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How to Recruit When the Hiring Manager has Champagne Tastes on a Beer Budget

Posted by Bob Corlett on November 22, 2011

I often hear executive recruiters complain about clients with "unrealistic" expectations. I avoid those recruiters because I have no patience for that kind of complaining--it solves nothing.  Executive search firms are strategic advisors to, not victims of, the hiring manager. As search consultants our job is to advise managers of the cost of their choices, and their job is to decide how they would like to proceed. Whining and complaining has no place in that conversation.

When a hiring manager has really high standards there is often a business imperative for that need. Once we understand that need, their expectation suddenly seems reasonable. When a hiring manager insists on finding candidates with an uncommon set of attributes, their search will simply cost a bit more or take a bit longer. The manager's request is not unreasonable--it is simply a trade-off. We tell the manager "This kind of skills can be found quickly and inexpensively, but that set of skills takes longer, costs more and is less predictable. Which approach would you prefer?"  The hiring manager simply has a choice. (Of course, it takes some market knowledge to be able to give this advice.)

Perhaps the most common recruiting trade-off is salary--the manager with "champagne tastes on a beer budget." When they say "I need a superstar" but their salary budget is just average, or when they say "I want someone good" but their salary budget is below average ... then what?

When it comes to salary trade-offs, I've learned that "showing" works far better than "telling." When a manager's expectations are not aligned with job market realities, I don't spend much time telling them about salary surveys--it's far more effective to show them candidates. They need to see what they get for their money. "Here is a superstar who is 20% above your target salary. And here is someone right within the target salary, but they lack this critical skill you wanted. And here is someone below the target salary, but you will need to invest a lot of your time to bring them up to speed."  Even the most stubborn managers become reasonable when they can see candidates side-by-side. "Showing" gives them actionable information. Just talking about salary ranges never brings that level of clarity.

When a recruiter is complaining, it's often because they allowed themselves to get boxed in to fighting against job market realities. Recruiters don't define the job market--they navigate within it. If you consistently pay below the market rate, you'll probably have high turnover. If you demand superstar performance levels, you'll probably need to pay a premium rate. If you demand uncommon skills, your searches will require more time and effort. That's just reality.

A recruiter's job is to be the expert on job market realities. The hiring manager's job is to drive business outcomes. When a recruiter defers to the hiring manager's (often outdated) perception of the market, they cause the very problems that they later complain about.

For more on this topic, see:
Are you Hiring to Fit the Budget or Hiring to Fit the Job?


Topics: Executive Search, Negotiating Salary for New Hires