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People Talent
Recruitment Vs. Sales

Sales Vs. Recruitment ?

A question I get asked all too often is what’s the difference between a recruiter and a sales person? It’s essentially the same or similar role right? 

Recruiters and business developers often work in target driven environments, they cold call and prospect for new business. They work long hours in return for commission, they are assessed against targets and KPIs, and earn financial incentives and rewards if successful.

So what’s the difference?

The simple answer is people and relationships.

Recruiting isn’t “just like sales”

People say that “recruiting is just like sales,” as if it’s an obvious fact. It isn’t.

The “recruiting is sales” buzz-phrase is particularly annoying, because it suggests that a salesperson can easily replace a recruiter, as if a candidate is just another interchangeable thing to sell. This idea is wrong and it insults both candidates and recruiters.

People can’t be sold

Apart from the obvious fact that historical progress has outlawed the literal sale of humans, the selling metaphor just doesn’t work for placing candidates in jobs.

Yes, both sales and recruiting rely on pipelines and funnels.

Yes, both sales and recruiting involve a lot of chasing, calls and pitching.

But, Recruiting is a complicated, bi-directional matching process. Not a sale.

Both, Client and Candidate need to actively and mutually agree to enter a work contract with each other.

Its more about relationships than anything else.


Sales / business development roles often involve marketing and generating interest for their product or service, overturning objections, selling the benefits and closing the proposition. Then rinse and repeat. The product or service can vary dependent on the industry but in most cases they propose to add value for the customer but at a cost.

Often the client (buyer) is promised there will be a return in investment or will receive the benefits of said product and the salesman will be rewarded for maximizing deals and achieving sales quotas.

Elite Business Developers are amazing communicators and they achieve sales targets by believing in their product/service and they are incredible at finding the next perfect client to pitch to.

Recruiters strive to become industry specialists, they gather market knowledge and they exist to solve human capital problems. They aim to forge lasting relationships with their clients and candidates and this can only be achieved by introducing the best matches for vacancies and making placements.

Recruiters market a unique product – an emotional product. A product that can change their mind, switch allegiances or even disappear. Fortunately if a recruiter does everything right they can increase their success but some things will always be out of their control.

Elite recruiters have rock solid career histories and would’ve built a firm reputation as an industry expert, their reward is repeat business and to be perceived as a reliable consultant to the client.

Is the Industry biased ?

The financial rewards for both industries are not very similar and that is where this comparison started.

In Sales, its worth noting a business developer would expect to be paid commission when the transaction is complete; while a recruiter is paid commission when the problem is solved and stays solved.

Sales holds paramount importance and ultimate power in virtually every industry, while recruiters often find themselves treated as mere punching bags, and torch bearers in enduring the blame game.

Assuming anyone’s job is easy is a recipe for disaster

The “recruiting is just like sales” idea isn’t just annoying because it’s wrong. It’s annoying because it assumes there’s nothing particularly unique or challenging about recruiting.

It assumes that salespeople can pick up recruiting quickly and easily, without having to learn anything new. True, some sales skills are difficult to learn. And they can definitely ease the transition to recruiting. But they’re not the same as recruiting skills.

I’m not the only person who thinks the “recruiting is just sales” sentiment is unfair: A voting experiment shows that 75% people felt it was unfair.

Saying that any job is “just like” another one reduces the unique challenges of that job and insults the people who work in that job. It’s about as insulting as referring to certain jobs as “low-hanging fruit.”

Conclusion –

There are those who disagree that sales and recruiting are the same. Or even similar. They argue that you can’t sell human beings. Of course we’re not selling human beings. But recruiters do sell a human being’s professional services. Aren’t employers buying those services when they pay a salary to their employees? And if that’s the case, then aren’t employers also buying those services when they pay the recruiter’s fee after they hire the candidate?

There are those who also argue that sales and recruiting are not the same because not any salesperson can be a recruiter. Of course not any salesperson can be a recruiter. Most salespeople cannot be a recruiter. The recruitment profession is a special type of sales profession. As mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, it is quite possibly the most difficult sales profession. That means not everybody can do it.

So while recruiting is a form of sales, it would be a misnomer to state that “recruiting is just like sales.” No, recruiting is NOT just like sales. Recruiting is much more nuanced than sales. It requires a tremendous amount of skills.

So the bottom line is that there is plenty of sales in recruitment. Recruiters use selling techniques to do their job on a daily basis. There is no “sales vs. recruitment” argument. Recruiting is a form of sales, perhaps the most difficult form. However, there are plenty of differences between recruitment and straight sales. Somebody who has sold cars for their entire career cannot just start enjoying success as a recruiter.

For any organization to reach its peak success, it’s crucial that the culture doesn’t pit “Sales Vs. Recruitment”. Instead, it should always foster a culture of Sales + Recruitment.

Summarizing the blog –

Delving into the realms of sales and recruitment often draws parallels due to their target-driven environments and commission-based structures. However, amidst the commonalities, lies a fundamental distinction — one that revolves around people and relationships.

This discussion dissects the notion that recruiting is akin to sales. While both involve pipelines and persuasion, recruitment transcends the realm of salesmanship. It’s a multifaceted, bi-directional matching process that hinges on mutual agreement between client and candidate, rooted in building lasting connections.

Sales roles revolve around marketing products or services, emphasizing benefits and closing deals. Whereas recruiters specialize in human capital solutions, striving to create enduring relationships while navigating the complexities of emotional products—individual careers and aspirations.

In this narrative, we unveil the nuanced differences between financial rewards, highlighting that in sales, commission materializes upon transaction completion. While recruiters earn when they solve and sustain problems.

Furthermore, it challenges the notion that transitioning from sales to recruiting is seamless, emphasizing the unique skill sets required in each domain. Voting experiments showcase the consensus—recruiting isn’t merely an extension of sales.

Ultimately, the discussion culminates in debunking the binary opposition of “Sales Vs. Recruitment,” advocating for a culture that unites both realms. The emphasis lies not in pitting one against the other but in synergizing sales techniques with the intricacies of recruitment for organizational success.

Pic Credit – Canva


Amrutesh Iyer