My Final Blog Post to the Recruiting Industry.

A short time ago, I received a notification from WordPress that my recruiting blog that has been largely neglected has reached 10,000 views. I’m not sure what to think about that since I’ve moved away from blogging about the recruitment industry and began serving my niche within recruiting instead.  Some time ago, I began the process of attempting to help people, who like me, were tired and frustrated with recruiting. I set out on a mission to show them how I went from a self-loathing contingency recruiter to a self-respecting Retained Search Consultant. I truly believed that there would be many people eager to learn how to move from frustration and failure to fulfillment and success. What I learned through this well-meaning yet naive endeavor is that many of the people in the industry are perfectly content with this way of working and defend it with venom and malice.

Far be it from me to tell someone that there is a more rewarding and effective way to earn a living than what they’re doing now. The irony is that they vehemently defend the very practices that undermine their own professional existence. Much to my surprise after running a few blog pieces extolling the virtues of Retained Search and highlighting some of the many pitfalls and failures of contingency search, I received aggressive ad hominem attacks against me. I haven’t been called some of these pearls since I was in middle school. Classy bunch these folks are!  Apparently, a handful people were deeply offended by some of my assertions and rather than prove me wrong, they resorted to all sorts of slurs and slanders. I welcome criticism as long as it is coming from a place of honesty and its intent is constructive. That wasn’t the case. It became a “mob mentality” of heaping insults and ridiculous assumptions. It became clear to me that most of the people were not trying to learn or grow, but to defend a practice that I was calling out as deeply flawed and needing be abandoned. These people seem to have convinced themselves that contingency recruiting is good for them and their clients. They have drunk the Kool-aid and have been drawn down a self destructive path where neither they nor their clients gain what is truly in everyone’s best interests. Either I failed to make my point, or they weren’t ready for the truth.

You can read some of my posts and determine for yourself. Some of what I said was intended to get people to think critically. I spoke about the only metric that matters being the ongoing value the “placed” professional has on the company you place them and some were very adamant that this is outside of their control and therefore they are not to be held responsible for what happens after the check is cashed and their 30 day guarantee expired. I wrote on the pitfalls of contingency search carrying very negative “unintended consequences,” and was told that I must have been an abject failure if I was drawing such conclusions. It became obvious to me that my time was being wasted on the likes of these.

The only conclusion that I am left to draw is that many tenured recruiters simply don’t care or aren’t willing to take any responsibility for their actions. In their minds, they did their job and were done as soon as the candidate was hired and that’s all that matters. All else happened apart from their influence and they are not culpable for any mis-hire. However, if you are a true partner with your clients, you cannot hold yourself harmless from your client’s bad hire. Shall we use the “But For” clause to demonstrate this? But for the actions of the recruiter, the company never would have made the bad hire. You see it can work for or against you. I guess no matter how much I may try to elevate our industry, well known for its questionable ethical standards, change requires one’s admission that they are doing something wrong. We all know that this is impossible for some to actualize.

I heard from some angry people via Recruiting Blogs who claimed to fill 20% – 70% of their searches. While that might impress some, it still means that around 50% of their activity ends without any reward or fulfillment. That still means that the majority of your work ends up on the “cutting room floor.”

My advice to younger recruiters is to learn the art of retained search and leave the garbage for those dinosaurs who need it to survive.

So this will be my last Recruiting Blog Post. I have begun another blog focusing on the industry that I serve and in a very short time, the feedback from people has been very positive. You see, I am passionate about helping others. Yet the recruiting industry is not a very nice place to offer to help. Perhaps some people just are defensive and fight back rather than look for ways to grow. Maybe they don’t want to work as hard as it takes to move over to Retained Search. Or maybe they can’t imagine anything could be better than the scraps from the dumpster. Whatever the reason, it is time to put my writing efforts toward a more receptive arena.

I’ll continue blogging on more interesting topics at

I leave you with a compelling piece on the subject by Marcus Cauchi entitled “Contingency Recruitment is Dead. Long Live Retainers!”

God bless!


Breaking Free from Contingency Search into Retained.

Here is a three minute excerpt from the Big Biller presentation on Next Level Recruiter Training.

In this video, I share the process I went through taking my contingency recruiting firm to a full retained firm.  It is not for every recruiter, but those who move into this way of doing business always find it to be more fulfilling and rewarding. What have you got to lose?

Why I Don’t “Prep” My Candidates for Interviews


I had an interesting experience recently that reminded me why I don’t “prep” my candidates prior to them having an interview with my clients. I’ve been doing senior level searches over the past several years, but as I have recently been working on some Sales Consultant searches for a dear friend, I am once again reminded of the incredible power of a Candidate Prep Call. Vice President and CEO level people generally don’t need to be coached or prepped for an interview. In most cases,  I prep my clients on what they must do to capture the imagination of the senior level candidate.  However, in lower level searches the Prep Call before an interview can seem a lot more like “insider trading” than simple prep call.

As part of the standard Recruiter training protocol, “Prepping a Candidate for a client interview” is as routine an aspect of the recruiting process as the “Candidate Debrief Call.” So, then why do I say that I don’t prep my candidates before an interview? I have long-held the view that by preparing a candidate for an interview with your client, you introduce bias into the process and make the job of vetting the candidates by your client far more difficult. In fact, by doing so, you introduce a profound conundrum which enhances the candidates’ ability to tailor their approach and directly address precisely what your clients are looking for. Why is this bad? It actually undermines the process by giving your candidates an unreasonable advantage in the interview process enabling them to misrepresent their actual abilities with their “super human intelligence” provided by an insider. With preparation from an insider, they can become a better version of themselves. You may think that if you prep “all” of your candidates the same way, then you have “evened the score” making it equal, but while that may be true as it relates to your candidates having equal access to the information, it fails to recognize that what your client needs most from you is an accurate representation of the candidates’ real and natural talent. And this directly undermines this exposure.  In another blog, entitled, “Why Contingency Recruiters’ Candidates So Stinking Good?” I point out that recruiters greatly bias the interview process toward their own candidates when they prepare their candidates prior to an interview by telling them all of the nuances and details that the hiring manager is looking for. For example: “display fire in the belly passion” “make sure you ask for the job” “demonstrate your ability to ____________,” and other such things. It is as if the Recruiter gives a script to the candidates to perform in a play. The very things that the hiring manager told the recruiter he/she was looking for in a candidate gets spelled out in vivid detail. Irrespective of their actual talent, behaviors, and communication, they will follow the lead of the Recruiter who gave them the “insider’s view” of what the manager is actually looking for in explicit detail.  It’s as if an insider in a prospective target sales account gave your Sales Rep the exact road map to the hidden motivations and desires of the decision-maker. What Sales Rep wouldn’t be effective in selling to a prospect whom they have been carefully and meticulously informed of all their hot-buttons, likes and dislikes?  Any Sales Rep worth their salt would give a compelling presentation given such “insider” information. Why then is this bad? Because this is not a “real life” scenario. A competent Sales professional needs to qualify their prospect and elegantly ascertain the wants and needs that are most important to them in assessing a product or service. The Sales Rep must then present their product or service offering to the prospect and ensure that there is adequate disclosure and that any questions or concerns are appropriately overcome with information or demonstrations to dispel doubt and bring about a positive agreement that their products/services meet their prospect’s needs effectively. Then they must close the sale. However if a Recruiter carefully crafts all the objections and concerns for the prospective candidate in advance of the interview, how is that really giving the hiring manager an accurate representation of their true sales abilities? This is what I mean by saying that Prepping Candidates always biases the hiring process and actually undermines the objective of finding the best possible talent and fit.

So let’s consider why “Prepping Candidates” is such a widely accepted behavior of Recruiters everywhere.  First, this makes YOU look good!  When all your candidates perform well in their first interview, it reflects upon you as each of your candidates is well prepared in advance and their polish is a testament to your thoroughness. At the surface, this is true. However, what is the true objective of the search in the first place?  Is it to make you look good or earn a fee quickly?  Maybe it is for you. If you are a recruiter and you know that the only way you will be compensated for all your time and effort, you must take advantage of every means necessary to ensure that your candidate gets hired. If you’re like me, you notice that there is a subtle, yet profound conflict of interests if the Recruiter ever does anything that is not in the best interests of the client. Why is this conflict of interest present you may ask? It is my belief that in part it is due to the prevalence of Contingency Search. Contingency Search has several unintended consequences that elevate the risk of a company making a bad hire. By removing the Contingency terms, recruiters are able to operate as an extension of the company and not out of fear of being “stiffed” out of their fee.  Contingency Search has many potential pitfalls that recruiters must attempt to avoid. (backdoor hire, candidates who circumvent them, resume timing, active candidates etc.) But I also believe that recruiters tend to be transient and not terribly interested in the long-term success of their clients. One of the most bizarre ironies in recruiting industry is the incredibly high turnover and short tenure. I know of no other industry with such difficulty keeping people in the industry. The failure rate of rookie recruiters is over 90% by most accounts. So one might assume that if someone makes it past their first year, they do it right. Right? Wrong!

I’ve been accused of being heretical in my stance on Candidate Prepping. I guess I don’t get it.  All I ever want to do is what is truly in the best interests of my clients to mitigate as much risk of a bad hire that I possibly can. And what better way than to find the best people I possibly can attract given the company’s value proposition and introduce them to the company and later to the hiring manager. The rest is up to the candidate to conduct their own due diligence, research the company, its products and opportunity. It is up to them to manage their own performance in the way that comes to them naturally. Because that is exactly how they will perform on the job. So, whether it is prepping them by telling them to make sure they scour the client’s website and study the products to reading the last three or four press releases so that can be more prepared or advising them how to follow-up after the interview with an email to the hiring manager.  These are things that the Top Performers should do without the need of a recruiter coaching them.

Some Recruiters have laughed out-loud at me and told me that if I don’t prep my candidates, all my work is in vain and that I need to protect my investment of time. They’ve told me that I won’t be able to make a living and that they will run circles around me while I go out of business. Yet after 14 years in the business and the last 10 plus working on retainer this way, I remain convinced that what I am doing and more importantly NOT doing is in the best interests of my clients. And they keep calling me when they have new searches. In the last year, over 80% of our new searches have come from repeat customers. Keep in mind, we are not the “low-cost provider” in the market. While others settle for flat fees and lower percentages, we hold firmly to our rates, because  I believe that in the end, it isn’t about “Cost” but “Value.” The greatest value we can provide is helping our clients hire the absolute best person they possibly can. We believe the best way that they can make an educated decision and discern which candidate is best is through allowing our candidates to come as they are rather than how someone wants them to be. Unless you remove the contingency factor from this scenario, I don’t believe you can properly align your recruiter’s priorities with the company. At the same time, merely removing the contingency factor does not ensure you that your recruiter will not Prep their candidates and bias the process. Every hiring manager should work with someone who they trust to have their best interests at heart and be committed to their success beyond making a hire and earning their fee.

Back to my recent experience conducting the Sales Consultant searches; a few of the candidates came in less than armed to the T with all the preparation that one would hope for. My friend and client saw the shortcomings of a few of my candidates. While it would have made me look better to prep them, in the end he had an accurate representation of each candidate which equipped him to make the best informed decision relative to who best fit the role and had the talent to represent his company in the designated territories. However tempting it might have been to make myself look better by prepping the candidates, that isn’t the highest goal when retained by a client who trusts me to help them hire the best.

Contingency Recruiter: Is Retained Search Right for You?

Due to recent demand, I am posting the notes from a webinar I conducted last year entitled “Is Retained Search Right for You?”

I hope it is helpful to you.

I started as an MRI owner 14 years ago.
Started out with Medical Sales positions and had success fairly fast following the MRI techniques. I placed my first sales rep and then a several weeks later I placed seven of the nine reps for the next training class. I ultimately placed 31 people at this company and saw several people stay at that company for 10 plus years. But because I was working on contingency, there were a more than a few times when the candidates I placed were very short lived. In the vast majority of those situations, these candidates were sourced from Monster.
As I continued to expand my client base, I was often in a situation where I was one of multiple recruiters working on an assignment. I won some and I lost some, just like everyone does.
-But I Quickly learned that a lot of hard work is both unappreciated and uncompensated. I understood this early in my career as a recruiter because I was “cutting my teeth,” but the longer I did it, the more I longed to be respected by the people I worked with.

Problem 1 – Contingency Recruiters are Being Marginalized by Technology.
Fewer and fewer companies will need your services in the future.
Contingency search is not conducive to attracting the Best.
Problem 2 -The nature of contingency. Even if it’s exclusive, there are times you don’t get paid for your work.
It’s human nature to guard yourself so that you don’t spend large sums of time working without compensation.
Peaks and Valleys of recruiting require I take shortcuts to “Hedge My Bets” and make sure that I keep cash coming in. I couldn’t go too long on a search in case it was cancelled or they hired an internal candidate and my future payday evaporated.
Problem 3 – The quality of results suffered because of the shortcuts that HAD to be made.
– Defensive Recruiting – Job Boards
– Candidates were highly mobile, many times shortly after I placed them.
– Their resumes were so public it was common for them to drop out of contention in the 11th hour-
-due to competitive offers that I had no visibility of.
-due to better offers that came after I placed them
-due to timing and circumstances
– I evaluated why this happened and this is what I found.
There are two types of Candidates on the Internet
1. Physically Unemployed
2. Emotionally Unemployed
Both of these types of people have the same reality – PAIN
My clients became their “Soft Landing” which resolved their immediate pain.
I resolved that this was the reality that undermined my results.
The results that I am most concerned about are OUTCOMES beyond the closed placement.
As more and more companies are measuring their cost per hire and determining the value of consultants and vendors, this will continue to be the Metric that has the single greatest impact on our Value Proposition for our clients and by extension, our businesses.

Problem 4 – Dealing with HR, Waiting for Feedback, Returned Calls and of course, not being able to influence the decision makers. The vast majority of HR people are clueless as to how to attract talent.

Problem 5 – I realized that when I am prepping a candidate for an interview, I am biasing the process toward my candidates.  Of course it does!  That’s how you close deals. I recognized that my priorities were not in full alignment with my clients.
– I was mostly concerned with MY CANDIDATES getting hired than my clients hiring the Best.
– I was forced to skim the internet for WILDCARD CANDIDATES who might FALL into the process by another source and cut me out of the deal. I realized that the reason for this was the TERMS that I was engaged.

I believed that if I were only engaged by my client with money in advance, I could do the best quality of work and truly have their best interests at heart.
I began to realize that although Contingency Search makes sense on the surface, it has UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES which undermine the relationship between the RECRUITER and the CLIENT.

– After a lot of frustration built up, I knew that I wanted to shift my business into the RETAINED MODEL, but wasn’t sure how.
Whenever I tried to sell a retainer, I kept falling short and would finally accept the terms of contingency and endeavor to prove to them, that I was better than the rest. Realization – Once you engage on contingency, it is almost impossible to change to RETAINED.
I realized that something was missing in my presentation. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem until one day…
– I received a call from a President of a mid-size company who was interested in our firm to conduct a search for a GM of a new division that they were going to start up.
– This couldn’t have happened at a worse time for me.
I was in the middle of an office move and everything was in boxes.
I had just fired my TOP PRODUCER for Dishonesty/Stealing business/cheating.
I had a full desk of Contingency Stuff.
– I couldn’t have been more emotionally detached from the pitch I was giving. Very “Matter of Fact.”
– I knew that I would have a hard time if I added one more thing to my desk.
-So, when it came to how I work, I just said it… We take one third up front, and the balance after we’re done. We’ll have a short list of candidates within three to four weeks. Oh and by the way, it was December!!
– The President said, “OK! Send me your agreement and I’ll overnight you the check!”
– That was my first Retainer and began my quest to go 100% retained.
-Over the next several months, I transitioned my desk to 100% Retained Search.
It was not easy, and required a huge effort and discipline, but it is the most rewarding thing I have done in my business.
After five years in business, my average fee was $27k and last year, my average fee was $130k.
I have elevated my game from dealing with Managers and HR to dealing with CEO’s and Boards of Directors. I went from working on 7-10 searches simultaneously to working on one or two at a time. I went from working with scraps to searching for TRUE TOP TALENT.
I went from finding people who had three jobs in the last five years to placing people who have 15 years tenure in their current company. I went from sifting through the hoards of stacks of resumes to digging deep to find the Absolute Best People in my industry for my clients.
– I went from filling positions to TRANSFORMING COMPANIES!
FIRST – Who should do this?
Anyone who is tired of being marginalized.
Anyone who wants significance and respect from their clients.
Anyone disciplined and willing to work hard!

Second – Who shouldn’t do this?
Anyone who loves what they’re doing.
Anyone who thinks Contingency Search is GREAT!
Anyone who doesn’t believe in themselves, if you think you can’t, you’re right!
Third – Lets get started.
1. Develop your STORY – Why? What is your Value Proposition?
What is the difference between CONTINGENCY and RETAINED.
What is your REASON for DOING IT THIS WAY?
If it isn’t compelling, it isn’t effective.
If it isn’t CLIENT CENTRIC, it is a harder sell.
Once your STORY is completed,
Memorize it WORD FOR WORD!
Practice, practice, practice and then practice some more…
Record yourself giving it, and play it back.
Look for Timing, Posture, Verbiage, Clarity, Conviction, Enunciation.
Practice some more! GET it DOWN PAT.
2. Begin Presenting Your Pitch to everyone who will listen. (volume/practice
3. Continue to fill your desk with “C” searches.
“C” used to stand for Contingency, then we had A’s, B’s and C’s Searches and “C’s” were contingency searches.
Today we call them “CRAP” because we won’t do them.
You need to keep your desk full of “C”s so that you can say no to another “C” search.
If you don’t have enough to work on, you can’t sell a retainer because your need is palpable by your client and you will relent. It is only when you are willing to walk away that people will believe you!

The actual terms of how you engage are less important than the WAY you engage.
When I started, I always did 1/3 up front and the balance upon completion.
Whenever possible, and as I became more confident, i merged into a 1/3,1/3,1/3 and then later added expenses and administrative fees.
The actual details are less important than that you are OFF Contingency.
Call it an “engagement fee” or a “Modified Retainer” if that helps, but you have to be able to say NO to contingency.

Why is Contingency Wrong?

Why is it wrong for your client? That is the only thing that matters.
Contingency is only good for the most ACTIVE/MOBILE candidates on the market.
It is BAD for EVERYONE Else!
Why is it bad for your CLIENT?
1. Recruiters MUST be FIRST
This means that to be successful, you have to be fast on the draw.
Very little Candidate Vetting, if any!
They will scour the job boards finding active candidates that you could have found on your own.
Since it is a race, they can’t take time to recruit someone cold when they are harder to hire.
They need to find people who already are in the interview mode!
Most of the best people are never even approached!
2. Recruiters WILL Coach/Prep
Have you ever hired someone only to find that someone else actually showed up on the job?
Ever wonder why this is? Because if a recruiter only gets paid IF you hire their candidate, The Good Ones will do whatever is necessary to help you hire their candidate
Help re-write the resume to appeal to your preferences.
Coach the candidate on how to appeal to your hot buttons.
Yes, even the stuff you asked them not to…
Conceal flaws and blemishes on the resume as well as in interviews.
Yes, even conceal references that are not positive. (if they even do them)
3. Present the same candidate that they presented to you, to other companies making you compete over the candidate and essentially undermining your process.
They need to make money off their work somehow, and if not through you, then oh well.
You can get to the Finish Line with a Candidate only to lose them to another opportunity.
This doesn’t happen when you recruit a Passive person. (Counter-offer is the main risk)

4. Because your CLIENT only has access to ACTIVE people, they assume FAR GREATER RISK!
1. Candidates Accept another job.
2. Candidates ACCEPT their Job only to NOT SHOW UP!
3. Candidates ACCEPt the job and your job is the bridge to the JOB they REALLY wanted but wasn’t available yet.
4. Candidate ACCEPTs job and ISN”T who you interviewed, they were clearly over prepped and coached. Even embellished their skills and qualifications. (Remember, they were in PAIN)

What is different about how we work?
1. We don’t go after the ACTIVE Job SEEKERS
2. We Find the BEST people we can who can do your job!
3. We vet them for Competency, Character and Chemistry with your company and the job they must do.
4. We present a short list of qualified prospects.
5. We REVEAL their blemishes and flaws, after all, it isn’t a race to get paid.
6. We Don’t fill your inbox with RESUMES.
We do the screening and vetting for you.
7. By their first interview, you will know more about them than most hirers know after their first interview.
Many of our clients schedule FACE to FACE interviews as the first interview.
There is a high level of confidence that we deliver!

“Over-qualified” or Too Old?

old man

It seems to be a common assumption today that if someone says “You’re overqualified” for a job, it’s merely code for “you’re too old.” In my experience, this is a possibility, however, don’t assume that is their true motivation in rejecting you for the position you’ve applied for. There are legitimate reasons for deeming a person “overqualified” for a position regardless of age. Yet, too often, people make this assumption and it can negatively impact their future prospects as they attribute false motives to anyone who might be younger than them.

I learned this the hard way early in my search career. While doing a search for a Regional Manager for an orthopedic company, I happened to be contacted by a former colleague who had been at the national level in sales management. He was gainfully employed, yet he wanted to have a smaller area of responsibility. He had a young family and felt he was missing too much his children’s lives while traveling up to 80% of the time and often cross country.  All of his reasons for demoting himself seemed reasonable, even honorable for this father of two young boys. Like many professionals,he was in his early 40’s and had experienced significant success early in his career and believed that this season of his life was more about his kids than his career and he was taking the initiative and making the professional sacrifice for his family. 

This all made perfect sense to me as a father of four kids who made the similar decision to have a local job with minimal travel so I could be a dad first. Here is what happened in this scenario that informed me about the legitimate argument for someone being overqualified.

I presented this talented sales leader to my client company. During the interview process, it was obvious to all parties that this was a considerable step back in his career. Since his situation was self-imposed and everyone felt that they adequately vetted him to be as sure as you can be that he really felt strongly enough to keep himself there long term. However, it didn’t take more than six months for him to begin to see that he was in fact a much better leader than his boss who was about his same age. After all, he had excelled to the national stage before, and his boss hadn’t. Once he began to sense his bosses comparative weaknesses, he became more and more frustrated with the way his boss would manage him and his leadership role. He began to see every flaw in strategy and execution that his boss had and it began to undermine their relationship.  At first, he was able to shrug it off and remind himself that he was in this role for a higher purpose than his own career and that seemed to work, briefly. 

Within nine months, he was no longer able to be gracious to his boss about his perceived “ineptness.” He had become aggressive and critical and it came down to which man would remain and which one would have to leave the company. My candidate didn’t go down without a fight, but he eventually lost the “war” and his job. As you might imagine, he realized that he was a much better leader than a follower, particularly of people who he felt more capable than and rightly so, perhaps.

I considered that placement as a missed opportunity to deliver the right solution to my client and through it I have learned that even when someone tells you that they want to take a “step back” with great passion and commitment, in a high percentage of the cases, they simply cannot sustain the transition. Their ego and high achievement drive cannot be constrained without great difficulty. To this day, I am reticent to ever place anyone in less a role than they previously enjoyed. There is great risk to the hiring company and managers.

In all reality, if you are applying for a job that is below your prior experience level, you ARE an increased flight risk. This doesn’t mean it you can’t do the job or that it never works, but search professionals are in the business of mitigating their client’s risk so if they won’t present you on a job that you really want, but is a step back, this is likely why. If this happens to you, you’ll likely hear that you’re “over qualified.”

The most common reason for calling someone “overqualified” is actually not based upon the candidate’s age in my experience. That is not to say that age is never a factor. I have had conversations with a hiring manager who essentially told me the approximate age of the “ideal candidate.” As an ethical search professional, you would dismiss that comment as it is irrelevant to one’s ability to execute the duties and it is “age discrimination,” which is frowned upon by certain people in the US Government. So, although age discrimination exists, don’t be too quick to assume this to be the case if you’re overlooked for a role. There are legitimate reasons one might be eliminated from consideration. Ultimately, those making the decision are going attempt to do what they think is in the best interests of their company. (Well, at least almost always.)

Why Can’t Your Company Hire Top Talent?

There have been many business books driving home the value of hiring top talent to create value and make companies successful. However, let’s face it, not every company CAN hire Top Talent. There are a variety of reasons for this, and sadly many companies struggle not knowing why they fail.  In over 26 years in business, both working in corporate America as well as consulting for corporations, I have distilled it down to three basic reasons that companies cannot hire an A Player. See if you agree with my assessment.

1. Value Proposition:  It is not always the fault of leadership as certain things are outside of their control. This may be a regulatory or reimbursement issue which undermines the potential of the opportunity and top talent may not see a “blue” enough sky for them to excel and do what they do best. It may also have to do with the company’s product line not being innovative enough. The best people want to be passionate about the projects they work on if your company has a lackluster product, that can certainly lack the power to draw the best people in. Lastly, the compensation in this company may be at a level that keeps A level talent away. There is a “bell curve” in the compensation range for a reason, and companies that recognize and reward high achievers will always have a greater chance of drawing the best people away from other companies.

2. Hiring Process: Some companies as they have gotten bigger have become overly process oriented and seem to have a policy for everything. These processes can be significant obstacles to bringing on the best talent.  The best people don’t want to treated like a number. One example would be HR’s policies on how a new candidate enters their “system.” It can also be something as seeminly benign as a screening call from an HR professional within the company. Too often  HR are conditioned to interview people as “applicants.” Applicants are people who have contacted the company in search of a job and as such are motivated to join the company for  myriad reasons.  “A players” are scarcely “applicants,” and if you treat them as one, you’ll decrease your chances of hiring them.  HR are conditioned to hire applicants and have built a process around this concept making it difficult for the best person for the job to get hired. Other policies or just big company process can also turn off the best people as the processes drone on and one and often become abiguous. To be successful,HR must treat A talent outside their organizations like customers! Unfortunately, HR isn’t used to interacting with customers and too often lack the soft skills to sell the opportunity and win the heart and mind of the most talented.

3. Weak Leadership:  Building lasting results is ALL About Talented Leadership. The most insidious reason that companies fail to hire great people has to do with the existing leadership in the company. The main reason for this is that people tend to hire in their own image. Talented leaders hire talented people because they are focused on developing people and getting results. Thus the more talented the leadership in the company, the more they will hire talented people under them and equip them for success. Conversely, the more dysfunctional a leader is, the more likely they are to hire people who do not possess the necessary talent to perform well in their role. I’ve witnessed this countless times and the results suffer terribly. Weak leaders are often afraid to, and usually unable to hire A Players. When a weak executive micromanages his team, or uses fear and intimidation to motivate he or she frustrates them to the point that the best people will ultimately quit and these leaders know this by now. This is because those “A Players” have the confidence to leverage their talent and experience to find another company where they can excel free from oppressive leadership.  Talented people are far more likely to leave  to get out from under the oppressive leadership of a poor manager.  Weak leaders are also fearful of someone more talented than themselves unseating them from their job. Steve Jobs said this of Apple’s CEO, John Scully, “I underestimated Scully’s survival instinct.” Scully was threatened by Jobs and when he feared losing control, he undermined Steve Jobs, arguably the most talented guy at Apple and ran him out of the company.  That is perhaps an extreme example, but unless you hire truly great at the top, you cannot expect to be able to hire the best people throughout the organization.

Great people want to be empowered to do great things. Weak or oppressive leadership undermines trust and creates a culture of fear such that people are less likely to take the kinds of risks that generate great rewards and make companies and the cultures within them great. I have had the occasion to work with all kinds of leaders both in my career in medical devices as well as in my search consultant practice.  The rule of thumb for me in my search practice is that you can’t hire better than the hirer. Or if you do, there will most certainly be problems. This is true for a number of reasons.  First the hirer generally fears the potential of the A Player and they’re concern of themself being replaced by this newly hired talent can cause them to constrain their hiring to people whom they feel they can control. I watched this happen while I was still at Stryker after we acquired Howmedica in 1999. The local Howmedica leadership team was a prime example of a bad leader hiring low performers to maintain his power. Fear and intimidation were the norm for this VP who surrounded himself with cronies that were so mediocre that it was astounding to all of us in the local branch. These corporate cronies were so vastly under-skilled that their very livelihoods depended upon the goodwill of their magnanimous leader. This was a dysfunctional team if I ever saw one.  The politics and shenanigans that went on were legendary. Subsequently, there was a lot of disruption to the business and it was an unhealthy workplace where people undermined each other to get ahead and there was no trust to be found.

In this example, many abrupt changes were made until eventually the fear mongering leader was removed from his position of leadership and placed in a non-influential role where he couldn’t do too much damage.  You have to give credit to Stryker values strong leadership talent and they purged a weak and ineffective leader that was incapable of hiring talented people or even keep the ones he inherited through the merger.  The puzzling part is that this fear mongering leader was at Howmedica for over 20 years even though he had a reputation for being like this. This proves that in some companies, bad leaders can survive and even thrive. Fortunately for Stryker, their culture would not tolerate his type of leadership through fear and intimidation so he was weeded out and eventually retired.

I share this story because under this type of leader, who by all appearances did fine, the company was filled with sub-par players under him, none of whom were capable of being groomed nor could any be promoted to any significant position of leadership. This VP was not the least bit concerned about developing his people or building a succession plan. He was only concerned with protecting his own turf and holding onto power.

We all know that corporate America can be cut-throat, but no one wants to work in that kind of environment.  Why do I drag this old story into this blog?  Because it is a great example of how poor leaders sometimes get into leadership positions that they shouldn’t.  And if you have the wrong leader in a position of power and influence, that could be the reason you can’t seem to hire great people. Hiring the “Best” must start at the very top and cascade down to each subsequent department head and their team. If a compromise is made for political or other seemingly valid reasons, the entire organization will suffer.

Of all three of these hindrances to hiring “A level talent,” the third is the worst by far. Because if you are able to beat the odds and someone of talent makes it through the poorly engineered hiring process or is willing to see the “poor value proposition” as a challenge, you have a talented person engaged. However, if you are able to hire a talented person under a poor leader, the outcome won’t be good for long. Great people need to be able to do what they do best in an empowering environment. Weak leadership is the greatest threat to top talent and thus to the company.

Quantity vs. Quality Reason #1 to Reject Contingency Search

There are many good reasons to reject Contingency Search in any form, but for today’s post, I’ll deal with only one reason.  Quantity vs Quality. In most cases, by no fault of their own, recruiters are forced to produce poor quality work or get left in the dust by other recruiters with a quicker trigger finger. The inherent weakness of Contingency Search lies in this conundrum: The more you endeavor to vet and qualify your candidates, the less likely you are to get paid for your work.  The take home is that if you want to get paid, you had better not take too long in skimming those online resumes and be late to the party.

A basic rule of Contingency is: If the same candidate is referred to the a client by different recruiters, only the recruiter who was FIRST to send the resume to the client gets paid for the referral. Therefore, the most conscientious recruiter will far too often lose out and not get paid for their referral. Why? Because they were too thorough in doing the job of a recruiter. Even if you want to do well on behalf of your clients, you are put in the position to have to race to the resume submission before you should. I am convinced that this is the reason that the best recruiters don’t stay in Contingency Search for long.  They either convert their business to a Retained model or leave the business altogether.

Why would a client want a flurry of resumes filling their inbox only to have to spend time sorting them to determine who sourced them only to then begin the arduous task of vetting and qualifying the new resumes?  Furthermore, because of the race to the bottom, they have been flooded with all the “low hanging fruit.”  These are essentially two kinds of candidates; Physically Unemployed or Emotionally Unemployed. In either case, they are motivated to escape a bad situation giving them an impure motive in many cases.  That severe motive can compel such people to embellish their experience and worse, misrepresent who they are in order to meet a basic need they have. If you’ve hired much, you know who this is.  Its the guy who turns out to be a very different person than the one you interviewed.

I’ve spoken to many different recruiters who suffer burnout and mental and emotional fatigue from trying to balance doing the right thing on behalf of their clients and getting paid. Okay, money isn’t everything, but its right up there with air. So the problem for many is that they desperately desire to be a good recruiter who does excellent vetting of the people they present to their clients yet they simply cannot accomplish this and thrive or in many cases survive.

The irony in all of this is that usually the FEE that a client is willing to pay  for contingency is the same as it would be on retainer. The only difference is the terms of payment. Yet the key benefit to working on retainer is the ability to gain a commitment from one firm with a good reputation that you believe understands your company and the needs of the role and giving them what they need to be successful in the search. In doing this, the company will have a slate of qualified, vetted and interested people with the right motivation that ensures the best possible outcome.  This is why it is still a mystery to me that companies think that they are better off working on contingency.  What a tremendous miscalculation!