Sales Lessons from Bad Recruiters

Posted on March 7, 2011


If you spend time in an industry and are not notorious for bad behavior, it is almost an immutable fact you will be targeted by a recruiter. Although there are good ones out there—and I know several— the bad apples taint the profession, similar to the plight of lawyers.  I write here about lessons learned, from the “consumer” end—being sold to—of experiences I have had with poor recruiters, and how they apply to interactions with healthcare project owners.

Once, fresh out of college and light on experience, I answered an ad in a regional circular for a position that sounded interesting…and quickly linked up with my first head hunter. I interviewed, felt good about my chances, and eagerly awaited news. Yet the guy would not return repeated calls. After two weeks, I broke protocol and called the actual company. “I am sorry, you did not get the position. We contacted the recruiter days ago; he should have passed that along.” As soon as the head hunter knew his prospect was disqualified, I was tossed and trampled like yesterday’s trash.

Since then, I have had contact with many head hunters, and from many points of view: unemployed and looking for a job, employed but unhappy, happy and not looking to move. I have several very qualified and competent recruiters as friends. From time to time I question, converse and joke with upstanding head hunters, and more importantly, listen to their stories for lessons. 

From this research I developed six sales flaws from the behavior of bad recruiters, behavior that can lead to successful project engagements with your healthcare owners, if avoided.

1) Scare Tactics

This is probably the most overused technique. “Your local market is weakening.” “The economy is not as strong as it once was.” Scare tactics might work in certain environments (war) or with certain people (type A personalities), but in general this will not make the average worker receptive to your overtures. Lesson applied: in a healthcare setting, I imagine most hospital owners are not going to sign off over millions for a project based on hype.

2) Assuming you Know my Goals

Just because a person is doing one job now does not mean they want to maintain status quo. Bad recruiters work off second-hand, and thus old, incomplete, and often misinterpreted, information. Research in organizational behavior shows a similar opportunity in a different location rarely shifts the commitment from the known in favor of the unknown. Why not ask me what I want out of a job instead of selling me today’s catch?  Lesson applied:  likewise, I would never sell a canned design to a healthcare client; each one deserves a tailored solution.

3) Artificial Pressure

Similar to #1 above. A top organization is always looking for talent. In fact, they will sometimes create a position for you if you are that good. A smart firm with long-term vision will want a key player to join when she is comfortable. There is no “closing window of opportunity” on anything except commoditized positions with high turnover. A prospect wants to feel at least somewhat hand-picked. If the need is “immediate”, it is probably defined this way and biased toward the employer.  If a firm needs you, they will probably be willing to wait, within reason, to come on your terms. Lesson applied:  if there are limitations to something you are proposing, describe the issues in real terms; however, nothing destroys trust like a fake deadline.

4) Pretending to Have Inside Knowledge

Ok, so corporate collapses are getting harder to see coming (Enron, Bear Stearns, et. al), even in a post Sarbanes-Oxley world. But if a recruiter tells you “my sources say your company is closing its doors”, question it and then see #1. I have been laid off and I have been through an office closing. There are signs. And, an employer will give you a pretty good idea whether or not you are in the long term plans. Lesson applied:  never bluff inside knowledge of someone else’s hospital or market because there is a good chance they have a better perspective of the situation than you do.

5) Confusing the Position with the Person

Each person is an individual with unique needs, interests and motivations. Only with superb research could a head hunter possibly convince me, an absolute stranger, that I would be a good fit for a position. Show me you did your homework, that you know me, what I want out of my career, and why I would be a good fit. Yet a bad head hunter is basically a real estate agent, who advertises in thousands of places, crosses her fingers and hopes you make that one call, and do her dirty work of self-selecting so she does not have to find you.  Lesson applied: if your owner fits a profile, do not assume they have the same needs as others in a similar situation.

6) Not Taking ‘No’ Gracefully

In the dating world, if you ask a woman out on a date, and she turns you down, do you immediately try to sell her on why she should say yes, on why she is wrong? If you want to appear desperate. Taking a new job is a marriage contract to the worker, but a blind date to the head hunter. Accept ‘no’, leave the door open for future conversations, and move on to your next match. A sale and a job change are emotional choices. Talking someone into a sale is great for the salesman that does not have to stand by a decision. Lesson applied:  the last thing you want is a project to start off with one side not entirely sure they want to work with you, or feeling manipulated.

Brokering talent will always have value in an economy because good people are difficult to find. And talent wars are high stakes. Yet, hopefully personal networking, social media and other tools, will replace the inefficient and outdated method of scouting and body snatching. The six lessons here applied to healthcare provide enlightened motivations for how to engage a client and match his needs, because whether a new job or new project, it ain’t all about the money, honey.