We hear it all the time – Recruiters are sales people. Whether you work in an agency or in-house, your job is to track down leads, fulfill metrics and often times convince people to do things they may feel reluctant to do. But what kind of sales person do you want to be, and more importantly, not be?

Last weekend I saw the Seattle Repertoire Theater version of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Glengarry Glen Ross is a Pulitzer Prize winning play from 1984, later made into a movie that shows the sales trade in its rawest light, for the most part demonstrating examples of how not to sell and how not to run your sales organization. These desperate real estate salesmen will go to any length including lies, bribery, flattery, threats and intimidation to close a deal on the undesirable real estate they are pedaling.

In my years in the people business, I’ve worked with all kinds, so I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Though I’m sad to report that none of the tactics I saw in GGGR shocked me, I am pleased to mention that though the play demonstrates lousy selling to the extreme, it is a good reminder of the sales person I do not want to be.

The other day after following up on a candidate for weeks, he finally returned my call. He was honest with me at the beginning of the call regarding his opinion of recruiters and recruiting firms – and he didn’t have to be. I could smell his apprehension from a mile away. I can’t say I blame him; he’d had every dirty trick tried on him throughout his experiences working with recruiters. What he wanted was simple. Honesty. Not to be told his pay rate had been lowered after accepting a job only to increase company margin dollars, not to be told the contract was 12 months only to find out it was only 3, not to be told he would have work life balance only to discover a company issued cot under his desk.

In GGGR, we see character Shelly Levene, desperate to make a sale after a slow couple of months. We hear the mantra over and over: “ABC, always be closing, always be closing.” But at what cost? While yes, recruiting by definition is fulfillment of open jobs to what length do you go to make a hire and at what cost? Closing a deal simply to satisfy a number, make a commission, or close a requisition is not strategic nor is it sales. To me, a true sale is income received in exchange not just for goods, but for goods of value.

So what can be learned from this play to help us not become the kind of sales people we should never strive to be?

Don’t be a Ricky Roma

After meeting passive and easily persuaded James Lingk, Ricky decides to play into James’ weakness by delivering a speech about the absence of morality in the world and the responsibility of each man to be the master of his own destiny. He then sells him some property convincing James he doesn’t need to talk it over with his wife, only to have him renege two days later on his wife’s orders. He then lies to James about the contract in order to stall into a situation where it’s too late and James must legally go through with the purchase.

Not considering a spouse’s influence, that’s a process flaw. Lying to James to stall him until it’s too late, that’s an ethics flaw. A good recruiter should never push candidates into making a decision by manipulation tactics, or by withholding crucial information from them. Our jobs are to help our candidates make the best decision for them which becomes the best decision for the company.

How am I gonna make a livin' on these deadbeats?

In a later scene, Ricky Roma complains that he is being handed bad leads, making a snap judgment on a lead due to race. Obviously we all know better than to commit illegal discriminating hiring practices, but we’ve all been guilty of letting our snap judgments cloud a good hiring decision. There is more to a person than their first impression, their limp handshake, or quiet demeanor. If it’s not relevant to the job itself, it can be overcome.

Selling to the Nyborgs

Shelly Levene learns after closing a huge deal with Bruce and Harriet Nyborg that the sale is about to evaporate as it always does with this infamous couple. He later finds out the Nyborgs are “crazy old folks" who have no money and just enjoy talking to salesmen.

We’ve all had that candidate – the one who “puts his feelers out there” and spends hours of your time talking about various jobs, wants to know what’s going on in the market, is curious about this job, is interested in that company, etc. At first you think you’re building a relationship, keeping in touch, pipelining ignoring all the signs. After a few months and several job opportunities this candidate has discarded, you finally realize that this person is a Nyborg. They just enjoy being perused. They are not serious about leaving their current role and won’t be for a long time if ever.

First prize, Cadillac, second prize, steak knives

Keep your eye on the prize – your candidates. It’s easy to get sidetracked by metrics, and money, but when you keep your focus where it counts, you’ll win every time.

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Comment by Ejiro Enemigin on March 24, 2010 at 9:53am
Interesting blog post, I just had an unsavory experience with a Nyborg and it wasn't funny! At least I have a tag for such individuals now...
Comment by Jacob Rhoades on March 29, 2010 at 2:52pm
I whole heartedly believe that most recruiters out there have the candidate's best intentions in mind - initially, anyway. The trick is not to pull a Shelly Levene...to push and struggle trying to do it right, only to bend to the pressure at the end.

The firm GGGR condoned that type of behavior, wanted those types of sales people - it really depends on the recruiting firm and organization, not just the morals of one recruiter.

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