Recruiters please, shut up and listen!

We are often told that recruitment is a sales job. And it is.

But the truth of selling is badly misunderstood. Selling in old-style recruitment means volume of calls, pleading for client visits, and pushing people into jobs where maybe the fit is dubious, at best.

But in fact the real selling in staffing is based on an ability to uncover and understand. Uncover and understand our customers needs and motives, that is. So being a great recruiter is going to require many so called ‘soft skills’, like listening, probing, uncovering and questioning.

Successful recruiters will have the interpersonal skills to really get to know their client hiring managers on a person to person level, including their leadership style and knowing the type of employee that responds to that style.

And so as the staffing market recovers, it’s important we start talking about things we never considered before. Like the client mindset.

Let’s think for a moment about the mindset of clients as the market recovers. We need to remember that clients will be bruised from layoffs and cutbacks. They will be under pressure to deliver. They may be confused themselves about the strength of the market and whether it’s time to hire. Their own corporate strategies will have changed, culture will have evolved, management style will have changed, corporate needs will have changed, and indeed there is a good chance that their own manager may have changed under a restructure or a downsizing. So initial hiring will be tentative. There may be some tyre-kicking by clients. Clients will want to get an “exact fit” because they will be terrified of making mistakes.

So that brings us to the importance of asking questions to truly understand client needs. I have been on thousands of visits to clients with recruiters. Most recruiters ‘talk at’ the client. Few really seek to understand. Bear in mind the client may not know themselves what they really need. It may be a journey of joint discovery. We need to take great job orders, be consultative and question clients briefs carefully.

The biggest cause of placements falling through is people making assumptions. Recruiters taking what they are told at face value. You need to develop a relationship with your client and talent where questioning is actually welcome. It’s like a doctor asking questions while working towards a diagnosis. Why is a candidate really wanting to move jobs? What are her true motivators? What is a client’s real ceiling when it comes to salary they will pay? Why does the job require the candidate to have 10 years experience in a certain environment?

Traditionally recruiters are the best of talkers. But now we have to learn active listening as a core skill, and we have to question everything.


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About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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7 Responses to Recruiters please, shut up and listen!

  1. Andy Young May 30, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    All sensible comments and a way of working
    that should absolutely
    be the norm. Unfortunately it’s not which is why recruitment still struggles
    to come out of the dark ages.
    One area I feel particularly strongly about is where you have a client or more often a third party actively obstructing the access to a line manager. RPO is a classic example where they could foster stronger relationships with their clients and recruiters alike, if only
    they would be a little more open
    minded and trusing, rather than think everyone is out to screw each other all the time. That in itself is an indictment of the lack of perceived professionalism
    in the industry.

  2. Steve Bennett May 31, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    Greg, I started in recruitment at the beginning of 2004 and tell existing and potential clients that “I won’t do an assignment unless I can smell the place beforehand”. i.e. I want to do much, much more than just check a website or read a brochure or two – I want to be able to really understand the client culture and atmospher before starting work (or even agreeing to start work).

    Since I started, I have invoiced every month, so I guess it is a philosophy that helps?

  3. John Lambert May 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    thanks Greg, those of us that are still standing in the recruitment industry after the last few years correction must know by now that transactional volume selling doesn’t work, in fact I would love to see any comments from those recruiters that dispute or challenge your advice.

    We must all be the masters at connecting with people and professional networking with our huge client and candidate databases, why is there evcer any need for cold calling? Who are 10-12 of your most senior candidates? lets ask if we can reference check them? Staright away we have 20-30 senior level direct contacts

  4. rob Wise July 23, 2010 at 8:09 am #

    sometimes it helps to have a framework to allow your client to talk to.

    What are the duties ?
    What are the skills you (the employee) think are important to do these duties properly ?

  5. Alconcalcia September 28, 2010 at 8:07 pm #

    Ties in with a blog I wrote a while back about recruiters needing to take a drill to client meetings…

  6. Sarah Callery April 25, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

    I started in recruitment in 1998, in the days before job boards and LinkedIN when it was all about understanding your clients, their competitors and the market place they were in, this has stuck with me throughout my recruitment career. I believe part of the problem is that in KPI led recruitment businesses it is all about registering a number of candidates whether or not you can work with them and getting as many job ‘orders’ in, rather than focus on a smaller number of clients that you can ‘partner’ with because they see you an integral part of their hiring process and respect your opinion because you have taken the time to understand the business, the hiring managers and their market space. Recruitment is a sales role essentially but many recruiters lack the soft skills and ‘intuition’ to make them successful.

    I have lost count of the amount of people I have seen (with no direct recruitment experience) decide to set up recruitment businesses and use the likes of jobpost to source roles, in my opinion these arent recruitment ‘consultants’ they are (and I use your phase here, Greg) resume referrers and mostly lack the ‘expert’ knowledge a true recruitment consultant should offer all their clients. For me, it is not bums on seats but long-term relationships with my clients and candidates, thats why I still recruit for people I recruited for 14 years ago!!!!

    Like Steve, if a client wont meet me I wont work with them as I cant do my job properly or add value, and the only time I would submit a CV of someone I have not met is if geographically it is not possible.

  7. Stephen Rae February 18, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    I agree Greg. Assumptions is key to all of this as well as listening intently. You can take what your clients say at face value, but dig a bit deeper and look for visual and non-verbal clues to see if they’re really being authentic in their responses.

    Observe their hands and arms. Are they folded or open? Where are their hands? Under the table, clasped together or flowing freely as they communicate back to you? Do they look you in the eye when answering your questions or providing responses? How’s their tone of voice?

    When they walk out of the interview, do they turn their back on you to open the door, or keep their face turned in, keeping up chat and making continual eye contact with you until they leave the room? Listen to their tone of voice. Is it animated, controlled, authoritative, nervous or are they just going through the motions and have a bored pitch?

    It’s a timely reminder that while these clues may sound obvious, it’s amazing how many forget to actively listen in and watch for these signs as you may be time pressured and focused in on the questions you want to ask.

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