. 4 min read

In the last decade or so, there have been several great books written on the subject of buyer psychology and decision making, exploring why people say “yes”. It turns out that we’re all wired similarly, and we use certain heuristics in decision making to help get us along.

In the context of recruiting, the key question is; “Why will a candidate say yes – to our company?” The lack of knowledge around this one question drives some of the absolute worst behavior in recruiters and executives who are acting in a recruiting capacity. The most common is to “feature and benefit” a candidate on the virtues and opportunity associated with making the change. The hope is that – whatever the concern – listing all of the positive reasons for joining the new company will eventually address something within the candidate that will compel her to make the change and say “yes”. But the truth is that studies have shown a negative correlation between the extraneous benefits a salesperson champions and the enthusiasm a buyer will experience. In other words, what may be a benefit for one candidate, is very possibly a barrier or hurdle for another. The act of verbally hemorrhaging a list of reasons to join your company to a candidate is not only exhausting, but also expensive.

The answer in a moment…

We first need to discuss two critical ideas; 1) WHY a candidate makes a move, and 2) What a company has to offer.  The reality is that, for the presently-working candidate, a job change isn’t rooted in how rad your company is. It isn’t rooted in your culture, your stock options, your compensation or even your product. The propensity to make a move for the candidate that already has a job is rooted in her own current pain. It’s basic pleasure-principle psychology. The candidate is seeking to eliminate some kind of current pain, and your company/ opportunity MAY provide a means to that end. So it’s not the total sum of how amazing your company is, or how perfect the opportunity is for them. It’s the extent to which what you have to offer solves what is currently creating pain in the candidate.

So how do we find out their pain? A simple question in the very first interview: “So what is causing you to keep an eye open these days?” (The pre-closing version of this question in the very first introductory phone call is; “Are you even keeping an eye open these days?”

Few will answer “no” to this question, and it helps to qualify and pre-close your candidate.) To be perfectly honest, I don’t really understand why, but whenever a candidate is asked this question, she really answers the question; “So what sucks for you right now?” Answers to this question somehow reflect the less-than-ideal set of circumstances that the prospect is experiencing in their current gig. If you are the one performing the interview, once this question is asked you should be sure to etch their response into your forehead…it will be the most useful and critical piece of information downstream when you are negotiating and urging them to sign the offer letter.

This brings us to the next thing; what DOES your company have to offer? I would urge you to stop for a moment and answer that question right now. What exactly does your company have to offer a potential hire?

What came to mind? Benefits? Culture? Cash compensation at 75%-ile? Upward mobility? All great things. But all ONLY great things if they are a) an answer to a candidate’s pain, and then b) hygienically important to the candidate. For a more detailed view of motivation & compensation, please see this article on nailing your compensation strategy. In short, we propose that every reward that a company has to offer a candidate will fall into the following categories:

  1. Impact/ Cause
  2. Career Accretion
  3. Team
  4. Employee Experience
  5. Remunerative Compensation

Founders are usually quite skilled at understanding the total set of rewards that can be offered to a candidate. It’s a Stone-Soup type skill that cash-pour founders must master in order to survive in the earlier days of their venture. But as a company grows and mid-level managers are necessarily added to an organization, this scrappier – and more complete - view of rewards is often lost or badly convoluted, and what remains in the mind of many managers is an expensive appeal to a candidate’s hygienic, extrinsic needs. And even though the company is crossing the critical size threshold of Dunbar’s number (150 employees), these cash-expensive managerial mechanisms are used in lieu of what really necessitates a leadership solution.

Great recruiting leaders are masters of understanding motivation and intention. In a world in which the half-life of knowledge is between 3 to 5 years, motivation, intention and learning-adaptability are increasingly considered stronger indicators of success over experience.

Knowledge is power. Nowhere is this more true than in recruiting. The knowledge of what is causing a candidate’s current pain is invaluable. It will be critical information in two key moments of the courting process; the moment when listing features and benefits is opportune, and in the critical closing moments. In those moments in which the prospect may be struggling with this life-decision, it is incredibly powerful to be able suggest to the candidate – in the context of their own pain - how this new opportunity is ideal for them.