Selling the Intangibles

Teamwork_largeThe primary concern of most managers is the intangible qualities of a potential hire: their communication ability, their attitude, their way of thinking and their dedication. A big mistake that many recruiters make is to think that the technical qualifications are sufficient and not merely necessary to the candidate winning the job. A candidate actually only needs a certain level of technical ability in order to qualify for a particular job and chances are, it is much less than you think.

What is really going to be the deciding factor are these intangible characteristics that are much harder to pin down and that vary depending on the manager, the position and the company. This variability in consideration with the nature of your staffing company will help you determine whether or not you should sell on the intangibles. If you are a more relationship-focused company that specializes with just several clients, then it is very important to sell on intangibles. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Better sourcing: It will allow you to find the candidate that the hiring manager will actually move on and it will force you to move past candidates that might fit on paper, but won’t be a good cultural fit. This will reduce time which would otherwise be wasted on candidates that will never succeed.
  • Increased Candidate Pool:By considering intangibles and not just technical qualifications, it will allow you to see all candidates that fit, the teachable fits.
  • Credibility: It will allow you to sell your future candidate’s better to the client once they see you as an effective screen. If they trust you, this will make it easier for you to sell other candidates later on.

PREMIUM CONTENT: What percent of staffing firm revenue is derived from statement of work (SOW)?

So how does a recruiter operate with the intangibles in mind? First, we ought to be clear on what the difference is between tangibles and intangibles. I think the following distinction is most helpful; tangibles are anything that can accurately be quantified and demonstrated on paper, while intangibles cannot. It is not that intangibles are not measurable; it is just that their measuring requires interaction with the individual, or testimony of the individual. Below I have featured examples:

  • Tangibles:
    • Accomplishments
    • Technical skill
    • Education
    • Certifications
    • Industry Specific Knowledge and Crystallized Intelligence
  • Intangibles:
    • Soft skills such as personality and communication ability
    • Attitude
    • Dedication
    • Passionate about the position
    • Intellectual ability and Fluid Intelligence

Finally, it is important to know how to screen for intangibles and how to sell them. Resumes and tests reflect one’s knowledge, but not one’s character. The only thing that can testify to that are (a) what a person says and does, not only in the interview but throughout the entire interview process, and (b) references. References shouldn’t just say good things about a candidate; a truly solid reference will be passionate in giving their account of the individual and will want to hire that person back if it was possible. This is a signal that the person actually has good professional character. Reference comments should be explicit selling points to your hiring managers.

One of the moments of this past year I’m most proud of was helping a candidate who was in data entry transition into a .NET developer position, which I did by selling his intangibles. On paper, John had (a) no professional .NET experience, (b) no professional development experience for any company, (c) no professional IT experience at all. However, in person John was an amiable guy and told me he was passionate about VB.NET and practiced at home for years by developing small websites for local businesses and friends. He followed through by sending me links to the sites and taking an industry standard test. Furthermore, John’s references loved him and talked about how he developed websites for them and fixed their computers. John also spoke Spanish, which was extremely important to this client. After leveraging the trust I had already built up with this hiring manager and conveying to him what I saw in John, he got an interview and won the job. By selling the intangibles, you can help people progress in their career and prove yourself as an effective source to your clients.

MORE: Engage in sales flow

Matt Jeffers

Matt Jeffers
Matt Jeffers is an IT staffing consultant at Beacon Hill Staffing Group. He can be reached at Jeffers.matt7 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Matt Jeffers

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