Category Archives: Recruitment & Miscellaneous

Why cold calling doesn’t work (for some recruiters)

“Why is it quiet in here?! Get on that phone!”

 “How many calls have you made this week?”

 Just a couple of the motivational rallying cries I used to hear working in recruitment agencies. I thoroughly hated having to make cold calls as a recruiter. I remember having to achieve a weekly quota of cold calls to tick the activity target box. It was all about numbers, activity and process. Cold calling is a numbers game, I was told. It’s all about doing the numbers.  

Most weeks I actually went through the motions of making the calls; but some weeks I just pretended to have done so, because I recognised the futility of it all. And it was hardly surprising that it was futile, given the approach I was told / trained to take, and the resulting frame of mind with which I made the calls.

The idea behind it was that sales activities could be described in terms of a funnel. Make a lot of cold calls and you will get past the gate-keeper on the odd occasion. Get past the gate-keeper and you will get a few visits. Get a couple of visits and you might get a couple of vacancies. Get a couple of vacancies and you might get a placement.

So the more cold calls you put in at the top, the more sales you will get out at the bottom. And cliché after cliché fell through this funnel as I waited expectantly for results…

And if you struggled to get to the next level in the funnel, your manager would sit and listen to your calls to tell you what to say or to point out where you went wrong. Be more focused, be more assertive, be more direct, don’t take no for an answer!

In a more realistic and sombre moment, the same manager would admit that cold calling tended to have a very low success rate on the day and that your chances of picking up a vacancy or a meeting from a cold call would be slim to none. Or in other words, they were acknowledging that it didn’t actually work very well as a sales strategy.

Here are some reasons why cold calling doesn’t work:

Cold calling doesn’t work when you are given a list of companies from a business directory and told to phone them to ‘introduce your services’. The MD or Operations Manager in the company you are just about to call to ‘make him aware of what you do’ (which, remember, is the same as what hundreds of others do, and have just tried to pester him with the same story) is in the middle of preparing for a board meeting and couldn’t care less about what you do. He is only interested in his own business*

Cold calling doesn’t work when the companies you call from the list are just ticking along nicely, thank you very much, and have absolutely no need for your services – nor are they interested in keeping your details on file for future reference. Why would they? They can make do perfectly well with the staff they have and would never contemplate paying your fees anyway**

Cold calling doesn’t work when you have lost all confidence in the process as a result of going through the motions day after day achieving nothing***

Cold calling doesn’t work when you pretend you have made your calls when you haven’t****

Here is what your manager might do:

*Provide you with a script to help you explain your ‘quality’ & ‘honesty’ differentiators

**Provide you with a script to improve your objection handling skills

***Provide you with a juicy carrot – whether you like carrots or not

****Provide you with your P45

Before you get to this stage, you may want to consider an alternative, easier to follow, funnel:

  • Start with a list of sectors that are likely to experience growth, investment or some form of development, but don’t rule out sectors which are already strong and holding their own; find out about these sectors from industry organisations and news articles, understand the opportunities and challenges facing companies here


  • Whittle that list down and target a niche – perhaps an entire sector, or perhaps a small sub sector – based on your own knowledge and expertise, and decide where you think you have the best chance of developing your business desk


  • Whittle that list down further to create a smaller list of which companies might be recruiting and try to work out why they may be recruiting at the moment?


  • Go further and whittle that list down to create an even smaller list of companies who might actually need your help to recruit and work out why that might be the case – what do you have to offer these particular companies that meets their particular needs at the moment and why?


Then you are ready to decide on the most appropriate way of approaching each of the companies on your target list. And each approach may be different.

You may decide that making a call now is the best course of action, all things considered. And if you do, you will know exactly why you are calling, who you want to speak with, and exactly what you are going to say. And given that you have done your homework, you are automatically improving your chances of working with this company.

And the thing to remember is that this is one call. It is targeted and it has a specific purpose. It is not a random call among hundreds of others from a business directory, where the only objective is for you to get a meeting or a vacancy.

You may decide that cold calling is not the best course of action. Perhaps you are able to use your own database of contacts to get a referral to the person in the company you need to speak with. Or perhaps you have come across the company through social media sites such as twitter or linkedin, and you decide that it would be better to begin some sort of conversation in this way. Or perhaps you may decide that an introductory letter is the best way to start. Or perhaps you are aware that the company will be exhibiting or attending an industry event and you decide that a quick face to face chat would get the initial conversation going in the right direction.

Whichever strategy you decide to take, it is worth remembering that, whilst cold calling does not work when it is carried out in the manner practised by the vast majority of recruitment agencies, it does have its place when it is done properly and within the context of a well thought-out business development strategy.

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Why recruiters benefit by analysing ‘hard to fill’ vacancies

A recent report produced by the Scottish Government said that there were around 43,900 vacancies in Scotland during 2010. Quite astonishing actually, given that the country was barely out of recession last year. Around 15,400 of these vacancies were classed as ‘hard to fill’, with that group being further broken down into ‘skills gaps’ and ‘skills shortages’ vacancies.

This got me thinking about some of the lessons recruiters might learn from this type of report. Recruiters setting up a new desk from scratch may consider targeting niche markets, where there is emerging technology or heavy investment, such as renewable energy; or markets on the cusp of revitalisation, such as financial services and life sciences.

But before rushing headlong into these markets, it is worth pausing for a moment to think about the fact that market sectors that are prime for growth may at the same time be market sectors that represent some of the most difficult recruitment challenges.

Forget, for a second, that the competition will be fierce as recruiters up and down the country will be following the trend by proclaiming themselves as specialists in such sectors. This will already make it a hard enough game.

Think, for a second, about the challenges inherent in the actual recruitment process itself within these sectors, and the promise of quick and easy money is quickly put into perspective.

Making money here requires detailed knowledge and understanding of the markets and an intelligent approach to devising your recruitment strategy. To explain what I mean, let us consider what the terms ‘skills gaps’ and ‘skills shortages’ actually mean and how they affect recruitment strategies.

Skills Gaps

• Skills gaps exist where there are differences between the skills possessed by employees and the skills actually required to carry out their jobs effectively.

• Skills gaps typically harm an organisation’s performance, its ability to meet its sales objectives and customer service targets, and ultimately limit its potential for growth.

• Skills gaps occur at various levels and to various extents throughout industry sectors, although some sectors and some levels of job are more typically associated with skills gaps.

• Skills gaps place a strain on employees themselves, when put under pressure to perform at a level they simply cannot achieve as a consequence of their skills gaps.

• Skills gaps tend to emerge through weaknesses in core soft skills, which typically form the basis of an employee’s ability to learn and develop more advanced interpersonal and communication skills, or more sophisticated technical skills.


Skills Shortages

• Skills shortages exist where there are fewer qualified candidates available to meet industry demands

• Skills shortages typically occur as a result of rapid growth or investment in new technology at a pace that exceeds industry’s ability to train and produce qualified candidates

• Skills shortages can occur as a result of globalisation, with qualified employees choosing to relocate overseas for a better life style, opportunity or money, leaving the local industry with insufficient qualified employees

• Skills shortages also occur as a result of ageing populations, particularly affecting industries with a high proportion of older employees who retire, removing their skills and experience from the work place.

So recruiters need to be aware of the difference between hard to fill vacancies that are hard to fill because the majority of candidates interested and available have skills gaps, and those that are hard to fill because there are skills shortages.

When it comes to skills gaps, the decision to work on the vacancy in the first place needs to be made carefully, based on knowledge and understanding of the market and typical candidate calibre – is it worth taking it on and spending time and money searching for candidates who just don’t measure up to the specification; how open is the client to considering candidates who lack all of the required skills; are you likely to damage your reputation by submitting candidates who do not match the client’s (perhaps unrealistic) expectations?

There are many recruiters who are happy to work on this basis and take a gamble on this type of vacancy. And there is no big issue with this provided you are working with an open client who has given you some form of commitment that he is prepared to consider candidates who do not yet meet the full criteria, but who at least show potential through on the job training.

But in the majority of cases, the end result is likely to be frustration all round. Worst case would be that the client recruits the candidate and then quickly realises that the skills gap is too wide to bridge with the resources he has at his disposal, and he then demands a refund.

When it comes to skills shortages, different factors need to be considered. Again, based on the recruiter’s knowledge and understanding of the market, the recruiter needs to be confident that he fully appreciates the particular reason behind the shortage – is it the fact that most of the qualified candidates now live and work in overseas locations; is it the fact that the industry no longer offers sufficiently attractive salaries and opportunities compared with others; is it the fact that technology and investment have outstripped the supply of experienced and qualified candidates?

The recruiter’s role is to understand why there is a shortage and develop the most appropriate search and selection strategy; whether this means searching and recruiting from overseas, headhunting from a local competitor, or convincing the client to offer more attractive salaries and development opportunities.

There would be no point in trying to cold call local competitors, for example, if the cause of the shortage is that the majority of candidates are working in overseas locations. The local competitor may be making do with a skills gap.

Nor would there be much point in spending money on advertising a position, and then re-advertising when the first one draws little or no interest, when the few qualified candidates are already working for the market leaders and have no intention of moving, and hence no inclination to check job sites. These candidates need to be targeted directly and gently coached and persuaded.

The general point is very basic and quite simple – working on a vacancy requires relevant market intelligence and a tailored strategy to achieve the right outcome (or a tough decision not to take it on in the first place) – but it is one that some recruiters may overlook in their haste to get in front of the client and get the vacancy on.

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What the recession taught me about business…

I could blame the recession, but that would be too simple. True, it was a very significant factor in the gradual slow down in my business during 2008 and into 2009 – a small recruitment agency established in the summer of 2007, which happened to be just a matter of months before the news of the collapsing subprime mortgage market in the US began to trickle through to everyone – but it would be quite naïve to suggest that it was the reason why my business struggled during this period.

At the time, it felt obvious to blame the recession and the subsequent decline in recruitment opportunities in my market. It felt obvious to say that the intensifying credit crunch meant that many companies were less willing to spend money on what they perceived to be very expensive recruitment agency fees and this meant that I wouldn’t be able to make the money I needed to make; it felt obvious to say that if companies were making redundancies in large numbers, what chance would my recruitment business stand? It was a no-brainer, surely?   

 However, hindsight has taught me to think differently about it and looking back I have learned from the experience. The recession did play a very significant part in the slow down in my business – but what I have since learned is that it played a significant part only in the sense that I let it happen…because I didn’t have the experience to deal with the changes in the economy; and what this tells me is that my limited business experience was exposed by the recession in a way it may not have been had I set out my stall in a slightly different way from the beginning. At the time my instincts were telling me to:

  • Cut staff costs by making redundancies
  • Cut as many other overheads as possible
  • Work harder and make more cold calls
  • Negotiate discounts everywhere
  • Spend money redesigning my logo and getting a new website
  • Attend more networking events (but only if they were free)

 I know now that some of the steps I took to try to safeguard my business were on the right lines, but wrongly applied; whereas others just smacked of desperation. I was absolutely right to closely monitor my cash flow – which I did with a passion, but almost to the point where I was reluctant to spend any money; and I was absolutely right to think about my brand and how I was marketing my services – which I did, but got it wrong and actually wasted money in the process; and of course I was absolutely right to work harder – which I did, but worked harder doing more of the things that weren’t working in the first place!

So I had a rough idea about what I should have been concentrating on, but not enough of an idea to get it right at the time. Without going into too much boring detail, here are some of the lessons that were hammered home to me by the recession:           

  •  Build a strong brand with a clear and consistent message – this would have enabled me to create a reason why candidates and clients should have been working with me exclusively, rather than with my competitors, thus differentiating myself in an over-crowded market place – there are various tools and techniques available to achieve this, which I didn’t maximise at the time…
  • Take a strategic approach to market diversification – strategically diversifying into stronger and emerging markets would have enabled me to spread the risk, whilst being careful not to appear to be diluting my value within any given market sector; whereas my approach to diversification wasn’t as measured as it should have been – unfortunately, I followed the crowd and panic pushed me here, there and everywhere…   
  • Take the time to ensure that my clients really understood and perceived the value of my services – this would have helped maintain good business levels, despite the fact that many clients were also being very careful with their own cash – but as I lost faith in the market, I struggled to find a way of communicating the true value of my services…
  • Think about ways of being more innovative – again, this would have helped to differentiate my services in an over-crowded market; but rather than keep it simple, I spent too much time trying to be too clever (and hence why I struggled with the point above) – I realised too late that ‘innovative’ does not need to mean ‘ground-breaking’…

So that was my first business experience and I’ve learned a lot, thanks to the recession.  

Here’s to my next one…

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Recruiters & Social Media (and some thoughts on where I went wrong…)

I have just finished reading David Meerman Scott’s: ‘The New Rules of Marketing & PR’. An excellent read, which made me think again about some of the ineffective – and very expensive – ways in which I used to work as a recruitment consultant to attract candidates and clients. I am thinking, in particular, about the standard process which I would go through when I took on a new vacancy with a company.

It went something like this: spend days cold calling for vacancies (or if I was lucky enough, a previous client would phone up or email a vacancy); I would then hastily write a quick advert using a standard format (used by the vast majority of recruiters); post the advert on one or more jobsites at quite considerable cost; sit back and wait for candidates to notice the advert and hope that they were interested enough to apply; notice half an hour later that the same vacancy had been posted by half a dozen other recruiters; hope against hope that the better candidates would send their CV to me rather than one – or all – of the others; a few days later wonder why my inbox was still empty or had been bombarded with unsuitable CVs, or CVs of candidates who had already applied via one of the many other agencies working on the vacancy; if I was lucky enough to get the better candidates first, I would then email the client with a covering note saying ‘please find attached….’, and sit back again and wait whilst they selected their preferred candidate(s) from my short list.

What is wrong with this approach is that it is (i) untargeted (ii) reactive (iii) largely ineffective (iv) very expensive (v) not very rewarding as a career. Thankfully I was then introduced to the good practice of selling retained recruitment projects, rather than fighting for scraps at the contingency end of the market; and this helped to eliminate many of the woes associated with the better candidates being lost to the many other agencies working on the vacancy at the same time. But what it didn’t necessarily eliminate was the problem of attracting the better candidates, the cream of the market, in the first place – it would be perfectly normal to introduce four or five ‘suitable’ candidates to a client and sell their skills and knowledge in a way that would convince the client to interview and recruit one of them. The biggest issue, therefore, turned out not to be whether I had managed to secure the vacancy exclusively; rather, the biggest issue was that I still hadn’t found the right way to tap into the network of the industry’s top performing individuals, motivate them to work with me as a consultant, and think about applying for this particular opportunity.

So what does this have to do with the ideas contained in David Meerman Scott’s book? One of the ideas I have taken from his book is that businesses need to think about developing a marketing strategy using various social media tools and techniques that ultimately position the business as a thought leader – primarily through publishing content that specifically targets its niche market (and various buyer personas therein).

As far as recruitment consultants are concerned, what I would take from this is that the hard work has already started in earnest long before working on a retained project with a client – it requires consultants to be continually working to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise within the market sectors in which their preferred candidates are working through publishing content on the web that appeals to their specialist interests. And this idea can be unpacked further to say that rather than waiting until a vacancy comes in and then going out and trying to hit it lucky by posting an advert on a generic job site, recruiters should be continually working away on building their personal brand and creating their image as experts in their sector. Some of the ways in which this could be achieved include:

  • Define your niche market sector and carefully think about the different types of candidate you want to attract and what specific interests they may have
  • Attract the best performers in your sector by publishing content on an ongoing basis (blogs, videos, podcasts, news articles, etc) to appeal to their specialist interests, thereby demonstrating your expertise in their sector and professionalism in recruitment and selection
  • Be more interactive and engage directly with your candidates through social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, to answer specific questions of interest and at the same time infuse your consultancy with the personality it may otherwise lack as a faceless agency
  • Build a personal profile and create a brand that the top performers want to be associated with
  • Pull them into the recruitment process and motivate them to take action by offering compelling and exclusive opportunities, rather than advertising ‘just another vacancy’ shared by every other agency
  • Gain automatic referrals as a result of your expertise and professionalism and thereby begin to tap in to the massive passive candidate market that is out of reach of most other consultants who waste much of their time and company profit working the contingency market  

In summary, attracting the best performers in the industry is the lifeblood of recruitment and many recruiters (including me) have made the mistake of using ineffective and very expensive processes to do this; ultimately it was always bound to fail as a strategy – even if, by chance, on the odd occasion, it happened to work. Elements of a better process would therefore include:

  • Identify and define your niche market, including the personalities and interests of the top performing candidates that you want to attract
  • Develop a powerful social media strategy to demonstrate your expertise, and hence find and attract the best performers in the industry from the outset, rather than play the reactive game played by the majority of recruiters
  • Develop an approach to selling retained recruitment projects so that you can offer your top performers a compelling and exclusive opportunity – a reason why they, their colleagues, and their wider network, have to come to you to secure their next move
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Should Recruitment Agencies Offer Refund Guarantees?


You have just placed a candidate with a company. A few weeks later you get a phone call from your client to say that the candidate has left the company and the client wants all, or a significant portion, of his recruitment fee back. Should agencies offer refund guarantees in their terms of business or not?



There is a strong (and very good) argument that recruitment agencies should offer a refund guarantee when the candidate leaves within a specified period of taking up the position. There are in fact two sides to this argument, one from the company’s, and one from the agency’s perspective.


The argument from the company’s perspective is this: think of the costs incurred by the company – and they now have nothing to show for it. We are not just talking about the recruitment fee itself, which may be a few thousand pound or more, but also in the time taken to get from the point where the initial brief was given to the agency, to the point where the offer was made and then the candidate started.


This could be anything up to a couple of months, depending on notice periods. There will also be the cost of employing the candidate, which may have already started mounting up before they even joined (setting up phone lines, arranging a desk, getting emails sorted out, etc.), never mind the salary and tax.


There may also be training and induction costs to take into account. In short, the costs to the company could be significant and if they are sent back to the start of the process again, with nothing to show for the time or money invested, except a hole in their wallet and a bad taste in their mouth, why should they not be entitled to some form of refund?  


The argument from the agency’s perspective is this: think of the damage you would do to your reputation as a professional service provider if you did not offer a refund in these circumstances. Do you think of recruitment as being a trade in commodities, quick transactional deals, in which you do not have to think about the longer term relationship with your client?


Of course, you don’t. You want to build your business by holding on to your clients and this means seeing the situation from their perspective – after all, would you not rather offer some form of recompense now and gain future business from this client, rather than refuse, and then pay the consequences of losing out on ongoing revenue opportunities, whilst at the same time perhaps tarnishing your reputation in the market?



The argument against offering a refund is quite simple. Not surprisingly, it is weighted on the side of the agency. The costs involved to the agency in recruiting a candidate can be significant. Think about this: suppose you receive a call from the client about a vacancy he wants to fill. You arrange to go and meet with him. This may take a few hours out of your day and will involve travel expenses. When you return, you may post an advert on job boards, using up one or perhaps a couple of advertising credits, which can be quite expensive.


You then spend time searching your database, making phone calls, telephone screening applicants and then meeting with your preferred candidates. If you return to your client to present your short-list, you are running up more costs. If it is a high level position, you will need to factor in the hourly rate of a senior consultant / manager and perhaps also the hourly rate of a resourcer / researcher. So the costs to recruit can be quite significant from the agency’s point of view.


If the agency has spent a considerable amount of effort, time and money to deliver a strong short-list, and has gone through all of the proper steps as promised, why should the agency not be entitled to full payment of their costs? Why should they have to give any money back if the candidate leaves? After all, the agency has absolutely no control over what happens once the candidate walks through the doors of the company to report for work.


I have heard some consultants argue that the agency’s role is simply to introduce the company to a short-list of candidates who are on the market and who would be suitable for the position. And this is as far as their agency’s involvement goes. The final decision on which candidate is selected comes down to the company, and therefore the agency should not have to pay back the fee (which refers back to the work they have carried out to get to the short-list stage).         


So what is the right answer? I don’t think there is an absolute right or wrong answer – I think it depends on the circumstances. Suppose the agency has played their part and done everything required, having just placed a top candidate with the company. Now suppose that the company had oversold the position to the candidate and it turns out to be quite different from what he had been told at interview. This happens.


Or suppose that the candidate has not been given any support or training and has been thrown in at the deep end and left to his own devices. Again this happens. It would not be too difficult to understand why that candidate would walk out after a short time in the job. In that case, no refund should be given because the agency has no control over this situation, whilst the company does.


Suppose on the other hand that the agency had not been as thorough as it should have been at the interview stage and missed some things that would normally have led to the candidate being ruled out. Or suppose that the candidate was just a very clever interviewee who knew how to give the right answers. Suppose this candidate makes it through the company’s interview process too.


The agency has recommended a candidate they shouldn’t have, and therefore should not be too surprised when the company expects some of the fee to be repaid. Obviously the company was duped as well – but the point is, the agency should not have allowed the candidate to get to that stage in the first place and therefore has to take some of the responsibility.  


In the ideal situation, you would advise your clients that the decision to offer a refund is made on a case by case basis, depending on the circumstances. In reality, this probably isn’t going to happen. It could become too vague and messy. So you either take the hard line approach of not offering a refund guarantee, and there are good reasons for doing this, or you take the softer one of offering it, regardless of the reasons behind the candidate’s departure, and again there are good reasons for doing that.


My View:

In my view, I would rather offer this guarantee and make damn sure that I have done my job properly up front to minimise the risk of making a wrong decision and paying any money back. This involves not just screening the candidates, but also screening the company to make sure they are who they say they are and will deliver on their promises…remember, as consultants we have an equal duty to look after the interests of our candidates – even if they are not paying us any money.   


One thing you should remember to do if you are offering a refund guarantee is draw your client’s attention to the terms of the guarantee. Most agencies will include a clause in their terms which states that in order to qualify for a refund the entire fee must be paid within the payment period. If the payment is late, the refund guarantee is immediately cancelled. I think that is fair.


It may also be a means of ensuring that clients sign terms in the first place, advising them that otherwise they will not have any written agreement on refunds and therefore no comeback if the candidate leaves. Many clients refuse to do this for some reason, but if you decide to take on the business, you should only do so once the terms have been agreed and signed, for everyone’s benefit.    


Liam Conway

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Building your Business through Referrals & Recommendations


I think these are some of the fundamental abilities and personal qualities required to be successful in selling (the list below is not meant to be exhaustive, by any means):


1. The ability to build relationships

2. The ability to deliver first class service

3. The ability to ask intelligent questions

4. The ability to think strategically

5. Self discipline

6. Self motivation

7. Tenacity


The ability to build relationships has been placed at the top of the list to reflect the fact that most businesses achieve great success through building and maximising relationships by taking them a step further than the simple transactional context which may have initiated the relationship.


Every relationship you enter into with clients and every contact you make with candidates has the potential to lead you to other relationships and other candidates, and this helps to put the platform in place for the long term growth of your business.


According to Bill Cates, in his book, ‘Get More Referrals Now’, you must constantly think in terms of how you can leverage each relationship and each contact to move beyond the basics of the situation and the specific service agreement that brought you together in the first place.


This will lead you to more and more business opportunities that few other consultants will have access to and more and more candidates than most other consultants will never know. Cates believes that ‘you must develop a referrals mind-set’ and he goes on to set out the key steps you need to take to build your business by referrals and recommendations:


Step 1:  Develop an Attitude of Service


What can you do to make yourself more referable through the service you provide? Where else can you add value for your clients and candidates? What can you do differently from other consultants? What can you do to gain your client’s trust and loyalty?


Step 2: Think ‘Process’ over ‘Product’ and ‘Referrals’ over ‘Activity’


Selling a service in itself does not make you referable and delivering a result is not what makes a client want to do business with you again. It is the process of doing business with you and the memorable experience this creates that makes you referable. That is, you need to have a clearly defined process by which you deliver results and which clearly adds value to your clients – this is what they will remember and talk about. Your process differentiates you, and if it is one you have named and defined, clients can get it only from you. 


Step 3: Master the Power of Leverage


The traditional approach to prospecting and canvassing has been compared to a pipeline or a funnel. Selling would be about keeping the front end of the pipeline loaded up with new prospects through high levels of cold calls and forcing them through the pipeline, with many not making it out the other end.


This is activity based prospecting and is a numbers game. It is a model that produces results, but it requires a great deal of time, effort and sustained cold calling – with little guarantee of success. It is the model adopted by consultants who spend their time working on pure contingency assignments and they become trapped in the dog fight among the competition.


Having activity is of course absolutely vital, but what you need to do is shift your thinking away from an activity based process to a relationship based process. You need to be thinking more about how this relationship can lead you on to more relationships and more opportunities and referrals – maximising the opportunities right in front of your nose – rather than thinking ‘how can I close this sale’, ‘how can I keep my pipeline full with more prospect customers’.


Step 4: Strategic Networking


Identify and meet the right people in your industry that have the ability to do business with you and refer other business and other people in the industry to you. The ability to build relationships does not just stop with the clients and candidates you are working with – it extends to the people you are able to be introduced to through networking events and situations. The ability to sell in this case requires the ability to turn your relationships into a successful network. Not every contact will be one who wants to do business with you; but they will have contacts who may want to business with you; or they may be able to offer you their advice, support and guidance in your business. Every contact is worth something to you and you to them.  


Step 5: Target Niche Markets


Finally, you need to target a niche market and cultivate a reputation for yourself as an expert in that market. Learn everything you can about the market, find out who the main players are and understand the market trends. Having a high level of expertise in a niche market will enable you to add value in a way that goes well beyond the value that other consultants can add. By doing this, referrals will start to come through and recommendations will be given without even asking for them.



Putting all of this together should be fairly straightforward for a recruitment consultant looking to grow his business and offers some excellent and sound advice. However, what I would add is that the type of approach expounded by Cates and many others must be viewed as a longer term strategy to growing your business. In the shorter term you need to be doing some of the hard graft on the phone to get introductions to new customers and there will be times when this approach appears similar to the ‘funnel’ approach that Cates urges us to shift away from. Ultimately I agree with Cates; but this should be regarded as the long term plan, and in the mean time I believe we also need to have a short term one…and the range of fundamental skills and personal qualities applicable to the long term approach are equally applicable to the short term approach.



Liam Conway


*(McGraw-Hill 2004)

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Understanding Motivation & Achieving Top Performance


Traditionally, theories of motivation have been based around the very simplistic and naive ‘Carrot’ or ‘Stick’ dichotomy. This way of understanding how motivation works seems to be central to the management style and approach found in many recruitment agencies and in sales companies in general.  


In recruitment it is generally believed that consultants can be motivated either by offering huge bonus incentives and rewards to make us want to work harder. How many canvassing competitions have you had to sit through to watch one of the consultants win a bottle of wine or a random gift voucher? In such cases, the reward or incentive offered is extrinsically related to the activity itself.  


Alternatively, you may have worked in the type of agency where it is believed that consultants are better motivated by a forceful boss, who makes it clear that failure to achieve targets will mean being micro-managed, being put on an action-plan or eventually being dismissed.


The carrot approach works by attracting people towards success by offering rewards and the stick method works by pushing people towards success by letting them know in no uncertain terms how terrible it will be for them if they fail.


Do these theories reflect reality? According to Raj Persaud in ‘The Motivated Mind’*, in the vast majority of cases, particularly at work, they are doomed for failure from the outset. Why is this? According to Persaud, the reason is that they fail to acknowledge the vital factors that actually motivate people at work and they take root within working environments and cultures that will ultimately fail to bring about successful and excellent levels of performance. What are the vital motivational factors at work?


  • Achievement of our performance and learning goals
  • Recognition for successes and achievements of our goals
  • Responsibility for one’s own work in striving towards our goals
  • Career Progression opportunities as a result of prior achievements
  • Personal Development and further learning opportunities


Persaud goes on to explain that our motivational factors may be a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic motivational factors are those which generate our self belief, our confidence and reasons for taking action from within. In recruitment, we could say that these may be factors such as having pride in our ability to understand and build rapport with other people in interviewing or selling to them, or our enjoyment of drilling down to the root of problems and developing compelling recruitment solutions which will deliver results.


Extrinsic motivational factors are those which drive our behaviour from outside. These may be the knowledge that we will get a promotion if we achieve our targets or the congratulations we may receive from our colleagues if we get a high value placement. Being motivated from purely intrinsic reasons means we are compelled to take action for reasons internal to the activity itself, something we find interesting or enjoyable about engaging in this activity to a high standard; being motivated from purely extrinsic reasons means we are compelled to take action for reasons external to the activity itself, something we do the activity to gain or achieve, that has little or nothing to do with engaging in the activity itself, such as extra bonus or praise from one of our colleagues.


Knowing which factors motivate you most at work is important in understanding how to improve your levels of motivation. For example, we all know how tough recruitment can be, particularly in weak markets, so how can you improve your motivation to work hard at achieving your sales targets?


You may want to start by sitting down and working out where your individual strengths and talents lie. Then try to work out how your strengths and talents can provide you with the necessary tools and drive to improve your performance. Working out the latter should then form a foundation for other key motivational factors to come into play, namely recognition from your colleagues, personal growth and development, further learning opportunities, and so on.


Example: if you have the objective of winning repeat business from one of your clients in order to turn it into a key account, your motivation for doing so may, among other factors, be partly based around a desire to nurture and maximise one of your key strengths of being able to build outstanding customer relationships and engage customer loyalty. Or rather it may be based around the desire to increase your levels of business with them in order to gain congratulations from your colleagues or gain greater levels of commission.


Whatever your motivations are, you need to work out what works best for you and draw on your strengths, talents and ambitions, whatever they may be, to drive you towards improvements in your performance at work. Whether you are more motivated by external factors or intrinsic factors doesn’t really matter. But it does matter that you understand the source of your motivation and that your boss understands you enough to work out a means of helping you achieve what you need to achieve at work.


Liam Conway

*(Bantam Press 2005)

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On ‘Hire With Your Head’ & What It Means For Recruitment Consultants


In Lou Adler’s excellent book ‘Hire With Your Head’*, he describes a comprehensive and highly effective recruiting system, designed to ensure that, when your company is recruiting, you recruit superior people – and that you are able to do this, not just once, but every time you have a requirement.


I want to give an overview of Adler’s system and then give my thoughts on what this means for recruitment consultants and the value (or in some cases, lack of value) they add to companies.


I believe that recruitment consultants should be developing and implementing a strong and robust recruitment system, perhaps along similar lines to the one explained by Adler, if they want to be taken seriously as professional service providers.


Adler’s Approach  


Adler points out that many recruitment systems and processes used by companies are weak and badly designed, with the majority being designed to fill jobs, rather than hire superior people.


There is no doubt that a company is only as strong as its weakest links and therefore it is crucial to avoid recruiting people who weaken the company’s organisational efficiency. Unfortunately, this is exactly what seems to happen when a weak recruiting system is adopted.


Mistakes are frequently made in recruitment; the margin of error can be very high, particularly when it comes to recruiting for highly technical roles or senior managerial positions. It is therefore crucial to come up with a robust system that will help to improve the chances of getting the right people, first time, every time.


Adler explains his concept of Performance Profiling as offering a highly effective way of understanding the requirements of a particular job in the first place, and then assessing a candidate’s suitability for that job.


Crucially, it is not simply about assessing the candidate’s skills and examining his experience in the way that we may be tempted to if we are working from a traditional job description; it is much more focused on describing the job in terms of performance criteria, in terms of being a successful performer in that job, and understanding how the candidate has performed in the past and how he is likely to go on an perform in the future. It is about defining success in that role.


Suppose we are using a traditional job description. We try to match duties, responsibilities, skills and experience with the CVs we receive from candidates. This may well produce a short list of half a dozen candidates who have held a similar looking job in the past, but you quite often find that candidates with CVs which are perfect matches for traditional job descriptions are simply unable to perform at the level required to do the job you need them to do.


It may well have been the case that their duties and responsibilities matched those of your vacancy, but this neither means that they could come in and do your job to the required standard nor that they are motivated to do your job. Performance profiling and interviewing aims to avoid this outcome.


Perhaps it is worth considering that some of the qualities that actually determine a person’s success in a job are more closely aligned with potential, tenacity, self-motivation and leadership ability. Adler is absolutely correct in saying that we need a system that brings the latter qualities sharply into focus and assesses candidates in light of how successful they would be in performing that job, rather than whether the key words on their CVs match the key words set out in the traditional job description.


What this means for Recruitment Consultants


Adler’s system is primarily aimed at companies, rather than external recruiters. However, in cases where companies simply do not have the time, knowledge or expertise to design and implement such systems, then they would clearly benefit from the external assistance of a good recruitment consultant – and good recruitment consultants can add real value and are worth the fees.


The role of recruitment consultants should be to do all of the difficult ground work on behalf of companies, they should offer a system that is robust enough and comprehensive enough to get to the heart of the issues;  and if they do not provide this level of service (or like the companies they serve, simply do not know how), then in my view they are probably not worth the fees companies are paying.


This is one of the reasons why recruitment consultants earn a bad reputation on the market. Despite what they may claim, many do not do anything different from whatever the companies would be able to do themselves, and it is little wonder that the fees charged seem grossly out of proportion to the work carried out.


The upshot of this is that as a company, you need to think carefully about what you want to gain by using a recruitment consultant. You need to ask whether the consultant you select is actually capable of adding real value to your process and whether he can provide a level of service that is over and above what you would be able to do yourself – either because it is simply not practical, or because you do not have the expertise.


I believe that good recruitment consultants can make a massive contribution to your company in terms of helping you find and recruit the right people and are definitely worth the fees – but it is worth asking the questions: “Tell me exactly what you will be doing to find and assess candidates for my company; tell me exactly what you can bring to the process and what value you believe you are going to add?”


Liam Conway


*John Wiley & Sons, 1998

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Recruiting Top Talent (With Reference to the Celtic Manager’s Vacancy)


When the Scottish football season drew to a close last week, the then Celtic manager, Gordon Strachan, resigned his position after 4 years. The board now faces a huge challenge to replace a manager who, despite not winning the league title this season, was extremely successful during his period as a manager.


Having joined Celtic in 2005 to replace the previously successful, and much revered, manager, Martin O’Neil, he knew he had a lot to live up to, not just in terms of what he would have to achieve in competitions, but also in terms of being accepted by the supporters.


His lot was made even more difficult by the fact that he had inherited an ageing team on very high salaries, and the club itself was millions of pounds in debt.


When he resigned last week, his legacy was a squad full of young players who were earning salaries fixed within a more manageable framework, the club’s debt had been almost wiped out as a result of the club’s football achievements in European competitions, and revenues had been increased through the implementation of clever international marketing strategies.


The challenge facing the Celtic board is to recruit a replacement. Not just any old replacement, but a replacement whom the supporters would consider to be “top talent”. The problem here is that there are now too many factors going against Celtic PLC that their pursuit of top talent is unlikely to result in the recruitment of a candidate of similar calibre to the previous two managers. Why?


1. To attract top talent you need to create a compelling opportunity

When Martin O’Neil joined Celtic in 2000 he said his father had told him that, if the opportunity ever came up, he should crawl across broken glass on his hands and knees to become the manager of Celtic.


When Gordon Strachan joined Celtic in 2005 he said he was asked if wanted to become the manager, he thought about it for less than a second, and then said yes.


The problem now is that becoming the manager of Celtic is no longer an opportunity as compelling as it once was. Not that the ‘lure’ of Celtic football club is no longer as powerful in the hearts and minds of supporters, but that the club simply cannot compete at the same level as it did in the past and this comes down to finances.


The money circulating around the clubs in the stronger leagues is generated by media revenue. This is simply not available to the likes of Celtic now. The level of interest in the Scottish league is very low outside of Scotland and it fails to attract the money attracted by the English Premiership, for example.


The standard of the game in Scotland has suffered as a consequence and players from outside of Scotland are now less likely to come to play in Scotland, and it is not surprising that many of the home grown talented players are desperate to leave to further their ambitions.


The opportunity to join Celtic is therefore no longer as compelling as it once was and as a result, the search for a talented manager will suffer.     


2. To attract top talent you need to retain top talent

With the steady flow of top players choosing to leave the Scottish game, or choosing not to come to Scotland in the first place, it becomes increasingly difficult to attract new talent. In previous years, Celtic were able to attract top performers, like John Hartson and Chris Sutton, who made an immense contribution to the team’s success in domestic and European competitions.


It was easier to attract players of that calibre because Celtic already boasted players like Henrik Larsson and Lubo Moravcik. To attract top talent you need to already have, and be able to retain, top talent. It is no coincidence that each of these players remained at Celtic for a good number of years.


3. To retain top talent you need to offer an environment in which people can realise their ambitions

The aforementioned talented players were given ample opportunity to realise their ambitions, particularly in European competitions, and that will probably explain why many of them remained at Celtic for so long.


For the first time in many years Celtic reached the final of a European competition whilst at the same time were dominating Scottish football. The players were able to challenge themselves against top European opposition and compete for honours on a much larger stage than they would have, had they remained at their previous clubs.


4. To retain top talent you need to have strong, inspirational leadership

Top performers will be attracted by a manager who is an inspirational, motivational leader who knows how to get the best performance out of people – and crucially, they are more likely to remain at that club and continue working with that manager to achieve continued success in the future. By all accounts, both Martin O’Neil and Gordon Strachan were of that type.


On the other hand, top performers are likely to lose motivation and stop achieving at the level expected of them when they are working under a manager who fails to offer strong, inspirational leadership.


5. To recruit top talent you must prioritise performance ability over length of experience

One final point – many a football fan would baulk at the thought of the Celtic manager’s job being offered to a young and relatively inexperienced manager. Some may say, “How could you entrust the future success of our club with a manager who does not have a lengthy track of record in the game?”


The point is an important one to make – experience does matter; however we need to be cautious not to make the mistake of prioritising length of experience over performance ability, because if years of experience has not delivered high performance, then it doesn’t matter how many years someone has been in that line of work. The ability to perform is more important.   


Take Pep Guardiola, for example. At the tender age of 38 he has just led Barcelona to victory against Manchester United in the European Champions league final – one of the biggest, if not the biggest, prizes in world club football. Remarkable achievement for one with almost zero experience in management when compared against the years racked up by Alex Ferguson.


(I have my own views on who will be the next manger of Celtic and I think that the board will need to sell the vacancy on the basis that, despite the financial circumstances in the Scottish game in general, the club can nonetheless offer reasonably good opportunities to managers at a certain level in their careers.

Furthermore, due to the standing of Scottish football in Europe, the selection criteria will probably need to prioritise future performance ability over past experience and track record, but I am not sure how well this will go down with the supporters who, as always, have great expectations…

But the lesson here is that, even if you cannot compete financially with other organisations, or if your company is not yet seen as a big enough name in the market, you should still be able to recruit and retain top talent provided (a) you work out a way of creating compelling opportunities for your team (b) you offer inspirational leadership and direction and (c) you give a chance to people who may lack years of experience, but who nonetheless have the ability to perform under the right guidance and tutelage.)

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Why Did Your Candidate Decline The Offer?


Why did your candidate just say, “I will need to think about the offer…”, after letting you believe throughout the process that this was the perfect job for him? Where has it gone wrong and why do you get the feeling that, by asking for time to think, your candidate is actually preparing you for the fact that he is going to decline the offer?


There are many reasons why your candidate may decline the offer. Some are good reasons, many are not so good. And there are various points in the recruitment process at which this may occur (either on a formal level, when the offer is actually made, or on a psychological level, before the process has even reached that stage). 


Carefully analysing the process you have just been through with your candidate will probably reveal the answer to your questions; and being honest and self critical about your underlying motivations and thought processes may, on occasion, reveal even more about what has just gone wrong.


Putting on your sales cap, you are likely to be thinking of recruitment in terms of placement fees; recruitment is about hitting sales targets after all; but for candidates, going through your recruitment process can be a highly stressful and emotionally challenging experience.


Experiences of this sort often give rise to anxiety, uncertainty and apprehension. Learning to recognise this as a recruitment consultant, and being able to manage it intelligently from the very beginning of the process, can make the difference between the candidate declining your offer and accepting it.


Tip: think about working with the candidate as a person first; think about the placement fee second; that way you are more likely to achieve the best outcome for all concerned.


It is extremely disappointing when your candidate declines the offer. It is careless when the warning signs were there early in the process, and you were so fixed on the fee that you failed to notice them; it is unforgiveable when you knew the warning signs were there from the outset, but for whatever reason you chose not to deal with them – and I am sure, at some point in our careers as consultants, we have all been guilty of doing that. How many of us have said, “I knew that was going to happen!”


So here are some steps worth putting in place:


Prepare your candidate for the possibility of an offer early on in the process; get his thoughts and feelings on what this would mean to him right at the beginning so that there are no surprises later. Find out why he was motivated to apply for it in the first place and exactly what he hoped to gain by leaving his current position.


Your job as a recruitment consultant is to sell the opportunity to your candidate, and the best way to do this is to ask questions that will get him talking about how he will benefit by taking it. Rather than you telling him that this job would be good for his career, you need to ask the sort of questions that will get him telling you why it would be good for his career.


Prequalify your candidate before and after first interviews take place; ask him if he would accept the job if a suitable offer were made – confirm with him exactly what a ‘suitable offer’ would mean, including terms, salary, package, scope of the job, reporting relations, etc; ask if anyone else would play a role in his decision making process, find out what other factors he would need to consider and what else he may need to know about the company and the job.


Make the offer to your candidate only when you know that he is psychologically ready to accept it. This sounds strange, but if you believe that the candidate may have some doubts remaining when the offer comes through, do not make the offer. Revisit the potential sticking points and address any problems you may anticipate.


Why? It is essential to stay firmly in control at this point, otherwise you would lose the opportunity to give your candidate the type of support that could have helped him overcome any lingering doubts, the negative impact of which would have strengthened had they been left unattended to.


Furthermore, such doubts have the potential to become major obstacles in your candidate’s mind, regardless of how small they were initially; such that, if the offer is made too early, additional psychological pressure will be created by the perceived need to make a decision before all of the doubts have been ironed out, and as a result your candidate will be more likely to decline.


When all of this is said and done, remember that things don’t always go according to plan and circumstances can change at the last minute. If the offer has been made and your candidate requests time to think, don’t immediately panic that he is definitely going to decline.


If you believe that you have done the ground-work and your candidate has been taken through the proper steps, there may well be a legitimate reason why he simply wants more time to think. Make sure you know what else he still needs to think about, as you may be able to give him the right advice to help him resolve his doubts.


Go back over all of the reasons he gave you at the beginning, about why this job would be good for him and what he had hoped to gain by getting it, and make sure that these reasons still stand.


Set a Deadline If your candidate still needs thinking time, then give him time – but set a deadline on it. Remind your candidate that there were other people in the process who may be offered the job if he doesn’t want it. Explain to your candidate that the client may withdraw the offer if he takes too long to think it through. 


The psychological effect of pulling the offer at this point should be sufficient to distinguish between a candidate who is truly motivated to take this job, but genuinely needs some more time to think, and a candidate who was never going to accept the job in the first place, no matter what offer was put on the table….and as a consultant you need to learn how to identify the early warning signs and not allow it to get to this stage.


Discuss the Resignation Process with your candidate. Find out what the process will be in his company and to whom he will resign. Simply discussing this and asking how he will feel about doing it will help him prepare for it – and remember for some people it can be a very daunting prospect.


On some occasions, the fear of telling the boss that you are leaving can be overwhelming, and worrying about how you are going to be treated during your notice period can be enough to break the deal. It is sometimes easier to do nothing at all (even when we know that we will benefit by taking a particular course of action), than take action which we anticipate to be uncomfortable. Think dentists.


Discuss Counter Offers with your candidate and make sure that there is no chance of him being bought back by his current employers. Make sure your candidate is aware of some of the standard techniques that employers will use to buy people back – after all, it is less expensive for them to offer your candidate a modest pay rise than go through the more costly and time consuming process of recruiting a replacement.


Ask the candidate if he will now go and close off any other applications he has in the pipeline – and if he says that he is not prepared to do this, you have still got a lot of work to do – starting with finding out when this other opportunity came into the equation, why you were not aware of it, and what it offers that this one doesn’t.


Make contact after the resignation and stay in contact well into the period when your candidate has started his new job. Never assume that his employers will not come back at the last minute and make him an offer he cannot refuse and never assume that everything is on track, just because you haven’t heard otherwise from the candidate.


Putting these measures in place will not guarantee that your candidate will always accept the offer, but they should go a long way towards reducing the chances of reaching the end of the process to discover that the candidate was never going to accept the job in the first place…  


Liam Conway

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