Taking a Page Out of the Sales Playbook: How to “Solution Sell” Candidates


Caitlin Wilterdink

Prior to joining Greenhouse in October 2014, Caitlin managed technical and product recruiting for Conductor, Inc., another high-growth NYC-based start-up. Her early career included stints as an agency recruiter and paralegal. She’s tried, and failed, to learn how to code and instead spends her free time figuring out how to Greenhouse @ Greenhouse. She also enjoys hosting bar trivia, training for marathons, and conquering her fear of flying.

In my career as a recruiting manager, I’ve conducted countless training sessions with my teams. We’ve discussed various topics—everything from how to talk to candidates about compensation, visas, and relocation to how to accurately describe the company and role to how to make an offer—basically, all the stuff that comes up and comes up often. Armed with this information, the team was able to conduct initial phone interviews with candidates, prospect cold candidates, and manage the interview pipeline. But we all know that recruiting isn’t just about managing a candidate pipeline; it can be a lot more complicated.

This proved true right away when some team members encountered sticky situations they weren’t able to handle: some prospects tried to pull out before they went through the entire interview process; some candidates were weighing attractive counter offers; and some candidates wanted to rescind an already-accepted offer. I realized two things: that the team wasn’t effectively prepared for these conversations and, frankly, I had not thoroughly trained them. I had failed to cover a critical part of recruiting—how to “solution sell” candidates.

What Is Solution Selling?

Solution selling is a well-known methodology in the sales world that focuses on uncovering a client’s pain point(s) and resolving that pain by providing (aka selling) a tailored product or service.

Applied to recruiting, solution selling means uncovering a candidate’s pain points and resolving these problems by providing a new job that relieves them. The recruiter must uncover what these pain points are and then focus on these during subsequent interviews, negotiations, and offer conversations. So by matching the candidate’s motivations with what your job provides, you are creating a solid case for why your candidate should consider a move.

Common Candidate Pain Points

Candidates can be unhappy or dissatisfied at work for a number of reasons. At this stage of my career, I’ve spoken with numerous candidates. During these conversations, a few common threads or pain points have cropped up. Chances are, the following are pain points your own candidates could be experiencing:

1. Compensation

If a candidate believes she is underpaid, moving jobs will usually guarantee a bump in salary.

Helpful Hint: Sometimes your candidate may not realize she is underpaid, so do some market research on what her current company and role pays and present this information to her. Grab more than just Glassdoor data if you can—AngelList’s tool is a handy supplement. I also make it a point to ask agency friends how their candidates are being compensated.

2. Company stagnation

Candidates, especially those at start-ups where it’s easy to see when things aren’t going well, get worried when they see a slump in sales or when funding starts to dry up.

Helpful Hint: If you identify this as your prospect’s pain point, do some research on their current company so that you can be more informed going into your conversations with them: How many employees? Which industry? Is the industry doing well? How many funding rounds? When was their last round? Have there been any mergers or acquisitions?

3. Lack of responsibility

If their current company doesn’t provide a path towards leadership or ownership of projects and process, candidates tend to look elsewhere.

Other instances where your candidate may get pushed out due to lack of responsibility:

  • His small company or team was merged into a larger company or function.
  • A middle management layer was added to his team.
  • He was passed over for promotion.

Helpful Hint: A good indicator of lack of responsibility is a candidate who has been in the same role with no change in title for two or more years.

4. Issues with leadership

Has the company recently gone through some leadership changes? The loss or gain of an executive can shake up a team and that function at the company. If their boss leaves, a candidate may feel nervous about the status of their own role. What if they clash with the new manager? What if the new boss decides to reorganize and your candidate’s role is eliminated?

Helpful Hint: Pay special attention to start-up companies with C-Level turnover. At start-ups with less than 500 people, changes in executive leadership can have a big impact on everyone—even folks who do not report directly to the exec in question.

5. Boredom

Many employees switch jobs after spending two to four years at a company. Some candidates prefer early-stage start-ups and outgrow a company once it reaches mid-size proportions. Other candidates reach the top of a career ladder after a few years and don’t see any additional growth opportunities. Engineers might be tired of their company’s tech stack or technical problem space, whereas account managers may want a change of atmosphere and a new product to work on.

Helpful Hint: Boredom is not immediately apparent when you look at a candidate’s resume. So, ask a candidate to describe the exciting or challenging projects he is working on right now or has worked on in the recent past. If the candidate can’t come up with anything, this might be a sign of boredom.

6. Life stuff

Some candidates reach a stage in life where they may be looking for a change in order to achieve more work-life balance. Getting married or divorced, having children, buying a new home, caring for sick parents, relocating to a new city, or burning out can all push a candidate to consider something new.

Helpful Hint: Remember that family status is a protected class and so for HR reasons, you should not directly ask if a candidate wants to change jobs due to a family situation. Tread carefully.

How to Solution Sell Your Job

Now that you’re familiar with common candidate pain points, you’ve got the background you need to solution sell...and solution sell well! It’s time to use that information as you transition to talking about the amazing opportunities and perks your company can provide that the candidate can’t get in their current role. This is where you help to shift their mindset, separating your job from their current one.

Selling points for each company differ, but here are some common ones to consider:

1. Your company is that proverbial rocketship—a company that will change the world and make a deep impact on many lives. Candidates will be intrigued by the potential to be a part of something grand that is making waves and disrupting its respective industry.

2. Your company is working with cutting-edge technologies. For marketers, this might mean working on a new automation tool. For engineers, this could mean working on a hot new piece of technology like Go.

3. The proposed role is a solid next step for their career. Perhaps you are offering them an important leadership position, the opportunity to manage a highly visible project, or the chance to make a profound impact on the direction of the company.

4. You have amazing, jaw-dropping benefits (a puppy room!, a book stipend!, free frozen yogurt!, trips to Bali!) that other companies don’t have. (OK, the trips to Bali example may be a bit exaggerated).

5. You offer a sense of stability. Some candidates may have been burned by a previous company that failed to get off the ground. Usually these people will eagerly jump at the chance to work for a company that has less of a chance of shuttering its doors in six months.

Tying It All Together

Now that you know the ins and outs of solution selling, you can use this information to fortify your conversations with prospects, steering them in the direction you want them to go—right to you!

So, during your first phone conversation, ask pointed questions that help you uncover problem areas. Once you’ve hit on a few reasons why your candidate is looking for a new job and may, fingers crossed, be interested in yours, emphasize how your job and company solves each of these points. And then make sure to revisit these reasons multiple times throughout the interview process. The result? When you get to the offer stage (asking your candidate to buy your “product”) she will be much more likely to accept.

Now, pat yourself on the back. Your work here is done.

...And cue the “Thank You!” email from the hiring manager!

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