Recruiting is Like a Testosterone-Fueled 14-Year-Old

To say that I was an awkward teenager would be an understatement.

Here’s Exhibit A:


Girls turned me down. Musta been the leather tie. They stayed away in droves. Except for Allison, but that’s another story.

And I can’t say I blame them.

Because I didn’t give them a compelling reason to join my team. I was too focused on my GPA, my Dungeons & Dragons, and my oboe lessons.

Here’s Exhibit B:


Nerd alert!

While the other kids were hanging at the mall, I was hanging at home pining away for Julie on Love Boat.

So why do I tell you all this?

Why do make myself vulnerable to you and rip off the scars of those painful years?

Because I want you to know that I understand.

I understand what it’s like for you, waiting for your candidate to make their choice:

“Yes. I’m in. Let’s do this. I’m emailing you my signed offer letter this morning.”
“We need to talk. I’ve made a decision, and want to explain it to you.”

Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of candidate rejections. And each one brings me right back to that insecure, approval-seeking, testosterone-fueled teenager.

(So much for therapy.)

Now that I have a 14-year-old of my own (he’s never heard of Love Boat or D&D), I thought it was time to share why your candidates are going to say NO.

And what you might do about it (…in advance. Once they say NO, it’s too late.)

If you’re making an offer in the next week, be sure you check these boxes. And you’ll improve your chances from 50% to 90%. (Heck, nobody aces the final exam.)

(1) You haven’t laid out the Challenge. Remember: this is the #1 reason that Rockstars take a job (and the #1 reason the class clowns turn it down). Make sure they’re clear on what they’re gonna do and learn and grow their skills.

(2) You haven’t reduced their perceived risk. Something is spooking them. They think you’re about to do layoffs. Or you don’t have enough cash in the bank. Or the team is a clique that won’t accept them. Whatever it is, indulge them by putting their mind at ease. Let them do their homework on you.

(3) You’ve delivered a cr*ppy interview and recruiting experience. Stop and go. Long boring interviews. Long gaps between communications. Not much you can do about it now. But learn your lesson for the next time you hire.

(4) You forgot to ask if they’re looking at other opportunities, how they compare, and how they’ll make their decision. I ask this early and often. (Probably because the girls always had another offer for Friday night, and I wanted to know what I was up against.)

(5) You’ve stuck them with a weak and unimpressive manager. That’s like getting stuck with Ms. McGillicuty for social studies. It’s time for her to retire. Make the change.

(6) You scared them off with a last-minute surprise. You changed the title, the comp, the start date, something. And they got spooked. Overcommunicate throughout the process, or you’ll find yourself sitting home alone.

(7) Money. This is far less important than you think. (You did remember to talk compensation on the first phone screen, didn’t you? Just to make sure she wasn’t out of your league.) In that case, you shouldn’t be losing candidates for money. And if there’s a gap, find a creative way to bridge it. (I have a list of 10 ways to do this. If you want to copy my homework, let me know.)

(8) You played compensation games, instead of starting with your best and final offer. If you try to save $5K by being cheap, you’ll have to stay after class.

(9) You haven’t reminded them of how they’re dissatisfied with their current situation (bored, micromanager, long commute, company running out of cash, etc.). Don’t expect them to give up the varsity quarterback unless you give them a very good reason.

(10) You forgot to trial close. After each phase of the recruiting process, it’s vital to ask “How would you describe your interest level?” They should be moving from a 3 to 10 as the process unfolds. No surprises at the end.

…And probably the biggest one (which hurts the most when I think about those high school days):

(11) You didn’t make it personal. You didn’t say “I want you on my team. I’ll teach you. Develop you. Advance your career. Let’s do this together.”

You tried to be the big shot.

Feeling they should feel lucky to be invited to the dance. And you forgot that we’re in the tightest job market in 49 years.

So, your homework is to read chapter 8 in our textbook, which is all about getting the “Yes” every time:

Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman launched his recruiting career at Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart, the preeminent global executive search firms. Today, he’s Chief Talent Officer at Chicago-based Strong Suit Executive Search. Along the way, Jeff created four companies, backed by $50 million in venture capital. He currently teaches the MBA course about recruiting at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and hosts the five-star Strong Suit Podcast. Jeff has been featured by Inc., Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg, and other media outlets. He holds a master’s degree from Kellogg School of Management and a bachelor’s degree from The Wharton School.

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