“Not interested.” Those two words have long been considered one of the worst nightmares for an executive recruiter -- and definitely not what you want to hear after carefully culling a precise field of the closest-to-perfect c-suite candidates.
But you can’t blame the candidate. “Not interested” responses are to be expected, particularly when your best candidates have more opportunities volleyed at them than they could ever respond to. Plus, a “not interested” response doesn’t always mean it’s time to move on. It’s just time to move differently.
To my team, the possibility of hearing “not interested” is what drives us to find out why a candidate might say no BEFORE we actually present the opportunity. Ideally, we’ll know a considerable amount about a candidate before we ever start a conversation so we can predict the candidate’s motivators.
You can’t stop a candidate from saying they’re not interested. What you can do is prepare. If you don’t, you run the risk of never having a chance to present the best executive candidates for a role, because I guaranty the initial reaction of most of them, whether due to a lack of time or something else, is to say “not interested.”
How to turn “not interested” into “let’s talk about the job”
We use a strategy that helps us overcome a “not interested” quickly. This approach comes from our years of experience in the industry coupled with savvy prognostication.
By the way, our approach is never just to toss around the idea of more pay. We did a survey recently of executive candidates from the life sciences and found out that pay was NOT the top motivator for taking a new leadership role -- increased responsibility, corporate culture and the opportunity to work on a life-saving therapy were all deemed more important.
When we hear “not interested,” we immediately get to work to determine what it really means so we can adopt the right strategy to turn the conversation around.
|Assessment||What “not interested” may mean||Strategy|
|Has the candidate been moving up the career ladder quickly?||There’s enough advancement potential.
I’m in line to move up in my current company.
|Is your opportunity a platform and/or springboard for career development? Can you talk about more than the role for which you’re recruiting? Include actual examples if possible.|
|Has your company faced a recent setback or is your employer brand taking a hit on social media?||Your company’s reputation concerns me.
Your culture doesn’t fit my style.
|Nothing is more difficult to overcome for a recruiter than a perceived reputation problem with the hiring company. Before you ever make the first call, find out how your company or client is faring online, both in the news and on employment-linked social media sites. If news recently broke that painted your company as a risky career move, be transparent -- what will life really be like at the company? Offer to connect the candidate directly with workers to find out first hand what it’s like working for your firm.|
|Is the compensation you’ll be offering not on par with what your competitors can offer? Are you a small company competing in a market of deep-pocket corporate giants?||You’re not paying enough.||On occasion, a candidate really is talking about pay, although your best recruiters will know that there’s a pay gap to hurdle before they ever talk to the candidate. Be prepared to match or exceed pay and bonuses expected AND sell the candidate on what makes your company appealing long-term.|
|Does the job require relocation?||My family and I really want to stay where we are.||This needs to be covered early in the process so get to know the candidate and the candidate’s family. If relevant, fly them out and ensure they see everything the office has to offer. Also determine if this role could be remote, even if only for a set amount of time, or how the company and candidate could work out an agreeable commuting schedule. While some executive roles simply have to be in-person today, more companies are embracing remote teams and reaping the rewards of flexibility -- and employee retention.|
|Does the candidate have long-term experience in the industry? Did the candidate make a previous career move that didn’t work out?||I’m comfortable in my current job, and I don’t really want to risk this not working out or starting over again.||Focus on why the candidate got into the industry. In life sciences, this could include sharing details about how the hiring company is changing lives, what the future holds, how this role will be essential to success, and what it means long-term. Your job: help them see the big picture clearly so they know without a doubt just how amazing this opportunity is.|