Recruiting isn’t “just like sales”

Rob Long |

People say that “recruiting is just like sales,” as if it’s an obvious fact.

It isn’t.

It’s reductive rubbish.

As a former recruiter and salesman, the “recruiting is sales” buzz-phrase is particularly annoying, because it suggests that a salesperson can easily replace a recruiter, as if a candidate is just another interchangeable thing to sell. This idea is wrong and it insults both candidates and recruiters.

People can’t be sold

Apart from the obvious fact that historical progress has outlawed the literal sale of humans, the selling metaphor just doesn’t work for placing candidates in jobs.

Yes, both sales and recruiting rely on pipelines and funnels.

Yes, both sales and recruiting involve a lot of chasing, calls and pitching.

But no, recruiters don’t “sell candidates to companies.” And recruiters don’t “sell jobs to candidates.” Because neither candidates, nor jobs, are saleable in the same way cars are.

Cars don’t have a say in who buys them. A car sale is a simple, one-way transaction that transfers a car from one owner to another. Deal done. Relationship over.

But candidates need to actively agree to enter a work contract with a company. Because candidates are people who have agency. They aren’t like cars, passively sitting in a parking lot.

And companies need to actively agree to offer jobs to candidates. Because jobs are relationships, not a simple, one-way transaction.

Recruiting is a complicated, bi-directional matching process. Not a sale.

Assuming anyone’s job is easy is a recipe for disaster

The “recruiting is just like sales” idea isn’t just annoying because it’s wrong. It’s annoying because it assumes there’s nothing particularly unique or challenging about recruiting.

It assumes that salespeople can pick up recruiting quickly and easily, without having to learn anything new. True, some sales skills are difficult to learn. And they can definitely ease the transition to recruiting. But they’re not the same as recruiting skills.

I’m not the only person who thinks the “recruiting is just sales” sentiment is unfair:

Saying that any job is “just like” another one reduces the unique challenges of that job and insults the people who work in that job. It’s about as insulting as referring to certain jobs as “low-hanging fruit.”

A lot of the “recruiting is just like sales” articles floating around the internet are published by companies who want to sell products and services to recruiters. But, implying that your customers’ jobs are “just like” someone else’s is a terrible way to get anyone to like or listen to you. And it’s one of the strangest ways to sell anything to anyone.


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