BLOG: Recruitment: Sales versus Consultancy… who are we?

I get embroiled a lot in the whole `is recruitment a sales job?` argument, basically because it isn’t. In my opinion. Of course.

The question always rears its head because there is a perfectly valid argument that every client communication, every candidate communication and every job discussion is a sell; as such. It was the last example however that has twice grated me recently.


Ok, 16 years ago, I was taught to `sell` a job to a candidate. Why? To increase the chances of them saying `yes` to going forward for the position. Why? To have more candidates for the job. Why?… I don’t know… save face, maybe?? 


I quickly learned that `selling` candidates jobs was tantamount to what Estate Agents do to enhance their viewing figures. It’s worth a go – they may not buy, but it was good for them to see it.

But hold on a minute. The more relevant lesson in my days of training, was that the benefits of a recruitment service are to save the client time and money?

So beyond that, there is the difference between a salesperson, and a consultant. Both ways they are the middle man, the opportunity carrier. But the sales person has 1 objective. The sell. The Consultant has different objectives that centre around advising on, and satisfying the needs of the 2 parties for which he/she represents. Now where does sales fit in that process?


You see, to call recruitment a sales job, is frankly demeaning the substance of the responsibility that we gleefully charge a fee for. I charge a fee to consult, not to achieve sales figure targets. My client pays me to save time and money and deliver experise, not for me to crowbar a job-seeker towards a role they are barely 70% keen on, just to satisfy the content of the `pitch`. I have a client that over the course of the recent December/January period I had 7 ultimately completed roles with. I was in competition with 3+ other agencies, and placed 5 of them. To achieve those 5 placements, I had 8 interviews. To achieve those 8 interviews; after consultation on the client’s very specific needs, and the needs of the range of candidates I considered; I sent 10 CVs. THAT is called saving time and money for client, and finding a solution that satisfies my own personal financial goals.

I recognise that 90% of recruiters are considered `sales people`, but over 50% of recruiters change jobs every year. Because of sales? Because of lack of success? Well a combination of all sorts. I am convinced that many of them just want to be good consultants. Sadly they get pigeon-holed into focusing only on on sales and KPI targets. And that’s demoralising for someone with great talent recognition and client consultancy skills. 

And it’s demoralising for the reputation of the industry.



7 thoughts on “BLOG: Recruitment: Sales versus Consultancy… who are we?

  1. On balance, I’d say I was one of the more persuasive recruiters. I believed that, whilst it would be nice for a candidate to be immediately motivated about a job when told of it, I knew that often their inbuilt doubts mean they looked for reasons not to apply under their own steam. This is usually the same reason a good candidate doesn’t apply immediately to a job advert. I mostly sourced candidates directly, rather wait for ad-response.

    A good consultant (and I very much agree with your use of the word) will be constantly monitoring the candidate’s level of enthusiasm for the vacancy, and ensuring they have all the information they need to reach their own conclusions. Yes, it is very possible to persuade a reluctant jobseeker to attend interview, and even to accept an offer, but unless it is a good fit in every way, you’ll end up with a DNS (did not start) or worse they leave after a couple of weeks.

    Employers should also be wary of overselling the job and their company for the very same reasons.

    Where a good sales technique is essential, is in gaining a foothold with a new client, and getting the time you need to gather the full job spec. Employers are bombarded with calls from recruiters, and beyond your reputation, a persuasive nature is essential.

  2. Hi Steve,

    I understand your point but ultimately, I only agree in part. If you are headhunting the candidates from the passive market who are not actively looking for work, you have to be able to sell them the dream within a short space of time to gain their interest.

    Most of the placements I make are through the passive market, and they are as a result of people initially saying ‘no’ but then me giving them a real reason to consider it or at least listening to what I have to say.

    The fact is, if a candidate genuinely isn’t interested then they won’t go to an interview. Prior to this however, (before sending the CV so you don’t waste the clients time) it’s about being a realist by truly asking the candidate after considering all of the details, and now having the full picture, whether they are genuinely interested or not.

    All in all, you need to be able to sell in order to gain commitment from what is generally (not always) classed as the best candidates out there – passive candidates. You then need to be a realist and a Consultant so you don’t waste anybody’s time, including your own.


  3. Some great points Stephen. Thanks.
    Like the word `Persuasive`… haha, that’s more accurate of a good recruiter, than just sales.
    Really an advocate of your comment of monitoring the levels of enthusiasm for a vacancy. Many a clumsy outcome has resulted from making assumptions of maintained interest.

  4. Thanks Aaron, and you make a good case for the sell – in the `headhunter` space.

    I’ve avoided the head-hunting market on the whole, apart from a little productive proactive LinkedIn usage – so I’m no expert in that market.
    Even then, I never `sold` – merely wrote well-worded communications, followed by presenting detailed facts which will always include the reasons WHY they would want to consider working for the organisation you represent. If you paint the big picture – warts and all, you get a genuine response. That response might be no. For now. Respect for their current position was paramount in my communications. Amazing how many of those people came back a few days later – either with a `yes`, or with a `not THAT job, but maybe another….?`.

    That’s consultancy. In my opinion. Though in these circumstances I respect that it could be argued that a modicum of sales (or Persuasion as Stephen would say) is required to reel in interest.

    I suppose we could argue about defining `sales`… but that’s one for another day..!!

  5. Arguably, yes, recruitment is a sales job. Firstly, you have to sell it to the candidate to submit their CV to you and not a competitor and secondly you have to sell it to a client who will then, hopefully, hire them. So, using a firm like can help you a lot in terms of finding a candidate by a company that cares about the long term as well as the immediate solution.

  6. I approved your comment despite the blatant self-promo (haha) – because I get what you are saying, but question the perspective of the terminology.

    I hate to think I should have to `sell` a job to a candidate. If we have a great job, with great potential relevance to that candidate, based on the criteria provided both the candidate and client – discussing that role with that candidate needs no sales whatsoever. That’s Consultancy.
    `Selling a job` to a candidate, implies building up aspects of the job to specifically suit the candidate, and encouraging the candidate to go forward to a job where otherwise they wouldn’t.

    Recently I have received 3 or 4 comments from candidates saying they thought IO had `sold the job brilliantly`. But I didn’t sell it to them at all. I told the story of the perfect opportunity based on our prior discussions. It was just a great match based on good expertise in matching. That’s all.

  7. It is necessary to create a consultative environment for selling. The term consultative selling has become a popular concept in selling circles. I am happy to reading nice information about selling and consultancy.

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