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How to Really Qualify a Job Brief

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Please don’t think I was brutal manager! I really wasn’t … I promise!

It’s just that I never wanted any of my recruiters wasting their time working on clients’ job orders that they would never even have a chance of filling.

In a contingent recruitment world that just seemed pointless.

Whenever we talked through their pipelines I’d let them know that they’d always have my full support on any brief … as long as it had been fully qualified.

I wouldn’t stop them working on other briefs. But I would let them know that if for whatever reason they hadn’t qualified a role, and still chose to work on it, that they’d be playing with fire and for that they were on their own.

So what exactly is a fully qualified job brief?

Before you ever start recruiting any role for a client, make sure you can answer each of the following questions:

1. Is there an agreed upon start date?

If your client is so desperate that they need the vacancy filled ‘yesterday’, how comfortable would you be taking this brief on?

Remember that your better candidates will typically be working and will probably need to work through a notice period.

It’s all about being professional and confident enough to push back until the client becomes willing to work within a more realistic timeframe. Otherwise if you’re working in the pressure cooker from the start, nothing can possibly go right.

2. Has the position been signed off along with the approval for using you?

There’s a big difference between senior management or HR signing off on a vacancy – “Yes we definitely need to backfill position X”; or them signing off on a recruitment agency fee – “Sorry? Exactly how much do they plan to charge me to find our new account manager?

I’ve seen it far too often when a recruiter has confirmed with a hiring manager that the position has been signed off internally but neglected to confirm the external agency spend.

They’ve worked so hard on the role, identified an amazing candidate and then when the invoice was forwarded to the finance department, the hiring manager is told that there was never budget to pay a recruitment fee. Let the fun and games begin!

3. Are there any other agencies working on this role?

If you start working on a role knowing that there are multiple recruiters working on exactly the same brief, running pretty much an identical ad, and probably speaking to all the same candidates, then this is already a recipe for disaster.

Never assume that you have a role on exclusively. And if a client tells you that they have already briefed more than 2 or 3 other agencies, I believe that should be a signal for you to walk away.

An element of competition is fine – we’re in the recruitment game after all. But there is really no point working on a role where from the get go you already know you only have a 20% chance of filling it. Nobody likes a resumé race.

4. How long has the vacancy been open?

Think about the answers you could get to this question.

Oh … we’ve been looking for someone for at least 6 months and we just haven’t been able to identify the perfect candidate yet. We’re hoping you’ll be able to help us find that needle in the haystack” “Actually we’re pretty sure Nicole’s not going to be happy with her upcoming performance review and I’m tipping she’ll be resigning pretty soon after it. So we figure you could start showing us what’s out there” “Phillip just resigned this morning and I called you straight away since it’s critical we have his replacement on board before he leaves”.

Believe it or not there are some recruiters who would happily jump on to all three of these briefs … only to become increasingly frustrated when they realise they probably should never have even started working on two of these ‘vacancies’ in the first place.

5. Have your Terms of Business been signed?

No matter how amazing the role sounds; no matter how excited you are that your client has given you the brief exclusively; and regardless of the fact you may well have the perfect candidate at your fingertips, never ever start working on a brief unless your Terms of Business have been signed by a decision maker.

I’ve seen far too many recruiters get all the way through the recruitment process only to be told (after the candidate has started of course), that their client can’t afford to pay the invoice. Gotta love a bit of of post placement fee negotiation. It’s never a ‘win-win’.

6. Is there a formal position description?

I can’t believe how many of my clients over the years briefed me on a new position and when I asked them for a job description said something along the lines of “Come on, Paul. You know what we’re looking for” or “I’ll shoot you an email with a few bullet points later”.

To be honest quite often I didn’t know exactly what they were looking for. And I should point out that “a few bullet points” does not a job description maketh!

What also became apparent was that more often than not, they didn’t know exactly what they were looking for either.

This is a dangerous way to start.

Every candidate expects to see a job description if they are even going to consider a career move. If a recruiter can’t provide one, in the candidate’s mind the job doesn’t even exist (and you’re probably just using them to top up your candidate database).

Oh … and the all too common “We’re hoping to create the job around the best candidate depending on their previous experience” doesn’t really cut it either.

7. Is the expected salary within market rate?

If your client tells you that they’ll determine the salary once they have an idea of the calibre, experience and expectations of the candidates you present, then stop what you’re doing!

You’ll end up either presenting candidates with insufficient experience and you’ll then be accused of providing a poor quality shortlist. Or you’ll present candidates commanding what your client will regard as ‘mega dollars’ and you’ll be told they can’t afford anyone on the shortlist.

Waste. Of. Time.

But of course if your client has a salary in mind that is below market rate, you have to speak up. Remember you’re the recruitment expert.

If you don’t say anything, then you won’t be able to find any suitable candidates interested in the role and the weeks will turn into months and you won’t be any closer to seeing that fee up on the board.

8. Is the client prepared to work to a timeframe and provide regular feedback?

It’s extremely frustrating when you submit a shortlist to your client and days pass before you even receive an email that might just say “thanks”. Or when your client interviews your candidates but you need to leave 5 voicemails before they call you back with any feedback.

You need to set some expectations up front.

For example ask your client if they are willing to commit to providing feedback within certain timeframes such as within 24 hours of receiving a candidate’s CV or of interviewing a candidate.

If you can’t provide your candidate with regular updates, they will immediately fear the worst and assume they’ve been unsuccessful and will focus their search elsewhere. You and your role will go straight to the bottom of their wish list and even if you eventually do come back to them, they won’t be nearly as interested.

9. The one question you can always ask …

If even after reading this post you’re still feeling lazy or perhaps slightly uncomfortable working through my suggested qualification process, then here’s a quick way to ‘cheat’ but still be able to assess just how serious your client is about your involvement in the recruitment process.

Try asking this:

If I had the perfect candidate for you, could get them to meet you this afternoon and if you liked them they’d actually be available to start tomorrow, would you have a desk and a computer ready for them, salary signed off, and of course would you be in a position to approve my invoice immediately?

Trust me it works!

Photo by Skley

Paul Slezak

Cofounder at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for 20 years. Follow me @paul_slezak.

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