A Profile of the World’s Most Aggressive Recruiter, Part 1

Fast Company magazine once called me the Michael Jordan of recruiting, but I often call myself “the most aggressive recruiter on the planet.” Through my role as an advisor and speaker I meet thousands of recruiters, a few of which have made me feel like an amateur in the aggressiveness department. One such recruiter is Michael Lackaye, formerly of Quicken Loans. I was amazed and impressed with some of the bold approaches he used to help power the “recruiting machine” at Quicken Loans. These days, most of the truly aggressive and bold recruiters operate outside the United States in India and China, but if more recruiters adopted Lackaye’s mindset, the United States could easily recoup the lead in bold recruiting. If you want to hear how a warrior approaches the “War for Talent,” read on, subtle he is not.

Strategy and Approach Profile of the World’s Most Aggressive Recruiter


I am seldom surprised in recruiting and routinely comment that the profession changes much slower than the business world around it, but as with all observations there are usually some exceptions. The approaches that Lackaye has employed throughout his career demonstrate real responsiveness to market conditions and are as aggressive as recruiting gets. The following stories outline the approach, the mindset, the techniques, and offer a little insight into the successes.

The Bank Caper

Perhaps the greatest recruiting story to develop in the last year, the “bank caper” demonstrates how truly aggressive recruiters leverage each and every situation to their advantage. While attending a conference on recruiting, Lackaye and his team observed that a competing organization was holding a sales conference in the same hotel. While most attendees had already checked out of their jobs and into the Southern California coastline, this team immediately recognized the opportunity and sprung into action. They noticed that the top performers of the competing organization had been awarded crazy shirts, and that the company had showcased 8 x 10 photos of them outside the event.

The Lackaye-led team surveyed the situation and approached the “marked targets” when movement throughout the hotel isolated them. They collected more than 35 business cards from the competition, enough for them to blueprint the organizational structure of the sales team attending. Through networking and follow up after the event, this team managed to convert as many as four of the competitor’s employees encountered at the conference into hires.

Note: Many companies often invite their best and brightest performers to attend regional and national meetings, and celebrate their success by making them distinguishable in a crowd. Some might call taking advantage of such situations raiding, but unlike a military raid, recruiters don’t take hostages, they simply offer better opportunities for potential candidates to consider. Employees are not owned; they choose what is best for themselves and their families. If they opt to take advantage of a new opportunity, the shame should not be upon the recruiter, but rather on the former employer for “taking them for granted and not insuring that the best opportunity was being delivered!”

Philosophy of Recruiting As Sales

Lackaye refers to his recruiters as his “sales team,” and routinely uses sales approaches to manage the group and its activities. Few organizations manage recruiting as a sales function, but those that have are generally very successful. He uses an incentive system borrowed from sales to compensate recruiters based on performance. After all, isn’t recruiting just “sales with a crummy budget?” Too many people in HR disdain being likened to sales and view their jobs as helping people. What helps people more than getting a better opportunity to improve their career? It’s an easy sell. An example of how Lackaye gets passives to apply using sales techniques follows.

“We always sold ‘the exploratory meeting’ (with the reluctant candidate). We knew that the atmosphere at our company was a seller. Therefore, we just wanted to get them in the door. Once we did, we would push their bruises and look for hot points. We had a very soft sell in the beginning. We would follow up the next day, asking them what they thought, and if they showed any interest, we went on the attack.”

Lackaye said his recruitment strategy is “to stay aggressive as a team, and to stay ahead of the curve. An organization whose recruiting function I would like to lead would realize the value of committing financial resources for the purpose of finding top talent by utilizing an effective applicant tracking system, creating a great candidate experience, leveraging an internal referral program, demanding search engine optimization, and paying recruiters for what they produce.”

Selling Managers on Aggressive Recruiting

Lackaye realized early on that objections to how recruiters achieve success are often based on lack of understanding. He found that two comments were enough to bring most managers on board, including: “You wanna hire 200 people a month?We aren’t going to do it by sitting back and collecting resumes,” and “If you owned one of our competitors, would you want to hire our top salesperson who isn’t looking, or the schlep who has worked here for six months with limited results whose resume is on every job board in the country? I thought so.”

Getting Names

If you are looking for the best talent, chances are it is going to come from another company, so Lackaye considers all other firms his farm teams. He regularly cold-calls into other companies in person with the goal of getting names, business cards, etc. He calls his approach the “mystery shopper.” Here is a script of the approach:

Receptionist: “Good morning, ABC Financial.”

Recruiter: “Hi, I called about three months ago inquiring about (some financial product), and I spoke with someone but I misplaced their name. They were incredibly energetic and said they were one of your sales people. Do you know who that was?”

Receptionist: “Gee, I don’t know.”

Recruiter: “If you say their name, I know I will recognize it.”

Receptionist: “George Smith?”

Recruiter: “Nope.” (writing the name down for a later call)

Receptionist: “Bob Jacobs?”

Recruiter: “Maybe, but I don’t think so. Give me a couple more?”

This approach, while basic, is commonly used by sales organizations. It would regularly produce at least three names, all of which he would call directly the next day with an opportunity to show them what his firm has to offer.

Offer Acceptance or Closing Techniques

Finding people isn’t enough, you need to be able to aggressively sell them. An example of one approach used by Lackaye goes like this:

“A gentleman we were recruiting had worked with one of our direct competitors for seven years and had left because they were limiting his growth, and he didn’t like ?looking at the same five ugly guys (it was a small firm) every day.’ He had moved on to another institution since then, but was definitely a solid candidate. We offered him, and he wavered. On the closing call, he told us he was looking at going back to that same competitor, or starting with us. He also happened to offer to me that his life had been tough and he wanted to make the right decision, and that his wife had left him not once, but TWICE for another man.”

The close:

Recruiter: “Jerry, when your wife cheated on you and left you the first time, why did you go back?”

Jerry: “Because I wanted to make it work.”

Recruiter: “But the writing was on the wall. You knew it would probably happen again; those things usually do.”

Jerry: “I know, but?”

Recruiter: “You did it because it was the easiest thing to do, it was the most comfortable, right?”

Jerry: “There is definitely some truth to that.”

Recruiter: “So you went back to her and she did the same thing right?”

Jerry: “Right.”

Recruiter: “Jerry, you’re a smart guy. I thought you would have learned by now.”

Jerry: “What do you mean?”

Recruiter: “I mean, think about this. You are doing the same thing with this old company as you did with your wife. You want to go back there because it’s easy and comfortable, but ultimately you will be calling me in six months telling me how stupid you were to think it was going to be ‘different’ this time. This is your third chance at something like this, but you will have to make the tough decision to start over again. Forget everything you have been through personally and professionally, and get your life back.”

Jerry: “You’re right!”

Recruiter: “So, are you ready to start over, or do you have any other concerns?”

Jerry: “I don’t have any other concerns.”

Recruiter: “So we’ll see you Monday at 8:30?”

Again, a classic sales closing approach where you help the candidate by providing the impetus for them to change their life (Note for the squeamish, privacy issues fade when the candidate volunteers information and you use it only to make their life better).

Use of Referrals

Referrals are the top source in volume and for quality hires. Unfortunately, most organizations that operate referral programs fail to realize that sitting back and waiting for referrals is foolish. If you dig into how most referrals are initiated, you find more often than not candidates initiate the process by approaching an employee and asking them to refer them as a means to getting past the ‘black hole’ of a corporate career website. My recent research study of over 600 firms proved that the best “proactively” go after employee referrals. Lackaye, of course, follows that more aggressive approach by having his sales team cold-call people internally for referrals. “We were relentless.”

Next week in part 2: Some Q&A with Michael Lackaye on his views regarding the future of recruiting.

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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