An Open Letter to (*Some of) My Clients…

Dear Mr Client,

Believe me, I understand it is a tough market out there. I also understand that you are under immense pressure to cut costs where you can. At the same time I recognise your need to grow your team and to improve productivity – and profitability. It’s a competitive market, and increasing market share is what you are being measured on – both internally and externally. I empathise with your challenges and grasp the fact that your competing pressures keep you up at night…

respect1What I don’t understand is the way you are treating me… It is not your concern, nor is it your responsibility that I am facing similar pressures and stress… But I will tell you one thing. I respect your business. I respect what you need to achieve and mostly, I respect that you are good… no very good at your role… It is just a shame… no a damn shame that you don’t afford me the same respect.

I… we… in the Recruitment Industry work our butts off for you. Long hours… abusive phone calls and emails… candidates who don’t show up… sometimes we are teacher… sometimes counsellor… sometimes sympathiser… and sometimes a giver of the toughest love on the planet… Point is… if you let me… I could be the best friend your business has.

I know where the best talent for your business is. I know what your competitors are doing. I know what attracts and keeps the best employees in your market.

Sure you have LinkedIn… sure you have a whiz bang CRM and a ‘sh&t hot’ referral program… but you know what? I could buy myself a top of the range sidchrome spanner & socket set, a torque wrench and a shiny new non-contact IR thermometer, but it still doesn’t make me a God Damn Mechanic!

I speak to business owners in your market every day. And everyone is telling me that they need to manage costs. I get it… I really do. But at what cost to your own business? As business owners and managers isn’t one of your best skills actually developing your business? Using your network and experience to drive new clients and organically grow existing ones?

Top line revenue growth is surely a KPI you have set for yourself… So let me ask you one more question… How much time that you could be focusing on growth activities is being wasted by you on recruitment activities? Put simply… what are you being paid per hour? And how many hours do you spend on recruiting activities a month? Then multiply that by at least 6… don’t forget that this is time you should be focusing on revenue driving. (And I know I said 1 more question… and that quickly became 3… but I’m sure you find that when you commit to 1 hour on recruitment activities it quickly becomes 3… or 4… or 8…).

But let me get back to my main point Mr Client. It is time that you respected me for what I can do for your business. And do you know what? Below I’m gong to give you a couple of pointers on how to get the most out of your relationship… I like that word… relationship… with your recruiter.respect2

  1. Thorough Job Spec – If you don’t take the time to fully brief your recruitment partner, then don’t expect them to get it right. Simple.
  2. Contingent is Crap – For both parties. Do you really… really… expect a recruiter to work as hard for you as they would if the role is exclusive? Or, better yet retained? Well, if you do you are kidding yourself. Don’t forget… if you set up 3, 4 or 6 recruiters in competition with each other… and then haggled on fee… do you really believe that you will get 100% commitment from a recruiter that has a 1 in 3, 4 or 6 chance of getting paid at all – and then at a reduced fee? Please have a little bit more respect.
  3. Be Fair & be Honest – There is nothing I hate more than a client who tries to ‘re-negotiate- at the back end… ‘I’d really like to take your candidate, but you fee means I can’t. Is there something we can do about that?’ Pathetic! If you want to negotiate, respect the recruiter and candidate enough to do it up front. Bringing in hidden deal breakers at the end of a process is weak, dishonest and speaks directly to your culture.
  4. Engage the Candidate – If I had a dollar for every candidate who has pulled out of a process because the interviewer was dis-engaging… I would buy a Pub… no really… I would buy a Pub. Anyway, for God’s sake… If you are going to take the time to meet with a candidate… be excited… sell your business… make them want to join you. It doesn’t mean you have to offer!
  5. Be Transparent with me! – Mr Client, I am working for you. Have the decency, the professionalism and the moral fibre to work with me. If things change… let me know. If you are progressing with another candidate, or looking to promote internally… tell me. And, if you want me to get the ‘right fit’. Invite me into your business, so I can understand it… It’s not brain surgery…

Anyway, Mr Client… thanks for listening. I know I may have cut a little ‘close to the bone’ but all of this will help us work better together in the future.

And… If I have upset you to the point that you won’t work with me again… please… please…please keep this letter… and read it each and every time you partner with a recruiter… at the very least they deserve that.




Craig Watson


15 thoughts on “An Open Letter to (*Some of) My Clients…

  1. Avatar
    Mitch Sullivan (@mitchsullivan) on Reply

    Glad you’ve finally started to listen to me about the whole contingency/retained thing. 🙂

    Sorry you’re experiencing some difficult clients at the moment, Craig. For what it’s worth, I don’t know how anyone can work as a R2R and still retain their sanity – and I admire you for seemingly being able to do so.

    1. Avatar
      Craig Watson rec-to-rec on Reply

      Cheers Mitch… Although I don’t really rate sanity in my top three positive character traits…
      The blog is actually in response to what my candidates and clients are telling me about their clients at the moment – not really R2R based. But we all have clients like these… don’t we?

      1. Avatar
        Mitch Sullivan (@mitchsullivan) on Reply


        About a year ago I took on an assignment to hire 4 recruiters for one agency client (I was curious) and it was easily the least enjoyable piece of work I have ever done. Many agencies, even the good ones, have a reality disconnect between how they see themselves and how others see them.

        And speaking of that disconnect, I suspect that your recruiter contacts are expressing this frustration because many markets are slowly starting to change in what they expect from external agencies and neither them or the agencies are yet able to express what each wants from the other – and so are locked in this limbo land of doing things the old way, which increasingly aren’t working.

  2. Avatar
    jacobstenmadsen on Reply

    This is a long piece to above open letter, and as subject dealt with here big and comprehensive, so also an answer.
    My reason for answering is that for the sake of balance and to provide perspective to the subject, I feel that a few issues require being addressed. My piece here may come across as teaching someone a lesson or how to suck eggs, that is not the intention, only to point out what I see and where there are problems.
    Background is own long time recruitment industry involvement, initially agency side but since 2007 in-house/corporate. On the basis of therefore both coming from agency side, but additionally on the agency ‘buy side’ in-house, and with extensive experiences I have some knowledge.
    Before proceeding let me make it clear that there undoubtedly are clients that behave in ways that can be termed unprofessional, ducking diving scheming and all the negatives that one can imagine. As with so much else in an unfair world little that can be done about those, walk away is best advice on such companies. If for arguments sake we pronounce 50% of all clients to be in that category we can put them aside (as little to be done about them) and concentrate on the remaining 50% which is what I am referring to here.
    The very first thing I learned back in mid 90ties when starting out in agency world was that as a recruiter you have one single thing to sell namely trust. Trust that you know what you are talking about, trust that you know your market, its players it’s participants, trust that you know where and how to find candidates and trust that you can figure out to convert my (client) needs and or challenges with a by you identified qualified and interested candidate. No trust, no relevance, no reason why you exist and why talking to a client. Trust is t h e Unique Selling Point and unless you master this most precious subject, understand it, honour it and are able to manage it, you have no relevance. Trust is fickle and can be gained over a period of time, yet lost in seconds, why it must always be treated with utmost care and respect.
    Having myself in my early years relied on sales abilities and skill in at times ‘semi bluffing’ my way to obtain trust I know all about this. I also know from experiences the lesson I learned when sitting in front of a senior director for a large German company that I tried to obtain business from, where my lack of knowledge and clearly being way out of my depth I was caught out and my ‘semi bluffing’ exposed. Never have I been so ashamed, never was I told in such a direct (German) manner that I ought not to waste anyone’s time if I was that little prepared and able in the capacity that I professed to have expertise. That experience will never leave me and taught me much.
    As a user of agents and believing and having had proved over many years that for those where indefinite trust and abilities in place the relationship leading to solutions and hires out of this world, I am someone who truly understand and value those agents that honour and manage the trust I give them. I have agents that over the years have shown me their abilities to such a degree that I would use them any day for near any role, and sing their praise from the rooftops
    As and when having been approached by agencies vying for business from company where I internal recruiter I have always asked ‘why are you relevant, what do you know, and who can you reach’ In 98% of cases the answer back has been a ‘one size fits all’ standard sales talk very generic and with little to no substance. It has shown me in 5 seconds flat that agent calling or making contact had 1. No to little idea about my specific business, 2. Applying the ‘throw enough mud at the wall and eventually some will stick’, in other words a numbers game 3. Applying no or little input and insight that display any expertise. For those I and with that anyone in the ‘agency buy sector’ have zero time or wish to engage and it is a wasted effort for all concerned. For those that do take the time to research, to only concentrate on areas that they know and display this in a relevant and effective manner, they will mostly have a better chance of at least having a conversation exploring if partnership possible.
    More or less everybody that I know outside the agency world agree that much is broken and not working very well in the agency industry, and that in fact many agencies are bringing it upon themselves for failing and not doing better and being more relevant. That is a pity for the agencies themselves as to fix the before said problems is not exactly rocket science. I know of hugely successful agencies that have no problems with their clients or candidates because they understand how to deal with them, they understand what it takes and they have put the necessary structures and procedures in place. This is n o t about cost why that cannot be used as an excuse.
    What is however the problem with a very large proportion of agents and their behaviors and why they overall in the ‘agency buy side’ of things (corp in-house) is that they display none or very little understanding of what the ‘buy side’ need and are looking for. We have in the last 5 years gone through the most turbulent times seen for the last 60 years, with millions of lives turned upside down, businesses being challenged to the extreme for survival and with still much more upheaval to come (sure green shots and all that but have the underlying issues and backlog of debt and issues been anywhere near addressed, nope) Looking at the world of agency recruitment it is a fact that approx 10% of agencies may be adapting to changing times, adopting and utilising new tools, channels and solutions, however the vast majority are still bumbling along as was as has been for the last 15 years, with same methodologies, solutions as always not to mention attitude. Sure for as long as it works fine, but the days are nearing where technology so advanced and so much available that agencies may become under threat if not able to show relevance and deep expertise and knowledge. This is not just some ‘sense’ about the future, take a look at what is happening out there at the forefront and it will become clear that tools, channels and solutions are coming at an increased rate and being better, faster and more intelligent than ever before. I know for a fact by someone who makes a living out of trying to teach agencies how to use social media and all the new and effective tools available that the reluctance to adopt and to use is absolutely massive and that his biggest problem is agency attitude. That is a pity as we now with many tools are in 4th generation and so much can be done so much faster, better and more efficiently, yet the attitude is that ‘we are alright we do not need it’ This is what I term ‘are you too busy to innovate’ and reflect that to follow with the times today is a constant ever evolving journey that require continuous involvement and updating.
    So in summary and what I am trying to say, when you are sitting and swearing over a client, a deal, a piece of communication that has gone wrong or not your way, ask whether at every step in what you do, how you do it you are relevant, and whether you have done everything in your power to be the best you can be. If the answer is no or perhaps then back to the drawing board/school bench and get as good as you can be, alternative…. well you go figure.

    And for those that followed the London Olympics, this is what made the UK athletes win as many medals as they did, Aggregation of Margins:
    – perhaps the recruitment industry could learn something from that.

  3. Avatar
    Frank Sommerville on Reply

    Hi Craig,

    I do enjoy your blogs and read them each week, but as an agency recruiter who now manages an in-house service for a client, if I was to receive an email like that from a recruiter I would never use you again.

    I get hounded by at least 25-30 phone calls each week from agencies, not to mention the amount of unsolicited emails that come in as well (great way to try to build a relationship !) and I know it’s a tough market and environment at the moment, but to get a whiney, begging type of message like that would just compound the already low level of respect recruiters have in the market already.

    No other sales/service person in any other industry would attempt to send a message like that out, but recruiters like to think that they are far better than others and it’s laughable. When you say “It is time that you respected me for what I can do for your business” is also a joke as in today’s modern world, no candidate is unfindable, no candidate is unreachable – agencies simply do not offer anything special when it comes to value today.

    I don’t mean to sound so harsh and I know there are exceptions to that, but again of the 30 phone calls I would get each week for example, there are maybe one or two that actually impress when they call. We do not make it hard when agencies call us and we are happy to use them (in the rare occasion when time constraints mean we won’t do the campaign ourselves), but the gung ho, car saleperson type anything goes sales attitude just doesn’t work today and by sending out that type of message to clients would lose you far more than you would win.

    Just my 2 cents worth – I’ll still be reading each week 🙂

    1. Avatar
      Craig Watson rec-to-rec on Reply

      Thanks for reading Frank,
      I think there’s always going to be an element of mongoose and cobra in regards to this issue when looking at the Agency vs In House relationship…
      And we’re probably going to have to agree to disagree. However, to say that ‘…agencies simply do not offer anything special when it comes to value today…’ is off the mark. The strategic input, competitor information, best practice policies we offer, (and many clients fail to recognise), goes over and above the candidate sourcing activities. I don’t ever want to be in a ‘supplier’ relationship and we choose not to work with clients that view what we offer in that way. But, like I said earlier – we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one… Next week we’ll probably go back to writing on a ‘safe’ topic that everyone will have a giggle about, but offers no real avenue to debate, or education for both sides of the fence.
      I really appreciate your comments as it encourages debate – and believe me… I do accept that you are not alone in your view on this!!

  4. Avatar
    Frank Sommerville on Reply

    Thanks Craig.

    “…The strategic input, competitor information, best practice policies we offer, (and many clients fail to recognise), goes over and above the candidate sourcing activities…”

    I agree 100% – BUT – it is an absolute rarity to find that gem of a recruiter who does indeed offer these services. From first hand experience of receiving these calls every day (I’ve had three this afternoon since I posted my first response), the vast majority of agency recruiters are out for the quick kills (eg – send us a random candidate – regardless of if they have the approval to do so or not – in hope we have a vacancy or beg and plead for a role from us to fill).

    The only way that I have found to get this type of attitude from a recruiter in today’s market, is to hire them to work for us in-house. This way, they are then dedicated to our brand and truly work in our best interest (eg – not in their or their fee hungry agencies interest).

    Traditional agency models just don’t work in todays environment and don’t allow a consultant to truly build that relationship. You would know far better than I, how many of your clients demand a certain billing level as a key criteria ? That works great for the agency, but sucks for the client. Perhaps a topic for another day……….

  5. Avatar
    robgrmsearch on Reply

    One of the main problems in our industry is that there is no barrier to entry. In some countries (like HK where we are) you have to be licensed and once a year you are audited to make sure you are reaching minimum standards, but unlike the law, some areas of finance, accounting, medicine etc you don’t have to become a chartered/qualified recruiter to work in the industry. I would love there to be a globally recognised minimum entry exam series of some description, and some sort of CPD point system so that recruiters had to continue to develop and improve, but sadly this is unlikely to ever happen. That said, the 30 or so recruiters that phone our clients each day continue to make us look even better than we are, so I’m fine with that. But we have to do something to raise the minimum standard in our industry or people will just stop using us and only use job sites like LinkedIn.

  6. Avatar
    Samantha Lee on Reply

    Hi Craig,

    Looks like you’ve touched a nerve here!

    Like Frank, I too manage an in-house team, all of whom were agency side at one point or another so. Many of the challenges you’ve identified in working with clients are equally applicable to me and my team; the vague specs, poor feedback, the list goes on.

    Over time we have addressed many of these challenges by building the strong internal relationships, becoming trusted business partners and demonstrating our value to the business. We’ve done this to the point that we’re now operating at around 90% direct sourcing and we’re recruiting some exceptional talent into the business (we wouldn’t get away with anything less).

    As a team, we’ve accepted that we will never be in a position to adopt 100% direct sourcing model, our industry just does not operate in that way. With those agencies we do work with, I like to think that we are truly partnering them. They have access to hiring managers and we take the time to allow them to really get to know our business. We trust their judgement on candidates and allow them to challenge our decisions if they think we might have got it wrong. Bottom line, we trust them, value their expertise, and we treat them the respect they deserve

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, in my view, there is room for both agency and in-house recruiters to work in tandem for the good of the business but both parties have to accept and value the skills and experience that each bring and understand the pressures and strains that each other may be under. To claim that one is more superior than the other is where the problem usually starts.

    A great debate and one that everyone has an opinion on!

  7. Avatar
    Alan Ellis on Reply

    Mmmmm … a little Jerry Maguire moment here and I hope it doesn’t cost you too much business.
    I hear your frustrations and, while you sound a little harsh at times, I agree with most of your comments.
    One of the biggest reasons for poor [or no] feedback, particularly from HR, is because HR shouldn’t be involved in the process in the first place. ALL recruitment should go through line managers ONLY as they’re the ones going to be working with the new hire. When line managers go through HR things get lost in translation. This is why you have fluffy, indirect JDs because they’re written by HR who, let’s be honest, have no earthly idea of what’s going on in the wider scope of the company they’re working for.
    Unfortunately, the HR industry in Australia is one of the most highly legislated of anywhere in the world and they’re under so much pressure to complete huge amounts of administration and reading and then implementing legislative changes that they have little time to do anything else – particularly recruitment.
    You ask most HR managers what they hate most about their jobs and recruitment will be right up there most of the time! So why won’t they let it go? There are many reasons for this but that’s a discussion for another forum.
    I don’t feel the clients are being disrespectful; they’re just under pressure to do the things they must to keep their business rolling along as you covered at the start of your letter. They need to be insular about their business and can’t be made to feel additional pressure to ensure you’re safe at your company.
    I believe this is an unfair expectation you are aiming at them.
    I, like ALL recruiters, face this daily as well and you just have to soldier on.
    To quote The Godfather II … “This is the life we’ve chosen!”

    1. Avatar
      Craig Watson rec-to-rec on Reply

      Hmmmm… quoting Hyman Roth is very risky!
      But you make valid points – and it shouldn’t cost us any business… Line managers have even less time than HR and would all benefit from a strong trusted relationship with external recruitment partners if recruitment fell within their responsibility…
      So, at the risk of removing HR from the equation… please let me quote Godfather II also ‘If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone…’ sorry to all of my friends in HR!

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