Don’t you Dare “Interview My Candidates!”

It’s one thing to convince a new client to abandon the old way of engaging a recruiting firm and embrace the best way to conduct a search by retaining us, and it is still yet another thing to get them to dispense with the old mindset of “interviewing” the potential candidates that we bring them.

Their default is to have the standard “behavior based” interview questions and ease into increasingly complex follow up questions to really vet them and see how they respond under the pressure of the moment. The problem is that if they conduct that type of interview, they will turn the person off. I often tell my clients, please don’t interview this prospect. Your job in the first call is to sell the dream. Tell them why you joined the company and what still charges you up about being part of the company. Talk to them about your vision of where you plan to take the company. Your primary goal is to get this person excited about the opportunity. Most recruiters don’t know what it’s like to be recruited, so they miss a major factor in the recruitment process when dealing with what I call a “prospect.” this is someone who you’ve networked to find plugging away in their job and they are very happy where they are. Most recruiters, once they hear this, turn the call into a call for referrals. But a good recruiter will engage their curiosity to the point that they are “open to an exploratory conversation with your client. I have found these to be some of the most incredible people to place. They don’t have a resume on the Internet, nor have they even updated it in years. It will take a phenomenal opportunity to attract this prospect and engage them as a candidate.

If you are lucky enough to bring this person to the table for an “interview,” your client BETTER NOT INTERVIEW YOUR CANDIDATE, or they will be turned off and the door will close.

So it is not merely enough to convince your client that working on retainer is better for them than contingency. You have to prepare them for this on advance.


Top 3 Reasons NOT to Hire a Search Consultant

I’ve been pouring over the HR blogs since starting this blog recently and found a lot of posts with the “10 Top reasons for this” and the “Top 24 reasons for that.” So taking the lead of the various pundits on the Interweb, I’ve decided to throw in my two cents. Since it seems like all of us Executive Search folks are trying so hard to convince all the “would be” clients to trust us and become our clients, I thought I would throw them a bone.

Here are the Top 3 Reasons NOT to hire an Executive Recruiter:

1. The Internet – Let’s be honest. With the prolific tools on the internet, you can find “Active Candidates” on your own. These are people who have posted their resumes on job boards. You don’t need to pay a fee to a recruiter when they will likely be sifting the same sites that you have access to download all the recent resumes. (Which by the way is NOT what any self-respecting, competent recruiter does.)

2. Your Company’s Weak Value Proposition – Each company has a Value Proposition to offer. This consists of Products or Services, Culture, Opportunity for Growth and Compensation. If the first three are overflowing, then the compensation can be average. If these are Average, then your compensation has to be INCREASED in order to draw in the best people. If your company does not or CANNOT be flexible in the area of Base Salaries, Sign on Bonuses and other inducements to draw in the best, then go back to #1 and stick to the “Active/Internet Candidate Pool.”

3. Your Company’s Rigid View of Hiring Talent – If your management team is not sophisticated enough to know how to recruit and interview people who are NOT actively seeking a new job, then you will Turn Away the best people and waste a ton of time. Sometimes it isn’t the management team’s fault. There are some companies where the HR Dept. dictates the hiring process to the management. As the government continues to heap on more regulation, it puts a legal burden on companies to enforce compliance of “great-hire killing” policies. This is a big turn off to a lot of talented people who see that their new job, were they to accept, would be frustrated by these same policies.

So, if you are a corporate HR or Hiring Manager and have been frustrated by the inability to execute searches effectively by hiring extraordinary people who have long-term staying power, then you are beginning to understand that to win the War for Talent, you have to be flexible and creative. You must tailor your recruiting approach to the individual prospects that you desire to hire, rather than making them fit into your little box.

Is there such a thing as an “Executive Recruiter” who also does “Staffing?”

A common phrase on many Recruiting Companies’ websites today is “Executive Search and Staffing,” but is that really the true?  Let’s think about it for a minute. If your firm does “Executive Search,” your fees are quite large. So why then would you do a search for a position that pays a small fraction by comparison?  I believe that recruiting firms are essentially limited to whatever the lowest form of search that their websites promotes and THATS it!  If they are a Staffing Company, they may occasionally do a “Permanent Placement,” but it isn’t what they do regularly. Oh sure, they wish to one day do Executive Search, but they don’t. It would be as if a Real Estate agent who brokers High End Homes and they dabbled in  studio apartment rentals? It is one of the Big Fibs of the industry. With a Wink and  Nod, everyone puts the language of what they hope to become one day. However, there is no way that anyone who tastes the “Juicy Steak” of Executive Search is going to settle for the “fast food” of Staffing again! 

I honestly have nothing against people in the staffing business. It is an honorable business. It just isn’t Executive Search, and it has to be called what it is.  As I have been saying for a while, the industry needs to have very clear distinction between the different types of Staffing, Contingency Recruiting, and Retained Executive Search. There is a stark contrast between these so let’s stop blurring the lines. People get upset when they are confronted by this truth, but it will help everyone if we demystify it and remove the ambiguity surrounding this issue. They actually have very little in common.  

Let the rants begin… 

A Peculiar Perspective from a “Would be Client” Part 1

Today I received a call from an Executive Assistant with a $160mm Medical Device company asking if I had 30 minutes today to speak with the President of the company. Upon returning the call I was on the phone with the President within seconds. He told me that he was referred to me by a CEO who I had placed a few years ago with another Medical Device company and whom he had previously worked. He shared with me the critical nature of “confidentiality” and I reassured him that I understood the sensitivity of the situation. He went on to describe the profile of the ideal candidate to replace the incumbent. He used all the typical cliche’s one uses to describe the “ideal” Vice President of Sales. One who can really impact the organization positively and “advance the ball.” This search was right in my wheelhouse and I assured him that it was a search that I could deliver on effectively. I described my background to him to allow him to gain comfort with my knowledge of his space and my ability to identify who they need quickly.

He was asking all the right questions so I explained how I work. He was obviously in a hurry to get this moving as soon as possible. He was in such a hurry to get this search going that he asked me to forward a copy of my agreement so that he could send it to HR for approval. What he didn’t know was that I had actually conducted the same exact search for the same company on retainer exactly two years previously. After I presented my candidates and they were each interviewed, they ultimately hired an internal candidate for the role. I explained that a few months ago I placed the VP of Sales of a direct competitor who is almost identical in size. When the call ended, I was under the distinct impression that this was a “done deal.” Within 90 minutes my phone range again only this time is was the VP of HR. She was very typically stiff and and all about business when she began asking me to explain some of the details in my agreement. She said that she wasn’t sure if her President really understood that my agreement was a “retained search” and “confidential.” I explained that this was the only way that I worked and referred to the previous search that I had conducted two years ago and she informed me that she had a copy of my original agreement from two years ago. She explained that her President had “other contingency firms” working on it simultaneously due to the urgency of the project.

She then began asking me specific questions about my fees and terms. Usually this is what I would call a “buying sign,” but I sensed that she was merely trying to work me down. Since she told me that her President was already working with other firms. So, here is where I had a decision to make. Either I try to sell her on all the merit behind my fees and my terms, and I did that to some degree. However, I was convinced that the President was the decision maker , so I decided to tell her that I should speak with the President to explain my terms. I have been down this road before several times and I am convinced that it is far easier to work from the Top Down than up.

Once again, we are dealing with an executive who fails to understand how a contingency search undermines his process and severely compromises the outcome. What he can expect from having multiple contingency recruiters working on this search is this:

A. The Same Candidates May be Presented by Multiple Recruiters – Possibly costing double fees or potentially legal fees.

B. Candidates Misrepresenting themselves – Because they “Need” your job.

C. Only Accessing “Easy to Find” Candidates – Most of the best people will never even hear about your job.

D. You Have No Commitment or Accountability from your Recruiter

E.- Z. What other potential problems does a contingency search bring?

Why so Many Recruiters Burn-Out or Fade Away.

Here is an Irony for you: The Contingency Recruiting Industry has the Highest Turnover Rate of any industry. It is a well-kept secret because of the obvious implications. With an approximately 90%+ recruiter turnover within the first year, recruiting has to be one of the toughest things in the world to do, intellectually speaking. So, I’m not comparing it to the military or being a fireman or police officer, but in terms of the amount of disappointment that a person experiences at work. Many smart and capable people who attempt it end in ruin. I actually had a grown man who worked for me for 6 months run out of my office in tears due to the continual defeat that he experienced! It is not for the faint of heart. Not only are you making hundreds of “cold calls” each day, almost no one wants to talk to you on either side of the desk, company or candidate. As you dial over and over and over repeating the same pitch, which is often read from a script, your mind grows more numb with each voice-mail you leave. “Smile, because they can hear your smile.” “Don’t be too monotone.” “Don’t ramble on too much.” “Leave your phone number twice.” “Don’t unload the truck, just give them enough to whet their appetite.” and the list of thoughts goes on and on as you drone on with call after call. You already feel less like a professional recruiter and more like a “Telemarketer” in a “Boiler Room.” Is there any less respected job? Before long you feel like no one wants to talk to you, unless they’re unemployed, and those folks can’t help you reach your goals. If all you do is talk to the unemployed, before long, you’ll be one of them.

Out of every 100 calls, you hope to catch 25-35% live so you can actually have a conversation. Of those, very few will have any interest in what you’re “selling.” When you crunch the numbers, for every 100 calls you make, strikingly few are meaningful. You finally have some good things happen and get a Job Order. Now you work on your pitch so you can start recruiting! You’re so close and yet so far away… After putting together a long list of potential candidates to begin the recruiting campaign, you’re ready to start down the list. Voice-mail after voice-mail goes unanswered until you finally get someone on the phone. You’ve made 50 calls, spoken to eight living people and none show a sincere interest or are close to the mark. Day two, three, four and five of the same pitch and the same voice-mail left 200+ times with little to no results. The only people interested in the job don’t meet the minimum requirements for the role and you’re beginning to feel despair. Another week goes by and you can’t figure out why it isn’t working. You’ve changed your pitch around to see if it will produce different results and yet nothing meaningful happens. Three weeks into the search and you finally have two to three people who are qualified and somewhat interested in the role. You waste no time calling and presenting your top three candidates to the hiring authority and what happens?

A. They inform you that they already have a finalist candidate even though there was no mention of anyone in the process during your 30 minute call when you go the job order

B. They inform you that the position is now “on hold” indefinitely

C. They inform you that an “Internal Candidate” is now slated for the role

D. They never return your call

Sound familiar? All that work and you never even got to present your “body of work.” Bear in mind that you never even got to the interview stage. The interview stage has within it a myriad additional opportunities to fail. But you were Dead on Arrival and so was the last three weeks of effort on this search. This is one of the reasons that recruiters are so darn “pushy.” You have to make sure that they are not going on a wild goose chase that will cost them time and money and perhaps even their job. I have observed recruiters to be some of the most emotionally resilient people in the world. At least, the ones who survive. If you are still a recruiter after a year, then you are in the great minority. Assuming that you didn’t come into the business on the retained side as most people don’t, you are working on contingency. This means that for every successful placement you make, you were also working on another five to ten, or perhaps even more, that failed to close. That means that a whopping 80-90% of your entire job ends in failure. You must also have developed coping mechanisms to handle all the negativity that comes with that much failure. Sadly, I have seen people who recruited for more than 25 years hit a wall and burn out. These are people who after so long in the business shouldn’t have to work that hard. Their reputation and network should feed itself to a point that they have their pick of clients. Why then do so many come to ruin? I believe that it is the cumulative effect of the incredible amount of failure that their psyche endures.

If you cannot make the transition to retained search, you will become Marginalized and likely burn out probably well before your 25th year. Some “burned-out” recruiters become trainers because they cannot bear the pressure of the “desk” anymore. You don’t have to end like that. If you transition your business into a “pure engagement” practice, and work exclusively on a retained basis, you will eliminate the vast majority of the failure and negativity which you currently endure. It is Life Changing! Just a little Food for thought…

Help me, Help You!

I recently received a call from a $100mm medical device company wanting me to help them find a new Marketing Director. They told me that they were referred to me by a few executives within their company as “the recruiter of choice.” The first 30 minutes of the call was me asking a lot of questions to determine what their ideal profile was and how they envisioned attracting that caliber person to their company. I am very familiar with their company and in the past have actually recruited from them to some of my clients. Once I had a solid grasp of what specific experience and talent was essential for this position the discussion turned to “how we work.”

I described that the way that we work in our firm is through what could best be described as a modified retainer. I explained how in order to do it right, there were a few key elements that had to be there so that we were able to do the kind of high quality work that we are committed to. The person on the other end of the phone shut me down immediately. “Well, we don’t work that way. We only do contingency,” he said The irony is that this position had been open for several months and the continual stream of candidates brought by contingency recruiters failed to deliver any result other than failure. I could argue that the results were far worse than mere failure. In fact, as they were now back to square one after months of interviews and failed attempts, my question was, “how much money and time have you already spent with nothing to show for it?” Consider all the wasted time & money on airline fares, hotels, and not to mention the loss of productivity of all the employees who were brought in on the many interviews. Now multiply that by the loss of opportunity of those people not at their desks and the empty desk of the open position. My challenge was unwelcome. He refused to give any meaningful answer, but instead explained it away that at least they got close on a few people. This is such a common problem. When a company decides that it is to their advantage to work with recruiters on contingency, they are making a huge mistake. It is obvious to me that they do not understand the problem or the solution. Not only are they creating a problem for themselves with regard to the reliability of information about their candidates, they are actually competing with other companies over the people being paraded in front of them by recruiters. Perhaps more importantly, I believe that this company will never see some of the best people in the industry because these recruiters are not willing to do what is necessary to bring them in on contingency. Nor would I under those terms, which is why I refused to accept the search.

I refused to work with this company on the grounds that I could not conduct the search properly without being formally engaged with one-third of my fee in advance. When they balked, that told me that they didn’t have a clue about what really goes on in the recruiting world. They must not know that the recruiters will not fully vet or disclose information about the candidates that could possibly derail their candidacy. Why would they? (Contingency recruiters don’t get paid unless they close the deal.) So we parted ways and within days, I received a call from a previous retained client where I placed a VP Sales & Marketing last year and a European Sales & Marketing Manager last month. They just retained me on a Director of Marketing search. They understand the value of conducting a true search for the best talent instead of the most available.

If a company won’t help you, help them; move on and find one that will. Your life will be far better for it!

Candidate Motivation: Pushed or Pulled?

As a recruiter, your candidates are either being pushed out of their current company or they’re being pulled into your client’s company. The big idea is, “What is their motivation?” Is it to join your client’s company? Is it that they have overstayed their welcome in their current company? Is it that they are “on the bubble” and feel that their days are numbered? Is it that they can’t stand their new boss? Or is it that the opportunity within your client company is so compelling that they are excited about what they can bring to the new company and what the opportunity holds for them in their future? Is one motivation better than the other? By no means does being “pushed out” of a company make someone a bad hire. Sometimes, it is as simple as a matter of “fit.” But that is a separate issue.

Who do you think will have the greater impact and staying power in the new company? The one who saw this position as a “safe landing” or the individual who saw it as the next great opportunity in their career? Either candidate can look attractive to the company. In fact, as I discussed in a previous blog, candidates who are being “pushed” out of their company can be very compelling interviewers primarily due to their intensified motivation.

Recruiter Motivation: If you are thinking like a Contingency Recruiter, then you’re likely to care more about getting paid than what might be the best long-term outcome for your customer. Recruiters are a sensitive bunch so I am sure that some will take offense to this statement. Once again, I need to clarify what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that if you’re a Contingency Recruiter then you don’t care about the long-term outcome. I don’t believe that is true. I do believe that the long-term outcome is secondary to the ever-present priority of obtaining your fee. Every single Contingency Recruiter I ask, eventually comes around to agree with this statement.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, given the choice between finding the best possible outcome for a client and being able to meet one’s own financial obligations, is going to force a person to choose to influence the outcome that suits their own needs. So how does a company know that their recruiter is committed to their long-term success and not merely getting paid? It starts by engaging them in a fashion that gives them the confidence to have the same objective and priority as their clients. More on how to select the right recruiter later.