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by Mike Ramer, CPC | March 10, 2009


Do you remember what saw us through the recession of the early '90s? A passion for the business, a focus on maintaining client relationships and taking action to develop new business. In the end it came down to outlasting the downturn and making it through to better times. In the New Economy boom of the late '90s, companies called us with open positions. Not any more. Now we must work harder using time-tested techniques to maintain earnings and survive in the "New" New Economy.

Being able to determine the quality of a search assignment before you "work it" is more critical today than any time in the past decade. Since there's more competition for fewer search assignments, you might think the opposite: "I've got an assignment. Quality isn't as important." Not true. As many of us have learned the hard way, time is our most precious resource. Determining quality up front equates to increased earnings in a good market.

What if you were to take on a search assignment that wasn't a quality one? You could spend weeks, even months, before finding out that: 1) the position was put on hold; 2) an internal candidate filled the job; 3) the company found the choice candidate through another source; 4) you're really looking for a "needle in a haystack"; 5) the company isn't financially stable and can't pay your fee; and/or 6) another reason spent your valuable time, which could have been used to work better assignments.

To identify the quality of a new search assignment,

1. Ask the Right Questions up Front

Great. You've developed new business. Now it's time to take a search assignment. Before you begin with learning the position details, think "WIIFIM" (pronounced "wiff-em"): Ask the "What's-In-It-For-Me" questions to determine the quality of the assignment. Here are the most important questions to ask your client first:

  • Why is the position open?
  • How long has the position been open?
  • Are there any internal candidates?
  • Have you advertised for the position?
  • Are you working with any other recruiting firms?
  • Have you met any candidates to date?
  • Have you asked any candidates back for a second interview?
  • Ideally, when would you like to hire and have the right person on board?

The thinking behind the WIIFIM questions is to learn: 1) the true desire to hire, 2) the timing to hire, 3) your potential competition, 4) the client's "selectivity," 5) where the client is in the hiring process and 6) the priority qualities the client is seeking in the right candidate. The answers to WIIFIM questions will greatly assist in resolving whether you have a workable assignment.

2. Monitor Progress Closely in the Beginning

OK. It looks as though you have a fillable search assignment. Continue to watch how the hiring manager responds to you in the initial stages of your working together. Try the following:

  • Call the hiring manager with additional questions about the position. How long did it take to get back to you?
  • Send the fee agreement in writing for signature. How long did it take for you to receive?
  • Send the resume of a "test balloon" candidate. As quickly as possible, refer a qualified candidate's resume and gauge the response time and quality of feedback for the referred resume.

Responses from your new client are telling signs of the need to hire and the speed to hire. The client's actions will give you a strong indication of the priority to fill the position as well as what you may expect going forward throughout the hiring process.

3. Consider How You Obtained the Assignment

In addition to the first two points, think about how you originally obtained the search assignment. Is it from a past client, a current client or a new client? This will correlate with whether you have a quality, workable assignment.

  • If from a past client, when was the last time you did business with the company? How has the company and industry been performing? Is your fee agreement still valid? Can they pay the fee?
  • If with a current client, has the company been responsive and flexible to work with? Did another hiring manager recommend and/or refer you? Do you think the information you have of the open position is public knowledge? If not, you could have the making of a quality assignment.
  • If from a new client, how easy was it to get? Did it take one call? Where you referred internally? Was your contact "difficult" in giving details of the open position or in negotiating the fee? These could be red flags.
  • Ideally in today's market, you'll want to favor working assignments with past and current clients who you know best and where you've had past success.

Are you working with the hiring manager or human resources? Search consultants usually prefer working directly with the hiring authority.

  • The hiring manager has the best understanding of the right mix of experience, technical skills and interpersonal abilities to fill the position. The hiring manager has the need, not HR, and can also provide valuable feedback to assist in pinpointing the right background of the right candidate.
  • Working through a third party usually waters down effectiveness and slows down the process. In today's market, speed in referring good candidates counts more than ever because of increased competition. There are more recruiters and more available candidates for fewer openings.


Determining the quality of a search assignment as quickly as possible is critical to ensuring you will be using your time wisely. Once the client is engaged and shows interest in working with you, ask WIIFM questions up front. Then monitor progress carefully to see how the hiring manager responds to working with you. Also consider how you obtained the search assignment in the first place. Is the open position public knowledge? In the end, if most of these parameters don't fall in line, you may want to cut your losses and go on to the next assignment. It's much more efficient to spend your time developing new quality search assignments than spinning your wheels on sub-par, lower-quality ones.

Mike Ramer, CPC, is a national trainer for the search industry. For more information, please visit The Ramer Group.i.


Filed Under: Job Search