Tag Archives: contingency recruitment

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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SPIN Selling & Retained Recruitment


In Neil Rackham’s book SPIN Selling,* he sets out the various stages of a successful sales call. The acronym SPIN picks out the structured sequence of types of question you should be asking, leading to the point where the client perceives the strength of your services and is telling you how valuable your services or solutions would be to his company. The sequence of questions goes something like this:


Situation Questions

Problem Questions

Implication Questions

Needs Payoff Questions


Briefly, Situation questions are aimed at establishing the background and current situation in the client’s company. This provides the platform to enable you to start asking some Problem questions, designed at picking up on some potential issues or concerns that may exist under the present situation.


Once these have been uncovered, the real sales work begins when you begin asking Implication Questions. These are designed to draw out the implications of the problems that have just been uncovered, or in other words cash out the problems in terms of the impact they will have on a number of factors, such as on the customer’s ability to get his job done efficiently, on his ability to achieve his performance targets, on the effect this will have on his bottom line and the effect on the business in general.


Then, when the customer starts to focus on the implications of having these problems which, up to this point, were not that significant to him, he starts to feel the seriousness of the situation and develop a pressing need to do something about it. In other words, the questioning process been structured in such a way as to tap into the customer’s psychology and mirror his thought processes and emotions, to the point where he is motivated to do something about the hitherto ‘minor’ issues.


Finally, you ask some Needs Payoff questions, which are designed at getting the customer to tell you what he would gain and how he would benefit from using your services or your solutions. 


SPIN Applied to Recruitment


So what is the relevance of this and how can it be used to sell a retained project to a client? One way you could use this sequence is like this:


Situation Questions:

Establish the general background to the vacancy and the company.

Establish what recruitment methods they have used in the past.


Problem Questions:

Explore some potential problems that may exist whilst the vacancy is unfilled

Explore some potential problems that may exist using contingency recruiters


Implication Questions

Draw out the implications to him and the other hiring managers should they continue to work on a contingency basis, namely, corners being cut, candidates not being met and properly screened, duplicate CVs in their inbox, poorly presented short list, and so on, and so forth. 

Begin drawing out the implication to his company should he not get the vacancy filled and how it will effect general productivity, efficiency, competitiveness, staff moral, and so on.


Needs Payoff Questions

Finally, start asking questions aimed at getting the client to tell you how he would gain by having a recruitment agency who could work to a fixed project plan, so he would know exactly when the vacancy would be filled, how he would benefit by having every candidate on the short list properly pre-screened and interviewed specifically for his vacancy before meeting him and the interview team, and so on, and so forth.


Develop Your Solution:


Now ask if he would be happy to use your services if you could meet these requirements. If so, move on and develop your solution – a fully managed recruitment project covering all of the critical steps of the process and concluding with a successful appointment. Reiterate how this solution meets the needs just discussed and offers the benefits he has just told you about in the final stage of the question sequence.


If the client agrees with this assessment, you can now proceed to explain how your payment structure works, with an initial deposit to commence the project and then the remainder of the fee to be paid on completion. Should the client have strong reservations about paying a deposit, having never worked on a retainer basis before, but is nonetheless keen on the level of service you can offer, you could take the exclusive contingency fall back position, asking for exclusivity on this occasion to demonstrate the effectiveness of your recruitment process, and gain an agreement to work on a retained basis on any future occasion.    


And there you have it.


Liam Conway.

*Gower (1995)

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When Contingency Recruitment Compares With Snap & Lotto


By definition, contingency recruitment simply refers to payment terms – the client will pay you a fee, contingent upon you being the one who fills his vacancy. Basically – no placement, no fee. I do not believe that contingency recruitment is inherently wrong; in fact, many consultants have been enormously successful in the past working this way and will be so again in the future; but I do believe that it can so easily give rise to a way of working that causes more problems than it solves, undermining the work that professional recruitment consultants should be doing and completely diluting the value of your services.    


I think one or two of the problems with contingency recruitment can be best brought out by comparing the approach a contingency recruiter may take to his job to a couple of well known games, namely, ‘snap’ and ‘lotto’. Snap describing how the consultant works and lotto describing the business strategy underlying his approach.


Typically, this is what happens. Your client provides you with a job description and asks you to go out and find suitable candidates to submit. If your candidate is placed, you will get a fee; if you do not place any candidate, there will be no fee and the work you will have done up to this stage will not be reimbursed in any way. In the vast majority of cases, your client will also make the same arrangement with one or more additional agencies, and they will be off searching for suitable candidates at the same time for this same vacancy.  


Already, so many things could go wrong with this. Many clients will keep you at arm’s length, because otherwise, before they knew it, the floodgates would open and every consultant they were using would be taking up too much of their time. They will simply email the details, and then the race begins.


The temptation, when you are working on your vacancy in direct competition with one or more additional recruitment agencies, is to quickly copy and paste sections of the job description into an advert, post it on line and sit back and wait for responses; then you start picking out key words from the job description to put into your database and sit back and wait to see who comes out the other side. But the problem with this approach is that achieving a successful outcome will come down to nothing more than luck.


Luck that you have managed to post the advert at exactly the moment when random (but as it happens, suitable) candidates happen to be scouring the job boards and attaching their CVs to every other vacancy they come across that looks remotely suitable. Luck that the couple of key words you have taken from the job description happen to match up with a couple of key words on a few CVs stored somewhere in the depths of your database.


It has become a game, and an expensive one at that. The skill involved is no more than the skill involved in winning at snap. And it is little wonder why clients baulk at recruitment fees, when they are handing out good money for what is little more than a rudimentary matching service.


It isn’t very clear who benefits from this type of working arrangement. Clients may believe that they are getting a wider spread of potential candidates because they are opening the vacancy up to more than one agency; they may believe that in cases like this, competition will sharpen the mind and guarantee better results.


But what they are likely to get is a frantic race to match key words on job descriptions and CVs; minimal effort when it comes to screening candidates and prepping them for their interview; duplicate CVs dropping into their inbox of people you may never have cast your eyes on during the ‘screening’ process, and candidates arriving for interview with no idea about the vacancy and the company they claim they want to work with. And of course, a sizeable recruitment fee to hand over to the lucky consultant.


Consultants may believe that they are getting an opportunity to tackle the competition head on and perhaps muscle in on their market share; they may believe that for very little effort they could stand to gain a high return if they successfully fill the vacancy, and this is what keeps many consultants following the same process time after time, until they are finally told to step away from the table, their time is up.


What the majority of consultants get out of this way of working, therefore, is a lot of stress, several sleepless nights, next to no commission and eventually their P45. They would have been as well putting a quid on the lotto and waiting to see what happened.


Of course, it is very tempting for a consultant to work this way, particularly in a recession or in any other slow market for that matter. However, regardless of the market conditions, it doesn’t make sense to base your business plan on luck. There is a chance it may pay dividends; but as the vast majority of us find out every Saturday night at the back of 8, it probably won’t.


There are two obvious moves you could make here. First of all, you could make a conscious decision not to be enticed into playing the games that many consultants end up playing in tough markets. It is of course difficult to walk away from a situation that seems to be presenting you with an opportunity to achieve your business plan, hit your target and get your boss off your back. But in the vast majority of cases, there are so many variables that turn this ‘opportunity’ into a very questionable ‘gamble’, and you cannot build your business on a series of gambles (particularly when someone else is paying your salary).


Alternatively, if you don’t want to walk away and you take the decision that it is perhaps worth sticking with this client, you should be asking the client to work with you exclusively. As I have already pointed out, there is nothing inherently wrong with contingency recruitment. It simply describes the payment terms. So if your client doesn’t want to pay a retainer, you could still work on a contingency basis, but ask for exclusivity. Exclusive contingency is still a gamble, but much, much less than contingency in the messy form that I have just been discussing.


So, go back to the start with the client and ask enough questions to get them thinking about the problems that arise when the consultants are playing snap and lotto, and get them thinking about how they will stand to gain by allowing you the space and time to work through the recruitment process in the right way.


There are several benefits to the client and to you as a consultant, but the upshot for the client is that they are going to get real value for their money and a thorough recruitment service that will deliver good results; for you as a consultant, you will get real satisfaction from managing the recruitment process properly and you will be basing your business on much more solid ground than a gamble on the lotto. But it takes bravery to walk away from the table when you need to make a fee; and it takes skill, confidence and presence of mind to stay at the table and impose your own rules on the game.


Liam Conway

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