A few days ago, I received an InMail from a business development rep at one of the major ATS providers that cater to third-party agencies. The message went something like this:

Dear Steve – I understand that you are using ###### as your current ATS provider. We have many clients who have come from that same system and moved to our platform because we have improved the way general recruiting tasks are handled. We have reduced the number of clicks required to source candidates, reach out to potential candidates, move them through the process, and ultimately place the candidate. Improving your efficiency and allowing you to take on more positions…

Not a bad sales email. She focused on the daily pain points of recruiters and offered a better solution for getting the same work done. I’m sure this was a templated InMail and that “Sally” received a few responses. If you send out enough emails, someone’s bound to respond.

Most recruiters follow a similar path of communication. They broadcast InMails and emails that tout a better culture, flexible hours, higher compensation, better training, etc. The list goes on and on, but this is only on the surface, as these are all things that could easily convert a prospect into a candidate. So the question becomes, is there a better approach or mindset that’ll increase the odds of candidate engagement?

Innovators replace, not improve

Every leader of a successful mass movement offered a new opportunity; not just an improved opportunity. Take Steve Jobs, for example. In 2001 he declared he would revolutionize the music industry. He noted other improvements that promised more of the same: you could own a CD and get 10-15 songs, an MP3 player and get 150 songs, or an external hard drive that held about 1,000 songs. The manufacturers saw some improvements… anyone remember the Sony Walkman?

Jobs wanted to create a new opportunity; an opportunity where people could put their entire music library in their pocket. And he followed through when he launched the iPod. Then, he struck gold when he introduced the iPhone… and again in the laptop market when the first iPad emerged. This feeling was realized with the iPhone X despite the fact that Android has possessed some of its features for years. Regardless, the iPhone X still stands as a revolutionary disruption in tech.

So what does this have to do with recruiting? People respond better to new opportunities than they do improvement offers. Most recruiters make the mistake of presenting opportunities with marginal improvements over the candidate’s current position—not focusing on those new opportunities that could be realized had they considered the new position and company they represent.

Improvement offers are harder to sell than new opportunities

Consumers and candidates alike tend to avoid improvement offers. Here are a few reasons why:

Improvement is hard. Most people have tried to improve at some point in the past, but for some reason couldn’t see it through. Have you ever tried to lose weight? Make more money? Take a new job because of the title? And in the end, it caused more pain than pleasure? Deep in our psychology pain is associated with attempting improvements. That’s why we all struggle in some areas!
Desire vs. Ambition. Although everyone has a sense of desire, many fail to harbor the ambition to change. Less than 15% of the population would be considered ambitious, yet improvement focuses on the ambitious crowd. The vast majority of the population is driven by desire—a desire for something new and different.
Memories of poor past decisions. In order to admit improvement, candidates must first admit to a complete stranger that they’ve failed to achieve a career goal. When these bad memories of the past creep up through questioning, an invisible wall goes up. You can immediately sense a change in the potential candidate.
Recruiters become a commodity. When you sell an open position through the lens of improvement, you compete with dozens or even hundreds of other recruiters pitching the same improvements. You’re stuck in a sea of every other recruiter with no noticeable differentiators.

How to identify a new opportunity & an improved opportunity

One of the reasons most recruiters sell improvement is that they truly don’t understand the difference between a new opportunity and an improvement opportunity.

Improvement opportunities focus only on the pain that the candidate associates with his current position.
A new opportunity is created when recruiters understand the pain and pleasure of a candidate’s current situation. They can then marry that up with the career pursuit of the candidate, and the story behind the specific position, department, company, hiring leader, etc.

Steve Jobs did a great job leveraging the pleasure of having music at consumers’ fingertips, while simultaneously addressing the pain of not having all of it with them. Had he focused only on the pain, Apple would never be the dominating force that it is today.


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