CEO Calls – The Most Effective Recruiting Closing Tool

A CEO’s call is the top offer closing tool because it makes the candidate feel like they will have a continuing CEO relationship. So, why not utilize the influence power of your CEO when you have a “must-have” candidate that’s working in “an impossible to fill functional area.”

This approach is most often used at the end of the recruiting process to get a vacillating finalist to say yes to an offer. However, it can also be used toward the beginning of the process to convince reluctant prospects to apply formally. The call’s impact is great because the call itself is unusual, startling, and something that the candidate will talk about with their colleagues. And the fact that the top executive wants you as an individual to join the firm and to work directly with them is also an added powerful candidate motivator. Together these factors have consistently had a universally positive impact on candidates and their decisions to move forward. This well-established approach has been used by executives at numerous firms, including Google, Microsoft, Apple, Starbucks, and Tesla.

Understanding Why CEO Recruiting Calls Are So Powerful

These CEO calls leave a lasting impression for many reasons, including:

  • They are so unusual; they force the candidate to pay attention to this job – they’re so rare and unique that they are guaranteed to get the candidate to increase their focus on and interest in your open job. 
  • The candidate will assume they will have continued access/influence – because the CEO took the time to know the candidates and the importance of the work. Most candidates will justifiably assume that they will have abundant resources and continue to have direct access and influence with the CEO if they join the firm.
  • The importance of the work will remain at a CEO’s top of mind – because a busy CEO found the time to make the call. The candidate will usually assume that not only is the position and the work of strategic importance now, but that the CEO will continue to remain aware of both the work and the candidate long after they join the organization.
  • A personalized call makes the candidate feel special – the most effective CEO calls are personalized. So, it appears to the candidate that the CEO took the time to review their work and to know their interests. Like all types of recruiting personalization, this will make the candidate feel special and that perhaps they were the only one that the CEO called for this job opening. 
  • The candidate will remember and talk about the call – because this type of call is so unusual. The shock value alone will make the candidate not only remember it, but mention it to their colleagues and family. They will likely understand the significance of the call and provide encouragement to pursue this opportunity further. And if the call doesn’t work immediately, the call will likely continue to influence their willingness to join the firm later. 
  • Alternative offers from other firms won’t be able to compare – when comparing side-by-side offers. It will be hard for any other firm to match the added power of this CEO call.
  • It works because CEOs are also effective salespeople – generally, becoming a CEO means that they already have a history of effective convincing and selling. So, if the recruiter has fully prepared the CEO, their sales pitch will almost always be effective. 
  • Small businesses should use this tool also – the CEO call approach can be even more effective when small businesses are trying to recruit. This is because liking and getting along with the small business owner is more likely to be a critical success factor. And because of the size of the business, there is a much greater likelihood that the candidate will more frequently interact with the CEO (compared to the number of interactions at a large corporation). So building the trust relationship early will make everyone feel more comfortable.

Benefits that accrue directly to the recruiting function

  • This process will remind the CEO that they should be the chief recruiter – involving the CEO in recruiting calls can remind them that recruiting should start from the top down. Their participation can also help to remind them that recruiting top talent is extremely difficult so that it requires a contribution from everyone. Recruiting icon Jason Warner (one of the top 5 recruiters I’ve ever met) once noted that when he was at Starbucks that his CEO made these calls. With this added benefit “Not only did he enjoy being asked, it sent a signal to him as the CEO that ‘not everyone wants to work at Starbucks.’”
  • It may stimulate managers to encourage referrals – when the word spreads that the CEO is actively participating in jobs at the technical and professional level. That involvement may encourage managers at all levels to make an important contribution to complementary recruiting. By actively encouraging their employees to submit quality referrals and to aid in selling the finalist.

Some Action Steps And Tips To Consider

When approaching the CEO, you should expect some initial resistance.  The best way to overcome any hesitation is to show them how effective the tool is, and then offer to do all the necessary pre-contact preparation. Below are some tips for convincing the CEO to participate and some action steps covering how they should prepare for the call.

  • Steps in convincing the CEO – even if the recruiter has a personal relationship with the CEO, it still makes sense to show them specifically why they are needed in each individual case. Start by making sure they understand the value of the strategic work being done in the position. But also cover how this individual and their skill set is critical for the company’s future strategic success. To avoid overusing their valuable time, I recommend limiting your CEO requests to three calls a month. And always follow up by providing your CEO with feedback covering how they impacted each successful hire.
  • Steps in preparing your CEO – even CEO calls can fail if they don’t convey the critical importance that the company places on this job and this candidate. Failure can occur when the CEO doesn’t thoroughly know specific details about the candidate’s background, attraction factors/interests, and what experiences the CEO might have in common with the candidate. Failure can also occur when the CEO doesn’t come across as excited and authentic. Prepare the CEO by providing them with some likely candidate questions and answers. Also, be certain that the CEO knows how to pronounce the candidate’s name correctly. You can show the candidate that the CEO has done future research into the candidate by providing them with a few not so obvious facts that would not appear in the candidate’s LinkedIn profile. As part of the selling approach, the CEO should at least infer that they will work closely with the CEO periodically if the candidate joins the organization. When possible, the recruiter should also be in the room with the CEO when they make the call. 
  • The content should be rehearsed and outlined, but not scripted and memorized – the call needs to come across as authentic and enthusiastic, so it’s critical that the information isn’t memorized. Instead, it should be outlined but not 100% scripted. However, if time permits, it should be rehearsed at least once with the recruiter. 
  • Don’t close the call without a direct request for action – remember the purpose of the call is to get a yes. So, remind the CEO at the end to make sure that they ask the target specifically to say yes before they end the call. If they say yes to the offer, reinforce the sale by having your CEO specifically ask them to stop by their office on their first day at work.
  • Face-to-face is best when possible – obviously, during the pandemic, telephone or video calls are the most common method. However, face-to-face meetings are almost always more effective, provided that Covid protocols are followed. Sending a car to pick them up for a face-to-face meeting is also a nice added touch.
  • Limit the length of the call to respect the CEO’s time – it’s critical that you respect the time of your CEO. So, suggest a target maximum length, but let the CEO decide when to hang up. CEOs often don’t want to make follow-up calls if no one answers. 
  • Have a plan of action if the call is not answered – to avoid wasting the CEO’s time by calling when the candidate is not available. Have a plan on what to do if they don’t answer on the first call (i.e., leave a message or suggest a time for them to call back). You can avoid this awkward “no answer situation” by having the CEO’s assistant contact the candidate in advance to set up an ideal time for the call. 
  • Alternative callers when the CEO is not available – if the CEO is not available, consider an alternative. Sometimes a Vice President in their functional area or the CEO’s Chief of Staff can be almost as effective. In other cases, a country manager, the GM, or the facility manager where they will be working can be okay. Especially if one of the executives contacting them is a close acquaintance of the candidate. Incidentally, when no executive can make the call, you can impress a candidate if the CEO merely sits in for a few minutes during a live or Zoom interview. Another alternative is attaching a handwritten note from the CEO to their paper offer letter.
  • Same level calls get a higher response rate than recruiter calls when contacting an executive prospect for the first time – in cases where the CEO is unwilling to help convince a prospect to apply. Realize that when you are attempting to make initial contact with a prospect at the management or executive level that doesn’t know you. “Same level calls” from an executive at the same organizational level as your prospect are much more likely to be responded to. In fact, one Fortune 500 US appliance manufacturer found that first-time contact calls initiated by a senior manager to an equivalent level colleague got a 100% return rate. Compared to a 30% response rate from a recruiter-initiated an initial call. The response rate is so high because responding to a senior colleague is a professional courtesy. And a colleague may provide an opportunity to learn and to benchmark. So the lesson to be learned is that recruiters should encourage an equivalent level executive in their functional field to make the initial recruiting contact call in order to begin the recruiting relationship.

Final Thoughts

Having a CEO contact a “must-have candidate” directly makes your firm stand out. While at the same time, it helps the candidate realize that the work they will be doing is critical to the organization’s strategic future. Incidentally, the recruiting function gains a side benefit when this tool is used because the CEO gets to know the individual recruiters better and the struggle they are facing in landing top candidates. And in my view, even though the high unemployment rate now makes it easier to land most candidates. No matter the unemployment rate, this approach is often still necessary to land a game-changer candidate that is likely to get multiple offers. 

Author’s Note: Please pass this article around within your team and network. If it stimulated your thinking and provided actionable tips, also please take a minute to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn.

image by Pixabay

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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