When Nolan Greenberg, the Director of Recruiting at Compass, first joined the small real-estate start-up three years ago, he was the sole internal recruiter tasked with setting up a system to scale. The number of employees at Compass has now doubled and Nolan has a small recruiting team. They’ve grown the company to over 200 employees and a valuation of $800 million, handling more than $1 billion in listings. Nolan’s team closes over 90% of the candidates they extend offers to and are helping the company expand to nine new cities in the next twelve months. The trick to their success thus far? Nailing the very first call.

The Compass Office

The importance of small talk

According to Whitney Johnson, the author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, “We make judgments [about other people] in a nanosecond.”

The first phone call is a recruiter’s opportunity to begin building a relationship with a candidate and gain their trust. Nolan recommends starting your very first conversation with a candidate with friendly small talk. “Building a relationship with somebody is the best way to start,” Nolan says. On a first call, the small details matter, like your tone of voice, the way you say hello and even the first question you ask. “Don’t begin a call by being all business, but get to know them.”

“Don’t start with you, start with them. Making small talk is really valuable.”

Nolan preaches the importance of treating each call separately no matter how many you have in a day. Anyone who’s searched for a new job knows that the process can be stressful. There can be a lot of emotion attached to it and recruiters with empathy will likely be the ones who candidates trust and want to work with the most.

“Recruiting is such an emotional business. One of the things I try and think about for myself on a day to day basis it that it’s my job to take people through their job search process, their job change. It’s my job, but it’s their life.”

During peak hiring, an internal recruiter could take anywhere from seven to twenty calls a day. With so many calls, it can be easy to hop into qualifying mode right away instead of taking the time to ask someone how their day is going. However, Nolan and his team believe the extra few minutes of invested time up front not only makes for a friendlier, happier conversation, but also can pay off in the long run when trying to close a candidate.

Keep it fresh for them (and for you!)

While recruiting is an emotional industry, it can also become a repetitive one if recruiters don’t switch it up. Like members of the sales team, hiring managers must continually pitch their company and sell it to the candidates even on an initial call. One way to keep things fresh is to not only treat each call separately, but to join in on the conversation by sharing a personal story or anecdote of your own. This can be a great way to open the pathway of communication between yourself and the candidate. According to Buffer, storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to activate others’ brains. By sharing a story or experience, even if it’s about your commute to work, the person on the line may be able to find more common ground with you and connect with you as a person, not just a recruiter.

Maya Angelou, a famous poet, once advised “people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Nolan pushes his recruiters at Compass to make people feel comfortable and excited about the opportunity. “People are really perceptive to whether or not someone actually cares. They can tell if you care about what you’re pitching. Do you care about your company? Do you care about the opportunity?”

Your passion will come through in a first interaction and it’s important to maintain enthusiasm whether it’s your first or last call of the day. One of Compass’ missions as a company is to help people find their place in the world. Nolan adopted this attitude for recruiting as well and he trains his team to approach each call with the attitude of trying to help candidates find their place in the world, potentially at Compass.

Uncovering details that will be key later

The first call is also a good chance to learn about the candidate’s mindset  during the process and what they are looking for in their next job. Let the candidate paint a picture of their ideal job for you. When you listen to what they are looking for, you can react and adapt your pitch to be a better match. “Pay attention to not only what they say, about the opportunity, but pay attention to the order in which they say it. Often times the first thing they focus on, whether it’s subject matter or compensation, is going to be the thing that they care most about,” Nolan says.

Because it’s just the first contact, many candidates are likely to be less on guard and more open to discussing their vision. Even though it may seem like a continuation of small talk or just building a relationship (and it is!), make sure to take rigorous notes. Nolan’s notes from his first call have helped him in multiple situations. “I guarantee you that if you read over your notes later in the process you’ll find something that you didn’t even realize was there that can help you.”

For example, Nolan was once trying to close a top engineer and thought he had pulled out all of the stops. It was narrowing down to the end and he needed one more edge to close the deal. When he went back to his notes, he found an extremely useful nugget of information. The candidate had mentioned in the beginning that getting sponsorship  for his family was extremely important to him. Nolan was able to work with executives to bend their standard rules of sponsorship to help him get sponsorship sooner. “It was a good sign that we cared about him and [his family]. The fact that we offered to work with him on sponsorship proactively without him asking made [Compass] his first choice.”

“Think about closing throughout the process and not just at the end of the process.”

Engaging your candidate from the very beginning is key. Make sure they know you’re in their corner. This can be tough to do as an internal recruiter, but transparency and passion from the first contact is a good way to start building a relationship. At the end of the day, all recruiters are selling an opportunity. It’s your job to make sure they understand the opportunity, it’s benefits and how it aligns with what they are looking for.

Want to learn more about Nolan's process? Click below to download our full webinar.