Establishing the “Point of No Return”

Few things in this business can frustrate a recruiter more than the inability or unwillingness of clients and candidates to make timely decisions. This procrastination has cost clients valuable employees, squandered opportunities for many candidates, and wasted the time and resources of everyone concerned, including the recruiters.

A fact of life is that many people have difficulty making decisions. The psychological principle at work here is the inherent fear of loss. Making decisions requires making a choice and by making that choice the individual effectively rules out the other options. Herein lies the problem. Most often the other options hold a certain positive appeal.

In his number one bestseller “Winning through Intimidation,” author Robert J. Ringer covers this problem with his “Better Deal Theory.” It states, “… that before a person closes any kind of a deal — including marriage — he always worries about the fact that there may be a better deal down the road. It’s an uncontrollable instinct: at the last moment, the thought has to at least occur to a person that he might be missing out on a better deal somewhere else.”

In order to properly deal with the “fear of loss” and the “Better Deal Theory,” you must insure that your clients and candidates have all the information they require to make a valid decision. Being a conduit of timely and accurate information is central to your function in the decision-making process. Additionally, establishing a “point of no return” will help facilitate the timeliness of their decisions.

Whether you realize it or not, in every placement process there is a “point of no return.” This is the point at which decisions must be made by both the client and the candidate, and if one or both can’t make that decision, you must make it for them.

The “point of no return” may be different from candidate to candidate and from client to client. For example, if a client interviews a candidate and justifiably rules them out of contention after the first interview, they have reached their “point of no return” with that candidate. The same would be true if the roles were reversed and the candidate ruled out the client after the first interview.


The “point of no return” is reached when the client and/or candidate has enough accurate and timely information on which to make an appropriate decision.

There remain only three reasons why a client or candidate cannot make a decision.

1. They need more information. If this is the case then it’s your responsibility to deter-mine exactly what information they require and to provide it in a timely fashion.

2. There is a problem that needs to be solved before they can proceed. It is your responsibility to determine the exact nature and scope of the problem, whether or not it is relevant to the decision-making process, and when-ever possible, to provide a valid solution.

3. They’re having difficulty making a decision because of the “fear of loss” or the “better deal theory.” This is the situation where the “point of no return” can and should be applied.

As you begin your process with each candidate and client, it is important to discuss the “point of no return.” You need to insure they understand that when it comes time to make a decision, they have reached the “point of no return.” Positive or negative, it is time to make a decision and if they do not make a decision, a decision will be made for them, either by circumstances, timing, or outside influences.

Examples of factors that will shape the decision if the “point of no return” is ignored include, but are not limited to, the following: From the candidates’ perspectives this could include additional competitive candidates being surfaced, other recruiters entering the process, and indecision creating a negative image of them in the mind of the client. From the client’s perspective this could include other opportunities becoming available to the candidate, doubts about the client’s interest, and a lack of commitment on the part of the client to making a timely decision.

Although it may never be possible to control all the factors that influence the decision-making process, a good recruiter should be positioned to control the timing of the process. You establish this positioning with your client at the beginning of your work together by setting a target date at which time the new employee should be in place and on the job. Then, you work back from that date while building in a time-table to include the necessary steps of a valid selection process. Ultimately, you and your client should be in agreement on each step as well as the timetable.

This is the time at which you should discuss the “point of no return.” Establish the “point of no return” as it relates to a candidate accepting an offer and providing their two-week notice. This can be a set date. However, you must also make certain the client understands the variable “point of no return” created by circumstances that may evolve with individual candidates during the process. Most importantly, you need to educate your client on the importance of your role in making certain the process moves according to the agreed upon timetable and that the client is prepared to act on both the set and, when necessary, the variable “point(s) of no return.”

The time for educating the candidate on both the set and variable “point(s) of no return” is at the beginning of your process, once you have accepted them as a viable candidate for your client’s position. You can handle it in much the same manner as you did with your client. However, you particularly need to emphasize that “I need to think it over” is not an acceptable option at the “point of no return” (see three reasons above). The candidate will need to make a decision or you will make the decision for them by informing your client that the candidate is not interested in pursuing the opportunity.


You are the information conduit for the entire process and therefore are in the best position to advise both the client and candidates on the “point of no return.”

Unless one or more of the reasons outlined above are present, when it’s time to make a decision, a decision must be made. This is the “point of no return.” If either the candidate or the client is unwilling or incapable of making a decision, they have wasted their time. More importantly, they have wasted the time of everyone involved in the process. It then becomes your responsibility to insure that no further time is wasted. It can be as simple as asking the candidate or client:

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“At this point in the process, how do you want me to represent your interest to the client/candidate?”

If they persist with indecision, remind them of your previous discussions about the “point of no return” and their understanding of your role at this time. If they still cannot make a decision even after you have reviewed and responded appropriately to any or all of the appropriate reasons for not making a decision, then you have no recourse but to take action and make the decision for them. Here is an example of what you might say.

“In this instance, no decision is a decision. I will inform the candidate that you no longer have interest and recommend they pursue their other options.”


“In this instance, no decision is a decision. I will inform my client that you are no longer interested in the position and that we should move forward with our other candidates.”

If they do not resist your intended course of action, then you definitely are doing the right thing by making a decision for them. However, if they do resist, refer back to the reasons for not making a decision and attempt to identify a valid reason. If one cannot be identified, proceed by making the decision for them.

If you are unable to reach either your candidate or client at the “point of no return,” and you’re certain they’re willfully avoiding you, much the same can be accomplished with a voice mail or e-mail as long as you are certain they will receive your message during the allotted period of time. All you need to do is add the following to the beginning of the second sentence:

“If I have not heard from you by (give a reasonable period of time — usually one day), I will inform …”

The most valuable resource you have is your time and your willingness to utilize that time in creating value for all those you serve. By implementing a “point of no return” approach to dealing with your candidates and clients, you are properly focusing that resource in a manner that will bring the greatest benefit to all concerned.

However, the “point of no return” approach is not a license to abuse people or a reflection of the “my way or the highway” mentality. Quite the contrary. It represents a humane, business-like approach to achieving an appropriate end result, a timely decision.

As always, if you have questions or comments on this or any other subject related to our business, just give me a call or drop me an e-mail. Over the years thousands of readers have done so and found that I welcome their inquiries.

Terry Petra is one of our industry’s leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including “PETRA ON CALL”, visit his web site at: Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or e-mail him at:

Recipient of the Harold B. Nelson Award, Terry Petra is one of our industry's leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including PETRA ON CALL, and BUSINESS VALUATION, visit Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or click to email him.


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