Focus on Employment & Staffing: Closing the Deal

By Carolyn Hirschman Apr 1, 2002
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HR Magazine, April 2002Closing the Deal

Know what it takes to persuade the candidate to say yes to your job offer

magine that you’re trying to persuade a job candidate to join your organization. The potential hire—a top performer with hard-to-find skills—is weighing your offer along with others. All are comparable in salary, benefits and perquisites.

How can you tip the balance in your company’s favor?

It comes down to salesmanship, recruiting experts say. You have to appeal to the candidate’s priorities and address his or her personal concerns. You should reinforce your company’s brand, underscore the job’s opportunities and keep the lines of communication open.

“Recruiting is selling,” says Kimberly Bedore, director of the strategic HR solutions group at Peopleclick, an HR software and services firm based in Raleigh, N.C. “You have to sell your company to that candidate.”

Moreover, you have to be patient, vigilant and willing to work hard at landing the candidate—even in a down economy.

Although labor availability rises as the economy cools, competition for the most-qualified candidates can still be intense. The task for HR professionals is to sharpen their skills in making the most persuasive case to the best job applicants. When the current economy improves and labor gets tighter, it will be even more important for those in HR to know how to seal the deal with the best job applicants.

It’s Not Always About Money

HR professionals trying to bring a job offer to a successful conclusion should focus on the things that matter to the candidate. If the person is a middle manager putting two children through college, it may be money. Usually, however, money takes a back seat to nonmonetary elements of the job, such as career opportunities, flexible scheduling and the community’s quality of life, according to executive and corporate recruiters.

“Tap into somebody’s passion,” advises Wayne Luke, a partner in the Atlanta office of Heidrick & Struggles International Inc., an executive search firm headquartered in Chicago. “Passion” for a computer engineer might be working with the latest technology. For a chief executive, it could be the chance to reverse the course of a failing company. A candidate who has been through two layoffs may put job security above other considerations.

“What’s in play here are emotions,” says J. Gregory Coleman, managing director of the New York office of Korn/Ferry International, a Los Angeles-based executive search firm.

Family matters may be at the heart of the candidate’s concerns. For example, Michael McNeal, founder of PureCarbon Inc., an HR software firm in Scotts Valley, Calif., and former senior director of corporate employment at Cisco Systems Inc., tells of recruiting a prospective new employee from England by easing his wife’s concerns about their children fitting into a foreign culture. McNeal says what sealed the deal was his research that showed that the children would have ample access to well-developed soccer programs in the community.

“That’s a lot different than sending some flowers and saying, ‘Come work for our company,’” says McNeal.

Although flowers, T-shirts and coffee mugs lend a personal touch to contacts with a candidate, they’re seldom as helpful as putting the applicant in touch with your company’s employees. Encourage the candidate to talk to employees, including the hiring manager and prospective co-workers.

Such conversations can help ensure the right cultural and intellectual fit between employer and candidate. Does the candidate think like others at the company? Do their styles mesh? Candidates sometimes accept a job that pays less than they wanted if it enables them to work for a top-notch boss or to join a smart, upbeat staff.

“We do a lot of networking. We try to hook our candidates up with employees,” says Cydney Kilduff, SPHR, director of recruiting and staffing at Kellogg Co., based in Battle Creek, Mich. “It’s a good way to get candidates to talk to people in a way a recruiter can’t.” In some instances, candidates meet with members of Kellogg’s two “employer resource groups” of female and black employees, who get together to discuss common issues.

McNeal says that when he was senior director of corporate employment at Cisco, he would have top candidates go out to dinner with the most senior executives in their area. “That’s such a simple thing to do,” he says. “Make sure you’re showing the interest and the time.”

Image Counts

Beyond networking, closing the deal involves showing off your firm as a different, exciting or unique place to work. Many recruiters say that in general they emphasize both the appeal of the specific position and the company’s overall quality. But their approach often depends on the type of job and how well known the company is. For example, at a widely recognized major corporation with an established reputation, the recruiter likely would talk up the pluses of a specific job. At a lesser-known firm, however, the recruiter might emphasize the company’s brand.

“All else being equal, the quality of the employer can be a tie-breaker,” says executive recruiter Luke. Although the job may change, the employer won’t, and people who like their employers remain with the company. The goal, after all, is not only a successful hire but an employee who will stay and thrive.

Opportunity Knocks

Another effective weapon in the war for talent is to underscore with candidates how their careers can grow and develop at your organization and how they can make a contribution. In short, sell the opportunity.

“You want to offer somebody the opportunity to have an impact,” says executive recruiter Coleman. For upper-level managers, that could mean the chance to become CEO, to become a bigger fish in a smaller pond or to create programs.

Another executive recruiter, William H. Rusher Jr., chairman and CEO of Rusher, Loscavio & LoPresto, in San Francisco, says he strives to show potential hires how achievers have succeeded in building their careers at his clients’ firms. “We interview the people they’ll be working with and build a script around that,” he says. “It’s a lot of work getting that information, but it works.”

Highlighting a job’s possibilities succeeded for David B. Theobald, a former recruiter who now runs NETSHARE Inc., a Novato, Calif., firm that operates a job-search web site for six-figure executives. Theobald says he once recruited a young attorney to start and build a patent practice at a Cincinnati law firm. The candidate was a perfect fit for his client, he says, but was resistant at the start. Nonetheless, Theobald says, “we got him fairly quickly, in less than two months.”

How did he do it? “I developed a rapport with him over the phone, and then I said I needed to be in Cincinnati and could I meet him for breakfast.” The candidate was in his 30s, and the older Theobald came across as a father figure giving advice on exploring new job opportunities.

Keeping in Touch

Once the offer is on the table, bide your time. But don’t sit on your hands, and don’t let the candidate drift away. Instead, get in touch with the applicant. Be tactful yet helpful. First, find out how often and in what manner—e-mails or phone calls?—the applicant prefers to be contacted. It’s an approach called “permission marketing.” With each contact, offer the person more information or more people to talk with.

There’s no rule of thumb on how often to communicate with a candidate. Use common sense and the Golden Rule. “Treat them like you’d want to be treated yourself,” says Theobald. It might be once a week if the deadline is distant, or once a day if it’s close. If the contacts are being made by two or more people at your firm, make sure they’re coordinated—to keep the candidate from feeling badgered. ·

John Sullivan, a professor of human resource management at San Francisco State University and former chief talent officer at Agilent Technologies Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., says, “The No. 1 most powerful closing tool we used was a call from the CEO.” It worked every time, he says. It not only impressed the candidate but also sent a message that the CEO cared about his company’s people.

When the Results Are In

Eventually, the waiting is over. The candidate decides. Whether the answer is yes or no, the recruiter’s job doesn’t end.

If the candidate accepts the job offer, find out what persuaded the person to say yes, what the applicant liked and disliked about the hiring process and what he or she thought of each interviewer. This information can be useful in recruiting others and in training interviewers.

If the answer is no, do your best to find out why. Candidates often claim it’s because they weren’t offered enough money, but recruiters say it’s usually something else. “The No. 1 reason people turn down jobs is they’re treated [shabbily] in the interview process,” says professor Sullivan. For an honest answer, he suggests, wait six months before asking candidates why they turned down a job.

If you want to keep in touch with a candidate who turned you down, you could send an e-mail every two or three months—just as recruiters suggest for candidates not under active consideration for a job but who could be hired later on. It’s good to include something such as a company press release or a relevant article, says Peopleclick’s Bedore. If your paths cross again, the outcome may be different. After all, recruiting isn’t like fishing. No one wants to brag about “the one that got away.”

Carolyn Hirschman is a business writer based in Rockville, Md. She has written for a variety of business publications and has covered workplace issues since 1991.

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