Being a Great Storyteller: An Inside Look at Real Deals

The best industry trainers, managers, and search consultants are great storytellers. They have an uncommon ability to convey their own experiences in a vivid, engaging style. In the process, they captivate imaginations and transfer their wisdom. Their stories are timeless and their messages are memorable.

In January this year I heard a non-industry speaker whose story was so powerful that it changed my perspective on working through the current business climate. The speaker was a POW during the Vietnam War who shared his story about being locked in a ten by three-foot cell for nearly seven years. That’s 2,555 days — over twice as long as today’s jobs recession.

The power of his story was in his personal growth during that time — how he learned from his surroundings, communicated with others, kept a positive mental attitude and trained his mind to overcome all odds. (All reasons why a military background can be a great training ground for search.) His experience certainly puts recent business challenges in perspective. One of this speaker’s main messages was describing how it could be “darkest before dawn.”

To many in search, that time felt like this past April in the midst of the Iraq war which coincided with primetime hiring season. Decision-making seemed to stop then and to extend this long-lasting, stagnant job market. The good news going forward: Many are now beginning to report a noticeable up-tick in new search assignments across a range of disciplines and geographies.

Perhaps, pent-up demand? Or, perhaps, the light at the end of this “jobless recovery” may be finally in view. The recent rise in equity markets signals increasing company profits, which will lead to new job creation. Challenging times builds character, they say. With all of our new found character [read: reduced earnings], what can we do now to capitalize on what we’ve learned over the last few years? Let’s look to leverage our experience to share our stories — about how we made it.

How did you do it? What worked for you and why? Think back about the process, techniques and results of your placements since 2001. The storytelling gems and valuable techniques are in there. Are you ready to put to use your well-earned knowledge — your success stories — for the coming jobs resurgence?

Great Storytelling

We all have great stories to tell. Life stories. Uplifting stories. Funny stories. Tragic stories. War stories. “The First Time I Ever…” stories. Success stories. We “own” our stories. They come from our individual life and business experiences. They make us unique. Like telling a joke, a great story can make us memorable.

Whether we’re working a desk, managing staff, or managing an office, we all have stories to use to our advantage. If we can catalog our stories, mentally or in writing, and recall them for the right situations at the right time, they can be valuable tools to connect with people. Stories can help us engage new clients, win new business and recruit top candidates. Storytelling can even help us make placements, train others and build businesses.

One of the secrets of great storytelling is to use descriptive, imaging words to “bring to life” and “paint the picture” in the listener’s mind. Of course, an engaging delivery is key as well.

Finding Your Stories

In my training, many have asked where my placement techniques come from. My best estimate is about 75% I learned from others and about 25% I’ve innovated on the job. Many know first-hand that “experience is the master teacher.”

There’s an old Chinese proverb you may have heard: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Translation: “Do it and you will learn it.”Inspiration and ideas are all around us. You, too, can be an innovator of new search methods, if you experiment with new ways and see what works. The key here is to be perceptive about the world around you.

Our best placement techniques come from our own experiences — the stories about deals done. Think about what’s worked for you and why.

Look around your office. Studies have shown that the look and feel of your office can affect mood and performance. Do you like your surroundings? What would you change, if you could? My office is light blue, my favorite color, a soothing tone to calm my type A personality.

To my left, a map of the U.S. (my firm’s territory) and a framed owl I painted twenty years ago (my creative inspiration). To my right, a wall calendar reading this month’s saying, “Optimism: A bright outlook transforms potential into reality.”

Each resume on my desk conveys the story of a candidate’s life’s work.In each resume there’s valuable information — terms and descriptive language — about job responsibilities and competitor firms: Companies to approach for new business. Think about it. Resumes reflect candidates vacating positions — potential leads to win new business. In the “Personal” section at the bottom of many resumes, clues to connect with candidates via our stories.

My sendout sheet, hung right in front my eyes, is packed with “deal stories.”

  • What did I do to get each search assignment? Why was it a quality one?
  • How did I negotiate the fee? What were the terms? Could I have done better?
  • Where did I find the candidate? Why was this person placeable?
  • What were the challenging points I had to overcome?
  • What were the key elements on both sides that made the deal go?
  • How much time did it take? My firm’s ROI? What was the fee earned?
  • What did I learn that I could incorporate into future deals?

In the left drawer of my desk are invoices and copies of checks. Big checks. The end result of successful deals my business success stories.

Strategy First

Before any execution, a clear strategy must be in place. As Sun-Tzu’s Art of War states for all times, “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.” Pre 9/11, my firm had specialized primarily in the financial industry in the greater New York metro area. With the national tragedy shutting down stock exchanges (and the Twin Towers smoke seen from my office), I sensed I needed to shift my firm’s strategy quickly. And then execute.We all know how a strategy of diversification works to minimize risk. In the last few years, if you had been fortunate to already have specialized in select “hot pockets” (e.g., the mortgage industry or areas in healthcare or insurance), great for you.

My firm was not as fortunate, though followed this path: A strategy of diversification and flexibility together with a hard, smart work ethic meant thrival (thriving survival). In an uncertain Wall Street job market, I knew my firm needed to go where the demand was both geographically and in higher demand niches. Within weeks after 9/11, we went from a regional market to a national one. The strategy included “moving up” by only seeking out and placing $100K+ assignments and moving toward retained search. Going forward, 25% would be the floor for all acceptable fees. It was the classic “national reach at a higher level” strategy. We also moved into related high demand niches and other industries. And we started new business lines associated with search where we could leverage our contacts, knowledge and experience.

Deal Stories

Below I share five placement stories post September 2001. I chose these for their diverse appeal, illustrative messages and lessons learned. If you have similar stories, hopefully seeing them in writing will “drive home” your thinking of “I did that. I can do it again.”You’ll see I don’t name clients or candidates for confidentiality reasons, though do share details of strategy, execution, technique and results. For reasons of space here, I highlight key points and don’t write complete details. For those book publishers reading, perhaps a future book will describe all!

Deal #1 — Internet Tools: Finding & Placing Top Tier Candidates

An old-time contact from grad school, Paul, calls me. With an MBA, fluent in Spanish, and about 15 years’ experience, he’s looking for a job. So as we’re speaking, I’m consulting him on job search strategies and whether he already did an Internet search. He says no he doesn’t have the time and he doesn’t know how to reach the right people effectively. In the end, my firm didn’t place Paul primarily because his experience was Internet related post the dot-com crash. But the conversation sparked an idea.

Storyline #1:

Instead, we would start tapping into online candidate databases (e.g., Hotjobs and Careerbuilder) to look for the diamonds in the rough those candidates with unique skill set combinations, who needed professional assistance with their job search. (At the time we rarely placed Internet job postings but did subscribe to candidate databases, primarily for networking and sourcing candidates.) After identifying unique candidates and qualifying them for limited activity, we would go back into web based engines to locate job opportunities and market them to prospective new clients.

Plot #1: Into the candidate database search engines went parameters: [MBA] [spanish language] [finance] [new york or new jersey]. Among those returned was Rodrigo and his profile. Picture perfect. Tremendous background, credentials, track record and salary for his eleven years experience. He was from Brazil, earned his MBA from Thunderbird and was a CPA. Earning $90K plus a 10% bonus. Currently Finance Manager with the Latin American food division of a Fortune 500 firm in the New York area. Prior experience included six years with the “Big 4” accounting firm, KPMG Peat Marwick.

I thought, the right hiring managers would drool over his background. In speaking with Rodrigo, he was what us search consultants look for in candidates: Highly motivated because his division was reorganizing, just beginning his search, didn’t have the time or real know-how to conduct an effective job search and was open to all geographies/opportunities. A great plus was his language skills: He would be able to conduct interviews in his native tongue, demonstrating a choice skill while bonding with the hiring manager. The one catch he was on a temporary work visa. We could cross that big bridge, I thought.So into the Internet search engines we went — this time as Rodrigo’s “virtual career agent.”

Inputted were the same search parameters sans location since he was open geographically: [MBA] [spanish] [finance manager or director or vice president]. Out came over 25+ open positions nationwide at the Finance Manager level and higher.For best fit, we focused on openings with international divisions of Fortune 500 firms. We then began sourcing hiring manager names with a goal to get him interviews. Presenting him to five companies with open positions resulted in three interviews, two in the local NY area and one in Chicago.

One company, a NJ based division of global publishing/education company, had what seemed to be an excellent fit. However, it took 10+ sourcing calls to get the right hiring manager’s name. The company’s byzantine structure turned out to foster a dysfunctional relationship between HR and hiring managers. One “inefficiency” which worked to our advantage.

Once we did reach the hiring manager, he was very easy to talk with probably because no others had gotten through and called him on this opening. The hiring manager (very nice guy, easy to work with) had what he said were “hundreds of resumes” and hadn’t started the process, but wanted to hire the right person quickly because of business needs. HR was just pushing paper on him another “inefficiency.”

At the same time, he told me that the position would pay approximately $100K plus a 25% target bonus. A nice increase for Rodrigo, I thought. His company’s fee structure was set at 25% of base.

Climax #1: The hiring manager didn’t have to look through his stack of resumes for his choice candidate. Rodrigo interviewed and won the job. HR didn’t rear its head until about halfway through the process to assist with final interview coordination and the offer letter. As well, Rodrigo’s work visa was handled by HR and through corporate offices in London. (An issue HR preferred not to deal with, I’m sure.) However, the hiring manager wanted Rodrigo. Deal done.

“The End” #1: 25% of $100K base salary = $25K fee. Hours taken: Approx 30 total.

Morals of the Story #1:

1) Leverage the Internet to find both candidates and clients.

2) When sourcing names (hiring managers or candidates) be persistent until your goal is achieved. The harder it is for you, the harder it is for your competition. Others will drop out.

3) Prior experience is not required to market in other niches and industries.

Deal #2 — Old Clients, New Deals

One of my firm’s strategies for today’s market, as I’m sure is for many, is to reconnect with past clients. As it happens, the following story was with my first client. Thinking back I remember all the details of my first placement in vivid detail. The candidate’s name, the position, the offered salary, the fee, the challenge of doing the deal. Shelly was placed as a Senior Financial Analyst. The fee was $12K (20% of $60K). Do you remember your first placement?

Storyline #2:

One of my firm’s researchers spotted an open senior level position on our old client’s website for Managing Senior Financial Analyst/Actuary. The client was in the insurance industry, related to our specialization, but we had never placed actuaries before. I knew they could be as tough to find and place as auditors. In this market, we went for it.

Plot #2:

I called into my client and asked for my original HR contact. The cardinal sin on the first call, I know calling HR and, on top of it, a long shot that she’d still be with company. But I figured I’d try this approach first with the person I had done many placements with years ago. Believe it or not she was still with the company, though in a different HR role. We chatted and caught up. I told her the reason for my call: Our firm now worked on senior level positions and we saw an opening for Managing Senior Financial/Actuary on the company’s website. Not a problem, she’d be happy to provide an introduction to the current HR Recruiting Manager.

So, I figure I’m in, right? Wrong.

The new HR Recruiting Manager gives me the third degree. She asks about my experience within the insurance industry and placing actuaries. Specifically, none I told her, but I told her about the past placements completed, our current clients and searches and my history with the company. And about who else I knew at the company that softened her up. I asked about details of the position. She wanted to meet me first. Now, normally I wouldn’t budge without a firmer commitment, but I sensed an opportunity to reestablish myself with a very good, past client. So, we made the appointment and in I go.I get to the firm, sit down at her “interview desk” and she promptly pulls out my original marketing letter from over 12 years ago. Faded, old stationary. I couldn’t believe it. She then tells me about the history of the actuarial search. Open for six months, met seven candidates, one offer turned down. All red flags.

“What was the primary challenge?” I asked. The hiring executive wanted specific credentials, passing X, Y, Z actuarial exams, not too strong, not too light with great track record from a top company all offering a maximum of $120K base, minimal bonus with limited benefits. And, guess what? She said the fee was 20% of the base.So, in my most politically correct style (not easy for me), I stood up, thanked her for the opportunity. I enjoyed meeting her. She said, “Wait a minute.” What would it take for my firm to work the search? I explained our firm’s search process. It would take a retainer in addition to a fee of 30% of the total compensation. She said to wait in her office while she went to bring in the HR SVP.

In came the head honcho who explained that she couldn’t offer a retainer but would increase the fee to 25% of base, contrary to the firm’s long standing policy (which was true, I knew). Now, I could have said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Though, there were other issues at stake, like reestablishing myself with a past, lucrative client at a time when we were looking for more search assignments. I said that if my firm had an exclusive, we’d do the search. Before I left that day, I received a detailed search assignment and two more job orders. I also received the names of companies to target and candidates to stay away from. (Driving back to the office, I thought better not to receive a retainer on this one. We had the option to drop what seemed to be a very tough and potentially time-burning assignment.) Now we had to execute. We’d blanket the industry in sourcing and recruiting candidates. Start with the NY-NJ metro market first, then regional, then national. I put my best researcher/recruiter on it.

Thirty-five names and eight business days later, she sourced Tom’s name from an in-state insurance firm. He seemed to have the right credentials and experience a small miracle onto itself. I spoke with Tom first and handled this one with kid gloves.I pursued this candidate as if he were a potential client. An initial brief phone conversation, then a follow up phone appointment. My card in the mail. A week later we spoke in the evening. It was very hands-on. Confidential. Consultative. Getting to know him, his personal background, his career ambitions, his hot buttons. Recording and registering all as we went along. Would you believe, he happened to live just twenty-five minutes from my client? I didn’t mention my client or the opportunity until our third conversation, two weeks after initial contact. (In the meantime, we hadn’t sourced any other candidates that came close to Tom.)

Getting to know Tom up-front without throwing an opportunity at him gave me valuable insight into what might motivate him to make a move. By the time I presented the opportunity to him, I knew what made him tick and could tailor it for him. (Being a family man, lifestyle was a big issue for him.) He knew my client and thought well of them. I consulted him about his career track, what this move would mean for him, his family and his career. He didn’t have a resume. So we put one together — he and I — and I customized it for the position. I paid careful attention to coaching him every step of the way — from first interview to closing. I made sure Tom was always well prepared throughout the process.

Climax #2:

In Tom went. He performed marvelously on the first interview. The next day my client checked him out. Stellar references. They wanted to jump at him — literally make him an offer by the end of the week. I coached my client, pulling them back, advising that if we ran after him, he’d pull back. He wasn’t yet mentally ready. “Let’s let him feel as if he’s competing for the position and come to the decision that he wants it,” I said. Two weeks later we arranged a second interview lunch with the hiring executive.

And then, we waited another week. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” My closing phone call with Tom was about eight weeks from my first contact. I asked Tom, “On a scale from one to ten, how interested are you?” “9,” he said.

“So,” I said, “If the client asks, that’s what I’ll convey.”

“Better make it a “9.5,” he said.

I said, “Tom, I know you’re earning $105K base salary now. As discussed, this position will probably go to $115K max. If I go to bat for you, I may be able to get you $120K. I think there’s a 50/50 chance I can do it. If I can, do I have your commitment you’ll accept the offer?”

The sweetest word came from his mouth, “Yes.” Before we hung up, I covered every single counter-offer issue I knew. Deal done.

“The End” #2:

25% of $120K base salary = $30K fee. Hours taken: Approx 50 total (client visit, staff research and recruiting.)

Morals of the Story #2:

1) Rekindling old relationships leads to new money.

2) Go where others dare not. Take on search assignments that may appear out of your “comfort zone” at first glance.

3) After describing your search process, negotiate for a retainer first, exclusivity second, then higher fees as a “last option.” Even in slower markets — walk away to gain posture.

Deal #3 — Split Deals by Leveraging Networks

Part of an overall strategy for many today is to join recruiter networks. The Internet’s information-sharing technologies and borderless appeal have enabled trading partners to leverage their relationships far and wide. Top of mind for many is doing split deals. As mentioned prior, part of my thinking was to go national and work at higher levels. No better way than to tap into a national, specialty network.

Storyline #3:

So my firm joined a national network in one of our specializations, financial services and banking. There I met seasoned search consultants with established relationships, track records and the know-how to execute. Previously, we had focused more on filling lending positions in banking, but were looking to move into the investment industry. With the stock markets tanking, my thinking was confirmed by what was heard on the street individuals were looking for financial advisors, not stockbrokers, to manage their money. So, we went where the smart, established money was. Private banking and trust catered to high net worth individuals.

Plot #3:

I set my firm’s sights on developing new clients where the wealth was — far from the New York metro area where anxiety from 9/11 was still running high. The sun states of Florida and California were choice markets for wealthy baby boomers.

Using the national network as our launching pad, we started recruiting for another member’s retained assignment for Private Banking Director in the San Francisco Bay Area. We recruited three top candidates from area competitor banks who had interviews arranged through my network colleague only to find in the end that the client pulled the plug on the search. Lesson learned but all was not lost. We established valuable relationships that began to germinate.

Two of the hiring managers we networked with, who worked for leading trust firms, mentioned if we ever “came across” a top Business Development Officer in the Bay Area with X, Y, Z background from A or B firms, please be in touch. So, I tapped into the national network.A network affiliate from California who specialized in investment/money management/trust began referring excellent candidates. (Thanks, Phil!) At about the sixth or seventh referral we hit paydirt and I knew it. The candidate, Chris, came from a well-known direct competitor and was at the right level, the right price — and after interviewing him — the right motivation. Chris was interested in just two firms in the Bay Area, both of the firms who wanted to meet Senior Business Development Officers.

Before referring Chris, the fee needed to be negotiated. If you’ve ever placed salespeople, then you know negotiating fees for business development types is always tricky. In my opinion, the fee should never be based on salary alone. For example, a $60K base salesperson with target incentives to double the base is worth a fee off of $120K. Why? Because we are bringing a $120K candidate to our client, not a $60K one. In negotiating fees for salespeople, try one (or a combination) of the following options:

  • An agreed upon, fixed fee up-front based on total comp.
  • The candidate’s prior year W-2.
  • Fixed fee plus “X” percent of residual earnings over “Y” time period.
  • The candidate’s total 1st year guaranteed compensation, including all bonuses and incentives.

Knowing how this industry compensates (and guarantees big bonuses to first year employees) in went my fee contract at 25% of the 1st year total compensation. And in went Chris to my two potential clients, his firm’s two main competitors. The beauty here was he would go to either, though preferred “U” over “N.”

Climax #3:

As expected, Chris performed extremely well with both firms as I coached him through the process for each. First he was offered a $180K total package with “N,” his second choice. When “U” found out about “N’s” offer, he was offered $190K total package with his first choice “U.” Deal done.

“The End” #3:

25% of $190K package ($100K base + $90K 1st year guaranteed bonuses) = $47,500 fee. Hours taken: Approx 40 total. (Fee was split with percentage to the network. Two new clients established.)

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Morals of the Story #3:

1) Recruiter networks yield split deals. Be as selective in choosing trading partners as you are with potential clients.

2) Be creative with your fee options. Increase your fee by basing on total compensation, rather than simply base salary.

3) Exclusivity yields placements. If clients don’t offer exclusivity, get exclusives with top tier candidates.

Deal #4 — Finding Client & Candidate Exclusivity

Today, many continue to seek out new clients through volume cold calling. At the same time, many opt to find candidates on the Internet by casting out a big net — either through job postings or accessing public candidate databases. Both methods still work, though are less efficient today (due to lack of candidate and/or client “control”) than a customized, consultative approach.In this story, the reverse was true: We found our new client through a company’s online job posting.

And our candidate was recruited “the old-fashioned way”…through researching, sourcing and networking calls. Many know that this is the preferred process to take today. The key is to screen rigorously up-front before taking significant action. This is a first step toward gaining exclusivity.

  • To find new clients leads on the Internet, we need to be able to read into job postings that are flawed.
  • To recruit highly placeable candidates, we need to find and motivate those who are qualified and not actively looking, i.e., “Real Recruiting.”

Storyline #4:

Part of our strategy was to leverage our financial services contacts to include the more “recession proof” insurance industry. Since we specialized in finance at higher levels in the NY area, we began with a straightforward Google search to identify new client leads, plugging in parameters: [insurance] [finance vice president] [jobs] [new york]. We were enlightened. Out came a list of job postings and links to corporate websites. In there were a few golden nuggets.

Plot #4:

One of the links in our simple Google search led to an open position for Senior Director of Finance reporting to the Corporate Controller of a large, name insurance company. Since the position was on the company’s website, it read like a job description rather than a job posting complete with detailed responsibilities, reporting structure, grade level and compensation range.

The beautiful thing here (as is the case for many looking to cross over to related niche areas) was we didn’t need to be insurance industry experts. The language in the job description would help us become “temporary experts” in approaching and marketing to the new client.

In addition, the flaw (i.e., one of the inefficiencies to capitalize on) was that the position was located in New York but reported to the senior manager in Chicago. This would turn out to be key in positioning ourselves as being in the right geography and having the right contacts to recruit the right candidate (in the eyes of the powers-that-be in Chicago.)

Our precision marketing yielded an “A” search assignment. Our process was the following:

  1. Print out the open, web-based job description. Highlight buzzwords and technical phrases.
  2. Visit the company’s website to gain understanding of lines of business, products and markets served.
  3. Source the name of the hiring manager. Write name and direct phone # on job description print out.
  4. Make the customized, consultative marketing call using technical language.

We learned no other search firm had called the Corporate Controller about this NY based position (which had been posted for about a week). He had received “lots” of resumes from his HR liaison but none from the firms he was interested in. I then asked the standard line: “Where would he like to meet candidates from?” And he told me the top five competitor firm’s where we should look. The fee was a corporate standard 25% of base salary.

For this $110K+ position with our first-out-of-the-gate advantage, this was acceptable.I put my best recruiter on it. She sourced candidate names from the five competitor companies cold having no prior contacts. The key here was her ability to use the language of the job description to pinpoint responsibilities at the right level.The choice candidate, John, was found through a networking call from a referral from a senior manager who recently started a new position and who had managed him prior. In the networking call, I asked my recruiter what she had done to find John. She simply read back the job description to cold contacts and followed up with a personalized email, which included the job details.

Targeted advertising. In the recruit call, she had referral power (the assumption by the candidate that we knew the senior manager) plus inside knowledge that our candidate may move for the right opportunity prior to contacting him.John was the ideal candidate with all the trimmings. A diversity candidate with an outstanding track record, MBA and CPA, under-priced at $95K base with excellent presentation and communication skills. I worked with him to customize his resume for this opportunity, specifically in the summary at top. I met with John twice once before the interview process and once before an offer was extended.

Throughout the interview process, John was on clear sailing to be the choice candidate. All along I’m monitoring and coaching both client and candidate. In John’s full day third interview in Chicago, both sides showed buying signals. After what was to be the final interview, there was an unexpected delay in receiving feedback from the client. Big red flag. It turned out that a reorg had been sent down by the CEO. All was on hold indefinitely.So, what did I do for the first time ever? I sent the Corporate Controller an invoice for my firm’s time. 28 hours @ $150 per hour for $4,200. The balance due would be deducted from the full fee when the candidate was placed. On the invoice the “Status” was “Position on hold” and we clearly defined the time frame and services we performed from “Sourcing, Recruiting, Interviewing to Compensation Discussions.”

Climax #4:

The invoice we sent wasn’t paid, but it did trigger the Corporate Controller to discuss with Human Resources (who was now in the loop) to create another direction. About two weeks later I received a call from HR about how they didn’t anticipate the turn of events. However, a new position in NY was opening up and my candidate (who was now sold on the company) just happened to have the ideal background. After understanding the new role, the new players and what career path this would take him, John agreed this was a better opportunity all around for his career goals. The process from here was very fast. It took one interview and three weeks to receive an offer. Deal done.

“The End” #4: 25% of $115K base salary = $28,750 fee. Hours taken: Approx 45 total (including staff research, recruiting, my lunch meetings.)

Morals of the Story #4:

1) Precision market new clients from Internet based leads. Look for “flaws” (i.e. inefficiencies) where you can solve hiring managers’ problems.

2) “Real Recruiting” leads to candidate exclusivity.

3) “Alternative” billing options may yield unexpected dollars (and maybe some respect for your performance and time.)

Deal #5 — Hang Tough: Persistence Pays

Storyboard #5:

This final story is a great example of the challenge and reward of making it through times like today. Seasoned search consultants know that the Holy Grail of our business — the goal most strive for — is to build relationships with both clients and candidates that stand the test of time. These are the ones in which people confide in us and call us first to ask our advice. Built on mutual trust and respect, these relationships transcend company ties. One of the signs you know you have the “right relationship” is when a candidate you placed calls with a search assignment and becomes your client.As the global bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, uses as its tagline: “The right relationship is everything.”

Storyline #5:

This is the classic “marketing an MPC” story with a long twist. In mid 2001, my firm began working on a VP Relationship Manager assignment for a private bank in Philadelphia. In the process, we got to know the market very well and recruited a few choice candidates for our client. One of the candidates, Ed, was different from other Private Bankers in three ways:

  1. He was relatively junior (8 yrs exp) for his position compared to others. As a result, he was about $15K underpaid and he knew it.
  2. He looked to me as an expert in my field — for career advice and counsel.
  3. From his profession, he understood the value of confidentiality in a job search.

Plot #5:

Ed committed in writing — in an email he sent me two weeks after our initial conversation — that he would work with our firm as his “sole agent.” We, in turn, agreed to introduce him to his choice companies (with the caveat that he would stay within private banking in Philadelphia.) The reason Ed was seeking a career move was more than the money (though, more always helps especially with a growing family).

His firm was restructuring, so job security was a big issue for him. With a new boss, his current employer was flattening. He would have limited growth potential and he knew it.What was terrific about working with Ed was our open communication. No second-guessing or mind games. From the start, we clearly defined the companies and positions he was interested in. He was selective yet flexible. His top choices were two big, local banks (he worked for one). We also discussed a set of second tier choices he was open to.

We put together a marketing plan and spoke about expectations and timing. Given the soft job market, this was going take time, perhaps six months or more. Patience, perseverance and us working closely together would win in the end. Within four weeks, we had arranged interviews at Ed’s top two choice banks. It was fairly easy to market him to senior management. He had an excellent track record and a portable book of clients from a major competitor in town.One of Ed’s choice interviews was scheduled for September 14, 2001.

I remember speaking with him on September 12. It was the first and only time I can remember when I cancelled an interview without speaking with the hiring manager first (who was in Boston and couldn’t get back until the following Monday.)

We all know how 9/11 changed everything and slowed down decision-making. People and corporate value systems were realigned. Financial services firms in the Northeast and around the country put the brakes on hiring. One of the few positives I remember was how that time brought people together which, in the end, assisted in developing closer, more meaningful relationships.Ed’s patience and perseverance were to be taken to the limit. His first interview was rescheduled for two weeks later, even though the hiring manager knew everything was, as he called it, “fluid.”

Though, the act of him rescheduling the meeting told me that this was a client in the making. Steve, the Group SVP and hiring manager, had respect for people. He was very responsive and his word was his bond. I like that in a client. We could work with him, I thought, no matter how long it would take.The short version from here follows.

Over the course of the next 12 months, I arranged four meetings (including two lunches) for Ed and Steve. I even had the opportunity to meet Ed while training at an event in Philadelphia. I tried to meet Steve as well, but his schedule didn’t work on that date.

Throughout, I continually coached both — communicating expectations and timing. Ed came back from his last lunch meeting and couldn’t believe Steve didn’t make him an offer on the spot. A solid relationship would eventually turn to a placement when the timing was right, I thought. 14 months after the initial referral, Steve called me. A position in his group opened up due to an internal transfer. He wanted Ed.

Climax #5:

Done deal, right? Not so fast. HR came into the picture and had to “follow protocol” by posting the position internally and seeing other candidates. Although HR went through the motions, Ed and Steve’s relationship was too strong by this time. Steve wanted Ed and Ed wanted Steve. To make the numbers work, Steve guaranteed Ed’s bonus for six months.I didn’t discuss fee formally until the end of the process. (Though, I did mention our fee at the end of an email to Steve, when referring Ed originally, to insure I had it in writing.) Sacrilege in our business, I know.

However, my new client was a major bank and I knew a standard fee of 25% would probably apply. It’s uncommon that I do this and prefer to have a fee contract in place up-front. Though, in marketing Ed to hiring managers, if they didn’t ask, I didn’t tell. If I did bring up the fee subject up-front, this probably would have triggered a referral to HR in the beginning of the process. I didn’t want that.In this case, the fee was discussed at the end of the process — which gave us the upper hand in negotiating. HR asked us what our fee was and then timidly mentioned the company’s “standard fee” was 25%. I didn’t want to make waves, since I had put in months of time developing a new client. I ended up agreeing to 25% of the total 1st year compensation base plus guaranteed bonuses. We earned it on this one. 16 months later from date of original referral the deal was done. I congratulated Ed on breaking our firm’s record in terms of time taken. Deal done.

“The End” #5:

25% of $95K package ($85K base salary + 10K guaranteed bonuses) = $23,750 fee. Hours taken: Lost count (probably about 70 to 80 total).

Morals of the Story #5:

1) If all signs align up-front, patience and perseverance can make the difference in “the right timing” to pull a deal together.

2) Ongoing, proactive, open communication builds trust and respect with both client and candidate. Once established, they have no need to “go anywhere else.”

3) If HR must be in the process, consider bringing in toward the middle to end (if possible) — when you have greater fee negotiation leverage in representing the choice candidate.

Summary of the Stories

I hope my “deal stories” have an impact on how you think about your business going forward. Put to use some of the stories’ strategies, techniques and “morals” and see what happens. In summary, what do these five deals have in common?

  1. The foundation of our business is built on relationships with people. Earn trust through open communication. Earn confidence through pro-action. Strive for exclusivity.
  2. Be creative. Be bold. Ask the tough questions. Test people. Take calculated risks in the process. You’ll be surprised what works to your best advantage. If your gut says “do it,” then do it.
  3. Expect the unexpected. No two deals are the same. Be patient and persevere in times of adversity. If what we do was so easy, it wouldn’t be as rewarding — personally and financially.
  4. Describe your process and share your success stories. Work with hiring managers who are decision-makers, who respect your counsel and who understand how you add value.
  5. Top tier candidates, who are motivated and well-coached, win the top jobs in any market.

In closing, I challenge you to take ten minutes now. Think back about your best deal story since 2001. Put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write it out. No doubt, there’s wisdom in there.

I’d like to hear your best story. Email it to me at and I will respond with feedback. We are very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Tell your success stories to clients and candidates. And watch the response. The light at the end of the tunnel is near. Get ready for the best times ever!

Mike Ramer, CPC, CSP, is an international trainer for the search and recruitment industry. He is founder and president of Ramer Search Consultants in the New York metro area. Mike designed The Art of Search© training programs, which he presents at industry events, conferences, and recruiting firms worldwide. Mike's training has been hailed as "unlike any other," "national best of the best," and "Mike's passion, knowledge, and creativeness separate him from the rest." Each of his programs is customized for today's market to maximize your income. His training is interactive, motivational, and packed with innovative techniques you won't hear anywhere else. Mike is also an Executive Career Coach and Expert Witness for employment matters. He has been quoted and interviewed by national media, including The Wall Street Journal, Smart Money,,, and NPR. For more about Mike's training, please visit his firm's website at or email