The Right Way to Go Above, Around, or Through A Human Resourcer

Article main image
Oct 14, 2013
This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.

I worked a desk. So I know the temptation to go above, around or through a human resourcer. I was one of those too, so I know the ways they deal with a recruiter who does.

Almost no effort is required to sabotage a contingency-fee placement when you’re in an HR office. Job requisitions, fee schedules and hiring sources must be approved by someone. Checking references, determining starting salaries and extending offers must be done by someone. These and over 20 other hiring functions (from pre-employment physicals to relocation) invariably end up with the “gatekeepers” that you disregard, resent, and insult. This makes sabotaging a contingency-fee placement so simple that it can be accomplished without doing anything!

This report is devoted to making placements. If that means going above, around or through a personnel manager, so be it.

Just be sure you know how to do it right. Here’s how.

Recognize the real relationship

What is “reality”? Existentialism is a little out of my line. But I do know that reality doesn’t yield to rhetoric. In this case, the real relationship has you in the passenger’s seat — with your seat belt (and harness) securely fastened.

But walk through the halls at any recruiting convention, and you’ll hear trainer after trainer telling “consultants” they’re driving the placement truck. Not a hitchhiker’s chance. It’s strictly standup comedy to an HR type.

Placement Strategy HandbookChapter 1 in The Placement Strategy Handbook is entitled “Examining The Employer Mentality.” There’s a reason it’s the first chapter — no sales strategy will work until you properly “qualify” (analyze) your prospect. We noted:

Surveys conducted by The Fordyce Letter consistently show that most high-producing recruiters deal with the human resources department, rather than depending upon the increasingly difficult end-run to reach managers. TFL quoted recruiters as saying that a well-stroked HR staffer can direct more business their way than most department heads.

Most companies just can’t afford to leave the hiring process in the hands of individuals unfamiliar with employment regulations and their consequences. This means you should always start with the human resourcer. No games. Call, ask for the human resources department, and find out the answers to the following questions:

Is she involved in any phase of the hiring process?

This may seem obvious, but it’s not. Some “human resources managers” are clerks, others are CEO’s. Either or neither may be involved in hiring decisions.

Does she mind if you speak with line managers directly?

Just because you want something doesn’t mean you can’t have it. True, that’s often the case. But more often, unbuckling your seat belt as you pull out of the curb is unsafe.

Most of the defensiveness of HR folks is caused by the offensiveness of recruiters. Here’s a street-smart comment of one from The Placement Strategy Handbook:

I don’t throw roadblocks in the way and am not impressed with my role in this game, but when an opening hits my desk, I’ve got a department head screaming to fill it. All I ask is a little cooperation and we can all be happy. A good agency is worth its weight in gold to me.

Does he understand that you expect to be paid for your assistance?

Perhaps you haven’t explained it. Perhaps he doesn’t care. But it’s your responsibility to clearly state:

  • When, where and how you can help fill job openings.
  • Your full placement fee (including the guarantee, etc.).
  • The terms of payment.

You should be so certain the human resourcer agrees, that you confidently send a fee confirmation letter referencing the conversation. (Not just a form fee schedule.) Then you should be confident enough to call verifying receipt of the letter.

People don’t act in accordance with reality. They act in accordance with their perception of reality. Existentialism is a little out of your line too. Don’t engage in it.

Don’t bargain over position

Here’s how most recruiters handle the opening phone call to the personnel manager:

Recruiter: “I recruit in your industry, and wondered if there were any openings I could assist you in filling.”

HR Manager: “Maybe, but we usually don’t pay fees.”

Recruiter: “Really? I’d like to discuss your requirements though.”

HR Manager: “OK, but with the understanding that we don’t owe anything if we don’t hire someone through you.”

Recruiter: “That’s fine. We work strictly on a contingency-fee basis: 1% per thousand of the candidate’s annual starting salary.”

HR Manager: “We have a maximum 15% fee policy in our standard Placement Service Agreement. Once you sign it, I’ll submit it for approval. Then you’ll be eligible for our preferred list.”

Let’s stop here. I can’t bear to print the rest.

This is classic positional bargaining. It is negotiating over relative power. Egos are inflated and deflated as the parties play a destructive game of chicken on a road to nowhere.

The futility of positional bargaining was discussed by Roger Fisher and William Ury in Getting to Yes:

As more attention is paid to positions, less attention is devoted to meeting the underlying concerns of the parties. Agreement becomes less likely. Any agreement reached may reflect a mechanical splitting of the difference between final positions rather than a solution carefully crafted to meet the legitimate interests of the parties. . .

Positional bargaining becomes a contest of wills. Each negotiator asserts what he will and won’t do. The task of jointly devising an acceptable solution tends to become a battle. Each side tries through sheer will-power to force the other to change his position. . .

Positional bargaining thus strains and sometimes shatters the relationship between the parties. . . Bitter feelings generated by one such encounter may last a lifetime.

There are three primary reasons why you can’t possibly win a positional negotiation:

  1. You’re not in an equal bargaining position in the first place. If you think you are, then you’ve either attended too many recruiter conventions or have no sense of humor.
  2. More than two people are involved. Virtually every hiring decision is a “multiparty” decision within an employer large enough to pay fees.
  3. You have progressively less leverage as you start to work on the assignment. When you present more candidates and disclose more contact information, you part with more of your inventory. You also gradually lose control over candidates and employers as they become more familiar with each other.

Getting to Yes observed: “Altering a position proves equally difficult when additional participants are higher authorities who, while absent from the table, must nevertheless give their approval.”

So the only answer is to recognize when a positional bargain is occurring. The sign reads either “Detour” or “Dead End.” What you say after that will enable you to read it.

That conversation should continue like this:

Recruiter: “I appreciate being considered for your preferred list, but I wouldn’t be there long if I didn’t recruit the best possible talent for you. It’s not possible for anyone having adequate resources to do so with your fee ceiling.”

HR Manager: “Well, we’ve been satisfied with the results so far.”

Recruiter: “I understand, but how do you know what full-scale, dedicated searches would have accomplished?”

HR Manager: “I thought that’s what we were getting.”

Recruiter: “It’s just not possible. Why don’t we try one search, and you can decide whether it’s worth the full fee. If it’s not, don’t hire. If it is, hire and pay us what we charge.”

Usually that “closer” doesn’t help you read the sign at all. It compromises your position as well as your fee, and sounds like:

Recruiter: “It’s just not possible. Why don’t we try one search according to your agreement, and we’ll show you what you’ve been missing. Then you can decide whether to pay us a full fee in the future.”

The fact is no two searches are the same, so the human resourcer can’t compare your quality with another recruiter. If he’s a dead-end, put the pedal to the metal and go above, around, or through him. Don’t stop until you’re satisfied you’ll receive a full fee.

Evaluate the dialogue

The detour can work, but the personneller may still block the road leading to the placement. It’s not enough to just clear the fee and start the search.

Since human resourcers screen rather than hire, their power is largely negative power. In negotiating terms, this means they can hurt you a lot more than they can help you. Their staff jobs are tenuous under the best circumstances, making them particularly concerned with public relations. The last thing they want is some articulate, irate recruiter going to senior management.

Ask yourself: Was the conversation a dialogue or two monologues?

Maybe even one monologue. The surest indication of whether you were connecting is to figure out whether the personneller and yourself poured out an equal volume of words. If so, an equal volume probably soaked in. Did you use silence to draw him out? Did you listen? Did you ask questions? And if he talked too much, did you subtly regain control of the conversation?

Let the two precepts of the art of negotiating work for you:

  • The one who does the most talking ends up giving away the store.
  • The less you sweat, the more you get.

I cautioned jobseekers in The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book:

The average applicant talks about 85% of the time during an interview. That’s why average applicants get [tired before they’re] hired. They’re amateur solo acts with monotonous monologues who nervously bang their gums on the interviewer’s drums. Then, both of them march out the door together and only the interviewer returns.

Here are examples of benign questions that have a favorable impact, adapted from Chapter 19 of The Placement Strategy Handbook entitled “Writing The ‘Perfect’ Job Order”:

  • How many employees does the company have?
  • What are the company’s plans for expansion?
  • How many employees does the department have?
  • Is the department a profit center?
  • Does the department work separately from other departments?
  • Are the functions of the department important to senior management?
  • Is the relationship between the department and senior management favorable?
  • What is the supervisor’s management style?
  • What is the supervisor’s title?
  • Who does the supervisor report to?
  • Are you ready and able to hire now?
  • How long will it take to make a hiring decision?
  • How long has the position been open?
  • How many employees have held the position in the last five years?
  • Why are the former employees no longer in the position?
  • How many employees have been promoted from the position in the last five years?
  • What does the company consider the five most important duties of the position?
  • What do you expect the employee you hire to accomplish?
  • What qualifications do you expect in the employee you hire?
  • What are the names and titles of those involved in the hiring decision?

Were you both interested?  Or was he detached, withdrawn or really not interested in your services?

Maybe the timing was bad. Was he too busy? Was the opening still not a certainty? Did he want to try inviting employee referrals or running an ad first?

These things are beyond your control. Forcing your services only leads to a heartbreak later.

“No” usually means “no.” Unfortunately, “maybe” is usually the way it’s said by disinterested human resourcers.

Did you receive a consistently favorable response to your terms?

“Clearing the fee” really shouldn’t be the objective, since the fee itself is unclear. It’s an uncertain percentage of an uncertain starting salary of an unknown candidate. And all of this is “contingent” upon the recruiter being fully responsible for the referral.

You need more than a passive “OK” or “That’s acceptable,” or even “If we hire through you, we’ll pay the fee.” You need an active advocate’s words like, “The fee is no problem if you find us the right person to hire.”

The deal isn’t made when someone agrees to pay the fee. It’s made an average of nine weeks later when a placement occurs. And it’s never made and paid if you’re just sitting there mechanically reciting your fee, checking a box on your job order form, and mailing out fee schedules.

We have miles of files referred for collection where the fee was “cleared” with a “client.”

Rate Him

Here are the 10 most important traits. Rate them. “1” is for least, “5” is for best. Just follow your instincts right after the conversation:

  1.  Fairness
  2.  Integrity
  3.  Interest in you
  4.  Interest in filling the position
  5.  Accessibility
  6.  Decisiveness
  7.  Flexibility
  8.  Creativity
  9.  Helpfulness
  10.  Power within the company

Nobody gets “50.” If they do, you’re not recruiting, you’re rhapsodizing. But anything realistically above a “40” means you’ve got a serious prospect who can be sold. And the lower you go, the more you should know.

If all else fails

Don’t let your frustration rule. There are definite guidelines to follow:

  • Let the human resources manager know you’re contacting someone else.

Even if he won’t talk to you, leave a courteous message like, “Thanks for your time. I’ll be calling Lee Greenfield [the hiring manager] directly.”

If you get an angry call back, you pressed the right button. Listen, even though the words may hurt. Better a quick pain. Maybe there’s hope for him after all.

  • Don’t let personalities enter into the discussion.

This is deadly to a recruiter who’s on the outside looking in. Like any family, co-workers might feud among themselves. They might even tell you about how much they dislike each other. But you lose the moment you give an outsider’s opinion. If it’s good, they think you can’t judge people. If it’s bad, they resent it.

 In Problem Bosses, Mardy Grothe and Peter Wylie pointed out:

Leaving one boss to go work for another in the same organization is sensitive stuff — your current boss is probably going to feel threatened and resentful.

Your best policy is to tell everybody. . . that you look upon [a conversation with the hiring supervisor] as an opportunity . . . a good thing for the company and everybody else concerned.

[T]hink of yourself as a salesperson during this part of the process. [I]n selling everything — including yourself — it’s even more important to do a good job of listening.

Is that HR manager your “problem boss”? Of course, of course! A negative force. A five-figure cost. But all’s not lost. Consider the source.

  •  Acknowledge the earlier discussion with the personnel manager.

Don’t try to hide the fact that you’ve talked with him. But don’t tell the supervisor your troubles either. Just say something professional like:

  • “Norm Collins [an HR manager] is apparently busy trying to fill the senior engineer position, so I called you to discuss it.”
  • “I spoke with Norm Collins about the senior engineer opening, and thought we should talk directly.”
  • “I’ve been unable to fully discuss the senior engineer opening with Norm Collins, and thought we could spend a few minutes on it together.”

 Put the Pedal to the Metal

Finally, if you really have a candidate who’s really perfect for the employer, and really think you’ll get your five-figure fee in spite of the personneller’s sabotage at the finish line, then act on behalf of the helpless (but indispensable) candidate. Be clear, concise and certain in your presentation. Deliver it in a “take-it-or-leave-it” manner, and explain the fee agreement precisely. Follow up the conversation with a letter confirming the full fee, along with a copy to be returned to you by regular mail in the enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelope (not e-mail).

The letter should contain the following at the end:

Please indicate your agreement to these terms by signing, dating and returning the copy of this letter in the envelope provided. The original is for your file.

Then at the bottom of the letter, the following should appear:



 By: _____________________

       (name of hiring supervisor)

       (title of hiring supervisor)

 Once it’s returned, you can send the resume, arrange the sendout, etc. Not until. A supercharged supervisor can turn into a submissive slave before the express mail arrives. If you still use fax transmission, use it. A faxed signature back is fine.

If there’s a hire, you’ll be paid. Hires happen too. Problem Bosses recommended an approach that works well:

[G]o directly to the boss, and confront him with what [you] know. [Most supervisors] would much rather have problems solved in this ‘quiet’ way than in an embarrassing one.

[O]rganizations in America are not bastions of freedom and democracy. As a matter of fact, when we look at the presidents of most organizations, they remind of us dukes, princes and counts who rule over their fiefdoms with almost supreme power.

. . . In general, presidents of companies, being the biggest of the bosses, get their way even when they’re wrong, incompetent or misguided.

But not by you. Repeating my advice in Finding the Right Job at Midlife:

Even if you can’t always eliminate the negative, you can accentuate the positive. In fact, you must! The person who said, ‘It doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as the job gets done,’ probably just received credit for something.

Other ways to [make the placement] are:

  1. Stress the importance of “doing a good job”, and don’t feel embarrassed about occasionally using company slogans (if they exist);
  2. Determine and extoll the real virtues of the company (nobody likes insincerity).
  3. Suggest ways to improve operations (by increasing efficiency, reducing costs, developing new products, etc.), and;
  4. Never take it upon yourself to criticize the management or direction of the company. Somebody’s going to be hurt, and it’s probably going to be you.

Almost all supervisors complain about how difficult it is to find employees who ‘really care’. Loyalty is highly prized. No manager wants to feel that a person reporting to him will undermine his efforts, whether intentionally or through indifference. In the years I spent as a personnel manager, I was convinced that my most valuable role was “keeper of the company line”. Although my bosses never knew it, sometimes it was my only role.

If you don’t think the employer is your boss, then you don’t deserve to make the placement.

That’s how to go above, around and through a human resourcer. Yours for safe driving.

This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!