June 23, 2018

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Candidate Control Doesn't Work

There is a damaging myth in our industry and that is the concept of ‘candidate control’. We have as much control over other people as we do the weather.

So if this is the case, how can we make sure that candidates call us back immediately whenever we leave messages for them and that they don’t accept counteroffers? Sure they might get a better offer from their current employer and solve all their financial problems in an instant, but what about our needs? Don’t they know that we have quotas to hit and commissions to earn? How dare they not consider relocating across the country in the middle of the school year and not take our client’s offer. How dare they affect our ranking on the board in the office by not calling us back quickly after the interview. Don’t they know that we have stressful jobs and need every break we can get? How selfish of them to put their own careers ahead of our annual production goals.

This is how most recruiters approach the situation with candidates. They try to use the mythical concept of ‘Candidate Control’ and strong-arm and guilt-trip the candidate along the path of the placement process. They trial-close, close, re-close, and manipulate-close the candidate so that the candidate’s memory of working with us closely resembles the last time-share presentation that they attended. All they take away from the experience is that the recruiter was selfish, didn’t care about them, and seemed to ask questions or say things in a way that communicated that the commission from the placement was paramount.

I’ll never forget my last time-share presentation this past December. "I’m telling you up front, Gina, we’re probably not going to buy from you." I kept warning the sales rep and telling her I wasn’t interested. Over and over again. At the end of the presentation she asked us if we wanted to take advantage of the special that was good for ‘today only.’

"Like I said before, I’m not interested. Thanks."

She seemed to get mad at us because we didn’t buy. She then started sulking a bit. I felt like just writing her a check for her commission because I sensed it was the only thing she really cared about and I wanted to get her off my back. She didn’t care about my needs as a customer and never asked what was important to me in a vacation. Instead she acted like most recruiters in our industry who focus on controlling the candidate to collect a check instead of serving the candidate in the pursuit of a potentially better situation.

When it comes to influencing candidates and increasing their compliance, try something that works for a change. Use principles of human behavior to close more deals.

There are three components of this process:

  1. Start with what I call ‘The First Cardinal Rule of Human Behavior’: People only do what is in their own best interests.

    When it comes down to the end of the day, it usually ends up ‘everyone for himself.’ I don’t mean to come across like a cynic and I certainly do believe in the goodness of most people. But I’ve seen too many people who have given me what was almost a religious vow that they wouldn’t take a counteroffer who just weren’t strong enough to fight the temptation to accept it even though the career consequences were catastrophic. We have no control over what other people do, and if you think that you do then you will end up becoming disillusioned and frustrated when so many of your deals fall apart. Instead, we need to find out why someone would accept the position, and use that as the energy to close the deal. (For more information on how to do this read some of my previous articles including this one.)

  2. The second cardinal rule of human behavior is this: People are predictable and consistent.

    Look for ways that people behave from the time you first make contact with them. How quickly do they return your calls? How quickly do they get you the resume when you tell them you need it? If you are working with a candidate who has told you three times that he will get you the resume and it still isn’t in your email, then drop the candidate. Their actions from the very beginning are their biggest indicators to show you how they will perform at the end of the deal. If you are going to lose out on a candidate, lose early in the process. Why take the risk? Why be hopeful that all of a sudden this candidate who was never responsive to you will suddenly transform into a candidate who will call you back on their cell phone on the way back from the interview with your client? Next. Find another. Test the candidate along the way with little ‘exercises’. "How soon do you think you can get that resume to me, Bob?" If Bob tells you he’ll send it on Monday and you haven’t received it by Friday, then Bob may either not be very interested or performs that way at work. Always give the benefit of the doubt, but observe patterns of their behavior and use that to help you predict how the candidate will perform with you at the end of the process. Also, check in with them at every point in the process. "Are you still with me, Bob?" "Is this still working for you, Betty?" "At this point is there anything keeping you from going forward?"

  3. Understand that your role is a leader in the process. I think this is where many people in our industry need to improve. We’ve always been taught that this business is a sales business. Yes, I believe that it is a sales business but it’s more like a sales business on steroids, sort of a mix between sales, consulting and marriage counseling. In sales, your job is to lead others to a conclusion that will benefit them. If you focus on that, you’ll have more sales than you know what to do with. You will become successful in this business when you finally figure out that your success is a byproduct of the value that you bring to other people. When you focus on how you can lead others to a conclusion that is in their best interests, they’ll all of a sudden be very responsive, very honest, and very ‘controllable.’

Here are three final tips that you can integrate into your process today to see an immediate improvement in how you relate to your candidates and how they respond to you:

  1. Explain that you only want what is in their best interests. Tell them as you start out in the process how you manage it to result in a mutual satisfaction of needs between the candidate and the client. Tell them if at any time they are not interested in going forward to just be honest with you and that you are okay with whatever they decide. And when you are overcoming objections, what you are really trying to do is find the solution to whatever their concern is.

  2. Be a pressure-valve, not a pressure-builder. The more you apply pressure to others, the more they will either push back or run away. And in either case, it’s tough to recover.

  3. Be firm in your commitment to these values and trust that they work. People are attracted to this. Would you want to follow someone who is manipulating you to a result that only gives them a huge commission and no benefit for you? From the time you release control of others and explain to them that it is your job to serve them in climbing the next rung of the career ladder, they will then consider you an advocate in their career and someone that doesn’t just help them reach their goals, but someone that they cannot live without. That’s the point when the business starts to become magical. When people see you as the first person they call when they need career advice about making a move, then you are on the right track to gaining legitimate influence with your candidates.

This business is stressful enough. Forget about trying to control candidates because it doesn’t work. Instead focus on candidate influence and you’ll be amazed at how quickly this affects the responsiveness of candidates, your income and your peace of mind.

- Scott Love

Copyright © 2005 Scott T. Love

Scott Love improves the performance of recruiters and the margins of search firms and staffing agencies. His training website,, has become one of the largest free internet training sites for the industry. To have him show your staff how to produce more than they thought possible, call him at 828-225-7700.