Recruiter Tips: How To Ensure You Don’t Alienate Your Client

By Bernadette Eichner - Aug. 24, 2015
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It was great to read Paul’s recent blog post, “40 Questions You Should Think About Before Working With A New Client”.

He’s completely right of course, about the questions recruiters should be asking clients, or potential clients. But the trick is knowing when to ask them, so that you don’t alienate your client.

I’ve been delivering telephone sales training to recruiters over the last few weeks and have facilitated dozens of role plays around qualifying clients, keeping them engaged and then closing the “deal”, which in our business means either a job order or a client meeting.

It was loads of fun watching recruiters take their turn on the other side of the desk as a client, working to a brief and throwing up all sorts of buying signals and objections in equal measure to test their colleagues’ skills.

To make sure each group was able to explore a range of experiences, I had each dyad of client and recruiter work to a different brief.

For example, Client A was briefed to give buying signals but at the same time express concern about the cost of a recruiter; Client B was briefed to give buying signals but still wanting to see résumes before committing to anything; Client C emitted buying signals but slammed recruiters and so on.

The recruiters had a very simple brief – get the job order or secure a client meeting.

It was heartening to see them all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, asking many of the ”right” questions. But most of them failed to get a job order or a client visit.


We all know the biggest “passion killers” in the sales process are irrelevant interrogation, selling too early and talking about ourselves.

All of these behaviours show we aren’t listening to the client. And this lot did all of ‘em! They were asking questions at the wrong time in the conversation, alienating the client in the process and in one case, setting up a hostile confrontation.

1. Big egos have little ears

Take Helen for example. Helen’s “client” Jenny, Director of Rooms at a leading 5-star hotel, had been struggling for some weeks to recruit a suitable Assistant Front Office Manager. Helen’s brief was to reverse market a candidate to Jenny. She started out well, asking all the right questions about how far Jenny was into the recruitment process, how she was finding the quality of the candidates and so on. She learned early on that Jenny had multiple agencies working on the brief.

And this was when it all started to go to hell in a hand basket.

Jenny: Well the thing is that no-one seems to be able to find what we are looking for. We’ve now had a few agencies work on this and none of them have been able to deliver any decent candidates.

Helen: What agencies? What are their names?

Jenny: I’m sorry?

Helen: What are the names of the agencies that have been working on the assignment?

Jenny: I’m not sure that’s relevant. Why would you need to know the names?

Helen: Because it’s just a waste of time for me to go to all the trouble of seeing you and talking to you about candidates if I’m just going to be competing with other agencies. We only get paid if we make a placement so there’s nothing in it for me if my candidates have already been represented by another agency.

Jenny: (knowing this is a role play and not the real world in which she would have ended the conversation there and then) Well, I’d rather not breach our confidentiality by disclosing who we are doing business with but I’d be interested in any candidates you might have.

Cue Helen and her candidate profile. Pretty good candidate and well presented by Helen until …

Jenny: She sounds great! Can you send the profile over or better still, is there any chance I can see her this afternoon?

Helen: No, that’s not how we do business. I can’t come out to see you or send you any résumes until you’ve signed our terms of business and we’ve done a credit check.

Jenny: Oh. Well, can you tell me what your fees are?

Helen: No, because it depends on how much more business you might have. We offer a sliding scale of fees so it’s a bit hard to quote you a fee based on just one assignment.

Jenny: So you’ve called me to talk about a candidate that I can’t actually see and you can’t tell me how much it’s going to cost?

Helen: Well, you’ve got to understand how we do business …

And so it went on. And on. And on. Until Helen hung up on Jenny.

Needless to say I don’t need to explain why Helen didn’t get the client meeting!

2. The tick-box interrogator

Selling is simply solving a client’s problem.

The art is being able to hear the buying signals and ask relevant questions at opportune times to learn as much as you can about what the client needs. Only then can you present the solution that will win you the deal.

The key word here is ‘relevant’. But recruiters are so often guilty of focussing not on what the client is saying but on what questions they need to tick off.

In the words of Steven R. Covey in his seminal work 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Take Ben and Jerry (not their real names). In his role play, Ben was following up an ad placed by Jerry, the “client”, for a Financial Accountant in a corporate FMCG business.

Again, Ben started out well.

Ben: I notice this ad has been running for a month now, Jerry. How far into the recruitment process are you?

Jerry: Yeah, were having trouble finding someone with the skills and experience we need.

Ben: I understand. It’s a pretty tight market out there at the moment. But I can guarantee you I could find you the right person.

Jerry: I’m sorry Ben, I didn’t quite catch where you were from. Are you calling from an agency?

Ben: Yes, I’m calling from [name of company].

Jerry: Oh look, we’ve used agencies in the past and it hasn’t worked out for us.

Ben: OK, I understand. How large is your team?

Jerry: There’s five accountants in the team.

Ben: OK. And have you ever used a recruitment agency before?

Jerry: Yes, I just said we have but that it didn’t work out for us.

Ben: OK, I understand. And what’s the salary for this role?

Jerry: I’d rather not say. We don’t normally talk about people’s salaries unless we are giving you the brief.

Ben: OK, I understand. What would the person be doing in this role?

Jerry: Look Ben, I’m not sure you can help us. It’s true we’re struggling to find someone but none of the agencies got the culture thing here and it just cost us a heap of money for no result.

Ben. OK, I understand. There’s some pretty ordinary recruiters out there. What culture were you wanting the person to come from?

Jerry: I don’t mean culture as in country, I mean culture as in organisation.

Ben: OK, I understand. I think I’ve got the perfect candidate for you though. What skills are you looking for? When would it suit you for me to come and see you?

Again, I don’t need to go on here. Ben didn’t get the job order, even though it was there for the taking. In fact if Ben said “OK, I understand” one more time, everyone in the room (including me) was going to grab him by the shoulders, give him a good shake and scream “No, you don’t!

3. What do you think of me?

The third most common reason recruiters lose the sale is because they haven’t worked out the sales call isn’t about them! The objective of a sales call is to get a job order or to secure a client meeting.

How can you achieve either of those outcomes if you don’t give the client a good reason to meet with you. And “Hi, this is Susie from Daisy Chain Recruiters. I’m just calling to introduce myself” doesn’t cut it!

Newsflash! Clients don’t care where you come from only what you can do for them.

Straight from another recent role play scenario, here are Phil and Jane showing us what not to do:

Phil: Hi, my name is Phil and I’m calling from Ace Recruiters (not a real company). How are you today?

Jane: Fine thanks. I’m sorry, where are you calling from?

Phil: Ace Recruiters. Have you heard of us?

Jane: No, I haven’t but we don’t use recruiters, so …

Phil: I see. Well, let me tell you about us anyway. Ace Recruiters was started by Roger Rabbit about 15 years ago and is based here in the south-east. We specialise in sourcing local candidates for local businesses. Our service is superior to anyone else and we know that because clients have told us. I’m passionate about being seen as the best recruiter in the area and I’ll do anything to get your business. Our …

Jane: (cutting him off) I’m sorry Phil, but we don’t use recruitment agencies.

Phil: But we’re not just any recruitment agency. Our consultants are professionals who work in partnership with clients to get the best outcomes possible. For example, I …

Jane: (cutting him off again) Look Phil, I’m sure you’re good at what you do but we just don’t have any need for your services.

Phil: Well, is there anything I can tell you about us that might change your mind?

Jane: No, I’m sorry. Thanks for the call.

Phil: OK thanks. Have a great day. Would you mind if I put you on my call list and call again in a couple of months?

Jane: As I said Phil, we don’t use recruiters so you’d be wasting your time. Thanks. Bye.

Phil: OK, thanks.

These are just three examples of the various ways in which recruiters knew what questions to ask but not how and when to ask them, which far too often will alienate your client.

The result was pretty much the same for everyone else who had a go at the exercise.

Except for Milly.

Milly nailed it and not only got the go ahead to send over three candidate profiles but also booked a meeting with the client for the next day.


She listened carefully and asked questions about the business and the role that related directly to what the client had just said. This sent the message to the client that she was genuinely interested in his business, that she understood which encouraged him to open up more and more.

With each new revelation, Milly asked the next most relevant and logical question thereby professionally advancing the conversation to its ultimate conclusion – that she understood the client’s problem and he accepted she had the solution.

Someone once taught me that selling isn’t about talking, it’s about listening and the letters used in the word LISTEN also spell SILENT.

The minute I stopped talking and started listening, my sales revenue increased significantly.

We not only listen to learn, we can listen to earn.

Marketplace Manager, building our recruiter community. I've more years experience in the global recruitment industry than I care to mention. Known to sprout Shakespeare.


Bernadette Eichner

Marketplace Manager, building our recruiter community. I've more years experience in the global recruitment industry than I care to mention. Known to sprout Shakespeare.

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