How To Disengage From Bad Searches

recruiting recruitment staffing Apr 19, 2023

For recruiting firms, not every search you take will work out as planned, regardless of the quality of work on your end. Sometimes the Client has unrealistic expectations. Examples include:

  • Paying well below the job market for the background they are hiring.
  • Requirements that are so rigid that few, if any, candidates qualify.
  • The company, people, or position are not attractive to the candidates they want to hire.

Other times the Client engages in self-destructive or inappropriate behaviors such as:

  •  Long delays in providing feedback on candidate submittals   or interviews.
  • A hiring process or people that alienate the candidates. 

If the Client offsets your best efforts to fill their position, your first step is to calmly discuss the issues and negative consequences of their approach. The key is to frame things in terms of why it's in their best interest to change their approach. This is much more effective than focusing on why the search is difficult for you. 

If your conversation does not lead to the changes you recommend, you have two choices:

  1. Accept their choices and keep trying.
  2. Let them know that you won't be able to properly serve them until they implement the changes you recommend.

If they are unwilling or unable to address their deficiencies, why should you continue to endure the negative outcomes of their situation?  This is when disengaging in the search is your best option. 


Having "the talk" with the Client

Below are my recommendations for disengaging from searches after you are clear that it's the right thing for you to do:

Step 1: Write out the situation you are dealing with and your thoughts and feelings about it. Looking at your writing provides clarity and objectivity that you don't get when the problem stays "in your own head."

Step 2: Consider discussing the decision to disengage with someone you know and trust before making a final decision. Getting outside perspectives is often helpful since you may have negative emotions clouding your judgment. Let's be real; it's tough to be objective when frustrated. And decisions made out of frustration are risky!

Step 3: Email your Client to inform them you want to discuss where you are in the search and how you'd like to proceed.

Step 4. Discuss with your Client. It's important to separate the person from the problem. This means respectfully communicating with your Client. In most cases, a conversation via phone or video is better than simply sending an "I'm outta here" email.

Avoid communication that attacks them personally or disparages their organization. Instead, emphasize that you cannot successfully deliver because of the obstacles you are facing. 

Note: Some people prefer to send a carefully written email first to allow the Client to absorb the information. That's fine, as long as you encourage a dialog too.


Example of a what to say

Account Manager: "Client, I want to discuss the challenges we've been having in filling your position. On ___(date) I shared our data about your comp range relative to the market for these people." 

"You decided not to raise the comp range or scale down the specs. Unfortunately, the difference between what you're offering and what the market expects doesn't enable us to fill your position."

"Our only option at the moment is to discontinue our search efforts. If you change your mind and decide to make the changes we discussed, I'd like to talk to you about re-engaging." 

Below is an effective discussion format to discuss your desire to disengage from the search. This format applies regardless of your reason.

  • Separate the person from the problem and focus on the problem. Stay focused on how their choices have impacted your ability to serve them. Be careful not to keep talking about their actions once you've provided the facts about these actions.
  • Even if the person really is the problem (e.g., the person is a total A-hole), avoid personal attacks or judgments. Stick with how their actions impact your ability to serve them.
  • Be open to working with them if they promise to solve the problem you shared with them. Have an understanding that if the problem resurfaces, you'll need to disengage permanently.


What about retained searches?

The fact that the Client has paid you only obligates you to invest the time, money, and resources required to execute your best effort.

If they say that the retainer obligates you, your response should be that the retainer was only intended to cover your costs to engage on their behalf, and you don't earn a profit unless you make the placement. Thus disengaging is not a financial gain for you, and you're disappointed things didn't work out as you would have liked.

In summary, working on bad searches can drain the life out of you and are usually not profitable. Investing your time and resources into getting better searches with clients you want to work with is more sensible. Now you have a process to professionally disengage from the business you don't want. Implementing this process is a vital part of scaling a recruiting firm.

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