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°Aaron James, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Irvine recently published A**holes: A Theory (Anchor Books, 2014). In the book James defines an a**hole as such; “Allows himself to enjoy special advantages in social relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people”.

In the world of agency recruitment there is a certain type of action that signifies you are dealing with an a**hole, the sort of action guaranteed to make any recruiter’s blood boil.

You know your client is an a**hole when they use subterfuge in order to avoid a fee or margin that is contractually due to you.

It’s a topic I’ve previously covered. Firstly when I wrote about how my manager, Bronwyn, taught me how to catch a sleeper and, secondly when I outlined the importance of clearly establishing your terms of business when I commented on the success of a recruitment agency in taking a client (a small law firm) to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for a placement fee that the client laughably attempted to deny was owed to the agency.

In the VCAT case the client had ‘back-doored’ the candidate. In other words they had attempted to steal the candidate from the agency.

I do not use the word ‘steal’ lightly. I use ‘steal’ because a theft is exactly what took place. After interviewing the candidate the client told the agency that the candidate wasn’t suitable then employed the candidate anyway. That is theft pure and simple. The agency was engaged to provide a service; they provided that service to a high standard, as demonstrated by the candidate’s offer of employment, then the agency was not paid for that service due to the client lying about the candidate’s suitability.

No matter what way you look at it, this is the behaviour of an a**hole, using James’s definition; there is an entrenched sense of entitlement about this behaviour.

It’s no different, in any way, to a person walking into a retail outlet and walking out without paying for their shopping.

I urge all recruiters to be looking out for a**hole behavior in the current market; a market where good candidates are hard to recruit and some clients will attempt to make  agency recruiters the “bad guys” in situations, where contractually and ethically, the recruiter has played things by the book to successfully refer a candidate who is hired.

The VCAT case and a temp “sleeper” example are two forms of a**holery by clients. Other common tactics that a**hole clients undertake are (in no particular order):

  • Recruiter makes candidate referral. Client declines to interview candidate. Client makes connect request to the candidate, or otherwise directly contacts them, on LinkedIn then subsequently interviews and hires the candidate.
  • Recruiter makes candidate referral(s). Client (having done no previous review of their own database) now claims the candidate is “on their database” therefore no referral fee is payable if the candidate is hired.
  • Recruiter makes candidate referral. Interview occurs. Client advises recruiter that the job is on hold or the candidate declines an offer or withdraws from the process. Within twelve months (the standard period recruiters state in their terms a referral is valid for) the candidate is hired by the client directly or by one of the client’s subsidiary businesses.
  • Recruiter refers the preferred candidate. Client says preferred candidate won’t be offered the role unless the recruiter discounts the fee as the other “almost as good, internal” candidate “won’t incur a fee”.

I’m sure you have your own examples.

The common denominator in all cases is that the client has agreed to the terms of business and under these terms the recruiter is due a fee yet the client seeks to avoid the fee simply by lying, directly or by omission, to the recruiter or wishing to change the terms of engagement after the service has been delivered.

When the lie is detected, or the recruiter declines to retrospectively alter the terms of business, typically the client threatens the recruiter with punitive measures (eg won’t give the recruiter any more work or will disparage the recruiter to others in their network) if the recruiter insists invoicing the, contractually valid, fee.

No matter what a client says in such a situation, it will be a variation of “You didn’t do any/enough work to earn/deserve a fee/such a large fee” 

I caution you not to get sucked into the client’s preferred, and very predictable, negotiation (blackmail?) territory; the territory of what the recruiter “deserves” or has “earned”.

Almost all agencies charge a fee that is an introduction fee; it’s not a fee for service. If you can make a, for example, $40,000 fee for a handful of direct° hours work then good on you; that means you are a very good recruiter – you have found, and referred, a highly valuable candidate in a short period of time. Would the client rather pay the $40,000 fee after six weeks’ work or one week’s work?

Only a fool (or a delusional a**hole) would argue against the proposition that everybody wins when the recruiter delivers the desired result in the shortest amount of time.

I am sure you can recall the many times that your clients have paid you for all the hours you diligently invested yet did not fill the job?

Of course you can’t, it’s never happened!

It’s a very rare client that seriously entertains a recruiter’s request to be paid for hours invested in not filling a job, for the simple reason that’s not what was in the agreed terms of business. The fee is payable for the introduction of a hired candidate, not for the number of hours worked to accomplished that outcome.

The client will emphatically stick to the terms of business when it works in their favour. Yet when the client perceives that those terms don’t work in their favour, for example when they want to avoid a fee or argue for a significantly discounted fee then they will do everything they can to resist being held accountable to the terms they agreed to.

Thankfully the number of a**holes is a very small proportion of the client population, yet they are out there. To minimise your pain and ensure you get paid for all the placements you are entitled to, I recommend you have the following:

i) Agreed terms of business signed by a current client employee with the authority to agree to such terms on behalf of their employer

ii) Thorough and complete documentation, recorded in your company database, of all steps undertaken in each recruitment process

iii) Strong candidate relationships (if your candidates decline to be party to your client’s subterfuge then you potentially prevent many of the situations from occurring in the first place)

iv) A systematic way of following up lost or withdrawn assignments to ensure you are not being screwed out of a fee by an a**hole client

A**holes: a fact of life; just don’t be a victim to them.


direct°: in terms of hours worked, it is incomplete picture until you factor in all the many, many hours, across (most likely) months or years that a recruiter invests in their sourcing skills and personal brand to deliver great candidates for a job in such a short period of time

related blogs

Your fee: Don’t be a victim of the unfair, irrational or deluded

‘Sorry, they are already on our database’: The lazy corporate rip-off

‘Sorry, they are already on our database’ (Part 2): The solution?

1 Comment

  1. James Persson on 14/05/2018 at 1:43 pm

    Not just recruiting as well, a minority of a**holes can be found everywhere in business.

    Screening people out before business is another method.

    Great article Ross.

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