Saturday, October 30, 2010

Against All Odds...Contingency Search (Part 1)

Contingent: Having a cause-and-effect relationship with the occurrence of something else. See also conditional and provisional. (

For the most part, I do my headhunting on a contingency fee basis. When clients (employers) ask me what I charge to do a search, I tell them it’s FREE. That’s right; I do the search for free. Now the placement is another matter. It doesn’t cost an employer anything UNTIL they actually hire one of my candidates. I don’t get paid until I make the placement. Getting paid is better than not getting paid. That being the case, I am inclined to only accept searches where there is a reasonable chance of success.

So how do I determine if there is a reasonable chance of success? I use a four point check list:

Client relationship is at the top of the list for a reason. Before taking a search, my first question is always: What sort of a relationship do I have, or am I likely to develop, with the client? In my mind, this trumps all other issues. The company can be great, the job outstanding and the search conditions highly favorable. But, if I do not have a productive relationship with at least one key client contact, my odds of success go down dramatically. And if the company, the job or the search characteristics are weak (and in most cases one or more of them are), then my odds of success really go in the tank. The good news is that in most cases, if I get far enough along to actually get the search opportunity, I can establish a decent working relationship with the client. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest, if I can get to a 5 or 6 level relationship and the other factors are at least manageable; then I’ve got a fighting chance at success. Will I take a search where the client relationship is weak? If it’s a new client, yes. There’s always a chance that I can eventually build a strong relationship with a key hiring authority in that organization. But if it’s a client where I’ve had bad experiences and I just know that it’s not likely to change; I’ll suggest that they consider using another search firm.

Where the client relationship really comes into play, is when some of those other factors are highly unfavorable. As an example, let’s say I’ve got a company that is under-performing financially, the job specs are very tight and the compensation is low. If I have a productive relationship with the client, preferably the hiring authority, and I can have a candid conversation regarding these issues; it is very likely that we can tweak things just enough to have a successful outcome. Hopefully, that successful outcome will be a win-win-win: for the client, for the candidate who is hired and for me. But if you’re in this business for the long-term, sometimes it’s just a win for the client. Maybe after that candid conversation, the best option for the client is to promote from within. It might be a stretch promotion, but it’s the best option. Ultimately it’s about doing the right thing for the client. In order to do that, we need more than a transactional relationship. And the closer we can get to a level 10 relationship, the better.

So assuming that I’ve got something more than a “transactional” relationship with The Client, the next item on the checklist is The Company. We’ll talk about that next week in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…. Contingency Search (Part 2)”.

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