Super cheesy title, right? I know. But hold on to your rotten tomato, okay? Don’t pelt me with it just yet. I’ve been thinking about recruiting in general and my business in particular, and now more than even I understand that the business we do is a reflection of who we are. I often say, “All business – but recruiting in particular – is a contact sport.” As I’ve gained experience, that phrase means different things. Sometimes a contact sport is bloody conquest, a war of egos and control issues. Sometimes it resembles an abusive relationship, overflowing with esteem problems and codependency. It is also possible for a contact sport to be positive interaction based on mutual respect and value.
We touch people all day long as recruiters, both candidates and clients, but the kind of contact depends on us.
It is easy to say those words, but what the heck am I talking about? I’m getting there, and I’ll try to be concise, because we are all busy. Aren’t the busyness, short attention spans and overwhelming amount of information all part of the game we are playing? Yes. Let me assure you our frenetic pace and information overload is the backdrop to my post. I, too, swim in these waters, and I get tired sometimes.
A brief anecdote to illustrate how crazy it is out there: I scheduled an interview with a candidate and a client for a Friday. On Thursday the client had to reschedule and wanted the following Wednesday. That didn’t work for the candidate so I tried for his preferred day, the following Friday – a week from the initial interview. It worked for all and I sent the invite. The next morning I got an email from the hiring manager asking if the interview was for the day I sent it, next week, or for that same day. Are you lost yet? So was he. He is a sharp, together guy. But he lost the thread in his head and wasn’t sure which direction was up. I reassured him that we had sent an invite for the day the interview was supposed to be. We all took a breath. I briefly contemplated a career change to tuckpointing.
What does all of this have to do with recruiting? Only everything. From our first reach out, whether to a prospective candidate or a hiring manager, we are playing a game where we vie for attention and must prove our value. The best way to do that is to find out what those with whom we are playing need or want and find a way to offer it and make it as easy a process as possible. This is Sales 101, I realize. But it is amazing how many business people would flunk a test given regarding Sales 101. We are all so busy trying to get stuff done that often we forget we are doing stuff with and to people. Our success depends on our uncovering and delivering other people’s desires.
I’ve been incorporating a practice for a few years. Whenever my awareness clicks up a notch I pause, and listen especially hard. This part is important: In that moment I stop listening to the stories I tell myself. Even if I am absolutely burning to say something, or to answer a question, or, and this is especially hard – if I am hopping mad – I force myself to pause and focus on the other person.
There are critical points in both business conversations and deal cycles where this pause is essential. Discussions about money, motivations, and pain points are all worth a pause. Turbulent waters are a time to pause. Delivering offers is a time to pause. The pause is a sign for me to shut it and listen. It is also the only way I can gather information from the other person about what it is they are feeling and what they desire. The ability to quiet my mind and drop my assumptions about what is going on has allowed me to hear and understand perspectives that are very different from my own. I have to be okay with hearing things that I do not like. I have to be neutral while listening and gathering information. I have to remember that the world does not in fact revolve around me, and that I am not always right. The longer I’ve done this the more I realize that the word right is not always so helpful. So I pause and listen to what is.
I like to think this ability to pause and listen helps me grow some empathy. It helps me more accurately imagine the world from the perspective of those with whom I’m working, and those with whom I’d like to work. This informs my style, my strategy, and my actions.
This pause is also an opportunity to uncover and prevent potential train wrecks. The better I can see events from a different perspective the more skillfully I can set up situations that produce a mutual win. Most of the deals that I lose are because I tried to make something happen that was outside of what the other people involved really wanted or could do. The more closely I am aligned to what is and what can be done, the more success I will have.
It is my job to imagine obstacles and train wrecks and prevent them. It is my job to make sure communication is clear, concise, and prevents as many misunderstandings as possible. It is my job to understand motivations, fears, goals and limitations. When I stop telling myself stories and simply seek out what is, I make fewer assumption and my actions are more skillful.
Let me share some very basic examples of how this works for me.
- I sent a presentation to the hiring manager last week. My goal for a presentation is to offset any concerns or objections and create interest while setting a baseline for candidate stance and motivations. I must imagine how people will react to what they read to do this well. I am very good at this, usually. I’m not sure how we got crossways – maybe I wasn’t as clear as I think I was, maybe the hiring manager didn’t read the resume and just went off a sentence in my introduction. But we ended up in a rabbit hole where he thought my candidate wanted to leave a job he had just started instead of wanting to complete a project at a company where he had been for several years. This would not have been an issue if we were on the phone and he immediately wrote my candidate off. It wasn’t until a couple emails passed back and forth that I realized the disconnect – he must not have factored in the start date for the current employer on the resume. My takeaway? Leave even less room for misreads. Had I not paused and tried to understand what he was thinking when I got his first response, I might have gotten angry. It is just that easy when so much is done via text or emails. To be honest, I did get a bit cranky, but I put it aside and worked to clear up what I had muddled. The candidate is now interviewing.
- Setting up interviews is also a pain. Interviews get mangled – multiple time zones can be a problem, people get confused as to who does the calling, people call on the fly, people really are busy. I strongly recommend that interviews happen at set times with me sending invites. My invites always designate who calls who, address time zones and include the proper number. I assumed everyone did it this way in order to limit misunderstandings, because it is one way we can control our controllables. But this week at least three managers thanked me for invites including phone numbers. Weird. I also did a test where I just let people set up interviews on their own. Out of ten cases, exactly no calls happened. My takeaway? Much of what we do involves pushing the rock up the hill. We make things happen. The more clearly we make things happen the better. Try to imagine a better way of doing things from the other perspective and you will win more often.
It is our choice to stop the habit of operating from our own perspective as default. It is up to us to be a calm voice of clarity when the world feels out of control. It is up to us to prevent many of the train wrecks that can derail our success – including those from people doing so much so fast. Pausing and looking beyond our assumptions will not only help us achieve our goals, it will go a long way toward helping us be the recruiters people can’t live without.