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Ditch the script; have a conversation instead!

Posted By Alison Rak, Monday, March 20, 2017

Nobody likes a telemarketer, so why use their techniques in recruiting? Why are researchers still  getting away with putting participants through long, boring, tedious screeners? A conversational approach to your recruit may seem difficult or impractical, but if done well can yield excellent results in the way of highly-qualified, happier participants.

What is a conversational recruit? It’s a way of getting all of the answers to your screener, and then some, through a friendly conversation. There are a few key requirements for success, however. First, you need to be completely aligned with your recruiter on your screening criteria. This typically requires a detailed conversation, backed up in writing, versus just emailing over a screener. Second, you need to trust your recruiter completely that they will not lead the participant, and that they have your best interests in mind. Finally, you need a recruiter who will have a small number of qualified, intelligent people who are well-trained with your project working for you, versus a firm that will put a large number of interchangeable dialers on your project.

Some researchers attempt a conversational recruit by writing a conversational screener, but these fall short. Potential participants can tell when someone is reading from a script and it’s a turnoff. A skilled, conversational recruiter, on the other hand, can knock off a number of screener questions in a brief exchange. Here’s an example of three questions from a typical screener:

First, a written introductory paragraph that, no matter how casual the recruiter tries to make it, will come across as a script and set the tone for the rest of the exchange. Then come the questions:

  1. What age range do you fall into?
    1. under 18 (terminate)
    2. 18-24
    3. 25-34
    4. 35-44
    5. 45-54
    6. 55 or older (terminate)

2. Do you have kids living at home? If so, what are their ages?

3. Do you or anyone in your household work in any of the following industries?

  1. Education
  2. Marketing
  3. Advertising
  4. Public relations
  5. Transportation
  6. Technology
  7. etc. etc. etc.

3. (Articulation question) If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would you go and why?

Now, imagine trying to achieve the same thing through a conversational approach.

After a brief introduction….

Recruiter: Tell me a little about yourself. For example, how old are you, what do you do for work, and who do you live with?

Potential participants: Well, let’s see…. I’m 42 years old, a stay-at-home mom. I live with my husband and two kids, plus a golden retriever who acts like my third kid!

Recruiter: “Oh, I love goldens! How old are your kids?

Participant: My daughter Izzy is four and my son Burke is eight.

Recruiter: Wow, you have your hands full. What does your husband do for work?

Participant: He’s a chef for Intuit.

Recruiter: Nice! Does he cook for you at home?

Participant: He does! He’s a great cook. During the week I usually feed the kids before he comes home but he will whip something up for the two of us and it’s always delicious. I’m very lucky!

You get the idea. The conversational approach got all of the key information from original screener, and then some. The participant is much more engaged, and an articulation question becomes irrelevant.

Taking it a step further, the recruiter now has established a rapport with the participant and can write up a blurb for the researcher, versus only typing stats into a grid. As a researcher, I appreciate getting an email with a blurb about a hold (e.g.“Rachel is a stay-at-home mom of two and very articulate. She meets all of the criteria but is a hold because her husband works in the technology industry (for Intuit), but as a chef.”) I can read it and quickly respond “Yes, let’s accept Rachel” (I was screening out people who work in tech, but a chef for a technology company will be fine for this project.) It’s far preferable over getting an email (“Attached is your latest grid, with a hold for your review”) which I then have to open and read through to find out the reason for the hold.

A conversational approach to recruiting brings about so many benefits but most of all, it’s consistent with our work and our industry values of being both qualitative and humane.

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