You Can’t ‘Steal’ An Employee Who Doesn’t Want to Go

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Mar 23, 2015

Hello Jeff –

I enjoy reading your columns. I experienced an incident on which I’d value your opinion.

I submitted a candidate (blind profile) to the recruiting manager of an AmLaw100 firm. A few hours later, I get a phone call from her. She asks  me, “Are you working for us or against us? I know that you sent an email to one of our associates recently (trying to entice them away).”

Now I feel that she won’t consider my candidate, mostly out of spite. Here are the facts:

  1. The candidate’s firm does not provide a universal placement fee agreement. After you submit a blind profile, if they like the candidate, then they establish a fee agreement for just that particular person. Therefore, I was not bound by any “No Solicitation” agreement.
  2. I’ve submitted five candidates to this firm, none of whom have been hired. Therefore, even ignoring the absence of a No Solicitation agreement, there wasn’t any established goodwill with the firm that would have inclined me not to solicit any of their associates.
  3. I did make contact with one of their associates, but it was two weeks prior to this candidate submission, and the associate was not interested. No damages incurred by the firm.

My opinion: Shouldn’t the recruiting manager be looking at the bigger picture? I’m submitting a great candidate (she really is) who can solve a genuine need the manager has to fill an associate opening, and she seems more worried about an email which resulted in no harm. All recruiters act the same way I did. Unless you have an agreement prohibiting you from solicitation, or you placed a few people there and don’t feel right doing so, everyone calls everyone. It’s a numbers game. You have to call 100 people to get one resume. It’s not personal. I’m sure she’s using other recruiters besides me. Should I counter with, “Are you working with me, or my competition?”

Thank you.

Brent E. Akin
Murphy Edwards – Attorney Search


Hi Brent,

I’m really jazzed to receive this JOC inquiry!

Well-written, erudite, and dead center on every recruiter’s daily dilemma:

Client or source?

Marriage or divorce?

I got the answer wrong many times when I worked a desk. Then I dutifully helped recruiters get it wrong when I was an HR manager.

The only thing that’s changed is what I’m about to teach you. It looks like we’ll be going long – but LARGE — on this one. So read well, then dust off your deposit slips.

Let’s start by helping you with running the biz:

  1. Go to
  2. Click the Placement Manager’s Law Quiz button on the bottom row.
  3. Download and print the PMLQ.
  4. Take the PMLQ.
  5. Click the Placement Law Language Quiz button on the bottom row.
  6. Download and print the PLLQ.
  7. Take the PLLQ.
  8. Click the Answers to Placement Law Quizzes button on the bottom row.
  9. Correct your answers, and if necessary
  10. Click the flashing Jeff’s On Call! button on the website and email me any questions.

What I’m about to teach you has been zeta-tested by Search Research Institute over a period of 30 years. It works, works and works.

There are really two parts to your inquiry, Brent:

  1. Evaluating client potential and,
  2. Establishing the client relationship.

1. Evaluating Client Potential

Job orders are so important to most recruiters that turning them down is unthinkable.

Think again.

Working with marginal clients causes:

  • Depletion of precious placement time.
  • Diversion from serving high-potential clients.
  • Placement-blowing frustration and negativism.

If it’s not fun, just don’t do it. Stay loose. After all, that’s why you’re in the contingency-fee business. Fun and flexibility. Not foolish five-figure fee fumblin’.

Here’s a breakthrough. Our Client Classifier. Using it as a guide helps you objectively decide who to assist.



Gives exclusive searches.Has an excellent reputation.
Has realistic requirements.Refers other employers.
Has challenging jobs.Plans expansion.
Has hired many candidates from you.Has professional hiring authorities.
Pays full fees.Treats candidates properly.
Pays promptly.Values long-term association.


xpand services.
Cultivate contacts.Leave well enough alone.


Gives non-exclusive searches.Pays full fees.
Has realistic requirements.Pays promptly.
Has some challenging jobs.Has good reputation.
Has hired some candidates.Treats candidates properly.
Upgrade to “A”.
Serve as required.Keep an open mind.


Gives searches to all recruiters.Pays reduced fees.
Has difficult requirements.Pays slowly.
Has a few challenging jobs.Has an average reputation.
Has hired a few candidates.Treats candidates unpredictably.
Upgrade to “B”.Tolerate.


Runs ads simultaneously.Will not confirm fees.
Has impossible requirements.Has a poor reputation.
Has no challenging jobs.Treats candidates unprofessionally
Has not hired any candidates.

 Undoubtedly, you’re already classifying clients in your mind. You can add additional items in the characteristics list if you like. (For example: “Requires resumes first.”)

“A” clients are the key clients who provide you with substantial revenue, recommend you to others, and provide the potential for additional activities (retained search, outplacement, compensation advice, or whatever). They’re the ones you’re proud to represent.

“B”s are the fair to good clients. The ones that consistently pay enough to cover the overhead. They don’t haggle over fees or expect miracles.

“C”s are marginal, and often ask for fee reductions or operate on the edge of ethics.

“D” stands for only one thing — divorce.

Review and Classify

Recruiters who use our system review and classify clients every 90 days. At least 30 days must elapse after taking the first JO, to allow sufficient time for evaluation. In multi-desk offices, a staff meeting is held to obtain input from all recruiters so a consensus is reached as to “Grade” and “Action.” In some cases, switching account executives is all that’s needed for a second honeymoon. In others, it’s a matter of marriage counseling with the AE, the client, or both. Of course, in others it’s the “Big D.”

After the classification is over, a final ranking of the clients for the same 90-day period is presented.

It’s a grid called The Client Calibrator that looks like this, with as many ranks as you have clients to evaluate.


Rank                Name of Client         Percent Cash-In    Number Placed

1. ___             ____________              __%                     __

2. ___             ____________              __%                     __

3. ___             ____________              __%                      __

4. ___             ____________              __%                      __


Looking at the “Percent Cash-In and “Number Placed” columns gives a fairly accurate reading of how effort translates into results (money). Of course, if you’re talking about totally different search activities (say engineers and salespeople), the time required can vary. What’s important though, is that your staff can see where the profitable areas are.

If your organization places in various disciplines, you can easily develop a weighted number for the “Number Placed” column to equalize the time (assigning 1.5 to each engineering placement, 1 to each in sales, .8 to each administrative, and so on).

Time is truly money, and sometimes more of one results in less of the other. Invariably, this exercise demonstrates vividly that the “C” and “D” clients receive the most attention. You can see why. They’re the squeaky wheels.

 After several three month periods of classifying clients, you’ll notice that you (or your recruiters) start to think about long-term goals. This is the one caution sign missing for the rush-hour traffic that floods Placement Parkway.

The absence of long-term goals causes inconsistent production, panic over receivables, and low morale.


Now we’ll get on to the other part, Brent.

2. Establishing the Client Relationship

Irate employers have been trying to stop recruiters from searching ever since the first recruiter searched. Fear and anger are counterproductive recruiter responses.

Let’s script a reply. (No, it’s not, “You’re either a client or a source!”):

Our business provides a valuable service to our clients, as you undoubtedly know. We don’t get paid to search for those who are unemployed. So let’s get real.

Your premise that we’re stealing your people is based on two fallacies. First, no recruiter can ‘steal’ someone who doesn’t want to be ‘stolen.’ Second, they’re not ‘your people.’ They’re intelligent, career-minded, free agents who will make their minds up after careful reflection about their futures.

Perhaps you should be using your management time in positive ways to reduce employee turnover. This includes motivating and engendering loyalty in your employees. Erecting a very visible fence only makes the grass look greener on the other side.

The morale of employees suffers when they are shackled. That’s why the lowest amount of productivity exists in countries with the least personal freedom. In fact, the strictest employers make the best sources for us to recruit qualified candidates.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce surveys consistently reveal that employees want the following things from their employer (in order of importance):

1. Job security.6. Pleasant office surroundings and coworkers.
2. Competitive pay and benefits.7. Promotion and development potential within the company.
3 .Appreciation.8. Sympathetic understanding.
4. Inclusion in the decisions affecting their job.9. Loyalty.
5. Interesting work.10.Fair performance evaluations

We have an anonymous survey we can conduct for you at no charge, asking whether your employees think your supervisors:

1. Ignore their achievements.
2. Criticize them too often.
3. Fail to do their share of the work.
4. Review, give raises, and promote equally.
5. Discipline firmly, fairly and consistently.
6. Set a good example.
7. Assign, delegate and monitor work realistically.
8. Encourage them.
9. Support them.
10. Reward them.

Would you like us to administer the survey professionally for you? Again, at no charge. It would help you identify morale problems so you can address them. We’ll even suspend any recruiting for 90 days so you can work on correcting them.

What’s it worth to you for us to weed out your deadwood? Your malcontents?

We’re doing it at no charge, but we should be charging you a hefty outplacement fee!

Would you just prefer that we place a very specific internet job posting, classified ad, or how about if we rent a local billboard to recruit your people? These public ways of recruiting are perfectly legal and very effective. Or maybe we should just distribute flyers in local parking lots and restaurants.

Use all or whatever parts of this script you like, but use it well.

There you have it. Long and LARGE. Zeta-tested.

If another Fordycer would like the legal theories used in employee R-A-I-D! cases, click that flashing Jeff’s On Call! button at and fire when ready. We’ll hit it in an upcoming JOC.

This is how we professionalize search!

Thanks, Brent.


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