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Independent advice: An oxymoron?

Comments about commission-only salespeople and their relationship to independent advice seem to target contingent recruiters since, by and large, they work on commission. But I’m asserting that it is valid for retained and corporate recruiters as well. No recruiter, whether agency or corporate, is able to provide totally independent advice.

Why not?

Contingent recruiters get paid only if they close a deal (like realtors). Retained recruiters are on commission too even though they are paid part of their commission up front. This means they have clients to answer to. Corporate recruiters have job openings they are responsible for filling.

Let’s look at the definition of the words “independent” and “advice”:

Independent: not requiring or relying on something
Advice: recommendation regarding a decision or course of conduct

When these words are combined they don’t make much sense. How can a recruiter make a recommendation to a candidate that doesn’t require or rely on something? We all have opinions and ideas that shape us, and consequently the advice we provide, about how things should go; hence, we can’t be completely impartial.

All recruiters have certain pressures to close deals, and these pressures impact how they interact with candidates, clients, and employers; but the bottom line is that the best and most successful recruiters work very hard to be impartial.

Qualities of a successful recruiter

The most successful recruiters are part salesman, career coach, consultant, advisor, fact finder, archaeologist, and “shrink”. They are balanced in their advice. They present both sides of the story, ask candidates a multitude of questions geared directly toward their professional needs and wants, and work to build relationships based on trust with candidates. This is something that takes time and commitment.

When my recruiting practice was still my full-time job (It wasn’t until years later that I knew enough to become a proficient career coach), I got calls all the time from candidates requesting advice. Sometimes I was representing them in one or more of the opportunities they were exploring and sometimes none of them. They called to discuss all the opportunities with me because they trusted the counsel I provided.

I called an old friend in NJ to discuss the idea of recruiters providing independent advice. He only does contingent search, has been in practice since 1985, and is very successful. He has built his practice upon all the items I mention above. Sometimes he wins deals. Sometimes he doesn’t. He is a very trusted source for his candidates. He doesn’t lie about opportunities. He presents both sides of the issue.

In speaking with some corporate recruiters and recruiting leaders, they also confirmed my assertions on what makes a successful recruiter. The best corporate recruiters also follow these principles.

The tasks of a successful recruiter

There are a number of regular practices that make recruiters successful. Is it some sort of mystery formula? It’s not a mystery at all. It’s just a matter of following some basic principles and work habits.

Sometimes I found myself struggling in my early years in search. I’d sit down with my boss to get his advice and I’ll never forget his wise words, “Go back to your basics”. It always proved successful.

So, what are the basics? A 100k foot view.

  • Sourcing: Sourcing is not just trolling LinkedIn and other online sites to find names. It’s picking up the phone and “pirating”. It’s looking online in creative ways. It’s looking through your database. It’s networking.
  • Turning names into conversations: Once you have names, you must get them to engage in conversation, and you had better know how to speak to them. If you are calling people who get flooded with recruiter calls and emails, you need an effective strategy to get them to return your calls/emails.
  • Turn conversations into candidates: Now that you have gotten someone on the phone you need to determine if s/he is a potential fit for the organization and job. This often takes hours if you do retained work as I do. Many, if not most, contingent/corporate recruiters take 15-30 minutes to decide if the person is worthy to send to the hiring manager. Do you want him/her to interview? Remember the first rule of Sales 101; Ask questions about their needs and wants and show them how you can help. You may be interested in him, but he may not be interested in you. (Think dating)
  • Listen: You had better learn how to “listen” to your candidates. This includes what is NOT being said.
  • Interview preparation: Be sure the candidate knows who he’s interviewing with, what the job expectations are, how long/how many interviews will be taking place, and what the entire process may look like. Set proper expectations for the interview process.
  • Stay in communication: Be sure you provide interview feedback in a timely manner and communicate the next steps. Keeping a candidate in the dark will not elicit goodwill.
  • Hold their hand: Spending time answering questions and dealing with concerns. Don’t avoid difficult conversations. This “high touch” interaction will enable a candidate to trust you. Trust is crucial to the outcome.
  • Qualify: It is imperative to qualify the candidate throughout the process. Is there a possibility of a counteroffer from the current employer? Will any red flags show up in reference or background checks? Ensure the candidate will accept the offer or keep negotiating until you have agreement. If you don’t feel the candidate is going to accept, find out why. Can you or the hiring manager handle the objection? Don’t be caught with your pants down.
  • Follow up: After the offer is signed, be sure to have your hiring manager place a call or send a note to the candidate congratulating him on joining the company. Tell him how excited you are to have him joining the team. This little act will go a long way.
  • Onboarding: Ensure the candidate is onboarded effectively. Walk him through the process and make sure he knows what to expect for the first 30-90 days of employment. Let him know that you are available to answer questions, or refer him to the person who can help if you can’t.

Moral of the story

The bottom line is quality recruiters will always have work, whether they work for an agency or inside a company. Why? Because job boards and online “databases” like LinkedIn are unable to replace them. There are just too many skills required of a quality recruiter, and it’s these skills that take years to develop. Great recruiters don’t take short cuts because short cuts don’t work. They consistently practice the basics that made them successful in the first place.

Creator and Host,

Carol Schultz

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