeople, because you should “Pursue only sales candidates that have already been highly recommended to you.”

    I realize you’re a headhunter, meaning you personally only get involved in recruiting for high-level positions, but ….

    • @Carl: Not at all. I’ve had candidates recommended to me who have never done the work in question, but the person doing the recommending could explain to me why they’d be good candidates. One of the best explanations: “S/he can learn just about anything given a bit of time and attention.” I think this is especially true in sales.

      PS – I’ve worked on my share of “lower level” positions :-)

    • I knew a Division President that asked someone (with no experience)!to join his sales team.

      She completely failed the aptitude test the company had in place for hiring sales reps.

      He had to personally sign off on her hire.

      In six months she was consistently first in sales in the Region. And in the top five in the Division.

      My point being people with the ability to be successful can be recruited. If the company is will to make an effort.

  2. Brillant article Nick!

    I think the reality will be somehow nuanced with an additional “Maybe” as the outcome.

    This because 1) there might still be some shortcomings with candidates that positively impress for a given role then leading to 2) humans often still want to compare and see if they can find better (i.e without the shortcomings)… but the overall approach still stands!

  3. I have 3 companies that are basically letting me wait for a few weeks before they will sell me what I want to buy, so Rule 3 seems to be violated in sakes now too.

    • @Dale: Sheesh. The problem is infectious!

  4. I’ve worked all sides of the recruiting street, the hiring manager, agency recruiter, inside recruiter. This one caught my attention. I read it twice to see if there was a glimmer of a recruiting manager, i.e a manager that hangs on that petard he hangs HR.

    That is, giving recruiting a high priority. Meaning you actively are involved, not passively relying on HR or outside recruiters

    As to his whining about, and hiding behind HR. I’ve worked with a lot of HRs, which always includes recruiting as this guy infers. And one size doesn’t fit all. some have been big helps, others not so. the difference due to skills and commitment to recruiting.

    HR is A resource not THE resource. You get from it, what you put into it. Leverage it, bring your HR recruiter into your fold, let them shadow your best, have them sit in on team meetings If you don’t want an HR flunky, spend the time to train your HR rep to be your rep. They’re not idiots things will improve if you invest in the right HR rep.

    This manager is a sales professional. And sales is a big part of recruiting. Of anyone in management this manager should know how to find and cultivate resources, and then sell into them. And he sits on top of an organization full of sales savvy people. Incent the team to sell the company, the sales organization, the products/services.

    If you really want to make headway, teach that HR recruiter to go past hunting for people, teach them to find sources YOU can work. Where YOU can spend time finding talent. i.e. someone to help build your network

    When I was on my unemployment adventures in outplacement, I was amazed by the sales folks. That they hunted for work like us mere mortals. including the managers. Of all the people I expected to sell themselves, they followed the same regimen as everyone else. applying to postings.

    This sales manager, needs to practice the sales professions craft…get out there and sell

    • @Don: My experience mirrors yours. I offer one-on-one coaching for job seekers that face daunting obstacles and need an hour’s worth of talk and guidance. Many are in sales. Their main problems? (1) They don’t think and do their homework to pre-select their targets to ensure a higher hit rate, and (2) they can’t seem to be able to get their foot in the door.

      Sales 101, anyone?

      I’m not making fun of them. To the contrary, I feel extra sorry for them because this is proof positive of the pervasive brainwashing that even professionals that know better succumb to. Everybody gets suckered by “the rules.”

  5. I suspect most [management of] companies do not believe people are not desperately wanting to work for them.

    Basically, of the 6.6 million companies in the USA, yours is the *only* one I want to work for.

    Changing the mindset (and actions) from “you should be grateful to have a job here” to “we are grateful you work here” would change much of this.

  6. This hit home for me! Although I am not in sales.
    When did it go from where the recruiter and/or hiring manager did the hunting for qualified candidates and reached out to you directly? Where can you hand-pick 10 to 15 qualified candidates? (whatever number)
    Now its let’s post a job on LinkedIn with the “Easy Apply” and get over 1000 applicants, of which 85% are not qualified for whatever reason. Meanwhile, great candidates get lost in the crowd, or the ATS trashing system discards them.
    I went from always being hunted or tapped on the shoulder that I am now the hunter.
    If LinkedIn would get rid of its job board it will go back to a networking forum.

  7. Nick,

    Seems logic is not sinking in. Maybe u need to pull out the bigger hammer for the slow-learners. Or are they just too stubborn to get it?

    • Is this being taught in management courses at universities ? Telling human resource managers to just post jobs? I have heard of lots of MEGO’s (my eyes glazed over) when speaking with HR.

  8. Great advice. But in many organizations, it simply won’t work. Hiring managers need workarounds. Many companies are more concerned about appearing fair rather than getting the right person in the position.

    Rule 1: My company knows all. We have a team that the company thinks actually have a clue. They don’t. But they still bring in candidates. I can subvert to a point and I do my own recruiting. But, I need to eventually send my candidates through the recruiters. They control access to the all knowing hiring system.

    Rule 2: Eliminate paperwork. I wish. There is no getting around the paperwork. Candidates need a resume and then they need to basically repeat the same information on a form. Stupid. I know. All I can do is try to convince candidates that it will be worth it.

    Rule 3: Immediate offer. This is a dream. We are required to have a certain number of candidates and they must all be considered. If a position is considered “high level” (a very low bar), we need to have a useless panel interview where you have a bunch of people who have no clue as to the actual job ask candidates the same useless questions and then score them based on their own criteria, not the hiring managers.

    How can the hiring manager succeed when their company has stacked the deck against us. Unless every company stacks the deck against their hiring managers?

    • ” All I can do is try to convince candidates that it will be worth it.”

      In my [personal, limited] experience, this puts you ahead of 90% of the hiring managers and recruiters…actually talking to the candidate and helping them through the process.

      I have had this experience a few times. Someone on the inside helping me navigate the process. Makes all the difference.

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