Time vs. Outcome

This may sound like a keen grasp of the obvious but, unfortunately, it is far from apparent for too many in our business.

The only thing you have to sell is your time!

Expertise enters in but that too is time-sensitive. Your job, therefore, is to optimize the time you spend, focusing on those targets of opportunity that have the best probability for a successful outcome at a price that’s both fair to the client and reasonable to your bottom line.

The search and placement business is growing. It will continue to do so after the election and, we anticipate, for many years to come. Everything is lining up for the ‘perfect storm’ that will impact negatively on previously unenthusiastic employers and positively for us. That certainty has not yet been realized by many of the hirers of the world but it is as clear as the knowledge that the sun will rise every day.

Why then do practitioners continue to accept assignments that can only beified as “mission impossible” or with employers who contaminate the process and the relationship with outrageously one-sided contracts?

Job orders and search assignments are hard to come by. When somebody gives you one, your first inclination is to say, “Yippee!” Mentally, you’ve already cashed the check but as Bill Wager of Hunter Green recently opined on ERExchange.com, “Every recruiter needs to remember that a job order is nothing more than a license to lose money.”

Usually, that job order has been advertised on the Internet, potential candidates have been scavenged from the job boards, the job has been posted to current employees for referrals, etc. Concurrently, some hiring manager (HR’s client) is screaming at the recruiting staff to fill the slot, so the HR staff reluctantly agrees to ‘go outside’ for their solution. A deadline has been imposed upon them to produce, whether actually or subliminally.

The RAP SESSION training program (http://www.rap-session.com/) covered this topic as follows: “Employers would have you believe that they have all the time in the world to find the right person. This is generally untrue. Although they will rarely reveal their deadlines to you, they have them nevertheless. Take it as an article of faith . . . the other side . . . every other side . . . always has a deadline. But time and time again, the other side tries to act unconcerned . . . and that nonchalant posture is effective. It works because you feel the pressure of your own time constraints, which always appear greater than theirs.”

Once you realize that you are probably their last resort, there is no reason for you to automatically acquiesce to unreasonable demands for lower fees, longer guarantees, etc. (See this month’s Placements & The Law commentary). The power dynamic has shifted to your side of the relationship. But this is only true if you really believe it. Remember, all power is based on perception. If you’ve got it, then you’ve got it. If you don’t think you’ve got it, even if you have it, then you don’t have it.

Job orders and search assignments have their own pecking order and last month’s publishing of Bob Marshall’s Pricing Matrix attempts to define them in a very credible way. The types of companies giving you those job orders also have their own hierarchy. Most consultants believe that the Fortune 500 firms are at the top of that potential business pyramid. Not true. They are the very firms most likely to view you as a commodity and the most likely to demand that you deal with them through a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ restrictive contract.

Sure, they may have the most openings at any one time but accepting this business often produces more angst and heartache than it’s worth. If you wish to devote your precious and irretrievable time wading through layers of bureaucracy in the hopes that you’ll end up with a discounted fee, go for it.

We won’t take the space here to go over the job order qualification requirements because other factors are more important. The nine major job order or search assignment categories, ranked by the likelihood they will be actually or successfully worked are:

Non-exclusive contingency (discounted fee)

Non-exclusive contingency (full fee)

Exclusive contingency (discounted fee)

Exclusive contingency (full fee)

Partial retainer or engagement fee (discounted fee)

Partial retainer or engagement fee (full fee)

Partial retainer or engagement fee (full fee + expenses)

Fully retained

Fully retained (plus expenses)

There are, of course, other methodologies but the ranking rarely changes.

Last month’s Pricing Matrix by Bob Marshall lays out the categories to consider for pricing a search. It is also a great guide for whether or not you will actually work a search.

To reiterate the components of his matrix:

Difficulty of search

You know the match

Intra-office match

Inter-office match

Surgical recruiting required

General recruiting required









Hiring Mgr. will also search

One other source

Multiple sources








Repeat business

6 placements

5-6 placements

3-4 placements

1-2 placements

0 placements

Mutual Cooperation

Total + Client Visit

Takes all calls

Must send resume first

Must go through HR

Little or none


“Too easy”




Extremely difficult

Completeness of job order

No JO blanks

Some blanks

Unsure of answers

Sent elsewhere


In offices we visit, when we apply these standards to the inventory of job orders, there is almost always more optimism than reality. The “Yippie” factor often outweighs the slim chance of a successful outcome.

Those consultants who move beyond mediocrity have a “Fill it Bill it or Kill it” mentality. Spinning you wheels hoping to make a ‘connection’ is, in most cases, delusional. Companies think that Johnny Appleseed had the right idea spreading their job openings to any contingency practitioner is willing to accept them. Why not? No fill no fee.

There are many other evaluation formulas for assessing job order workability. Marilyn Wallace (Delta Associates, Inc.) weighed in with her version of checklists for assessing Job Orders several years ago and it is as applicable today as it ever was. “There is no magic number,” according to Ms. Wallace but the numerical determinations are useful in deciding the workability of Job Orders.


2 – Location and company/position have much to offer to attract candidate.

1 – Location or company has much to offer to attract candidate.

0 – Neither location nor company/position have much to offer to attract candidate.


2 – Has Hiring Authorities who are extremely cooperative. Able and willing to give detailed information, accept guidance.

1 – One HA not cooperative. Calls not returned promptly. Reluctant to provide detailed information, accept guidance.

0 – HA has “Do it my way” attitude. Not willing to provide information and/or take guidance. Lack of follow-through.


2 – Compensation and requirements are in balance. People with these skills are very likely to exist. HA able to be specific on salary for specific years/type of experience.

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1 – Compensation low for the requirements. HA only able to speak in generalities of the salary they could offer. Would require higher approval to get salary Account Exec thinks it will take.

0 – Compensation and requirements are out of line to marketplace. People to match their expectations not likely to exist. Reluctant to seek approval to get the salary that it will take or flatly states they cannot change the salary.


2 – Readily open to interviewing and hiring immediately. May already be interviewing.

1 – Willing to interview, but not acting serious. (e.g., “Send me a resume”). Only willing to schedule interview for several weeks in the future.

0 – Position approved, but not ready to interview yet. Position not essential at present.


2 – Readily accepts. Is clearly able to authorize approval for use of our services and payment of our fees.

1 – Hesitancy. Weak approval. May not have full authority to give approval or sees recruiters as last resort.

Former industry trainer Joe Zawacki also explored job order rankings. He assigned 3 levels of importance to job orders:

Level III “I will keep my eyes open for candidates.” (Most job orders fall into this category).

LEVEL II Serious enough for you to access your database for candidates and alert peers in your network of recruiters.

LEVEL I Priority/Urgent/NOW. Clear the desk. Recruit heavily.

As a manager, it is your duty to make sure your people focus on those openings that have the greatest probability of success. This is an ongoing task, not a periodic one when you might feel like it. You must continually monitor your people’s inventory to assure that their time (and your potential for profit) is maximized.

We are frequently amused when we visit offices and go through a consultant’s inventory of job orders only to find that the last time s/he contacted the employer was the date they took the job order.

Dozens of “job orders” just waiting to be filled? Probably not! And why haven’t these hirers been called? The two most frequent responses are:

(1) I don’t have anyone to talk about.

(2) I don’t want to appear to be a pest.

Why haven’t these job orders been filled? Some of the reasons are:

(1) No good fits in the files.

(2) Not a recruitable opening.

(3) Disagreeable employer.

(4) Unrealistic employer expectations.

One very successful manager of an 8-desk firm calls every job order over two weeks old to determine:

(1) Is it still open?

(2) Has the consultant been in touch with them?

(3) Have the specifications or salary changed?

(4) Are they close to hiring someone through another source?

(5) How many other sources are they using?

(6) What can be done to expedite a hire?

(7) How better can we serve you?

These “quality control” calls serve many functions. Here are just a few:

(1) They show management concern for the employer’s needs as well as having the secondary benefit of establishing a foundation for continuity with the firm should the consultant leave.

(2) They offer the opportunity to clarify (and broaden) the job order specifications.

(3) They offer the opportunity to pick up additional business.

(4) They provide for a realistic assessment of what’s really going on with the consulting staff.

Another factor is exploring what you do best. Your personal strengths may be in business development, candidate sourcing, client management, closing, etc. While we have some problems with the team placement concept, a topic we have previously covered, optimization of your time may be to just concentrate on those facets of the process you do best.

We’ll cover this facet of time management in a future issue. In the meantime, one of the golden oldies was penned by the late Larry Nobles. It is also Chapter 27 of the new book “Search & Placement,” written by Larry (http://www.larrynobles.com/) and edited by Steve Finkel. We present the unedited original below:

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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