The Best Action Is Often Another Question

Once again, one of the “Golden Rules” in our business regarding the principles of a “Class A search assignment” has proven to be gospel. In my twenty-fifth year of headhunting I have become vigilant about qualifying the searches I will and won’t spend my ultra-valuable, only-thing-I’ve-got-control-of, straight-commission time on. However, every now and then I get snookered into working a Class B search because of the allure (see mirage) of a big, juicy fee.

In this case one huge factor that was missing from the key ingredients necessary for a Class A search was the direct, consistent contact with the hiring authority. Please consider that we are spoiled in my practice because of the “localness” of our activity. Approximately 90% of the several hundred placements I have made are the result of face-to-face contact with our clients and the candidates that we screen for such clients. So why did I continue to work on a VP of Sales search in which the client artfully dodged my request to visit every step of the way? Perhaps the chart below will justify my rationale, but in the end the truth always prevails.


1) Reputable client company we had done direct contact (phone or face-to-face) business with in the past.

2) Written, signed, attractive fee agreement.

3) Adequate job description.

4) Marketable, acceptable compensation plan.

5) Accessible candidates with in our established network.

6) Sense of urgency to interview and hire.

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7) Strong appeal for service client offers; “hot niche”.

It may be easy to understand why we worked on a search of this nature from the list above because we thought we had so much going for us. But ask yourself, what legitimate reason(s) could a professional, intelligent hiring authority have to not communicate directly with her search partner or partners on a critical high-level placement? Perhaps she’s so busy that time simply does not permit. But what should that say to you about the true priority of the search? Maybe she does not want to be influenced by a conversation with what one recruiter says versus another. But what does that tell you about the chance of ever working with her exclusively?

All we were left with is this matter, this process, this seemingly significant search was to speculate. So when one of our candidates had a crucial question about how to put her “mini business proposal” together for a final interview we were left with the response from the HR rep. He was a competent facilitator of interviews but was an inadequate intermediary for my top candidate’s critical request. When I attempted to contact the client, AKA hiring authority, she never responded.

At this point it was clear that our only liaison, the HR rep, was really tasked with one priority – keeping me away from the all-powerful client. So I instructed my candidate the best I could without the help of the hiring authority and hoped (against hope) for the best. At the same time I apologized to my team for wasting their precious time in helping me on a fruitless search as I knew the end was near and the result would not be successful.

What I still didn’t know was why this client, with whom I had previous success placing candidates, would not deal with me one to one. The morale of the story – there’s always a good reason!? In this case it was a super-strong candidate she had identified on her own before requesting our assistance. She was merely “using” our services to reinforce her assumption that no other better candidates could be surfaced.

This humbling experience reminded me of another Golden Rule in our business. This one in the form of a question that needs to be asked “before” we commit our resources to any search opportunity – i.e., “Do you have any candidates for this assignment that you have already interviewed or are about to consider?” Had this question been asked before we spent our well-intentioned efforts on this search I would have known that all we had, despite the chart above, was a Class B Assignment at best. So even when it feels and looks like you have just about everything going for you as a recruiter to fill that substantial opening; think again. Think about anything that is lacking from your client and probe. Then respond.

Jordan A. Greenberg is the president of The Pinnacle Source, Inc., a search and placement firm specializing in, but not limited to, the recruiting of sales/sales management talent for IT companies. He has been servicing this community, based in Colorado, since 1981. Contact him at (303) 796-9900,, or