Recruiter Beware! 5 Clues Your Client is Bad News

Recruiter Beware! 5 Clues Your Client is Bad News

Better to break up with that difficult client? Take this quiz and find out now.

Ever worked a bad search?

To be clear, I’m not talking about a challenging search. (I actually enjoy taking on a tough-to-fill position that demands super networking and superhuman powers of communication and persuasion.) No, I’m talking about searches that are simply doomed from the get-go for one reason: the client.

I have.

But honestly, it took me a while to realize that even a wonderful, likeable person can turn out to be a terrible, terrible client. Early in my career, when I would find myself working with an impossible client, I refused to give up. “Just hang in there,” I’d tell myself. Convinced that – through sheer force of will and harder work – I could power through the conflicting demands, incoherent directions and endless delays on even the simplest decisions, I hung in there, alright.

The result? I was wrong. Every time.

Trapped and tapped out, I’d waste my precious time and energy on a search that was going nowhere – even when all the signs were there. But then I learned a valuable lesson: it’s just not worth it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still flexible. I’m still open to reasonable deviations from the original scope of work. And I’ll always go to heroic lengths to complete a tough search for a great client.

But now, I pay attention to the signs. And I’m more honest – with myself and my client – when things start to go sideways. And I can honestly say that I have never regretted the few times I’ve pulled the plug.

How can you avoid the bad client/ bad search trap? Take this short quiz. If you answer yes to more than one of these questions, it may be time to call it quits.

1. Is the job description vague, no matter how many times you try to get better detail?
Don’t let the word count or number of pages fool you. Fluffy language and platitudes are cheap. You need a detailed description that includes the job’s accountabilities and expectations. What will the new hire need to do, successfully, in this job? How will that success be measured? What proven skills are truly necessary? Is there willingness to train candidates whose skills aren’t quite there but whose fundamental strengths, work style, motivation and attitudes make them a perfect fit? In addition to these bare facts, try to get a “success profile” of a winning candidate. Who has been successful in this type of role in the past? Does the hiring manager’s description of this person strike you as realistic – or ridiculous? Often, hiring and HR managers won’t initially provide a success profile. Fine. But invest in the conversation. If the hiring manager has no idea what – or whom – they’re looking for, it doesn’t bode well for the search or for you.

2. Do the job specs keep changing?
Why? There are times, of course, when job requirements change because, well, life changes. So do departmental needs. And a flexible recruiter can shift gears accordingly. But when the target just keeps moving for no good reason, you’re either dealing with a lack of organizational commitment – or a hiring manager whose personal indecisiveness makes them incapable of completing a good hire. Once you’re in discussions with top candidates, your credibility is on the line. When the job keeps changing, you’re the one who looks bad.

3. Is the search plagued by delays and bureaucratic black holes?
Delays happen. But what happens next? Do you get a clear, apologetic explanation and a specific commitment on when to resume? Or do things go dark, while you wait… and wait… and wait… for word on what’s really going on? Worse, is one delay followed by another delay, and another? In this business, your word is everything. Talent pools, referral sources and industry influencers need to know you’re believable, dependable and on top of your game. If they don’t, they won’t take your calls or take your seriously. When a client leaves you guessing and unable to keep your candidates in the loop, that client is messing with your credibility.

4. Do your top candidates keep getting shot down, for no apparent reason?
This could spell trouble. But before you bail on the project, consider this: it might not be them… it might be you. If everything else has been proceeding smoothly, maybe you just misunderstood the success profile. This is fixable. But don’t parade any more candidates in front of the client until you clear up the confusion. First, ask for specific reasons that your top candidates got rejected. What were they missing? Second, circle back to the fundamentals. Ask for a clear description of an ideal candidate. Then ask which of those ideal attributes are non-negotiable and which ones are nice-to-have but not necessary. If the hiring manager can’t give you this information, you have a problem. Likewise, if give you rock solid answers but then proceed to reject new candidates who match their requirements, things are unlikely to get any better.

5. Does the whole relationship just feel toxic?
Do you ordinarily enjoy working with your clients? Do you have mutually respectful, productive partnerships that are generally smooth, enjoyable and successful for all parties? If you feel drained, disrespected and demoralized at the end of every interaction with a particular client, it’s probably just not worth it to stick around. When we allow toxic relationships to chip away at our energy, confidence and productivity, we’re robbing ourselves – and our other clients – of time, success and potential. At the end of the day, ask yourself how rewarding this relationship is. Sure, there may be brief times in life when we suck it up, simply because the financial rewards – or career boost – actually feels worth it. Hopefully, you won’t encounter that choice too often in your career. I can tell you, after more than a few happy decades in this very exciting industry, staying in a toxic relationship is not worth it. Not even in the short term. Believe me, there are other clients, better-for-you clients, who would be thrilled to work with someone like you. Free yourself up to find them.