The Best of The Fordyce Letter 2011, #1 — I “FIRED” My Candidate…and Still Closed $27k

Editor’s note: Brian Kevin Johnston’s article was the most popular article on The Fordyce Letter in 2011. It originally ran in March.

I “fired” a candidate during the interview/offer process, and I am 100% convinced the only reason I still earned the fee was because… (are you listening?) I emotionally “checked out” of the torment and refocused my efforts on the things in my business I could control, which were sourcing and recruiting candidates for other searches on which my firm was engaged. After nearly fourteen years as a third-party recruiter, I have learned a thing or two about candidate or client control… IT DOES NOT EXIST!

If another “old skool” recruiter tries to sell you an audio program, seminar, or coaching program for which the foundation is “Applicant/Client control,” RUN FOR THE HILLS! Unless, of course, you recruit dinosaurs. The “shift” is real, and I strongly urge you recognize the signs; however that is another post… 🙂

Please understand — I love this Industry, almost as much as I love being a business owner and ultimately controlling my own destiny. You see, as recruiters we are blessed beyond comprehension, especially when we invest in ourselves and our employees to ensure we keep “becoming” better stewards to this industry. To those who truly love this business, you are my heroes!!! THANKS FOR YOUR INSPIRATION…

As Gary Vaynerchuk states in his remarkable book, CRUSH IT, “The average U.S. salary is around $40-50k. You can earn that doing a job you love or a job you hate. Please choose love!”

Last I checked, my virtual assistant is on target to earn the average U.S. salary, and the “average” recruiter with whom I mastermind or network is making 5-10 times the average U.S. salary… Yep, we’re blessed indeed!

I wonder if you have truly discovered how powerful this industry is? I also wonder if you have truly discovered how powerful you are with your words, and your actions? (BLEEPING POWERFUL!)

Knowing this, however, there are only two things in your business life you can control:

  1. Your mental state (attitude)
  2. Your activity (calls/submissions/meetings, etc.)

This, in my view, is what separates the top 1% in their niche, from the “herd.” When you fully realize what this does for you, as it did when I “fired” my candidate midstream, you are on your way to a “recruiting confidence” that 99% of your peers might never fully manifest on their desk.

When I consciously separated (“shifted”) my emotions from the candidate, the universe subconsciously handled the rest for me… (Kind of hokey, but I believe this to be true from my experience.) In contrast, had I been 25 years young and in my “rookie year” of recruitment when this happened, there is no question in my mind I would have lost this placement from forcing the issue. Again, this game is in your mind.

As third-party recruiters, we love “action lists,” so I have compiled a list of characteristics you should be aware of when you are considering “firing” a candidate midstream. Business aside, I consider this candidate an acquaintance, and I am very grateful for making the match for many reasons, however he would have won an award for his shocking behavior during the interview process.

Please consider the following:

Complaining: This is a “red flag,” and is usually ascertained in the first conversation or meeting but some start complaining very close the point when they have to make a decision/offer. (Fear) In this instance, my candidate complained about the fact that the “feedback was taking too long,” or “they said they would let you know by today, that is very unprofessional.” Welcome to Corporate America… “Hurry up and wait.” 🙂

Incompatible: Let’s face it: your “core identity” is not always going to match your candidates, so be aware of this, and perhaps use “pacing/mirroring” (NLP= Neuro-Linguistic Programming) techniques to counter any issues. (Match their body and language style) The good thing about third-party recruiters vs. corporate recruiters is that we can control whom we work with in most cases. I have had drinks with this particular candidate on a day trip to Northern CA, and I like him as a person, but when it came to the business of interviewing, he was a JACKASS!

Game Changers: You clearly state your intentions upfront (ex. interview process, salary negotiation, etc.), and low and behold your candidate wants “create their own terms,” on the fly… NOPE!!! My circumstance was such that the candidate would say one thing to me, then turn around and do an entirely different thing. For example, he set up a meeting with the client without even telling me. I am open to this, but I’d rather keep the communication lines open so I can assist him a earning what he wants, namely a new boss!

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Trust: This is huge piece and straight forward. If they lie today, they will lie tomorrow. The key is transparency/authenticity upfront, to set the tone for all interactions. (Two-way street) I do believe my candidate trusted me, because I took the time to listen and meet with him on many occasions, but I became nervous about his saying one thing, and actually doing an entirely different thing.

Unrealistic Expectations: If a Principal Test Engineer on average earns $120k and your candidate wants $150k, a parking spot, and a sign-on bonus, they live in the land of “unicorns and rainbows.” Note, this is/was a serious issue for my candidate I “fired” last month. Typically, I have found it is something else, like insecurity, or a HUGE MORTGAGE IN SILICON VALLEY, they can’t afford. NOT your problem!

Clueless: How many PhD’s have you encountered that can do long division in their sleep, or code a trillion lines of code in seconds, but when it comes to “asking for the job”, they stumble and fumble like a child? Careful with these types, a candidate like this can negatively affect your client relations for the simple fact that expectations are high upfront. My candidate worked for a huge data storage employer in Silicon Valley, and they historically pay their people very well. But in the startup world, especially in this day and age with cash being tight, you MUST get your candidates to see the bigger picture in terms of future potential. (Take Money Off The Table)

Money, Money, Money: Like I stated above, when candidates are obsessed with the money questions early on, buyer beware! This is in my view a huge “red flag” for issues on the back end. (Offer stage)

Communication: Should the communication styles be strained, consider having a “coming to Jesus” conversation with your candidate. I did with mine, and I ultimately “disengaged.” By taking action over my thoughts, feelings/emotions, and actions with other relevant searches in my business, I ultimately earned $27k on that search assignment. I asked the tough questions upfront, and clearly in the end, it helped my client achieve what is wanted, namely to take away test engineering pains!

Arrogance/Rudeness: We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and socioeconomic conditions, however in my view, we are all created equal and at no time should your candidate belittle you, your desk, or your firm. This goes both ways, and when a candidate who is a stretch for your requirement calls the office, it is important to still treat them with dignity and respect. My candidate made occasional statements made to me in jest, such as, “All you recruiters are the same,“ or “All you want to do is close the deal Brian,” which I took as offensive at times and ultimately is the reason I “checked out” midstream (yet still closed the deal!).

In conclusion, YOUR feelings don’t matter in the end, when it comes to making placements, so don’t allow your ego to drive behavior like I did when I was a 25 year old “rookie.” Even if you attempt to control everything, sometimes stuff (or a placement) just happens, simply because of the “match” between your candidate and client. What I believe ultimately matters are the feelings of the client, who is paying your bills. The recruiting game is about solving problems for your customers. Therefore, you can fool yourself into thinking that you control the situation, but ultimately you can’t control everything in the hiring process. (Unless you are an “old skool” dinosaur recruiter)

I wonder if you have discovered just how much revenue you can make and time you will save by “firing” your problem candidates?

This week we are counting down some of the most popular articles from in 2011. We hope you enjoy revisiting these articles as we look ahead to 2012!

Brian Johnston has more than fourteen years of success in the executive staffing industry. His specialty is recruiting talent for venture-backed, emerging technology companies, as well as for tactical Fortune 500 companies nationwide. Prior to founding Johnston Search, he was an executive at a leading boutique Data Storage and technology staffing firm. He also has experience as Recruitment Manager for a Billion-Dollar Top-Ten staffing firm. Johnston's hands-on technology recruitment experience spans multiple industries, including Data Storage (RAID, ISCSI, SATA, NFS, CIFS, FIBRE, NAS/SAN/DAS/CAS), Medical Devices (CLASS II/III, Subcutaneous Implantable, FDA, ISO), and Media/Broadcasting (Audio/Video/JPEG/).

Last month he launched, which is a free site written for recruiters, by recruiters, focused on Inbound Recruiter strategies. (Get Found+Convert+Analyze = NO MORE COLD CALLS!!!)

He enjoys expanding his Faith, Family, Friends, Fitness, and Finances. 


49 Comments on “The Best of The Fordyce Letter 2011, #1 — I “FIRED” My Candidate…and Still Closed $27k

  1. I’m old skool having been in the placement business for 24 years, and Brian’s approach IS old skool! Recruiters don’t control anything but how we spend our time and who we spend it with. If you aren’t firing at least one candidate a month AND a client or two a year you’re “burning your clock” on non-money activities. Do honest work with honest people who really need your help and the placements and commissions will flow.

    1. Old school is coming back in style because what’s old is always new. I train clients and students daily on the power of the spoken word. Cold calling isn’t sexy but in some industries it will be necessary forever. Your persistence and sincerity and sense of humor and creativity can come through and cut through the digital clutter. But Brian’s main point is key: fire the duds, especially if they’re your clients.
      Great article, Brian.

  2. In the business of Recruiting, what some call “control”, others call “influencing”. Regardless, Recruiting is very much a sales profession and unless you are influencing your clients and candidates throughout the process, you are leaving untold tens-of-thousands of dollars on the table…every year.

    I highly doubt that this article was written by a Big Biller.

  3. Viper is right. Only thumb-suckers claim they can’t control candidates/companies – in our shop we fire guys who use excuses like that.

  4. Thank you FDL!!! Service is the new Sales….

    The future of recruiting (sales) is INBOUND… I highly recommend the book “Predictable Revenue”, but Aaron Ross, and “Inbound Marketing” by Brian Halligan, and Dharmesh Shah.

    Control=FEAR, and Influence/Persuasion=LOVE

    Choose LOVE my friends…

    Prosperous 2012 to ALL, Brian-

    1. @Bkj,

      You just blew any credibility with “the future of recruiting in INBOUND”. You can’t be serious.

      I remember when was going to put headhunters out of business too…

      The most effective recruiting strategy hasn’t changed one iota over the past 30 years…pick up the phone and dial, and dial, and dial…and hopefully you have the requisite skill for networking, closing, etc.

      1. @Doc I blew your credibility, and that is not important to me… I am a recruiter who POUNDS (35+ outbound calls per day) the phones daily, however if you were a marketer and you wanted your TV commercial to be watched, how do you get it watched when everybody has a DVR/Tivo? (Recruiters are the commercial) The Internet is maturing, information is free, and people don’t listen to snake oil salesman any longer (unless you are one)….

        I do however appreciate your taking the time to comment…. Happy New Year! Brian-

        1. @Bkj,

          First off, Happy New Year to you as well.

          I’ve been an executive recruiter for the past 26 years – started right out of college. I’ve recruited in Finance/Banking, Insurance, and for the past 12 years it’s been Accounting & Legal. I still push myself to hit my goal of 75 outbound calls daily (my actual average is 68/day). I’ll agree with you that the internet offers a plethora of free information sources that has been imensely helpful from an efficiency stand-point.

          I don’t understand your snakeoil salesman comment – didn’t really address anything that was previously said.

          Oh, by the way, I’ve successfully placed 516 candidates (all permanent placements) over the past 2.6 decades. I know a thing or two about a thing or two.

          1. Congrats on the hires (I am 219 behind you)… My “hit ratio” (live conversations) is around 87.5%…..Were on the same team, as we both have accomplished a lot… I highly recommend to book “predictable revenue” (I use this model/tweak for my desk)… If you don’t like it, I will buy it for you, however I am sure there are some things you can incorporate into your desk because changes are coming, the internet is maturing… Again, Happy New Year…


            PS send me a note to as I would like to connect/network with you online/offline… Like your style, and I am starting a 3rd party recruiter/headhunter Mastermind in 2012…….

  5. Very Good, in effect manage the things you have control of and don’t fret about things you have no control of. Too much time and energy is wasted trying to fix things you cannot!

  6. @Brian – Nice piece. Unlike the others here, I see this as more about values and not compromising them than I see it being about the tactics of selling & delivering on recruiting. Those values are spot on. As someone that has dealt with recruiters for over 30 years, I will tell you that the difference between the people I will do business with again and all of the others is the ones I will work with have clear values and communicate like crazy with everyone involved. Whether I am a candidate or a client, if I don’t have consistent values or I can’t communication clearly, it will be very hard to build success with me over any reasonable period of time.

  7. Congratulations on this fantastic article. Very well written. Best wishes for a very prosperous New Year.

    1. The article sucked; and I find it odd that the author seems to be stalking this site to comment under every comment made by someone else. Very odd.

  8. Excellent read! Your list of candidate characteristics are somewhat aligned with Ron Alsop’s view on millennials in his new book “The Trophy Kids Grow Up”. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Excellent read! Your list of candidate characteristics are somewhat aligned with Ron Alsop’s view on millennials, in his new book “The Trophy Kids Grow Up”. Thanks for sharing.

  10. CONGRATULATIONS, Brain; what a tremendous victory, and obviously, you cannot fool the market! You’re tapping into deep themes in this article, and they merit equally deep study. Myself – old school fellow that I am – I’m printing your article out and plan to study it many times. Kudos, Brian; and many thanks!

    1. Thanks Pasquale… You are correct, FDL is not in the business of giving away awards without researching my background, which is one of Honor and Influence, and giving back to the recruiting community…. Best, Brian-

      1. “You are correct, FDL is not in the business of giving away awards without researching my background, which is one of Honor and Influence…”

        What’s the name of the award you won? I didn’t see it listed in the article.

  11. Great article Brian. As a potential candidate I understand completely from that perspective and appreciaet your professionalism, attitude and integrity. Professionals on both sides should read this and take heed.


  12. I wasn’t exactly sure who the article was refering to; the client being the people looking for jobs or the the client being the companies working with you. Either which way all of the considerations are sound advice that everybody should pay attention to.

  13. Good morning and Happy New Year Brian,

    Thanks for sending this along. While this article is clearly directed at other recruiters, I found it very interesting from a hiring managers perspective. In my 30+ years of IT experience the elements/concerns you outline are not only “red flags” for recruiters but also for hiring managers as well. Not always do I find recruiters willing to pay attention to these red flags – many times candidates are forwarded along to me for consideration with these red flags glaring at me as I make the initial read on the resume! I’ve followed up with some recruiters and queried them about why the resume was forwarded along as I didn’t see the experience requested. They’d respond with things like “Yes I saw that as well but they told me they had the experience”. So why waste the hiring managers time if you questioned that as well? What does screening mean to you as a recruiter, and how does it reflect on you when you didn’t do your job? Doesn’t make a lot of sense…

    1. Why does a recruiter send along an obviously non-qualified person’s resume to a client? Because the recruiter was more desperate to make a placement than protecting his client’s interests. The recruiter was hoping to ‘’slip one past’’ the hiring manager.

      A great professional recruiter is like a great professional photographer, he/she has a very big trash can. The ”circular file” is your friend. After a resume hits the trash can, the action is absolute. The candidate cannot resurrect your interest in him/her because they are just trouble. This business is hard enough without looking for trouble.

  14. Very true about job seekers. We are in good shape with with employers. We have some good ones.

    We recruit Filipino nurses, medical technologists and physical therapists to US healthcare providers. We know that they will say anything that they think will help them get that job. However, we know they are lying if:

    1. They giggle when they answer a question.
    2. They touch their mouth when they answer a question.
    3. They use the phrase, ”Well, to tell you the truth.” (Does this mean that you have been lying before???)
    4. You can tell if a candidate is lying if their lips are moving.

    We screen our employers very well. We have not had too much of a problem with them for about 4 years.

  15. Well written and very insightful, Brian. Great way to learn how recruiters ‘think’ and how to best approach any new professional opportunity. I will share the article on my LinkedIn wall for friends and contacts to read. Good luck in 2012! Espen

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