I frequently hear people say “the customer is always right.” That may be true in your line of work, but not in mine. In fact, many times I have to help my clients see what they seem to miss entirely. It is very often the case that my client fails to grasp the gravity of the situation. If I take the approach that my customer has all the right answers and I am merely here to feed their appetite for more candidates, then I am failing them as a search consultant. The smart ones get it, while others may think by challenging their perceptions of things, I am merely looking out for myself. Again, they would be wrong.

Search is a complex endeavor and if my client questions my motive then everyone’s problems are multiplied. Trust is the essence of any consultant-client relationship. If I have not established the credibility with my client such that I can challenge their views or opinions, then I need to re-think my approach. Clients are just people, and they all possess biases that inform their opinions about things from people to the way things should be. Sometimes they make assumptions about people who are factually inaccurate. It is the job of a Search Consultant to advocate on behalf of their client, even if it means disagreeing with them. Early in my career, I was afraid of disagreeing with my client. If my client expressed a concern about a candidate, I would instinctively and without hesitation agree with them. It was often after some thought and consideration that I would think, “that was wrong. I should have said, this or that.”

Many people are adverse to making big decisions so they subconsciously create obstacles, hoping to avoid costly hiring mistakes. One of the most common scenarios is that a client will say “the candidate didn’t seem energetic or interested enough.” or “I just didn’t see the fire in the belly!” This is most often the case of a mistaken assumption. There are stages to a truly passive candidate’s interest, and it starts with mere Curiosity. The first call/interview is actually purely a fact-finding mission and the burden is on the interviewer to capture their imagination. After this interview/exploratory conversation, the individual’s interest will either flat-line in which case they are not a fit, or it will begin to increase. Too often, the client assumes that because the candidate didn’t dazzle them in the first call, that represents a low energy level and intensity on the job. More often than not, they would again, be wrong.

To avoid this scenario, inform your client ahead of time about the level of motivation of the candidate. Is she actively seeking a new job? If so, she would be expected tosell herself. If not, then sell her. This is just one example of ways to help your client be right, before they get it wrong. If you can’t convince your client to see the value of your perspective, then you’d do well to find a new client.


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Comment by Dan Nutter on February 21, 2012 at 11:09am

Great points. While this concept doesn't lift the burden of preparing our candidates where client expectations are concerned it DOES hold water in our current market. Signs of a candidate-driven market blended with rampant unemployment in various sectors means one thing: You'd better cover all your bases.

Comment by Elise Reynolds on February 22, 2012 at 10:53am

Great points by both of you.  In my field people are typically employed and working.  Potential candidates  will only get involved if it appears to be somehow a superior opportunity.  Clients, even though they are in the same industry forget that. 

Towards the end of last year I had a candidate in a high demand skill set.  The hiring manager (HM) did not respond and just sat on the submittal.  Hmmmm, I called him up and he said he did not want to "waste his time" if the candidate liked his job.  I did say the candidate liked his job but I also mentioned that he did not like the arrangement, he was on contract and he really wanted full-time.   But the HM focused on him having a general level of satisfaction about his day to day work as making him not worth his time.    I had to educate/remind this HM that in this industry with that kind of skill set nobody is desperate, everyone is working typically on promising projects. 

Comment by Kyle Schafroth on February 22, 2012 at 11:04am

Drue enjoyed  the post!

"If I have not established the credibility with my client such that I can challenge their views or opinions, then I need to re-think my approach" - Great line I just hope that others keep it in check. Amy Ala posted an article a bit ago and the first thing that came to mind was item #1 about folks coming off too cocky.

I don't think that you were getting at or doing that but I feel that it's the fine line of "challenging views/opinions" and talking down to the client as the 'expert'.

Back when I worked retail my thought was, "If the customer (client in this case) didn't need advice then he/she wouldn't be talking to me". Cocky - yes; but it helped me see that the client/customer couldn't always be right or else there would be no need for them to engage your knowledge and services.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on February 22, 2012 at 1:42pm

Thanks for the link love Kyle. :) the customer is always right in their own mind - any attempt on our part to try to convince them otherwise is futile. Best bet is to give them alternative "rights" - and influence them to go with your version.

I often try to take my clients down the path from their "right" - here's what can happen / not happen if we go with their decision, vs the (equally correct) alternative.


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