Recruiters: Act Like a Pilot, Not a Taxi Driver

October 23, 2015

Screenwriter, executive coach, and standup comedian Deborah Frances-White had a simple message to recruiters in a speech at Talent Connect London Thursday: when interacting with candidates, act like an airplane pilot, not a taxi driver.

What’s the difference?

A pilot is rigorously trained to make all the passengers feel as comfortable as possible during the flight. When pilots talk over the intercom, they never complain, keep their messages short and informative and only come on midflight during turbulence, when people are most nervous.

The reason is pilots are taught to be calming influences to passengers, to help take the fear our of flying and avoid pandemonium. Simply put, “a pilot puts your emotional state above his or her own,” Frances-White said.

Compare that with a taxi driver. Despite driving being far more dangerous than flying, people are less fearful of traffic than they are turbulence.

Therefore, taxi drivers aren’t trained to make people calm, and go about their jobs the way most of us go about their jobs. They’ll make conversation if they’re in a good mood, complain about traffic if they’re in a bad one or just remain silent. They don’t care about how you feel or whether you are up for chit chat.

“This is because a taxi driver takes no responsibility for your emotional state,” Frances-White said.

  • doborah fraces white

What this means to recruiters

Sometimes, as a recruiter, you may be tempted to contact a candidate and act like a taxi driver -- aka focus on what’s in it for your company and not account for the emotional state of the prospect.

Instead, Frances-White encouraged recruiters to act like pilots, which means rather than making conversations about your needs or your company, make it about the candidate. Find out what they want, what they are looking for and then (if possible) offer them a path to help them achieve that.

This is advice that has real applicability in recruiting. It is the exact philosophy of Kentucky Basketball Head Coach John Calipari, the best recruiter in sports. And we know that InMails that are personalized to the candidate – i.e. InMails written by a “pilot”, not a “taxi driver” – are opened at a far higher clip than ones that aren’t personalized and therefore invariably focus on the recruiter or the job.

“When you connect with other people, think about yourself not as a taxi driver, driving your agenda forward,” Frances-White said. “Think of yourself as a pilot, piloting their plane. How can you make them comfortable?”

Bottom line, Frances-White words are eerily similar to the ones said by a man with a heavy Massachusetts accent 50 years ago: ask not what others can do for you, ask what you can do for others. That philosophy helped that man become president; surely, it can help you recruit. 

* image by Milan Nykodym

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.