Recruiting = Sales

  • It’s so hard to hire good candidates.
  • Something something about “The Great Resignation”.

Mindset of Selling

Get Involved

Great candidates want to join great managers. Therefore, you, the hiring manager, must be proactive and engaged in the recruiting process. I’ve seen hiring managers sit on the sidelines and wait for candidates to magically get hired, and then wonder why they get no results. Great recruiters are critical, and they’re not easy to find either. But you shouldn’t expect them to do everything, especially not the selling. It is ultimately your responsibility to assemble the team you need.

Hiring Manager = Salesperson

When you’re wearing your hiring manager hat, your main job is to sell! This is not a metaphor. Although the candidate is the one receiving compensation, you are the one selling the candidate on your offer, and they are the ones buying (or accepting).

  • Qualifying out — if it’s not a fit, it’s mutually beneficial to end the interview process early (but don’t abruptly hang up on a candidate mid-interview). There’s nothing impressive about spending hours on a candidate that you already know isn’t a fit. You need to be efficient with your time and focus on the right candidates to get results.
  • Decision Criteria — ask which criteria are important to the candidate in making a decision. If you don’t know, you’ll try to sell them on points that aren’t relevant to them. You can also use this information to lay traps against your competitors (you’d be surprised at how often candidates have told me where else they’re interviewing, simply because I asked). But be genuine, not conniving. If I know I’m competing with a FAANG company, for example, I’ll mention that while this is a great company, you may have less autonomy there, and to weigh how important that is to them.
  • Addressing objections — you will get all kinds of objections, especially in the offer stage. It can be anything from compensation to concerns about GlassDoor reviews. Prepare your responses. For example, if it’s about the salary, know in advance whether you have wiggle room or whether you want to highlight other aspects of the job to compensate for it. But don’t enter a discussion unprepared.

Sell Yourself, Not Your Company

Although candidates are applying to work for your company, 90% of what they’ll experience will come from you. You can work at a great company, but for a poor leader, and you’ll have a poor experience, and vice versa. Your direct manager will have the most impact on your day to day — e.g. what you work on, how you advance, and even your general level of happiness in life.

  • Why I took my current job, and why I’m still there
  • What excites me and frustrates me about my job
  • Who’s on my team(s), and how they operate
  • What challenges we’re having
  • What my team(s) work on, and what’s my vision for them
  • Personal hobbies and interests (I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being a relatable human)

How to Sell

Competition is for Losers

As Peter Thiel notes in his book Zero to One — competition is for losers! Don’t try to compete with the FAANG companies of the world on their terms. You will not beat them at their own game. But you can create your own category where they won’t be able to compete with you.

  • The autonomy they’ll have on the job, and examples of technologies that people on the team got to learn or experiment with.
  • How engineers on my team get to interact with end users, and contribute to product ideas.
  • Mine and my team’s skill sets and experiences, and how they’ll have the opportunity to learn those things from us.
  • Educational opportunities at my company. My teams also do weekly tech talks, and before Covid, we had occasional outings to seminars and conferences.
  • Fun team culture and camaraderie — for that, I have them meet my team, usually without me present.

Speak to the Candidate’s Self-Interest

This is the most important sales concept. Candidates care about their own needs, not yours. So sell them on the things that are important to them. It’s like when you ask a waiter what dish they recommend and they respond “Well, MY favorite is the pasta bolognese”. I don’t care what YOU like, I want to know what I’LL like!

Offer More Than a Position

You should discuss what you can offer the candidate beyond just a position on your team. Address why you think they’d be a great addition to the team. Therefore, you need to put thought into this before you even post the position opening. When there is a clear need that this candidate fulfills (something more than “we have the budget for more resources”), you’ll fill the role more easily.

Sell the Bad Parts Too

Be honest about issues and challenges you’re facing. You don’t need to air your dirty laundry, but you should mention the non-exciting parts of the job. Every job has them. By sharing them, you’re demonstrating to the candidate that you’re honest and trustworthy. I assure you that 95% of hiring managers are hiding the bad parts and exaggerating the good parts, and candidates can sense it.


Recruiting Never Ends

The key principles of recruiting candidates are the same as for retaining employees. Employees are constantly reevaluating if they want to continue working for you, so you have to constantly be adding value for your team members, and constantly be selling. The effort you put into crafting your sales pitch, vision, and team culture, will pay off well beyond the recruiting process.

Expect Rejection

Recruiting is still a numbers game. Despite your best efforts and tactics, you will continue to face rejection as a hiring manager. Don’t get discouraged — it’s natural and expected. But know that without a strong strategy and sales pitch, you have a slim chance at beating the house. Keep focusing on the fundamentals, keep selling, and you’ll see improved results.



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