Tell people what to see – and they’ll see it

User-generated content

I was chatting a few months back with a recruiter chum of mine.

He was complaining that an ex-colleague of his (they both subsequently set up on their own) has a much higher interview hit rate after sending a CV.

For him, it’s one in five. For her, it’s closer to one in two.

And yet they’re both operating in the same market, with mostly the same clients, and the same pool of candidates. So what’s the secret of her success?

It turns out that it’s something really simple: she’s framing the story and setting expectations.

So when she sells a job to a candidate, she highlights why it’s a good match and how it’ll advance them along their career path. Which she already knows because she’s quizzed them in depth, and taken lots of notes. 

And when she’s presenting candidates to clients, she does exactly the same. Not only does she write a short overview at the beginning of the CV, but she also includes a few lines in her covering email to reinforce the message.

That’s a crucial step, because she knows from experience that the CV will be forwarded internally to everybody involved in the hiring process.

So if she simply writes ‘CV as discussed’ or ‘here’s that candidate we talked about’, it only makes sense to the original recipient. The framing email makes sure that subsequent recipients are sufficiently interested to click on the attachment and check out the candidate in detail.

She continues this approach throughout the interview process, filtering feedback and handling queries quickly and efficiently, so neither side is left wondering what the other is thinking. 

What she’s doing is carefully managing the message to ensure that candidate and client share her vision. Because without that, they’d see things very differently.

In vino veritas

In an age of knee-jerk TLDR, those who get to the point fast get heard first. And when they’re talking about a complex subject – from the relative merits of job seekers to the intricacies of leaving the European Union – if they simplify the message and summarise the pitch, we pay attention.

The fact is, most of the time we don’t really know what to think, so we look for clues to help us out: usually something we can relate to a previous experience that’s comparable. And in that, we’re heavily influenced (and easily swayed) by what we think we see.

In a now-famous experiment back in 2001, Frédéric Brochet, a PhD candidate at the University of Bordeaux, organised an experiment among 54 oenologists (that’s wine experts to you and me). The 27 men and 27 women were asked to taste a white wine and a red wine and describe them. 

The white wine inspired words such as “floral”, “honey”, “peach” and “lemon” – much as you might expect. And the red wine tasted of “raspberry”, “cherry”, “cedar” and “chicory”.

A week later, he brought the group back and carried out a similar exercise. Except that this time, both wines were actually same white wine used the previous week, but one was dyed with red food colouring. 

The result was an eye-opener: the red was described in just the same terms as in the first experiment. Not one single wine expert realised they were actually drinking white wine. 

It’s not surprising, really. We see what we expect to see, and are influenced by visual cues. 

Other experiments have been carried out with very similar results.

People can’t tell a cheap wine from an expensive one when the bottles are switched. In one Dutch study, people were told they were going to watch a programme on an HD television, though it was actually SD.  They subsequently marvelled at the crisp, high-definition images.

And microwaved meals served in an upmarket restaurant on china plates with fancy cutlery had people thinking they were eating cordon bleu cuisine. 

Welcome to my world

So the message is clear: we humans are very easily influenced, and faced with complex situation, we fall back on simple indicators. We see what we think we’re seeing. We taste what we think we’re tasting. 

And we read what the writer wants us to.

Which is why it’s really important that you’re on top of the message, and guiding the reader gently to the point where you want them to be. 

So what could you frame better? Could you nudge people further along the sales cycle? Encourage more signups to your newsletter, blog or marketing programme by stressing the benefits? Rewrite that web page or email so it’s more on-message? 

My friend reluctantly admitted that his competitor (and occasional collaborator, as they swap candidates and share placements) was on to something with her at-a-glance emails and snappy summaries. So he’s taken a leaf out of her book, and has recently been polishing his prose and framing everything that moves. 

And already, it’s paying off – his hit rate is now one in three. 

His friend had better watch out.