Recruit Like You Sell

Here's a secret: the way companies recruit is light years behind the way they sell and do marketing. You can use that secret to punch above your weight in recruitment.

Recruitment teams mostly have not adopted lessons from sales and marketing:

Candidates get slower responses than marketing leads. Recruitment workflows are less automated. Recruiters don't use carefully crafted scripts to convince candidates like salespeople.

Imagine: your sales team fails to convince a lead to buy. They didn’t prepare their pitch. After losing the deal, they complain: 'Buyers should be dying for our product - you shouldn't sell to someone that doesn’t believe in us.'

You wouldn’t accept that excuse. You shouldn’t accept when it happens with a candidate you are trying to hire either. Yet this is standard in recruitment. Here are 20 bad excuses used by recruiters.


Bad excuses are your opportunity. As a startup, you may lack capital, but you don’t have to lack resourcefulness.

There are at least 5 types of excuses other companies make that you can use to your advantage:

  • "We don't want to come across as too eager, so I will check in with the candidate next week."
  • "Every person has different motivations, you shouldn’t standardise your pitch."
  • "We shouldn’t rehearse and improve our pitch: we don't hire people who don't want to work here anyway."
  • "Candidates don’t want to be just another number, so I will not automate timely, templated emails throughout the hiring process."
  • "We don't want to hire people who are just 'in it for the money', so we will not pay top-of-market salaries."

I have failed to hire dozens of people that could have changed my company's trajectory, while I murmured these excuses. Excuses I wouldn't accept from our sales team.

I didn't think to apply sales lessons because recruitment is less straightforward than sales:

  • You sell your product to (mostly) everyone who wants to buy. But you don’t hire everyone who wants to work with you.
  • Selling to your network is always good. But mainly hiring your friends creates toxic workplaces.
  • A 'tough sell' is celebrated in sales. But you perhaps shouldn't hire people who are very reluctant to come work with you.

I've learnt a simple recipe for avoiding these bad excuses. Imagine you worry that you risk hiring someone who isn't dying to work for your company if your pitch gets too polished, too carefully crafted.

  • Step 1: Pretend the problem is simple. Assume a good pitch doesn't increase the risk of hiring the wrong person.
  • Step 2: Solve the simpler problem. Perfect your pitch, without concerns for the risks.
  • Step 3: Add the complexity back in, and adjust the solution. Find another way to lower the risk of hiring people who aren't dying to work for your company. For example, ask the candidate which hesitations they have, and be clear about which hesitations you are unwilling to accept.

Rinse and repeat. You can apply every sales and marketing lesson. I recommend start by crafting a script addressing the top reasons candidates turn down your offers. That can change the game. Then work your way up the hiring process from the end to the beginning, using tricks from a sales playbook like this.

Go punch above your weight.