Actually, Recruiting IS Sales - How I've Come To Accept It

I read the article by Kyle Lagunas about recruiting, and how it’s not like selling at all. And while I appreciate his thoughts, I think they are misguided, and frankly, I still think he’s speaking as an "expert" in an area where he doesn’t have any applicable experience. This is akin to me giving stock advice. Sure, I have a brokerage account, but I lack the Series 7 that would be critical for me to give the advice people could count on.

So after cooling down for a night, I set out to yet again defend the profession I’ve taken up. Sure, I fell into it like the rest of us, but I’m a believer of jumping in 100% to your career. After all, if you are going to be a bear, be a grizzly.

Full Disclosure: Following the obscenely talented Amy Ala's post on this is hard. So just bear with me......

So here's how I see sales as a part of what I do at each phase. Again, I don't take this lightly and many of my colleagues can attest to how long I was in denial about this. So I'm saying this after years of self-introspection and reflection. I've been on the agency and corporate sides, so I feel like I can speak intelligently to both sides. You know, because I DO it for a LIVING. 


1.  When I get a new Job & meet with the manager

  • I need to meet with the hiring manager and determine what the "sell" is on the role.  This helps me to formulate how I'm going to pitch this next great opportunity to someone I proactively reach out to. Contrary to misconceptions, recruiters don't just sit back and sift through resumes of people beating down the door.  We have to reach out and convince people (sell to them) that they want to speak to us.  I also need to make sure here that the manager knows how to sell this job.


2. Tweaking the Job Description

  • Most job descriptions suck. We all know this, and usually they are a laundry list of skills, that are boring, tedious and annoying. I take that information I glean from the manager and what I know about my group, that I can add into the Job Description to give it some more flair.  Knowing that jobs are more than just the 8-5 - they are about culture, perks, benefits, and the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) factors. This is selling. Without having the "customer" in front of me, but for the general target audience.


3. Contacting the candidate

  • Again, as much as I wish I just sifted through resumes and employee referrals all day, I don't have that luxury.  I need to seek people out – LinkedIn, social sites, meetups, whatever. I need to go to them. They often aren’t looking, and I need to show them why listening to what I have to say is worth 15-20 minutes of their time (maybe more after that).  Fact is, I’m not super rich, famous or an Adonis, so I don’t have people falling over themselves to talk to me. I have to SELL them that I have something interesting that they need to take time to talk with me about.

4. Selling the candidate on the Phone

  • Now that I’ve got them on the phone, we’ll obviously compare their skills with what we need. But I don’t get the luxury of saying “so, why do you want to work here at XYZ Company”? Why? Because I called them. They may not have even thought of us before. Maybe we have a shitty brand in the market or are really new and small (been there on both accounts). I can do that with people who applied. They initiated the interest.  Again, I need to sell what we have that matches what they might want, and how we can make their career/life/balance better.

5. Selling to the Hiring Manager

  • Yep, I gotta sell to my own people as well. Really? Yeah, Really. A lot of hiring managers don’t want to talk to someone unless they are perfect, and hit every check box on the “list”. And my job is to sell why I think the candidate is solid, and if they lack something, perhaps it’s something we can teach. Or why a particular skill or piece of their experience is really critical to what we need/want.  I have to consult to my internal teams.  Recruiters that don’t sell/consult are as useful as the people who ask “do you want fries with that” And yes, consulting is sales.  I do that too, so I can speak intelligently on it as well. 

5a. I’m skipping talking about teaching the manager to sell in their phone interview or interview, because that falls under coaching. But yeah, I gotta do that too.  Anyone got a spare hat rack?

6. Selling to the candidate in the interview & at the offer stage

  • So the candidate has met with the team and is still interested in the job. I have to sell them again on the merits of working here. I need to gage any concerns they have – which is daunting, because people lie - I need to quell any fears that they have about changing roles, uprooting their family out of state, learning a new technology, maybe even taking a small pay cut.
  • None of this even factors in me having to compete against other offers. So now I need to learn the offer structure of the competing offers, assuming they share this or I can find it – otherwise I’m selling blind. I’ve then got to go deeper and sell the point by point of why our offer is better. And I also need to be open and tell them where I can’t match or exceed the other offer. In that case, I need to highlight the other areas that could fill in the gaps for the stuff I can’t change.

CRM’s are nice. I love what Salesforce and other companies have done for selling. Recruiting products, while I have a few favorite tools, most of them suck.  Know why? Most aren’t made by recruiters. When we start including the end users in the process of developing great tools, then we’ll see some game changers. So until then the technology game is moot, and we gotta work with what we’ve got. Simple as that.

So yeah, I feel like I’m constantly selling. And I laugh some days that I was so in denial about what I do, because I actually don’t like being sold to. Ask my wife about anyone who comes up to me in a department store – I feel bad for those folks. I like assessing things and making my own decisions.  

Ironic, I know, but this is how I make sure the kids go to college and don’t have to dig ditches for a living. (Unless they want to, then that’s totally cool) And again, as someone who does this for a living, I feel qualified to talk about it.  As for stock advice, you’re on your own, but I’m sure I know a guy. 

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Comment by lisa rokusek on April 4, 2014 at 11:29am

I don't know why this exchange has stuck in my head so much but it has. I suppose it is partly because I think if we recruiters embraced the selling portion of our reality MORE (instead of LESS) we'd do a better job for our candidates and companies we represent.  

The more we realize that influence and positioning and digging out and speaking to objections in the particular are part of what we do (you know, selling) the less we will turn people into commodities and mindlessly shovel crap which is actually what gives recruiters a bad rap.

I think many recruiter, upon hearing the word sales, go straight to a mental image of a snake oil or used car salesperson - the worst examples of sales - instead of the heroes of commerce that keep the engines of business moving forward. Those unfortunates aren't the best examples of sales - they are bad behavior personified, so of course we have an aversion. This isn't to say there are not used-car salesmen that are fantastic - there are. But it is an image I had to fight in my mind and it doesn't seem confined to me.

Selling isn't artlessly or hamfistedly trying to get someone to do what they don't want - that is just bad behavior, poor manners and a trip to loserville. Sales is finding the person who wants what you have and helping them get it, which sounds a lot like recruiting, doesn't it?

Comment by Pete Radloff on April 4, 2014 at 11:37am

You bet Lisa. And I'm amped over this whole thing too, which probably doesn't surprise too many people who know me well. But frankly I've just had it with having to justify my profession, OVER and OVER again. Now having to do so, to another "expert" who hasn't done shit in my field, where I've labored 50-80 hours a week for 15 years, it makes me see red.  

The fact that me pointing out that he's never actually done this work and isn't qualified, made him all sortsa mad, because I "insulted" him. All I did was point out an obvious fact. Again, I dont have a series 7, so I probably shouldn't advise anyone on today's GrubHub IPO. 

Comment by Recruiting Animal on April 4, 2014 at 11:54am

Recruiting can be selling if you are like a total expert on the job and market which few recruiters are for every job. Getting the sell from the Hiring Manager is not the same thing.

Comment by Pete Radloff on April 4, 2014 at 11:57am

I see where you're coming from.  What I meant there was that info gathering of the "sell" on the position helps me with being able to outwardly sell to candidates. Sorry if that was a bit convoluted.  I also think (and this is a whole separate post) that most recruiters should stick to one area of expertise, so they can be an expert on the market and the jobs and most importantly the skills, so they are not just barfing keywords out.  

Comment by lisa rokusek on April 4, 2014 at 11:59am

Animal, dude, I love you but.  

I don't have to be an expert on a job to find out what a candidate wants and position what I know about the opportunity as best I can.  I have to ask good questions and listen. Listening by positioning -someone should trademark that phrase - Oh I did.  I get that there are many ways of "doing recruiting" but we don't do ourselves any favors by denying that persuasion is part of the job. Selling is at its heart, about persuasion.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on April 4, 2014 at 12:02pm

so where do we draw the line at what "is" a salesperson anyway? Is the kid at the mall kiosk hawking cell phones a salesperson? Sure. How about the enterprise guy who just sold a 1.5M software contract? Yep. Are they different kinds of sales? Of course. You could argue all day long about the superiority of one over the other but again they're both doing (some well, some not) exactly what Lisa said. Why is this so difficult for some people to get?

And he did get unnecessarily pissy at both Lisa & Pete. What's with the stompy foot "if you don't agree with me you're not thinking big enough" nonsense?

Excellent post BTW :)

Comment by Pete Radloff on April 4, 2014 at 12:11pm

Thanks Amy. You're a tough act to follow. :)

Comment by lisa rokusek on April 4, 2014 at 12:35pm

Oh good, it wasn't me that found his reply kind of odd. I mean he was all RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAE! (yes that is a Cartman reference) but I felt a bit dis-respected even as he demanded it for himself.  I mean he called me smug. Look, few of you have met me but I am not smug. Cranky,opinionated, sometimes downright pissy. Smug? Hell no!  It stung, I'll admit.  

I didn't call him a name back, so I win.

I do love this excellent discussion. I hope neither of you mind my working out my thoughts in the comments of your posts.  

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 4, 2014 at 2:16pm

@ Everybody: pPrhaps I'm being a bit "thick-skinned", but as long as we are able to keep working, who gives a **** what anybody says about recruiters? They aren't paying us! Am I wrong here?


Comment by lisa rokusek on April 4, 2014 at 2:21pm

No I totally get your position, Keith.  You are correct, of course. But I've been thinking about what function we provide, what makes us really good - while being aware that there are many variances. I mean it is true that there are almost as many ways of being a recruiter as there are recruiters.  

But I think how we see ourselves matters. I think if we distance ourselves from sales - as if it is something dirty, we lose something.  Many people struggle with that - after all this time sometimes I do. So I want to look at that. If it helps someone (even if it is only me) do better, perform better, feel more comfortable about what we do and the value we provide - then I think it a worthwhile discussion.


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