Applying Cialdini’s “Weapons of Influence” to Recruitment

Many of you will have heard of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s “The Power of Influence”, and if you haven’t – this is a great book.  Dr Cialdini is a PhD in Psychology, and has studied and observed the strategies and techniques of what he terms ‘compliance practitioners’ – which other people might call ‘shonky sales people’.  In it Cialdini identifies 6 Weapons of Influence that play on our innate behaviours, that ‘compliance practitioners’ apply in order to get people to say ‘yes’.  (And as you read it, you will be thinking “Huh! I’ve fallen for that one!”).
Fortunately these weapons of influence can be used in a positive way too.  And in fact if you Google Dr Robert Cialdini, you will see how he has applied these in different settings other than for shonky sales.
Here is my summary of his weapons of influence, and how you can apply them in your role as a recruiter:

1. Reciprocity:  When we receive something from someone, we feel indebted to that person.

Reciprocity - OfferThe easiest way to understand this is to think of when a kid gets invited to a birthday party he or she feels obliged to return the favour.
So how can we use Reciprocity in recruitment?  Here are some examples:

  • Provide market intelligence to your hiring managers or clients.  You speak to candidates every day from competitor sites.  There is always business intelligence that you can pass on to your business managers or clients.
  • Send links to blogs or articles that you know your hiring managers or clients are interested in.


These things don’t cost, and can add value to your hiring managers, and they show that you have taken an interest in their business.  Hopefully you can build up credit with the Hiring Manager, so that he or she is likely to work better with you in the future.

Cialdini also identifies a follow up to Reciprocity.  We feel indebted to ‘Concessions’.  So if we are asked for something and we say ‘no’, we feel bad and are likely to say ‘yes’ to a follow up, smaller request.  Think of the young man who asks his father if he can use the car for the weekend.  Upon receiving a ‘no’ as the answer, the follow up questions is “well can I use the car tonight then?”  I am sure your creative minds can come up with ways to apply this little pearler to your recruitment scenarios.

2. Scarcity:  We are more sensitive to potential losses than to potential gains

We don’t want to miss out on something, and we value having things that are rare or unique.  Think of ‘limited edition’.  Using kids again to illustrate, if you are slicing up a cake and one sibling gets a bigger piece than the other, you will more likely than not get a “Aww, he got more than me!”

The most obvious way to apply this in recruitment is “This candidate is at final interview stage with a competitor.  If you do not act now you will miss out”.  Of course, you should only use this if it is true – and you should definitely use this if it is true.


3. Authority:  We are more likely to comply with authority figures.

We tend not to question a doctor’s opinion, we tend to do what the policeman says, and we believe the leading experts on whatever their subject matter is.  How this can apply to recruitment:

  • When discussing the salary for a position, refer to industry data and pay scales.
  • Refer to policies endorsed by the CEO or other worthy, senior manager

And remember, YOU are the Subject Matter Expert when it comes to recruitment.  Take on that mantle and expect your knowledge and experience to be relied upon.


4. Commitment:  Once we have committed to a belief or course of action, it is very hard to change.

My first part-time job was selling shoes, and we were always told ‘get the person to try it on’.  The act of ‘trying on’, is a small step towards commitment.  And in recruitment, usually we should aim for baby steps towards commitment.  Here are some examples:

  • For an internal recruiter – the line manager wants to go to his/her favourite agency.  You know you can fill the job.  Have the manager agree to hold off going to the agency for one week, and if you are not successful in meeting his/her needs then they can go to an agency.  Make sure you pull out all stops to source for the role!
  • For an external recruiter – similar example.  You want an exclusive and the client wants to put the role out to multiple agencies.  Have them commit to exclusivity with you for one week, and if you are not meeting their needs, then they can go out to other agencies.

If you show the line manager that you are actively recruiting and meeting their needs during that one week, it will be hard for them to change this course of action.

  • Another strategy is to have the person ‘do’ something towards the commitment.  For example, sales people get you to fill out the application form (or try on the shoes).  So if you are having difficulty getting the line manager to commit to interview times, ask them to send you the meeting requests.  The act of ‘doing’ is an act of commitment.


5. Social Proof:  We are more likely to do something if everyone else is doing it too.

Think of the ‘best seller’ list in bookshops.  Going to the best seller list speeds up the decision making process for us.  If many people liked the book, then chances are, I will too. Applying this to recruitment:

  • Refer to other, influential people in the organisation who have followed a process that you want the hiring manager to comply with:  “Jo in Finance found this worked well, and so did Susan from Marketing.”


6. Liking:  We prefer to say ‘yes’ to people we like.

This is all about finding common ground with people.  One experiment I read about showed that people responded positively to others who had a similar name to them.  Obviously you can’t change your name to suit every hiring manager that you deal with, but you can find common interests, and then highlight them.

I think that as recruiters, most of us are very good at exercising ‘liking’ as an influence – we do it naturally, that is why we are in this game.  We are good at creating rapport, and we usually genuinely like people.

So that is my take on Cialdini’s ‘Weapons of Influence’.  I hope this has given some food for thought on how you can apply these influencing tactics to your situation.
Just remember, these weapons are to be used for GOOD not EVIL!
Below is a great little video by Robert Cialdini and Steve Martin on the science of persuation.


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