Dan Tudor

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August 6th, 2018

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Why Your Recruits Choose “Safe” If You Let Them

It’s a little after 6:00pm, and I’m two blocks from Times Square in New York City. There are hundreds of great restaurants within walking distance, offering every delicacy known to man. I’ve walked by them before, and swore that “next time” I’d venture in and try one. But every next time, faced with that choice, I opted for my old familiar foodie friend:


When faced with a decision, I cave.

I’ll choose ‘safe’ over the ‘unknown’, and my usual from Chipotle is an easy decision I long ago justified as being smart, relatively healthy, fast and affordable. Not exciting, not new…safe. I look at the other restaurants, and check out their menus online, and read the reviews. But in the end, I settle.

So do your recruits. They did last year, and they will again this year unless you help them make the uncomfortable decision. In New York, I don’t have that personal guide walking along with me, offering me advice and direction on the new restaurant that I just can’t pass up. Instead, I opt for the familiar.

Your recruits do the same thing on a regular basis.

Want to work on changing that for this next recruiting class? Here are four core issues you’re going to have to find a way to take control of if you hope for your prospect to take the lead – bypass their own “Chipotle” – and choose you:

  • Understand the psychology behind their motivation for playing it safe. Most recruits start out adventurous and seemingly open to anything, including what you’re telling them about. That’s a common trait early in the process, but as many coaches discover, it wanes as time goes on. Why? Because most of us gravitate to the familiar and safe. That might come in the form of eventually choosing the school that’s the closest to home, the one that’s the highest division level, best conference, biggest offer, or some other traditionally safe-sounding reason for choosing a particular school. Sometimes, you benefit from being the safe choice. Many other times, you don’t. Just understand, this reasoning is common, and it can be overcome.
  • It’s your responsibility to tell them how to think. That sentence sounds a little manipulative, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you “trick” or “force” your prospects into choosing you; coaches don’t have that power. However, you do have the tools needed to define why your program is going to be the better choice in the end, and doing so with passion and confidence (even if you’re coaching at a school that you’re not that passionate about, and don’t feel all that confident about when it comes to what you offer). You need to clearly lay out the reasons they should take the risk and choose you. If you don’t, who will? Telling your story effectively is one of the foundational ways you begin to change the hearts and minds of your prospects.
  • Ask them why they’re apparently feeling ready to take a big risk. Another key responsibility for coaches is to understand why a recruit is apparently ready to take a risk. For example, you have an interested prospect from several states away who is telling you that she’s open to hearing about your program and your school. The first thing I’d want you to ask is, “So tell me why moving away from home and truly going away to college seems like it might be the right decision for you?” If she comes back with solid reasons as to why she’s looking out of her area, then you’ve got a strong start to that prospect’s recruitment. If, on the other hand, all you get is “oh, I don’t know, I just wanted to see what all my options are, and take some time to look around a little,” you don’t have a true prospect. That scenario can take the form of a lot of different conversations, but the main point is this: If you sense your prospect is taking a risk, or isn’t your typical recruit you usually see interested in your program, ask them early on why they’re interested.
  • Ask them to define their timeline. One of the most important aspects of getting a prospect to leave their safe zone and consider a riskier path is to have them define their timeline for seeing the process move forward, and making their final decision. This process also provides you with a natural transition into the conversation about establishing your own timeline for your program, as well as setting up a fair but firm deadline. For more strategies on how to do that effectively, listen to this podcast we did on the topic. Defining their timeline is a critical final piece for making sure your recruit is ready to seriously consider you and your program.

Coach, make sure you’re looking for what your prospect’s safe options are, and make a plan to gently introduce the idea that you are more than a temporary distraction on their way to making a safe choice. Justify why you’re worth the risk, and reinforce that consistently throughout the early parts of the recruiting process.


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