The “Search Project Timetable”

May 11, 2011
image source: Dafne Choet

Several of our recent articles have focused on the “process” we execute in serving our clients, particularly how to establish an effective and efficient process, one that will deliver qualified and interested candidates within a reasonable time frame.

In theory, we all would agree that moving forward in a timely fashion with a proper sense of urgency is critical to gaining a successful outcome — i.e. making the placement. Furthermore, most of our clients would also agree with this theory. The major exception to this would be the client (term loosely applied) who really is not that interested in having you fill the position as they plan to do everything possible to fill it on their own without paying a fee. In these instances you need to ask yourself whether or not you should even accept the search/order since your efforts never will be fully aligned with those of your client.

Never try to work with a client who does not want to work with you.

This may appear to be a rather obvious statement, yet every day I encounter recruiters across the country who are trying to fill positions with clients (misnomer) who do not wish them to do so. Nevertheless, the recruiters persist because once in a great while, they get lucky and actually fill one of these long-shot propositions. However, what they fail to realize is how much more productive it would be if they focused all that time on locating and filling qualified searches/orders where they are working in partnership with their clients toward the achievement of a common goal — the placement.

In qualifying a search/order (see my article in the October 2001 issue of The Fordyce Letter, “Eight Is Enough”), one of the key criteria is establishing the client’s sense of urgency. Generally speaking, the greater the client’s sense of urgency about filling the open position, the greater the likelihood of making the placement, as the sense of urgency tends to dictate their flexibility on the other seven criteria. Keeping this in mind, how many times have you heard a client with a high sense of urgency state:

“For the right candidate, we would hire tomorrow.”


“If we could have hired yesterday that would not have been too soon.”


“Bring us the right candidate and we’re prepared to move now.”

All of these statements are indications of a strong sense of urgency (see my December 2007 article in The Fordyce Letter, “Establishing A Sense Of Urgency”). Nevertheless, in many of these situations, the hiring process that unfolds does not mirror the implied sense of urgency. Best intentions notwithstanding, there can be many reasons for this apparent disconnect between the client’s sense of urgency and their ability or willingness to move in a timely fashion. Chief among these reasons are two that generally occur in tandem.

  1. The client has not clearly established a hiring process, the steps of which ensure a proper evaluation of all candidates against previously determined, realistic, job-related selection criteria.
  2. The client has not properly set a target date for hiring or a realistic timetable for completing each step of the hiring process. Given reason number one, this is not surprising.

Unfortunately, the fact is that many recruiters enter this client-induced confusion and attempt to conduct a search only to end up frustrated when their good efforts net a minimum result. It doesn’t have to end this way. Actually, it’s the recruiter’s responsibility to ensure that it does not.

One of our responsibilities as recruiters is to make certain everyone involved in the process is working within the framework of a reality-based timetable. A tool that we have used for over twenty years to accomplish this is the “Search Project Timetable.”

Basically, the “Search Project Timetable” is a Word Document that we customize for each client search. At the top of the document is placed the agreed-upon target date for hiring, then listed in proper chronological order down the left side of the page are the agreed-upon steps in the recruiting, evaluation, hiring, and on-boarding process together with a projected timetable for completing each step. Next to this date is a line on which we fill in the date each step is actually completed. At the bottom of the document both the recruiter and client affix their signatures indicating their understanding and agreement. To receive an example of a “Search Project Timetable,” just drop me an e-mail ( requesting one. The primary benefits of using this tool are that:

  1. It provides a visual reminder to the client of how important maintaining a proper and realistic timeline is to successfully meeting the agreed-upon target date for hiring. With this tool we help to bring reality-based thinking to an otherwise conceptual objective.
  2. It clarifies the actual steps that are necessary to take in completing a properly structured hiring process. All steps are agreed upon in advance and this helps ensure that everyone is on the same page throughout the process.
  3. It literally provides a check- list to follow for both the client and recruiter through- out the process. It becomes a “grounding” tool and reference point that helps eliminate mutual mystification.

The “Search Project Timetable” should only be used in situations where you have properly qualified the search/order and the client has a genuine interest in having you fill the open position.

The following is an example of how we introduce this tool to a new client.

“(Client’s name), are you familiar with the ‘Search Project Timetable?’ (They almost always answer “No,” so an explanation is in order)

“The  ‘Search Project Timetable’ is a tool we developed several years ago to help facilitate the recruiting, selection, hiring, and on-boarding process. Basically, it reflects our agreed-upon process together with an estimated time- line for its completion. Our clients have found it to be of great benefit in helping everyone maintain a proper focus from the outset of the search to its successful conclusion.

“As this should be the first and potentially most important step in our process, I can prepare the document and e-mail it to you for your immediate review and approval. Will that work for you?”

Wait for a response and if it’s anything other that “Yes” or some variation thereof, you need to uncover the client’s questions or concerns and then respond accordingly. As an example, the client might say:

“I don’t want to commit to a timetable that forces me to make premature decisions.”

It’s always good to ask:

“Is that your only concern?”

If not, find out what else bothers your client about this approach. If this is their primary concern, which is normal in many situations, respond with an explanation similar to the following:

“The last thing either of us wants is a premature decision that ultimately is not in your best interest or that of your organization. That’s precisely why we developed this tool. The primary steps of our process are established to facilitate appropriate decisions. However, since this process does not take place in a vacuum, having as a reference point an agreed upon and realistic timetable can only increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. The key is to maintain a balance between the decision-making process and the time allotted for its completion without compromising either. Does that address your concern?”

If “Yes,” prepare the document and send it to your client for review and signature. If “No,” do not move forward until you have uncovered and addressed the client’s concern(s).


A client who will not commit their process to a timetable, if only as a reference point, is a client who will frustrate you and needlessly squander your most important resources — time and your ability to make things happen.

Is it absolutely necessary to have a signed “Search Project Timetable” in place prior to commencing a search? No, it’s not. However, when used properly, this tool helps ensure that both you and your client remain on the same page throughout the process. This increases mutual commitment thereby enhancing your positioning and the likelihood of producing a positive outcome.

If you have questions about how to use the “Timetable” or would like to receive an example of it, just let me know. As always, your calls and e-mails are most welcome.

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