The Importance of Tie Down Questions

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Jul 7, 2011

By definition, a tie down question is one that requires a response that clarifies (ties down) the position of the one answering the question. Asking the right tie down questions at each step of the search and placement process is one of the earmarks of a top producer.

The two primary benefits of asking tie down questions are:

  1. The answers provide you with information needed to better control and direct the process toward a successful conclusion.
  2. The answers, by their very nature, define the level of commitment and positional flexibility of the one answering the question.

In the jargon of sales training, tie down questions are also referred to as closing questions. In our business, we need to be asking tie down questions (closing questions) at every step of our process. At no point is this more critical than when we begin our process with a client. In fact, many recruiters who fail to ask the proper tie down questions at that time eventually discover they are trying to work with a client who really has little or no desire to work with them. This represents an almost perfect definition of a waste of time.

Therefore, here are three examples of tie down questions that can be asked at the outset of your discussions with a client if you have any doubt whatsoever about their willingness to work with you. These examples are simple in their wording but leave no room for ambiguity in their answers.

Example One: After presenting an MPC (Most Placeable Candidate) to a prospect/client who then expresses some level of interest in your candidate and requests that you send them more information.

“What priority do you want me to give this?”

How they answer this question will provide a clear indication of their real level of interest. If they want you to give it a high priority, you can follow-up with additional tie down questions such as:

“Why such a high priority?”

And, based on their response:

“Specifically, what additional information do you require?” (See my article in the August 2008 issue of The Fordyce Letter, “It’s Better Than A Resume”)

Example Two: When a client or prospect indicates a possible need but does not directly ask for your assistance.

“Do you want me to conduct a search and recruit someone for this position?”

A straightforward, direct question requires a “Yes” or “No” answer, either of which is acceptable because it quickly clarifies the situation. Any other answer represents a stall tactic or is a demonstration of uncertainty and therefore requires the asking of additional tie down questions such as:

“Do you actually have an open position at this time?”


“What is your timeline or target date?”


“What do you want me to do?”

Depending on their response:

“Are there any other actions I could take on your behalf that may be beneficial for you or your company?”

Notice the emphasis is placed on what they need and not what you want.

Example Three: If the prospect/client answers “yes” to your question (example two), you need to clarify their sense of urgency.

“What level of commitment (or priority) do you want me to give this search?”

If they want you to give it a full commitment or make it a top priority, ask additional tie down questions, the answers to which will clearly define their sense of urgency as well as the status of the opening (see my article in the December 2007 issue of The Fordyce Letter, “Establishing the Sense of Urgency”).

These questions may appear to be basic and second nature to you and if that’s true, then you are in a distinct minority of recruiters in this industry. From my experience in working with thousands of recruiters over the years, I estimate that 80% or more of them fail to ask these or similar tie down questions when taking an order or search. In many of these instances it’s not a lack of knowing which questions to ask, rather, it’s a lack of courage to ask the right questions. That’s a classic execution deficiency and if it’s not corrected, it will seriously hinder the recruiters’ chances for success in this business.

In addition to working hard, the primary reason top producers out-perform everyone else is they work smart by not wasting their time. They only work on properly qualified orders/searches and candidates while executing processes that maximize the likelihood of a positive outcome. The cornerstone of their success is the willingness and wherewithal to ask direct tie down questions throughout their process.

As always, if you have questions or comments about this article or wish to receive my input on any other topic related to this business, just let me know. Your calls and e-mails are most welcome.

image source: Bruno Covas

This article is from the April 2011 print Fordyce Letter. To subscribe and receive a monthly print issue, please go to our Subscription Services page.