The best recruiters take a drill to client meetings (or how cultural 'fit' is important too)

Some recruiters remind me of my house hunting days. I’d go to great effort to describe what I was looking for - the area, the price range, what I definitely wasn’t interested in etc. and lo and behold I would be bombarded for weeks afterwards with details of properties that were too big or too small, in a different location or not in my price range. I often think it must feel a bit like that for some employers who use recruitment consultancies. But why?

When I worked as an account handler or ‘suit’ back in my recruitment advertising agency days, one of my roles was to take briefs from a variety of organisations, go back to the agency and, working with a team of creatives, come up with a solution to their particular advertising needs.

No two days were the same. I might during the course of a typical one be out seeing a retail company in the morning and then picking up a brief from a local authority and a construction firm in the afternoon. Whatever the scenario, one thing remained the same – the need to take a decent brief, not just collect a job description and exchange pleasantries.

Why? Well, it’s obvious to any recruiter that is any good at their job that every company is different. Every organisation has a different culture, ethos, working environment, mission statement etc. To be able to recruit properly you need to understand who the client is really looking for, not just what the job title is.

To illustrate my point, here are my notes from two hypothetical (but based on reality) client meetings I’ve been to. All you need to know is both are looking for a Bean Counter to join their company:

CLIENT A is a small family owned business that has been established for over 25 years. They make PCBs (printed circuit boards). Modest offices in the town centre, but handy for transport links, they have 19 staff in all, including two people doing Bean Counting, the one who is leaving does so after 6 years in the role because her husband is relocating with his job. Staff turnover is very low so it’s not a place for high flyers, but for someone with decent bean counting experience who wants a steady job and income it’s a secure position working in a friendly, down to earth company. A regular 9-5, pays the market rate, no great perks but being small they are quite flexible regarding working hours, time off etc. When I asked the HR Manager the question “Imagine I’m a candidate. If I were to ask you why I should come and work for you rather than your competitor down the road, or for any other company that employs bean counters, what would you say?”. Her reply was that it’s a great opportunity for someone with a relevant qualification/experience in the field who probably lives locally and who wants a steady job dealing with a variety of clients in a small, friendly, easily accessible company. It’s a pretty autonomous role, no one looking over your shoulder all the time, so they’ll need lots of initiative and be happy working alone a lot of the time. The perks aren’t great but there’s lots of job security and we’re pretty flexible about working hours.

CLIENT B is a young, fast mvoing organisation that has doubled in size since it started out six years ago. They are a technology firm. Situated in a modern business park outside of town theirs is a bright lights, open plan set up where teams of bean counters work in ‘pods’ of six, covering specific regions around the country. They have SLAs and KPIs and set their bean counters targets. They also encourage them to visit clients from time to time, so some travel. They give regular reviews and invest in training & development. The best ones get to climb the ladder, the others move on within a couple of years. It’s seen very much as a bean counting training ground and has a fairly high turnover of staff. Those that shine thrive. In short, a corporate environment with scope for rapid career development for the best people. Out of town location, so awkward to get to unless you drive. Need to be willing to travel with the job. Money is OK, but not great. It gets better market rate wise as you move up. They have a bar/restaurant where every Friday night they have a beer bust. Oh and a dress down day. When asked the same question as company A, the reply was along the lines of them wanting go getting, aspiring individuals, probably with a degree but certainly with some bean counting experience. People who could quickly fit into the company culture. Target driven people who like being part of a team and part of a big, successful company. Need to be a bit extrovert maybe, certainly good communicators. No wall flowers here – as the HR Director put it.

Now, some recruiters who didn’t attend those meetings will simply see the job title ‘Bean Counter’ and think “Whoopee! I’ve got lots of qualified bean counters on my database! It’s time to cash in my chips” when in reality it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out the huge differences between the two, even though they are for the same job title. The culture of the two organisations is a million miles apart, yet I would be willing to bet that many recruiters who got the assignment would just bombard their client with CV after CV of Bean Counters on their books and not take into account the ‘fit’ issue that is glaringly obvious from the above descriptions.

There’s also lots of good ammunition for a job board post in those two client briefs too. You could screen out a lot of unsuitable candidates straight away by writing about what the organisation wants rather than just cut and pasting what it says on the job description. Selling a job doesn’t mean putting in flowery bullshit about dynamism and challenge. It’s about being honest and true.

So, next time you go out to see a client, if you don’t already do so, drill down a bit. It will save you being seen in the same light as the estate agent (realtor) I mentioned above and after all, cultural fit is just as important as experience and skill sets. Or is it? You tell me.

Views: 377

Comment by Loni Spratt on March 18, 2010 at 11:07pm
Great article Alasdair! You are absolutely right. We never work a position unless we meet with them in person. The problem a lot of the time is that you have to pull teeth to get the hiring managers and/or HR managers to meet with you. Many of them just try to shove recruiters the job description and little do they know those meetings where we get the pertinent information will make all the difference!
Comment by Paul Alfred on March 18, 2010 at 11:27pm
Great post Alasdair .... These best practices really separate the boys from the men in the Recruiting World ...
Comment by Tracey Dunn on March 19, 2010 at 12:07pm
Completely agree - recruiters who just see the job as a cv matching service are nothing more than cowboys in my view. It canbe hard to get hiring managers to meet but sometimes you have to be brave. Greg Savage CEO of Aquent has takenthe bold move of only dealing with vacancies on an exclusive basis so that they can really get to grips with the client and build a relationship. he is fonding they are takin less vacancies but revenues are up!! A lesson to be learned there I think
Comment by Peter Ceccarelli on March 19, 2010 at 12:19pm
Relevant post and provocative from the stand point that most of us (me included) could do a MUCH better job describing our internal company cultures in order to paint a true picture of "what's it like to work there", and that goes far beyond an employee testimony. To me, those appear lame. But narrative text like you shared above can capture the essence of the truth of "this is who we are and what we are like and what we have to offer". I'm going to tweak my postings and get more "real" now that I've read your post. Nice job!
Comment by Alasdair Murray on March 19, 2010 at 12:33pm
No problem Peter. I always found that the best stuff came out when I asked that question about how you would describe the organisation and/or the role to a friend in a bar. i..e dispense with the corporate stance and just tell it as it is. It gives a much better picture than when people try and position any statements they come out with for fear of not towing the corporate line.
Comment by Will Branning on March 19, 2010 at 1:00pm
Thanks for the great reminders! I am getting ready to propose another face-to-face meeting with a client and I definitely need to drill down...I'm getting send outs but no offers. Obviously, I need to get a better handle on what it will take to get an offer.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on March 19, 2010 at 2:43pm
One of my favorite questions to ask a hiring manager or an internal recruiter is, "Tell me about your background and what you think has made you successful with your company and if you could change any small things where you are what would you change"? Unbelievable what they will tell you that will make that elusive corporate fit fall into place.

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