Going The Extra Mile In Recruitment

I like to start my articles with stereotypical recruitment catchphrases. Especially if I’m about to say something vaguely controversial or contradictory.

Previously, I had a go at pinning down what “industry-leading L&D” really means.

Today, I’ve had a look at:

“You get out what you put in”

It was one of the first lessons I learned in recruitment. A mantra, instilled in me from day dot. And regarding effort, largely true.

Work hard. You’ll make money.

But within that, there are variables. Including one which could account for the difference between your year-on-year top billers and… pretty much everyone else.

Discretionary Effort

Aubrey Daniels – behavioral science aficionado and coiner of the term “performance management” – describes discretionary effort as:

“…the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, but above and beyond the minimum required.”

In recruitment, it’s the difference between consultants ticking off their KPIs begrudgingly, and having a record week for activity – week after week – willingly.

Throughout history, businesses have tried to hack discretionary effort by fostering cultures that reward people for the amount of time they spend at their desks.

Which makes sense. Because obviously, you can crank a lot more activity out of someone if they’re at work longer.

Or, to get more out, you simply put more in.

And it works… in the short term.

KPIs are often used to bolster the culture. Although problematically, they also serve the purpose of determining what ‘the bare minimum’ is. And there’s a psychological disadvantage in doing so.

People are more likely to take their foot of the gas, apparently.

In fact, Judy Agnew PhD, writing for Aubrey Daniel’s blog, notes:

“The only way to get discretionary effort is through positive reinforcement.”

Which isn’t traditionally how KPIs – or management in recruitment – have operated. Although change is coming in that area. Increasingly so.

Recruitment businesses are continually experimenting with the best ways to get the most out of their staff.

Some do the basics brilliantly.

Others are doing things no other recruitment agency’s doing right now.

And some are letting their Consultants do what they like to do, instead of what they have to.

No one’s got it completely nailed. Because to unlock discretionary effort in every member of staff requires an incredible alignment of values across the board.

‘Isn’t commission the only positive reinforcement a recruiter needs?’

Actually, if there’s one thing I’ve found about agencies who are consistently able to get extra effort out of their teams, it’s this:


Currently being trialled to a lesser or greater degree by most businesses on the planet, you’ve seen signs of it in recruitment job ads for years.

“Here at Bespoke Consultancy Solutions LTD, we give you the freedom to run your desk the way YOU see fit” or similar.

Another recruitment catchphrase, it not only says ‘you won’t be hamstrung by old fashioned management or rigid bureaucracy here’, it implies your success will be directly linked to your efforts too. Or:

“You’ll get out what you put in.”

When a recruiter’s given control over their day to day, they’re more likely to feel that their efforts are linked to their results. Which means they’re more inclined to work harder to get them.

So I wanted to find out what proper autonomy looks like in recruitment; what you need – and don’t need – to run your desk the way you see fit.

And no one does autonomy like Ernest Hunter Green.

“The only metric we monitor is bottom line.”

Ernest Hunter Green are Sales, Marketing, Digital and Finance specialists who work wherever and however they want. I spoke to Co-Founder Elliott Sanderson about how embracing autonomy’s done great things for them.

“I remember working in recruitment, having to be at my desk at a certain time, having to stand up to make a call. It didn’t matter if you placed a ton of jobs, if you don’t hit your meetings…”

For a recruiter stuck in a micromanaged firm, whether or not they’re able to work autonomously – and not just ‘from home, for now’ – is often an issue of self belief. It’s asking yourself that age old question:

“Do my clients work with me? Or my employer?”

Because if you’ve convinced yourself it’s the former, you’re probably in a position to take the wheel yourself for a bit. Although it’s not necessarily about striking out alone and going solo.


Autonomy in recruitment’s about self-motivation, self-direction, and at times, self-discipline. It’s about trusting yourself – and being trusted – to do what needs to be done to ensure the money comes in at the end of the month.

“If your network needs you to host webinars and network events, that’s how you build your business. Maybe it’s creating content, maybe it’s making a thousand calls a day.”

“Knowing your world well enough to know what works in it, then capitalising on that.”

Which, to some, might sound like a breath of fresh air.

Flexible working hours.

Not having to do BD for an hour at 9am every morning.

Seemingly small things that have a genuinely profound impact on your quality of life. Like being able to make and keep a doctor’s appointment, 100% guilt free.

It goes without saying, recruiters starting out need direction. And some people, regardless of where they are in their career, genuinely prefer nonautonomous environments.

But recruiters who’ve been a part of their market for long enough that they know what direction it’s moving in, who all the key players are, and how to talk to them, could find themselves with a new lease on life once the training wheels are removed.

For Ernest Hunter Green, they’ve doubled in size and turnover since launching. Each consultant has had their best financial year in recruitment with the business. And anecdotally, they’ve seen levels of happiness, sleep, family time, and general wellbeing increase.

It’s this which means they have more in the tank to offer their candidates and clients. 

Achieving autonomy in recruitment could be key to unlocking an extra level of effort. And in a line of work where you get out what you put in, that can only be a good thing.

Ernest Hunter Green are 100% remote so, wherever you live, they’re hiring near you. And at the time of writing, they have five active job slots on their Hunted profile.

A huge thank you to Elliott for his time and his insight in putting this piece together.