Dear Mitch: Pushing Back

Mitch Sullivan’s best known for his work in recruitment advertising. 

He runs several training courses, one of which coaches Recruiters to write better job ads. He keeps a regular blog. The occasional newsletter. And you’ll find him putting the world of recruitment to rights in the comments on LinkedIn.

He’s published a book on recruitment. And has 25 years experience filling jobs under his belt. Which means he’s seen it all, heard every objection and dealt with more client demands that you’ve had hot dinners.

In this series, Mitch answers your questions. And in this edition, we’ve collected his shiniest pearls of wisdom on the subject of pushing back.

Against unrealistic client expectations. Or unreasonable bosses.

The point Mitch makes five or six different ways here, is that there’s often more than one way to do it.

My boss has asked me to stop commenting on LinkedIn and get on with my job, but I think it’s helpful for my personal brand which wins me a lot of business. Should my employer’s brand come before my own? Or should I push back? – Anonymous

Can you demonstrate business you’ve won via social media? If you can that would help.

There isn’t one way of generating business and recruiters need to play to their strengths – and if using LinkedIn is one of your strengths and you’re making money for your employer, then I think you should push back.

Using social media is a skill and it’s indicative of how slow our industry is to adapt that so many agency owners/directors seem to think that cold calling is the de-facto way of winning new business.

Sounds to me like you’re not too far from leaving there and starting up on your own.

If I’m right, get in touch. I may be able to help.

How much should I ask for feedback from clients on process? Once the deal’s done, I don’t do much after care other than the next role. Is this something other people (or you) actually do? They seem happy but I could be better – Jane

Depends what you mean by “process” Jane.

If it was a process you created and were in control over, then yes, it’s essential you get feedback, so you can keep improving that process.

But if you were one of several other agencies then most clients are only going to see the ‘agency experience’ collectively rather than remembering individual contributions. Most only remember who found the successful candidate – and they’ll probably forget that in a few months.

I think investing in a post deal follow-up is a good idea if you want to try to wean the client into only working with you.

I honestly don’t think my boss knows how to recruit. He’s a nice person, but constantly gives me irrelevant advice. I’m at odds as how to change things without moving company. I do well here but we’re at loggerheads all the time despite me billing great numbers. Any advice for managing up the chain? – Verity

Thanks for dishing me up this can of worms, Verity.


Is ignoring him an option?

How about having a private ‘off the record’ chat with him and letting him know your frustrations?

If neither of those are an option, then I guess the only other thing you can do is to talk to your manager’s boss or the owner of the business. Before you do that, you probably need to consider is who is worth more to the business, you or your manager? You need to have a sense of how strong your bargaining position is.

Then it’s a case of passing the problem up the line and getting someone more senior to take care of it.

But before doing any of that, if I was you I’d have my exit strategy already prepared. You know, just in case.

I feel like I really need to know more to able to offer the best advice. Feel free to contact me privately if you’d like to.

Either way, good luck.

I’ve got a client insisting on 12.5% with a 100% rebate for 6 months, and refusing to schedule interviews for 2 candidates his CEO has shown interest in until these terms are signed. He’s now demanding to see the P60 alongside every candidate CV I submit to him. To me, this seems unreasonable, stretching the process by wasting time, and putting off candidates. Any advice? – Peter

The only way any recruiter might sign up for those kinds of terms is if the work is always on retained and the jobs are (relatively) easy to fill. And even then I’d want to review it every 3 months.

12.5% is the kind of rate companies pay RPOs – so unless you’re getting volume and exclusivity, I think you should be politely telling the client to not darken your door again.

And 6-month rebate terms are only normally found being offered for the more senior hires where the recruiter’s headhunting guile and candidate assessment abilities came more into play.

The questions you need to ask yourself are:

Do you need them more than they need you?

Is the client easy to sell? It doesn’t sound like it.

Do their competitors only pay 12.5% for the same candidate type?

If the answer to each is ‘no’ then you need to ditch them. But do it politely and offer them a rational explanation how working to those terms make it almost impossible to do a decent job and make a profit.

You’ll probably also need to tell them that they will incur your full fee if they end up hiring either of the two candidates you’ve already submitted.

As it’s Christmas, I won’t ask why you’re sending candidates out to companies where you have no agreed terms already safely negotiated.

I just wanted to know your thoughts on how much you should meet people as a Consultant? My boss hates me being out the office so it’s hard to push back but I get asked by clients all the time. What you reckon? – Anonymous

I have mixed feelings about client visits. Most of the agencies I met when I worked in-house seem to only see it as a way of getting me to like them and most hiring managers I spoke to about meeting agencies seemed to think the same thing.

I think client visits are only worth doing if the recruiter has a clear idea of how they want to try to move the business relationship forward in some way. Whether that’s making a case for the client to stop working on contingency or spending time in the department where you recruit for to understand the job better so you can sell it better –  there has to be some tangible, provable benefit to the client.

I also don’t think it’s worth visiting a client until you worked on a few of their vacancies first and developed some understanding of them.

If your boss hates them because all that’s happening is a few branded mugs and mousepads are being given away, then I agree with him/her.

I can’t be creative on LinkedIn, or really show any character. Is there a way to bridge the gap without going ‘full Oleg’? – Jen

Can’t or not allowed?

Also, being creative and being yourself aren’t the same things.

What I’m trying to say is I don’t really understand the question and if I did, it would probably take me 1,000 words to answer it.

So, I’ll leave you with an “Oleg” kind of answer.

Just be yourself. It’s the only thing you’ll ever be perfect at. Agree?