Is the Customer Always Right?


Is the Customer Always Right?

What’s the most important skill a recruitment consultant needs?

Telephone manner? Time management? Resilience?

These are all invaluable attributes, to be sure – I don’t think anyone could succeed in recruitment without a serious investment in all three.

However, I want to give my take on what I believe the most essential trait to succeed in recruitment is – and it’s one that is by far the hardest to cultivate.

When I first started out, I wanted to please everyone, all the time. I didn’t want to have to tell the client that a candidate who fits all of their criteria simply didn’t exist, or that their candidate wouldn’t go a penny below a certain salary. I didn’t want my clients to see me as yet another obstacle to be overcome – I wanted to be the hero, clicking my fingers and making whatever the client wanted to happen, happen.

If only it were always that easy.

Eventually, everyone runs into one (or more) of three basic issues:

1.      A client’s brief requires far too many (often quite disparate) skills from candidates.

2.      A client isn’t interested in candidates with transferable experience, only in candidates who’ve done the exact job before.

3.      A client isn’t willing to pay enough for what they want.

Whatever it is, the temptation is always there to simply swallow any objections we may have and fall in line. ‘Yes, of course, no problem’ we feebly respond. ‘It’ll be a long and difficult search, sure, but we’ll get there eventually’, we tell ourselves.

There are, however, some massive flaws with this ‘just say yes’ approach. The first is fairly obvious – by promising the client that they’ll be able to do something that isn’t possible, recruiters are setting themselves up to fail. They’ll spend weeks exhausting every resource they have available, before finally being forced to admit to themselves – and, more importantly – their client – that this mythical candidate is – well, just that – mythical. They simply can’t find someone with every single one of the dozen technical skills the client needs, with direct prior experience of the exact role, who is willing to work for less than what the average person in that role usually expects. And not being able to do something is bad enough – but not being able to do something you said you could do is worse.

But what’s even more foolish is that agreeing with the client all the time completely disregards the whole purpose of a ‘Recruitment Consultant’ in the first place.

What’s the definition of a Consultant? According to Google, it’s ‘Someone who provides expert advice professionally’.

You didn’t bring in a Recruitment Consultant just for their winning(ish) personalities and Linkedin Recruiter subscription. You brought them in because – supposedly – they possess knowledge about recruitment that you do not. You brought in a Recruitment Consultant because you want someone you can consult on how you should carry out your recruitment process. You want advice – and sometimes, taking advice means hearing what you don’t want to hear.

Any half-decent consultant will know this, and won’t be afraid to tell you if something just can’t be done. On the other hand, any recruiter who simply bites their tongue and nods along is prioritising avoiding conflict over doing what’s best for their client. Short-term, sure, maybe it seems like they’re making your life easier, but in the long run all they’re doing is telling you a problem can be solved when it can’t – meaning it’s still going to be a problem later.

So when I’m asked the question – as I often am by new associate consultants – of what the most important attribute for a recruiter is, I tell them, plain and simple: being brave enough to tell your client something can’t be done. Your client is demanding that you only bring them candidates who tick a very large number of specific, obscure boxes? Be honest with them. They’re not willing to consider someone from a slightly different field, even though their skills are perfectly transferrable? Push back. They want someone to do a £50,000 job for £35,000? Tell them they might have to pay more if they want someone who will actually do a good job.

It’s all very well and good saying that the customer is always right. But sometimes – they just aren’t. So if you’re really working with a recruitment consultant rather than just an expensive CV delivery service, they should be able to recognise when you’re making a mistake, explain what that mistake is, and help to steer you onto the right track. If that’s not what you want, then you may not want a recruitment consultant after all.

Saragossa are a talent provider specialising in the Financial Technology, Financial Operations and Data Science sectors. Our role is to match clients with high calibre candidates. Our work encompasses filling temporary contracts along with building permanent teams and resourcing projects. To find out more, please contact or call 020 7871 3666.

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