July 15, 2018

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How to Recruit Individual Contributors

Every search is difficult in its own way. For managerial candidates, the incentives for making a switch are fairly obvious: upward mobility, more responsibility and a significant potential for higher pay. Even though the population at the top is relatively small, there’s generally a lot of movement. Recruiting calls are returned, interviews are scheduled and placements are made.

For individual contributors, the picture is very different. While the overall talent pool is much larger, the job market can be a lot more static and people are more reluctant to change. Why is this so?

For one thing, the incentives aren’t as obvious. Often, the entry-level or mid-level job you’re trying to fill has the same basic title and responsibility as the candidate’s current role, with an only slightly higher rate of pay.

Plus, job-changing involves greater risk. When a CEO hire goes bad, there’s severance pay, credit for unused vacation time and outplacement services to fall back on.

But if the new job blows up on an individual contributor, the consequences can be far less forgiving. Bottom line, in a market in which everyone who wants a job is working, individual contributors can be less inclined to make a move. Your phone calls aren’t picked up, and your voice messages and emails are left unanswered.

Adjusting Your Approach

Recently, I found myself stuck in the type of mobility inversion I just described. A good client, for whom I’d filled several managerial slots, asked me to find an individual contributor.

The good news was, I had no trouble locating qualified candidates. The bad news: the overwhelming majority were either indifferent or unresponsive.

After about 30 attempts to reach candidates or make any headway, I was forced to adjust my methods. Here are 6 ways I decided to change:

1. Revise my brand identity. When introducing myself, I found it counterproductive to identify as the president of an executive search firm. Instead, I refer to myself as a “recruiter” who happens to specialize in the candidates’ area of expertise. It seems high-level candidates relate to authority, while individual contributors are put off by it.

2. Find a relatable value proposition: Forget about upward mobility, increased responsibility and earning potential; they’re not realistic aspects of the job. Instead, emphasize the job’s “lifestyle” attributes, such as less travel, lower stress and a more collegial workplace environment.

3. Pitch the intangibles. If the company has great products, insightful managers or an outstanding reputation, so much the better. Unless you find some way to differentiate your job from the candidate’s current position, you’ve got nothing to sell.

4. Keep calling. Unless you get a straight-up “no” for an answer, keep trying to reach people who haven’t returned your calls or replied to your emails. You never know if their situation has changed. Give your prospecting list some breathing room and put the non-respondents on a reasonable rotation.

5. Probe for hidden interest. Whenever I get the “I’m happy where I am” response, I always ask, “Is there any set of circumstances in which you might become interested?” This is a technique known as “creating needs awareness,” and it often steers the conversation in a productive direction.

6. Always ask for referrals. A successful call is one in which you’ve checked all the items on your to-do list. So, even if the person you’re talking to has no interest, he or she might know someone who’s either qualified or might become a referral source. Or, perhaps the person can give you some insights as to the state of the job market or tell you about other job openings.

The job market has many faces. Success in one end of the market is great, but doesn’t always translate to the other. If that’s the case, a change in strategy is your best approach.

- Bill Radin

Bill Radin is one of the most popular and highly regarded trainers in the recruiting industry, and has trained many of the largest independent and franchised recruiting organizations, including Management Recruiters, Dunhill, Sanford Rose, Snelling and Fortune Personnel. His speaking engagements include the NAPS national conference, the annual Kennedy Conference, and dozens of state association meetings and network conventions, including Top Echelon and