Headhunter Reality Stories

Not only is this a great career, but it saves me lots of money on cable movie-channel subscriptions, as nothing can be as entertaining as the fits and starts, about-faces, shenanigans, internal conflicts, behavior irregularities, lies, deceit, and manipulation our sometimes prospective clients and candidates endear us with.

Here are three of my most notable stories, which are funny looking back 10 years later, but they were not quite so funny at the time:

First Story: Will a Job Offer Get Me Promoted?

A managerial candidate from a familiar company called, desperately seeking help to get out of her current situation. After meeting with her to determine that she was committed and not just having a “blue” day, I took on the project of representing her to a select group of presidents I knew would have interest.

She had a professional appearance, solid resume, and articulate demeanor, but I had that little voice deep inside that cautioned me, as she was too perfect in some aspects and a bit too scripted.

In about four weeks we had an interview, which led to a second and third meeting and to an eventual six-figure offer with a multi-thousand dollar sign-on bonus. Everything came in precisely at the price point she had stated she required on multiple occasions to accept the offer.

She accepted and resigned. My first “red flag” was when I found out she gave a five-week resignation notice. Five weeks! And no she wasn’t quite that important in her current role.

On the Tuesday after the Monday she was to begin her new job, I received a call from the president’s office of the new employer. “We assume you’ve heard what happened?”

I replied sarcastically and said, “No. Why would anyone think of informing me of anything?”

“She called here Friday,” the company manager said, “leaving a confusing message about a counteroffer and that she’d call back, but she never called back and never showed up yesterday.”

In calling the candidate, I found out this was not her first counteroffer acceptance. But she did not reveal this. I had a co-worker reveal her past history to me.

In fact, it was not the second counteroffer acceptance.

I discovered this was the third time she accepted a counteroffer with the same employer within the five-year period she was working there! She received significant salary increases, a larger office, and enhanced staff and working conditions or a combination thereof each and every time!

This was one of those rare cases where the company loved being manipulated and this person had the process down to a science.

I know what you must be thinking: Frank didn’t prep his candidate.

No, we actually went through this discussion ad nauseum just as Byrne, Bruno, Finkel, and all the great recruiting trainers have taught us to do. I even became sick of hearing myself enforce the “counteroffer pitfalls” to the candidate during her resignation period.

It turns out the employer in this instance, contrary to the majority of cases that contribute to the statistics, actually raised this person’s salary and enhanced her job duties each and every time she resigned!

The candidate had utter control over the company and knew exactly when to manipulate her employer repeatedly to her personal advantage. I was clearly duped and taken advantage of when I discovered I had been exploited to benefit someone’s current financial status. (I did get some revenge later in due time, but that’s another story.)

Second Story: Should I Have Resigned?

Every now and then we come across a client who loves our first candidate so much that they decide to take over the entire finalization of the interview process. These are the guys or gals that feel “they know darn well” how to extend an offer and no longer need us.


This is not so bad if it’s a professional, well-trained, and knowledgeable corporation completing the hiring process. It’s also not bad if you’re on retainer and it doesn’t matter how the second interview/offer is handled, as you get paid regardless.

It does matter if your license is on the line, you’re working in a state with high Errors and Omissions insurance premiums (like New Jersey), and the company is an entrepreneurial firm that needs to be monitored closely so as to protect the candidate from prematurely resigning without having a written official offer in hand.

Such was the case when I found out on a Friday a few years ago that the candidate I had sent in the Friday before was invited back in for a second interview the following Wednesday (without my knowledge or notification) and offered the job on the spot by the president.

Great, I thought. Less work for me and the same fee rate.

I called the president’s executive assistant to find out what the official start date was for final billing.

She could not tell me. “Why’s that?” I asked.

“Because the candidate is getting back to us next week after working things out with her current company.”

After multiple calls to the candidate’s cell and home number I began getting worried when by the following Wednesday, one week after she supposedly received her offer, I still could not reach her. This was a case of overindulgence in arrogance and self-confidence where both candidate and employer felt they had everything under control.

They didn’t.

I finally called her at work, which I was instructed to not do, but I had no other choice.

That morning the president of the company stated that if she could not start in two weeks, he would rescind the offer.

I nearly blew a gasket and scolded him for circumventing our services and extending the verbal offer directly without my guidance and consulting. I explained that had he clued me in to the intended verbal offer I would have advised her to not resign until we both knew she could accommodate the start-date requirements.

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Had we been included in the decision-making process, I would have avoided this problem by making sure she had a written offer letter first before resigning and that we had pre-anticipated potential start dates before reaching this point.

Here we had a candidate who resigned from her job a week ago, and still did not know which Monday she’d be able to start (whether she needed two weeks or had to wait until the third week to begin the new job).

The president was not pleased, as he was traveling to Europe on the third week and insisted the candidate start in two weeks flat and not in three weeks.

Obviously, we were not fond of doing business with this particular company again so we sent in a new contract with substantially higher rates so as to curtail having to hear from them unless it became well worth it.

This candidate was almost caught in job limbo as she decided on her own to resign based on a wishy-washy verbal offer that lacked a firm start date agreement. Had she come to us for guidance and advised us of the second interview (the company is also to blame) we would have consulted otherwise.

We now use this story repeatedly to impress upon candidates why it is imperative for them to have the company deal with us and not accept direct offers. We now convince them that we have their interests at mind and not just the company’s.

Third Story: Why Did I Even Quit?

It was around the year 2000 when a certain insurance industry person came to me to assist with his new job search. As usual, I waved my magic wand, called industry hiring contacts, and within a month or so had him on interviews that led to the job he described as his “dream” job.


He started on a Monday. The department manager called late Friday afternoon.

“Frank, might you know what happened to Joe? He told us he was leaving for lunch around noon and we never heard back from him. If he quit, which is what it’s starting to look like, we were wondering if he had at least informed you as to what happened.”

I made calls that day. I made calls the rest of the following week.

“Joe” (name changed to protect and conceal his extraordinary stupidity and lack of business etiquette) never called.

About two months went by when I decided to call his former employer. Joe had gone back to his previous employer.

For the next few years, the inside joke was, “You’re not sending us another ‘Joe,’ are you, Frank?” when referring to the experience of this vanished candidate.

After four years, Joe had the audacity and block-headedness to actually call me back. He sent his resume stating “he was having a tough time with his divorce” and noted “other personal problems.”

Having been suckered into these games before, I told him “Sorry, Joe, but you only get one chance with my firm, and you had yours.”

I’m glad I passed on him.

He then contacted a recruiter of ours in our Albany location. And yet another recruiter in Philadelphia. I sent a mass email out so everyone representing our company knew to not represent Joe and why.

We found out weeks later that he was under investigation for possessing a handgun and working in the insurance industry forging coverage and selling policies without proper licensing.

We never heard back from Joe again.

His legacy spread from coast to coast, and when in need of a laugh, or when someone feels like sticking it to my ribs, to this day they bring up old “Joe.”

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.


10 Comments on “Headhunter Reality Stories

  1. This was a good story. I’m sure we’ve all had similar nightmares.

    Anyone that has been recruiting any length of time has been occassionally ‘burned’ by candidates who fail to start, mislead us, asked for 125K in an interview after telling us 80K, etc. We are always tempted to think ‘the candidate fooled me’.

    The truth is that alot of this can be avoided by asking the hard questions up front and really listening to the answers (not pretending everything is ok just because we haven’t quite found the right person yet).

    When you give the industry standard ‘counteroffer road to ruin’ talk with a candidate and then ask them what they will do in the event of a counteroffer (which should be done VERY early in your discussions and again before an offer is made and again if necessary after they’ve resigned), there is only one acceptable answer or variation of the same: ‘I’ve made up my mind to leave and they can’t do anything to keep me’. Any hesitancy on the candidate’s part and you can predict what will happen if we don’t ignore the obvious in desperation.

    I find that almost always when a candidate fails to start or last on the job it can be traced back to a failure to either ask one of the ‘fundamental’ (maybe not so fundamental) recruiting questions, listen to what is really said/meant, or be honest with ourselves about if the candidate is truly a fit for the job. We were sometimes not honest with ourselves about the likelihood they will actually start and work out. We fail to ask ALL the relevent questions. We fool ourselves into thinking the candidate is really going to drive 92 miles one way to work because they said they would (while hesitating) only to find out they aren’t going to start because they got an offer in the last minute from a company 1 mile from home. Is that the candidate’s fault or ours for trying to fool ourself? What if they did start – would we be surprised when they left after 30 days?

    Sometimes we get so desperate to find ‘purple squirrels’ we push with someone that is not truly a fit and unlikely to start or last. That is the true ‘road to ruin’ and a disservice to our customers.

    * someone that hesitates when you discuss a counteroffer or has already taken one 3 times ala the article (now that would have been a great question to ask the person in the article – have you ever accepted a counteroffer?). Perhaps we should be asking all our candidates that (note to self).
    * someone that has 4 offers already (what makes you think they will accept yours when they have already turned down 4 others – ie. the candidate has the classic ‘fishing’ syndrome). Asking candidates early and often what else they have going can help avoid this.
    * someone that can’t give you a good reason why they would leave their current position for the new one and sounds hesitant to leave. The same person that takes a week to accept the offer. One of my recruiters actually asks their candidates to give them 3 reasons why they would prefer to work at the new position. Scary prospect if you don’t have a good fit I suppose, but it is a great way to really ask them to close themselves.
    * Someone who is hesitant to resign or gives a start date more than two weeks out (Uh oh). We should ALWAYS ask someone when they are going to resign after getting an offer and then follow up to ask them how it went (we want to know if they received a counteroffer, could start early, etc). One of the questions that should be asked of all candidates BEFORE even submitting them is ‘if you interview with them, like what you see, and get an offer, when could you start?’. Any hesitancy or more than two weeks is a serious red flag.

    We all occassionally get ‘burned’ by candidates, but I wonder how many of our ‘falloffs’ could be avoided by asking the right questions up front and being honest with ourselves about the answers?

  2. Good stories, but very one-sided. I talk to a lot of job seekers who have been treated very poorly by recruiters. There are a lot of pushy, dishonest, manpulative recruiters out there, which contributes to candidates often being sneaky, evasive and similarly dishonest in dealing with recruiters. It’s a vicious cycle, but let’s be honest … it cuts both ways.

  3. I do not find any of these stories funny………

    but then again…..miscommunication does happen ………because there are no standards in hiring practices…………..

    Individuals are as dyfunctional as the companies they work for……….

    I am so glad that I no longer work for corporations………..

  4. I am sure, Frank, you will get a lot of great stories. Here’s mine. My ‘prized’ candidate (lets call him ‘Skip’) showed up unexpectedly (a 55 mile drive) just when I finished this response & I was so shocked I lost it.

    Great resume, interviewed, forwarded to client, 2 weeks ago, Skip called late Friday & insisted on driving 40 miles for coffee at 6:45 AM Saturday. Fine, & he described himself as a Marty Feldman look-alike and that he would even pull his eyeball out for me. I thought, ‘Wow, this guys flying more red flags than the Russian Navy’. He persisted, & I finally agreed (to meet him, I mean, its a public place & crowded at that hour)& determined (surprise, surprise) that Skip was more like ‘off the cliff’, especially for a $100k ‘professional’ and besides, I didn’t see any hidden Candid Cameras.

    I warned the client his social graces aren’t up to snuff, begged him to cancel the interview, but he insisted on seeing him.

    Well, his employees called him (he was running late)asking, ‘What’s up with this guy?’ Swearing, asking (jokingly) if anyone had any whiskey, overly friendly.

    Skip was very passionate during the interview, swearing, etc., and gave him, & brought me this AM a 2′ thick project list, & when I saw the figures didn’t add up -he changed his successful bids from 75% to 10%, more normal for an estimator. Why the big swing, he said he was a cronic liar, then admitted he was kidding about that too.

    Told him I had to take care of a sick horse at the ranch (Ok, its actually my daughter’s ranch, some of my horses), and finally got rid of him, especially since we had 10 folks in here training w/Corporate, and I couldn’t allow the troops to think it was just another one of my looney friends.

    I begged the client to release this social time bomb, and he wouldn’t let him go (he loved the 2′ thick list). But, alas, I found a guy who he tried to hire a year ago, recruited him & offerred a reduced rate on him). He is still not sure!

    Oh, it gets better. I should have known, something like this happened 10 years ago – the candidate made a pass as the client – old enough to be his grandfather! And he had the same 1st name!

  5. A quick nightmare of a story… I placed who seemed to be a 10/10 perfect candidate (the type that when you meet them you know the job is in the bag) in to a leading Australian security organisation with responsibilities of selling their systems and services. A couple of months down the track I received a call from the company wanting a replacement as the candidate vanished. This happens however… upon clearing his emails and personals it was discovered that he had been using the company name and company security clearance to purchase weapons of various types from the U.S. Spooky stuff and as you can imagine the relevant authorities were called in however probably not to the level it would have today as this was pre 9/11.

  6. Gee, it’s sad when regardless of what market, region or country one operates in that we probably have stories to share like your’s Frank. Nice job capturing their essence. I particularly identify with your story #2; it’s why I changed my agreements to read essentially ‘payment due within 15 days of offer acceptance by candidate’. Not start date. Except for following up on the candidate to make sure they find their new home, etc., my work is done once a candidate accepts an offer. Regardless of who presents it to them – the overzealous, controlling client or me. How many times has a client decided to make an offer and watch it disintegrate when they don’t follow the steps to ensure completion? I had one who changed our normal process to present an offer themselves to the candidate, telling me after the fact they had done so. I asked whether or not it was completed. Yes, the candidate had signed the offer and would fax it back over the weekend. (Insert loud tirestopping ‘SCREECH’ sound here). I said oh, let me know on Monday how it went (basically so I could get my billing done). Hey guess what? Monday came and the candidate hadn’t faxed his acceptance and in fact reneged on his new agreement to stay with his current employer. The guy used the offer to gain more concessions from his boss. My client now understands the value in having me close an offer with a candidate rather than themselves.

  7. Here’s my great story–happened this morning.

    Applicant named Hudini scheduled to come in at 11:00 am for a interview.
    Calls from the subway station down the block asking directions for the 2 minute walk—never shows up.
    Hudini disappeared. get it? get it?

  8. We too had a ‘Joe’ some time back with us. Walked out for lunch, never showed up.I tried to get through his residential number. It was picked up by the man in question himself. He recognized my voice( not realising I did too) and advised me that ‘Joe’ does not stay at that number any more.
    Could I say anymore?

  9. I enjoyed the article and the comments. We have negotiated for candidates with start dates as long as 4 months away – true these were mostly relocations, but we also have worked with locals who wanted to give more notice to their companies. Personally, I’ve given some employers a month’s notice based on special projects that I’ve been working on and felt professionally responsible to complete. I would hope that a company would appreciate that perspective and not ditch me because of two additional weeks.

    I agree with previous comments as well regarding the ‘other side.’ Recruiters also need to present jobs as they really are, not switch job requirements at the last minute and not lead candidates down a rosy path that really does not exist for them.

    Some applicants I’ve encountered for professional level positions – one snockered gentleman who left my office smelling like a whiskey factory, one who lacked any social graces and actually sat across from me picking his nose, one who began rummaging through papers in the office when I stepped outside the office for a moment, the list goes on.

    But isn’t it great when you find a gem?

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