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. 

Views: 2425

Comment by Pete Radloff on April 4, 2014 at 2:34pm

Keith - you know (I hope) I value what you're saying here and always. But I think it's a pride issue. Anyone who is proud of their profession, and takes great care to do their share to bring honor (for lack of a better, less-corny term) to their work likely feels the same way.  Sure, I could say nothing, but I've worked hard and feel the need to defend my profession. 

There are too many self-proclaimed "experts" who are too lazy (yes, I've gone there) to work hard to get the credibility they need. So I take offense when people look from outside and criticize with no proverbial dirt under their nails. 

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 4, 2014 at 4:58pm

Thanks, Lisa. Unless we're a pure sourcer- we all sell in some capacity in recruiting. I think if someone is deeply uncomfortable with that aspect of what they do, they should think about and discuss it- perhaps recruiting isn't for them.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 4, 2014 at 5:08pm

Thanks, Pete. As recruiters, we provide what is considered by Jews to be the highest form of (what's loosely translated as) charity- enabling someone to provide for him/herself. If some overpaid pompous ******* thinks we're ****, well too bad. Our pride needs to come from what we do and how we do it, not what others say, and this comes from a weasely, people-pleasing, brown-nosing, ***-kissing SOB...


Comment by lisa rokusek on April 4, 2014 at 5:34pm

Acceptance does come from within, but clearly I'll do some wrasslin' on the internets too!

Comment by Steve Levy on April 4, 2014 at 5:55pm

Pete...I'm both head of sales AND head of marketing for every search - these roles seem to go back and forth like a conversation with someone with multiple personalities. So I'll go with being called either without getting my dander up. The difference though is in what we're selling: Most recruiters are still stuck at the selling at the discount store in Mall when the more experienced ones here have graduated over time into the consultative recruiter who's selling enterprise solutions. Massive difference here with the only commonality being the job title...

Comment by Rich Rosen on April 9, 2014 at 9:08am

Great post Peter -- I have been recruiting(software sales people)  for nearly 20 years  and bottom line those recruites that make  and look at recruiting as a  SALES career all bill substanially more then  those who dont..  I 100% agree  If our industry had more people who viewed  Sales as a positive  and not mutually  exclusive from ethics  we would all be be even more  successful.. 

Comment by Redmond Institute on April 10, 2014 at 4:24pm

Hi Pete,

I read your blog post (and the replies) with real interest. I deliver training to businesses on persuasion techniques and recently I have begun to concentrate on the recruitment industry. I am at the very early stages of putting a training course together (...this is not a sales pitch...i'll wait until I have built enough rapport, you won't even see it coming!) specifically for the recruitment industry. I knew nothing really about the industry but my first thought was that really it is a sales job. You are constantly selling to clients and candidates all during the process I would imagine. So I am really looking to get as much information on the training needs of the industry as I can. So what would you or any one else reading say recruiters lacking in their skill set? Or where would they like to up skill?


Comment by Mitch Sullivan on June 13, 2014 at 6:10am

Pete, I agree with the basic premise of this blog, but felt Kyle's blog had some merit also.  I also think you're in overkill territory if you have to keep selling to the candidate throughout the hiring process.  At some point you have to let go and accept that it's their life and their career and they should be working through the pros and cons themselves.

I think the very best recruiters tend to be great at sales, admin (including data analysis) and man-management.

There aren't many that are great at all three and I think most decent recruiters get by on any two of those.

In my experience the best load most of the selling to the front end - meaning they challenge the client, secure the work exclusively, create realistic expectations and then prepare the sales propositions to the target candidates.  Then the rest becomes more about buying.


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