8 secrets I got told by Australia’s best recruiter

Recently I was one of 4 judges asked to select “Australia’s Best Recruiter 2013”. The calibre was high, drawing responses from all over Australia and New Zealand. The judging panel interviewed a shortlist of 4, and Peter Murphy, from Davidson Recruitment in Brisbane, was selected as the worthy winner.

Peter has an exceptional record in our industry, but I feel he won this award more for his attitude to our business, than his undoubtedly superb billing efforts.

I interviewed Peter, and pulled no punches in the questions. He pulled none in his replies, and it’s a compelling peek into the thinking, habits, attitudes and tactics of an exceptional individual in our business.

Why do you still love recruitment after all these years? What drives the passion?

I love recruitment because a fundamental driver in life for me is to help others. Recruitment allows me to get paid for listening and speaking to people, which I love. I am the luckiest bloke in the world. Each day I go to work I achieve enormous personal satisfaction and fulfillment by truly helping others. I love the stories of every new person, candidate or client, it makes each day a new and exciting adventure, as you don’t know what stories you are going to hear. You cannot succeed in recruitment if you genuinely don’t have an affinity and empathy for people.

Tell me about your measurable success as a recruiter. In terms of fees and/or placements over the past few years.

I have always set myself the personal benchmark of delivering revenue in excess of $1million in a year, which I regularly achieved. A change in focus several years ago resulted in my billings dropping to $500,000 p.a. as I shared revenue with consultants I was mentoring and developing. In August 2012, I returned to a revenue-focused role and have invoiced $500,000 in the six months. My average fee is $30,000 and I aim to make one placement every two weeks, which equates to $780,000 per annum. If you genuinely want to be at the top of this profession you shouldn’t be aiming to bill less than $1 million

Putting dollars and numbers aside, how else do you measure your success as a recruiter?

Success has to be measured from both clients and candidates point of views. The reality in the market today, is that clients can find average executives. To be a success, I find them exceptional senior executives who will deliver outstanding results over the period of their employment.

With candidates, I judge success through the quality of career advice I provide. I am successful when a candidate achieves career enhancement by being placed in a role appropriate for that stage of their career. I regularly advise candidates that I don’t care whether I place them, but do care that if they move to a role that enhances their career. Turning candidates into clients is further evidence of success, as it is proof that my advice is valued, honest and of assistance.

What percentage of your assignments are exclusive (or retained)? How do you achieve that?

I estimate 98% of my work is retained or exclusive. I always asked for a retainer, and gain it 90% of the time and use exclusivity as my fallback position. I do not work on contingent assignments. If a client is not willing to commit to working in a true partnership, they don’t value my work and I won’t waste time on an “if and a maybe”.

What is the most satisfying piece of business you have ever won or delivered?

I hate losing any assignment, as I believe I deliver an exceptional level of service, so each and every win is satisfying. The one freshest in my mind, as a sports obsessed Aussie, is winning the assignment to recruit the new CEO for Swimming Australia. Some Board members believed a Queensland based recruiter couldn’t handle this assignment, yet I convinced them to appoint me to the assignment over large international competitors. This has been enormously satisfying, and it has been a rewarding assignment to know I have played a small part in continuing our proud sporting heritage in swimming.

We all get pressure on fees and margins these days. How do you overcome or respond to a client who pushes to reduce your fee?

There is always pressure on fees and margins from clients. My first response is to demonstrate the value being delivered. In the end, if a client is only interested in the fee, I will walk away as they don’t value my work, or I will enquire as to which part of my process they want cut. Very occasionally I will provide a reduced replacement guarantee. I believe the industry must change its own mindset to one that values the service and work we deliver. If we as the provider don’t value our work, why should a client value it? If fees are the sole focus it will be a race to the bottom and no one wins. Don’t undervalue what you do.

Who do you respect, admire or look to for leadership in our industry?  Do you have any mentors? What’s the biggest thing you learned from them?

Greg, attending one of your seminars in Sydney back in 1998 (?) convinced me that this was an industry I wanted to remain in, and impact. I have attended several since and like the consistency and simplicity of your message.

I also look for inspiration from mentors outside the industry who will not naturally accept my point of view and look at an issue from a different angle. My father, who is a practising lawyer at 77, has been a significant influence and mentor for me. He has shown me that you must strive for professional excellence, and be prepared to give back not only to your profession, but the wider community. It is from this that I have had significant involvement in charities and was in Nairobi when you interviewed me recently. Two other individuals, Wayne Patterson and Phil Marwedel, are both exceptional mentors, as they are excellent lateral thinkers who advise me to temper my expectations, to be more realistic, and to often adopt a bigger strategic picture rather than a limited self-interested point of view.

The biggest lesson I have learned from all is to be true to myself. That is why I love the poem “The Man in the Mirror” (which I carry in my wallet), as it challenges you to look at yourself and be happy with what you see looking back at you!!



What do you think the future of our industry looks like?  What are the threats and opportunities?

I have been hearing about the demise of the recruitment industry ever since I joined back in 1993. Sure, it has changed and will continue to do so, that is the only constant. The future – if you are a true recruitment consultant, and not a transactional recruiter – is strong as long as you add value. The sophisticated clients will use external agencies less, but the unsophisticated portion of the market will need assistance and value it, so they will pay. If you are adding value to your client through giving them access to candidates they will not find themselves you are not at risk. However sending a CV and demanding a significant fee for a simple email is unsustainable.  The personal touch, engagement and knowledge will always be valued and well remunerated.

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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19 Responses to 8 secrets I got told by Australia’s best recruiter

  1. Alan Allebone March 19, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    Many congratulations to Peter.
    A well deserved winner based on what you have told us Greg!
    A true dedicated, loyal and sincere recruiter interested not only just the client and the placement fee but obviously his candidates.

    An interesting story to read and a lot we can take in.
    Thank you Greg

  2. Tony Hall March 19, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    An excellent interview. Very inspirational and a great example for all recruiters. Thanks for sharing this Greg and Peter.

  3. Neil Bolton March 19, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    Thanks for contributing. If more recruiters act like you the recruitment industry will thrive.

  4. Janelle March 19, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    Thank you for the insight you provided Peter, I admire the realism in your responses; a true reflection of the admiration you have for recruitment. Congratulations.

  5. Navid March 19, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    Great interview and what a poem. Thanks for posting this interview.

  6. Tania Goulter March 19, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    Congratulations also, Peter. I immensely enjoyed reading this interview. It is honest, real and utterly inspiring.

  7. Chris Bragg March 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    Dear Peter and Greg,
    Thank you for the post Greg, I genuinely find them helpful. In relation to “What percentage of your assignments are exclusive (or retained)? How do you achieve that?” I have always found this very difficult to achieve. I would love to see Peter (and or Greg) describe the second question in more detail.. in fact I’m not sure it was actually answered, except that you (Peter) won’t deal with them if they don’t. How do you achieve it? I recruit mostly in the sales space, and less regularly the most senior sales roles. Asking for retained business in this space seems to result in an extremely negative response from prospective clients regardless of the technique I employ. I know the usual lines and banter, and have tried many of them. Peter I respect you have been recruiting for some 20 years and wonder if your success in this area comes from gathering a large pool of repeat business over a long time and from having an established network with testimonials, or how? In my limited experience recruitment inevitably starts contingently, and then over time after proving yourself you are more able to move clients up the ladder to exclusive and perhaps retained? Otherwise they are blindly trusting a consultant they have never dealt with before. Forgive me if I am wrong, I just want to understand how to succeed at this. I would love to hear one or both of your thoughts on this. I don’t know if either of you are familiar anymore with recruiting in this space and at this level (i.e. sales representatives through to national sales managers), but I am sure you can add value nontheless.
    Kind regards,
    Chris Bragg.

  8. Doug Flatimus March 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Sorry to be the bum note.

    A good general interview, but other contributions of yours, Greg, have tended to offer more insight. Not doubting Peter’s values, he sounds like a rock solid recruiter who understands the basics, but this was a pretty generic corporate Q&A.

    One true insight, something that is easy to say but hard to practice, is that my candidates are as important as my clients. Why? Candidate do not write cheques, after all.

    It is because of all my new clients since about 2007, 90% were my candidates 10 years ago.

    Awards ceremonies for recruitment are a bit like spotlights in game reserves. You only see where the light goes, while the rest of the jungle remains in the dark. Good on you, Greg, for promoting Recruitment Awards, but we should acknowledge that they are fundamentally a marketing exercise for those who organsie and pay for it. And also for the judges, with respect.

    While recognising Peter as an excellent recruiter, Awards like this are not a benchmarking exercise in recruitment excellence.

    I think the issue is with people like me, who are excellent recruiters, but who abhor the attention – this goes for every senior recruiter I know.

    If there was a genuine high quality executive recruitment industry institute, something that endorsed those who practiced to a strict professional code and who could be challenged by competitors and clients for unprofessional behaviour, I’d be there.

    The RCSA is certainly not it.

    Thanks again Greg, and I hope my comments are seen as constructive. keep up the great work.

  9. Mitch Sullivan March 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm #


    If you want to sell more retained-fee work, you need to start educating your clients as to the reasons why the multi-agency contingency approach produces poorer quality candidates. That will mean giving them an insight into the mindset of a contingency recruitment business, their limitations in how and what they can sell to the target candidates and how those target candidates perceive the hiring company via the random way they are pitched (often more than once) by these competing agencies.

    Explain to them that engaging with several agencies to work on contingency makes about as much sense as asking a bunch of 5 year-olds to find sweets hidden in your living room and expecting that room to still be tidy after they’ve finished.

  10. Brian Kevin Johnston March 20, 2013 at 5:22 am #

    Fantastic article and content… Thanks so much for sharing….

  11. Joe Devasia March 20, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    Thanks Greg & Peter,

    Fantastic insights and true passion for our business. I hope this article inspires more people to see recruitment in a different light.

  12. Samuel. Peep March 22, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Interesting comments. Doug with your bum note I wonder if you have ever done anything positive or just sat in the grandstand throwing rocks and pontificating. It is people like Greg and Peter who get involved and try to move the industry forward. They may not always get it right but at least they try whereas I don’t see your name up in lights anywhere, I am probably looking in the wrong spots. There wouldn’t be a hint of jealously would there, were you an unsuccessful applicant for the awards

  13. Mike Martin April 8, 2013 at 2:50 am #

    I disagree Victoria. Employees leave Supervisors, Managers, Directors, etc. but I would argue that very few leave Leaders. A Leader is what we all aspire to be.

  14. John Sanderson April 23, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    I won’t waste time on an “if and a maybe” – Peter didn’t you say that you aim to change the lives of people that is what gives you the most satisfaction? Let me give you an example, if a candidate comes to you and that “if and maybe” job happens to be the perfect position for that candidate, you wont look at it? Sounds like your ego is coming before the needs of your candidate my friend.

    And are you saying here that you recruited the CEO for Swimming Australia? What Mark Anderson the current CEO of Hockey Australia? You recruited him. Hmm. Why doesn’t someone call him at his office I am sure he will tell you how he got the job, basically you didn’t fill the role, and I bet if I dug a little deeper I would find out exactly why.

    “if a client is only interested in the fee, I will walk away as they don’t value my work, or I will enquire as to which part of my process they want cut” – so your service is dependent on the money you are paid Peter? I thought you would deliver the highest quality no matter what? Why should a multinational company pay the same as a local one? Don’t you want to HELP them? the best recruiter would always have the strictest of procedures and ethics in getting the right person if you have agreed an assignment. Which part do you want to drop, the most typical sales crap I have ever heard.

    I’ll leave you with one last thing
    “In August 2012, I returned to a revenue-focused role and have invoiced $500,000 in the six months. My average fee is $30,000 and I aim to make one placement every two weeks, which equates to $780,000 per annum”. umm are you sure about that Peter, how did you work that one out? Go use a calculator please, I think you may find your figures are not as good as you thought they were. I hear people use a ruler the same way sometimes, inches are not centimetres.. . and 30K every 2 weeks over 12 months does not equate to 780,000, seriously mate you aren’t that good at this are you? Maybe go and consult your dreamcatcher bracelet on your arm and leave the recruitment to the professionals.

    Recruitment is about results, long term results, the only way to measure an excellent recruiter is to measure the quality and fit of their candidate placements, and then to poll from all candidates they have come into contact with, and all the clients as well. Not a panel put together by a recruitment company.

    • Ineke Read May 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

      Hi John,

      I thought long and hard about responding to your comments, and then decided that I had to. I have had the pleasure of working with and for Peter Murphy for the past seven years, and I can attest to the fact that he is in fact Australia’s best recruiter. I would like to make you aware of a couple of things:

      Firstly, I am not sure how your calculator works, but $30k every two weeks is $780k. There are 52 weeks in a year; you’ll find your error is that you were calculating by month. You might want to double check your calculations before taking to the internet with rude comments.

      Secondly, I whole-heartedly agree that a way to measure excellent results is to measure the quality and fit of their placements, then to poll all candidates and clients that they come into contact with. I am pleased to report that at Davidson, we do both. Because of the market and level that Peter recruits in, his guarantees are usually six or twelve months. At DR, we are measured by the number of times our guarantees are invoked. In the seven years of working with Peter, that number is zero.

      We also have a survey that gets sent to EVERY candidate that we interview and EVERY client that we open a job with. It’s called NPS, and is an international standard. Fortune 500 companies use it. Google, it, it’s really interesting. It can be quite intimidating, because as a recruiter, knowing every candidate and every client is given an opportunity to rate you and leave comments, and trust me – people who don’t have a good experience will more often comment than those that do.

      Peter’s scores in this regard, are well above international best practice. In most cases, it’s DOUBLE international best practice. Not bad for a profession where the majority of people you deal with you are not going to place.

      So, to answer your comments about the way to measure an excellent recruiter, I would think that excellent financial results, coupled with a 100% success rate in placements, as well as internationally recognised best practice scores for service experience, would probably justify the panel’s choice here.

      Peter operates with the highest ethics, is an unbelievable mentor, and is one of the best people you could ever hope to meet. The reason that he is so good at his job is that he truly cares about people… try and walk down the street with Peter and you are stopped every five metres with people wanting to say hi, and he in turn in is genuinely interested in each and every person.

      On a final note, the “dreamcatcher” bracelet that you are referring to is actually an African bracelet that Peter got when working in the largest slum in Nairobi. Yep, in his spare time Peter actually volunteers and tries to make the world a better place for people less fortunate than him. I am proud to call him a colleague, boss and friend, and believe that the panel got this one absolutely right.

      • John Sanderson May 29, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

        Glad you agree with a couple of things there Ineke. However you haven’t addressed the important ones here, and true true I did calculate 60K in fees over 12 month period. So I’ll take that one. Basically all of Peter’s comments are mumbo jumbo, he helped out in an African slum, please, an old white guy goes into a slum in a 4wd surrounded by people and he’s a saint, please. Selfless act is it? or old geeza bignoting to anyone who comments on his bracelet. How many people knew about your godly actions Peter, everyone I bet.
        Anyway I like how you stepped around the real issues here, Peter decided to use one of his (What is the most satisfying piece of business you have ever won or delivered?) best business examples to talk about, his most important role. About the swimming Australia CEO, he hates losing an assigment did he mention that he lost “the most important” one of his life? no. You have proved you are more entrenched in your own market than anyone else, new business you seem to be able to tender for it, but you cannot deliver. And I would say the amount of credit or guarantee fees returned from recruits would be very low anyway given that it’s not ultimately the recruiters decision who gets placed anyway. I have never had to pay a credit, and I am sure many many average recruiters are the same. Peter has said that his deep interest in people is his main motivator, unfortunately for the candidate, when the company wont pay the right fee’s that same motivation goes out the window along with the job. as for your NPS survey that is sent to EVERY one of your candidates and clients, do some research you will find this is a fundamentally flawed product that does NOT yield true results. Again just another stupid measuring tool flawed not measuring the true reflection of yours or Peters work howevere the “likelyhood to recommend” – So you tell me Ineke. Who is Peter – he is an old recruiter with relationships that go back to the dinosaur age, people like the routine that goes with someone who serviced their car for the last 20 years as well, but believe me when you find out that that dodgy car yard up the road has just voted that same garage the “Best garage in the world award” you have to question their motivations. again when that award is based on that dodgy garage, and dodgy measurement tools you have to ask yourself some serious questions. Recruitment is about adding value, control, flexibility and above all integrity. People may come to Peter and shake his hand, but its because he is old and has been there for 100 years. One last point to make here about Peters view on the future of the market. I quote – “the unsophisticated portion of the market will need assistance and value it, so they will pay. If you are adding value to your client through giving them access to candidates they will not find themselves you are not at risk” HAHA so Peter your clients are not sophisticated so you are ok. Come on. And as for you Phillip Kay – spend less time searching me on google, more time on doing your work. Recruitment is not an online business its a people business, I don’t trawl the internet for my candidates or clients. GASP. That’s right.

    • Phillip Kay May 20, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

      Hi John,

      I find it strange that for someone who proports themselves to be a “professional”, you do not come up on a Google search in any name close to the one you have used. It seems that in addition to failing at using a calculator to do primary school maths, you also appear to be dyslexic. Any recruiter worth half their salt would at least have a profile. If you are too afraid to put your own name to comments, perhaps you shouldn’t be posting them.

  15. Brad Stewart November 13, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    This went from fascinating to ridiculous within minutes.



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