Ten Ways To Overcome Recruiting Overwork

Clients are always wondering how we’re able to respond so quickly on a national basis. Believe it or not, we work regular hours. I learned the techniques when I was managing a recruiting office.

You can too, if you:

a. Understand where your non-productive time is spent; and

b. Overhaul your procedures.

All the time-management seminars, workshops, books, calendars, timers, alarms, buzzers and electronic voices in the world won’t help you. They’re just pea-shooters in the war against time. Your problem isn’t on the battlefield, it’s in the war room — right there in your office.

Here are the ten biggest undercover overworkers:


Saying “Yes” too often.

It’s a habit that served a purpose the first day you dialed, but soon results in trying to please every “client.” Of course, they’re not really clients. You’re not bound to do anything for them, and they’re not bound to “accept” your referrals. In fact, they’re not even bound to tell you if the JO is filled, pulled or changed. And worst of all, they’re not even bound to pay you to search for that “perfect” candidate to fit that “ideal” description to take their possible position.

I’m convinced that success in recruiting is tied more to declining searches than to accepting them. Wrong clients with wrong jobs at the wrong time are the reason 20% of the recruiters make 80% of the placements.

That “80-20 Rule” means you should be declining 80% of the very same JO’s you are soliciting. Not by “We’ll get back to you in a few days,”  but by “I’m sorry, it’s just not possible for us to assist you in filling that opening because ___________________. ” Or if you must, by “Good luck, but the answer is ‘No.’”

As my grandmother used to say, “Better a quick pain.”


You already know what happens if you overload a hiring authority with too many candidates. He becomes confused and doesn’t sell the company well in interviews. It’s like overcommitting with your calendar.

Using quotas (number of JO’s, recruits, sendouts, etc.) subjects you to the law of diminishing returns — the higher the quantity, the lower the quality.

More JO’s, recruits and sendouts will result in more placements if the quality remains constant. But it doesn’t.


Not overplacing. There’s an oversized difference.

Many offices build up their candidate base far beyond what they can ever use. This can often be traced to a consultant who’s trying to hold onto his draw. When you divide the number of calls into the amount of the fees billed, you can see how time really is money.

Overrecruiting wastes valuable search time and fills your files with unplaceables. It requires coding, filing (and possibly data processing) time, continued updating, responses to inquiries (unplaceables are notoriously motivated), and time, time, TIME. Overtime time.


There’s no limit to the amount of time and money you can spend training your consultants.

If it doesn’t work, you’ve wasted both. The time you’ll never regain, the money you’ll only regain if you work harder (back to the overtime treadmill). If it does work, you may have trained your biggest competitor. Then you’ll really be working overtime.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t train your staff — only that you should be careful about who you train and selective about the training they receive.

Even the training time takes them away from production, so they should be taught specific placement techniques (how to take job specs, cold call, close deals, etc.).

Training can make a good consultant better, but don’t overtrain those who’ll just place and race.


Delegating is revered in our management folklore: “Don’t do it yourself if someone else can do it.”

Not so, particularly in a small office where you get to spend all the time explaining, suggesting, advising, praying, supervising, reviewing, agonizing, and very possibly redoing.

It’s no coincidence that the most successful recruiters are the ones who work by themselves (or with a computer). It’s no mystery why either. They’re so much more efficient.


It’s not the same as overseeing. More like overriding, overreacting and overpowering. The opposite of overdelegating, but will have you working just as many hours.

If you’re one of the overrulers, you should accept the psychological fact that most people stop listening to others around the age of 12. Parents know the actual age is much lower.

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“Constructive criticism” isn’t. It’s just destructive criticism between two slices of excuse.

Either you’re paying consultants for effort (number of hours worked, calls made, ads written, etc.) or you’re paying for results (placements). If you’re paying for effort, you’re destined to be there until dawn. If you focus on paying for results, you won’t waste time with matters of personal preference.


There’s a natural tendency to want to reward high production and even extraordinary effort with more pay or perks. People generally accept these graciously too.

Just try to take them away, though. You’ll discover an exception to the law of gravity: “What goes up must not come down.” You can increase the pay but you can’t reduce it. Explanations — even good ones — don’t pay the higher bills the consultants incur for their higher standard of living.

If you don’t work harder to keep them in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, you’ll lose them. That should cause you to work overtime in worrying alone.


Hiring those walking wounded who should be hospitalized for an acute case of rejection shock.

It’s easy to diagnose them — answering phones, reactivating old JO’s or resumes, looking up names, ordering trade publications, filing, fiddling and diddling. Anything but one-on-one conversations with live clients about hot jobs, and motivating cold but qualified candidates to accept them.

Then there are those who you don’t even hire to make placements: The anesthetized army of administrators, secretaries, clerks, receptionists and other non-producers. They not only drain your profits; they interfere with producers and make additional work for them.

The first time a storm hits, you’re gasping for air day and night as your overstuffed, inefficient ship sinks.


This is easy to do. As John Gardner stated in his classic Self-Renewal:

We don’t know that we’ve been imprisoned until we’ve broken out.

A good exercise is to list as many overhead items as you can. Include monthly averages for fixed expenses like office space, phone system, computer, copy machine, service agreements, etc. Then average monthly variables like meetings, training seminars, publications, travel and entertainment, etc.

You’ll be overwhelmed.


We all know the value of a positive attitude — you can’t make a placement without it. But being too optimistic is just overdosing on Ovaltine.

Positive thinking is sometimes confused with positive doing. It’s a seductive idea — that we have complete control over our environment. So seductive that it haunts us long after experience has taught us that commissioned consultants, cranky clients and crazy candidates don’t care one cry about our cranial convolutions.

Then there’s the labor market. If positive thinking could control that, we’d have a placer in the White House for sure.

So optimism is fine, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your desire or ability to find meaningful solutions to the inevitable problems in your office. If it does, you’ll be looking for them into the swing shift.

No matter what you do, you’ll always work hard for your placement fees. But overwork can be overcome by watching these ten items. Hope you’re overjoyed at the results.

Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.


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