ORLANDO, Fla. — With housing markets on the mend, competition for top agents is heating up, and real estate brokers should be using social media sites like LinkedIn to proactively target agents they want to recruit instead of posting a help wanted ad and waiting passively for responses to come in.

That’s the advice former headhunter Daniel Abramson had for real estate brokers attending the National Association of Realtors’ annual Realtors Conference and Expo in Orlando today.

But identifying good prospects is only half of the equation, said Abramson, the president and founder of training and coaching firm StaffDynamics. In-depth interviews are needed to determine who’s got the right combination of people skills and determination to succeed.

Social networking "is only a vehicle for bringing in people. You still have to interview them," Abramson said.

If you don’t know how to ask the right questions, you won’t get a true sense of a person’s capabilities, or whether they are a good fit for your company’s chemistry and culture. Abramson even recommends administering a personality test to weed out duds and make the most of existing employees’ strengths and weaknesses.

"We hire for skills, and we fire on personality," Abramson said. "A lot of the time when people don’t work out in your firm, it’s not because they don’t have the technical skills, it’s because of the drama" they create.

When initiating the recruiting process, there are two approaches — place an ad, or go out and find agents on your own.

"Social media jump-starts the vehicle of ‘We find you,’" Abramson said. "We have to do a little of both."

The top five job sites used by professional headhunters are Monster, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, Indeed and Google, he said.

"They don’t  necessarily go to Facebook," he said, and Craigslist is "good for selling stuff or hiring lower-level people," but not for recruiting agents.

While nearly all of the brokers attending Abramson’s session indicated they’re already on LinkedIn — many use it as a source of referrals — few were paying for premium services that he said can increase its value as a recruiting tool.

While any registered user can search LinkedIn for people and firms, Abramson said "very few people know about" a paid level of service that activates a "Talent Finder" button allowing searches by title, company, school, and geographic location such as ZIP code. Paid subscribers can also send emails directly to anyone they find on the site — not just people they are linked to.

Abramson demonstrated search results for a query using "real estate sales" as the job title and "Orlando" as the location, which turned up 604 agents. Narrowing the search to a particular company narrowed the results to a more usable 78 agents.

There’s a wealth of information in LinkedIn profiles — a "mini resume," Abramson said, which helps identify good prospects. Another good technique is to join a real estate-related group on LinkedIn, and ask other members if they know of any agents that might be interested in working for your company.

Once a prospect has been identified, it’s important to be discreet in initiating a conversation.

Abramson recommended sending an email to a prospect inviting them to network, rather than attempting to recruit them, worded something like this:

"Your name was referred to me by a mutual LinkedIn contact. I had the opportunity to review your LinkedIn page, and your background is certainly impressive. I wanted to briefly talk with you to see if you know any agents who are looking to make a job change or are quietly exploring other sales opportunities in the Orlando area. Who comes to mind?"

If an agent is interested, "we need to pick up the phone," Abramson said. "This is where a lot of us stop the process. Somebody responds to us, and we send them an email instead of picking up the phone."

Once things move to the interview stage, proceed with caution.

"Never hire after a first interview," Abramson said. "The first time you love them; the second time you (may) hate them."

Avoid boilerplate questions like, "Where do you want to be in five years?" Interview subjects will expect those questions and hit them out of the park.

Instead, try to figure out what motivates people, and why they are interested in leaving their current job.

Abramson likes to ask people to rate five motivations for taking a new job — challenge, location, advancement, money and security ("CLAMS") — in order of importance.

"These are the conversations that will allow me to get into a person’s belly," as opposed to more superficial issues, he said. Abramson is also a proponent of personality tests — he recommends the DiSC Assessment.

"Hard skills I can teach you," he said of the technical training that new agents often require. "Soft skills" — such as behavior, attitude and work ethic" — can’t be taught.

The goal should be to recruit not only talented agents, but those who will fit in and stay with the firm for the long term.

"How many of you have hired a great producer, only to find they were so disruptive you had to fire them?" Abramson asked. A number of hands in the room went up.

"I believe it’s easier to retain than retrain," he said. "Retraining is not fun. Retraining is a lot of work."

Abramson said offering agents bonuses for recruiting colleagues at competing firms can be a good tool.

When a new agent is recruited by an existing agent, "I have a built-in mentoring process. If I refer Tony into the firm, I’m going to make sure Tony makes it — I’m going to answer his dumb questions, because my good name is on the line."

Bonuses can be structured to promote mentoring, he noted.

Some brokerages pay a bonus of $1,500 after 60 days, and another $1,500 after the new agent’s been there for 120 days.

Or the recruiting agent could earn 3 to 5 percent of the new agent’s gross commission earnings for their first two years, he said.

Abramson said brokerages need to be proactive in recruiting new agents because they will need younger "Gen Y" agents and diversity in their ranks to stay abreast of changing demographics.

Agents who can speak Spanish, for example, are a must, he said.

"I’m not talking about (just) New York City and Dallas and San Francisco," he said. "I’m talking about everywhere. We need to hire Spanish speakers."

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