Executive Suite: No More Headhunters

I’m not big on headhunters, and you shouldn’t be either. They are not working for you. They are trying to get you to plunk down a fee in exchange for hiring one of their “used cars.” It’s that simple. They are not working for you--more likely they are trying to manipulate you.

So, what should you do about hiring? We’ll take sales because that will be about your toughest hire, but you can use this system to hire anyone. Here are some of the key steps from my book, No More Headhunters: How to Hire Your Own Salesperson.

Two preliminary points are absolutely critical. First, make the candidate impress you. Never try to “sell” a candidate on your business. She is there to sell you. Bag the plant tour for now. That is only for serious prospects. Remember this rule: It is better to hire no one, if no one meets your standards, than to write checks to a dud you took on to get the position filled.

Second, in sales you are looking for these four factors IN ORDER. Self-direction—the ability to sustain self-motivation. They have to get themselves out of bed and off the floor under every condition. Killer Instinct—a power closer, one who smells a potential sale, and is riveted on closing it. Remember you are not looking for a customer service person—a professional responder. You want a difference-maker. A good test will reveal this. People Skills—the capacity to communicate and influence people. Sales is a persuasion business. Charm helps. Organization—the skill to prioritize activities and use time wisely.

Those are the four and that is the order. Only megastars will have all four. There are lots of dynamite producers with just the first three. Few salespeople are highly organized. You cannot succeed without the first two. In other managerial positions you can skip Killer Instinct and use the other three.

The Steps

1. Run an Ad—Whether in Monster.com or in hardcopy or online publications, write an ad that a) makes absolutely clear what specifically you are looking for, mincing no words, and b) asks qualified seekers to call and ask for “Maria” (your initial screener’s fictitious name). Forget emailing resumes. They all glitter. Few are gold. You want to hear a voice if you are hiring a salesperson.

2. Initial Screen—Give “Maria” a number of strikeout factors and have her weed out all the chaff. Strikeout factors may include dead sounding voice, emphasis on what the job pays rather than its opportunity, want to “try” sales, questions about whether accounts will be immediately available—you get the picture. I have about 16 strikeouts I use. Maria’s job is more about eliminating time-wasters than finding the gems.

3. Second Screen—Have the decision-maker call the select people still in the game and hold a brief but pointed phone interview. Here you may be looking at work history, sales background, why they want the position … that sort of thing. Get all your questions in, and once someone eliminates herself diplomatically close the interview and move on. You only need one.

4. Interview—Call the strongest ones in for a personal interview. Try to get to know them in as much detail as possible. Ask about hobbies and other secondary things. People will tip their hands there because they will not be prepared for those types of questions. You want energetic people who love challenges and are ambitious.

5. Final Interview—Take the finalists and interview them again. This time have at least two other people interview them separately. Meet and compare notes.

6. Test the Finalists—You must do this. There are a variety of testing services. I have one of my own. Good testing will provide sparkling insights into the candidates. A good test will ferret out future troublemakers, appeasers rather than closers, and fuzzy thinkers.

7. Check References—Require any serious candidate to give you three references who will talk. Of course, they will give you their strongest advocates, but if you know what questions to ask (and I have them, if you need them) you can smoke out the critical information. I have saved thousands by simply asking three questions. Tell me about Ms. Jones? What are her strong points? No one is perfect, so what areas should we help her develop? Is this a good job for her? The first two are warm-ups. I only care about the last two, and that can pay the bills because you will hardly believe the stories I can tell you about what I have heard in response to those wind-up questions.

8. Direct the Hiree—Tell the person exactly what is expected of her or him. Make rock certain there is no confusion. Make clear you are committing to her and she needs to ask herself if she is committed to your company? If they are going to bail out, now is the time—before there is any disillusionment.

If you follow these steps, the worst thing that can happen is that you will not likely waste your money on a mannequin. You might very well, however, hire a stone winner.

Dr. David Claerbaut is a national consultant to the graphic arts industry and author of 15 books. His website is ccganswers.com and you can reach him at 702-354-7000 or email him at drdc46@yahoo.com

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