Are you working close to the money today?”

That was the question my first manager asked me every morning for my first 18 months in recruitment.

But, what is “working close to the money?

It’s this: the philosophy that your days’ activity should be focused on doing things that give you the best chance of converting your efforts into fees.

An important question for contingent recruiters

Some 20 years on, I still ask myself the question “are you working close to the money today?” Asking this question has never been more important for contingent recruiters.

For open market recruiters, it’s easy to be sucked into working for clients, where they are looking for a purple squirrel and also using their internal recruiting team or other agencies at the same time.

In your heart, you know this is not close to the money, yet often you will still work these roles.

The trap that many recruiters fall into is that they forget that they aren’t paid to search for CVs for clients, or, paid to arrange interviews.

They are only paid when they make placements.

Yet, every day I meet recruiters who are super excited to get a new vacancy from a client, but they often forget to ask themselves, “How likely am I to get paid for the time I’m going to spend sourcing this role?

I totally get that most of the recruitment industry works on the basis of “NO WIN, NO FEE.” However, the unwritten premise is that a recruiter needs to give them the best chance of winning.

Clients aren’t there to help recruiters get paid

While many recruiters have great relationships with recruiters, their interests lie not in helping the recruiter get paid, but in finding the right candidate for their business.

I have been a line manager, and even though I wouldn’t want my team working on vacancies when they have little or no commitment from a client, I’m happy to let other recruiters who don’t work for me work hard with little prospect of being paid.

This is because for all line managers, the idea of individuals working hard to help you solve a problem but with no commitment to pay unless they give you exactly what you want, is something that is not only alluring but incredibly ADDICTIVE.

This means that line managers are unlikely to say, “You are unlikely to get paid for your time, and I’m probably going to waste your time, so don’t put much effort in.

In many cases, multiple recruiters are being given a single vacancy to source from the internal recruiter, who is still actively working to make sure they do not pay a fee (in fact, they are bonused on this). Yet recruiters frequently stop what they’re doing and spend precious time and effort on sourcing candidates that are unlikely to be placed or result in a fee.

You need a criteria for unlocking 100% of your sourcing effort

I hear you say, “Alex, I love the concept of working close to the money. But how do you avoid not negatively affecting your client relationship when you say ‘no thank you’?” Also, you might need to find the hard to source candidates, which then leads to more of the easier stuff by building trust and a relationship based on your capability.

In this, you are completely right because whether or not you work a vacancy is not black and white. It requires judgment on the part of the recruiter to determine how likely the effort they will invest will result in a fee.

There are situations where you may work a “long shot,” such as:

  • You may have an existing client base that is providing a consistent flow of fees.
  • If you sense a larger opportunity, then you can work niche roles to prove your capability (and that you are a decent person). I worked plenty of internal audit roles in my early days to get access to the management accountant vacancies. BUT, if after a few months all I was getting was the super-niche roles, I was encouraged to jog on to find another company that would give me roles that I could fill.

The key is for the a recruiting team to have a clear definition of what criteria needs to be in place to unlock a 100 percent of a recruiter’s efforts, and a criteria that limits the amount of effort that is invested.

At Nurtureit, we believe that the two key drivers for assessing the quality of a vacancy are client commitment and sourcing effort.

  • High commitment and low sourcing effort = “A” grade opportunity;
  • Low commitment and high sourcing effort – “C” grade opportunity

What is your criteria for unlocking 100 percent of your sourcing effort?

You can also try being upfront with your client

It IS possible to tell a client that you are not going to work hard on their opportunity AND improve the quality of your client relationship.

Why? Because recruiters over promise to clients every day.

See if you can find a way to say something like this:

“Look, this is a role outside my area of expertise, and it looks like you have lots of other options at the moment, and I cannot put 100 percent into helping you on this right now. But what I can do is X,Y or Z to help you. If you can give me more commitment, more flexibility (insert other requirements here), I can put more effort in to help you find someone.”

Although I appreciate this type of statement, it needs to be tailored to the individual situation and applied with care.

But ultimately, if all you have are tough roles where you have little or no commitment from the client, then you will struggle to succeed. This is especially true:

  • If all you get from certain clients is the super-niche roles, and you never get a shot at the easier ones. If that happens, you may struggle, too.
  • If managers let their newer consultants work too many long shots, then you will end up firing them for not billing enough, or just as likely, they will fire themselves because they lose faith that that they are going to make enough placements to achieve the level of performance they were promised in their interview.

The one big question you need to ask

Judgment is key here. It needs to used at every stage of the process to determine how much effort a recruiter should continue to put into a role.

But it all stems from one big question:

 “How likely am I to be paid for the effort I’m expending, either now or in the future?”

 And, what if a recruiter cannot always make the right judgment, the right decision?

When that happens, it’s the responsibility of the managers and directors of the organization to continually help their recruiters make better decisions.

Happy hunting, and good luck converting your efforts into fees.

Alex Moyle

Alex Moyle is a recruitment speaker, trainer and tech entrepreneur. He spent 16 years in a recruiting corporate as a recruiter, manager, and director of learning and development. Alex currently advises fast-growing recruiters on talent development and is the founder of, a pipeline productivity tool for recruiters. His goal is to help recruiters bill more by developing stronger client relationships, operational processes and using technology to enable higher levels of sales performance. You can follow Alex on Twitter @Alex_Moyle or connect with him on LinkedIn.