The Bottom-Line 7 Laws On Survival In Our Business

Having just read the umpteenth article about how to survive in a tough economy, I am finally going to write my “two cents” worth. What follows applies to the majority of the practitioners in our business, not the 5% who are super billers. What works for them is great. So, anyone who cashes in over 500k, you are the exception.

I write for the masses, and I back up what I write with experience in our industry through two recessions, and a war.

  • First Law: There is nothing really new under the sun in our business. Get that into your heads, everyone. Don’t believe it when you hear how the Internet and technology have changed everything, or how certain websites are a requirement for success today, or that there are new techniques for getting employers to return calls, or this and that…ad nauseum. The basic principles of our business, like human nature itself, do not change, ever. In fact, almost everything taught today by top trainers was created by and taught first by Lou Scott at MRI back in the early 1970s. In our entire industry, all roads lead back to Lou, so don’t go around believing this or that guru has all the answers when most never even knew the questions until Lou first asked them 35 years ago.

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  • Second Law: If you do not cold call…you shall fail. Whether the economy is booming or busting, if you are not on the phone each and every day cold calling business leaders and selling your services to people who have never heard of you, you have no chance for long-term success. I have seen one star after another fall over the past 25 years and it all boiled down to this: they stopped cold calling every day. Most got comfortable with their niche, within which they were viewed as the “go to” specialists. That is always good…for a time. Then, as it always does eventually, the market changed, and it was too uncomfortable for them to get back to “in the trenches” cold calling. And let’s not call something what it isn’t. In business, when you call someone for the first time and they are not expecting your call, it’s a “cold call,” not a “marketing call.”
  • Third Law: Companies and candidates who use us are not “clients.” The majority want nothing to do with us until they need us. To most, we are a necessary evil to help fill a need or a convenient way to escape a bad employment situation. In over 25 years, I have spoken with only ONE business leader who told me he enjoys paying me fees, and he told me that was because he would lose his recruiting budget if he didn’t burn it up (but he also liked me personally). I have been privileged to build some strong personal relationships with a few candidates, but I am under no illusions. It is a business relationship first, in their eyes and mine, and shall always remain that way. You can be extra nice to almost all who you deal with, and you still are only going to gain true friendship from a very small number of people. That’s mostly because sooner or later, you will need to bring these people to decisions in your timeframe which they are going to want to make in theirs, which brings me to the next law.
  • Fourth Law: Your job is to get decisions, up or down, and as early as possible. And “as early as possible” is always by the completion of the first face-to-face interview. Time kills deals in good economies, and is murderous in bad ones. Both interviewer and candidate know in their gut after a first meeting whether or not they are right for each other…in exactly the same manner as how at the conclusion of a first date, two people know whether or not they want to date each other again. Obtain one of three outcomes, and never settle for anything else: an offer; a decision not to go further, and why; or a next step on the calendar, with no “reconfirms.” To achieve decisions, develop the skill of leading people to conclusions without ruffling their feathers. Unfortunately, that skill only comes about after ruffling the feathers of a lot of people…which is one reason why most people do not last a full year in this business.
  • Fifth Law: Quotas mean something…goals are meaningless. Yes, that is blasphemy to the “rah rah!” goal-setting crowd. After all…isn’t sales all about setting goals and then going about achieving them? Yes…and no. Unfortunately, our business is so tough to learn and to execute that unless there is a hammer hanging over a recruiter’s head, he/she rarely achieves goals. A quota needs to be set where if it isn’t achieved, consequences follow. I have seen firm after firm fold because of this same mistake: “goals” instead of “quotas.” For the solo practitioner, the consequences today of not meeting quotas are mortgage foreclosure. That should be motivation enough for them.
  • Sixth Law: Job orders without sendouts are worthless. Never work any job order unless you have a firm commitment from the hiring company not to hire anyone until after they have interviewed your candidates. If the company won’t give you that commitment, you have a job “lead,” not a job order.
  • Seventh Law: Recruiting is easy…placing is hard. There is always so much buzz about how to recruit people. Recruiting is the easiest part of our business. When you approach someone for the first time, most are hoping to be recruited. What they do not want is to be asked to interview, hire, and pay us fees. That’s why I always teach mastery of gaining sendouts as more important than mastery of recruiting people, although both are important in the long run. Sendouts are especially critical in a bad economy.

There are additional laws to our business, but these seven are the most important in my book, and especially for surviving tough economic conditions. Anyone who sticks to the above will survive, and possibly thrive, today…and tomorrow.


8 Comments on “The Bottom-Line 7 Laws On Survival In Our Business

  1. Neil,

    This is a great article and a simple reminder to stick to the basics. Building is business is about the basic, day-to-day tasks that keep a company rolling. If one does that, one will thrive in any economy.

    Thanks for the reminder. Best of luck to you.


  2. Neil:
    I love this. Just great stuff. Since I didn’t come up in MRI system I have not heard of Lou Scott. Where do you suggest we go if we want to learn more about him?

  3. Neil:
    Great article. That’s the gospel I’ve known, but needed to be reminded of. I think what you are saying about “goals” and “quotas” is dead-on, and very refreshing to hear (even though I would fall under the “rah-rah” goal-setting crowd.) Great perspective!

  4. Great article — so true but good to get the reminder and know those of us who have been in the industry for a long time still believe in the same basic tenets! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks to all for the kind comments. Glad I didn’t stir up a hornet’s nest.

    For informational purposes: Lou Scott was a co founder of MRI with Alan Schonberg, back in the 1950s. Lou wrote the first account executive (recruiter) training manual and came up with 90% (or more) of all placement techniques, most which are used by all recruiters today. Later, Jerry Hill refined and updated these techniques and methods. Jerry was MRI’s Director of Training for over twenty years.

  6. Neil-

    Wow! Seriously what a great article that captures 7 of the many forgotten laws of being a continual success in this business.

    Thank you

  7. Neil – Great article, except for one problem that is convenient to ignore in this market (especially when one has the proverbial ‘rose colored glasses’ on … as a direct result of the fact that paying a fee has always been a ‘necessary evil’ combined with many attempts (technologies, websites, programs, etc.) at disintermediation, (some of which are actually working to “decrease the pie” available for placement) the placement business model as we know it is broken – beyond repair in my opinion. In an age when companies are working like mad to decrease legal and CPA fees, placement fees are too easy a target to overlook when it comes to trimming the bottom line. Do we really think we can charge 25-30-35 % and more on a reliable basis? I don’t see it, not in an age when the “nifty fifty” (there aren’t that many of them left) are doing contingent deals at 20%. Our bottom line? We’re in for a very long road back and it’s going to be an increasingly narrow slice of the hiring pie that represents realistic fee opportunities in the future. This will be an ever-more-narrow game when it comes to search practicioners, and even that will continue to be under the gun on all fronts. The only saving grace is ‘demographics’ – not enough top talent to go around – but in an age of a global economy, increased percentages of ‘multinational hires’ who are willing to work for less, baby boomers who won’t retire as forecast (b/c they can’t) and corporate directives aimed first at cutting costs and then on growth…. ‘demographics’ alone won’t save us. It’s a half baked theory to expect things to rosy up after the malaise. If only it were true. Doubt we’ll ever see the real income opportunities that made this such a wonderful/challenging/rewarding occupation.
    Your article is exceptional at pointing out ‘must have’ and ‘must do’ skills – the primary challenge we have is truly carving out a defensible niche, as I fear a stable business environment in which to grow one’s practice will be ever more fleeting. Good luck!

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