How to make sure you spot the sales in your next recruiting role
“I’m not a salesperson and anyway I don’t like sales”
I often help delivery-side recruitment professionals who are struggling with long-term decisions about their recruitment careers. One of the most common concerns, especially from recruiters in their first or second agency role, is that they “don’t like sales”. As a recruiter, I need to make sure that I understand what that means for each candidate because that simple statement can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different recruiters. I think it’s important that candidates can understand and articulate what’s motivating them to move, they have realistic expectations, and they’re making a considered decision.
Let’s be clear: recruitment is a sales job. Even if you are not in a business development role, you’re still selling clients to candidates and maybe candidates to clients too. But there’s often more to the story than “I don’t like sales”. It usually breaks down to something more specific like “I don’t like cold-calling” or “My outbound activity targets are unrealistic”. But it’s easy to write off agency recruitment because you don’t like sales. And hey, I heard corporate pays you more for less work, right?
Think outside of your current role
You’ve got to begin at the beginning. So much of the sales aspect of recruiting is tied up in the trappings of how a particular agency—or even a particular leader—structures and manages its recruitment team. Maybe their recruitment training was delivered by a general sales training agency. Maybe someone brought over processes from a different shop.
It’s often eye-opening for recruiters in their first agency role to hear how diverse the agency landscape really is. I have represented agencies with happy, thriving employees working on pure commission and I have represented agencies with high-performance teams earning no individual commissions at all. Try to think bigger look at your professional potential outside of the context of your current role or employer. Networking with other recruitment professionals goes a long way to helping you understand how your current situation compares to the market.
Think about what you’d change
No matter where you choose to apply your recruitment experience, you want to end up in a function and a team that gives you the opportunity to apply yourself to what you enjoy doing. It’s draining to do work that we don’t feel is useful and productive week after week, month after month, and year after year. And it’s much worse given the inherent volatility of life in the recruitment industry.
You need to understand what’s not working. Be specific. Pick and choose a new set of processes and accountabilities that would let you do nothing but good, valuable work that you enjoy doing. What are the “sales” bits that you’d take away? Maybe you’d want a different mix of fixed versus variable compensation or you want to be delivering strictly on retained searches. There’s a good chance there’s an agency out there that thinks the same way. If you take the time to dive deeper, you’ll better understand how you want to do business and the kind of agency you want to work for. And it’s good self-preparation if you do go out to interview.
Think about where you add value
Mapping out your professional value proposition helps you identify an ideal role and understand the outcomes you want to be driving. Think about the client and candidate testimonials you’re proudest of and what you did to earn them. What would your colleagues say about the value you bring to the team? Whether you stay in a recruitment agency or go in-house or leave recruiting altogether, it’s critical to understand the kind of value you want to add with your work.
Not every recruitment agency wants to add the same kind of value. Some add value by meeting a wide range of hiring needs for a narrow range of clients. Or they might add value through the quality of their candidate experience and keen attention to a niche market. Or maybe they’re focused on cost-effectiveness and value-for-money. If you don’t understand where you fall, it’s going to be very difficult to choose an employer that’s aligned with you.
Take it one step at a time
The recruitment industry moves quickly. We’ve all got revenue or placement targets to meet. We’re speaking to candidates before and after hours and trying to stay on top of a lot of moving parts we have no control over. It’s hard to find the time to properly decompress and really think about where we are. It’s easy to push out your CV or take the first offer with a higher base salary.
One of the worst things you can do is feel rushed into making a decision. Never chalk it all up to “I don’t like sales”. In our industry, it’s more complicated than that: you’ve got to have a point of reference beyond your current employer, a sense of the role you’re looking for, and understand what you really want to be doing.
There are some things that you’ll find in most recruitment agencies—like candidates who vanish or don’t read a word of the job advert—but there’s a lot more to the industry than meets the eye. There are agencies whose training program is a clip from Glengarry Glenross, but there are also forward-thinking firms there that are challenging the status quo and doing things differently.
But, at the end of the day, maybe working in recruiting isn’t for everyone, especially if you don’t like sales.