Give Them Permission To Say “No”

May 1, 2004

Most recruiters and staffers in our industry function, at least, partially in the dark when it comes to truly understanding the motivations of their clients, candidates and temporaries. As difficult as this is to believe, if you have ever heard one or more of the following, then it may very well apply to you.

From your clients:

“We decided to go in a different direction and therefore will not be needing your services after all.”

“Your candidate really looked good but at the last minute we decided to promote from within.”

“Your candidate was one of our finalists but another candidate just seemed to be a better fit.”

“We were all set to hire and then the word came down that we have to put a hiring freeze on all openings.”

“We really liked working with you but we were fortunate to be able to hire someone who was referred to us by an internal employee.”

“It’s nothing you can put your finger on specifically, but we have decided not to proceed with your candidate.”

From your candidates or temporaries:

“I really love the company and the position. However, for personal reasons which I cannot go into at this time, I have to pass.”

“I was all set to take their offer but then, out of the blue, I received a big promotion (salary increase, etc) from my present employer.”

“It was unbelievable but a company I interviewed with last year just called me and gave me a better offer.”

“After thinking it over, the location is too far from home. I really don’t want that long of a commute.”

“Everything looks great except I will need more money (more benefits, a car, increased perks, etc., etc., etc.).”

“I didn’t call you because I forgot your number (lost my cell phone, etc.).”


Suddenly, all communication is cut off. Phone calls and e-mails are not returned. You feel helpless and out of the loop as time continues to work against you.

The explanations as to “why” deals go bad are endless. Although, under closer examination, some of these statements may be true, more frequently they merely are excuses that mask the individual’s true reason for not hiring your candidate or for your candidate or temporary not accepting the job opportunity.

As a consultant to this industry, I am frequently contacted by frustrated managers who want to know why their employees are continuously experiencing negative “twelfth hour surprises.” The operative word here is “surprises.” In fact, the majority of the time a practitioner hears one of these “excuses,” it does come as a surprise and because of its timing, results in a “dead deal.” Unfortunately, to make matters worse, the true reason “why” the deal fell apart may never be known in spite of the questioning, probing and closing techniques utilized by practitioner. However, there is a proactive approach that can be utilized to drastically decrease the number and frequency of “twelfth hour surprises.”

Keep in mind that our business is not an exact science. There will always be a certain element of unpredictability present any time you are dealing with people, including yourself. However, in follow-up phone surveys conducted with hundreds of clients, candidates, and temporaries, the three reasons most often stated for not telling the truth were:

1. They were afraid of confrontation. They were afraid of the reaction they would receive from the individual they were dealing with at the staffing firm.

2. It was just easier and less of a hassle to give an excuse than to tell the truth.

3. They saw no real benefit in telling the truth because they placed little value on maintaining a relationship with the practitioner.

Based on the results of these surveys, it is apparent that one of your major challenges is to create a relationship with your clients, candidates and temporaries where they feel comfortable in telling you the truth. This can best be achieved if they see value in maintaining a beneficial relationship with you.


“People do things for their reasons and not yours!”

The people you serve will tell you the truth if they have a reason for doing so that makes sense to them. In order to make sense to them, you must first eliminate their fear over a possible confrontation with you if they tell the truth. Keep in mind that they know your income depends on their decision. This makes it difficult for them to see you in an objective light. Therefore, you have to “give them permission to say no.” That’s right. You literally have to “give them permission to say no.”

There are many ways of doing this and you should definitely be comfortable with your own wording. However, here are a couple of examples to stimulate your creativity.

With clients:

“At any point in this process you have my permission to say no. (allow time for this statement to sink in). What I am saying is don’t hold back. If you have a problem or concern with the manner in which we are proceeding, just say so. If a candidate (or temporary) does not meet your expectations, let me know. If something comes up that you did not expect, yell stop. Bottom line, in order to generate the greatest value from our combined effort, we must know what is happening at all times. Therefore, neither of us should hesitate to be direct and candid with our comments. Will this approach work for you?”

With candidates and temporaries:

“At any point in our process of working together, you have my permission to say no (allow time for this statement to sink in). After all, we are dealing with your career; therefore, we need to eliminate as much as possible, any margin for error. If you have a problem with how I am handling the process, if you have concerns about the opportunity or timing, or if the situation changes in some manner, let me know. Don’t worry about getting me upset. This is my job. I am a professional and deal with these unique circumstances every day. What’s most important is that you make the right decisions for you. This can best be accomplished if we are perfectly frank with one another and express our thoughts, either positive or negative, in a timely fashion. Experience has proven this to be the best approach. Do I have your commitment to proceed on this basis?”

You objective should be to convince the people you serve that you can deal with problems, negatives or concerns as a professional. To function in any other manner would not be in either of your best interest.


When faced with a choice between confrontation or avoidance, most people will choose avoidance.

Giving the people you serve “permission to say no” empowers them to be honest and forthright while enhancing your position as a professional who can maintain the necessary level of emotional detachment. However, in order to be successful with this approach, you cannot be afraid of hearing “no.” Although this may not be the response you would like to hear, it is far better than trying to deal with an endless list of excuses. As the old saying goes, “the truth will set you free.” It also will result in less frustration, a better utilization of your time and resources, and ultimately a more rewarding and satisfying career in our industry.

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