Don’t Become the Back-Up to the ‘Real Search’

While you’re working contingency,
I’m working engaged or retained…
With your client!

Something interesting happened a while ago. I received a call from a recruiter who was self-employed out in the Western region of the U.S. I looked her up (on LinkedIn) while we were speaking to one another and we had a friendly chat.

After an initial exchange of pleasantries she stated the purpose was to “…seek out help…” on some searches she’s having difficulty with.  She wanted to know if I’d consider a split.

It became evident that at least two of the three positions sounded very familiar. I mentioned the name of one specific company and she confirmed it was indeed that company.

I then asked about her fee, commission structure, rate etc. Turns out she was working as follows:

  • Contingency basis.
  • Email fee agreement only (no signed agreement).
  • Had one position open for three months and thought it was still a viable search.

I had to disappoint her. We had the same search as follows:

  • Engaged with a non-refundable cash upfront at a higher percentage fee (3 percentage points higher).
  • Signed fee agreement with only replacement as a guarantee.

The lesson I took away from this was this individual recruiter was being exploited for her free contingency recruiting services. Meanwhile, the company had paid us upfront for the “real search.”

Companies don’t always play games like this, but if you’re a recruiter who sounds amateurish when you call, are not firm on expressing the value you deliver and why your services cost “x,” most likely a good manager will sense he might be able to “have fun” with this person and use him/her for free window shopping.

Here’s someone who thought she had plain vanilla contingency searches, but she actually had much less than that. In fact we were in the pre-offer stages on the one situation discussed.

Had she not accidentally called — not contacted the one recruiter who knew that one of her positions was all but a done deal (me) — she could have spent another month futilely hunting more white tiger prospects for a position that would have been obsolete.

Here’s a short list of all the lessons taken from this exchange:

  • While you’re working contingency, someone is able to get a retainer or partial retainer (engagement fee).
  • You may be getting used as the only “long shot” recruiter the company doesn’t even expect to hear from.
  • You may working on wild-goose chase searches that don’t stand a chance (also known as “wishful thinking” or “white tiger” job orders).
  • Another recruiter with more knowledge in the specific niche may have significant advantages, and is able to convince the client to agree to better terms (including an upfront fee payment).
  • Your supposed search or job order is really an illusion.

So how do you avoid this if you are on the other end of the equation as I have been many times myself? There’s only one way: Ask lots of tough, direct, serious questions of your client.

We’ve all been trained as to what those questions are. But most of us prefer to end things midway and walk away with the illusion we have a job order/client, rather than confronting reality and finding out what we have are really “B rated” science fiction versions of job orders.

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Frank Risalvato made the plunge into the search industry in 1987. Within two years he was earning fees on a monthly basis that were comparable to his entire previous annual salary. Today he specializes in the low to mid-six figure hires and manages multiple openings each month. Although he didn't invent recruiter training, he views himself as someone that improves, perfects, and enhances pre-existing techniques. His new book is "A Manager's Guide To Maximizing Search Firm Success."

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