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Training, Development & Retention

The Reluctant Recruit

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There are many techniques and strategies that can be used successfully for the direct recruiting of candidates. When properly executed these approaches allow an opportunity to quickly determine whether or not the targeted individual is both qualified for the open position as well as properly motivated to justify serious consideration.

However, for the poorly trained or inexperienced recruiter, these same approaches can create a reluctant recruit. Many times this reluctance becomes evident when the recruit is asked a question and their response is similar to the following.

“I’d prefer not to get into that at this time.”


“That’s something we can cover at a later time if I am interested in the position.”


“Why don’t you just tell me about the position and I’ll let you know if I’m interested.”


“You tell me who your client is and I’ll tell you whether or not I’m interested.”

If you are encountering these responses and questions early in direct recruiting calls, it generally is an indication that you’re moving too fast and selling too hard. Consequently, the recruit becomes cautious and reluctant to answer your questions. When this occurs, you need to back off and reframe the discussion. One of the best ways of doing this is to address their specific comments in a direct manner. For example, taking each of the above statements in order, you might say:

“Why is that?”


“At what point would you prefer to discuss it?”

Your objective is to find out why the potential recruit is reluctant to “get into it at this time”. Once this has been identified, you should be able to explain why the “time” is actually just right to “get into it”.

In the next response, the potential recruit is making an attempt to take control of the recruiting call by dictating the terms under which he/she would respond to your question. Under these circumstances, you need to determine “why” the potential recruit believes it is best to “cover it at a later time if … interested”.

“Actually, there may not be a later time if we don’t cover it now. The benefit is that it will save both of us time in the long run. Would you like me to explain the reasoning behind this?”


“What does your interest in the position have to do with the timing of my question?”


“What determines your interest in the position?”

The answer to any of these questions should provide an opportunity to correctly reposition you and to regain control of the process.

The last two responses can be interpreted in different ways depending on the tone of voice used by the potential recruit. Unfortunately, if the recruiter senses anger or frustration, they may be tempted to start describing the position. After all, they seem like reasonable requests if you fail to consider how talking about the position may compromise your entire process.

One of the best ways to handle the reluctant recruit who wants you to tell them about the position or to name the client is to say:

“We can do that but to start with it might be best if I told you how I work.”

Notice you didn’t say you would tell them about the position or identify your client. You merely stated you “can”. Your objective here is to change the dynamic from “they ask, you answer” to “you ask, they answer”. The following approach can be very effective.

“First of all, nothing we talk about today will go any further than you or me unless you want it to. At this stage of the process I can guarantee complete confidentiality.”

“Okay?” (Wait for an affirmative response)

“Second, all my fees and service charges are covered by my client. You are under no obligation to me or my client at any time if you so choose to enter this process.”

“Understand?(Again, wait for an affirmative response)

“Third, let me verify some of the information I have on you and if everything is in order, then allow me to share some details about the position and my client. At that point if you have interest in the opportunity, we’ll set up a time to get together and go through the specifics?”

“Fair enough?” (Once again, wait for an affirmative response)

If the recruit has given you an affirmative response to each of the above questions, you have regained control and should then ask three or four basic qualifying questions in order to determine whether or not the recruit is in the qualifications “Ball Park” for the position.  Your first three questions could be:

“You’re the (position title) at (company’s name). Is that correct?”

“How long have you been in that position?”

“How long have you been with (company’s name)?”

These are easy questions to answer and should not present a problem even for the reluctant recruit. Additionally, it further conditions them to the “you ask, they answer” format.

However, if the reluctant recruit once again states they want to know about the position and your client before answering any of your questions, you’ll need to deal directly with that reluctance.  Here are a few alternatives for you to consider.

“Telling you about the position prior to us establishing a valid basis for our discussion could prove to be a disservice to you and a waste of time for both of us. Do you have any idea why that would be?”


“Identifying my client to you at this time would be the same as identifying you to my client prior to gaining your approval to do so. My process requires complete confidentiality at this point in order to protect all parties from the potential negatives of premature disclosure. Does that seem like a reasonable approach to you?

If, at this point the recruit is still reluctant with growing frustration or even irritation, you can always ask:

“Have you ever worked with a professional recruiter?”

In almost every instance they will answer “yes” or “I get calls all the time.” If this occurs, simply say:

“That really surprises me.” (Wait for a response)

Generally they respond with some variation of “why is that?” after which you can state:

“Because if you had you would realize that the confidentiality bond between a professional recruiter and their client defines the very nature of their relationship. To violate that bond would be tantamount to betraying a client’s trust. That’s something I will not do. Can you understand my position on this?

If they can’t or won’t cooperate with you at this point, you have no alternative but to terminate the call while leaving the door open for them to call you back at any time in the future if they believe it would be in their best interest to do so.

Dealing with the reluctant recruit does not have to be difficult if you remain in control of your emotions. Don’t allow them to panic you into compromising your process or prematurely disclosing information about your client or the position. Many times it only takes a properly asked question to change a reluctant recruit into a cooperative one.

As always, if you have questions or comments about this article or wish to receive my input on any other topic related to this business, just let me know. Your calls and e-mails are most welcome.



Recipient of the “Harold B. Nelson Award”, Terry Petra is one of our industry’s leading trainers and consultants.  He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa.  To learn more about his training products and services, including “PETRA ON CALL”, and “BUSINESS VALUATION”, visit his web site at:  Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or e-mail him at:


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