March 24th, 2010

Influence and Recruiting (Reading for Recruiting Series)

The first of many books here in the Reading for Recruiting Series is written by Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor of Psychology at Arizona State University.  The book is Influence:  Science and Practice.  In the book he outlines 6 “weapons of influence” used daily by “Compliance Professionals”.

I’ve listed the 6 weapons here and how recruiters can leverage each tool as they work at getting top talent to the table.

Reciprocity: This is the subconscious drive to return a favor.  We encounter this daily with “free gift” offers.  More relevant to recruiting is the fact that a concession during a negotiation is often met with reciprocity by the other party.  Cialdini’s research highlights the fact that individuals will usually return the favor of a concession with a concession.  I’ve found this very valuable when striving for higher passive candidate engagement rates.  When I leave a voicemail for a passive candidate I’ve never spoken with before I will tell them “My first choice is to have you call me back at….” but then I will also offer them an alternative to calling me back.  This alternative to calling me back is received as a concession and drives higher engagement rates towards the alternative action.  Try it.  It works.

Commitment & Consistency: This lever of influence is about reminding someone that the action you want them to take is in line with the choices they’ve already made.  A simple example would be trying to sell Drivers Education courses by reminding parents that they’ve always invested in car transportation safety with their children by buying the best car seats.  Why stop now?  But we’re not talking about teen drivers here….we’re talking about driving engagement rates in passive candidate recruiting.  To leverage this tool of influence during the initial contact with a passive candidate I will typically remind them that the best opportunities of their career probably landing in their lap when they were otherwise content and not looking.  I’ve found that most will agree with this statement and their minds will open.

Social Proof: Peer pressure…in the form of the subconscious interest in what the masses are doing.  People have an interest in what crowds are doing.  Cialdini highlights the fact that canned laughter actually works to improve our perception of a television show.  It works even though the audience knows it is contrived.  Imagine you’re at a music festival and you start to see that everyone is lining up at the concession stand….odds are you begin to feel a need to grab a drink…and you may feel compelled to join the queue.  To leverage social proof when recruiting top talent I’ve found it helpful to mention high profile hires from the competition and/or stories of the high numbers of applicants.

Authority: Simple concept.  People tend to be more influenced by someone with authority.  In his book Cialdini discusses the success of commercials the feature actors dressed as physicians.  The response rate is high even when the actor says: “I’m not a Doctor but I play one on TV.”  When it comes to recruiting you can’t fake authority….and in many cases you simply have none but I’ve found it very helpful to mention the fact that I’ve been a recruiter in the candidate’s industry for 10 years and then go on to tell them how this particular opportunity measures up to others I see in the space.  The authority comes from the recruiter’s perceived expertise and knowledge of the quality of roles in the industry.  Another simple way to have authority is to become an authority on the candidate’s background prior to making the call.  Passive candidates will listen with an open mind when they feel you understand who they are and what they do.

Liking: People are more likely to be influenced by people they like and people tend to like people that are more like them.  How can we use this in recruiting?  Well, one simple way is to have recruiters have similar backgrounds to those they recruit.  A better way is for recruiters to have actual relationships with those they want to recruit.  Several large executive search firms implement this strategy by hiring top executives from specific industries to recruit executives from that industry.  Another strategy is networking your way to a targeted passive candidate.  Finding a “people path” to your target allows your call to be perceived with warmth.  If I’m trying to recruit Sarah and she likes Mike I can approach Sarah through Mike and be liked.   Another way to use this lever is to mention to the candidate how your company has hired many people with a very similar background.  The candidate may like the opportunity more if they feel that the company has others like them already.

Scarcity: We want what is scarce.  Sales folks would refer to this as the “standing room only” close.  I’ve found that savvy passive candidates will respond to the scarcity positioning but typically not in the traditional manner.  Using scarcity in the form of driving quick action doesn’t work with top talent in my opinion.  I think it is a failure path to say “We only have one more slot for interviews this Friday.”   Rather, I’ve found scarcity to work well when mentioning to the candidate that their background is unique (scarce) and that our client has a specific need for their specific background.  We need YOU….not someone like you.  Let me beat you to the punch by saying that I agree that this might go to their head and then to your wallet in the form of their interest around maximizing compensation but once we’d identified that the candidate is the ideal fit we need to move towards developing their interest.  We can address compensation later on.

If you haven’t already read and enjoyed Robert Cialdini’s book on Influence I highly recommend it to anyone in recruiting.  It isn’t a book about recruiting but recruiters are in the business of persuasion and therefore any insights around influencing others may be helpful.

I look forward to your comments.


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