20 July 2010

The power of saying 'No'

One of the many memorable (and valuable) conversations I had in my recruitment life, occurred when my recruitment career was a bare 2 months old.

I was a very ‘green' 22 year old, living away from home for the first time, trying to make a go of working life in London. I was employed as a permanent accounting consultant in the Victoria office of Accountancy Personnel (now Hays).

As I retired with my colleagues, at the end of a working week, to the local watering hole (there were plenty to chose from - 1642 pubs within a 3 mile radius of Victoria station), I was a bit of a confused and deflated mess.

My fledging ‘career' as a recruiter looked likely to come to a shuddering halt very soon. I was hardly making a placement and my manager's comments about my lack of booked candidate-client interviews (the only KPI that mattered, outside of fees) seemed to indicate that her patience for my underwhelming performance wasn't going to last much longer.

I chugged back pints of Carlsberg (my lager of choice in those days) and poured my heart out to a fellow Aussie from my team. As she listened to my tales of woe; ‘I'm not sure I'm cut out for this sort of work', ‘everything seems to be so much luck-based', my colleague looked on impassively, not buying into my pathetic, alcohol-fuelled pity-party.

When I finally stopped whining, she looked me in the eye and said 'Ross, you don't have to work on everyone. You seem to treat every candidate as a personal crusade. Your problem is that you want to get every candidate a job as if you are a social worker, not a recruitment consultant.'

‘Huh?' I said, slightly stunned. ‘What do you mean?'

‘Ross, it's not your fault if your candidates don‘t have the skills that match the jobs we have. They're just not suitable. Don't worry about something you have no control over. All you can do is work on those candidates that do have the skills that we can place. Say ‘no' to everyone else.'

A big light bulb seemed to switch on in my head at that moment.

I did have a choice! I could say ‘no' to any candidate without feeling guilty. If I couldn't place them quickly and easily, then I was wasting time trying to ‘help' them when they couldn't ‘help' themselves or me by being equipped with the skills that were required by my clients.

After waking up with my usual Saturday morning hangover, the words of wisdom that had been imparted to me the night before, amongst the steady stream of Danish beer, remained.

On Monday I came into the office with a new attitude. I focused my attention on those candidates that I could help and said ‘sorry ... no' to everyone else.

I started generating more client-candidate interviews and I slowly made more placements. In my third month (still in my probationary period), I made 3 placements in the final two weeks and my manager was finally smiling at me. I had made it (that is, to the end of my first 3 months without being fired).

That very valuable lesson, 21 years ago, has stayed with me ever since - only devote your time to people (whether candidates or clients) that are worth it. By ‘worth it' I don't pass any judgement on them as human beings, I mean ‘worth it' in the sense that I, along with all my competitors, have one common major input (time) and one common major output (fees).

I have to choose wisely where my major input will be spent because when the other person (either client or candidate) has ‘no skin in the game' then they are happy for me to spend any amount of time on their candidate or job search because it doesn't cost them anything while I invest that time.

The candidate never pays any money for my service and the client only signs off on an invoice once the job is filled (the output) rather than on my time invested (the input).

Of course, I still slipped up. I still made mistakes and poor decisions and yes, I have invested time on candidates and jobs that I shouldn't have. But overall I have prided myself on (mostly) choosing wisely which candidates and clients were worth my time and which ones I should say ‘no' to.

This contrasts with many recruiters whom I have coached and trained. Often I will ask ‘why are you working on that candidate (or client)?' The responses are predictable; ‘I have to' or ‘I need to' or ‘I was told to'.

NO YOU DON'T! You have a choice.

You are totally accountable for your time. You are totally accountable for your fees. It is 100% your choice where and how you spend your time.

If you are spending time with a candidate or job that is not worth it, then STOP.

Throwing good time after bad is no way to build a profitable desk or your self-esteem. If you have a manager that is ‘forcing you' to spend time with unprofitable (non-placeable) candidates or jobs, then make sure you gather some facts to support your case for why you are making the decision to dump these time-wasters.

You will not build a career in recruitment (or earn any decent money) by ‘being busy' or ‘working on jobs' or ‘interviewing candidates'. You make money by filling ‘fillable' jobs. You do this by interviewing and placing ‘placeable' candidates. All this takes time. Time you cannot get back. Time you are not financially compensated for by either clients or candidates. Remember - a financial return is made when a placement occurs.

So, please have the courage to say ‘no'. Say ‘no' respectfully. Say ‘no' often. ‘I won't be working on your job (any more or at all)'. ‘I won't be working on finding you a job.' It's not that hard to do. After you do it once, it gets easier every time after that.

Very soon, when you find a lot more of your time is freed up, and you are less stressed, you will wonder why you didn't say ‘no' to more candidates and clients a long time ago.

How much more time would you have available each day if you said ‘no' more often?

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