The recruiting tips you need to build your ideal startup team, by Georges Janin

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Fixing the reference check

Reference checks have always amused me. Like my repeated attempts to learn salsa, they are both incredibly predictable and not particularly interesting. Yet we persist in doing it the same way.

Here is basically what happens:

  1. Company asks candidate for references.
  2. Candidate finds people who like him, makes sure they will say glowing things in a reference check.
  3. Company calls said people.
  4. They say glowing things.

I mean, why do it in the first place? Don’t you have better things to do than a nearly pointless, completely orchestrated ritual? Unless the person is god awful, and I mean how-did-they-ever-get-a-job level of horrible, the reference really has no incentive to say anything all that truthful. And if that is the case, how did he slip throught the cracks in your interview process? So we continue with this weird drill, perhaps in an insecure attempt to comfort ourselves in the choice that we made to move the candidate this far in the process.

Yet it is an incredibly valuable step, when done well. It offers you a glimpse into a candidate that you will not see during a usual interview process.

 If you do anything, do this – 

  1. Don’t just get 2 references, get 4 or 5. Get people from all facets of this person’s life. Family and friends are fair game.
  2. Don’t look for glowing reviews. Look for congruence.

Before your start: Disarm the caller. She probably knows your candidate fairly well, and wants to help him get a new job. So she feels on the hook – and feels compelled to say nice things. You don’t need to hear more nice things, you need to get the real dish on this guy!

“We’ve been speaking with so and so, and we think he’s great. That said, we only got to know him during a few interviews…and we plan on spending most of our waking hours with him! So we are talking to a few people to get a better idea of who he is and make sure that he would be happy here.”

This should hopefully set the stage for a different sort of conversation. One that is more exploratory than confrontational, and seeks to find out how this person works than just whether he is “good” or “bad”.

Here are a few questions that can help you do a better reference check. Feel free to add them in, or build upon them.

What words come to mind when you think of this person?

This is a purposefully open ended question. You are trying not to get empty positive words like “awesome” but to establish a theme. What words are being used? Is there a theme? Is there a theme to words that are NOT being used?

Give me an example of this trait. 

Examples are not only great BS detectors, but are also great jumping off points for a more interesting conversation.

What does this person do well?

Same deal here – write all of those things on the same sheet. You are looking for congruence. These things might be different if you are interviewing a boss, a college roommate, or a little sister. But there ought to be a theme. And it should be related to the previous question.

When was a time when she did it?

Again, example question.

What role, other than this one, would you see this person play?

This is the third question in the same theme. It’s a little more “fun” in the sense that asks them to explore alternative career possibilities other than the one at hand.

What to do with all that info?

Watch out for gross inconsistencies: you want to make sure that the picture that is painted is cohesive. If that is not the case, then you need to dig deeper. Does the person know the candidate all that well?

Learn how you can help the new employee fit in: by getting an idea of how your employee works and thrives beforehand, you’ll be able to better predict pitfalls, and point them in the right direction.


The Missing Interview Stage

As a candidate leaves your office after the final round of interviews, you can nearly see the glow coming off the hiring team. This guy is awesome. He has the tech chops, the drive, and he’s friendly to boot. You sit down with the CFO, figure out the budget–and get a great offer approved and typed up.

“Thanks for your time, but I decided to go with another offer”


How many times have you made an offer, only to get a polite decline? All those hours of phone screens, interviews, and budgeting suddenly go down the drain. All that emotional investment, gone. A decline is always a morale killer – after all why did he choose somewhere else? Maybe the grass is greener?

Here’s what’s really happening: your hiring process is just that, a process – and nothing more. You are so focused on procedure, on “putting people through the system”, that you forgot entirely that you have to sell them. And when a developer is going to get 4-5 offers, selling is everything.

And no, a steak dinner at the last minute to “seal the deal” doesn’t work.

What is missing is a hidden stage, a stage that is not so much focused on evaluation, but rather one of selling. And since you are selling somebody on spending most of their waking hours in your office, its safe to say that you’ll need to target deep motivations.

What is the purpose?

There are two main reasons why you would want to have this type of conversation with a prospective employee – building empathy and uncovering deeper motivations.

When do you have it?

If you don’t have the data, its a hard question to answer. You obviously don’t want to sit down and do this exercise with candidates who you end up passing on. But at the same time, you can’t have this conversation too late. The window of opportunity closes quickly once the candidate realizes he is going to get an offer.

What you need to figure out is what is the probability of offer at each stage. Say you know that 75% of people who make the 2nd round will ultimately get an offer, but only 35% of first rounders do. Then make sure you have your talk between the 1st and 2nd round. At that point, the candidate is not on the defense yet – but you know that the probability is high that you’ll make an offer.

NB: Do not have this conversation too late. Once a candidate knows he’s at the offer stage, then he will shut down.

What do you need to uncover?

Pain points and “never agains”

Did the candidate join a seed stage startup that imploded while paying him nothing? Is he experiencing an existential crisis after 10 years at Goldman Sachs? You need to identify what has gone wrong in his career and explore those pain points deeper. Find out what his “never agains” are.

Great aspirations – goals, dreams, “what they want to be when they grow up”

Lets be frank. The year is not 1962 yet we conduct interviews as if candidates were going to stay on board forever. That dissonance creates a general air of BS in the conversation, but one you can easily break by simply asking “what do you want to do after you work here?”. Focus on their long term aspirations, their big goals, “what they want to be when they grow up”. If you can get that information, and help them understand how working for you will help them get there – you will have some incredibly powerful cards to play.

Dive deep

Leave the office. Have the conversation in a coffee shop, or better yet – a bar. It will also definitely be easier for somebody with a degree of emotional intelligence to do this sort of work – but that is what a good recruiter is for.

I encourage you to make this stage an integral part of your process. It is so easy to fall into the procedural trap of pushing a candidate through a process and scheduling interviews that we forget that we are in a talent sellers market.


How to Create an Awesome Candidate Experience

Let me paint you a picture. Somebody somewhere decided that what they do for a living wasn’t cutting it, and started doing some soul searching. That led them to  believe that working for you might be a better way for them to spend their days. So they mustered up the courage to put themselves out there, to say “I’m interested”, and join the masses to be judged by anonymous recruiters behind their screens.

People forget how vulnerable the recruiting process is for a candidate. There is a feeling of constant judgement and evaluation of their skills. And not just their juggling or Scrabble skills, but of the work they do day in day out to put food on the table. They are being evaluated on “what they do”, and that is a scary prospect.

And the process is usually God awful. Interviews re-scheduled 4 times, waiting in a conference room seemingly forgotten about, and not hearing any feedback after are part of the process. Its like a date from hell, except it’s the norm. Nearly half of what I do as an agency recruiter is console, comfort, and basically repair self esteem broken by horrendous company recruiting experiences.

You don’t have to be that way. In fact, a crappy status quo means a wonderful opportunity for you to provide an awesome candidate experience and attract great people to your company.


The Basics

I’m no Henry Higgins, but let’s talk about a few basics of common courtesy. I won’t go into depths because this is not finishing school and you are not 14 years old.

  1. Get back to everybody, whatever the outcome.
  2. Provide some sort of feedback. Nothing is as devastating as going through 5 hours of interview to only hear “pass”.
  3. Do not re-schedule an interview more than twice. How would you feel if a candidate did that?
  4. Don’t make the candidate wait more than 10 minutes for a call or in a waiting room.
  5. Don’t take 3 weeks to correct “an assignment”.
  6. Don’t ask dumb tech questions. Candidates are evaluating you too.


Track “probability of offer” metric

I can hear you saying already, “sure Georges, I would love to spend quality time with every candidate but sadly I don’t have 200 hours in my day”. Fair enough, but you shouldn’t be flying blind either. Use data to your advantage. Optimize experience for probability of offer. What do I mean by this?

Lets say that after some measurement, you figure out –

  • After phone screen: 10% probability of making an offer
  • After 1st round: 40% probability
  • After 2nd round 60% probability
  • After 3rd round 95%
  • Offer stage: 100%

“Probability of offer” is the metric that will bring some visibility back to your blind process. You now have an invaluable advantage – you know when to dial up the energy.

So in this case, you’ll know that after a certain round you need begin doing more time consuming, value generating activities. Things such as –

  • Sit down and talk career goals. What does she see herself going? How can you guys help her get there?
  • Let them sit in on a programming session, sales pitch, or whatever they’ll end up doing.
  • Take them out with the team for some drinks.
  • Send them something personalized as opposed to yet another sticker.

All too often, companies will have a mediocre experience followed by a fancy dinner to “close the candidate”. Candidates are not stupid, they see past the steak and baked potato, even though they’ll eat it.


Its not over until the butt is in the seat (actually its never really over)

Congratulations, you got the guy to sign! You have a start date in a few weeks, and the team is pumped to have a new member. You send the documents over to HR, hit the bar, and order yourself a well deserved drink.

While you are hi-fiving yourself, guess what the candidate is doing? He is stressing out. He now has to have an incredibly difficult resignation conversation with his boss which may include a counter-offer, a potentially traumatic departure from his current team, and the lingering self doubts of potential buyers remorse.

My friend Danya Cheskis-Gold has a good word for this challenging time. Its called “Yes to Desk” – the time between the signing of the offer letter and the employee’s first day. Sure there are tons of HR formalities to get done, and you need to get them their computer…etc…but there is so much more you can do from a candidate experience stand out.

 Here are some ideas

  • Write the resignation letter. Be there for him, have him call you right after. Go grab a drink with him.
  • Tell him about his new work neighborhood, good places to eat, the easiest commute.
  • Invite him to come in for a few hours to meet some of the team members (but respect the fact that he might want to go on vacation).


I hope this will provide some food for thought. Doing even the basics will set you apart, and will help you attract the caliber of candidate you seek.


Thoughts on Recruiting Emails

Hey </NAME>

I saw you program in Java. That’s awesome! I love Java! I love it so much in fact that I’m working with this hot startup in Sioux Falls IOWA that is looking for developers just like you. They are disrupting the shoe shining space and are just killing it!

Call me immediately and send me your CV.

Rock out



What hasn’t been said about the infamous recruiter email? Developers hate it. Recruiters are nervous to write them, and it remains a black hole of sorts, and yet is so important.

Many pixels have been blackened on the topic – you can find info here and here.

Here are my thoughts –

You are going to engage to somebody who knows much much more than you on the given subject. 

How would feel if you were going to talk about edible foams with Ferran Adria, about particle acceleration with a CERN scientist, or recruiting with yours truly. Just kidding :)How would you behave in that case? Would you try to wing it with a few big words and hope they just might think you are the chef/physicist/recruiter you claim to be? No, you would speak with humility and curiosity. Keep it about them, understand what they are doing and what they would like to be doing – not go off on how amazing your tech stack is.

Speak to the top of your intelligence. 

Its not because you don’t know all that much about tech that you have to sound like an all around ignoramus. Speaking to the top of your intelligence is a borrowed from improv comedy and essentially means to play a character that knows everything that you, as a person, know. It makes for much richer characters and scenes, and for much better emails and phone calls.

So what you didn’t get summa in CS at MIT? It doesn’t mean you have an IQ of 80. Don’t just say “oh well that is tech stuff so I have no clue”. Instead, go talk to your engineers, find out why they use the tech that they do, why decisions were made..etc…and when you feel you have something that you understand with confidence then congrats! You will write better emails than 90% of the recruiters out there.

Personalize in one way or another…just personalize. 

There is a lot of talk of email personalization. And for good reason, it simply works. But here is the thing, sometimes its hard to personalize on tech especially when you are speaking to somebody who knows a lot more than you (see above). And sometimes, there just is not that much to say.

“Hey, I see you know Java. Wanna job?” is not going to cut it. Neither is complementing an empty github account. In fact, its this is exactly the sort of thing that drives developers insane.

Instead, personalize on something else. Maybe they are into kabuki theater, skydiving, or (more likely) artisanal craft beer made with hops grown on Brooklyn/SOMA rooftops. Whatever it is, they will be much more receptive to that than to a boneheaded tech email or nothing at all.

Cause at the end of the day, when you get an email from a stranger you really just want to feel like they’ve paid attention to you as a person. Sure it might be better to write about the details of this github repository or that new javascript framework. But that is a minefield that is not worth the risk.

Follow up. Via email AND phone. 

Don’t follow Woody Allen’s dating advice, but DO listen to his thoughts on persistence. “90% of success is showing up” has been thrown around quite a bit in the business/motivation world  – but I don’t think it makes more sense than for emails.  Response rate goes up drastically for the 2nd email, especially if the first one was personalized. Use Boomerang or to manage.

And if you are looking for the ultimate productivity hack, consider the good old phone. A simple phone call can be the equivalent of a dozen emails and can uncover stuff that you would never get in writing.

These are obviously non-exhaustive observations, so please add some of your own gems in the comments!


The First Moment of Truth

Say you are in the market for a new brand of toothpaste and you’ve been paying attention to some ads. Beautiful people with teeth as white as the first snow galavant around in what seems to be world of pure bliss, and you want in. You pick up a copy of your favorite monthly mag, and there they are again those bastards – they seem to be enjoying the most mundane tasks, commuting for instance. Its probably because their teeth are so damn white!

Anyway, needless to say the next time you are at CVS you head over to the toothpaste aisle, ready to stumble upon a glowing aura of toothpaste – this magical goo that promises beauty and eternal happiness. Suddenly, you see it. There it is!

Congratualtions, you have just experienced FMOT, the First Moment of Truth. A marketing term invented by P&G in 2005 that covers in-store product placement.

Procter and Gamble may be a bit on the stodgy side, but they basically invented modern consumer marketing, and have it down to a science. For them, FMOT is a category in the same league as TV, PR and Social. Its taken very seriously. If you are ever on a P&G marketing conference call, be prepared to hear FMOT thrown around a lot. Its also a good time to catch up on Buzzfeed :)

Here’s why I love the concept of FMOT: its the moment when the marketing bullshit melts off and you are just holding a tube of toothpaste at a CVS. Its when reality comes crashing into the picture. And the question is, does the actual product match up to all the hype, the marketing, the ads with beautiful people with shiny teeth who seem to be loving life a bit more than you?

Nope. Its usually just a tube of toothpaste.

toothpaste FMOT

So what does all this have to do with recruiting? A lot actually. An candidate will begin to form an idea of who you are as an employer over time, your employer brand, through articles, tweets, consumer ads…etc….maybe even a friend who already works there.

When she walks into your office for the first time, all this could come crashing down or on the contrary, it could live up to the hype.

The recruiting industry basically ignores FMOT. Its just not on their radar, and its a shame. They lose great candidates because the interview experience didn’t match the expectations. It was off brand. And that is even if their employer brand is considered “cool”.

No amount of fawning TC articles, kegs afterwork, and all you can eat organic snacks will overcome a poor First Moment of Truth. You can’t put lipstick on a pig. 


The details count

Take a minute and think about all the candidate touchpoints from inital reachout to 1st day of work? What are they? What happens in each? Is your brand being reflected in each one? Do you even have an employer brand?

Here are a few areas to focus no matter what

  • Being on time: if you make a candidate wait more than 20 minutes to meet or chat on the phone, she has every right to end the interview right there and then.
  • Engineers who are excited to interview, and who don’t treat it as a chore. HR people can only go so far in terms of excitement.
  • Showing them around the office: this is, after all, where they will spend the majority of their waking hours. Don’t walk them right to the conference room.
  • Giving them more information – do you have more info on the role, profiles of their future colleagues, and projects in the works.
  • Disappearing acts: don’t make the candidate have to follow up with you. If its a pass – let him know promptly and let him know why. Don’t pull a goddamn disappearing act.
  • Dumb technical screens: if you ask an engineer basic or stupid questions, he will assume the same of you. I’ve had many an engineer ask to stop the process because he felt the questions reflected too poorly on the company.


So what is your FMOT? I challenge you to focus on this crucial touchpoint and make it as awesome for the candidate as you can – and it will pay off in droves.



Lipstick on a Pig

If you make a candidate wait 25 minutes to interview, a ping pong table won’t help.

If you take 2 weeks to get back to him, neither will a keg of beer.

If you ask him the same questions again and again, neither will inspirational posters about “shipping”.

If you make him come back 5 times for no reason, neither will a company American Apparel T-shirt.

Its easy to create the trappings of a “cool” company. Its much harder to run an awesome recruiting process. 


What 3rd party recruiters can teach YOU

Headhunting agencies get no love these days. It seems that every other day you’ll find a post on Hacker News about how recruiters are the catfish of the tech world, the scalpers, the barnacles of incompetence nestled in the cracks of a frothy market. People wholly unworthy of the money they make, and who will soon all die a fiery death. We are assholes. We’ll cold call you until your change your number, and then we’ll post your email address to a database.

That is the narrative at least. But it would be utterly foolish to believe discount 3rd party agencies all together are “getting it wrong”. They are still thriving, and are probably poaching somebody from your company as your read this. Quick! Quarantine the engineers!

I’m always overjoyed to hear that a candidate’s other offer is directly from the company, not through another recruiter…because I know I can close better.

That said, nothing is preventing you from copying their methods, learning what they do well and replicating their model…and therefore avoiding the massive fee associated with their services.

So what sort of wisdom can you apply from external recruiting? What do agencies have that you can copy?

(REMEMBER: these are characteristics of GOOD recruiting agencies! Not just any old one. So don’t pull that one on me! Yeah, some agencies are run by the mentally debilitated offspring of sleazy salesmen. Let’s not focus on those shall we!)

They are run like a sales organization

Walk into any recruiting agency and you’ll think you walked into a trading floor. Headsets are plugged in, there is a sales bell, and usually the wall is covered in some sort of leader board. Being an external recruiter is basically a sales job – and although that makes for some occasional sleaze, it does bring a hell of a lot of advantages.

  1. Metrics: Good recruiters measure everything, because the better they get, the more they get paid. Email not converting so well? Switch it up! Only making 5 calls per day and wondering why you have no pipeline? Wonder no more!
  2. Hustle: External recruiting is very much a eat what you kill job, so complacency is at a minimum. Any angle, channel, and pitch will be tested, refined, and exploited. There is no room for paper pushing HR types.
  3. Ranking: I remember when I got into Presidents Club…oh the joy! Actually, we went on a shitty cruise but still! Having rewards for a job well done beyond money brings life to sales organizations, and celebrations for good performance should be equally practiced in the recruiting world.

They keep their eyes on the prize

A typical hiring process involves a song and dance of various length, and the recruiter goes along. Coordinating a code test here, scheduling a phone call there…that is often their day to day. But once that is done, they know they need to close. They know, that there will be a day when they will be sitting there with a candidate and a pen and an offer letter, and will hopefully be faxing back good news to the client. If they don’t do that, they don’t eat. So a good recruiter does everything in her power to set that conversation up beautifully.

You can do the same. Start by focusing on the candidate up front. Find out what they want to do in their careers. And then, make sure to get your team to highlight that. Make your company look like the obvious next step in the story of their lives. Don’t just send the offer letter and hope for the best.

You can leave the 3rd party headhunters their cheesy approaches and general douchiness. But please, steal their sales tactics!


Don’t recruit like my grandma

My grandma likes to read people’s fortunes in flipped over coffee cups after a long dinner. Its Turkish coffee so the grounds make little shapes that she can interpret as they collect on the saucer. Its all fun, and makes for an entertaining post dinner conversation. But we all know its utterly meaningless. I mean, maybe it was used seriously like 1000 years ago or something, but come on, we’ve come a good way since then and know better.

Everybody except recruiters that is, who continue to use cryptic, random, and useless techniques that sound like they were conjured up by a witchdoctor circa 1053.

For everybody’s harping about how recruiting is the most important part of their business, most recruiting processes are run like a fortune telling operation where everyone’s an expert. Everybody has an old trick, a random technique, or some super intuition that allows them to peer inside the depths of a candidate’s soul with just one simple question.

Such as “how many jelly beans are in a jacuzzi”?


This sort of ad hoc approach is folkloric at best, but usually is just ineffective and pisses people off. You think you are being clever with the hidden meaning of your question and all, but really your just wasting time. Google, a company known for a thorough recruiting process admitted as much.

Why do people who seem perfectly sane and competent in most fields, resort to asking cryptic questions like the bridge keeper in Monty Python?

  • “She sat awkwardly on the couch” PASS
  • “He gave a weird answer to my question about how many jelly beans are in a jacuzzi?” PASS
  • “I don’t know why, I just like the guy” HIRED.
  • “Meh.” PASS

Yes, ladies and gents, this sort of enlightened thinking is what determines who you spend most of your waking hours with. For some reason its affected recruiting only. Does your marketing guy ever say “I saw that people were clicking on our About page a lot this week, let’s double our ad spend” or “I’m not feeling this keyword”? If so, I would advise you to move your headquarters to Iran so you can legally flog him.

The supposedly most important function in your company is being run by a bunch of goddamn alchemists, old wives, and people like my grandma!

The solution lies in SYSTEMS

We need a recruiting Renaissance. Out of darkness, light. Out of superstition, SYSTEMS. Recruiting needs to be a machine like any other in your business. Here are the 4 main pistons in your machine.

A constantly replenishing funnel: you’ll soon find out that to hire X number of people, you’ll need Y number of candidates. Take a cue from your sales team and ensure that you are reaching that Y number regularly. If you don’t, you will be scrambling and most likely will have to pay a fat fee to an external recruiter. And even if you are not looking, you need to nurture a warm talent pool for future hires and attrition.

A consistent evaluation process: find out what you are looking for in a candidate, what questions will help you find that out, and who will ask those questions. That way everybody is measured with the same yardstick, and the company can recruit along an even playing field.

Logistics like clockwork:  many people’s workdays get messed up by recruiting. Engineers need to conduct code tests, CEO’s need to sell the vision, and candidates themselves have to schedule interview after interview. I would say that one hire involves several hundred emails from first contact to close. This process needs to be AS SEAMLESS AS POSSIBLE. It will never be fun, it just needs to be managed.

Improvement and optimization: the best part about doing all the above is you suddenly have something you can measure. And when you have that, well,  you can begin making improvements. Perhaps candidates are dropping off after one particular assignment. Maybe this one event is responsible for 20% of your engineering hires for last quarter. Knowing this allows you to improve.

Recruiting is inherently nebulous – both parties are making a very big decision without all the information or experience. Humans have a natural tendency to resort to ritual and superstition in those situations. But you are more enlightened than that.


Who pays when a candidate quits early?

We had toasted his new job only 7 weeks before when I got the call. Things were not going well, and he was going to leave. The honeymoon had lasted a record short 48 hours, and things had gone downhill from there.

He described a horrible on-boarding process. Nobody was interested in helping him get installed. Everyone was stuck in their old ways, bickering, putting in their hours and then going home. There was zero camaraderie, and nobody gave a shit. He was spending more time in meetings about product features than actually in the code. There had been such a high turnover of developers, that the code was a mess and making even small changes required an oversized effort. He had inherited more technical debt than Greece, and he wanted out.

I begged for him to stay. Maybe he was being over-dramatic. There is often some “buyers remorse” in a new job once the honeymoon period is over. But he wasn’t having it. He quit the next day.

Things don’t always work out the way one hopes, and that is certainly true in recruiting. Sometimes, despite thorough interviewing, vetting, and the best of intentions, candidates don’t make it past the 90 days. The question is, who is to blame when something like this happens?

As expected, I got an email the next day. “XXXX quit today. Please send a check for XXXXX”. In this case, I had assumed all the risk and was bearing the brunt.

Many people will always say “the recruiter should take the risk” and to that I answer “SCREW YOU!”. Did I advise you to have an on-boarding process as exciting as that of the DMV? Was it my idea to have an offsite at Applebees?

Bottom line is that the risk of a poor fit needs to be shared between the recruiter and the employer.

Ok, now that the ranting is over, here are a few ways to make for a happy recruiter/client relationship even when shit hits the fan:

  • Have an extremely thorough interview process: a strong process is your main defense against a bad hire. Don’t hesitate to go all out. Do a back channel reference check without the candidate or recruiter knowing. The onus is on you to make the right decision, so go ahead and be picky.
  • The risk gets shifted over the 90 days: if the candidate leaves before 30 days, then you get all the money back. Between 30 and 60, less so, and so on and so forth.
  • If you insist on having a full 90 day guarantee, then offer something better than a refund: allow the recruiter to replace the candidate or re-credit for another search. This provides the recruiter with cash flow peace of mind.
  • Build trust over time: once the recruiter sees that your company is not a revolving door, then you will be able to negotiate for a full 90 day refund. There is risk on both sides, don’t forget.

There will always be recruiters who will work for a full 90 day refund. Just like there will always be 4 dollar sushi, 3 dollar umbrellas, and 300 dollar cruises (looking at you, Carnival).

Do you want to entrust one of your company’s most important functions to them?



How to poach a candidate from Ariana Huffington #Part 2

Not getting a strong grounding in sales and the general arts of persuasion is the one of the biggest issues plaguing recruiters today, especially internal ones. When your offer is competing with 9 others, good sales skills are not only the important thing. They are the only thing.

Many recruiters have confided in me of late about their lack of “closing skills”. They just can’t seem to take it over the finish line. They are approaching the problem all wrong. The lack of closing ability is a a simple symptom of a larger issue: they never truly found out what motivated the candidate in the first place. By motivate, I mean the discovery and facilitation of “deep motivations”. Not “I want to work in an eCommerce company”. That is surface level stuff.

This is what got me a leg up against Ariana Huffington. Luckily for you, most big companies stop paying attention to the emotional drive behind why a candidate chose to work there in the first place.

So employees fall through the cracks as the work becomes “just a job”. Sneak in there and you’ll be amazed at the incredibly talented people you can poach.

But how do you get to the “deep motivations” in an interview? When you walk into an interview, you are in pure “evaluation mode”. Technical, experience, cultural. You are in an emotionally “cold state”.

The first step is to get out of that state. Forget about the logical, rational reasons why the candidate is interested in working with you. Focus 100% on the emotional.

Awhile back, my father showed me a method that really allows you to open somebody up in a genuine way. I have used it both professionally and personally – and have been amazed at the results.

When somebody is telling you a story, or recounting an event that happened, where they might have been emotionally affected. Simply say:

“That must make you feel…….(insert emotion here). “

This simple line allows you to be truly empathetic, and serves as an invitation to open up and share a deeper story.


What are some emotions that you can use?

Well, let’s start with the negative ones:

Annoyed, bummed out, frustrated, envious, and their stronger cousins: sad, angry, disappointed, helpless.

And some (slightly more) positive ones:

Happy, greedy, lustful, ambitious, proud.


Back to the AOL poach. The candidate obviously had a cushier job than I could ever offer, with much better benefits, perks, and of course, cash. But then he began talking about the levels of management above him, the boring work, and the feeling that he was past the post college level and wasn’t really living up to what he had expected.

“Wow, that must make you feel disappointed”, I said.

“Actually, its not that.”, he replied.

Oops. Not sure whether I screwed this one up for good, I paused to let him utter the next word.

“Its more that I need to make more than just this salary. I need to make some REAL MONEY”

Greed it was. I got what I needed.

And therein lies the beauty of the system. People will be more than happy to correct you if you are wrong. They want to tell somebody these things, so even if you initiate with an off the mark emotion, they’ll happily redirect you.


Words of Warning

You actually have to give a crap about what this person is going through. This is not some Pick Up Artist power move, or some line of code in a program. And this is certainly not about manipulation (although its power could be abused). The trick is to not point him in the wrong direction once you learn more about him. Don’t be a dirtbag recruiter :)

Also, you might find it difficult to say deeper emotions, like “sad” or “angry”. I would encourage you to avoid staying in the “safe zone” with lighter words. Lean into the harder stuff, you’ll connect in remarkable ways.

So begin exploring your emotional side, and try this out. It might not only save your deal, but also your marriage.