Establishing Your Role in the Selection Process

If the role that recruiters play in their clients’ selection process could be represented on a continuum, the two extremes would vary significantly.

On one end of the continuum are those recruiters who submit résumés to their clients’ human resources departments, are subsequently held at arm’s length throughout the process, and therefore have minimum impact on the final outcome.

At the other end of the continuum are those who have leveraged their role for maximum effectiveness by demonstrating to their clients the benefit of combining resources, establishing mutual commitments, and keeping the recruiter involved at every point in the agreed-upon process.

Where you fit on this continuum is generally determined by the actions you take or fail to take when initially accepting the search/job order. In their haste to fill the position, many recruiters take a cursory approach to defining their role in the client’s selection process and consequently find themselves marginalized.

For some recruiters this is not a concern, as their approach to the business is based on covering as many of their clients with as much paper (résumés) as possible in the hope that something positive will happen and a placement will result. These recruiters concentrate on the “low-hanging fruit” (See TFL, 05/99, “Beware of the Low-Hanging Fruit”) and quickly become a commodity in the eyes of their clients. Nevertheless, this is a business model they choose to follow, and it does produce placements but rarely builds client loyalty.

Conversely, many recruiters, in order to produce more consistent results, require a greater involvement in the client’s selection process. This greater involvement begins when you properly qualify the search/order and review the history of the opening (See TFL, 12/07, “Establishing the ‘Sense of Urgency’ “). The next logical progression is to define with your client the key steps in the selection process. Asking a question similar to the following will help set the stage for this discussion.

“As we begin our work together, specifically, what are your expectations for my (our) performance?”

The client’s response will demonstrate the level of value they place on your involvement in the selection process. For some, the response could be as simple as:

“I hope you show us some good résumés.”

This response is a clear indication that they view you as a commodity-clearing house and thus you will be instructed to work through Human Resources in the hope of surfacing a possible match for their open position by sifting through your available database.

An ideal response might be:

“I expect you to work closely with me (hiring authority) in a collaborative fashion, allowing us to jointly apply our collective resources in the most effective manner to ensure the successful completion of this search. We will work as partners until the position is filled.”

Sounds almost ideal, but unless you’ve worked with this client previously in this fashion, it may be unrealistic to expect a response of this nature.

Most recruiters who ask this question receive a response similar to the following:

“We expect you to fill the position.”


“What should be my expectation?”

Here is the opportunity to establish your role in the selection process by responding in a manner similar to the following:

“Based on what we have discussed and established thus far (the first three steps of the ‘Client-Centered Process’), would you agree that the thoroughness and validity of our search and selection process must be based on the fundamentals of performance measurement?”

Anything other than a yes from your client is not acceptable and is a clear indication that you have not successfully completed the first three steps of the process. Consequently, you will need to repeat the steps to ensure that you and the client are in full agreement before moving forward in defining the selection process.

If the client responds with a yes, gain answers to the following questions in order to understand how the client views this process.

“Good. Now let’s see if we can clearly define that process.”

“What is your target date for hiring?”

Always begin by establishing the date on which the client “must” have the position filled. Working backward from the target date will allow you to determine whether or not the steps in the selection process match the timeline for hiring.

“How many interviews will be needed, and who will be conducting the interviews?”

This is the point at which the members of the selection team are identified and assigned roles. If the client says that you are to submit résumés to Human Resources for screening, qualify their reasoning for this by asking a series of questions about their HR function (See TFL, 07/02, “Positioning Human Resources”). You can follow the line of questioning with a statement such as:

“To date, we have worked with you in establishing the performance-based, job-related selection criteria. These will serve as our mutual guide in identifying and recruiting only qualified and interested candidates for this position. In reality, we will complete the initial screening process for you. The result will be a group of qualified finalists who are ready for your consideration. Does that match your understanding of our role during the initial stages of this process?”

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Once again, you are looking for an affirmative response from your client. Any other response will require additional positioning on your part.

“In order to meet your target date for hiring, it would be best if you would set aside specific dates and times on your schedule to interview the finalists. Let’s consider the nature of the search and your availability and see if we can establish those dates at this time. Does that seem reasonable to you?”

Locking your client into specific dates and times for interviews reinforces the mutual commitment to your role in the process, as well as eliminating many of the obstacles that arise when you need to present candidates for consideration rather than finalists to be interviewed.

“Specifically, what needs to be accomplished on each interview by you and by the others who will be involved in the final decision?”

This is where it’s important to ensure that everyone involved in the process knows their role and is properly prepared to accomplish it. Get into the specifics of exactly who will be responsible for what, where, when, and how. As always, the emphasis should be on measuring the finalists against the job-related selection criteria.


Hiring good employees requires a two-way selection process. Not only must the client select the right finalist, but they must also ensure that the right finalist selects them. They cannot hire someone who does not want to work for their organization.

Keeping this in mind, a major part of your role is to make certain that each member of the selection team is prepared not only to fulfill their responsibilities in the selection process but also to serve as a positive reflection of the company, its people, and the position.

“How will you arrive at your final hiring decision?”

Keep your client focused on measuring the finalists against the performance-based, job-related selection criteria. This is an objective approach to decision-making. Help them understand that it is imperative to hire the finalist who is best qualified to do the job, not necessarily the finalist who did the best during the interviews. Ultimately, everything else being equal, the decision will be based on subjective factors. But you cannot allow subjectivity to carry more weight than the job-related selection criteria in your client’s decision-making.

“How will you determine the specifics of the offer, and who will extend it to the finalist you select?”

There are four things the client must take into consideration if they expect their offer to be accepted by the finalist (See TFL, 11/01, “Never, Ever Discuss Money”). You control three of those considerations. Most important is educating your client on the value of having you preclose the finalist prior to issuing a formal offer.


If the client issues an offer that is turned down by the finalist, you have not correctly performed your role in the process.

However, gaining acceptances to your clients’ offers is not the entire bottom line. In order to build long-term relationships with your clients, the newly hired employees must meet or surpass the performance standards that define the position. Ultimately, three to six months after the hire, the client should be able to look back at the finalist they hired and state with certainty, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d hire the same person because they’re flat-out getting the job done.”

In order to consistently meet your clients’ needs, your role in the selection process must be established in a manner that allows you to do your job without human or systemic encumbrances. From conducting your search to presenting the finalists, from interview preparation (both client and finalists) to interview follow-up, from preclosing the finalist on the offer through to start date and beyond, the key to your success may very well depend on how well you can properly establish your role in the selection process.

As always, if you have questions, comments, or would like more information on the articles referenced above, just let me know.

Recipient of the 2006 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, and temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the United States, 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 his website at Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or by email 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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