Peering Over the Expectation Gap


It’s Tuesday morning around 10:00am and a hypothetical VP of Finance (let’s call her Amanda) is at her desk strategizing about replacing her controller who resigned on Friday. She’d already talked to human resources who promised to post the job online and now she’s wondering what else she could be doing to expedite the process. As Amanda is mulling over her options, the phone rings and lo and behold, it’s a placement agency that happens to specialize in accounting and finance inquiring if she might have any openings.

“Why, yes,” she replies, “I happen to be looking for a controller.”

“Terrific!” says the person from the placement agency, “What exactly are you looking for? We specialize in finance and accounting and I’m sure we can find you just the perfect person to fill your controller role.”

Amanda thinks about this for a bit and since the eager recruiter seems so confident that they’ve got a wealth of great controllers to make her recruitment problem go away, she lists every single thing she can think of that she’d like to see in her next controller.

And all through her recitation of technical qualifications and personality characteristics, the recruiter keeps saying things like: “I see…go on…okay…sure…no problem.”

What Would You Like to Pay Your Controller?

Of course, at the end of the conversation, the recruiter asks Amanda what she’d want to pay the controller she’s just described – ten years’ experience in widget manufacturing, detail oriented, five years’ experience as a controller, experience with ERP implementations, tremendous Excel skills and of course, an engaging, even tempered person with exceptional communications skills.

To which she replies, “$100,000 and a 10% bonus.”

The recruiter hems and haws a bit at this and suggests that $100,000 seems a bit light for the kind of experience and person she’s just described. But she explains that $100,000 and a 10% bonus was what she paid the incumbent and that’s all she can pay his replacement. The recruiter seems to accept that and promises to get back to Amanda in a few days with some candidates to review.

Time Marches On

Fast forward one week and as promised, the recruiter has sent over a bunch of resumes to look through. And most of the candidates on offer don’t look anything like the paragon of accounting excellence described to the recruiter. One guy’s got no relevant industry experience, another guy’s had four jobs in eight years, the third person has a six page resume (a little too detailed oriented, she thinks) and while the fourth person’s resume isn’t that bad, it isn’t that good either.

The fifth person looks pretty good on paper but after digging into some of the nitty gritty in this person’s background with the recruiter, it turns out that this person has had some difficulty getting along with previous bosses.

Now to be fair, all of the candidates had one of the specifications related to the placement agency – they would all take a controller job that paid $100,000.

There are a few problems with the hypothetical and very common scenario I’ve just described.

First of all, give a few moments’ thoughts to how Amanda went about shopping for someone to solve her recruitment problem.

Let’s Go Shopping

If Amanda was in the market for a new outfit, I doubt very much that she would commit to shopping at some random retail store that phones her out of the blue. More likely, she’s going to stroll down to Holt Renfrew or at least go window shopping in Yorkville before she commits to any one purveyor of high-end women’s fashions. In a perfect world she’s going to already have a store that knows her, her measurements, her tastes and has a track record of success with Amanda’s sartorial requirements.

Do Diligence

But obviously in this instance, Amanda doesn’t apply the same care to choosing a professional service provider as she would in choosing a fashion retailer. Perhaps Amanda justifies this inconsistency in due diligence due to the fact that the placement agency has offered to show her candidates on a contingency fee basis. But what Amanda may not realize is that even if the placement agency works on a contingency fee basis, the service isn’t actually free if Amanda doesn’t hire from them. There’s the cost of spending three, four or even six weeks of fruitless recruitment activity before concluding that the agency(s) isn’t going to be able to fill the bill and that she should move on to a different supplier.

The more insidious cost is concluding that the so-so candidates the agency is sending her are the best she can hope for and she ends up hiring the best out of a “meh” short list.

Let the Recruiter Add Value

The bigger problem in this scenario is that the recruiter didn’t push back hard enough when Amanda described a $130,000 candidate but only committed to paying $100,000. Sometimes this is a function of the recruiter being  inexperienced, sometimes they assume that by virtue of the fact that they’re talking to a VP Finance that that person knows better and sometimes the recruiter is afraid that the prospective client won’t work with them if they push back.

Whatever the reason, the end result is that out of all the virtues and specifications Amanda laid out in describing her ideal candidate, the only real criteria the recruiter focused in on was the compensation.  And so the recruiter showed Amanda the best candidates they happened to have on hand that would work for $100,000 plus 10% bonus.

Even if the recruiter was tempted to do some actual recruiting on the assignment, they would soon realize that they would never find anyone of the caliber the VP Finance specified for that money.

Be Proactive When Choosing Your Recruiter

Amanda would have been much better served if the recruiter educated her on the market and told her in no uncertain terms what she could expect for $100,000 and what she would actually have to pay for the candidate she was looking for. But to get that kind of service, Amanda would have to stop shopping from whoever happened to call her that week and source a recruitment firm that was knowledgeable enough and had the right search protocols to deliver what she was looking for.

If you think you may be in the market for top financial talent in the next few months, call me direct or email me, for a no obligation consultation.

(416) 567-7782

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