The Top 5 Power Tips For Selling Extremely Hard-to-close Candidates

In this obviously tight job market, I estimate that it has become at least 25 percent harder to sell the most in-demand candidates. And closing the best is even more difficult if you are recruiting techies, data scientists, data security, and other in-high-demand professionals.

So, if you expect to have a high level of recruiting success, improve your corporate offer process and make it data-driven.

Unfortunately, it is extremely hard to learn best practices because exceptional recruiters are seldom willing to share their “power tips” on how to sell impossible-to-close candidates. They keep their best closing approaches a secret (often even among recruiters at their own corporation) because, at least in my experience, the ability to sell top talent that has multiple choices is the key differentiator that makes a corporate recruiter exceptional.

Many corporate recruiters are proud that they are good at sourcing and interviewing, but the reality is that today there are many vendors and technologies that can do these two components of recruiting equally as well or even better. But with the third remaining component of recruiting, you are pretty much on your own when as corporate recruiter, you have to close an extremely hard-to-convince candidate who has multiple job choices.

Exceptional selling ability is the most important factor that differentiates the exceptional recruiter from the average one

Incidentally, you certainly can’t expect hiring managers to be of much help, because even though they know the most about the job, in most cases, they pretty well suck at selling. There are few recruiting experts other than myself (and Lou Adler and some executive search professionals) who have written extensively about closing. However, the leading-edge experts in this area are actually sales trainers.

But before you start your benchmarking, you must realize that you can’t benchmark most retail selling approaches. This is because buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks is simply not equivalent to the magnitude of a major life decision like switching jobs when you already have one. Instead, the best benchmarking alternative outside of the corporate recruiting function is to study and borrow from the sales and marketing people who have to teach salespeople how to close corporate buyers and those who sell extremely expensive items like real estate, yachts, and cars. A purchase of $50,000 or more can be considered equivalent to a professional switching jobs.

The Top 5 Power Tips for Getting an Extremely Reluctant Finalist to Say Yes 

Few corporate recruiters have the time to extensively study high-level selling, so I have put together a short list of the most powerful candidate closing approaches that I have seen successfully used in corporate recruiting. These power tips are listed with the most effective approaches appearing first.

  1. A CEO meeting or call — the most powerful convincing tool of all is a personalized one-on-one meeting or call with the CEO or other respected high-level executive in charge. This executive contact works in corporations because showing that the CEO is willing to take the time to talk to a finalist in a job makes it clear how important that candidate and this job are to the future of the firm. Most finalists also assume that having a relationship with the CEO at the very start will mean that if they accept, they will assuredly have complete access to the CEO, as well as their support and backing for all aspects of their work. For the contact to be effective, the CEO has to be well briefed on the finalist, their previous work, their interests, and what they will be working on if they join the firm. Phrases like “Please say yes, so that you and I can together build the future of this corporation” are extremely powerful.
  2. Show that you meet their job acceptance criteria — a “what’s it gonna take to get you into this car” approach is extremely effective in car sales and in corporate recruiting. This is because a top finalist will almost always have multiple choices (including staying at their current job). And when you have multiple choices, you need a set of criteria to choose between them. So you must have a process for identifying the criteria that top candidates will use to choose between their different job opportunities. I call these factors “job acceptance criteria.” And they are critical for closing the deal because the winner in the battle to get a high-value candidate will be won by the firm that meets the largest number of their decision factors. Typical factors for top performers include (in descending order) the excitement of the work, the impact of the work, having compelling coworkers, the level of freedom, and the chance to be first. Asking top candidates for their “job acceptance, as well as their deal-breaker criteria, should be a standard part of the recruiting process but is especially important for in-demand candidates. For the best candidates, don’t be subtle. Ask them upfront before or during their first interview to list and rank the things they will need in order to accept a job. And then at the end, when you are outlining your final offer, be sure and go over each of the criteria. And after each factor, ask the candidate if they agree that it has been met in your job opportunity.
  3. Peer contacts can close the deal — if you follow professional sports, you know that the primary reason why NBA superstar Kevin Durant chose the Golden State Warriors was direct contact from his future teammates. Peer-to-peer meetings also allow a top finalist to know that they are wanted, needed, and that they will be accepted by key team members. In addition, many candidates feel more comfortable asking their peers critical questions about the work, team cohesion, and any potential problems. The answers provided by teammates are often considered more authentic and accurate than those given by a recruiter or even a hiring manager because these peers live the job every day. Because even a single encouraging contact from one of your employees can make all the difference, start by approaching your employees who the candidate already knows and trusts, and ask them to make a contact. Educate your peer recruiters about what the candidate cares most about. Encourage them to give examples and tell stories about each of those key job, team, and company features. If the finalist is a referral, also have the referring employee call them and to also try to close the sale.
  4. Include an “unexpected surprise” — after several interviews, a finalist likely knows what will be included in an offer from the firm. But adding a significant and unexpected “WOW surprise” that hadn’t even been discussed can make all the difference in closing the deal. Unexpected but pleasant surprises (e.g. you can work at home on Friday, or you can pick your own job title) in an offer can often seal the deal. Because adding something extra (when you didn’t need to) reveals to the finalist that you’re willing to go above and beyond. Often that pleasant surprise sends the message that there may be many other positive surprises coming if they accept the offer. This unexpected addition also provides them with a “WOW story” that they will likely pass along to their family and colleagues.
  5. Add a sign-on bonus — top performers are not exempt from having significant credit card, student loan, or mortgage debt. So many welcome the opportunity to make a significant dent in their economic life with a sudden infusion of cash. A significant sized sign-on bonus can also provide them with an opportunity to make a down payment on a new car or a new house. Sign-on bonuses are especially powerful because you obviously don’t get them if you don’t say yes, and most competitive firms are unlikely to use them. Being willing to put cash up front also sends a clear message on how important the firm considers their hiring. A significant sign-on bonus will also give the finalist something to talk about with their family and colleagues. Although sign-on bonuses cost the company money, they, unlike large salaries, are a one-time expense. They can even be put in the form of a loan that doesn’t have to be repaid if the new hire stays with the firm for a full year. Incidentally, you can make these bonuses even more powerful by converting them to an “exploding bonus,”
    where the bonus amount decreases proportionately if the finalist delays their decision to say yes.

Other Powerful Closing Tools to Consider

Although space limitations don’t allow me to cover additional closing tools in any detail, corporations should also consider making the offer in person, as well as proactively influencing references, colleagues, and family that will influence their decision. And for those candidates who think your money offer was too low, offer an automatic salary re-opener review after six months on the job after everyone knows their real value.

Firms have also had success by providing hiring managers with a side-by-side selling sheet (showing how your firm is superior), making them an offer before they walk out the door, and convincing those who got away and new hires to share copies of their other offer letters (so that you really know what your competition is offering).

Final Thoughts

Unlike corporate high-end sales, for some unexplained reason, corporate recruiting functions seldom have a formal process for assessing and continually improving their job offers. This makes little sense because all of the time, effort, and money that have already been invested in recruiting a top candidate becomes a complete waste if the top finalist don’t actually say yes. Corporate recruiting should require a formal “failure analysis” after every major turn-down to find out what went wrong. Add a formal step during onboarding to ask top new hires to rank the factors and the arguments that had the highest impact on their decision to say yes. They should also be asked to cite arguments that had little impact, and how those arguments could be improved.

If you found this article helpful, please connect with me on LinkedIn Facebook and Twitter

As seen on ERE Media.  

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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