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May 09, 2005
Let the Good Times Roll
by Mike Ramer, CPC, CSP, Principal

I've been waiting four years to write this article's title. Since I like to integrate music in my training, I thought I'd try it in my writing. (For the past couple of years, I've been playing "We Are the Champions" for the industry survivors.) Songs can grab attention, create a sensory reaction and generate good feelings. There's a marketing idea: Find out our clients' favorite music genre or artist and forward an MP3 file.

The last time the job market was this strong was in the beginning of 2001, before 9-11 and before the stock market meltdown. Recessions are cleansing. Today's companies are mean, lean and hungry to hire. So are search and staffing firms. If you're reading this, you're either a talented manager, an excellent consultant or you've recently begun recruiting. Whichever, here's where we've arrived:

We're at the leading edge of a new jobs creation cycle that will last for years to come.

At the core, our business remains the same: To serve clients and identify talent.

Now we have new tools and new techniques that make us more effective and efficient.

Now is the time to harness what we've learned, take action and savor the rewards.

Consultants across diverse industries and geographies report "business is back." A common sentiment is this, "We've done a ‘180' from six months ago. We have a lot of new assignments and now candidates are hard to find. What to work on first?"

The same strategies apply in a candidate short market as in a candidate rich market:
  • Stay focused and disciplined.
  • Manage your time wisely.
  • Identify, evaluate and bond with top talent.
  • A-B-R-B (Always Be Relationship-Building).
  • Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.
  • The good news is that we can be ever more selective in the assignments we work. Higher supply of open positions puts us in a better position to negotiate higher fees and be more discerning with terms. Many ask how can we "adjust" our clients' thinking to this new world order (i.e., scarce talent), while upgrading contract terms. These are timely topics I review in my training this year.

    Over the past few years, I've had the good fortune to speak one-on-one with hundreds of consultants. I've come to find that one overriding factor separates big billers from average ones. It is this:

    $300K+ billers know which assignments to work and which ones to let go.

    Instinctively, this makes sense. If we spend our time only on assignments we can fill, then we'll focus where the payoff is. This is more complex than meets the eye. Seasoned consultants seem to know intuitively which assignments and candidates to zero in on and which ones not to.

    I've put together a guide to help in determining search assignment workability. You may have seen something like this before. The same thinking can be applied for contingency and retained searches alike. I hope you find it to be a simple yet powerful tool.

    Risk-Reward, Search Assignment Rating (1 to 10 scale)

    1. Client status: Current (10), Referred (8), New (5)
    2. Responsiveness: ____
    3. Flexibility: ____
    4. Urgency: ____
    5. Ease-to-fill: ____
    6. Quick-to-fill: ____
    7. Exclusivity: ____
    8. Relative Fee: ____
    9. ____________
    10. _____________

    Total score:

    • 70 to 80: Excellent assignment: Offer compelling value to capture business.
    • 60 to 69: Good assignment: Standard fee range.
    • 50 to 59: Fair assignment: High end fee range.
    • Below 50: Unacceptable, pass on assignment.

    By no means is this complete, e.g., how would you rate a ‘Past' client for (1)?

    A quick review of the categories above follows. It's clear that a new assignment from a current, known client (1) should receive higher priority. Likewise, if a client is very responsive (2) and flexible (3) in the search parameters, then an assignment should be higher priority. Urgency (4) means that a client has a high need to fill. Ease-to-fill (5) comes from your market knowledge, while quick-to-fill (6) correlates with supply and demand of candidates (is one available/qualified or do you have to recruit one?) Exclusivity (7) is a very important factor: What is your relative competition, i.e., internal candidates or other recruiting firms? If you're retained, give a ‘10'. If there are more than three firms working an assignment, that's a ‘1' in my book. Relative Fee (8) includes the pay-off component – the dollar fee (not percentage) compared to other current assignments. If you add your own variables for (9) and/or (10), don't forget to adjust the scale.

    As you see, the total score corresponds to the fee range you may accept. This could be absolute dollars ($25K) or fee percentage (25%). Of course, there are other negotiables, e.g. guarantee period, which must be considered. Determine your bottom line and use this as your standard fee range. For example, my firm's bottom line is working $100K exclusive assignments at 25%. If a retainer's involved, we may go lower depending on the client relationship.

    Always ask yourself this question first: Do you want the search assignment? If so, why?

    A related exercise is to P-O-A: Prioritize Open Searches. If you're not doing this on a weekly basis, I strongly suggest getting into the habit. Try this: If you had to stack rank all your open assignments given the criteria above, which three would you work first? Classify all into A, B and C assignments. If you don't have enough A's and you can't move the B's to A's, then go get more A's! Don't work the C's!

    In summary, we've come through challenging times. The light at the end of the tunnel is shining bright. If the good times aren't rolling for you yet, they soon will be. One surefire way is to be more discerning in the assignments you work. (Another is gaining exclusivity with top candidates. Another still is ongoing training!) If you'd like a page from my training materials entitled "Negotiating the Fee" which includes my "Risk-Reward, Search Assignment Rating" email me at and I'll send it to you.

      About the Author
    Mike Ramer, CPC, CSP, Principal of Ramer Search Consultants, Inc.
    Mike Ramer, CPC, CSP, is a trainer for the search industry. Mike designed his "ART of Search" training programs, which he presents at industry events, conferences, and recruiting firms nationwide. He also customizes "Personal Performance Training" for qualified consultants. For more information about Mike’s training and speaking schedule, visit his firm’s Web site at To sign up for his "ART of Search" quarterly e-letter, email him at For select inquiries, Mike can be reached at (973) 324-0240. © 2005 Ramer Search Consultants, Inc.

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