For a Ha’porth of tar

This month I’m writing about something that perplexes us as headhunters: why, when we’ve found the perfect candidate (and the client agrees), does the client then want to carry on looking for more? What’s to be gained apart from wasting time and losing Ms Perfect Candidate? Another perplexing issue is why do clients sometimes then nickel-and-dime that candidate when it comes to salary negotiations?

Let me illustrate. Recently, our Perfect Candidate had been identified, assessed, interviewed by us and by our client, and it comes to an offer. All agree that he is absolutely the one we must recruit – and we’ve spent three months looking, so we know what’s out there. Then it’s offer time. We recommend a guide package – taking into account what this experienced and senior candidate is making, his expectations, market rates and trends – which the client then ignores. Instead, he works out something within his own corporate guidelines, resulting in the candidate being offered only a couple of hundred dollars more per month than they were already making. Of course he declined. And we are still searching.

Do you agree that it’s a curious way to run a business? The client is trying to buck market trends on salaries and increases. There’s only one outcome: failure. And that hurts us too. We have a commitment to our clients to keep looking until the job is done. They have paid us to do so. It also costs them a lot of senior management time – reading our reports, interviewing, and assessing our candidates… There is one solid benefit in all of that: having a clear idea of the market for that particular job. It’s part of our role to deliver that to a client, even if they subsequently choose not to hire. But when a position is vacant, and has been for some time, and there’s a will to recruit, then why not get on and bite the (salary) bullet and make an offer that is reasonable, fair to both parties and, importantly, will be accepted?

It’s our job to facilitate that and it frustrates us when a client refuses to accept market realities, insisting instead that there must be someone out there who can do the job for under the going rate. For a few dollars more – or a ha’porth of tar (for the older native English speakers, as I am) – why spoil the ship?

As usual, let me know if you have any particular topic you would like to see covered here.

Gary Woollacott is an executive search consultant who works for Horton International in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.  He can be reached at +84 8 3910 7682 or via