Recruiting In Any Economy: The New Customer

Ring! Ring! “Hello, this is Harry Hiring Manager. How can I help you?” “Uh, Harry? Ricky Recruiter here, I was wondering if I could be of any help to you today?” “Ah, sure Ricky, what is it you want?” “Well, I am a professional recruiter and I was calling to see if you needed any help filling any of your current needs? Do you accept resumes from agencies?” “Yeah, always.” “Oh great, whew! Not a lot of people are hiring. What kind of needs do you have?” “Listen, I am really busy right now so why don’t you head over to my website and check out my openings and send me any resumes you have that fit.” (Geez, my coffee is getting cold.) “Great, I know I will have really great people for you, a lot of people are looking for work right now.” “Yeah, great.” (I’ll bet my bagels cold now too!) “I do not know if we have a signed agreement with you? But our agreement is pretty standard…” “Yeah, yeah, I don’t think that will be a problem. Listen, got to go, send me those resumes.” Do you smell a future placement here? I don’t think so. The economy is slowing down and bad sales skills are making it look even worse. For the last ten years in general, and the last five in particular, getting a job requisition was not a big deal:

  • Everybody was hiring, many badly.
  • Everybody had money to spend on hiring.
  • Candidates were hard to come by.
  • Companies were signing contracts and accepting resumes from everybody who had some to sell.
  • The skill match level of the average hire was lower than anytime in my lifetime.
  • Having a pulse and being willing to interview were two of the three job requirements. (The third was actually showing up to the interview.)
  • Hiring managers, for the most part, had the final word regarding source and process.
  • Hiring managers were willing to give up a significant part of their day in the pursuit of the elusive hire.

But like the ten-cent “Three Musketeers Bar” and courtesy on the highway, those days are over, possibly never to return, even when the economy fires up again. Recruiters who want to stay in the game need to learn how to get a solid job requisition in an environment that has not existed for the last seven years. Last week, in Part I of this series, I mentioned that one of the rules in surviving in any economy was starting with a firm foundation. Nowhere is this more true that in the requisition process, for both internal and external recruiters. The agency recruiter risks losing money, and the internal recruiter risks wasting limited resources and time. No matter how many great candidates you have, until you have someplace to put them, their value is nil. The requisition is the first step in that process, and done badly, the final step, because you will get no further in your efforts to earn a fee or budget time and resources to support a hiring manager if you do not learn how to uncover the elusive “real requisitions” and seek “real commitment” to work with you. One of the issues many recruiters face is their own desire to maintain a positive (and self-deluding) frame of mind. Good salespeople are eternal optimists; how else could you make it through a bad day if you did not believe a better one was just a sunrise away? A friend of mine in luxury sales told me that salespeople were the easiest marks; they always assumed they were in control, even when they were not. So the first thing a recruiting professional who wants to survive this economic cycle has to do is GET REAL and work real requisitions. Some changes have occurred in the calls you are making that you may not be aware of or be taking into account:

  1. The hiring manager you are talking to is receiving fifty agency calls a day and one hundred emails, from recruiters looking for assignments. Pretending to give you what you want will end the call faster than arguing with you, and will certainly take less time than giving you a real requisition with real commitment. (Also, they can finish their bagel.)
  2. The hiring manager has more free time, and reading resumes is sort of like “peeking” into other peoples’ careers and companies to see who is in, and who is out. But that does not mean they will hire, they may merely be looking.
  3. Reading resumes is a good way to gather intelligence on competitors.
  4. Reading your resumes costs nothing and might be a useful quality measurement tool of the other resumes he or she is getting from the internal recruiting efforts.
  5. The hiring manager has had all his requisitions put on hold, but does not want to tell you:
    • To keep you from deciding to recruit out of his department.
    • To keep “the word” from getting on “the street” that his company has a hiring freeze.
    • To keep you nearby in case he or she needs a recruiter themselves in the next round of reductions in staff.
    • To keep the pump primed in case his openings are re-opened next quarter.
    • Does not want to admit he no longer has the “final word” on hiring in his department due to ego issues.
    • Wishful thinking, “If I am reading resumes, I am busy, and everything is OK.”

None of the above will make you “dime one.” But many recruiters will accept the “bad requisition” and work it until two months later, when it is has not generated a single interview. The first step in getting a “real requisition” is to be willing to ask the tough questions, even if that means the discovering that you have made another “dry call.” But the good news is this prevents you from wasting time, energy, and emotion, not to mention your creditability with your candidates. This is especially important if you do not want to look like a “rookie” to the hiring manager in question. (“So I told him, send me all you got. I got that kid running around…”) Step #1. Where To Call? Most successful fisherman avoid the places where everyone else fishes. Too many worms, not enough fish; consequently, those spots tend to get overworked, and the surviving fish seem to get pretty savvy in dealing with fishermen and their hooks. The Internet and online job posting are most recruiters’ favorite places to “fish.” Despite the plethora of information the Web can generate, it is not the only source, but it is the one everybody else is working. Plus, it is also not always the most reliable information. Companies often keep most common need profiles posted on their own websites, even when they do not have openings, rather than always having to post up and pull down as needs open and close. The postings on job boards are usually part of an annual contract, “X” number of postings” per year. Once a position is posted, there is no motivation to pull it down only to have to pay to repost it later. I am not advocating giving up on searching for requisitions on the Web, but maybe it would be worthwhile to consider other potential information resources, like:

  • Newspapers/Trade Journals. The traditional deadline for a Sunday classified newspaper ad is mid-week, so the positions listed there tend to be real. The trades do require a longer lead-lag, but few companies with doubts about their staffing needs make this commitment. Especially in Trades read by their competitors and customers.
  • Job Fairs. The contract offered by most job fair firms allow a company to withdraw within two weeks of the event without penalty. Again, the need is real and relatively recent.
  • Open Houses. Cost a lot of money and require a serious investment in time ? so the openings can be taken seriously.
  • Business Articles (Paper and Cyber). A lot of good intelligence on what companies recently closed a major contract, signed a new lease for office space, or placed significant equipment orders can be gleamed from these resources. If you have new space and new equipment, somebody has to be sitting in the building using it!
  • Candidates. The people you placed are a real gold mine of what is real and not so real at the sites you placed them.
  • Competitors. Does the word “interoffice split” ring a bell? They have the requisition, but no candidates. You have the candidate, but no…
  • Professional Society Meetings. many hiring managers who attend these events are more open and willing to talk in a more social atmosphere. In addition, your presence at these types of events clearly defines you as a “player” in your chosen field of expertise rather than another nuisance leaving voice and e-mails.

Get off the “screen” and get off the phone and get out of your office, try something different, creative, or new. But remember, if a company has expended capital “advertising” it’s needs, especially in this economy, there will by a reluctance to commit to a fee until the expended effort is giving a chance to develop candidates. Call to establish your interest and determine a better date in a reasonable period of time to call back, after the current recruiting effort has had a chance to run it’s course. Step #2. Prepare For The Call If you used to “dialing for dollars” by “shooting from the hip” everyday, those days are over. It was nice while it lasted, and sure was a lot of fun, but it is over. A good day of prospecting is going to require preplanning and the organization you used to associate with finding candidates, not openings. In this business everything begins with either a “hot candidate” or a “hot job requisition.” In a slower economy, the “hot job requisition” is the hardest to find, but far more valuable. In an “up cycle” economy, the opposite is true. In prospecting for a “hot requisition” do not:

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  • Cold call. You should have researched the company, it’s historical needs and have a “tough hard to find” candidate ready to present. Have a reasonable mission based on the hiring manager’s needs, not your need for a requisition.
  • Use the line (or similar approaches), “I am calling to see if I can be of any help?” Help? Yeah, my car could use a good waxing. This is a business call that culminates in a business transaction. When cash is on the line, it is not “help” you are offering, it is a business deal. If you take yourself too lightly, so will others.
  • Check to see if you or your associates have other hiring managers names to “drop” into the conversation to establish a common bond. (“Say, does John Doe still manage the QA department?”)
  • Bring up any data about the company your research uncovered “of uncommon knowledge” to prove you are marketplace aware. (“I saw in the Wall Street Journal you guys had a great Q2”)

If you are not getting a two-way conversation going, be willing to call back later. It is better to risk losing a partial contact call that is boring the hiring manager and embarrassing for you than for you than to drag it out till it dies a lingering, quiet and unprofessional death. But get a firm call back day/time, or better yet, try and get an office visit. Step #3. Testing For Commitment You do not make fees routing resumes and making endless follow up calls. Some good commitment testing lines have traditionally included:

  • “If I am able to interest one of my top qualified candidates in your opportunity, after reviewing the resume with me, will you commit to an interview?” (If the answer is “no”, this is not a hot requisition yet. Find out why.)
  • “If you see a top qualified candidate can you authorize the hire and the fee?” (If the answer is no, or a stall, you may not be talking to the person with the power.)
  • “We do not have a signed agreement, are you authorized to sign? If you are not, to whom should I speak?” (If he or she cannot sign an agreement at zero cost, what makes you think they can authorize a $16K fee? If they will not give you their signing authority’s name, you are not working together yet. More work needs to be done here.)
  • “How long has this position been open? What have been the biggest issues in closing this position”? (If the requisition is open a long time with no resume flow, good. But, if there is quality flow and no hire, is the problem that they cannot hire?)
  • “Are you getting any resumes from your other sources, what is their number and quality, are you setting up interviews for any of them?” (High volume flow from other sources may have created a reluctance to spend additional cash now.)

A “hot requisition” must contain a hiring manager willing to work “with you.” Reluctance to provide non-proprietary information or engage in a detailed conversation that you were prepared for is another good indicator of the value of the requisition you are trying to develop. Step #4. 20 X 3 Rule In sales you have leads, prospects, and clients. At anytime you need to have 20 “working clients,” 20 prospects (potential clients), and 20 leads (potential prospects). This gives you the volume you will need to maintain a profitable workflow. As you lose or fill a working requisition for your top twenty, you should have had time to develop your prospects into real requisitions and dropped the others. If you keep working your leads to develop prospects, you maintain a constant workflow. BUT, you cannot stop prospecting, even when working a couple of hot requisitions. You may not be the source that fills them. By always investing part, sometimes 1/2 to 3/4 of your day based on the number of “real requisitions” you have, keeps your “pipeline” full. This prevents you from frantic up and down cycles with no interviews to set up due to no real requisitions. It keeps you from developing “catch up” as a job skill. Step #5. Keep In “Reasonable” Touch Do not overwork the hiring managers with multiple daily phone calls, or leave a Monday message with a Tuesday A.M. follow-up call, and two emails. A hiring manager, committed to working with you to give you a chance to fill their requisition, will respond to you in a reasonable period of time. Provided you are calling with reasonable requests and allow a reasonable opportunity to follow up with you:

  • Allow 24-48 hours for a message to be returned
  • Mention it in the message, if there is a time critical deadline
  • Remind the hiring manager that a “nervous” candidate is in this loop, and it is only fair to keep the information flow moving.
  • Do not “bluff” (Do not say you “must” hear back by Monday, if you have till Thursday).

Despite your best efforts, you will still take a “bad requisition” from time to time. Not getting feedback or follow-up is a key indicator of seriousness and commitment. Do not get frustrated, mad and stubbornly “hammer” the HM’s voice mail. Accept the fact that it is not a real requisition, leave a “closing message” and move on. Step #6. The “Closing” Message If a manager has a real requisition and wants to keep you working on it, or wants to hire one of your candidates, they will call you. Sometimes they are embarrassed that they need to get other “clearances” before releasing an offer. Other issues may also arise that keep them from doing the internal work to get an offer authorized, or they have a few other interviews to finish before they make up their mind. It may be one of several other reasons or excuses, or it might be a bad requisition. When you have expended a reasonable and professional effort to keep the communications open, there is one last voice mail to leave: “Harry, I know you are busy, but I have left several messages regarding Carl Candidate. Since you have not responded I will assume the issue is closed and advise Harry that there will not be an interview/offer unless I hear back from you NLT end of business day, tomorrow. I hope you are OK and hope to hear from you in the very near future.” You are firm, without being confrontational. You are reminding the HM of the need to be sensitive to the feelings of the applicant involved, and you are leaving enough time for them to get back to you with more than just an excuse. Your hopes for their well being, “Hope you are OK,” has allowed the HM to re-immerse themselves into the process with less embarrassment, “Yeah, sorry I did not call back, flu.”. Whatever the excuse, accept it and move on with the process. If you never hear back, this is one of the “20 clients” you should replace with one of your “20 prospects.” The last ten years progressively taught all of us some bad and sloppy business habits. Both the HMs and the recruiting professionals will make honest mistakes as a result. But as the sales professional, it is our “job description” to be the deal initiator, the deal motivator, and the deal closer. There will also be plenty of people who will gladly allow you to waste all the time you want. Do not let them do that for you. I know it is easy to get mad at HMs sometimes, getting and maintaining business in a down cycle economy is a lot of hard work, But if this was easy, anybody could do it and the money would be a lot shorter. Have a great day recruiting! <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


1 Comment on “Recruiting In Any Economy: The New Customer

  1. This was right on the money. One thing I have to add is that the way I have had success with company clients is to make myself a person, and find something about them as a person. Once some rapport is established, I try to talk with them as a person and learn a little about them. That way, when I call them the next time I can say, “have you been out fishing in that boat yet this summer?” for example. This gives the contact the sense that I see them as a person and I’m not just someone making hundreds of calls.

    I have had a lot of success with repeat business, because I have been able to get to know the people I work with, they in turn trust and respect me, which leads to more business (referrals of all kinds)

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