Candidate Motivation 101

I just interviewed for a position as a Technical Sourcer/Recruiter at a large Silicon Valley presence. Their sourcing methodology and philosophy was quite a surprise to me. My interviewer, the Team Lead I would be reporting to, said this verbatim: “We don’t have any problem hiring passive candidates, everyone wants to work here”. If their Sourcing Team Leaders actually believe that, they are missing a critical piece of the sourcing puzzle. Such a philosophy is understandable, but when it affects the quality of hires it’s a major problem.

I personally know quite a few people – some of them brilliant, driven, top-performing technologists – who have stated openly that they would never work at that company. Not for any reason related to that particular company: they simply are not interested in the work that they believe that company would offer them. I’m not denigrating the SF Area companies: the above philosophy is common everywhere. Nor is it relegated to high-tech companies, it is a common attitude at companies everywhere, and especially at very large companies.

That’s just one example of the mistakes many hiring managers and recruiters make when trying to source or close a candidate. The classic is believing more money will close the offer. But there are others: stock options, pending IPO, better job, newer technology, more interesting project, opportunity for advancement. One or several of those may motivate some candidates, but more often than not there are other factors motivating your candidate to make a change.

I once had a candidate in a dead-end job at a small company. A Fortune 500 company was very interested in hiring him: offering better pay, opportunity for advancement, more interesting work, shorter commute – and a lot more. The candidate had been approached numerous times in the past by recruiters from various major high-tech companies, and never gotten to the offer stage because none of the recruiters bothered to address what HE wanted! He had a child with a rare medical condition which required very expensive treatment: all the candidate wanted to know was “Is my child’s condition covered under the medical plan?” After the hiring manager and I had jumped through a few hoops to confirm that the treatment was covered, the candidate accepted the offer – and I collected my fee.

That’s why it’s crucial to establish a genuine consultative relationship with a candidate. If you can accomplish that, your offer-to-acceptance ratio will improve – a lot. This is as true at the sourcing level as it is at the offer stage; the challenge the sourcer faces is establishing that relationship in a 15-30 second window. Impossible? Any good salesman will tell you that it’s not just possible, it’s essential! Good salesmen across the country do this every day.

Unless a recruiter or sourcer already understands the above, they should be sent through sales training before being allowed to pick up their phone or use their e-mail. All the truly effective recruiters I know understand that the most critical part of recruiting is selling. Selling the opening, selling the job posting to the hiring manager, selling the offer. It’s all selling, and effective selling requires establishing a relationship with the buyer. If you don’t believe me, just search for high-level sales jobs: most of the postings will include “Proven History of Establishing Consultative Relationships”.

So whether you’re a staffing leader, hiring manager, start-up company, head of talent acquisition for a major high-tech company, or the CEO: make sure your recruiting efforts are optimized. If your recruiters are trying to source A++ Passive Candidates, but are operating under the belief that “everyone wants to work here”? Your recruiting department is not optimized.