Great recruiters always ask these two questions. Always

If you have plans to be a great recruiter, please, remember this and never forget it.

Filling a job does not start with finding good candidates for a particular job order. It starts with the quality with which you take the job order in the first place. It does not matter if you take the brief face to face (and you should, if at all possible), or over the phone. Filling the order starts with how well you qualify that order.

You have to make sure, at the very get-go, that the order you are so excited about, is in fact, fillable! Sound crazy? I don’t think so. My assessment is that most contingent recruitment firms fill somewhere around 25% of the permanent jobs they take. And they only achieve a 25% success rate if they are both very good and very lucky! Everyone denies that of course, but usually that’s because we don’t measure it, or because we are in big-time denial about the reality of our fill ratios.

What this means is that we end up spinning our wheels on 75 % of the permanent orders we take on. It is madness, and I have written extensively on selling exclusivity in the past and more recently too.

Now it is true that you will be hard-pressed to fill 100% of your job orders in a contingent market. However, you will increase your hit rate exponentially if you learn to qualify your job orders. The key to this is to take charge of the order-taking phase and to act and believe as though you are the expert.

Another day, another blog, maybe, I will lay out how to quality a job order from beginning to end. But here let me share two golden question you must ask every single time you take a job order. It’s non-negotiable. Without asking these questions you are taking on the order ‘blind’. It is in fact inconceivable to me how any recruiter would expend one second of time on filling an order for a client, if they had not asked these two questions, and drilled down on the answers too.

These questions are designed to assist you ‘triage’ your job taking. Is this brief urgent?  How sincere is your client about actually making a hire? In other words, if you put a suitably qualified candidate in front of your client, would they offer them a job? Indeed, will they actually ever even interview them?

Basic you say? Hilarious, I say! Or maybe tragic is more accurate.

Every day I see even experienced recruiters taking on orders they will never fill. Unqualified orders.

If you want to put the title ‘Recruitment Consultant’, or anything vaguely similar on your business card, ask this;

Question #1: “Ms Client, how long have you been trying to fill this particular role and what steps have you taken so far to fill the position?”

Question #2: “Ms Client, if I found the perfect candidate this afternoon, could we get an offer by tomorrow morning?”

The answers to these questions will unlock a treasure trove of information for you. Yes they will provoke more questions and more answers, but once it’s been worked through you will know whether this job is real, whether this client is able to hire and committed to hire, and you will know the urgency of the need.

There are a myriad of variations in the answers you will get, but largely it plays out as follows:

In answer to Question #1, how long has the role been open and what has been done to fill it, you will hear that it’s been open 6 months, that it’s been offered 3 times, that it’s never been offered, that it’s with six other recruiters, that it has been advertised on 12 job boards, that no one has ever been interviewed for the role, that the search criteria have changed 4 times because the hiring manager can’t make up his mind on what he is looking for.  You will dig, you will ask more questions, but you will slowly uncover if the job is real and if it is, what has to change to make sure it will be filled.

Or, in answer to Question #1 you might just get the dream response, which is “the current incumbent resigned last night and I am desperate to get a replacement, and so I called you”. That is a beautiful sound. It is the sound of a client in pain, and a client in pain is a very good thing. Because we can ease that pain

When it comes to Question # 2 you are not really looking to have the job filled by tomorrow. You are assessing the clients’ seriousness. A typical response to this could be “Oh no we can’t give an answer by tomorrow because we are still assessing internal candidates”, or “Oh, we can’t move that fast because the CEO has not signed off on this hire as yet” or any number of other responses that tell you quite clearly: Do not work on this brief – because it is not real.

Remember, you are not a lackey to you clients’ whim. You are not in servitude, required to supply candidates on demand for your client to peruse eventually, if he feels like it, one day, maybe…

You are a professional recruiter and your time has value. If you are not working on a retainer (and your clients will not jerk you around if you are), you need to drill down on these 2 questions in depth, every time. Even then, that is only stage one of qualifying the order.

But please, at the very least, do that.


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About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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11 Responses to Great recruiters always ask these two questions. Always

  1. Navid Sabetian June 22, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    This post is simply gold. It’s amazing how often we don’t pay attention to the elusive obvious.

    I do however think that a variation of the second questions could be if we find the suitable candidate today how long will it take, before they will be offered the position. In this way it is a bit more open ended

  2. RecruiterMum June 22, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    Have you got any suggestions on how to politely tell a client to bugger off when you realise the vacancy isn’t really that real?

    • Greg Savage June 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

      Not sure if you are asking a serious question Recruiter Mum but if you are it appears you are on to the answer already.

      What you do is you politely tell the client to bugger off.

      Typically the way you do that is after you have worked hard to qualify the order and its clear you are not getting anywhere. Say the job has been open for 3 months because the salary is too low. Plus the client has briefed 9 recruiters. To me that is NOT a job order to work on. You will discuss the salary issue with the client, provide data to show he needs to pay more to get the right person, give him your professional advice on why he has failed to fill the role so far. Explain that working with you exclusively, at a higher salary level, will get your full commitment and the job filled.

      If that does not work then calmly explain that you would LOVE to work with him and his company. However you consider the brief and his way of filling the role to be neither in his interests or yours. Tell him you are on standby to take his call and leap into action when he reconsiders the salary and gives you 2 weeks exclusivity on the newly defined position. Lastly reiterate as you walk out the door that you REALLY want to work with him.

      That is basically … bugger off….politely. And leaving the door open for the future

  3. Lee Halliday June 22, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    To quote Navid, “…simply gold.”

    As recruiters, we often undervalue our own time by skipping this important step. Or we’re afraid of telling the client something he/she won’t want to hear.

    If they’re open to receiving your professional advice, though, and serious about filling the role – they’ll listen. (Even if it’s only later…after trying things their way.)

    Thanks for the reminder, Greg!

  4. Duncan Elliott June 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    Working in the R2R marketplace I sometimes find that hiring managers in the recruitment industry effectively switch off their brains when giving jobs out. On a weekly basis I get practically un-fillable jobs phoned in which are all along the same basic lines:

    1. Salary / commission is bottom quartile.
    2. The stipulated expectation of experience and ‘billing history’ is in no way commensurate with the pay on offer.
    3. The client wants a bargain basement fee and a 100% rebate for 12 weeks

    It’s basic economics of supply and demand and it amazes me how many people in the recruitment industry either fail to grasp it, or just ignore it. Are they perhaps also the ones who are quickest to slate the R2R sector too? Food for thought.

  5. Marjolein Gerritsen June 23, 2011 at 3:57 am #

    Hi Greg,

    My 7 criteria for job fillability:

    Business Potential (expected fee, future business potential)
    Sign Off (budget, position signed off, agency fee signed off)
    Your Competition – who else is working on this (agencies, internal recruitment)
    Recruitment Process – speed, number of stages, number of decisionmakers, commitment to working your way
    Attractiveness – how attractive is this job to a candidate (company name, location, job content, career opportunities, salary & benefits)
    Candidate Availability – how is it to find a candidate who fits all the requirements
    Urgency & Implications – what would happen if they client didn’t fll the vacancy?

    Marjolein Gerritsen

  6. John M July 26, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    To Nathan in response to “I do however think that a variation of the second questions could be if we find the suitable candidate today how long will it take, before they will be offered the position. In this way it is a bit more open ended”

    If you ask the question in this way, you are asking them to give you an “open ended” answer. i.e they really don’t need to commit to a time frame. Whereas asking it the other way, you’re asking for specifics, as example ” well tomorrow wouldn’t be possible, but I could have the line manager interview them tomorrow and if that’s successful after reference checks we could make an offer the next day”

  7. JoshuaRR August 10, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    I have one tweak to this that I’ve always insisted that recruiters on my team clarify: rather than ask about the “perfect” candidate (because honestly, who WOULDN’T hire the PERFECT Candidate? It’s similar to the “rockstar” adjective), the question is “If I found a candidate who had XYZ and 123, and you met them tonight, would you be ready to make an offer tomorrow morning?” This gets the whole team focused on the concrete, measurable attributes that are important to the hiring manager.

  8. Recruiting Animal September 20, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    That’s 3 questions not 2.

    1. How long
    2. What have you done
    3. Hire tomorrow

  9. TaranjitK January 5, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    Very correctly put Greg! When we try to make the Recruitment more process oriented, imbibing these questions in the sales/Account Management process can definitely help everyone yield more results 🙂

  10. Jan Reeves August 4, 2015 at 10:08 pm #

    Oh yes! This is Key #1! Do this right (not many do) and you’ll easily kick off 80% of the competition.

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