A Cure for the Sounds of Silence

Two recruiters called me last month to offer recruiting assistance on a particular project they heard my company was working on. This was a routine search in the $50,000 to $60,000 range that we had filled hundreds of times before. In this particular instance, however, we were caught in a backlog.

The recruiters were right about the period of time being longer than usual. Since both were esteemed individuals I’ve known and respected for well over 10 years, I decided to invest about a half hour with each to fully explain the search.

I should emphasize that both of these individuals travel through recruiting associations, attend conferences, keep their skills sharp, and represent that single-digit minority I would entrust sensitive projects to.

You could understand why I was frustrated when both said, “We’ll get right on this” but proceeded to not call back for one week. Then two weeks. Then three weeks.

Sadly, this is the manner in which many recruiters treat their clients. This type of behavior is not limited to recruiter-versus-recruiter relationships alone. And this is why most clients and hiring managers develop a disdain for recruiters.

At the very least, one could have called back after two weeks and stated something along the lines of, “You know, Frank, I really worked hard on this but could not find anyone suitable to refer.”

Or something such as, “I’ve had some other commitments come up and can’t work on this. I wanted to get back to you rather than leave you with no follow up communication.”

There’s nothing worse to a hiring manager (I consider myself a hiring manager as well as a recruiter) than long periods of dead silence after a recruiter is enthusiastic about helping you out.

It would be best had you not called at all. Now not only did you not perform up to your expectations, but you actually fell short of your previous image and brand you created.

The Grace Period

Is there such a thing as an appropriate “sound of silence” timeframe? And if so, is it one week? Two weeks? One call per month?

I say it depends on the level of a search and specificity of the industry and skill set.

For a few exceptions, when you are dealing with positions in the under-$75,000 per year range, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t call your client and provide feedback on a semi-weekly basis.

I have one account that demands we conference every Friday. We did just that until there was an ample pipeline of candidates and the conferences were no longer needed.

I like clients who demand action, because I usually get reaction in return for our efforts.

In my real-life experience, whenever I have actually called a client and “fessed up” that their search is proving to be more time and effort than what we had anticipated, they have always appreciated the information. This is especially true if there are particulars that go with it.

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Sometimes by providing feedback, the client relaxes criteria or increases salary. Other times they have decided to rearrange the retainer so as to not have my firm walk away.

But to not call back at all is inexcusable, unprofessional, and a complete waste of valuable business time. I’m just as mad as any client would be not hearing back from a recruiter for three weeks after being promised action!

The Missing Recruiters

As it turns out, our organization finally found the “right candidate” within the next week or so after sharing this search on a split arrangement with my two trusted colleagues. So the subcontracted assistance was thankfully no longer needed.

Trouble is, they don’t know that due to their own inadequacies.

You see, I decided to call them to notify them of our success. Just in case they were working late into the evenings making dozens of calls and foregoing golfing on weekends on my account, I decided to advise them their services were no longer needed and that our candidate had been selected.

And the real punch line to this story? When I called and left a message, they still did not call back!

This tells me that they:

  • never took the search seriously.
  • lacked respect for my time.
  • probably never spent more than one hour once they got off the phone with me.
  • probably treat their clients the same way.
  • have little regard for their image.

In a recent Fordyce Letter column, more than a few recruiters from around the country reported they had no qualms “walking away from difficult clients” if the search proved to be no longer worth the effort.

Walk away? Just like that? And leave another client scratching his head as to what’s wrong with our industry?

To walk away with no explanation tarnishes the search industry. To walk away and explain why this is necessary is a much better choice.

Please don’t give the rest of us a bad name through your long periods of silence! Call your clients. Call them weekly or semi-weekly. But please let them know something rather than handing them long periods containing nothing but the sounds of silence.

President of iresinc.com & Searchwizardry.com Within two years after leaving the corporate world in 1987, Frank Risalvato was earning $21,000 average fees as a search consultant. Each individual fee equated to almost 50% of his previous annual salary in 1987. In 1991 he founded www.iresinc.com, the search firm he continues to operate today. Today his fees are more than double that of his earlier years while working fewer hours weekly. Frank's audio download page on www.searchwizardry.com provides an opportunity to "be a fly on the wall" and listen in to live calls, messages, conversations with clients and candidates. His recent book, A Manager's Guide to Maximizing Search Firm Success has helped recruiters using it lock up partial and full retainers between $5,000 to $45,000 by helping drive home the concept of exclusive/retained over the usual contingency approach.


13 Comments on “A Cure for the Sounds of Silence

  1. I am currently the Recruiting Manager for a technology company. We fill most of our requisitions with our internal efforts but occassionly engage search firms. The silence can be deafening.

    One memorable exception was the recruiter who called me back after a few weeks to say he couldn’t find anyone. The requisition was too difficult to fill…and could I give him something easy!

    I was stunned into deafening silence.

  2. Frank, well said.

    The real problem here I believe is that any recruiter that needs to work off the back of another recruiter is clearly struggling to find their own business.

    There are many reasons for this but based upon your story I suspect it is the usual one of someone looking for an easy way to make to some quick money. Anything like hard work and they run a mile which is why they probably struggle to find their own clients.

    No doubt they surfed the job boards, looked in their own internal database, had a quick look at LinkedIn and gave up claiming that it was all too time consuming.

  3. Frank, your comment caught my attention:

    ‘In a recent Fordyce Letter column, more than a few recruiters from around the country reported they had no qualms ‘walking away from difficult clients’ if the search proved to be no longer worth the effort.’

    I thought this to be true only in the sourcing realm!
    I wonder if this same lassitude exists in other industries?

  4. Great observations, Frank. As someone who has been doing in-house recruiting for 18 years and has recently gone through my own personal job search, I can sadly attest that your two examples are more the rule than the exception. The lack of common courtesy within the recruiting profession continues to mystify. After all, it’s a client service business, right?

  5. Over the 17 years I spent with one of the largest recruiting organizations in the world, we, regularly, conducted customer satisfaction surveys. The issue you raise has always been the single most popular complaint voiced. This behavior lowers the perception of professionalism of all 3rd party recruiters. Ironic it is that this is one of the easiest situations to avoid.

    First, it is important that the client understand that, as a contingency assignment, the recruiter is obligated by good business practice to spend the most time on those assignments and working with those clients where there is a high chance of timely success. Pursuant to that, the recruiter should be honest about where the client’s search ranks and if the recruiter is going to perform a dedicated search effort or just ‘keep his or her eyes open’

    Second, based upon the above considerations, the recruiter should make and keep a commitment to call or email the Client regularly with honest updates while the search is open. If you are not working so hard on their search, tell your Client that and tell them why. (Do you really want your Client to think that your ARE working hard but with no results?)

    For me, doing these two things has resulted in, at the very least, a more productive and trusting relationship with my clients. At best, in more cases than I can count, this behavior has converted contingency searches into engaged or retained searches.

  6. Frank,

    Great stuff and good advice to all recruiters to communicate to hiring managers with updates on progress…good, bad or indifferent.

    I would like to see an article on what good recruiters can do to get hiring managers to commit to the hiring process, get timely feedback and an honest assessment of candidates and ultimately, feedback on how we did on the search. We conduct a ‘pre-search consultation’ that addresses this but far too often we get ‘radio silence’ after presenting candidates. What gives? We committed to the search, delivered candidates and then get the silent treatment. Any takers on writing that article for ERE?

  7. Well said! I think a lot of recruiters are embarassed to call clients back when they have not had success at sourcing candidates. I think the same applies to staying in touch with candidates that are difficult to place. Honesty and open communication are the best policies!

  8. For some reason I had to voice my two bits on this one… This is something that sounds so easy to rectify but as I found is actually very hard to get right due to the discipline required. It nearly hurt to read as it is so true and most are guilty of doing it. It took me a quite some time to figure out that contact is king. The more contact, good or bad actually helped build my relationships and trust with the client or hiring manager and this rings so much louder now that I am independent.

    It goes against everything you promised during the briefing. It?s nearly as if the thrill of the hunt to secure the clients business wore off immediately after winning the contract but in reality it has only just begun. Well written an excellent read and observation.

  9. Unfortunately, there is no cure. There are a number of reasons why corporate recruiters give you the sound of silence, most of which are outside of their control, however, I am unable to elaborate on them at this point in time.

    What is important to note is that once you put the proper client qualification mechanisms in place as well as detailed procedures for doing business with your clients, you won’t need to worry about the SILENT CLIENT. The key words are 1) positioning, and 2) client buy-in.

    Having been on both sides of the fence for over 26 years, including 13 years as the head of a national executive search firm, I can tell you that it’s possible.

    If there is a great deal of interest on the part of recruiters in this forum, I can write a very detailed and comprehensive article on this subject. Let me know.

  10. Rob, you have a great point there. So often when I deal with outside recruiters my corporate recruiting associates are amazed that I communicate so much with the service provider. I look at them and scratch my head. Maybe it’s because I have been on both sides of the desk, that I can understand how you (outside recruiters) feel. But, it happens all the time. I think there are two reasons. One is that corporate recruiters don’t understand that you rely on our timely feedback in order to re-focus and aim at the correct candidates. Secondly, internal recruiters are insecure. They believe if you get the right candidate in then they will be less respected by their internal clients. Internal recruiters get very beat up a majority of time anyway so this makes for a very sensitive situation.

    With that being said I think there are other factors at work here as well. Internal recruiters are never just ‘recruiters’. They are being pulled by several of other proirities. Thus, not having enough time to dedicate to service providers (you), candidates and hiring managers. So, therein lies the other problem, not having enough time to get to each party in the process. Priority setting takes place and what is the first thing that will lose it’s place in priority? You, so understand that and work through it. There are only so many hours in a day that an internal recruiter has before they drop from exhaustion.

    Kind of long winded, but, I hope that gives you more perspective.

    Tom Griffith
    Regional Recruiter
    Brady Corporation

  11. Good Morning everyone,

    I have read this post twice to ensure that my comments/suggestions are in line with what Frank and others are seeking and all the great advice that are being posted.

    I won’t go into the long laundry list of my background and years of experience because it really does not matter (as John Wooden the famous UCLA coach stated in his book- ‘my father told me I am no better than anyone else and just as good as everyone else’), but with this, I have used this in the ‘splits world’ when we were asked and worked very well.

    But I have seen some responses that suggest these were ‘corporate recruiters’ and whether they are from the agency side or the corporate side does not matter- we ALL get pulled in different directions each day (requirements, sales, paying consultants, invoicing clients, collecting DSO’s, networking meetings and yes, family and community issues). So IMHO what does matter is setting expectations, not just early on but THROUGHOUT the sales cycle(and that is what this is- a sales cycle).

    So here is how I set expectations:

    I would have set expectations (not suggesting you didn’t) by saying ‘Great and thanks for the help- I really can use it and appreciate your professionalism on this, THIS MEANS A GREAT DEAL TO ME!
    Let me tell you what I have PROMISED my client- so we can set the right expectations.

    First, as you know we have a history of placing people with this client and they expect us to deliver not just in what many recruiters and end-users may call a ‘timely fashion’ but we have a PROCESS that we have signed off on- to make sure we deliver.

    First, our standard submittal process is that I try and have at LEAST two people in front of them within the first 48 hours (my Gold and Silver submittals) and they in return have stated they will interview them with 72 hours, and if we fall short- I call the client to let them know where I am with the submittals so THEY can let their managers-up the food chain know what we are doing- and where we are.

    If they fall short- then we have a call to see what happened, and let the people know as well. In the current employment situation this is critical to all our successes!

    Joe, Jane (or whatever their names are) as you know as a trusted friend and fellow recuiter follow-up is KEY, and if the roles were reversed I would want the same from YOU’

    What is the sell to the ‘suspect’ (I referred to them in 1996 as ‘will’didates ‘cant’didates and ‘wont’didates who become ‘Can’didates’-then ‘placed’didates)?

    Well, because we have this defined, and PROVEN process you as a recruiter can build more credibility- since as we say in our business time is of the essence- and you know suspects sometimes have a poor opinion of us, and this process helps build credibility.

    So after I have sent you the requirement(s) and you can help us out- then these are the expectations I would like you to sign-up for!Please take a look at these requirements and let me know by COB today!

    If you can’t help because of other pressing requirements then I completely understand, and again really value your desire to help me with these requirements and professional courtesy.
    IF you can’t- just let me know by COB today!(This short speech takes about 40 seconds to say-depending where you are from- kidding but also true).

    This goes back to my ‘why Factor’ I created back in 1999 (and will try and post next week).

    Sorry for the long e-mail, but this might help others when you are working with your peers across the industry-whether you just met them or known them for years.

  12. Pierre,

    Great reply and I would appreciate an article on best ways to work with internal recruiters. Thanks.

  13. Hat’s off to Rob Laseak and his comment!!!!
    Let’s see/hear about our clients’ ‘sounds of silence’.
    We bend over backwards to qualify the requirement, help customers out and identify qualified candidates and get the cold shoulder!

    Very frustrating…..
    The motto for the year is ‘hurry up and wait’.

    Regarding the other comments…..I always have an open line of communication with my customers. If I do not have the time or resources to recruit…I am forced to walk away from assignments at times BUT my customers respect the fact I tell them on the front end versus wasting their time and setting false expectations.
    Seems to work for me.


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