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Recruiter Tips- Managing Your Clients’ Expectations

Recruiter Tips: Managing Your Clients’ Expectations


I’m sure we all have a few “life lessons” that we have learned or picked up along the way that, for whatever reason, have made a particularly strong impression.

When I was in 1st grade I distinctly remember Mrs McIntyre telling us that it was rude to point at other people when you spoke to them. Sitting there in front of her on the “mat” we must have all looked a bit puzzled, because she then said, “When you point at someone you still have three fingers pointing right back at you anyway”.

I can picture you all testing Mrs McIntyre’s theory right now …

Then nearly 20 years later, during the first week of my induction into the recruitment industry, Carla the trainer said, “Just remember … when it comes to working with clients and candidates you can never assume”.

Although we weren’t sitting in front of her on a mat, some of us must have still looked a bit puzzled, because she then wrote in big letters on the flip chart paper “because it makes an Ass out of U and Me” and underlined the letters making up the word “assume” in different coloured markers.

Isn’t it strange the lessons we choose to recall …

Even in the last three weeks I’ve already found myself having a few “Carla and her coloured markers” flashbacks while speaking to a handful of clients and recruiters.

She was right. When it comes to dealing with our clients, as recruiters we can never ever assume.

It’s absolutely essential that we manage our clients’ expectations from the get go and at every stage throughout the recruitment process. Otherwise we could end up being burned … badly.

Here are a few tips that will hopefully help you break any “assumptions” that you or your client might (perhaps wrongly) make when you work together on your next brief.

1. Don’t start anything until your terms are signed

Whilst this might seem pretty obvious, there are still plenty of recruiters out there who will dive into a recruitment project head on trusting that their client will be happy to pay the bill.

And we all know how that might turn out, don’t we?

You can’t stay in a hotel without either pre-paying in full, or handing over your credit card when you check in. And you can’t get on a plane and tell the pilot you’ll pay at the other end depending on how bumpy the flight is.

Payment terms need to be negotiated and signed up front.

You don’t want to put in all the effort and then have your client say “we’re a bit tight on funds at the moment, is there any chance you could give us a bit of a discount”, or “you did a great job finding Toby for us, but we just don’t think he’s worth that much”.

Discuss your terms up front. Ensure your client has signed your terms before you even start thinking about the brief. That way you will prevent the awkward and often very frustrating conversations later on.

2. Who’s approving the ad copy?

I have always been a firm believer that even if the client isn’t paying for the ad, it’s just common courtesy to let them see how you’ve chosen to portray their opportunity.

I’m not just talking about discussing whether or not you will include their company name. I’m thinking more along the lines of letting the client see that you have tailored an advertisement around their specific role, and you haven’t just written a generic “cattle call” type of ad, that might attract a few candidates, and that was written more in the hope that you will be able to top up your data base.

I remember once sharing my ad copy with a client who wrote back to me, “Ad copy looks great, Paul. But how about adding something about …” I took her advice on board and it turned out that the candidate who I eventually placed in the role had decided to apply purely because of the line I had included after showing the ad to my client.

Another way to think about it is that if you don’t share the ad copy with your client and for whatever reason you don’t get any (decent) response, it’s a pretty embarrassing call to make. But if you’ve sought their approval, then there’s more emotional buy-in from your client’s side.

3. What’s the expectation when it comes to sourcing?

We all know that different clients will have different expectations when it comes to sourcing. Some clients just expect a nice list of candidate names, a snapshot of their work history or perhaps a link to their LinkedIn profile.

Other clients will expect you to have personally called every candidate on the list, told them about the opportunity and gauged their level of interest.

It’s entirely up to you to assess what level of candidate qualification your client is expecting of you. You don’t want to be accused of under delivering.

4. When I present my shortlist …

After screening through any applications, before I actually conducted any face-to-face interviews I would always ask my client how much detail they were expecting me to provide when I presented my shortlist.

The majority were happy for me to send through the CVs with a brief summary but we would then set up a phone call for a more in-depth conversation and debrief of the interviews.

But of course there were a few clients who expected the full 1-page detailed written report.

Had I submitted full reports to the clients happy with a phone call, they probably wouldn’t have said a word; but had I called the client wanting a detailed overview to talk about the candidates, they may well have felt I was failing to deliver.

5. Ah yes … what about conducting reference checks?

I’m often asked when is the best time to carry out reference checks.

Personally I would always carry out the 1st one before I included the candidate in any shortlist (because I could then include comments from a previous employer in my conversation or report). Of course I would then carry out the 2nd one before making a verbal offer.

Whilst there is no set reference check protocol, how and when your client expects the references to be conducted must be established up front.

You might even find that your client is happy for you to do one, and they may then want to conduct one on their own. Or they may want you to conduct both.

Neither you nor your client is a mind reader on this one. So just ensure you both know where you stand on the topic of reference checks.

6. Who’s actually making the offer?

One of the most common reasons for engaging a recruiter is so that the recruiter can do all the negotiating (the “dirty work”). But this isn’t necessarily always the case.

I remember on several occasions over the years receiving calls from candidates telling me that my client had offered them the role on the spot during their interview. I would subsequently find out that they’d also been offered a completely different salary to the one that had been discussed with me … so I felt like a complete idiot.

If your client prefers to do all the negotiating, so be it. But if they expect you to do it all, then they really need to stick to that decision and not interfere. Otherwise the candidate doesn’t know who to turn to, and as the “middle man” you’re often dragged from pillar to post.

7. Oh and one more thing … how often do you want me to check in?

We all know those clients that want daily updates. Some even want to hear from you twice a day. And then of course there are those clients who only want to hear from you when “you’ve really got something to update me about”.

But what does that really mean?

You don’t want to be accused of over promising and under delivering. But you don’t want to be accused of never reporting in. You also don’t want to be continually bugging or stalking your client either.

Establish from the outset whether your client prefers an email update, a quick voicemail, or if they want to set up a time for a 5-minute update call every day.

I’ve worked with clients at every end of the ‘check in / feedback spectrum’ but I would never have known their preferred method of communication unless I had raised it at the start.

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.

  • ohh well said…
    Thank you for recruiters tips, is also recruitment company and this blog post definitely help our team. Thanking you for great tips for managing clients expectations.