What clients REALLY want.

This is what clients REALLY want from a recruiter.

The truth is that clients are deserting the recruitment industry in droves.  In many cases they are cynical about our value and skeptical about our ability to deliver anything they can’t get themselves. As we are all aware, they are building sophisticated systems, and hiring internal recruiting experts, specifically to cut out third-party recruiters. And the impact is real and being felt everywhere.

The RIB Report in Australia shows recruitment agency profits declining. The Plimsoll report in the UK tells us 20% of recruitment businesses are losing money, and half of those are on the “critical’ list.

So what is it that clients WILL pay us for? What do they actually want?

This video interview, with Greg Savage and Ted Elliot, CEO of recruitment ATS system, Jobscience gives us a lucid insight

Key points include

  • Clients are looking for something different to what they were previously prepared to pay for.
  • The overriding issue is access to unique talent. Corporates will use a niche recruiting firm, with proven methods to get hidden gems they can’t find themselves. The easily found candidate is not what they will pay a recruitment company for. Scrumming with five other agencies in a résumé race to represent the best of the job board-sourced candidates is not a business model that continues to work. Recruiters need to be expert at talent identification.
  • Recruiters need to build a talent community, including an integrated social media and digital marketing network so they can build a strong employer brand, engage with talent and can access people before they are ready to move.
  • While they don’t even realise it yet, in the context of massive skills shortages looming, clients will pay for the ‘the human element’ provided by recruitment companies with highly evolved skills in the craft of recruitment. There will be a premium for recruiters who have the ability to bring highly sought after talent to the hiring table. In other words, finding a person is one thing, but recruiting them, managing them and getting them to an interview with your client is a whole different skill set, as is the skill to negotiate the inevitable counter-offer.

What do you think?  What do clients want from the industry? What will they pay for? Please have your say in the ‘comments’ section.


About Greg Savage

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

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21 Responses to This is what clients REALLY want from a recruiter.

  1. Dennis November 26, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    It may be harsh, but I can tell you unequivocally as once being a job seeker and an employer and an employing manager, that recruitment agents are (usually, most unfortunately) quite incapable of recognising talent.

    They seem to be able to forward a Pepsi Rep as a candidate for Coke Rep position, which any algorithm via a job board can do to – hence the above-mentioned problem. In 30 years, I have NEV
    ER met a recruiter who actually knows how to interview.

    They are very good at efficiently finding a reason to recommend or not to recommend, which is usually just ex-post facto rationalisation of their initial snap judgment. Ironically, they consider that a skill and something acquired with experience.

    I realise this is a broad brush, and to be perfectly frank, I haven’t been interviewed in many years and never by the founder/principal – and all too often by what appears to be a young backpacker passing through. (And good on them for having a go.)

    So I guess this fall out is a predictable and deserved consequence of many years of incompetence. The exact same fate is befalling all AGENCY-businesses in many sectors, and it comes down to that root issue: What does the customer really want?

    The good ones will figure it out soon enough and the rest will become roadkill.

    • Alan Allebone November 27, 2013 at 1:56 pm #


      Please do not tar everyone with the same brush!

      Yes in my 38 years in recruiting I have met some but NOT EVERYONE IS THE SAME Dennis.

      That is unfair and uncalled for.

  2. Phil N November 26, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Dennis – “In 30 years, I have NEVER met a recruiter who actually knows how to interview.” Really? Why do these blogs always attract dramatic trolls blaming their unemployment on recruiters. We are in the tail end of a worldwide recession and this has a large part to do with it. If companies aren’t growing, they aren’t hiring, and there’s plenty of candidates around. Once companies start growing again (hopefully!) and the candidates dry up then Clients won’t be quite so fussy and awkward, they will want the best candidate as quickly as possible before they take one of the other 3 offers they have on the table. Things have changed in the recruitment industry that are permanent but times are tough in all industries.

    • Joanne November 27, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

      Phil, I totally agree with you. All valid points.

  3. Jeremy Sanderson November 26, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    I’ve been in recruitment for around 14 years, running teams and recruitment companies. I know plenty of incredibly talented and professional recruiters with great integrity and a geniune drive to improve themselves and their game. Dennis is very wide of the mark. Of course it goes without saying that there are plenty of no-hopers and losers in our industry too, but recruiting is very Darwinian. Those who adapt to changes in the recruiting environment will ultimately survive and prosper. Those who don’t adapt don’t last long. Greg is right on the money with his comment about the need to create and sustain unique candidate pools. Clients are less and less willing to pay for candidates they can easily find for themselves, but this is still, and always will be a place in the market for those who add value by true consulting and skilled negotiation, resulting in good hires for the client. The concept that people won’t pay for something they can get for free is rubbish. Just look at iTunes! The point is about how you add value and make the clients’ job easier. Take their pain away, become a valued resource for them and they’ll happily part with their cash for the pleasure of doing business with you!

  4. Bobby Benson November 26, 2013 at 11:45 pm #


    Great point well made and given you have double the amount of experience I do, I certainly couldn’t have put it better myself. Recruitment IS Darwinian, that’s the word!

    Greg – thanks for the great blog as usual.


  5. Dennis November 27, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    So everyone with an opinion is now a troll?
    1. I did say it was a ‘broad brush’ generalisation.
    2. I did NOT say everyone was incompetent, just the ones I have met.
    3. I am not unemployed or looking.

    Coincidentally I found this quote today in a fabulous piece on “The Atlantic” no less:

    A mountain of scholarly literature has shown that the intuitive way we now judge professional potential is rife with snap judgments and hidden biases, rooted in our upbringing or in deep neurological connections that doubtless served us well on the savanna but would seem to have less bearing on the world of work.

    Maybe not so wide off the mark, right?

    • Phil March 26, 2014 at 1:38 am #


      Engage with me and I will change your mind by one, I have written a book on the Psychology of the interview, and all the way the brain discriminates and how to combat this in the interview.

      I use the technique with my candidates to prepare. I advise my clients how to interview
      and make decisions,

      I am a recruiter.

  6. Neil November 27, 2013 at 10:32 am #


    Three questions, for the benefit of all the readers here:

    (1) In your 30 years, about how many recruiters have you met?
    (2) Of these recruiters, how many have you actually sat with during their interviews?
    (3) What is your expertise in interviewing

    I think the issue here is a broad brush statement which paints recruiters with (a negative) “one size fits all” when in fact it comes across as unfair and not balanced. Some facts may help round out the contentions made.

    I look forward to a response in this forum.

    Neil (Brisbane)

  7. Emma November 27, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Hi Dennis

    I am so sorry to hear that you have had a bad experience with recruiters. Unfortunately we do have a bad reputation out there and its a battle we face every day when building relationships with our clients and explaining to them (as well as showing them) the real value that we can and do add.

    Re interview skills, I think you are right in some respects. I am a medical recruiter but I do not have a medical background. This means that I absolutely cannot assess clinical competency. What I can do however is manage the process working in partnership with my clients to recruit the best person for the job. I have sat on many interview panels alongside my clients and offered them advice on motivation, culture fit etc

    There is so much more to a great candidate than a technical (or clinical) skill. Experience counts for nothing if you have been doing the same thing badly for years (I am sure there is a Greg Savage blog about this somewhere)

    I genuinely hope you have a better experience down the line with a good recruiter.
    I personally love my job and am very proud of what we do.


    • Andy January 8, 2014 at 8:17 am #


      I couldn’t agree with you more. I am an IT recruiter and have to fight the battle everyday to prove that I am credible. I too have worked with some great clients who have allowed me to listen in on interviews, which has had a huge impact on my ability to do my job. I still have limited knowledge around how to write code, the intricacies of software development, or what it takes to be a great network admin… however I do have a better understanding of what my client is looking for.

      I believe recruiting should be a true partnership between the client and the recruiter / recruiting firm. Too often in my brief (less than a year) experience, I witness the lack of any type of partnership. Clients give no feedback on candidates that didn’t get the job (except that they didn’t get the job), and recruiters over-coach and over-prepare candidates for what they can expect. I’d much rather be in a partnership with my client, whereby I am not just recruiting, but am also doing the initial screening/filtering of the people that I know the client doesn’t want. I shouldn’t feel the need to coach or prepare someone for an interview if I’ve done my job in that regard.

  8. Clarke November 27, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    I think leave Dennis alone. If that is his opinion that is OK. I think I know what he is saying and hes right. Recruiters dont interview to the same depth or ability of a hiring manager (IT Manager, Project Manager, Dev Manager). How could they. That isnt their job (in most cases). Their role is to do screening to a certain level. Its up to the client to take that deeper. If we could interview to the same depth then we would probably be IT Managers and not recruiters. Where I think he is wrong tho is to underestimate the gut feeling a recruiter gets and how important that is. Believe me that is a skill. Ive seen enough junior recruiters to know it comes only with time.

  9. Warwick November 27, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    I totally get where Dennis is coming from, in my experience with recruiters the bad outweigh the good, and there is a significant amount of mediocrity. I judge this in my time as a hiring manager and candidate.
    And therein lies the reasoning for me becoming a recruiter, to be a true value add for my clients and rise above what is currently on offer.
    I serve a niche market (construction sales) based on my experience and skills and offer my clients a specific talent pool targeted towards their skill requirement. I am gaining clients and getting repeat business and the formula is not far removed from Greg’s blog.

    • Freyja White November 28, 2013 at 6:24 am #

      Thank you Warwick – agree with your comments. I also work in a niche market and know I add value to both my clients and candidates. Some of my best candidates come from referrals from successful candidate placements who are generous with their confidence in their ability to trust I will listen to their wish list and bring them a realistic better job.

      For me the key to interviewing is to “know your product” then listen and probe until you get a clear picture to weigh and balance both client and candidate needs. Yes, I see the market getting tougher as the boomers retire and leave a smaller candidate market to work with – but for those of us who keep improving our recruiting skills – this will work in our favor on both sides of the table.

  10. Miguel Adams November 27, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Sure any job board algorithm can pull out a Pepsi Rep candidate for a Coke Rep opportunity but it isn’t going to give you any real insight into the person behind the name.

    What are their real reasons for leaving? What does their ideal next role look like? Are they looking for just another job or career progression? Are they driven by money or opportunity? Do they prefer working for large multinationals or SMEs? What did they most enjoy/dislike about previous roles? What soft skills do they bring to the table? If they had identical offers paying the same, what factors would influence them towards one or the other?

    This is just a snippet of the kind of questions a decent recruiter should be asking. The exact nature of the questions will be driven by the job brief: by this I mean a frank and honest conversation about the skills required to do the job yes, but also the personality and disposition which aligns best with the department or corporate roadmap – not some flimsy “spec” containing a few buzzwords ready to be fed into a job board algorithm.

  11. Cindy November 28, 2013 at 2:51 am #

    Greg – always enjoy yor blogs and generally agree. With a 60% reduction in recruiters resulting from the ‘great recession’ here in the U.S., it’s amazing how many people/agencies have jumped back in the game.

    I have been in the business for 30 years (started at 10!). I’m a niche sole proprieter. In tough economic times companies large and small resist paying fees. Currently, clients are paying retainers for specialty searches. The value they expect from me:

    1. trust
    2. results they can’t source on their own
    3. consultative relationship – not sales
    4. honesty
    5. mutual respect

  12. Brian Kevin Johnston November 28, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    Bingo… INFLUENCE And PERSUASION Is All That Is Left, And HIGHLY VALUABLE Skill Set..

  13. Navid November 28, 2013 at 10:14 am #


    I agree that companies have started to cut costs and as a part of this measure they are looking at recruitment costs.

    But there are a few very important issues at play here:

    1) In a similar way that we are seeking and competing for business, our clients are seeking and competing for business and in a similar way that a better recruiter / headhunter means better business profitability, a better team of employees mean better business performance.

    The pool of top candidates is not infinite, in fact it is extremely narrow. Internal recruiters, linked in, seek etc etc are not a candidate factory. At best they can find one. So it is basic math, that if the pool is very limited, unless if the client is willing to go with below average performers what makes them think that internal recruiters can suddenly become the holy grail of recruitment?

    2) Internal recruitment, linked in, seek are nothing new. In fact I believe to a degree they are an essential part of the process or else companies would have gone bankrupted if they paid a fee for every single employee.

    But get this, it never was about finding a good candidate, it is about getting them to trust you and sign up and that requires prior knowledge and relationships. In a typical situation where an internal recruiter has to hire based on the demands of their business but a specialist headhunter only works in a particular technical niche, it will almost always be the headhunter that can not just find the right candidate but get that candidate to sign up with their client and thats 90% of the job.

    If it was just about finding good candidates, for any given job in my field of practice I can name at least 10 top candidates, but the question is what can a company do to sign any of them up? Finding them on linked in and calling them up to tell them they should join your company because you pay well and have mufti Fridays and after work drinks unfortunately is not going to cut it. Chances are they won’t even send you their resume.

  14. Sue Montgomery December 13, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    I have had 2 clients who both have degrees and experience in their respective fields, along with a long list of quality attributes be told by a recruitment manager they are unemployable.

    This has had a significant impact on their confidence, and stopped them looking for work.
    We worked through this in their coaching sessions, so I become very aware of the damage that these words had done.

    I was shocked that someone in recruitment and also a management position would use this language and have that approach when they are dealing with people who are unemployed, which is a challenging place to be.

    A few months later I was in an employment agency for a meeting with a management team and I was waiting in the reception, but I could hear recrutiment officers on the phone to prospective canditates about different jobs. I could only hear one side of the conversation but the language and tone that I could hear was disinterest and disrespectful.

    I realise not all people working in this field are the same, I also realise they would have to communicate with people who dont want to work.

    With all the issues of unemployment I think recrutiment agencies have a huge opportunity to shift from just trying to place peole in jobs to empowering them to take ownership of their unemployment. Recruitment agencies could start by training their employees (starting at the top) on effective communication skills to engage with clients and canditates and build trusted supportive relationships. That would be a positive place to start.

    • Phil March 26, 2014 at 1:45 am #

      Interesting comments Sue, I find it incredible that in the world we live in today recruiters would survive with these virtues, lack of empathy and consulting skills –
      I breathe a big sigh! I think the best thing to do when one works with a recruiter is to check their references on linkedin as a starting place. But the reality Is like everything in life there’s good and bad , and you got to turn a few ugly stones before you find your ..item that includes recruiters, hiring managers, HR etc. I never hold anything against those who despise recruiters , some of these folks are my best clients and offer the best opportunity to demonstrate how to differentiate

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