5 Things We Learned About the Recruitment Industry by Rejecting Transactional Work

Recruiters may present themselves as consultants, but in many cases their work is mostly transactional.

A recruiter presents a shortlist of candidates, and the employer either makes a purchase or they don’t.

But what happens when you reject this method and insist on a purely consultative approach?

The recruitment industry takes on a whole new look and previously-held assumptions start to evaporate.

Here are five key truths we learned by rejecting transactional recruitment…

1. Clients don’t actually care that much about the fee.

When you create a recruitment methodology that requires many consultative steps, you inevitable need to charge more. You’re going to be spending more time on each recruitment campaign and more resources are going to be brought to bear.

25% fees are typical in this arena. 30%+ is not unheard of.

Initially we assumed that this was going to be our biggest hurdle in convincing new and existing clients to switch to this new approach. In some cases, we were asking for almost double our previous fees, not to mention that fact that we required a third of the payment upfront, before work even began.

There was pushback from some clients, but to our surprise most of them barely even blinked. They understood the value of a consultative approach and the results were more important to them than an increase in fee.

Many times we won new business even when our fees were HIGHER than the competition.

You see, most employers are smart. They understand the problems that occur when a bad hire takes place. Often, they hire a recruitment firm on a transactional basis because they don’t know that other, smarter, more effective options are available.

When you demonstrate the power of a consultative approach to a client and the level of work involved, most barely raise an eyebrow at the increased fee.

2. The best clients are never in a hurry.

Most transactional recruiters are used to employers asking them to find a candidate ASAP. But that isn’t necessarily because the need to fill a vacancy is critically urgent. It’s actually because speed is one of the few benefits offered by transactional recruitment.

Most employers KNOW that a slower, steadier approach to recruitment is more effective. And if they don’t already know, it’s rarely difficult to convince them of the long-term cost savings of spending a little more time to get the right person.

When an employer is in a hurry, it’s generally not difficult to convince them of the benefits of slowing down and completing a carefully-managed campaign.

And if you can’t convince them of the perils of rushing recruitment, they usually end up being the clients that are most troublesome to work with.

Working with clients who appreciate circumspection, who aren’t keen to cut corners, and who aren’t constantly breathing down your neck, are generally the most enjoyable clients to work with.

3. Quality candidates don’t mind in-depth assessments.

Candidates are used to being asked for a CV and sometimes to engage in a telephone or face-to-face interview with the recruiter before they can be placed on a shortlist.

Consultative recruitment, however, has many more steps, and we’ve lost count of the number of times employers and recruiters have expressed scepticism that we can convince candidates to jump through hoops before they even get to meet the employer.

We were initially worried about this as well. But now we barely give it a second thought.

High-quality candidates don’t mind in the least recording videos, completing questionnaires and taking behavioural assessments. They don’t mind because it gives them the opportunity to demonstrate why they are a cut above the rest.

At the CV level, it’s very hard to differentiate candidates. Everyone sounds great on paper. This is why so much weight is carried by the candidate/employer interviews. But if you’re a candidate that excels in your field, you’re more than willing to participate.

All the more so when you consider that, with transactional recruitment, the candidate has to rely on the recruiter to properly represent them, and harbours anxieties that the recruiter might not understand why they are so expert in their field.

When they’re given the opportunity to take some personal control of the process, they don’t complain… they JUMP at the opportunity.

But you know who DOES complain about being asked to take part in assessments? Below-average candidates who have been padding their CV and don’t have nearly as much as skill and experience as they would like people to believe.

These in-depth assessments wind up being a great way to differentiate between candidates that are genuinely interested in the role and willing to put in some effort, and the candidates who only agree to have their name put forward speculatively because it takes no effort to email over a CV.

Consultative recruitment isn’t just great for the employers and recruiters, it’s a powerful benefit for the candidates. And the smart ones recognise it as such.

4. Recruitment industry results are underwhelming.

Placement success varies from recruiter to recruiter, but a figure of 1 in 4 (or even 1 in 5) is typical.

Recruiters accept this because it’s an expected outcome of a strategy that is transactional in nature. Employers will often “hire” several recruiters to maximise the pile of CVs they receive and only the recruiter that supplies the winning candidate gets paid.

These poor results are also a symptom of employers starting the recruitment process in a hurry, sometimes before they’ve even fully decided whether or not to make a hire.

“Would it help to get in a new Business Development Manager?” the CEO asks.

“Maybe,” replies the HR director. “I’ll get a few recruitment firms to send us some candidates and see if anything worthwhile turns up.”

And why wouldn’t they do this?

It costs the employer nothing to engage in a little recruitment speculation. And then when no one turns their head they tell everyone that they’ve decided to hold off on making a decision for the time being.

Meanwhile, a bunch of recruiters have spent time on a campaign that was never going to pay them a penny.

Transactional recruitment is like a fruit machine that pays out 20% of the time, but never lets you do much more than break even. But you keep playing because you’re convinced that you can improve your results enough to beat the system.

It’s one of those things that you don’t always see when you’ve in the middle of it. It’s just how things are done.

But when you move to consultative recruitment, charge higher fees, and require a third of the expected fee before you do a lick of work, you start to realise how tough transactional recruitment was.

When you go from a success rate of 20-25% to almost 100%, just by changing recruitment strategy, you start to wonder why everyone isn’t doing it this way.

5. You don’t need 360 recruiters

The typical transactional recruiter is expected to handle almost every element of a recruitment campaign, including finding the clients, attracting the candidates, building the shortlist and collecting the fee.

Some larger recruitment firms have administrators to help out, but most recruiters are expected to learn and master every role.

That means becoming successful at marketing, sales, candidate assessment, contracts, paperwork and fee collection. All of which are very specific disciplines that require substantially different abilities.

Little wonder that true 360 recruiters (individuals who excel in every area) are hard to find.

Even less wonder that most trainee recruiters drop out after a year or two.

But transactional recruiters HAVE to work this way. The competition is so fierce, and so much emphasis is placed on speed and efficiency, that a team approach is almost impossible. It would introduce too many bottlenecks.

You know what I’m going to say next…

Consultative recruiters don’t have this problem.

When you’ve been hired exclusively by an employer who recognises the value of taking the time to produce a carefully-measured recruitment campaign, you have the freedom to create a team approach.

360 recruiters can still work every element of a consultative campaign if they so wish, but it’s no longer a requirement of the job.

And here’s the real key…

Transactional recruiters have to adjust to the demands of the employer. But a consultative recruiter can create a system that is easily adapted to the requirements of the specific job.

Employers are hiring you on a consultative basis because you have a system that works and is proven. So there’s little or no pressure to make substantial changes to a methodology that you’ve developed and that you know to be successful.

The other hidden benefit is that trainee recruiters sometimes reveal themselves, over time, to be particularly skilled at one element of recruitment work.

Maybe they’re great at researching an industry. Or perhaps they excel in forging strong relationships with clients and candidates.

Rather than losing skilled workers because they can’t master every element of recruitment, you can build your system around the talent that you have.

Consultative recruitment not only means that 360 recruiters aren’t required. It means you can get even better results without them.


Transactional recruitment appeals to some because the speed of business is exciting, and there’s the thrill when that 1 in 5 lands. You can soldier on for weeks with no success, but you quickly forget the frustration and disappointment when you place a candidate and see your numbers on the leader board go up.

But it’s still a slot machine mentality. The thrill of the win obscures the inefficiencies in the process and the poor results often experienced by the employers and candidates.

Consultative recruitment, on the other hand, exposes the recruitment industry for what it is. A transactional enterprise in which candidates are commodities and employers are consumers looking for a quick fix.

Consultative recruitment replaces the money-chasing buzz with the satisfaction that comes from being free to take the time to perform an in-depth, high-quality recruitment campaign that delights employers and candidates alike.

Oh, and don’t forget the higher fees. We’re still in business after all.

Like what you're reading? i-intro® enables recruiters to achieve sustainable business development, by transitioning from a contingency to a retained recruitment model. To learn more, book a free consultation with me or one of my colleagues HERE.