The Myth of Client and Candidate Control – Eliminating One of the Most Damaging Business Practices of Our Industry

On April 20, 1999, Cassie Bernall, a 17-year-old student at Columbine High School, faced a life and death choice — tell the boy with the gun what he wanted to hear or tell him the truth. Being strong in her convictions, she chose the truth and he choose to end her life. This tragedy is one of the saddest moments of that decade and it holds for us a powerful truth about control over others: we have none. Each and every person we work with has the power of choice and nothing we say, nor how we say it, gives us any dominance over the decisions and actions that individual will make.


What makes matters worse, for us, are the three types of fallout from the supposed best practice of controlling the client or candidate:

  1. Irreparable Harm to Our Industry. For decades, our business has often been referred to as a necessary evil or only worthy of engagement for problematic hiring. Yet, ours is a service that impacts the most important asset of every company, its people, along with of the most important aspects of peoples’ lives, how they financially support themselves and their families. Given the worthiness of what we do, it’s no stretch to conclude that our reputation is a result of the tactics we employ.
    If you have any doubts as to the persistent poor standing of recruiting, watch Pursued staring Christian Slater, the only feature film about our business. The movie portrays a headhunter, played by Slater, who has a special knack for making candidates sign on even when they don’t want to.
  2. Control Invites Rebellion. Cassie Bernall’s story points not only to the futility of attempted control, but magnifies the opposite reaction often evoked: defiance. This skill is refined during our teenage years and stays with us, ready to be employed the moment someone pushes us in a direction we don’t wish to go. Even when our attempts to control the process are in the best interests of the client or the candidate, we may still get an adverse reaction because of the negative perceptions and feelings triggered by our actions.
  3. The Seduction of Power. The perception of having power can go to your head and did so on more than one occasion in my early years as a recruiter. Because I could justify that I was doing what was right for a client or candidate when I exercised control, I pushed the boundaries of acceptable professional behavior. At the time, I justified the “white lies,” the rusing, and the wordsmithing of the truth as a necessary means to an end. In less than two years, I was burned-out and ready to throw in the towel as I recognized the conflict between the nice-guy I was being at home versus the control-freak I was being at the office.

Fortunately, it was at that juncture that I learned there was a simpler and more positive way to manage a recruiting process.


Candidates and clients will willingly participate in a process that provides them with tremendous value. It requires no control, zero coercion, and less labor intensity than the oppressive methods still perpetuated by trainers and managers alike. This process, called Enrolled Engagement, facilitates an inviting and positive relationship in four simple steps:

  1. Ask Lots of Radically Provocative Questions. Get clients and candidates talking, get out of their way, and watch as they give you reams of information as to how to meet their needs, exceed their expectations, and nurture a lasting relationship. More importantly, provocative questions enroll them in selling themselves on commitment and changes. Candidates and clients always believe what they have to say while they will pick and choose what they believe from you.Three engaging questions to use immediately include:

“What would be your objectives if we were to work together?”
“What would make you happier compared to your current situation?”
“How can I bring tremendous value to our relationship?”

  1. Draw Attention to Incongruity. People often have difficulty seeing the inconsistencies between their words and their actions. You’ll bring valuable insights to the process as you level with those you work with without leveling them with drama, fear, or coercion. For example, when a client expresses that a need is urgent, yet, delays making a decision, ask permission to give feedback and share what you are observing in a succinct and neutral fashion. To drive home the point further, follow that up with a parachute story.
  2. Drop In Parachute Stories. Just like a paratrooper floating into a drop-zone, parachute stories are short (no more than two to three sentences), factual mini-case studies used to illustrate an important point. In the example above, the parachute story could be:

“XYZ company just made this mistake. They found someone who fit, but delayed their decision a few days. By the time they were ready to move, the candidate had already taken another offer.”

  1. Utilize Facts and Figures to Encourage Urgency. All too often, recruiters try to control situations by using tired statements like:

“The market is tight and you may lose this job if you wait.”
“Lots of companies are looking for the same type of people, so you better move fast.”

Instead, let true facts and figures do all of the talking:

“There are 17 other companies looking for the same candidate profile. Knowing that, how prudent do you believe it is to wait?”


I’m not suggesting you throw your arms in the air and let candidates and clients run your process; that would be almost as destructive as being controlling. What I am encouraging you to do is to facilitate a positive process that creates ravings fans of your work. While this may sound like semantics, the subtle distinction between control and Enrolled Engagement completely changes the dynamic from a business transaction   solely focused on getting the deal done to a relationship where the interests of all parties are well served. When you achieve that, you’ll be perceived as different from all of your domineering competitors.


This article by Scott Wintrip was originally published by The Fordyce Letter, an ERE Media publication, on January 17, 2011.

Views: 56

Comment by Kelly on January 21, 2011 at 6:49pm
This is an insightful piece thank you.  For me the main message you are telling here is that those involved in recruiting be it internal or external need to "facilitate a positive process"which perhaps does not occur as much as it should for all the reasons you have mentioned.
Comment by Scott Wintrip on January 24, 2011 at 8:54am
Thank Kelly. If we start to set better expectations of recruiters along these lines, I believe will will see a dramatic difference quickly.


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