Recruitment Training

The business development approach that got me on the PSL of major clients in Singapore

Business development in 2024 is challenging to say the least.

Between 2021 to 2022, the market was booming and jobs were flowing left, right and centre. For recruiters who joined the industry in this period, business development was nearly non-existent in large agencies who had deep client pools with existing PSLs. The focus was on candidate delivery and account management, it worked.

Shortcuts were taken during training for business development and when the market turned in late 2022, the cracks started to show. Business development is arguably one of the most important skill sets in the market now and if you want to be a successful recruiter, you must push yourself out of your comfort zone to be a true 360 consultant.

Between Feb 2021 to Jan 2023, I built a Tech desk at Vocay from scratch before I returned to the Rec2Rec market. During this time, I managed to onboard and sign terms with over 30 clients, including tier 1 investment banks, international hedge funds, global technology companies, private equity firms and government outfits.

Some of these clients were extremely hard to penetrate as they had strict PSL procedures in place. We managed to get on board with no brand to lean on, only our own approach and slowly building a reputation in the market.

In this article, I’ll talk you through the business development approach that was successful for me without having a brand to lean on.

Researching & identifying prospects

This is a core part of the business development process I feel is not talked about enough. If you target the wrong clients, you’re going to waste your time trying to execute the rest of the steps in this article with little delivery success.

What exactly is the wrong client base? It depends on your desk strategy and approach. You should have a clear idea about your functional and industry focus which gives you the first indication about the type of clients you should target. Are you aiming for high fees, low volume, or the opposite?

The first mistake recruiters make is that they try to target the largest companies or the most attractive brands in the industry first. They’re the easiest to find and the companies that everyone knows about. These are companies that take months to onboard who have deep embedded relationships with other agencies.They have large internal teams and a strong brand to attract candidates themselves so they might not even need the help.

You should look at the larger companies, but it’s a long-term strategy that takes time. Target the small to medium sized companies first who are growing fast, have less internal resources and a brand that is still being built in the market.

Leverage any type of relationship you have within those companies. Do you have a friend from school there? An ex-colleague? Anyone that can help you? Use those relationships first, but make sure you’re contacting the decision maker (or asking for an introduction) because if you’re not, you’re wasting your time.

The most basic research tool to find out which companies are hiring is LinkedIn jobs or other job boards. I’ve onboarded some good clients through this method, especially when the job is newly uploaded for a smaller company. This is the most basic method in the book however, so your competitors will do the exact same thing. Don’t waste all of your time on this.

If you have one client signed already, where did their employees work previously? Are the companies they worked with previously hiring? You need to think outside of the box a little and find companies who employ a similar type of person to your current client.

Research competitor websites and find out if they have any clients for testimonials listed on their website. Check your competitors’ LinkedIn profile recommendations to see who they’ve placed. Use every resource you can to fully understand your market.

Market information is absolutely crucial, especially for industries that are more confidential where hiring is not advertised publicly. If you have a candidate interviewing with a client, where else is that same candidate interviewing? What role is it? Who’s the hiring manager? Candidates are your biggest source of intel. Ask these questions but don’t be intrusive, respect their privacy if they don’t want to share too much.

Cold outreach

There are a number of methods you can reach out to a client cold. The traditional method would be calling, as well as LinkedIn messages, InMails or emails. Marketing plays a part now as well.

My go-to method of outreach was always LinkedIn messages, InMails or emails, but every single one I sent was very customised to the person I reached out to. The number 1 rule – NEVER use bulk emails or InMails. If you do, you’re wasting your time.

I found the most effective approach was a more casual one. I connected with the line or hiring manager directly on LinkedIn with a soft introduction message with the objective of setting up a casual coffee chat about the market.

You’ll be surprised but if your approach is right, most hiring managers want to meet you to get a sense for the market, even if they’re not hiring. Sometimes the hiring manager has a vacancy they have in mind for about a few months down the line, but they’re keen to get a sense of the market today. This is gold dust, because you know about the role before your competitors get working on it.

If you’re floating a candidate and being more direct, ways you can customise your outreach is by talking about recent success stories, such as a recent investment or acquisition your client has been involved in. Crunchbase is a great resource for this in the Tech space, search up the company and look at the news section to find topics to talk about. A good one that shows your market expertise is talking about a recent high profile hire they’ve made.

It takes more time to customise your outreach, but I promise you the conversion rate will be far higher. I found that once you get some momentum, if you reach out to between 5 – 10 new clients per week using this method, it would typically convert into 1 – 2 new quality client meetings per week.

Consistent follow ups

This is absolutely key. I promise you, less than 10% of clients will respond to you on your first outreach attempt. You need to keep trying.

I find that the best frequency of follow ups is to send the first follow up about 2 days after the initial outreach, then leave it for another 3 days for the third one, and then you can do a final fourth attempt about a week after that.

In your follow ups, be polite and make it known to the client that you are trying to build a genuine relationship so they know it’s a long-term approach rather than a transactional quick win for you. Don’t be forceful or passive aggressive. If you’ve tried four times and had no response, move on to the next client but forward plan your next task to follow up with this client in 3 months time. It’s all about timing.

I’ve had instances where I’ve followed up with a client for over a year and a half and only then did I get a response to my outreach asking to go support a search. Don’t take it personally, clients are busy. Be patient and have a long-term approach.

Build resilience into your mindset. Don’t give up if you approach 10 clients and you don’t get a meeting in the first week, this is absolutely normal. It took me at least 3 weeks to get my first client that I billed with and I feel I also got pretty lucky getting a result that quickly.

The initial client meeting

This is the most crucial part of the process. You’ve got the prospect meeting in the diary, now you have to convert them into a client.

You should have a script or guidelines shared by your agency or manager on how to approach a client meeting. If you don’t, be proactive, make one yourself and ask for your manager’s opinion before going into the meeting.

Prepare, prepare, prepare! You spent a lot of effort getting this meeting into the diary, don’t go into it blind. Do your research into the company, recent events, recent hires, try to get a sense of where they’re hiring and ask intelligent questions.

Ask your manager to join you on your first couple of attempts, but try to take initiative and lead the conversation to gain that experience. This is making the assumption that you’ve already sat in a few client meetings yourself and seen how your manager approaches it.

Don’t follow the script completely however, keep the conversation natural and try to move the conversation towards pain points the client has talked about. Ask intuitive questions, listen and get all the information you need in order to quality the role and client.

I always find that by over sharing market information that demonstrates your expertise, it really differentiates yourself from others. You need to demonstrate throughout that meeting that you can solve their problems somehow and I find this helps.

Be ready for objections. The typical objections are ‘your percentage is too high, we work at 15% with other clients’. ‘What makes you different from other agencies we work with?’. Be ready with a solid answer and get your foot through the door.

If you’re facing challenges caused by your agency’s policies, for example your agency is asking you to pitch at 27% and you find that creates barriers, be vocal about this with your manager. Find solutions.

Look for an outcome. You want to leave the meeting with a next step pre-agreed. This should be along the lines of sending your terms for review or working on a new role you’ve just qualified from the meeting.

Be confident but don’t expect to be the finished product of yourself on the first call. You will make mistakes and it’s okay to do that, you will learn from them on your next call. That’s how we learn.

Post client meeting actions

Once the meeting is finished, send a thank you message to your client and write down your key takeaways. Show that you listened during the call and follow up on the expectations you set.

Once you’ve agreed terms, make sure you manage the client’s expectations from here on out in the relationship.

Ask for support in business development

Be proactive and ask others in the company about their advice, whether they’re on your team or other desks. People genuinely want to help and you need to initiate that conversation.

One of the biggest learning curves for recruiters over the past year is being able to fend for themselves more often. Managers are no longer able to provide a steady flow of jobs and the industry has changed.

By getting out of your comfort zone and finding solutions, you can take positive steps forward in your recruitment career.

Build your own personal brand as a reputable recruiter and don’t rely on your agency’s brand. That is a recipe for long-term average performance. Use your personality and capability to really build a niche for yourself in the market.

This is the approach that enabled me to onboard a tier 1 investment bank in Singapore as a nobody with no brand behind me. Use these tips and drop me a message on LinkedIn if it worked!

In the future, I’m considering writing case studies about specific clients I’ve onboarded in the past, such as the investment bank. If you’d be interested in reading these, please express your interest by subscribing to our newsletter below. If I receive enough interest, I will look at launching a case study clinic.

Market insight Recruitment Training

How agency recruiters can survive and thrive in 2023

Benjamin Franklin, upon the signing of the US constitution, is reputed to have said ‘in this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes’. I suspect we could safely add recessions to the other two certainties. As we emerge from the post-Covid bounce back, we are likely to face a broader global slowdown to what we experienced in 2022.

Recessions are cyclical and often tough to predict. A country is usually considered to be in recession when GDP falls in two successive quarters. Though economists cite a host of different causes it seems that the impact of lockdowns, Covid supply chain problems, the Ukraine & Russia crisis coupled with the resultant increase in energy prices have led to a challenging economic outlook after the initial boom.

I think it is safe to assume that some countries will experience a recession or a slowdown of some description. Recruiters sadly are not immune to the impact of such events. We recruiters tend to feel the impact immediately but the good news is we experience an upturn as soon as the economy does pick up.

In the 25 years I have been running recruitment businesses I have experienced too many recessions including SARS, the GFC and Covid-19. Regardless of the cause, I think the following is the advice I would give to recruiters to weather the storm. 

Stay very close to your key clients

It sounds obvious right? We should be doing this anyway but it is far more important when the market slows. Vacancies don’t dry up completely but they reduce in number significantly. Which vacancies then are the most important to your client? Typically there is a lag between the time the decision to prioritise certain positions and the communication of this to the recruiter.

Clients generally have multiple suppliers so in an economic slowdown a client would surely want to work more closely with their favoured recruiters. We have seen (thankfully) a return to face to face meetings following Covid, so take full advantage of this and get your client out for a coffee, lunch or a glass of wine and really understand the challenges they will face.

In the recent slowdown of the Singapore software engineering market my observation was that clients took a great deal of time to adjust the number of proposed or articulated vacancies. Plenty of vacancies seemed still to be open, but by some fairly simple questioning it was clear that prioritisation was already taking place automatically. You need to adjust to this rapidly.

A combination of understanding which are the key vacancies coupled with a real understanding of client challenges will allow you to identify roles that will have a higher fill rate. 

Try to predict market trends

As soon as you begin to suspect a slowdown (today, for sure) then it is wise to take a very in-depth look at your market sector and the geographies you serve. 

If you serve the energy sector today, for example, you may conclude that this particular recession does not apply to you as much as it may to other sectors. 

However if you serve the crypto sector then you have probably already made a significant adjustment to how you approach your desk. Crypto was red hot 9 months ago. Today, it is not. Most crypto recruiters will have pivoted into the more traditional firms to find roles they can fill. 

Take a close look at your sector and try to determine where your sector focus should be. In Covid, hospitality and aviation recruiters, for example, would have probably opted to leave their sectors completely. Thankfully markets usually come back and those recruiters will likely return to their usual areas of expertise. 

An interesting observation in the current market is to look at the multitude of energy firms and recruiters who, in 2016-18, pivoted into (mostly) tech, and are now doing the reverse and re-entering the energy sector as tech requirements begin to slow.

Look ahead. Try to evaluate your market based on as much information you can glean from clients and industry publications. Given the sales cycle of a typical permanent placement then it stands to reason that you would want to prepare to re-enter a market 3 months or so until the anticipated recovery. That is the tough bit, making the call.

Try to predict geographical trends

The ability to change geographical focus is a great tool to have if it is possible. As a rule of thumb a small boutique agency will have a lot more leeway to be flexible when opting to target different locations. This of course is not the case for the global players who can find themselves restrained if they have a significant brand network across a region. 

Geography has implications for the targeting of both clients and candidates. You may find that a neighbouring country is doing far better economically than your home country, it is relatively easy to leverage off home clients and ask them to introduce you to clients in other jurisdictions and this is another reason to stay very close to key clients. 

Though we welcome a gradual return to face to face meetings, it cannot be disputed that we all got more practice and experience in conducting video calls with both clients and candidates, across the Covid period. A positive Covid legacy is a willingness to communicate in this fashion. Resultantly, barriers have been lowered when attempting to build new relationships in different geographies. Use this to develop new clients. I recently spoke to a recruiter based in Hong Kong who was achieving success by opening up new clients in Singapore taking advantage of an increasing flow of candidates moving from Hong Kong to Singapore and beyond. 

There are lots of challenges when developing overseas markets such as time differences, language barriers and a lack of market knowledge. Most of the challenges however can be overcome by investing in significant research in resources readily available on the internet. As you launch your initiative you can very quickly fill any knowledge gaps by speaking to lots and lots of candidates. Hardly groundbreaking as we all know that it is our candidate base who possess all the intel  we need to run a successful desk. 

Prioritise placeable candidates

We are entering a phase of increased candidate supply. On one level this is a very good thing but on another level this can create some significant challenges. Most recruiters will have experienced a far higher response rate recently. This is due mostly to the fact that some candidates are actively looking out, but equally some are responsive simply because they want to hedge their bets, just in case their roles come under threat. 

Given an increased response rate it makes logical sense that you will find your diary filling up very quickly with candidates who have been let go. It is vital that you make sure the candidates you are going to work with are ones that your clients are looking for. Only by interrogating your client can you be 100% certain of exactly the skills and experience that is in demand. 

I recently got approached by someone I consider to be quite outstanding, someone I know pretty well. However well qualified I felt that he was my advice was for him to stay put at this point, and alert me only if he was laid off. The market in this particular sector is very unlikely to hire at the current time, so the best advice I could give would be to keep his head down and stay put at the current time.

Focus on candidates who have the skills that your clients are looking for rather than ones who have more generic skills. If you contrast the Singapore & Hong Kong software markets today versus Q1 of this year, it’s clear to see how a candidate who was recently in great demand is currently not particularly of interest today.

Pay very close attention to your 1st interview to placement ratio. If the market has shifted considerably then I would always suggest you re-start the ratio calculation. What applied to a desk historically may not always reflect the desk dynamics today. Keep yourself honest by starting afresh and ensuring your quality hit rate stays where it should  be. 

Work harder and smarter

It’s not really a case of ‘work smarter, not harder’ as I think it is a case of both. Your interview to placement ratio is likely to get worse hence you may need an increase of 20 or 30% in terms of candidates in order to achieve the same revenue outcomes. By definition then you are going to have to work harder and put in more hours. That may be unpalatable but it is correct. 

The working smarter part is really the 5 points in this article.

As discussed, recessions are cyclical so hunker down and see the event through to the end. It is common for recruiters to throw in the towel, but that can be a pretty short sighted approach. You don’t have to look far to see many recruiters who have been in the market for a significant amount of time, hence they have survived a number of recessions over time. All types of industries suffer from recession, not just recruitment. And remember, the grass is not always greener.

If you enjoyed the article, please consider subscribing or following us on LinkedIn to have new articles for recruiters like this delivered directly to your inbox.

One of our desk specialisms is Rec2Rec in Asia, so please feel free to reach out to me or my colleague Cameron for a chat about opportunities in the market.

Recruitment Training

How a contingent recruiter can successfully deliver a retained assignment

Last week, we discussed how and when a contingent recruiter could seize the opportunity to sell a retained search in a number of different scenarios.

If you have managed to close one recently, congratulations! Now it’s time to successfully deliver to earn the remainder of the fee.

You have pitched for, and won, the retainer on the back of the work you have done to date, coupled with a valued relationship you have built up with your client over time.

Delivery is vital. Now is not the time to mess it all up. The good news is that you don’t need to. The beauty of retained work, for me at least, is the combination of methodical planning, managing expectations and collaboration.

In this article, I will outline five key steps you can take – drawing upon personal experience – to ensure you perform to the highest industry standards.

Set very clear expectations and deadline dates

Let’s jump back a step. Prior to winning the retainer, you would have conducted some initial research.

I won a retainer to identify a CEO. I won’t mention the sector, but the role was based in Karachi, Pakistan. This was an example of a request from a usually contingent client. They wanted me to research the market, identify a longlist, approach them and then jump on a plane to interview face to face.

Each search has very specific challenges. Research fully and understand what the specific challenges will be. In this one, the challenges were that I would need to connect with individuals who would be very tough to contact and then I would have to jump on a plane to meet them.

In the proposal to the client, be extremely concise but realistic about timelines for delivery, interviews, offers and placement. Are there any major holidays that will delay things? Is your client very tough to tie down to an interview time? Factor all of this in and before you win the retainer. Walk the client through the process step by step so both of you are very clear on deadline dates and expectations for the search. The scene is set.

Prepare the long list before approaching

Assuming there is no real urgency, I always suggest to hold off on reaching out to any candidates until you have completed the long list. I always include in the search brief the need to identify candidates that are possibly slightly too junior for the role as well as candidates who are possibly slightly too senior for the role. Leave no stone unturned.

The slightly junior profiles can surprise you and are often ready to step-up. The more senior ones are usually very happy to refer candidates for the search. I would always approach the senior profiles very honestly and tell them that I am looking for referrals. It works a majority of the time.

When I am working on a retained assignment I am always very transparent with clients, and usually I would request a meeting, face to face if possible, so we can discuss the parameters of the search. Do you both feel, at this very early stage, that the list of search profile targets is on point? It is especially important to call out any surprises based on what the expectations were when the search started.

How long is a longlist then? That is a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question. The rule of thumb is that the list generally ends up being longer than you first envisaged. In the Pakistan CEO example above, I guessed it would have been just ten, but it was in fact around twenty five. Typically, however, my longlists have been approximately fifty to sixty names long. In the Tobacco Country Manager example in the last article, the longlists were massive as the client asked me to target pretty much any FMCG business, and not to focus purely on Tobacco.

Prioritise by identifying those candidates who meet the specifications most closely and then work backwards. This can be a common mistake, and I made it – I did not prioritise Tobacco first. Instead, I took a blanket approach which meant I wasted a lot of time mapping profiles we would never need to contact.

Take a very systematic approach

Take a breath…this is not contingent search! You may reach out via your research team or you may do it yourself. I generally take a three step approach. I put a couple of paragraphs together, outline the job and ask if there is any interest. If there is, I would often send a job description for them to study. If they declined to proceed (and for reasons that I also agreed with) then I would often ask for referrals. If I did not agree with their reasoning or if they were keen, I would progress things to a phone call and eventually face to face if circumstances (hello, COVID!) would allow.

At this point, you have built a significant relationship longlist, you have reached out to the individuals on the list and you are beginning to meet candidates. This soon becomes what I call the long shortlist. The long shortlist is the narrowing down of the most qualified and relevant candidates for the search. In a search I conducted in March of this year, my long shortlist contained around twenty individuals. One third of them I felt were spot on, one third were very close and the final third we were on the fence about. Usually you can safely prioritise the candidates in the order of relevance.

It’s time for the client to meet candidates. If possible, get the client to block off some fixed times in the diary. Ideally, block off a couple of days and set up the interviews. By approaching it this way, you can do a far better job of managing the process, the client is in a similar frame of mind across the interviews and the flow of the assignment will continue. This is far more preferable than having interviews strung out over a number of weeks.

Maintain high energy levels and keep up the momentum

Some retained searches are very straightforward. In my experience, more are than not. Some however can go array. Things can go wrong for a number of reasons, for the most part though, this usually happens if the client’s expectations are out of kilter with the candidate base. This should be identified in the initial research but not always. 

The job is not completed until it is completed and the successful candidate has taken the role and has started with the client. Occasionally, a client will suspend the search before it has been finalised. There are a number of reasons for this. I have known of cases where an internal candidate asked to be considered for the role and another where a candidate who had previously declined the role changed his mind. Sometimes the client simply has a change of mind or strategy. 

Always keep up the enthusiasm levels and momentum however hard it gets. That is how you win the second retainer from the same client!

Arrange a regular feedback session with the client

A great trick is to arrange a regular call with your client. It helps to keep both parties honest. Ideally this would be a weekly call where you discuss the progress of the search, the problems you are facing and the candidates you are proposing. 

There’s a lot to do when it comes to delivering a successful retained assignment, but the more retainers you sell, the more practice you’ll get and the better your reputation will be with your client – to the point where you might want to transition into retained search permanently!

If you enjoyed this article, please follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe for free to make sure you don’t miss out on future recruitment related content.

Lastly, if you’re exploring recruitment opportunities in Asia, please do not hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn for some advice and career opportunities.

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Recruitment Training

When a contingent recruiter should sell a retainer

Our industry adopts a number of varied solutions in order to solve a client’s recruitment needs, the most common being contingent and retained search, amongst others.

A popular comment in recruitment is ‘well, it’s not rocket science’. It’s true, it’s not, but some hard-to-fill searches are complex and recruiters have to consider all options when proposing a solution to a client to ensure successful delivery.

Simply explained, contingent search is a model whereby the fee is only payable upon the successful execution of a mandate. If they’re not engaged on an exclusive basis, the risk sits squarely with the recruiter as they may be up against internal teams or other agencies.

Retained search is a model whereby a client pays a portion of the fee prior to the completion of the search process. The most common structure would be a third of the fee payable upon the instruction to proceed, the second third upon the successful presentation of a shortlist of candidates and the final tranche is paid on the start date of a candidate.

Is one model better than the other? Absolutely not. They are simply different recruitment solutions. It’s all about proposing the most appropriate approach for the search you’re about to undertake.

I have not forgotten a question an early recruitment mentor of mine, Tony Seager, asked me. He said, “why don’t most recruiters win retainers?” I pondered but I had no idea at that early stage. The answer was pretty simple in the end: “because they don’t ask”.

So, when should you propose a retainer over contingent? In this article, we will focus on the situations where you should propose a retainer to a client, as opposed to the usual contingent option. There has to be very solid reasons and you must be able to demonstrate to the client the clear benefits they will receive from this approach.

On the back of a failed contingent search

Can that be true? Would a client trust and retain you if you had not delivered? Yes, is the answer.

Using my existing relationship with a UAE based international tobacco company back in the day, I leveraged the work I had done with them in the Gulf in order to continue the relationship in South East Asia.

To kick things off, they asked me to identify the country managers for, if I recall correctly, Indonesia, Vietnam & Cambodia. This sounded pretty exciting. I identified so many good candidates but I couldn’t get this one to come together. We have all been there too many times. It sometimes happens, however good you may be. You put your all into closing the assignment, but things just don’t go smoothly and you’re not sure whether you should risk more time and effort with something that is looking less likely to pay off.

I had to pull out of the search so I called the client and told him. He was far from happy, but he understood and asked me what I suggested. I felt the roles could be filled, but due to the complexity of the markets, it would be extremely difficult and risky for me to dedicate much more time without some form of guaranteed payment. This converted to my first ever retained assignment.

The absolute key to winning retainers on the back of a failed search is relationship and trust. If you demonstrate that you have done everything you possibly can, the client sees less risk in paying for a retained search. This is especially true if you have a tremendous amount of goodwill and trust with the client and they want you to go out of your normal specialisation or geographic area. 

If you’re happy to do the search and you know you can deliver, but the assignment attracts a significant investment in time, just ask.

Market and research mapping

A contingent recruiter is nimble and moves very fast. One of the huge advantages to practice and geographic specialisation is economy of scale. If you are an expert in your field then your response could be immediate. Speed undoubtedly is an advantage in the contingent world, and more often than not, it can be the difference between a fee or no fee.

If a client comes to you and requests that you, not only to find suitable candidates, but also requests that you do a full market map and perhaps some competitor research in the process, then you are perfectly positioned to go down the retainer route.

A Robertson Smart market strategy was to win retained business utilising market mapping. We identified a very specific industry, Equity Research in Hong Kong. for instance and simply produced organograms of all the banks in the country. Armed with this information printed, we could quickly refer to it when sitting in front of a client. 

We would then use this information internally to very quickly identify the relevant candidate in a contingent situation, but if the client wanted more access to our research, then we would ask for a retainer. In the example above, we converted a contingent search discussion into a retained search assignment to identify a Head of Equity Research for a well known Dutch investment bank.

I do feel that many recruiters have little idea of just how knowledgeable they are about their specialisation and the key players that work in them. All too often, we get so absorbed in our day to day work that we don’t stop to think about how knowledgeable we actually are and how we can leverage retained fees from clients.

Confidentiality and control 

Some years back, I remember a client asking us to do a 100% confidential search. We were to identify a replacement where the current incumbent had no knowledge that a search had been ordered. Not pleasant, but it happens.

In this instance, the candidate source network was very tightly knit. This meant that if we were to reach out to the candidate base and reveal the client’s name, then the current incumbent would have found out very quickly. 

We discussed it internally. The potential fee was lucrative, the candidate base easily identifiable, and frankly we already knew them all. The client could not make any form of direct approach as then it would have revealed their identity very quickly.

It actually was a very easy retainer to win. We explained to the client that there has to come a point where you reveal, in complete confidence hopefully, just who you are recruiting for. Sometimes that is even in an initial screening call, or perhaps you hold it back until you have managed to set up a face to face meeting with the candidate. 

Our rationale for selling the retainer was that this was a complicated assignment and the approach would significantly slow things down. We argued, successfully, that it would be better to take a step by step approach, and not dissimilar to the three stage payment model as outlined above. 

The additional benefit we sold the client was control. This is a significant shift in the nature of the relationship between a client and a recruiter. A contingent recruiter carries most of the risk. Not so in a retained scenario as the client shares the risk with you. This gives the client a lot more say, a lot more control over the process and the recruiter. In this example, the client seemed to feel more comfortable gaining more control by taking some of the risk.

The most important factor

In my experience, these were the three most common ways to convert a contingent assignment into a retained one.

I do say, however, the most important factor up and above all of these situations are the trust and relationship you have built up with the client.

As you build that trust, why not simply approach the subject with the client in an appropriate manner when the situation calls for it, and just ask for it?

Won your retainer? Now it’s time to deliver to secure the remainder of the fee.

Lastly, if you’re exploring recruitment opportunities in Asia, please do not hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn for some advice and career opportunities.

Moving jobs Recruitment Template Training

How to write a business plan for recruitment in 2024 (template included)

Writing a business plan in recruitment has always played a crucial part in the interview process for a number of recruitment agencies around the world.

A comprehensive business plan can demonstrate a recruiter’s commitment, knowledge and commercial acumen. During economic uncertainties in 2023, these qualities are more important than ever.

Arriving at an interview armed with a comprehensive business plan before you’re even asked will no doubt set yourself apart from other recruiters.

During economic uncertainties, managers will need to present a business case to leadership for budget approval in order to make a hire. Your business plan will be an important element of this business case. An impressive business plan could be the difference between landing an offer today, or falling into a pipeline of other candidates.

In this article, we share a step-by-step guide outlining how to create a comprehensive business plan. We walk through the key components and include examples.

At the end of the article, you can download a free recruitment business plan template which is tailored towards the key components mentioned in this article.


A business plan should be packed full of relevant information but should be compressed and to the point. Avoid verbiage, stay specific and keep to 4 – 6 pages.


Start with a title. Include your name and the company you’re writing the business plan for. A little personalisation will go a long way.

Underneath your title, outline the objective of your business plan and again personalise it towards the agency you’re interviewing with. While you have the hiring manager’s attention, this paragraph is an opportunity for you to demonstrate how comprehensive your business plan is. The aim is to capture the hiring manager’s interest so they continue to read each component:

“The objective of this business plan is to outline the value I can add to employer’s name.

In this business plan, I have highlighted my specialism, hiring activity in my market, my candidate and client strategies, my methodology, how I plan to recruit through economic uncertainties in 2023, my competition and my personal revenue projections over 12 months.”

You can use this paragraph as a way to introduce your business plan verbally if you’ve called up a hiring manager. You can also use this extract in a cold email.

Your specialisation

This is a crucial positioning statement for your value-add. It sets out precisely where your network and experience lies and what you intend to bring to the table in your new role.

Your specialisation can be described clearly by outlining what roles you will specialise in, what industries you will target, what level of seniority you will focus on and what geographies you will cover.

For ease of reading, you can use each component as a title and use bullet points to expand upon your answers.

Taking a Technology recruiter as an example:

What roles I will specialise in:

  • Product Management permanent roles
  • UX/UI Design permanent roles

What industries I will target:

  • E-Commerce
  • Series A – C funded technology startups (high investment, high growth and high volume of roles)

What level of seniority I will focus on:

  • Mid to senior (120 – 180k salary range for Product Managers, 140 – 200k salary range for Designers)

What geographies I will cover:

  • Based in Singapore, the local market will be my core market
  • Secondary markets include Jakarta, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur due to less competition from recruiters and high volume of roles

Hiring activity trends

The hiring activity trends section provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate and portray your knowledge of the market.

The 3 important components of this section are: hiring activity over the past 3 years, hiring activity for next year and how you predict hiring activity to shift beyond that.

Utilise your own knowledge of the market but back it up with research gained from reputable sources related to your market e.g. Tech in Asia, Tech Crunch, Channel News Asia, The Straits Times or The Financial Times.

You’ll want to cover how hiring activity has increased or decreased, what the drivers of growth are in your industry and what the threats and challenges are within your sector.

Candidate strategies

Moving on from market trends, this section indicates how you will acquire candidates for your desk. It offers an opportunity for you to demonstrate the experience you’ve learnt in candidate management from your previous firm, but also an opportunity for the employer to ensure that your approach aligns with theirs.

3 key components of this section include: how you will generate candidate leads, what challenges you expect to face and how you will overcome these challenges.

Taking a Front Office Banking & Financial Services recruiter as an example:

How do I plan to generate candidate leads:

  • Direct headhunting using a LinkedIn Recruiter account, this costs approximately $X amount, the key benefits being access to a high volume of InMails and enhanced search capability. This has been the sourcing tool for 60% of my previous placements

Challenges I expect to face:

  • In light of economic uncertainties in 2023, highly sought-after candidates may be risk-averse and may not see this as a good time to move jobs

How I will overcome these challenges:

  • I will develop relationships with these candidates for the future but I will adjust my sourcing strategy accordingly by increasing volume of direct approaches

Client strategies

A similar section to candidate strategies but geared towards clients. Arguably more important than candidate strategies during a recession as the market could be job-short – even in the good times, strong business development capabilities in recruiters are harder to find.

This section includes 6 key components including how you plan to onboard new clients, how you plan to sustain relationships with clients for repeat business, what industries your clients are in, the challenges you expect to face and how you will overcome these challenges.

Take these bullet points as a basic example:

How I plan to onboard new clients:

  • During a recession, I plan to cultivate relationships by helping and consulting clients on non-recruitment related issues, such as advising clients on the current state of the market
  • I plan to generate leads by making 25 cold calls per day during the ramp-up period, to again offer support and advice where needed, and to leverage any open roles
  • A soft approach of connecting with hiring managers, HR contact and C-Level candidates on LinkedIn, to establish working relationships and eventually convert into clients

How I plan to sustain relationships with current clients and win repeat roles:

  • The most important way to sustain relationships is by offering a service that is superior to competitors. That is by being transparent, sticking to deadlines and delivering results
  • Regularly catch up with clients on a monthly basis to see how they’re doing and see if you can generate new roles
  • Keep yourself updated on company news and congratulate clients on milestones e.g. if they generate a Series C round of funding

What industries I will target clients in:

  • E-Commerce
  • Series A – B funded technology startups

Challenges I expect to face:

  • During a recession there is less of an appetite to use agencies due to an unprecedented volume of great candidates available in the market

How I will overcome these challenges:

  • Offer free support to companies currently not using agencies, provide an impressive service and convert into paying client post-recovery

The 6th component is “examples of target clients” and this is where you can really demonstrate tangible market knowledge. Use company names, find the potential contact in each company and add your comments, such as the volume of roles you expect from that client. 5 examples should be enough to peak your hiring manager’s interest.

You can use a table to display this information with ease:

The company namePotential client contactMy comments
Company nameContact nameThis hiring manager is at the senior end so I pick up mid-senior roles for their team. Given they’re working for a Series B, I expect to pull in about 6 roles per year from this contact

It goes without saying that you should never be tempted to use information that is proprietary to your previous employer. This information can be openly found with some basic LinkedIn research.

My methodology

Are you a recruiter that is focussed on crunching numbers? Are you a recruiter who is focussed on cultivating long-term relationships? In this section, you can include a few quick bullet points to explain how you approach recruitment. This information gives your hiring manager an indication about whether you hold similar values and whether you have similar working styles.

How you can adapt to recruiting during a possible economic downturn

This section is a new one in response to market conditions in 2023 but can demonstrate how you are prepared to deal with current and upcoming challenges.

You can use this section as the title and include bullet points to outline how you will adapt to these market conditions.

My key competitors

Which recruiters and agencies offer the greatest competition? Demonstrating your knowledge in this area highlights that you are commercially aware outside of your core market.

Include about 5 different competitors who are directly competing in your patch. You can use the table below to display this information:

The company nameThe name of the recruiter in your fieldMy comments
Company nameRecruiter nameThis recruiter has a well-established presence in this market, however they have less of a presence in UX/UI roles, which is a market I feel I can pick up

Personal revenue and target projections

In many business plans, financial projections are of utmost importance and can demonstrate your commercial acumen. If you’ve ever watched Dragon’s Den, you’ll know what happens when you don’t know your numbers!

Project your personal revenue for 4 quarters. You can start your calculations by predicting the average annual salary of a candidate in your patch. You can project your average percentage fee agreed with clients and from there you can calculate your average fee. Once you have this, you can predict the amount of placements you’ll be making per month.

Make sure your revenue projections are realistic and achievable. Avoid the temptation to predict vastly optimistic revenues, especially during a possible recession. You must allow time to ramp-up and there must be a logical relationship between your historical and predicted revenues.

The plan only includes project revenue. Your historical revenue should be on your CV.

Take the below as an example:

My predicted average annual salary of candidates:

  • $140,000

My predicted average percentage fee agreed with the client:

  • 22%

My predicted average fee:

  • $30,800

My predicted average placements per month

  • 1

My projected revenue over 12 months

Personal revenue ($SGD)$061,60092,40092,400
Number of placements0233

Underneath, you can also include the KPIs you will set yourself to guide you in achieving these numbers. For example, you can set yourself a guideline for how many CVs you need to send, how many candidate meetings you need to arrange, how many client meetings you need to arrange and so on.

The template

We’ve constructed a free template built around the components mentioned above, so you can create your own for when you reach out to hiring managers.

To download this template, please add your email below and you’ll be redirected to the template.


This step-by-step guide should give your hiring manager a clear idea of your plan. If executed successfully, you’ve already demonstrated your commitment, knowledge and commercial acumen before even attending an interview.

The way you’ve structured your plan will give your hiring manager a very clear indication of your methodology and whether you’d fit their structure. Keep in mind that if your methodology is focused on high volume recruitment, it’s not going to work well with an executive recruitment agency.

As a next step, learn this plan inside and out. Be prepared to pitch your plan to your hiring manager and answer detailed questions surrounding each component.

Leave your interviewer with no room for concern and secure that role! Lastly, if you enjoyed the article, please consider subscribing or following us on LinkedIn to have new articles for recruiters like this delivered directly to your inbox.