Next Level

First, thank you all for your overwhelmingly positive emails. As promised, every article will open with a topic related to enhancing the skills necessary for leading a search firm and close with a topic related to enhancing the skills necessary for running a search practice. That said, I begin with an issue that every search firm leader faces, as does every client! Many businesses refer to their people as a precious asset. Well, in a search firm, our people are our only assets, and hiring the right people is the single most important step of leadership. I have seen hundreds of behavioral-profiling tools, interview forms, and qualification summaries including soft skills such as hardworking, dedicated, driven, empathetic, charismatic, persuasive, driven, bright, and articulate person with high integrity, self-confidence, and self-discipline. Doesn’t every hiring manager want those things? The key is defining what those words mean to that hiring manager or, in your case, to you.

As an example, one hiring manager may define “hardworking” as working 10-hour days or a 50-hour week. Another may define it as 12-hour days or a 70-hour week. The person in the former example may be getting an award for his work ethic, while another, in the latter example, may be getting fired for the same behavior. What is important is to quantify these soft skills in the context of your office or culture and then use them, along with the candidate’s background and technical skills, to create a match.

The most important of all the soft skills we look for is “passion.” We define passion as simply “a burning desire to succeed” or “a single-mindedness in pursuit of any goal.” In other words, to stop me, you will have to kill me! It is a competitive drive that manifests itself as what we call passion. To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, “The world is full of educated derelicts, and persistence alone is omnipotent.”

When passion meets persistence, the result is honoring commitments. If a recruiter commits to a client that she will have three candidates to them by Friday and it is Thursday and she has only one, what would she do? If the answer is not “whatever it takes,” then this person does not have what we need. “Whatever it takes” should mean that this person will be here until 10:00 or 11:00 tonight, and come in at 6:00 the next morning, and will leave as many voicemails as it takes to increase the odds of fulfilling her commitment. Otherwise, she will collapse at her desk trying. Sound harsh? Perhaps, but it is the commitment that was made.

To us, honoring commitments is the bedrock of trust and integrity. If an organization makes commitments to its associates and then fails to honor them, we consider this a breach of corporate integrity. If the leaders of that organization do not immediately rectify and apologize for such an integrity breach, it is our belief that the associate should then leave for a competing organization that models corporate integrity. I share this with every new associate at Kaye/Bassman.

Conversely, we consider a lack of associates’ honoring their commitments as a personal integrity breach. As a result, I would expect them to course-correct immediately and apologize to the person adversely affected by the failed commitment, or I would ask them to reconsider their desire to remain at a firm that allows its associates to make commitments and not honor them.

Whether you call it passion, commitment, dedication, or integrity, what is important is not the word itself but the ability to hire people who embody the essence of the word. People can demonstrate this passion only when they feel that their work has a meaningful purpose and is reflective of their personal values. Many people are interested in success, but interest and commitment are not the same thing. As in the case of a ham-and-eggs breakfast, in which the chicken is involved but the pig is committed!!!

Hiring for our business is much harder than for our clients because we rarely hire people who are doing exactly what we want done at one of our competitors. We must use every tool available to help us in our interviewing and hiring. However, it all starts with defining what you value and attracting people who share those values. Once that is done, you can refer back to the information in this article.

So, the next time you convey a series of soft skills that you and everyone else wants, ask yourself, “What do these words mean to me and our firm?” The next time you take a search assignment and the hiring manager begins to rattle off the same typical soft skills, ask him or her, “What does (insert word) look like from your perspective or your firm’s?”

In regard to running an effective search practice, this tip (below) comes from Greg Zoch. Greg has been in search for more than a decade and joined Kaye/Bassman five years ago after running a firm in Denver. In 2006, Greg generated search revenue of $1.2 million with one researcher. His fees ranged from $15,000 to over $250,000! I chose Greg’s tip because I think he models the very passion and commitment I just described above. It is no coincidence that he leads virtually every partner at our firm in both phone time (4+ hours daily after 10 years in search) and W-2 income!

Don’t Take Another Job Order Without Asking These Four Questions

Wow, you have a great job order (JO)! You cleared your fee and know everything about the position. You have a good rapport with the hiring authority. You are excited and ready to start making calls and “fill this puppy” quickly! Everything is set, right? Maybe yes – maybe no!

We spend a lot of time and attention on getting details from and understanding the motivation of our candidates. It will serve us well to also consider taking a more “candidate-focused” approach to understanding our clients’ needs. Let me explain.

We understand that people are motivated by how their life is being affected by their job. We understand that the best way to approach people is by inquiring about, focusing on, and satisfying their needs and wants. Satisfy needs and you’ll have a robust practice.

I think we often forget that our hiring authorities are people, too. The JO you want to fill should have a direct effect on them personally in some significant way. I want to know how much it affects them. Before I invest a few days to weeks of my life in a search, I want to know if having the position open is really a problem. And if so, how big a problem it is. The bigger the problem, the greater the motivation to follow my advice and a process that will assure success. I have never found anyone willing to spend a lot of time and effort to solve an inconsequential problem.

To identify how committed a client is, I make sure I ask four questions, in this order:

1. How long has the position been open?

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– There seems to be a direct relationship between how long a position has been open and how urgent/important filling it is to a hiring authority.
– However, beware of positions that have been open for more than six months. They may have become accustomed to doing the work themselves and become desensitized to the pain of having it unfilled.

2. How is the work being done now?

– I always want to hear that they are paying big bucks for a contractor or overtime and that the work is indeed being done.
– I like it more when the hiring authority has to do the work themselves. That way they really feel the pain.
– Beware of “I don’t know.” No pain, no problem, no urgency – no fee.

3. What is it costing you to have the position open?

– Of course, if they are paying big bucks for a contractor or overtime, you want to quantify that dollar amount and quote it back to them in total “annual dollars.” Making it larger than a monthly cost puts it into perspective and reduces fee-sensitivity.
– Be sure to probe for non-monetary costs. What is it costing them personally? Working evenings and weekends and missing family outings can be huge in terms of their costs – and pain.
– Perhaps not having this position filled will cost the hiring authority’s department revenue and ultimately his/her bonus. Now that’s a biggie!
– Generally, the more the personal costs, the greater the pain. The greater the pain, the more they’ll work your way.

4. How will your life be once it’s filled?

– This is where you really want to hear a deep sigh and a response that indicates “relief.” Listen to what is said and how it is said.
– If they cannot define this, refer to the personal costs they have stated in #3 above and how it would feel to eliminate those costs – in personal terms.

Empathize with them whenever they express pain and make sure they know you care and can make the pain go away, “if . . .” Then propose a process to get it done. If there is enough pain, and you’ll hear it if there is, they will follow your lead.

Asking these questions very early in the process of taking a JO and carefully listening to their answers will help you get comfortable with how emotionally committed your client will be to the process and to you. Without a strong commitment, you are gambling your time and, if working on a contingency basis, could be working for free.

Jeff Kaye is president and CEO of Kaye/Bassman International and Next Level Recruiting Training. This former MRI Recruiter of the Year has helped build the largest single-site search firm in the country, with annual search revenue in excess of $18 million. His firm has won national awards for philanthropy and workplace flexibility and has been named the best company to work for in Texas in 2006 and 2007. Kaye/Bassman has retained over 30 search professionals whose annual production exceeds $400,000. The same training that helped build this successful firm is now available through Next Level Recruiting Training. To learn how to take your practice and business to the NEXT LEVEL, please visit to view their product and service offerings. You can also send Jeff an email with a thought or question to


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