Recruitment… Champagne or Razor Blades…

I was going to entitle this post Why Recruitment is like the Titanic… but I didn’t.  However, sometimes you do really feel like DiCaprio – you remember, the king of the world scene – standing on the bow of the ill-fated liner, fists pumped and happier than a pig in you know what.  But in the recruitment world you are always only one submerged iceberg away from disaster… in hindsight Why Recruitment is like the Titanic would have probably been a far more apt and accurate title…

I’m going to let you in on a little secret… the reason I didn’t go with the Titanic title is because I can’t stand Leonardo  DiCaprio… or Kate Winslet for that matter.  I mean apart from The Basketball Diaries, Romeo + Juliet, The Beach, The Departed and Shutter Island his resume is pretty awful. And Kate Winslet… well the less said about her body of work the better… Finding Neverland for instance stunk like six day old salmon in the sun…

But let’s get back to the topic at hand! Seriously, is there an occupation on the planet that saps more of your energy on a daily basis?  Frustrates you more than your ex-wife’s mother?! Or, takes you to dizzying heights of euphoria and the harrowing lows of despair – all within a 24 hour period?!?  No my friends, the world of recruitment is nothing if not unpredictable, rewarding and punishing – all at the same time…

There’s the magic placement that comes out of absolutely nowhere, the candidate that accepts the perfect new role you found them only to come back to you the next day to sheepishly inform you they have accepted a counter-offer, the perfect match where the whole process is completed in a couple of frantic days, or the placement that falls over within the guarantee period despite your heroic and fruitless efforts.

Recruitment is not a career for the feint-hearted, the risks are great, but the rewards can be greater!

Here’s an example of the recruitment roller coaster that happened in our office last month… Obviously, I am shortening the process, leaving out the boring bits for the purpose of keeping the narrative flowing blah, blah, blah, but I hope it makes sense…

‘Ring, Ring’… (That is an improvised sound effect for the telephone – I should have used my actual mobile phone ring tone…’Dark in the city night is a wire, Steam in the subway earth is afire do do do do do do do do do do do do do do do…’ but I wasn’t sure how many of you would recognise Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf, and I was a little afraid if you did, you may judge me…harshly…)

‘Hello Craig here.’

‘Hi Craig, Simon Le Bon here from ABC Recruitment. We had a great meeting with ‘Nick’ today, we really see him adding value to the team…’ This was the third meeting over two weeks. I was getting that feeling – you know the one. The one where you know the placement is going to happen…starts in your stomach and spreads… ‘We just want him to come back tomorrow for a rubber stamp meeting with the MD.  Ultimately the call is mine.  The refs you sent were great and I’ll be offering tomorrow.’

As you can imagine I got off the phone very excited.  I confirmed the time with the candidate.  Told him he was getting an offer tomorrow, trial closed him and all was good with the world…

Until the following day…

Nick texted me five (that’s right 5) minutes before the meeting informing me there had been an emergency and he wasn’t going to make it to the meeting. Needless to say I tried calling him immediately and couldn’t get through (I am unsure of his ring tone, but I imagine it is something like Denis Leary’s – I’m An Asshole).  I called the client to placate them – Simon Le Bon was very good about it and asked me to pass on my support to Nick.  I then texted Nick and asked him in the nicest possible way to elaborate on his emergency.  30 seconds later my phone ‘chirped’. It was a photo from Nick of a fire engine…

I replied, via text of course, ‘Was there a fire?’

30 seconds later…‘My house burnt down…’ This left me stunned to say the least.

To cut a long story short we couldn’t get on to Nick for almost a week.  When we did he told us that his mother was going into have surgery in the following week and he needed to be there for her and to look after her dog and didn’t have time for an interview until after she recovered. Yes, (before you ask), I did ask him if he could attend the meeting before his mother went into surgery – Nick said ‘No.’ I informed him that the client may have reservations about lengthening the process and Nick told me that if that was the case he would have to ‘Walk away…’

In the end the client told me they were willing to wait, but in the interim I also found out from someone within Nick’s current company that he had in fact accepted a counter offer, there was no house fire and I suspect his mother was never really having surgery, or spending any time at all away from her beloved dog – not even one day…

My advice to you is that Recruitment will test you every day – so be prepared…  Someone once described recruitment to me as a daily dose of Champagne or Razor Blades. You don’t know what any given day will bring – it’s what attracts us to the industry, what keeps us engaged, and ultimately what drives some people away.

I remember when I first ‘fell’ into recruitment one of the questions I was asked during my interview was ‘Do you like roller coasters?’

At the time I thought ‘What a stupid effing question, everyone loves roller coasters…’ But I think I said something like, ‘I love roller coasters – the faster the better – and if you throw in a couple of loops I could ride one for hours…’

I remember the guy interviewing me sat back in the chair, brought his hands together, placed them over his rather ample tummy and smiled smugly….

Perhaps, what he should have asked me was ‘Would you like to continually ride a roller coaster non-stop for the next 18 years?’

I may have returned serve with my own question… ‘What, even while I am sleeping?’

And I can see him now, sitting back in his chair, bringing his hands together, placing them on his ample tummy and nodding almost imperceptibly – as a smug smile spreads across his face…

Craig Watson


16 thoughts on “Recruitment… Champagne or Razor Blades…

  1. Greg on Reply

    Ha Ha great blog, I can identify with all of this. In fact I had a candidate who had a ‘death in the family’ this week. Honestly so many candidates use there family members or kids as an excuse to not return calls , turn down jobs etc . How do they still have a conscience?

  2. Darren Ledger on Reply

    As usual a well written piece with some amusing anecdotes. I recognised the Duran Duran lyrics immediately which is quite disturbing as I was never that big a fan!

    I am guessing that ‘Nick’ was a recruitment consultant. I find this quite disturbing in many ways that he doesn’t understand the very clearly proven, documented and tested science behind counter offers and the reasons why you should never accept them. In his case he obviously doesn’t have the real skills, understanding or moral integrity to be a recruitment consultant, he will probably be one of those that cuts corners and cheats to get results. He probably had to secure another offer to get a salary increase because his result didn’t warrant it.

    None of the above however surprises me. But what I do always find absurd is the way some recruitment consultants and recruitment companies to be honest, actually conduct themselves. Surely ‘Nick’ understands that he has alienated and abused the trust of Craig in this situation, probably even more significant is the fact that he has exposed himself for the unprofessional and unethical individual he is to another organisation and its Directors! Recruitment is a small industry and at some stage in the future for the sake of a straight forward and honest phone call, this incident will come back and take a vicious chunk out of his backside. Probably when the company he works for is acquired by the firm he lied to, or he finds himself in the market and everyone in his sector know that he ‘does not understand the science of Counter Offers and does not have any testicles’.

    I hope his next 5 candidates accept counter offers and he gets the boot!

  3. Riki on Reply


    Great Blog! Very True with strong substance behind it!

    The highs and lows of recruitment!
    It is true you don’t come across many jobs where you can put in so much time and energy for no reward!, however the flip side is what make recruitment exciting…once you build those key relationships and placements roll then its all “stars”. The person that accepts that failure or rejection is part of recruitment then its a win win!

  4. Greg on Reply

    Lets be honest , the arguments against accepting Counter Offers have been invented by recruitment consultants to obviously , er counter the counter offer so to speak. I know plenty of candidates , colleagues , friends who have accepted CO’s and are all pretty happy. My issue is with the brazen lies told by candidates using their family members , pets etc to get out of returning calls. At best its the height of unprofessionalism – does Nick know anyone who had their house burn down? Its a really traumatic event . Have candidates who use a death in the family actually had to experience a death in the family? If you haven’t got the maturity to reject an offer to my face/over the phone in a professional manner then I need to self analyse and see what I did wrong as I should never have ever put you forward to the job.

  5. Michael Jhoomun- SDLC People on Reply

    Great laugh for a Friday!! I am also starting to think the recruitment Industry say ‘counter offers’ never work with their own interest front of mind. As always..all about what expectations/communications the candidate has had with you. There is always Karma…:-)

  6. Pip Macdonald (@PipMacdonald) on Reply

    I am GOBSMACKED he used his house burning down as an excuse! Surely he would realise the truth would catch up with him in the end. As hard as it is, it is yet another reason why I constantly used to tell candidates PLEASE BE HONEST WITH ME, like a when you say to a child, I won’t be angry with you if you tell me the truth – hmm, I guess the candidates already know you’re fibbing and the truth is harder than lying. Lucky those wins are so damn rewarding then right Craig? 🙂

  7. Darren Ledger on Reply

    On the ‘counter offer’ element of this discussion:

    Counter Offers and their impact in the workplace have been thoroughly investigated over the years. I cannot recall the precise time period but suspect that it was circa late 90’s when PwC undertook an extensive study which featured in the FT at the time in the careers section (remember those exquisite days of client paid advertising and selection). Primarily to understand how they and their clients should conduct themselves when faced with this situation. It was pretty resounding in terms of the statistics produced that counter offers were a negative activity for both the organisation and for the employee.

    Loads of material out there on this subject. I am pretty sure that the CIPD have done research in on this subject and found the same results. There are of course always exceptions.

    But let’s be honest about this, ascertaining an individual’s real reason for considering or even looking for another job are basic and fundamental skills in recruitment. It is absolutely critical that you understand this element in search / head hunting but it just as important if not more with active candidates! A good solid 10mins understanding and defining and then confirming back to the candidate for acknowledgement should highlight any areas of concern.

    Great recruiters rarely if ever lose a candidate at offer stage. In my opinion if you do, then you haven’t done your job correctly, you have misled your client and wasted everyone’s (yours, your employers, the candidates, the clients) in the process.

    A Tip that may help:

    In some cultures it is extremely difficult to get to the bottom of why they are interested in a move or a particular position. In the Middle East for example, it is always about money with certain nationalities, they will lie to you at the beginning about their current salary, lie to you about their expected or anticipated remuneration and then turn it all upside down to try and make you look an idiot once the offer is on the table. The key to success is to reinforce the key points in an email following your initial meeting or discussion.

    Outline the role again and the intended process and nail them and get commitment to timelines and possible dates. Be hard and explain that this is virtually non-negotiable. This element is really a cover for the key aspect, confirm their reasons for looking, confirm their interest in this particular position and then verify that the details they gave you regarding their current or expected remuneration are accurate.

    If you don’t do the above, at the offer stage suddenly things like ‘school fees’, gym memberships for the family, additional bonuses and a new fitted kitchen will all appear at the back end as part of their current package.

    Counter Offers and the issues with them are very real. Close your candidate on package before they even meet your client, establish expectations. It is your job as the ‘recruitment consultant’ to undertake and to eliminate this element of the process both parties. If you know what you are doing you should advise the client what package will be acceptable. I even include this figure and detail on my initial submission report.

    What is the point of going through a 5 stage interview process to then find that there is no middle ground in terms of expectation or that the candidates current firm pays upper quartile?

    Darren Ledger
    International Executive Search & Selection

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  8. Clare Verrall on Reply

    I really enjoy your posts Craig and particularly enjoyed this one. It never ceases to amaze me that candidates will create elaborate lies or vanish of the island of lost candidates where there are evidently no forms of communication rather than just stepping up and rejecting the offer. Just tell me the truth! I’m a big girl, I can take it. It is the candidates life after all, if they wish to accept a counter offer that is their decision to make. I’m not their mother, I will discuss the pros and cons of CO’s with them in a professional manner but I’m not going to lecture or berate them.

  9. Darren Ledger on Reply

    Spot on Clare, you can only advise at this stage. It really is about addressing this potential issue up front and closing them on everything. Then re-iterate and confirm throughout the process.

    I also believe that getting the prospective candidate to work hard for initial consideration can help eliminate those who are simply shopping around or looking to secure a counter offer.

    I always get prospective candidates to research the organisation, the people in the organisation and the opportunity. I ask them to send me a 1 page or a couple of paragraphs on all of these aspects to demonstrate why they get the job. Set a hard and fast timeline, give them a couple of days or a weekend.

    If you have to chase them at any point for the above information, their actual CV, or struggle to secure commitment then elimintate them from the process.

    The above works for me, touch wood haven’t lost a candidate at offer stage for over 4yrs now. Basically my perception is that if they are serious they will do the leg work, if they aren’t they won’t.

  10. Charlie Ineson Rec2Rec Consultant on Reply

    I had a guy pull out of an interview last minute a few weeks ago, his reason was ‘his child was in hospital and he couldn’t possibly leave his bedside’,although I am sceptical in nature, I thought that this would be too extreme to make up so I hesitantly believed him and let the client know. You can imagine my anger the next day when I ‘heard on the grapevine’ by a more than accurate source, that said candidate had spent two hours in another interview the very same day…. Child must have made a miraculous recovery…!! Needless to say, I pulled the candidate from the interview completely, if I can’t believe a word he says, I’m not risking putting in front of one of my best clients.

    1. Craig Watson rec-to-rec on Reply

      Hi Charlie… It’s so annoying – isn’t it? And candidates in our space really should know better. All we want is for them to treat us with the same level of honesty as they want from their own candidates. Hope business is well. Cheers Craig

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