Is your recruiter a self-professed matchmaker? Not me, I am a storyteller

If you work with a recruiter or are a recruiter who professes to be a great matchmaker, I would urge you, for good reason, to read the remainder of this article.

When I was just out of college one of my aunts – one I saw often and for whom I had great affection, decided to set me up with a young lady with whom she worked. My loving aunt knew me well and got to know this young lady quite well also. Out of this abundance of “knowing,” she was convinced this setup would lead to heavenly bliss for the two of us. Now I am sure you could see this coming, but it was the single most awkward date I have ever experienced. Ask me sometime, and I will gladly tell the whole story. “What went wrong,” you ask? Presumption. You see, my aunt knew only snippets of who I was at my core. Does anyone ever really get into serious dialogue with their aunts? I never did. That said, from those snippets of information about me (and I’m sure about the young lady), my aunt presumed to know much more about both of us than she actually knew. And this is where the whole matchmaking project failed.

Don’t get me wrong; recruiter intuition or matchmaking ability is a real talent, but it is far from the highest pitch of recruiter existence. It should be used to narrow the field; after all, we cannot present every “resume-appropriate” candidate to the client. This narrowing, however, is precisely where matchmaking needs to end. Over-reliance on the ability to match a candidate to a corporate culture is presumptuous and wrought with potential disaster.  You may ask, “What ‘higher’ value does a recruiter offer?” This is what most people miss.

I would like to start with a little math. On average, I reach out to 150 – 200 resume-appropriate candidates per search. In today’s world, this part of recruiting is relatively easy. From my outreach, I receive engagement from approximately 50-80 individuals. From there I start to narrow. Ultimately my client will see between 5 – 15 candidates. Why do 50 – 80 individuals engage while 100+ decide not to engage? This is exactly where the value of a recruiter begins. The ability of a recruiter to capture and articulate your STORY is precisely what will set your search up for success. Stories captivate, illuminate, and move people to action, or non-action. We are trying to broker a relationship, and stories are the primary tool. Stories are precisely what allow us to attract candidates – or repel the ones who would be poor fits. And once a “resume appropriate” candidate is attracted to our client’s story we then flip the script and acquire the candidate’s story. Without a good story, people will not act. Notice I did not say “weave a fanciful tale” which to me implies manipulation or not real. The story told better match 100% of what is found; otherwise, much time will have been wasted. It must be real, it must include the pros and cons, the successes and struggles, etc.

Back to my sweet aunt. I will provide one practical example of how she failed. My aunt knew I was a good student (a high-level data point about me); however, she had no idea what subjects I enjoyed and was absolutely clueless as to why I enjoyed them. She knew some high-level “whats” about me but not the “whys” or “hows.” The interests of the young lady were so different than mine we could find no common ground for discussion. Can you say “awkward?” My aunt knew several “data points” about me without knowing the “hows” and “whys” which would have dramatically enhanced her knowledge of me and probably would have precluded her from making this ill-fitted connection.

A good recruiter will get to know the “hows & whys” behind their client’s and candidate’s stories, not simply the “whats.” All companies will quickly tell you what their strategies are, what their weaknesses are, what their values are, what their assets are, what their liabilities are, what they are good at, and what they struggle with; it will not be until we know the “hows & whys” that the story will come to life. Likewise, candidates will quickly share what targets they hit, what numbers they achieved, what efficiencies they gained, what awards they won and so on. ALL candidates can provide a list of what they did – typically laid out beautifully in their resumes. However, we must get to know a candidate beyond simply what they did. Frankly, the “whats” are virtually the same from resume to resume and are therefore boring. We must get to the life of the story…the hows & whys.

Now that we have acquired two beyond the “what” stories, it is time to allow the process to simply work. The first responding candidates opted into our story – they self-selected. The recruiter did not influence those individuals; the story did. Granted, the recruiter skillfully captured and articulated the story, but the candidates are not influenced by the recruiter; they are influenced by the story itself. Likewise, we may present 15 candidate stories to our client. The client will self-select the most attractive stories/candidates. The candidate’s stories influence, not the recruiter. The recruiter’s ability to get beyond the “whats” in a story is what sets a recruiter apart, and is where you will start to reap the value of your recruiter relationship. Your recruiter has now created an intersection of attractive stories. From this point forward is where recruiter value peaks – where the best recruiters earn their fees. Because an interviewing process is severely time constrained, effective use of the time afforded is a necessity. We now become a consultant to both the client and the candidate. We must allow (and help) them to get to know each other personally…no longer through the recruiter’s lens – which could be clouded by presumption. Coaching both the client and candidate how to tell their stories and how to draw out the story of the other is imperative to success. If done well, authentic and compelling stories will be shared in a lively dialogue. These thoughtfully and honestly constructed stories tell us with much greater detail who we are hiring (for the client) or for whom we will be working (for the candidate). This is how meaningful relationships have always been formed. It is a mutual exercise of learning, discovering and sharing, and is predicated on something far deeper than surface information. It is this mutual, and deeper knowledge of each other that virtually ensures the new hire is a great fit and NOT because the recruiter is a good matchmaker.

Oh, look, my aunt is texting me. Sorry, I have to go…

I hope she remembers I’m married…to a match made in Heaven!

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HansenBack is an Executive Recruiting firm based in Minneapolis. We have a 30+ year track record of helping our Clients hire and retain excellent executive leaders.

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