The Little Search Firm That Could: Part 2 of 2

In the August issue of TFL you read about the “Little Search Firm That Could.” While you may have found the fairy-tale approach endearing, the story itself was all true. It described how one small search firm (my own) took one client and turned that one little account into multiples of millions of dollars in fees over more than a decade. It also described how the client itself profited from the relationship.

But all good things must end. And we knew that someday, somewhere, somehow, someone would figure out that an end must be brought about to these ridiculous fees being paid to “The Little Search Firm.”

We were prepared. With some external oversight and help from Bob Marshall of Atlanta, I had begun working on a “pre-emptive” strike to reposition our company without needing one of our major accounts any longer.

This was just as our best year ever came to a close, with a record-breaking level of fees well into the mid-six figures from this one account alone. I knew the party could not last forever.

Bob and I worked a strategy to gradually wean ourselves from needing or wanting to work with this company. It took about two full years (one year on my own and a few quarters working with Bob) to develop several new accounts that not only replaced the original, but were better, paid faster, and used us for higher-level hires.

The company itself outlined in the story proceeded with the type of plan I had anticipated they would for years:

– They fired all of their regional, experienced personnel specialists that had decades of experience locally in the areas where they worked around the United States.
РThey replaced each of the senior recruiters (internal recruiters) with 20-something types that had failed in the search industry and were now highly qualified to work for a corporation (I got to see the r̩sum̩s of a few and am not making this up).
– One such new recruiting individual had a bachelor’s degree in – get this – zoology! Not that I have anything against zoology, but to fire tenured internal recruiters with 20 years’ experience for THAT?
– For approximately 40 thousand dollars each, the corporation replaced all the knowledgeable recruiters it once had out in the field with a staff of 30 Generation Y types who knew nothing about the employer, its history, political dynamics, managers, managers’ histories, etc.
– Result: The new 30-person “replacement recruiting force” was clueless.

Did they save money? Probably. To clarify, they saved recruiting fees. When I asked regional managers and vice presidents, here’s what they replied:

“Frank, I’m worried. What used to take three to four weeks to find a low-level trainee is now taking us six months. In 12 years with this company I never needed to wait six months to find a decent recent grad we could hire for our trainee program.”

Of course, part of the problem is the overall tight labor market. But having spent $1.2 million on a state-of-the-art “centralized” résumé submission and applicant tracking system, the company is not now experiencing results that align with the exorbitant IT expenditures they made.

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The IT company that sold the new consolidated system won the battle for the heart and mind of this company. The recruiting industry did not.

But it was a very short honeymoon. After one year of tolerating the new system, executives got desperate and went over HR management’s head demanding to get my firm back into the picture. Retribution can be so sweet.

Sometimes the best remedy for evaluating our worth is simply letting business take its course and allowing a company to com-pare the difference with the alternatives. I’m somewhat glad we stepped away from the process for a year, as it made the managers value our services even more in comparison to the new alternative.

If your client is re-organizing, re-engineering, or re-inventing its recruiting systems, be patient. Maintain diplomatic relations and stay in touch.

Just as you think the end of a long relationship is about to happen, you could be in for a surprise if you just give it enough time.

Frank G. Risalvato is a staffing and recruiting consultant who has been in the search profession since 1987. He has contributed hundreds of articles to publications, 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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