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Can Recruiting Be More Stressful Than Being Shot At?

U.S. Air Force recruiters recently told me that their jobs were more stressful than being deployed.  I laughed but was sternly reprimanded, as they were serious.

Thankfully, this was important preparation for the keynote I was later to give to their squadron. Unlike any of the other presentations I delivered in the past, this experience really raised my awareness about what makes recruiting so stressful.

In my former life as a marketing executive, I worked with recruiters as a candidate and hiring manager, but I also had experience marketing technology to them. In that capacity, I delved into the operational and emotional needs of recruiters and found that, like most intermediary roles, there are many different stakeholder motivations to manage.

Luckily, managing motivation was something I have been fascinated with since college. To support both personal and professional interests, I perpetually read, interviewed, surveyed and studied anything I could find on the subject of decision-making and confidence. When my oldest son was diagnosed with a serious neurological condition, my maternal motivation thrust me into the emerging brain-science world to help me understand how I could help him.

In this foray of data and case-study evidence, I confirmed that confidence wasn’t something you are born with or lucky to just get. There is no doubt that you can control your own and other people’s confidence–and you can decide and learn how to do this at any time in your life.

That discovery led me to co-found and lead the American Confidence Institute. These days, I speak frequently to different groups about how the brain works and impacts our behaviors. Through our research, we know that any time someone’s values are compromised, it challenges confidence and outcomes–including during the recruiting process.

Many people, including some in the Air Force, find themselves being brand ambassadors–aka, recruiters. With this important responsibility, the job requires super sales skills to find candidates, engage them and keep them in the pipeline until the final accept. Recruiters need superior networking skills, complete comfort in small talk and the ability to let the repetitive “no” roll off their backs. Moreover, recruiters need confidence to know they can successfully do a notoriously undervalued job. They require a hard skin yet a soft touch to survive. (I’ll be speaking on how recruiters can use confidence to boost candidate quality at the upcoming Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech LIVE! conference next month in Las Vegas.)

With that in mind, I offered the U.S. Air Force recruiters three neuro-based tips that rang home for them–and I hope will for you, too:

1. Never lose sight of the people you help to find great opportunities.

You rarely know the real back story of why people are applying for new jobs. Inevitably, there’s a reason why they’re looking for something better. This is also true for passive candidates. Everyone is open to finding a better job–they just don’t want to admit why–to recruiters or even to themselves. If they do, it becomes a vulnerability that a potential employer could use in negotiations. Additionally, candidates can’t emotionally afford to open that door and reckon that things aren’t perfect now; it’s usually easier to push that to the back of their heads than consider any type of change.

Regardless of the reason, recruiters are facilitating mutually beneficial matches for candidates and employers. They are helping both sides win and, when their work is done well, can truly enrich everyone’s lives. Recruiters give career-saving gifts: Candidates get gainful employment, and employers get a valuable teammate.

2. People can be difficult to deal with because new jobs are scary.

Even if it is a desired transition, a new job triggers a whole bunch of neurotransmissions that spike stress hormones and behaviors. Perhaps more than any other situation, interviewing pokes at someone’s primary emotional fears: failure, regret and rejection. This kicks their confidence in a way that puts them into a state that I call “Caveman Mode.” It happens because the danger sensor in the brain (the amygdala) alerts the brainstem (the main part of the brain that cavemen had!) to potential incoming emotional harm.

The brainstem is typically responsible for all autonomic functions, such as breathing, sweating, heart beating, etc. The brainstem is very dictatorial–it thinks for you. “You” aren’t in control of your resulting behaviors; you are, at best, reacting. You may lash out, blurt out or otherwise freak out. It is difficult to think clearly because in a panic state–even if it doesn’t show on the outside. On the inside, your brain is in anxious autopilot while your behaviors and body just follow orders.

In this state of mind, people aren’t always nice or smart. They may be difficult to deal with and frustrate you, which, in turn, causes your own brain to freak out. The tension is noticeable and transferable. Realizing this, recruiters can be more empathetic and help candidates minimize their new-job fright. When recruiters keep cool and calm, they transmit that to candidates, even over the phone and through email. Candidates are then more likely to stay in control of their own brains and subsequent behaviors.

3. Confidence is infectious and sells better than any pitch, promise or potential reward.

Thanks to mirror neurons in our brains, we’re able to learn by observing the world around us. A baby learns to talk and walk by using mirror neurons to imitate others. We learn most of our social skills this way. We also learn about confidence–and we absorb it. When you are in the presence of someone who is truly confident (not overconfident, cocky or otherwise arrogant), you typically feel more confident yourself. You feel safer, more comfortable and relevant. The confident person is genuinely interested in you–not themselves. He or she projects a state of calm and cool. Our mirror neurons soak that up and direct our own brains to follow suit.

Even with a perfect pitch and all the right strategies and moves, recruiters may not engage a candidate. They might get their attention but will lose it if candidates feel the recruiters are pushing something that they don’t honestly believe in–including themselves.

For recruiters to truly engage someone else, they must not only stand for the brand and make win-win job matches, but also be confident in their own skills and self. Recruiters need to fundamentally know that what they’re doing is helpful to other people–not just their quota. They need to seek the resulting reward for them–not just their commission. And they need to first trust themselves as recruiters–before candidates will trust them.

Gaining authentic confidence may seem questionably hard to accomplish. At ACI, we work with all kinds of people from all walks of work and life–which has illustrated that everyone needs more confidence. And with a will, there is a very clear and doable way.

Recruiting is not always easy or well-received, largely because so many people are frustrated, scared and scarred by past recruiting people and processes. Great recruiters can make the difference–they have the fortunate opportunity to infect confidence into everyone they interact with by giving them great jobs or employees.

Alyssa Dver is chief confidence officer and co-founder of the American Confidence Institute and the author of six books, including “Kickass Confidence: Own Your Brain. Up Your Game.”  She will lead a session titled “Why Should They Apply? How to Scientifically Give Candidates Confidence” at the upcoming Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech LIVE!, being held Feb. 20 through Feb. 22 at Ceasar Palace in Las Vegas.