Reality Therapy For Recruiters

Recognizing recruiting reality really makes a difference in billings. It’s not easy to do though. There’s so much recruiting rhetoric out there.

Here are the seven realities. Use them therapeutically:


You’d think retained searchers would really buy into all that “consultant” stuff — that they’re indispensable gurus who hiring authorities can’t live without.

Just the opposite is true. Retained searchers understand employer reality: They know that a retainer is the only real way to get an employer’s attention unless you have a seemingly qualified candidate.

Unfortunately, most retained searchers aren’t high billers, primarily because it takes them much longer to place someone. Their “clients” constantly change specs, threaten them, and eventually resent having foreclosed other recruiters from the search.

So the retained searchers’ need for security lowers their financial risk, but lowers their eventual income too.

Contingency-fee superstars know that they’re only as good as their present presentation. Knowing this — accepting employer reality without deluding themselves — gives the high-billers a sharp competitive edge.


High-billers recognize that everyone in the world of work is a “candidate.” Some are nicer than others. Some are more motivated than others. But all will move. I’d move. Wouldn’t you? Everyone has their price.

This doesn’t mean a high-biller will try to place everyone he meets. He’s very selective — but much more interested in candidate profiles than candidate preferences. He knows that acting on perceived “preferences” costs a fortune in fees.

High-billers look at the world with everyone as a candidate, but with no one as the candidate. They know that every job man has ever engineered is subjective enough to be flexible. They know that job orders rarely resemble new-hire profiles. They know that even the day a JO is written it’s probably only marginally correct. And that’s after 45 minutes of one-on-one with someone who often has nothing to do with hiring anyone.

Not that it matters. In fact it’s probably better. A “hiring authority” is even more dangerous to take literally — he’s the visible part of a much larger hiring committee. Which part? How are his preferences changing the specs? You’re better off with the personnel functionary or administrator.

So while every candidate is placeable, no candidate is a “perfect fit.” No candidate is even perfect.


The “five-figure fee for phone call” perception isn’t limited to new recruiters. That perception has been a psychological part of the corporate mindset from the time employer-paid fees began 40 years ago. The typical syndrome is:

a. A new recruiter thinks his fee is obscene.
b. The staff employee he calls also thinks the fee is obscene. Even worse,
c. The recruiter knows the staff employee thinks the fee is obscene.

But it’s a cold call, not a cursing contest. No recruiter wants to feefight when he can feel good by another approach. Rookie recruiters are particularly fearful of big, bad employers. They’re babes in the woods.

Many never become adults in the jungle because they:

a. Don’t mention the fee at all.
b. Mention the fee to someone who is obviously not authorized, doesn’t speak English, or has given notice.
c. Mention the “full fee,” “standard fee” or “usual fee” while offering to reduce it “just to show what we can do.”

I wrote The National Placement Law Center Fee Collection Guide for rookies like that. In particular, Chapter 4 is entitled “Feephobia: Behavioral Modification to Get You Paid,” I noted:

Let’s face it — once you’ve made the placement, you’ve lost your leverage. Oh, you’ll think and even talk about pulling your candidate off the job, but there’s less than a 1% chance it will happen. So if you want to see any money for your effort, you’ll just have to confront the employer, one-on-one.

But you’ll probably end up reducing the fee or blowing it completely. Very probably. We estimate that 75% of all good fee collection cases go bad due to feephobia after the placement is made. Feephobia is simply a fear of confronting the employer with a direct demand to pay the full fee immediately.

Many recruiters would rather do anything (including walk from the fee) than confront an employer?


The “standard” replacement guarantee is unconditional. It unconditionally guarantees that you’ll be practicing marching maneuvers in the employer’s parking lot. It’s the most unreal deal imaginable. Only someone who never recruited or hired could possibly find it acceptable.

Still, your business — our industry — is built on this foundation of foam. On fantasy. The only good replacement guarantees are the ones you never have to honor. Is any one human being identical to another? Even the Seven Dwarfs were different. Even the Three Stooges!

Chances are you’ve never had to honor a replacement guarantee. There are several reasons for this, none of which are particularly thrilling.

The most common is that it was a short period (like 30 calendar days) and your candidate showed up for 21 work days or so. The employer paid you, so technically has no right to a replacement or refund.

This only happens once — And we wonder why employers don’t invite us to secret board meetings.

Contractual technicalities are not much of a problem for employer lawyers or judges. Juries don’t even understand them. All it takes are some words like “breach of fiduciary duty,” “negligence,” “fraud,” or “unjust enrichment” to get that fee back — possibly with punitive damages (to punish you) and exemplary damages (to make an example of you).

That five-figure fee starts to fade and is replaced with fear. Oh, you’ll settle. Who wouldn’t? Did you check references? Confirm dates of employment? Verify credentials? Enough? Run a criminal investigation? Do anything? The only laughing lawyer in this situation is one being paid by the hour. He’ll argue for you, but too few argue with an open wallet.

Ask him about his guarantee, and you’ll see how absurd yours is.

Unless you’re recruiting robots, I suggest you forget promising to guarantee one human being working for another. If you want to guarantee that he’ll stay a certain period, fine.

B.F. Goodrich became “Big Fee” Veryrich doing exactly that. A pro-rata guarantee for a certain number of miles.

This concept seems very difficult for the average “management consultant” to grasp. The ones that do are gripped by an irrational fear that they’ll have to give money back. A few are also obsessed with a concern that it’s “unprofessional.” One wanders around suffering from the delusion that it’s negative to talk about a refund on a fee schedule. (I’m still trying to find him — he keeps changing his name.)

But the pros — the real pros in the real world who want to be placing again and again with the same — yes — “clients,” know that the only real guarantee is l/30 of the fee refunded if the candidate sputters, stops and severs for any reason.

It’s so perfect. Any coherent candidate can show up for 21 work days or so. Think of all the money you’re making on weekends and holidays.

But the genius of this — the genius that will make you Big Fee Goodsearch — is that the “guarantee” gives money back. Period. No liability for the falsified resume, conning candidate, or employee embezzlement. All you require is your fee paid within 10 days of the invoice. Of course. How else would your “refund” work?

If I’ve presented this in a way that offends you, I humbly point out that I’m not running for Mayor of Consultant City. I’m just a well-paid volunteer on the Placement Place Neighborhood Watch. One day enough placers will listen so I can get off the graveyard shift.


The major burnout factor for recruiters is phone rejection. It eclipses all other negatives on the job, and only a fraction of those working a desk deal with it effectively.

The key to conquering rejection isn’t in some nifty new script. It’s not that simple. Any trainer will tell you it’s in your delivery. That means your attitude.

You’ve gotta be tough. Not mean, not angry, but tough. Lawyers are tough. If you doubt it, ask yours to show you his battle scars. If he’s good, those scars are in private places you’d never suspect.

Good lawyers transcend the battles and eventually develop “professional detachment.” Those that don’t are the low billers of the legal community. This is sometimes hard to do, even for a vet. Some particularly righteous person calls with a particularly righteous case. Only there’s no practical legal remedy. A novice gets emotionally involved and loses his objective edge. He never realizes where his approach is defective. He identifies with the client instead of the judge. The client isn’t paying for a friend. He’s paying for a winner. Judges judge the winner.

That’s like a “nice” person with a big company who gives you an “easy” job order. Only the company advertises heavily and the probability of its actually paying that “cleared” fee is low.

Should you be cynical? Sarcastic? Will you be statistically smart? Will you sell yourself on the sizzle of finding a candidate, not reading between those newspaper lines? A rookie can get disappointed then devastated by identifying with a “hiring authority” or “client.”

What about a “perfect” candidate? As I mentioned in Items 1 and 2, there’s no such thing. There’s also no “needy” or “deserving” candidate. Only a placeable one — now or later.

For any sensitive “care giver,” professional detachment is unnatural. It requires conscious discipline by recruiters for at least a year. The battle wounds help toughen them. Each time they pick themselves up and get back into the placement race, they’re a little wiser. A little more in touch with the games employers and candidates play. And a little more in touch with how to manage themselves.

This is one of the benefits of “quotas” at the early stages of placement. The pressure to produce causes recruiters to encounter many situations. The faster this occurs, the more able they become to compartmentalize the people they meet.

That’s what professional detachment is all about.


The placement planet is in a state of natural balance. Moreover, it perpetually moves toward balance — equilibrium. This only becomes apparent to someone who consistently works at a desk for several years. Many more would make it that far if they understood the concept earlier.

Every action you take — whether positive or negative — upsets the natural balance. That means there’s an equal positive or negative reaction. I know this sounds metaphysical, but it’s a scientific fact. Everything you do on your desk has an impact. If you don’t do something, there’s no reaction.

Success comes when you refine positive actions to produce more positive reactions. Let’s assume you cold-call a mechanical engineer with:

Hi! This is Stan Chambers with the Chambers Group. I’m looking to recruit a senior electronics engineer with circuit design background. Can you recommend someone?

You’ll get a reaction. That’s the natural law. It probably will not be identical for each M.E. you call. However, that’s not the point. It will be equally positive or negative. It must be. It’s a reaction to your action.

This is best illustrated by a larger sampling, since individual reactions by humans vary too widely to allow a scientific analysis.

If you make that call (action) to 30 generalist M.E.’s, you can start to get a profile of the consistent response (reaction). Here’s what one of our clients received (“qualified” means presentable for the target job):

4 – Qualified recipient interested in changing jobs.

9 – Qualified recipient not interested in changing jobs.

8 – Unqualified recipient interested in changing jobs.

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9 – Unqualified recipient not interested in changing jobs.

That client met with one of our industry trainers (action). The trainer suggested (reaction) that a more effective approach would be to call:

a. M.E.’s only who worked for

b. Employers who produced the kinds of products his “client” wanted.

Then he suggested starting off like this:

Hello, Mr./Ms.______________. My name is Stan Chambers. I’m a recruiter looking to fill an outstanding position for a mechanical engineer with one of our clients. Can I call you at home this evening to discuss it further?

The recruiter tried that approach (action) 30 times, and here are the overall results (reaction):

7 – Qualified recipient interested in changing jobs.

2 – Qualified recipient not interested in changing jobs.

13 – Unqualified recipient interested in changing jobs.

8 – Unqualified recipient not interested in changing jobs.

Eventually a placement (reaction) was made against the JO from the second series of calls. Not a dramatic improvement — unless you consider that trying a more effective approach 30 times means $25,000. Then consider that of the 30 recipients, (qualified and unqualified) 20 were interested in changing jobs (reaction). The former approach only motivated 12.

This recruiter pays (action) to belong to a network (reaction) so you know where those 20 names went.

That “action” was six months ago and it looks like the “reaction” will be a placement through the network. His half of the fee will be $6,500 (reaction).

The trainer volunteered his services (action), and the recruiter was grateful (reaction). He recommended the trainer to his network administrator (action) and the trainer was invited to speak at its convention (reaction). He’ll probably do a good job (action) and sell many tapes and in-house workshops (reaction).

See what I mean? For every action — positive or negative — there’s a corresponding positive or negative reaction.

The original opener wasn’t that bad, and maybe the revised one could have been even better. Maybe the recruiter was more persuasive calling from home. Maybe candidates were more receptive. Or more thorough in discussing their credentials. Or less guilty about saying how they really felt concerning their jobs. Or more creative in discussing their career plans.

At the beginning of this item, I mentioned that the “equality of response reality” is elusive to a rookie. While it becomes increasingly difficult for a vet, it also become increasingly difficult for a vet to turn this reality into fees. That’s because old habits die hard.

An approach (often consisting of hundreds of actions) becomes so familiar that the results (often consisting of hundreds of reactions) become their own reality. Only a trainer, an exciting co-worker, or a massive slump can bring the average vet face-to-face with fiction.

Here’s a sampling of the chapter titles in The Placement Strategy Handbook.” Check for areas where you need to improve your actions:

– Reaching The Decision Maker
– Questioning Your Way To placements Training Yourself To Listen
– A Job Order Or Only A Job Lead?
– The Telesearch Canons
– The Reply To “We Don’t Pay Fees”
– The Reply To “Your Fee’s Too High” The Reply To “Send Me A Resume”
– Writing The “Perfect Job Order”
– Handling Clients In Your Office
– Obtaining The Acceptance
– Candidate Compensation Negotiating
– Counteroffer Counterattack!
– Closing Questions

Collecting placement fees is much like making placements. There are certain similarities, it’s a volume business, and we charge a contingency fee. By applying equality of response principles to everything from demand letters to jury instructions, we’ve driven our effectiveness way up.

We never stop experimenting either. Anything new gets at least a dozen tries. Our last innovation was a change in some interrogatories (written questions to be answered by the employer under oath). One particularly embarrassing one started getting settlement calls from employer lawyers. Overall, it increased our collection ratio by around 3%. It’s so high anyway that we were amazed.

A simple change in your cold-call script, job order form or guarantee can mean the difference between a fee and freebie.


If you reflect on your experience with candidates, you’ll find that:

People do best what they like most, and people like most what they do best.

This is a reality that extends to placing them too:

People will accept jobs they think they can do best, and if they do will like their jobs most.

What about you? Are you happy? What would make you happier? Robert Ringer advised in Million Dollar Habits:

You have to analyze your skills with complete objectivity, which requires that you be neither modest nor egotistical.

Are you creative? Athletic? Artistic? Do you like people? Are you good with numbers? Do you thrive on being organized? Are you an effective motivator? Are you skilled at orchestrating a project or better at following through on the details?

The list of questions is as long as you want to make it, and you can’t make it too long.

In Finding the Right Job at Midlife, I suggested these questions to begin the analysis:

a. What are your primary attributes?
b. What are your primary liabilities?
c. Which jobs did you like most?
d. Which achievements are you most proud of?
e. Do you like working in a large or small organization?
f. Do you like working for someone else or being your own boss?
g. Do you like supervising others?
h. Do you like to work with people or with things?
i. Do you like to be paid on a salary or a commission basis?
j. Do you like to travel?

It’s easy to read questions like this without really doing the analysis. Too easy, in fact. The real value comes from meticulously researching your own life to prove your case to yourself for the future that will make you happiest.


Life is stored backward, but can be steered frontward.

Reality therapy. We all need a little dose of it now and then. Better now than then.

Jeff Allen, J.D., C.P.C. may be reached at: Law Offices of Jeffrey G. Allen, 9601 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1400, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, (310) 559-6000. Placement Management, The Placement Strategy Handbook and The National Placement Law Center Fee Collection Guide may be purchased through:

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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