Lesson learned from being a Contingency Recruiter


In January 2000, I bought a recruiting franchise and attended a three week intensive training program at the corporate headquarters in Cleveland. While I sat in the classroom for 12 hours per day, I was indoctrinated by the best of them. They retrained me from my prior form as a consultive sales person into a “Headhunter.” Needless to say, I was drowning in a sea of new information and was disoriented by a completely different approach to business than I was previously exposed to. At first it was refreshing to have a new beginning in a new industry. By week three, Doug, the expert trainer, used this phrase to summarize the “Marketing” call content. “I’ve got what you need, what do you need? 30%.”. This was the fundamental purpose of the call we were to make to Hiring Authorities in order to convince them to work with us. I’m not sure how many of my classmates felt as I did, but it just didn’t feel right to me. To say I have what they need, before knowing what they need, was a stretch to say the least, but it was only the tip of the iceberg.

The whole approach of the marketing call made it feel like I was a disingenuous boiler room- telemarketer who placed dozens of cold calls to key decision makers to convince them to agree to the terms of my agreement.

I would know nothing about my potential client and yet pretend to know exactly why they needed. This was a normal part of the business of Contingency Search. It became clear to me that this technique was not for me. I went on to learn many other nuances to the business of contingency search that made it ultimately impossible for me to continue in it. This little thing is the tip of the iceberg of the dishonest “tricks of the trade.”. Many Headhunters don’t understand why they have such a poor reputation. Perhaps it is because they have no issues misrepresenting facts.

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Lesson learned from being a Contingency Recruiter

  1. With the marketing calls they have us doing at this firm, it is used to be a way to get into the door. No, they don’t use the type of person that I’m marketing, but it gives me an opportunity to ask what what they are hiring for, or what they are planning in the next fiscal year. I don’t feel dishonest about offering the person I’m marketing, but I also don’t feel I’m pushing someone to take what I have. I sometimes use it as a networking call to see if they know of anyone in the area that uses that skill set. To me its simply a way of starting the conversation.

    What strategies have you used in the past to get new clients? Which ones have worked the best for you?

  2. Ladd, This is the typical MRI way of starting the conversation. It works, but it isn’t what we do. I think that is a legitimate way to learn the business. Eventually, I would expect you to be able to engage a potential client in a business discussion where you can find out what their biggest challenges are. Ultimately, search professional are consultants who solve problems through understanding why people are failing and building a profile of the ideal skills and experiences that a company needs. Once you have agreed upon the basic profile and know the company’s unique value proposition, you can ask them if they would benefit from a focused effort to find and recruit this kind of person. If they believe it is a worthy endeavor, they should be willing to engage you. Next you have to convince them that it is in THEIR best interests to engage you on retainer.

    This takes time and is best done after you have the confidence to lead the conversation this way. Once you’ve done it successfully, and both client and candidate are happy with the outcome, you have a client for life!

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