What recruiters can learn from ‘The Greatest Showman’

The 2017 popular musical “The Greatest Showman” has one song that spells out the key steps in the recruiting process. 

The song “The Other Side” details one of the movie’s most pivotal moments, when P.T. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, decides to recruit playwright Phillip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron, to join his circus act. Barnum has enjoyed tremendous success with the circus, but he still feels like an outcast from the traditional wealthy class. So he decides to recruit someone from that class who could also help him with his venture.

The circus is widely popular, but also snubbed because it’s different and some consider it to be a “freak show.” 

Here are the key recruiting steps Barnum takes to recruit Carlyle:

  1. He “sells” the position

“Right here, right now

I put the offer out

I don’t want to chase you down

I know you see it

You run with me

And I can cut you free

Out of the drudgery and walls you keep in

So trade that typical for something colorful

And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy

You can play it sensible, a king of conventional.”

Note here that pay isn’t the big determining factor or selling point. Carlyle has plenty of money. He talks about the advantages and benefits of the position. He knows that Carlyle is bored with his life and wants something different. 

  1. Admit the risks

“Or you can risk it all and see.”

Many people have been recruiting away from jobs to new ones and later said that the recruiter wasn’t upfront about the challenges of the job. Barnum admits that there is risk involved. In fact, he says he can “risk it all.” There could be some downside!

  1. Don’t give up when rejected the first time.

Initially, Carlyle rejects the offers quite directly. 

“Don’t you know that I’m okay with this uptown part I get to play

‘Cause I got what I need and I don’t want to take the ride

I don’t need to see the other side

So go and do like you do

I’m good to do like me

Ain’t in a cage, so I don’t need to take the key.”’

Barnum answers. 

“But you would finally live a little, finally laugh a little

Just let me give you the freedom to dream

And it’ll wake you up and cure your aching

Take your walls and start ’em breaking.”

Barnum has researched Carlyle and knows that he feels stuck in his status in life. He understands that even though he seems to have everything wealth offers that he’s not happy and wants to be “freed.”

  1. Be quiet and let the recruit think

Barnum says: “But I guess I’ll leave that up to you.”

This is the key turning point. Barnum has said everything he needs to say. He’s been rejected the first time and tries one more time. 

The most important thing he does now is stop talking. He’s ready for the recruit to walk out the door. The recruit needs some time to think. And that’s the part in which Carlyle suddenly realizes that something really good can come of this. And he can also have something Barnum didn’t initially offer: some equity in the business.

  1. Negotiate, but be firm and don’t sell the farm

“Well it’s intriguing, but to go would cost me greatly.” Carlyle says. “So what percentage of the show would I be taking?
Barnum allows some negotiating, but he scoffs at the idea of Carlyle taking an 18% equity test. Carlyle is a great recruit, but Barnum is not going to sell the farm to get him. They negotiate: 15%,  then 8%, then 12%, then 9%, and then settle on 10%. 

  1. Sing and dance

What makes the recruiting so effective is that Barnum, i.e. Hugh Jackman, knows how to sing and dance. That’s a must for recruiters: you need to learn how to sign and dance. 

OK, just kidding. That’s not a must. Actually, usually it’s best not to when recruiting someone.

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