Craig was on the verge of cracking a huge account.
His prospective client paid out nearly $1 million in recruiting fees
last year, and Craig wanted a piece of the action.
All he had to do was fill a single position-pass an audition to prove
his worth-and the flood gates would open.
"Don't worry," Craig told the client. "I can find a needle in a
"Good," said the client. "Because we've been trying to fill this job for
19 months, and five other recruiters before you have failed."
"I won't let you down," promised Craig. And so the search began.
In Need of a Great Performance
You have to admire Craig's attitude. His outlook was positive, his
confidence was strong and his goals were ambitious.
But his idealism cost him dearly. Blinded by the allure of big game,
Craig totally ignored three red flags that foretold the disaster that
Did you spot them? The first red flag was the "audition" condition, a
set-up by employers that nearly always ends in heartbreak.
Taking on a challenge is fine, as long as the playing field is level,
and the other side has a stake in your success. Unfortunately,
auditions put a huge burden on the recruiter to perform at the
very highest level, while all the employer has to do is say "no."
Which is exactly what happened to Craig. Every time he presented a
suitable candidate, the client merely shrugged and told him to find
No Safe Harbinger
But Craig should have predicted this, because of the second red flag:
the position had been open for 19 months. Craig reasoned that the longer
the job remained open, the more urgently the employer would need to fill
In reality, I've found the exact opposite to be true: a job that goes
unfilled for more than a year and a half will probably stay
unfilled forever. A client's sense of urgency isn't defined by
how long a position has been open, but by the consequence of the work
that's not getting done. If the job is really important, the company
will quickly find someone to do it, even if the person isn't perfect..
The Third Red Flag
Remember the Powell Doctrine from the first Gulf War? That you should
only fight a battle in which you have overwhelming odds?
Well, that's the way I prefer to compete. Given the choice, I'd rather
have the odds strongly in my favor, not the other way around.
So when a client says that five other recruiters have failed,
it sends a signal that something is wrong with this picture; and that
maybe the odds are inherently stacked against you.
Of course, Craig thought he was better than the other recruiters. And
maybe that's the case. But he should also have given his competitors
some credit. If every single one of them failed to satisfy the client,
there must have been a reason. My guess would be red flags number one
and number two.
Burned at the Stake
I feel badly for Craig, who finally gave up the search -and his dream of
riches-after months of hard work and disappointment. And I can relate to
his situation, because it's always a struggle to temper your heart with
Idealism can be a powerful motivator, especially when core principles or
humanitarian goals are involved. Sometimes it takes a heroic or inspired
effort to achieve results when others before have failed. For example,
the French tried for many years to build a canal through Central
America; but it was the highly motivated and idealistic Americans who
As recruiters, it's our job to find the reality in
every situation. And the reality is, if you're more strongly motivated
to fill a position than your client, you're in big trouble. There's
nothing wrong with idealism-you just don't want to end up like Joan of