Do Your Recruiters View You as Penny Pinching Goblins?

Darren Ledger
9 min readMar 30, 2021


Preferred Supplier Lists are the bane of many a recruiter’s life. Those 3 little words can be so powerful, indeed be so counterproductive even.

Usually, it means reduced fees, less commitment from the client and a shit show of multiple recruiters from multiple agencies flapping about in the wind on a wing and a prayer.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the commercial and strategic reasons for organisations to operate a PSL. Usually, they are about consistency, streamlining, efficiency and ensuring operational uniformity throughout a business or organisation.

Originally, Preferred Supplier Lists were dreamed up by some drab brown suited Procurement Team in the corporate dungeon pinching pennies, like a scene from Harry Potter and Gringotts Bank.

But, very often they can undermine competition, be detrimental to success in the recruitment process. They can restrict an organisation or an individual hiring manager’s ability to act in the best interests of everyone, especially their organisation and their goals.

The truth is, there is rarely anything preferential about a PSL except towards the clientside and the poor recruiters who are compelled to work on this basis rarely enjoy it.

What few hiring organisations realise, however, is that there are many recruiters who similarly operate a ‘Preferred Client List’. These are their Grade A clients that they move heaven and earth for.

When you hear about exceptional service levels, significant added value solutions which are inclusive, consultative recruiting, and client partnering in recruitment circles, it is these Preferred Clients who are usually talking about them.

Their experience of recruitment is verging on sublime. They view and work with their recruiters in the same way as they would work with business consultants, accountants and so on.

As an extension of their business, their recruiters are integral to their strategy, vision and corporate success. It’s often fundamental to why their hiring accuracy and retention rates are so good.

More importantly, the recruiters who work with these types of clients love their job and get exponentially better results for everyone concerned.

So, how do you become a Preferred Client and get on that PCL?

How do you ensure that you and your organisation are getting more value, more services, more attention and essentially a more successful recruitment solution?

Follow these simple steps:

1. Be honest about the nature or stature of the requirement.

Success only (contingent) recruiters focus on the requirements that have a high and genuine chance of producing a result, a fee. Ensure that you explain to your recruiter that the vacancy has been fully signed off, the budget approved and agreed and that the timelines are genuine.

If you are perusing the market for different reasons, maybe in consideration of growth or contingency planning then tell your recruiter this upfront. They should still be keen to provide you with a service, but at least they can prioritise accordingly and have realistic expectations.

As a Manager, I ask my Consultants what they evaluate the % chance is of success on their vacancies. The number of times I’ve heard answers quoting 90% and then 8mths later the same vacancy has still been live.

As a hiring organisation if you are window shopping, tell your recruiter that is the case, there are good valid reasons for this activity and they will still help you map and understand the talent market and candidate availability. Even better still, pay your recruiter to do this research and to gather and present the intelligence and date to you professionally.

Stop abusing their goodwill, especially when you do it for free. You wouldn’t expect your accountancy firm to conduct due diligence on a potential business acquisition for free.

2. Reveal any potential internal or existing candidates.

Very often you may have a number of internal candidates, or your line manager may know someone they want to approach directly. This is always the preferred option of course. But if you really want to ensure that you are being objective and getting the absolute best candidate for the job, then get your recruiter to include these candidates in their process.

Everyone thus feels inclusive; the process has consistency and transparency. If the internal candidate is successful, at least everyone knows including the candidate that they have secured the job on merit.

Okay, you may have to pay for this inclusive service, but it usually is worth it.

In the event that the internal candidate doesn’t secure the role, you should have some really concrete personal and professional developments points to get them ready for the step-up when a new opportunity arises.

3. Exclusivity creates win/win situations and naturally leans towards a premium level of service.

By engaging a recruiter on an exclusive basis you are upping the ante, so to speak. The recruiter knows that they have a guaranteed fee but they also know that you are relying on them to get the result you and your organisation needs.

The pressure to deliver should create a positive urgency and a high degree of focus. Ensure that you agree to an assignment brief which outlines everything in detail (2 pages will suffice) and includes things such as timescales, interview schedule, the process (this should include any elements such as video interviewing, testing and so forth) to ensure that there are measurable activities and visibility throughout.

4. Do not be afraid of retainers.

Retainers can be a brilliant and unique tool if utilised correctly. If you have strategically critical positions vacant within your organisation and they are costing you money in terms of lost productivity, then retain a recruiter to fill those seats and to fill them quickly with the right people.

By paying a retainer you can basically jump the queue and dictate a recruiters work schedule. If you want them to dedicate 50% of their working day to your needs every day for the next 3 weeks to get you fast, focused and successful results then retain.

If you want some great advertising developing, content to use as inbound marketing and some powerful social media campaign running to create a magnet for those hard to find candidates then pay for it. It costs your recruiter money upfront to do this properly. Invest in them to do this.

Okay, many of us have had some form of negative experience, so agree everything upfront and in writing, it’s what the recruitment industry terms a Special Payment Agreement/Schedule.

Personally, I’m an advocate of the 2 stages retained approach on a 25% Assignment Fee and Final Completion Fee. The initial or up-front payment demonstrates your commitment to the agreed process, it pays for the recruiters time, their expenses and mitigates any risk in terms of their work allocation.

If you go down the 3 stage retainer route which is more traditional, don’t pay any 2nd stage until such a time as you have actually interviewed your short-list and acknowledged that they are of the standard requested.

If you pay it before you’ve fully reviewed the short-list, then interview and discover that none of them is suitable for consideration you may be in trouble. Effectively you have paid circa 2/3rds of the total fee and have nothing but a fistful of useless CV’s.

5. Work with your recruiter to develop a compelling brief, define the role and the opportunity.

Many organisations overlook how critical it is to ensure that prospective candidates are fully and accurately briefed especially at the application stage. They should be comprehensively informed about an opportunity, the challenges inherent with the vacancy and your organisation.

I recently received a job specification from a client that was ‘revision 3–21st February 2016’.

Imagine the changes to that organisation in terms of size, technology and market place over the past 5 years?

Your recruiter can research and re-write the job specification, let them talk to the hiring manager directly to articulate what you really need now but also 2 years into the future. Hire for tomorrow not just today.

Ask your recruiter if they have access to smart/AI-driven online assessment tools to test the vacancy and to help determine what traits, behaviours and characteristics are required to ensure someone will be successful in the role. Even better still, benchmark internally to define what Good/Awesome actually looks like.

Don’t just hire for skills and experience, hire for attitudes and aptitudes as well. The adage about hiring for skills and firing for attitude is true.

Finally, ask your recruiter if you can have some input into the advertising copy. Advertising is a huge PR and Employer Branding opportunity, assuming the vacancy isn’t confidential. Use this opportunity to reach another audience, shout about your success, let your competitors and their employees know how great you are.

Your recruiter should be an expert at developing and using social media channels, PPC and sponsored content so maximise the opportunity, even better still Co-brand the advertising, this gives the recruiter added credibility, attracts serious candidates more easily.

6. Regular reporting and communication.

Agree on a schedule for progress reports, this is critical. You do not want to be sitting there after 6 weeks waiting for a short-list only to find that your recruiter hasn’t got one.

Agree to a weekly progress report so you have transparency. Ask for a benchmark candidate early in the process so you can both agree that everyone is on the same page. If not, at least any confusion or misinterpretation can be rectified early. If the schedule is slipping you can address it then, as opposed to when it is too late.

Commit in advance to dates for short-list discussion and approval, 1st interviews, and 2nd interviews. You will be amazed at how efficient the whole process becomes when everyone knows precisely what timelines they are working towards, including the candidates.

Critically if things begin to slip on your side of the agreement communicate this quickly and openly to your recruiter. They can adjust their timings, they can work hard to maintain candidate engagement. But they can only do this if they are party to the frustrations or issues you are experiencing.

7. Trust your recruiters and listen to their advice.

Professional recruiters will advise you objectively, they should give you any additional information that they think pertinent, they should highlight any particular areas of concern that they think you should focus on in terms of particular candidates.

Good recruiters will counsel objectively on which candidates they think stand-out. Listen to this advice. I recently had a client who was determined to not 2nd interview a candidate, the candidate who I thought was the stand-out star. I finally persuaded them that for the sake of an hour, what did they have to lose. They did three 2nd interviews instead of 2 and offered and secured the very same candidate they were going to eliminate earlier in the process.

Your recruiter may not always be right, but at least listen to what they have to say, this is a significant part of the expertise you are paying for. Remember it is as much in the recruiter’s interest to ensure that you get the absolute best candidate, they don’t want to repeat the whole exercise for free.

8. Agree on fees in advance.

Personally regardless of whether an assignment is retained or contingent I prefer fees that are flat as opposed to % of salary. This is my personal preference.

Flat fees enable everyone to budget and cost in advance. If you are paying a recruiter 27% of the salary on a position that could pay anything from US$80,000 to US$120,000 the potential difference in the fee is over US$10,000. Discuss mutually agreeable fees upfront, ensure they are in writing and signed.

Ask your recruiter to be innovative with their pricing model so everyone benefits.

9. Assurance — Contingency Planning.

Even the best recruiters just like the best HR Directors and CEOs don’t get it right every time. Make sure that contingency plans are agreed upon and transparent.

What happens if the candidate doesn’t start, leaves within their probationary period or just does not fit in. My advice is to initially have it agreed that your recruiter will find a replacement within a specific timescale for free (often additional expenses are valid). In the unlikely event that they fail to achieve this, then a scale of rebate should be in place.

Get your recruiter to put their money where their mouth is, ask them for a 6 month/12-month free replacement policy.

10. Finally…

Remember great hires reflect on you as the hiring manager or HR Representative. A really good recruiter should effectively make you look great as well.

Preferably, use a recruitment firm that has adopted the @i-intro approach to candidate assessment and selection. They’ll have a whole range of exquisite tools that go above and beyond, a process that takes assessment to Level 3 and ensures that you are hiring right first time, every time.

Originally published at



Darren Ledger

Inspirational & Informative Freelance Writer at Hardcore Content Solutions. Olympian Gold Medallist for wearing multiple hats and my heart on my sleeve.