How To Spot Hiring Authorities With Higher Priorities

Jul 1, 2004

“Getting a job order.” “Obtaining a search assignment.” The very words imply that you need to talk someone into something. Or even worse — out of something. The object is writing up the almighty JO. Some offices even have quotas for them. Contests. Awards.

But are they “hot?” Are they even “real?” Let’s look at a few other reasons you might have “been given,” “obtained” or “received” one:

1. The hiring authority wants to get you off the phone.

2. The hiring authority is “window shopping” with the idea of hiring if Superstar, M.B.A. is recruited.

3. The hiring authority is “always looking for the best people”.

4. The hiring authority wants to conduct a little industrial espionage on the competition.

5. The hiring authority is looking to network with colleagues without leaving their office (on company time).

6. The hiring authority thinks a contract won’t be awarded, but wants to have qualified candidates available if it is.

7. The hiring authority is just trying to impress you with their power.

8. The hiring authority is looking for a job and wants to draw you into presenting them.

Higher priorities of hiring authorities — certainly higher than hiring. Hidden agendas you’ll never write on your JO. Too bad you’ll write it at all. Because you, everyone else in the office, and even your networkers will waste an incalculable number of hours only to discover that the hot new JO is cold and old. But you were told — you were just too bold, and sold, to listen.

“Hiring authorities!” It sounds so official. Maybe one of our trade associations should make up badges so we could deputize them, swearing them in formally at meetings. In fact, maybe we should certify them like we certify consultants. They’d have to adhere to a code of ethics and pass a test like this:

To be answered with a YES or NO answer:

1. Are you ready to hire or are you just checking the labor market, appeasing management, or trying to cover yourself if someone quits?

2. Are you consistent in your fee policy?

3. Do you tell consultants they have an “exclusive” when others have been given the same search?

4. Do you communicate promptly with consultants once you place job orders?

5. Do you communicate candidly with consultants once you place job orders?

6. Do you change the specifications arbitrarily after placing job orders?

7. Do you have a reliable procedure to ascertain whether a candidate was referred through more than one source?

8. Do you have an objective, disclosed policy of honoring referrals based upon time, presentation or interview arrangement?

9. Do you treat recruits with the courtesy they deserve?

10. Do you attempt to avoid or reduce an agreed fee after you’ve hired the candidate?

Anyone who could answer, “Yes” to those questions deserves a badge!

We remember sitting in a brainstorming session at an association meeting where someone suggested we require employers to sign a code of ethics before working with them. Everybody laughed.

No — there won’t be any tests to find out if they’ll hire, or any rules to make them do so. You’ll just have to know how to spot hiring authorities with higher priorities – preferably no later than after the first phone call.

Here are a half-dozen ways:


Of course, you don’t ask them. In fact, you don’t even have to call them in the first place if their name (or their employer’s) has an unsavory aroma. Ask around.

A favorable reputation is the result of dealing with recruiters openly and honestly over an extended period of time. Almost everything in the placement process is fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding (non-exclusive assignments; contingency fees; “temp-to-perm” conversion fees; raiding client companies; violating confidences about impending hirings, firings, and cutbacks, etc.) It takes an open-minded, PR-oriented person to keep our industry happy.

It also takes an unusually secure one to walk that line, since well over half the time the requisitions are impossible to fill or the company isn’t serious. Sometimes they know it, sometimes they don’t. Faced with that decision between their job and yours, most hiring authorities don’t even see a conflict of interest.

Consider the source. Most people don’t. Is it a competitor or someone who can’t be trusted? Is the bad rap based on hearsay or direct experience? Is it based on one incident or a course of dealings? Does it present a challenge to you to change the hiring authority’s mind about our industry?

Our best clients through the years have been the ones who have been burned by other lawyers. They know the difference, and (unfortunately) their negativism is sometimes justified. The chances are someone who’s been victimized by a recruiter will have a bad reputation — it usually can be traced to a fee dispute or anger over an attempted raid.

So look for a good reputation, but if you proceed with caution don’t automatically avoid a hiring authority with a bad one. They’re easy to get when you’re responsible for hiring humans through humans.

Now, let’s see the personality types you can spot when you don’t know a thing about them:


Hiring honchos who talk incessantly usually don’t act instantly. Even worse, they’re extremely poor listeners — it’s physically impossible to talk and listen at the same time.

Chatterers are avoided, even by subordinates who want to get their job done. Other supervisors tune them out, stop listening to them, and resent expending the incredible amount of time and energy necessary to pay attention to them.

Another difficulty with chatterers is that they invariably gossip. If you reduce your fee, recruit from a competitor, or send out a candidate they don’t like, you’ll be on their lively lips every time another recruiter calls, candidate sits or peer group meets.

The sign is obvious — they just won’t zip the lip.


Procrastinators surface in the first conversation. And the second, third and fourth. Consider these unspoken excuses that make “hot” JO’s frigid:

a. It’s easier for me to hire when the work is backed up. I’ll wait until management panics.

b. I don’t have time for the formality of interviewing. I’ll let the headhunters prescreen and then if there’s someone I really like I’ll have them send a resume.

c. What if I make the wrong decision?

d. I really don’t want to spend the time training someone now, but screening will keep management off my back.

e. The last thing I need is some outsider telling my people how great things were somewhere else.

f. I’ll wait to fill the job until after (insert one or more):

(i) my vacation.

(ii) the holiday.

(iii) my pension plan vests.

(iv) my review.

(v) my boss returns.

Heard enough? You asked for it. Sometimes literally. Just listen to your recruiters. They pry open JO’s withic lines like:

a. “It costs nothing for you to look.”

b. “Well, would you pay a fee if the right person came along?”

c. “We’ve just completed a retained search and have some excellent candidates who are interested in talking to you.”

And the Beethoven’s 5th of all time:

d. “Our fees are ne-go-ti-a-ble.”

So procrastinators are given every opportunity to hide behind the bureaucratic, administrative delays inherent in every organization.


Most recruiters take the inflated term “hiring authority” literally. This causes them to forget completely that they’re literally “consultants.”

Middle-management supervisors are undoubtedly among the most emotionally fragile people in the working world. Their “authority” is constantly questioned from above, below and even from lateral supervisors. Statistically, the chances of making a “wrong” decision are much higher than that of making a “right” one. And there is a greater likelihood of someone magnifying a wrong decision to:

a. Shift the blame for a mistake.

b. Justify not paying the supervisor more.

c. Fire the supervisor.

Recruiters aren’t restrained like these folks. Truly they are “consultants,” with the objectivity that comes from freedom. From being able to deal with whomever they like. There are virtually unlimited options available.

Weaklings only “win” when you let them — you can both win if you focus on consulting not selling. Bryce Webster told how in The Power of Consultative Selling:

The client will want to feel that he has chosen reliably, so that he will not feel out on a limb. He does not want to fail, so his sense of security (“I could lose my job if I blow this one!”) may be threatened.

Keep these questions in mind to direct the flow of your presentation:

a. Have I explained the common ground that I have with the hiring authority?

b. How is the hiring authority reacting to me (“negatively and skeptically or positively and trusting”)?

c. What things have I said that interested the hiring authority most (recruiting approach, availability of candidates, contingency fee, guarantee, etc.)?

d. What objections has the hiring authority raised repeatedly? Have I ignored, fought or adequately responded to them?

e. Am I respected as an objective “consultant” or merely tolerated as a faceless “headhunter.”

The last item is the result of the first four, and without it you might as well be calling someone else. I discussed the importance of the “consultant” image in Finding the Right Job at Midlife:

While the call can start differently and take controlling the dialogue. It should be a dialogue, not two monologues.

You may have to leave a few messages before you swing into action. If the supervisor calls back, always be courteous but too busy to talk. Ask if you can return the call in a “few minutes.” This makes you appear in demand. It then enables you to organize your thoughts, review your notes . . . and relax. Then by initiating the call, your control position is increased.

In studying the Consultant Phone Call, you’ll note that the emphasis is on helping someone else. We are utilizing one of the most basic success principles ever discovered:

You’ll get what you want, if you give others what they want.

The call also considers the natural insecurity of anyone who depends on another for emotional and financial support. It is a success principle etched in bronze on a plaque in our office:

There’s a big difference between advising and assisting.

Don’t overreact and bully weaklings — work with them, not against them. Help make them look good and you’ll make placements.

A recruiter can get so hung up in “overcoming objections” that they buy into the game. It’s a no-win situation — procrastination in “giving” a job order or “confirming” a fee signals someone who can’t “close”.

As Paul Hawkinson noted in the industry guidebook Closing on Objections:

Many consultants spend endless hours with people who can’t say yes. In our business this is an ever present problem… Never try to get an iron-clad commitment from a reluctant gnome… it can’t be done. And the more you try, the worse you injure yourself.

Hang up the joborderphone. Don’t procrastinate.


Rulemakers invariably have little “industrial relations,” “human resources” or “administration” empires. They surround themselves with a set of rules so they can enforce them.

Rulemakers tend to be tough, rigid people. Although they may pass most of the 10 questions in our hiring authority test, you won’t place with them.

It’s not that they intentionally sabotage you, but rule makers have trouble getting things done — like ramrodding a job offer through the hiring cycle. Strict adherence to procedure drives movers and shakers crazy. Since they can’t openly admit rules are meant to be broken, they just make the rule maker’s life difficult. Sandbagging a pending hire is one way.

In Office Relations Mary DeVries observed:

Other departments and their personnel are. . . perceived as adversaries at times; competitors for a larger share of the company’s budget, for certain promotions, and for other desirable benefits.

. . . Although you may be competing with your peers, you must balance this position with an open, friendly and cooperative attitude.

Avoid potential conflicts by being a good listener and trying to understand the position of others.

Rigorously religious rule makers just don’t have the time or flexibility to finesse interpersonal relationships the way you’ll need. If they lay a long list of laws on you, expect a heartbreak. They just don’t relate to the “rules” of recruiting. The law of Headhunter’s Jungle isn’t like their rules at all.


Too bad they don’t answer the phone “Peter Principle speaking.” They’ve reached their level of incompetence and test your level of intolerance. A few of their traits are:

a. They’re indecisive, so readily accept your suggestions on job specs and source companies (whether you’re right or wrong).

b. They’re disorganized, so forget appointments, get distracted during interviews and lose hiring paperwork (resumes, emails, applications and even fee schedules).

c. They’re shortsighted, so accept referrals from anyone who calls.

d. They’re inconsistent, so revoke accepted job offers before the start date.

e. They’re unrealistic, so give you a wish list, then blame you for producing recruits who won’t make a lateral move.

f. They’re insecure, so insist on “qualified” candidates but sabotage their placement (calling them “overqualified,” “too senior” or just “unsuitable”).

But what do you do in response to these things? Are you the kind of person Donald Smith was talking about in How to Cure Yourself of Positive Thinking?

The easy way to live with inefficiency, bungling and monumental stupidity is to go along with it and to respond with a cheerful and enthusiastic “Right, Chief!” and establish yourself as a positive thinker, eager and willing to go along with the times.

. . . The person who is working you into a corner with an unreasonable or selfish demand cares not a fig for your feelings and that is exactly what you owe him… It isn’t working, is it? So why do you cling to the belief that it does work, or will work, or could work if only… (and here you can fill in any of a thousand feeble excuses).

You won’t make a placement with any of these folks, They’ll just relentlessly waste your time and infect you with an incurable case of consultant burnout.

These are six ways to know if your hiring authority is (l) hiring and (2) an authority at all. Best wishes for success in using them!

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!