When is a ‘client’ not a client ?

My market is very candidate driven. I imagine it is probably the same for a lot of recruiters. If I waited for a great CV to drop into my inbox, I would be waiting for a long time. As such I have to do a lot of headhunting. And obviously I need to find a place to headhunt people from. I would be pretty stupid to approach staff from the companies I am working with. I think the phrase is ‘biting the hand that feeds you’. Therefore, companies in my marketplace broadly fall into two categories. I will either be working with them (i.e. a client), or they are a source of candidates. Sometimes I decide which category they fall in and  sometimes they decide. I certainly don’t want to work with everyone in the market, and I dare say not everyone wants to work with me. Either way,  they are  a client or they are not. They cannot be both !

But what defines a company as a client ?

It is probably easier to answer that question by explaining what it is not. It is not just because we had a meeting once. So what?  It is not just because they have called out of the blue and given me a job spec to work on, especially on a contingent basis. Similarly, just because we did some business together  at some point in the past, it doesn’t necessarily make them a client today. And they are definitely, absolutely and categorically not a client if  terms and fees have not been agreed and signed. Even if they have, things can change.  If they haven’t returned my phone calls for 6 months I think we can presume things are over. They are clearly not genuine about wanting to work with me, and have just signed my terms to avoid being a target for headhunting. If there has been a problem and we  have not been able to resolve the issue,  then it’s time to break up. It might be as simple as they have become just too difficult to work with. Whatever the reason though, I will tell them.

Put it another way. What defines someone as your significant other? A one night stand doesn’t (for most people anyway!). Neither does one date, especially when they are also dating every other Tom Dick,  Harry and Sally. Speaking once in a  blue moon certainly doesn’t. And just because you are going out today, it doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow (trust me I know  !). As for signing terms and agreeing fees….admittedly the analogy runs a bit thin there, unless you count pre-nups or prostitution !


The reality is that unless we have agreed to terms, have them signed and are working together, or at least speaking, on a regular basis then you are not a client. Sure, we can change that if it suits us both. But until then,  if I do place one of your staff elsewhere, ….sorry, it is not my problem.

Luke Collard


3 thoughts on “When is a ‘client’ not a client ?

  1. Estela on Reply

    Dear Craig,

    I appreciate all the hard work in the recruitment industry however I am somehow confused, just a couple of days ago you featured a post : When is a ‘client’ not a client?. In your words: The reality is that unless we have agreed to terms, have them signed and are working together, or at least speaking, on a regular basis then you are not a client. Perhaps and only perhaps “Nick” shares your philosophy.

    1. Craig Watson rec-to-rec on Reply

      Hi Estela,
      Thanks for your comment, but I’m a little confused myself…. ‘Nick’ was a candidate who applied directly to us. When we met with him, he signed a document agreeing to work with us and asked us to represent him to market. We were working with him daily and, until he disappeared we were in constant contact…. So, yes I would consider him a client/candidate…
      Thanks for reading and drawing a line of sight between blog posts. i hope you continue to add comments!


  2. James Foley on Reply

    Nice article. Back in the day when I ran agency sales I would tease some of the Recruiters who worked with Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and the like. Why? Because although they were accepting CV’s and even arranging the odd interview, they were not revenue generating! No one can be called a client until they have paid a fee (for services rendered). I do however absolutely agree that you cannot place people through the front door and remove them from the back- that is short sighted. The landscape has changed greatly for Agency Recruiters/Headhunters and in my humble view, I believe it is all about the ‘end-game’: meaning building relationships based on mutual quid per quo and being able to develop (with your client) ‘Trusted Advisor’ status. Just my two cents.

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