Raging Fans: Dealing with Difficult Recruiting Clients

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Recruiting ClientsEveryone has had that dreadful call…you know the one.  The one with a client calling you irate that they haven’t received enough perfect candidates. Or maybe the call from an angry client who discovered (after the 3rd interview no less) that the candidate isn’t the one for them.  Oh how you’ve wasted their precious time.  Or my personal favorite; the angry client who insists that your lack of candidates has gotten them in real trouble with their boss.  If you’re in this business for the long-haul (and I suspect you are), chances are you’ll be facing these circumstances several times in the future.

Our best recruiting clients (our biggest fans) often expect and demand the most from us – sometimes so much so that the relationship gets out whack. You can easily start spending all of your time on one client – working for them almost as an internal recruiter instead of building your business.

Recruiters are essentially salespeople.  Yes we’re talented, yes we produce our own product and yes, our expertise is in hunting down brilliant candidates.  But still, we sell that talent to our clients and because of that, we have a kneejerk, panic button reaction to unhappy customers.  And there will be unhappy customers; it’s part of the business.  The real test is how you handle it.

  • Keeping Your Cool: It can be hard to keep your cool when someone is laying into you or effectively threatening your income.  Losing your cool can go in a couple of different directions;  some people get defensive and angry while other people play possum and simply freeze letting the client run roughshod over them.  Neither reaction is effective and both will result in zero dollars.  Stay calm and remain detached.  Taking business (even angry, insulting business) personally is a recipe for disaster.  Once you start engaging on a personal level, professionalism and respect flies out the window.  Keeping your head and listening carefully to what you’re hearing is a necessary survival skill. If you can’t stay in control of the situation, things are going to spiral fast.
  • Don’t Accept Unreasonable Blame: When you’re listening to a raging client, you’ll probably notice a strange phenomena; everything is your fault.  Even the crappy weather.  While keeping your cool in a heated situation is necessary, quietly allowing a client to lay failures and disappointments at your feet will end badly.  First of all, it’s not fair to you and it can crush your motivation, focus and drive.  Secondly, the client will start to view you as less than the valuable professional you are.  The blame will escalate and the whole situation will plummet quickly. Your client will no longer trust your candidates, your feedback or your advice.  That’s the moment you’ve lost the partnership and your reputation.  So stay calm, speak up and require respect.
  • Identify the ‘Real’ Issue: So, up to this point in the quarrelsome conversation, you’ve managed to stay calm and keep the conversation from escalating.  But there’s still work to be done.  Staying calm and listening closely will allow you to identify the bottom line issues and disregard the angry offshoots of the conversation.  Identifying the true issue at play puts you back in the driver’s seat and will allow you to begin steering things towards a solution.
  • Deliver…or Walk Away: Staying in control of the situation and remaining cool and composed will get you near home plate. And taking the time and effort to identify the root issue that set your client into a frenzy in the first place is the key to turning disaster to victory.  But if your client doesn’t want to be steered; if they don’t want to hear about solutions; if they just want to criticize and impugn you, then it’s time to take your ball and go home.  You’re a valuable professional with a critical skill and accepting abuse is simply not a part of the equation.  It’s best to end the conversation then and there and move on to a client that is worth your best.

Great recruiting client relationships are hard to come by, so it’s often worth almost any amount of effort to turn raging fans into raving fans. However, you also have to value your time and efforts and stand up for yourself. In the long run, being strong and confident is the only way to build effective client relationships built on trust and mutual respect.

By Marie Larsen