Abraham Maslow, SPIN Selling, and Recruiting

Understanding human behavior can help you recruit more passive candidates. When filling a job order, most recruiters search through virtual stacks of resumes hoping one stands out, matching most of the skills and experiences listed on the job description. When calling a person, the recruiter attempts to gain this same information by first describing the job and then asking the person to describe his or her background. If there's a fit, the selling process begins.

If you want to hire more top performers, this is exactly what you shouldn't be doing.

A little understanding of human nature and solution selling offers some guidance on how to approach passive candidates and quickly get them more interested in what you have to offer. If you follow the instructions closely, you'll even be able to get two to three great referrals on each call. You'll want these, especially if you decide you're not interested in pursuing the candidate.

In the last sentence, pay notice to who decides to move forward or not. It should be the recruiter, not the candidate. If you're letting your candidates decide if they're interested in your opportunity, you're not recruiting, you're just box-checking and order-taking. Making this decision is the first part of the applicant control process essential to good recruiting.

For the sake of brevity and making a point, let me narrow the passive candidate recruiting process down to two small, but critical, first steps. The first relates to a candidate saying they're not interested in considering your opportunity, even before you've told them anything about it.

The second relates to those who don't say "no" right away, but instead ask about the comp, title, and location.

I'm sure you would agree that getting past these two pivotal points will dramatically increase the number of top candidates you put into your pipeline.

Being familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs will give you some of the insight you'll need to address these candidate roadblocks. Abraham Maslow was a mid-20th century psychologist who studied the behavior of high-performing individuals. In a 1943 paper, he suggested that people make fundamental and predictable decisions based on different behavioral needs. These needs range from primitive, e.g., requiring water or food, to being completely fulfilled. He separated these states into five distinct levels and referred to them collectively as a hierarchy of needs.

The first level had to do with satisfying basic human needs including biological, food, and shelter. The second level related to fulfilling security needs like a steady income and healthcare. The third level addressed social needs like friendship, intimacy, and family. The fourth level covered esteem needs including achievement, self-respect, and confidence. Maslow referred to the fifth and highest level as self-actualization, growing and becoming as well-developed as possible. According to Maslow, one could not move to a higher level until the lower-level needs were met.

While Maslow has his distracters, and this is certainly not a complete summary, knowing this basic "needs concept" can be useful when a candidate says "show me the money" or something equivalent. Instead of responding, you might ask the candidate directly where she is on her hierarchy of needs scale.

This probably won't work in such a direct fashion, but these two comparable questions might:

"Considering your current and past few positions, which one gave you the most sense of personal satisfaction?"

Pause and let the person respond. Then ask whether this satisfaction was due to the type of work or the amount of salary. Phrased properly, this can only be answered with something about the quality of the work, not the money being earned.

Unless the person never had a great job or never did anything worthwhile, the candidate will select a situation that addressed a higher order or self-fulfillment needs. With this as the setup go on to ask:

"Under this basis, wouldn't it then make sense to talk just five to 10 minutes to determine whether the job I'm working on provides both satisfying work coupled with a competitive compensation?"

Done properly, don't be surprised if 90% of your candidates agree. Of course, you'll then need to prove your case, but at least you've started conversing on a positive note.

I call this the Maslow advance. When confronted with a recruiter or any cold-call from a salesperson, a person's normal reaction is to say no or ask questions that allow them to get out of the conversation as rapidly as possible. Good recruiters know this.

To overcome this roadblock you'll need to use some type of decision-shifting question that allows you to engage with the person in a brief-but-meaningful dialogue. As you begin the discussion, don't provide much information about the job other than a vague title. The key here is to get the person to tell you first about her background. If you describe the job first, you risk the chance the candidate will respond with a "not interested."

The reason I call this an advance and not a close has to do with the concept of SPIN Selling. Knowing SPIN Selling will also allow you to overcome the "not interested" hurdle.

SPIN Selling is a sales technique developed by Neil Rackham and thoroughly described in his 1988 book of the same title. SPIN refers to a four-step sales process relating to first understanding the situation (S), determining whether there is a problem (P), figuring out the implication (I) of the problem and situation, and asking a need-payoff (N) question to engage the person in another step.

Rackham refers to this step forward as an advance, as opposed to a close. In larger sales or influencing someone into making an important decision (like changing jobs), obtaining more information in a logical series of steps is the key to ultimate success. Good candidates, especially the passive ones, tend to be reluctant to move quickly, so it's important to engage with them in a series of conversations and interviews sharing more and more critical career and job information at each step.

Another aspect of SPIN Selling is to avoid asking questions that can be answered by a "no" or "not interested." So for next time, don't ask the person if he's interested in a senior firmware job; instead, ask if he'd be interested in exploring opportunities on a new state-of-the-art project your firm is launching. Then get the person to tell you a little about himself (understand the Situation), find out if the person is fully satisfied in his current role (is there a Problem), find out if there is anything in the short term likely to change this (determine the Implication), and then ask the person if he'd be open to talk for 20-30 minutes to see if one of the opportunities you have open would be more satisfying. Of course, the last question combined the Maslow advance with Rackham's Need-payoff question.

If you forget to do this, and the candidate says "not interested," you might want to try the "deer in the highlight" advance and say something like "that's exactly why we should talk." (I heard this on one of Brian Tracy's Nightingale-Conant audio selling programs.) This will get the candidate's attention.

If he doesn't hang up, but in the dead silence that follows, suggest to the candidate that he just made a long-term decision with short-term data. Continue by suggesting that if it could be demonstrated that your open position represented a great long-term career move, wouldn't it make sense to discuss it for five to 10 minutes, even if the title isn't exactly perfect? At least 50% of people will agree to proceed on this basis.

Now, while Maslow and Rackham can keep you in the game, you won't make the sale unless your job truly offers a better career move than others the candidate is considering. For this you'll need to have a thorough understanding of real job needs and future opportunities for the firm you're representing. In addition, you'll need to use subsequent phone screen and interviews to probe for gaps and voids in the candidate's background. In this way, the interview can be seen as the SPI part of SPIN selling, with the N the recruiting part.

For example, at the end of the interview, convert a gap in experience into a test of interest by asking the candidate if she'd be open to meet the hiring manager if the job offered significant learning even if the comp increase was modest.

A series of methodical advances like this is how you can use SPIN Selling techniques and an understanding of Maslow's hierarchy of needs to engage more top performers and make more hires. Recruiting is a form of highly sophisticated consultative selling. Unfortunately, too many recruiters try to use transactional selling techniques and wonder why their candidates aren't interested.

This article originally was published in the Electronic Recruiters Exchange (www.ere.net). Check out the ER Exchange for more great recruiting information.

10 Tweet-Sized Tips for Recruiting the Strongest Talent

This is a post from my “The Tweet Lifesm” series, where I’ll keep every topic to no more than 10 points (with a short introduction) and every point to around 140 characters.

Recruiting top people, especially those who are passive candidates, is much different than recruiting active candidates. Here are the big differences:

  • They’ll have multiple offers or will get a counter-offer.
  • They’ll take longer to decide.
  • They’ll opt-out quickly if the recruiter or hiring manager is clueless about the job, conducts a superficial interview, sells too soon or makes it all about the money.
  • They’ll accept the position that offers the most upside potential even if the compensation is a bit lower.

Given this, here’s The Tweet Life version of the 10 most important issues that need to be addressed to find and recruit top passive candidates.

1. Implement a passive talent acquisition strategy.

Focus on attracting the best, not weeding out the weak. Recognize that hiring the best is an investment, not a cost or a transaction.

2. Define, measure and track quality of hire.

To exceed expectations you need to define expectations before the hire as outcomes, not inputs.

3. Maximize the size of the passive talent pool.

Eliminate every process like pre-apply tests and behavioral interviewing that acts as a barrier to entry for passive candidates. The 2-Step is a great alternative.

4. Use sourcing to sell the employee value proposition (EVP).

All recruiting messages need to emphasize the EVP. To determine it ask the hiring manager, “Why would a top person who’s not looking want this job for a modest or no increase in compensation?”

5. Job branding is more important than employer branding.

Capture the passive candidate’s intrinsic motivator in your recruiting messages by tying the actual job to an important company mission.

6. Convert to a consultative recruiting process.

Slow down. Use a series of meetings to determine the difference in what the candidate is now doing and what you need done.

7. Offer a 30% non-monetary increase.

A career move needs to provide job stretch, job growth and an increase in job satisfaction. When these total 30%, money becomes less important.

8. Put compensation in the parking lot.

Before the formal offer, set money aside and have the candidate describe why he/she wants the job. If the reasons are not convincing, you’re hiring the wrong person.

9. Use compensation as a negotiating tactic, not a recruiting strategy.

Don’t let your candidates make long-term career decisions using short-term factors.

10. Make hiring managers responsible for quality, satisfaction, retention and turnover.

This is what needs to happen in order to make hiring top talent a manager’s most important performance objective.

Recruiting and hiring the best passive talent is not about you selling your job, your company or your compensation package. It’s about convincing a hot reluctant prospect to sell you. These ten tips will help you make the shift.

* image by Death to Stock Photo

Why Recruiting Should Report to the CEO, not HR

As the Internet big banged into existence in the early 1990s, recruiting was brought in-house. Prior to that, line managers used their own external search firms to meet their hiring needs. HR took over this function based on their ability to increase efficiency, control costs and establish process integration based on the use of an applicant tracking system.

I always believed this was too tactical a mission for such an important objective.

Regardless, over the past 15 years I don’t think HR has done a good enough job in converting talent acquisition into the competitive asset it could and should be. As a result I believe it needs to report to the CEO. Here’s why this should be done immediately.

  • Quality of hire is more important than cost of hire. The ROI of every great hire dwarfs the cost savings of hiring reasonably good people more efficiently. HR ignores or doesn’t get this strategic opportunity. Over the past 15 years there is no proof quality of hire improved yet there is proof that 70% of the U.S. workforce is currently disengaged. This isn’t much different than in 2000.
  • Talent is #1 or it isn’t. If hiring great people really is the most important task of managers, they should be measured and rewarded on how well they are doing. HR has not been able to achieve this most important objective.
  • Hiring is a business process, not a series of point solutions. HR leaders have not grown up in the ranks of achieving big results using fully integrated forward-looking and feedback process control systems. If they were, current hiring processes would not still be a series of disconnected steps and procedures on top of a cumbersome IT platform that provides little real time information.
  • The lack of workforce planning and a recruiting ERP system. I find it incomprehensible that a fully integrated workforce plan isn’t seamlessly built into the recruiting ERP system, which also doesn’t exist yet.
  • HR people are not equipped to cross Geoffrey Moore’s chasm. HR people in general have not shown a propensity for risk taking. As shown inMoore’s graphic, most fall in the later 50% of adopters of new technology, waiting for others to prove them out. This alone suggests HR should not lead a department that should give a company a competitive edge.

  • Recruiting is more akin to sales and marketing, not administration. Recruiting top talent requires advanced consultative selling based on state-of-the-art marketing. Given this, it makes no sense to have recruiting report into an admin function.
  • Too much vendor following and not enough leading. Most HR technology is vendor driven. This should not be the case. There are new core ideas still being generated regularly to fill the gaps caused by HR’s inability to figure out the right solutions long ago. The continuing problem with this new technology is the lack of system integration.
  • HR seems to be afraid of line management. The CFO doesn’t need permission to have budgets justified. HR shouldn’t need to require line managers to do the right thing. Of course, they need to define the right thing and be strong enough to implement it.
  • We still have diversity hiring challenges including glass ceiling problems. These are not difficult problems to solve. Start by eliminating skills-laden job descriptions and switch to performance-based job descriptions instead.
  • Too much reliance on statistics to make decisions. Correlation doesn’t imply causality. Root cause analysis would have identified each of these problems long ago. This alone would have uncovered the flaws in continuing the use of pre-apply assessment tests and behavioral interviewing, to name a few.
  • Too much focus on avoiding legal problems. The strategy needs to be hiring the best while minimizing risk. I’ve spoken to the top labor attorneys in the U.S. and they are surprised HR takes an overly conservative approach that compromises their ability to attract stronger people.
  • HR people have too little UX. Understanding the user experience (UX)means sitting in the shoes of the user. Too many HR people haven’t even been users of the policies they advocate, especially the most important – understanding what it truly takes to hire A-level talent.
  • Too much anarchy. There are proven ways to hire top people at scale. Yet at most companies each hiring manager is allowed to use his or her own “pet” ideas on how to assess and hire people.

Over the years I’ve met some remarkable recruiting leaders who have the right stuff. These are the people who should be given real C-level titles and report directly to the CEO. Surprisingly, most of these people didn’t come up through the ranks of HR - more typically it was sales, marketing, engineering, operations or finance. Despite all of these concerns about HR described here, the talent acquisition function is too important to not stand on its own. Reporting to the CEO instantly sets the tone that hiring is truly #1. With this change and the right non-HR person in charge, it soon will be.

Where Do You Rank in the Competency Model for Recruiting Passive Candidates?

Recently I introduced the concept of the Talent Sweet Spot – the place where the people in the top 25% of the talent market “hang out.” When it comes to this top 25 percentile, it is easy to find out who they are, but because they are passive candidates, it takes a truly skilled recruiter to engage them in a meaningful conversation. As a matter of fact, I believe that only a recruiter who scores in the upper-third (a Level 3 or better) on our 12 factor passive candidate recruiter competency model can effectively recruit this top talent.

Below are the 12 factors of this model – take a look and rank yourself from Level 1 to 5 on each one. Next to every factor, I have offered a tip for what you need to do to rank at Level 3 or better.

An Honest 1-5 Ranking Scale

Level 1 – Basic understanding of the topic but need some guidance

Level 2 – Good understanding of the topic in order to get the job done

Level 3 – Excellent understanding of the topic and able to coach others

Level 4 – Recognized within department as the “go-to person” for the topic

Level 5 – Recognized in the industry as an expert in the topic

12 Factor Recruiter Competency Model

1. Driven to deliver high quality candidates.

The only excuse for not ranking a Level 3 or better on this factor is too many reqs to handle.

2. Be Someone Worth Knowing (“SWK”).

To score a Level 3 or better on this one you need to know your industry inside out, compensation levels by position, what your competitors are offering and your company’s unique value proposition.

3. Partner with the hiring manager.

A Level 3 or better means 100% of your candidates are seen and you don’t need to present too many to get one hired. If you’re leading the debriefing sessions, advising whom to hire and are a trusted advisor, you’re at least a Level 4.

4. Know the real job.

If you’re using skills and experience to evaluate a candidate, you can’t score a 3 on this factor. For a Level 3 you need to prepare performance-based job descriptions during the intake meeting. A Level 4 knows the job as well as the best hiring managers.

5. Source in the entire talent market.

If you’re not implementing a 40/40/20 sourcing planning process the best you can get on this factor is a 2.5 – which is pretty good.

6. Maximize active candidate response rates.

Getting the best of all active candidates to respond to your postings is a true talent. A Level 3 refuses to post skills-infested job descriptions substituting compelling SEO’d stories as a means to attract the best people rather than spending time weeding out the weak.

7. Clever Boolean and CRM email expert.

Being a Boolean yellow belt is good enough to play, but you need to be clever to rank a Level 3. Clever means you know what words to use to separate the best from the rest. To get higher than this you need to write compelling emails, too.

8. Getting referrals is the name of the passive candidate recruiting game.

To maximize quality of hire and reduce sendouts per hire, 50% or more of the candidates you present need to be referrals. This is Level 3 performance and here’s how to achieve it.

9. Prioritizes everything and follow-up.

A Level 3 recruiter doesn’t make excuses, needs to anticipate problems, organize every day’s activities and have contingency plans in place when hiring managers change their requirements.

10. Use technology to increase efficiency.

Being efficient doing the wrong things is mistaking activity for progress. Using technology and metrics to do the right things like reducing sendouts per hire and tracking passive yield is Level 3 performance.

11. A great assessor of talent.

A Level 3 ranking here means all of your hiring manager clients trust your interviewing skills and, as a result, are willing to interview 100% of the candidates you recommend. A Level 4 means you’re leading panel interviews and debriefing sessions.

12. Recruit, negotiate and close the deal.

None of the above matters if you can’t close the best people who have multiple offers without giving away the farm. This is Level 3 performance. Level 4 means you can do it with the best passive candidates for the toughest positions.

LinkedIn is a great resource for finding top people in the Talent Sweet Spot, but it takes a Level 3 recruiter to pull them out. A Level 4 or Level 5 Performance-based Hiring recruiter does it better. Take the survey to find out where you honestly stand. I’ll be posting the results in an upcoming blog and inviting those who participate to a private webcast.

* image by Jose Maria Miñarro Vivan

How to Become 100% Better at Anything

"... stopping, backing-up and rerouting is how you start on the road to becoming 100% better at anything. Going faster won't help.

As the set-up for our Performance-based Hiring training workshops I ask the recruiters and hiring managers in attendance how much they want to increase their hiring effectiveness over the next year. Their responses typically range from 20% to 100%.

However, I then go on to say that getting 20% better at anything is easy. All you have to do is become more efficient. Even if what you’re doing is wrong, you can still get better by doing it faster. Getting 100% better is a lot harder. In this case you have to stop doing the wrong things and start doing the right things. Surprisingly, if these right things are big enough, you don’t need to be too efficient doing them.

Over the years I’ve learned many lessons on how to do the right things that are big enough, even those that don’t relate to hiring. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Challenge the status quo. Identify some problem that persists at your company and ask to solve it. During my interviews I ask candidates to describe how they changed the status quo. The best people seem to have a big list of things.
  • Build an A-Team. I remember an above average salesperson who became a sales manager because of her coaching skills. When I met her, 9 of her 10 reps were unbelievably in the top 10% of a company that had 750 reps. Point: You don’t have to be the best (fill in some title) to hire, develop and manage the best (same title).
  • Learn to Swim. Volunteer to tackle a big project no one else wants and is over your head. Early in my business career I asked to lead a worldwide expansion study for a new product line. I was totally unqualified for the project but the outcome was far better than anyone expected (since the standards were low) and I was quickly promoted as a result. Learning to swim should be a required merit badge for all managers.
  • Figure out the root cause of a problem by asking lots of dumb questions. Most people are afraid to ask clarifying questions because they don’t want to appear dumb. But asking dumb questions is how you get smart. Asking “Why?” multiple times in order to drill down is how you figure out the root cause of a problem.
  • Answer dumb questions. Those who malign or attack those who ask dumb questions typically don’t know the answers. So I just assume this is the cause of their distress. This relates to one of Stephen Covey’s most important Seven Habits, Seek first to understand, and then be understood. Answering the questions builds trust throughout the team whether you’re leading it or are part of it.
  • Tell your team what’s expected of them. To make sure their teams didn’t waste time, the best managers always clarified job expectations. This was typically a series of clearly stated performance objectives. This was true long before Gallup “discovered” this to be the #1 trait of outstanding managers.
  • Get expectations clarified. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll waste a lot of time getting there. Whether you manage others or not, having a clear action plan figured out ahead of time is essential for getting 100% better. This is another Stephen Covey habit, Begin with the end in mind.
  • Become a subject matter expert (SME) at something important. This is another area I question candidates about. You can learn a lot about a person’s values and motivation by figuring the why and how of something a person chose to become great at. These are the people who have already committed to be 100% better.
  • Help people you don’t need to help become better. When assessing a person’s potential for management I find examples of the person proactively helping other people who are peers. This is the essence of true team skills. This is a direct lesson from Zig Ziglar: You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.
  • Be willing to change direction. Stopping is the first step in getting 100% better at anything. But, if you can’t admit what you’re doing is wrong, misguided or inappropriate, you’ll be limited to 20% efficiency improvements.

Getting 100% better at anything typically requires stopping doing the wrong things before you can start doing the right ones. Unfortunately most people have invested a lot of their efforts and credibility in these wrong things. This is hard to even see and even harder to admit. But stopping, backing-up and rerouting is how you start on the road to becoming 100% better at anything. Going faster won't help.