Dear Mitch

Welcome to ‘Dear Mitch’ with the ever candid, Mitch Sullivan. A man many Recruiters will know. Never one to shy away from debate or express an opinion, he’s been a Recruiter since the days of fax. His desire to not have his eyes bleed every time he saw a job ad drove him to start his own Recruitment Copywriting Course.

In this series, Mitch is answering your questions. For every query your boss can’t or won’t answer, you can write to Dear Mitch…

“Dear Mitch. I struggle with getting my clients to give me full feedback on CVs, which means I can never alter my search appropriately to make sure I find the right candidate.” Rosie, London.

Have you told them this? If they could see a potential future benefit to them, I’d have thought a few would be prepared to give you the kind of truth you’re looking for. Don’t expect them to put it in writing though.

The problem with getting candidate feedback from hiring managers is that they know, that often their rationale for rejecting interviewees is somewhat subjective – and they don’t want to have to justify it. Or embarrass themself by saying it out loud. Then there are others who don’t want to give any feedback for fear of falling foul of any potential litigation issues.

Ultimately, I think the best way to hold a hiring manager’s feet to the fire is to have already taken a good brief that contains 3 to 4 ‘must haves’ on the target candidate profile. If you’ve submitted a candidate who meets each of those must haves, that leaves the hiring manager with nowhere to go when it comes to justifying why someone has been rejected. What you’re left with are character issues, which are very difficult to match – especially if you’re not interviewing these candidates.

Next time this happens, ask the client if they want you to interview all candidates from now on. If they say ‘yes’, that’s a great opportunity for you to get some kind of exclusivity. 

“Dear Mitch, I struggle with finding new clients that don’t already use 20 agencies.” Jack, Brighton. 

How many agencies would you prefer that they use?

If it’s one (that would be you), then you’re going to need to sell that. And before you can sell that you need to find out why that particular company feels they need to use that many other agencies.

That will take time and depend on whether you’re allowed to spend any time to develop some clients who aren’t going to give you any vacancies to work on.

If that’s not an option, then my advice would be to go after new clients who aren’t large corporates. SMEs tend not to use lots of agencies and need more help than bigger companies. They don’t get cold-called by recruiters anything like as often either.

The other good thing about doing business with SMEs is they often have a more realistic approach to what type of candidates they can attract.

“Dear Mitch, I struggle convincing a client I am worth more than 15%.” Steph, London. 

Are you worth more?

If you think you are, you’re going to have to be able to tell a client what they would get for the extra 5 or 10% you want to charge them.

When asked why they’re better than their competitors most recruiters respond with things like “I have 10 years’ experience” or “I have a big database” or “I’m great at selling jobs to candidates”.

The client doesn’t care about those things. They only care about what they’re going to get.

In my experience, the two things hiring managers care about the most are:

1) Candidate quality

2) Having as little agency interaction as possible.

The 2nd one is tough for you to do anything about – at least in the short term.

The 1st one you can deal with by identifying what you do (or could do) that would improve the quality of the candidates you send them. Most of those are going to be activities related to attraction and assessment. Is your job ad content better than your competitors? Do you interview candidates against the specific requirements of the client? Do you not send the same candidates out to other hiring companies?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to each of those questions, that should form the basis of your pitch to the client as to why you’re worth more than 15%. If you want 20%, the client is going to want to see a 25% improvement in candidate quality.

Or, you could try and become their friend and hope they give you a pay rise because they like you.

“Dear Mitch, knowing what you know now, if you were to go back and start from scratch as a consultant tomorrow, what’s the first thing you would do?” Holly, Manchester. 

My first ever job in recruitment was as a Branch Manager. My 2nd job, 14 months later, was as a Consultant, which was far more enjoyable and profitable. So if I could go back, I’d have taken the Consultant role first.

The other thing I wouldn’t have done was move to Switzerland. I gave some of my best recruitment years to that backwater.

“Dear Mitch. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?” Fabia, New York.

My 2nd boss once told me; “recruitment is all about information. The more of that you have, the more powerful a recruiter you are.”

The fact that I can still remember it must mean it had some validity.

“Dear Mitch. I know you’re a huge fan of retained business, but if that’s not possible, what’s the best way to safeguard a constant flow of billings?” Harry, London. 

To have all of that business being done on an exclusive basis.

Or build a contract desk.

Or just be a very hard working contingency recruiter. Burnout usually happens after about 5 years.

By the way, it is possible.


I am now taking direct questions for this series. Want something (anonymously or otherwise) answered? Just email me at mitch@hunted.com – I’ll do my best to answer, no matter how difficult or damning the question.