Is Nothing Better Than Something

Of course not, or is it?

For over thirty years I have observed, measured, and evaluated the work habits of countless recruiters and staffing professionals. Based on this experience, it is my belief that:

The average practitioner wastes more than 50% of their time during a typical workday.

Unfortunately, many of them are not consciously aware of their inefficiency. In fact, most believe they are using their time in a productive manner because they are working on “something” that could produce revenue. And, they could be right even though the odds of that happening may be extreme.

In psychological terms, this is referred to as “operant conditioning.” Remember Pavlov and his dog? The same intermittent reinforcement schedule applies to unsuspecting practitioners. They are always working on “something” because once in a while, regardless of the odds, “something” pays off.

A more cynical appraisal would call this avoidance behavior. The practitioner would rather work on long-odds situations, often times cloaked in pleasing processes, because there is a faint hope of a positive outcome. To these individuals, this approach is preferable to properly qualifying their clients, candidates, and recruits against appropriately established selection criteria.

There are generally two reasons for this non-productive behavior. First, it may be the result of poor or non-existent training (they do not know how to properly qualify business). Second, they may lack the willingness to execute the necessary steps to properly qualify business opportunities (they know what to do, they just choose not to do it).

Here are two examples.

Mike, a third year recruiter had not made a placement for over three months. His manager informed me that Mike had plenty of orders but didn’t seem capable of turning them into billable business. After meeting with Mike and reviewing all of his open orders against appropriate criteria, it was obvious that none of them were properly qualified. Because of a lack of training, Mike did not know how to properly qualify clients and orders. In fact, he had 28 open orders. With the approach he was taking, odds were he might have filled one of them if he were lucky.

Following a performance based training session focused on “how to qualify clients and orders,” Mike went back and properly qualified all of his orders. These were the results:

7 orders were no longer open.

4 orders were at the closing stages (although he had sent resumes, none of his candidates were being considered).

11 orders involved more than six recruiting sources (none of Mike’s candidates were under serious consideration) and were not a high priority for the client.

3 orders were in the preliminary stages of hiring, working with three or fewer sources including Mike.

3 orders were actually exclusive to Mike (unfortunately he was not aware of this) and were awaiting his referrals.

Over the next three weeks, we had Mike concentrate his efforts on the six best-qualified orders. By concentrating his efforts in this manner, he was successful in filling four of them.

Training solved this problem. Mike believed he had “something.” After reviewing his orders, he agreed he had “nothing.” Then, through performance based training, he was able to turn “nothing” into “something” that produced billings of $69,125.00.

Another example was Paul, a six-year veteran who by his own admission was a “train wreck.” His previous six months activity produced one placement. His primary mode of operation consisted of e-mailing improperly qualified resumes to job boards and employer web sites. Although he did generate 18 interviews and two offers, he was only able to close one of them for a heavily discounted fee of $5000.00.

Paul believed he was always working on “something,” albeit extremely low odds “something” (remember operant conditioning). In a frank discussion, Paul admitted that the approach he was taking was comfortable for him even though he had been trained to work only on properly qualified business. In this instance, he knew what to do; he just chose not to do it. Instead he followed the path of least resistance, which unfortunately was also the path of least results.

Paul was unwilling to change his approach and begin with “nothing.” Consequently, by focusing on “something,” his results continued to be minimal. Ultimately, he and his manager agreed it was time for him to try a different career.

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There is one thing worse than having no business on which to work and that is working on poorly qualified business. Operating in this manner squanders your time and energy resources while producing minimal results.

This is a challenge that confronts everyone in our business on a daily basis. Therefore, to make certain you are not fooled by “something,” ask yourself the following questions:

“Does this activity represent the best utilization of my time?”


“If not, why not?”


“What am I going to do about it?”

When is “nothing better than something?” When the “something” you are working on is a waste of time. Better you start over with “nothing” and focus your efforts on developing qualified business. Take the 50% of your day that may be currently wasted and use the time to build real business with clients, candidates and recruits who are serious about working with you in a committed relationship.

This is the approach taken by most of the top producers in our industry. You won’t find them working on industry standard “something.” They would rather have “nothing” because it frees up their time to concentrate on developing real business that has high odds of producing a positive outcome. Now that’s really SOMETHING!

As always, your comments and questions are most welcome.

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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