It’s not ‘cultural’. If you are a jerk, you are just a jerk

Recently I was asked by one of our Sydney recruiters to join her on a client visit to a high profile Ad Agency group. I jumped at the chance because I love speaking with clients, and we were booked to meet two very senior people, both at Executive Creative Director level.

We arrived on time (5 minutes early actually, as is my wont) and waited in the trendy, borderline pretentiously creative reception.

And we waited.

And waited.

At 10 past the meeting hour we asked the receptionist for an update. She looked a little confused. She made a call. She clearly got a disconcerting answer, and then disappeared out of sight.

We continued to wait.

Eventually she came back and it was clear she had bad news.

The Creative duo had been “called into a meeting”. She paused, and then added (in what I could see was a moment of embarrassed inspiration) “by the CEO”

We explained we had an appointment, confirmed the day before. She offered to call the HR Manager, and she did, but that person was unavailable. I could see she was the innocent party here, and very uncomfortable, so I asked if we could have a 2 minute chat with one of the ECDs, to set up another time, but she got even more flustered, and we left on the basis they would call to reset the meeting.

Neither of them did. Ever.

They never contacted us again. Not to apologise for wasting our time, not to reset the meeting. A meeting they had both firmly agreed to at the outset, verbally and via follow up email.

Then, three weeks ago I spent 5 days in Tokyo. On that trip I met with 7 clients, all at CEO, Marketing Director or VP HR level.

I was struck by the demeanor of these clients when it came to dealing with us, their supplier. Most were Japanese, but two of the people we visited were Westerners, living in Japan for some time.

On each occasion we were clearly expected and were greeted as honoured guests. The receptionist buzzed, and within few moments a PA or assistant greeted us and showed us to a meeting room. We were rarely left in the reception for more than a few minutes.

Always, refreshments were offered. Water, tea and many times small cakes and biscuits as well.

On not a single occasion did the person we were there to meet keep us waiting. CEO or not, the meeting with us started on time.

The shortest meeting we had lasted an hour. Length of meeting does not dictate quality of course, but it does mean that your presence there is taken seriously, and that time has been allocated.

To cap it off I was struck by one final act of good old-fashioned manners.

At the conclusion of every meeting, the senior person saw us not only to the door, not only to reception, but actually walked us to the lift and waited till it arrived. They then shook hands, thanked us for our time and pressed “ground floor” for us, and waited till the door closed.

Compare this to our super-cool ECDs in Sydney who stood us up without a second thought, or even the courtesy of coming to reception to tell us why.

It’s amazing the effect this all had on me. I now remember each person I met on that trip vividly (I do about 100 client visits a year, and many events, so that’s not always true!), I feel a high level of commitment to these clients in terms of Firebrand filling their needs, and I follow up with the local office, even now, to check on progress. And, truthfully, I felt a little better about myself, and what we do for a living.

And it got me thinking. Being ‘the client’ does not make you special. Being special is what makes you special.

I like to think I treat my suppliers with respect. But this lesson from Japan made sure I will give it extra thought from now on.

In a position of ‘power’ or not, being rude is being rude. And being a jerk is just, well, being a jerk.

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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40 Responses to It’s not ‘cultural’. If you are a jerk, you are just a jerk

  1. lynette Jensen July 13, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    That is outrageously “jerkish” behaviour and shows that even if these people are in apparent positions of power they are not leaders in any way. Jerks!!

  2. Sandra Benskin July 13, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    Greg, well put!
    Nothing beats old fashioned good manners. A position of power is relative to time and circumstance, however respect is timeless.

  3. Kate July 13, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    What a fantastic reminder of just how important good manners are and how easy it should be! And of course, how it makes you feel! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Eva Wilson July 13, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    I loved this post Greg! Sydney is fast becoming a very rude place to do business in! Many times Recruiters (even the good ones like myself who have lasted 15 years + in the business) are treated like 2nd hand pond scum and clients really could do with a few lessons in “Business Etiquette 101” from a more culture, professional and respectful society as you mentioned above. What a shame we have to put up with this constantly and it’s part of the process I really detest, especially if you have ticked all the ‘right’ boxes in trying to secure them as a client in a respectful, professional and genuine way. Great post!

  5. Jane Devereux July 13, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    Love this – nice to hear the story. Sometimes I do think that recruiters have a poor image- not feeling like we deserve to be treated as professionals and accepting of whatever poor manners the client dishes out. I am always trying to teach my staff to value what they do and others will hopefully see that responding accordingly.

  6. Tania Goulter July 13, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Excellent timing with this blog, Greg. I’m steaming on two levels this week : being ignored outright by a client whom verbally approved my search for legal people; and the ignorance of a candidate in terms of my time invested in a client agreeing to meet her high end demands! The blog puts things very much into perspective, absolutely. I offered my hand to a candidate following an interview recently, and she ignored it! Yet the sun is shining and the cloudless sky is blue…

  7. John Lambert July 13, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    Great article Greg, and these “jerk” clients also treat our candidates like this, cancelling at the last minute, treating them like a number and they wonder why no-one accepts when they make job offers?

    There is a huge irony here of course, all CEO’s around the world would acknowledge that talent retention and recruitment is in their top 3 business priorities, yet a great majority of these businesses have no strategy or system or even seem to care two hoots about a personalised approach to candidates and their agents, let alone basic manners – go figure??

    John Lambert
    Lambert Search

  8. Kate Dass July 13, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Thank you Greg, as always, for a post that is both entertaining and honest.

  9. Sharon Vandermeer July 13, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    I think the article is excellent….it does make you pause and reflect on how we treat our suppliers. Remember what you give out you get back ten fold!!! That is definitely the Mantra at On The Ball and its articles like this that make you step back again and reflect. On the flip side there are just too many clients that do not value our time and behave exactly as the Creative Agency or simply have you wait for far too long. All indicating that we are not an important part of their recruitment process.

  10. Srikanth Rengarajan July 13, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    HI Greg- Thanks for sharing some wonderful client experience, Japanese people are known for being humble and this is evident from your post. It true that Customer is important but he is not always right

  11. Anon July 13, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Poor client engagement blights our industry. Ask anyone what they think of recruitment consultants and the inner tourrette’s child is unleashed – swine flu’s more popular.

    I can’t help but think the rise of inhouse recruitment has cheapened our value statement all the more but market conditions are playing to our favour. As the markets ebb & flow ambivalent clients and desperate candidates trade places, it’s those same ‘jerks’ who’ll be complaining about lack of talent. Ironically, they’re right but it’s at the highest level.

    Lets hope when the shoe’s on the other foot we’ll be a bit more graceful.

  12. Jennifer Bailey July 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    Love it, so true…

  13. ravi janardhan July 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    Thanks Greg for sharing this wonderful experience of yours. This helps a lot in business & outside as well.

  14. Michael Hyams July 13, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    I love living and working here Greg, but I do think your experience with those ECD’s highlights what is very much part of the Sydney ‘condition’. Across the board, there is a definite lack of manners. Doors left to close in your face, calls taken during meetings and thank-you’s left unspoken. All relationships thrive on respect and ultimately whither with rudeness or contempt.

    A few years ago I was in the unfortunate position of needing to ‘fire’ our largest client. We were making money for sure, but having an awful time doing so. When the scales were brought out, the stress and ill-will caused by their rudeness and lack of manners by far outweighed any profit we made. Short term we felt the pinch, but eventually I came to realise this was one of the best business decisions I ever made. The writing was on the wall from the start with them, they also didn’t turn up to our initial meeting.

  15. Bobby Ball July 13, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Rock on Tommy! Great blog and great article.

  16. Laura Maddison July 13, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    Great blog post that resonates with me completely. I have a client at the moment who is expanding, and in the location that I recruit in, that’s a rarity. However, we agreed terms at the beginning of the relationship and HE suggested a sliding scale of percentage increases should he be late in paying my bills. 2 months after the bill the was due, he still hadn’t settled and after several reminder emails I invoiced the extra amount. He then retorted with “cancel this bill or you stop recruiting for my business”. Not even a hi, hello, goodbye or thank you for the two great staff you’ve provided, 3 more on interview, etc – you get the picture.

    Clients sometimes think that because they have given you a brief in these uncertain times they can walk all over you so I particularly like the respect element of this blog.

    Needless to say I’ve contacted him outlining all of good things I’ve done service-wise and if he still isn’t happy then to look elsewhere. I’ve not got enough hours in the day for time-wasters – client or not.

  17. Simon Kearney July 13, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    Nice post Greg – so true. Our experience of doing business in Singapore is the same – a much friendlier and more courteous environment.

  18. helen July 13, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    Great post Greg lets make sure we all take a little bit of this culture and use it…. excellent.

  19. Mike See July 13, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Great post Greg. Really enjoyed it. I do suspect that such ‘jerkish’ behavior tends to be more rampant in the creative industry compared to the corporate side, especially so for those thinking that they are still living in the ‘mad-men’ era, which clearly the 2 ECDs that you were supposed to meet are.

  20. Duncan Elliott July 13, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    So true, all business relationships should be valued. You really do never know when you’ll be sitting on the other side of the desk, so to speak.

  21. Robb Norris July 14, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    Greg, excellent observations as always. I guess that is one company that has been moved from the buyer list to the supplier list for recruiting purposes. Good on them too.

    We run into the same thing here in Toronto from time to time but in my 17 years never quite so blatant.

  22. Mike Woosnam July 14, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    Have had similiar type experiences Greg and you are certainly right, some of our leaders could / should take lessons from our Asian business brothers and sisters.

  23. Nanda Pillai July 14, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    Great article and I agree with your view on how we are perceived/respected when doing business in many parts of Asia ……quite refreshing and I always come back recharged and valued.

  24. Bart July 15, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Great post Greg, so true. I also think it rings true for us as recruiters to be as hospitable and courteous to the talent we bring into our offices so that they are left with the same impression you were left with after visiting Tokyo.

  25. Arunn Bhagavathula July 16, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    Ah! I am relieved to know that vendors ( of course all clients would call you “partners” on public platforms!) are treated equally badly everywhere:( I was thinking all along that I am only being subjected to this high-handed treatment!

  26. Veronica Phillips July 18, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    Thanks for saying it like it is Greg, engineering recruitment can be just as churlish and dismissive as the creative industry. I don’t miss a blog, finally an uncompromising voice and the feedback from readers is equally edifying, keep it up everyone, its a great conversation..educative..inspirational..communal and best of all honest!

  27. Tracy Wright July 19, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    Spot on Greg – as my old Nan would say ‘treat others how you would like to be treated’
    Recently a few of these ‘jerks’ came knocking on my door looking for work, of course I felt inspired to help them out!

  28. Steve C. August 6, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    It reminds me of the time I went for an interview for a job. I turned up early and was shown to the reception area where I could see the manager in his glass office making telephone calls. The receptionist put her head round the door to announce my arrival and went back to her desk. He continued making calls whilst pacing round his office. The appointment time came and went. Thirty minutes later, I stood up, told the secretary the manager had failed the interview and left.

  29. Amber S. August 23, 2011 at 12:44 am #

    Great blog post! I believe that we tell people how to treat us as well when we accept unprofessional behavior from clients and candidates unchecked.

  30. Gumbercules September 28, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    A similar thing happened to me a few weeks ago, went for an interview at a top design agency, they left me hanging for over an hour when they finally did find someone the poor “box ticker” wasn’t up to speed. To make matter worse two days later a formal job offer was issued (yes a letter) then rescinded by lunch time because HR never cleared it with the department I would have been working with, and obviously the CD/Product Manager was annoyed due to the lack of process and communication. So unprofessionalism and incompetence isn’t a good thing…

  31. Daniel W May 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Jerks. Scorpions in the crotch for them!!

  32. Rachel February 3, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    Hi Greg – Enjoyed reading this and it took me back to a new client visit I attended a few months ago with a large corporate that contacted me directly and invited me to present my service offering to them. I was kept waiting in reception for 10 minutes and then greeted with “I don’t know what you do…you have 20 minutes so start talking…..” I was then expected to “talk” and had to start my “presentation” as we made our way through the security area, and into the lift and then into one of the very cold and deserted boardrooms. Will take a while to forget that one!

  33. Colin Dunn February 7, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    Nothing…nothing gets me more angry than bad manners, whether that be in business or not. It’s all to do with respect and as far as your Australian client was concerned, they have absolutely no respect for you, your time or your skills.

    We can learn a lot from other cultures when it comes to manners, obviously.

    I’d be interested to know how you’d react should that same client come calling again in a year or two’s time!

  34. Balraj Chandra July 23, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

    In a position of ‘power’ or not, being rude is being rude. Two extreme experiences, it is of course more about professionalism .

  35. Tamara McMaster August 22, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    Once again Greg, your blog is priceless.

    Thank you my friend!

  36. Mark Dexter October 7, 2014 at 8:40 pm #

    I remember my first ‘visit’ as a rookie who had been told to ‘go and get some appointments’ by my boss. I travelled about 1.5 hours, including a walk down a busy road, only to be told that my (confirmed) host ‘is out of the office’. Class. Silver lining being that that particular company became a happy hunting ground for candidates over the years.

  37. Jeremy Wilson February 17, 2015 at 9:05 am #

    Client arrogance and rudeness = excellence talent hunting ground for affronted recruiter.

    Basic equation. Good article Greg,

  38. Daniel LEE August 25, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    It is the person rather than a specific race or country.

    And yes, a jerk is still a jerk – no matter the reason or excuses.

    • Greg Savage August 26, 2016 at 2:36 am #

      Daniel, nowhere in this article does it suggest certain characteristics pertain to a certain race. It does tell a factual story about my experience on a trip to Japan. I believe I make the point that several of my visits on that occasion were with clients who were NOT Japanese.


  1. There is nothing special about France… – The Savage Truth - October 16, 2012

    […] at a certain level of course, they are right. A client visit in Japan follows a different path in terms of manners and protocol to the free flowing style of Australia […]

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