Growing Your Firm – The First Step

Our already good market continues to heat up, with prospects of a long boom ahead. In this type of market, many owners are rightfully adding to their staffs.

New owners who may never have done so before, however, will encounter unexpected problems. Even experienced owners who may not have hired new people since pre-recession days will experience difficulties.

There is no question that growing and developing a top-quality, high-profit search and placement firm is complex and challenging. But it isn’t all that way. Some problems really do have clear and, yes, easy answers. Foremost among these is finding new prospective consultants.

It’s interesting to note that managers of firms whose business it is to find candidates for other firms frequently have difficulty identifying prospective candidates for their own firm. It shouldn’t be that way. You have a lot of “natural advantages” in finding quality people for your own firm. But are you taking full advantage of them?

Two Errors


People in our business who say it’s difficult for them to find and attract quality people to their organization, or who claim that “it’s harder to find good consultants than it used to be” believe what they’re saying. But if you examine their methods of doing so, you’ll almost always find that they’re falling into two easy-to-correct traps which cause these problems.

Too Few Methods


First, they utilize limited methods of identifying candidates. It’s odd that managers who constantly emphasize multiple ways of obtaining new business or identifying prospective recruits fall into this trap. Yet you see it all the time. How many ways do you know of obtaining candidates? And do you utilize them all?

What normally happens is that an owner/manager will get good results from one method of finding potential recruiters. And they’ll stay with that method to the practical exclusion of all others!

Let’s take ads as an example. Now there’s nothing wrong with running ads for new employees, and it can be highly beneficial. But it isn’t terribly consistent in terms of results. You can get good people one time. You can run the same ad a year or a month later and get poor results. Or the market can change. In a slow economy, there will be good sales-oriented people who will respond. In a strong market, as we currently enjoy, there are a lot fewer. Lack of recognition of this has caused many owners to remain stuck with a means of identifying prospective search consultants as their main source, which should be only one of the arrows in their quiver.

Finding quality people for your firm isn’t difficult. It does, however, require a variety of methods to yield consistent results. We’ll cover them in this article.? But don’t pick out just one or two ways to utilize. Implement them all!

On-Going Effort

The second mistake leading to a shortage of qualified potential recruiters is not identifying prospects on an on-going basis.

You see this all the time. A manager wants to add staff. What do they do? They immediately launch a big campaign, generally utilizing only one method, to find them. Wrong!

If expanding your organization is a possibility, you should start accumulating prospects three to six months before you need them. For that matter, a year in advance is not too long.

“But,” you may say, “if I start that far in advance, by the time I need these people, they’ll be gone!” Not necessarily. That may be true if your primary means of identifying prospective consultants is running ads. But while ads are one option, we’ll be covering many other ways of doing so. Most of the people you’ll find in other ways will still be available. If you doubt that, just haul out a handful of recruit forms from your files, and see how many will still be there after six months!

Moreover, let’s remember that we’ve got quite an opportunity in our business. A properly constructed presentation to a candidate who has shown initial interest should “re-activate” that individual in a high percentage of circumstances.

Most search and placement firms can improve the profitability of their operations quite readily in a number of ways; improved selection process of consultants, improved training, improved supervision and evaluation will all directly result in significantly increased production.

Before these steps can be taken, however, the owner/manager first must accomplish the primary goal – identifying candidates initially.

Following are some ways of doing so, and how to utilize these techniques for best results.



Owners who believe “we can’t advertise for consultants” just haven’t tried the right ads. Advertising is only one of the ways which should be used as part of your staffing strategy, but it should not be overlooked. Suggested principles to maximize results are:

1. Run ads under the “sales” section of the paper.

Sales-oriented people are likely to read this section first and more thoroughly. It is also a smaller section, thus your ad will be less likely to get lost amidst others. If your major newspaper has no sales section, consider starting your ad with the word “sales,” “sales opportunity,” or “sales-oriented person” to get proper placement and attention.

Present our fine business as a sales opportunity with superb potential!

Really, we are neither “counselors” nor “consultants.” It requires a sales-oriented person to do well in our business. Let the candidate know it in the ad. The good ones won’t be scared off.

2. Local suburban newspapers or business newspapers.

These frequently get good readership and are less expensive than major papers. They are worth trying, and frequently offer good value. Moreover, it is easier to “target” locations of candidates, reducing commutes.

3. In major newspapers, run ads on weekends only.

Running ads for a full week usually isn’t worth the cost.

4. Display ads, even small ones, with space for a headline.

These are usually preferable to a classified ad. Improved visibility will yield more results.

5. Consider an unusual headline.

Even a heading of “Unusual Sales Opportunity” will draw attention. Management Recruiters used “If I Had a Brother” (I’d sell him an MR Franchise) for years with good results. One of the best-drawing ads we’ve seen was a first line of “Break Your Mother’s Heart!” and a second line of “Become a Recruiter and Out-Earn your Father.” While this drew mixed reviews (surprisingly, people of different ethnic backgrounds responded to this in very different ways), it pulled very well and yielded a number of excellent candidates.

6. Screen thoroughly on the telephone before inviting the candidate to your office.?

Evaluate the candidate under the conditions he or she will be working – on the telephone! Only after doing this should a personal interview take place.

7. If an ad pulls well, keep running it.

Don’t change the wording because you’re getting bored with it. Change only when the response curve drops.

From Candidate to Recruiter

Most people in our business started as potential candidates looking for the right position.? Then some smart placement manager told them of the potential in our business. History can’t be wrong; this is a valuable tool in staffing your office which should not be neglected. However …

1. Identify what specific qualifications you want to pre-screen.

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Examples: All people with 3-15 years sales experience who have not held more than two jobs in the last five years; all people with 2-10 years IT experience who respond to the question “Would you consider a sales position?” affirmatively. Specifics are imperative.

2. Let your consultants – and secretary – know your criteria for “automatic pre-screening.”

Do not allow only your recruiters – who may not want another addition to your firm – to refer candidates to you. Let your secretary/receptionist do the initial evaluation and pass the candidate on with the comment “the manager will want to see this person.”

3. Remind your people to be alert for prospective consultants fairly frequently.

It is easy for them to overlook this.

Other Salespeople

The average small business receives many calls or visits from salespeople of products ranging from office equipment to office supplies to investments. It is a mistake not to see these people. Apart from the possibility of your benefiting from their products, they represent an often-ignored source of potential consultants. If they represent their firm well, they may represent your firm well. Do not assume they are all happy. Many excellent producers originally called on the firm that eventually became their employer in an outside (or telephone) sales capacity.

Obtaining Referrals


Many search and placement firms have not thought of spreading the word among their candidates, clients, or non-client (e.g. marketing call that does not result in a send-out) companies that they (the search firm) are seeking additional consultants. If done properly, emphasizing the success and growth of the recruiting firm before asking for referrals, this will strengthen the regard in which the placement firm is held by the candidate or company. If done consistently, it is an excellent source of consultant referrals.

An additional benefit is that if a hiring authority refers to you someone who becomes a consultant for your firm, the hiring authority has a built-in bias towards this person’s success. This can result in a solid account coming along with the new consultant.

Personal Contacts

Some of the most successful owners and consultants in our industry originally were attracted to our business in this way. People in our industry generally have both a wider-than-average and a higher-quality-than-average circle of acquaintances, thus making this means of finding new recruits particularly worthwhile. Yet, surprisingly, they fail to take advantage of it. Important points to maximize the return from this over-looked source of consultants are:

1. Present our industry in positive terms.

This means speaking of yourself as the owner of an “executive search” or “professional recruiting firm,” not an “employment agency.”

2. Always smile when mentioning your firm by name or by industry (see above).

This is an important subliminal selling technique. A genuinely positive attitude is our best choice, but good sales habits serve as an effective substitute. A slight rise in voice pitch and in volume at the same time (unless your voice is already too high or too loud) will reinforce positive perceptions.

3. Remember – business is not only good, but growing.

A negative comment will instantly turn off a prospective consultant.

4. The “conversion.”

Whenever you determine the occupation of a person whom you may wish to consider, immediately make a comment such as “Hmm, You know, some of the best producers in our industry come from exactly that background.” This will effectively surface any dissatisfaction with his present position. Make it a habit to comment in a similar fashion consistently. Be alert for interest.

Finder’s Fees

This refers to bonuses paid to consultants for submitting people who are ultimately hired as new consultants. We suggest that cash rewards are not the way to utilize this technique. This leads to indiscriminate submission of candidates.

Rather, consider paying a limited commission/override to the consultant submitting the candidate, possibly of 10% of gross fees billed (payable on cash-in, of course), for the first six months of the new person’s employment. This means that the consultant submitting the prospect has a vested interest in the new hire’s success, and that they get paid nothing for submitting a failure. This can be very effective and is worth considering.

The Secret to Growth

Keeping an office fully staffed is an on-going process. The prudent owner/manager will utilize these suggestions – and others that have worked well for them – on a continual basis, whether they have a current need or not. A pendaflex file filled with background forms of potential consultants is a strong bulwark against an under-staffed office, and gives the manager the strength to terminate an unproductive person should it become necessary. Only in this way can we truly maximize our billings and our profits.

Is this a good time to add to staff? For most firms in search and permanent placement, the answer is a clear “yes!” The critical issues of properly selecting, training and developing of recruiters are, of course, mandatory. These have been addressed in other articles posted at the author’s website.

The beginning of increasing production, however, must be simply finding prospective consultants. The larger the pool from which to choose, the more likely it is that the manager will select the right ones. The above points, if followed, will greatly add to the success of any firm.

Acclaimed international author, speaker, and trainer Steve Finkel is a veteran of over 30 years and six recessions in our industry. Personnel Consultant Magazine, published by the National Association of Personnel Consultants, has referred to him as possessing "the most in-depth knowledge of search and placement in industry history." Recruitment International Magazine, Europe's largest industry publication, has described him as "the world's premier author and trainer in search and recruitment." His revised and up-to-date 360-page book Breakthrough! is now distributed in 25 countries and is also available on Amazon. Contact him at 314-991-3177 or