Peter was a great candidate: Fine background, good skills, terrific references. So I decided to spin the dial and see if I could place him.

After a little research, I found a company that seemed a perfect match for Peter’s talents. So, I placed a call to the vice president.

The VP agreed that my candidate was indeed perfect, and could immediately help his company grow. However, there was a catch: Under no circumstances would they pay a recruiter’s fee.

“So, you see no value whatsoever in working with a recruiter,” I said.

“You got it,” he said, cutting me off. “We get 50 resumes a week from posting on Craigslist. So, if your candidate really wants to work for our company, I’m sure he’ll find us.”

“Sorry I wasted your time,” I told the VP. I could tell from his tone of voice that any attempt to convince him otherwise was a waste of my time as well.

Things Get Complicated
Just as the VP predicted, Peter eventually found the company online, and after an exchange of emails, the VP flew him out to interview. Not once, but twice.

Soon after the second interview, Peter received an email from the VP, and it had the look and feel of an offer—almost. “We’d like you to come to work for us,” The VP wrote. “All we need to do is find out what sort of salary you’re looking for.”

I know all about the email, because Peter had forwarded it to me and asked for advice.

Now, I’m not one to hold a grudge; nor am I about to keep two interested parties apart, especially in light of the fact that the candidate was unemployed. So I advised the candidate to strongly state his interest and request a formal offer, with the understanding that if the offer was reasonable, he would accept the offer and set a start date.

But instead of taking my advice, the candidate took a detour, which proved fateful. In the email message to Peter, the VP went on to say that their salary range was $100k to $150k. Since Peter’s last job had paid $100k, he figured there was some room to negotiate.

So Peter emailed the VP that he needed more money to: [a] compensate for the higher cost of living where the job was located; [b] bring his salary up to “market” value, according to an online survey; and [c] provide him with a 6-percent increase to adjust for inflation during the two years he’d been unemployed.

Want to guess how the VP reacted? He pulled the offer.

I don’t blame the VP for being put off. But instead of saying, “Whoa, can we talk about it?” he took the sleazy way out. He wrote back that after careful consideration, his company actually didn’t have an appropriate position at this time. Which, of course, was a total lie.

Maybe Next Time
Had I been in a position to broker the deal, I’m certain the outcome would have been very different. Ambiguities, concerns and expectations would have been dealt with confidentially, and a smooth and orderly consensus would have been reached. Instead, Peter and the VP communicated in the manner or two dry sponges rubbing against each other; and as a result, our little drama morphed into a triple tragedy.

First, a talented and deserving candidate still has a family to feed and a creative mind that’s going to waste. True, he overplayed his hand. But that was more a reflection of inexperience than greed or malicious intent.

Second, a perfectly good company that could have reaped untold financial benefit by expanding its capacity is still turning away business.

And third, the VP who regarded my services as worthless not only let his penny wisdom and pound foolishness cost his company ten times the money he would have paid me; he also stuck a sharp stick in the eye of our country’s economic recovery.

So, the next time a company tells you they can’t afford a recruiter, you may or may not win the war of ideas. But at least you can state your point of view—that in fact, they can’t afford NOT to use you—with utter and total conviction. 

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Oh gracious.  I'm an internal recruiter and I almost choked on my coffee when I saw 120 day guarantee.  I am not selling a "product", I am selling a valuable "service".  I guarantee that I will find the best available and get them to accept a decent offer.  Once they are in your employ I can't control what you do to them if you make them want to quit.  :)  I've said for years "they were just fine when I hired them.  What did YOU do to them?"


Retention is important and any good recruiter in or outside shouldn't have falloffs within 120 days.  But to ask for a guarantee when so many things that have NOTHING to do with recruiting could go wrong is, well, foul.  :)


In my mind the external recruiter has a vested interest in the company too. We're all paid for our services.  Some on corporate payroll and others a lump sum fee for placement. 

@Bill - absolutely right.  I sit in the same building as most of my clients and I wouldn't agree to anything like that.... besides being an external with no control over what happens post hire.  At least internally I can take my placements to lunch and talk them off the ledge if need be.  :)

@ Jeff, if I had a client come back to re-negotiate that one piece, I would want to know what prompted the request. I wouldn't necessarily have a problem with the time-frame you mention, but if it is because a company is having particularly high turnover I hope they can tell me why and what is being done to correct it.

I bet Jeff is the kind of guy who wants the priest who marries him to give him his money back if his wife decides she doesn't like his silly butt after about 4 months.

To all the people who commented on my article:

Thanks for sharing your ideas, all of which were intelligent, thoughtful and well written.

Two or three years into the business -- which were spent learning the mechanics of the craft -- I was faced with a tricky situation in which sound judgment was required. It was at that point I realized what a "world class" profession recruiting can be.

As I mulled over the possible ways to reach a consensus that were equitable, not only in a business sense but that also considered other people's feelings, I constantly asked myself, "What would a very WISE person do in a situation like this?" Time and again, I used my father as a principal role model. But I also considered historical and political figures I had studied, and compared my options to what I imagined they might do.

In the end, I made the right call, and I never looked at the people I worked with again without feeling a responsibility for how my actions affected their lives.

Employers and candidates, of course, can be a pain at times. And that's where parenting experience can be valuable. I almost wrote a recruiting book called, "Everything I Know I Learned from My Teenager." Or, to put it another way, never expect anyone to thank you for what you did for them -- until much, much later.

It is frustrating to have the "perfect" candidate for an open position and be turned away. What employers do not realize is that there is also currently employed talent available and much of that talent still looks to recruiters for what's open as many of them are not surfing the websites.  I'm in the midst of a transaction like that now. The company would have had no clue this person would make a change, and this person was totally unaware of the company's open position.  Yes, our opportunities as an outside recruiter are dwindling, but hopefully as the market picks up and the talented unemployed candidates become fewer, we will once again be appreciated.

It is funny how people associate recruiting with "sourcing" candidates & presenting them... Most don't realize the intricacy that goes into getting to know the candidate and the hiring mgr/team to ensure a good match.  The time spent setting up expectations with the candidate, the time to gain his trust in order to get realistic expectations & close.
Bravo~All True

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