If you are brought into a search when a client is already using one or more additional recruiters, how do you sell a retainer or at least a deposit-based search? I am okay with competition but do not want to spin my wheels.   

Congratulations. I would not, either. Sometimes, I will tell people that the only way they will pay you a retainer if they have already engaged with other recruiters is if they are frustrated. If they are not frustrated, it is not worth your time because they think they will pull it off. 

Part 1: Asking The Right Questions

You might try:

Mr. or Ms. Hiring Manager, when was the last time you had an opening?   

We filled this position in November.   

What was that process like? When did you open it up? Were you happy with the recruiters?   

Oh my gosh, it took like six months.   

So, it is frustrating when you are doing the same thing repeatedly, expecting a different result? Can you afford to wait six months this time? What does your pipeline look like now from those other two recruiters?

We are not seeing a lot…   

There has got to be pain from not seeing good candidates.

If they just started the search, and they have this false belief that it will be better this time when in reality, the market tightens a little bit more every month, then I cannot change their mind.   

I can say: Why will it be different this time than six months ago when the market is tighter? 

Then be quiet and listen.   

Here is the other question you need to help you get money upfront.   

What is the cost of the position remaining open?   

My experience is hiring managers have yet to understand the true cost of the open position. So be ready for that. It makes you look smart if you know a little bit about the position and the consequences. Dig deep for every role you place; what is the cost to the company for every week it remains open? 

If there are a couple of other recruiters on it, you can say:   

Well, if there is no one in this role by April 1 or May 1, what is the downside to the company? What work is not getting done?   

Well, it is all getting done. We are just splitting it up among a bunch of us.   

Well then, do you need the person then?   

See, I am not going to argue with them. If the work has already been divided up, why don’t you save the money and invest it in other technology? Instead of pushing, try pulling away.   

No, no. We can’t. We’re going to be stressing everybody out.   

Will everyone be stressed out in April if this position remains unfilled? May 1? June 1? Because you said it took six months to fill it the last time. What does not get done when this person is absent in a given week? Then try to have them monetize that.   

I remember one time when I was asking these questions, it was a tech services company, and this guy was like one of two or three people that sat on the Nasdaq floor and kept the system up and running, and they go, every minute Nasdaq is down cost $1 million. And you are not going to pay a deposit for that? They were trying to get me down to 20%.   

To your point, I am fine with competition, but I do not want to spin my wheels.   

Part 2: The Competition

Part two of your question is the answer, the bonus part; we do not compete by going against two or three other recruiters on the exact search. What other profession does that? Ask this question if they want you to work as one of three:   

Mr. Employer, when you hire an accounting firm to do your audit, is it customary that you will bring in three auditors? All three of you, please do an audit of this department, and the one that comes up with the best audit is the one we will pay.   

No. We do not do that.   

Do you bring in multiple attorneys and say, we want all three of you to work on this case, and whoever wins it is the one we will pay? 

No. We do not do that. 

Yet, you are doing it with recruiters. Mr. Employer, I am not beating you up. It is the way it has been done. But what the recruiters that are doing that are not telling you is that in this market, they cannot put time into it. They match candidates to your job; if you do not believe me, call them. They are not putting together a list of 60 to 80 people and contacting them seven times.   

Mr. Employer, I have no problem competing. My advice is to pull three recruiters together. Tell them what you want to get done and ask each of them, in writing, in a PowerPoint, in a slide deck, whatever, to do a Zoom presentation and then pick one to do the search. That is competition. Everywhere else, in no other profession that I am aware of, do three professionals go out and do all the work, and one gets paid at the end.  

The problem with that is not on the client’s side. We did that as an industry. The key in this situation to getting retainers and money upfront is that it is really hard to do without quantifying the cost of the position remaining open to some degree. Because when they do that and they think, well, I want to avoid paying $5,000 upfront. My response is usually, if I were you, I would not either. If I could get these results on contingency, I would want to. But you just said you are frustrated. You just said if this position remains open for more than two months, it will cost you X, Y, and Z. If it remains open for two months, it will cost me nothing.  

Part 3: Selling The Retainer

Here’s how you transition into part three of selling a retainer:

I really like your company story for X, Y, and Z reasons. Here is my exact, specific, and precise approach to selling your position.   

You need a search process that you can outline to them both verbally and in writing that is very, very specific. Then, you must do more than present the method. You have to walk the talk.   

My typical process was:   

We will work with our research team to create a list of 60 to 80 individuals. We will reach out to them up to seven times over three weeks. After seven attempts, we have learned that of those 80 people we will have talked to in the neighborhood of 60 and 20 are not going to get back to us, telling us they are not going anywhere. 

Of the 60 we talk with, we will talk to many people who are not going anywhere. We will talk to some interested people, but they do not meet the qualifications you and I have agreed to here. Then we will reach a very small group of people with two things in common. First, they are in the top 15% to 20% of their profession, and second, we have identified at least two reasons why they would consider a career change right now. We are not here to present applicants. We need to sell these individuals, but we will come up with a list of 3 to 5 individuals that meet those two criteria.   

For us to do that, Mr. or Ms. Employer, the fee represents 28.6% of the individual’s first-year salary and guaranteed compensation with a deposit of $8,000 upfront. Are you authorized to approve that, or do you and I need to have this conversation with someone else?

The last thing you want them to do is to take your idea and present it to their CFO or HR Director because it will die 80% of the time. They are not recruiters. They will not take their boss through the same process you did.   

Retainers for Recruiters

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