Mike, I took a retainer a few months ago, and so far, we have not been able to fill the position. I have talked to well over 70 people and I am not sure we can fill it. The challenge is that it is in a remote location that nobody wants to move to. The good news was I did not want to take the search, but the client begged me to take it and agreed to my terms for retained searches. How do you handle such a situation? That’s from Pat in Georgia.
The Challenges of Unfillable Retained Searches and How to Approach Them
This is an excellent question. People have asked me in the past, did you fill every retainer you ever took? No. I never felt bad about the ones I did not fill. In this situation, with the limited knowledge that I have, one, he talked to over 70 people, and two, the client begged him to take it probably because they knew it was unfillable. In my opinion, Pat is still losing money because we’re not profitable on retainers in this business. We’re profitable on their fulfillment.
Sharing Data with Clients: What to Share and When to Share It
In a retained environment, you can feel comfortable sharing a lot of data with your client. I would not send them the contact information, but I would send out the name and company. Again, they are on retainer; this is not something I would offer on a contingency search. I would sit down with your client and say, look, we have talked to 72 people. Here are all the people we spoke to with the skillset that you’re looking for. Here are all the reasons why we are having a problem. This location is too far remote from any major metro, and of the 72 people we talked to, that is what 61 said.
You can get granular with your data. Not most people, or a lot of people. When you are on retainer, you have a level of responsibility to the client. You do not necessarily have the responsibility to fill it. You must do everything you can to fill it.
Put It All On The Table: Using Data in Retained Searches
I would go through all the data. 61 people do not want to move there. You talked to 2 people that did not meet the qualifications that were willing to move there, and of the other 9 they were not interested for these other reasons. When you give a client all that data, it’s up to them to work out a situation to solve their problem.
By that, I mean, one, can the job be done remotely? I do not know. Two, can they bring on a more junior person or somebody with fewer qualifications that does not have maybe the family ties to a geographic area that does not have all that burden. I am not necessarily saying younger to age discriminate, but who is that person, and what compromise can the company make?
Because, worst-case scenario, you do not fill it. Then you might say, I feel obligated since I took the retainer. Say, we surveyed the marketplace, and based on your conditions, and I told you when I started this, this was going to be a challenge; it is not fillable.
Managing Client Expectations and Turning Unfillable Retainers into a Win-Win
Now, going forward, I would check in with the client a lot earlier. What do I mean by that? After 25 conversations, Mr. Employer, this will be a huge problem. We have talked to 25 people, and of them, 20 would not make a move even if it were closer to the metro center, simply because they are not in a position to move. But if the people that were intrigued, liked your company story, liked your technology, 100% of them will not move to that location. Here are their objections. If I don’t like it, get laid off, or the company sells, I am in the middle of nowhere. These are the things that I heard when I took remote assignments.
Going forward, the strategy is to check in with your client earlier. Do not wait until you get to the end. I would share the data, send them a list, and get on a joint Zoom call. Then have the conversation around:
- Here is what the challenge is
- Here are the people I spoke to
- Share a spreadsheet on the screen with them
- Go back and forth with them
- Be open to some feedback
Maybe you are missing something. That is why you want to do this earlier. That is why you want to have this check-in. When I did this with clients on the phone and in other situations, it reassured the client.
Past Experience and The Value Of Data in Retained Searches
I remember there was one situation where I talked to over 80 people. It was a retained search. They interviewed 5, they liked 3, and they loved 1, but he was not perfect. The client was like, you know what, we are not going to make this guy an offer. This is the first time I learned this, by the way, because I’m like, I have got no place else to go. We want to see somebody with more of this. And I go, I am done!
I was so frustrated with the client. I said, let me send you the spreadsheet. It was the first time I ever did this. We went through company by company. He goes, what about ABC Company? I go, I talked to Mary Smith and Joe Blow. Mary Smith just started there two months ago, and she did not have enough experience at the company before. Even if she was interested, she was not qualified. Joe Blow has half a million dollars in unvested equity at his company. Do you have a reason why he would walk away from half a million bucks, as good as your company is? He was like, no, I get that one.
And we went through it. I did not have to go through it person by person or have to go through all 80+. I went through the companies he was interested in seeing people from, and what the client said was, wow, you have really done your work here. You have talked to everybody. They made the first guy the offer. He accepted. He actually had a great career with the company.
Full Circle: Reminding the Client of The Real Problem They’re Trying to Solve
I say that because clients have this illusion that there is this unlimited mystical tank of people that we can go to, and there is always somebody else, and there is always somebody better. Suppose you have done this the right way, where you have really challenged the client regarding their situation and why the position has remained open. In that case, I can always bring that back to their urgency and go, how much longer do you want to wait because, Mr. Employer, you told me every week this position remains open X, Y, and Z are the consequences in your business.
That is one of the enormous values of asking that question. It brings them back to reality versus the one more, one more, especially as we all know in this market, a really good candidate has a shelf life of water on the surface of the sun. If they have somebody in hand that they like, to look for somebody better, they will lose the one they like.
A great question. Worst-case scenario, the client does not change. Regarding your original question, Pat, I would say to your client – you asked me to do this. I presented you with several candidates. If we do not modify the search specs, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly, expecting a different result. I provided you with incredibly valuable research here, and since you are not taking action, this will not be filled. Or you could go after another 20 or 30. But there has got to be an end to that process. Thank you.
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