How To Deal With Unrealistic Clients

recruiting recruitment staffing Sep 29, 2022

In my 28+ years working in the recruiting industry, I had many clients present me with unrealistic job order specs. My recruiting firm clients have too. How many “unfillable” job orders have you tried to fill in your career? “I’ve learned that you’re better off being a magician than a recruiter when hunting purple squirrels and unicorns. Implementing a wise process for this issue is a key part of recruiting industry business development

When I use the term unfillable, I don’t mean that it is literally impossible, just highly improbable to fill the position. Success in the recruiting industry is based on maximizing your time invested on job orders you have a high probability of filling while minimizing (or eliminating) your investment on low probability job orders. When you take on gambles, you set yourself up for failure with clients. This diminishes your odds of getting future, higher-quality business with the same clients since clients prefer to blame failures on recruiters rather than themselves.

Dealing with reality
When discussing a search with a client, your job is to truly understand their expectations in the job intake phase of the process. When a client provides unrealistic specs, they are creating a problem you are unlikely to solve. There are two different scenarios that you may find yourself in. Let’s address each one separately.

Scenario 1: The job order is in your area of specialty. This allows you to know which specific expectations are impractical. Some of the parameters where the client may be unrealistic include:

  • Compensation
  • Skills/experience
  • Commitment to stay at the job for a minimum number of years 
  • Environment/cultural issues such as work hours, remote v.s. in office,etc

Your job in this scenario is to leverage your industry knowledge as the “reality check” with the client rather than simply telling them they are unrealistic. For example, the client’s compensation range goes to $150k max and they don’t have the flexibility to increase it. You also know for a fact that the candidates who fit their specs are looking in the $170-200k range. 

The best approach on your end is to address the compensation issue in the job intake stage rather than after you’ve started sourcing and recruiting. You could say, “I get that you don’t want to pay above 150k, and I respect that. We’re here to help you succeed in filling this position with the right candidate. We fill this type of position regularly. The candidates you want to hire receive $170-200k to work for other companies. I’d like your thoughts on why a quality candidate would accept $20-50k less with you than with your competitors.

Your job at this point is to listen to understand. If they’re unwilling to reconsider their compensation level, a good response would be, “I don’t want to take on a search with you unless I’m confident we will fill your position. To do otherwise would be a disservice to both of us. I’ve learned to focus on the reality of the job market rather than my wishes for the job market. From my experience, if a company cannot increase its compensation range to meet the market, the next step is to downgrade the level of skills and experience they require. What are your thoughts on this approach?

Scenario 2: The job order is NOT in your area of specialty. When this scenario occurs, you lack the current market data to know what’s realistic and what’s not. You may sense that one or more of their search parameters are far-fetched, but you lack the hard data to back up your concern.

The best approach on your end is to ask for the opportunity to review the job description before your intake call. Before your call, do some preliminary via LinkedIn and other resources on the supply of their desired skills/experience. If the skills they want appear to be in short supply, acknowledge the possibility of unrealistic expectations while you’re on the job intake call

Inform them that in a constantly changing job market, it’s common for some aspects of a company’s search parameters to fall outside of what’s available. You want to know what they intend to do if the data shows that this is the case. This way, you understand their likely approach if you discover that the search is not realistic.

For example, the client requires 10+ years of experience selling Civil Engineering services, and your research shows this skill is very scarce. You could say, “based on my knowledge, this skill set is in short supply.  Would you also consider people who have sold other engineering services or even professional services in general?” Another question is, “if, after considerable effort, we were unable to find the person you are looking for, what would be your next step?” If the client is not flexible, you decide not to take the search, or you may perform your initial sourcing and then inform them of what the data is indicating.

Sometimes you didn’t expect the search to be so difficult, but after extensive sourcing efforts, you discover that the search parameters were unrealistic. Since you didn’t mention to the client that the market realities may not align with their expectations, what do you do? The best approach is to gather your data regarding the number of viable candidates you were able to identify and the responses you received from your outreach. 

Then you can calmly relay this information to your client by letting the data do the talking. At this point, you can say, “based on what is happening now with the market for these candidates, would you like to discuss options on how to proceed from here?” If they say yes, you can focus on the specific parameters that are getting in the way of filling the position. 

The reality of the reality

Reality (the way things really are) is frequently at odds with the way we wish things were. I wish that everything in life went my way all of the time. How about you? We create a big problem for ourselves (and others) when we try to bend reality to bend to meet our wishes. The most successful recruiting firms choose to bend their expectations and approach to fit reality. The others try to bend reality to fit their expectations. If you work with a client who demands that you bend reality, you set yourself up to fail. 

Even if you get lucky and fill the position, you teach them that you’re okay letting them live in their dream world while you magically pull rabbits out of hats (I don't know how to scale a recruiting firm with magic). Accepting these types of searches is a recipe for losing time, money, resources, and sanity! If you decide that you still want to take on these types of searches, I suggest that you google “schools of magic” and enroll in a course ASAP. Let me know how that goes.

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