Placements and the Law

Working Trade Shows


You’d think a headhunter at a trade show wouldn’t even need a spear. All those potential “heads” of the industry you serve just waiting to be attacked. There oughta be a law prohibiting a license to hunt at events like that. Right?

Wrong. Search Research Institute estimates that only around 5% of the recruiters who attend trade shows in industries they serve get any return on their investment. Shocked? You shouldn’t be. Just ask yourself whether you ever:

1. Placed a candidate recruited at a show

2. Filled a search assignment obtained at a show

See what we mean? None of the above.

Most of the people at the show were looking for contacts, too. Maybe even with you. Frantically looking, in fact. Running around aimlessly, jostling in crowds, eating indigestible food, keeping unnatural hours, and traveling at the speed of sound. Packing, unpacking, sorting, babbling, and bumping into walls like children on the first day of school. That’s why they return to their overloaded offices tired and uninspired.

Nobody ever blames them-selves. They all say it was the space, sponsor, service, or speakers. They never realize that their preparation was wrong. They just never knew how to “work the territory.”

We’ve asked Susan RoAne to hold our hand through a trade show using her nifty book How to Work a Room. Initially, Susan notes:

The time to start preparing is not when the plane touches down or when we get our first peek at the convention hall. First of all, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things – the number of people to see, booths to visit, meetings to attend, parties to drop in on, and the immense physical distances to be covered.

It’s not unusual to attend six to eight events in the course of a day – and that’s before the evening cocktail parties, drop-ins, dinners, hospitality suites, and late night get-togethers.

As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re likely to wind up somewhere else.”

Here are 10 tactics to help you search and sell at shows:


Any meeting planner can predict arrivals with perfect accuracy. This is because they follow a standard bell-shaped curve; one-third of the visitors will be early, one-third will be on time, and one-third will be late.

Plan to arrive early. If you don’t, all the rest of your plans won’t matter. Regardless of the distance, plan to arrive the day before the event begins.

This allows you time to get your bearings. Even if you’re staying at the host hotel, familiarize yourself with the layout and convention area. If there’s no map in your room, get one from the front desk. Review it carefully, so you save the incredible amount of time and energy expended on logistics. Invest a few hours quietly in your room reviewing your notes, using the phone for greetings and meetings, checking the program of events, and generally setting up your “war room.”

Susan says:

The best way to get a handle on the organization is to read its newsletter or professional journal.

These publications can be invaluable resources. If you invest the time to read them, you will be well compensated. You won’t be an outsider; you will be familiar with the group and its people, and have all the information you need to ask questions and start conversations.

Should you recognize a member from a photo you saw in the newsletter or journal, you can bet that person will appreciate and welcome you.

This few hours is the most important part of any effective trade show strategy, since it allows you time to scope out the territory and develop a plan of attack. If you didn’t bring any snacks with you, order room service. It’s tax deductible, and you’re not ready to see anyone yet.

Once you’ve developed a strategy, you can freshen up, get dressed, and check yourself out in the mirror. Then promptly, eyes forward, chin up, shoulders back, stomach in, feet straight, confidently, self-assured, poised, march out of your room and over to the elevator. It’s time for your coming-out party.


If you were at a meeting of recruiters, you could dress as casually as you liked. You’d be among colleagues, associates, and friends. They would know you, identify with you, and not care how you looked. They also wouldn’t be a source of business other than by networking through your acquaintance.

But at a trade show in an industry you serve, you must strictly maintain a consultant image. You must be immediately identified as a professional adviser – a member of the “advice squad.”

Joseph Girard stated in How to Sell Anything to Anybody:

A top salesman is a first-rate actor. He plays a part and convinces his audience – the customer – that he is what he is playing. However you do it, the thing that matters most is that you know your customers, if not by name at least by style and type. Then you too will be able to disarm them and win the war.

To join the squad, you need:

a. A confident, pleasant look on your face
b. A conservative suit or dress
c. An ability to pronounce at least 20 of the latest buzzwords in the industry
d. A pen and pocket-size notebook to write down ideas, leads, reminders, etc.
e. A conservative, quality, clean briefcase containing:
i. A hundred business cards
ii. A sufficient number of brochures about your services to employers and candidates
iii. Convention paraphernalia, maps, and any other paper you dumped in during your travels


Stand at the exhibitor area of any trade show, and you’ll see how many vendors blow the greetings to people walking up to their booths. You may not be paying rent for a tent, but you’re a vendor just the same. Be sure you blow those darts that are in your briefcase, not the greetings to your targets.

Proper greetings to vendors in the booths are particularly critical, since this is when rigid first impressions are formed. They’re even more rigid because of the large volume of contacts people make at meetings. Vendors, chained to their booths, quickly get tired of the questions, requests, and rejection. This results in “emotional carry-over,” which brings the negativism into the next greeting.

In Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz discussed its effect:

If you have just talked with an irate and irritable customer, you need a change in set before talking with a second customer. Otherwise, “emotional carry-over” from the one situation will be inappropriate in dealing with the other.

You’ll know that a vendor has been victimized by emotional carry-over when you see him pushing interested people away from his booth. Don’t push people away, too.

Before you enter the exhibit area, be sure to follow Susan’s advice regarding name tags:

If you are asked to fill out your own name tag, you have some leeway in describing your position or specialty. This is a chance to identify yourself in an interesting way. [Someone told] me that when he put the designation FINANCIAL PLANNER on his name tag at a business show, no one looked twice. But when he wrote MONEY beneath his name, he was approached by many interesting people who wanted to know what he did.

A sense of humor does help!

Always, always place the name tag on your right-hand side. When you extend your right hand for a handshake, the line of sight is to the other person’s right side. If the name tag is placed on the left side and you sneak a peek away from the line of sight, you’ll get caught! The idea is to make the name tag as visible as possible.

When you see a victim, spear him with the “Magic Four Hello.” It consists of four acts that must occur simultaneously:

1. A smile.
2. Direct eye contact.
3. The words “Hi, I’m (first and last name). It’s a pleasure meeting you.”
4. A firm but gentle hand-shake.

Practice makes perfect in coordinating these four elements. Since you’re in a phone-intensive business, you may well be out of practice. Aside from making the “Magic Four” flow naturally, a proper handshake is often the hardest to master.

Enthusiasm in the handshake properly sets the tempo for the dialogue that follows. Recruiters are no better or worse than the general public when it comes to haphazard handshakes. One-third have a dead flounder dangling at the end of their wrists; another third have a live shark there. One turns people off; the other can critically injure them. Few even realize that this occupational disability exists. But it does – two-thirds of the time!

If you have a problem with your handshake, practice shaking hands with your coworkers in the office. They’ll be glad when you leave, but when you return you’ll have a briefcase full of placement potential.

The effectiveness of the Magic Four Hello has led the staff of Search Research Institute to consider making a trade-show briefcase with an 11-inch slot at the top to insert résumés.


Buzzwords are the “insider” language that has developed in every subculture since Eve recruited Adam. Their primary use at conventions is to lock in the alignment with employers and candidates. Their use also gives the impression of a working knowledge of the industry, and makes you look professional.

If you are already working in the field, you should be able to use buzzwords fluently. If not, get at least a dozen recent publications about the industry and list the strange words in them. Memorize them, along with the trends that you note in the articles. If you can’t fluently use at least a hundred words and discuss industry trends, you shouldn’t be recruiting or selling at the show.

Even a “Magic Four” greeting won’t help you at the “second impression” stage.


This consists of words and phrases that every professional placer uses. That doesn’t mean ones you know. Read these, and check yourself for a week to see how many are really in your “working vocabulary.”

If you don’t know the definitions, find out. Then consciously use them:

Accelerated Accepted Achieved
Acquired Acted Administered
Advanced Advised Analyzed
Arranged Attained Available
Certified Checked Communicated
Completed Concentrated Concluded
Conducted Contact Information
Counseled Determined Devised
Directed Employed Evaluated
Exit Interview Expanded Formulated
Handled Hired Identified
Implemented Improved Improvised
Increased Informed Innovated
Integrated Internal Referral
Investigated Involuntary Termination
Job Comparability Job Congruence
Job Description Job Order Job Rotation
Labor Grade Located Managed
Maximized Measured Minimized
Monitored Negotiated New Hire
Offered Opportunity Organized
Performed Personal References
Persuaded Position Professional References
Promoted Qualifications Raise
Rate Range Recommended Relocation
Requisition (“rec”) Résumé
Reviewed Revitalized Search Assignment
Served Simplified Solved
Span of Control Staffed Streamlined
Supervised Supported Taught
Trained Trimmed Upgraded


Since you do this all the time, it should come naturally. However, many recruiters leave conventions without introducing people, foreclosing their value as the matchmakers of the executive world.

These introductions aren’t to make placements, they’re to make acquaintances. Here’s how Letitia Baldrige says to do it in The Complete Guide to Executive Manners:

a. Introduce a younger person to an older one.
b. Introduce a junior person to a senior one.
c. Introduce a nonofficial person to an official one.
d. Introduce your associate to someone else.
e. Introduce another vendor to an employer or candidate.

As you can see, convention dictates that the “less important” person be introduced to the “more important” one. If people have equal standing, it makes no difference.

Frequently, you’ll be introducing someone with a doctorate, and you should use the title (introducing them first). Obviously, if both people have the same title, you can dispense with “Dr.” entirely.


Susan just reminded us that there’s a difference between including yourself in other people’s conversations and intruding on them.

She suggests the following:

a. When people appear to be involved in a personal discussion, stay away. You can only be deemed an intruder.

b. When two people are “brainstorming” intensely, and you realize you can’t catch up without interrupting their train of thought, back off. You’re just wasting your time, and perhaps a few good contacts. Instead of appear-ing interested, waiting for an opportunity to interrupt, find them at a more receptive time.

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c. Look for groups of three or more. This optimizes the interaction, while allowing you to withdraw from the conversation gracefully.

d. Allow others to enter the conversation, as long as it is not something confidential. (If it is, you shouldn’t be discussing it in public any-way.)

e. Enter every conversation physically before you do so verbally. When you feel included (by words or looks), you probably are.

f. Be sure your brain is turning over before engaging your mouth. Any conversation worth entering is one worth having. Besides, placing your foot in your mouth near other people at a convention can start a riot.

Bryce Webster suggested in The Power of Consultative Selling:

Use empathy to . . . uncover their point of view and feelings by doing background research and asking questions. You share their feelings by listening and extending your own feelings toward your clients.

You best empathize by sharing what you yourself believe you heard your client say. Play back or feed back your under-standing to your client and elicit his reaction to your under-standing. You are not judging the other’s feelings or opinions.

Phrases you can use to preface your empathetic re-marks include: “Let’s see if I understand correctly what you are saying . . . So, you seem to believe . . . Do I understand what you are saying? In other words, you maintain that . . .” and so forth, through numerous familiar phrases.

Say these messages with open, yet confident body postures and gestures, and in a calm, soothing tone of voice. You can’t share with someone else if you send mixed or confused signals. If you don’t feel it, don’t fake it.

When it comes to extricating yourself from the unhireables and unhirers, Susan advises:

To make your exit easier, wait until you have just finished a comment. Then smile and say, “Excuse me, it was nice meeting you.” If it makes you feel more comfortable, you might add, “I think I see my client . . .”

Once you extricate yourself, visibly move to another part of the room. It underscores the fact that you really did have someone to see, or something to do, and that you didn’t leave simply because you were bored.

Treat everyone nicely whether or not their title impresses you. You never know. Looking for “decision makers” may be a poor decision. They may be the most important people in the room, but they may be moving next week to positions that are not very impressive indeed.

As James Brewer added in Power Selling:

Selling is an interpersonal process. If the salesperson builds a positive interpersonal relationship, the chances of making a sale are good. Very few, if any, sales are made when there is a negative relationship. The goal of the salesperson should be to build a mutually beneficial association with the prospect.

The salesperson and the prospect will work toward a balance of power. If the prospect feels that the salesperson is overpowering, no sale will be made. At the same time, when the salesperson feels intimidated by the prospect, no sale will be made. A balance of power will allow a frank and open discussion of the service, which is so vital to successful selling.


Trade shows are a vendor chore and bore. Don’t stay any longer than you need to, and keep the socializing to a minimum.

Unprepared, insensitive recruiters are much better off never attending a trade show. They’re much more effective working a desk, in the controllable, one-dimensional environment of a phone call. Once they arrive at the hotel, they’re thrust into an environment that is unpredictable and therefore uncontrollable. Although there’s never been a survey on the subject, recruiters have probably lost more relationships at shows than they gained.

Even the typical luncheon meeting is fraught with problems. Where do you sit? Do you eat unusual foods? Do you ask for something different? How do you talk to the hotel staff? Do you drink? How many? Do you smoke? What? How are your manners? Where’s your napkin? Who’s paying? How much? Do you pay cash or charge it? Which card do you use?

These and a hundred different items can affect your relationship with the people you’re trying to impress. When you add the discussion of subjects that are offensive to them (or vice versa), it can be a disaster. If your spouse or associates are with you, the probability of a chemical imbalance is even higher. If your victim is of the opposite sex, it might even be like chemical warfare.

Lack of control isn’t the only reason familiarity breeds con-tempt. You’re not really an industry member. It’s no coincidence that “common,” “community,” and “communication” sound alike. You may feel like the first headhunter who’s ever been ambushed by his prey.

You see this all the time working a desk. Richard Gould observed in Sacked! Why Good People Get Fired and How to Avoid It:

Every person is unique, set apart from all others by a unique bundle of needs, motives, ideas, experiences, attitudes, and values. Each struggles with life in a unique fashion against an unreplicable combination of circumstances.

There are basic differences in the way they think, construe events, and react emotionally.

You’re not on a vacation, not even on a “business trip.” You’re in an unpredictable, uncontrollable jungle. It’s rich in game, but you’ve got to know the terrain.


Business cards are fine, as long as you note who gave them to you, and why. But they’re only a tool to avoid writing down contact information.

Instead of focusing on getting business cards, rivet yourself to those people who can increase your business. You’ll find that trade directories, and even convention rosters, are woefully inadequate to reconstruct con-tact information on people you met. This, coupled with the confusion of so many places, faces, and cases, will interfere with your effectiveness.

Don’t be afraid to ask immediately how to reach people you need. Then, like a hungry headhunter, track till you trap. Michael Enzer explained why in Selling by Seminar:

A sales executive I knew usually closed all of his staff meetings with the exhortation: “Follow up! Follow up! Follow up!” He believed that no matter what you were trying to achieve, if you didn’t follow up, you were increasing your chances of failure – needlessly – or at the very least, limiting the extent of your success.

To assume that something will happen, in and of itself, is to succumb to a naïveté unworthy of any professional salesperson: You must follow up – diplomatically, to be sure – but nonetheless you must provide the kind of “nudge” that will get your “invitation” out of the in-box and into the action file.


You’ll be blowing a dart through a U-shaped gun.

Instead, hope that the candidate and employer don’t meet. If it looks like hoping won’t work, dash over to the nearest house phone, call security, and anonymously report the candidate for stealing a doorknob. That way he’ll be detained.

If you need more time, call again and report the hiring heavies – one at a time. It’s particularly important that the candidate be released first, though. One recruiter didn’t wait, and the candidate was handcuffed to his future boss for seven and a half hours until the housekeepers all reported in.

The two doorknobs were finally located inside the security booth. One of the guards had rigged up a dumbbell (using the knobs and a coat hanger) so he could exercise his saluting arm. Fin-ally, the night manager persuaded him to open the handcuffs. The future boss and candidate walked off holding hands.

Fortunately, the recruiter was never caught. Unfortunately, he was never paid.

So hang on to that hot résumé until you get home. Then:

a. Clear the fee in writing.
b. Ask the hiring authority to state the names of any candidates being considered in writing.
c. Write a cover letter enclosing the candidate’s résumé.

Fax is fine, but you must do this to straighten out your blow-gun.

There oughta be a law against headhunters searching and selling at trade shows. Anything that good should at least require a hunting license. But it’s open season.

Using these 10 tactics, you can do it properly.

Jeffrey G. Allen, JD, CPC, turned a decade of recruiting and human resources management into the legal specialty of placement law. For over 32 years, Jeff has collected more placement fees, litigated more trade-secrets cases, and assisted more search and placement practitioners than anyone else. From individuals to multinational corporations in every phase of staffing, his name is synonymous with competent legal representation. Jeff holds four certifications in placement and is the author of many best-selling books in the career field. He can be reached at Law Offices of Jeffrey G. Allen, 10401 Venice Blvd., Suite 106, Los Angeles, CA 90034; (310) 559-6000; The Placement Strategy Hand-book and other books on search and placement can be purchased at:

More than thirty-five years ago, Jeffrey G. Allen, J.D., C.P.C. turned a decade of recruiting and human resources management into the legal specialty of placement law. Since 1975, Jeff has collected more placement fees, litigated more trade secrets cases, and assisted more placement practitioners than anyone else. From individuals to multinational corporations in every phase of staffing, his name is synonymous with competent legal representation. Jeff holds four certifications in placement and is the author of 24 popular books in the career field, including bestsellers How to Turn an Interview into a Job, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book and the revolutionary Instant Interviews. As the world?s leading placement lawyer, Jeff?s experience includes: Thirty-five years of law practice specializing in representation of staffing businesses and practitioners; Author of ?The Allen Law?--the only placement information trade secrets law in the United States; Expert witness on employment and placement matters; Recruiter and staffing service office manager; Human resources manager for major employers; Certified Personnel Consultant, Certified Placement Counselor, Certified Employment Specialist and Certified Search Specialist designations; Cofounder of the national Certified Search Specialist program; Special Advisor to the American Employment Association; General Counsel to the California Association of Personnel Consultants (honorary lifetime membership conferred); Founder and Director of the National Placement Law Center; Recipient of the Staffing Industry Lifetime Achievement Award; Advisor to national, regional and state trade associations on legal, ethics and legislative matters; Author of The Placement Strategy Handbook, Placement Management, The National Placement Law Center Fee Collection Guide and The Best of Jeff Allen, published by Search Research Institute exclusively for the staffing industry; and Producer of the EMPLAW Audio Series on employment law matters. Email him at


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