The Customer isn’t Always Right!


I frequently hear people say “the customer is always right.” That may be true in your line of work, but not in mine. In fact, many times I have to help my clients see what they seem to miss entirely. It is very often the case that my client fails to grasp the gravity of the situation. If I take the approach that my customer has all the right answers and I am merely here to feed their appetite for more candidates, then I am failing them as a search consultant. The smart ones get it, while others may think by challenging their perceptions of things, I am merely looking out for myself. Again, they would be wrong.

Search is a complex endeavor and if my client questions my motive then everyone’s problems are multiplied. Trust is the essence of any consultant-client relationship. If I have not established the credibility with my client such that I can challenge their views or opinions, then I need to re-think my approach. Clients are just people, and they all possess biases that inform their opinions about things from people to the way things should be. Sometimes they make assumptions about people who are factually inaccurate. It is the job of a Search Consultant to advocate on behalf of their client, even if it means disagreeing with them. Early in my career, I was afraid of disagreeing with my client. If my client expressed a concern about a candidate, I would instinctively and without hesitation agree with them. It was often after some thought and consideration that I would think, “that was wrong. I should have said, this or that.”

Many people are adverse to making big decisions so they subconsciously create obstacles, hoping to avoid costly hiring mistakes. One of the most common scenarios is that a client will say “the candidate didn’t seem energetic or interested enough.” or “I just didn’t see the fire in the belly!” This is most often the case of a mistaken assumption. There are stages to a truly passive candidate’s interest, and it starts with mere Curiosity. The first call/interview is actually purely a fact-finding mission and the burden is on the interviewer to capture their imagination. After this interview/exploratory conversation, the individual’s interest will either flat-line in which case they are not a fit, or it will begin to increase. Too often, the client assumes that because the candidate didn’t dazzle them in the first call, that represents a low energy level and intensity on the job. More often than not, they would again, be wrong.

To avoid this scenario, inform your client ahead of time about the level of motivation of the candidate. Is she actively seeking a new job? If so, she would be expected to sell herself. If not, then sell her. This is just one example of ways to help your client be right, before they get it wrong. If you can’t convince your client to see the value of your perspective, then you’d do well to find a new client.

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