The ABCs Of Our Business

We’ve all heard about “A” players as the desired target in recruiting. They’re those elusive “passive candidates” who are currently employed and happily climbing their employer’s corporate ladder with little or no thought to making a change.

Those “B” and “C” players can find their own jobs (probably never to be a true career) through Monster, CareerBuilder, HotJobs and the like. The fact that they’ve chosen to put their resumes out there for all to see is perceived by many that they are second class citizens . . . over-the-hillers, wishful thinkers, window shoppers, tire kickers, wannabes and God knows what else. No “A” players there – right?

But “A” companies will supposedly only hire “A” players and they’re unwilling to pay our fees for any B’s and C’s as though they are only worth immediate relegation to the candidate toxic dump site as though this was a black hole from which they can never recover.

That’s the current ‘conventional wisdom’ for many in our business. But if that were true, why do most of the “A” companies prohibit referrals of anyone whose resume resides in cyberspace? Could it be that public domain candidates aren’t all “B” and “C” caliber? Does having a resume on the Internet inevitably mean a lower offer from an “A” employer? Are they permanently tainted and tarnished?

I’ve been in this business for well over four decades and always thought I was able to spot a “walking fee check” or a “water walker.” But for whom? What is an “A” player? For some, it may be a verifiable progressively successful record of increasing profits. Or decreasing costs. A true ‘impact’ candidate! But we’ve all seen people who have failed in one company only to become a superstar for another one.

Truth is, for most pragmatic recruiting practitioners, any company anxious for a quick hire, willing to pay you a full fee for an exclusive and competitively salaried position is an “A” company. And guess what . . . they are almost always more interested in skills than window dressing. They are more likely to be evaluated by a real hirer rather than being screened out by some HR flunky. They don’t have to be a Fortune or Forbes-listed firm because, frankly, those will nitpick you to death with one-sided contracts and bureaucratic claptrap and, in my opinion, are anything but “A” firms.

I can fondly remember my first placement when I placed a “D” player with a “D” company. I was given a desk, a phone, some Yellow Pages and the application form of a janitor who, because he had completed a correspondence drawing course found on the back of a matchbook cover, wanted a job as a draftsman. My training consisted of convincing walkin traffic to sign a contract obligating them to a hefty self-paid fee before I would work with them.

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Because I didn’t know any better, I placed the ‘custodian/draftsman’ within a week with a company needing a janitor. They promised to give him some part-time drafting if the need arose. He paid his fee (in long, drawn out installments) and retired from that same company as the V.P. of Engineering with a string of patents as long as your arm.

When you try to categorize candidates and companies with the ABC’s, you are making a fundamental mistake. I’ve seen true “A” players rejected for the flimsiest of reasons . . too little hair, the wrong color eyes, too tall, too skinny, too qualified and you name it. Personal biases (yours and your client’s) will always influence your decision about the ABC’s.

I can’t tell you how many placements I made without ever having met the candidate. When I was subsequently introduced to them (and the people who hired them), I hate to admit that had I personally interviewed them, I would not have referred them in the first place. As Dr. Phil says, “It was a changing day in my life.”

It’s hard to admit your best chance for a placement may be to send a “B” candidate to a client requesting an “A” player. Remember, employers always request an “A” player. It’s your job, as a professional, to re-alphabetize the process.

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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