Say What? You Mean You Never Met That Candidate!?

Unless you work exclusively on mid-six-figure executive searches and are always paid a retainer and travel expenses, you’re probably one of thousands of recruiters who often refer candidates without actually meeting the candidate in a face-to-face situation. In that case you’ve probably heard a statement similar to the above from a surprised client at some point once it was discovered you’d never met the candidate they just hired.

I recall the first time in my recruiting career that I was confronted with this shocked reaction from a large company client I had just signed on. The tone used in discussing this matter with me seemed to indicate that I should have felt as if I had “cheated” or done some-thing naughty.

Yet I knew it took a well-trained three-person recruiting team (two recruiters and one administrative coordinator) to pull off that feat. Here I was, being hailed as a hero one minute and assailed as a con artist the next when it was discovered that I had never met the woman I placed.

I was on-site visiting the company and surrounded by executives who all wanted to know who this wizard of search was that found the individual they had failed to identify or hire on their own for nearly one year. In this particular case, the position I had filled was titled Western Hemisphere Director of Financial Analysis. Big title. So-so salary. Nevertheless, I was attempting to enhance the relationship by making an on-site visit.

When the candidate appeared, one of the observant managers immediately noticed that she and I did not recognize one another instantly. “Of course, Frank, you know Gloria – or should I intro-duce you two?” he sarcastically asked.

Another manager hopped in with “You mean you never met her? What personnel service doesn’t actually meet the candidate they’re referring?” And so it went as each manager present repeated the comment like well-trained parrots.

“Oy vey!” I thought to myself. My meeting was rapidly spiraling out of control.

This happened in the early 1990s, and by the end of that decade the advent of the Internet, email, and rapid expectations of instantly transmitted résumés would greatly diminish the expectations of face-to-face meetings – especially for rank-and-file contingency searches scattered across state lines in industries where it is well known that hot competition is breathing down the company’s neck.

Having a script has bailed me out of that situation a number of times since then.

I decided to write a rebuttal I could use again and again whenever this particular objection was raised. Interestingly enough, this topic was never covered by Anthony Byrne, who used to train our recruiters back then.

Here’s what I came up with -simple, straightforward, and honest. I hope it helps if you ever encounter this challenge:

Employer: “You mean you never actually met the candidate?”

Recruiter: “Mr. Employer, with all due respect, the most difficult and time-consuming aspect of any search is the searching process itself.

Ninety percent of our time is dedicated to contacting, networking, and communicating and establishing dialogue with hundreds of individuals in order to find the one elusive candidate worthy of referring to you.

Finding the candidate [emphasize this statement] is the most time-consuming part of our efforts. This is where many of our competitors give up and fall short because they are not interested in dedicating the time necessary for achieving success.

Meeting the candidate, once he or she has been discovered and identified, is very easy in comparison to the searching aspect.

There would be no candidate for us to ever meet unless we invested hours each day over many weeks executing the search aspect properly to begin with.

Anyone can conduct a face-to-face meeting once a candidate is identified. It’s the searching process that leads to identifying a candidate that presents the greatest need for skill and dedication.”

Stated with confidence, this usually takes care of this particular objection 90% of the time. In those few instances when the client continues to be dumb-founded as to how you can be dealing with people in a people business and not meeting those people, there may be other questions asked, such as:

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Employer: “But how do you know if the person has the right image for us?”

The reply I usually provide is:

“I’ve conducted thousands of face-to-face and tens of thousands of telephone interviews over my 20 years of search. In 95% of cases, my telephone interview assessments have confirmed what the face-to-face assessment would have concluded. Only in rare instances – around 2.5% of the time – does someone thoroughly fool us in an in-depth telephone interview who would not have been able to do so in person.

Issues such as:

– split-second pauses before a reply to an interview question
– split-second hesitations in reaction to questions such as “Are you comfortable in a face-to-face sales environment?”
– and other factors . . .

are all assessed as part of the “face-to-face” process that can be handled telephonically.”

Beyond these two counter-objection steps, if the client continues balk I use this opportunity to upgrade the compensation or fee structure. After all, I’ll do anything for the right dollar figure. Including flying to Syracuse, New York, in the middle of winter if my expenses are covered and the engagement fee or retainer justifies such.

If they wish for us to physically meet their candidates, that’s fine, provided we are compensated accordingly and the contract is redrawn to specify such.


If a client finds out after the fact that you never physically met the individual candidate, NEVER EVER allow that person to walk away believing you did not earn your fee or that you cut a corner. Truth is, YOU DID EARN YOUR FEE. Every dime of it. Don’t let them walk away believing otherwise.

Make certain you explain that the “finding” aspect of search is precisely what they agreed to pay you for. Meeting someone is easy – but meetings can be scheduled only by those select recruiters that actually find their candidates!

Frank G. Risalvato has been a staffing and recruiting consultant in the search profession since 1987. He has contributed hundreds of articles to various media, has appeared on TV and radio, and has been called upon by state and federal agencies for expert testimony. His recruiter training services, books, and kits are found on Call (973) 300-1010 for an exclusive one-on-one experience with his training style. His new Charlotte, N.C., direct telephone is (704) 243-2110.

Frank Risalvato made the plunge into the search industry in 1987. Within two years he was earning fees on a monthly basis that were comparable to his entire previous annual salary. Today he specializes in the low to mid-six figure hires and manages multiple openings each month. Although he didn't invent recruiter training, he views himself as someone that improves, perfects, and enhances pre-existing techniques. His new book is "A Manager's Guide To Maximizing Search Firm Success."


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