The Magic Bullet

Oct 1, 2004

I’m preparing for upcoming training events and need your help. What can I share with you to help increase your income? Think about all the steps in the placement process. I’m listening. {Pause} Try mental telepathy. >>> Got it! The most common question I’m asked is this:

What one technique above all others will have an immediate impact on my earnings?

I’m not sure I know of a “magic bullet” for search and staffing. It takes a combination of the right attitude, top communication skills, ongoing training, discipline and perseverance to perform at consistently high levels. Similar to high performing sales professionals in other fields, we must be driven to achieve. Following a quality-oriented, well-honed process is vital as well.

Our business can be simple in how we communicate with others. Scripts and presentations to clients and candidates can be learned. On the other hand, the placement process is complex. Managing expectations and closing deals takes experience.

I’m going to go out on a limb here about my one above all, “magic bullet” technique. Let’s call it an approach even a strategy which I believe is the most effective way to sustained, higher earnings. You’ve heard me and others talk about it before. “It” is exclusivity.

Since the advent of the web, it’s been my firm’s experience that there is a greater need for exclusivity in working with clients and candidates. Without “it,” other time-tested search and recruitment techniques are not as effective.

The Internet has changed the staffing business, because “information everywhere” has created greater transparency. Some candidates who see open positions on the web ask, “Why would the company pay a fee? Wouldn’t that put me at a competitive disadvantage compared to other non-fee candidates?” In addition, companies think posting jobs online is the expedient, easy way to finding the right candidates. We search consultants know differently.

Candidate Exclusivity

Let’s say you’ve received the resume of what you believe is a top tier candidate. Outstanding track record, great credentials, a proven performer who could command a higher comp package at competitor firms. Flexible, easy to work with and responds to your calls quickly. A dream candidate, you might think. Just one issue: His resume is posted online and is with three other recruiters. Your #10 candidate is market exposed. In my view, this candidate drops from a “10” to below “5” no matter how good he is. To prevent this, we need to ask questions upfront:

Is his resume posted with any job boards?

Has he “applied” to online postings or other job advertisements?

Has he sent his resume to colleagues and/or other recruiters?

Has he been on interviews in the last year?

Client Exclusivity

We all know the value of a well-developed client relationship. Also important to how we work is timing, i.e., where the client is in the hiring process. This impacts how we prioritize our time and focus our efforts.

Recruiting firms competing with one another often value referral speed over candidate quality. We shouldn’t have to work this way.

Sending a candidate’s name first to a company shouldn’t supercede a thorough qualification and proper candidate development. In reality, it often does: The party with the first date-stamped resume most times has rights to the fee. Many of us have experienced this unpleasant sticky situation. (In fact, this can backfire for all involved.)

Another common scenario is this: We market, market, market and…bing…we’ve got a new assignment and possibly what appears to be a good client in the making. Our new client seems easy to work with, the negotiated fee is above market standard and they’re responding quickly. “Terrific,” we think, “A few more like this and we’re set.” Just one problem. We didn’t ask about our relative competition:

How many other recruiters are working the assignment?

How many candidates have been interviewed to date?

If more than two firms are working a position and referred candidates have already been asked back, then our “# 10” search assignment just became a “2” no matter how great the client seems. If we had known prior, we wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot pole. A client for the future, still possible. As for the assignment, it’s sub-par.

How to Guarantee Exclusivity?

1) Change your thinking. We all know non-exclusive assignments can burn precious time. And time is money. We must think of ourselves as talent acquisition professionals who offer management consultant services. It’s expected that we work quickly and deliver high quality work. Other service professionals, like attorneys and accountants, bill big hourly fees for their time and expertise. As soon as you begin thinking this way, you’ll begin to require exclusivity.

2) Change your approach. Only work exclusive or near-exclusive assignments. (Near-exclusive is defined as only internal referrals allowed with you being the only external firm.) Also, only work with candidates exclusively. To bill big in our business, we need to reduce risk and save time. The way to do it: Require either client or candidate exclusivity. Dual exclusivity is optimal. It’s how 1:1 sendout to placement ratios are achieved.

3) Make sure you get it in writing. Whether an exclusive client assignment, or a “good faith” candidate agreement for a specified time period. If you’re going to spend valuable time, get a written commitment.

4) Receive dollars upfront. There’s no greater way to guarantee exclusivity than to be paid retainers. Again, other service professionals often require it. Why not us? For clients, require engagement fees. For candidates, you may offer career coaching or job consulting services.

Working exclusively is in the best interests of all parties.

Think hard and compose a delivery strategy:

Why would a client work exclusively?

Why would a candidate work exclusively?

Why with your firm?

Why with you, specifically?

If you can formulate compelling reasons to work on an exclusive basis and effectively communicate the benefits to clients and candidates (and there are many) you’ll be on your way to a more lucrative recruiting career.

Exclusivity in the Numbers

For anyone reading this article, the following annual billings are attainable:

— 5 exclusive clients. Placing two assignments per client @ $100K comp. = $250K.

12 exclusive candidates. Placing one per month @ $100K comp. = $300K billings.

— Total with research support = $550K billings.

To help accomplish this, what we need is an exclusivity litmus test a series of questions to ask upfront as part of: 1) taking search assignments and, 2) engaging candidates. Then, we should customize our agreements and allocate our time according to the risk-reward ratio. More on this in my training!

If you agree (even disagree) that exclusivity could be our “magic bullet,” email me your ideas/comments at and I’ll be sure to respond.

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