I “FIRED” My Candidate…and Still Closed $27k

Last month, I “fired” a candidate during the interview/offer process, and I am 100% convinced the only reason I still earned the fee was because… (are you listening?) I emotionally “checked out” of the torment and refocused my efforts on the things in my business I could control, which were sourcing and recruiting candidates for other searches on which my firm was engaged. After nearly fourteen years as a third-party recruiter, I have learned a thing or two about candidate or client control… IT DOES NOT EXIST!

If another “old skool” recruiter tries to sell you an audio program, seminar, or coaching program for which the foundation is “Applicant/Client control,” RUN FOR THE HILLS! Unless, of course, you recruit dinosaurs. The “shift” is real, and I strongly urge you recognize the signs; however that is another post… 🙂

Please understand — I love this Industry, almost as much as I love being a business owner and ultimately controlling my own destiny. You see, as recruiters we are blessed beyond comprehension, especially when we invest in ourselves and our employees to ensure we keep “becoming” better stewards to this industry. To those who truly love this business, you are my heroes!!! THANKS FOR YOUR INSPIRATION…

As Gary Vaynerchuk states in his remarkable book, CRUSH IT, “The average U.S. salary is around $40-50k. You can earn that doing a job you love or a job you hate. Please choose love!”

Last I checked, my virtual assistant is on target to earn the average U.S. salary, and the “average” recruiter with whom I mastermind or network is making 5-10 times the average U.S. salary… Yep, we’re blessed indeed!

I wonder if you have truly discovered how powerful this industry is? I also wonder if you have truly discovered how powerful you are with your words, and your actions? (BLEEPING POWERFUL!)

Knowing this, however, there are only two things in your business life you can control:

  1. Your mental state (attitude)
  2. Your activity (calls/submissions/meetings, etc.)

This, in my view, is what separates the top 1% in their niche, from the “herd.” When you fully realize what this does for you, as it did when I “fired” my candidate midstream, you are on your way to a “recruiting confidence” that 99% of your peers might never fully manifest on their desk.

When I consciously separated (“shifted”) my emotions from the candidate, the universe subconsciously handled the rest for me… (Kind of hokey, but I believe this to be true from my experience.)  In contrast, had I been 25 years young and in my “rookie year” of recruitment when this happened, there is no question in my mind I would have lost this placement from forcing the issue. Again, this game is in your mind.

As third-party recruiters, we love “action lists,” so I have compiled a list of characteristics you should be aware of when you are considering “firing” a candidate midstream. Business aside, I consider this candidate an acquaintance, and I am very grateful for making the match for many reasons, however he would have won an award for his shocking behavior during the interview process.

Please consider the following:

Complaining: This is a “red flag,” and is usually ascertained in the first conversation or meeting but some start complaining very close the point when they have to make a decision/offer. (Fear) In this instance, my candidate complained about the fact that the “feedback was taking too long,” or “they said they would let you know by today, that is very unprofessional.”  Welcome to Corporate America… “Hurry up and wait.” 🙂

Incompatible: Let’s face it: your “core identity” is not always going to match your candidates, so be aware of this, and perhaps use “pacing/mirroring” (NLP= Neuro-Linguistic Programming) techniques to counter any issues. (Match their body and language style) The good thing about third-party recruiters vs. corporate recruiters is that we can control whom we work with in most cases. I have had drinks with this particular candidate on a day trip to Northern CA, and I like him as a person, but when it came to the business of interviewing, he was a JACKASS!

Game Changers: You clearly state your intentions upfront (ex. interview process, salary negotiation, etc.), and low and behold your candidate wants “create their own terms,” on the fly… NOPE!!! My circumstance was such that the candidate would say one thing to me, then turn around and do an entirely different thing. For example, he set up a meeting with the client without even telling me. I am open to this, but I’d rather keep the communication lines open so I can assist him a earning what he wants, namely a new boss!

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Trust: This is huge piece and straight forward. If they lie today, they will lie tomorrow. The key is transparency/authenticity upfront, to set the tone for all interactions. (Two-way street) I do believe my candidate trusted me, because I took the time to listen and meet with him on many occasions, but I became nervous about his saying one thing, and actually doing an entirely different thing.

Unrealistic Expectations: If a Principal Test Engineer on average earns $120k and your candidate wants $150k, a parking spot, and a sign-on bonus, they live in the land of “unicorns and rainbows.” Note, this is/was a serious issue for my candidate I “fired” last month. Typically, I have found it is something else, like insecurity, or a HUGE MORTGAGE IN SILICON VALLEY, they can’t afford. NOT your problem!

Clueless: How many PhD’s have you encountered that can do long division in their sleep, or code a trillion lines of code in seconds, but when it comes to “asking for the job”, they stumble and fumble like a child? Careful with these types, a candidate like this can negatively affect your client relations for the simple fact that expectations are high upfront. My candidate worked for a huge data storage employer in Silicon Valley, and they historically pay their people very well. But in the startup world, especially in this day and age with cash being tight, you MUST get your candidates to see the bigger picture in terms of future potential. (Take Money Off The Table)

Money, Money, Money: Like I stated above, when candidates are obsessed with the money questions early on, buyer beware! This is in my view a huge “red flag” for issues on the back end. (Offer stage)

Communication: Should the communication styles be strained, consider having a “coming to Jesus” conversation with your candidate. I did with mine, and I ultimately “disengaged.” By taking action over my thoughts, feelings/emotions, and actions with other relevant searches in my business, I ultimately earned $27k on that search assignment. I asked the tough questions upfront, and clearly in the end, it helped my client achieve what is wanted, namely to take away test engineering pains!

Arrogance/Rudeness: We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and socioeconomic conditions, however in my view, we are all created equal and at no time should your candidate belittle you, your desk, or your firm. This goes both ways, and when a candidate who is a stretch for your requirement calls the office, it is important to still treat them with dignity and respect. My candidate made occasional statements made to me in jest, such as, “All you recruiters are the same,“ or “All you want to do is close the deal Brian,” which I took as offensive at times and ultimately is the reason I “checked out” midstream (yet still closed the deal!).

In conclusion, YOUR feelings don’t matter in the end, when it comes to making placements, so don’t allow your ego to drive behavior like I did when I was a 25 year old “rookie.”  Even if you attempt to control everything, sometimes stuff (or a placement) just happens, simply because of the “match” between your candidate and client. What I believe ultimately matters are the feelings of the client, who is paying your bills. The recruiting game is about solving problems for your customers. Therefore, you can fool yourself into thinking that you control the situation, but ultimately you can’t control everything in the hiring process. (Unless you are an “old skool” dinosaur recruiter)

I wonder if you have discovered just how much revenue you can make and time you will save by “firing” your problem candidates?

Brian Johnston has more than fourteen years of success in the executive staffing industry. His specialty is recruiting talent for venture-backed, emerging technology companies, as well as for tactical Fortune 500 companies nationwide. Prior to founding Johnston Search, he was an executive at a leading boutique Data Storage and technology staffing firm. He also has experience as Recruitment Manager for a Billion-Dollar Top-Ten staffing firm. Johnston's hands-on technology recruitment experience spans multiple industries, including Data Storage (RAID, ISCSI, SATA, NFS, CIFS, FIBRE, NAS/SAN/DAS/CAS), Medical Devices (CLASS II/III, Subcutaneous Implantable, FDA, ISO), and Media/Broadcasting (Audio/Video/JPEG/).

Last month he launched www.inboundrecuiter.com, which is a free site written for recruiters, by recruiters, focused on Inbound Recruiter strategies. (Get Found+Convert+Analyze = NO MORE COLD CALLS!!!)

He enjoys expanding his Faith, Family, Friends, Fitness, and Finances. 


47 Comments on “I “FIRED” My Candidate…and Still Closed $27k

  1. Brian you are one of the most talented recruiters I’ve ever met. Most valuable take-away for me from this post – I have complete control over 2 important success indicators in my business…my attitude and my activity. Focusing on those metrics will help me perform at the top 1% level.

  2. What an amazing article!!! Great information and inspirational too……. Something I will revisit when I become frustrated with the things/circumstances that I can not control.

    Nice work Brian!

    Dianna Sorby
    Regional Account Manager
    Evolve Technology Group

  3. Very well written. Will assist many in preparing for future job prospects. What’s in it for ME does not go over well with corporate America. Attitude is a key aspect in choosing an applicant for a position. Respect is essential. Work ethic is key.

  4. @Jarod- Thanks so much, I truly appreciate that… I am very humbled to have you take time to read/comment..

    @Michael- I appreciate you.. You provided the same feedback as my wife. 🙂

    @Dianna- Exactly, only so many things we can control in this life

    @Todd- Blessed beyond comprehension to be given the opporutnity to “be creative” and write/Fordyce.. I appreciate you!

    Best to ALL, Brian-

  5. Hey “B’rian,
    very inspiring words (as always). So glad to know you on more than just a professional level. You strive to be the best YOU CAN BE, and ALWAYS encourage others to do the same. Keep up the good work.

    BeeBummer Insruance Services

  6. Hey “B’rian,
    very inspiring words (as always). So glad to know you on more than just a professional level. You strive to be the best YOU CAN BE, and ALWAYS encourage others to do the same. Keep up the good work.

    BeeBummer Insurance Services

  7. Nicely written Brian and said with heart.

    The business of candidate and recruiter is a special bond.
    There MUST be trust and acuracy on both side to create a perfect union and land that perfect new position.

    Being an engineer myself, next time don’t wait so long to let he/she know their way out of line. You are helping them in the long run.

  8. Great article, Brian. Looking forward to reading many more articles written by YOU! Your advice helps in many aspects… Thank you!!

  9. @Terry Mutual respect and attitude are huge! You are right about that

    @Joe I REALLY appreciate that comment

    @Trae Thanks so much… I care deeply about who I am “becoming” and who my peers are “becoming”, so thanks!

    @Sheila Thanks for the vote of confidence, it is so very much appreciated!!!

  10. Great to see such a flood of comments on this post — it was a fun one to edit and it seems to resonate with many of you! Welcome to The Fordyce Letter; please do have a look around, as we have lots of great content here for you to digest, and feel free to leave comments on the other articles as well. Your comments are currency for the writers.

    Amybeth Hale
    Editor, The Fordyce Letter

  11. Great article, Brian. The part I related to the best is where you speak to concentrating on the things you can control or influence, and controlling your mental state. There can be no meaningful relationship without trust.

  12. I have been contracting since 1991. I have been using Recruiters for my own benefit from time to time, which puts me in agreement with Brian.
    I understand that once you get the job, it is all about you not the recruiter. But in the same token, the reputation of the recruiter is based on the candidates actions during employment.
    I also believe in what Albert Einstein says about Ethics. Ethics is based on Sympathy, Education and social ties, and is not govern by any super human. How does this apply? You don’t have to be grateful in getting the job, but don’t bite the hand that feeds you, conduct yourself ethically or with scruples; be respectful.

    For me, if my work can employ people or keep people employed that is good enough for me. With this attitude everyone wins.

  13. Two of my biggest placements during the last 12 months followed absolutely NONE of the “rules” I was originally taught in the 80’s/90’s.

    * There was no “well defined Job Order” (as per Anthony Byrne/Steve Finkel original teachings — not that I mock either)

    * There was no JOB ORDER other than “I need a really Smart Person”.

    * I Had to figure out what that “Smart Person” translated to.

    * The Smart Person was so smart he/she did not want ANYTHING to do with me once initial intro was made meaning:
    – don’t even try to debrief me
    – Don’t even try helping the company w/negotiations
    – Don’t even try to “pre-close” either party

    Yet — since birds of a feather flock together, they hired each other and my bill was paid.

    EVEN though I performed the LEAST amount of work on two large (over $40k) fees. Go figure.

    I almost felt guilty for not having to do anything I was trained for!!

    Would you laugh if I told you one was a resume flipped over from Monster and the 2nd was the result of a mass email using a mail harvesting software program?

    NOT ONE DIRECT RECRUITING call made in either one!

    But I will never work with pain-in-the ass candidates a second time however.

  14. Brian,

    I like the fact that you took this headon and didn’t run away from it like a few Senators in Wisconsin.

    Good job,

  15. @Jennifer Thanks for the feeback, I appreciate it!

    @Amybeth, I could not agree more, please read other articles… The insight is from “recruiting legends” in our Industry!!!

    @Vanoodles, Glad to fire you up!

    @Mike, Exactly, focus on the things you can control, and life is way easier!!!

    @Gary, I could not agree with you more

    @Frank Thanks so much for your stories…. “Timing” is the key to business and life, and it sounds like your kicking $#@!!! Love it!!

    @Mike, I appreciate your candor… Your so right about that (Politics)

    Best to ALL, Brian-

  16. Brian,
    Your energy,as well as your strong integrity, show in this article. Keep writing, you are doing great!

  17. (The following comments mean no disrespect to Brian and have been included here on Brians urging.)

    OK you asked for it, so here it is. You have a lot of good things going for you, but here are some opportunities or suggestions for improvement.

    From your emails, I get the impression that you are a very enthusiastic and happy guy. I also get the impression that you are a hard worker and dedicated to your business.

    When dealing with employees, you are also dealing with their backgrounds (baggage). Oftentimes, their previous challenges with salesmen (which is what you are), comes out as an expression of being very defensive. Your job is to be their boss, which means that you need to be a mentor. Explore their attitude and discover what they really need. Their arrogance is oftentimes, just immaturity and that is all. You need to educate them and prepare them for the interview.

    It seems very unusual that a client would pay you for firing a person. I am puzzled as to how a manager would justify paying for non-performance? (You’ve violated another precept of professional conduct – never disclose money details.)

    I’ve managed engineers so I have some experience. Engineers, in general, are self-centered and introverted. That’s what makes them good thinkers. They lack people skills. Sometimes, it takes some effort to draw out their talents. A mark of a good manager/handler is to draw out their talent.

    The use of word “jackass” in the article is an indication of frustration. Imagine, if I went on an interview and characterized my last boss as a “jackass”… even if he really was one? Honesty and directness is not always the best approach.

    If you outlines these challenges in the article as a series of do’s and don’t, as advice to prospective clients, I think it would sound a lot better. As it is – it sound a little self-promoting.

    Hiring a person is a negotiation. If he is really stuck on a specific salary, than either he has little interest in working or some backup plan. The best that you can do is point out the advantages of the current offer and the down side of insisting on a higher pay scale. Ultimately it’s his choice.

    I do understand that the people that you recruit for clients are a direct reflection on you and your credibility, but who is your real customer?

    One last thing… Please regard these suggestions as opportunities from a friend. Your emails seem to be a bit too familiar. You may want to consider making them more terse and professional. Common courtesy remarks are always appreciated, but overly enthusiastic declarations diminish the professionalism. Just like the interview clothing that we wear – they may be standard and boring, but they convey a sense of stability, predictability and professionalism. Hawaiian shirts are OK too, but I wouldn’t recommend them for interviews.

    Hope I haven’t offended you.
    Take care,

    Gerard B.

  18. @Elizabeth thanks so much for the feedback/support!

    @Gerard THANK YOU for your feedback, I love it actually, and I appreciate the fact you care enough to provide your well written thoughts… Were all created equal in my view, but like the candidate, I also can behave like a “Jackass” at times…. (just ask my wife…) 🙂

  19. Brian,
    I have never read an article like yours from the recruiter’s point of view. Your points to consider should made aware to anyone starting a job search with a recruiter or a potential employer.

  20. Brian- great article and it made me think of OTHER ways to look at the hiring process. Kudos to you for taking the time to write that article. More importantly for you and your web site- the hyperlink after the article is missing an R. The link does not work spelled that way.

    John Palcisko CPC CERS
    Managing Partner ARG AgentHR Recruiting Group

  21. Very well written Brian. You’ve awakened to your morals. Morals are the only thing you have that nobody can take away from you without your willingness to give them up. Every moment you make the choice between egoic values and the devine. Sounds like you made choice: money does not come first.

  22. Thank you for your extremely insightful, yet non-traditional commentary into the world of recruitment. Your thoughtful and personalized narrative effectively outlined an array of pitfalls to be avoided, along with some mental techniques that will help us “stay in the game.” A directive with great purpose, designed to bring us the results we need in this business. Your article was especially captivating because of your candid and straightforward tone, which is always appreciated in this day and age, when we are often fed too much fluff that is meaningless. No one has time for that anymore.

    I (and I’m sure others) certainly hope we hear from you again, as you have a great affinity for writing, and because what you have to say gets to the true heart of the matter.

  23. Great perspective on that which is most important. Absolutely adhere to these philosophies and very refreshing to see it in writing to share with others. Principles and morals seem to be diminishing exponentially in our world and articles and thoughts like these remind us there is still hope.

  24. Brian, your article is very different from any that I’ve read before on this subject and it’s clear that you are very passionate about your business.. I really liked how frank you were in the article and learned from what I read. Great job! Please keep me in mind in the future as I would like to read more that you publish! Best of luck to you in your business!

  25. This was a very well-written and timely article. It made me think about my attitude and how, ultimately, I need to show how I will be an asset to my next employer rather than a “problem candidate”.

  26. @Allan, Thanks for your feedback, we appreciate it… Thanks for listening

    @John, Again thanks for the feedback, will look into the link, however not really concerned with links back to my site, this was a “gift of service” to my community…

    @Praveen, Thanks for the comment!

    @Barbara, Yep, thanks so much, your comments touched my “heart” I agree there is “no more time for that anymore”..

    @Lyndo, Thanks so much, I trust a “shift” is coming in the “mind of man” With the tools we have to “expose liars/cheaters/Hucksters, etc” No more patience for shenanigans personally or professionally…

    @Gregg, You got what I am trying to say… $ is not worth compromising my values. (THANK YOU)

    @Steve, Thanks so much for your candor, and comments… Leadership requires “frankness”, and at this point at my life (Confidence)I am willing to accept and learn from any criticism.

    @Anne, I am grateful this has helped you. From my experience, when I have messed things up in my personal or professional life (Far too much I care to admit), I can only blame myself for my failures… (tough pills to swallow) We control our destiny. (good or bad)

    @Bob, thanks for much for the feedback!

    Best to ALL, Brian-

  27. Wow, I didn’t realize how much your job required so much expertise and knowledge on human behavior. You are like a member of the Behavior Analysis Unit but for the business world. You are pretty much looking for individuals who are emotionally and mentally sound and have their priorities straight. Your position is very important to the Big Boss who doesn’t have time to deal with behaviors that are going to hinder his/her success. Your resume screams knowledge and continuous professional and personal growth. I love your F’s and their order of priority. Great article! Any reader who is looking for a profession would find it very intriguing. Any individual looking for a job would find the lists of don’ts very useful in an interview process. I will pass on the article to my family, friends, and students.

  28. Brian, the power of positivity and work ethic seems to be lost in today’s “get rich quick” environment. Most folks don’t develop the psychological skills discussed in your article because they are not willing to invest the time and effort to be GREAT! I appreciate your insight and know that individuals like you enhance the business world. To discuss instances that have occurred in the past without the specific mention of individuals’ or corporate names is infinitely better than the generic dribble from most writers. We can all afford to learn from each other. Keep up the GREAT work!

  29. Brian, Great article, I would only expect that kind of integrity from you. I worked in a commission job for over 28 years, and I understand, truly about walking away from a commission, if the client relationship just does not feel right! sometimes money is not always the answer!! GREAT JOB!!

  30. Dear Brian,
    Good post! I like the content, and the way you present it is easy to read and entertaining at the same time.
    I think it’s good that you share your experience. My own experience with recruiters (“being recruited”) was the critical part about trust relationship that you mention. You not only need someone you can trust, but the relationship of trust (or at least transparency) between the recruiting company and the recruiter is also critical.
    Last but not least: congratulations for being regarded as one who can contribute in this publication, as this is a huge recognition for your work so far and your personal insights regarding this activity. Cheers!

  31. Brian,

    Inspiring to say the least; equally important, very useful information. Your passion, integrity and knowledge of the industry and life shine through. Look forward to more articles.

  32. Brian –

    Great point in that we control our attitude and activity – very true.

    In reading your article I was thinking of all the searches that blew up in the final stages that I have worked on. The common factor in almost all of those unssucessful searches was that I knew they were not going to work out. I once had a boss that asked me “what are the chances we are going to close this and actually have the candidate start”? I pegged the chance at 50%, my boss knew me and the details of the search and offered a 10% chance. She was right – and I learned that sometimes we need to ‘cut bait’ on a candidate that we have a ‘bad feeling’ about and go out and find someone who is a good match (and 2 backups!!).

    Good job!!

  33. Great Article Brian. I have read it multiple times to soak it all in. As a business owner and one that “Wears the Hiring” Hat, WOW – you have opened my eyes to how many facets there are in the hiring process. I mean – WOW. Thanks for taking the time to share your passion with me and others. Very informative and real. Best to you Brian.

  34. @Letty, Thanks for your feedback, glad you like my “F” words!

    @Greg, Yep, I agree the power of attitude, and perseverance!

    @Linda, Thanks so much for the support… You got to know when to hold em, and know when to fold em….

    @Boris, I appreciate your taking the time to comment…

    @Ken J, Thanks for that, I am quite sure your passion is equal or even great to mine!

    @Greg, I think you and I had the same “smart/objective” boss… The amount of time “spent” needs to be tracked, validated, and monitored… Sounds like you are right on track!

    @Jason, “little things matter” in the hiring process, and I trust you are on track to hiring the best folks on the market!

  35. Brian:

    Nice article. Where have you been when I was a college coach trying to recruit athletes to my program. I will definitely save this article and keep in my back pocket.

    Good job,


  36. Brian – great article.

    You make some excellent observations that provide an inside look at today’s recruiting industry. You also identify some unwavering principles that must be respected for long-term success and integrity in recruiting, as well as many other professions.

    Well-written and engaging, Brian…thanks for sharing.

    Mike Holloway
    Product Support & IT
    Digital Media Production & Distribution

  37. @Coach Nat, Glad this will help you recruit Top Athletes!

    @Ronald, I recommend reaching out to Fordyce letter before you add links (Self Promotion) to comments…

    @Mike, Thanks for the reply, I am glad you like my style of writing, and you learned a thing or two….

  38. Well said! I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I am new to The Fordyce Letter and new to recruiting in general. I’m looking forward to many more posts from you!

    Lead Researcher
    Switchgear Search and Recruiting, Tulsa OK

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