The client called me and said he was wanted to help me fill a position in his firm. “Hey, cool,” I thought to myself. “This business really works.” I tried not to sound like a babbling idiot and attempted to shield my excitement so I came across like these types of calls happen to me all the time. When you do get this type of call, it’s important to quickly and smoothly bring that call to the next step: taking the search assignment and confirming the fee.
But before you can make that transition, you need to keep your composure. How do you respond when you get this sort of call, or when a client you are talking with about other candidates tells you, “We’re not looking for someone like that, but we are looking for a . . .” When the client tells you that, yes, they have a search, and yes, they want to give it to you, make these three questions your ‘automatic response’ so that you keep your cool and keep that warm relationship moving forward.
This is how you respond. “Bob, that’s great. I’m glad you would think of me to tell me about the search. Let me ask you three questions. . .”
1. What steps have you taken to fill the position?
This question determines whether or not you are wasting your time or investing it wisely. Did they give the search to fifteen other firms and post it on Monster? Or did it just come open yesterday? I remember spending three weeks recruiting on a search and wondering why the client never returned my phone calls when I had candidates to present. I finally figured out that he had given the search to about seven other firms. Each call I made to candidates for the position was almost a total waste of my time. Once you spend your time in an area that fails to yield fruit, you will never get it back. It is gone forever. Think strategically when you spend your time and you will increase the likelihood of getting a return. This one little question can save you three or four weeks of agony and bitterness.
2. What are the events that led up to the position being open?
Have they cycled through four managers this year in that position? If so, there could be a leadership issue up the food chain that you don’t want to have result in a problem search for you. I’ll never forget a search I took for the worst company in the world, one with rumored ties to the Russian mafia. Every candidate I spoke with about the job responded with a mix between a chuckle and a groan when I told them who it was. It was no wonder that the three people I placed there lasted no more than a year. If I had asked this question and probed a little further, I would have avoided the misery of having this client’s bad management problems become my frustration.
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3. What are the criteria of a search firm that you would want to partner with?
The first time I ever heard this question was at a Gene Rice and Jeff Cohen seminar. It was probably the turning point for me on my desk when I learned to find out why the client would buy, and sell to that. This is like getting the answers to the test. You are finding out from your prospective client what is important to them in choosing a search firm, and you just sort of go down the list when you tell them about yourself.
This business is tough enough. Don’t risk those precious few search leads by not preparing to sound like a professional. To help you integrate these questions into your desk, practice using a role-play with your peers in your office at your next meeting. Just like in sports, you always perform the way you practice. If you follow these three questions when dealing with new clients, you’ll always sound like a professional and always get the business.