Mar 10, 2011
This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.

My name is Chris Schoettelkotte and I am the Founder and President of Manhattan Resources, an executive search firm that specializes in the energy trading, oil and gas, and petrochemical industries.

I am an executive recruiter with more than a decade working in my niche. I firmly believe that search is for those with active, not lazy, brains. This business does not require an IQ of 140 – but it does require the ability to quickly assimilate lots of data – verbal, written, and visual in nature.

I haven’t achieved all I have to this point without having an established core business foundation. These are things to which I can attribute much of the success I have seen over the last ten years and which I know will guide me through the next ten and beyond. My hope is that by sharing the following five foundational components of a recruiting business, you will have the tools to use to achieve further success in your own business as well. 

Commitment and Continual Learning

Our chosen profession is just that – a “Profession.” It requires the highest degree of commitment and integrity and, like a lawyer, accountant, or doctor, being the best requires ongoing continuing education. To own your niche and be viewed as a true expert, you must continue to develop your knowledge base. Showing up is not enough. You must commit yourself to mastering your niche and learning both your trade and your industry.

Some of you are likely functional experts in your area of search – for example, an accountant turned accounting recruiter – while others may have specific industry experience simply through years of recruiting within that industry. Regardless of which of these applies to you it is imperative that you continue to educate yourself in any way possible to further your understanding and expertise in your niche.


Ethics is a very, very important cornerstone to my business foundation. First and foremost, it is important to do what you say you are going to do. Do the work – do all of it and do not cut corners. Secondly, there is a high road and a low road to every decision, and there is only one real option each and every time. There are no barriers to entry in our business; any “yahoo” with a phone and the nerve to claim to be a recruiter can do so. This simple and important fact is to never lose your way ethically. Have you ever seen someone cut corners by not conducting a proper interview, checking references, misrepresent the position’s scope, or the experience of a candidate? Maybe you have seen others recruit from clients, send resumes to clients without candidate consent, or conduct themselves in any way that brings shame upon themselves or this profession. They are in fact the very reason the rest of us are forced to work so much harder to prove ourselves. Renowned financial expert Henry Kravis said, “You can have all the money in the world, but if you are not a moral and ethical person, you really have nothing.” In the end, what goes around truly comes back around – usually multiplied.

Being a Trusted Advisor

You should strive to become your client’s “Trusted Advisor.” A Trusted Advisor acts as the confidant and the “go to market expert” for the hiring authority. A Trusted Advisor has moved the relationship from a transactional vendor to one that is consultative in nature. In order to become your hiring authority’s Trusted Advisor you need to be an expert in your niche, including knowing market trends and having a strong understanding of where the opportunities within your niche are originating. For instance, it is important to know if your client has structured a particular process or department differently than their competitors and why they chose to do so. That fact alone may make it easier or harder to recruit for that specific group. More important than having the market and industry knowledge is having a genuine interest in the success of your client and, more specifically, your hiring manager. If the hiring authority knows you are invested in their success, you have begun to move in the right direction.

A Properly Balanced Desk

I’m not talking about making sure your office desk doesn’t have a wobbly leg. I’m talking about balancing business development and recruiting activities. Keep in mind: a balanced desk does not necessarily mean that both sides are equal. Some people focus on business development while some focus on recruiting for positions others bring into the firm. Let me say that in order to be a “Big Biller” you need to be able to work a complete desk. If you only recruit on another recruiter’s searches and only get paid when you fill the job, it will be very difficult to achieve “Big Biller” type numbers. The odds are in your favor that if you bring in quality searches you get paid EVERY TIME one of your searches is filled regardless of who fills it.

On the recruiting side, most recruiters skip doing research and go straight to their database, Google, or LinkedIn. Those are all good tools but if you build a comprehensive target list and systematically approach the search, you will stay focused as opposed to just jumping from sourcing idea to sourcing idea. Too many recruiters do what I call “working shallow.” They do not fully understand the position so they work with keywords hoping that is enough. Since they do not fully cover a position, they submit one or two candidates for a given position and move to the next search. The problem with this approach is that while they work diligently they fail to completely cover the search and end up coming in second. Remember, you are not paid for effort – you are paid for placements.

On the marketing side, when recruiters pick up the phone and call prospective clients, they must have a solid understanding of the prospects’ business and industry or they risk positioning themselves poorly in the eyes of the client. Again, the research step is often skipped, potentially resulting in a bad first impression with the hiring authority. In addition to doing thorough research, recruiters should schedule a face-to-face meeting with the prospective client whenever possible. Often recruiters who lack confidence in their knowledge of their niche avoid too much client interaction so they are not found out.

In order to achieve “Big Biller” type numbers, you must embrace the need for preparation and continued learning. The failure to plan how to approach a search, the failure to plan out the day’s activities, and the failure to commit to continual education within one’s niche are the primary weaknesses of most recruiters.

Search Continuum (Macro View)

Contingent Fee > Engagement Fee > Retained Fee

Having a macro view of your business is all about ratios, and as you move to the right on the above continuum your fill ratios will improve dramatically, as will the use of your time. In this case, it is not time on the phone, the number of hours you work, or the number of calls you make. Rather, it is managing your time by carefully choosing whom you work with, how you choose to work with them, the search model you use, and your process of conducting a search.

Recruiters often write many searches and seem excited by the sheer volume they write. Many even comment that there are recruiters on their teams that work to cover them.

Here is where the system usually breaks down. When looking at those searches and talking with some recruiters, I hear fill ratio numbers ranging from 1: 4 to my personal favorite –  5:74. My personal close ratio is now better than 4:5.  Let me share with you how I have moved the needle so dramatically.

I require my clients to pay up-front money because it forces them to decide how serious they are about writing the search. When they choose to engage me on the search, they participate more actively in the search process.

Whether the up-front fee for your services is a $500 Starbucks card or $25,000, obtaining a payment in any sufficient amount indicates a few important things have occurred in the client’s process. In this case it means that the search is real and that the headcount is approved. It also means the person authorizing the payment has the authority to conduct the search. There is a certain amount of accountability tied to spending company funds and getting value for those funds. It is my experience that when there is an up-front payment, my calls are returned timely, I get more specific and complete feedback, and the search is not given to another firm.

While I’ve made plenty of placements working straight contingency, when I looked at my ratios I concluded it made little sense to work with the contingent model. Think about it, do your clients run their businesses using a contingent model?

In closing, to become a “Big Biller” you should focus on committing yourself to the business and never veer away from your ethical standards. Always stay in learning mode and continue to educate yourself on your industry niche. Work to become a trusted advisor to your clients and candidates. Balance your day and your business and make sure you work a complete desk. Finally, maintain and build your client list and remember to protect your time by asking your clients to invest their money and time in each search. Stick to these five core foundational principles and you will find all the success you can imagine in your business.

This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.
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