billy_joel-a_matter_of_trust_s_1I know this comment is probably going to date me just a little bit, but hell, I’m not ashamed to admit it: Billy Joel is like, one of my absolutely favorite musicians in the history of ever.

It’s not just that he’s a timeless singer and one of the greatest piano players in the history of rock, but there’s just something about his music and lyrics that seem to speak to some part of all of us.

This is why no matter who you are, you’re going to stop whatever you’re doing and sing along the moment the chorus for Piano Man just happens to come on. Every. Single. Time.

I’m pretty much a fan of everything in his songbook, but the one song that stays with me, even after all these years, and really resonates with me as a recruiting professional – and one that perfectly describes my personal approach with a sentiment that, for some reason, most recruiters don’t seem to get – is his classic, “A Matter of Trust.”

“The closer you get to the fire, the more you get burned. But that won’t happen to us. Because it’s always been a matter of trust.”

This song seems so relevant for the world of recruiting, because, even though it describes a star-crossed romance, it’s actually applicable to any relationship, whether it’s just beginning or coming to an inevitable end.

No matter what your relationship might be, in recruiting and in love, success or failure really comes down to a deceptively simple concept: trust. It’s so easy to talk about it’s almost become cliché, but if you don’t listen to me, listen to Billy the next time you have to deal with a hiring manager or extend an offer:

“This time, you’ve got nothing to lose; you can take it, you can leave it, whatever you choose. I won’t hold back anything, and I’ll walk away, a fool or a king.”

Right on, brother.

What Trust Really Means in Recruiting.

circle-of-trustIt should come as no surprise that for the great majority of the general public or anyone who’s pretty much ever had the misfortune of looking for a job, that recruiters don’t exactly have a stellar reputation for business acumen or professional excellence.

Instead, we’re often labeled as liars, charlatans, frauds, money grubbing con men or career carpet baggers, and largely, these labels are too often accurate – just search for “recruiters are” on any search engine and the results suggest we have a long way to go to prove that the public wrong about the recruiting profession.

For now, they’re mostly right – and too many crappy “recruiters” will use any means necessary to make placements and get paid. They don’t care what it takes to close a requisition and fill a role, so long as it pads their pocketbooks. These practitioners practice nothing but profiteering, at the expense of all of us in this profession who are actually, you know, professionals.

I know I’m not the only recruiter who’s just as concerned about the means by which we place the right people in the right roles as I am with the ends – how we get to the hire is often as important as making it (at least if you’re doing it right).

The best recruiters out there know this, and always go the extra mile to ensure a great experience for everyone they touch in the hiring process, from clients to coworkers to candidates.

The rewards these recruiters realize from this long term commitment to doing things the right way are unbelievably rich, from increased referrals and internal influence to improved performance metrics for stuff like time to fill or cost per hire. Recruiting runs on relationships, and relationships rely exclusively on trust.

The dictionary definition of “trust” is ‘reliance on another party or entity.’ That is, everyone involved in a relationship needs to work in the others’ best interests, and that doing so will benefit everyone best interests without screwing anyone over. Sounds easy enough, but the truth, obviously, is that it’s one of the hardest outcomes to achieve in business in general, but particularly in talent acquisition.

The immediate response to that reliance the very definition of trust both candidates and recruiters seem to be that each respective side is a bold faced liar, charlatan, cheat or con man. Candidates have a hard time trusting in recruiters after being treated like cattle instead of as human beings during the hiring process.

Recruiters have a hard time trusting candidates because they think that they’ll do or say anything to get an offer (even when their background and references check out).

Part of this is the result of the way we train new recruiters to never take a candidate at face value, to continually question, probe and dig in the hopes of uncovering some sort of dirt, a worst practice most recruiters are guilty of, even if few are conscious of the mistrust by which they commonly approach candidates.

We need to change this, and start treating candidates with the expectation that both sides are going to be upfront, honest and work together if we ever want to hope to have any candidate reciprocate this. Assume that candidates are operating in good faith, and always have it in them until they give you a reason to believe otherwise. This trust isn’t almost always rewarded; it’s also the first step towards establishing an effective, meaningful recruiting relationship.

It might take a leap of faith at first, but trust me: it’s worth it.

Maintaining Trust & Building Recruiting Relationships

how-you-doingAs a profession that’s got such a poor public perception, establishing trust in candidates and clients as a recruiter can be a bit tricky at times, to say the least. Most people have a preconceived notion of recruiters born from bad candidate experiences, frustrating job searches and exposure to the bad apples responsible for giving this profession its black eye.

Their vitriol is often, like Vesuvius, bubbling just below the surface of every recruiting-related interaction, waiting to erupt at the most unexpected (and inopportune) or moments. Changing their sentiment – and building their trust – isn’t easy.

But in my experience as a recruiter, I’ve discovered one small thing that makes a big difference in establishing trust, and a meaningful relationship, with every candidate on every single search, one short, simple question that goes a long way.

My secret is that every conversation I have starts out with me asking candidates “How are you today?

This is a more powerful statement than it might seem on the surface. It sends a subtle, somewhat subliminal message that the conversation isn’t about selling your opportunity, but learning more about them, and that when it comes to candidates, it’s all about what they want and need. This opens up the conversation while establishing a solid foundation of trust upon which to build a recruiting relationship.

Of course, it takes more than just asking how candidates are; you also have to listen to their answers, too. I mean really listen, for 10, 15 minutes or however long it takes to learn about what the candidate is all about, where they’re coming from and what they’re looking for.

You’ll find simply asking how they are once you introduce yourself as a recruiter will inevitably uncover most of this information without having to prompt or pry too much. They’ll happily open up, if given the opportunity to do so – and love you for it. All it takes is shutting up – which can be hard for recruiters, but listening is one of the most critical skills in any talent pro’s professional tool box.

Once you get to know the candidate – and they know you care about them about people instead of just another job seeker – you’ll established the fundamentals required for trust, but maintaining that trust throughout the hiring, offer and onboarding process (and beyond) requires something most recruiters suck at: communication.

Why Trust Is the Most Important Recruiting Currency.

funny-sayings-quotes-relationship-without-trustWe’re an industry that, like most, requires clear communication to a ton of competing stakeholders to ensure buy-in and drive successful outcomes to an often difficult, complex process.

]ut why we can’t seem to even so much as communicate to candidates something as simple as feedback or job search status is baffling – and a huge barrier for building trust.

Why is it that so many recruiters treat the candidates who they need to do their jobs treat them with so much indifference and disdain? Why do we approach the people we get hired to place as if they were disposable commodities instead of the indispensable assets they actually are to recruiters?

Why, after all the time, energy and resources you’ve dedicated to building endless Boolean strings, screening through mountains of profiles and unending piles of resumes or referrals, sending innumerable e-mails and making countless cold calls, do we choose to suddenly ignore the candidate the moment they stop being considered? Why can’t we just pick up the phone and close them out – if only because it’s the right thing to do? What is it we’re so afraid of?

I’m not sure whether anyone gets some sort of sick satisfaction from leaving candidates in the dark, but the end result of not just picking up the phone and taking a few moments to just close the loop is that you’re leaving a bitter taste in their mouth that’s going to stay with them every time they ever have to work with another recruiter again.

You’re adding fuel to an already intense fire – and forgetting that it’s only because of these candidates you’re not doing a job search of your own. This is something that I really like to focus on the most when I speak or write about recruiting, because it’s something we overlook all too often: at some point, we had to look for jobs, too.

Do you remember what looking for a new job is like? I’m sure you do, and I’m sure, unless you lucked out, it sucked. You remember the alienation, fear, frustration and desperation when the end result of all your work as a candidate ended with the sounds of silence? The hope you held too long as you waited, in vain, just to hear your status, and hearing nothing when even a simple “yes” or “no” would have sufficed.

I’ve been there. We all have. And our own experiences as candidates is something every recruiter should think about every day on the job. In fact, Jeff Newman recently wrote a brilliant piece called Pounding the Pavement: Experiencing the Candidate Experience As A Recruiter that reinforces the fact that if we forget our own experiences as candidates, we’re doomed to repeat them. At the beginning of every day, I look at the blank unemployment application I’ve got hanging on my wall as a reminder that my job is to make sure that no one – myself included – ever has to fill one of these forms out.

Recruiters need to remember that everyone looking for a new job, particularly active candidates are doing so because they’re not totally satisfied with their situation, and many have some sort of pain, stress or struggle they’re dealing with that caused them to start looking to start with.

When it comes to maintaining trust as a recruiter, remember: empathy is everything. Because you never know when you’re going to be on the other side of that desk – and in this business, chances are it’s not going to be long since we’re first in, first out most of the time.

What goes around comes around – that’s what employer branding and referrals are all about, after all.

How Trust Translates Into Recruiting Results.

trust_me_im_a_my_recruiter_sticker-r799cd146b287480a9968fe7267f62a72_v9waf_8byvr_324So, let’s say it all worked out; your top candidate accepted your offer, your hiring manager gave you a pat on the pack and shout out for doing a kick butt job (yeah, right), and your life as a recruiter is all rainbows and gumdrops (humor me).

It’s easy to think that your relationships – and the trust you’ve built – are dispensable at this point, but you’ve got to make sure that an accepted offer isn’t goodbye. FOLLOW UP with the candidate after they onboard – and make sure that they’re doing OK and their jobs are delivering as promised during the hiring process.

I can’t tell you the number of lunches and dinners I’ve had with happy new hires over the years, all of whom tell me the same thing: that they’d never had a recruiter take the time to meet with them after an offer.

Which is too bad, really, since I also use these follow up meetings to get the names of at least three people who they’d recommend as referrals for the company now that they’re actually employees.

What I want is their network, and to impart the fact I want to work with anyone good they know and would recommend – and I almost always get some of my best referrals from new hires who have had a good experience with me and who trust me enough to trust me with their connections and contacts.

With referrals making up between 40-50% of all new hires, depending on the survey or study being cited, why in the world would you waste your time posting jobs and cold calling (not to mention “social recruiting” and employer branding) when you’re not tapping the new hires who you’ve helped solve their professional pain and who know that you’re not one of those recruiters. You’re a professional who cares – and know the exceptional service that you’re passionate about providing each and every candidate, since, well, they’ve lived it.

This basic practice has kept my pipeline well packed and my talent pools stocked for years now, and is a no brainer for filling even the hardest roles in no time flat. Because once you’ve got trust, you’ve got everything you need, really – and the rest of recruiting comes pretty easy by comparison.

After all, as Billy Joel himself knows, the key to relationships comes down to one single, simple fact: It’s a matter of trust.

Trust me.

Derek ZellerAbout the Author: Derek Zeller draws from over 16 years in the recruiting industry. The last 11 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliance. Currently, he is a Senior Sourcing Recruiter at Microsoft via Search Wizards.

He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines and technologies. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, military and college recruiting strategies.

You can read his thoughts on or or his own site  Derek currently lives in the DC area.

By Derek Zeller

Derek Zeller draws from over 20 years in the recruiting industry, and he currently is the Director of Recruiting Solutions and Channels with Engage Talent. The last 16 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared IT space under OFCCP compliancy. He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, and military and college recruiting strategies. Derek currently lives in the Portland, Oregon area. Follow Derek on Twitter @Derdiver or connect with him on LinkedIn.